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RS06 - Fluffy Thinking

Release date: April 11, 2010

Fluffy Thinking is a peculiar type of uncritical thinking that sounds sophisticated, and is next to impossible to criticize frontally both because it barely has anything to do with empirical evidence, and because it is hard to articulate what, exactly, these people are saying. These people include scientific luminaries like Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies. Also, Karen Armstrong, author of "The Case for God", and Krista Tippett, author of "Einstein's God" and host of National Public Radio's "Speaking of Faith", where scientific notions are regularly distorted and mixed up with barely intelligible mystical “insights” that are put forward as profound truths.

The question is not only whether there is anything interesting in what these people are saying, but rather the much more difficult issue of why it is that smart individuals, who make their living thinking and writing about science and philosophy, are attracted by fluffy thinking.

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "The Book of Genesis Illustrated"

Massimo's pick: The Omnipotence Paradox

Reader Comments (8)

This is a great topic and was quite looking forward to listening to this podcast. After a cursory listen, however, I'm still not sure how to define "fluffy thinking". Most of the podcast seemed to be lists of examples, and not a mention of what fluffy thinking is. The only exception that I noticed was Julia's brief mention of the use/mention fallacy @ ~21:00. Did I miss a more... solid explanation of what fluffy thinking is?

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGregg

I'm delighted to see this specific form of uncritical thinking identified, however vaguely, as a topic of criticism. It seems to me, though, that the adjective "fluffy" has entirely the wrong connotations. Its first connotation is lightness rather than indefiniteness; and that is not at all a characteristic of the kind of thinking that you mean to criticize. There is nothing light about the pseudo-profundities of Deepak Chopra or of French post-modernist philosophers. "Woolly thinking" or "fuzzy thinking" would be a more apt term, it seems to me.

April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMKR

Finally got a chance to listen to this podcast...great show! Love the format, the interplay of the hosts, topics, etc. And the length is perfect, at least for this episode. Obviously different topics or interviews may warrant longer shows. Keep up the great work.

April 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

Regarding the "omnipotence paradox", I heard of one possible resolution to it, but I can't remember where from. An omnipotent being could create something more powerful than itself, but only by also rendering itself no longer omnipotent. So the god could create a burrito it couldn't eat, but it would also have to renounce it's omnipotence from that point on. Presumably omnipotence would include the power to discard that power.

Also, great episode.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterInquisitor

I just finished listening to Neil Denny's recent interview of ASU's Paul Davies on the Little Atoms podcast. At around the 18-minute mark, Davies let loose with his observation that true science only came about because of a monotheistic religious worldview and that had an "asteriod hit Paris in 1100, we would never had true science." Well, now we know. Amazing stuff.

Yes, I know...I shouldn't expect anything different given that he's a Templeton Prize recipient. Give it a listen if your in the mood to get your hackles up.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJason
Thank you for this enjoyable podcast.
I have started from the first and going up.
But I find this particular podcast a bit "fluffy".
And I am not alone in this sentiment.
No precise definitions, a dearth of illustrating examples,
Were you wary of possible libel lawsuits?
Well, Chopra was mentioned. At least that.
December 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterrandom
I think this is rather unfair to Krista Tippett. I am, shockingly, a regular listener of both Rationally Speaking and On Being. Krista is not a scientist, and to be sure I disagree with her on many issues, and she is no doubt guilty of various fallacies and a good deal of 'fluffy thinking' on her show. But on this podcast there is no identification of any of mistaken thinking on her part. The only mention is of a claim made by her guest, Freeman Dyson.

To be sure, Tippett's show sometimes irritates me with its vagueness. I am by nature drawn to listen to those who can speak with clearly-defined terms and logical arguments, which is why I enjoy Rationally Speaking so much. But Krista's show feeds another need - a desire for the human feeling of awe. This is not incompatible with science and rationality - far from it. However, it's not something that can be easily fostered with a discussion of statistical evidence and p-values, or with airtight philosophical argument. The rationality community has made various attempts to adopt some of religion's methods in this area, but it seems to have been mostly unsuccessful. I think that as we try to build communities that fill the gap left in religion's wake, there is much to we need to learn. And we could do a lot worse in our role models than Krista.

There have been too many fascinating guests to name here, but a few good ones include Jean Berko Gleaso, Maya Angelou,Jennifer Michael Hecht, Guy Consolmagno and George Coyne, Alan Dienstag, David Hartman. The episode on "Children and God" is also fascinating.
October 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJair
In order to have an omnipotent God, you must define omnipotence in such a way that God can achieve anything LOGICALLY possible. Therefore, God cannot logically create a burrito so hot that God cannot eat the burrito, since this would logically defy God's omnipotence. Therefore the omnipotent God can eat ANY burrito, no matter how hot.

An even simpler well know example of this paradox exists and in fact relates to existence itself. Can an Omnipotent God cause itself to no longer exist? If such a God no longer exists, then obviously the potency of such a God has reached a definite limit. Therefore, to maintain omnipotence, such a God cannot logically cause itself to cease to exist, at least not without destroying all of existence as well.
February 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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