Skeptic

Abstract

Perhaps the most important trait for anyone involved in the study of frontier subjects is the ability to maintain an open mind while practicing discernment. This attitude is sometimes referred to as skepticism; however, when a person is skeptical of something without reason, that person is known as a skeptic. Skepticism in itself is a healthy attitude so long as it is accompanied by open-minded investigation.

Rather than practicing discernment, skeptics actively campaign to teach the public to see such new thought as a danger to society. As is already occurring in some governments, including the USA, this vilification of frontier subjects has the potential to cause a social and governmental reaction that could at the least prevent further study and possibly provoke action harmful to people studying these subjects. Because of this, it is no longer realistic to ignore skeptics or their efforts.


Introduction

The word skeptic is based on a Greek term meaning thoughtful. According to TheFreeDictionary.com, a skeptic is:

  1. One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.
  2. One inclined to skepticism in religious matters.

From the Etheric Studies perspective, people who describe themselves as skeptics have the common interest of suppressing any idea or concept they believe is not supported by mainstream science. This perspective works for parapsychologists, as well. If you read their literature, you will see that they tend to obsess about being seen as practicing good science by mainstream thinkers. That mainstream envy is probably one of the reasons parapsychologists are so quick to denounce survival related phenomena.

A number of friends have urged me to use pseudoskeptic, as in false skeptic, to identify people I describe here; however, the mainstream people causing all of the trouble are found with Internet searches for skeptic, and for the most part, remain invisible if searched for with pseudoskeptic. (Note 1)

Because my intention is to inform our community about the problems skeptics are causing, I feel it is necessary to call them what they call themselves. The term has been co-opted by habitual detractors. Real skeptics, people who open-mindedly question to learn and understand or to assure the speaker knows what he or she is talking about, will need to find a better term for themselves. Perhaps discerning.

It seems that virtually every parapsychologist and psychical researcher has written articles complaining about skeptics. It is common to find laypeople in our community complaining about being belittled for believing what the skeptics consider nonsense.

The motto for my personal website, ethericstudies.org, is: Believe what you wish but understand the implications what you believe. To understand the implications of what you believe, it is important to examine how you develop your assumptions about the world around you. The Point of View essay on this website addresses the relationship between what we come into this lifetime with, how we approach new learning situations and how we develop our point of view. (2) In this essay, I have addressed what skepticism is and what skeptics are from the point of view of the Implicit Cosmology. (3)

Skepticism and Scientism

Contrary to the objectives of healthy skepticism, skeptics tend to condemn the exploration of new ideas, thereby protecting the status quo. Their often-stated position is that something cannot be if it is not explicitly supported by existing, mainstream science. That is a form of Scientism(Note 1) which means the ideological belief that science—mainstream science—is the only authority on the nature of reality. (4)

Tells of a Skeptic

Skeptics attempt to show the unacceptability of an idea by belittling it and associating it with obviously silly ideas, rather than relying on facts, evidence and sound logic to prove their point. They describe the idea and people associated with it in terms that would usually cause a fight if spoken face-to-face.

As I explain below in the section below about Wilhelm Reich, you should consider skeptics more than just a nuisance. They seem to assume that if believers are seen as second-class citizens by the mainstream public, they will not enjoy the protection of social norms afforded mainstream citizens. So, if you read something that calls someone a whacko or fraud, or describes a practice as fraudulent or woo-woo, you can know that the material was written by a skeptic. Their intention is clearly to find a way to make you go away.

Name-calling is especially true of skeptics who focus on alternative or complementary health practices. They commonly refer to these with the derogatory term of quackery and practitioners as quacks. Of course, any such practice that is not specifically approved by the government is considered pseudoscience, and even some that are approved such as chiropractic feel the wrath of those who think complementary is just another word for fraud.

Without research to support their accusations, skeptics seldom add knowledge to the subjects they attack but are only able to destroy knowledge. Here, the Latin term, a priori has special meaning. They routinely make statements about subjects for which they have no knowledge other than that their peer group is against it. In this context, the term means without prior knowledge and is used to say that the person is judging without having become informed about the subject. The practical result of this book burning mentality is that new ideas are suppressed and examination of new ideas by academically trained researchers has become probable professional suicide.

Comparing the View of Science with the View of Skeptics

Wikipedia editor Ludwigs2 expressed one of the better descriptions of the skeptic view:

“Science and skepticism are entirely different projects; they share the word skepticism, but it has different meanings for each group. For a scientist, skepticism means (roughly) ‘I choose not to have any beliefs about a subject in the absence of evidence.‘ It’s a philosophically conservative position designed to keep people from making a priori assertions about the world (except those dictated by logic or math). For skeptics, by contrast, skepticism means (roughly) ‘I choose to believe that non-conventional ideas are wrong until they have met some burden of evidence.‘ This is an ideological position designed to advocate against certain kinds of viewpoints. See how these differ on (for example) acupuncture:

“Looking at something like acupuncture scientifically one would be forced to admit that there really isn’t much evidence either way—there is no scientific reason to recommend its use, but no obvious reason to say that it’s wrong, either. That is, acupuncture is morally neutral, like drinking tea with honey and lemon when you have a cold.

“Looking at something like acupuncture as a skeptic one would find oneself saying that acupuncture hasn’t met the needed burden of evidence, and so acupuncture is wrong—and this will lead to ideological claims that people who take acupuncture are stupid, that people who do acupuncture are charlatans, and etc. That is acupuncture is morally bereft, like selling sugar pills as cure for cancer.

“Scientists and skeptics overlap in the assertion that one should use practices that have been borne out by systematic experience. But that’s where the similarity ends: skeptics go on to make moral judgments about practices that science can never make, and to engage in advocacy with respect to those moral claims. Consider the vast range of skeptical literature, almost none of which contains any actual research (aside from literature reviews of other people’s published work), and which is almost entirely dedicated to critical declamations against one or another questionable activity. Skepticism is (frankly) scientific punditry, and while I won’t deny its value in that consumer advocate sort of way, one needs to be cautious with it as an intellectual enterprise.”

Organized Harm to Society

Paranormalists represent a small and mostly unorganized community. The skeptical community, on the other hand, is relatively well organized and fast growing. In Skepticism: The New Religion, Roy Stemman notes that Spiritualism’s public outreach is contracting while the skeptical community is becoming more organized and much more effective in influencing the media. (5) A search of the Internet for skeptic will produce dozens of pages full of skeptical websites. The Association TransCommunication website (atransc.org) and this website, which contains my personal writing, are clearly homegrown. By comparison, many of the skeptical websites are slick, professionally designed and maintained, and I am sure, well-funded. It is clear that paranormalists are losing the fight to gain public respect and support. That should be a concern if you enjoy the right to publicly study these subjects.

Some governments, including the US Government, have adopted the viewpoints espoused by organized skeptical groups and routinely label the study of paranormal phenomena as pseudoscience and cite harm to the best interest of the public caused by belief in pseudoscience. In many such claims, supporting references are skeptical sources, which in turn cite these government reports for support of their viewpoint. This is in actuality a form of circular referencing in which truth is invented as a means of vilifying ideas that do not agree with the prevailing scientific ideologies.

A Case Study: Government Acting on Skeptical Views

I am not well informed about how governments have acted against people who have been accused of activity deemed by skeptics as pseudoscience. Please be sure to examine this for yourself.

The first point I would make is that the study of frontier subjects is not protected by the law. Once it is socially okay to say that what we study contradicts science and may be harmful to the public, it becomes possible for governments and organizations to make examples of individuals by suppressing their freedom. We have seen this reenacted many times in our history with everything from witch hunts to internment during the Second World War.

Wilhelm Reich is a more recent example. The short story about Reich is that he was put in jail in 1956 for making claims about a hypothetical form of subtle energy deemed by skeptics to be unsupported by accepted science. He also developed devices that might put the energy to work and claimed he could heal people of some diseases with the energy.

In fact, he was jailed because he ignored the government charges (Food and Drug Administration (FDA)), and apparently, his partner transported some of their material across state lines against government orders. That act was treated as criminal contempt of court. From the Wilhelm Reich Museum website (6):

“While Reich appealed his sentence, the government carried out the destruction of orgone accumulators and literature. In Maine, several boxes of literature were burned, and accumulators and accumulator materials either destroyed or dismantled. In New York City, on August 23, 1956, the FDA supervised the burning of several tons of Reich’s publications in one of the city’s garbage incinerators,  … This destruction of literature constitutes one of the most heinous examples of censorship in United States history.”

Reich died of heart failure while in prison and I understand his research partner committed suicide shortly thereafter.

Reviewing What is Orgone Energy? by Charles R. Kelley, Ph.D. will give you a sense of the nature of this subtle energy which Reich called Orgone. (7) You will also see that Reich’s discovery is really just one of many rediscoveries of the same energy. Today, it is being studied as psi or biofield. (Note 3)

Because of its apparent effect on living tissue, the influence intentionality has on this energy to heal a person is a primary means of studying the energy (see An Unusual Form of Radiation has a Reproducible Effect in the Laboratory by Robert A. Charman (8)). It also appears that meditation and group intention can reduce the randomness of random event generators. This effect may be the result of a change in the biofield and may also help explain how EVP are formed.

A Case Study: Skeptical Control of the Media

It is obvious from a simple search of the Internet that the skeptics dominate the media when it comes to public outreach about frontier subjects. Yes, there are thousands of ghost hunter club websites and websites promoting the many forms of complementary medicine, but if you look for substantive support for the concepts, you run into a wall of skeptical websites supported by skeptic clubs, universities and mainstream science organizations. One of the most dominant of the skeptic’s media is Wikipedia. An article in Wikipedia is the first result for many search subjects.

If you are surprised to hear that Wikipedia is counted at the top of the skeptic’s media, I recommend that you take some time to read the Talk Page associated with your favorite frontier subject. There is usually an ongoing discussion amongst editors about the struggle to balance the point of view of the article–a cardinal rule of Wikipedia. The problem is that the rules favor the majority group of editors, which are skeptics and nearly all of the editors who seek a true balance have been permanently blocked from editing or simply run off. Subject-matter specialists are not allowed to edit subjects in which they may have a conflict of interest. See Concerns with Wikipedia for more on this.

The associated article Talk Pages is often a battleground in which naive new editors are attacked and eventually driven off by the dominating skeptical editors. An example is the biography of a living person for Rupert Sheldrake, (9) an article I am banned from editing for life. Especially look at the Archived Pages (upper-right corner of the Talk Page), as the skeptics, being sensitive to prying eyes of the public, quickly archive embarrassing exchanges.

In a nutshell, a group of determined people hiding behind screen names have managed to gain control of what is thought by the public to be a respected online encyclopedia. Rather than writing the articles as “This is what is the subject is about, and here are the various viewpoints about the subject,” articles about what they call fringe subjects are written in a tone that subtly gives the sense that the subject is nonsense and a danger to society. The articles may have a lot of information, but it is always couched in terms of believers, proponents and how it is pseudoscience or quackery.

The Internet has given skeptics considerably more access to the public so that people with strong opinions and too much time on their hands can substantially influence the opinions of many people. A little time spent reviewing the International Skeptics Forum (10) might shock you as to the strong opinions against frontier subjects spoken by ill-informed people hiding behind screen names.

Healthy Skepticism

There is a balance between a priori skepticism and open-minded gullibility. Some claims are not even reasonable for frontier subjects. Many reported experiences are clearly delusion or the ordinary mistaken as unusual. Every bump in the night is not a ghost and not every instance of improved health is because of healing intention. On the other hand, some of these reported experiences are not explained by current principles of science and may point to new understanding of nature. It is not reasonable to accept some of the extreme explanations without substantiating research, but it is also not reasonable to discount the reports because they are not currently part of known science.

“Understand the implications what you believe” is based on the idea that you should practice critical thinking leading to discernment. That means you take the time to examine the evidence before adopting a conditional opinion. I say conditional opinion because the rest of the story is that whatever is decided should be routinely reexamined to see if it still makes sense. If possible, the opinion should be tested. If the opinion cannot be reasonably based on evidence, then you should remain undecided. If there is not sufficient information to arrive at an informed opinion, no opinion is the only answer. To do otherwise is to base the opinion on faith derived from popular wisdom, superstition and/or the opinion of others who may be acting on an undisclosed agenda. (Note 4)
A fair portion of academia believes all major principles in nature have been discovered and that all we are doing now is filling in the details. That is to say that there is only the physical universe … period! Anything outside of that, such as a psi field, etheric personality and survival of personality after bodily death, is not included in these major principles of nature and therefore cannot be. As an a priori assumption, this has manifest as Scientism at its worst. As an a priori assumption, this is Scientism at its worst This a priori assumption has manifest as Scientism at its worst.

Each of us has a responsibility to practice discernment about what we believe. At the same time, anyone who makes a claim about these phenomena has the responsibility to clearly distinguish between what can be experimentally proven and what is believed as a matter of faith. The Pseudoscience essay is a discussion about what these terms mean. In essence, if study is not based on ideas developed from a clearly stated hypothesis (theory about the subject) following a predefined protocol (methodology of how to conduct the study) with the intention of publishing a report that will be vetted by subject-matter specialists, then resulting opinions cannot be claimed as experimentally proven. Fruits of the study can be described as an ongoing study, but be careful not to claim science unless reasonably well-considered methodologies have been applied.

A second, equally important consideration when claiming science is the qualifications of the people who conducted the research. Evan a person with a doctorate in parapsychology must establish credibility to study the particular subject. An example is a person trained as a psychologist conducting research concerning transcommunication. If it is about how a person experiences the phenomena, then the researcher should be considered qualified. If it is about how the phenomena are formed, then there is no reason to assume the person is any more qualified than an experienced paranormal field investigator who is able to put together and report on a sound protocol based on a well-conceived research question. Our field is especially vulnerable to skeptical attacks based on qualifications of our specialists.

What you say need not be based on your research alone. This website and atransc.org are efforts to provide a growing body of material you can refer to. There are other association journals and judicious use of Internet material can help you develop a supportable statement about your understanding of these phenomena. Be careful of the Trojan Horse Effect, however. As noted above, skeptics are sometimes members of organizations that are involved in paranormal research. In some cases, these organizations effectively function as debunkers for some concepts, especially survival related phenomena. There is a hierarchy of approval for concepts, so that while the mainstream objects to things paranormal, many paranormal organizations (or at least members of these organizations) regard the idea of survived personality as pure nonsense. Use discernment

Skeptical About Skeptics

On the other side of the debate are people who are genuinely open-minded skeptics. The Skeptical About Skeptics website is a good example. (11) From their website:

Pseudoskeptics Revealed

Many self-proclaimed skeptics are committed to upholding the authority of established science by maintaining conventional taboos. They are intolerant of those who transgress the boundaries of scientific orthodoxy. These self-appointed gatekeepers of the dominant paradigm proudly call themselves skeptics, but reveal themselves as fundamentalists who dismiss any evidence that challenges their belief system.

Skeptical About Skeptics examines the ill-informed attacks leveled by these pseudoskeptics. With articles by well-known scientists and thinkers we reveal their faulty critiques and the underhanded methods they employ. We highlight controversies in specific fields of research and shine a light on prominent skeptics and skeptical organizations.

We are pro-science, and we are in favor of open-minded inquiry.

Each of us is a representative of our field. The skeptics have influence because they are zealous, not because they are right but mostly because we do not represent ourselves in a defensible way. Yes, there is still the problem that things paranormal are outside of known and therefore acceptable science, but that can never be addressed so long as the skeptics are able to make their ridicule of us so believable by using our own words and actions. It is for us to show the world they are wrong.


Note 1

Also see The Anti-Sheldrake Phenomenon: Attacking Morphic Resonance. 1

Note 2

In his 04/22/2013 essay, Sagan and Scientism, Greg Koukl defined scientism thus: “Scientism states this: only that which can be proved by science is true. Science can only prove things about the physical world, therefore if it doesn’t prove something about the nonphysical world, which it’s really not equipped to do, then the only rational belief is that only physical things exist and non-physical things like the mind or the soul don’t exist. That is the doctrine of scientism….” (Paragraph 15) (4)

Note 3

Be aware that, like psi field, Orgone is not a proper energy as energy is defined in mainstream physics. It appears to be more correct to refer to it as an etheric field which is influenced by intentionality, rather than such physical characteristics as gravity and difference of electrical potential. It is evidently not propagated as an electromagnetic field. Rather than vibration, it exhibits the characteristic of potential to manifest as an aspect of reality; a conceptual thing to which we may attribute physicality.

Note 4

The idea of suspended judgment is based on the understanding that our mostly unconscious mind tends to quickly integrate a decision into worldview. The mindful approach to new ideas is to resist deciding until more information is available. A discerning person is one who does not assume he or she has all of the information necessary to decide.

References

  1. Dace, Ted. “The Anti-Sheldrake Phenomenon: Attacking Morphic Resonance.” R 2010. sheldrake.org/reactions/the-anti-sheldrake-phenomenon
  2.  Butler, Tom. “Point of View.” Etheric Studies. 2015. ethericstudies.org/point-of-view/
  3. Butler, Tom. “Implicit Cosmology.” Etheric Studies. 2015. ethericstudies.org/implicit-cosmology/
  4. Koukl, Greg. “Sagan and Scientism.” Stand to Reason. 2013. str.org/articles/sagan-and-scientism#.WgNwnsanGUl
  5. Stemman, Roy. “Skepticism: The New Religion.” Spiritualist Society of Reno. 2010. spiritualistsocietyofreno.org/skepticism-new-religion/
  6. “Biography of Wilhelm Reich.” The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust. 2011. wilhelmreichtrust.org/biography.html
  7. Kelley, Charles R. Ph.D. “What is Orgone Energy?” Kelley-Radix. 1999. kelley-radix.org/downloads/what_is_orgone_energy.pdf
  8. Charman, Robert A. “An Unusual Form of Radiation has a Reproducible Effect in the Laboratory.” Association TransCommunication. 2010. http://atransc.org/unusual-energy/
  9. “Rupert Sheldrake.” Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Sheldrake
  10. International Skeptics Foruminternationalskeptics.com/forums/forumindex.php
  11. Skeptical about Skeptics. skepticalaboutskeptics.org/

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