Monday, February 8, 2016

Misconceptions of Skepticism

Often times when I am in a group, imploring critical thinking, I'm met with criticism of being a disbeliever. Sometimes I think that skepticism is confused with cynicism. Dr. Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine, explained Skepticism as not a position, but a process.

Skepticism, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary is, "the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain". Rather than making the determination that something is untrue, it's reserving judgement until all facts have presented. In the case that the facts are
ascertained and insufficiently support that a claim is true, it's then that "disbelief" takes place. When this disbelief is supported by fact, it's then that is becomes knowledge.
Many believe that skeptics are close minded to the supernatural, which is not entirely true. Most skeptics believe in some sort of scientific method. Scientific method is essentially being flexible and open minded to all possibilities:

Form a hypothesis
Form new hypothesis, according to new data
Start over

On the contrary with blind faith, the belief seems to stay the same, despite new information. This is proven to me time and time again, in the interactions I have with devout believers of the paranormal. We can very carefully, and in the most simplistic fashion, lay down facts and most blind believers will remain unwavered. To me this is the most quintessential example of close mindedness.

Often times, the paradigm of those in the paranormal community who do take the blind believer stance, seem to believe that if someone tries to obtain further information about a claim, they must be a disbeliever. This is not true. Many self proclaimed skeptics are in fact open to the idea of paranormal phenomena. There's a misconception that skeptics are atheist, when in fact many are very spiritual or religious.

Skepticism is not something that we only use for looking at claims, but also in everyday living. We utilize skepticism everyday. We utilize it when reviewing political agendas, researching care providers, choosing vaccinations for our children, avoiding scam artists, deciding how to eat, and even delegating problems that arise at our jobs. We use it in our everyday interactions with each other, when we are trying to understand one another. It's essentially taking the time to look at all the facts, in order to be able to make an educated decision.

When looking for a doctor, would we pick the first one we see? Or will we research their care reviews, talk to friends or family, and look at what they specialize in? Do we give the guy our information over the phone that claims to be a debt collector, or do we question his credentials? This is applying skepticism. It's not as unhealthy or negative as many think. It's not always about debunking, but rather removing the untrue or the unnecessary, to make way for what is correct or useful. It's considered a method of rational inquiry.

If we were to remove the negative connotation that is attached to skepticism, we may learn that we are all not that much different. All of us have a contingent desire to discover truth. It's simply a matter of implementing all our tools and resources to come up with the best possible solution to an infinite question, "Does paranormal phenomena exist?"

We may never know, but when we all work together towards the same goal of truth and integrity, we will stand the best possible chance of gaining a better understanding of those very difficult questions.