Scepticism/Skepticism: A critical evaluation
Common sense is in spite of, not as the result of education. Victor Hugo
Most of us are born with the ability to use logic. It grows if allowed to do so and we usually call it common sense. I don’t think many people are aware of this? Anon
Serious logical problems arise regarding the scientific-sceptical position, in that there are no standards of scepticism, no qualifying examination and no awarded qualifications. (Although there are anomalistic psychologists who are trying to remedy this omission see: Psychology in Denial )
There is no measurable point where scepticism ends and acceptance begins. This arbitrary decision is left to scientific ‘opinion’ (not study) or to the personal preferences of the sceptic… more of an emotional choice, as we read below.
The things that are acceptable to science are the things that science studies and things outside of scientific study are pseudo-science. There is no way-in for anything new in this circular and inward-looking system that excludes by default. This is the touchstone of the sceptical stance, that rejects subjects outside of the enclosure constructed by science (unless a particular science like parapsychology happens to be in conflict with the sceptical paradigm).
Scepticism has a new, modern meaning that insists that the tenets of science are the ruling factor in matters concerning reality. In this context, it is a position taken by those who have tight parameters surrounding their belief system, that are, to a greater extent fixed and immovable. These parameters are usually claimed to be empirically proven science, although they are often not proven and science is presented as a pseudo-absolute touch-stone of truth, even though it is nothing of the kind.
A pseudo-logical sequence would take the form:
Scepticism is used by academic science.
Therefore: scepticism and science are synonymous.
At the same time and contrary to what the sceptics say, science as a body claims to be a dynamic, constantly updating and exploring entity without fixed ideas, rejecting the concept of “facts” per se – ‘every theory must be able to be disproved’. We can only conclude that scepticism, including scientific scepticism, is not a science, it is a rigidly fixed dogma and we find ourselves with an ‘unscientific’ dichotomy that originates within science itself.
It’s all a bit messy, but it is on the basis of this mess that authoritative pontifications like that of Paul Kurtz below are constructed, as if all of the problems had been considered and put to rest in a comfortable cradle of secure sceptical, scientific, materialistic fact.
Science and its handmaiden scepticism (or is it its domineering mistress?) seem to have serious problems with simple binary concepts such as True/False, seemingly supposing that there is a demarcation line or a point in true/false where true ends and false begins. There is no such division and what exists is more akin to an infinite sliding scale with no absolute, definable, beginning or end. There are no literal facts in the sense that scepticism and sceptical scientism seems to believe. Therefore, subjects such as the paranormal present particularly fuzzy problems to the normally denialist sceptical mindset – it’s little wonder that they want it strangled.
Some things work most of the time, others some of the time and some only once in a lifetime, and its the some-of-the-timers to which scepticism directs its scorn. But its in the once in a lifetimers where sceptics triumph because they are on to a reasonably safe bet. They can exert their full authority in these areas and often the paranormal fits nicely into this category. Conversely, there are many scientific experiments that do not work every time, some of which are the bedrock upon which scientific disciplines rest. At the time of writing, I’m thinking of physics, geology, astronomy and evolutionary biology.
Wiki sceptics tell us: “Scientism is a term used, usually pejoratively, to refer to belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative world-view or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints. It has been defined as “the view that the characteristic inductive methods of the natural sciences are the only source of genuine factual knowledge and, in particular, that they alone can yield true knowledge about man and society.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism
newyorker.com: The Truth Wears Off
Is there something wrong with the scientific method? By Jonah Lehrer
“…But now all sorts of well-established, multiple confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants: Davis has a forthcoming analysis demonstrating that the efficacy of antidepressants has gone down as much as threefold in recent decades.
For many scientists, the effect is especially troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, where do we put all these rigorously validated findings that can no longer be proved? Which results should we believe? Francis Bacon, the early-modern philosopher and pioneer of the scientific method, once declared that experiments were essential, because they allowed us to “put nature to the question.” But it appears that nature often gives us different answers…“ Read it all at the link http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/13/the-truth-wears-off#ixzz1rxyIl66Q
And so to Paul Kurtz who says: “[An] explanation for the persistence of the paranormal, I submit, is due to the transcendental temptation. In my book by that name, I present the thesis that paranormal and religious phenomena have similar functions in human experience; they are expressions of a tendency to accept magical thinking.
This temptation has such profound roots within human experience and culture that it constantly reasserts itself.” Paul Kurtz.
We note: that it is only Paul Kurtz and his contemporary modern scientists who do not succumb to this all-too-human trait. Obviously superior beings? ! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Kurtz
Kurtz follows the authoritarian scientific tradition, in wanting to take the magic from our lives and make us all as mundane as he is: “This temptation has such profound roots within scientific experience and culture that it constantly reasserts itself.” He singly fails to acknowledge that it was from such magical thinking that modern science arose in the persons of Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, Francis Bacon and other pioneering names who were in fact alchemists. It is also from magical thinking that the great thinkers, inventors and innovators past and not so long past, extracted the ideas that modern science embraces and calls its own.
Science is a repository of facts and ideas that were contributed by those who were, more often than not, not academic scientists in the sense we know today and others who were made honorary academic scientists ‘after’ they made their outstanding achievements. Many of the great names of the past, who are honoured by science were heavily involved in paranormal pursuits or studies. Such benefactors would be rejected by today’s science according to Paul Kurtz.
William Crookes for example who was something of a mystic did all the preparatory work that led to JJ Thomson’s Nobel prize and the birth of modern particle physics, not to mention his pioneering work with radioactivity. His name is rarely mentioned these days due to his association with the paranormal. The overly burdensome authority of materialistic science has caused its adherents to develop an amnesia or succumb to a hypnotism that beguiles them into forgetfulness of all that went before, while claiming what they have is of their own creation.
Wiki, “Skepticism” : “From a scientific point of view, theories are judged on many criteria, such as falsifiability, Occam’s Razor, and explanatory power, as well as the degree to which their predictions match experimental results. Skepticism is part of the scientific method; for instance an experimental result is not regarded as established until it can be shown to be repeatable independently.”
By the principles of skepticism, the ideal case is that every individual could make his own mind up on the basis of the evidence rather than appealing to some authority, skeptical or otherwise…
(But, here’s the rub 🙂
“…In practice this becomes difficult because of the amount of knowledge now possessed by science (Read intellectualisation = confusion), and so an ability to balance critical thinking with an appreciation for consensus amongst the most relevant scientists becomes vital.” (Read: Don’t use critical thinking where science is concerned because this can do irreparable damage! )
It becomes evident that critical thinking cannot be applied to subjects that scientists consider too complex for the average pleb or even for individual scientists themselves. The idea of consensus coupled with dubious scepticism needs careful consideration as a sceptical consensus is more than likely to be biased.
Real critical thinking applied: The above Wiki quote is untrue in its totality:
Repeatability is an illusion created by modern science in its claimed “study of nature”, as nature never repeats an experiment – nature experiments with change. Every leaf on a given tree is subtly different from every other leaf on the same tree. Every planetary orbit is different from the last, due to gravitational influences from other bodies in the Solar System. The period of an Earth year is always slightly different in subsequent years and so applying super accurate clocks to Earth time is a waste of (time).
All experimental results are statistically manipulated to fit the prevailing consensus paradigm, as every scientist knows. In some branches of science such as astronomy or geology or evolutionary biology (not even falsifiable according to Richard Dawkins), it is impossible to use any kind of ‘scientific method’ because of the separation of space or time or both. In such disciplines there are no experimental results, just explanations (read rationalisations = excuses).
There is no standard definition of “Scientific Method”.
Recent history has shown that scientists are notoriously poor at making predictions and their critical thinking, if it exists at all, does not extend to looking at their own history, or even examining their own methodology.
Scientific paradigm: Wiki, Thomas Kuhn “The conviction that the current paradigm is reality tends to disqualify evidence that might undermine the paradigm itself; this in turn leads to a build-up of unreconciled anomalies. It is the latter that is responsible for the eventual revolutionary overthrow of the incumbent paradigm, and its replacement by a new one.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm
TIME, Monday, Jun. 24, 1974 declared: “Another Ice Age?”
This is glossed over by the claim that, “not all scientists subscribed to this theory”. But then they never do. Scientific dogma is created by the consensus of senior scientists. In reality it is a vote on what does least damage to science.
Returning to the Wiki article above: the phrase about the ability to make up ones own mind is nothing but a play on words. It is misleading in that it assumes that making up ones mind involves, in this context, using all the accrued scientific data and applying scepticism on this basis. In other words, assuming that everything that has passed through the peer review filter can be applied as a guide to everything that arises in the future. ‘Everything we do must agree with everything we have done,’ places science in a position of pseudo-infallibility.
Wiki continues by adding that the sum total knowledge of science is too great for the non-scientist or even a single scientist to evaluate and concludes with the remark: “and so an ability to balance critical thinking with an appreciation for consensus (opinion) amongst the most relevant scientists becomes vital”.
To preserve the scientific method/dogma and thereby the jobs of scientists, all critical thinking must be guided by, and stay within the bounds of, the opinions of senior scientists. This is saying in effect, that no one can think for themselves, that such thinking should be left to senior scientists who know what’s best for us all to know.
It’s censorship and mind control, plain and simple, to ensure that any new discovery does not endanger the status quo of science and that any critical thinking must include the preconceived ideas and opinions of “relevant scientists”.
Yet again, we are stricken with awe at the hubris of those who claim to know it all.
Science is presented as an absolute because it is assumed that what is NOT known by the senior scientists is unimportant or unreal and/or not worth knowing.
We can only conclude that any new discovery made by those outside of science (as most have been) is also unreal and unimportant pseudo-science because the discoverer failed to consult the consensus of science.
Ideas that had no consensus theory and were not peer-reviewed :
The Steam Engine
It is necessary to abandon old scientific theory in order to invent something new – this is the way it works. Science has invented its own, ‘god of thou shalt not’, who is a jealous god.
Scepticism can make you gullible because critical thinking is outlawed if directed at science.
Wiki: “The word skepticism can characterise a position on a single claim, but in scholastic circles more frequently describes a lasting mind-set.”
It has become fashionable and even required thinking that today, when something new or unusual, occurs, that every attempt is made to reduce it to the mundane of acceptable peer reviewed science. Unfortunately, many of these crude rationalisations are more fantastic than the phenomenon they are attempting to explain-away. But, many people accept such ‘rationale’ without a second thought just because it is the fashionable ‘sceptical position’ and therefore must be the most scientific – it’s so much easier than thinking for yourself and what’s more, often presented by a qualified scientist! This is done glibly, even in the face of evidence to the contrary and with the additional problem that the scientist concerned is probably not qualified in the subject and unable to give anything more than a personalised, biased opinion.
Scepticism is for our protection against unscrupulous second-hand car salesmen and politicians. When someone gives an opinion and uses only authority as evidence, he or she is likely to be pulling your leg. But scepticism is a double edged sword and it can also be used as protection against unscrupulous scientists. Open-mindedness is a requirement for the investigation of paranormal phenomena – something that is anathema to science. I’ve often heard the phrase, “so open minded that his brains dropped out”, among scientists when assessing someone’s work in this field. This strikes one as a peculiar remark from those who present themselves as explorers of nature? Science is not tooled-up for phenomena that are not ‘quasi-repeatable’ and paranormal studies invariably fall into this category. Is it remotely conceivable that science is not the best counsel on paranormal subjects and that we should consult someone who knows what they are talking about? In fact someone who plays the game!
How does the *certainty* that there is no paranormal arise? Well, of course it comes from physicists who insist that everything in the universe is made of only the matter and energy that they study. But there is a serious flaw in their argument, in that they rely on time, without which there would be no physics as we know it.
Time is not matter
Time is not energy
Time cannot be detected.
It cannot even be proven to exist.
Time is paranormal and according to sceptical science does not exist.
Science scepticism, debunking, Zen . . . And the Art of Debunkery by Daniel Drasin. “Seeing with humility, curiosity and fresh eyes was once the main point of science. But today it is often a different story. As the scientific enterprise has been bent toward exploitation, institutionalization, hyperspecialization and new orthodoxy, it has increasingly preoccupied itself with disconnected facts in a psychological, social and ecological vacuum. So disconnected has official science become from the greater scheme of things, that it tends to deny or disregard entire domains of reality and to satisfy itself with reducing all of life and consciousness to a dead physics.
As the millennium turns, science seems in many ways to be treading the weary path of the religions it presumed to replace. Where free, dispassionate inquiry once reigned, emotions now run high in the defense of a fundamentalized “scientific truth.” As anomalies mount up beneath a sea of denial, defenders of the Faith and the Kingdom cling with increasing self-righteousness to the hull of a sinking paradigm. Faced with provocative evidence of things undreamt of in their philosophy, many otherwise mature scientists revert to a kind of skeptical infantilism characterized by blind faith in the absoluteness of the familiar. Small wonder, then, that so many promising fields of inquiry remain shrouded in superstition, ignorance, denial, disinformation, taboo . . . and debunkery.” http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/scepticism/drasin.html
Debunking, thefreedictionary.com: “Verb 1. debunk – expose while ridiculing; especially of pretentious or false claims and ideas; “The physicist debunked the psychic’s claims”
reveal the true nature of; “The journal article unmasked the corrupt politician””
This is all fine if the debunking is a genuine exposure of something that is obviously wrong. But a constant and unrelenting debunking will cause many to disbelieve the most mundane and widely accepted, just because some scientist has said so. It may be a million miles distant from his own area of expertise but science has spoken, ex cathedra — this is just naivete.
Modern debunking also depends on disbelief by proxy, where the sceptic makes an assumption that a particular phenomena is unsupported by science and therefore taboo. Applying scepticism without a desire to ascertain the truth is not scepticism but dogma, the result of scientific indoctrination, again naive, foolish, religious stupidity.
The Big Lie
“The great masses of the people… will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” -Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
The sceptical and by default scientific view of paranormal phenomena is that much of it is the result of trickery. ‘If something can be reproduced by a magician, then all such phenomena are trickery’. This is obviously an illogical assumption as all such phenomena cannot possibly be proven to be the result of trickery. That something can be reproduced by an alternative method is not proof that it has always been achieved in that way. The further criticism, that such things are not performed under controlled conditions is also flawed because the phrase ‘controlled conditions’ is meaningless. What is controlled for one researcher is uncontrolled for another. There are no fixed standards. Positive results from parapsychology experiments are regularly criticised by sceptics who have thought of yet another reason to debunk results. This “moving of the goalposts” is common and one can only assume that sceptics do not want to believe, have a rigid mindset which in itself is totally unscientific. See also:
A further ploy is the old and tired ‘unqualified’ claim: that witnesses are not capable of assessing what they have seen with their own eyes because they have not received a scientific training.
The hubris of this one is astounding.
The observation of a phenomenon by a non-scientific observer, like an airline pilot, a military observer, an astronaut or police officer, cannot be said to be inferior to that of a scientist and there would need to be considerable evidence in support of such a statement. To the writers knowledge, there is no such evidence. Whereas there is ample evidence that intensive training in science or any other discipline is the ideal method for creating bias. This is called scientific indoctrination or scientism.
Yet another is that witnesses have some kind of brain or mental malady. The sceptical justification being that because such things “don’t exist” (according to science) , they are fantasies which are the result of sick minds; this, of course is blatant circular reasoning. It constructs a postulate by drawing upon the illogical assumptions above and using them to prove that something does not exist, which is implausible/impossible.
Wiki: “Circular reasoning (also known as paradoxical thinking or circular logic), is a logical fallacy in which the conclusion of an argument is assumed implicitly or explicitly in one of the premises” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_reasoning
Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), The most quoted brain disorder, tired through overuse, seized-upon in sceptical debunking of the paranormal, is that of TLE. Michael Persinger has also become something of a hero and certainly a gift to the sceptics.
Michael Persinger, Wiki and the “God Helmet” refers to an experimental apparatus originally called the “Koren helmet” after its inventor Stanley Koren. It was developed by Koren and neuroscientist Michael Persinger to study creativity and the effects of subtle stimulation of the temporal lobes. Reports by participants of a “sensed presence” while wearing the God helmet brought public attention and resulted in several TV documentaries. The device has been used in Persinger’s research in the field of neurotheology, the study of the neural correlations of religion and spirituality. The apparatus, placed on the head of an experimental subject, generates very weak fluctuating magnetic fields, that Persinger refers to as “complex.” These fields are approximately as strong as those generated by a land line telephone handset or an ordinary hair dryer, but far weaker than that of an ordinary refrigerator magnet and approximately a million times weaker than transcranial magnetic stimulation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_helmet
During paranormal studies such as ghost hunting, the more ‘scientifically’ inclined use electromagnetic field (EMF), magnetic field and other kinds of detectors, claiming that this is evidence of the possible presence or manifestation of spirits. Persinger, on the other hand has turned this idea on its head and claims that it is one of these, the magnetic energy, (also present in EMF’s) that actually causes the spiritual experience by the stimulation of certain areas of the brain. – ‘Spirits don’t exist, they are symptoms, illusions’; the result of other agencies such as magnetism acting on the brain and creating illusions.
I’m not quite sure that Persinger’s experiment actually proves anything. People have been using various means to enhance heightened awareness and spiritual visions since human life began. I personally don’t see that using a magnetic field to produce such effects enlarges on what is already known. The argument, as I see it, is whether such visionary experience is what the sceptic calls imaginary – I think they must mean fantasy. This, unfortunately, remains in the domain of the beholder and his/her personal interpretation… and the jury, as always, is still out on that one, at least where the sceptics are concerned.
Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). There are various reports of what has come to be known as Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS), that is, harmful health problems arising in individuals from exposure to even weak EMF’s. The scientific community seems to, by and large, reject such suggestions on the grounds that there is insufficient or no direct evidence. Some studies even suggest that these effects are psychological in nature.
As an engineer, the author and others present at the time, were exposed to some very substantial, long-term, electromagnetic fields with no appreciable paranormal or any other ill effects. However, there seem to be a small number of persons who are sensitive.
The basis of the criticisms of the scientific detractors of Michael Persinger’s methods are that someone forewarned that they will experience certain effects will experience those effects.
Misrepresenting The Scientific Evidence
Parapsychological Research, “A prominent skeptic’s, (Randi’s) FAQ makes this incorrect claim about parapsychology: “And, there is not a single example of a scientific discovery in the field of parapsychology that has been independently replicated. That makes parapsychology absolutely unique in the world of science.” http://www.randi.org/jr/faq.html James Randi lies and misleads his readers just like all other pseudo sceptics.
According to parapsychologist Dean Radin: “A meta-analysis of the database, published in 1989, examined 800 experiments by more than 60 researchers over the preceding 30 years. The effect size was found to be very small, but remarkably consistent, resulting in an overall statistical deviation of approximately 15 standard errors from a chance effect. The probability that the observed effect was actually zero (i.e., no psi) was less than one part in a trillion, verifying that human consciousness can indeed affect the behaviour of a random physical system.”
sites.google.com: “That’s 800 experiments by more than 60 researchers over the preceding 30 years demonstrating odds of a trillion to one in favor of psychokinesis being real.” https://sites.google.com/site/chs4o8pt/skeptical_misdirection
Evidence Will not Convince a Pseudo-skeptic
sites.google.com “There is a fundamental difficulty in convincing people to change their minds by presenting them with evidence. The difficulty is that the level of proof people require for giving up a strongly held belief is much more rigorous than the level of proof they require for holding on to a pre-existing belief. In order for someone to change their mind about a strongly held belief, they require absolute, 100%, ironclad proof and sometimes even that is not sufficient because in order to maintain a strongly held belief in the face of contradictory evidence, people only require a tenuous hypothesis to explain away the evidence. This is human nature. It is the real meaning behind the phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”. That phrase is not about the scientific method, it is about human psychology. This is why, for a pseudo-skeptic, it is so easy to fall back on the last bastions of scepticism, and claim the researchers are committing fraud, they are incompetent, or they are victims of deception in order to explain the researcher’s observations of paranormal phenomena.” https://sites.google.com/site/chs4o8pt/skeptical_fallacies#skeptical_fallacies_ignorant_pseudo_sk
There is no iron-clad proof about anything, there is nothing in our lives that is absolutely certain. The pseudo sceptics don’t seem to understand this and it may be the reason why they cling to science. Science is presented in absolute terms by education, a clue to the mentality of the pseudo sceptic?
nytimes.com: “If the second person isn’t sure of the answer, he’s liable to go along with the first persons guess. By then, even if the third person suspects another answer is right, she’s more liable to go along just because she assumes the first two together know more than she does. Thus begins an informational cascade as one person after another assumes that the rest can’t all be wrong….
And so the informational cascade morphed into what the economist Timur Kuran calls a reputational cascade, in which it becomes a career risk for dissidents to question the popular wisdom….
“Senator McGovern, I recognize the disadvantage of being in the minority,” Dr. Ahrens replied. He pointed out that most of the doctors in the survey were relying on secondhand knowledge because they didn’t work in this field themselves.”
The New Religion
Although the sceptics have rejected religion, (a device of social control designed by a Roman emperor), they have embraced science. They seem unaware that science has become the all-too-obvious political replacement for religion as the vehicle of control. Science has been in the pocket of big business and government for at least the past hundred years. Science makes people feel smart/clever, but studying science is not thinking, it’s remembering what science has told you. Stuff yourself with scientific “facts” and the brains of dead scientific men and you will think you are brilliant, but you will never be able to think for yourself again.