The issue at hand for the ethical skeptic, is not that the concept of doubt bears virtuous potential, and indeed is used for specific legitimate scientific or legal benefit – but rather, that the term offers an equivocal dark side, which can be employed to cultivate ignorance. Ethical skepticism contends that a doubt-based process of ‘sorting out true from false claims’, when exercised outside the bounds of science, is indistinguishable from faith – especially when plied inside the context of a club.
Methodical cynicism versus epoché – when it comes to philosophical terminology, leave no doubt as to what you mean.
“Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public.”
~ Tobacco Company Brown & Williamson Action Plan Against Anti-Smoking Anti-Science Forces1
Richard Feynman is credited with the quote “It is imperative in science to doubt; it is absolutely necessary, for progress in science, to have uncertainty as a fundamental part of your inner nature. To make progress in understanding, we must remain modest and allow that we do not know.” Doubt of course, is a necessary practice of skepticism, when defined and exercised correctly. But doubt can be weaponized. Notice that Richard Feynman, in the quote above, frames doubt in the context of ‘allowing that we do not know’ and not as a disposition promoting cynicism towards information which threatens our comfort zone. Doubt, the equivocal concept, can be twisted to mislead both its practitioner as well as its victims, the doubted and the third party observer. It remains the habit of social skeptics, to enthrall their egos through the misleading specter of exercising this sciencey sounding principle.
Scepter means in Latin, to ‘palm’, hold, touch or examine – one who focuses upon methods and fruits
Cynic means in Latin, ‘dogged’, doglike in denial, doubting, scoffing – one who focuses on identity, correctness and the good and bad people
Methodical Doubt (cynicism), in contrast to the actual philosophical principle promoted by Feynman, called epoché, is a tool which is exercised too often as a tactic of fake skepticism. Uncertainty (as Feynman also frames ‘doubt’ above) is a feature of a studied domain, while epoché is the human disciplined mindset allowing the skeptic to embrace uncertainty.
The invalid form of doubt outlined inside the Tower of Wrong: The Art of Professional Lying, or methodical doubt or methodical cynicism, is regarded as a form of Skulptur Mechanism; a pseudoscientific razor employed to slice off undesirable observations and data until one is left with only evidence in support of what they were looking to find in the first place (and call it Cartesian Doubt). This contrasts with the legitimate forms of doubt employed inside professional contexts.
When René Descartes issued this phrase: “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” He was not speaking of the context of doubt as a form of negation or denial; rather a shift in disposition to neutral regard and no longer the credulous superficial acceptance with which all humans are born.
I am a staunch evolutionist for instance. But that being said I read eagerly articles which identify challenges2 to this important paradigm of living phylogeny. My ‘doubt’, regarding these articles is that I do not buy (nor reject) their conclusions on the spot. Rather I suspend such contentions and hold onto them for later comparison and reflection. Were I to weaponize doubt in these circumstances and cynically filter out all such discourse – I would be doing nothing but defending my latest religion. Evolution’s acceptance as a scientific principle would impart nothing whatsoever to my personal credit. Evolution would still be evolution; however, I would simply be a cynical religious idiot babbling its familiar phrases.
This is what correctness clubs do – they imply that correctness of their positions substantiates correctness of their method of weaponized doubt.
Weaponized doubt is an intoxicating spirit which can serve to mislead and age the mind of both its victim and it practitioner. This ossified and cynical version of doubt is best observed through the truth entailed inside British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s First Law:
Clarke’s First Law – when a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
Therefore, I utilize a person’s regard of and skill in handling doubt as a key indicator into their scientific literacy. Doubt can be a lens mechanism through which the ethical skeptic is able to examine a person’s habits relating to original thinking. Not critical thinking mind you – as we have tons of flavors of that form of masturbation; rather original thinking. Original thinking is what distinguishes the scientist from the technician, contrary to the fantasies of 14 year old wanna-be skeptics. It is a discernment as to whether or not the ‘doubter’ has ever placed a conjecture upon the line – ever undertaken a risk, in order to prove out a potentially game changing line of investigation. What the astute ethical skeptic will find is, that people who have had skin in the game, who understand committing ones self to researching a line of risk – these mature researchers possess a much more reserved exercise of ‘doubt’ than do persons who have only existed inside an academic or armchair discourse environment. Having been burned several times through ‘doubting’ young researchers or ideas which I refused at first blush, I have come to understand the roles of creativity, novelty and serendipity inside research. When I observe a doubter abusing the principle, as an evidence skulpting mechanism or not even comprehending of the difference between methodical doubt and deontological doubt (see below), I know I am witness to a rote script follower. A technician, not a scientist. This is why I avoid the equivocal term altogether. I know the game the fake skeptic is playing.
Doubt is every bit the tool of deception as it is tool of inspection.
The preeminent doubt I hold, is that we possess enough knowledge to go around ‘doubting’ things as a first reaction. Real doubt is a disposition built over diligent research and time – fake doubt pops its head up, every time it senses a chance for self-aggrandizement and preemption of science.
“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.”
~ Khalil Gibron, Lebanese Poet
Most of the time, I reserve my actual application of doubt to social situations wherein a person has an established history of lying, or might possess a key motivation for deception. Issues involving profit, opportunity to surreptitiously harm enemies or reap easy gains. I doubt human nature – but I do not ‘doubt’ first hand observations, as that is a practice of pseudoscience. Below, let’s examine some of the reasons why the ethical skeptic is very reserved in his or her usage of the term doubt, and prefers instead for the scientific principle of epoché when it regards pluralistic issues of science and even its fringe horizons.
/verb: 1175-1225 Middle English douten < Anglo-French, Old French douter < Latin dubitāre to waver, hesitate, be uncertain/ : to call into question the truth of; to lack confidence in or distrust; to consider unlikely. Older: trepidation or uncertainty.3 4
Methodical Doubt – doubt employed as a skulptur mechanism, to slice away disliked observations until one is left with the data set they favored before coming to an argument. The first is the questionable method of denying that something exists or is true simply because it defies a certain a priori stacked provisional knowledge. This is nothing but a belief expressed in the negative, packaged in such a fashion as to exploit the knowledge that claims to denial are afforded immediate acceptance over claims to the affirmative. This is a religious game of manipulating the process of knowledge development into a whipsaw effect supporting a given conclusion set.
Deontological Doubt (epoché) – if however one defines ‘doubt’ – as the refusal to assign an answer (no matter how probable) for a specific question – in absence of assessing question sequence, risk and dependency (reduction), preferring instead the value of leaving the question unanswered (null) over a state of being ‘sorta answered inside a mutually reinforcing set of sorta answereds’ (provisional knowledge) – then this is the superior nature of deontological ethics.
Most fake skeptics define ‘doubt’ as the former and not the latter – and often fail to understand the difference.
As we conducted in a previous blog entry regarding the term anecdote, again here we cite the broad equivocal footprint of the term doubt. This is a reasonable, generally accepted range of usage of the word. Notice the large and accommodating equivocal footprint of this word, ranging very conveniently from ‘neutral disposition’ to ‘accusation of a lie’. Again, take notice that fake skeptics have a habit of wallowing in such luxuriously equivocal terms. Avoid such skeptics.
The Illegitimate Form of Doubt
Of course, the concerns listed below, exclude the definition contexts of deontological doubt (a suspended or graceful disposition of neutrality) or ‘reasonable doubt’ as a principle expressed inside of the Law. French philosopher Peter Abelard argued that “doubt is the road to inquiry, and by inquiring we perceive the truth.” These ‘doubt is a virtue’ instances of the term’s employment bear specific meaning and application contexts which serve to constrain their equivocal potential. Below we are not talking about these forms of doubt, rather the illegitimate pop-usage which is promoted by social skepticism (see ‘Propaganda Butte’ in the graphic above). But the definition of the word has drifted socially, since the days of its employment by Descartes and Abelard. A drift rightward along the above spectrum of usage, which is extraordinarily convenient to agenda plying agents. This drift pertains to the introduction of ‘methodological skepticism’ by later interpreters of Descartes’ Cartesian Doubt. The following Wikipedia entry attempts to sum up this contrast:
Methodological skepticism is distinguished from philosophical skepticism in that methodological skepticism is an approach that subjects all knowledge claims to scrutiny with the goal of sorting out true from false claims, whereas philosophical skepticism is an approach that questions the possibility of certain knowledge.5
Methodological skepticism does not even exist. It is fake skepticism. And a contributing reason to why it is even practiced is that philosophical skepticism is spun into a straw man, by the very people promoting methodological skepticism to begin with. I suppose there exist only drug enjoying citizens and sick-obsessive-Nazi-control-freaks then too. An equivalent bifurcation. You surely don’t want to be a sick-obsessive-control freak – so therefore you are surely a drug enjoying citizen. Philosophical skepticism does not ‘question the possibility of certain knowledge’, as this is a contorted-to-simple and accordingly ridiculous misrepresentation (the straw man); bearing neither the clarifying nor practical use features requisite in sound philosophy. Ethical skepticism is a form of applied philosophical skepticism, unacknowledged inside this layman construct framed above by Wikipedia (Gee, I don’t question the possibility of certain knowledge, so I must be the skeptic type who evaluates claims then – Duh Huh!). Ethical skepticism contends that this purported process of ‘sorting out true from false claims’, when exercised outside the bounds of science, is indistinguishable from faith (methodical cynicism) – and especially when plied inside the context of a club. It does not question the possibility of ‘certain knowledge’; but rather doubts people. Ethical skepticism seeks to rob the lie spinner of the raw materials he desperately needs, but does not make pronounced dispositions on topics based on how likely things are and how smart the skeptic is. All this gamed process achieves is to make the skeptic the next lie spinner.
The above bifurcation by Wikipedia is illustrative of the level of ineptness and misinformation which sustains this false form of doubt inside the social skeptic community at large.
Before we close, as well I must raise a second pitfall of methodical doubt, one comprised inside the Appeal to Skepticism Fallacy. The issue raised by the appeal to skepticism is that doubt can be an addictive mechanism, as it rewards its practitioner with continued seratonin-like feedback from perceived ‘victories’, along with a newly celebrated intellectual superiority, combined with the ease through which they are able to obtain respect as ‘authority’. This is embodied in a principle of ethical skepticism called the negare attentio effect:
Negare Attentio Effect
/cognitive bias – unconscious self positioning/ – the unconscious habituation of a person seeking publicity or attention in which they will gravitate more and more to stances of denial, skepticism and doubting inside issues of debate, as their principal method of communication or public contention. This condition is subconsciously reinforced because they are rewarded with immediate greater credence when tendering a position of doubt, find the effort or scripted method of arguing easier, enjoy shaming and demeaning people not similar to their own perception of self or presume that counter-claims don’t require any evidence, work or research.
Television makes one appear fatter, more liberal and more skeptical that one is in real life.
The issue at hand for the ethical skeptic, is not that the concept of doubt bears virtuous potential and indeed is used for specific legitimate scientific or legal benefit – but rather, that the term offers an equivocal dark side, which can be employed to promote agenda and cultivate ignorance (as per below). When it comes to philosophical terminology, leave no doubt as to what you mean.
Ethical Skepticism Concerns About ‘Doubt’ as a Tactic of Social Skepticism
1. Requires No Thinking (Creative nor Critical).
2. Can Always be Posited (feature of pseudo-theory).
3. Requires Zero Effort or Evidence.
4. Highly Intervolved with or Indistinguishable from Unconscious Bias.
5. Deceives its Participant and Observers through Feigned Objectivity.
6. Artificially Generates an Alternative which has Not Surpassed Ockham’s Razor (is pseudo-theory).
7. Serves to Intimidate Argument Outsiders or Future Researchers.
8. Serves a Club Quality Agenda (which never works).
9. Usually Employed as an ‘I’m the Smartest Person in the Room’ Tactic.
10. Equivocal Footprint is Useful to Game Playing Fake Skeptics.
11. A Method of Accusing a Person of Lying – Without Saying as Much.
12. Provides no Mechanisms of Parametric Argument Discipline nor Self Examination.
13. Implies a False Dilemma/Bifurcation of Dispositions Constituting Only ‘Belief and Disbelief’.
14. Is a Pretense/Persona/Posturing Put-On For Others.
15. Forces a Lazy or Premature Conclusion at the Beginning of the Scientific Method as Opposed to its End.
16. Posed in the form of a Question – When it is Not One (see The Nature of Rhetoric).
18. Tenders the Appearance of Scientific Literacy.
19. Is Gratifying Inside of Use Contexts wherein Gratification Can Serve Only to Mislead its Practitioner.
20. Methodical Doubt Inevitably Breeds Self-Doubting and Group Think in Young Scientific Minds.
Number twenty above, is the impact which most greatly concerns The Ethical Skeptic. This is the dark side of doubt from which we suffer today – and is the number one concern of real scientists. These are the reasons why a seasoned researcher, a life long passionate investigator – eschews the term ‘doubt’ to a level which the neophyte does not. Be on your guard as to ‘skeptics’ who insist on using the term without clarification as to their employment of deontological doubt at the least, despite knowing these pitfalls – or even not possessing awareness of them. There may well be a reason the skeptic embraces such ambiguity.
Your choice dear reader, is to hold and contemplate my words here along your journey; or to ‘doubt’ them. Choose wisely.
The Ethical Skeptic, “The Dark Side of Doubt”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 10 Feb 2018, Web; https://wp.me/p17q0e-6Ku
- Brown & Williamson Records; Minnesota Documents; psdw0147 ( TID : rgy93f00 ); https://www.industrydocumentslibrary.ucsf.edu/tobacco/docs/#id=psdw0147
- Nature: Does Evolutionary Theory Need a Rethink?; 9 Oct 2014;https://www.nature.com/news/does-evolutionary-theory-need-a-rethink-1.16080
- Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary: Doubt; https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doubt
- Dictionary.com: Origin of Doubt; http://www.dictionary.com/browse/doubt
- Wikipedia: Cartesian Doubt; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartesian_doubt