I'm not sure what you mean by this. The plants were releasing spores that made people commit suicide. I would say the person who makes this discovery is sane, as is the person who hears the absurdity of the discovery and doubts it. There were people running around saying, "This is happening because of our sins to ourselves the planet," and presumably their intuitions were based in a variety of things such as ecological activism, religion, etc. The people with those intuitions were only so correct because they were operating with limited evidence and making assumptions. Only in the end when our main character makes the discovery about the spores do they have a satisfactory level of knowledge. The person who knows about the spores is able to convince the doubter, not the screaming zealot. Science is about taking the hypothesis (the plants are killing us) and finding evidence (it's the spores).
It's generally believed in philosophy that one can be right accidentally but that being accidentally right doesn't constitute knowledge. In medicine this is important because it's the difference between knowing a that treatment works and knowing how it works.
When I was in high school my science teacher designed an experiment to prove SPF in sunblock didn't matter. She used UV reactive beads and coated them in different SPF sunblocks. The SPF made no difference on the beads. They all changed color at the same time. "The beads aren't perfectly analogous to human skin," I said.
"It's unethical to burn human skin," she replied. Can you guess how SPF is measured? It's measured burning human skin with a UV bulb. A single mild sunburn isn't too detrimental to your health to be considered unethical. The SPF number represents how many minutes it takes for symptoms of sunburn to appear under the intense bulb.
"But I can get an hour of sun protection from SPF 15," a student said. The bulb is not perfectly analogous to the sun. The irony is not that the people in this story are mistaken but that my understanding of these concepts could also be mistaken. If it's really important to you how effectiveness sunscreen is measured you should Google it and not simply take my word for it. You might also have to doubt the Google result if it pulls the wrong answer or directs you to a dubious source. Sometimes nobody provides us with a satisfactory explanation and we have to doubt even our own assumptions.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!!!
You said: “The plants were releasing spores that made people commit suicide”
Are you sure about that? What makes you believe that? Because I think that what was “happening” in that film had absolutely nothing to do with the plants. So why did you, and the characters, and just about everyone else believe that M. Night Shyamalan (director of “The Sixth Sense, Signs, and Unbreakable) believe that the characters in this 1950’s style B-horror/thriller film were—in fact!—being attacked by conscious killer plants that were emitting deadly biotoxins (which were probably also conscious) that were then interfering with the functioning of their neurotransmitters causing them to kill themselves in gruesome and hilarious ways?
I wonder how modern audiences would have responded had Shyamalan made basically the same film except in a different setting. So instead of taking place in modern day New York area let’s imagine the film took place in Medieval Europe. That movie would have began in a very similar way with a mass public suicide in the town square. Then when the towns people found out about that event, understandably disturbed by it they would have sought out an explanation. But in that movie they probably would not have gone to a scientist for an explanation, they probably would have gone to their town’s priest, or maybe even to the Pope himself. And let’s imagine that the explanation those authorities gave was that the Devil had returned to Earth, and was entering into their bodies, displacing people’s souls making them act in bizarre ways before eventually destroying his host. And the Devil was beginning the the poor, wretched blasphemers but eventually as his power grew not even the most faithful and pious will be able to resist him! And then in response to that explanation the people started freaking out, kept killing themselves and each other. And then the remaining characters continued to interpret all of those new events through the same prism as that initial explanation that they were given (after all I’m pretty sure that the characters in that movie would have noticed that the most strong-willed among them were starting to become a lot more weak-minded!)…
If the explanation for “the happening” were a theological one, do you think you and modern audiences generally would have interpreted the movie Biblically? Or do you think maybe, just maybe, you would have intuitively rejected that premise, allowing you to watch the film from an extra-narrative perspective, which would have made it a lot easier to see what was obviously “happening?”
There was a scene on that movie where Mark Wahlberg was with that girl that was entrusted into his care, and he hands to her a mood ring, puts it on her finger and then explains to her how it works: “it is scientifically proven that the mood ring will reflect whatever emotion you are experiencing. So if it’s red, that means you’re angry, and if it’s blue, that means you’re sad. Right now it is yellow, and that means you’re about to laugh!” And then, she does laugh. What was the explanation for that “happening?” Was professor Wahlberg right? Is it the truth according to science that yellow on the mood ring means you’re about to laugh? Or did she laugh because it was suggested that she would laugh? And it was suggested that she should laugh by the character that we were expected to accept as the voice of scientific authority.
During the most iconic scene in that movie, Wahlberg’s character was in that abandoned “fake” house (that really should have been a clue too) and he sees a plant in the corner with its leaves eerily moving back and forth. So he starts negotiating with it, asking him and his buddies to call off their attack, and as he approaches it he touches its leaves and arrives at the understanding that it is also fake. At that point he says: “It’s fake! I think I’ve gone insane! I’m talking to a fake plant! And I’m still doing it!” And the thing about that is, yes Mr. Wahlberg, it is absurd for you to be reasoning with a fake plant. But is it any more absurd for him to be reasoning with a fake plant then it would have been had he been reasoning with a real one?
A lot of people did comment that many of the claims that were made in that movie were a bit dubious scientifically. Good on you, I suppose, for realizing that the idea of spores acting with murderous intent is not exactly consistent with our current body of scientific knowledge on that topic. And brownie points if you were able to arrive at the conclusion that was absurd regardless of what science might have to say about it. But most people—including you—did not seem to realize that the basic premise of that movie, grounded as it was in the real-world claim that suicide is the consequence of a malfunction of neurotransmitters in the brain is also absurd regardless of what science might have to say about it.
Many of the online reviews and commentaries I read—some purportedly by actual scientists—defended the initial premise of the film as plausible, though perhaps unlikely, but the way Shyamalan did that idea just didn’t really work. Yeah, no shit it didn’t work. Shyamalan wasn’t exactly trying to make it work, he was quite clearly trying to accentuate the absurdity of it all. Did you really think that the imagery of a grown adult man voluntarily and intentionally lying down in front of an active lawn mower was suspenseful and terrifying? Or how about the guy who entered into the tiger cage in the zoo luring the animals to rip off his arms? Do you think Shyamalan, when he came up with that idea, he said to himself “oooh, now THIS is going to be SCARY!”? Or how about the fact that the characters, in response to this nature-based threat, fled from the concrete jungle of Manhattan and ended up in an exurban/rural area where they were surrounded by nature. And while they spent most of the 2nd act of the movie running through tall fields of grass with plants and trees all around them trying to escape from nature, they made a very important observation. They noticed that they were not all safe (which is what you might expect if the plants where they were hadn’t evolved yet), nor were they all becoming infected (which is what you might expect if that initial explanation were valid). Only some of them were killing themselves, and at a significantly slower rate than what was happening in the urban centers. So they realized, as any good scientific mind understands, if current observations are inconstant with your hypothesis you have to revise your hypothesis, and that’s exactly what they did. And the new explanation they arrived at was that the plants weren’t just passively emitting these pores, they had evolved to develop a substantial degree of consciousness allowing them to intentionally direct their attacks on them. But they weren’t trying to indiscriminately kill them, they just felt particularly threatened when people were congregated in larger groups, so they were trying to thin out their numbers (an explanation that probably requires their toxins to also be intentionally directing their attacks), which is why at that point they thought they might be safer if they split up into groups of no more than 2 or 3. That is the explanation they came up with for why people were killings themselves when they were in larger groups! And that was ridiculous! Almost everything about that movie was silly, stupid, and absurd! A lot of people criticized Shyamalan for his decision to cast Mark Wahlberg as the science teacher, but I thought that was a brilliant casting choice. And I would be willing to bet that Shyamalan specifically directed Wahlberg to perform that role unconvincingy, which, for Mark Wahlberg, was probably not a very difficult assignment.
Anyway, these scientists said it was plausible for plant life, in response to the threat that humans pose to their existence, to develop a defense mechanism, which might come in the form of a spore or toxin, such that when we ingest them they mess with our neurotransmitters causing a bunch of suicides. And that is ridiculous. The reason why it is ridiculous is because that interpretation at once denies agency to human beings, while at the same time it attributes agency to an abstract concept like evolution. When a person kills himself, that is not the product of a language-using agent working toward a meaningful goal. However, evolution, observing that some of her organisms are in trouble, might pull a…well, not a Deus ex Machina because that’s just silly religious superstition, right?…no evolution would pull a Natura ex Machina and graciously grant her organisms with a “defense mechanism” that they can use in their quest for survival. I have been listening to my fellow atheists spend the last several decades ridiculing religious people because they still, in the 21st century, believe in some ancient bronze-age sky daddy, while also recoiling at the horrors of the hypothesis of intelligent design being mentioned in a high school science classroom. But what they don’t seem to realize is that, when they use a term like “defense mechanism” to refer to a structural feature of an organism, they are strongly implying intelligent design. And while some of them might be aware that the narrative, teleological language that they often use to talk about evolution is metaphor or poetry, I do feel that scientists generally are very oblivious to the ways that the language they are employing influences how they are interpreting their observations.
This problem is especially pronounced in the field of neuroscience, which has a very strong tendency to reify abstractions. Not all nouns refer to persons, places or things. Some nouns, like infinity, or hug, or handshake, or mind, or thought, or memory, or (horrible dictu) gender do not refer to things at all, many of those words are best understood more as verbs, and none of those abstractions are located in our brains. There are actual neuroscientists out there who, as we speak, are trying to use their science to validate or falsify the empirical existence of all 2854 “genders” that queer theorists, gender theorists and other random persons have constructed in much the same way that a science fiction writer might construct his parallel universe. And this absurdity is squared when they try to find the neurobiology for the gender identity referred to as “non-binary.” Because the concept of non-binary contains no positive descriptive content whatsoever; what are they even looking for? Trying to find evidence of non-binary gender in the brain is just as silly as the title of Lawrence Krauss’ book, “A Universe from Nothing,” where in that book, Krauss’ own conceptualizarion of “nothing” is definitely something. Gender is not a positivistic construct, it is a presentational and performative construct. Gender refers to how a certain category of person presents themselves and moves about in the world. Non-human animals have a sex, but not a gender (unless we attribute gender to them). Our “gender” does not come from our brain, it “comes from” our language, so to speak. Certain aspects of what we call gender might, of course, be grounded in biology, but in my opinion, the part of our structures that is more closely correlated to what we call “gender” is not the differences in our brains but the differences in our hormones.
So I would like you to reflect on “The Happening,” maybe watch it again with both our interpretations in mind, and would like to ask you, which interpretation offers the better understanding of what was “happening” in that movie? Was Mother Earth engaging in biological warfare? Or was this a mass panic, and the subject matter of the film was not killer plants, but fear. My interpretation has the benefit being simple, elegant, and parsimonious. Most if not all aspects of the film, including its “mysterious” ending where the plague suddenly stopped seemingly out of nowhere, are fully explainable with this interpretation; however, your interpretation, which renders the film incoherent and meaningless, was nevertheless scientific.
When it comes to all the research you cited supposedly demonstrating that schizophrenia is a genetic condition (or that it at least has a strong genetic component), I do not deny that there is a relationship between structure and behavior, our structures certainly both limit and influence how we understand and act in the world. But i don’t agree that our structures cause our motion. Can these genetic researches offer a model that actually explains how these various genetic links they have found cause the collection of behaviors that we refer to as schizophrenia? My explanation of schizophrenia may not be valid—I fully acknowledge that—but at least it was an explanation, and it is an explanation that is at least consistent with how we understand language and behavior in the “mentally healthy” person. But psychiatrists haven’t offered anything in the way of an actual explanation, just a bunch of correlations. Why does mentally healthy behavior have reasons but mentally unhealthy behavior has causes? If Johnny sits still in class and performs well it’s because he’s a good student who wants to learn; but if he fidgets, squirms, doesn’t focus, and performs poorly, that is due to his ADHD. The “mentally healthy” defendant’s behavior is explained teleologically, whereas the “mentally sick” defendant’s behavior is explained teleologically. This position is intellectually untenable. We use the same mechanistic laws to explain why airplanes fly and why they crash; the same laws to explain the fires that heat our food as the fires that burn down half of California. But the motion of human beings seems to operate according to fundamentally different principles that just so happen to coincide with whether we judge those behaviors desirable or undesirable, as well as whether the behavior is understandable to mass modern scientific-minded people. Ours would be a very strange brain indeed if it only caused bad, idiosyncratic behaviors but never caused good behaviors that conform to social expectations.
Clearly, I think your approach to understanding is based on the proposition that science represents the transcendent values of truth, wisdom, and goodness; and I have been presenting a sustained challenge to that idea. But instead of responding directly to that challenge, you accuse me of lacking reality testing, which I think is unbecoming of someone of your intellectual sophistication. So let me just ask you the questions directly: do you adopt the proposition the the positive sciences necessarily offer the best pathway to understanding? Do you prima facie reject all other proposed ways of understanding prima facie? Should I adopt the proposition that science is truth? And if so, why?