The cult of skepticism

Part 2

The debate around Didier Raoult

Even in medicine, where that one method is famous, it is still far from the only available one. And now that I am editing this text, a spectacular illustration of this widespread institutionalized yet ridiculous misunderstanding of the nature of science and its methods is making the headlines of international news by its tragic consequences since a few weeks (March 2020) : Didier Raoult, with much experience on virology (though according to some information his research activities also include very bad practices that inflated his expertscape ranking in unfair ways), offers a treatment of Covid-19 which seemed to work (with many patients considering that it worked). To draw these conclusions (article copied here), he involved tons of diverse methods, with an extensive background of knowledge and past experience. Yet his many methods... still did not include double-blind randomized testing. And for this only reason, a large part of the official medical authorities, on the basis of their ignorance in virology as well as their ignorance of any other method of medical investigation than double-blind randomized testing, dismissed his work as "unscientific" and "unproven". Just like in the above metaphor of people who could not make the difference, just by looking at the use of fingers, between people unable to count by their fingers and those with the skill to correctly do math without using them. As he explains in an interview: But here is a remark I later inserted at this point of the page, letting the details of this focus of dispute (the importance given to "the scientific method") to come below. The remark I must insert is : how strange are so many people (including myself before I considered to insert this remark) to focus the dispute on this aspect of the controversy, as if it was the main point. Because let us remember what the main claim of D Raoult really was: So the first thing he insists on is the importance of testing, to find out who is infected, in order to give people the chance to better manage, as successfully done in South Korea, to specifically isolate the infected people from their yet non-infected relatives, while comparatively reducing the constraints on the people's moves that the testing results indicate to be safe ; instead of following the current rule of blindly confining everybody together with the risk that this lets the infection still somehow propagate in the framework of families or other co-living groups. Meanwhile, for still a long time after this, the French government keeps a ban on both tests and masks. Yes it denied laboratories any authorization to practice wide scale testing. During all this time, skeptics are completely missing this obvious and urgent point : the need to authorize the sale of masks and wide scale testing to help reducing the propagation (and the constraints on safe moves). Instead of this they remain obsessed about the perhaps less urgent dispute on the part of the claim which looks unclear (the efficiency of the treatment he offers), desperately trying to compare the small risk of side effects of the treatment with the dubious chances for his treatment to save the little fraction of infected people who might die of the virus.
Actually it would not be exact to say that skeptics are not mentioning the obvious things at all. But their amount of care for trivial emergencies can neither be described as null nor as positive, therefore I can only describe this amount as strictly negative. It goes by the following words I quote (translated) from my skeptic debater: (The same attitude was present in that video he gave me as reference, which also commits the mistake of confusing chloroquine with hydroxychloroquine) That makes me wonder if we are living on the same planet, since all the news I could get report the full occurrence of the absurdities he is denying. Also as the skeptical movement is an objective ally of the French government and media in their defamation campaign against Raoult and his treatment, let us bet that skeptics will never denounce the manipulation techniques also deployed against him.

Let us leave the small talk on the big issue, to come back to the big talk on the small issue. Didier Raoult explained his rejection of the method of double-blind randomized testing as follows:

"To those who say that we need thirty multi-center studies and a thousand patients included, I answer that if we were to apply the rules of current methodologists, we would have to redo a study on the interest of the parachute. Take 100 people, half with parachutes and the other half without, and count the dead at the end to see what is more effective"
While many people would dismiss this comparison as a ridiculous exaggeration (a slippery slope fallacy), it can well be no exaggeration for him. Just like the way the usefulness of parachutes looks obvious to the common man and any doubts would look ridiculous with no need of double-blind randomized testing, so thanks to his extensive scientific background and medical observations, the efficiency of the treatment he designed can well look just as obvious to him for tons of diverse reasons, and any doubt look ridiculous, with no need of double-blind randomized testing.
Aside these purely epistemological issues, another aspect of the question that this comparison illustrates, is the issue of human rights, as well as comparisons of costs and benefits, of undertaking or not some randomized testing experiments and waiting for the results before acting upon the conclusion. There is the cost of wastefully blocking the world economy for many more weeks than could have happened, as the treatment could have contributed to reduce the propagation of the virus earlier.
How legitimate is that for "experts" authorities to deny people the right to take their own risks by trying this "unproven" medicine, to be possibly victims of their own stupidity rather than be possible victims of the stupidity of others, even if these others are supposed to be "experts" ? I mean of course it is legitimate to forbid people from taking actions that can endanger the life of others, namely actions by which they might cause virus infections in others. But the action of trying this supposedly "unproven" treatment is not in this category (nobody claimed that it might increase the propagation of the virus, on the contrary it has good chances to reduce it).
Now, in the name of their "uncertainty" (based on their personal ignorance of the actual state of science in this field), so-called "experts" in position of administrative power maintain the rule of prohibiting by law the use of this medicine. Yes, in the name of their personal ignorance in virology these authorities dared using the force of law to effectively condemn to death thousands of innocents, denying them any right to take the responsibility of their own life by trying this "unproven" treatment at their own risks if found appropriate by their doctors who care for diagnosis and counter-indications. They deny doctors the right to order this medicine for compassionate use and/or any independent testing initiative to see how it goes, away from the short list of testing protocols decided by our totalitarian governing elites. Later, the rule was changed however the authorization was reserved to patients in critical condition in hospital, that is when it may be too late (some hospitals are only accepting people already in critical conditions because they are full of them and have no remaining place for non-critically ill people).

Let it be clear : I am not claiming that D Raoult's working methods and treatment proposal are necessarily the best. Some other treatment may be as good or even better, such as this one offered by another doctor (Azithromycin + Singulair + Zinc + Heparin - English version). The point is that at least he has some knowledge and common sense, which may suffice for current needs, as opposed to the attitude of a class of powerful skeptics who behave as the champions of absurdism by pushing in the name of "Science" some of the worst possible decisions, that is a global ban on treatments outside clinical trials and critical cases (and also for a while failed to call for multiplying testings). They make a cult of a method that is supposedly the only possible method to prove... answers to a mere shorthand of rather poorly informative questions, and only after too long delays.
The absurdity of the current situation is well illustrated by the famous Trolley problem. When I first saw about this "problem" long ago I did not expect it to be very relevant to the actual world's problems. At least it should not have been relevant... if only we were living in a world were mental sanity was widespread and properly followed, where the ridiculous insanity of taking the clearly wrong decisions pictured there was not affecting our ruling elites. Unfortunately... the cult of the violent social paralysis and that of skepticism unfortunately happen to be serious plagues in the current world.
So we have the choice:

Bureaucrats want to dictate inaction in lack of (their own) absolute certainty. But this inaction is clearly the most dangerous choice. And not only they decide inaction by fear of their responsibility, they order to block the free will of people to try a wiser decision. Like if in the trolley problem the driver of the trolley already decided to switch the direction towards the least dangerous path but the general director of the trolley company took active measure to block the switch, thus forcing the trolley to keep its most disastrous direction. And this just by the fear to face his responsibilities.
But what is the fear, really ? In one news article, the following explanation is given by the head of the infectious diseases department of the Tours hospital: This looks like he is fearing the perspective of uncertainty as something much more frightening than death... from this to assume that everybody should feel the same... by the way, what solution does he have against this panic of uncertainty ? He explains it just then: Sure, large crowds of infected patients should enthusiastically come and sign the participation to his clinical trials where it will remain unknown to them whether they are taking a treatment or a placebo, thus letting this lottery decide their chances of survival, this would surely make them feel much more calm and confident.
My skeptic debater defended this as follows Yes, such are the terms of his question. The problem here is not only that he loves to believe that we will have 500,000 patients and we should care to reach this point by waiting for the result of the clinical trial in order to let the epidemic spread to that point meanwhile instead of giving treatments that would help to slow it down; nor his ignorance of the reasons for D Raoult's choice, some of these being very obvious, namely that hydroxychloroquine is in practice the only available solution (known to be cheap, available, efficient and safe with known counter-indications while competitors considered in official trials are extremely expensive and not tested). But also that he seems to see no way on Earth to approach the issue from any other viewpoint than that of an absolute dictator : THE question he challenges me to reply is the question how, if I was given the chance to serve as the absolute dictator over the world (and a very stupid one, with no clue on medicine or any other kind of available discernment criteria and existing arguments on the issue, yet without either the option of referring to any expert in this field) having to write and sign a 1 paragraph decree to dictate to the rest of the world the exact way everybody must follow on this issue without further question, I could write a wiser one than what the one he considers. He did not seem to expect any possibility to produce some useful scientific data under a different kind of political regime: Another news article explains the skeptics view further :
«The National Council of the College of Physicians (Conseil national de l’Ordre des médecins) reminds doctors and researchers that science requires those who are involved to respect the principle of the scientific method for claiming the interest and medical consequences of the work they undertake.
Doctors must today act as the responsible professionals they are, and await confirmation or refutation of the usefulness of the prescription of this treatment. There would indeed be nothing worse for our fellow citizens than the feeling of a disappointed hope, or to see a treatment whose first proofs effectiveness would be confirmed, made unavailable for prescription or dispensing by some non-mastered use »
Read this well : according to them there would be "nothing worse" than this for our fellow citizens (that in fact can only apply to the "feeling of a disappointed hope" since the availability issue is quick to solve by the acceleration of the production, which the French producer Sanofi was ready for), are these people serious ? How dare they so decide that the risk of a "feeling of disappointed hope" should be feared as the worst danger for our fellow citizens... while totally denying these fellow citizen any right to figure out and decide by themselves whether that risk is really the one they fear the most or not ?
Yes, the so-called "scientific" method of double-blind randomized testing, which is the idol of our so-called scientific experts now ruling the world, remains clearly ineffective in either helping them being not so dumb, nor in protecting the world from the dictatorship of that dumbness. Or can it ? Let us try to figure out how it might. Here it goes: Yet even this could not work if the elites of skeptics to which you would give the power to rule a given planet, for the same "reasons" as the ones in the name of which they are here trying to apply their totalitarianism to the whole planet or at least the largest possible scale (such as European authorities), also requested to extend their ruling authority to the full range of all planets involved in the trial...
Seriously : there is no method to cure our official "scientific experts" from this spectacular dumbness of theirs now leading the world to such tragic consequences. Especially, randomized testing is not an effective method to cure them from such a dumbness. A much more effective and reasonable solution would be, without any further discussion with them, to just simply eject them from this power, deny them their current power of forbidding people from trying to follow their own guess about where the true scientific expertise may come from. And please don't have the foolishness of condemning such ideas as a form of extremism, because this really is nothing more than self-defense against the tyrants, the necessity to stop tolerating intolerance, as the only practical way to free the world from their extremism. Indeed as another skeptic contact of mine was trying to spam me with articles calling "fake news" and dismissing as "unscientific" and so on the reports of efficiency of hydroxychloroquine, I had to block him in Facebook and he still wanted to keep spamming me on gmail, and as I told him that I would not read him anyway because I already knew all about this debate, he wrote me his conclusion as follows References refuting the superiority of randomized controlled trials over observational studies (taken from two videos at IHU - more comments in another): Maybe, if someone is too stupid to get some reliable results without randomization then he will not be likely to do much better with it either.

A possible libertarian solution to some controversies

So we have a general kind of problem when many people have nothing new to say but just try to push forward their opinion to become a force of law about what they think is "proven" or "not proven" (such as : is there already enough evidence or not about the efficiency of hydroxychloroquine) according to their conception of what a proof is, that is, the problem of real or imaginary "scientific controversies". The current process is about giving the deciding power to a specific group of self-proclaimed "scientific experts", while their competence can remain debatable and they may be either deliberate or naive puppets of lobbies. Such political disputes can end up being vain noise which cannot be resolved by just any kind of further debate on which evidence is valid, any pushing forward the name of "Science", when all of the currently available data is already on the table.

I will describe a proposal based on free market mechanisms, for the world to get a little bit of peace from such noise, to make obsolete these disputes by obliging by the force of logic all the mad loud speakers who "in the name of Science" are "sure of their uncertainty" but in fact only based on their ignorance, to shut up. Of course they will keep the right to share their arguments to their favorite audience or anyone interested, but lose any power over any opponents who would consider themselves fed up with this.

Yet, I must add some disclaimers before describing this solution : since I generally deny any uniqueness of the "right method" (as explained above), I do not claim this one to be the absolute best method for everything either. By this I only aim to point out a possibly useful method, which is not always applicable, and when it is, it still needs to be used with caution (care to well design the needed details) and in complement with other methods to reduce the risk of abuse (as I know that it can be abused if applied in isolation without caution, especially by the risks of frauds and lack of transparency of information, for which other pieces of solutions are needed).

It has especially one condition of possibility: that full unquestionable evidence is going to be established in the future either way.
Here is the idea in short: to open official worldwide betting networks or organizations to let everybody who has convictions invest their money over these. Then any decisions, either political or individual, on controversial issues would be based on the ratios of chances which emerge from these markets, which (in case of political decisions) would be officially recognized as the best humanity's odds of the day. As for individual decisions (and hopefully many decisions can remain individual), everyone will still be free to refer to it or not; yet rigorously speaking, any conviction that these odds are wrong, is also a conviction that it would be advantageous to participate putting one's own bet either way.
Eventually, any decider in charge of taking some action whose validity depends on the answer to a given question, would have to take participation in the bets on this question, not because they have any conviction, but as a requirement of ultimate neutrality : as a required counterpart for the balance of the responsibility they take (precisely, this can be phrased as "taking an insurance against the risk of taking a wrong decision", by which the cost of that wrong decision, if it turns out to be so, can be paid for). So anyone feeling "sure" of some conclusion would logically have to invest their money betting on it, while anyone seeing "irrational" a popular feeling of certainty on a given question would just have to bet against it as the right way to be serious about one's own uncertainty (instead of stupidly wasting energy shouting it loud...), a bet against it which would be advantageous in average just if one was actually right to doubt, in the effective sense that those feeling sure were really wrong to feel so. In the long term, this would make the wisest speculators richer, thus getting more financial weight in their next bets, therefore giving the world more chances to be guided by wise guesses.
I will not enter here the necessary details and explanations for this solution; I once wrote a little bit more about a similar solution for a related kind of problem in another text.

Now just a few words about complementary solutions, to help for the issue of the transparency of information which the bets need to rely on.

One big idea is to resolve the long-standing problem of the selection bias, as, usually, any investigation is an investigation about a limited sample of cases, and any search for scientific information is usually limited to finding a limited number of investigation reports, so that the conclusion keeps depending on which study you check, itself depending on which cases it includes.
As a solution to this, I dream of a world with such an information network that essentially all the brute information relevant to any topic would be shared, systematically classified and available for anyone to process: a universal network into which each subject provides the data of his own case. There would no more be such a high responsibility on the shoulders of local investigators to examine and collect any local list of cases before deciding to report about them or not, as all data would be systematically shared in such a way that any omission or inaccuracy in the reports would be filled or commented/corrected by the subjects, making everything available for the world to see (for cases of studies of medical treatments : even anyone getting sick and staying at home without calling any doctor would report about his case too, so as to bypass the selection bias of who is admitted in hospitals or calls a doctor). There would also be work for investigators, but of a quite different kind : to propose one's own method of processing and interpreting this big data which is there. So, from the huge brute data, some investigators can propose some interpretations and conclusions, but being not the owners of this data, many other investigators can easily check the calculations and propose as well other ways to process and interpret the same data as possibly supporting different conclusions.

I once described in another text some related ideas for the general problem of collectively sharing and processing arguments to debate any kind of thesis.

To conclude, instead of giving more needed details for practical implementation (which are not the topic of this exposition), I will comment on the differences of paradigm between the kinds of methodologies that skeptics put forward, and those which I advocate as sketched above.

One difference of paradigm, let me say humorously, is a metaphysical one: it is about what kind of reality structure skeptics really believe in. So to say, the kind of reality that skeptics are effectively focused on may be, after all, somewhat offset from the materialistic one they otherwise officially believe in.

In a material kind of reality structure, there is no escape from events when decisions must be taken anyway, regardless of whether there is or not at some given time and place any available skeptic-validated evidence that some option is the best of available options. But skeptics are behaving like they want the government to sign a decree to rule out of existence the regions of space-time where no skeptic-validated evidence is available to justify the decisions which need to be taken.
Actually in this case, decision must be taken anyway, no matter if it might be a wrong one. For this, apart from the measures of benefits and drawbacks of each decision according to each hypothesis, two more things are needed.
The main need is the ratio of probabilities for each hypothesis to be true. This is actually the only thing of interest for anyone in need to take a decision whose validity depends on the object of debate. All the rest : who knows best about the topic, is there any argument supporting one hypothesis over another or are there several arguments which seem to contradict each other, what kinds of arguments are these, how rational are they, are the probabilities coming more a priori or more a posteriori.... all that is completely immaterial for the deciders in need to act as a result of the conclusion. Only the resulting ratio of probabilities matters, and that is precisely something which the method of opening an official betting system is likely to provide anyway. All details of existing and non-existing arguments are interesting information indeed, but only for the use of speculators to figure out what to bet, in a world ordered by a rational structure of responsibilities.
The other concrete need is to have available means to take an insurance against the risk of taking a wrong decision. This is precisely the other thing which such a betting system provides.

Another difference is that I am interested not about developing and discussing methods to be applied by individuals trying to check the truth of questions (an interest which I would regard as just inappropriate and offset with respect to the real needs of any genuine research, since genuine research of any given question is much too serious a matter, too specific to each question, for any abstract and general discussion about specific and explicit methods to be of any relevance), but to discuss methods to be applied by populations to reach collective conclusions by synthesizing the contributions of individuals, while at the same time fully recognizing the individuals, with their diversity of methods which I am not interested to specify, as the real and necessary source of discernment on the issues at stakes.
A related difference of paradigm, is about what it means for a view to be objective. For skeptics, rationality is a possible attribute of the thought of individuals. In a sense that is right, however there are limits to this. We do need individuals to try to figure out where the truth is (as in many cases no automated system or any other way may do better than research and understanding done by individuals), however there are no such things as fixed "right methods", either methods for an individual to precisely think in order to be rational, or a method to find out who the individuals are who actually succeed at being rational. Ultimately, this can be an extrinsic quality (of fitting with external facts which are out of control) rather than an intrinsic one. Namely, a method A can have all the intrinsic features of rationality to support a conclusion X, but a method B can somehow be "more rational" in the sense of encompassing the understanding of A to support the opposite conclusion Y, and then a third method C can still be more encompassing than B to dismiss its conclusion for finally supporting X. Finally it is just a matter of fact, thus somehow a matter of chance, who is right. So, for individual thinkers to be judged in a truly objective way, this should not be by any human judges (not even by expert judges, nor by majority votes, nor by expert votes, nor through any kind of blindness procedure like the widespread exams systems, due to the risk for all such judging, still done by humans with some thinking format, to be inextricably biased anyway ; I am also not trying to specify that the widespread exam systems are wrong, I only seek for the development of a new foundation of individual freedom and a meaningful share of responsibility towards the question of the relevance of these methods, away from their current hegemony status), but judged by the facts (how facts happen to be from nature, not from the artifice of made-up exercises), in ways that are neutral with respect to the choices of methods used by individual thinkers to form their own guesses. Now, such an objectivity/neutrality requirement is usually never even dreamed of by skeptics, who always cling to the expectation of some kind of "visible" criteria of how someone should proceed to be rational or objective. Nevertheless here it is: such a skeptically un-dreamable level of objectivity of judgement is actually conceivable, and can even be concretely implemented for practical, efficient uses, as described above.

The last difference of paradigm, of course, is the political one : a solution to respect individual freedom and make every individual genuinely accountable for their own choices, escaping the needs of any kind of dictatorship of specific people in any position of ultimate judges, not even as defined by any kind of majority votes : everyone is free and responsible for himself for contributing or not to the collective decisions, while those who happen to guide others into the wrong directions are also those going to pay for the resulting loss. This removes the possibility for whatever ruling class, whether this may be a stupid majority, to in any way legitimize (escape accountability for) its possible mistakes, by presenting these as any kind of best rational guess relative to the given appearances, which may be subject to any kind of delusion, from any naive thinking that follows widely committed mistakes, towards any malicious strategy of disinformation propaganda.

Bayesian inference

Skeptics traditionally make a fuss about this formula which is among the main methods they recognize to gain knowledge.
Let us introduce it here by a presentation different from usual (by not the same list of variables) but meaning rigorously the same.
Consider two possible and mutually exclusive hypothesis A and B about the world, without claim of exhaustivity.
Let pA and pB their respective a priori probabilities of being true.
Consider a new observation producing a new data d. Let pd|A the probability that d had to occur under hypothesis A, and pd|B the one it had under hypothesis B.
Denoting p'A and p'B the a posteriori probabilities of A and B after this observation, their ratio is given by

p'A / p'B = ( pA / pB ) . (pd|A / pd|B)
Someone may feel intelligent by understanding this formula ; actually it is just a way of making explicit the obvious, a logical articulation of understanding and considering evidence, which people may properly follow (or not) by natural intuition while never having seen it explicitly written.
Once written, some people may quickly go and conclude that it makes it clear what it means to think rationally : it is just a matter of complying to this formula.

If only it was as simple as that.
But even if it was, admitting for a moment this mere criterion for rationality, how can one dare to qualify skeptics as rational people in those terms ??? The opposite should be obvious for the following reason.
Letting aside here all debates on a priori probabilities as mere matter of opinions and searching for experiments which can be called interesting experiments for science in the sense of being news over a competition between hypothesis A and B, i.e. that can be said to either support A against B by having (pd|A / pd|B) very large, or B against A by having it very small  - while the rest of experiments, where (pd|A / pd|B) is close to 1, can be called null experiments as they are not bringing news to the debate between A and B.

In so many of their argumentative texts against the reality of the perceptions out of the body in near death experiences, skeptics have put forward the observation that these perceptions were "reproduced" by drugs or special stimulation of the brain, or the like. They presented this as an evidence that out of body perceptions were hallucinations, by arguing that the "natural" NDE were the same perceptions as these stimulated ones themselves labelled as "hallucinations".

Now what kind of argument is that supposed to be ??? They try to qualify the stimulated out of body perception as a "model" for NDE. Would this mean... something like an explanation ? Looking at this in more detail : how either hypothesis "naturalism" or "supernaturalism" gives predictions of respective probabilities to the following possible categories of effects in either natural near death conditions of stimulated brain experiments:

  1. No memory
  2. Memory of some random hallucinating shit, or if it felt like real perception of the world, still it is found incompatible with facts ;
  3. A coherent and fascinating story of travel of the soul outside the body, whose this-world details are afterwards confirmed as coherent with real facts
Now naturalism suffers by its way of predicting 1. and 2. as much more likely than 3. while observation shows 3. happening much more often than 2. in near death circumstances, versus supernaturalism which correctly presents 3. as likely.
But then, how do skeptics claim to have resolved their difficulty for this case by pointing out that in the different experimental case of brain stimulation, outcome 3 also turns out to be frequent ? Trying to call the brain stimulation circumstance a "model" would look as if they suddenly better understood the logical articulations of their own views so as to revise the predicted probability of outcome 3. in near death circumstances to a higher value. Seriously where would be the rationality there ??? Observing that a specific controllable cause (an artificial stimulation of the brain) is likely to produce a certain effect, does not constitute an explanation for why the effect is 3. rather than 2. in this or any other case, any better than the observation that watering the earth turns out to help plants grow can make it reasonable to count the act of watering the earth as a "model" or an "explanation" for the general ability of plants to grow.

Now in case we are meant to ignore this interpretation of the argument, and focus on this brain stimulation experiment simply as a separate experiment supposed to lead to a Bayesian inference for naturalism in its own right. This also fails for the following reason.
In order for the observation of "out of body sensations" under drugs or specific brain stimulation, to be an argument against the "real out of body" interpretation of NDEs, this would require this result to have a probability close to zero under this hypothesis.

Strangely, when putting forward their experience, skeptics do not even seem to pay attention to the question of whether or not this observed outcome can be at odds with the real out of body hypothesis. Actually, under the "real out of body" interpretation of NDE, there is absolutely no surprise that such experiments on the brain can really drive the soul out of it and thus produce real out of body perceptions in this way. In other words, the predicted probability of 3. under supernaturalism for artificial brain stimulation is actually high (= not close to zero). Therefore it is at best a null experimental result for naturalism. At best, it is raising the question of the possibility of hallucinatory OBE — a question which did not need any experiment to be raised. For considering this experiment to bring anything at all to the debate, would require that it brings a positive case for the possibility of hallucinatory OBE; for this, to establish that (1) these feel indeed similar to OBE; (2) the perceptions from there conflict with facts. Strangely, the argument usually omits (2). Why ?

Conclusion: the only thing skeptics successfully demonstrate by such arguments, is their own inability or unwillingness to dare thinking about the view they are claiming to oppose, and/or their inability to comply to the Bayes formula when assessing the weight of an argument they put forward in guise of experimental evidence on their side.

Beyond the Bayes formula

Now unfortunately, reality is much more complex than the issue of complying or not to the Bayes formula.

First because when people discuss about an experiment and its results, even if they try to be talking about the same experiment, they may still not understand each other about what this experiment they are talking about really is. Each person taking part in any experiment is likely to have there sensorial perceptions which would take megabytes of data in real size, and from this they may try to extract some relevant information of much smaller size for communication purposes. Readers, who were not part of the experiment, may try to figure out what this experiment and its results could have been, but the information which could reach them is much poorer. Direct witnesses who report having perceived something, however they may try to express how clear their perception was, cannot fully explicitly account for it, so that readers are left to form their own guess about how clear it could have really been and how reliable the witnesses can be in their self-assessment of this clarity. Any work of reporting or assessing data is highly dependent on the particular nature of every phenomenon, way of collecting data, and the intuition of the involved people.

Second because it does not give the rule how to give the correct value to each of the parameters entering in this formula. This question of how to give them proper values for a given experiment can be an open problem, eventually an inextricable one depending on how the probabilities of consequences of each possible outcome from each possible hypothesis are "calculated", and how each outcome is itself defined and deciphered out of the bulk of the actual, much more complex perceptions.

Third, because any experiment is but one of a large number of ones which are possible or have already been performed, and it leaves open the question of how to orient oneself in the huge jungle of countless available reports of experiments of different kinds. Different people not being newborns (and even if they were), naturally have different backgrounds of how the world already appeared to them, either according to their different prejudices, intuitions, personal experiences or their different ways of orienting themselves in the jungle of available information, leading to different overall impressions of how the world looked like. Thus they can be carrying very different "a priori" probabilities for each hypothesis about the world every time two of them meet and discuss the outcome of a new experiment.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence !"

This is just the particular case of Bayesian inference when approximations of large numbers can apply. And it suffers the same flaws, because the above described deficiencies and unknowns in the use of Bayesian inference can be huge as well. Now this is the favorite slogan of skeptics to dismiss the existence of supernatural phenomena, presenting it as highly unlikely. However by itself this slogan proves nothing, since it is logically trivial, while, seemingly unnoticed by them, the actual sources of disputes are over the other premises involved in the kind of syllogism leading to their supposedly rational conclusion (by the way it reminds me that such a way of being completely messed up with a particular syllogism, being obsessed about the acceptance of a trivial premise while neglecting the questioning of others, is also a basis of Christian faith). These other required premises are
  1. That the claim of existence of a supernatural phenomenon, would be an extraordinary one;
  2. That there is no available extraordinary evidence for such.
Actually, both of these premises are highly questionable: there is large room for possible divergence over them, therefore leading to highly divergent conclusions between people who are just as good Bayesians as each other. We shall discuss premise 2 in details later. Let us now focus on premise 1.
Now in my view like in that of many other people, the existence of the supernatural is not anyhow a priori unlikely. On the contrary it comes as an obvious logical necessity, while the opposite view (naturalism) is the one a priori not just unlikely, but even completely, ridiculously absurd.
Now an interesting and perhaps surprising point which came up in the debate, is that skeptics, at least this one (I wonder how general this is) plainly acknowledge this.
Here is his explanation, in reply to my mentioning the strong natural intuition at the basis of supernaturalism, which the author of another web site pointed out, and that I suggested to consider lacking in skeptics, as an explanation of the divergence of views: Let us admit the main points which are put forward in this explanation.
Yet I think it raises more problems than it brings answers.

In particular I cannot follow him in calling "lack of intellectual charity" that expectation (until the question is asked and answered) of supernaturalists who imagine skeptics as lacking the said intuition. To his credit I must point out how this qualification made sense in the precise context of the discussion, namely to qualify the precise attitude of the author of that dualist website which appeared to " think that in one page, one can close a scientific and philosophical debate which is not summed up in 100 books. This is a very big problem." Indeed the size of the debate strongly suggests that writing 1 page like that most likely won't work to close this debate for others. Still this does not refute the possibility for such simple reasons to be a legitimate basis for some people to consider the debate closed for themselves. Because, well, not all people have the same skills, and the possibilities for some people to grasp reliable evidence that cannot be well grasped or verified by others can have its mysteries.

Now letting aside that precise case which motivated the above reply, let me develop other remarks around these concepts.
Commonly, in any clash between 2 views, proponents of each side who figure out the general state of evidence as supporting their own side, naturally attempt (except those too insane of course) to practice "intellectual charity" by offering and seeing a priori plausible (until questions are answered) what they can find as candidate "least error explanations" for how could their opponents fail to acknowledge (understand, be informed about...) that state of evidence.
Now with this definition of "intellectual charity", more complex and global than the mere question of the gift to perceive or not perceive a single point, I must say that I fail to see a lack of intellectual charity in trying to explain skepticism as caused by a lack of those intuitions. Because, if those intuitions are fully present, I fail to still figure out how to account for the skeptics view by a no more awful amount of errors.

Indeed let us admit the point, and with it, try to recapitulate the picture.
So let us admit that skeptics are people who were initially born with that supernaturalistic intuition telling them loud that consciousness cannot be a fruit of material processes. In other words, they were born with such natural perceptions and intuitions that they felt the a priori plausibility of supernaturalism as extraordinarily greater than that of naturalism. In other words, initially to them, naturalism was the extraordinary claim. Then, somehow, they "grew up" in such way that they ended up seeing the plausibility ratio between both views as overwhelmingly in the opposite side to what it initially was.

Now here is the big question : if skeptics are altogether people who then in the name of which extraordinary evidence did they so switch ?
If the problem is that it requires a huge lot of study and knowledge which cannot be summed up... well many supernaturalists can also have their own huge lot of other study and knowledge that also cannot be summed up in clear support of their opposite view, we shall comment this further in the next parts.
But if we focus on the above comparison with the example of the counter-intuitive constitution of matter, as far as this example was supposed to be relevant to explain the situation, I struggle to find from there a hint of such a justification : all it can say is that generally speaking it might sometimes happen for intuition to fool us, so that looking at the issue of consciousness from far away before entering any details, it might happen for this particular intuition to fool us too. Yet from the idea that it might be an illusion, to concluding that it is most likely one, a huge gap remains to be filled. Comparison is not reason, and both examples here compared have too many differences in my opinion. Namely : So I miss candidate strong arguments for naturalism to discuss, and as linked above, the range of those offered in academic philosophy appears quite poor.

Historical extrapolations

One frequent line of argument goes by following the history of how scientific progress turned out to refute one by one diverse supernaturalistic claims that were commonly held in pre-scientific times, and to better account for how life goes than the kind of answers traditionally proposed by religions... especially Christianity.
That appears as a kind of argument by induction, or extrapolation, just like from the experience that the sun rose every morning we can infer that it is most likely to rise again tomorrow : if science could regularly replace supernaturalistic explanations of stuff by natural ones in the past then it is likely to keep doing so in the future.
Now fortunately, the scientific prediction that the sun will keep rising again every day is not just empirically inferred from the observation that it usually did (like empirical predictions that new dangerous coronavirus epidemic outbreaks would stay away from Western countries just because they usually did so in the past), but also from some very much richer understanding of astrophysical causes that make it so.

On the other hand, the justifications to extrapolate the advance of naturalistic explanations over supernaturalistic ones from past to future are much less clear. And not only because the 20th century rather provided regular advances by the progress of science in just the opposite direction : towards confirmations of quantum theory and its "mystical" aspects, resisting all criticism from naturalistic expectations.

Aside the general weakness of the bare principle of empirical induction, to try arguing that [from the observation that many items in a given list (supernatural claims from old times) had a given fate (being either refuted or at least weakened by the higher plausibility of a naturalistic explanation), it should be reasonable to expect the same for the rest of items of the list], a minimal requirement should be to justify classifying the remaining items as properly belonging to the same list as the previous ones.
But aside the possibility to classify claims as defined by naturalism vs supernaturalism, I see quite other possible ways of classifying them. Namely there is a possible classification of claims by origin or inspiration. Perhaps, extrovert people might overlook this distinction which I see as crucial : the distinction between

I see no surprise indeed why, independently of any matter of naturalism, views coming from guesses formed and developed as doctrines in pre-scientific times and subsequently propagated as authority teachings across wide populations in spite of their possible counter-intuitiveness, turned out to fail in the face of scientific progress.

I must admit that not all observed facts are the most natural expectations of supernaturalism. Some paradoxes exist, which we need to cope with. Yet, and while naturalistic science forms a huge progress with a very rich understanding of facts (physics, astronomy, biology, evolution theory), most of the supernaturalistic expectations which are so refuted by this progress and other general facts about the world, come down to a very short list of a couple of general points which can actually be negated in the general supernaturalistic framework without much trouble. Namely, here is the core idea of this solution (in my own words summing up ideas I found explicitly provided by diverse available non-traditional spiritual revelations):

This explains In this way I do not see supernaturalism more challenged by "naturalistic facts" than naturalism was challenged by the discovery of the Big Bang (a discovery which waited to be done by the Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre as it looked unnatural for naturalist physicists), and the challenges from quantum physics to naturalism are even stronger.

As illustrated by another debate, most of the past items which science either refuted or weakened were claims either taken from or inspired (conditioned) by the Christian doctrine. Namely naturalism is presented there as opposed to "theism" itself largely defined by Christian theology with its artificial specificities.

The observed diversity of religious doctrines may be used to argue against supernaturalism in two ways :

Now the balance of facts to compare naturalism with supernaturalism, may seem to support naturalism more than it really does, for the following reason. Debates usually leave both sides be defended by active representatives, comparing between Indeed, remember where Christianity comes from. It comes from a time when the likeliness of miracles was largely over-estimated. Their existence was generally admitted, and thus not a question on which people's concern was focused. Instead, their focus was on issues of spiritual leaders and doctrines, in search for the best ones, to which they then attributed stories of miracles in the mere role of "witnesses" of their divinity. In their eyes, miracles and stories of miracles were subordinate to the role of supporting the aura of a given spiritual leader, or of a given doctrine. Rumors of miracles coming to support stories of spiritual leaders looked much more interesting and meaningful than any other miracle that might happen outside such a context. For many centuries after this, all the people who might seem to be making miracles without being devout Christians or giving a specifically Christian meaning to their miracles were called "sorcerers" and sent to the flames by the Christian churches. In these conditions how can we still seriously let Christians the honor of being those in charge of trying to prove that miracles exist ?
The present times give much better chances to provide reasonable details and arguments for supernatualism to stand in debate (by modern science, research in parapsychology and the many online available revelation sources, especially NDE testimonies). It just needs a little bit of care to do it right, it is such a pity to see this needed update missing under the spotlights.


Among the diversity of scientific methods, the skeptics methods have the following specificity. Letting aside all purely theoretical works (deep math beyond simple statistical analysis) which skeptics just ignore, they focus on experimental research, but of a special kind. Such research normally has the following steps : setting up an experiment ; collecting data ; analyzing and interpreting this data. There is a whole science, astronomy, where we cannot control the objects of study (the stars), but only observe them; the experimental side of the work is just all about building the very sophisticated measuring devices. The big remaining work after this is to analyze and interpret the data.
But skeptics, being executives by nature, cannot tolerate the idea to just accept reality as it is and cope with its possible mess. Being naturally bad at interpreting data, they would be too afraid of not doing it right just if it wasn't trivial. At the same time they cannot tolerate the idea that anyone else might be better than them at this task, so they believe that this work cannot be reliably done unless it is trivial. In the name of this, they put on the shoulders of the experimentalist the requirement to put reality (the studied objects) under a maximum of control, forcing it to follow the rules of their dictatorship, designed in such ways to trivialize the needed interpretation work of the data that will be observed out of it. This goes regardless of the burden of work so left on the shoulders of the experimentalist to fulfill this requirement, which may skyrocket to infinity.

Such imbalance (budgetary mismanagement) in the share of work between setting up experiments and interpreting the data, would "only" be odd if they took on themselves this extra experimental burden. Now of course that is sometimes the case, and we can respect that, but otherwise we are running into trouble: skeptics are becoming unfair when they are not undertaking to pay themselves the price of their mismanagement, that is the inflated experimental burden they believe to be needed, but put it all on the shoulders of their opponents, and satisfy themselves to sit in position of judges, checking the data and just sending it to the flames for the crime of not being as absolutely clear and trivial to interpret as they wanted. And then they blame this on the experimenter who they accuse of not having done proper science. Doing so, skeptics are not themselves behaving scientifically (that is, in a skilled and competent manner), nor expressing respect for science, as they are praising the stupid and their stupidity, that is the lazy judges who they see right to practice intellectual laziness in their interpretation of data, and mocking the actual big work done by experimentalists, who just did not design their work to fit the crazily hard standards which skeptics require.

Ordinary illusions

As I discussed with this skeptic diverse things including my experience with Boji and Tigers eyes stones, he pointed out the importance of the placebo effect as well as strange ways for people to be fooled, such as false memories, and diverse illusions (impressions of perceiving things which are not actually there, such as a claimed sensitivity to electromagnetic waves even when they are not there), which according to him were established by science: Such phenomena seemed strange to me, so I expressed my impression that these facts were relative to special conditions and details which are different enough to not be of concern for the things I was discussing. In particular, that possibilities to be fooled could be more likely to occur in the specially designed environment of scientific experiments than spontaneously in nature. In particular, I did not notice such phenomena as occurring in my life, so I guess they are uncommon, just like many skeptics did not notice supernatural phenomena in their life because of how uncommon or unnoticed these phenomena are. This is why I see no point to develop the style of paranoia towards risks of being fooled, which skeptics are calling for.
So I asked him if he (or relatives) experienced any kind of spontaneous illusions in his life, and he gave the following examples : These illusions seemed to exhaust what he could remember in the category "sensations" which I requested to select as something in common with my main reason to regard as supernatural the effect of healing stones (that I have special sensations with them), dismissing the placebo interpretation (as I guess the use of placebo effect for healing does not come with illusory sensations). Still I see enough other differences to not consider this as any serious challenge to my position. Namely, of course one specific sensation can be an illusion, so that an attitude of trusting a single sensation, considered out of context, to conclude in the reality of something, can be a mistake. But I did not commit this mistake, as of course I keep seeing the data of perceptions in its context: what I consider is the precise way in which these sensations happen to be correlated with circumstances, namely how the sensations depend on the real presence of these stones rather than on my attitude of being aware of them and expecting something from them.

When direct sensations are not correctly describing reality, the "care" to correct the understanding by putting things in context, can also be done very naturally by lots of people, with no need to be a skeptic, and quite often with no need to specifically research about it. Namely in the above list of 3 examples, the first 2 are cases where the data of the context, which refutes the validity of the direct sensation, just comes spontaneously by the force of things with no need to care for it at all, so that overall the risk of being fooled is non-existent and the skeptics methods are of no use. Only the third example requires a favorite method of skeptics to elucidate.

These first 2 cases happen to be so simple that the directly stumbling data of the context of a single occurrence of a perception, suffices to show that it is illusory. Now of course we can expect things to not be always so simple. Namely, the immediate context that stumbles with a single occurrence of a perception may not suffice, we may need to include the broader context of its multiple occurrences across long periods of time.
Indeed when an illusory perception occurs multiple times then even if its illusory character does not spontaneously show itself in many of these occurrences, it can still have good chances to show itself in some of these perceptions, therefore still naturally (spontaneously) forcing the person to notice this unreliability of perceptions and to take account of this to question the rest of the cases which are not obvious.

There is still another way in which any possible phenomenon of illusory perception is likely to spontaneously debunk itself by the multiplicity of its occurrences : by the pattern of its occurrences. Indeed an illusory source of perceptions is likely to produce a quite different pattern of occurrences of these perceptions, than a reliable source. Some kind of conspiracy would be needed for an illusory source of perceptions to produce the same pattern of occurrences as the pattern which a reliable perception would produce (according to some hypothesis of real cause which would be so reliably perceived).
Leaving aside the hypothesis of such a conspiracy (with the so tiny possibility for it to take place just by chance), remains the question of the people's skills to manage deciphering the given patterns of their perceptions, to correctly figure out which kind of hypothesis (reality or illusion) best accounts for these patterns. Now this is precisely where the explanations from previous sections apply : skeptics decide that they cannot figure this out from the raw data of the perceptions which occur in natural conditions, so they need to set up experimental frameworks to make it obvious. They need to use their fingers for counting. Among the rest of people, not using their fingers, some can happen to have the skills to correctly do the math anyway, others not. And skeptics give themselves the right to complain loud about how they cannot make the difference between both, as if it was the others fault, not ready to recognize this as their mere personal failure which there is no reason for anybody else to care about.

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