Monthly Archives: July 2010
This comes from a guy considered by many to be the most skilled of the ancient Greek orators, the statesman Demosthenes of Athens, and the following quote attributed to him is enormously relevant to modern skeptics, namely, the topic of self-deception.
Even though some pseudoscientists do turn out to be charlatans, it’s often extremely difficult to definitively identify someone as either an intentional fraud or just self-deluded believers without knowing them and their personal history inside and out.
There’s the risk of committing a False Dilemma fallacy on insufficient information.
It’s often not just one or the other, though, and frequently it turns out to be an odd mix of the two when the crank’s true motives can be identified at all…the well-known phenomenon of the pious fraud who truly believes their own claims, but isn’t above a little dishonesty and corner-cutting to promote them.
The reasons and psychological mechanisms for self-delusion are many…
Again, not an easy task for a n00b like me, which is why it’s a good idea for me at this point not to jump to conclusions until the evidence is in…and even then, there’s no way to be certain short of actually getting inside his head, and I ain’t psychic.
Anyhoo, here’s the quote:
A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true.
– Demosthenes (Δημοσθένης) (384 BC – 322 BC)
Every age has its misunderstandings, its irrationalities, its delusions, which are often accorded by those harboring them as profound truths.
Maybe it’s the latest popular fad masquerading as science to an unsuspecting, and uninformed public. Maybe it’s some religious doctrine whose advocates wish it to be given ‘equal time’ in public school science classes.
Perhaps it’s a national government flirting with pseudoscience, spending millions on classified ‘human enhancement’ programs that turn out to be fruitless, or legislators with conservative religious leanings who feel offended or nervous about the implications and their own misconceptions of some new and promising medical technique.
It could even be some new permutation of an old occult or New Age doctrine, or perhaps something entirely new, entirely divorced from even a superficial connection with science, despite using its own obscurantist jargon.
These irrationalities ebb and flow throughout history, sometimes waxing with the ascension of extremist ideological movements and waning in proportion to the public understanding and acceptance of science when its pretenders stand exposed to their adherents…and sometimes victims…as the cranks, quacks and charlatans they are.
Note that it’s only possible for a belief to be a delusion – an objectively false belief – if it is also possible for things to be objectively true…and THAT requires an objective reality for that truth to exist.
My personal view is that the idea of an objective reality cannot be a delusion even if all ideas are considered to have equal truth value, which is itself an idea, for one cannot argue for the equal validity of all ideas and then consistently argue that the idea of a subjective conscious observer-created reality is any more valid than that of an objective observer-dependent reality, one in which in which the term ‘observer’ need have nothing to do with consciousness or even if the observer has a mind at all.
Unless, of course, the equal validity of all ideas means the validity of none of them. Arrrgh! The logical somersaults melt my brain…*ahem*
And so, my ever-perspicacious readers, do I ask:
What widespread societal delusion is a pet peeve of yours? Why? Is it something that you or someone you know personally dealt with at one point?
To paraphrase Phil Plait, ‘This is the way the world ends.’ – mass extinction to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon…
Hey, guys. This post deals with an informal fallacy of debate and rhetoric known as the Slippery Slope, the causal version known also as the Fallacy of the Beard, or the Camel’s Nose fallacy, and this flaw in argumentation takes the form of a statement that assumes that a particular position is unacceptable because if it is accepted, the extreme of that position must inevitably follow, without any sound justification as to why. This can sometimes be a valid line of reasoning when the chain of argument is fully laid out and logically follows, but this post concerns itself with the specious usage, and an example is below:
The public teaching of comparative religion leads to religious doubt, which leads to agnosticism, which leads to atheism, which leads to anti-theism, which leads to inexorable nihilism, which leads to moral degeneracy, which inevitably leads to the disintegration of a society now characterized by total anarchy, so we don’t want comparative religion courses taught in our public schools.
Aside from the fact that the evidence just doesn’t bear this out, note also that no supporting reasons or other justification are ever provided as to why this chain of argument must be true.
The other major version of this fallacy, the semantically-based Vagueness, or False Continuum, is used in one variant in which the argument is made that concepts B and E shade into each other along a continuum without any real demarcation between them, therefore they are the same thing.
But it just doesn’t follow that there is no difference between blue light and yellow light, despite the lack of a sharp dividing point in wavelengths in the visible spectrum, nor does it follow that there is no demarcation between humid or dry weather when the moisture in the air at any one time and place varies in degree from high to low.
The second variant of the False Continuum is used to argue that concept B differs in only insignificant ways from E without any real demarcation between them, and that therefore E simply doesn’t meaningfully exist because of a lack of said demarcation. As for this one, it doesn’t follow that truth doesn’t exist merely because of the continuum between truth and falsehood, that the concept of truth is utterly without objective reference.
These two fallacies, causal and semantic, are distinct, though sharing the same general name, and they are mentioned together in this post because the use of the semantic version can and does often lead to the commission of the causal version, the idea that a slip from B to E is inevitable because of the lack of a fine point of separation between them.
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