Why I am a Possibilian

Why I am a Possibilian Christine Tremoulet

In my opinion, our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true.

So I call myself a possibilian. Possibilianism emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story. If you want to know more about this point of view, see the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

Here are a couple of photos from my TEDxHouston talk, "On Uncertainty". In this talk I argued why possibilianism is not only a hopeful position, but the most rational one.

photo courtesy of Blue Lemon Photo
photo by Blue Lemon Photo

And here's a talk on possibilianism that I delivered at the School of Life in London.

Not everyone is a fan of possibilianism. After possibilianism began to spread widely on the web, the neo-athiest Sam Harris wrote to ask me if I would like to publically discuss the idea with him. I had read some of Harris' writings and quite liked them, so I agreed. I was interested to understand where our positions were compatible and where they differed. But Harris' response (in the form of a letter to me on his blog) attacked possibilianism on the grounds that I was "confused", an "accomodationist", and "intellectually dishonest". I took the pugilism of his opening salvo as a indicator of the utility that I would get from attempting a meaningful back-and-forth dialog with him. (Strangely, as indicated by a later blog of his, he seemed surprised that I hadn't taken the time to write him back.) It's not that I don't admire his writing (I do), or that I don't value public debate (I welcome it). It's simply that, in this case, Harris' braggadocio appeared to be emblematic of the neo-atheist posture, and confirmed why I don't feel completely at home in that camp. In other words, when I received his overly-aggressive opening shot, I thought: "Tada. This is precisely why a third voice is needed."
 

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Newsflashes

The secret life of the lab

Want to know more about the inner workings of a neuroscience lab? Watch a video profile of David and his students on NOVA Science Now.
Nova Science Now

Possibilianism at PopTech

Click here to watch David's talk on possibilianism at PopTech. Executive director Andrew Zolli wrote: "This is one of the best talks ever at PopTech. Everyone should watch this."

Science Educator Award

David has won the Science Educator Award from the Society of Neuroscience.

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