Ming the Mechanic:
Skeptics and Dogmatists

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Skeptics and Dogmatists2002-11-01 03:17
picture by Flemming Funch

One of the types of deception that personally makes me the most angry is that carried out by socalled Skeptics.

Not that there's anything at all wrong with being skeptical of outlandish claims. I'm skeptical too when I'm presented with new information that doesn't match my previous experience. And I'm skeptical about my own beliefs, and I'll often look for reasons to revise them towards something better.

But there are very influential Skeptics who aren't really skeptics at all, but rather people who use deceit to protect and perpetuate a certain, very conservative, worldview.

I was about to write a lengthy article about that. But there are others who've said roughly what I'd like to say. See Debunking the Debunkers for example.

The foundation of truth that the Skeptic movement is built on is the empirical usefulness of the scientific method.

In brief, the scientific method is that one makes a hypothesis about how things are, and then one goes and tests the hypothesis in experiments. One tries to do a variety of different experiments under different circumstances, and one tries to verify them as much as possible, and one tries to rule out unrelated factors and errors, etc. And one evaluates whether the practical experiences and experiments back up the hypothesis or not. If not, one looks for a better hypothesis. If you find a good hypothesis that checks out well with experiments, you might start calling it a theory rather than a hypothesis. It is a continous refinement and search for better theories about how things work, that might be able to better predict things. No theory ever will be absolutely proven. But bad theories get weeded out because they just don't check out against actual experience.

So, skepticism is supposedly based on the sound principle of science - that if you're presented with a claim or a theory, you go and check it out. Which is certainly a universally good idea.

I'm sitting looking in "The Baloney Detection Kit", which is a pamphlet published by the Skeptic Society. It starts off with Carl Sagan's list of "10 tools for skeptical thinking". Which is great stuff. Sagan has excellent advice for how to evaluate things, and how to be on guard against deception.

But then the pamphlet segues into a series of scathing attacks against a wide range of different beliefs and practices, mixed in with further good advice on recognizing deception. Hmmm.

It is a good old trick to first present something that people can easily agree with, and then sneak in some questionable information right afterwards. If done well, the reader will think that the second fact is logically based on the first fact. Or, since he is already in an accepting mood from the initial fact, the second fact sinks in without evaluation.

Another good old trick is one of positioning. Once you've established that science is a solid and stringent and useful thing, you just need to suggest that various things are 'pseudo-scientific', and the casual reader will immediately get a whole bunch of negative associations in their mind. It is like describing proper religious practice to the true believers of some fundamentalist religion, and then casually suggesting that some people are heretics, because they do it wrong, and they've sold out to the devil or something. Just by a slight twist of words, you've banished somebody to hell in the minds of your conforming listeners.

Anyway, the point is that what initially is presented as well-meaning Skepticism, critical thinking, search for good answers, often very quickly degenerates into Dogmatism. And usually it is a Dogmatism that says that only materialistic things exist, and the universe is random and meaningless and disconnected. Thus crazy stuff like astrology or healing or telepathy or remote viewing or extra-terrestrials are all "nonsense" and "superstition".

Now, remember that science is the search for better theories that better explain and predict things we can observe. So, be on guard if somebody insists that you drop a theory which explains and predicts a lot of things, and tries to get you to replace it either with no theory, or with a theory that explains and predicts much less.

Take astrology, for example. It is a model that explains and predicts certain things about people. If it is a good one, we should be able to verify it, and the results through using astrology should be better than random results. That's not very hard to experiment with. Just gather lots of data for some thousands of people, including their birth data. Astrology will predict that certain people will be more accident prone than others, more likely to get married, more likely to have certain professions, etc. That can all be examined statistically.

But a Skeptic will usually not do any of those things. He'll be more likely to claim that astrology pre-supposes that mysterious rays are being emitted by the planets of the solar system, which are controlling people. And he will point out that science has found no such rays that control people. And thus astrology must be a fraud.

There's sort of a reverse evidence trick that is often being used to 'debunk' things that don't fit the allowed world view. It is similar to how a criminal court case works. If the prosecution can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Joe Thug killed Victor Victim, the court has to let him go. In reality, he either killed him or he didn't. Whether the court has enough information to reach a definitive conclusion or not - it doesn't change what actually happened.

If something unusual happened to me, it happened, whether or not I can prove it or not. What exactly it means might be a different matter, but the event doesn't suddenly change, just because I might not have proof of it.

The Dogmatic Skeptic approach is to reject anything that can't be proven in a repeatable manner and accepted by the established Authorities. Where the Skeptic approach is different from just normal scientific inquiry is in how the Skeptic will actually reject events, and will re-categorize them as 'frauds', if they don't fit with the prevalent theories.

That kind of Skepticism is very akin to a fundamentalist religion. I.e. it protects a certain belief system, a certain world view, and it uses circular arguments, rather than verification through experience. "We all know that nothing can move faster than light, so I'm not going to bother checking out your claim".

James Randi, aka Amazing Randi, is probably the de facto leader of the Skeptic religion. He is a veteran stage magician. He has no scientific background, but he has somehow managed to capture a large following of people who think that they're standing up for rational thinking by following his party line.

A typical way that Randi will 'debunk' some feat is to duplicate it with stage magic tricks. And if he succeeds in doing that, he declares that the original feat was a fraudulent deception. So, if I claim that I can bend spoons with the power of my mind, and James Randi afterwards can make spoons bend using a chemical which softens the metal, he has thus 'debunked' me. That's like saying that if I can make a film that shows the world trade center collapsing, using special effects in a studio, and it looks convincing, it didn't actually happen in real life. That's very bad logic, and of course doesn't have anything to do with science. Whether a stage magician can saw people in half or not says absolutely nothing about whether one can do that for real or not.

James Randi has a long-standing 1 million dollar award for anybody who proves any paranormal phenomenon to his satisfaction. Sounds fair and square at first glance. But read here. The problem is for one thing that Randi sets the conditions for any experiment all by himself, and he's a master of deception. And, secondly, he only seems to accept the more ridiculous entries, which have little chance of going anywhere in the first place. See a good example here of an actual letter Randi wrote to somebody applying for the million dollar reward. I would rather like to have seen whether that guy could last for months without eating anything. Instead Randi is accepting applications from tabloid astrologers and people who say they can control what people on TV are going to say.

Anyway, critical thinking skills are vital. I very much suggest that everybody should gather their own baloney detection kit.

Watch out for Authorities who tell you stuff that disempowers you, particularly when it is without evidence. Watch out for people who ask you to drop your current world view in favor of a world view that works less well for you, but which empowers them.

Watch out for people who brush off comprehensive and carefully developed models of the world with derogatory labels such as "nonsense", "pseudoscience", "superstition", etc., and who don't offer you anything better in their place.

Watch out for people who have a need for consistently using scorn and ridicule and personality attacks against people who disagree with them. It covers something up.

Is an amateur tarot card reader on the average better at predicting human behavior than a highly educated psychiatrist? That would probably be my bet. And yet tarot cards aren't developed in any scientific way that I'm aware of. But psychiatry claims to be. Anyway, the way to find out would be to do the experiment.

There are a lot of experiments that aren't being done, because the results would rock the boat of the establishment too much. Lots of things about medicine, psychology, psychiatry and pharmaceuticals would be 'debunked' if they were methodically compared with the alternatives. But lets do it. Lets study whether western or eastern medicine produces more healthy people. Lets study whether people are more happy with industrial drugs or with natural herbs. Lets study whether remote viewers or FBI analysts are better at predicting the future. That would all be fun.

I personally am very skeptical about outlandish claims such as that we humans are alone in the universe, or that we already have discovered everything important about nature, or that nothing exists beyond our senses, or that it isn't possible to do extraordinary things without cheating. Anybody who would like to convince me of such things would need to gather extraordinary proof.

People who lie to you are trying to control you. And if they are - think about why. What are they trying to get from you?

Scientific Skepticism,
Debunking the Debunkers: Lessons to be Learned,
Skeptic Society,
Skeptical Inquirer

[< Back] [Ming the Mechanic]



18 Feb 2005 @ 12:48 by Max @ : baloney
I enjoyed your comments on skepticism and especially the fact that you state very clearly the exact reasons why Astrology, for example, is treated with contempt by some; "It is a model that explains and predicts certain things about people..." The fact that there hasn't been any evidence to support Astrology doesn't seem to concern you, despite the fact that a number of investigations have been carried out.

To put it simply;
The complete lack of evidence for a belief, when added to clearly mistaken principles guiding this belief leave good reason to be sceptical. Put together with the fact that there are well observed-mechanisms to explain the tendency for people to mistakenly follow such beliefs (testimonial validity- the 'Barnum effect') and it becomes easier to understand why some people might be dismissive.

The universe is not "random and meaningless and disconnected." It may well appear to be that way to some folk, but surely that's no reason to invent or accept such things as Astrology, which are not only unscientific, but closer in fact to a very ancient and wonderful art- that of separating people from their money.


18 Feb 2005 @ 17:13 by ming : Baloney
Alright, you're illustrating some of my points, I guess.

So show us the evidence you're alluding to. Just spreading around a few terms like "unscientific" and "clearly mistaken" doesn't quite cut it.

Remember, the talk was about considering Astrology as "a model that explains and predicts certain things about people" as you notice. Whether astronomers have or haven't seen any mysterious energy tendrils emmanating from the planets is not the point.  

19 Feb 2005 @ 21:45 by Max @ : More baloney

Strictly speaking, the onus is on those that argue there is some truth in astrology to come out with evidence to demonstrate that it is an observable phenomena. That they have failed to do so means that most people that aren't biased towards believing in it would walk away and spend their time/money on something else.

However, there have been repeatable studies into astrology, and the results have demonstrated that indeed it is nothing more than pseudo-science. Carlson (1985) is a very good example. This evidence, like all the rest, does indeed "cut it." But in a way this is missing the point. Once again, it is up to those who believe in astrology to state the 'certain things that it predicts about people', and then to show that it is able to do this.

Much more interesting to those with critical minds is what science can so in terms of accounting for why people seem to fall for astrology and other similar types of nonsense. Forer, (1949) demonstrated the clear tendency that people have to accept generalised descriptions as accurate summaries of their personality, and a further study by Stachnik and Stainton (1963) also illustrated this effect. For more information have a look at http://denisdutton.com/cold_reading.htm

Astrology is arbitrary and unjustifiable in terms of what is considered scientific truth. However, if someone is rock-solid in their delusion then they can always say that such any research that contradicts it is fixed or otherwise flawed. They can say that the lack of evidence or the fact that there is no scientific reason to believe in astrology doesn't mean a thing.

In the same way, they can suggest that rivers flow because of invisible fairies that move the water molecules along, for example. That there is no evidence to prove this and the fact that there is a satisfactory explanation as to why rivers flow, would suggest otherwise, and again, I would deny that there is any truth in such a notion. I would probably also make the comment that "it takes all sorts" and laugh out loud. But perhaps that’s just because I'm a Virgo.

Carlson, Shawn. (1985) "A double-blind test of astrology", Nature, 318 (Dec. 5), 419-425

Forer, (B.R. (1949) The fallacy of personal validation: a classroom demonstration of gullibility. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 44, 118-123 554)  

20 Feb 2005 @ 00:52 by ming : Astrology
Well, there's also the thing that what we usually call science is geared towards discovering and validating those physical laws which will work the same every time. Thus it is excellent at figuring out how to construct buildings or enter into orbit around planets. But so far science has come up with extremely little in terms of understanding how people work. Oh, lots of interesting brain studies, but very little than has use in predicting how people will behave or how their lives will be, or in improving those lives. That the best result happens to be psychiatry is a bit of a sick joke. There would be a good candidate for the term pseudo-science, if I've ever seen any.

Anyway, one could very well take the view that material science is the wrong place to look for understanding how people behave and helping them behave better. Because people are very complex, and not easy to subject to repeatable experiments. But, nevertheless, it is a good principle to be able to demonstrate results for any kind of modality, whether the exact results are repeatable or not. Most modalities for understanding the patterns in human behavior don't try to claim that they're science, but still.

The Carlson study looks like it was done fairly. More so than most I've read about that that tend to be fraudulent. My only complaint is that a personality test is a bad thing to test astrology against, as people tend to fill in a personality test the way they'd like to be, rather than they way they are. However, others have found more {link:http://home.arcor.de/p.goemmel/astrology.htm|positive results} (for Astrology) when also going that route.

Better tests, I think, would be in terms of statistics of professions, marital status, accidents and that kind of thing. Which astrology ought to be able to predict significantly better than chance. The best known study was done by {link:http://www.planetos.info/mmf.html|Gauquelin}, who tried to correlate certain professions with people's astrological charts. More info {link:http://psychicinvestigator.com/demo/AstrTXT.htm|here}. On the accident thing, {link:http://safire.net/sara/toc.html|here}'s a thorough study which appears to find a clear correlation with astrological factors.

Many astrologers would insist that such research isn't particularly meaningful, as it is more about the process of the particular individual, and that it has to be seen as a whole, and the interpretation and interaction with the client is a big part of it, and one can't just separate out certain factors and make statistics on them. Maybe so, and any kind of modality can have validity if it doesn't something positive for people, whether its basis is proven or not. But I'd say astrology ought to be able to stand up to some testing.  

21 Feb 2005 @ 23:26 by Quirkeboy @ : Lose -lose situation
The James Randi million dollar challenge seems to be given to anybody who can prove supernatual phenomena exists.. well.. that could be tough. The term "supernatural" assumes something mysterious, unexplainable etc. ..
I would think its "supernatural" to be able to calculate numbers faster than a calculator..but.. if an autistic child came to James Randi.. and tried to win the million dollar challenge by doing square roots faster than a calculator.. would he get a million dollars?? NO.. because science deems it "natural" and not "supernatural"
Look at it this way.. anything explainable is not supernatural..(because its no longer mysterious).. and anything unexplainable is bunk. Magicians are good at this ruse too.. goes something like this..
When you lose you lose.. and when you win .. you lose.  

21 Feb 2005 @ 23:50 by quirkeboy @ : The "sixth sense" story posted
on this website is an example of what Im talking about.. because "SCIENTISTS" are beginning to explain an early warning system in the brain.. its no long supernatural.. and no million dollars will be given.. because NOW its scientific and NOT supernatural.. the term "supernatural" is just a label for what science hasnt explained... and once its been explained its no long supernatural. How can anyone claim the prize?  

22 Feb 2005 @ 15:12 by ming : Ironic
Yeah, it is kind of silly. James Randi is very skilled at the art of deception. 1 million dollars for proving the existence of things that don't exist. That's very clever, and few people will notice. It is like one of those old tests for whether you're a witch. Keep you under water for a few minutes. If you survive, you must be a witch, and you'll immediately be drowned. If you die, you must have been innocent. Either way, you lose.

Anyway I quite agree with the scientific types that everything is ultimately natural, and there isn't anything supernatural. But there's lots of natural stuff that hasn't yet been explained, and which at this point is very mysterious and that's where we might differ. Whether we currently have a good explanation for it or not doesn't really change whether it exists. Seems really backwards to just deny everything that one doesn't have an explanation handy for. And that isn't science, either. Science is a tool for expanding what we know, not a dogma to make us blind.

The universe isn't governed by and subjugated to the theories of scientists. It is quite the other way around. The universe is what it is, whether or not some humanoid on a minor planet in the outer spiral arm of a minor galaxy has written a sufficiently substantial paper about it.  

25 Feb 2005 @ 01:07 by max @ : last visit to baloneyville
It’s getting a bit silly isn't it. Who says an autistic child can't do sq roots faster than a calculator? Who says that James Randi would question his/her ability to perform that feat?

The question is, how the hell do you get from this to the position that if you think logically about a certain thing (astrology e.g.) then all of a sudden the universe is governed and subjugated by you?

Ming, you've had a good crack at avoiding the question at hand and instead you drone on about minor planets and galaxies. That definitely won't "cut it."

Clearly you think it will and perhaps I'm wasting my time talking to you.  

27 Feb 2005 @ 23:31 by ming : Thinking logically
Hm, maybe it helps to look at what logic is. A little basic understanding of general semantics would help here. Particularly an awareness of abstraction. There's the world out there. We perceive it through various filters. We encode that into some kind of symbolic form in our minds, in order to make sense of it. And now we can manipulate our symbolic representation in various ways. Which allows for abstract thinking, and it allows for communication, as we can convey things to each other in idea form. Which is great, and which provides the most essential foundation for the success of humanity. We can think abstractly. We can pass on knowledge. We can act purposefully.

But it also provides us with a lot of pitfalls, if we forget what we just did. We abstracted the real world into certain perceptions, which we abstracted into a representation in our minds, which we abstract into certain symbols, words, etc., which we can write down and communicate and think about. But we might get a little cocky and think that the thoughts we're having and the symbols we've noted down IS the real world, representing the truth about reality, and that it somehow is up to reality to prove that it corresponds to our symbols. And if it fails to do so, we install some more perceptual filters, and simply stop paying attention to it.

This might happen to astrologers, christians, scientists - all sorts of people. One loses one's awareness of the chain of abstraction and starts thinking that one's map (one's models) is the same as the territory (reality), or, worse, that it is superior to reality, so that one no longer feels any need to adjust one's map when one receives feedback about mismatches between the two. One no longer notices the feedback when it doesn't correspond to the model.

Anyway, that is what I refer to, in regards to the mindset where one is so sure about one's ideas and the logical connection between them that reality no longer matters.

I think that a certain amount of humility is worthwhile in studying the universe and trying to understand it. We're using imperfect instruments (including our senses) that only access a narrow band or reality, and we try to add up what we experience with imperfect computing devices (including our minds, filled with logical fallacies of sneaky variety). And still we manage to occasionally come up with systems and modalities and technologies which are generally useful to us, repeatedly, because they happen to predict and exploit some pattern in the universe. But if that makes us so arrogant that we think we're smarter than the universe, we tend to start messing up, and start closing the door on learning more about reality.  

12 Mar 2005 @ 19:51 by Max @ : lens cleaning
You make a number of points I agree with. One could say that when looking at anything to do with the human mind it is useful to recognise that the tool with which you carry out the investigation is in fact the very thing you are investigating. This increases the potential for bias no end, and in the opinion of some, renders the whole exercise a futile endeavour. I would disagree with this however, and suggest that this is the exact reason why one should study the mind, because it is the lens through which we view the universe, and as such very important in understanding things.

I would accept the mind is in many respects flawed. Not only filters but active perceptual mechanisms are at work, and function in such a way as to ensure that people create a large part of the reality that they live in. This means that in looking at an area such as the mind, humility is indeed appropriate. But crucially, this also means that extra care needs to be taken in deciding what constitutes evidence and what can be accepted as knowledge. Astrology doesn’t even come close; it's a spot of dust on the lens and why not wipe it off?

Now, within reason, people should be allowed to do what they like. If people want to be religious, an activity which I would say is just a sophisticated version of "my imaginary friend is better than your imaginary friend" then fair enough. Until it leads to the taking of someone else life (which unfortunately it often ends up with) then it is merely a delusion that is harmless on a wider scale. Likewise, I might think that gambling is a self-imposed fine on stupidity, but I wouldn't stop people from doing it.

The problem with astrology and suchlike is that it tries to justify itself by putting on a pseudo scientific gloss. Not only is this demeaning to science, something that can be lived with, but more importantly it is dishonest, it is an abuse of knowledge and authority. Astrology deserves to be debunked and heartily so.  

12 Mar 2005 @ 22:00 by Ge Zi @ : drawing the line
hmmm, this looks like drawing a line between two area that is purely arbitrary. Let's compare this astrology with physics - the one in most eyes humbug the other in most eyes a cherished science.
Just like jews are allowed to make jewish jokes, so I am allowed to make a physics joke, ok?
This is how physics works: There is the theoretical physicist who in long long sleepless nights dreams up an idea of how this universe works and he thinks of some things that should be observable in the physical universe to prove this theory. Lately these observable things can be hardly called observable but - hey - it's science. So the observable thing in this case might be some kind of particle with a lifetime of - say 5 pico seconds. And you should get this particle if you hammer two protons into each other with about 99.99999% of the speed of light (I am inventing numbers here as I'm out of that area for 25 years - but I'm still a jew ;-)
So, CERN and similar research centers get the billions of funding to build yet another accelerator and five years later two protons are crashed into each other at 99.99999% of the speed of light.
Imagine they would not find that particle. How do you think the next round of funding would turn out? So, they find that particle. And the theoretical physicist gets a Nobel prize.
For me the question became 25 years ago, what was first - the idea of the particle or the particle.

So, now again, where is the difference between Astrology and Physics? Or Scientology and Islam, or ....  

13 Mar 2005 @ 01:23 by ming : Lenses
It is sort of a crazy feedback loop. We tend to see that which we're expecting to see, and when we see it we think we've proven that that's the way it is. Well, that's probably orders of magnitudes better than not trying to validate that which we expect to find. Probably better to develop a self-consistent system that is self-correcting than a system that doesn't even agree with itself.

Would be nice with a system that it all sort of fit into. Science tends to believe it is it, and that anything that doesn't stand up to the given set of tests just doesn't exist. Which probably is too narrow a band, as the tests simply are of a certain variety. If we need to build a bridge with it, yeah, then I prefer the scientific variety, and I'd rather not be the first to drive over a bridge designed by astrology. Not that astrologers claim they can build better bridges or anything.

But at the same time there's the thing that the adherents of most systems tend to have a bit of tunnel vision, measuring everything against their particular slice of reality. So, a scientist addresses certain things and a voodoo priest addresses others. Sometimes the voodoo priest might actually be the one best suited to my particular problem. If I have a broken bone, a western medical doctor would be very good at knowing how to put it together again, because he knows the bones very well. And he knows how to classify illnesses very well. But if I'm looking for a consistent way of being healthy, I'd look elsewhere, to somebody who understands health. Because an M.D. typically can't do much for me if I don't have some kind of diagnosis. And typically my M.D. would consider whatever else I go and do some kind of quackery.

A hammer thinks everything is a nail. It isn't.

Personally I'm open to all sorts of possible systems. The Universe is a big place. All sorts of things are possible. I'd like to keep my lenses as clear as possible, and try on different ones once in a while. But I certainly prefer to deal with stuff I can validate and find to be self-consistent and effective. And there I trust my own verification better than any particular brand of authoritative opinion. If there's something to see, I'd like to see it please. A third-hand rumor isn't good enough, even if it is peer-reviewed by some people with big titles. I'd like to see for myself.

So, if I see it for myself, I can use it for something. Still doesn't prove anything, of course, as I might still just be seeing what I'd like to see. But if that at least works, I'm not too bad off.

And, still, one of the sanest things one can do is to maintain some kind of metaperspective that doesn't get too stuck in any of it. Most of it is abstractions and not the real thing. Staying aware of that will maintain an escape hatch.  

14 Mar 2005 @ 15:21 by quirkeboy @ : Vocabulary and instincts
Just this morning I was thinking about psychic phenomena..
I was sitting on my porch .. smoking a cigarette and drinking day old coffee..
and trying to "sense" whether my neighbors were home or not..
Did you ever "know" that someone was looking at you.. or "know" that someone was in the room even before you saw them?? Anywho.. thats what I was trying to sense.
So I concluded that my neighbor was not home.. then I asked myself why I thought that?? Well.. the car was gone.. no lights were on.. etc.
OK.. now.. notice something.. I sensed they were not home FIRST.. then asked myself to explain WHY.. this is because over time my brain has created a short cut to the conclusion I seek..
What Im saying is.. what if.. over time.. our brains have created shortcuts .. our brains look at the evidence at hand.. without us having to think through it... and this creates a sixth sense.. a collection of clues that create a conclusion in our minds automatically. Do you think "logically" when trying to tell if your neighbor is home? Creating a theory .. testing the theory.. drawing a conclusion.. all that jazz??
If you ask me why I think my neighbor isnt home.. its only THEN that I attempt to put it in scientific terms..
But what if there are shortcuts that our brains have formed over time.. that arent explained by the vocabulary of science. What if the "clues" that our brains can process are so subtle.. and greater in number than a scientific vocabulary can explain??
A person can only explain things in the vocabulary they are given.  

14 Mar 2005 @ 23:49 by ming : Brains
What if our brains mainly serve the purpose of coming up with convoluted logically sounding answers to questions of why. Where we maybe sense things more directly in the first place. But we feel a little akward about not having explanations to go along with what we sense.  

21 Mar 2005 @ 21:38 by Max @ : clouds
What if our brains often serve the purpose of coming up with convenient and logically sounding answers to questions of why we are all different; Astrology and similar pseudo-sciences?

Well the brain is rather adept at finding patterns in things that just aren't there. When i gaze up at the clouds i often see shapes and things that appear to be real. But if i see a 500 metre fluffy poodle up there i won't reach for the camera or call the press. That would be silly.

We may feel a little akward about not having explanations to go along with the differences between us and all the uncertainties that life entails, but it ought to be apparent that some short-cuts lead nowhere near where you are trying to get to. That is, if greater understanding is your intended destination.  

22 Mar 2005 @ 03:00 by ming : Patterns
Then again, one might find patterns in things, and apply them to a useful purpose, without any suitable authority necessarily being able to explain why.

Finding patterns doesn't have to wait for having a theory on why they're there. Sometimes it is enough that they're there.

Astrology or the reading of tea leaves are useful to the degree that they identify some patterns for people which help them to a better life somehow. If they're bad at that, well, then they might not be considered useful.

But in many cases a pattern is better than no pattern. If somebody sees a pattern, and it is useful to them, well, then they're probably better off than if they listen to somebody who insists there is no pattern to be found.

Of course, our innate tendency to need patterns, i.e. simplified coherent meaning in what might otherwise be chaotic, is also a way we can be manipulated. As we might quite readily accept an offered pattern, as it is so much more satisfying to have one than to live with chaos. Or we might vehemently reject information that doesn't fit with the patterns we've already adopted. Again, because we're afraid of the chaos.

Our ability to find patterns in chaos is both one of our greatest gifts, and one of the greatest causes of our frequent insanity.  

23 Mar 2005 @ 14:41 by Quirkeboy @ : Hindsight is 20/20
What we have to remember is that science is a system for describing nature. It does NOT create nature. Newspapers report the news.. it doesnt CREATE the news. News will happen whether its reported or not.. and nature will happen without science explaining it.
The world was round even when science thought it was flat.. the world didnt KNOW it wasnt supposed to be round. The platypus doesnt know its not supposed to lay eggs and nurse. Nature will do what nature does.. and people have to remember that just because science doesnt recognize something .. it doesnt mean it cant exist.
I think scientists have to admit that just because something doesnt fit.. it doesnt mean it couldnt exist.. just that the evidence hasnt been overwhelming yet.. and it shouldnt belittle those who choose to believe in those same things.
When I talk about psychics with friends.. I tell them they could exist.. I just havent seen enough evidence to convince me.. but I would love to meet one!!  

7 Jul 2006 @ 21:10 by vicki @ : permission sought
i was wondering if it was at all possible to include your commentary on skeptics into my msn wbsite. i found it incredibly insightful and relays more effectivly the messages i have been trying to help others understand. skeptism is only as good as the tools and the commmon sense that backs it up. please email with a response to my request when you have the time.


website address http://groups.msn.com/MysticsCorner  

8 Jul 2006 @ 12:18 by ming : Permission
Sure, feel free to use what you find here. A simple link or credit would be good.  

7 Feb 2007 @ 20:26 by Oudler @ : A defense of James Randi
Randi has stated clearly that his testing is not to involve any factors which could cause someone's death. One can die of starvation and therefore Randi does not consider it to be a "responsible claim." If I were to approach Randi with a claim that bullets can bounce of my chest like Superman, he would no doubt send me a similar letter.  

7 Feb 2007 @ 21:11 by ming : Randi
That would be reasonable enough, but he also seems to frequently reject claims simply because he says they're "impossible", whether anybody would be in danger or not. And some of those I'd actually like to see tested. It seems to me like he mainly picks either claims that are so riduculous that he has a very good bet they'll fail, or he picks the ones where he can set up the testing circumstances, and where he would be in his field, as a stage magician.

I saw him the other day on French TV. A whole one-hour show, supposedly to debunk homeopathy. Which was quite a farce. They dilluted some remedy in water some quadrillions of times, and dropped it on blood samples in plastic trays, to see if they would be affected, and nothing happened. That's a complete scam. Homeopathy is used on living people, and I don't think anybody's claiming that it would cure isolated blood cells of anything.  

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That would be reasonable enough, but he also seems to frequently reject claims simply because he says they're "impossible", whether anybody would be in danger or not. And some of those I'd actually like to see tested. It seems to me like he mainly picks either claims that are so riduculous that he has a very good bet they'll fail, or he picks the ones where he can set up the testing circumstances, and where he would be in his field, as a stage magician.  

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Other stories in
2012-01-24 00:50: Intellectual Property
2011-11-03 16:51: Seeing the world through the Internet
2009-06-11 18:53: Blogging/Microblogging and work
2008-02-23 17:19: Web 1, 2, 3 and 4
2008-02-22 11:07: Illusion
2008-01-09 22:45: A Communication Model
2007-12-02 20:41: Give One Get One
2007-10-25 21:47: Static or dynamic web metaphors
2007-09-18 22:54: Rethinking blogs
2007-07-04 23:59: Scrutiny of Information

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