Andrew Perry | The Partially Informed Philosopher
My Frustration With The Skeptics Society
People have weird experiences. As a journalist for TCT News, that is apparent.
I have no shortage of people who tell me about their experiences and what they think they are. Oftentimes, these experiences are attributed to spirits, demons, angels, God, aliens, etc. But, for me, being a skeptic and a former card-carrying member of the Skeptic Society, I need to find natural explanations for these phenomena for me to believe them.
That shouldn’t be too hard. If these things are causing experiences and they are being sensed by a person’s or people’s senses, it stands to reason that whatever is causing these phenomena must have an effect on the natural world.
As I’ve written several articles, I have reached out to organizations like the Skeptics Society, looking for their input so the things I write are not completely one-sided. I was successful initially. However, the article I wrote was apparently not dismissive enough or wasn’t what they wanted to see. It seems now that I’ve been blacklisted. That’s all I can assume as I have tried on numerous occasions to get some sort of response for several stories, and I’ve been met with dead silence.
Extreme Founders of Skepticism
Skepticism is an old philosophical theory that says truth or certain knowledge is impossible to obtain. It dates back to Ancient Greece and India, in fact. One particular Greek philosopher, Pyrrho, said that a true sage should ask three questions in regards to acquiring true knowledge about certain things:
- What are things and how are they constituted?
- What is our relation to these things?
- What should our attitude be towards these things?
Pyrrho believed that we could know nothing about the thing itself, but only how it appears to us. Our relation to a thing is purely sense-driven and subject to our thoughts, both of which are separate from the thing and subject to hallucination, error, and misinterpretation – delusion. Therefore, Pyrrho believed that our attitude towards things in the world should be that we must suspend judgment at all times. And so his argument is that we could never come to a point where we know the truth or obtain knowledge.
Pyrrho was kind of an extremist. Supposedly, and I hope this is just tall tales about him, he had to have someone with him at all times to keep him safe, because he was so skeptical about his senses that he even doubted whether carriages were coming toward him or even if cliffs were really there!
But there is what I would argue a more healthy version of skepticism, still grounded in the expectation that we will not arrive at the truth or certain knowledge, but still curious about the world. This is the skepticism of scientists. I like to think this is where I lay on the spectrum of believers.
Epicurus, another ancient Greek philosopher, said this of hardcore skeptics like Pyrrho. “Is his claim that we are not able to obtain knowledge true? If he says ‘yes,’ he is contradicting himself. If he says ‘no’, then he is not making a claim at all and he can be ignored.”
Epicurus was very empirical and believed that we can arrive at something very close to knowledge using the senses.
And he’s right. Using our senses, the scientific method, and empirical knowledge, we can demonstrate that we can obtain knowledge about the world and utilize that information to our advantage. This is why we can fly to the moon or Mars, or why we can communicate with someone on the other side of the planet in real-time. It’s why you the reader are reading this. If the creators of the internet were grounded in hardcore skepticism, we wouldn’t have internet.
Modern Skepticism – Is It Just Repackaged Cynicism?
Today, organizations like the Skeptic Society sort of champion the tradition of skepticism. Sort of.
Much of the time, they do at least claim the Epicurean standard – maintaining the prospect that something approximating knowledge can be obtained through empirical means. But in practice, they‘re dismissing claims out of hand. I find that to be disingenuous to their stated mission.
So anyways, as one could tell about my complaints in the first paragraphs, that’s my frustration with the Skeptics Society. I hope to eventually get over this frustration, and I hope they come back to the standard they set for themselves because I really do love and believe in the concept of the Skeptics Society!
I believe that we can know. If spirits exist and somehow affect the world enough that they can be sensed by humans and animals, it is clear that by this effect on the world they can be verified even scientifically and with the scientific method. And though I’m not a scientist, I’m a journalist, I can use journalistic tools to verify the integrity of certain claims, enough at least to show that they are not just someone telling tall tales. I think I’ve done that a few times already. Journalistic methods of verification can simply be finding corroborating witnesses, looking at property records, photos, videos, documents, historical information, etc. I agree that the best we can arrive at using the tools of journalism isn’t going to be as good as scientific knowledge, but it is what we at TCT News have. And if we come across a claim that seems to be legit, I think that can open the doors for scientists to investigate.