Being skeptical is perhaps one of the easiest means by which to protect ourselves from silliness, naivety and from being enlisted into the ranks of 'space cadets'.
Skepticism (or scepticism) naturally motivates one to question, to devise experiments, or thought-experiments to test the credibility of ideas. And asking questions is, in my opinion, one of the most noble, useful and valuable tools anyone can possess. It could be argued that a healthy scepticism amongst the populace and judiciary would have seen off some of the more pernicious superstitions and crowd behaviours in times past, such as the executions of those suspected of being witches during the Salem witch trials.
But from my experience the not-so-good side to being skeptical outweighs the benefits. Being quick to dismiss claims of religious, spiritual, or psychic experience leaves one closed to possibility, and closed to finding deeper congruent frameworks of belief. As I have found, that closed-mindedness can result in quite debilitating health issues.
While driving recently I listened somewhat idly to Dr Karl Kruszelnicki on ABC's "Dr Karl on Triple J" program. Most of the program (on this occasion "Wee, water and weighty wind") was about the care of cats, and other various matters - to be blunt I wasn't paying much attention to the program; it was mostly background chatter to keep me company while I drove through the countryside.
But then one caller "Tom, from Sydney" asked "Is there any scientific evidence for psychic abilities ... at all?".1
Whereupon Dr Karl replied, "Uhm, zero ..." He went on to explain how James Randi in the United States has offered a million US dollars as reward for anyone who can demonstrate psychic abilities. He finished by noting that no one has claimed Randi's prize, as of 2009.
Now, Dr Karl's response invites a simple question: "What evidence supports his statement (that there is no evidence)?" – the irony of his response is that he's made a statement without evidence in support of it. Insofar as he champions being "evidence based", to make such a statement, without evidence for it, is clearly contradicting his own edict to be "evidence based". His reply, were he to abide by basic scientific principles would have been something similar to "I have yet to see any evidence in support of psychic abilities."
Dr Karl's opinions are necessarily based on his understanding and knowledge of the world. But we can be confident that he does not have complete knowledge of all experience, all "evidence", etc.
I believe skeptics do a huge disservice with such blanket statements – that's part of the not-so-good side to being skeptical.
I'll explain in detail, but as mentioned in "In the presence of passion", there's both good and not-so-good sides to every belief-system.
1. So what's the good side to being skeptical?
I can recall an incident when I was young of family and relatives (around my age, or slightly older) laughing at me for still believing in Santa Claus. As I recall I was highly embarrassed for having been so silly and naive.
In subsequent years my naivety has often led to my embarrassment. For me the fear of embarrassment, of being "caught out" was perhaps the main motivation for becoming highly sceptical of psychic abilities and paranormal phenomena during my teens. During my university years I was fond of saying "if you can't touch it, smell it or see it, it's bullshit" ... or words to that effect. I was highly dismissive of such claims and concepts. When one friend claimed someone at the university could levitate, I replied, "No worries, let's see him levitate up and out the window on the 14th floor of the library building."
Being sceptical is perhaps one of the easiest means by which to protect ourselves from silliness, naivety and from being enlisted into the ranks of 'space cadets'.
Scepticism (or skepticism) naturally motivates one to question, to devise experiments, or thought-experiments2 to test the credibility of ideas. And asking questions is, in my opinion, one of the most noble, useful and valuable tools anyone can possess. In fact I believe the freedom to ask questions should be held as one of the most sacred of human freedoms. But I digress ... (more in another post, another time).
It could be argued that a healthy scepticism amongst the populace and judiciary would have seen off some of the more pernicious superstitions and crowd behaviours in times past, such as the executions of those suspected of being witches during the Salem witch trials.
2. The not-so-good of being skeptical
The process of being skeptical brings with it the tendency to "throw the baby out with the bathwater". Having been in the past an ardent and vocal atheist, from my experience the not-so-good side to being skeptical outweighs the benefits. Being quick to dismiss claims of religious, spiritual, or psychic experience leaves one closed to possibility, and closed to finding deeper congruent frameworks of belief.
I can say as much with conviction and confidence for a number of reasons:
- for having experienced the negative effects of being 'skeptical' - debilitating personal health issues caused by staying closed to possibility and better health through meditation and changing my beliefs;
- for having experienced the positive, sometimes extraordinary results of playing with possibilities, gut-feelings, intuitions and creativity;
- for having assimilated the experimental results and many of the profound implications of quantum physics, into a congruent framework of understanding; and
- for having researched the validity of experimental evidence spanning nearly 30 years at Princeton University's Engineering Anomolous Research (PEAR) laboratory.
It's this last point 4, concerning PEAR that got me thinking about how Dr Karl seems unaware of the evidence undermining his belief that there is "zero" evidence confirming psychic abilities, or as I prefer to say "nonlocal awareness" and "nonlocal abilities".
As the PEAR laboratory's press release emphasizes, explaining its closure after having completed its mission:
The enormous databases produced by PEAR provide clear evidence that human thought and emotion can produce measureable influences on physical reality. The researchers have also developed several theoretical models that attempt to accommodate the empirical results, which cannot be explained by any currently recognized scientific model.
There is now clear evidence that nonlocal connections are not only real, but quite necessary to life. The evidence accumulated by PEAR does however indicate that our ability to perceive and work these instant nonlocal connections remain small in effect, at least at this point in our evolution. Hence why Randi's prize money has remained unclaimed.
Psychic abilities (within the context of more formal definitions and frameworks) are real. It's simply a matter of scale ... just as the curvature of the Earth appears small, but indicates significant new world understanding (Earth as round), so too do these "small" effects herald a far more fuller and rounder (holistic) understanding of life.
Update (August, 2010):
The following is a post of mine on a philosophy forum. It's in response to some contributors who believe or suggest that we can 'transcend the ego', and that the ego and physical reality itself is merely an illusion (a common misconception in many new-age schools of thought):
re your "Therefore the ego I am referring to here is an illusion." no, it is both (at-once) an illusion while being real.
It is the pivotal "while being" that most have difficulty with, including the Buddhists and new-age followers. Hence we observe the frequent use of the "non-dualistic' terms which deny the validity and importance of duality, and that of individuality and ego. It's an inseparable-duality of One and All. We can no more transcend the illusion of One, than that of All. Regarding your reference to (my) being omniscient. Absolutely, in potential, for as in the whole, so within the part. There can be no exceptions to this.
Thus, as within God, so within each of us. This page "Will God save me?" explains more.
The three decades of research by Princeton University's PEAR laboratory revealed that we do move matter with mind. However, the effect at this point in our level of development is small. The biblical quote "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you" is literal. It's just that we're not likely at this stage of development to see anyone moving whole mountains with mind. Not unless we see another Jesus-type figure emerging into our reality, someone who's seriously 'plugged in' to cooperatively engage a whole mountain. Mind you, now that the quantum cat has been well and truly let out of the box (pun intended), I sense we're likely to 'call forward' such a person, sometime within the next 30-50 years or so. We'll do so, collectively speaking, to give ourselves permission to engage potentials that hitherto we've denied ourselves (due to the downward causative influences of present Western science and beliefs), but which are now beckoning and necessary to emerge. Either that or our race is finished.
Subsequent to the above, 'Belinda' asked "Does consciousness affect the outcome by 1. altering the causal connection, or 2. altering the interpretation of the outcome?"
To which I responded by again quoting PEAR, with my emphasis:
"The enormous databases produced by PEAR provide clear evidence that human thought and emotion can produce measureable influences on physical reality."
The reasons people avoid the "clear evidence" is provided here.
A fuller analysis of why people avoid the "clear evidence" is included in "Rest stops in the sky"
In addition to the work done by PEAR, Dr Dean Radin has put together a list of experiments relating to these matters.
- A critical look at Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge
- Selected Peer-Reviewed Publications on Psi Research