The Pain of Reflexive Skepticism PDF Print E-mail
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Written by George Hrab   

tamyspeakerhrabYou see a lot, doctor. But can you point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don't you – why don't you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you're afraid to.”

 

Agent Clarice Starling, as played by Jodie Foster, delivered this memorable line in the most subtle musical of all time: The Silence of the Lambs.

(Sorry to so quickly interrupt myself preterpluparenthetically, but I find that with all good science-based essays, an early reference to homicidal, cannibalistic serial killers tends to put readers’ minds at ease, thereby allowing the general thesis to go down one’s mental gullet as if accompanied by a nice Chianti. Enjoy.)

As skeptics, we know of many examples of un-critical thinking that we often point to and label as not making sense. Like many. Like WAY many. Like maybe there should be an organization that keeps track of these things and has multiple conferences to discuss them, many. Oh… right. Anyway, how often do we as skeptics point the finger back at ourselves and try and determine what dis-critical trolls are residing under our own free-thinking neural bridges? When do we muster the courage to critically whack the credulous Joe Pescis of our mental Cosa Nostra? How hard is it to skeptically catch and re-hurl the flung knife of debunkment at our own unquestioning Lo Pans? And how self-congratulatory is it to come up with these sub-referencing, über-hyphenated metaphors?

 

The answers of course are not often, not soon enough, real hard, and pathetically self-congratulatory.

NOW- Being the trailblazing skeptic that I am (I was the first person to design and offer a “Randi Beard app” for the iPhone) I have decided to admit my own sins of credulity, and beg for your collective absolution.

Here then is a list of non-skeptical behaviors, thoughts, beliefs, and actions that I have been, and continue to be, guilty of:

I have an inexplicable need to shift and reconfigure my collection of “Real Heroes of Science” action figures so that each one of them not only gets to talk to someone new, but also has a chance to gaze out the window. (Plus, I get the weird sense that no one wants to be next to Wilhelm Roentgen for too long… and everyone is always macking on Marie Curie.)

I will not wear plaid two days in a row. Well, more accurately, I will not wear plaid.

Although I no longer subscribe to “step on a crack, break your mother’s back”—I do believe that placing your palm on a Vitruvian arch will give your father dyspepsia.

I have a very hard time trusting anyone in a kilt—UNLESS they are holding some type of bludgeon. Then I’m all about sharing.

I find it very difficult to give a ride to someone who insists on calling a lectern a podium.

Although I wholeheartedly believe that we DID in fact land on the moon repeatedly between 1969 and 1972—I seriously doubt that the astronauts could poop into a bag without giggling.

Whenever I exit a north-facing door on an odd-numbered Tuesday during a month with an R, P, or B in it, I have to re-tie my left shoe twice—UNLESS I’m wearing loafers—in which case I have to find a cat, a badger, a newt or a libertarian and rub their head three times, east to west, while stating Pi to twelve decimal places. Provided there’s no eclipse. If there’s an eclipse I have to do something kinda weird. I don’t want to get into it…

I refuse to believe in knock-knock jokes. That is to say I believe in small doses of humor involving doors on a macro level, but I can picture no way that large examples of inquisitive entrance-based comedic situations could have developed on their own. The concept of Humorous Design (H.D.) is the idea that complex systems of badinage require some type of “Prime Pie Thrower” to get them into motion. Obviously. Teach both sides of the funny, I say!

Witch Hazel is neither, and no amount of proof will make me see this differently.

I tend to cross my fingers while lying, but only when I’m lying to humans.

My uncontrollable need to undulate into a yogic pirouette while convulsing with a Merrick-like tremens spasm during a pathetic attempt to influence the flight path and eventual delivery of an already released bowling ball never fails to fill my pancreas with skeptical regret and embarrassment. “Body english” indeed.

I find the arguments compelling within the “Cubby Truth” movement (and all of its subsequent websites) that state with conviction and undisputable “proof” that the famous Mouseketeer was in fact a government robot.

You do indeed need to know when to hold ’em, but for some indefinable “gut” reason—and it pains me to admit this—I think that folding ’em is a much more transient type of concept better left outside of the construct of “knowing.”

I resoundly believe, albeit without sound evidence, that until the end of time every odd-numbered Star Trek film will be ok, but will be nowhere near as cool as the even-numbered ones. They ALL however, will be better than the Star Wars prequels. (But, then again, so is root canal performed by a Yaderan Ghergher beast, so that’s not saying much.)

I could go on and on with my culpatory self, but I think that these few examples of my hidden, shameful, credulous thinking processes should be enough for now. I hope that I can provide the courage for many of you out there to honestly look at yourselves and ask what non-skeptical ideas, beliefs and actions might be swimming around within your own brain pan. If however, you think this is all just a silly exercise, then I dare you to say “J-REF-JEFF-WAGG” ten times fast and see how cool you feel then.

George Hrab is considered one of the preeminent skeptic-science-atheist-geek-culture music icons currently living in his apartment. He produces a moderately listenable weekly podcast called The Geologic Podcast and his TAM7 performance will feature selections from his Occasional Songs for the Periodic Table, a 118-piece song-cycle comprised of one song per element. Seriously.