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Really excellent, Michael!

It's a little funny to run into this today. I just finished writing a chapter that covers some of the same territory, and applies it to my own history.

That's a very good description of the fundamentalist mindset, Michael.

There's a book (that I keep banging on about) called, Life and How to Survive It', by Robin Skynner and John Cleese which explains this subject (and many other related psychological issues) in some depth. One of the most interesting assertions made by Robin Skynner is that only the insane never doubt their own sanity.

Wow Michael! The work you put into that blog is amazing. Well done!

Excellent post!

I think you are absolutely right about Skeptics being unable to tolerate cognitive dissonance. I also think a highly related motivation is a desire to have a complete worldview. I think most truth seekers, including psi proponents, have this latter motivation. When the two come together, however, you have fundamentalism of one stripe or another.

There is of course another, simpler, psychology behind the scepticism or belief of Joe Public...we all hold ourselves up as the template for what's normal.

We can't understand why people like the things we don't or dislike the things that appeal to us. Be it music, comedy, or physical attraction. We infer stupidity, a lack of taste, pretentiousness or ulterior motive to anyone whose likes are not ones we share. And its actually rational to do so, sort of.. Because we are ourselves the only measure of normal experience that we have to go on. Everyone else is judged in comparison with or contrast to our own internal life.

When it comes to the paranormal this manifests in the frequently admitted truth "I don't believe in ghosts because I've never seen one" or "I'll believe it when I see it". Few stop to consider what that implies. Because the people with whom they're arguing ARE in the very position that they say would represent proof...they've seen it with their own eyes!

The fact that such an experience if you had it would only put you in the same position as the people you currently disbelieve - knowing the truth but mocked and disbelieved yourself by the next man along - doesn't seem to occur to anyone. When you admit the obvious truth that experience would make you a believer, all its really saying is "I personally - not third party science - am the measure of reality".

Most people who believe in the paranormal do so because of personal experience. Most people who don't, remain disbelieving because of a lack of such experience..or sometimes because they've had a momentarily odd event at some time to which they later found a "rational" explanation and, impressed by their own deductive genius, they impose an assumption that "everyone else's odd experiences would be equally explained away if people were as intelligent and rational as I."

As a "believer" (accepter would be a better word) I too measure the world by my own experiences. My particular thing is awareness of the precogntive nature of dreams and day dreams, which along with other incidents best described as telepathy leave me with not one iota of doubt that the mind, whatever it is, is not merely the brain. And yet I'm constantly seeing articles and reports of men of science far more educated than I am claiming yet again to have found their desperately longed for evidence for the neurological nature of consciousness and so on. And I feel like someone who knows the truth they keep debating, can share the facts but not the actual knowing, and am looking on these men with a mixture of bewlderment and smug amusement. I KNOW the materialists have wasted their life's work. But its not a transferable knowing.

A sceptic in his lack of personal experience, looks upon my strange claims with the same level of bewilderment and smugness. It doesn't happen for him, he thinks, so it can't really be happening for me. It's my irrationality or misperception that needs explaining....

Ps. Take that mindset far enough and we have isis and WW3.

Here's another take on the mindset of the professional or online skeptic, from Rupert Sheldrake himself, on the Skeptico podcast a few years ago:

"These are mainly people who are committed to a kind of militant/atheist worldview. As far as they are concerned, if you allow any psychic phenomena to occur you are leaving a door open a crack and, you know, who knows, within seconds you could have God back again and, even worse, the Pope. So, I think, for them, it's almost like a kind of religious struggle. It's like a crusade."

He's certainly on to something there. I note often that the obsessively anti-relgious or anti church types whose sharing of posts often litter my facebook newsfeed will almost as frequently share diatribes or articles about "pseudo science". Passionate disbelief in God or religion seems to require these other subjects be ridiculed and cast into the bonfire too. And its not hard to guess the unspoken thought process..

A mind without brain sounds like a soul, surival suggests an afterlife which suggests heaven which suggests God which suggests religion which suggests oppressive strictures on my sex life and damnation for my failings. There is, I think, an unnecessary but automatic chain of association going on with a lot of people whereby to accept - or allow others to accept - any one of those things will open the door to accepting the rest and give authority back to the priests.

And then there is an even more basic fear. Materialists will often claim authoratively that people see ghosts or signs or believe in an afterlife because of a deep rooted, understandable, but irrational fear of their own mortality...that oblivion and non existence is too scary a concept to bear, so a fantasy born of hope sprang up in the human race. They of course are immune to this inherited fancy.

What is not pointed out very often is that to most people there is an opposing terror that would account for a desire to DISbelieve. Eternity. The idea of going on forever produces the same plunging feeling in the pit of your stomach as the idea of nothingness, to anyone who dwells on it. Because neither concept can be grasped. I suspect as many Skeptics dwell too much on the latter fear as believers do on the former, and it shapes just as much what they WANT to be true.

Thanks for this, good examination of the materialist cults.

It's amusing to see these fundies support things like the multiverse without evidence, all in the hopes of scrubbing away troublesome questions about consciousness that made even Nobel biologist George Wald, in his last lecture, question the materialist stance:

I still believe that most scientists that do not believe in the existence of psi and afterlife is because they believe that the psychic casuistry is no scientific evidence, not because the existence of psi and afterlife is incompatible with certain preconceptions.

A friend of mine had her dead uncle appear at the foot of her bed when she was 12 years old, telling her not to worry and that he was OK.

The catch was that he had died in Europe about an hour before this happened, but she and her family didn't know about it yet. They didn't even know he was sick: he had died of a sudden heart attack.

My friend told me this story, but wrote it off as a hallucination. She's an atheist, you see, and doesn't believe in an afterlife. She saw it with her own eyes and still doesn't believe it.

Excellent thought-provoking lecture by George Wald. Thanks for the link Saj Patel.

A bit OT, but I noticed this story about a letter to the terrorists who attacked France this past weekend, from a grieving widower.
Scroll down and notice the words "I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago."

As poetic as it reads, it also sounds like he literally meant what he was saying. It'll be interesting to see if there's a follow up an this aspect of his letter. Naturally, I would expect the usual Skeptic-reflexive response, dismissing it as a 'grief hallucination'.

I'm going to have to be honest here and admit, on the other side, that I have no interest in reading any of the skeptics argument. I find them terribly uninteresting and immediately think in my mind "they don't know what I know" and "haven't read what I've read."

To me it's like I feel like they can't see the big picture and can't put all the pieces of the puzzle together. There are just so many things in my mind that all seem to fit together.

Like my mind has been designed to see the connections between, cosmic coincidences, near death experience, death bed visions, transcendental and mystical experiences, a few really good Mediums, after death communications, precognitive experiences, EVP, the holographic universe theory, and quantum physics,.

It doesn't have to be "all or nothing". It only takes one white crow to prove that not all crows are black. There is just so much that paints a picture that this life has meaning and purpose and we are here for a reason and that this life is not the end and that something of who we are continues on after our physical body expires.

I have spent the last 15 years of my life reading and studying about this stuff and I have a very high degree of confidence that we are here for a reason and this ain't the main show. Like Jesus said to Pilate, "my kingdom is not of this world."

@Rabbitdawg "I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting."

"At last" and "waiting" suggest a frustrating delay in something that was expected. He may simply have meant he was finally allowed to see the body.

MP: The right-hand portion of the last frame of the cartoon is cut off. Does Charlie say, per my guess, "I guess fewer opinions are pretty good"?

@Rabbitdawg: In Viktor Frankl terms, that man certainly found the 'why' to live. A most courageous and uplifting letter.

During his time in the death camps of Germany during WW11, Frankl observed that those who survived were the ones who found the 'why' to live: the raison d'etre. That 'why' was most often to live for another - even if that other was no longer alive. Once the 'why' is found then the 'how' follows quite naturally.

From this principle Frankl, as a practising psychiatrist, later developed his Logo Therapy. It's just another example of my abiding belief that out of every 'bad' there comes 'good' of one kind or another.

Excellent analysis Michael; you're especially right that this type of mindset can be found anywhere, as I experienced it myself when I was a fundamentalist christian. When you have that mindset, getting to Heaven trumps everything else in life, including relationships, careers, hobbies, etc. Anything that causes you to doubt or to ask questions is to be avoided at all costs because it's Satan trying to lure you away from truth and into Hell! Breaking away from such a mindset is incredibly hard because you fear that simply having doubts will buy you a one-way ticket to the inferno, and there are times where you would rather die than suffer from doubt, fear, and uncertainty for even one more day.

It took me almost ten years to break away from that mindset, so I can sympathize with skeptics who don't want anything to do with possible evidence of the paranormal. If something causes your worldview and sense of self - the very core of who you are as a person - to be threatened, you WILL turn away from it. Brute force won't cause someone to change their mind, either: only curiosity and baby-steps will do that, and it's a process that takes years, but I think it's for the best. I've come to realize that forcing too big a change in someone's beliefs too quickly can cause more harm than good; taking it slowly and adapting over time is more beneficial. It's something I wish the paranormal and the skeptical communities would keep in mind when dealing with each other: present their cases and let the other side do what they wish with a live-and-let-live attitude, instead of going on tirades and making themselves look like smug, know-it-all imbeciles.

No, no no. "Skeptics" is a poor description. "Brights" is better. We are of above average intelligence, and we are aware how the unscientific human mind can create ghosties and ghoulies out of the imagination.

Our future as a race depends on the success of reason and solid science. Figments and superstition lead us nowhere. If we believe in hidden forces, we start worshiping them or appeasing them of doubting our ability to control our own destiny. That just won't do.

We are not pawns of gods. There are no invisible angels or powers greater than us. Only if we firmly believe that can we hope to take control of the present and win the future for humanity.

Excellent essay.

Yeah, I get the feeling that Skeptics will never be swayed by any evidence. But I do think that they're distinct from doubting Thomases, like myself, who is perhaps 95 percent convinced by the evidence. But I still have 5 percent of doubt.

That doubt comes from the ingrained idea that I must see it to believe it (although I HAVE seen some things). But much of the material world is NOT as we see it. Our senses fool us much of the time. We can't see how a fast animal such as horse really runs, molecules, germs, ultraviolet radiation, wifi networks, etc. without special equipment.

So it's an important to keep an open mind no matter, even Science with the capital S advises us to do so.

I suggest you read carefully the link provided by Saj Patel above. Nobel biologist George Wald ( a 'scientific' man and probably way above average intelligence)had some interesting thoughts obliquely related to your comments. If you are at least his equal in intelligence, I think you will enjoy his lecture and perhaps contemplate that there may be "powers greater than us". - AOD

I am an old man now and looking back on my life I can see that I had little or no ability to control my own destiny. Things just happened in my life that I had nothing to do with, that is, they were seemingly not related to any action on my part in spite of my best intentions and efforts. In retrospect I can see that maybe there was, if not a plan for my life, at least a foreordained direction, a path if you will, laid out for me and upon which I was journeying. When I fought that plan with my own will and strayed from that path, destiny, or what have you, seemed to pull me back so that what was to be accomplished was ultimately done. It was as if I needed to learn or experience something and what I needed to learn or experience was not even close to what I wanted for my life.

@Ian: Thanks for sharing your story. I do think the materialist cults are very much like the fundamentalists who seek to avoid Hell and are wary of Satan's trickery.

There's a distinct lack of free thought or creative imagination among the rabid pseudoskeptic, compared to the Sunday Assembly types who told me they wanted to get away from the "angry atheists" & just make the world better as a community of nonbelievers + agnostics. (In fact the guitarist at the one I went to was a devotee of Tantric yoga which he believed gave him spiritual connection to something greater than the material.)

@Rabbitdawg "I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting."

Lawrence B. Replied
"At last" and "waiting" suggest a frustrating delay in something that was expected. He may simply have meant he was finally allowed to see the body.

I think you're right. Oops.
I freely admit my positive bias toward evidence indicating the continuation of consciousness after death. Because of that bias, I make a serious effort to remain alert to prosaic explanations when they are presented.
But as Michael's article points out, that openness doesn't always cut both ways, at least with dogmatically Skeptic folks.
Thanks, I needed that!

Cyborg, what makes you believe that the author of this post and the commentators on it don't believe in the scientific method?

There exists much research showing a significant percentage of people throughout the world experiencing a very similar experience when going through the death experience, a good deal of it conducted by medical personal (Michael Sabom, Melvin Morse, etc.). I've yet to see a reasonable explanation why these experiences are so similar - if these people are hallucinating, it's highly improbable that they're hallucinating such very similar things. And diminished oxygen to the brain wouldn't make them hallucinate such similar things either.

It's hardly the stuff of faeries and pixie dust.

When it comes to things like this, what gives me hope is the Yuga. Eventually, and it may not happen in our lifetime, humanity will break free of this "dark age of truth" that we are currently in.

I'm very confident the military is very advanced in telepathy, for example. Science will have a "breakthrough" whenever the military complex decides to let it out of the bag.

Cyborg: Our race is fine. There's more of us than there's ever been and we pretty much control most of the world as a species. What are we supposed to be "winning" here in this universe of pointless atom smashing and energy bumping? Science is a great thing. I don't think anyone here is failing to use it. Your "firm beliefs" are well noted and respected. I'll stick to where the evidence leads.

Roger wrote, "The right-hand portion of the last frame of the cartoon is cut off. Does Charlie say, per my guess, 'I guess fewer opinions are pretty good'?"

He says, "I guess first opinions are pretty good."

I couldn't get the cartoon to display correctly, so I deleted it.

Here's a joke about asking for second opinions:

Shrink: "You're crazy."
Patient: "I want a second opinion."
Shrink: "OK, You're ugly too."

I thought Cyborg was sarcastic ... It is clear to this forum that science is not incompatible with psychic phenomena, that there is acceptable evidence for the existence of psi and afterlife and that these issues have nothing to do necessarily with God, destiny or hidden forces that govern our lives.

Am I the only one who read Cyborg's comments as facetious? I genuinely assumed he was mocking what he saw as the committed skeptic's delusions! The line "we are above average intelligence" is what made me assume he was taking the piss as we say over here, since its hard to imagine anyone serious describing themselves in that way.

If it was serious, however, its worth pointing out that studies show belief in the paranormal increases as educational achievement does. The more highly educated you are, the more likely you are to accept psi as a reality.

From Guy Lyon Playfair:

"What the CSICOP pollsters must have found particularly unsettling was the fact that as the students’ educational levels increased, so did their paranormal belief levels for all fourteen subjects on which they were questioned. Dividing the students into five categories from Freshmen to Graduates, percentages of those described as Believers rose steadily from 23 percent to 26, 27, 31 and finally 34 percent for the graduates.

In other words, an American college education increases paranormal belief levels by nearly 50 percent. "

Wait- Cyborg wasn't satirizing the materialist cults?

I hope I'm right and y'all are wrong.

I enjoyed reading your article Michael and the comments. The Skeptical reaction strikes me as one arising from anxiety. Anxiety is know to impact our ability to be rational. Perhaps it's that simple.

Cyborg wrote,

||No, no no. "Skeptics" is a poor description. "Brights" is better. We are of above average intelligence, and we are aware how the unscientific human mind can create ghosties and ghoulies out of the imagination.||

Re the Brights movement:

I thought Cyborg might have been trolling, as the term "Bright" never seemed to take off (it's had 10 years), and people made fun of it, including Skeptics. But maybe he is another unironic Skeptic. Not sure.

I couldn't tell if Cyborg's comment was facetious or serious. I'm still not sure (not that I've spent a lot of time thinking about it).

who will build heaven on earth?
the mind convinced that paradise will manifest of it's own accord?
to paraphrase a genius;
That's the signpost up ahead—your next stop... for some it reads "FREE WINGS!" whilst others see in bold red "CLIFF!"
the materialist skeptic throws their car into reverse and seeks a better way.

Yes, Cyborg's comments may or may not be Poe's Law in action:'s_law

"Poe's law is an Internet adage which states that, without a clear indicator of the author's intent, parodies of extreme views will be mistaken by some readers for sincere expressions of the parodied views."

The confusion I think comes from the fact that the first two lines - brights and above average intelligence - sound like mockery of the type of mindset, yet the rest of it sounds like a perfectly and not outrageously unreasonable set of views to have.

Matt said:

"Poe's law is an Internet adage which states that, without a clear indicator of the author's intent, parodies of extreme views will be mistaken by some readers for sincere expressions of the parodied views."

I've since learned that Poe was being facetious when he said that.

*"perfectly sincere" that should say.

Another thing to consider is that some of us just have lower "boggle thresholds." Take, for instance, the discussion about physical mediumship in the previous post. Despite the evidence, and despite the failures of the criticisms of the evidence, I simply can't believe in it. I don't know why I can't believe in it, but I can't. I don't think the people involved are frauds, and I don't have an emotional aversion to the idea (hell, I WANT to believe in it). It's just that my biases and preconceptions don't allow me to believe in it. For many capital-S Skeptics, I think this is a significant factor as well.

Bruce wrote,

||I've since learned that Poe was being facetious when he said that.||

LOLOL, classic!

Anonymous I am with you on this one. As someone who has read many of the evidential accounts of things that would be considered to be of a parapsychological nature and as someone with a will to believe, I have to say that I too find it impossible to overcome my innate prejudice against pinning a supernatural cause to any of these cases. Even as enamored as I am with the Patience Worth case I can't help believing that some crucial piece of information is missing; something that would explain the whole thing in materialistic terms. Similarly with D.D. Home. I can't help feeling that something is missing that would account for all of his seemingly impossible stunts of levitation, materialization and accordion playing but what it is, at this distance in time---who knows? - AOD

One of the best analyses about skeptics I have ever read. Could not agree more.

Thanks Michael for this great job!


@Anonymous (and I do so wish people didn't feel the need to hide behind a pseudonym) what you've just described is indeed very common. For instance, it's the reason why some people can create their own placebo effect and cure themselves of illness, while others follow, blindly, what medical science (their doctor) tells them and thus die to order.

It's a refusal to accept the authority of one's own mind.

Perhaps skeptics and atheists have existential viewpoints so much so that the very idea of an afterlife causes them acute agony. After all, if this life is meaningless to them overall, why would they wish for the meaninglessness to continue, possibly for an eternity?!

I just read something about a study that was conducted with a lie detector machine of 25,000 people where when asked the question, "Do you believe in God" and some of them responded with "no", the lie detector showed they were lying. There wasn't even ONE exception. That's interesting, no?

Part of the problem here is not that there isn't sufficient evidence for psi phenomena but that we are dealing with a phenomena that cannot be measured objectively or predicted with any degree of robustness. For example, if you were to ask a medium whether they believe their psychic impressions and abilities came from their subconscious or from an actual spirit entity, I am pretty sure they would have a hard time answering that with certainty. This gets to the crux of the matter: nobody actually knows for sure what we are dealing with here, regardless of a pro or con attitude towards it.

I have my own biased opinions on this question of the source of the phenomena which I am sure anybody familiar with my posts will know of, I need not repeat myself.

Amos, you aren't by chance related to ole' Conan Doyle are ye?

I'm just not that interested in physical mediumship. It is not important for me to believe in it - for me to believe in life after death. I have other things that lead me to believe that life after death is "for real."

To be honest physical mediumship seems a little showy, flamboyant, or goofy for it to be associated with such an important thing as life after death. I don't see what floating in and out of windows or playing the accordion has to do with life after death.

Entertaining yes, but for me at least, not that closely related to the question of life after death or what the afterlife is like. I'm more interested in mental Mediums and the veridical things they say, especially when they get the "big hits" that blow me away, which happens every now and then.

I am not shy about speaking with friends about the topics I'm interested in. One relevant piece of fallout from that is the number of people who assure me that there is no evidence whatsoever for what I have spent the last decade or so researching. I send them to Dean Radin's wonderful evidence page, and these people, like the self-called "Bright" above, invariably assure me that they won't be going there. For this type of thinker, evidence for their beliefs is totally unnecessary: their emotional response, combined with their unwarranted feeling of superiority, is sufficient for them.

However, unlike a lot of other "woo" afficianados, I don't let this bother me. It is certainly their loss, not mine, and as I talk with more people, I have come to realize that the irrational Skeptic is a tiny minority. In spite of their excessive need to talk and be seen, they have very little influence.

@Claudia: Except if you read materialist philosophers they seem to continually tell us we are merely biological robots on a crash course with oblivion. If humans are reducible to machines I think one should expect corporations and governments to treat them like machines.

So not sure what this "better way" is?

In any case, "materialist skeptic" is an oxymoron. True skeptics reject the materialist cults.

david r.

I don't know if I am related to Conan Doyle. My great grandfather Amos Alfred Doyle's family probably came from Ireland and there is a similarity in facial structure between my great grandfather and Conan Doyle but without a lot of genealogical searching I am thinking that I am probably not related. - AOD

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