…an teh purrsoot uf teh troofs n’ stufs…Srsly

This post’s title, besides being a pitiful attempt at Lolspeak, is derived from the reading of an essay on NPR mentioned by Steve Novella in the very first episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, in which the essay’s author made the statement, “I believe in truth, and the pursuit of truth.”

It was also the very podcast that introduced me to the fascinating world of logical fallacies and a lot of other coolness.

All knowledge can be thought of as belief, or more accurately, involves the belief of a given proposition as one of its major components.

Full knowledge involves at least two more elements: actual truth content and that great bugaboo of antiscience — evidence — anything you can perceive by which you can tell that something is true.

That last element of knowledge, evidence, is not to be lightly dismissed, though it often is with mystical doctrines. For if you only believe something to be so, even if it is, without evidence you have done nothing more than come upon a fortuitous hunch, for there is no way to really know that your supposition is correct.

Carl Sagan put it well in an observation on adherents of irrational beliefs: “You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep-seated need to believe.”

One thing that I find interesting about the nature of belief is the tendency toward looser criteria for the sufficiency of evidence, uncritical reasoning and increasingly rigid dogmatism in belief systems, all of these in direct proportion to the fervency with which the belief system in question is held.

But what do skeptics believe?

To be honest, I don’t know unless one tells me what he or she believes. So I speak only for myself.

There are those things that I know at present, and I’m fully cognizant of their provisional nature, there are those things I have come to emotionally accept as some of my own personal values rather than on a strictly rational basis, and there are those things I would like to believe if I had good reason to.

In a recent article on a psychic’s website (I’m not going to say ‘alleged psychic’ since that’s redundant – I don’t think that there are any real psychics, though many pretenders to that status), the author was discussing the subject of subconscious beliefs, and claimed that, [A] having rigid subconscious beliefs makes you more biased, and further, [B] that skeptics have more rigidly dogmatic subconscious beliefs than psychic people do (he’s constructed an interesting and elaborate mythology around his idea of ‘the psychic person’ i.e, anyone who claims and/or believes they are psychic – like himself), and skeptics are therefore of course more prone toward undue bias and closed-minded thinking. *Yawn*

I’ll provisionally grant him claim [A], but I have questions about claim [B]. For one thing, he provides no evidence for this but his own say-so, and he used to be so careful to provide citations in his posts.

How does he know what he’s claiming, when he has a history of making the same sort of claims about skeptics on a lot of his posts? Even then, the sources he cited as evidence were known and vocal critics of the skeptical community, hardly unbiased, who just cited each other without checking their facts, and were just repeating their prejudices, feeding each other the same misinformation in an endless cycle…

…something referred to in the Captain Disillusion videos as “psychological inbreeding.”

I suppose it’s not that important, though it does make me a wee bit angry: Those who propagate claims like this often don’t know what they are talking about, however ingeniously contrived and superficially compelling their arguments, some of them know that they don’t know what they are talking about, & a few have the academic training and background to know better and just don’t care.

It’s unethical, and it’s dishonest.

Then again, many paranormal proponents are not renowned for concern with the veracity of their sources, though they’re brilliant in polishing their arguments and knowing their own topic of interest backwards and forwards.

I suspect he’s trying to score shots in favor of what he perceives as the unique and persecuted subset of humanity he’s privileged to belong to. Lots of people want the thrill of being a part of an embattled minority. I suppose that deep down, we all want to feel special.

His resentment for skeptics is sometimes palpable in his articles. My experience in reading his posts reveals a deep dislike for those he perceives as his (and his fellow psychics’) unfair critics.

I’ve never been able to find — despite looking — any publicized demonstration by anyone claiming to be psychic, paranormally intuitive or sensitive that couldn’t be more plausibly and easily explained as the result of the trickery of a professional conjuror or mentalist… And demonstrations by celebrity psychics are typically plastered all over the mass-media.

The evidence for the paranormal, mostly composed of statistical anomalies, unsubstantiated anecdotal accounts, and easily faked or otherwise unreliable physical evidence, despite claims of the impending revelation and scientific acceptance of The Truthâ„¢ by believers, just doesn’t seem to get any better with time, only bigger in size, not quality.

This mountain of evidence, though superficially impressive from it’s sheer volume and seeming (but spurious) statistical significance, doesn’t necessarily imply anything paranormal and much of it is worthless.

Sorry, but uncritically swallowing someone’s extraordinary pet claim, even if they don’t think it’s that extraordinary, is just not my thing.

But enough rambling on what I don’t believe…

What do I believe?

Well I’m as many of you probably know, a skeptic, but I’m also a believer in the wonder and usefulness of science, in the the beauty and genuine mystery of the real world.

Manufactured and otherwise imaginary mysteries need not apply…

Why?

Because I’ve seen what some assert to be ‘other ways of knowing than science’ (without ever demonstrating their validity beyond just the assertion), and I’ve noticed that none of these doctrines has any way of internally correcting errors in its own claims about reality, none of these has any way of holding itself accountable for its mistakes, of telling itself when it’s wrong, no means of revising its claims with up-to-date findings on the way the world really works, no methods of correcting for the personal biases or policing the occasional dishonesty of those who practice it (indeed, some of these doctrines accentuate and encourage bias & dishonesty), and no means of purging itself of the informational and procedural clutter of its missteps and moving on.

Many of the proponents of these doctrines have argued that their claims are ‘outside of rational scientific inquiry,’ and to that I say this: Hogwash.

Science not only has the ability to improve itself, to update it’s underpinnings, methods and it’s findings internally, it can also meaningfully investigate any conceivable phenomenon that is [A] real in any knowable sense, [B] that can be meaningfully observed, whether by human beings or their instruments, and [C] it can therefore investigate any phenomenon which can be tested…

…And it doesn’t matter whether the subject of inquiry has the arbitrary and descriptively meaningless labels of either “normal” or “paranormal,” “natural” or “supernatural.”

Anyhoo…

Why to I believe in a reality that exists even when I’m not there to observe it?

For the simple, and to me obvious fact that reality is tenacious in it’s habit of biting those given to deny it intellectually or emotionally in the backside given enough time. You reap what you sow.

No matter how much you think you can walk through a solid concrete wall without injuring yourself or having to damage the wall, reality will always get in the way and keep you from doing it. You don’t believe me? Don’t take my word for it, just try this little test — convince yourself as hard as you possibly can that you can walk through solid walls and see for yourself if it works — you’re bound to be disappointed, and maybe a little bruised by the impact.

Be careful to walk, not run, at a reasonable pace or you might seriously injure yourself.

Also, because of the reality of, well, reality, science works…it gets demonstrable results and shows us both what we can know and how we can know it, to a very high degree of reliability, with a better track-record than anything else to date. And science can’t work without a reality to work in.

That’s because you can’t argue that science, reason and reality can be used to debunk themselves, either with reason and blatantly contradicting yourself, only affirming that which you argue against, or in being more consistent with yourself, without reason, arguing nothing effectively and denying yourself the right to a rational counterargument.

Those who attempt to do either show a distinct lack of concern for soundness of their argumentation and for their credibility to anyone exercising good critical reasoning skills.

Every phenomenon we’ve tested to date has proven to have a natural, normal, mundane (but very cool and often elegant) explanation, never supernatural or otherwise inexplicable. And there’s an enormous difference between inexplicable and currently unexplained.

Facts, truth, fiction, falsehoods, and those fixed false beliefs known as delusions can only exist in a reality that also exists, not independent of an observer, but independent of what anyone subjectively believes, opines, feels, wishes, hopes or fears, or is currently aware of, no matter what one’s perceptual model of reality tells them about what they see and how they interpret it.

Prove me wrong, and I’ll credit you for the proof and, as an added bonus, I’ll change my mind.

Hello? Anyone? *crickets chirping* I thought not…

I believe that none of us are godlike or have the ability to change the very nature of the universe using mere intentionality (a euphemism for ‘wishing’), only the ability to change our perspective on how we see and interpret things we think we know at a given time.

It’s not seeing that’s believing, but believing that is seeing.

Rather than an absolute reality of unqualified right and wrong, true or false, there is a continuum in which these things shade into each other, a spectrum in which we can meaningfully distinguish these things from each other the further our position from the mean, the closer to either end of this continuum we happen to move along.

I’m aware that none of this sits well with those who lack patience with the facts, who find fault with the process used to obtain them, rascals who would rather their claims be accepted without question rather than subject themselves to the inconvenience of actually proving them.

How do I, a naysaying critic of the paranormal, have any clue what I’m talking about? On pain of a potentially fallacious appeal to experience, I found out myself the hard way — first hand — as a one-time believer in the paranormal, and as a reformed reality and science denier.

To quote Brian Dunning of skeptoid(dot)com, “The truth always hurts someone,” and I would add to this, it is the truth no matter whether anyone believes it or not.

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5 thoughts on “…an teh purrsoot uf teh troofs n’ stufs…Srsly

  1. Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant! Not necessarily for the what others might think of as a skeptic bashing a ’embattled psychic’ but because of the small kernel of truth you have hidden away there.

    [Quoted] Lots of people want the thrill of being a part of an embattled minority. I suppose that deep down, we all want to feel special. [/Quoted]

    THAT right there is one of the obvious-truths-we-don’t-want-to-know, everyone yearns to be special, and in that yearning we become cliche, ignoring what might be logical for what is fantastic, it’s just human nature that deep-seated need to escape…whether its the problems in our life, ourselves, or just the humdrum repetition of our mundane lives.

    Bloody Brilliant…

    Nicely Done

    TFIY

    Like

  2. First, I just wanted to clarify that you do not include “empathic counselors” (NO, not the Deanna Troy variety) in the group of ‘sensitives’. My younger neice does and my father used to help most people who ask them for help. Although, down inside neither of them are doing anything “psychic” or “magical”. Rather hers is college training in the psychology of body language. My father’s was the same thing I’m quite sure, although he called it “The fine art of people watching…”. I guess that is the difference in being born in 1917 or 1969.

    Belief…… Troy you know I still have some irrational beliefs, I think Cyndi does too. I think it is possible to be “not 100% skeptical”. Even that has a caveat. I also am aware that I have irrational beliefs, and will continue to hold them, until I am shown science that proves otherwise. It also needs to be stated that I am open to new science, and not continually demanding higher and higher levels of evidence. I don’t move the goal posts. What this says about my own mental state, I’ll leave to the observer. If I had to walk around with one of those little bubbles over my head like the Orbitz commercials, mine would say “Warning: In flux…”.

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    • I specifically intended to leave out people with no pretense to special powers, only including those who specifically claim supernatural abilities through ruse or delusion. The term sensitives has been hijacked by the paranormal community as a buzzword for psychic people, though, which is why I included it.

      As for belief…we all have irrational ones, including yours truly. I just didn’t feel it necessary to bring up my gaming superstitions and other sacred cows that even skeptics have because I’ve mentioned them elsewhere. Nobody is completely or consistently skeptical, and I’ve even seen James Randi serve as a prime example of that very human failing on some few occasions. It’s one of the hazards of our brains, even when they work right.

      I’ma fixin’ it now.

      Like

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