Minding Our N00bish Egos


More seasoned skeptics may be rascally and self-avowedly vociferous, they may express themselves much more humbly, both, neither, or somewhere in between, and this is a matter of individual style and personal perspective. Different techniques apply to different audiences more or less effectively.

Rather than go over the already well-trod territory of Phil Plait’s now-famous talk, Don’t Be a Dick, an interesting counterpoint to it on Jerry Coyne’s blog, with a post titled Are We Phalluses?, and Skepdude’s post The Skeptic Delusion?, I’d like to offer some commentary of my own on a related tack as well.

I’ve said this before: skeptical thinking takes work and practice, and there is a danger to occasionally getting sloppy in our thinking, which sometimes spills over into our attitude, demeanor, and our tone.

While most of us are fairly good at monitoring ourselves and the more experienced and skilled skeptics are good at avoiding fuzzy thinking, for those of us n00bies there’s sometimes a danger to letting ourselves succumb to pride from a combination of undue enthusiasm, poor introspection, and inexperience.

This is something that’s happened to me on more than one occasion.

The danger to this is that it hampers our objectivity and provides fodder for the rhetoric of our critics, as well as lending an element of seeming truth to accusations of arrogance, fervently dogmatic adherence to an ideology, sometimes true incidences of knee-jerk skepticism, and of absurd conspiracy-theory claims of skeptics as a whole being a monolithic New Inquisition.

It is my view that nobody is an island. What we do publicly as individuals can sometimes reflect well or poorly on all skeptics, depending on the person hearing of it.

It can lead to a sort of false dichotomy of true skeptics versus the true believers, only one of which is thought to be correct, and result in strife within the skeptical community itself from the polarization of those of us who self-identify as skeptics into separate and opposing camps.

Diversity is good, divisiveness is not.

Is this something we can avoid, so that we can effectively deal with our overall goals of promoting scientific literacy and countering the spread of irrational claims?

I think so, and I think it’s especially crucial to remind ourselves that we, as humans, have the same general sort of brain as any believer or the uncommitted, with the same amazing capabilities and the same standard flaws and means of committing errors as theirs.

It’s important to avoid the delusions of “I’m too skeptical to be fooled,” and that very same thing we frequently criticize believers for by convincing ourselves that, “I/My beliefs can’t possibly be wrong.”

There’s evidence to suggest, some of it (Here), (Here), and (Here), that the brains of skeptics are wired maybe a bit differently than those of believers, but barring the possibility and occurrence of us diverging into separate species, the overall structure and functioning of our brains, and what the brain does, this thing we call mind, is the same for all of us barring individual quirks and neurological conditions, at least for the time being.

We all believe something, even without believing in something.

One thing I can suggest, take it or leave it as you wish: Watch your ego, be mindful of yourself, lest you become hard for others to distinguish from even the most ardent and gullible true believers.

About Troy Loy

I seek to learn through this site and others how to better my ability as a person and my skill at using my reason and understanding to best effect. I do fractal artwork as a hobby, and I'm working to develop it to professional levels, though I've a bit to go till I reach that degree of skill! This is a crazy world we're in, but maybe I can do a little, if only that, to make it a bit more sane than it otherwise would be.

Posted on Tuesday, 12:48, August 24, 2010, in Skepticism & Skeptics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. So here is what I am thinking for my latest short story, in the far flung future, humanity has evolved into two separate races…the Skeptese and the Believertarian’s. The Believertarian race has become a Luddite based culture where all forms of technology, medicine, and otherwise modern convenience are well…evil; basically if the race could have come about early enough they would have banned fire too but they need something to burn witches, psychics, or you know…whoever disagrees with them. The Skeptese on the other hand embraced logic, science, and so on learning to eventually live at harmony with themselves until the Believertarian race reared it’s ugly head and began a war. Now Skeptese die by the hundreds on pyres of Believertarian make…

    [sarcasm] Heck if it’s done right I can start my own darn religion teaching others to unlock their inner potential. I’ll make millions! [/sarcasm]

    (I intensely dislike a certain Cult-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named for fear of insta-litigation, because well lets face it the CTSNBN are like that.)

    Like this

    • Damn, that’s funny! “The Skeptese face extinction at the hands of the Armies of the Night. But in their darkest hour, from their ranks shall arise…a warrior!”

      Like this

      • Seriously? That’s weak, Left Behind level weak. ‘Writing a story where the type of people I like are great and lovely and the people I don’t like are evil and stupid’ must be one of the oldest ways of writing a book that sucks. Why not do a Michael Chrichton and stick in a character named after someone you don’t like and make them a child-molestor.
        Ayn Rand called, she wants her delusional self-congratulatory pseudo-narratives back.

        Like this

        • @ThreadorAll?

          Seriously?

          No. Not seriously.

          May I offer a humble suggestion?

          Chill… You’re barking up the wrong tree.

          You took the above comments literally, without taking the time to inform yourself of their proper context. That Fellow in Yellow happens to be a believer, and his comment you evidently found so deeply offensive is a running joke between pals that’s been going on for a while. It’s neither his fault nor mine that you took it in all seriousness. Next time you comment, I really think you should make the effort to find out what others are really saying before reacting in a knee-jerk fashion and reflexively passing judgment.

          If you have any questions, just ASK. My email is on the Contact Me page.

          Like this

          • Sorry, I missed a in-joke that had no indication it was such. That doesn’t mean my comment was posted in a knee-jerk fashion and with reflexive judgement. It just means that you are making in-jokes in public and it’s hardly unexpected that you won’t be understood.

            May I offer a humble suggestion. Next time don’t make private jokes in a public forum, and if you do, and someone makes the understandable error of not already being in on the joke try not to act like a sanctimonious ass about it.

            I mean, really, would “I’m sorry, we’re just having a private joke here” been too much for you? But no, you are apparently stung by my criticism, even though it doesn’t apply, and have responded with a hurt tone that implies somehow I‘ve made a mistake by not having read you and your friends’ minds before commenting.

            Well done. People are not psychic. Your private jokes are not so important that random commenters on the net will care about them. People will not e-mail you before making every comment on the off chance you are continuing a long running joke. You are not a special snowflake who can expect to be understood always without explaining himself.

            Like this

          • I’ve changed my mind. It’s amazing what a cigarette will do, other than kill you slowly. I was snarky, you were snarky. Sorry that I had you wrong, I did not know that you were making an in joke. It’s still not reasonable to expect someone to look up your previous conversations, or e-mail you, before making a comment, but neither is it reasonable to expect people will be able to master their irritation and post a reasonable reply when replying to a snarky comment that is off-base.

            Like this

            • So. It’s peace between us? Awesomness…I hate quarrels.

              It’s been said that valid criticism does one a favor, and none of us are as thick-skinned as we would like, but I saw your initial comment as being directed more at That Fellow in Yellow. Misinterpretation of online text is easy, and I wasn’t sure how he would react to it, whether as mere criticism or as a personal attack.

              My response, perhaps a bit too hard-line in retrospect, was intended to quickly defuse a potential flame war between the two of you. I’m sure he can verbally defend himself, as you have shown yourself quite capable, but it could have turned out ugly for both of you, and I’d much prefer it if that didn’t happen on this site.

              Still, this has proven a good learning experience for me concerning any future comments of a similar nature from others. Thank you.

              Like this

              • Oh come *on* it was a obvious bit of scarcasm, of course after dealing with some J.S. flavor believers this morning, I could see how you missed it. My humor works better face to face. From now on I shall make sure that I add some sort of disclaimer.

                It was just a joke…

                Like this

                • Yeah, obvious to someone who knew what it was about. Have you no theory of mind?

                  Like this

                  • [b]Seriously? That’s weak, Left Behind level weak. ‘Writing a story where the type of people I like are great and lovely and the people I don’t like are evil and stupid’ must be one of the oldest ways of writing a book that sucks. Why not do a Michael Chrichton and stick in a character named after someone you don’t like and make them a child-molestor.
                    Ayn Rand called, she wants her delusional self-congratulatory pseudo-narratives back.[/b]

                    Hmm. lets start off with what is weak–you have your own obvious opinion over things that you enjoy, and everyone’s taste in books and styles of writing vary. This is your opinion and that is fine its yours. When you challenge others views, which were noted in sarcasm than insult them about something that is obviously a joke, and meant to be a joke.Is just ridiculous, In response to this, I think humor called and thinks you should get some. Also try to use proper spelling since were picking at things. Crichton is the writer’s name and child-molestor. is actually
                    child-molester.

                    [b]Sorry, I missed a in-joke that had no indication it was such. That doesn’t mean my comment was posted in a knee-jerk fashion and with reflexive judgement. It just means that you are making in-jokes in public and it’s hardly unexpected that you won’t be understood.[/b]

                    It may be a public domain but it is as listed at the front page a blog of his personal experiences and his friends are likely to post here. if you don’t like inside jokes on people’s blog honestly, Don’t read them.

                    [b]May I offer a humble suggestion. Next time don’t make private jokes in a public forum, and if you do, and someone makes the understandable error of not already being in on the joke try not to act like a sanctimonious ass about it.[/b]

                    Name calling again how old are you here ? This comment is neither humble, nor is it a true suggestion. It comes off as Wah, I don’t get it, I have to bitch at the people on here. Again as I said before if its such a difficult concept for you to grasp, you should try another person’s blog. Sanctimonious..such a big word for such a tiny view of the universe. Do you enjoy going to blogs and trying to lord yourself over the owner and posters there? If you didn’t care you wouldn’t have commented to get either a rise out of the owner or to antagonize his posters, if we were all psychic you’d have known not to bother to come here in the first place.

                    [b]Yeah, obvious to someone who knew what it was about. Have you no theory of mind?[/b]

                    Again picking at people, Have you no concept of Humor, as has been stated above if it bothers you so much. Don’t read the musing of others. If its this deeply disturbing to your scientific mind, Than it isn’t as stable as you’d like to think it is. Seeing as I have read through this whole blog and just had to comment. If you are trolling for a fight, this is a lovely example of how to do so. Friends will talk among friends, on a friends blog. Rather than ask what the joke was about since not everyone is going to step by step explain it, wouldn’t be funny than. Ask, but it seems you’d rather insult first and think later, and than draw science into a joke. The science and art of a joke, is to amuse, or can you not grasp that ?

                    And apologies to you Troythulu but this just had to be said and pointed out. As I have no doubts my post sound horrid and evil, and yes I am quiet capable of being a bitch, but some poster’s just bring this out in me.

                    Like this

                    • Also the [b] is to state not my post and if you wish to contact me my email address is.

                      angelicpumpkinsatpeoplepc.com

                      Like this

                    • (sings) we didnt start the flame war, it was always burning, with the trolls a yearning… (sing)

                      ’nuff said me thinks.

                      Troythulu lock this thing down quick a’fore we have proof of spontaneous thread combustion.

                      TFIY

                      Like this

Commenting below. No spam or trolling, or my cats will be angry.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,956 other followers

%d bloggers like this: