Tag Archives: Critical Thinking

Skewed perceptions of intent and responsibility

I’ve always been somewhat intersted in the areas of human experience that are a little bit more “out there” and intriguing. Subjects like the supernatural, UFOs and cryptozoology were things that I really enjoyed absorbing information on when I was a kid and as I got older my approach to them was altered as things always are by the experience of becoming hopefully more worldly and less credulous in general. This often meant that when I came back to a subject, I was reading it with a far more critical opinion of the claims people were making and the evidence they presented to back up their findings.

I suppose this process for me was almost begun by the popularity of TV programmes that had the peak of their fame almost a decade ago now. I had never been the kind of person to catagorise myself as a skeptic before, but it was not long into the time I spent watching a particular programme (which will remain nameless) that I was forced to admit that it was tantamount to open bilking of the audience. The presenters would mince around a supposedly haunted location in the middle of the night with their pet medium (i.e. fraud in this and most other cases) and ascribe any random noise or mote of dust that floated in front of the camera to the supernatural while making no effort to introduce a scrap of scientific rigour to what they were doing.

The most thankless job went to a professor who was asked to watch the episode back and comment from the perspective of a scientist on the so-called findings. Inevitably his conclusions were the same: that there was no way to prove or disprove that what they had experienced was mundane or otherwise due to the amatuerish and unprofessional approach the programme took. But of course in the mind of some, this oddly served to add weight to the idea that something beyond the ken of science was going on, rather than that everyone involved was wasting their time unless they had no interest in what was going on save for making a TV program that was eagerly lapped up by the audience.

My choking point came when the same expert was asked onto one of the live marathon shows they had begun to produce on events such as Halloween. On this occasion he was asked by one of the presenters (and interstingly based on the exchange that followed also an owner of the production company responsible for the program) what his opinion was of a random sound they had heard and recorded. He did the usual thing of speaking as though he wondered why he bothered, listing the logical things that could have made the noise that were not the spirits of the departed. But then he voiced the obvious fact that it could have been faked to generate interst in the show. At this the presenter seemed to lose his mind, almost threatening the skeptic and demanding to know what possible motivation he could have to fake the evidence.

Of course it does not take a genius to speculate as to the motivation of man who owns the company making the show and why he would want to see impressive “evidence” of the paranormal onscreen, whether it be real or not.

From there the original skeptic was replaced with a slew of ever more pathetic and bored-looking skeptics who mumbled about rational explanations, while the over-eager presenters came out with priceless lines such as: “By the end of the night, we will make you believe!” But the most amusing was when they paired the skeptic with a credulous individual who was sold on matters of the supernatural and described the latter as the one who had “an open mind”.

Is it possible to have a more blantant failure to understand the meaning of words in the English language?

The skeptic is asking for proof of these extraordinary claims, willing to subject them to the same scrutiny as every scientific theory is made to endure and only then decide if the phenomenon is credible. The believer on the other hand has already made up their mind based on either the word of another or something they have seen and under their own auspices decided stands as proof of the supernatural.

The more I read around there subjects, the more I see this bizarre and frankly worrying juxtaposition of roles being imposed on the viewpoint of the skeptic and the believer. Almost without exception, when an individual makes an outrageous claim of one kind or another in these areas, the rational mind that seeks to respond and ask for proof is characterised as at the best an arrogant and uncaring cynic and at the worst a vindictive monster.

This is all the more disturbing when one considers the realms of public life in which we demand such scrutiny without question and would think that its absence made the process highly questionable. In a court there would be nothing to be gained by calling the prosecution all the things that a skeptic is accused of being simply because he points out the evidence does not favour the accused. And yet this happens in almost all cases where a skeptic takes the time to study and comment upon the claims of those who tell the public at large that they can commune with the dead, have been abducted by aliens or know the location of Bigfoot.

I can only think that there exists a level of dislocation from or experience of the real world in the minds of many who are either claming to be witnesses to this kind of phenomena or seeking to make a career out of bringing them to the attention of the public at large. Anyone who has been party to way that all too harsh real world works will attest to the fact that there is little room for fudging the facts and asking that what you are claiming to be the truth should be accepted on your word alone. If something does not stand up to fairly harsh scrutiny, it is likely to be derided and tossed out as bullshit in very short order with little or no thought for the feelings of the person making groundless claims.

Perhaps the most outlandish of these sentiments was encapsulated in the UFO researcher who was sold on the idea of abductees who claimed to have been repeatedly taken by aliens, when he compared the nature of skeptics who took the opposing point of view to those who would accuse a rape victim of making fake claims or having brought it on themselves. I mean really, could there be a more distasteful and in the end revealing statement of the skewed view that such individuals are capable of adopting to protect their own precarious take on such a matter? This person would characterise the act of merely approaching an issue with an unwavering commitment to dealing with the hard facts rather than indulging in potentially damaging and patently untrue claims as being tantamount to condemning a victim of a violent crime?

Even when the same demands are made in a court of law to prove crimes every day around the world?

In the end it becomes ever more disturbing to realise that we live in a world where some people would see the credulous believer as the champion of what is right and deride the skeptic who merely asks for proof before he believes as the villain. Like the crowd who were whipped up into buying the magical cure-all tonic by the travelling salesman, they may find later that they have swallowed something quite unpleasant.

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