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18-May-2015 / quantumsniper1

Why skepticism fails the courage test

How to identify “stinking thinking”, and defeat it

(Article, 2504 words. Est. 10 mins reading time,.. excluding extra time to ponder your navel)

Socrates_Strong_Minds

In those ‘deep and meaningful’ conversations we sometimes have with people, especially when debating topics where the bounds of knowledge and credibility are stretched, one occasionally encounters a mindset called ‘Skepticism’ in your opponent. Todays task is to persuade you that skeptics lack courage.

In the course of debate a “skeptic” – who are otherwise intelligent folk, often end up sabotaging the exchange of knowledge before the discussion reaches a satisfactory conclusion. Skeptics are like sticks in the mud. Can’t go any further. Forward or back.

Now; We all want the best quality information. Don’t we?  And of course when commencing an ideal debate we all come armed with a full head of steam, a bunch of A-grade facts, some patient contrariness, a few techniques of persuasion, and a healthy respect for common sense rational logic. If necessary, we are also prepared to defend our views using some science, and fairness in our heart.  So why do so many rational discussions with skeptics always seem to go off the rails?

The skeptical mindset is a false panacea. As a Truth Tool its a farce, and a dangerous joke. My private judgmental label for the skeptical mindset is “Emotional Intellectualism”.  Today, I hope to persuade you of this…

…using a brief socratic dialogue. This is a technique made famous by ancient Socrates as a teaching tool.  Off we go:

Socratic_Wisdom

A debate with a Skeptic usually goes something like this:

  • Socrates: “So what makes you doubt the existence of, say, UFO’s ?”
  • Student:  “Because I am a natural Skeptic. And there is no good (a) evidence, or (b) science, or (c) independent corroboration to support ufo’s !”
  • Socrates:  “Ok. Right then. Here is some (a) evidence, and here is some (b) science, and here now is a bunch of (c) independent corroborating research evidence (which you’ll have to check for yourself), and finally, here are some (d) common sense reasons why (i) shadow governments and (ii) a military industrial complex, would want to keep these facts secret.
  • Student:   “Ah! But I don’t trust any information regarding (a), (b), (c), (d), (i) or (ii) that you give me.”
  • Socrates:  “And why is that?”
  • Student:  “Well: I don’t think you are applying (e) trustworthy logic, and I also don’t think you’re using (f) ‘The Scientific Method’ in arriving at your conclusions.
  • Socrates:  “That’s fine! So I now propose to verify or demonstrate to you that I HAVE applied a sound use of both: …
    (e) semantic logic, along with having rigorously avoided any forms of unethical persuasion and/or linguistic fallacies, and of course I promise to maintain this rigour in our ongoing debate… AND
    … I have similarly used the correct interpretation of (f) ‘The Scientific Method’.
    <…this bit usually goes on circuitously for a while, since Socrates has to (e) categorize the various types of logical fallacies out there, with examples, whilst building the student’s trust that Socrates will continually exercise valid logic … AND … Socrates similarly will properly define (f) The Scientific Method for the student so they cannnot improperly demand “Strict Proof” where even the highest quality Science relies on “continual testing and improvement of Evidence” >
  • Student:  “All right! All right! … Well I acknowledge EVERYTHING you say so far. But unfortunately, we must agree to disagree. We will NEVER reach a conclusion, because I still cannot bring myself to trust You or anything that You’ve said”.
  • Socrates:  “Understood! And accepted! So what have you honestly learned so far today?”
  • Student:   “Well, honestly:  In my mind; I have learned nothing AT ALL!  Because, as a Skeptic ; –
    • I STILL don’t trust You in my heart. [ie… I need to process everything you’ve said]
    • I will NOT go and check or do any of my own ongoing research. [ie… I am too busy/fearful/lazy]
    • I am not a specialist in Logic or Science. [ie… And besides, you’re just a smart-arse who thinks he’s better than me] , and
    • If I believed what you say, my trust in my own world view would collapse. [ie… I am REALLY not ready for this paradigm shift in my belief-systems]

  • Socrates:  <sigh>

So. There you have it: The classic failed debate between Believer and Non-Believer.

Secret fear, unspoken ignorance

The (admittedly) caricatured example of a debate above, demonstrates the types of psychological impasse that show why the “art of skepticism” is a flawed discipline in the hands of the skeptic. The average skeptic just flat-out denies any/all evidence. A skilled skeptic just denies AND harbors secret negative illogical foundation at the core of their rejection. It is the classic Argumentum Ad Ignorantium. The ‘Argument from Ignorance’. In it, skeptics are not just saying that they can’t prove their opponent false, but they are also unfairly asserting without yet (or ever) submitting evidence, that their opponent is bluntly wrong.

The basis of skeptical rejection is probably fear. Any other plausible explanation for rejecting Socrates’ opening arguments seems emotionalism-based. The skeptics’ refusal to engage in counter-argument is very telling. Rather than admitting they’re wrong and moving on, they stone-wall. Unfortunately, this is really no different from any ordinary debater who has no answers, harbors secret deep-seated fears of being wrong, misconstrues facts, uses aberrated logic, and masks lack of trust. Skeptics endlessly ask for ‘proof’, but fail to recognize any absolute standard of proof if/when its submitted.

False presumption of guilt

Whilst debating, the Skeptic continually shifts the work / onus of proof to the other guy. In a criminal courtroom this is a valid tactic only when there’s a prima facie presumption of innocence. But the skeptic does exactly the opposite, and presumes guilt. That’s hardly a Truth Tool!  You cant prove a negative. Worse still, because skeptics generally arrogate themselves from the obligation to provide evidence or meaningful counter-argument, they shift the burden of proof only to avoid responsibility, and not to achieve any semantic goal.

In a proper courtroom, where Laws of Evidence are enforced, a judicious debate would require a presumption of innocence, equal quality counter-evidence, and sound reasoning free of both logical or linguistic fallacy. Not even ‘celebrity skeptics’ like James Randi or Penn Jillette (both classed as ‘illusionists’ by trade), can consistently match rules of evidence of an untainted Courtroom Standard from start to finish.

Who does skepticism hurt

Literally everyone! When a skeptic defends themselves behind the polite, courteous pseudo-rationale of “being a skeptic”, they are actually LIMITING AND ESTOPPING access to new information and new systems of thought. At the individual level, it is the classic vice of hubris/pride epitomized.

So. Here we have continual reinforcement of basic ignorance. This is the exact opposite of real intellectualism. In fact, in many ways its an ANTI-intelligence movement. It tends to turn its proponents into EXACTLY the kind of people who rely on “belief” rather than “information”. Because skeptics hide behind their unacknowledged insecurity of gathering and incorporating new information into their belief systems, it makes them continually recurring victims of deeper ignorance and mistrust if and when mis-information (or even predatory dis-information) is offered for their consumption.

This is a major flaw in western educational (and intellectual) systems developed since the 1950’s. … Skinnerian Behaviourism has a lot to answer for…. [… but that’s another article.]

At the societal level, skeptical thinking may well be responsible for dumbing-down the masses, and crippling respect for intellectual movements and attitudes moreso than any other psychological or philosophical theory in modern history. After all, the paradigm-shifts that uplift humanity all rely on the implicit willingness to reject previous prejudices. Eg. Cave Man to Agrarian. Horse to automobile. Printed word to computer. Newtonian to Quantum Physics. Earth dwellers to Star Children.

Instead of building on intelligence, Skepticism Mindset typically fosters a vicious circle of anti-intellectualism. For example :

Vicious Cycle of skepticism (1)

Artificial Google intelligence

This vicious cycle is similar to the major flaw in the Google Filter Bubble. Frequent power users of Google Search end up quite frustrated because the Google Search Engine (whilst openly and intentionally gathering private profile data about you) uses an algorithm which – when You or I do a keyword search – reduces its list of results to –

  • things incidental to our previous searches,
  • what we’ve repeatedly clicked on, or “liked”,
  • things we bought online last time, or
  • things that people in our immediate social media circle have searched, clicked, liked or bought.

Hence, whilst outwardly posing as ‘the fount of all knowledge’, the Google Algorithm ends up reinforcing one’s pre-existing (limited) spheres of knowledge. It makes it increasingly hard to ‘learn something new’, and it essentially limits ones’ desire to evolve/improve ones’ existing belief-systems because it skews searches away from valuable new ‘random’ knowledge*.

Both Google and Skepticism share some problems. Both ‘tools’ reinforce stereotypical biases (usually to the lowest common denominator of peer-group anti-intellectualism). They both cement distance or apostasy between opposing camps and viewpoints. They both put a ceiling on human creativity, and both short-changes human initiative. Both also seem to build a society-wide normalcy bias against thinkers, conscientious objectors and independent-minded intellectuals who refuse to follow the mainstream herd.

Leaving the Google analogy aside for now, the Skepticism movement itself drains and wastes the brainpower resource of society’s intellectuals. Intellectuals are stigmatized, ‘ordinariness’ or ‘sameness’ is glorified, and Social tribalism becomes the norm. Thinkers as ‘eccentrics’ crackpots’ or ‘radicals’. Little surprise, then, that the heroes of western mainstream society are performing celebrities or sportsmen. Its all about popularity. The true meritocracy seems to be all-but-dead.

I submit that to qualify as an intellectual today (ie; a non-skeptic one), one must be prepared to LISTEN TO ALL NEW INFORMATION. In other words, don’t try to use a tainted filter like ‘Skepticism’ to protect yourself along the way. And be careful of Google while you’re at it.

How to overcome skeptical thought

From the point of truth-seeking, skeptics get it completely wrong. Skepticism is not even a valid category of Doubt. It’s a hiding place for those who won’t admit their timidity to explore new ideas.  In order to gain knowledge and higher truth, it may be time to abondon the ‘Skepticism Filter’.

One way I have found to gently acclimatize oneself to the next Paradigm Shift, is firstly (as mentioned above), to indiscriminately listen, watch, or engage in ALL new information. Especially stuff you’ve previously seen as ‘boring’, ‘rubbish’, ‘condescending’, ‘abrasive’, or even ‘irrelevant’. Hey; You DON’T KNOW what you DO NOT ALREADY KNOW. Right?

Secondly; and more importantly, try to mentally apply a new filtering process. This requires one to subconsciously assign EVERY new piece of evidence you meet into a merit/quality category/grade. The higher the grade, the better the quality. Here below is the system that I use:

Table : the Grades of Evidence

GRADE

STANDARD OF EVIDENCE

QUALITY OF EVIDENCE + EXAMPLE

Grade 1

Gold Standard

A primary source document / published government white paper / court affidavit or university, or Ph.D thesis

Grade 2

Silver Standard

Credible Personal Witness Testimony. Eg“I was there. This happened to me. I was shot, stabbed or abducted”

Grade 3

Bronze Standard

Credible corroboration witness at the scene. Eg“I was there. The event happened in the next room. I have official documents and receipts to show XYZ happened as I said”

Grade 4

Journalist Standard

Soon after the fact. Third party commentary. Only partially reliable hearsay and opinions.  Eg. “This is where
the bomb exploded. I believe it was exploded here earlier today by an ISIS Suicide Bomber”

Grade 5

Pundit Standard

Usually the power of an experienced orator or journalist, or newspaper. Its still basically hearsay, and opinion evidence, and its someone whose word you’re just taking at face value. But it can still be very useful in the sense that they often provide good over-arching commentary, theorizing, and pulling of seemingly unconnected strings together. Eg. Alex Jones’ www.infowars.com

Grade 6

The “meh !!” Standard

Essentially pure emotional wild-eyed speculation. Not much merit. No Grade 1-5 corroboration evidence offered to induce trust. Only useful for tenuous levels of hypothesizing. Generally safe to just diplomatically smile, nod understandingly, file away in memory. But don’t ignore or forget it.

The skill is to not emotionally JUDGE evidence. Instead, just assess it, and grade it as it unfolds. No more. No less.

Dangers of ignoring Grade 6 evidence

As an investigator into the truth, deliberately ignoring the apparent madman, or promptly forgetting their wild-eyed speculation is unsound practice. It is also myopic. If you don’t give it some due respect, and later some solid new evidence comes to light, you will neither be able to connect the dots, nor draw inferences, nor take into account that your former Grade 6 evidence has now bumped up a notch or two in merit. As E.M. Forster used to preach, our primary motivation in life should be to “Only Connect”.

This methodology of ‘Remembering everything’ is not really that hard. Humans have billions of brain cells and connections. People SAY its hard, but that’s only because they’re too fearful to let go of some existing limited/obsolete world view. Eg. If you stopped trying to convince me you have “no skills with maths or science”, you might shut up long enough for Socrates to teach you some basic maths and science.

Clearly, from the socratic example above, we can see its quite difficult enough to persuade people using pure rational logic, especially when there’s so many unacknowledged, deep-seated emotional aberrations, selfish weaknesses, misconceptions, and lack of trust bubbling under the surface. Therefore, true seekers of knowledge need to be quite courageous in order to engage in a paradigm shift.

Quite frankly, if one is not prepared to scuttle or sabotage ones’ existing view of the world in favour of a broader view, OR if you’re not prepared to be terrified of what you might learn once in a while, OR you find it distasteful to undermine an existing belief system in Yourself or people around you to reach a loftier mutual understanding, then you are automatically disqualifying yourself (and those around you) from a higher calling.

Epilogue: courage is more important than intelligence

Education-Quotes-10

This may sound absurd to common belief systems: But “Intelligence” is, I submit, NOT a product of “IQ”. “braininess”, or “spatial perception”, or “linguistic or mathematical proprioception” or some such . It is, quite simply, a product of enthusiastic energy, and courage (free of emotion). When a person is courageous enough to stop lying to themselves, and admit their own flaws and fears, dispassionate logic and common sense just naturally flow in to fill the void.

Really and Truly. You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to learn new things. Plenty of dummies (including – proudly – Myself) have simply made up for lower-than-super IQ, by tenaciously “sticking to it” and not being discouraged by failure. Question: How many times did it take for the successful guy to finally overcome his failures? Answer: “Just one more time.”

I maintain that nobody, except those people who are severely crippled emotionally, psychologically, or intellectually (or are addicted to some drug of dependency) have any real excuse for employing skeptical ‘Stinking Thinking’.

This is how I see the matter. – QuantumSniper.

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