RE: I am a Pseudoskeptic

Here is a post by a person who thinks of themselves as a skeptic and is humorously accepting the label of pseudoskeptic.

I am a Pseudoskeptic by Troythulu

I disagree with him to an extent in that I’m quite critical of what I deem as pseudoskepticism.  I don’t, however, disagree with his skeptical attitude to the degree it’s genuine.  My only issue might be that it seems he may have more faith than I do in the objectivity and effectiveness of science.  I do love science and the potential of science… with emphasis on the potential.  As I see it, science in general is still in its infancy.  I suspect it will be a long time before humans begin to have a clear appraisal of reality… if ever.  Assuming the human species will survive, the science of the future would be unrecognizable to contemporary humans.  As a wise man once said, a highly developed technology would look like magic to us.

My view presented below is what I wrote in the comments section of the above linked post.

 – – –

I’m neither a pseudo-skeptic nor a Neo-Velikovskian.  I’m not sure if I’m in between those ideological extremes or simply outside of this categorical division.  The labels I prefer are Fortean, Zetetic, and Pyrrhonian skeptic.

Similarly, I don’t consider myself either atheist or theist.  I sometimes think of myself as an agnostic gnostic which is a position that allows for both the rational and non-rational sides of human experience.  At other times, I think of myself as a militant agnostic: I don’t know and neither do you.  My problem is that too many people, whatever their ideological persuasion, are too sure of their opinions.

As for logic and science, I’m for applying such things when and where they’re applicable.  But they aren’t always applicable.  For instance, if you remember a dream, neither logic nor science will likely be able to offer you much understanding.  You can choose to dismiss the dream as nonsense which is your choice, but this would be an avoidance of the complexity and strangeness of human experience.  Even in waking life, odd things happen all of the time that can’t be easily explained.  Even when there are possible explanations, there is a difference between proposing a hypothesis and explaining something away.  Pseudo-skeptics would rather apply logic and science selectively… and so would the Neo-Velikovskians.

I’m from the school of thought that thinks everything should be questioned and doubted.  Nothing is sacred, not religion and not even science.  Look at all sides, consider all possibilities, verify all evidence.  Everything should be brought to the table: hard science research, social science surveys, demographics, anecdotal evidence, Einsteinian thought experiments, unusual personal experiences, intuitive insight, critical thinking skills, philosophical ideas, theoretical frameworks, socio-historical context.  Et Cetera.  But, more important than anything, what is required is infinite curiosity and wonder, an unfailing desire for truth and a willingness to follow the evidence where ever it leads.  All assumptions and ideology must be left at the door.

Also, never bow down to any authority.  Don’t accept what someone says simply because they claim to be an expert.  The moment anyone claims anything, no matter how respectable they may seem, immediately consider all possible criticisms.  Always look for the spin, for the vested interests, for the beliefs taken as facts.  Continuously search for the alternative perspectives and try to find the outline of truth amidst the fog of opinions.

In the end, be intellectually humble.  Realize how little you know and further realize how infinite the universe is compared to your tiny primate brain.  Realize that human knowledge is constantly changing and that much of what is conventionally believed to be fact at present (including mainstream scientific theories) will be proven wrong or severely inadequate in the decades and centuries to come.

And be practical rather than idealistic.  Don’t make religion or science into a belief system that answers all doubts.  To the extent any theory is worthy, it is because it works.  The ultimate purpose of a theory, including scientific theories, isn’t it being absolutely true.  Rather, what matters is if it works.

As for science, Newtonian physics have been proven wrong in some ways and yet it still works as a model of prediction.  It’s an imperfect model, but it’s usually good enough for the purposes of taking action in the world.  As for religion, it too has practical effects.  There is truth in religion for those with discerning minds.  Some things are real and yet can’t presently be explained by science.  For example, UFO experiences, religious experiences, and traditional folklore all follow similar patterns.  These patterns exist within the human psyche across cultures.  In some sense, they’re real.  Any particular explanation of them may be wrong, but what is clear is that science hasn’t figured it out as of yet.  Yes, there are scientific hypotheses, but a scientific hypothesis is far from being a scientific theory.  I look forward to a time when some of these hypotheses can be tested.

5 thoughts on “RE: I am a Pseudoskeptic

  1. Personally, I reject that ‘it works’ principle. In talk of a work, certain questions arise; what goes in, what out = reactants -> products?, how is it done, why is it done, when and where being the circumstances of the work.
    So if ‘it works’, it will have to be guided by the circumstances plus those other questions. Since for the most part, why is answered by ‘favorable to life’ and not ‘it is true’, it is inadequate to believe in. Belief is a big thing, it is not frivolous at all. I’m not trying to shoot you down but I found something here and I decided to share it.
    Truth must be the guide not opinion even if it is amalgamated.

  2. To be honest, I don’t entirely understand your criticism. But I think I get your general complaint.

    I realize that some people think of science as being primarily about truth. I do think science is about truth, but I just don’t see that as it’s primary purpose. Most scientific research is funded for practical purposes. The people who fund science primarily care about whether it works… because if it works then it will lead to profit and hence further funding.

    However, there isn’t a simple division between what is true and what works. Obviously, if it works, it’s touching upon something that is true. But the theoretical explanation for why it works could be wrong.

    Does it matter? I don’t know. To me, it seems like an important distinction to make. Important or not, I’m just merely pointing out the distinction and don’t really care to argue about it to any great extent. If you disagree, I’m fine with that.

    Anyways, I’m far from a practical person. I’m not a scientist nor do I aspire to be a scientist. I am fascinated by science, but I must admit I’m a person who is often lost in abstractions rather than being grounded in the facts of what works. I’m just curious. My personality bias is that I’m drawn more to possibilities than to mere facts. I care about facts because they help me explore new possibilities.

    I’m a truth seeker, but truth isn’t limited to facts. Truth is first and foremost a human experience. Before someone can find truth, they first must have the sense of the possibility of truth and the desire for it’s attainment. Truth begins in imagination. Humans, for the most part, seem born with this innate sense of truth.

    There are many explanations for why this is so, but more important than the answers are the question itself. The question is always greater than any answer. If I have faith in anything, it’s in the impulse towards curiosity that always finds a way to express itself.

  3. Nothing I can say, you’ve done justice and you said you don’t understand. By your first paragraph, the criticism is the general complaint.
    I won’t say I was criticising, I was just saying, being a scientist myself, science’ “it works” principle is inadequate. I guess I was criticising my own community and using you as aid. You were illuminating the scientific objective. I just wanted to add my voice and bring my fellows who are so arrogant back to ground.
    Funny thing is their arrogance is founded on prospects same for the mystics -‘one day we will show you’, they acknowledge that but apparently, due to their belief, they remain pompous.
    Perhaps my conception of some truth out there that still eludes us is due to my fascination with Eastern philosophy. Science is also interesting but I’m sick of the relegation of imagination. It gets used in hypotheses but soon as it can’t be proven, it is discarded. Well a certain curious segment exists who will take up the challenge of proving.
    Maybe, science’ prospects will end up substantive, well worth believing in or not. What worries me is that ‘it is not possible statement’ of some scientists instead of ‘improbable’. Those with respect for the universe and humility, recognising their ignorance, will almost certainly say the latter.

    Not in relation to the above: what do you think about that whole origin of the universe matter? Do you think there is a reason, a cause? Or it is itself the origin?
    I’m guessing I won’t get a definite answer but is ok, you being Mr. Possibility and all. What I want is your view on the matter.

    • I need to go to bed now, but I just wanted to let you know that I noticed your comment here. I’ll respond to your comment later… sometime in the next day or so.

      BTW I do love a person who can leave an extensive and thoughtful comment. Do you have a blog of your own? Or do you just like perusing the blogosphere?

    • Okay. I’m back.

      I share your interest in Eastern philosophy and your respect for imagination.

      The problem I see with those who righteously defend science is that they’re often either being too ideological or too idealistic. Science is primarily just a method. It’s purpose is simple. Because science has helped to create so much technology, I think it’s easy to have unrealistic expectations of science.

      Science can only do so much. The funding science gets is limited and only certain types of things attract funding. There are many built-in biases to the scientific methodology, to scientific insitutions, and to scientific funding. There are many important questions and hypotheses that have never or only barely been researched. Human ignorance is vast and scientific knowledge is relatively meager.

      You correctly point out that some scientists speak with too much authoritative certainty. That is what annoys me about debunkers.

      Origin of universe? A reason, a cause? Or self-originating?

      In light of not giving definite answers, I must admit I don’t think too much about the origin of things. It’s absolutely beyond my comprehension. But I never let my ignorance stop me from pondering the ineffable.

      To give a more definite answer, I would point out two issues. I accept that something like the Big Bang might be possible, but it feels like a non-answer to me. The Big Bang doesn’t feel any more satisfactory than simply saying God created it. From a scientific perspective, everything has a cause. So, what was the cause of the beginning of time and space?

      You could argue that it’s self-originating (autopoeisis), but something can only be caused by itself if it existed in some form prior. If there existed something before/outside space and time, then the very idea of ‘beginning’ is meaningless and we’ve hit the glass ceiling of the ineffable. Science can only answer how and not why. Science, by definition, can’t say anything about what exists before space and time.

      From a personal perspective, I suspect that there is a lot more to the universe than science has so far detected. I doubt that what we experience as physicality is the fundamental substance of existance, and physics seems to be pointing towards a very strange understanding.

      The difficulty is that what makes sense to us is limited to our primate brains. How our brains make sense of the world has more to do with evolutionary advantage than with any grand ideals of truth.

      So, my conclusion is that the universe is weird beyond imagination. The big picture is ultimately incomprhensible and we earthly primates are simply stumbling through the dark. Even so, this doesn’t really change anything. People will continue to search for truth and scientists will continue to do research.

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