About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Metropolitan Museum promotes ghosts

Yet another major American cultural institution, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, is promoting superstition and pseudoscience (the other, a few months ago, was the Smithsonian Institution, which hosted a documentary favorable to Intelligent Design).

The Met will open a new exhibit from September 27 through December 31 entitled "The perfect medium: photography and the occult," featuring photos of alleged paranormal phenomena such as levitations and appearances of ghosts. The curator is long-time fan of the paranormal and art whiz Pierre Apraxine, who told the New York Times that "there is nothing accidental -- at least in my life," though he neglected to explain how on earth he reached such sweeping philosophical conclusion.

The article in the Times does say that "by and large, [these are] the visual records of decades of fraud, cons, flimflams, and gullability," adding that some of the photo to be exhibited were used to swindle money from Civil War widows in exchange for a glimpse of their dead loved ones. But of course, "there are also some pictures ... that have never been adequately explained," the implication being that unexplained = paranormal, an incredibly naive logical jump for a NYT reporter!

Apraxine and Sophie Schmit, a fellow curator, profess "official agnosticism," which they say was "the only way to do such a show." Then again, Schmit candidly admitted: "If I hadn't considered at least the possibility of it [the paranormal] existing I don't think I would have ever been interested in doing the exhibit." Not quite defrauding to the public trust, but at least a bit disingenous, no?

Interestingly, even Mr. Apraxine doesn't want to be considered a naive believer (as opposed to a sophisticated one), because he sent the reporter of the NYT a follow-up email in which he stated: I do not smirk at people who tell me of paranormal experiences, but neither do I believe that the silhouette in a badly lit corridor is the ghost Aunt Dorothea coming back to spy on her husband."

Well, why on earth not? What's Apraxine got against Aunt Dorothea? He better be careful, or good old Dorothea may start haunting his own bedroom...

3 comments:

  1. "What was that noise?"

    "Ghost did it"


    :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's truly embarrassing how many people still cling to a belief in ghosts. Isn't this the 21st Century?

    Over on my blog, I listed my Top 5 objections to the ghost notion. However, with such a superstitious population, I have little hope of making headway.

    From ghosts to God to Heaven/Hell to possession to angels/demons, we still have a lot of primitive myths among us.

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  3. Mr. Apraxine said, "I do not smirk at people who tell me of paranormal experiences, but neither do I believe that the silhouette in a badly lit corridor is the ghost Aunt Dorothea coming back to spy on her husband," and you replied, "Well, why on earth not?"

    The "why not" has a pretty easy answer. There is a vast difference between having a vagueish belief that there might be paranormal stuff out there (which seems to be Apraxine's position), and being willing to jump on any shred of apparent evidence for the paranormal. It hardly has to be all or nothing. Of course, the evidence from debunkers like Randi tends to justify disbelief in the paranormal, but not everyone is all that familiar of the debunkers' work, although they may have heard a little about Randi.

    ReplyDelete

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