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

  • After Sandy Hook: Why mental illness matters
    After Sandy Hook: Why mental illness matters

    The shootings at Sandy Hook sparked debate ranging from gun control to bulletproof windows. But the most fruitful approach may be to prioritize our discussion of mental illness.

  • BrainCheck
    BrainCheck

    How can you rapidly detect whether someone has a concussion? I've just launched a new company, BrainCheck, that uses tablets and neuroscience to find out.  

  • Will Self
    Will Self

    The author Will Self and I appeared on stage together to discuss life, death, and what makes good writing.

  • Q & A in New Scientist magazine
    Q & A in New Scientist magazine

    Read a Q&A with David in New Scientist to find out his latest ideas and advice to young scientists.

Newsflashes

Sum on Radiolab

Listen to David discussing Sum -- and actor Jeffrey Tambor reading stories from the book -- on WNYC's Radiolab.

Neurolaw: The Brain on Trial

Want to know how neuroscience will force major changes in our criminal justice system? Read David's article The Brain on Trial in The Atlantic. Now anthologized in 2012 Best American Science and Nature Writing.
atlantic072011

SUM is Book of the Year: Chicago Tribune

SUM was chosen as the best book of 2009 by Chicago Tribune's Pulitzer-winning literary critic Julia Keller.

You are here:   HomeBlogWhy I am a Possibilian


Coming in 2014