Trendy Skepticism : The Badge of The Emotionally Unfit & Intellectually Bankrupt
Those of you who have followed my work long enough already know that one of my favorite things in the world is to question and examine just about everything that becomes a cultural meme, habit, buzz word, label, etc, and this even includes those things in the self-proclaimed non-conformist crowds that imagine they are always the more intelligent simply because they move against whatever grain there is.
I've been among the social media/internet subculture of philosophy, critical thought, and self-proclaimed rational thinkers for some time, and I have seen the level of discourse being gradually raised by so many over a period of years.
I have seen more and more that certain people are becoming more articulate, mature in conversational approach, and more focused on the ideas and discovering truth rather than focused on personal attacks.
Still, over a period of time, I have observed that there are quite a lot of people who are proud bearers of the label 'Skeptic', and yet when I observed those individuals who claimed to engage in critical thought, I saw a clear distinction between those who were actually rational and those who were just another flavor of emotively and religiously devoted to baseless assumptions, as well as driven by a subconscious level of fear of the unknown.
There's what the word means when you Google its definition, and then there's what most people mean when they wear that term as a badge of honor.
There's also the question of whether it's a very useful word or not, and whether the use of the term is necessary or any requisite of critical thought.
For the purposes of this piece, I am focusing on the primary definition there, which shows that a synonym for the word skepticism is simply doubt.
[I don't have a major disagreement with the second definition listed--a philosophical notion that some knowledge is impossible to acquire]
For almost any critical thinker I know, doubting the truth of a claim is an intellectually commendable approach in the learning process and quest for truth.
Yet far too often, it is overlooked what it means to honestly doubt, that is if one intends to be intellectually honest in their search for truth:
The honest doubter does not expect that one single person making a case is somehow responsible for removing all of their doubt. The sincere seeker understands that the degree to which they can understand or feel certain about something is the degree to which they themselves are curious enough to seek out all the best arguments and evidence for/against a claim, determining the most reasonable conclusions to come to.
It is the recognition that at any level, no matter how much one might think they know anything, there is always room to be wrong. Another way this can be said is: there is always room to entertain new evidence and claims, no matter how contrary, fantastical, or extraordinary.
An observation of genuine doubt is when I see that the most well-read and self-educated humans are often quick to admit how much they know they are still very ignorant.
"The more I know, the more I know how much I do NOT know."
Doubt IS NOT:
an assumption that a claim must be false until the person making that claim proves otherwise in a manner the "skeptic" deems irrefutable.
Actual doubt is:
suspending making any judgment about a claim's truth or untruth until more evidence is reviewed and further research is done on the part of the doubter (intellectually humility by recognizing one's own potential ignorance).
Doubt IS NOT:
an initial assumption that a claim must be false simply because the "skeptic" has never himself seen evidence of it.
To reveal the absurdity here, such an assumption is essentially a presumption that if a thing exists or is true, the "skeptic" would already have heard of it or seen evidence of it.
This is astoundingly illogical, unscholarly, and intellectually arrogant; it is a presumption of God-like knowledge.
Actual Doubt IS:
A recognition that one has potentially not seen enough evidence or research to feel certain about a claim being true or false. Even if the doubter has never seen any evidence for a thing, they realize that this is not a reason to assume evidence for the thing does not exist, so they are willing to entertain brand new evidence/information never before seen.
Doubt IS NOT:
A reason to NOT research or investigate.
That should be in giant, bold, italicized letters.
This sounds rather obvious to those who are truly interested in learning and are curious about anything and everything.
And yet I've lost count how many times I have had self-proclaimed "skeptics" in all their supposed wisdom tell me that the extraordinary sound of a claim was reason enough to ignore all the data and evidence backing it.
I have seen countless "skeptics" arbitrarily decide a claim cannot even have good evidence behind it, before having reviewed any such evidence; vociferously defending their decision to ignore evidence for a claim that simply didn't fit their current worldview.
This reveals something rather unsavory about the fake skeptic.
There is no rational reason to adamantly defend IGNORING data or evidence one has never seen or considered.
It's one thing entirely to say, "I don't care to research that now", or "I don't have time at the moment to investigate"...
That is not what is being done here. The fake skeptic is not simply saying "not now", or "I don't care that much".
It is a wholly different thing to carry the mantel of Rational Thinker and then do the following:
- Claim to know another's claim is absolutely absurd or false
- WITHOUT having reviewed the data/evidence never before reviewed
- WHILE ALSO defending that there is NO need to even review the data or evidence, because (see number 1) of course the claim 'must be' false based on how unusual/strange it appears.
This circular, and logically unfounded thought process reveals emotional immaturity on the part of the fake skeptic, because it reveals a fear of--and irrational aversion to--new information.
Indeed, I have observed over and over that so many who proudly don the badge of "Skeptic" are nothing more than the other side of a religious coin.
Their worldview is still their God, their current assumptions about reality are not allowed to be questioned, and what masquerades as "healthy doubt" is nothing more than close-minded arrogance that rejects anything that doesn't already align with whatever their Favorited Fallible Human Authorities already declared to be true.
If you arbitrarily decide good evidence for something cannot exist because you've never seen it before, you might be emotionally unfit and intellectually bankrupt.
If you arbitrarily decide some claims are too strange to you (or too "crazy" based on your current beliefs about what is true or possible) to warrant even reviewing evidence that is presented in support of the claims (evidence which you have never before seen), you might be emotionally unfit and intellectually bankrupt.
If you think doubt means starting with a BASE ASSUMPTION that everything which doesn't fit your paradigm is false until the other person demonstrates otherwise, you might be emotionally unfit and intellectually bankrupt.
Not only is there much I do not know,
there is much I don't even realize I do not know,
and still there is what I cannot know,
and beyond that there is the fact that
while there might be much I can never know, I don't know yet that I can never know it,
until I try to see what I can know.
Is your head reeling yet? No? Yes? These are the things I encourage every honest mind to consider.
I will leave you with my intellectual approach to the following example claim: The Unicorn Example
"Unicorns are real. I have evidence they may exist."
My approach to The Unicorn:
-I understand that I have not myself seen any evidence for unicorns existing.
-I understand my potential ignorance and fallibility.
-I understand no human being has ever themselves surveyed but a tiny fraction of the globe, and all humans collectively have not even explored but a tiny fraction of the globe, so it is intellectually dishonest and absurd that any human could claim to know for certain a thing DOES NOT exist.
-Given the vast number of bizarre, seemingly-absurd, fantastical creatures I have seen or have ample evidence of, a horse with a horn is not objectively any more or less absurd.
-Assuming that, if something exists, humans would have seen it or heard of it, is an assumption about the animal's function for which I have no real backing: an assumption that it would NOT know how to successfully elude and evade contact with humans. If I have never seen or observed the animal, or seen evidence of such an animal, I certainly can't know all of its attributes or functions, or claim to know.
I am open and curious about any evidence for the existence of anything, animal or otherwise, regardless of whether I have previously heard of it or not, seen evidence or not, and regardless whether it fits my worldview or not, BECAUSE AS SOMEONE WHO CARES ABOUT THE TRUTH, I AM NEVER, EVER AFRAID OF NEW INFORMATION.
This approach is based on what is really my entire approach to learning and discovery in life.
I condensed this thinking pattern and attitude into what I call...
-It is up to me to figure out what I believe is true or false, and not up to any one person to make me feel absolutely certain about the truth of something or not. The intellectual search for truth is up to me and my brain, no one else's, and looking for reasons to shut out new information is a reveal of a fear of new information.
-I am not averse to any claim, I am not afraid of any truth, or evidence of a potential truth, no matter how incredible or contrary.
-I want truth whether it fits my current assumptions or not, whether it's fun to believe or not.
-I am not against the paradigms of others just to be against the grain.
-I believe what I believe because I did the intellectual work to come to my conclusions on my own, and those conclusions are what I believe to be correct for now--whether they are popular conclusions or not is of no concern to me.
-What concerns me is what is true, and the responsibility is not on the rest of the world to convince me, but on myself to use the information in the world to convince me.
The universal pattern goes something like this:
If we suppose we have a soul, then when the soul enters this world it is initially quite "resonant" with the pre-material truths. It understands that there is a "higher power" but it is also naive enough to think that ...religion would accurately depict this higher power. In a 2-dimensional sense, this is the 12 o'clock phase of the circle.
Once the soul gets some experience in the material world, it discovers its trust has been misplaced in a lot of things (religious or otherwise). What it thought was the truth, was falsely represented by material institutions. It throws the baby ("god") along with the water (religion) and becomes a skeptic. Not wanting to experience the exploitation of their prior naivety they have to. This is the stage of 6 o'clock. The polar opposite.
It takes courage to move the clock forward and start opening up again to ideas. The person has moved from full and naive acceptance to full and closed-minded rejection and then they have to abandon both these models in favor of picking up and discerning the truth without naivety or closed-minded filters. So the last phase is when the individual reaches back to 12 o'clock, re-establishes their initial belief, but this time it is free of the "external mis-representation". The truth has been built internally through a lot of discernment (in the field of rational thought) and intuition (in the field of "metaphysical" thought).
From a two dimensional perspective the person has done a full circle, yet from a three dimensional perspective, the person has elevated one spiral in his own personal evolution: From being a naive believer (accept all) to a closed-minded skeptic (reject all) to finding the truth themselves.
The 6 o'clock (skeptic) cannot understand the second 12 o'clock. Both first and second 12 o'clockers seem naive to him. He can't understand the +1 spiral 12 o'clock because it's the stage that is in his own future and beyond his experience. But he can understand full well his fellow 6 o'clockers and the first 12 o'clockers (because he has adequate experience).
I believe the differing religions is a reflection of trying to explain the unexplainable - inner experience really can only be explained via allegory. It's like trying to explain the color red to someone who is color blind. How can one even begin with that?
To say that "spiritual experience and God can never be grasped with the mind since it is so vast", to me, is not a statement of arrogance and righteousness or a hall pass for the "intellectually lazy".
"The person has moved from full and naive acceptance to full and closed-minded rejection and then they have to abandon both these models in favor of picking up and discerning the truth without naivety or closed-minded filters. So the last phase is when the individual reaches back to 12 o'clock, re-establishes their initial belief, but this time it is free of the "external mis-representation". The truth has been built internally through a lot of discernment (in the field of rational thought) and intuition (in the field of "metaphysical" thought)."
Holy shit, and there in that paragraph you succinctly depicted my exact intellectual journey.
I couldn't agree more with all you said here, actually. It's not very often I can say that about commentary of others on these topics.
I should also add that typically there is something that will shake up the 6 o'clocker to move the clock forward and complete the +0.5 spiral to the next 12 o'clock. Something that will be so catalytic that any closed mindedness cannot "discard".
I know that you'd resonate because I can see 12 o'clockers (+1 spiral) from miles away. Those that have moved to synthesize the two prior models are the torch-bearers of the future of humanity. The concept is only hard to grab for others who are not yet in the end of the spiral.
You are able to understand the manipulation that goes through with "packages" of information. Every social and economic system, every political platform, every religion are all "wrong" by universal design. These systems have part truths-part falsehood in order to disappoint the individual, move him +0.5 spiral and eventually catalyze the individual to stop thinking like a customer that buys consumer-grade truths. He/she will be forced to develop their own truth instead.
Individuals will have to synthesize all the truth from wherever that is, and to reject all falsehood in whatever "package" it is served. It is only in this process that one can find the truth. You already know that, as you already understand why skeptics fail. You also understand why seemingly extremely intelligent individuals are stuck in the +0.5 spiral and the mental trap that they are locked in, which despite their brilliance, they are unable to perceive (due to lack of experience with the next step - which is transparent to you). As I said you are +1 spiral. We are few, but we do exist.
Great article Amanda! One of the very best I've read on this subject. It tends to be my experience that most of those who claim to be skeptics really aren't, but rather have confused skepticism with cynicism.
They also equate their rejection of theism or religion (these two overlap but aren't the same) with "free thinking" or "being a skeptic" and that is as far as they go.
Yes I tend to see atheists as the opposite side of the same coin as some theist zealots.
What a well done article. Eloquent and well thought out.
I appreciate the kind words and the time taken to read it. Thank you. :)
The philosophy I try to portray (although I probably fail miserably at this at times) is, the universe may very well be infinite, and if it is finite, it is still more vast and intricate than the human mind can comprehend. No matter how much I know, no matter how much knowledge we collect as a species, I, we, will still always know next to nothing. It also helps to remember most people went through thousands of hours of government indoctrination, so not only what we think we know, what we think is possible, but also the way we perceive the world and the events around us, is likely skewed by that indoctrination. Cultivate humility.
Great, eloquent post!
Absolutely. And I'd add 'or cannot understand how it could be true'. Both are examples of the appeal to ignorance fallacy.
My brain actually hurt a little, after reading the rest.
I dunno I think it is a healthy instinct to consider something bullshit until proven otherwise. And the proof should be something clear. To be honest most claims are bullshit, so statistically you won't be wrong by assuming.
That instinct is healthy, in a play-the-odds way. It takes into account the fact that it's a lot easier to make a claim than it is to back a claim up.
If someone makes a claim that unicorns exist, then the burden is on them to prove their claim. The person hearing that claim is under no obligation to investigate it, unless they're interested in the subject.
The fact that no one else, in the history of mankind, has produced a real unicorn, is also worth considering.
So when someone makes the unicorn claim, the correct response is "prove it," and if they can't, then the null hypothesis is the only rational one.
Any other approach means we have to accept that leprechauns, Santa, The Easter Bunny, Thor and Zeus are real, which makes no sense at all.
That depends on how much the unicorn observer actually cares whether you believe them.
If I see a unicorn and tell you all about it, my duty to you, if any, has ended.
Truth really doesn't care about where the burden of proof lies. The ability of someone to present evidence or argue a case doesn't affect whether the proposition they propose is true or not. A real truth-seeker is looking for the truth regardless of where the burden of proof lies (though of course, that's not always easy).
You don't have the accept that leprechauns are real; that's kind of the point. Obviously being skeptical doesn't mean that we accept things without any proof. The point of the article was that, you can entertain things without accepting them, and you can consider the probability of the reality of a proposition to be likely or unlikely, without fully accepting or rejecting it.
Have a good one
There is no burden on anyone. If I say to you unicorns are real, you have two choices: unmoved or uninterested, you can ignore the claim and move on with your life. Or, if you are so moved, you can say, prove to me unicorns exist and examine whatever evidence the person might have. Just because someone makes a claim doesn't mean you're obligated to lose your shit about it. That's your ego trying to make itself feel superior.
wow interesting and cool pictures by the way
she has the best pictures ever. ..
"[I don't have a major disagreement with the second definition listed--a philosophical notion that some knowledge is impossible to acquire]"
Perhaps you misunderstood the meaning of 'certain' in that definition. I think 'certain knowledge' is a synonym for 'knowledge known with certainty', not just 'some knowledge'.
Yes, it's so good to see that more and more people are taking a more cautious approach to deciphering the world around them, but at the same time, it's so grating when they take it to the extremes.
I've often seen "skepticism" used as the reason not to challenge one's personal beliefs until the alternate philosophy or solution can be "proven" beyond all doubt, even in cases where it's obviously more reasonable or effective than the existing paradigm that they cling to.
Also, as far as skepticism being trendy, I just want everyone to know that I was skeptical of "skepticism" before it was cool. :)
Excellent post, wish I hadn't waited until 2:55am to go online and find it.
If my brain wasn't crashing hard for the night before it sure is now.
I'll give it a second read in the morning.
There is nothing to doubt as whatever is true is whatever is going on right now.