Doubting the Doubter
or Why I have become Critical of Skeptics
by Jonathan J. Dickau

        I have always been a bit of a rebel, in my own way, but usually not too extreme.  It has always been my hope that people will think for themselves and think of others, but too often what I see is more nearly the opposite.  There seem to be an abundance of people who would love to convince you of their opinion, even though all too often those folks are only echoing someone else’s opinion.  Worse still, they would like to have you believe it is fact, so that they can overcome their own lingering doubts, though they probably never will anyway.  In some ways, one would think that the truth can somehow be derived from how easy it is to convince other people, or at least that’s how it seems from the way certain people behave.  The consensus-building process is a necessary part of any social interaction, but that does not mean that what’s real is what is most popular, or most apparent.  Whether we’re talking about ordinary people, or about scientists, doctors, and other professionals, people need to compare their opinions with the rest of our community, and try to form a consensus to verify those beliefs, or validate them.  It can often be demonstrated that the true facts are very different from what is evident, on the surface, however.  I’m not saying that the obvious answer is always wrong, but I am convinced that many people would like to have someone else do the thinking for them, when it comes to weighty issues, rather than have the freedom to think for themselves.  I also tend to believe that most of those we call skeptics are far too eager to cast away evidence and ideas, without due process of logic.  Although skeptics have historically been the ones to reign in those who have gone too far afield, I believe that free thinking people now need to be more critical of skeptics than ever before, and to hold them accountable when they go too far,or where they cause harm in their efforts to control others.  There are many areas where skeptical thinkers have held to a hard line, for a long time, but are now being compelled to open their eyes.
        I firmly believe that there are invisible worlds beyond the physical, for example, and we have accumulated plenty of scientific evidence for this possibility.  Some theories suggest that hidden dimensions are absolutely necessary for reality to manifest as it is, and most serious physicists are hesitant only about saying exactly how many there are, but many people still feel strongly that a belief in other worlds is unscientific.  Although the reality of certain things has been clearly demonstrable, since the discovery of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics around the turn of the last century, most of the world still behaves as though that revolution never happened.  Sadly, very few people have taken these things to heart, in my view, even in the world of Science.  I recently read an article (in two parts) in Scientific American, which outlined the author’s methods for Baloney Detection.  Apparently, he was putting his own spin on Carl Sagan’s earlier comment that people need such a thing, a system for sorting out what is real and scientifically demonstrable, from that which is pseudo-scientific, or pseudo-factual.  Where Michael Shermer and the late Astronomer Carl Sagan believe that Science is self-healing and objective, however, I have come to believe that there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.  The scientific establishment seems instead to viciously defend it’s prior consensus, long after sufficient evidence for alternative explanations is verified, and to favor the special interests of those who provide funding for research.  Researchers looking for genuinely new answers can go fish, where those who are trying to wring new answers from old but well-proven theories can usually get plenty of funds.
        It is my personal opinion that this is a classic example of dysfunctional behavior.  The best definition I’ve heard for stupidity is “doing the same thing, and expecting different results.”  Somehow, I think this problem qualifies for that definition, and I think it’s sad.  Mr. Shermer’s article impressed me, at first, but disturbed me more and more, the longer I thought about it.  People do need to think for themselves, and on this point, the author and I agree.  However, skeptics are all too eager to take refuge in reductionism, in my opinion, though Modern Science has shown that reality is far more complex than the reductionist philosophy would admit.   It is as though even the people who should know better have been taught to doubt anything that disagrees with the surface appearance of things, or perhaps anything which disagrees with the beliefs of our grandparents.  The idea that objects are made of energy, for example, has been known real for some time now, but most people don’t know how to deal with it and deny its reality entirely, some deal with it in fanciful ways, and only a few can deal with it honestly.  Does honesty require that we be completely intellectual about this?  Tai Ji practitioners, and some others, can develop a sense of our being part matter and part energy, in my opinion, but some would choose to believe that anybody is deluded to think so, and many of these skeptical individuals believe they are serving to aid and protect others, by so doing.  Is it possible that they are doing the opposite?  Is it reasonable to assert that everyone’s experiences in a particular area of endeavor are invalid, because a skeptic has a hard time buying into some of the ideas behind them?
        In today’s world, we can have Tai Ji Master Chungliang Al Huang, who teaches that all Tai Ji movement should be an expression or extension of energy, and Master William C.C. Chen, who teaches that it’s all a matter of body mechanics, at the same institution on alternate weeks.  Does the benefit of practicing these techniques disappear, for those who have studied with the “wrong” teacher?  The universe is surely big enough for a great range of opinions, and it’s also both big and complex enough for people to differ greatly and both be right, so far as either person can tell, within the standards of interpretation applied, or considering what is most important to those individuals involved.  Einstein’s Theory of Relativity shows us that there are also conditions (of relative movement) where the same events appear radically different, to observers in two different locations.  Moreover, Quantum Mechanics shows that multiple possibilities can co-exist, for the same collection of objects, or at least for every object within that collection.  I do not mean that I think we constantly have multiple realities blinking in and out all around us, although sometimes the simultaneous possibilities are very numerous.  Rather, we have a constantly evolving and unbelievably complex reality.  In addition, there is a certain amount of ambiguity built into the structure of the universe, and seemingly into the very fabric of reality itself.  Moreover, the action of taking a position or making an observation seems to have a distinct effect on the outcome of events, as well.  Taking a stand on the issues, is much like choosing a position to observe the action from.  The view from a hilltop is very different from what it’s like being in the thick of things.  To some extent, this can drive our experiences apart from those of others.
        With all of the possibilities our world presents us for variation in experiences from one individual to the next, it seems particularly unreasonable for the skeptic to assert that only what he or she finds valid is good enough for everybody, or is the only answer with value.  I believe strongly in a level of open-mindedness that some people find intimidating, since it is my practice to suspend judgment to the utmost, leaving always a thread of doubt, but attempting to be careful to give every possible viewpoint some credence.  I go on, with the knowledge that there is a truth somewhere in the reality of the situation, but feeling more comfortable in my uncertainty than I am with a hasty, or premature, conclusion.  I always leave a little room for the extraordinary, though I know this possibility is unlikely, and I always acknowledge that the simplest explanation may be the most useful, or the most accurate, after all alternatives are examined.  I do try to be thorough, regarding the examination of alternate possibilities, and I make many observations. I often compare opposing opinions, and I delay making conclusions as long as it practical.  I follow the scientific method, as it involves making first hypotheses, then theories, along the way to forming a belief that something may be a natural law, but I set my own standard, as far as what qualifies.  I realize that what is truly real does not have to fit itself to any consensus view whatsoever, and will have a specific nature independent of any beliefs we might have about it.  I feel that, somewhere along the way, Science became a bit too dogmatic to admit what is real, or to deal with new information, and new viewpoints, in a timely manner.  This is not to say that scientific discoveries have never come out too soon, before proper verification, nor do I mean that there haven’t been plenty of erroneous announcements from supposedly scientific discoveries, which later turned out to be based upon false data, shaky logic, or worse.
        On the other hand, I like to follow the beat of my own drummer, and to formulate my own world-view, rather than buying into the belief systems of others in a complete way.  I regard many things as open questions, even after finding myself with what many would take to be validation of a particular view.  I like Deepak Chopra’s outlook on this matter; that it is OK to judge, to compare, and to doubt, and it’s wiser to give ourselves permission to have these views, while realizing that they are only opinions.  Thus, what is appropriate sometimes, for us to see things as they are, is to suspend both belief and disbelief.  He suggests that, if we are to avoid being incapacitated by our own self-judgment and indecision, we must live beyond our fears by learning to doubt the doubter.  That is, if we question those beliefs which would prevent us from further exploring the possibilities at hand, we will see more of what’s real, and be able to do more with it.  If we allow ourselves to be swayed by the opinions of others instead, we may stop trying to look for our own answers, stop trying to examine other possibilities, and thus stop all progress toward a fuller understanding of whatever we are studying.  Whenever I am examining something potentially extraordinary, I tend to doubt the doubter, at least a little bit, so that I may allow myself to catch a glimpse of whatever might be there.  Often enough, there is nothing there worth watching, but many times I have been rewarded with a rare glimpse of some bird in the wild, the sight of strange atmospheric anomalies like moondogs (bright spots where rings around the moon appear to cross their reflections), or another rare occurrence.  Who can say what was real, on some days or nights, and with some people?  We can strive for the cohesion of a reality where our perception of the world matches that of others, with whom we have some kind of agreement about a place and time, or we can choose to romance pure knowledge.
        To see reality for what it is may require us to value life for its own sake.  People who have a material incentive to find a particular result might feel compelled to produce that outcome, even if they have to fudge things.  Not every example is so extreme, but there are worse cases too.  We must come to realize that we have acquired layer upon layer of pretenses, and undertake a process of sincerely unlearning our biases, to see life and the universe as they are.  Even those of us who have undertaken this task, in a serious way, must constantly struggle to overcome our own weaknesses, and maintain a higher standard.  What most people don’t understand is that enlightenment is not a resting place, so much as it is a means to create the conditions for enlightened action to begin.  It is essential we realize that having an inclusive, enlightened, viewpoint is better than insisting on a more specific and limited understanding.  When people achieve a sense of truly being a part of life and the universe, they have a whole new outlook, and get a new lease on life.  People who gained perspective during a near-death experience or other abrupt life changes, for example, have suddenly become spiritual, joining a new Religion, or have taken up the study of the Sciences or Mathematics, where before they had no interest in such things.  Are we to reject the obvious positive value of their experience, if we can’t easily explain it?  My view on the question of death and survival is that, while there is no air-tight evidence for life after death, this would be hard to come by, except for an inter-dimensionally traveling immortal.  I see that there is likewise no conclusive evidence that the life-force of an individual entity actually disperses, at the time of death.  It is said that seers can observe the process of an individual dying, and that some can follow the departing soul into its new home, but I will make no such claims until I learn to do this myself.  Until then, I will explore on my own, examine the evidence, continue to doubt any extraordinary claims, and continue to doubt the doubter.  Who knows what marvels await us?

© 2002 - Jonathan J. Dickau - all rights reserved

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Posted on February 28, 2002

Thank You