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."
 

Leave a comment

From the Blog

  • The science of de- and re-humanization
    The science of de- and re-humanization

    Why do groups of people inflict violence on unarmed neighbors? (Germany, Rwanda, Darfur, Nanking....). Here's the neuroscience point of view.

  • Time to End the War on Drugs?
    Time to End the War on Drugs?

    To liberalise or prohibit?  I recently joined Eliot Spitzer, Julian Assange, Vicente Fox, Russell Brand, Richard Branson and several others for an online debate.

  • Italy's STYLE magazine: Idea Guys for 2012
    Italy's STYLE magazine: Idea Guys for 2012

    Think it's unlikely for a scientist to be featured on the cover of an Italian fashion magazine? Me too! But strange things happen...

  • Philip Pullman
    Philip Pullman

    I've had the good fortune to collaborate on stage a couple of times with author Philip Pullman.

Newsflashes

Emily Blunt reads for the Sum audio book

Hear the actress Emily Blunt (Young Victoria, Devil Wears Prada) read "The Cast" from Sum. She is one of the dozens of terrific actors who read for the audio book.

How the Internet will save civilization

David's iPad app "Why the Net Matters, or Six Ways to Avert the Collapse of Civilization" was recently called a "superbook" by the New York Times Magazine. For a taste of the argument, read David's article in WIRED or watch a video of his talk at the Long Now Foundation. Don't have an iPad? The manuscript is now available as an eBook.

Sum #2 book in UK

In September, 2009, Sum became the number 2 book in the United Kingdom on Amazon's bestseller list, only behind Dan Brown's Lost Symbol.

You are here:   HomeBlogWhy I am a Possibilian


Coming in 2014