Sunday, August 29, 2010

My philosophy

Until recently, I never really thought about why I am a skeptic.  I never thought that I had a philosophy, regarding my belief and lack of belief, until I started chatting with people in paranormal forums.  Discussion with others acted like a mirror, allowing me to see myself more clearly.

So, why don't I believe in the paranormal?  It's not because I think it's stupid, it's not because I think the people who do believe are stupid, and it's not because I'm afraid of looking stupid.  It's simply because I don't have any reason to believe in it.

There are plenty of people I've spoken to who claim to have experienced things, that if I had experienced them myself, I probably would believe differently.  But, as it stands, these people's experiences are just stories I've heard, based on human perception and human memory, two things that, in the past, I've described as being as trustworthy as drug addicts.

None of us know everything, and there are plenty of mysterious things that happen during the day.  When there are noises in the kitchen, and you're home alone, some of us are more likely to blame a ghost, and others are more likely to blame a mouse.  Even when it turns out that there is no evidence of a mouse, that does not count as evidence of a ghost.  Even if you can't think of a single natural explanation for something, rest assured that there are lots of things that you never even thought of.  That's always the case.  

In the search for truth, one of the seven deadly sins is to narrow things down too quickly.  "That was either a mouse or a ghost.  But it wasn't a mouse!"  Another person, presented with the exact same evidence, might say, "That was either a mouse or a bat.  But it wasn't a mouse!"  

Such made-up dichotomies do us no good.

"It was either a dream or an out of body experience."

"It was either an airplane or a spacecraft from an alien civilization."

"Either I lost my wallet, or John stole it."

If you ever hear the words, "The only thing it could have been..." then you're hearing a conclusion being jumped to.  Especially if the "only thing" is something incredibly specific.  "The only thing it could have been was this government group doing this for this reason, which implies this."  The truth is, in many situations, things happen for reasons that we never would have thought of in a million years.  This world is complex, far beyond our own reasoning, and our obvious answers don't always look like reality.

I would love for certain supernatural things to be real, but I'm not going to accept any of them unless I know for sure.  That's the basis of my skepticism.  I just have to know.  If there is even one, foolish sounding, unlikely, but slightly possible explanation, then I'm not going to call it case closed.  Because if I go and accept a whole new world of spirits and psychic abilities into my mind, and it turns out that the unlikely, but more mundane thing was the truth, then I've been duped, and in a big way.

So, what is my philosophy, in brief?  There is enough variety in the known universe that mysteries are inevitable.  So let's take a good long look at what we already understand before we decide that the cause must be something new.

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