The cult of skepticism
Some strange skeptical arguments
In an interview about his book on naturalism, Sean Carroll explains
Just because we have no evidence of another realm of reality beyond the physical world, how can we conclude it doesn’t exist?Problems:
It’s not a matter of certainty, ever. I would make the argument that if there were a
supernatural element that played a role in our everyday life in some noticeable way,
it’s very, very likely we would have noticed it. It just seems weird that this kind of thing
would be so crucial and yet so difficult to notice in any controlled scientific way. I would
make the case that it is sufficiently unlikely in a fair Bayesian accounting that we don’t
need to spend any time thinking about it anymore. Five hundred years ago it would
have been a possibility. I think these days we’re ready to move on.
Indeed, here is the last point to be added to the above list of ways for skepticism to escape falsifiability.
One French skeptic science youtuber once made a video on parapsychology
where he blames the available evidences obtained by this field of research for the supernatural,
for being "too scientific". His line of reasoning can be summed up as follows
- Consciousness itself which does play a more than noticeable role
in our everyday life, may be such a supernatural element (and an indispensably supernatural
one according to some understanding of ontology, which is unfortunately still controversial)
- A big fallacy there, is based on the ambiguous use of the word
"we" in "we would have noticed it" as explained above.
- His last sentence contradicts the
first, and also encourages us to see as legitimate the attitude of no more investigating
such phenomena which may actually occur, a kind of legitimacy which is actually self-refuting.
- Some other skeptics have a completely different, incompatible basis for their convictions.
He refers to Ben's
work indicating that the chances for someone to guess right the side of a computer
screen (determined at random) which would reveal an image, raises
from 50% to 53% when the hoped for image is porn.
Along these lines he quotes some other skeptics views about this. Two of them are from the
podcast "RationallySpeaking" (7:50):
- The supernatural cannot exist
- But the scientific method proves that it exists
(there is strong scientific evidence for it)
- Therefore the scientific method is invalid.
Massimo Pigliucci "...I can tell you from first-person
experience [in a different field] that there is in fact a lot of garbage out there that gets published
in pretty much every field".
Then he quotes a book of prominent French skeptics Jean-Michel Abrassard (founder
of the French podcast website Scepticisme scientifique and Michel Leurquin in their
book Pour en finir avec le paranormal (to end with the paranormal)
Julia Galef: "One of the main reasons I'm interested in parapsychology studies is
because of what it tells us about the way we conduct science in general. If you're nearly
convinced just based on a priori scientific theories that parapsychology is really unlikely
to be true then this is kind of a useful test case for science like if our standard scientific
methods give us significant results in these cases then that tells us that there is something wrong
with the way we're doing science and that includes the way we do science in lots of other
subfields that aren't parapsychology"
"Les recherches en parapsychologie sont à l'heure actuelle d'aussi bonne qualité
que celles existant en psychologie. Sur base de ce constat, on peut soit accepter l'existence
du psi, soit rejeter ces résultats à cause du manque de plausibilité antérieure, soit encore
considérer que ces travaux démontrent en réalité qu'il y a des problèmes importants avec
les méthodologies et les outils statistiques utilisés dans d'autres champs des sciences
humaines. Certains auteurs avancent ainsi que la parapsychologie est le groupe de contrôle
de la science. L'idée est que si les parapsychologues prouvent avec les techniques
habituelles de la psychologie que le psi existe, vu qu'il est impossible que ce soit réellement
le cas, cela démontre que les méthodes utilisées sont fondamentalement problématiques.
Sans entrer dans une longue discussion, il y a effectivement à l'heure actuelle une crise de
la psychologie portant d'un côté sur les difficulté de réplication, et de l'autre sur la manière
dont les statistiques sont réalisées, particulièrement l'usage de la valeur p."
The speaker then gives his view:
Research in parapsychology is at present of as good quality as that existing in
psychology. On the basis of this observation, we can either accept the existence of psi,
or reject these results because of the lack of previous plausibility, or consider that
these works actually demonstrate that there are significant problems with the methodologies
and statistical tools used in other fields of the humanities. Some authors thus argue that
parapsychology is the control group of science. The idea is that if parapsychologists prove
with the usual techniques of psychology that psi exists, since it is impossible for this to be
really the case, this demonstrates that the methods used are fundamentally problematic.
Without going into a long discussion, there is actually at present a crisis in psychology
bearing on the one hand on the difficulties of replication, and on the other on the way in
which statistics are produced, particularly the use of the p-value.
"Je rajoute par ailleurs que de nombreuses critiques des sceptiques à commencer
par celles de Massimo Pigliucci dans Rationally Speaking me semblent insister de manière
disproportionnée sur des failles mineures. En particulier, il me semble y avoir un énorme
raisonnement motivé de nombreux sceptiques à vouloir trouver les failles de l'étude
parce qu'ils pensent a priori que l'étude doit être fallacieuse, voire parfois parce qu'ils pensent
que l'auteur de ces études est incompétent. Et d'ailleurs ça été totalement mon cas
lorsque j'ai commencé à lire ces articles. Plus généralement il semble y avoir un double
standard dans la manière de juger différentes disciplines qui met bien en évidence la
malléabilité de la méthode des scientifiques en pratique. Quand on veut vraiment être critique,
quand on est motivé pour une raison x ou y à être critique, on trouve souvent beaucoup
plus de raisons de rejeter telle ou telle expérience scientique. Et ça bien sûr c'est tout
aussi valable pour les sceptiques que pour les croyants ou que pour les scientifiques.
La malléabilité de la méthode scientifique permet le raisonnement motivé et une interprétation
biaisée des résultats scientifiques motivée par des fins idéologiques. Bref, si malgré ces études
vous doutez fortement de la parapsychologie, alors vous devriez sérieusement questionner
la vérité de la plupart des publications scientifiques, et en particuler la confiance qu'on est
justifié d'attribuer à la méthode scientifique surtout si vous pensez que cette méthode
scientifique contient des aspects usuellement non formalisés et donc fortement malléables.
Et du coup il semble devenu urgent de davantage réfléchir à comment faire de la meilleure science.
Then the last part of his video aimed to fill the need of "defending a bit the scientific
consensus in psychology"
"I would also add that many criticisms by the skeptics, starting with those of Massimo Pigliucci
in Rationally Speaking, seem to me to disproportionately insist on minor flaws. In particular,
there seems to me to be a huge motivated reasoning from many skeptics to want to find the
flaws of the study because they think a priori that the study must be fallacious, even
sometimes because they think that the author of these studies is incompetent. And
besides it was totally my case when I started to read these articles. More generally there
seems to be a double standard in the way of judging different disciplines which highlights
the malleability of the method of scientists in practice. When you really want to be critical,
when you are motivated for an x or y reason to be critical, you often find many more
reasons to reject this or that scientific experience. And that of course is just as valid
for skeptics as it is for believers or for scientists. The malleability of the scientific method
allows motivated reasoning and a biased interpretation of scientific results motivated by
ideological ends. In short, if despite these studies you strongly doubt parapsychology,
then you should seriously question the truth of most scientific publications, and in particular
the confidence that it is justified to attribute to the scientific method especially if you think
that this scientific method contains aspects which are usually not formalized and therefore
highly malleable. And therefore it has seemingly become urgent to think more about how to
make better science."
Avant les travaux de Ben,
comme c'est d'ailleurs discuté dans l'article même de Ben, la plupart des psychologues
rejetaient la parapsychologie et il y a de bonnes raisons à cela qui ont tout à voir avec
des préjugés raisonnables. Comme le dit le proverbe Bayésien : sans préjugé, aucune
conclusion ne peut être tirée. L'argument le plus avancé est celui de la plausibilité
physique. On a aujourd'hui une énorme crédence en notre compréhension de la physique
et celle-ci semble complètement rejeter la possibilité d'une prémonition. Alors ceci dit
ce n'est pas tout à fait vrai, en particulier certaines interprétations de la mécanique quantique
laissent potentiellement encore entrouverte la possibilité de bizarreries
quantiques typiquement à base d'intrication et de non-localité... L'argument quantique
augmente ma crédence en la parapsychologie... de ce que je comprends de la mécanique
quantique la prémonition demeure extrêmement improbable...
Ce dit ce n'est pas la raison principale pour laquelle la prémonition ne me semble vraiment
pas crédible aujourd'hui. L'argument que je trouve le plus convainquant est celui qualifié
d'argument économique par xkcd. Aujourd'hui dans un
monde capitaliste il y a des incentives énormes à exploiter toute faculté prédictive supérieure
à celles qui sont déjà exploitées. En particulier la prémonition semble un moyen extrêmement
efficace de faire de l'argent par exemple en pariant sur les cours de la Bourse. Vu les
incentives économiques, dans un monde où il existe une prémonition juste à 53% au lieu de
50% il me semblerait improbable que les pontes de la finance se fassent remplacer par des
algorithmes d'autant que de nombreuses études suggèrent très fortement que les traders
de la finance sont en fait très loin de disposer de facultés prédictives au delà du hasard.
Si aujourd'hui j'assigne si peu de crédence en la prémonition ça vient en fait essentiellement
de cet argument économique et ce malgré les publications scientifiques aussi étrange que
cela puisse paraitre, mes crédences sur le paranormal vont à l'encontre de ce qui a été obtenu
par la méthode scientifique et en particulier à l'encontre des tests randomisés en double
aveugle et des tests statistiques classiques. En particulier là très clairement mes crédences
en l'absence de phénomènes parapsychologique n'est absolument pas comparable à la p
value obtenue par la méta-analyse à savoir 0.000...1% à cause des préjugés
fondés sur la plausibilité physique et l'argument économique, ma crédence en l'absence de
phénomènes parapsychologique est bien plus de l'ordre de 99.9999%.
Voilà qui devrait donner tout son sens au proverbe bayésien
qui dit que la vraisemblance des données n'est pas la crédence de la théorie.
Now if what matters to skeptics, really is the correct measure of the strength of arguments
rather than the truth of the conclusion, then... I can respect his attempt to refer to theoretical
physics as an important criterion of plausibility, even while disagreeing about which lessons
are actually to be drawn from there (details in Parts 5-6); however I can only see as laughable
his reliance on the economic argument as the most reliable one in his eyes, as I do not see
it any more reliable than Lewis's trilemma, or the argument of qualifying a crop circle as "too
precise to be done by a human". Indeed the reliability of an argument
can only be asserted on the basis of a good understanding of its content matter, namely
here both fields of economics and parapsychology, while, I would say only a ridiculously
naive approach to both fields might let this argument seem to have any possible weight.
Indeed, this appeal to some superficial appearance of the outcome of free market, is just another
word for the invitation to follow the crowd in guise of much more reliable criterion for truth
than the scientific method...
Before Ben's work, as is discussed in Ben's article itself, most psychologists rejected
parapsychology and there are good reasons for this which have everything to do with
reasonable prejudices. As the Bayesian proverb says: without prejudice, no conclusions
can be drawn. The most advanced argument is that of physical plausibility. Today we
have a huge credence in our understanding of physics and it seems to completely
reject the possibility of a premonition. So that said it is not entirely true, in particular
certain interpretations of quantum mechanics leave potentially still ajar the possibility of
quantum quirks, typically based on entanglement and non-locality ... The quantum
argument increases my credence in parapsychology ... from what I understand of
quantum mechanics the premonition remains extremely improbable ... That said it is not
the main reason why the premonition does not seem really credible to me today. The
argument that I find most convincing is the one called economic argument by
xkcd. Today in a capitalist world there are enormous
incentives to exploit any predictive power superior to those which are already exploited.
In particular, premonition seems to be an extremely effective way of making money, for
example by betting on the stock market prices. Given the economic incentives, in a world
where there is a premonition of just 53% instead of 50% it would seem unlikely to me that
the pundits of finance will be replaced by algorithms especially since many studies strongly
suggest that Finance traders are in fact very far from having predictive powers beyond chance.
If today I assign so little credence in premonition it actually comes essentially from this economic
argument and this despite scientific publications, as strange as it may seem. My credence on
the paranormal goes against what has has been obtained by the scientific method and in
particular against double-blind randomized tests and conventional statistical tests. In particular
there very clearly my credences in the absence of parapsychological phenomena is absolutely
not comparable to the p value obtained by the meta-analysis namely 0.00... 1%. Because of
the prejudices based on the physical plausibility and the economic argument, my credence in
the absence of parapsychological phenomena is much more than 99.9999%. This should
make sense of the Bayesian proverb which says that the likelihood of the data is not the
credence of the theory.
Now my skeptic debater, who clearly judged me as an idiot for what seemed to him fuzziness
in my thinking, also put forward himself something of the economic argument. First by complaining
that, in some discussion, I did not seem as interested as he thought I should be about potential
industrial or military applications (the use of remote
viewing to uncover military secrets) or for
winning the lottery. He asked whether all remote viewers (such as out-of-body experiencers)
refuse such uses of their abilities. Like, 2 ants debate on the existence of humans, that the one
believes in, and the other challenges her to respond about why humans could not be used as
a tool to get food or compete against the next ant colony.
Somehow, these are still good questions. I will not try to develop detailed answers,
but only mention a few things.
Something I happened to stumble on in some facebook groups (long ago, I did not keep
references). One story I read is (unless I am mistaken in some detail) an OBEr guy who had undertaken
a sort of game with a female friend of his (also OBEr ?) consisting in, from time to time as they
are far away from each other, doing an OBE visit to check what the other is doing. One day he
did an OBE and wanted to check about her but he couldn't, as he faced a kind of dark veil while trying.
Later he called her to talk about this, and she explained that at that time she was having sex with
Another time I read that a similar phenomenon occurred when trying to
unveil military secrets.
Moreover, how can anyone tell that the use of paranormal abilities is not actually
widespread ? Somehow it is, somewhere in alternative medicine, just under cover because
the world may not be well organized to properly identify and officially recognize what works.
On this subject I saw in particular the documentary film in French by Stephane Allix
"Guérisseurs, magnétiseurs et barreurs de feu" showing that many well-established hospitals
are actually using some alternative medicine in complement to their main standard medical
practices, and it appears efficient. I also saw somewhere the info that in the US there are
some mediums working with the police to investigate murder cases, and happen to be useful
Now as macro-economical issues cannot be
well understood without a look on some micro-economical cases, I can comment about economic
sides of my experience with magic stones. I suffered many years the trouble which turned out to
be cured in this way. If only during all those years I stumbled on someone who saved me in that
way I could have thanked such a person with much money ; but there wasn't. Why ?
I don't know. First, of course, I was not telling loud around about my trouble, as it was not something
so good to claim around. Second, very few are the people aware of the power of stones. Some
people may have sensations with these, and yet not know how much it would have helped me.
Actually the Tiger eye stone I have is a gift from a friend I knew from some time before, was
aware that this stone gave special energy sensations, but had
not the idea how useful to me it would be before I discovered the power of Boji stones with
the man I met later.
Since then, I only personally know a couple of people who I "converted"
to the interest for these stones by direct meeting (= independently of my online activities).
I informed them for free, not for any profit. And none of these had any big need of these
comparable to the need I had.
All that said, I fail to see what skeptics mean by their economic argument : what
more consequences of the supernatural would they see as altogether strongly expected and
To finish this overview of few oddities of skepticism, here is my transcript of the main
content of a video in French
of a skeptic (author of a youtube channel on dinosaurs and other evolutionary topics), reacting
to previous videos (the skeptical ideology is also called "zététique" in French), namely
That is one of their rare expressions of awareness that they are not only preaching to their
own choir but their viewpoint may not be the only one out there... as it may even be rejected
by people who know about it. So he reviews diverse advantages and disadvantages
of being a skeptic, in his experience.
...j'aimerais commenter sur le fait qu'il y ait des gens qui trouvent à critiquer à la zététique,
des gens qui sont absolument pas convaincus, j'ai eu envie de réfléchir à pourquoi est-ce
que la zététique convainc finalement si peu de gens que ça, et aussi ça fait longtemps que
je veux faire une vidéo pour expliquer des astuces pour repérer le bullshit
(...) quand on se retrouve à table pendant les repas de famille le zététicien c'est celui qui a
le plus envie d'ouvrir sa gueule mais qui le regrette le plus à la fin parce qu'il se retrouve seul
contre tous et ça c'est quelque chose que tout le monde a vécu au moins une fois quand on
est sceptique. J'en viens à me demander, finalement on va en revenir à l'essence même de la
zététique qui est quel est l'avantage qu'on tire à être zététicien parce qu'il faut bien se l'avouer
c'est quand même la merde d'être zététicien au niveau intégration sociale. On se fait rembarrer
par tout le monde, tout le monde nous déteste parce qu'on donne l'impression de mieux
savoir que tout le monde. Les gens nous accusent de ne pas avoir d'ouverture d'esprit, et
en plus on passe des temps monumentaux à vérifier nos sources, la quantité de temps perdu
à chaque fois qu'on croise une info pour arriver à recroiser les sources, remonter à l'origine
de l'information et prendre une décision sur est-ce que c'est du bullshit ou non, la zététique
c'est quand même loin d'être optimal comme manière de penser, comme philosophie de vie.
In short: we should all be motivated to become skeptics by the fear of fear.
Voilà ce qui, moi, m'a poussé vers la zététique. C'est les réseaux sociaux. J'en avais
marre de passer pour un con à relayer des informations qui finalement étaient fausses...
et je crois qu'on a tous commis l'erreur un jour de relayer une info de... de relayer une
de ces chaines débiles, et on finit par se regarder et se dire merde, j'en ai marre de me faire
avoir. Marre de passer pour un con après. La zététique a ce grand avantage de nous protéger
des charlatans. Au début vous vous protégez des chaines sur internet et puis vous vous rendez
compte que l'homeopathie c'est des gens qui vous tirent de la thune pour vous soigner avec du
sucre, et puis vous vous rendez compte que toute votre vie on vous a servi peut-être des merdes
qui servaient à rien et que vous avez payé tres cher. ... c'est quelque chose que la
zététique permet de s'épargner...
Il y a aussi des charlatans qui ne se savent pas, sont de bonne foi. Par exemple... qui réclament
de la thune pour aller à la chasse à l'extraterrestre... et après vous découvrez les sourciers, les
magnétiseurs... il y en a qui le font gratuitement mais ils vous fournissent un service qui ne marche
pas, qui n'a pas prouvé son effet au-delà du placebo.
Le dernier point c'est que, depuis que je suis sceptique je dors vachement mieux. Toutes
ces questions que tu te poses dans ta vie, et tu réalises que ça sert à rien de se les poser
parce qu'elles ont une réponse, c'est fou. Et la suspension de jugement, c'est un autre truc de la
zététique. Premièrement les questions qui ont des réponses. Est-ce que les fantomes ça existe,
est ce que les extraterrestres ça existe. Est-ce que je vais me faire enlever par un extraterrestre.
Est-ce que je vais me faire agresser dans la rue par des drogués séropositifs avec des
seringues qui veulent me contaminer parce qu'ils ont les boules d'avoir le sida. Non ça
n'arrivera pas. Voilà vous dormez vachement mieux. Quand vous savez que vous pouvez
faire confiance à votre médecin. Quand on a confiance aux médicaments qu'on prend.
Et on suspend son jugement quand on ne sait pas. Y a-t-il une vie après la mort, c'est
des questions qui m'ont empêché de dormir à une période, maintenant je m'en fous.
On n'a pas la réponse et on l'aura jamais, voilà c'est tout. Vis ta vie. Je ne vais pas aller
chercher une secte pour me dire la réponse que j'ai envie d'entendre.
Ce dont des choses qui probablement ont échappé à Mouton Lucide dans la video...
Si vous êtes zététicien vous-même et que vous avez du mal à convaincre pendant les
repas de famille... expliquer en quoi votre façon de penser est supérieure aux autres.
J'insiste sur le mot supérieur parce que je sais qu'il y en a qui vont pas l'aimer.
La pensée zététique est clairement supérieure. Elle n'a pas toutes les réponses, et c'est ça
qu'il faut retenir, la suspension de jugement quand on a pas la réponse. Parce qu'on dit toujours
méfiez vous des gens qui ont toutes les réponses, il faut encore plus se méfier des gens qui n'ont
que des questions, comme Mouton Lucide qui pensent qu'on ne sait rien, que la science n'a
jamais rien démontré. Non il y a des choses qu'on sait béton. La théorie de l'évolution c'est autant
une théorie que celle de la gravité.
La façon de penser d'un zététicien clairement permet d'apporter des réponses là
où il y a de vraies questions, de clore les débats là où il n'y a plus débats, et de vivre beaucoup
plus sainement. Il n'y a pas qu'une seule vérité, par contre il n'y a qu'une seule version de la vérité
à laquelle on a accès. C'est très clair. Les autres versions de la vérité ne sont pas pertinentes pour
nos vies. La zététique permet de limiter sa philosophie de vie à ce qui est pertinent.
... I would like to comment on the fact that there are people who find to criticize skepticism,
people who are absolutely not convinced, I wanted to think about why does skepticism finally
convince so few people, and also it's been a long time since I want to make a video
to explain tips for spotting the bullshit (...)
when we meet at the table during family
meals the skeptic is the one who most wants to open his mouth but who regrets it the
most at the end because he finds himself alone against everyone, and that is something
that every skeptic has experienced at least once. I come to wonder, finally we will come
back to the very essence of skepticism which is, what the advantage is that we get from
being a skeptic, because you have to admit it is nonetheless shit to be a
skeptic in terms of social integration. We get rebuffed by everyone, everyone hates
us because we seem to know better than everyone. People accuse us of not having an
open mind, and in addition we spend monumental amounts of time in checking our sources, the
amount of time lost, each time we come across some information, to cross-check sources, to go
back to the origins of the information and make a decision on whether it is bullshit or not,
skepticism is still far from an optimal way of thinking, as a philosophy of life.
Here is what pushed me towards skepticism. It's social networks. I was fed up with passing
for an idiot relaying information which finally was false... and I believe that we all made
the error one day to relay an info of... to relay one of these stupid channels,
and we end up looking at each other and saying Gosh, I'm tired of being fooled. Tired of
looking like an idiot afterwards. Skepticism has this great advantage of protecting us from
charlatans. At first you protect yourself from the channels on the internet and then you
realize that homeopathy is people who get your money to treat you with sugar, and then
you realize that all your life you have perhaps been served crap that was useless and for
which you paid very dearly. ... this is something that skepticism helps to save...
There are also those charlatans who do not know it themselves, acting in good faith.
For example ... who demand money to go hunting the alien ... and then you discover the
dowsers, the magnetizers ... there are some who do it for free but they provide you with
a service that does not work, which has not proven to work beyond placebo.
The last point is that since I have been skeptical I sleep a lot better. All these questions
that you ask yourself in your life, and you realize that there is no point in asking them
because they have an answer, it's crazy. And the suspension of judgment is another
thing of skepticism. First, the questions that have answers. Do ghosts exist ? Do aliens
exist ? Am I going to get kidnapped by an alien ? Am I going to be assaulted on the street
by HIV positive drug addicts with syringes who want to contaminate me because they
are upset at having AIDS ? No it won't happen. This way you really sleep better. When
you know you can trust your doctor. When you trust the drugs you take. And we suspend
judgment when we don't know. Is there life after death, these are questions that kept me
from sleeping at one time, now I don't care. We don't have the answer and we never will,
that's all. Live your life. I'm not going to go find a sect to tell me the answer I want to hear.
These are things that probably escaped Mouton Lucide in the video ...
If you are a skeptic yourself and find it difficult to convince during family meals ...
explain how your way of thinking is superior to others. I insist on the word "superior"
because I know that there are some who will not like it. Skeptic thinking is clearly
superior. It doesn't have all the answers, and that's what we must remember, the
suspension of judgment when we don't have the answer. Because we always say
beware of people who have all the answers, we must be even more wary of people
who have only questions, like Mouton Lucide who think that we know nothing, that
science has never demonstrated anything. No, there are things we solidly know.
The theory of evolution is as much a theory as that of gravity.
The way of thinking of a skeptic clearly makes it possible to provide answers where
there are real questions, to close the debates where there are no longer debates,
and to live much healthier. There is not only one truth, but there is only one
version of the truth to which one has access. It's very clear. The other versions of
the truth are not relevant to our lives. Skepticism allows you to limit your philosophy of
life to what is relevant.
That reminds me of so many testimonies I heard among Evangelical Christians, along
the lines of how much their lives changed because they were previously into alcohol,
drug addictions and other kinds of vices, and Jesus saved them from that... forgetting
that not all non-Christians are into such unhealthy things. And then they don't understand
how it is possible for non-Christians to have a healthy life and moral values without God...
as if it was the problem of those others to provide explanations for this, which the Christians
Similarly my skeptic debater, unable to distinguish my non-skeptical
way of thinking from the most ridiculous kind of gullibility, proclaimed that "in the same
way" that he imagined to be mine, I should also believe just any foolish claim,
so he challenged me to explain how I can sort things out. As if his inability to either
figure it out, or to at least take seriously the hypothesis that such a discernment ability
may exist even if he cannot decipher it, was my problem... (hint: being introvert, intuitive and
math genius may help to filter out some BS, already in mere terms of categories of
In the rest of the video he presents 3 criteria to identify "bullshit":
The last point may be good in many cases (not all), however, even when it would be good,
like any good principle, it may remain unobvious to properly apply it in particular cases ;
an example of skeptics' failure to apply it when it should, will be explained in Part 5.
: appeal to emotions is a trap, so for example when something is in the news he focuses on
reading the scientific paper at the origin of it, to assess the content without emotions ;
- Conspiracy : conspiracy theories are usually wrong;
- Authority : any claim is based
on some authority but the one of a single or very few scientists should be dismissed when
the overwhelming majority of other scientists are against them.
Taking the tree to hide the forest
When Mormons go on mission, they normally go in pairs. The reason for this is clear : being
more makes you stronger. So, when they meet a new person to undertake a discussion, the
balance of forces in the debate is about 5 against 1 : on one side are 2 Mormons, one God the
Father, one Jesus, and one Holy Ghost. How could a single person be correct against all of these ?
Similarly, when skeptics undertake to discuss with someone on either philosophical issues or
paranormal phenomena, they usually come along with their big brothers named "Reason" and
"Science". They do not hesitate to put these on their side in their picture of the balance of forces
against their opponent seen as an isolated individual having to stand against all of
these. Indeed, presuming that no evidence for the supernatural could be found until now, anyone's
claim of having any good reason to believe in such a thing, would mean being the first such person
in the world, against all the best experts of the world who regularly proved all such claims wrong.
In such a picture, obviously, the chances for supernaturalists to look serious are very poor.
This is why Near Death Experiences did not seem to exist until 1975 when it was suddenly discovered
that there are millions of these. Indeed : when one patient in critical condition comes to be placed
under the authority of a doctor who did long studies to get high professional recognition for
knowing everything about what goes on in the human body much better than the rest of people...
how can this doctor listen to such a story and still not send the patient who told it to a psychiatric
hospital ? Such horrors were actually committed. To avoid these, patients needed to shut up. And
leave the doctors in ignorance, sincerely believing that no such thing ever happened in their
hospitals. Still more recently, such research-blocking denialism persists about other end-of-life
phenomena. So there are such times when those who are supposed to best know about
something in their field of professionalism with its materialistic dogmas, namely
medicine, turn out to be those who know the least about it and block the actual research.
They picture themselves on the side of science, as if they knew what science really says...
but what is science ? Science means to know, and to understand what we know. But what is
there to know ? There are megatons of scientific articles out there, plus even much more data
available beyond these. No matter the effort, nobody has had any chance to study and
understand more than a ridiculous fraction of all of that in one's lifetime. Therefore, claiming to
speak in Science's name is about as nonsensical as claiming to speak in God's name.
Given this, all that anyone can do in trying to have a scientific viewpoint, is to try to
explore things that are there... make one's own selection of what to study, trying not to miss what
would be relevant for the topics one is trying to have a scientific view about. How to make the
best selection to minimize the worst omissions of crucially relevant information for what one
needs ? Only God really knows... but is not on the phone to answer this.
In a sense, there is no possible way to be objective. Anyone can search for the kind of
information one believes to be relevant, and blame others for following wrong choices and biases,
missing the relevant information.
From that ocean of possible knowledge, skeptics made their
selection as follows. Metaphorically speaking, they have specialized themselves in the science of mud,
and of all the possible reasons to doubt the possibilities in building any stable construction on top of the
most slippery possible mud. From that viewpoint, of course, mud seems to be everywhere and
everything looks like mud, so whenever someone is coming to mention any new finding or new
kind of evidence, skeptics will dismiss it as mud since that is all that they know about and
they analyze everything in such terms. But without reliable ways to prove anything,
no way remains to refute wrong views either.
About the experiment of putting envelopes in ceilings in operation rooms
Some experiments started to put targets out of reach of
ordinary sight in hospitals for out of body perceptions, so as
to give chances for these perceptions to be proven.
A reply in French by a near death experiencer here at 27:30-28:30 :
"they put closed envelopes above wardrobes to see if someone in an NDE would go
to see what is inside...if we want to prove it like this we are not close to reaching good results.
Personally when I lived this NDE I definitely did not feel like going above wardrobes to
check what was there. I lived what I felt like living and I lived it that way"
We may develop other scenarios that have more chances
to succeed, such as (these are only my suggestions, which may need
review by near death experiencers):
Nevertheless there are many cases of "subjective proofs" in the sense that experiencers
remembered things not physically perceivable, yet followed a skeptical attitude of investigating
whether their perceptions were correct, and then found these were correct ; without being proofs for
others in the sense that they did not write down and certified their memories to prove to others
that they indeed remembered this before doing the check. Now it is very natural and expectable
for experiencers to focus efforts on checking things for themselves in priority, especially in
the given troubled circumstances, than on caring to plan everything to ensure things to be
undeniable for everybody else, isn't it ?
- Putting many cameras that record all events, then ask the people to tell
their testimony before any interaction with the people involved, then the videos
would be used to check the truth of these perceptions in a rather controlled way
- Making pictures that are not visible for the human eyes, but only
visible in infrared or ultraviolet, so that they would not need to be hidden
for their observation to be accepted as paranormal.
Another report of NDE study
with diverse interesting info, including how patients did not happen to look at the targets.
The politeness argument
In my few attempts at discussion with skeptics (both as a side
note of the long discussion, and in short other ones), referring to this and other pages, I was criticized
for the lack of politeness of the tone of these texts, how I was visibly more trying to "attack" them than
really discuss. Someone I tried to discuss with, wrote in the first reply:
"I regret that you have such a bad opinion of the skeptics, who to my knowledge are often full of good intentions and passionate about science. This is the case in any case with the people of our association."
Uh ?? They might perceive themselves as very gentle people and full of passion for what they
are doing indeed (which however I have trouble calling "science", sorry, when they are not
mathematicians nor physicists, while I see other sciences as less relevant to metaphysical questions,
as I'll expand later), this no way contradicts the possibility for them to have very stupid views,
casting absurd and insulting calumnies against who does not think like them. As long as they
have no little mirror to look at themselves, they cannot see how they really behave, how often
many skeptics just ignore and fail to addressing the objects of debate on a rational level, but
lazily satisfy themselves with ad hominem arguments, based on personal accusations which
moreover can sometimes be completely baseless or circular, just based on the assumptions of
their skeptical ideology. To discover the problem, one would need to change viewpoint...
which may be far from obvious.
So I am amazed at the irrelevance of this remark. The members of any cult, I guess, can
legitimately say as much on their intentions and their attitudes of dedicated care to their
respective conceptions of the truth. In the next reply,
"I have the impression that
you are not really trying to argue but to put me at fault, which is very unpleasant for me.(...) "
Uh, what is this supposed to mean ? I admit I knew perfectly and confidently well the topic being
discussed (quantum mechanics), and that I was trying to discuss about it with someone for whom
this is supposed to be the main work (and who even posed as reference I was kindly invited
to learn everything from in case I was ignorant on the topic, after failing to read that I clearly
announced the contrary in my first message), but who is visibly confused about it, with
positions I knew to be indefensible, so that I was confident to find these coming from some
gross mistakes as I develop below. Sorry but how is this my fault if my opponents positions are
ridiculously indefensible and I clearly know how, all in advance ?
If someone cannot stop proclaiming ridiculous nonsense in discussions but at the same time cannot
bear the risk of being quoted and criticized for the mistakes committed, both on the topic of
quantum interpretations which is supposed to be one's own field of expertise, and on
everything around, i.e. describing the conditions for thoughts and discussions to
be qualified as rational, then maybe it was a bad idea to get displayed as an active and reputable
reference member of a skeptical organization having things to teach to the world about the meanings of
quantum mechanics and rational thinking. (And, I promise I cared to try picking someone
who seemed hopefully among the wisest there, i.e. with a minimum of physics background
and somewhat exceptionally aware of how much this minimum physics background is needed but
unfortunately lacking in other skeptics who mistakenly proclaim arguments from physics
which are in fact ridiculous...)
"...I still find your tone accusatory and obnoxious, so I would really like you to be more
courteous and less in value judgments (e.g. you could talk about mistakes rather than lies, which
is not connoted with a negative intention). Otherwise, I will be forced to stop this discussion"
Well, can they start looking at themselves in a little mirror ? Can they have any clue about the huge
amount of despise which, generally, skeptics continuously throw at all the people who don't think
like them ? Visibly, they don't.
This reminds me of Christians who say "Hate the sin, love the sinner", where "sin" usually includes homosexuality, to which skeptics reply they "hate
the belief but love the believer". I mean, of course it is normal for anyone to dislike what one sees
as wrong in others while still "loving" them as people in the sense of wishing the best for them
(and that "best" usually means to change their mind or anything one sees wrong in them of course).
Now what I consider odd from anyone is to point out this "good intention" of criticizing/dislinking an
opinion or practice while respecting/loving the person, as if it was anything remarkable. Thus, while I
see sense for skeptics to point out the mirror image of this in reply to Christians who made that fuss
in the first place, I see it odd for anyone to point out anything similar outside this excusing context
of not being the one who started it.
Indeed what is the point ? I think, the act of explicitly pointing out the need to distinguish the wrong thing
(opinion or attribute to be criticized) from the person to be respected, is one of the really insulting
possible acts, for the following reasons:
The state of affairs in this world, in case someone did not notice, is that there are multiple viewpoints
or ideologies, a number of which having their respective communities of very sincere, dedicated and
well-intended followers, which are not just logically opposed to each other, but violently so on an
intellectual level, i.e. very insulting to each other. Concretely, the members of each group usually do
not consider themselves infallible, but admit the possibility to be mistaken and see life as a long path of
continuous research to try to correct their possible mistakes. For this, they remain open to criticism. Or at
least they see themselves in this way. However for a criticism to be worth consideration, it obviously needs
to be reasonable and justified. This means it needs to be a minimum coherent with the general
body of the rest of known truths. More precisely, this means it must not diverge in more than,
something like 10% the average amount of disagreement with other ideologies out there. Any
candidate "criticism" which would oppose more than that, would obviously lose the status of
"reasonable criticism" to get that of ridiculous insult not worth any attention.
- As any act of pointing out the obvious, it is an insult to the intelligence of the other person so
assumed to need such an explanation
- Generally speaking, in natural conditions and on any side either right or wrong, the one
who makes the least distinction (the biggest confusion) between a conviction (object of criticism by
opponents) and the person holding it (who needs respect),
is that person himself. And there is nothing wrong with that. I mean, if someone did not take his
own conviction seriously, what would still be the point of trying to defend it ? So, to point out
the need to separate someone from his convictions, is just another way of saying that these convictions
are wrong. And a fucked up way of doing so.
- The last reason, to say in short, is that beyond ridiculous cases (which unfortunately can happen too)
the responsibility of everyone to contribute to the rationality of a debate with respect to
the risk for it to collapse by the force of insults, is less a matter of not telling insults, than a matter
of not feeling them. Here is why :
This is why genuine debates between followers of really different ideologies, usually do not happen
and cannot happen. This is why everybody's genuine and sincere willingness and impression of
being "open to criticism" and practicing self-criticism, remains hopelessly ineffective in terms of
real chances to depart from the main bodies of mistakes which can be committed.
I recognize that many skeptics are somewhat aware of this problem : this is why they
developed their method of "epistemic interview", which can be respected for being a
candidate solution to this problem of how to bridge the gap between incompatible
ideologies, problem which in many people's lives remains otherwise unsolved. And I do
recognize that this method can be really beneficial to some people, like I also recognize
that many people's lives could be genuinely changed for the better by being preached
the Gospel and becoming Christians.
It is just not my favorite method, as I see it too superficial and incomplete in terms of
the range of mistakes it can help to uncover (and I'm afraid it can be somewhat hypocritical
as a way of hiding how much you despise the thoughts of the people you are
discussing with). For the rest of possible mistakes and misunderstandings,
I do think they need to be addressed, and yet I cannot find a logical possibility to do so in a
non-insulting manner. This is why I conclude in the necessity to practice insensitivity to insults,
in order for genuine rational debates between truly different viewpoints to become possible.
I am aware that not many people are able and ready for that. However, I do not
think that those who aren't have a legitimate place as active members of the skeptical
movement, considering what their activity is supposed to be all about. This raises the question:
in these terms, how much of the active members of the skeptical movement may be legitimately
in their place ? To my link to the main discussion group I know dedicated to critical discussion
of the skeptical ideology and related topics, the reply was
"I never was to this group, but that is not the type of thing I would follow, sorry.
There are probably some interesting things, but I would hardly put up with all the propaganda
publications either anti-vaccine, pro-anthroposophical or bordering on racism, which I consider
to be real medical and social dangers. If you don't mind, great for you, but I understand that
it might be hard for some to take and some may feel discouraged from arguing by all that."
What a strange excuse. First, there is usually no trace of any race-related stuff in that
group, there only exceptionally happened to be there one recent news with one racial detail
at that time. There sometimes happens to be mentions of anthroposophy, but I could not see there
anything close to what might be called a "pro-anthroposophy propaganda". I am not interested in
anthroposophy (and cannot see the "social danger" of the Waldorf schools whose originality
seems to be to treat children as free individuals instead of slaves of some dictatorship of
nonsense as standard schools do...). As for vaccines, yes
the usual trend there is critical of vaccines, so what ? at least this view seems to come with
its rational grounds, which I would see no sense to just run away from in Science's name.
Now, while the above explanation for the lack of skeptics participation to that group is not
worded in terms of sensitivity to insults, it still seems to work the same. At least I don't see
much difference in how it works, namely the behavior of avoiding discussions due to a too
big amount or intensity of disagreements perceived as unbearable. Moreover this group
seems to me very civilized and reasonable, much more civilized and reasonable than
typical skeptics-dominated spaces. Different perspectives, so different perceptions of the same
"As for the comparison between science and dogma, it is irrelevant because
science requires precisely the ability to be questioned (which seems to be the object of your
criticism), and this is precisely the absence of this capacity which one can reproach movements
with sectarian tendency like the evangelists."
What did I write ???? I was comparing skeptics with Christians, in that both are as well-intended
and passionate (insofar as these qualities were supposed, not by me but from the above quote,
to be the main criteria for judgement that deserved consideration), NOT comparing science and dogma.
Indeed, especially, my main point is that skepticism is not science but pseudo-science.
Skeptics may find very interesting to study the thinking of people who
believe that the Earth is flat, however they will run away crying as soon as someone has the
madness of going to criticize the skeptical ideology. Poor dears fearing to have a heart attack if they
ventured in discussion spaces that are not properly censored by their peer skeptics to fit the
way they need discussions to look like. Yet they proclaim themselves champions of
self-criticism and accepting criticism. They are even ready to crush the world with their
super proclamations of good intentions about it. Yes of course they are open to the criticism
from the people who agree with them, like everyone else.
Let us come back to what it was which I was calling a "lie" rather than a "mistake" and why:
"The interference terms converge to 0... the probability to stay coherent only remains
significant for a very short time... even if the state of superposition remains, it can only stay
for (this short), then its probability becomes insignificant"
Really I cannot help but find this a masterpiece in the art of committing great fallacies to fool
the people as badly as possible. Starting from a piece of math which was roughly correct (even if
this form of its report can still be somehow criticized as detailed below),
this goes on in 2 steps into some completely wrong claims, through some extreme abuse of the
ambiguities of natural language, as if that precise use of natural language could be
an appropriate translation of what the math of decoherence meant. All the
opposite holds. People who hate math may like this "explanation" which they might mistake as clear
and fine. But those who properly understand it must be horrified of the falsity of where this went.
In reply to my remark on this coherence/superposition ambiguity, and that in many-worlds the
superposition persists, the excuse was
"I was presenting the standard point of view which is that decoherence is the loss of coherence,
of which superposition is a part (among other effects specific to quantum objects, both are not
confused). I am aware that decoherence has another role to play in the many worlds interpretation
but that was not the topic. I would ask you for avoiding this kind of misunderstanding, and for me to
not feel attacked, to try to adopt the philosophical position of indulgence, that is to say that which
consists in always interpreting the speech of another assuming he's intelligent.
As for ignoring the mathematical content, it is for pedagogical reasons that I made the decision
to do so, seeing how many people have a blockage when we talk about mathematics"
So much BS here.
On the math content of what is wrong. The reason why coherence and superposition must
not be confused, is not that superposition is only a part of coherence, but the other way round
(more comments below).
Then, there is logically no such concept as the "probability to stay coherent". Quantum "coherence"
consists in the presence of nonzero "interference terms" among the components of the
state of a system. These terms are numbers which can contribute
positively or negatively to the probabilities for the possible results of some kinds of measurements
which can be made, in ways which differ from what a classically probabilistic superposition would provide.
But these contributions to probabilities cannot consist in giving any non-zero probability for
any measurement result which would have zero probability in non-superposed (or classically superposed)
cases (indeed more precisely, mathematically changing the sign of an interference term must still give
non-negative values of all probabilities).
About this "standard point of view" being "standard". Sorry I have no interest to investigate
what the majority of other teachers happened to be saying on the topic, to find out whether it
was really here a great parrot's intelligence which deserved my praise in a world dominated by
the same BS, rather than an unfortunate fruit of a personal misunderstanding or distortion
away from some more defensible "standard".
About this "standard point of view" being a point of view at all. How could it be ? The fact is,
in the whole list of all conceivable and inconceivable interpretations of quantum physics, there
does not exist any one in which the end of superposition would coincide with decoherence. And
there is a good reason for this : that there is not and cannot be any exact definition for decoherence
in terms of the precise state of a system at a precise time.
Because the concept of decoherence is only defined as emergent from the fundamental
evolution laws, without any straightforward definition of its precise amplitude from the given state
of a system at a precise time. It all remains relative to the precise abstract way of analyzing the system,
whose relevance must be meant as trying to reflect the possibilities of solving the engineering
problem of coming up with a measurement device from outside the system (a concept itself
dependent of how you defined the limits of the system outside of which a measuring device is allowed
to come up), that could achieve this or that much difference of probabilities of results mentioned above.
How much hopeless it could be to try designing such a measuring device, and how daunting the
complexity of such a device you can still afford to make, which would be needed for a given
All that matters to the definition of how much "coherence" there is left at any given time
(and becomes practically insignificant only due to how fast all of this is wiped out by the exponential
decrease with a so extremely short time unit which applies to any given variant of the definition).
So whenever a given precise value of an interference term is given, which you may like to call
"the probability for coherence to remain", it does not mean that the complementary probability
would be the probability for the end of superposition to have really occurred; only that you gave
up trying to design a measurement device more sensitive than this to the quantum superposition.
About the many-worlds interpretation being "not the topic". On the contrary the only
possibly meaningful sense or relevant explanation to give to decoherence is the one it
takes in many-worlds, for the clear reason that :
- Decoherence is purely defined, not
directly from the well-established fundamental ingredients of quantum physics (states and
evolution laws) alone, but still indirectly so, i.e. as emerging from them alone anyway;
these well-established fundamental ingredients of quantum physics alone, form the very
definition of many-worlds. Therefore, there is no logical possibility for many-worlds to be out of
subject from anything quantum, to such a point that all other reasonable interpretations, having to
accepting this content which constitute many-worlds before adding some other ingredient,
must still somehow integrate all the many-worlds understanding of every stuff which emerges
from the fundamental ingredients anyway.
About the need to omit the math content for the sake of a better pedagogy. It is
one thing to make efforts of trying to develop relatively good translations of math into words
for this purpose. It is another thing to take this need of avoiding math for the public's sake
as an excuse to conform one's own mind to this pedagogical standard of hatred of math,
dismissing any care to understand this math for oneself, and then making heavy use of this
personal ignorance of the actual content of known science, as a means to keep feeling
innocent when proclaiming to the world that this math would prove the opposite of what it
really does, while not letting people a chance to discover what might be wrong with the
About the need to help someone to "not feel attacked".
It is one thing to divert from the topic by insisting on the duty of trying to adapt the expression of
stuff for that purpose. But then specifying the expected expression
of this requirement, first as "always interpreting the speech of another assuming he's intelligent",
and later as "talk about mistakes rather than lies, which is not connoted with a negative
intention" without anyhow noticing the contradiction, drives us further into the abyss of
nonsense (but it would have been naive to not expect it to end up there anyway ;
of course one might try to reject the contradiction, not in terms of lack of knowledge
background for this case where competence is claimed, but of the possibility for some
people to practice the art of sincerely using their intelligence inappropriately away from truth ;
this would drive us too much away from the topic, moreover the methods of skepticism are
not supposed to be the art of unintendedly using one's intelligence inappropriately, or are they ?)
About my reason to call this a "lie" rather than a "gross but still unimportant approximation for
public understanding anyway" : I actually explained this valid reason before the request
to talk of mistake rather than lie came as a reply:
It is on this ridiculous lie that rests the main usual physical argument of skeptics claiming
that the von Neumann Wigner interpretation [seeing a fundamental role of consciousness
to create physical reality] would be very problematic, when it is definitely not the case.
Details of how this "misunderstanding" effectively
serves as the main basis which so many skeptics heavily rely on when loudly proclaiming
having physical arguments for physicalism.
What should I conclude from this ? Poor dears are these skeptics victims of such a conspiracy
of the laws of Nature which once entangled with their holy concerns for pedagogy throughout
the math-dumb masses of people, drives them to so honestly and unwillingly fool everybody
into the conviction that there would be a solid physical argument for physicalism when there really is
none ! They deserve our compassionate understanding instead of a criticism don't they ?
On the diversity of skeptics
Similarly, the feeling about this exposition (reply to my link to this exposition):
"I do not understand why you send me a text of virulent criticism of skeptics of this kind.
What do you think I'm going to tell you? I do not recognize myself in what you denounce, and
I do not recognize [skeptics peers] either. It would be silly to start
talking in a Manichean way of good and bad skeptics. There might be people who claim to be
skeptical and fit what you are describing, but this is not something to complain to us, we are doing
everything we can to do a quality job. I don't see what more I can say."
Well, how can I take this dismissal, except as evidence that they're so unconscious of
themselves they'll never recognize themselves in a little mirror. What the heck is this
dismissal supposed to mean seriously ? The claimed evidence for the discrepancy in this reply
seems to be "we are doing everything we can to do a quality job". So what ? Did I ever accuse
any skeptics of not doing everything they could in their own eyes to do a quality job ? No I didn't.
Therefore I cannot find any sign of a genuine difference from this reaction.
Once again, I find here the same cause of misunderstanding I experienced with Christians,
who cannot recognize themselves in the description I make of them, because I described
how they effectively, externally behave, which is all what matters to me, and this does not
match the way they believe and intend to behave, which is what they focus on. The
temptation to look at one's own intentions can have 2 alternative excuses, one is that
intentions would be what really mattered for itself instead of effective results
(i.e. a call to switch the topic to matters
of personal judgement at the expense of effective concerns for actual states of the matter on realities
which those beliefs, intents and researches were supposed to be about), the other being that
effective outcomes would be mainly determined by these intents. And I reject both. If you don't
understand what I mean by the discrepancy between internal attitudes and external behaviors, please
refer to the Chinese room experiment. This is not just a crazy fictional thought experiment, but
a faithful description of what really happens most of the time with Christians doing their best
to follow God's will and wisdom, and skeptics doing their best to follow what they imagine as
"the scientific method" — except that, of course, this Chinese room works much better to make
super-wrong outcomes emerge from the best quality internal causes than the other way round.
Another aspect of how irrelevant it is to dismiss a criticism under the excuse of not
recognizing oneself there, is also well
explained by the famous atheist Greta Christina in these words
"And I get angry when believers act as if these offenses aren't important, because
"Not all believers act like that. I don't act like that." As if that fucking matters. This stuff is a major
way that religion plays out in our world, and it makes me furious to hear religious believers try to
minimize it because it's not how it happens to play out for them. It's like a white person
responding to an African-American describing their experience of racism by saying, "But I'm not
a racist." If you're not a racist, then can you shut the hell up for ten seconds and listen to the
black people talk? And if you’re not bigoted against atheists and are sympathetic to us, then
can you shut the hell up for ten seconds and let us tell you about what the world is like for us,
without getting all defensive about how it's not your fault? When did this international conversation
about atheism and religious oppression become all about you and your hurt feelings?"
More quotes from my discussion:
"— You think of skeptics as a uniform whole, but we are all very different individuals.
We share the same goal, which is to promote critical thinking and the scientific method,
but we do not have the same means, which creates major differences within the movement.
And that's fine, a uniform movement is more likely to close in on itself. I understand you had
a bad experience with a skeptic, but don't think they're all the same because of it"
Well, that reminds me the experience that, among the large number of Christians I happened
to meet randomly since my deconversion, I cannot remember anyone of them not explaining away
my deconversion by blaming me for the stupid mistake of having extrapolated a misfortunate
experience of having stumbled on the wrong Christians (unless they blame me for something
still more serious like betraying God...), ignoring the fact (which they never had the curiosity
to ask the question of) that I actually had, in average, much more negative experiences
with Christians after my deconversion than before (a phenomenon which the above section
explains well). See also about politically
correct fanatics by another author.
What I reported in this exposition, for many quotes aside some less
quoted others, is my experience with the only skeptic who, until now, had the
patience and willingness of sustaining a very long and in-depth discussion with me on quite
a number of topics. Moreover, if you really, seriously think that this one does not stand your
standards of quality skeptical thinking, please say it so loud, denounce the mistakes so committed
to stop other skeptics from committing the same mistakes in the future, and report it to him
(I'll share contact), that would be a big news to him I am sure. Then if you believe that there is
at least a noticeable fraction of the skeptics community with more intelligent and respectable
behavior than this, it is up to them to prove it. First by understanding that my analysis deserves
consideration without needing me to bother running after them, for serious reasons including the
quality of my work of clarifying the foundations of mathematics and physics better than most
other so-called science popularizers around. Then, by understanding that it needs serious replies
publicly and officially in their publications. Because I have no time to waste for more private discussions
with idiots speaking in the name of skepticism, in ways which could be more
waste of time and nerves as, if I then tried to use these by writing further public reports on these
(unless I'd be forbidden to, which would mean it really was an abuse of my time),
that could be seen worth dismissing as another ridiculous attempt of extrapolation from a
misfortunate experience with the wrong specimens of skeptics.
The idea of a diversity of views among skeptics raises the following issue. There is hopefully
this fundamental observable difference between proper science which successfully studies reality,
and cults with their dogmas or other failing research methods disconnected from reality : that in
any given question altogether meaningful, important enough to get attention and work of serious
and skilled investigators, old enough to have got that since quite a time, and easy
enough to be accessible to clearly successful investigation in such time, science eventually
reaches consensus, while cults fail and stay divided. There is the famous argument from
locality, to criticize religions claims of knowing the truth of God for that reason.
Now if it happens for the community of skeptics to keep a heavy and persisting internal discrepancy
of different views and different recognized lists of valid arguments on matters with the above
mentioned qualities, then it should be seen as a bad sign to the credibility and claims of rationality
of this community and its methods as a whole, rather than anything to be proud of.
If the limit to the possibility for skeptics to reach a reliable set of statements on important issues
for their concerns is the too small number of active skeptics working on these, which would be
ridiculously small compared to the more general scientific community, then they need to admit this:
the skeptics community is only a tiny group of people still in their research at a speculative stage,
not a proper representative and trustworthy voice of any kind of established science like other
sciences can be.
This brings to remember a crucial structure of normal, mainstream science, that is the
importance of clear distinctions between 3 different kinds of scientific activities in every field :
research (which may be speculative towards new results), teaching of core established
knowledge, and popularization. Skeptics do not seem to draw these lines so well in what they are
doing. They may point out, as a useful part of rational thinking and debates, the need for
people to specify, when making any claim, how sure these claims are seen. However beyond
individual discussions done for practice and exploration, there are some topics of wide enough
public interest, for which skeptics, in order to be serious and deserve the image of scientific
credibility they are expecting, would need to better sort out their activities by not sharing what
is sure and what isn't in the same communication spaces, but reserving their more speculative
ideas for some more internal discussion spaces, while only spreading to channels for large
audiences what was sufficiently checked and found to reach consensus among competent
people, for which the risks and rights to commit mistakes can be ruled out.
Here is an example from another part of the conversation:
So, there are different alternative possibilities : either psychiatry is a respectable, reliable
science serving well the public interest ; or it is a dangerous pseudo-science largely
manipulated by financial interests working as a mafia and destroying the lives of many people;
or anything in between. But these possibilities cannot be all true ; moreover the question does
matter, naturally falls inside the expectable range of skeptics fields of interests, is old enough
and does not seem to be out of reach of affordable successful investigation or is it ?
[me:] — I even remember a private message from one (prominent) skeptic recommending
me to go see a psychiatrist as an authority to justify that I would be mentally ill, even though in
fact I was a victim of poisoning by them. But I can't find it, I seem to have deleted it from my mailbox
(...) And so one of my big gripes with the skeptical community is that they generally side
with psychiatrists against their critics.
— (...) it is possible that there is this problem
because few people are aware of the damage that some psychiatrists can do...
Now if it happens that official skeptics publications defend psychiatry as a proper science
and dismiss its critics then I cannot see how any reasonable person aware of the damage of psychiatry
can decently bear being featured as an active member of a skeptics organization without at least
dedicating some energy to speak out loud publicly against those skeptics publications and their
authors, declaring them a shame for skepticism, in imperative need to be clearly disavowed and
contradicted through channels with at least as many readers or viewers as those through which
the wrong views were spread in the first place. It should not be the duty of other people who discuss
and try to assess the credibility of the skeptics community and its methods as a proper voice of
reason, to happily praise the wisdom of true skepticism while excusing and ignoring the big faults
committed in the most official skeptics channels, just in the name of the invisible existence of a minority
of members of this community who silently think better. The burden to sort out such things should
stand on the shoulders of skeptics themselves.
An important reason for this, is that it would be a great matter of practical application and
testing of the belief according to which, in average, active skeptics would be no less
rational and open to valid criticism and correction of mistakes than the rest of the population.
Summing up my old report
Long ago I spent quite some time reviewing the situation of the debate in France, and wrote
a report in French.
The main categories of those points:
To roughly sum up some diverse aspects:
- Their views are more diverse and naturally divergent, than the scientific
community usually is; and it all diverges from the normal ways of science too.
Divergence can be found among skeptical movements in France, even though most of
them are based on the same doctrine written by their guru and founder (Henri Broch).
Elsewhere, the Skeptical Inquirer, numbers 31/3 and 31/4, published an
article in two parts, « Global climate change triggered by global warning » from
the Center for Inquiry (organization for the defense of science and reason), explaining
that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change really is the expression of the scientific
consensus, and refuting one by one
the main climate-skeptical arguments. Since the publication of the first part, and even
more after the second, the editors received lots of letters from unhappy readers
arguing that "Skeptics can only be climate-skeptics", some even requesting
an immediate unsubscribe from this journal (Many such readers' letters are in 31/5).
Generally, skeptics' forums are full of controversy and conspiracy theories about
global warming, such as cannot usually be found in mainstream science.
- Their paranoia, that is, an exaggerated and unjustified belief in their opponents'
irrationality and conspiracies, so as to dismiss them too easily. Namely, the way skeptics
dismiss any contradiction by assuming without proper examination, that any opinion
different than theirs (such as belief in afterlife, or claims of having observed paranormal
phenomena) must be due to human error, fraud or desire to believe something, no
matter how implausible such an explanation can sometimes be.
- Essentialism, that of mistaking reason with a specific metaphysical doctrine (ontological
materialism); in other words, their confusion between a specific belief and an irrational
way of thinking, under the same name "faith";
- Misunderstanding about what the existing body of scientific knowledge is really saying:
while they are right to dismiss many pro-paranormal claims that distort the message of
quantum physics and pretend to deduce much more from it ("law of attraction"...)
than what it really says, the usual materialistic claims by skeptics (that the laws of
physics would be complete enough to exclude the plausibility of paranormal
phenomena) are usually no more compatible with quantum physics either. (In one
argument page from the French Association for Scientific Information (AFIS), I even
read the claim that the laws of physics are deterministic !!!).
- Lack of familiarity with the existing body of scientific knowledge that they
claim to criticize (parapsychology)
- Lack of serious extended work to develop experiments (instead, skeptics are
a lobby against experiments on the paranormal, not developing serious
- Simplicity, amateurism
- A caricatural view of the scientific method
- Essentialism on their interpretation of the scientific method, which they
present as a sort of spiritual, intrinsic virtue, a matter of intentionality, to praise
and develop for itself, making us deserve to be right, forgetting that it should
rather be undertaken as an adventure to explore and adapt to a reality that
does not care about us, or for our virtue, sincerity and dedication.
- Double standard of criticism: blind uncriticized belief of
biased and even sometimes false information from their own group
(whatever agrees with them), but systematic reactions of
hyperbolic doubt towards opposite claims
- Their focus on evangelization rather than curiosity and research
- Their conformism, assuming that everything is already known
and that anything not conforming to their laws and fundamental
truths would be evil.
- Their lazy confusion between all kinds of opponents
- Ad hominem arguments, with blind assumptions of the irrationality of
opponents to avoid serious rational debates on the core of the subjects.
Opposing views are often blindly dismissed as merely caused by feelings, such
as desires, conspiracies, delusion or fear.
- A form of collective infalsifiability within the movement, that consists in remaining
insensitive to having members of one's group convinced by contrary evidence,
by excommunicating them as never having been authentic members of the
movement; and replacing them by naive newbies to continue the movement.
Some historical aspects in France and in the world
More stuff I wrote long ago
The study of paranormal phenomena developed as a
scientific field, that is parapsychology, which came to be somehow officially accepted
as a science when the Parapsychological Association became affiliated to the American
Association for the Advancement of Science in 1969. Among researchers in this field,
a sort of consensus more or less emerged, that some proofs of existence of supernatural
phenomena are present, but they are often very tenuous (with casual exceptions) so that
it is not possible to provide as clear and simple proofs as many skeptics are usually
requiring, but a long study in the field is required to figure out the existing evidence.
There is a list of articles in
French in the web site of IMI. For example in
There is only one research organization on parapsychology in France, Institut Métapsychique International (IMI),
which is recognized as a public interest organization but hardly has any public support,
and roughly no recognition of its views by any other organization. (So, thorough debates
usually have to refer to the data produced outside of France as evidence for psi)
Instead, the views of the skeptics groups ("Zététique") are strongly supported by
the academic system and other official scientific organizations.
The founding organization of the whole French skeptical movement (Cercle
Zététique) was more and more discredited and finally self-dissolved, as the
leading and finally remaining few members were the most sectarian.
One of them is the Laboratoire de Zététique, an official laboratory in the
University of Nice, directed by the founder of the Cercle (Henri Broch), and officially supported
by 2 French Physics Nobel laureates, both dead but still put forward as honorary members.
The other, less official but the least sectarian and thus most respectable, thus
with the most members, is the Observatoire Zététique, based in Grenoble.
So they have basically the same ideology from the same guru (Broch) but make a
difference by their "soft attitude".
Smaller groups and independent skeptical webmasters also exist.
The Observatoire made clear its independence to not be mistaken with the others'
bigotry, and prefers to not put forward its divergence with the other groups, but all
is explained in its forum.
The whole ideology of the Zététique groups is that they are not interested
in the paranormal for itself, but made the choice to focus on paranormal claims
(preferably the most crazy and incredible ones, or their own caricatural interpretation
of them) as a toy model for a pedagogical project of teaching the scientific method to
a large public. But the practical effect of doing so is a dogmatic, ideological fight
against all paranormal claims across society through unserious investigations only;
and their discrepancy with science is particularly manifested by their amateurist, demagogic
approach of the scientific method (which one web site of a small zététique group claims
to be applicable by a child) - while of course keeping the conclusion fixed by "science".
The Skepticism pole of IMI's student group, whose members had to
remain anonymous to avoid any sort of personal attacks, hold a
blog and made a lot of contributions to many online discussions.
Finally they set up a web
version) to debunk the claims of the Zététique movement.
By taking the time to review some of the many debates across
forums and blog comments, it is striking how more rational and
convincing (while remaining very polite and civilized) is the
argumentation of these critics, as compared to the visible
dogmatism, sectarianism, amateurism and paranoia of the skeptics,
who were already widely discredited across any forum not hosted by them
nor by any "officially scientific" organization.
"To finish with some clichés: parapsychologists would be marginal, while
skeptics would be the official representatives of science. And what if it were the contrary ?
Here is an explanation once given by a member of the students group of IMI in
2007 in a newsgroup, about what is wrong with the practice of the so-called
scientific skeptics ("OZ" = Observatoire
(This text is an introduction to the lecture given by Pierre Lagrange January 28, 2005 at
I want to consider two points during this presentation. The first is how all
actors, whether favorable to the study of parapsychology or against this study, present
the debate. In their view, this debate would oppose a parapsychology at the margins of
science that would be barred from becoming a normal science because of the opposition
of skeptics, integrated with the institution. But if you look at the situation as it stands, we
notice that it is parapsychology, particularly through the Parapsychological Association,
that belongs to the institution, while the skeptics are those gathered in associations
outside the establishment. It is therefore not a controversy for the admission of a discipline
but a controversy between scientists (parapsychologists) and science consumers (the
rationalists) who are skeptical towards the interest of obtained results for society, as
often happens (GMOs, nuclear energy etc.). Thus why do even parapsychologists
accept reports on the controversy that do not correspond to reality and promote
the discourse of skeptics ? That is an enigma.
But this puzzle does not come alone. In fact, I think it is related, at least in France
to another very powerful speech in parapsychology circles. Indeed, for decades,
endless controversies always occurred following the terms imposed by rationalists.
Thus parapsychologists scramble to meet the requirements of proof raised by
rationalists rather than rely on the normal scientific practice and seek in the
plurality of scientific practices the allies they would need. And this discourse on
evidence taken from rationalists (that has the disadvantage of being by definition
impossible to satisfy) is coupled with a lack of real practice of the discipline. However,
it is difficult to accept that rationalists are such a great danger when we see that
parapsychology has scientific societies such as the PA, newspapers referees and
symposia. (...) there were other times, especially in the early 50s with Robert Amadou,
when parapsychology had created the conditions for a debate without worrying constantly
of the only rationalist opponents (...) By focusing on rationalists, parapsychologists
today give the impression of wanting to support them at all costs by refraining in finding
elsewhere the relays to build an identity for research in parapsychology (...)"
"If you want, to give you a picture, what OZ does for me represents what a young
physics student who would suddenly want to do chemistry experiments would do. He
knows nothing about chemistry but he wants to test what his neighbor told him about a
chemical phenomenon that he is sure he can reproduce. The neighbor in question does
not understand anything about the phenomenon and does not know that this
phenomenon had appeared thanks to a catalyst. The physics student, who knows
nothing about chemistry and who has not read the literature, does not know the catalyst.
He therefore makes his experiment under these conditions, the most rigorous possible,
and obtains nothing (because there is not the catalyst). He therefore concluded that he
never saw this chemical reaction but that he remains open. He even publishes a detailed
account on the Internet. When chemists see his work and suggest modifications to it,
notably taking into account the catalyst, our physics student replies that he does not do
research in chemistry, what he does is test what his neighbor said. He is not interested in
knowing the scientific literature on the subject. Then, this student sometimes makes on
stands (at exhibitions) some experiments supposed to show this chemical experiment,
but in reality, he then demonstrates that it is a trick, he cheated to show this phenomenon.
In reality, he never observed it. And on his site and when he talks to other people
about this subject, he does not refer to the work of chemists because it is not his field.
In short, what I am trying to tell you is the following: if you want to allow scientific
thought to be disseminated, that is fine. But please, do not do it using the support
of Paranormal. Because by acting in this way, perhaps involuntarily, you harm
parapsychology because for the public, OZ is a valid interlocutor in the field of the
scientific approach of the so-called paranormal phenomena. Many people think
that if you do not get anything, it is because these phenomena do not exist.
However the question is very complex. You do not do research, you do not consult
the publications and it is not your goal. If you really want to use the paranormal,
then make it clear that you are not referring to scientific parapsychology and the
reasons for that. For now, this is not clear on your site.
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