Universe has a firm “No Skepticism” policy.
Don’t get me wrong, I dig empirical knowledge. And I like the ancient, Pyrrhonian school of Skepticism founded by Pyrrho of Elis (365-275 B.C.); Pyrrhonian skeptics believed that nothing could be known, not even “this” (i.e the very statement that nothing could be known) and strived for a constant state of inquiry as a source of pleasure. Since absolute knowledge is unattainable, the Pyrrhonian Skeptics felt that their end was: “In opinionatives, indisturbance; in impulsives, moderation; and in disquietives, suspension,” which is essentially agnosticism, as I understand it. From Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of all Ages (deeply recommended): “Those who suppose they have found truth are called Dogmatists; those who think it incomprehensible are the Academics; those who still seek are the Skeptics.” Even Socrates adhered to this worldview: I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.
It’s contemporary “scientific” or “activist” skepticism that I have a problem with.
Although the foundational epistemology of science is skeptical (prove everything), contemporary “scientific skepticism” has become shorthand for “debunking,” namely those claims and theories beyond mainstream science. Unlike scientists, who are primarily concerned with verifying and falsifying hypotheses within their own fields, self-named scientific skeptics focus their criticism on claims they believe to be a priori implausible, which is to say all the great acronyms: UFOs, ESP, etc. While I respect some debunkers (even hard-assed James Randi has saved countless fools from the trappings of psychic surgery), the general conceit bothers me, as it essentially pits the unqualified against the unqualified in a kind of endless boring flame war. Certainly skeptics uncover the “truth” of some matters — i.e. that there was no ghost, no alien, no demon — but it brings nothing new to the table. In our heart of hearts, even the most starry-eyed among us know that there are probably no ghosts nor demons, and that we are alone on our giant rock, bitching amongst ourselves. Is pragmatically destroying the imaginative convictions of conspiracy buffs and New-Agers a worthy practice of one’s time on this lonely Earth?
Yes, UFOs are probably not real. Yes, a man who claims he was abducted by aliens (or slipped through another dimension, or saw a ghost) probably has other shit going on, lucidity-wise. And yet, does he pose a threat to buttoned-up society? Does he throw the fabric of the everyman’s cosmology into whirling disarray? The answer is, of course, a resounding n-o, no. In fact, the everyman has no idea of the astounding breadth, fervor and variety of the UFO-man’s idiosyncratic belief system, nor does he have an inkling of the profound multitude of others like the UFO-man. Nor does he care, because he is entirely concerned with his own psycho-social-religious worldview, which might arguably be as bonkers as the rest. And yet, here come the debunkers anyway, to firmly tell everyone that it was all just a glimmer of light, reflected on some swamp gas.
I have a firm “no skepticism” policy not because I don’t believe in good science — which is rooted in a firm tradition of questioning — but because I love the unloved margins of pseudoscientific thought. This blog has played host to myriad bogus theories, from the inter-dimensional Bigfoot to Unarius and the Omega Point. I’ve never intended to showcase these things out of fey exoticism, or to belittle them. Rather, I believe we can only truly understand where the wobbly lines between science and the rest of the world lie if we don’t intellectually humor all the extremes. The rational mind doesn’t exist without the irrational mind, and I believe in learning through difference.
Most of all, however, I consider myself a Skeptic in the old school, which is essentially a hopeful position. We don’t know anything, but we can dream.