I have several friends who claim to be skeptics. Friends, if you are reading this I’m about to roast your asses, just so you know. Love you!
Skeptics vs opinionated egomaniacs can be compared to agnostics vs atheists. The agnostic says, “God? Fuck if I know. Maybe.” Whereas the atheist says, “There is absolutely, positively, definitely no such thing as God.” and then goes on for a while about sciencey things in order to impress everyone with how intellectual they are and how misguided and dumb anyone who disagrees is.
It’s possible that the atheist may in fact be right. I won’t rule it out. Some days I’d like them to be right because I often think if there is such thing as a higher power consciously aware of the tiny particle that is me, it’s fucking with me. However the agnostic attitude seems more sensible. Because no one actually knows for sure, much as they’d like to pretend certainty.
I recognize the right of an atheist to disbelieve in God the same way I recognize a christian’s right to believe. But in both cases I wish some of them didn’t have to be such douchebags about it.
A true skeptic questions and is interested in answers. A dickhead claiming to be a skeptic stands with arms smugly folded and wallops you with a definitive denial of anything you say, uninterested in the possibility that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in their philosophy. To them a lack of evidence for equals conclusive evidence against.
So you unwarily cite some point of belief, philosophy or even personal experience. You’re not trying to start shit, just make conversation or answer a question. And the skeptic is down on you like a sack of righteous outrage demanding proof, as if the fact of your perspective makes it your personal responsibility to provide evidence that fits their specific criteria, or you will be invalidated!
This criteria will of course be defined by our skeptic’s preconceived notions of the subject being discussed rather than by its actual parameters. ie: “Oh so you’re a psychic? Read my mind right now then! Oh you can’t? Then there’s no such thing as psychics!”
And then they win despite this faulty thinking, because your patient attempt to explain that that is not how it works will be lost in their triumphant gloating and intellectual high-fiving. They consider themselves experts in every subject, but especially the one you’ve spent your whole life exploring.
I try to stay out of arguments like this because, unlike a true skeptic (one who doubts, but questions) they really just want to be right.
A recent example: The other day I was sitting in a pub minding my own business when I was approached by a drunk gay man who was distraught that he had frightened off his date when a fit of uncontrolled mediumship came over him and he spouted a bunch of stuff some dead guy told him.
When I sympathized, saying that I understood that things like this can scare people because I was a professional psychic for years and have seen some serious shit, he told me he didn’t believe in psychics and I was a fake!
This was after he tried to convince me that he was receiving messages for me from a dead woman named Christine about something to do with manicures and that my dead (?) father, Frank, told him he had wanted to name my sister Jenny. He insisted that these messages were true despite my assurances that they were not ringing any bells.
I began to understand why this man’s date bailed on him.
Note: My father’s name is Stephen. I don’t know if he’s dead.
That guy is an ironic anomaly as he came off as the world’s worst cold reader and exactly the type skeptics like to point to to show why people like me are all crazies. The above is also an example of me being a skeptic. I listened and asked questions but eventually concluded that the guy was more drunk asshole than medium.
My problem with the atheist style of skeptic is that, despite their supposed grounding in scientific fact, their approach to the things they disbelieve is anything but scientific. Science admits its flaws and limitations. Science understands that we grasp only a tiny bit of what’s going on here. It doesn’t stop learning and growing.
My good friend Ali, who is a talented psychic and inspired this post, put it like this, “What I do is much like most people trying to understand and believe in fairytale ‘germs’ before microscopes. Maybe it’s all hokus pocus but it sure does work! And even if we lay folk don’t understand how electricity WORKS, it still does and we can still turn on the lights.”
The trouble being that the skeptic refuses to give any credence to the “anecdotal evidence” (read: personal experience) that people like Ali and me find fairly convincing proof that we are not in fact crazies but have tapped into something real. Cuz you know, it keeps working.
We have theories about how it works but we don’t worry about them too much so long as the lights come on when we flip the switch, which they usually do but not always and with varying degrees of brightness. Our metaphorical lightswitch isn’t testable under laboratory conditions as yet partly because, much like germ theory prior to the widespread use of microscopes, most people do not possess the tools to examine it closely.
It is also because there are several subtle and difficult to control factors at work.
Picture a guy in a lab coat sweating over a bunch of beakers and petri dishes, trying to create a drug that can cure cancer or make people smarter or something. And he looks into his microscope and yells “Eureka!” Because that’s what a scientist does when their experiment succeeds.
And he makes careful notes and then tests it on rats and does a victory dance when the rats are all cancer free and solving calculus formulas and stuff. Then he goes to make another batch and does exactly what he’s pretty sure he did last time but this time it makes the rats suicidally depressed and it’s back to the drawing board and time to order a fresh shipment of rats.
What went wrong this time? What went right the first time? What if the only true difference was the time of year, the cycle of the moon, fluctuations in the geomagnetic field, the mood of the rats at the time the drug was administered or all of the above? And when such subtle influences can vastly change your results, it’s really hard to consistently reproduce them, especially under the intense pressure of a person demanding proof while not really wanting it proven.
My point is, just because the proof is too subtle to be perceived does not mean it isn’t there. And just because you aren’t interested in perceiving it doesn’t make me wrong.
So, when I mention my interest in the occult and you immediately start talking down to me like I’m a developmentally challenged 5-year-old doesn’t make you a skeptic, but an opinionated jerk with fanatical beliefs of your own just waiting for the chance to force them on anyone whose opinion differs.
You aren’t automatically right, and saying the word science doesn’t change that. The most terrifyingly accurate and specific tarot reading I ever had was from an astrophysicist. He said the longer he studied the way things work, the less he understood them and the more humbled he felt by the limitless possibilities in an infinite universe. I will take an actual scientist’s word over that of some cynical hipster with so much arrogance and so little imagination as to place limitations on infinity. Thank you.
Next time: Psychic: What it is and is most certainly NOT. Or possibly a rant about Stephen Harper. You never know. Stay tuned!