RE: A few thoughts
> -----Original Message-----Being new to this list, this looks like a good opportunity to state my
> From: Frank Sirett [SMTP:mistral5037@...]
> Sent: Saturday, July 24, 1999 11:08 AM
> To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Subject: [skeptic] A few thoughts
> From: "Frank Sirett" <mistral5037@...>
> I would like to send in a few words here and see if I can kick-start a
> What do we see as our place as sceptics? what is it that we are really
> trying to accomplish?
personal opinions on the matter. I would like to see fewer cancer victims
eschew modern treatment techniques in the false hope that a psychic healer
will cure them completely, without the need for painful chemotherapy or
amputations, with the horrible side-effect of enriching charlatans at the
expense of the ill. I would like to see fewer resources (human and
financial) dedicated to tax-exempt organized religions when there are
hungry, homeless, or jobless people in need.
I would like to see more resources funneled toward the research of things we
know little about (including the paranormal), because I believe that on the
whole science, directly or indirectly, improves human life. I think science
is by far the single most important process we can use to progress as a
species. In my opinion, science is far from perfect; it is sad that
headlines produce funding, that personal biases impede progress, and that
proper critical thought is (again, in my opinion) underused. Science is not
a rigid, dogmatic structure in the same way organized religions are. To me,
science is like a tower, with everything balanced on prior (admittedly
precarious on occasion) conclusions which can be traced all the way back to
first principles in the physical sciences. Things that can not be measured,
experienced, or used within the reality described by science are not needed.
If there are legitimate experiments, measurements, or observations of
phenomena that are unaccounted for by the scientifically described reality,
then science must be altered. After all, it's goal is to describe reality,
and that exists in properly conducted experiments, measurements, or
observations is a part of reality.
> I subscribed to another sceptic mailing list for a while... Since most ofTo me, everyone is a scientist to some degree. Every day is an on-going
> subscribers were scientists it was not allowed to question any science
> they accepted and they used the weight of their positions on a number of
> occassions to crush any dissension with this position.
experiment. To understand quantum theory, all one has to do is extend the
same methods used to learn in every-day experiences (going to work, walking,
using the telephone). The biggest pitfall is the human mind, the source of
all bias. Believers in the paranormal too often refuse to accept that their
mind and memory cannot be trusted, the placebo effect being the most blunt
- Wow. Finally, the discussion on this group has become interesting. Thank you
Frank. Let me add a few bits.
The skeptic I am familiar with is the condescending, angry sort. He
bashes everyone who claims to have seen an alien starship, or a ghost in his
house (etc.). He relishes in making people look stupid. He is the
pharisaical one who says to his friends, "I have an open mind" and heaps
scorn on all things that don't conform to his world view. His standard of
evidence is, if used, a trick, a device. It is not science: he dismisses
many claims out of hand, usually on the premise that they simply cannot be,
when presented with data he interprets it in a way that is almost
contadictory to his own past interpretations of similiar facts, and he is
relentless in spouting the demand for proof, proof, proof. The proof is
usually what satisfies him, what is accepted by him. This is the worst sort
of skeptic, but I think he is legion.
The 'bad' skeptic above seems to me to have found a kind of certainty.
He does not say that he has arrived at the best conclusions, only that he
has arrived at the only conclusions. And to think this is to be in a very
bad way, because it seems to rule out the new, the strange, the weird -- all
the things that provide ample opportunity to ferret out knowledge.
Of course I don't think this is what a skeptic should be. A skeptic, in
my mind, does not deal in certainties, but in probabilities. He recognizes
that his own epistemological position, whatever it might be, can just as
easily fall like a house of cards with some new development, some new
standard of proof. He investigates, yes, and when he has gathered in all the
facts he looks to the most reasonable* explanation. He does not dismiss the
possibility of an alternate explanation. He does not, for instance, offer
million dollar prizes to people who can beat him at his own game (which, if
he is clever enough, is designed to be unbeatable).
* There is that ugly old word again, 'reasonable.' I wish people would stop
using that silly word. "You are being inconsistent, based on your past
behavior" would be much nicer and much closer to the spirit of what every
skeptic wants (for one thing, an increase in critical thinking). I use the
word here only to illustrate the point.