Skepticism. Boon or bane?

Posted Dec. 22, 2010 by Abhijith in Open

commented on Jan. 9, 2011
by mysticmuse



“Skepticism is a virtue in history as well as in philosophy.” But last day, while i was having a talk with my collage friend about his AI (Artificial Intelligence) project, i felt really troubled because of the Skepticism in his words. It all started when he said, "I am looking for answers which solve my queries on existence of god. If god exists then my works are just futile but if it doesn't exist then maybe i have a chance!". Later he talked about his knowledge in researching near-death experiences, from which he tries to conclude that almost all them and the interpretations or claims of seeing god or a white blinding light is nothing but simply the plays of their mind (what he called the brain). I felt greatly interested in his enthusiasm, his intentions and of course his conclusions. He had never heard of the Noetic Sciences before, so all i could do was just open up the door to him. I gave him my copies of IONS articles which my brother had given me. The first one on top of the stack was the Mind-Matter relationship research report by Dean Radin. He was not impressed, and after seeking permission to be skeptical, he said that anybody could find any relation between anything if they really wanted to, such as the dependency of rain in India on wheat production in the U.S. He kept on reminding me that, he was really sorry for being skeptical and apologized for being rude, if he was. But as a common genre i appreciated him for being so. But later on he kept on going and i felt that he had really gone past the threshold . During the course of conversation the topic of telepathy crept in. I gave an example that my brother and me had thought about exactly the same thing at the same time miles apart, and when i telephoned him he told me that he was about to call me to say about the same thing. He was not interested in believing this and responded with some petty jokes. He also added "There are an infinity of cases where you have not felt anything like this and why do you still believe in it, which has not even 1% significance over the number cases where you have not felt it."

At the end of the hour-long conversation i could merely see it as an interesting time for learning about NDE (near death experiences) and AI, but i couldn't find anything that he absorbed. I see it as my inefficiency in convincing him. But what's troubling my consciousness is that if he had the mind to accept or be open to any of the ideas i posed or tried to express, his research in AI may have reached pinnacle heights. Friend ,if you are reading this, then i can see that i was not that inefficient. At least you visited the portal. So is skepticism really a boon or a bane? What say you? Let's discuss it....

  • mysticmuse Jan 09, 2011

    I'm thinking skepticism is "Boon or bane" depending on the type. Benevolent skepticism is just a thoughtful mind seeking confirmation. "Bane" skepticism is like a proprietor resisting innovation. The problem, I think, with your friends approach is that something fundamental is missing. Parapsychological phenomena are rightly subjected to "boon" type skepticism, but it sounds as if your friend is self-defeating from square one and so can never move forward without fundamental change of orientation born of experience.

    Most people don't believe as they do because of some rational and thoughtful process. They believe as they do because of what they are, their life experience or the lack of it.


  • Mindlink0 Jan 07, 2011

    Every moment in my life in which I have felt peace, happiness, insight and fulfillment have been moments when I have been open and receptive. Even in negative and unpleasant moments when I have felt that I was being lied to and manipulated, I have tried to remain open and receptive to the "golden thread" which I know every moment has to offer me. That doesn't mean that I was being naive and gullible. I am cautious. I was taught in university that there is no such thing as scientific fact; there are only theories, opinions and approximations. A similar statement could be made about absolute truth. Nothing is constant. The people who made the movie: What the Bleep do We Know, said that 200 billion changes take place in every second of my life. Also, my awareness of my part in the Natural Information System warns me of situations in which there is harmful intent.

    I think that skepticism robs the skeptic of the fun of discovery, harmonious relations and team-work.

  • Abhijith Dec 31, 2010

    Thanks Nephets ,

    I do agree with you that , in our field (noetics ) skeptics unfortunately has an advantage. As you said, skepticism do support indirectly in proving
    our intentions and hypothesis to FACTS.
    Skepticism when not used as a tool, just like any other scientific device, for research purposes is truly a bane. But, it is a boon if we device it intentionally for the progress of our research.I guess so.What do you say?

  • Anonymous Icon

    Nephets Dec 28, 2010

    I often run into skeptics when speaking of any topic even remotely noetic, as I am sure we all do, and it brings up a strange point.

    Skepticism, normally, is a good thing, it gives a person the drive to prove skeptics wrong, brings additional attention to an idea, and points out flaws that overall increase the forward motion of research and intellect.

    I've often found that on the flip-side of that same coin, when dealing with complex issues such as AI, and Noetics, can do much more harm than good. The information about these topics that is currently available is much less than in other fields. A skeptic would not, for example, argue that physical exercise makes the body less healthy, and would cause a person to become fat, for it is proven that exercise does the opposite. If the skeptic who argued this point did not believe you if you told them that working out would make you lose fat and gain muscle, you could prove it to them with experiments and a vast amount of information pointing towards the benefits of physical activity, and a healthy lifestyle.

    However, if I was arguing something like Noetics, and the ability to manipulate a worldview with ones mind, the skeptic would be more determined to best you, and would have more supporters. The common argument is that in history, people once believed the Earth was flat, and those who thought the world was round were not thought well of, and nobody believed them. The ideas included in Noetics, to a large extent, have much less testing than other fields of science, and show results that are harder to comprehend and to believe.

    The large amount of skeptics against Noetic Science have not improved the results of the field, but in their number and intensity have crippled the growth of a field. Unless they can be convinced that the breakthroughs eminent in our study, through solid proof and overwhelming evidence, our knowledge of these topics will grow, but at a much slower pace.

    I think, in our case, Skeptics are a Bane.

    (on the off-hand however, and easy argument to place against skeptics, especially when arguing about the chances and odds of different events, is to remind them that a theory only needs to be proven once to be true. It does not have to apply to all situations. An event can only happen once, but it is still just as true as the things that occur all the time.)

  • Abhijith Dec 25, 2010

    Sorry daebwae , for being unresponsive for few days.
    Well Thank you for that comment. Actually I believe that, for a "double-standard skeptic" like him, its something like "scotoma"- where one sees what his mind wishes to see, which could be different from reality. Like Dan Brown said in the Da-Vinci Code.
    Thank you so much for your suggestions on dealing with skeptics on scenarios like those. Anyway, generally speaking Skepticism is ,as Dean Radinn said , "THERE'S NO BETTER SOPORIFIC AND SEDATIVE THAN SKEPTICISM!".He also added that " I DO HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THOSE WHO FAIL TO APPRECIATE THAT SKEPTICISM IS A DOUBLE EDGED SWORD.THAT IS , SKEPTICISM IS VALUABLE FOR SLICING THROUGH EXCESSIVE GULLIBILITY, BUT IT MUST ALSI BE USED TO CUT THROUGH EXCESSIVE DOUBT". But what could be done when Skepticism itself is the cause of the doubt.

  • Anonymous Icon

    daebwae Dec 23, 2010

    Abhijith, I think you're right that it got more today about open mindedness than skepticism. To be skeptical does not preclude your friend to believe in the data. Extreme skepticism (thanks Akash for pointing out that a distinction between skepticism and philosophical skepticism is necessray - I think the argument of the philosophical skeptic is fine as long as he does not proclaim skepticism to be truth claim but rather an activity or method), however, does not allow any firm belief at all. Some people are skeptical regarding normal scientific discoveries, but extreme skeptics (i.e. close-minded) regarding paranormal research. This selective skepticism, or double-standard, is the problem.

    Sorry, I've been in a philosophical mood, so far ;) . I'll try to be more specific... what do think of these answers for future discussions with skeptics?

    1) "he said that anybody could find any relation between anything if they really want to, he said few examples too.. like the dependency of rain in India and the wheat production in US"
    <--- this "correlation does not mean causation" argument is, in my opinion, intellectual laziness. It's making a general argument instead of giving specific problems with the data. Many mind-matter experiments are conducted in a lab to eliminate the false correlation. In a lab, we can exclude other possible explanations for correlations, and when we eliminate all the probable answers, then the explantion, however improbable, must be true. Maybe your friend could look up the data at:http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/pdfs/1988-operator-related-anomalies-rmc.pdf and try to specifially point out the errors of the experimental setup or statiscal analysis. As long as he just gives a general critique, you can argue that his critique applies to all other data in all sociological or psychological research.

    2) "I gave example like, my brother and myself had thought about exactly the same thing at the same time miles apart and when i telephoned him he told me that he was about to call me to say about the same thing.He was not interested in believing this too and commented it with some petty jokes."
    <--- anectodes are an easy target because, of course, you can't control all independent variables in life (as you try to do in a lab). I'd advoid anectodes, especially, personal ones, when speaking to someone who is close-minded. Because it does hurt if your personal experiences are not valued. I'm sorry that your were not appreciated.
    Personally, I think anectodes are not proves but they are important pointers to the truth. And I do believe a network of anectodes could also be constructed as a proof for telepathic abilities. Unfortunately, I don't know about a scientific method to organize anectodes into a convincing framework for a skeptic.

  • akash Dec 22, 2010

    Skepticism really a boon or a bane?
    Sometimes its good bcoz it makes others aware....
    A philosophical skepticsm will be favourablein which he does not claim that truth is impossible (which would be a truth claim).

  • Abhijith Dec 22, 2010

    Thank you daebwae ..I too don't want to consider him as a skeptic but , what he was seeking may be found out easily with Noetic science research programs. If he is lacking an open mind to look for it may be , it'll take him longer than needed...

  • Anonymous Icon

    daebwae Dec 22, 2010

    Thanks for sharing this story and keep up your open attitude to others who are overly skeptic! I think that's great.

    I think skepticism, for all it's faults, is a boon.

    But it's a matter of degree. For example, physicists believe that gravity exists (maybe it's just our perception of 4-dimensional curves in space, but, hey, then my example wouldn't work ;) ) , because the apple still falls down from the tree in Trinity gardens as in the time of Newton when he studied there. But extreme skepticism wouldn't believe for a minute that we can deduce a universal law from all past recorded experiences of falling apples. It's like Russel's turkey which believed the ringing of the church bell is a sign for feeding time and deduced the law that the ringing of the bell must always be followed by a nice meal. And then one day, the ringing of the bell meant turkey roast because it was thanksgiving. If we are honest, we can never know whether our scientific discoveries will hold up tomorrow. Skepticism reminds us that we don't know for sure, and can't know for sure, via our intellect.

    We need more to become sure of a thing than intellectual endeavours. We need a belief in something that crosses the bridge of skepticsm and makes us able to act in our universe. When we see a piano crashing down on us, we run away and don't philosophize about the possibility that our laws of physics might have change in the last two minutes. It's belief, trust, intuition, social accepted norms (scientific community) that let's us act upon certain things as if we know that they are true although we cannot be intellectually sure of it.

    Now, I suggest it's not skepticism that keeps him from consdering your ideas on paranormal research. Skepticism doesn't help to determine what's true, it simply helps to keep us vigilant about that the things we hold true now, may not be true at all. Your friend didn't question his own beliefs but kept him from experiencing something new. That's more orthodoxy. He might be right or wrong, but I don't think he was a skeptic.

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