Brain Inspired
BI 179 Laura Gradowski: Include the Fringe with Pluralism

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Laura Gradowski is a philosopher of science at the University of Pittsburgh. Pluralism is roughly the idea that there is no unified account of any scientific field, that we should be tolerant of and welcome a variety of theoretical and conceptual frameworks, and methods, and goals, when doing science. Pluralism is kind of a buzz word right now in my little neuroscience world, but it’s an old and well-trodden notion… many philosophers have been calling for pluralism for many years. But how pluralistic should we be in our studies and explanations in science? Laura suggests we should be very, very pluralistic, and to make her case, she cites examples in the history of science of theories and theorists that were once considered “fringe” but went on to become mainstream accepted theoretical frameworks. I thought it would be fun to have her on to share her ideas about fringe theories, mainstream theories, pluralism, etc.

We discuss a wide range of topics, but also discuss some specific to the brain and mind sciences. Laura goes through an example of something and someone going from fringe to mainstream – the Garcia effect, named after John Garcia, whose findings went agains the grain of behaviorism, the dominant dogma of the day in psychology. But this overturning only happened after Garcia had to endure a long scientific hell of his results being ignored and shunned. So, there are multiple examples like that, and we discuss a handful. This has led Laura to the conclusion we should accept almost all theoretical frameworks, We discuss her ideas about how to implement this, where to draw the line, and much more.

  • Laura’s page at the Center for the Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Garcia’s reflections on his troubles: Tilting at the Paper Mills of Academe
  • 0:00 – Intro
    3:57 – What is fringe?
    10:14 – What makes a theory fringe?
    14:31 – Fringe to mainstream
    17:23 – Garcia effect
    28:17 – Fringe to mainstream: other examples
    32:38 – Fringe and consciousness
    33:19 – Words meanings change over time
    40:24 – Pseudoscience
    43:25 – How fringe becomes mainstream
    47:19 – More fringe characteristics
    50:06 – Pluralism as a solution
    54:02 – Progress
    1:01:39 – Encyclopedia of theories
    1:09:20 – When to reject a theory
    1:20:07 – How fringe becomes fringe
    1:22:50 – Marginilization
    1:27:53 – Recipe for fringe theorist

    [00:00:00] Laura: Fringe theories I understand as being views that aren’t taken very seriously amongst professional scientists.

    The idea with using a pluralist approach is not just to be covering all our bases and make sure we’re including the theory that ends up being the one true theory.

    The idea is that pluralism is permanent.

    I get a lot of pushback, but mostly from people who are on board with the general idea. What I get pushback on is like kind of the things you were giving me some pushback on, really. We should include everyone.

    [00:00:49] Speaker B: This is brain inspired. I’m Paul Middlebrooks, and I am less of a pluralist than my guest today, Laura Grudowski. Laura is a philosopher of science at the University of Pittsburgh. Pluralism, or scientific pluralism anyway, is roughly the idea that there is no unified account of any scientific field that we should be tolerant of and welcome a variety of theoretical and conceptual frameworks and methods and goals when doing science. Pluralism is kind of a buzword right now in my little neuroscience philosophy world, but it’s an old and well trodden notion. Many philosophers have been calling for pluralism for many years. But how pluralistic should we be in our studies and explanations in science? Laura suggests we should be very, very, very pluralistic in the episode. I call it extreme pluralism or maybe radical pluralism. But to make her case, she cites examples in the history of science of theories and theorists that were once considered, quote unquote, fringe, but went on to become mainstream, accepted theoretical frameworks and theorists.

    [00:02:04] Paul: So I thought it would be fun.

    [00:02:05] Speaker B: To have her on to share her ideas about fringe theories, mainstream theories, pluralism, etc. So even though this podcast is about neuroscience and AI and intelligence and all that jazz, we discuss a wide range of topics. But we also do discuss some specific to the brain and mind sciences. So, for example, Laura describes the trials and tribulations of something and someone that went from fringe to mainstream science, namely the Garcia effect, named after John Garcia, whose findings went against the grain of behaviorism, which was a dominant dogma of the day in psychology back 50, 60, 70 years ago. But this overturning, going from fringe to mainstream only happened after Garcia had to endure a long scientific hell of his results being ignored and shunned. So there are multiple examples like that, and we discuss a handful. And this has led Laura to the conclusion that we should accept almost all theoretical frameworks, and we discuss her ideas about how to implement this, where to draw the line, and much more. So my thanks to Laura for hanging in there and taking my probably annoying questions every once in a while. Thank you for listening and or watching. I link to Laura’s information in the show notes at Braininspired co podcast 179 one, seven, nine. And thanks, as always, to those of you who support this podcast on Patreon.

    [00:03:38] Paul: As some of, you know, who’ve recently.

    [00:03:40] Speaker B: Approached me when I’ve been at a conference to moderate a panel, et cetera. I feel so much appreciation for your support and your kind words that I get chills when I meet you guys. And so I look forward to meeting more of you in the future and appreciate your support.

    [00:03:54] Paul: All right. Here’s, Laura.

    Where should we start? There’s so many different places we could start. Just the word fringe. Is is fringe a technical term, or are you making it into a technical term?

    [00:04:09] Laura: I’m perhaps making it into a technical term, but I’m trying to capture the way that we use it naturally.

    [00:04:16] Paul: Okay. Yeah. I wonder how much of our conversation today is going to be about how we use words.

    I’m so naive, so ignorant of philosophy, I guess that I thought, well, maybe fringe is a technical term, but I never looked it up. So what to you is fringe, and how did you come to be interested in studying the fringe in science?

    [00:04:40] Laura: Yeah, great questions. So fringe theories well, I talk about fringe theories and fringe science, but fringe theories specifically are just alternative views. The way I used to define it was very simply as just, like, this broad set of alternative views that go against what the consensus is amongst professional scientists. Though the trouble with that is, like, figuring out what consensus is. And on top of that, too, there’s mainstream views that you might say are not consensus views.

    [00:05:14] Paul: Okay. Because in your dissertation, it’s kind of a battle between fringe and mainstream. That’s how I kind of pitted it in my own mind. I’m not sure if that was intentional, but consensus is a new one now for me. So keep arranging that for me, because I thought you were going to talk about fringe versus mainstream.

    [00:05:31] Laura: Yeah, that is the distinction. The way I see it now is as, like, on a continuum. So with fringe at one end and mainstream at the other end.

    [00:05:42] Paul: And where’s consensus? Sorry to interrupt.

    [00:05:45] Laura: So consensus isn’t consensus is probably somewhere over in the mainstream area.

    [00:05:50] Paul: Okay. It’s along that same continuum.

    [00:05:52] Laura: It’s not a multidimensional. It would be multidimensional.

    [00:05:55] Paul: Okay.

    [00:05:55] Laura: So consensus would be since there are mainstream views that are not consensus views, you can’t just say mainstream. You can’t define mainstream theories as the views about which professional scientists have consensus.

    I mean, perhaps there could be, like, consensus about what mainstream views are, but that’s another thing.

    Defining it along a continuum allows for borderline cases, and it allows me to to talk about super fringe and super mainstream. That’s more tentative.

    But so fringe theories I understand as being views that aren’t taken very seriously amongst professional scientists. So one measure for that is I call it, like, the sociological measure, which is a theory’s degree of absence in the relevant disciplines, peer reviewed journals or other forums for discourse. Okay, so there’s, like, levels of fringe, right?

    You don’t have to go all the way to totally absent for a theory to count as fringe, but then you.

    [00:07:15] Paul: Have to take into consideration the relevant power of the publications, right, if you’re going to quantify something. And maybe we can get in later to how to and whether to quantify fringe. But you’re already kind of talking about that, so there’s just so many different dimensions to how you would quantify fringe, I guess. So you just mentioned the relevant publications, but how do you even define that? And then do you have to score them and take a weighted average sort of thing?

    [00:07:46] Laura: I mean, we know what journals are like the top tier journals in a given discipline, right?

    I think we already have ideas for what would count.

    [00:07:55] Paul: Okay.

    [00:07:56] Laura: But specifically, I think journals published with academic presses would be like, where to look.

    [00:08:04] Paul: Not Zines. Not the old Zines.

    [00:08:07] Laura: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I think being published in Scientific, like a theory being published in Scientific American, for example, would be pretty indicative that it was mainstream.

    [00:08:17] Paul: Okay. Yeah.

    [00:08:18] Laura: Or at least on its way to mainstream.

    [00:08:22] Paul: Did someone introduce you to the term fringe or the idea of fringe, or was this on your radar beforehand, or was this floating around in philosophy before? How did it come about?

    [00:08:33] Laura: So certainly not floating around in philosophy and not really in any scientific field. I mean, here and there I did heavy searches for the use of the term fringe in philosophy papers, found a few uses here and there. There are some papers from sort of back in the day, like, I don’t know, 1970s talking about what fringe theories are, which is really cool, but all that has been sort of lost and forgotten, at least in philosophy. So, I mean, nobody told me to work on it. What I picked up was really relevant amongst sort of, like, I guess in pop culture right now, people are talking a lot about the mainstream theories saying this and fringe theories saying that.

    I think people are really interested in fringe theories.

    And I guess nobody had done this project of looking at which fringe theories even really will admit that fringe theories become mainstream. So I went around asking some philosophers what they thought about this idea. I had trouble getting convincing people at first to be my advisor on this project, but ultimately did good old John Greenwood from CUNY was supportive.

    [00:10:00] Paul: I mean, it’s juicy.

    It’s topical, right, with the recent with disinformation campaigns and what’s a truth, what’s a fact, what’s not a fact, postmodernism, et cetera. So it’s a juicy topic, right?

    [00:10:14] Laura: Yeah, totally. Yeah. We’re like, in this age of misinformation, right?

    And a lot of fringe theories are, I mean, dismissed as just being misinformation.

    [00:10:25] Paul: But let’s talk about some of the characteristics, and I’ll ask you about some examples. People are probably wondering what theories are they talking about? Give me some examples. But before we do that, what are some characteristics that qualify a theory and or a science as, quote unquote, fringe?

    [00:10:44] Laura: Good. Yeah.

    So I talked about the sort of sociological measure that you can use. So just general absence in academic forums for discourse.

    And I think it’s important to recognize, too, that a theory can be fringe relative to one discipline, but not to another discipline, or more fringe relative to one discipline than another.

    [00:11:07] Paul: What’s an example of that can you think of?

    [00:11:08] Laura: I guess I’m thinking of continental drift, which was not fringe to people studying fossil records like Paleontology, but was very fringe to geologists who were just very certain that the continents could not do something like move.

    So, I mean, you can be absent from geology journals without being absent from paleontology journals. Okay, right. But in general, a continental drift during its period on the fringe was completely absent from Nature, for example, not even criticisms.

    Okay, so you don’t even get it’s just so obviously wrong that it’s not worth yeah. Bringing up that it’s not even worth bringing up in this context. And you get a lot of ridicule and things like that.

    I think what makes a theory like super fringe is when it’s like taboo to academics, and this sort of can be captured with the sociological thing, but then there’s also, like, epistemic features. So one big thing is that fringe theories foreground anomalies.

    So they basically look at what’s anomalous to say, the going theory theories or whatever. There’s consensus views and then there’s mainstream views, which some of which are consensus views. Right, but so they look for what is the mainstream theory not capturing. I mean, in some cases, the anomalies kind of just go beyond mainstream theory. Like, you get UFOs, but the idea is that with anomalies, you can either dismiss them, sort of brush them under the rug, or say, we’ll deal with this later, or some other field should deal with this. But with fringe theories, you get them positively appraising them. So saying this is a real problem, and the upshot of that is having to reinterpret the data surrounding the anomaly, and that leads to a theory revision or theory change.

    [00:13:28] Paul: But is it the case that an anomaly will encourage someone to develop a fringe theory? Or is it the case that someone has their own theory and then the anomaly, according to some other theoretical framework, pops out at them? I would imagine one could kind of look at a theory and say, I’m going to find some anomalies, and then that’ll help generate alternative theories.

    [00:13:53] Laura: Yeah, I think that’s definitely possible.

    I guess this might not be a necessary feature, and also certainly not sufficient. Mainstream theories, too, can be really taking anomalies seriously, but it is very common feature.

    I could see somebody reinterpreting all the same data that a mainstream theory interprets, right, but without focusing on any particular anomaly.

    [00:14:32] Paul: So I read your dissertation, and I’ve seen a couple talks that you’ve given, and I hadn’t realized. So I saw your talk, and you talk about the Garcia effect. Since this is a neuroscience kind of artificial intelligence, more neuroscience podcast, the Garcia effect stood out to me as one of the major cases that you cite as having been a fringe theory that then became mainstream, and you kind of document the relative hell that Garcia had to go through.

    Well, I’ll just ask you to maybe tell that story to people as a concrete.

    [00:15:12] Laura: Garcia.

    I mean, he was working at the Naval Radiological Defense Lab in California, and he was studying the effects of radiation on the rat brain. And in doing that, he sort of realized that the rats in the radiation chambers started to avoid their water, and he hypothesized that that had to do with them associating the taste of the water with the radiation.

    And so, I mean, the going theory at this time was like behaviorist ideas like Skinner and so on, which thought that behaviors could be conditioned. But in order to condition a behavior, in order to learn a new behavior, the two associated events have to be contiguous in time and place. So one after another and repeated, and another tenet here was that all stimuli have equal potential to become conditioned in.

    [00:16:39] Paul: The behaviorism playbook that is a tenant.

    [00:16:42] Laura: Yeah.

    So Garcia did this study with he did a couple of studies in the showing that you could condition with a long delay, so you didn’t need the two events to be contiguous. So radiation and they used, like, saccharine so sweet water.

    The rats started avoiding the sweet water and their radiation chambers.

    [00:17:20] Paul: Sorry, what was Garcia’s first name?

    [00:17:22] Laura: John Garcia. Yeah, sorry.


    Where was I?

    [00:17:33] Paul: You originally described his experiments. So he hypothesized that the rats were associating the taste of the water with their radiological sickness.

    [00:17:45] Laura: Right? Yeah. So he tested this.

    [00:17:47] Paul: And the thing is, I don’t know if you mentioned this, that when you radiate, right, a mouse, it takes a long time or there’s a long delay before it feels any of the illness effects. Right?

    [00:17:58] Laura: Yeah, totally. There were questions, too, about whether you should consider the radiation itself or the illness. And I think eventually it was the illness that was coming into the picture.

    But the stimulus right, was the radiation.

    So the idea was that rats were associating the effects of the radiation, what they were experiencing as the radiation with the flavor of the water, and this.

    [00:18:35] Paul: Did not fit the stimulus response need to be paired, congruently in time, very quickly.

    [00:18:42] Laura: Yeah. And also, it was like a one shot learning. You don’t need it to be repeated.

    That’s it. Just don’t drink that water.

    [00:18:49] Paul: But the first few publications so at first, John Garcia did not I’m telling a little bit of your story and just interrupt me, because the first few publications that he submitted were essentially accepted. And you argued that that’s partly because he interpreted his results by saying that it actually was not incongruent with behaviorism. So he kind of, like, couched the experiments or tried to make the results of the experiments fit the behavioralist paradigm. But then he started getting into trouble when he started using language that questioned the behaviorist paradigm.

    [00:19:26] Laura: Yes, totally. So, I mean, originally tried to fit it into the sort of classical conditioning language, and it didn’t really generate any citations. Like, nobody was paying. Just nobody really cared, which is also interesting.

    And, I mean, it got into science, you know, so that’s a big deal, which should be right. But then later, like, to you know, like, I mean, he was continuing to do studies, and he was publishing on all different kinds of things. He was working on his PhD eventually, and eventually finished it, and after leaving for a while, after failing a statistics exam.

    [00:20:13] Paul: Gives us all hope. It gives us all hope. Yeah.

    [00:20:16] Laura: Yeah, totally.

    [00:20:18] Paul: But then he was shunned.

    [00:20:20] Laura: Yeah. So yeah, so, I mean, you first you’re shunned, right? And then there’s hope.

    So he around 1966, he published a couple more papers, which really called into question some of the behaviorists principles, those three that I mentioned, the stimulus, equipotentiality, the repetition, and the contiguity in space and time.

    And people were not pleased with this.

    So those papers did not get into science. He had tried they also were rejected from the Journal for Comparative Physiology and Psychology, which is like an APA journal, and ended up in sort of new journal at the time, Psychonomic Science, which was more about measurement than about learning and didn’t have a whole peer review process. And he ended up publishing a shorter version of both of those papers in Psychonomic science because neither of them could get published elsewhere.

    And then the whole story goes on for about some 1015 years. I mean, he won the APA’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in 1980, 1979, some 15 years or so. And even during that time, even when he was winning the APA’s Award, he was still getting journal rejections from not everyone bought it.

    I think you probably remember me talking about this guy Bitterman, who was just very resistant to these ideas. And then there’s, like, the famous line of, you know, those findings from Garcia are no more likely than birdshit and a cuckoo clock.

    [00:22:36] Paul: Yeah, which he did he quote that in his sort of he had an acceptance speechletter, right? Did he quote it in that?

    [00:22:44] Laura: No, it’s not from no, no.

    [00:22:47] Paul: I thought he quoted as someone having criticized him.

    [00:22:50] Laura: Yeah. So he goes through all the sort of rejections he got.

    [00:22:55] Paul: He kept tabs.

    [00:22:57] Laura: Yeah, totally.

    I think in a sort of joking way, he’s clearly a little bit was a little bitter about it.

    He diagnosed as the rejections he got as, like, neophobia of editorial consultants. And I think the funny thing about that is that his theories, his idea that this was conditioned learning that was happening here, were rejected as like, oh, no, it’s just neophobia. Like the rats are just afraid of this new, I don’t know, water in this new situation or something. So, I mean, there are different interpretations, but ultimately his case wins out and.

    [00:23:47] Paul: Now the effect has his namesake, the Garcia effect.

    [00:23:50] Laura: The Garcia effect.

    [00:23:53] Paul: Sort of the upshot is that there was this scientific effect. I don’t know, was it theory already or it kind of just started with an observation and did he develop a theory then to counter the behaviorist paradigm? Or was it more like, this is.

    [00:24:08] Laura: An anomaly, guys, everybody yeah, that’s definitely something that I thought a bit about, which is that what he’s proposing is not really a theory, it’s more of a constraint to behaviorist theory or like the imperialism of behaviorism. So showing that it’s not only in cases where there’s repetition that learning happens and it’s not only in cases and also to the stimulus equipotentiality thing where actually it does matter what the stimulus is.

    [00:24:51] Paul: Yeah. And it matters which senses you’re taking it in.

    [00:24:55] Laura: Right, yes.

    And there were other people at the time who were working on animal behavior and finding that it was impossible to condition certain types of behaviors.

    So I think one of the examples I gave was that the brelins who had this animal behavior enterprises were trying to condition behaviors in raccoons and all kinds of animals and they were trying to get a raccoon to put a coin in a piggy bank, of course.


    And he instead would just rub the coin in this very miserly fashion, I guess in a way that’s similar to the way they rub their food. He wouldn’t let go of it.

    But anyway, so, I mean, the point is that there were other people in the background kind of contributing to this idea that we could have the stimulus matters. Not any animal is just going to do anything through conditioning.

    [00:26:09] Paul: But are you saying that that is one of the drivers of the Garcia effect becoming more mainstream or being accepted?

    [00:26:18] Laura: I think so.

    [00:26:19] Paul: I think that also, if I remember correctly, there was also the quote unquote cognitive revolution that was happening at the same kind of time and behaviorism was being I’m not going to say, I won’t say attacked, but overthrown by the cognitive revolution. Right. And so that sort of made it more acceptable that these kinds of experiment or results would be interpreted in a more favorable.

    [00:26:47] Laura: I mean, some people would deny. So I talked to some different scientists who were involved in the working on the early replications of the Garcia effect. And some of them say it has nothing to do with the cognitive revolution. Others say, no, it totally did, like.

    [00:27:07] Paul: All about it shocking, people have different opinions.

    [00:27:09] Laura: Yeah.

    But yeah, my take is that a couple people who were really crucial for helping the Garcia effect gain respectability include, like, Martin Saligman and Paul Rosin.

    And, I mean, Salagman had this book where Garcia there were articles, like, five different papers from Garcia published in it. But at the same time, too, he was coming up with this sort of, like, computational language for describing cognition and as having there being these internal states, which was not the behaviorist’s cup of tea, especially when it comes to animals. I think that was a problem. So, I mean, the reason people think, oh, it had nothing to do with the cognitive revolution is because the cognitive revolution was so focused on humans.

    [00:28:11] Paul: Okay, yeah, that makes sense, but I.

    [00:28:13] Laura: Definitely think there’s some coincidence there.

    [00:28:17] Paul: What are a few of your other go to examples? And you don’t have to tell the full stories, but just to kind of rip off some theories that began as fringe and are now accepted as mainstream to let people realize that there’s more than just a few of these because they’re really kind of endless.

    [00:28:35] Laura: Yeah.

    So we’ve got magneto reception in birds that was proposed in, like, 1870s, something like that.

    And, I mean, the the sort of anomaly there was that they noticed that young birds were migrating without the help of adults. So the question was, like, how are they doing this? So there were some theories that said the stars were orienting the birds.

    Anyway, I won’t get too much into the details, unless you want to ask.

    [00:29:12] Paul: Yeah, rip off a few. Yeah, that’s great.

    [00:29:14] Laura: Yeah. So magneto reception in birds that became mainstream maybe 1950s, somewhere in there now in humans. There’s some research there in the mainstream happening.

    [00:29:30] Paul: My understanding of that was that it’s still fringe.

    [00:29:33] Laura: My reading it’s definitely still fringe. Definitely still fringe. But people I mean, there’s a guy at Stanford who’s working on it and has shown that the human brain responds to changing magnetic fields anyway, so it’s still fringe.

    Other examples of theories that were once fringe, continental drift is, like, the big one.

    [00:29:57] Paul: Yeah, you had mentioned that one before. Are there any of them that are more amusing to you that you think of as kind of well, I guess continental drift and I guess the three you’ve already listed would be the most amusing to you because you use them extensively.

    [00:30:12] Laura: Yeah, well, so there’s a bunch of other ones. I mean, there are dozens.

    So there’s a few examples from traditional ecological knowledge of theories that were just thought to be sort of like spiritual mythology that later turned out to be true. So one example is Olfaction in Wales.

    [00:30:37] Paul: Oh, yeah. The Inuits Eskimos at the time, inuits.

    [00:30:40] Laura: I’m not sure what you’re supposed to call them. Yeah, arctic and subarctic Inuit peoples found that they had to put out their fires on land in order to hunt for the whales. And, I mean, the reason people thought this couldn’t be is that toothed whales don’t have an olfactory system, but it turns out that baleen bullhead whales have quite the olfactory system.

    That theory was around for probably thousands of years.

    But I mean, dismissed probably for less a shorter period than that, but ultimately won out. There’s also firebirds, which.

    [00:31:32] Paul: Yeah, go ahead. I thought you were going to talk about them without explaining what they are. Because I know they have a fire, for instance.

    [00:31:39] Laura: Yeah. So firebirds are falcons or kites who drop burning sticks on unburned areas of forests.

    And this is thought to be like I mean, this is part of creation kind of story.

    But of course, people in the mainstream are like, that’s crazy, why would a bird do that?

    Really? Recently, I think it’s 2017, they found that, yes, there are birds that drop burning sticks on unburned areas of forests. And the idea is to get all the insects and little rodents and stuff out of the forest so that they’re easier to catch.

    [00:32:30] Paul: Yeah, it’s a good idea.

    [00:32:33] Laura: It’s a great idea.

    [00:32:34] Paul: Yeah, if you like to eat that sort of thing.

    One of the reasons why I wanted to have you on after learning more about your work is because neuroscience and I’ll just say that the studies of intelligence, right, artificial intelligence, natural intelligence is still a very new field. And as you, I’m sure, are aware, there are about 6000 different theories about consciousness, for example. And recently I’ve had on multiple people who are questioning the, I guess, mainstream or consensus story in neuroscience about memory and how memories are stored, whether it’s like through the synapses between neurons or if it’s somehow stored intracellularly.

    So I started wondering, well, is this fringe? Is the intracellular memory story fringe? Because one of the guests is having trouble getting funding, which is a gatekeeping.

    [00:33:36] Laura: Gatekeeping, yeah, that’s definitely well, it’s a sign.

    [00:33:39] Paul: It’s a sign that it’s fringe. Totally.

    And we didn’t talk about that. So I want to come back to consciousness in a minute because I’m sure you have thoughts on recent goings on about pseudoscience, et cetera.

    But backing up again, just to one of the general features that makes something labeled as fringe is that there’s an active suppression of the ideas in the community, whether it’s from editors, this funding issue, right. That the funding is not provided to this particular person or persons who have these ideas that are not mainstream is kind of an active suppression. Silencing marginalization is the term that you use as well. Yeah, I don’t know if you want to just speak to that. I just wanted to throw that in there. I’m not sure if we mentioned it before.

    I’ve been having these people on the podcast, these researchers, and of course, I’ve always been interested in consciousness as all interesting humans are. Not saying that I’m interesting, but do you have the lay of the land of consciousness theories and what is considered fringe, what is considered mainstream. Because there was a recent kerfuffle about one group of people calling another group, not calling them pseudoscience or calling their ideas pseudoscience. I think in that paper, they actually alluded to the idea that integrated information theory has been labeled by someone as potentially pseudoscience. And this caused everyone to say that the authors of the paper were actually calling IIT pseudoscience. So I don’t know. You must have enjoyed following this.

    [00:35:27] Laura: So I didn’t follow it too closely. Mostly what I know about it is hearsay. But I am up on theories of conscious.

    That used to be my whole game was consciousness studies.

    It’s interesting. I mean, at least in philosophy, like panpsychism, for example, is pretty mainstream.

    [00:35:53] Paul: I would say it’s becoming more mainstream. But there’s a lot of I think that there are passions that become apparent when talking about something like panpsychism.

    [00:36:05] Laura: Right, passions, yeah.

    [00:36:09] Paul: People’s intuitions take over. People like the discarding of an idea as being ridiculous on the surface. For example, that the rock is conscious.

    [00:36:19] Laura: Yeah. Oh, totally. I mean, at least when it’s put that way, I guess there’s panpsychist views that are, I guess, less wild.

    Like, they don’t say rocks are conscious.

    Right. They’re more like there’s something going on at the level, at the lowest level of physics that is generating consciousness at the human level, whether that’s really panpsychism.

    So panpsychism, as like, rocks are conscious, is definitely fringe.

    [00:37:01] Paul: See, we’re not supposed to be laughing at this, right?

    [00:37:05] Laura: No, that’s exactly the problem.

    [00:37:07] Paul: Because your solution is we’re part of the problem. Yeah, I’m part of the problem. I know that, but it’s entertaining. The problems that are entertaining. But your solution is sort of an extreme pluralism. And maybe we’ll come to that.

    We’ll pause here because let’s say the word panpsychism. Well, there are 400 different flavors of panpsychism. And the term panpsychism, I’m not sure about its etymology and its history, but presumably it meant one thing at one time. And the way that we define panpsychism or any term drifts over time. And I’m wondering how much of considering something that used to be fringe and now is mainstream, how much of it or how often can it be the case that what’s actually happening is that we’re just reinterpreting a term that used to be used one way and now we’re interpreting it a different way, but we use the same word for it? And if that’s a fair way to.

    [00:38:09] Laura: Look at I mean, totally. So I think actually, again, continental drift is a good case to look at here because Alfred Wagner, who is probably the most famous for proposing continental displacement, had this sort of astronomical mechanism for it, which was not something that was accepted by ever accepted by mainstream mean. It did change significantly from the time Alfred Wagner proposed it to the time it was accepted some half a century later.

    What didn’t change is that. The confidence move.

    [00:38:57] Paul: Okay?

    [00:38:58] Laura: Right. And I think that’s what’s important. I think you’ll see this in a lot of cases of fringe theories where it’s like they’re not necessarily mature theories in the sense of have it all worked out. Right. So a lot of them are lacking a mechanism to explain how they work. So they’ll often invoke sort of what seems like magical ideas to explain something, where you see this in parapsychology.

    And I think seeing that as a problem is a problem. So rather than recognizing that that’s a feature of theories that are just coming into the game, not everything will stay the same about a theory when it moves from fringe to mainstream. Right.

    Certainly a lot of the original features are lost. But I think what’s relevant here is that the core idea, like in continental drift, the idea that the continents can change their positions and break apart over time, that’s still true.

    [00:40:13] Paul: Has the term continent been consistent over time?

    What we mean by when we say continent. I mean, you know, there are just these issues. Like, so when people debate the word intelligence, for example, or consciousness, I would guess 90% of the time they’re talking past each other because they have different conceptual frameworks regarding the terms that they’re using and the way that they approach it. And you write about theory ladenness and a bunch of that stuff, so we don’t have to get deep in the commensurability, et cetera, but I just wonder how much so when a fringe theory becomes mainstream, you’re saying that the cluster of features of the theory can change as it becomes mainstream. So it’s not like it just, here’s a theory, people thought it was bad, now it’s become mainstream and people think it’s good.

    [00:41:08] Laura: Right? Yeah.

    Even if you think about these cases that I brought up from traditional ecological knowledge right. You don’t get the whole spiritual mythology story along with firebirds. Right.

    And yeah, I mean, so but I think the core of the theory is what is becoming mainstream in these cases.

    [00:41:31] Paul: So I mentioned pseudoscience, the term pseudoscience, and I mentioned it in talking about this recent paper that was signed, like by a bunch of consciousness researchers.

    And the label was applied to integrated Information theory, which is a burgeoning and mainstream, I would say, approach to consciousness these days. But the term pseudoscience is a real insult these days.

    What makes something count as pseudoscience?

    [00:42:11] Laura: Great question. So the way I understand pseudoscience is someone is doing pseudoscience if they’re pretending to do science but don’t really believe they are.

    Right. So rarely are you going to get somebody who is being dismissed as a pseudoscientist accepting that title, right? Most people who are doing pseudoscience believe they’re doing science. They don’t believe they’re faking it. Right. So, I mean, I see pseudoscience really as just a term of abuse and almost vulgar should be a curse word.

    But I mean, in the sense of, like, oh, you’re just, like, faking it. Right.

    But really the way it functions is just to silence at least the sort of consensus in philosophy is that there’s not really much meaning to the term.

    [00:43:07] Paul: Because it’s like the worst kind of burn you can give to a scientist.

    [00:43:11] Laura: Yeah, totally.

    As soon as a theory is dismissed as pseudoscience, there are negative consequences for that theory.

    So I think that’s probably part of what underlies that whole debate about integrated information theory.

    [00:43:33] Paul: That whole thing was kind of overplayed. Overdone. But that’s what social media also does these days, and let’s not talk about social media.

    Okay, so let’s say we have a fringe theory.

    What I want to know is how does a fringe theory become mainstream, right? Because it’s kind of like the fringe theory is the underdog, and you’re kind of rooting for the underdog if it has the potential to become, quote unquote, mainstream. Because mainstream means you’ve somehow succeeded in promoting your theory from fringe to mainstream. So what other qualities of fringe theories is there a way to tell what a promising fringe theory is that has the promise to become mainstream? Are there features that you can point to?

    [00:44:21] Laura: For example, I know all of my cases are, like, of fringe theories becoming mainstream, and this is supposed to convince people that mainstream status means that a theory is true, but just equally, mainstream theories do not stay mainstream.

    Right. So measuring a theory’s success in terms of its mainstream status seems like a bit of a problem. But that is what convinces people, right, is that scientists have taken it up, so it must be legitimate.

    [00:45:01] Paul: So I kind of read into your work that you’re kind of rooting for the fringe theories to have an equal footing at the table so that they’re not then kind of dissolving the term fringe, right, so that everything is kind of mainstream.

    But that’s assuming that mainstream is good. Right? So let’s say a theory goes from fringe to mainstream, and now what happens to it now that it’s mainstream? Now you have other fringes competing with it as the mainstream winner, right?

    [00:45:32] Laura: Totally. Yeah. Okay, that’s definitely true.

    Something that might indicate that a theory has potential to become mainstream is just it’s people resisting it, like paying attention to it in any way. Right. So people putting energy into debunking a theory is indicative that that theory somehow threatens the mainstream theory enough to actually say something about it, as opposed to.

    [00:46:08] Paul: Let’S say, because I was going to ask.

    So as a scientist, I’m kind of indifferent to some theories, right? So I don’t need to actively suppress anything.

    It’s not in my worldview, and it doesn’t affect me, and I don’t care. Is that super fringe for me? Is indifference worse than debunk trying to debunk?

    [00:46:30] Laura: No, I think indifference is totally normal. And what super fringe is when we can’t talk about it because it’s so taboo. Yeah. Or at least if we talk about it, we’re going to be like telling a joke.



    [00:46:54] Paul: The best kind of phrase.

    [00:46:55] Laura: Yeah, it is. It’s fun.

    So, yeah, maybe we shouldn’t be having so much fun with some of these theories.

    [00:47:08] Paul: No, science is supposed to be fun, so, yeah, we should be having fun, but not in a derogatory way, perhaps.

    [00:47:17] Laura: Yeah, I didn’t think about this as like, now people are going to lose their joke database.

    [00:47:23] Paul: Yeah. And that’s kind of precious, actually.

    [00:47:26] Laura: Yeah.

    [00:47:27] Paul: So you write about Thomas Coon and Carl Popper, about how science goes and sort of the Coonian scientific progress, the Paparian scientific progress, and Coon writes about scientific norms and how they kind of eventually get overthrown over the course of a, quote, scientific revolution. Is that one of the characteristics of fringe theories is that they’re sort of pre what is the word that Kuhn uses? Pre paradigmatic.

    [00:47:59] Laura: Yeah. Pre paradigm.

    Yeah. So, I mean, great question. And totally that is something that we see with fringe theories, is that they sort of defy the methodological and procedural norms that we tend to value in science. So things like internal consistency of a theory, but also consistency with established theories.

    So with Ufology, you get theories there.

    [00:48:32] Paul: That Ufology, the study of UFOs, I should just clarify yes.

    [00:48:39] Laura: That sort of defy the laws of physics, which that’s not being consistent with established theories.

    Other things include, like, lacking a mechanism, which I mentioned.

    [00:48:53] Paul: If you don’t propose a mechanism, like if your theory does not propose a.

    [00:48:56] Laura: Mechanistic account, if there isn’t an acceptable mechanism, a mechanism that people will if it’s magic by like if it’s magic that doesn’t work.

    Of course, when theory is taken up by the mainstream, a lot of those things, those things go away.

    But I think just looking at those features, just breaking the norms as a bad thing, is just sort of short sighted, I guess.

    We shouldn’t expect theories on the fringe to be following norms. We shouldn’t expect the same norms for theory construction as we expect for theory testing.

    So the idea as I see it, at least with fringe theories, is we’re discovering hypotheses to be tested, not testing hypotheses.

    So lacking evidence and cherry picking and things like that shouldn’t really be norms that come into the picture.

    [00:50:09] Paul: Let’s transition and talk about your solution, your proposed solution, which you don’t call extreme pluralism, you just use the term pluralism. But maybe extreme is too extreme a term. It is a hefty pluralism.

    What kind of pluralism? What adjective would you put in front in front of pluralism to describe your brand of pluralism that is aimed at solving the way that we treat fringe theories? Essentially, yeah.

    [00:50:42] Laura: Extreme works. I would say thorough going.

    [00:50:44] Paul: Thorough going. Okay.

    [00:50:46] Laura: Yeah.

    [00:50:46] Paul: Aspirational. That has a nice ring to it.

    [00:50:49] Laura: It sounds kind aspirational that can be your adjective.

    [00:50:56] Paul: Extreme is fine.

    [00:50:57] Laura: Yeah, extreme pluralism. I didn’t know it was so extreme.

    I guess it’s extreme in the sense of everyone is included.

    [00:51:08] Paul: Yeah. Describe what you think should should happen.

    [00:51:12] Laura: So pluralism is well, I am a pluralist about theories. So specifically this idea that we should be using more than one theory to investigate some domain, and those theories need.

    [00:51:33] Paul: Not be mutually consistent, just differentiate theory and framework. For me, I think that a framework comes along for the ride with a theory, right?

    [00:51:49] Laura: Yeah.

    I guess theoretical framework is maybe the same as theory. I mean, maybe you get with framework, theories can be more general or more precise. Like, there are many theories that make up a single theory, you might say.

    But yeah, I mean, with theory, too, you get like, what methods are okay. That can be part of theory. So you might think of this more as, like paradigm pluralism.

    [00:52:18] Paul: Okay.

    [00:52:19] Laura: So being able to use alternative research methods alongside the established research methods.

    Yeah, with pluralism, what the ideal is, is to be able to sort of switch between the theories you’re using. So investigate the same domain with two different theories. So theories that are not necessarily consistent with one another. And it’s sort of like the Gestalt switching that happens with the necrocube, like seeing it this way and then seeing it that way. But it’s the same thing you’re seeing.

    [00:53:02] Paul: As an individual researcher, you’re saying you should be able to hold that what is that, cognitive dissidents? Holding two yeah, which is hard.

    Which is hard. But if your version of pluralism is the way to go, I don’t have to hold two theories in mind. I have to hold 600 theories in mind. Right. And I have.

    Okay? Thousands. About my particular.

    [00:53:28] Laura: Part of what I say about this is that not everybody has to use every theory. Right. I mean, the main thing is to be more tolerant towards alternative theories. But I think people shouldn’t do research according to a theory that they are not interested in in any way.

    [00:53:50] Paul: I was going to ask you that because we all have our individual interests as well.

    [00:53:55] Laura: Totally. Yeah.

    Just as you wouldn’t do research on a topic that you’re not interested in, you shouldn’t use a theory that you’re not.

    [00:54:01] Paul: But if I want to claim progress on the topic that I’m interested in, what you’re saying is that I damn well better know all of the different viewpoints, or it would behoove me to know all of the different viewpoints if I want to claim progress.

    [00:54:15] Laura: I don’t know what you mean by progress, but I was going to ask.

    [00:54:18] Speaker B: You what progress is.

    [00:54:19] Paul: So I’m glad you brought that up because I think a lot of people are like me in research, at least in that I’ve often questioned, like, what I’m doing can be fun. It can be answering scientific questions, certain ones, but is it really progress? Am I making any progress?

    And I don’t know that I have a good answer to that.

    The basic research game is a long game, right, and you can’t really predict what kind of quote unquote progress or discoveries are going to come from it. So you’re often like swimming in this deep ocean not knowing whether you’re actually heading towards shore for a terrible analogy. Sorry.

    So what is progress, right?

    If we need to bring fringe to the mainstream or treat them treat everything with tolerance, presumably that’s because you think that different perspective, different theoretical frameworks have the ability to generate, quote unquote, progress equally.

    [00:55:27] Laura: Okay, so progress, just stepping back to that is, I mean, the way I see it, at least, it requires to understand whether we are making progress. We have to have some goalpost in mind, and that is not something that is given to us by nature. We stipulate that depending on what our goals are, are we making progress or not making progress, but with theories contributing in a sort of pluralistic way.

    I wouldn’t necessarily say that each one is making progress so much as putting them all together would allow you to see things in a more nuanced way.

    Whereas working with a single theory sort of shuts off certain possibilities from your mind.

    I don’t know if progress is the.

    [00:56:34] Paul: Right word here for yeah, we don’t have to quibble about the word progress, but you brought up go ahead, I’m sorry.

    [00:56:43] Laura: No.

    [00:56:45] Paul: I think you just brought up constraint, or maybe it popped into my head because I’ve been thinking about constraints as a very positive thing in the past couple years.

    And in a sense, to make any movement, to have a thought, you have to have a constraint because if you don’t have any constraints, everything dissolves into a uniform distribution, which means that there’s nothing because there’s everything and nothing can move. Right. You have to have some sort of constraints on your theories as well. You have to have a viewpoint or I mean, you can have multiple viewpoints, right, but within that one viewpoint, constraint is necessary. Correct?

    [00:57:28] Laura: Within a single viewpoint constraint is necessary.

    [00:57:31] Paul: To make a claim, you have to have background assumptions.

    [00:57:34] Laura: You have to say, like, certain things can’t happen.

    [00:57:37] Paul: Sure.

    [00:57:38] Laura: Is that what you mean?

    [00:57:39] Paul: Yeah, it could be, but what’s a different way to put this? Let’s go with that. Let’s go with that.

    [00:57:46] Laura: Well, I mean, I guess with like testing a hypothesis, you don’t test it unless it could turn out to fail.

    [00:57:53] Paul: Right, right, okay, well, maybe I’ll bring this in because I was going to ask you about this anyway, and maybe this can serve as the background example since you have a background in studying consciousness research or studies or theories, and that used to be your entire thing. You said you’re probably well aware of the modern dominance of the computational or the brain as a computer metaphor, the computational approach to studying brains and mind. Right. In the neurosciences and the cognitive sciences, and there are alternative metaphors that people have proposed that I suppose you would call fringe. But if you take the computational approach, you’re assuming that the brain is some sort is computing something, right. And then you can say, well, what is it computing? And then you can use the mathematical functions that we have used to make predictions about brain activity, and that’s been very, very successful, and it wouldn’t have been able to occur without the background metaphor that the brain is.

    I’m not sure if that’s an example for as a theory needing to have constraints in order to make progress.

    [00:59:15] Laura: Right, okay, I see what you’re saying.

    Yes. So what you want is you don’t want to be using all the theories as continuous, which would be really hard to do when you have mutually inconsistent theories.

    You want each theory to give you some kind of constraint, like a way to see the events unfolding according to a different view. Right. So, like, according to the computational view, I mean, what would be the alternative to the computational view?

    [00:59:47] Paul: That the brain is a dissipative structure, that the brain is a cascading phenomenon?

    [00:59:55] Laura: Yeah, totally. And that actually brings up one of the sort of things I’ve been thinking about with theories, is that they’re sort of like metaphors or analogies.

    They don’t tell you the way the world is. They give you a way of looking at the world.

    So, like, as a cascade or as a computer or whatever. Right.

    So, I mean, I think the more of these we can use and compare them to each other, we capture more of the subtleties that are going on in nature.

    [01:00:43] Paul: Do we capture them, or do we appreciate them more?

    [01:00:46] Laura: Yeah, capture might be the wrong word there.

    [01:00:48] Paul: Well, yeah, I mean, this brings up my own epistemic and resource limitations right. Because alternative frameworks are attractive to me, because I appreciate how perspectivalism right. Is a different way of stating this. I appreciate the different viewpoints it gives me into a phenomenon. But I often wonder, first of all, how much time do I spend on thinking about this because I have a day job. Secondly, how much purchase does it actually give me to dive in? How deep do I need to dive in?

    Because there’s a danger that I will gain nothing from it. Right, and you don’t want to go down empty, dead end roads along yeah.

    [01:01:36] Laura: I mean, with any research, there’s a danger that you get nothing from it. Right. You might think this is sorry to.

    [01:01:43] Paul: Interrupt, but if you’re working in the mainstream right. Your peers are going to believe, whether you got something or not, are going to believe that you’re doing it the right way.

    [01:01:53] Laura: Yeah, at least that.

    [01:01:56] Paul: Let me ask you this. Okay. So I guess what I’m getting at is your long term vision for this because you want to be able to catalog all of the different available theories just because as it is right now, if you open nature or something like that, you’re not going to be able to access them, but you want some sort of resource. Ultimately that is like the encyclopedia of theories about subject X.

    [01:02:21] Laura: Exactly.

    [01:02:22] Paul: Is that your long term goal?

    [01:02:24] Laura: I mean, that’s a great way to put it. And encyclopedia is the way I’ve thought about this a bit. It’s sort of like creating a system, like a socially mediated system where people contribute their observations and theories they use or their interpretations of those observations and those all get piled into that just becomes what science is and you get status about what people’s backgrounds are. Like this is an MD or this is a Neuroscientist and you can generate out of that.

    You could even figure out what the consensus view is or you could even have upvote system involved. But then there’s also other options too, which are like nature could have an issue every year where they highlight fringe theories. I think people would be really interested in that.

    It might increase their readership.


    [01:03:33] Paul: Like reality television shows increase viewership. Right. No, but I’m serious. I’m not calling fringe theories a train wreck, but everyone likes to see a train wreck. And if it’s something outside of your everyday experience in world, I mean, some people might tune in for the comedic value or for that like, oh, let me see about all these people that are doing science that is invalid or pseudoscience or ridiculous. And it makes me feel better to see all of this terrible science going on. Right, so there’s entertainment value in it, right?

    [01:04:09] Laura: That could be, but I think part of what it would do is show people that actually these people are doing science pretty well in some cases. And especially I’m sure if nature did choose to have a fringe issue, they would be highlighting cases where people were doing really interesting stuff and not just have it be like a comedy kind of thing.

    [01:04:37] Paul: I mean, I wasn’t seriously suggesting that it should just have comedic value, but I’m just agreeing with you that it would be popular but for more cynical reasons, I think.

    [01:04:50] Laura: Yeah, okay, fair enough. I don’t know, I think people will laugh things off before they actually read into it. And I mean, a lot actually part of where my interest in fringe theories came from is I just couldn’t stop reading or listening to these bizarre ideas and yeah, at some point you listen so much that you’re like, wait, this isn’t as bizarre as I thought it was. Or there’s more to this than people think.

    And often we just like the reason we laugh at aliens and UFOs is because that’s all we think. We just think, oh little green men, there’s way more to it than that.

    [01:05:41] Paul: I don’t laugh at aliens.

    I think that’s a dangerous idea, actually. To laugh at aliens, but yeah, different way. I don’t laugh at the people studying Ufologists or anything of that nature as well.

    [01:05:54] Laura: Well, not anymore.

    [01:05:55] Paul: Well, I never did, but this is a huge tangent that we can’t go on, I suppose. But I had a huge prior that some sort of extraterrestrial beings had been here before, and so the last couple of years with the UAPs now, I mean, it’s not surprising, but it’s shocking that it’s not bigger.

    It’s world changing news, and it’s shocking that it’s not yeah.

    [01:06:27] Laura: Disclosure has happened and nobody cares.

    I don’t know. People are still like, yeah, I still don’t believe it.

    Especially people who were around when in the 60s, when stuff was coming out about UFOs and then turned out all to be, like, a hoax. Right. It was just like a weather balloon or something.

    I think people who’ve had that experience of being hopeful and then being disappointed are more resistant now.

    [01:06:59] Paul: Oh, you think so?

    [01:07:00] Laura: Yeah.

    [01:07:02] Paul: Okay, so would you call what would we call it? The idea of extraterrestrial beings? What I want to do is give it a label. Is it fringe still, or is it mainstream? Where would it be in your continuum?

    [01:07:16] Laura: I could think we could still call it theories in Ufology, but yeah, I mean, there’s problems with calling them aliens, right? Just like calling anybody an alien is social.

    [01:07:28] Paul: It’s offensive.

    [01:07:29] Laura: Yeah.

    Politically incorrect, perhaps.

    [01:07:33] Paul: Is it derogatory? I don’t know.

    [01:07:35] Laura: I never derogatory. Yeah, you can’t use words, but anyway yeah, you can’t use words anymore.

    Right. So what’s the question? If aliens yeah.

    [01:07:47] Paul: Is that fringe or mainstream or where is it on your continuum?

    [01:07:52] Laura: There are definitely theories in Ufology that are still very fringe. So it’s not one thing, for example, that the aliens are here as rebranding themselves as the angels and demons from the past.

    They’re rebranding themselves for a scientific audience.

    That’s a very fringe theory still. But then I think, in general, the whole idea that we’re actually seeing something here, like, these are craft, these are not just weather balloons or clouds is becoming mainstream. I would say it’s in the transition phase, just considering how many people still just have no, like, the New York Times isn’t putting out articles about these are real. Right. It’s still like people are really still hesitant about making any sort of claims in this affinity. But I mean, literally, it’s like in Congress, right? People have made statements that, yes, we recovered a crashed craft, including non human.

    [01:09:16] Paul: Biologics, and we’re all like, all right, I gotta go to work. See you later.

    [01:09:20] Laura: Thanks for letting me know. Exactly.

    [01:09:22] Paul: Yeah, it’s insane.

    I could talk about this all day, but it’s not the focus of my podcast. We’ll continue the conversation afterward. But for the purpose of the podcast, we should say that what I have called your extreme pluralism. There are cases in which you deny that a fringe theory should be taken seriously.

    Well, I guess you wouldn’t call it a fringe theory, but you want to talk about a few of the reasons why we might not accept a theory as unequal footing, why we shouldn’t, or why we don’t in cases why we should not. Should not normatively.

    [01:10:05] Laura: I would say if it’s fraudulent, like if it’s intending to deceive people, or if its intent is not focused on general well being of humans and the planet, how do we tell? Those would be two indicators.

    [01:10:24] Paul: How do we tell?

    [01:10:25] Laura: I mean, I think that’s up to our best judgment. Right. We don’t always tell.

    [01:10:33] Paul: This is a problem. Our own judgment is a problem. Always. Right.

    [01:10:37] Laura: Our own judgment is always a problem.

    [01:10:39] Paul: One of the things I was thinking about is that if I were good, pluralist could never win an office, political office, because to win political office, you have to know the right answer and convince people that you know the right answer.

    [01:10:56] Laura: Right. And that there is a right answer.

    [01:10:58] Paul: That there is a right answer, even, and I know it, and I’m certain, which is very different from the pluralist, who’s more like a stoic, almost. Right.

    [01:11:10] Laura: Yeah. In what sense? Like a stoic.

    [01:11:13] Paul: Well, forget I said stoic. We want to talk about stoicism, but sort of accepting things as they are. Right. It’s more maybe more like a Buddhist, we’ll say, than a stoic. How about that?

    [01:11:25] Laura: Is that a better analogy? That’s interesting.

    There is definitely something, when you get into that pluralist mindset, there is something that eases up in you, like there’s.

    [01:11:36] Paul: Something sort of oh, yeah, it does feel nice. A burden has been lifted almost sometimes. Right.

    [01:11:41] Laura: Yeah. Where it’s like with pluralism. Right. It’s not like eventually we’re going to get to the right theory. It’s like the one true theory. Right.

    [01:11:56] Paul: Talk about that more because you go into some depth on that. So, yeah. What does this mean for the future of science? Are we going to figure it all out?

    [01:12:04] Laura: Yeah, the idea with using a pluralist approach is not just to be covering all our bases and make sure we’re including the theory that ends up being the one true theory.

    The idea is that pluralism is permanent. It’s not something that is going to go away.

    And that doesn’t mean you can’t say you can’t make statements that are true. Right. But they’re always true according to some theory, and yeah. So, I mean, I don’t know where we where we’re going with the future.

    [01:12:48] Paul: But you’ve talked about so that there basically will be no end in principle.

    [01:12:55] Laura: Right, yeah. Oh, I see. Yeah. Right. So that’s my no end principle.

    [01:12:59] Paul: Sorry, I forgot that it was called the no end principle. Yeah. What is the no end principle?

    [01:13:03] Laura: Well, it’s kind of a funny name for it. I don’t know if that’s what it should be called. I mean, it definitely captures what it is. I think. But the idea that there is no end to the scientific discoveries and creations that we as humans can make, and there’s no end in the sense of there’s no final stage at which we figured it all out. And I don’t think we want that either.

    We seem to think we want that, but that just means, like, all avenues are closed. There’s nothing new for us and the world. I mean, the universe is expanding, right?

    [01:13:49] Paul: At least in some sense, according to some mainstream theory.

    [01:13:53] Laura: According to some mainstream theory. Well, time is continuing and things are unfolding, and things that we’ve never considered might be worth considering in the future.

    We go back and forth between what theories are true.

    [01:14:15] Paul: One of my favorite phenomenon is that old historical ideas that have either been discarded or forgotten tend to come back and get rediscovered. And I shouldn’t say this without, like, definitive examples coming to mind, but it’s always like, some historical figure that used to think this way and then it went away, and now we’ve discovered some things, and lo and behold, it connects to that past thing very well. And I’m not sure if this idea connects to your oscillations idea, fringe, mainstream oscillations idea, but maybe does what I just said connect? Oh, maybe you could reflect on how it does then.

    [01:15:00] Laura: Yeah, with even heliocentrism right. There were ideas that the sun was the center of the solar system from ancient Greek times. I forget who it is, but you can probably do a quick Google search.

    And then we had a geocentric system and then back to Heliocentrism. That’s the sort of oscillation that I have in mind.

    [01:15:29] Paul: But does that necessarily mean we’re going to go back to.

    [01:15:35] Laura: Mean Einstein thought that we could see things in both ways.

    [01:15:40] Paul: Because of relativism.

    [01:15:42] Laura: Yeah, and I guess another example from physics is a wave particle duality, which before that was born, we had wave theory and particle theory or corpuscular theory and those oscillated back and forth until eventually we landed on wave particle duality. Like, light is both a wave and a particle.

    [01:16:10] Paul: Let’s bring it into brain sciences or psychology. So let’s say telepathy.

    Are we going to be talking about telepathy in the next hundred years as a scientifically studyable veritable thing?

    [01:16:27] Laura: So I don’t want to just guess be the fringe theorist, but I would say yes.

    [01:16:33] Paul: I’m not saying what your opinion about telepathy is. I’m saying do you think that telepathy will become more mainstream things like telepathy, things like remote viewing, let’s say things that are like psychological phenomenon that have been posited, that we now kind of discard as fringe.

    [01:16:50] Laura: I mean, we just know so little about this stuff is the reason we dismiss it. Remote viewing is out of control.

    It’s amazing what these people are doing.

    [01:17:01] Paul: Okay.

    [01:17:01] Laura: No, I mean, yeah, it’s out of control. I guess the fringe sense, too. Right, but that’s when you don’t know. Anything about it. When you actually read up on it, it’s like they’re not just putting some guy in a room and saying, what’s in this envelope? Right? I mean, they did do that. CIA did that. But they’re having multiple people come in a room, and each of them remote view some specific geological coordinates and then using each of their reports to put together a single report of what’s at that location.

    People used remote viewing to discover Cleopatra’s palace.

    And there’s some academic he won’t say who he is, but a guy who is an expert in remote viewing has been brought in to help him find Columbus’s ships.

    This is a real thing and could happen, could become mainstream.

    [01:18:06] Paul: What’s your take on the recent rise in hallucinogenic usage for so what’s going on when we take one of the 600 recent hallucinogens MDMA masculine? Are we connecting with the universe, or is something happening in our brains to think that we’re connecting with the universe and the collective unconscious and so on? Sorry, I’m throwing out fringey terms to you.

    [01:18:32] Laura: That’s great. I think it’s important to be able to think in all these different ways right. To sort of look at it from the mainstream perspective of, like, this is just hallucination, and being able to move from that to thinking about, like, oh, I’m getting in touch with the source, or yeah, I don’t know. What are some other theories here? I mean, it being like a treatment for depression.

    [01:18:56] Paul: Yeah, it’s major depression. And this actually alludes to your points that you’ve made that ancestral knowledge, speaking of hallucinogens, right. Comes back to the fore.

    And by the way, indigenous peoples, right? That’s a group that we suppress as fringe. Do I have that right?

    [01:19:17] Laura: Yeah. So a lot of indigenous knowledge is I mean, yeah, indigenous science, too, is very marginalized.

    Part of it is it’s not necessarily done according to the same standards. And there’s a lot of spiritual aspects that indigenous people want to include and do include.

    So it’s not the kind of thing that can get accepted to nature or whatever, but more and more, it’s like we’re sort of like picking and choosing the aspects of indigenous science that we like and reappropriating them for our Western mindset.

    [01:20:03] Paul: Right. Good drugs.

    [01:20:06] Laura: Yeah. Including good drugs. Yeah, including this actually is really interesting.

    But yeah, I mean, so far, it’s not like we’re like, oh, we’ve found ayahuasca gets us in touch with the source, I guess. Let’s talk about psilocybin. It’s not that that gets us in touch with some deeper reality. It’s that it sort of allows you to detach from yourself in a way that might lead you to have less symptoms of depression.

    That’s the way we end up reappropriating. It’s, like, for our own interests and needs, which are not the same as what indigenous peoples are, in some cases, at least.

    [01:20:59] Paul: And are you a woman?


    She or they she or they so women also marginalized.

    Before we talk about that, do I need to actively silence something to be part of the problem, or is indifference part of the problem also, or lack of interest? Do I need to be the gatekeeper that’s actively marginalizing?

    [01:21:27] Laura: Yeah, I think the active silencing is the problem, at least as I see it.

    [01:21:33] Paul: Okay.

    [01:21:34] Laura: It’s the explicit statements of that’s pseudoscience or that’s not real science or whatever. Anything people say in order that the effect is like, theory is not taken seriously. And especially, I mean, authorities are responsible for anybody who’s taken to be an authority in some discipline is the most responsible here for not saying things like that.

    Yeah. So I definitely don’t think you’re silencing if you choose not to read up on a fringe theory.

    That’s just a matter of your interest and choice.

    [01:22:21] Paul: Before I say this next thing, I would be amiss if I didn’t. For those who are only listening, if you’re watching, this is very obvious, but especially coming off of talking about psychedelics, there are beams of light rays emanating from behind Laura right now. So it’s quite mystical visually. So if you’re only listening, you can kind of imagine. So okay. I just had to put that in there because it was very appropriate to.

    [01:22:45] Laura: The yeah, they’re like little rape bows.

    [01:22:47] Paul: Yeah.

    Sorry. So backing up, you write about how women have been one of the more marginalized groups of scientists, right.

    Is that the case?

    So in that case, we’re talking about your marginalization regarding fringe scientists and fringe theories. Is that the case in philosophy as well? Are women philosophers more likely to be silenced, marginalized? This is troubled waters for me, so I’m trying to tread lightly.

    [01:23:23] Laura: Yeah, troubled waters for all of us, I would say.


    [01:23:31] Paul: Okay.

    [01:23:32] Laura: There is marginalization of similar kind happening in philosophy.

    Part of it what I hear people talk about as being a woman are things more like, oh, wow, you’re so articulate, or like, where it’s like, sorry, for a woman. For a woman, where it’s like you wouldn’t be saying that to me. That’s not one that I get. That’s the one I’ve heard people talk.

    [01:24:02] Paul: About, where it’s like, of course you don’t get it.

    [01:24:04] Laura: No, I’m not Articulate.

    [01:24:07] Paul: That’s not what I meant.

    [01:24:09] Laura: But yeah, you definitely see that most philosophy departments and really, actually, philosophy of science, you get mostly men.

    [01:24:20] Paul: Is that still true?

    [01:24:21] Laura: I mean, they’re trying to change it. Right. It’s like you want to meet the 50 50 expectation. Right.

    [01:24:33] Paul: So I think that opportunity wise. You definitely do. And of course this is just opinion, but I just think it’s absurd to enforce an outcome of 50 50 because you’re not taking into consideration people’s interests.

    Opportunity. Yes. Because then you’re allowing anyone who’s interested to have the opportunity. But if zero women are interested, why would you force 50% of the population of anything to be yeah, well, so.

    [01:25:03] Laura: You might think, like, there are just less women that are interested in philosophy of science, but I think I don’t say that.

    [01:25:10] Paul: I’m just saying a very abstract.

    [01:25:17] Laura: Yeah. So, I mean, maybe it’s just you want equal opportunities offered to everyone who is interested. I think that’s fair. But I think also some of the reason people aren’t interested is because they don’t think they are the type of person who could succeed in that field.

    One of the things I do is show my students pictures of all the different authors they’re reading so they can see, like, oh, that looks like me, or where it’s like, okay. They’re not like philosophers aren’t just old white men with beards. Right.

    They look a lot of different ways.

    [01:25:55] Paul: Okay, good.

    But really, I just wanted to talk about how there are certain types of overrepresented marginalized scientists right. Or theorists.

    I wanted to highlight that, because that’s something that you focus on.

    And also the quote unquote extreme pluralism that I termed it extreme pluralism, but your brand of pluralism doesn’t include intentionally harmful or fraudulent theories, however. But it always comes back to human judgment, I would argue, and I don’t see a clear cut path forward for judging these things, in a way. Right. So I kind of go back and forth, because on some level, we have to also trust our intuitions, which means not to trust anyone or anything.

    [01:26:57] Laura: Yeah. I mean, at some point, it does come down to human judgment. I mean, for me, I think having an honor statement that says, I’m doing science to benefit humanity and the planet or whatever, the universe, if that’s how far you go, is enough.

    And from there, it’s like people have to you could flag a certain theory as, like, this looks morally suspect, or this looks harmful. But yeah, again, it’s like, I can’t give you the perfect solution. Yeah.

    [01:27:43] Paul: Right. Because who gets to flag it?

    And if I’m a trickster, I could write an honorary statement and get away with it. Right.

    [01:27:52] Laura: Okay.

    [01:27:53] Paul: So what I want to know is if I want to go down historically as having been a fringe theorist, it sounds like there’s a recipe become an expert in one field and have credentials in one field right. And then stray from that field and make some claims in another field that are outside of the mainstream. But is that always the case? Because it seems like there should be fringe theorists should have all sorts of different qualities. There shouldn’t just be a specific path. Are those just the ones that we’re paying attention to and that we like because they make for good stories or jump out historically, or do we have a sense of where we should aim if we want to be that type of person?

    [01:28:39] Laura: Yeah, I think part of that is because they’re coming from one field and making claims about another field.

    The people who in the field that they’re from will maybe have some sympathies.

    So you might get a community of people I mean, this is totally common, right, that fringe theories are taken up by popular audiences.

    It’s not just academics hating on them. Right.

    There are people who actually believe these things, and I think coming from another field might give you a certain audience. But I don’t want to say, like, that’s the only way to become fringe. I mean, there’s certainly two people who don’t have any degree and are coming up with fringe theories.

    [01:29:35] Paul: Let’s say I never went to high school, never opened a math book, I have no education, I’m not self educated. I just have lived out in the forest. Right. And I know some rudimentary English. If I come and I have no mal intent, I have no intent to lie, and I come with the theory that the stars are made of a poisonous I don’t know that the stars are actually tornadoes.

    [01:30:09] Laura: Tornadoes.

    [01:30:10] Paul: Go ahead. I was trying to come up with something outlandish. What did you say?

    [01:30:13] Laura: Holes in the night sky?

    [01:30:15] Paul: Holes in the night sky and are basically collections of teeth. Right?

    That’s my theory. Okay, and is that a valid theory?

    Do your limits of pluralism include that?

    [01:30:32] Laura: If you’re dead serious about it, yes.

    And you would probably have observations that make you think that, like, maybe some teeth fell out of the sky on your head one day or something, or.

    [01:30:46] Paul: That’S how they grow. The stars are channeling the teeth through totally.

    [01:30:50] Laura: I mean, everything in the universe is connected.

    [01:30:51] Paul: Stardust.

    [01:30:52] Laura: You are made of stardust.

    [01:30:54] Paul: Oh, my gosh, we’re really going out the deep.

    I didn’t mean that in a derogatory way, but you get what I’m saying because some things just don’t smell right. Right. So I feel like I have a good bullshit meter, and I don’t know whether I do, but I think I do. And so if some kid came up and said, hey, stars are just collections of teeth, and he believed it, he obviously believed it, I would think, well, maybe you should have some more DMT or whatever ayahuasca or basically I would kind of discard not discard it. I would be indifferent to it, and I would kind of be upset if that idea was put on the same footing as other ideas about what I.

    [01:31:40] Laura: Think somebody would have reasons for thinking that if they thought that.

    [01:31:46] Paul: I know that you probably have conversations like this all the time, and I’m sorry because I’m kind of asking you to stretch a little bit, right. And I don’t want to be putting you into a corner.

    [01:31:55] Laura: Well, I mean, so I think, yeah, a theory like that isn’t on the same footing because it’s not going to get uptake and attention. Right. People are just going to be like, I don’t care about that. That’s it not interesting. That doesn’t make any sense to me. My brain can’t get on board, but.

    [01:32:10] Paul: We should index it in the encyclopedia.

    [01:32:13] Laura: Yeah.

    [01:32:14] Paul: So it needs to take some room in our if I want to study stars, then that needs to take some room in my head as I’m trying.

    [01:32:22] Laura: To not in your head, in the database.

    [01:32:24] Paul: Yeah, but if I’m interested in studying stars, I need to go to that database. Right. And that’s going to be in the database.

    [01:32:31] Laura: You might see it in that database. But this is part of why I want or suggest having, like, an upvoting system. Right.

    [01:32:38] Paul: That’s social, though. Basically, if a thing on social media gets a ton of upvotes, it is clear indication to ignore it for me, even if it’s it’s a contrarian viewpoint. Right. Cynical and contrarian.

    [01:32:53] Laura: No, totally.

    Yeah. For me, I’m like consensus. That’s not what we’re looking for. That’s actually a problem.

    [01:33:00] Paul: All right, Laura, so I don’t want to take more of your time. Did we miss anything that you wanted to chat about? We never really talked about the cerebellum.

    [01:33:08] Laura: So I’m not sure that’s okay. No, next time.

    [01:33:10] Paul: Next time. Okay. All right.

    [01:33:12] Laura: Once I do my case study on that, we can talk about that.

    [01:33:15] Paul: Very good. What we didn’t say is that I work in the building next to you, and you and I are going to go, what are we going to do? Psilocybin. Lots of psilocybin together around campus and stuff.

    [01:33:25] Laura: Let’s do it.

    [01:33:27] Paul: Thank you so much for the time. I find the work really interesting, and as listeners, maybe, and viewers can tell that it’s a difficult topic and oh, you know what, can I ask you this before we go? What kind of feedback are you getting from other philosophers and or from scientists on these ideas? I can imagine scientists being angry right. Or upset at the least.

    [01:33:50] Laura: Yeah. I mean, so you actually get a lot of scientists who are like, oh, my God, thank God you’re saying this.

    I thought that COVID was a lab leak for a long time, and only recently that’s been accepted. And just like, the amount of ridicule I got for just saying that, it’s just people were scared of me.

    So scientists have actually been really receptive, I guess, especially when they’re really steeped in whatever they’re doing and they end up in some place that is not acceptable.

    And I get a lot of pushback, but mostly from people who are on board with the general idea. What I get pushback on is kind of the things you were giving me some pushback on. Really? We should include everyone.

    Yeah. I don’t draw a line.

    [01:34:45] Paul: I’m sorry I keep asking you questions. I promise this is the last one. What is the lesson for moving forward?

    Here’s where I’m coming from. I’m often asked what I’ve changed my mind about, or I often ask guests what you’ve changed your mind about, and often someone is whether they’ve changed their mind or not. And usually they haven’t they’re coming from a very particular point of view. But when I ask them the question, what did you change your mind about? This assumes that they had an opinion in the first place.

    And what I kind of feel like I have done, and I’ve been told I’m a very opinionated and a judgmental person, so this does not accord there’s some cognitive dissonance with the way I think of myself versus the way that I’m judged viewed by other people. But I kind of think of it in terms of I never really had a hard opinion about anything, theoretically. In neuroscience, for example, I’m saying, right, is it better to go in with a beginner’s mindset open to lots of different theoretical interpretations, or is it better to go in under a certain theory so that you can compare it to all of the other valid theories? Does that question make sense and do you have an answer?

    [01:36:02] Laura: It does make sense, and I think both of those techniques could be useful in different ways. Right? I mean, it helps to have a theory in mind because you can see where is it falling short. I guess kind of coming in with a blank slate might make you a little bit less better off, I don’t know, but could be interesting too, like coming in without any certainty about which theory is best. And theories can be good for different ends rather than it being like a theory is better than another theory. Just simplicity. Right? It’s like a theory is better because it helps you avoid earthquakes or that was like one of the reasons continental drift was better than fixism.

    So allowing for certain things that we as humans find important and useful would be a reason to go with one theory over another, but not permanently, just like for this particular end. Right. So I guess that’s kind of like a Pragmatist view.

    Yeah. I don’t know if we’re going in with the blank slate.

    [01:37:19] Paul: Yeah, there’s no such thing as a blank slate. Right.

    [01:37:21] Laura: No, totally. You’ve got to have something.

    [01:37:24] Paul: All right, Laura, well, I’m not really sure what we did here today, but I had fun speaking with you and I hope, if nothing else, this is a very different kind of podcast episode for brain Inspired. And I hope if nothing else, it inches or know a handful of listeners to think a little bit more pluralistically, if not your extreme version. But I really appreciate you spending the.

    [01:37:46] Laura: Time with yeah, yeah. Thank you so much, Paul. It’s been really great. Yeah. People can get off the bus at Super Fringe if they want.