... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

381: Some Stuff I don't Believe In

When faced with an otherwise rational and sane person professing to me their belief in spirits or the spiritual, or their feelings that they may be psychic or able to predict the future, I quite reasonably express scepticism. These are extraordinary claims which require extraordinary evidence. Intangible feelings that there must be something and anecdotes about someone who heard or saw something they just can't explain do not class as extraordinary evidence. Saying I'm usually quite sceptical, but... does not magically imbue the story with believability.

At this point I am invariably asked well, how do you explain it then? How do I explain what? Well, my friend/pet/grandfather experienced this and it's weird isn't it? This is a story and holds no more value as evidence than the ravings of a child who, due to a combination of an experience they cannot explain with their limited knowledge, an overactive imagination, and a burning desire to believe, insists to a parent that they really did see Father Christmas, they really did.

Well, we took a photograph (almost invariably at a church, graveyard, house that is meant to be haunted, or battleground; never at a sporting event, restaurant or orgy) and there was a figure/spirit/aura/orb. How do you explain that? What a loaded question; more importantly how do you explain that? I can't explain it. It may be a camera glitch, lens flair, finger print, dust or steam. It may be that it's photo-shopped by a prankster aware of your gullibility. How should I know?

Exactly you don't know do you? It was an aura, a spirit pressing against our realm, blah. In other words: you don't know either, you're just too dishonest (or open-minded) to admit it. Can you describe to me this aura? What is it, what does it do, how does it work, what is it for, what is it made of? I don't know; There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. You think it's an aura, but you don't know what an aura is? You'd save a lot of time looking silly if you'd just admitted from the outset you didn't know what it was. It must feel warm and lovely to be able to counter genuine scepticism with an accusation that the sceptic is closed or closed-minded, while simultaneously using your own feigned-scepticism to pretend your delusions are rationally constructed and logical.

With the knowledge currently available there doesn't appear to be anything explainable only be supernatural means, or any reason to suspect that one day the advance of our natural sciences might be scuppered by woo-woo or hoo-haa. Everything is material. If amazingly, some photo-evidence does turn out to be something genuinely spooky (i.e. outside the realm of science), then that would be genuinely fascinating for everyone – including me, and any scientist worthy of that honourable and greatest of all professions.

Small orb in bottom left corner of image.

The ghostly and spiritual is often claimed to exist somewhere outside the limitations of our closed-off science (or some similar hogwash) – exactly the reason I don't believe it. I've said it before and I'll say it again – science is the technique of separating factual truth from opinions, delusions, preferences, misconceptions, fantasies, etc. Am I to be expected to disregard, or at least doubt, the entire body of scientific knowledge about fundamental forces and physical mechanisms, based simply on a story about someone who felt a bit weird? If that is closed-minded, I am proud to be so. There is an old quote, stated and restated by many of the world's great thinkers: Keep an open mind – but not so open your brains fall out. Be swayed by such stories, or even interested in the waffle of those who are swayed, and your brain has already begun sliding over the edge.

The reason I don't believe in spirits, ghosts, intelligent aliens among us, demons, fairies, gods and goddesses, "orbs", spooks, vampires, banshees, mind-reading, astrology or premonitions is because all of these would require physical (material) mechanisms to function, the likes of which we have found no convincing evidence for. When you see something you can't explain, and the first rational person you speak to also can't explain it, that does not mean an off-the-shelf supernatural explanation will do. It means you don't know, and there is nothing wrong with admitting that. The balance of probability is swung heavily toward their being a fairly simple rational explanation, which will be fascinating because it is likely true. The explanation that it is a ghost trying to communicate something important is tedious in the extreme (like someone describing at length the events of last night's dream) because it is likely not true.

I am occasionally surprised by someone who makes claims to believing in some aspects of the supernatural, yet who turns their nose up (cliche alert) at the idea of god. This I cannot understand; it is surely the same form of unthink (or perhaps double-think; I don't know) which allows some people to be certain of the existence of Yahweh or Allah, but laugh out loud at the honest (if sarcastically loaded) enquiry as to whether they also believe in Zeus or Thor, Ra or Xenu. New age pap about spiritual, white-witchiness just seems to be in vogue, and the very same silliness when attached to organised religion is unfashionable.

Religion suggests dogma and preaching – proscribed thought, intolerance, unchanged over time – whereas spirituality and magic suggest free thinking, connection with nature, oneness and yet individuality. Both are similar in that they consider their own subjective experience to be evidence for universal truth, and both have passive-aggressive ways of condescending the the non-believer (I will pray for you). Both hold beliefs in the unbelievable – illogical unrealistic propositions held on to despite a lack of evidence (or in the presence of contradictory evidence). They confuse the feeling of wanting to believe with the concept of truth.

Perhaps most importantly they are ignorant towards the methods, purpose and power of science – choosing to reap the benefits when convenient, but ignoring it when they don't immediately understand it. I don't get it so it's bollocks; It's just a theory; Yeah well, how do they know that though? I reckon they just make it up as they go along! Science is especially easy to dismiss when it contradicts our feelings or preconceptions.

If premonition (for example) were to exist, I suggest we would know it for a fact now. Scientists would be fighting each other to make the breakthroughs, to discover the mechanisms. If the ability to predict the future were genuine it would open up an entirely new branch of science, setting the discoverer up for life and making their name immortal, and revolutionise the world. This isn't happening; correct me if I'm wrong. If someone could predict the future – regularly, with a hit rate far exceeding that attainable by just guessing, under strict laboratory conditions, and recording failures as accurately as successes (so as not to allow cherry-picking of positive results) – then it logically follows that the same physical mechanism could be used to change the past. I've never heard anyone claiming that ability. That is because it is ludicrous, but no less so than claiming to be able to see the future.

Welcome to the world of the spiritual and the supernatural.


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