P.S. What is "a negative force" called in Dutch? :-P
een negatieve kracht
"We also know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether delusion is not more consoling."
- Henri Poincare (1854-1912)
Irrationalism, pseudoscience, and quackery have become extremely popular in recent years. Unsupported and illogical claims are heard and seen everywhere in tabloid magazines, on television, etc. Ancient forms of spiritualism are experiencing a renaissance, often advocating ideas that, I think, do not belong to a modern, civilized world. Followers of the so-called New Age movement (and others) seem to have an infinite ability to contrive new, fantastic ideas. Or adopt really old ones, for that matter. The older and more esoteric the methods or philosophies are, the more appealing they seem to be, and if they are from a far-away place, it only makes things better.
"Keeping an open mind is virtue - but not so open that your brains fall out."
- Space Engineer James Oberg
Open-mindedness is always important; how else would we learn? But there are limits, as Oberg cynically points out. Open-mindedness is not by necessity the same thing as belief.
To me, being open-minded doesn't mean accepting fantastic claims at face value. By doing that one risks to oversee alternative explanations. The honest seeker of truth considers all plausible explanations (s)he can think of or that are provided, and then makes a reasonable judgement if possible. The seeker of excitement and fascination tends to care less about the truth; the "gut feeling" is what counts. (Note that this doesn't hinder the seeker of truth to become fascinated.) The comforting feeling of possessing arcane knowledge often overpowers rational thought and perspicacity, which results in close-mindedness, not open-mindedness (as people often think). Reasonable objections and doubts are met with suspicion and disconfirming evidence is something the believers' "open minds" cannot easily cope with. Where is their open-mindedness?
Judging the Credibility of Extraordinary Claims
The following principles and questions are helpful when judging the credibility of extraordinary claims, or when thinking objectively about one's own arguments and conclusions:
ˇ Actual existence of a phenomenon: Is it possible to scientifically prove or make probable that the purported phenomenon actually exists? Remember: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
ˇ Testability: Is the claim testable at all? If not, the claim is probably mere speculation or fantasy. Furthermore, if the claim is testable, is it actually tested? And if it is tested, which methods were used? Are the results reproducible in a way that makes them statistically significant? Is there a complete (i.e. trustworthy) documentation available to the public?
ˇ The burden of proof lies upon the claimant, whereas the doubter has no obligation to disprove anything. Not only should the claimant attempt to prove his or her hypothesis. Supposing (s)he wants to achieve just respectablility, (s)he also has the obligation to try to disprove the hypothesis. This is one of the scientist's primary tasks; to try to falsify his or her hypotheses. How else would (s)he rightly rule out alternative explanations?
ˇ Occams razor: of two logical explanations, the one based on the least number of unfounded presumptions is to prefer - until, perhaps, further evidence changes the premises. Occam's razor doesn't posit that the simplest explanation is to prefer, which is a misunderstanding sometimes used by naive creationists to say that genesis is superior to evolution due to the former's simplicity alone. Note also that an explanation, however logical, can be totally worthless if the premises are false or unfounded.
ˇ Causation and correlation are not equivalent! There may be a nearly perfect correlation between human natality and the arrival of storks in the spring, but, of course, that doesn't make storks the actual cause of increases in birth rates! However obvious this may seem, the difference between causation and correlation is often neglected.
If you succeed to prove the existence of a so-called "supernatural" phenomenon, you will revolutionize all of science, gain enormous fame, and be awarded the Nobel Prize! Indeed, you will accomplish what most scientists only dream about. Considering the number of charlatans who operate today and the simplicity of most of their claims, it's very strange that none of them has thought of this. Actually, it's even more remarkable that scientists, who devote their entire lives to exploring the innermost secrets of nature, show little or no interest in investigating preternatural claims. They are the ones who ought to be most eager to do so. May it be that they're just plain bored of all the gibberish? (Remember that many of the claims are older than science itself and there has been plenty of time for evaluation.) So if the close-minded "white coats" are too ignorant to bother, why don't you take the chance?
Last edited by Scientist on 05-14-02 at 21:07