Duck / rabbit illusion

I’ve written many times before about science and what is called the philosophy of science, that is the rules of science, the scientific method and assumptions that scientists make when they do experiments. Nowadays an understanding of real science is becoming more and more important as ‘science’ (or what is referred to as science) is underpinning government policy and used as a basis to justify mass vaccinations, lockdowns and the curtailing of freedom across the world.

It used to be the case that when a something was referred to as being scientifically true, it meant that it had been tested using a scientific process and was found to be verifiable – that is the scientific idea of reproducibility meant that another similar experiment could be performed and would find it was true. Nowadays, that is rarely the case, it is more likely to mean that the idea goes against the prevailing orthodoxy.

I have emphasised many times in these writings the importance of questioning your assumptions. Only by questioning assumptions can we change the way we look at things. Real intelligence is not gathering information – we live in an abundance of informations – it’s seeing the information in different ways. And to to do that we need to question our assumptions.

There is an alternative view. That is, if we’ve made our minds up about something we shouldn’t waste time in questioning in it because it distracts us from moving forwards, that is, in building on what we ‘know to be true’. In scientific circles there are two mantras that are recited to support this view.

Occam’s razor which says in principle that you shouldn’t make more assumptions than are necessary. In fact it is used to preserve the principle that if you can explain something with knowledge you already have, don’t attempt to explain it by making assumptions that you don’t know.

The other principle that builds on this is attributed to Carl Sagan: extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. In other words if a claim is outside of the generally accept view then it requires more proof than otherwise.

These may appear to be common sense. If for instance I said there was a car parked in the carpark you would probably accept it without any comment. If, however, I said there was a lion in the carpark you would want to look for yourself. This extraordinary claim would require extraordinary proof. Suppose someone had heard before that there was a lion in the carpark but was convinced it was a hoax? And suppose they refuse to ‘waste their time’ investigating and dismiss all accounts as being hoaxes or are convinced that the the ‘lion believers’ are delusional? This is the state of the skeptic. There are many real world examples. I heard a farmer on talk-back radio talking about a huge multicoloured object that hovered over his farm and then sped off at a great speed. The radio station phoned up an astronomer at the local observatory who said that Venus was very bright at that time. The farmer ridiculed him: ‘I know what Venus looks like and that wasn’t Venus’. However, the astronomer refused to budge. He had made up his mind and the farmer hadn’t provided ‘extraordinary proof’.

I’ve seen many examples of skeptics who ridicule the concept of psychics by doing cold reading and thus appearing to the uninitiated as though they were psychic. Often in these exposés they do background investigations in order to make it appear that the pretend psychic is picking up information. Because this sometimes works, we are led to believe that therefor all psychics are bogus. When the skeptics are taken to genuine psychics they either become convinced that there is something in it (though rarely) or they simply dismiss it. And dismissing something that doesn’t conform to preconceived ideas is very common. For instance on this website A Psychic Meets a Skeptic, the writer is told many things that he admits could not have been obtained on the internet. Now maybe this doesn’t prove that Thomas John is a genuine psychic but one would have thought that someone who is genuinely interested in finding the truth would want to investigate further. However, the write is clearly not interested in investigating further (he’s a member of a skeptics association). He doesn’t want to do anything that may disturb his world view.

Personally, I believe that some psychics use cold reading instead of paranormal abilities all or at least some of the time. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as psychic abilities.

So clearly the gullible person who believes anything a professed psychic or clairvoyant tells then needs to question their assumptions, as does the skeptic who believes that because it may be possible to explain away a phenomena, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

There’s a mindset among many skeptics that if you have an open mind, crap comes in and this crap makes you impervious to reason. In fact, I would say that for these skeptics it is too late. They opened their mind to something they call ‘science’ (but bears only a passing relationship with real science), and therefore their mind is now closed to anything that does not fit the criteria of ‘science’. We can see how this plays out in the Covid debate.

Philip Braham 7 June 2021

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