Thursday, April 5, 2012

On Skeptics and Believers

There is a lot of online debate about what constitutes as true skepticism. Right now, there are massive communities dedicated to debunking the paranormal and educating the public in critical thought. And there are other communities, also claiming to be skeptics, who have a slant toward certain phenomena and refer to other skeptics as "debunkers." I've talked a little about logic and science in my blog, but I think you'll be surprised where I fall on some of the issues.

Firstly, extremism in one's philosophy leaves you wide open for contradiction and more closed off to correction or new information. This applies to everyone from the guy with the aluminum foil hat to the hard core skeptic dismissing the possibility of everything and anything paranormal solely because it hasn't been scientifically proven. I've even seen the latter call non experimental (theoretical) sciences, hokum.

Most people want conclusions. When a believer experiences something strange, it becomes another dot in a connecting web of support for their main belief. When the stubborn skeptic experiences something truly strange, it automatically becomes a mental error or some sort of mouse trap (board game) scenario involving a ridiculous amount of working parts. My favorite mantra: "The simplest explanation is most likely true" — which I call the Occam's Razor fallacy. And these thought up scenarios are often completely improbable but deemed "rational " because they involve things that factually exist vs. the unknown. And in between is a gamut of skeptics who have different views. My belief in probable Alien visitation would be called my golden calf, despite my use of both deduction and inference to reach only a possibility based conclusion.

Human Reasoning is Far From Perfect:

There is a level of trust given to the process of peer review. And I'm not claiming this is bad or even the same thing as believing some random, incredulous person. I believe it's the best we can do for now. But I just wish people were more honest with themselves. While we can look past the anecdotes, we often don't if they come from a credible source. We make these judgment calls all the time and have strong opinions on some science that we might not even really understand as much of it is just too esoteric and takes a post graduate education, in the exact field, to pick apart and see how it really works.

Honestly, have you personally confirmed the mathematical proof in General Relativity? I know there is physical evidence that supports it: Gravitational lensing, time dilation, black holes, and even the recent discovery of frame dragging. But I know advanced math and have only looked at a little bit of that circus; I accept it on the fact that nobody else has disproved it, that it conceptually works and makes sense, and that I worship Einstein.

With a similar mindset, the believer sees the "whistle blower" as credible. The things they talk about "logically" connect dots in popularized conspiracy theories, confirm their own experiences, and involve a lot of complexity that sounds like too much to have been made up. To cap it all off, the information is presented in a Pynchonian way that completely mind fucks anyone who tries to verify or debunk it. It's like untangling a bunch of cords that your stage hand forgot to roadie wrap and just threw in a box.

So, the true believer sees the similarities but not the differences, and the true skeptic sees the differences but not the similarities. I don't want this to come off like I'm committing a golden means fallacy, because I do advocate using logic over your heart. And while skeptics may annoy some of you believers, they also are trying to protect you from scam artists and quacks who would see you try to cure your cancer with calcium tablets instead of seeing a doctor or take all your money by claiming to communicate with deceased loved ones. To paraphrase, I believe, Tim Minchin: Alternative medicine that works is just called medicine.

My Simple UFO Story

I've seen a UFO. However, I'll never know what it was, but I will also never forget it. During the middle of a sunny afternoon, 11 years ago, I saw a metallic sphere do circles around the area above me for a few minutes and warp off like the Enterprise. I wasn't alone in seeing this, either. There were other people pointing to the sky and my own mother looked onward, dumbstruck. Now, I've been into astronomy since I was a child and have spent many nights looking a the sky. Also, staring into the day sky is one of my most relaxing things I can do. But before that and to this day, I've never seen anything like that or any more UFOs. It was, very much, a one time event.

Now, just because I am convinced the Earth is probably being and has been visited by aliens, does not mean I'm on board with all the UFO sightings of floating lanterns, flares, various balloons, LED kites, Satellites, space junk, meteorites, comets, planets, terrestrial air craft, toys, clouds, and obvious CG hoaxes. Also, I'm definitely not on board with misquoting or out right fabricating quotes from astronauts like Buzz Aldrin or Neil Armstrong. Oh, you know the one:

"It was incredible. Of course, we had always known there was a possibility; the fact is we were warned off by the Aliens. There was never any question then of a space station or a moon city."
The source of this quote appears to be largely credited to "a former NASA employee" Otto Binder, who actually is a science fiction writer who wrote stories about aliens and even some Captain Marvel ... awesome! But there is no mention of him ever working for NASA or anything to do with this quote, on any credible site. There is also no mention that Neil had ever said this anywhere but UFO conspiracy pages. If you want actual astronaut testimony about UFOs, quote Gordon Cooper or Edger Mitchell.

The reason so many believers incur the wrath of skeptics is because they spread absolute bullshit and refuse to do any fact checking. Also, like with the Phoenix Lights, they sometimes can't move on. Those lights were clearly flares dropped above and behind the mountains. Now, I have nothing to say about all the various accounts of a flying triangle during that time. I've seen zero footage or any convincing images of it. But I have read Lynne D. Kitei's book "The Phoenix Lights: A Skeptic's Discovery That We Are Not Alone." And I vehemently disagree with the title. I wouldn't have called her a skeptic and didn't find her reasoning skeptical.  And I just want to be clear here, investigating something doesn't mean you're being skeptical; it just means you're investigating something.

On the flip side, many skeptics lodge the criticism that the government is too incompetent to cover up alien visitation. But outside of interactions within various military bases or installations (which would be fairly easy for them to cover up), I don't think they'd have to do anything with civilian encounters. You don't need to cover up anecdotes, and you don't need to block incredulous people from posting or talking about UFOs. And the best way to hide something from intelligent people is in plain sight — which leads me to my next point.

You see a UFO news story of an obvious solar balloon. You've seen them before and immediately recognize it. Next month you see another UFO news story about a LED kite. Again, you recognize it. But do you recognize the pattern? All these UFO stories are actually really easy to identify objects. Anyone who spends a modicum of critical thought on it can see that. And eventually you become, justifiably, cynical. Maybe it's a conspiracy; maybe it's not. But 99.999999999 percent of these UFO stories are just misidentified objects or digital hoaxes. I mean, anyone can take a static shot of the sky, create a UFO in 3D software (Blender is free) or even use a model on a blue screen, overlay them and add a wiggle effect with zooming and bluing to simulate a handheld camera. Seriously, anyone with a computer that is less than 5 years old can download a free demo of After Effects and learn the techniques at ( So, the well has been poisoned and no real effort to cover anything up would be needed.

Then there are other people who've read a few science books and think the Earth is too far away or the technology to traverse the distance is impossible. Of course, they forget that those 100,000 plus year journeys, at even half light speeds, aren't experienced anywhere near that long for the beings traveling ... thanks to relativity. And they don't know that gravity wells can be used to accelerate objects to extremely high speeds, however, you'd need an advanced computer system to plot the course and adjust your ship. And of course, you need a lot more than for a safe journey. But so many people, who claim to be scientifically literate, think it's impossible. And they're wrong. I'm fully in the camp of Thomas Kuhn and believe we are in a paradigm and will someday enter a new one with even more amazing technology.

In conclusion, don't be afraid to be yourself. It's too easy to get caught up in group mentalities and labels. Yes, talking about a weird experience, even skeptically, will get you made fun of on the Internet. And being skeptical on an alien abduction forum will get you a lot of hate and probably banned. The solution: Don't take yourself too seriously and keep your mind open ... but not so open that everything falls out.

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