Irrationality, fallacies and pseudo-science

Let us now present a panorama of the main categories of obstacles on the search for truth, than can lead to errors and misconceptions. We shall call irrationalities such wrong ways of searching for the truth where more reliable ways exist; or such weaknesses of doctrines, insofar as their supporters fail to recognize these weaknesses as such and to lower the strength of their belief accordingly.

This list contains redundancies (different aspects of the same things) (and might not be complete though the items are general enough to include almost anything).

- The F character of MBTI, by which people would judge claims according to how they feel it (how optimistic, affirming or fair to people it sounds - while forgetting that feelings are often subjective, thus leading different people to draw different conclusions), rather than purely truth criteria. The F people can be nice in some ways, and useful in their own jobs, but they need to admit that it is not their job and ability to seek and discern most cases of general truths, those concerning the large-scale problems and solutions for society.

- Someone's insufficient intelligence (either from nature or from lack of training and experience in rational practice) to proceed the understanding on a subject (in other words, the subject is too complex for this person to be able to properly understand it). Some particular cases of this problem can be solved through computer assistance.

- General laziness of thought, or a priori disbelief in the relevance of thinking efforts. Apart from a lack of intelligence, this may proceed through a misconception or values system that draws the attention away from serious thinking work.

- The insufficient amount of observational data, against which to check the claims; this can include an ignorance of relevant observation, or lack of effort in its systematic gathering; or, on a personal level, the ignorance of already established knowledge, or of other people's experience.

- Hidden assumptions, often operated by focusing the attention on another step of an argument. This can include the act of considering a subject in the terms of a given conceptual framework or classification of possibilities, without proper justifications for the relevance of this conceptual framework for the field being studied (just ignoring other possibilities rather than refuting them).

- Vague concepts, that seem meaningful (informative) while in fact they are not (leaving the way open to any possibility or interpretation).

- Confusion (wrong identification) between concepts, or any use of vague concepts, that give the impression some claim would be a logically necessary conclusion from given premises, while in fact it is not, once the argument is examined more accurately.
Example: fuzzy ideas on what the essence of things should be, and confusion between this essence and behavior (an inability to understand interactions in their complexity, leading to a focus on essences of elements as a substitute for it), so as to either make wrong expectation of behavior based on assumed essences (assuming that focusing on becoming a loving person in oneself would be the right and only way to properly understand the truth and help others), or misjudge the essence based on observation (ex: claiming that those who did wrong things had bad intentions; if they did it in the name of a religion that "calls for goodness", that they were not faithful followers of that religion; accusing someone of having had wrong intentions if he did something wrong or reached a different conclusion).

- Failure to notice that the given view has internal contradictions or discrepancies with known observational evidence (that would give the chance to notice that the view is wrong, thus that previous reasonings that led to it must contain mistakes, thus obliging to search for where the mistakes could have occurred). This may be caused by a values system that opposes any attention to the sort of consideration that might lead to display the contradiction.

- Unfalsifiability : when a set of claims about the world (or the universe) is developed, while the course of events that would be going on if these claims were false (in a hypothetical world not containing such things or kinds of determinations, but where people would believe in these claims), would fail to give the chance for the evidence of facts, to put an end to the perpetuation of beliefs in these claims. Causes of unfalsifiability can range from being "not even wrong", i.e. failing to satisfy logical positivism (it does not express any clear logical distinction between likely and unlikely/impossible observations), to different ways of ignoring any contrary evidence, that may occur in unscientific environments.
An unfalsifiable worldview should be discredited as being both irrelevant (if not even wrong, providing no information of interest about life), and deserving the highest suspicion (that people's belief in it, preserved and propagated by people, can be merely due to its unfalsifiability and thus is no decent sign of its truth).

- A variant or particular case of unfalsifiability, is the case of Pareidolia, or clustering illusion: finding interpretations (meaning) in past data that gives an illusion of explanation, while no such explanation is true.
For example, to claim something to be the cause of another thing, while the real causality goes another way (the other way round or from a common cause), or the conjunction of events may be a mere coincidence.
Doctrines can develop based on such things. This is especially convenient when the data is fixed once for all (ex: Bible codes; constellations at the basis of mythologies), but can also apply to an open range of observations, being perpetually reinterpreted, modified or developed to fit any new data that may come, always invariably claiming to be the Ultimate Truth and the only possible source of any truth, while not progressing in the reliability of predictions or discernment among opposing views on verifiable issues (and regularly turning out to be among the worst for these). Example: the unability of theologians to predict whether some biblical claims should be understood literally or merely allegorically...

To make a digital comparison, pareidolia would be like claiming to compress a specific file by giving a dedicated compression algorithm, where the sum of spaces taken by the algorithm and the compressed file is finally larger than the initial file. This goes unnoticed through underestimates of how complex is the interpretation, and how arbitrary are the "hidden causes" presented as explaining every particular situation.

See also Wikipedia: List of cognitive biases

Philosophers have a mania of arguing about differences between Popper's falsificationist conception of science and logical positivism, and that neither of these can resist to stand as any absolute and ultimate criteria for scientificity; that both should be replaced by still some other philosophy, or eventually that no general criteria for scientificity can ever resist. But the truth is that, unlike philosophers, scientists don't care about such debates which they see as insignificant, irrelevant and "metaphysical" (= meaningless) : it does not change anything to the scientific practice, which is about trying to understand our universe, through studying specific theories that may fit with the specific data of observations in our universe. They are not concerned about making a general theory of the set all possible theories and their connection with the set of all possible universes satisfying any other theory with their respective observational data at any given time of the search, for defining any general measure of comparison of scientificity levels of every possible theory in every possible universe given every conceivable set of data at every time :-p

Examples of false reasoning

An example of irrational thought: claiming that conversion to Christianity (or any other religion) is a matter of free choice and how sincerely one searches for God.
This does not explain anything as it presents an arbitrary set of data (who converts) as explained by another, as complex, arbitrary set of data (who is sincerely searching for God).
It is unfalsifiable, as no examples of people sincerely searching for God but not converting to that religion, can ever force the claimant to admit his error (since, for whoever did not convert, it is always possible to accuse him of not having sincerely searched for God).

We already saw some examples of unfalsifiable spiritual claims in Part I.

Let us see more examples of wrong reasoning.

The base principle of empiricism, also called inductive reasoning, is to infer some claims as being generally true out of their verification on observed cases.
For example, if we could see many ravens and found they were all black, we infer that all ravens are black.
But this observation is progressive, so that

The observation of a black raven contributes to confirm that all ravens are black

Then, we can notice that an equivalent expression for "all ravens are black" is its contrapositive "all what is not black is not a raven". As this formulation has a similar form (A =>B) as the previous one, the same reasoning should be valid on it. The use of inductive reasoning to support this claim, is thus, for example

The observation of a white goat contributes to confirm that all ravens are black
(or, more generally, the observation of anything neither black nor a raven)

Now, spiritual people reading this might make fun of such a reasoning, seeing it as a mere crazy invention of people who think too much. Then, they would make the use of such an example to feed the same usual argument they usually raise with so many other examples, to argue that the use of human reason is invalid and misleads us, and that we should depart from it and convert to some spiritual ways, and rely on God (or any form of spiritual enlightenment) as the only reliable source of truth. Their argument is:

The observation of a human error, contributes to confirm that the only reliable truth is from God

(or: from "accomplished meditators" according to Buddhism, or any such equivalent in any other religion). But, how strong is this argument ? In fact, if we analyze in more details the reasons why the first case of inductive reasoning (observation of a black raven) is "more valid" than the second one (with a white goat), and apply these reasons to the third case, then this third case turns out to be no more valid than the second one.
More generally, spiritual people like to claim that "reason has limits". What does it mean ?
It is certainly true that science cannot solve every question. However, the existence of problems that science cannot solve (and we don't know which ones), which is arguably true, does not contradict the facts that:

1) The field of truths that reason can discover, is potentially infinite

2) The success of science for finding truths and its technological applications, is the living evidence that reason can success in finding a wide range of reliable truths that are very helpful to mankind

3) Scientific truths often happen to reach a maturity (extensively confirmed empirical laws ; rigorously proven mathematical theorems) where they are extremely reliable (all risk of being mistaken is ruled out), while this reliability has nothing to do with any divine or other supernatural origin.
And ifever a mathematical proof might be suspected of containing a failure, there is now an available final solution to this risk: to check the proof with computer assistance (with an automated proof checking software). Computers are the only infallible beings under hand, that can provide us with absolutely reliable truths.

4) Despite the much larger number of people who explored spiritual paths, there has hardly been any evidence for the discovery of any decently reliable general truth from any "mysterious" origin (wrong teachings are widespread; if any mysterious genuine discovery occurred, they are too scarce and not general enough to deserve any significant attention anyway) while rational abilities (in which I include common sense and any clear ordinary perception) can do much better works for such discoveries and checking.
In an overwhelming majority of cases, only local truths, with very limited interest (to the personal life of the involved people, with no significant benefit for the rest of the world) could be obtained in "mysterious" ways; while more far-reaching claims made by "inspired" people, can be proven to be generally wrong (or at best meaningless), full of ridiculous nonsense (full of the flaws of spiritual teachings such as we already mentioned, and more aspects will be developed later).

The main claims of global truths that come from a sort of "not rational" way and that resist examination, are just a few: the couple of intuitions about the mind-matter duality, the existence of afterlife and that we should "be good"; but this is very poor information; it is given in a "natural" way, without effort, with no usefulness of any elaborate special searching method (except that, to those who did not spontaneously perceive this intuition, there is a chance to try to share it by a few arguments).
A few more global truth may be revealed during NDEs, but, as far as I know, they are very simple and limited too. This rejection of spiritual truth searching methods, is not a blind faith or dogma for rationalism, as factual evidence that "revelations" never went much further than this, will be presented later (part IV).

As says a recent proverb : Insanity = to keep trying the same thing and expecting it to produce different result. In this sense, spiritual people are insane, insofar as they still pretend that the only way to change the world should be to keep following spiritual paths to "change oneself", while this has already been tried by billions of people for thousands of years, with no result yet (except a "change" in their personal life, which they took with them in their tomb); while science did change the world to a much larger extend with much smaller efforts.

5) More essential truths of fundamental importance for mankind are accessible to reason and just waiting for our initiative to make use of reason to reach them and let mankind benefit of them (we shall see examples later)

6) The abstract existence of problems that reason cannot solve, which is arguably true, does not inform us on which they are; there needs to be specific reasons for reliably claim that some specific examples of problems would be out of reach of a progress of knowledge by rational means. But problems that reason cannot solve are usually unimportant; Most useful problems can be solved, and if the possibility to solve a problem is not clear, the only way to try to discover whether or not reason can bring some knowledge to it, is usually... to try.

7) Anyone who puts forward the claim that human reason has limits and may be fallible, as if it was an argument against it, is in fact dealing with nothing more than the limits of his personal rational abilities (and the usual ones of the fellow believers of the religion he tries to promote), which are very limited indeed, and which are anyway all the means he has for seeking any truth whatsoever (no matter if he pretends otherwise); such limits can be widely transcended by the rational abilities of other people.

In other words, putting forward "Reason has limits" as an argument against the use of reason, would be as stupid as :
- if the existence of optical illusions and the impossibility to see through walls were a good reason for cutting our eyes off;
- if the impossibility for transportation vehicles to go faster than light, was a good reason for going by foot, in case this might go faster.

Jean-Yves Girard, mathematician, wrote the following joke, in a text on mathematical logic (and repeated it with slightly different words in another text). This is a variation of a logical enigma that, in French, is usually expressed as being about the "Baghdad Cuckolds", where every man is the only one to not know whether he is himself a cuckold, but must kill his wife at midnight if ever he discovers it, a fact he may infer from the observation that other men did not kill their wife yet. In English, the same logical enigma is rather expressed in other words (commented there)

The Houston cuckolds. They are only two, V. and W., they know everything concerning the other, and the fact that at least one among them is betrayed ; in fact there is only one cuckold, W. So W. knows that there is one cuckold, he knows that it is not V., but he draws no consequence, because he is. . . a bit slow. On the other hand, V. is very smart and made his PhD on the Baghdad cuckold ; he thinks "Gosh, if I were not a cuckold, W. would have concluded that it's him and killed his wife". Therefore V. slays his innocent spouse ; morality, too much epistemic logic can damage your health.

This joke is interesting by the way it presents a concentration of several real sources of troubles:
- The wrong assumption that all people's rational abilities are the same
- The wrong assumption that all accessible truths of importance have been already accessed
- It may be profitable to be stupid, while it may be harmful to be clever
- An intelligent person may be a victim of the stupidity of someone else, especially if he is not aware of the difference of rationality levels between them.

All these troubles contribute to different aspects of the world's problems, in ways that we shall develop later.
In particular, they occur with Spirituality, in the following ways:
- Their democratic vision of the truth, that it should be accessible to everyone, so that nobody can claim to understand the truth better than what a large public came to believe in, or that there would be no chance for more intelligent works to be ever more useful to the world than stupid ones.
- Their argument of the form "If there was any evidence against [my religion], it would be known" as a justification for not looking at any evidence against their religion ever presented to them; their blind assumption that apologists on their side have always been infallible beings (from their divine inspiration, but then rejecting any contrary example as irrelevant because Christians are mere humans making human errors that their holy Gospel is not responsible for) while people on the other side would have always been mistaken (just because they were humans); for example, to hold the story of Christian martyrs (that can as well have been distorted and not properly reported in context; the historical debate, including that the reason for killing Christians was not religious but their refusal of paying taxes, and atrocities made by Christians against non-Christians, can go far) as evidence for the truth of the Gospel, as if being put in front of a death penalty should have suddenly made Christians infallible beings in theological matters - what can we say about Muslim terrorist "martyrs then.
- To present their religion as true just based on the fact that it changed their life and brought them happiness, ignoring that this "advantage" can as well be the advantage of ignorance.
- To judge the virtue of their spirituality on the mere basis on what happiness it brought to them, ignoring how harmful to others their own spiritual behavior may have been.

More remarks and explanations about Christianity or other spiritualities will be developed in Part IV.

Intelligence levels

Let us describe and explain in some more details the practical experience of how things are going on in science, what misunderstandings often occur about the nature of scientific understanding and its distance with the minds of less scientific people, and the troubles that this misunderstanding often creates during attempts of debates.

(My experience is about maths and physics, but most of this can apply to other sciences as well)
As already mentioned, the worlds of knowledge in mathematics and physics are so vast and wonderful, it's such a pity that not more people can understand and enjoy them. There are 2 causes for this trouble. One is institutional (the teaching system does not properly show the way). The other is natural: different people have different intelligence levels, and also different sorts of intelligence, oriented to different fields of interest (and for the society to work, it is indeed necessary to have a diversity of people with the different fields of interest that address different aspects of reality).

Now, once said that the issue of intelligence level is but one aspect of the big picture among others, we should not miss what it really contains.
As scientists are normally Thinkers rather than Feelers, it is not in their normal concern to deal with issues of personal comparison, and how intelligence levels can vary between people, despite the crucial importance of intelligence for the progress of scientific knowledge.
Moreover, intelligence is not something that can easily be measured and compared between people. Instead, the purpose of scientific research is to make discoveries and provide new understandings: for scientists, this is the very heart (value) of their intelligence (and similarly, for any job involving intelligence, the goal of intelligence is to properly do these jobs). As the point of a discovery is that it should be new rather than any automatic consequence of what was already known, done or classified before, it hardly makes any sense to compare them together, to say that the one is better than the other. It can even be argued that it would not be good to have all people with the highest skills, because such people would naturally come to compete for making the same kinds of discoveries, those of the hardest kinds of problems and pioneering the most far-reaching fields of knowledge, while so many basic necessary issues for the society would be left behind with nobody to deal with them, because they would be "not interesting enough" to deserve attention from the top thinkers.

There is a popular tool for lay people to try to measure and compare their intelligence: the IQ test.
A criticism of this test was posted to the INTP forum:

"IQ tests are supposed to test your overall "potential". But I have found that they ask knowledge based questions too, which really do not test potential. Most INTP's don't like the test because time is factored into your score. The pressure makes us not perform to our full potential.
The tests online are also all bullshit. Don't bother taking them. The only online one even close to being "hard" is the one on the mensa website."

In other words, the IQ test can be used for somehow comparing intelligences among some majority of average people, but they cannot properly measure high levels of intelligence in the sense of what makes the true dignity of intelligence: its ability to resolve some hard, complex problem that humanity is facing (or not).
Now, without assistance from such fake "objective" tools, what can we say about intelligence levels ?
It turns out that the discrepancy of intelligence levels between different people, both between scientists and non-scientists and among scientists of a given domain (maths or physics), is litterally tremendous. Well, somehow people know this. Precisely, they know that science is "not for them", then reject it as an alien thing, something for strange, odd people.

A large majority of people are so far from any decent use of reason with respect to a number of non-trivial issues, especially if they are attached to wrong views by some sentimental or ideological influence, that the properly rational understanding of these subjects is hopelessly out of reach for them.

Normally, among the small minority of civilized, maturely rational people who have the wisdom to know their own limits and the diversity of intelligence levels, this diversity does not create troubles: they have no problem to admit the possibility for someone else to master a given subject better than themselves. For example, I have no problem with the fact that some scientists can be much more clever than myself. When I hear people speak about a very high-level theory which I have no clue of, I can admit the possibility of its making sense from the way they tell about it. I consider this admirable even if it is "not for me" (sometimes because I cannot dedicate enough time for it, sometimes because it is really so hard as compared with my abilities).
Other times I happened to read some of such high-level works; and while there was not much of it I could really follow, it already made me feel amazed at how high these concepts are. Examples of amazing things I could have a glimpse of but I could not really understand:
- In physics: quantum field theory and supersymmetry
- In logic: I could already master some good points, but there are still quite higher things like "forcing", which I did not follow...
- In algebraic topology: Milnor's work, K-theory...

Globally, despite the fuzziness of the subject, and if we consider intelligence in terms of global efficiency for properly dealing with complex realities (thus, integrating the effects of natural intelligence, training, knowing the relevant information, and some wisdom or chance to know how to use intelligence in the best way), I think we can say without exaggeration that:
- The average of scientists (as well as some other people, like businessmen and other highly skilled professionals) is about 10 times more intelligent than the global average of the population
- The few top scientists can be about 10 times more intelligent than the average of scientists.
(with all possible intermediate levels between these, without any special separation of any group from others)

Don't misunderstand the claim here: this hierarchy only concerns a specific measure of comparison, which is about a specific type of human ability among others, the ability of discerning the truth on difficult, complex issues. Even this very concept is ambiguous as each person can have varying abilities between issues to understand (the same person can be clever in one field and ignorant in other fields); and diverse other kinds of human activities have their own worthy values too, such as art (see the different MBTI types that gives an sketch of the possible diversity of human abilities). So many diverse human abilities are necessary and complementary to form an harmonious world.

When debates go wrong

The problem comes when not maturely rational people enter (or worse, invade) the scene of the debate. That is, people who don't have the wisdom and/or ability to discern and acknowledge:
1) their own limits, i.e. their irrationality (as explained above in the "irrationality" section), their inability to properly understand a given problem which they want to judge
2) that some other people may be more qualified and able to access (or have already accessed) the truth on that subject

Especially, some people have a prejudice that they have the right to judge ideas as true according to how "simple" they seem. While it is true that an understanding which is not "clear" is usually not an accurate and satisfying understanding, and a clear and unifying view is usually a better success if only it is a true one, this forgets that:
- The truth has no duty to satisfy this criteria just to please us. Its duty is to be true, no more, no less.
- More complex truths can be mastered by some more clever people as clearly as less complex ones
- The similarity to everyday habits and concepts that a majority of people are familiar with (or the conformity to a conditioned way of thinking religiously learned for years), is no true criteria for simplicity either; very different concepts from the everyday ones, can be developed and become familiar, and thus simple, for scientists as well.

Generally, I have an experience of tries of debate with "normal people" on complex issues, either political or religious; and I observed that they are far from the necessary intelligence level for having a chance to properly understand and reach a reliable conclusion these subjects; still, they can't tolerate to not stand as judges for these subjects (or, at least, to not have as much "right" to do so as anyone else). Therefore, they cannot either tolerate any claim by someone else to know the subject better than them: they would see such a claim as automatically arrogant and insulting (no matter that these other views may be the mere truth, since they cannot tolerate such a possibility anyway).

Still, they would usually not be visibly dogmatic or refusing rational debate (as such an attitude would be too easy to defeat and thus would be quickly resolved). Instead, they would often be requesting a "rational argument" why they would be wrong, and why the other would be right. The problem is that the missing elements of understanding, that the other would need to bring as a justification for making things clear, may happen to be too complex and subtle to be explained and shared in such a way and such a short enough amount of effort to be affordable by both sides and with decent enough chances of success. The result of the situation, is that the one who knows the subject, and who knows that the debate is hopeless, will be likely to give up.
And he may be right to do so, because anyway, no matter whether or not he keeps trying to explain the situation, the other will have no chance to understand it, but will keep the impression that the other has "no rational argument" for the defense of his position.
Indeed, what's the point to keep working on a debate if the goal (to let the other understand one's point) turns out to be hopeless anyway ?
So, it may be a mere fact, observed by the rational person, that there is no solution to the satisfaction of the ignorant, that is, to let them understand the truth as easily as they are requesting with their low intelligence level or other circumstances. Then, the problem develops when the ignorant are replying with accusations of pride, dogmatism or other foolishness, because, no matter how sincere they are or whatever anyone tries, they have no available means to interpret the situation otherwise.

So, the rational person will have to notice how unfair and hopeless is the debate (even though nobody ever willingly decided to make it so), and that the only expectable result of keeping tries at understanding each other, will instead be to exchange insults and negative judgments to each other over and over again. The next "problem" is that few are the rational people that may be fond of investing a lot of efforts in an activity that consists in navigating in a desperate mess of errors, and whose only expectable fruits will be to exchange a lot of insults and negative judgments with someone : to be perpetually despised for the "fault" of lucidity, and to have to fight back in a way that will fatally have to be dis-affirming to the other (who strongly believes to be on the right track and invest all his person there too).

As the rational person cannot fail to notice that the other's irrationality is a major hindrance to the chance for the debate to progress, making it hopeless, how could he pretend otherwise, as if the other (or the course of the debate) was on the right track ? To be honest, he can hardly fail to mention the real nature of this obstacle, that is, the other's irrationality. But, the irrational person will fatally perceive this as an insult and an ad hominem argument, and will misinterpret the attitude of the rational person as a dogmatic, arrogant and insulting attitude with no rational basis. And indeed, there are good reasons for the rational person to be angry or harsh in such a situation. What else should he do ? Say amen to a process of pseudo-debate that will necessarily leave the irrational participants to reinforce their own errors and mock the rational view as stupid and indefensible ? Anyway, as this foolishness cannot be stopped anyway, the least evil solution can be for the rational person to just drop off and leave the irrational people alone in their errors, in order to keep his energy for more serious matters; and getting angry can be a good way to reach that point. And if the irrational people will interpret this anger as a sign of irrationality, and use it to reinforce themselves in their view, then... it's their problem anyway.
Some people consider that a way to protest against the conditions of a vote, that they see as not really democratic, is to boycott it. I won't try to argue on this solution (which I'd rather be skeptical of, while it may depend on cases); but I observe a similar situation concerning debates in irrational circles: it is a fact that rational people may have to boycott some sorts of "debates" that do not let a chance for the truth to be understood and accepted.

Example of a situation I once experienced in a web forum:
1) I write an introduction to my ideas, and refer to my site for the necessary details
2) As these necessary details are very long, and the serious participants need time to read them to have a chance to know what it is about, thus these serious people are not writing any reply in a first time
3) Instead, reactions are coming from stupid people who decide to judge the issue without caring to read what it is about
4) I can't help from writing a reply, mentioning how stupid is this reply
5) The dispute goes on, while the people keep replying in a way that totally ignores what is the depth of the ideas written in the site, but imagine something else instead (some favorite stupid cliché). They assumed that there would be nothing worth understanding about my ideas outside the usual caricature from their imagination. Because they did not expect the presence of any deep idea worth understanding (otherwise they would be taking their time reading it, instead of reacting so quickly).
6) The way the debate goes on with exchange of insults, disconnected from any deep idea, really gives the impression to everybody, that this is the whole debate going on, and that there is no more idea worth reading and caring to understand than what is being written and exchanged in the replies, before drawing conclusions.

In similar lines, Bertrand Russel wrote "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubt".
(But, while this is a possible phenomenon that can cause troubles, it cannot be used as a reliable criteria for wisdom either.)

Also, many people are interested with ideas they can easily understand (which are already familiar to them), but won't bother studying and understanding (and thus will naturally reject) any new idea that require any thinking effort - except, of course, if it is in their curriculum and requested for their exam.

The result of this situation, is that, in a world full of irrational people, the misfortune of being sane enough to know a subject better than those people and to be aware of this situation, turns out to be condemned as a sin (of hubris) that needs to be cured; and if someone does not "want" to "cure" this sin (just like if someone would "refuse" to stay "open" the possibility that 2+2=5), then it is condemned as a mortal sin.


In a sane environment, that is, surrounded with peer maturely rational people, a rational person is free to live in peace and debate with others according to his deep nature, that is, in a rational, civilized, open-minded way, participating to opportunities of constructive, rational debates whenever the opportunity appears (which may not be very often because of the hyper-specialization by which, not many researchers can have a lot of peers working on close enough subject for having any common interests and ideas worth exchanging).

This is the famous Ivory Tower of Science, which is the necessary means to ensure to scientists a peaceful and constructive intellectual life where the quest for truth has its full opportunities of progression, protected from any harassment from the unstoppable Forces of Irrationality that reign in many places outside it.

On the other side, in these much more widespread and very popular other places dominated by the Forces of Irrationality, the expression "critical mind" is defined to mean "questioning the dogma of 2+2=4"; "open-mindedness" means an enthusiasm in examining large treaties of tens or hundreds of pages developing worldviews where 2+2 may be equal to 5, 9 or 13 (this is no exaggeration: I did read one blogger wanting to offer a new arithmetic rule where (-1).(-1)=-1 just to save us from the need to bother with complex numbers); and many more paradigm shifts are explored, such as visions of a future when mankind would have finally discovered that the Earth is flat and steady at the center of the Universe, or where pink elephants would routinely fly and thus become the main transportation means for the Third Millennium.

Such thought environments would be dangerous for the intellectual life of the true scientists, quickly transforming them into hardcore intolerant, arrogant dogmatists. But, as most of them don't naturally like to be any intolerant, arrogant dogmatists, this will naturally lead them to settle and keep developing their intellectual life in the safer, more peaceful environment of this fine and magnificent Ivory Tower of Science, moreover made quite more interesting by the abundance of magnificent intellectual treasures that their predecessors had the chance to discover, gather and expose there.

Let's illustrate some aspect of the situation through a metaphor. Imagine a mountain guide who has a large experience visiting a mountain region. He knows well all the paths in this region, all the best ways to reach the different summits, with the difficulties and risks in each path. He knows that many of summits in this mountain are quite hard to reach, and require a lot of skills, strength and training. He also has experience in guiding there many strong and healthy tourists who are used to running and climbing a lot, as they already made running and climbing visits to other mountains, and are now willing to pay a first visit to this one.
Then, imagine a paralyzed, epileptic person who usually cannot manage to properly go to the toilet by himself, who hears this guide talk about these mountains, paths and summits, and does not believe what the guide is telling about his experience of the mountain. So, he replies to the guide by this request: "If you are really a good guide knowing the mountain and how to go reach the summits as you say, prove me that the mountain is really as you describe ! Bring me there !".
Then, what do you think this guide should do in reply ? Should he take this man and try to carry him on his back, up to these difficult summits ? Twenty meters further, the man will have an epileptic crisis, that will make him kick the guide and fall down on the floor, then accuse him of having taken him to the wrong direction because the summits were not reached yet.
Thus, the guide will have to give up and refuse trying anything more; so that the epileptic man will accuse the guide of telling lies and not really knowing the mountain, for lack of any credible means to figure out how things could be otherwise.

So: science is about crossing large distances in the world of knowledge without error. This world has many paths, and each scientist only knows a small region as compared to the whole set of what has already been explored, which would be much too big for a single person to completely visit (though some can visit more of it than others). Some errors can happen to be committed on the way, first by students, then still sometimes by researchers (fewer, or only because larger distances are crossed); then, other people may care to track any error that may have occurred, in order to correct them until, hopefully, a path will be found and checked without error. As long as someone is good enough to manage well and not make more than a few errors on the way, others will be willing to help to track and correct these few errors that could be made, in hope to reach a conclusion that will be reliable, without error (even if there remains a small risk of presence of a remaining error : the point is that any remaining error would hopefully be detected and then fixed thanks to some next wise person that will check the way once more).
But, if there is just hardly anything right in the way someone goes, or if someone can only make a much smaller way than the one necessary to reach some chosen goal, then others will give up trying to help, because there would be anyway no hope to reach a decent result (a fully correct way to the chosen goal).

You could sum up this by considering the world of knowledge as a sort of capitalist world where only those who already have, will receive the assistance of others to get more. This may be felt as regrettable, but the truth does not care about efforts and justice. To reach a reasonably reliable knowledge about a large complex problem, reducing the number of errors that the conclusion is based on, would be worthless. The only meaningful effort is for the purpose of completely eliminating them all. As long as the fulfillment of this goal cannot reasonably be expected, there is no reason trying to start debating and pointing out this or that error either.
Still, there can be other sorts of hope and purpose learning and doing rational work. Beginners need to start with simple problems, to work on perfecting themselves and eliminating all their errors on simple, short paths, before risking themselves on longer, harder paths.

Let me explain how it feels like, for a rational person, to be faced with fallacious doctrines full of errors and nonsense, and having to deal with them through an obligation to try to explain things and convince some supporters of these fallacious doctrines. It feels like being jailed in place full of a very bad smell, with no hope to get rid of this smell. Then, guess what: it is everything for making someone angry. And people around insisting that "What problem do you have with this smell ? this is a very good smell !" will not help.

In such conditions, the irrational people have an easy game misleading themselves, by dismissing the view of the rational person as an expression of a bad character. They would be missing the fact that, if their view is rejected as utter nonsense, it is not the fault of the lucid person who noticed that it is utter nonsense, but the fault of the promoters of nonsense who are bringing their nonsense, which is an insult to truth and reason. It is (somehow) their fault if they are claiming nonsense and bringing ignorance, chaos and misunderstanding to the world; it is not the fault of the truth if their nonsense is nonsense. If they don't want to be condemned, mocked or ignored by rational people, it's just up to them to stop promoting nonsense and defending the indefensible. If only they stopped promoting nonsense, then this would release rational people from the necessity to get angry and to oppose them in this way, so that there would not be such disputes anymore.

So: irrational people may complain that rational people seem to have "no reason" in support of their position, as eventual tries of explanations could not be satisfyingly "convincing", as intelligence is personal and cannot always be shared that way.
If the irrational person says something and asks an answer from the rational person, the rational person will naturally be tempted to reply by saying the truth on the considered point as he sees it. The problem is that this element of truth will not be convincing, because many other elements of understanding are missing in the irrational person, for the understanding of this reply with all its justifications. So he won't be able to accept this reply as a rational one, but will interpret it as nonsense, dogmatic, unclear, or of any other irrational character(s). But, what else could the rational person do, to have a chance of being accepted ? Pretend that things are otherwise, and enter a long strategy of adapting to the mind of the irrational person to lead to a conclusion that remains acceptable ? Such strategic developments of how to convince an irrational person who cannot directly understand the truth, by not directly telling it, are the art of liars: how to navigate errors and irrationality towards a given conclusion.

Instead, the interest of rational truth-seekers is to focus on the truth (its proper understanding and justifications) and nothing else. They are not interested to navigate in the psychology of strong irrationality. Managing desperate cases of people lost in a labyrinth of errors, and/or who don't have the abilities to follow the proper understanding of some chosen aspect of reality in the way it really is, is not a normal interest of rational truth-seekers. Rather, it is something disgusting for them, because it is a desperate hell of nonsense and ignorance, an accident and a plague of nature which should rather not exist in the first place, and from which it is so hard to escape.

The rise of crackpots

So, it happens for many people to develop irrational views on scientific subjects, in a way cut off from science, and hopelessly unable of dialogue with scientists. For these people, all things looks as if their position was the only possibly rational one, while the scientific one was irrational. Their vision of the current state of science is reduced to some shadow of it, some popularized version of some pieces of information and conclusions that science could obtain.
They properly noticed that what they heard from science was not satisfying (because indeed it is not the full understanding of it). Then, they assume that it is a defect of science (as they have no means to interpret it otherwise), and they will dedicate their efforts to "solve the defects" in science, by reasoning on these defects and developing their own ideas and interpretations. So, they develop ideas that seem to them clearer than the (incomplete) account of science as they could see it. And they think that, in this way, they are making scientific discoveries beyond the knowledge of actual scientists. So they dedicate a lot of time to write their "theories", and try to let them known, sending them to as many scientists as they can, expecting from them careful attention and approbation, and accusing scientists of dogmatism and close-mindedness whenever this does not happen (that is, necessarily always).

In some scientific forum in French, there was such a discussion, when an astrophysicist quickly rejected a crackpot's view, then was accused of dogmatism in return. He then explained:

"By being so brief in my negative comment, I may have seemed arrogant or contemptuous, which is no way the case. But please understand that professional scientists receive, several times a week, whole files of amateur scientists (fine activity in itself) that claim, by two handfuls of Newtonian equations, to question one century of fundamental physics (relativity, quantum mechanics). And they think that the scientific "establishment" is thick-headed by not answering or by not being interested in what they do. It's very easy: let them send their theories to international scientific journals with referees, where their articles will be read, discussed, criticized or accepted ! I don't deny the existence of biases in the judgement of "peers"; I found lamentable the attitude of the medical establishment towards the "water memory" by J. Benveniste. But in "hard" sciences, the criteria of judgement are more objective."

Another example of a comment about crackpots
Does science really need maths?

For each idea or theory that first happened to be rejected as crackpot but finally turned out to be true, there are hundreds or even thousands of other crackpot ideas that it is right to reject as crackpot because this is what they really are, in a more or less obvious way from a scientist's viewpoint, which lay people may not be able to understand. But you may not be familiar with this overwhelming presence of crackpot ideas that were rejected by scientists for very good reasons, because... precisely this made them unworthy of being recorded in history.
Indeed many people (an overwhelming majority of "people who care about the truth") are irrational : they cannot stop judging subjects that are important to them while they don't have the means to properly understand them. Thus, they will dedicate their life to promoting their "truth" about these subjects, and therefore bothering (persecuting) with their errors, whatever other voice that they would see talking about the same subject.

In a way, the act of writing such stupid views and trying to let them known, can be seen as spam. Because it is just wasteful, misleading and/or bothering people (even if claiming to be otherwise, even sincerely). And even if such a qualification as "spam" could be seen abusive if considered as a work of only one person developing and sending wrong ideas to a few other people, it becomes very real once many people are doing the same. Indeed, if any recipient accepted to bother being polite and caring for one person's foolishness putting forward a foolish idea, where should the limit be put when the same or similar foolishness is practiced by thousands ?
Under such a persecution, reason and truth would have no chance to survive.
One life would never suffice to reply to them one by one. This behaves like spam, therefore it has to be treated, that is, ignored, as such.

It is right for them, when they see BS, to censor and ignore it rather than try to debunk it, because they consider the debunking work to be a pure waste of time, for 4 excellent reasons:

  1. For any sane other rational person (scientist) who already learned a large body of modern science, the fact this "alternative" idea is BS, is self-evident and does not need any explanation
  2. Nevertheless, these reasons why it is BS, may be overall much too complex and too hard to explain in any reasonable amount of time to others did not learn that huge thing. These crackpot authors are just scientifically illiterate, so that it is up to them to go to study and understand science if they can, or find another job otherwise, but scientists cannot help.
  3. For this or other troubles of lack of intelligence, to crackpot authors unable to see the absurdity of their ideas by themselves (which may as well include over 99% of humans on this planet), no work of debunking, however clear and true, will ever suffice. They won't be able to discern the validity of any genuine argument that may be presented to them. Attempts at debate would lead them to mistake the scientist who would dare sacrificing his time trying to explain his reasons and debunking BS, for a stupid irrational and dogmatic person, which would be a very unfortunate illusion that the scientist prefers to avoid by the method of silence. No genius can decently accept playing a game whose rule is a matter of trying to get one's intelligence recognized by a damn idiot with strong nonsensical convictions.
  4. Once a crackpot author would be debunked, he will automatically be replaced by another crackpot author with a "completely different" idea that will feel unconcerned with the previous debunking, so that the debunking work was vain and the problem comes back to the same point it started with.

Scientists cannot afford to pay significant attention to fringe ideas, to try to debunk them, or to give them a right of speech in their working space: their working space would be full of hundreds of nonsense for one truth, so that the voice of truth would have no chance to be heard anymore, and their quest for truth would be doomed to remain sterile. There could never have been a progress of scientific knowledge in such conditions.
Instead, censoring them out of their working space (ignoring them, stopping to read them after a few lines that smell like bullshit), is a matter of survival for the chances of their work to ever be "free" and productive for the development of more effective truth research and applications.
Cleansing their working space from any BS, is a normal "intellectual hygiene" practice that they need to follow, and which they expect fellow "worthy debaters" to respect as well.

What made it possible for reason and science to work and make a real progress to a scientific understanding of the world, was the presence, in a way or another, of a huge antispam system protecting the minds of scientists from the harassment of unreason.

One of the main usual anti-spam solutions has been to flee the common subjects of interest of irrational people, and take refuge far away, in more or less hyper-specialized subjects that don't attract such interest, where the wrong people won't come to bother.
Other solutions are the peer review process, and the administrative and professional selectivity, where scientists will only talk with colleagues that have been previously selected by some institutions for their scientific abilities. But these are not always reliable, as we shall see later.

Typical Examples of cranky claims

A very common ridiculous kind of mistake, is to try to re-explain one observation that may usually be mentioned as the basis of one scientific conclusion (frequent example: the Michelson-Morley experiment), by trying to argue the possibility to interpret or explain this observation otherwise. The big error here is of missing this fact: generally, established scientific conclusions are not based on one observation but on thousands of independant observations of diverse kinds which all converge to confirm the exact same picture. There may be or not be problem to dismiss a single reasoning that draws a conclusion from one observation (depending on candidate ideas of how it could fail, and on diverse things that may make such idea serious or not). The much bigger problem would be to explain the conspiracy involved for the convergence of thousands of diverse independent observations to the exact same very coherent picture, if it was not reality. Indeed no try to re-explain this or that observation as a possible mistake of interpretation, will never suffice, as it leaves intact the extremely incredible conspiracy of facts that would be required to explain the multitude of confirmations of the current picture if it was incorrect, in addition to the then strange absence of any observation that may be any kind of challenge to that picture.

Other examples

1) "I discovered a new idea !"

Let's describe the situation by another metaphor.

Imagine a child on a beach, or some handicapped person that cannot go far, but remained all his life on the same segment of a beach. One day he discovers a shell there (metaphor for some idea). He is amazed: he never saw such a thing. Then he decides to dedicate the rest of his life claiming to anyone, up to trying to call the U.S. president about it : "See what I found ! Isn't this wonderful ? Maybe it is worth millions ! Maybe the secrets of the oceans can be found there !" and so on. This is understandable, isn't it ? One has only one life (as it may seem), and hopes that it makes sense. If the tip of one's life seems to be the discovery of this shell, then it would be so awful if it had no value.
But while , before examination, it might not be absolutely impossible, for this new shell to be special and a potential source of a breakthrough, the problem is that geologists already examined millions of shells a priori comparable to that one worldwide, among the billions of shells one can find; that some of them proved to be very interesting but there is no hint why precisely this one just would have something special; moreover, an expert's eye may have already found this out very quickly, much more quickly than this child who spent a lot of time focusing on it, so that the accusation of not having properly checked it before dismissing it, may just be untrue. Otherwise, the specific circumstances that led this child to find this shell and try to tell everybody about it, are not a relevant hint for its worthiness. Each specialist or research team, according to their research projects, have their own ways to orient and select the places to explore; these methods may have qualities and defects, but are probably better than a search at random or depending on the presence of such a person there to find it and have nothing else to make a sense of their life with. Namely, they have their submarines and travels to faraway places, that amateurs could not access, and that could lead to the most successful findings.

Moreover, about his new idea, the author will claim: "I proved that this idea is possible". But what he only proved in fact, is that he does not have the necessary knowledge to understand why it is not.
Still, from this "proof of possibility" he is strongly certain his idea is worthy of consideration and has a chance to be true. The problem is that, the certainty of the "maybe" is a certainty that may be relatively absolute, but this cannot prevent it from possibly being absolutely relative.
But it is not possible to provide him in reply the necessary knowledge to show him why his idea cannot hold. This can require a whole study of a lot of things. Several years of study are usually required to become a scientist. While this use of time in academia is not always as efficient as it could (we shall discuss this later), anyway a few minutes or even hours of explanations has hardly any chance to suffice to replace it, when hard subjects are involved that are usually reserved for higher study levels.
So, if he wants to understand why his idea is not possible, it's up to him to start studying the subject. This may take him months or even years, but that's his problem and duty if he wants to be serious about finding out what his idea is really worth. It is not the duty of scientists to pretend that the idea is right by ignoring what they know, if no other attitude can ever seem fair from that person's viewpoint in such conditions.

2) A crank can dismiss requests calling him to go to learn already established knowledge, because:

- he thinks he already studied the subject... but based on the wrong literature. Usually, this is a literature of popularization, rather than of science itself, and the person missed the fact that this is very different, and that popularization works are very insufficient, far from the real understanding of the established scientific knowledge.
That may be written by
- He may assume that he already knows what he needs from current science, that is "the ideas", while the deeper study of the mathematical contents would be irrelevant complications and technical details far from "the ideas"; this attitude can be wrong and cut him off from true knowledge.

- He may think that it is not his job to see how his ideas should be mathematically formulated or connected with the main body of scientific knowledge, so that he expects someone else to take his ideas and operate the work of formalizing them and connecting them to current knowledge; the problem is that when a scientist knows that the current body of knowledge already shows that this idea is invalid or worthless, the author will never tolerate this reply.

- Otherwise, if he can't study the subject for a reason or another... maybe what he really needs is a brain transplant to give him the missing elements of understanding ? Then sorry, this cannot be obtained by mere arguing.

3) The claim that one's own ideas are clearer than others'. The problem is that, by nature, everyone always feels one's own ideas as clearer than others', because otherwise... one's opinion would have already changed.

4) Some make abusive accumulations of quotations or other grandiloquent references of thinkers of high reputation in a way or another. And just by quoting them and approving them, one assumes this ensures to be on the same side, protected by their authority or reputation: assuming one is right and everybody must agree, just by agreeing on something with a reputed person that nobody can criticize either. But there are 2 problems here:
First, not all "reputed thinkers" agree, thus not all are necessarily right. Some can have based their reputation on the public's credulity and stupidity, while their teaching was wrong. Referring to such people and quoting them, does not ensure to be on the right track.
Second, the claim of being on the side of a "thinker" that one refers to, can be abusive; this famous thinker (usually already dead) is not here able to confirm or dismiss the interpretation of his words, and to generally approve or disapprove the whole position held by the people who quote them.
But... for those who like quotations, who think that they are right because they make a lot of quotations, while my ideas here would be wrong because I seem isolated and in disagreement with big thinkers that I don't enough refer to, here are some quotations from two famous scientists:

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Albert Einstein

"It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this." ;
"Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so."
"Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth -- more than ruin -- more even than death.... Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man."
Bertrand Russel

Now, let me explain my own attitude: when I make quotations, even from famous people, I don't mean that it must be true just because they say so. It's just a matter of illustration, that I'm not the only one claiming something, someone else already had that idea or observed that thing. I don't mean to use it as an authority. I may quote a claim by someone but disagree with him on other issues. So I don't mean to avoid responsibility for a claim just by quoting someone that says it.

A famous list of typical cranky claims has been written by the physicist John Baez, the "crackpot index". Examples from this list:

2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.

5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).

10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity.

10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.

10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations".

10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is "only a theory", as if this were somehow a point against it.

10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn't explain "why" they occur, or fails to provide a "mechanism".

10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift".

20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it

This reminds me of spiritual teachings that spend their time repeating about the importance of their divine guidance, direct access to Reality or to the Ultimate Truth that would solve every problem, but not explaining what it is, is there any reliable way to it (or to obey it) and which one, and why would it change things in the announced way, with effective examples of fruits or truths that ever resulted or could be discovered from it (some claim to be witnesses of some sorts of miracles or other wonderful fruits; this will be discussed later)

50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.

Let's end with a last example :
The claim that a subject is not scientifically resolved yet but still a subject of controversy, while in fact it is not (or much less), because, either:

The risk for a science to be fake or of low quality

A crackpot practice that grows big (a field of so-called knowledge that develops irrationally) takes some appearances of science, thus the name of pseudoscience.

When a public debate happens between a scientific view, and an opposed pseudoscientific one such as creationism or climate-skepticism, a naive public unfamiliar with the subtleties of science and with the existing body of knowledge, watching the debate, may be efficiently mislead into giving more credit to the pseudo-scientific view: it can seem more rational (open-minded, critical-minded, rationally justified...) than the scientific view itself. This is because of the ignorance of the public, which makes it naturally closer to the pseudo-scientific view also based on ignorance.

Indeed, the pseudo-scientific view is precisely developed in such a way as to make the best illusion of scientificity from an ignorant viewpoint. Being based on ignorance, convincing the ignorant is the only purpose of the pseudo-scientific view, and therefore it can be the best at it; while the scientific view is not free to say what is most convincing to the public, because of its duty to only say the truth. This duty is a possible source of "weakness" in debates, that may bring discredit to it in public opinion.

Is there any chance for the public to become wiser in discerning science from pseudo-science ? Somehow yes, by informing them on some of the subtleties of sciences, in contrast with the current usual unawareness on this issue. Still, I strongly doubt the possibility for such an awareness to reach a satisfying degree of reliability. This is because, in order to really make a wise and reliable discernment, the public would need to become scientists themselves (thus, mastering the existing body of knowledge and getting intelligent critical thinking abilities), which they are not.

The difference between reason and irrationality is real and objective, but this is so only from an abstract viewpoint that would integrate all elements of understanding of all participants. The problem is that such a viewpoint is not the one usually accessed in practice by a third party that cannot read the minds of the participants but only has access to the words exchanged in the debate. Usually, debates are quite limited in time (a few minutes or hours), and thus in number of words. The words that can be exchanged there are usually limited and very poor compared to the full views that participants had developed years long before, and which they can base their claims on. So, a third party observing the debate without all this experience, will have very poor means to understand the depths of the issues, and can be as well driven to the wrong conclusion.

We can even say that, somehow the situation is rather symmetrical: the irrational person is somehow "rational" in himself. Because irrationality is not an essence, but a discrepancy of a view or a way of searching for the truth, with what the outside reality is, and with the methods that would be required to discover it. The irrational's view may be somehow more "rational" if it happened the same in a world that would comply to it, and if there were in human mind some possible foolishness processes that could produce these claims actually supported by the rational person, without them being true. The problem is: how plausible would such a world be ? In fact, many people do not care how mad such worldviews can be (as they don't examine that in details). Especially, some trends of fundamentalist Christianity have no problem to explain away any opposite view as a work of a sort of almighty Devil that can fool everybody (except oneself) to any tremendous extents.

Thus, much of the characters of the opposition between rationality and irrationality as we described them, if taken as criteria to try to distinguish who is rational and who is not, while they can work in some easy cases, may turn out to be insufficient in more tricky ones, if tried by people who don't have the necessary knowledge and intelligence.

For example, if the problem is that the irrational person does not understand the other view and does not make proper efforts for it, we can notice that the rational person would behave the same: he won't take much effort to know a lot of the other side, because he already has very good reasons why it would be pointless, just like it is pointless to go and read a book that aims to prove that 2+2=5, to find out whether that proof can be correct or not. So, it can be rational to ignore the details of the other view. Thus, for the other side... it can be very "rational in itself" to ignore the rational view as well. It is "rational in itself" but not rational in reality, because rationality is not an essence, but an extrinsic property of a view or an attitude: the property of fitting with the outside world.

You may ask : in such conditions, how can the rational person really know that he is rational ?
Well... this is a long story.
A lot of intelligence and careful work can be necessary to reach true reliability. This is precisely why science is not a work for amateurs nor for everybody.
Those who don't have the necessary skills and experience in this field, can be completely lost.
This is the case of many philosophers, who considered the question whether there is a criteria to distinguish what is scientific and what is not. Some relatively simple criteria may work in relatively simple cases. This is how Karl Popper noticed that scientific knowledge about our universe is often characterized by its falsifiability (the logical possibility for a given theory to be refuted by facts), while many irrational (pseudo-scientific) views did not have this character. So, he proposed to take this a criteria.
But then another philosopher, Paul Feyerabend, discovered that this does clearly not apply to all cases. He then concluded that, during the emergence of a scientific consensus (about what is scientifically valid or not) that he could not explain after any simple and obvious criteria, that this consensus would be nothing more than an unjustified social phenomenon, a sort of democratic choice of belief among scientists or something like this.
But he is missing the fact that this relativity (undefinability, subjectivity) of reason and science, may be all what philosophers traditionally have access to, but it is only a superficial one. For scientists, really involved in the depths of the debates and arguments, things may be clear and conclusions may be reliable.

Then, in practice, how is it possible to find out whether a work is rational or not ?
The now widespread solution is peer review: the author should send it to a journal, that will forward it more or less at random to a reviewer, that is someone with the necessary skills and knowledge in the concerned field of research, for being able to properly examine the article and criticize it in relevant ways.
This aims to ensure an assessment that will not be influenced by the diplomas or reputation of the author of the article. Then, the reputation and academic position of scientists will be based on their production of works that would have been objectively recognized and published in such ways.

So, this method aims to be objective through anonymity procedures. It does not depend on the reputation and position of the author. Still, to make sense, it cannot be completely anonymous and impersonal, as it has to select its reviewers among scientists known for their skills and competence in that field. It cannot rely on incompetent, lay people chosen at random from the street, for doing the review, even if these would have convictions to express on the subject.

But for all this to work, it requires to assume that this selection of competent scientists for doing the review, was the right one. This selection was based on their reputation, which came from the previous acceptation of their own articles in peer review journals. So: if peer reviewers in a given scientific field were competent and properly rational during one generation, then there are high chances for this fortunate situation to be preserved to the next generation in that field.

But, what if they were not ? Then, there are high risks for this unfortunate situation to last long too.
Thus, the success of the peer review system for ensuring a high rationality level in some successful scientific field, does not mean that doing the same in other fields could ever suffice to ensure rationality levels to be similarly high there too.

And this risk is real. I will further mention specific examples of fields of study where full rationality is currently not in force, but irrational ideologies dominate instead, making it quite hard and desperate for true rationality standards to ever come up as long as institutional continuity is preserved.
The peer-review system is but an example of a more general natural process that preserves the level of rationality or crankiness in a field, and that roughly consists in the fact that similar-minded people naturally forms groups, while dissimilar or disagreeing people naturally reject each other.

Still, such a difference between rational and irrational states of diverse fields, should not be taken in any essentialist sense either. There are possible intermediate situations, with doctrines that are somehow true but not with the depth, completeness or accuracy that could be reached with higher scientific professionalism. Also, situations can be mixed, letting some more rational views be developed aside less rational ones as a diversity of schools in the same fields.

As the Wikipedia article defines it, the name "pseudoscience" is usually restricted to irrational movements that wrongly claim to be scientific. However, I consider this criteria of whether a doctrine claims to follow the scientific method or to reject it, to be irrelevant. Instead, I'd include any movement that focuses on claims of "truth" and "knowledge", thus including most religions. Indeed, even inside a given religion, some movements claim their religion to be rationally justified and in agreement with science, while others claim to reject reason in the name of the same religion, and not much practical difference can be found between these two opposite trends. Anyway, both are ignoring the fact that much of the claims of their religion is in the reach of scientific inquiry (logical and/or observational), and refutable by it, as we shall develop later.

Now, while the rationality level of an individual view inside a given field of knowledge where scientific rationality is in force, can easily be assessed by peer review, it leaves unclear the question how to assess the rationality level of a whole field that includes the readily available "peers". This problem can turn out to be very tough.

Still, once big, there are some other possible hints to assess the rationality level of a discipline, even if they are not always reliable, such as:
- How fruitful it is ? could it discover any important and useful solutions for mankind, such as new technologies ?
- Does it progress towards more accurate knowledge and clearer evidence to support it ?
- Does it progress towards consensus on every specific issue that it is studying (a consensus may be towards either a conclusion or an acknowledgement that the issue is not resolved yet), or on the contrary, does it face long-lasting internal divisions between similar communities of belief that disagree on common questions, whose divisions can only be limited by some form of dictatorship ?

For example, in physics, there is only one theory of gravitation accepted as our established understanding of gravitation, that is general relativity; the classical Newton's theory of gravitation is still used as an approximation in many practical cases, without this being a disagreement. But every big religion has faced divisions into disagreeing movements: Judaism gave birth to Christianity and Islam; Christianity faced a proliferation of heresies at its birth, and divided into many denominations; Islam divides into Sunni, Shia, Sufism and others, as well as a diversity of national and individual interpretations and practices. Further divisions of religions was limited, at least by the common acceptance of a Holy Book that cannot be modified and that must be taken as the ultimate truth reference for being a member of the group; and sometimes also by some hierarchical structure with a leader defining what everyone must think. How can a view be the absolute and reliable Truth, if it is either arbitrarily fixed (just as another option could have been chosen instead), or similar with other variations that also claim to be the Truth by similar methods ? How can it claim to be of importance if it does not bring any observable and undeniable benefits to mankind ?

In science, there is no leader; after a theory was discovered, it is usually rewritten, reexplained and developed by different authors, to no more depend on the specific approach and presentation made by the discoverer, while naturally (rather than dogmatically) keeping agreement among versions and with the previous discoveries (except of course if the information initially suffered of being inaccurate, but corrections are then accepted and do not give rise to long-standing disagreements). For example, astronomers and geologist naturally came to agree on the age of the Earth from different methods.

There has never been several coexisting ideologies which were altogether undeniable ways to truth or progress, and in clear conflict against each other.

(This is expectable, as the Universe is a consistent whole with many aspects but no contradictions; so the genuine understandings of its parts should not contradict each other either).

Looking for exceptions, I can just remember about Gandhi's non-violence method for the independence of India - but this is a very simple principle, not disagreeing with science by itself, not an elaborate or mystical research, it only opposed colonialism and not science; and its links to other aspects of the religious culture of India, are not, in principle, necessary.

The incompatibility and superiority of science over religion

Nowadays the only clear and undeniable way to truth and/or creative useful practice for mankind, is science (another important creative practice is the arts (music & cinema) but it only acts on the imagination rather than the real world order, and often carries stupid ideas with no effective claim on truth); possible benefits of any religion are balanced by drawbacks observed by others. Drawbacks of science can be observed but few people would be ready to live without any modern technology (ok, some do, let them do so).

Some philosophies or religions in ancient history could have been the way to truth and progress for their time while "differing" from our modern science, just because they were better than the rest of what dominated their time, and they did not have the opportunity of interaction with modern science.

Some forms of traditional medicine may be good while possibly "disagreeing" with modern conventional medicine, but modern conventional medicine is not up to the same scientific standards as most other natural sciences (see below). And there is not even a clear disagreeing either, as most claims of disagreement are made by "skeptic" groups who do not really represent science.

But there has never been inside science any long-standing opposed sides with each their progresses and sets of clear visible fruits.

On the other hand, you can see disagreements between science and religion. The question of whether science and religions do agree, is neither a matter of
but a matter of:
Among the different articles claiming for the harmony between science and religion, I rarely saw any attempt to argue for such hints of compatibility. The only such link (arguable) I heard of, was between Eastern religions (I forgot the details), and quantum physics, as Bohr, Schrödinger and other quantum physicists could suggest. See here a historical report on the links between modern science and Eastern religions, written from a Buddhist viewpoint. But Eastern religions can be criticized too, as will be developed in Part IV.

Let's just notice something: among the people who actively promote the thesis of an harmony between Science and Christianity, there are many more non-scientist Christians, than scientists for whom Christianity is not the big thing (and the same for every other religion). Guess why.

(When I say "scientist" here, I mean someone who actively practices science, not just someone who believes in the existences of Big Bang, black holes, galaxies, atoms and electromagnetic waves, and the revolution of the Earth around the Sun in one year, and who uses computers and mobile phones; when I say "Christian" I mean someone in whose life faith plays a significant role, such as they spend time reading the Bible, praying and/or attending churches, not just someone who believes in the existences of God, afterlife and an historical Jesus, and who visits churches for tourism, concerts, baptism, Christmas, weddings and funerals).

Why is it that, despite the dire lack of popularity of science (people more often value for example Christianity than science in a moral scale; more people value religion as "higher" than science, and manier people are Christians than scientists in the above sense),
while, despite the widespread popularity and practice of religions,


It's of course because science turned out to be the only decent and self-sufficient source of credibility under hand. And, in itself, it does not support any of our big institutionalized religions.

But, these remarks were only drawn from superficial observations on public opinion. How truly reliable is science, finally ? here is an article showing a form of credibility of scientific procedures in the sense that criticism is at work, away from any conservatism. But another thread referenced another article indicating that, precisely, some scientific fields like psychology and medecine suffer from an overabundance of insufficiently verified breakthroughs, and therefore should be taken with caution.

Usually, religions while agreeing that science has its own field of validity, claimed their superiority over science. But these claims are always based on their own creeds, and only valid from their own viewpoint. You may ask, how is it possible to develop a purely rational viewpoint on these questions then ? We shall come back to this in Part IV.

External link :Fundamental misconceptions of science among Christians and other religious people

Related pages : Nottale's Scale Relativity "theory" - Scientific illiteracy - Design argument - FQXI - quantum debate

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