Thursday, April 8, 2010

Let me begin by saying I'm a skeptic too

Often when talking with people who believe in the paranormal, pseudoscience, gods and other forms of woo-woo, they will preface their "argument" with claiming to be a skeptic too. A statement like that says many things - it gives me reason for hope (I'll explain) and a clear indication that what they are about to say is going to disprove their claim.

I'm hopeful and reassured by people saying they're skeptics too as I think it is important that we 're-claim' the word/title. Too often skepticism and the word skeptic is a negative term when it shouldn't be. Holding off on making judgment until the evidence favours one is a GOOD thing, a positive thing and it is nice to see that people use the term in a positive sense. (As in, "I'm as good as any at being skeptical, but...").

The phrase, "I'm a skeptic, but" almost always leads to a statement of faith that is based on a lack of evidence or in spite of the evidence. Last night, I was speaking with one of my wife's friends who said "I'm a serious skeptic, but, I did have this psychic one time who was able to tell me... ". The lady went on to tell me how her husband was amazed at some of the things she said and that there was no way for the psychic to have known without truly having psychic powers.

Discussing a topic like a personal experience and the fallibility of the human mind is tough with someone who firmly believes the story the way they are telling it. Stories like this are often embellished and or mis-remembered and certainly only relate to the "hits" that the psychic had and does not include the "misses".

A true skeptic (speaking about the person experiencing/enduring a psychic reading), before asserting that a person has psychic abilities, would have required more evidence for any "hits" that were made and counted the "misses".

For the hits, is there any possible way that psychic could have known these things? Was it just a guess? For this lady, she said that the psychic knew that her husband's birthday was in December - and how could she have known that? Odds alone suggest that it wasn't too far fetched to suggest a simple guess. Did the psychic say "Oh, and I know your husband was born in December"? Or did she possibly say "I feel that someone in your family was born around the holiday season?" (Which could have been November, December or January) or something else vague? Is it more likely that she saw the sticker on your licence plate before she entered your home and noticed that it was set to expire in December (in Ontario, plates renew on your birthday)?

Along the lines of "what is more likely", Michael Shermer's talk on Why People Believe Weird Things at TED is well worth viewing.

1 comment:

Much To Do About Nothing, the Blog said...

Im a skeptic and I make no excuses about it !
Glad to see there are more of us out there!
Im enjoying you blog keep up the great wok!