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Understanding The PseudoSkeptic

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Understanding The PseudoSkeptic

Post by Winston » October 4th, 2007, 2:20 pm

I found the recent items concerning UFO abduction debunkers intertesting. I would like to add the following, which appeared as an editorial in the ARPR Bulletin a few issues back. Anyone interested in joining the ARPR can get more information at

Michael E. Tymn
Editor, ARPR Bulletin


Are deathbed visions nothing more than hallucinations of a dying brain? Carla Wills-Brandon addresses this in our lead article and in her excellent book on DBVs. But it is unlikely that many people calling themselves skeptics will be swayed to her view.
I understand skepticism. I am a skeptic in most things beyond immediate sensory verification and even in some things which are subject to sensory “proof.� At least I begin as a skeptic before investigating the subject in the pursuit of knowledge that might permit me to move off that skepticism. Rarely, however, do I move to a position of absolute certainty, and therefore I remain a skeptic to some degree. For example, I am 99 percent certain that consciousness survives bodily death, but I am only around 70-percent certain that reincarnation is a fact, at least in the manner generally accepted. If we move to the group soul concept, I am about 85-percent certain that reincarnation exists. I believe skepticism is a positive trait.
ARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt"> What I don’t understand is the attitude of the person who proudly, even arrogantly, calls himself a skeptic but refutes, rejects, or repudiates all evidence, no matter how strong that evidence, of a non-material world. This person is sometimes referred to as a pseudoskeptic. I prefer to call him or her a scoffer or a cynic. As I see it, this individual is at the other extreme of the credulous religious fundamentalist, the person who blindly accepts dogma and doctrine without any attempt to understand the underlying principles or get to their origin.
My dictionary defines “skeptic� as “a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.� The word comes from the Latin <I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal">scepticus and the Greek <I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal">skeptikos, meaning “thoughtful� or “inquiring.� I think it is safe to say that all<I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal"> thinking people are skeptics until they have been satisfied by ample evidence that something is true. Of course, whether the person accepts a particular “truth� based on a preponderance of evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, or with absolute certainty is something else. Truth does seem to be a relative thing.
It is only natural that we should question and then closely examine the various psychic phenomena which suggest there is a non-material world. For most of us, there is prejudice in the pursuit of such knowledge, as we faced with two possible conclusions: There is a non-material world, i.e., a spirit world, or all is material, i.e., there is no spirit world. Seemingly, most people would prefer to come to the former conclusion, as it lends itself to the survival of consciousness. The alternative is to accept that we are temporal beings who evaporate into nothingness at bodily death.
On the surface, the pseudoskeptic appears to be the more objective examiner as well as the most heroic, unfettered by emotion and courageously facing up to his mortality and eventual extinction or obliteration with valorous indifference. However, the fact that he finds it necessary to go on the attack with self-righteous indignation for the “believers� leads one to conclude that he is motivated by a need, most likely one of ego appeasement. Why else does he find it necessary to attack what others find comforting and consoling? Please don’t tell me he is simply interested in being a beacon of light that makes the “truth� available to everyone. I can’t buy that.
“We expect to prove our sanity by laughing where we are ignorant,� wrote Dr. James Hyslop, the esteemed psychical investigator of a century ago. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for Hyslop, professor of ethics and logic at Columbia before entering the field of psychical research, to have substituted the word “intelligence� for sanity.
“The hypocrisy or ignorance of the (rationalistic) philosopher is manifest when he exhibits a consuming passion for the social and material pleasures of life and affects a righteous contempt for emotion when it concerns the ideals of religion and a future life,� Hyslop continued, referring to the scoffer or cynic who calls himself a philosopher. “Once he was supposed to help the race in guiding its emotions toward a right goal and so saw life in its true perspective. But lately, assuming the unbiased nature of doubt, he prides himself in laughing at inspiration and hope when they suffer at the loss of all that gave meaning to life and effort while he labors with all his might to secure the pleasures of a good table and social recognition without accepting any responsibility to share human struggle and suffering.�
> Much more recently, in his 1999 book, “<I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal">Passport to the Cosmos,� Dr. John Mack, a Pulitzer Prize winner and professor of psychiatry at Harvard, gives his thoughts on the “worldview� in which so many academicians are stuck. “A worldview functions at both individual and institutional levels,� Mack writes. “It is a source of security and a compass to guide us. For an individual it holds the psyche together. To destroy someone’s worldview is virtually to destroy that person. A complex network of institutions, an edifice of power and money, supports a worldview and gives it legitimacy.�
Mack goes on to say that “the findings of parapsychology challenge the idea of a mechanistic universe operating by established causal principles, suggesting a world in which unseen connections work mysteriously according to principles we do not yet understand and certainly do not control.� He admits that this was his own mindset – one devoid of consciousness and intelligence beyond the brain – until he began investigating the paranormal. He now looks back upon his former view of a secular universe as “quite absurd.�
For Mack, the evidence has been so convincing, he adds, that he has been slow to realize that those who have not traveled the same road are not ready to accept as true what sometimes appears to him as clear or even obvious.
The bottom line, as I see it, is that the pseudoskeptic, the scoffer, the cynic, whatever name we give to him or her, would rather appear intelligent now than be right in the long run. Am I missing something? -- <I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal">Michael E. Tymn



When I asked about the mindset of the scoffer or pseudoskeptic in the March issue of this publication, I did not realize that Neal Grossman, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, had addressed my very concerns in the fall 2002 issue of the Journal of Near-Death Studies. That excellent article did not come to my attention until Dr. Don Morse, our very able president, recently sent me a copy.

What I said in the March issue editorial is that I don’t understand the attitude of the person who proudly, even arrogantly, calls himself a skeptic but automatically refutes, rejects, or repudiates all evidence, no matter how strong that evidence, of a non-material world. I had in mind primarily those who are always scoffing in public, but my concerns also extended to the more quiet ones – those who silently smirk, snicker, or sneer when anything relating to a spiritual world is brought up. It is as if it is a big joke and beneath their dignity to discuss such matters.

In an article titled “Who’s Afraid of Life After Death?� Grossman thoroughly analyzes the mindset of what he refers to as the “fundamentalist� (of materialism) – the scientifically-minded person who is as closed-minded as the fundamentalist of religion. Grossman first of all argues that the evidence for an afterlife is sufficiently strong and compelling that an unbiased person should be able to conclude that materialism is a false theory. And yet, the academic world clings to materialism, refusing to even examine the evidence.

Grossman first focuses on the issue of proof. He says that the fundamentalists are insisting upon a concept of proof that belongs to logic and mathematics, not science. “The fundamentalists are correct in the hypothesis that consciousness exists independently of the body cannot be proven with mathematical certainty,� Grossman offers. “But neither can any other scientific hypothesis, because empirical science deals with the evidence, not proof.�

He goes on to point out that evidence never proves a hypothesis; it just makes the hypothesis more probably. When evidence for a given hypothesis accumulates to a certain degree, we accept the hypothesis as true, but “true� in the scientific sense never means “proven.� It means highly probable.

The second thing to be considered, Grossman opines, is that materialism functions as a powerful paradigm that structures the shape of scientific explanations. “Once the operating paradigm has been internalized in the mind of the individual, other, competing paradigms appear wrong and/or foolish,� Grossman writes, going on to say that academic philosophers as well as scientists operate within a paradigm that is essentially, atheistic, materialistic, and reductionistic. Anyone anchored in the paradigm concludes that those operating out of a different paradigm must certainly be out of touch with reality.

Once stuck in the paradigm with other members of academia, the fundamentalist takes on a certain intellectual arrogance. He likes to feel that he is riding atop the crest of the evolutionary wave. “This intellectual smugness is greatly threatened by paranormal research, especially the NDE, the results of which strongly suggest that the human intellect is by no means the highest form of intelligence,� Grossman continues, adding that he was tempted to say “clearly show� rather than “strongly suggest.�

The most serious and powerful source of resistance, as Grossman sees it, is the social and cultural taboo connected with discussing or even considering spiritual matters. “To avoid these feelings of discomfort and anxiety generated by the taboo, academics try to protect themselves by employing the same strategies that everyone uses to avoid anxiety,� Grossman continues."The first strategy is denial. By paying no attention to the research, by ignoring it and dismissing it a priori, the academic is spared the uncomfortable feelings that would arise from violating taboo. The second strategy is to debunk, to explain away, and to otherwise marginalize the research, and sometimes even the researchers themselves."

Grossman feels that even psychical researchers who have become personally convinced that materialism is false have fallen victim to the taboo. Rather than take a firm, bold, or courageous stand in publishing their works, they tend to hedge their remarks. He states that “near-death researchers are playing the fundamentalists’ game when they utter caveats that their research does not prove the hypothesis of an afterlife.�

What they should say, Grossman offers, is “that they have amassed sufficient evidence to render the hypothesis of an afterlife very probable, and the hypothesis of materialism very improbable.� -- Michael E. Tymn

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