Updating the Enlightenment

Posted on April 17, 2008


For a couple of years now a quite fascinating conference has taken place at the Salk Institute. I am talking about the Beyond Belief conferences, the latest having dealt with the Enlightenment’s role in the modern world. The conferences are wildly interdisciplinary and attract some of the best known thinkers to participate in what have been lively, valuable debates. Most valuably, the videos of the talks are available on the internet making it possible to spend a couple of days listening in on the proceedings. The video of the last conference begins with the organiser, Roger Bingham, the director of The Science Network, quoting from a certain resident of Basra:

Therefore, the seeker after the truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not to the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency. Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.