The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Agency of Pseudo-Skepticism & Cultivated Ignorance

Carl Sagan was Just Dead Wrong

Information is a market. ‘Extraordinary claim’ and ‘simplest explanation’ are two common buzz-phrases of that market’s huckster, hustler and shyster. Be very cautious of such easy and equivocal disposition, especially as it regards an implicit appeal to truth (value).

During one of my team’s overseas projects, we were tasked with the mission of observing a particular ancient and resurgent empire’s illegal operations inside our host country. The empire had become the de facto ruling entity in the region, despite this site not even being their country nor property at all. These illicit operations were enabled by various foreign and religious insurgent groups-for-hire who had invaded the countryside and conducted a war of terror on the local population. A war of intimidation, compelling the indigenous people into keeping quiet about the entire set of foreign invasion and exploitation activity.

Getting to our objective involved an excursion across a 12 mile trek of terrain bearing an odd set of features. We were outfitted in full pack and had to traverse the entire distance on foot, through thick waist-high beige colored savanna grass. The 12 mile journey extended across an ancient igneous lava dome which was formed of iron-rich magnetite and hematite. In fact, if one dropped a tool upon open hard ground there, its impact produced a curiously metallic sounding thump. A very slight but perceptible difference from standard earth. Various team members fascinated themselves by dropping items to the ground until we needed to assemble for the excursion.

Illegal immigration and insurgency are a Ruling Party’s method of punishing its constituency for having the audacity to attempt to hold it constitutionally accountable.

Numbered among the team of course were guides, familiar with the local trails and access-ways to our destination, and possessing a rapport with the local tribal leaders. As we set up to make our journey, I directed that the team take a formation which was defensive, in the possibility that the savanna grass concealed opportunistic lions. Our guides advised that “The lions will not come here. They are sensitive to the magnetics,” suggesting that the mineral makeup of the lava dome itself, served to repel both prey and lion alike. It was actually both a fascinating and reasonable conjecture to my mind; probably even one which would stand up to scientific scrutiny. Indeed this was not an extraordinary claim by any stretch – easily the simplest explanation.

But this particular context of deliberation entailed a need for more verity than simply an estimation of the most probable, simplest or most likely explanation. The logical calculus in this particular situation, involved critical matters of value and risk: stealth in movement, team safety and state of focus, avoiding placing mission-critical personnel at risk, along with the primacy of the mission itself. The grass was ‘the fog of inquiry’ if you will. No, we were not afraid of being attacked, drug off and eaten. Rather, discharging weapons at or being distracted by marauding lions was not in the cards, as such activity served to place the mission, and more importantly the local allied population, at risk. Such activity was deleterious to value and exposed to risk (two different things).

An insistence upon sacrificing value or placing stakeholders at risk, constitutes the most extraordinary of claims.

So, despite our guides’ recommendation, we elected for the team to take a lion-disincentive formation – people side-by-side in front, and side by side to follow up our column of personnel. We were to present no lone stragglers – no lion tease or entrapment of any kind. Was the formation necessary? I am a skeptic; skeptical that us interlopers possessed the locus of existential knowledge commensurate with such a decision. Our guides regarded our decision as a form of extraordinary claim; one in which we bore no evidence. In the end, I elected to serve preservation of value, along with robustness to risk. Precaution; something well practiced on the high seas, as well as on land. Such is often the circumstance in science as well, especially when value, ignorance or risk are involved in its logical calculus or deployment upon stakeholders.


/philosophy : ethics/ : a consistent praxis which is transparently focused upon benefiting its stakeholders in terms of value preservation and attainment, or robustness to risk. One who does not pretend to be everything to everyone, nor seeks to obfuscate any part of value and/or cost.

We made it both to and from our objective without being detected. We placed none of the local indigenous people in harm’s way of being questioned by insurgency squads. We brought back proof of this empire’s illegal activities in stealing from our host-nation’s natural resource wealth. Three days later, a local laborer working on the periphery of that plateau, was killed by a lion.

Now that we have briefly touched on a context example, let’s examine Carl Sagan’s second most famous apothegm, aside from “All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one.”

‘Extraordinary’ is an Evidence-less and Risk-Ignorant Claim to Specific Value

Information is a market. ‘Extraordinary claim’ and ‘simplest explanation’ are two common buzz-phrases of that market’s huckster, hustler and shyster. Be very cautious of such easy and equivocal disposition, especially as it regards an implicit appeal to truth (value).

Carl Sagan is credited with the famous apothegm of social skepticism, ‘Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.’ And while this truism is a semantic truth, it is not also therefore a logical truth. That is to say, that the principle bears some utility in certain specific circumstances, but also bears the potential of encouraging a mistake of logical calculus when blindly applied in other contexts. In particular, when the apothegm is used to enforce certain conditions and conclusions which violate the precepts of skepticism itself. Ludwig Wittgenstein would have a field day tearing this apothegm apart by its predicates and permissives.

Extraordinary’ is a ware sold in a low-knowledge market or to an uninformed quarry. It is a descriptive which is proffered by our minds most often in advance of knowing anything about a matter of contention. In advance of actually possessing any level of intelligence concerning a subject, one should instead err towards exposure to or conservation of value, along with robustness towards risk. Any claim which poses a logical calculus running counter to these ethics, must come necessarily with extraordinary evidence.

What my experience in developing trading markets (see The Future of Ethical Markets), and leading people under scenarios of risk has taught me, is that it is the ordinary which is most often misleading. And in being regarded as such, is also often the most harm-imparting. Some of our most disastrous case examples in trade, involve very ordinary claims to proof of product or proof of funding. In fact, ‘ordinary’ – or ‘you see it’s simple’ are most often the tradecraft and watchwords of the fraudster – the huckster, hustler, hustle-chain or shyster. The savvy executive and military leader learns lessons to which the scientist or academic is never exposed. There is a preeminent role for extraordinary evidence, which in this first priority has nothing whatsoever to do with addressing extraordinary claims.

Logical versus Semantic Truth

/philosophy : truth : species/ : a logical truth is a statement which is true, and remains true under all reinterpretations of its components or in all contexts aside from simply that of its apperception and crafting. A semantic truth is only true in certain given circumstances.

Which serves to introduce a correction to Carl Sagan’s semantic truth regarding extraordinary evidence.

The Semantic (Unethical) Truth of Extraordinary Evidence: Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

Carl Sagan was not just wrong, he was destructively wrong. This abortion of a philosophical principle helped usher in the grand suffering entailed inside the bullet pointed errors below – by focusing skepticism on the wrong issues. Equivocation promoting fecklessness. This apothegm was developed inside the cocoon of academic celebrity, and not through the requisite sampling of the breadth of human experience and exposure to risk.

The map of the logically true and false to the right, demonstrates the 16 states of progression from logically false to logically true and every state of exclusion or semantics therein. What Sagan states here was semantically false, condition number 2 (12th item on the list), far on its way to being completely false – wherein, extraordinary evidence is actually required only when a specific condition (A) is true, and specific conditions (B) are false. Those conditions are necessary prerequisites for the truth of his famous contention:

A = A complete body of extensive domain intelligence exists and 80+% of domain knowledge is well established
~B = Mitigation of bias has been accomplished to a professional level
~B = Establishment of the exclusion of agency through true ethical skepticism and not the fake variety
~B = Established absence of Nelsonian ignorance on the part of neutral observers

If one could in theory constrain the equivocal context of the Wittgenstein object ‘extraordinary claim’ to those claims which serve to place stakeholders at risk, or be deleterious to value, then this semantic context might pass muster. But of course, semantically the apothegm is employed as a data filter, useful in squelching anything a fake skeptic finds unacceptable instead. Rendering the apothegm in reality, only useful for unethical activity. The actual principle, under ethical skepticism is expressed in the form of a logical truth as follows:

The Logical Truth of Extraordinary Evidence

Any claim which exposes a stakeholder to risk, ignorance or loss of value – regardless of how ordinary, virtuous or correct – demands extraordinary evidence.

Ghosts, Bigfoot and UFOs don’t cause harm – rather, rolling out untested-risk technologies or lying to large stakeholder populations at risk causes harm – this is what demands extraordinary accountability. Examples of ordinary, virtuous and correct claims – which should ethically have been supported by extraordinary evidence, and were not:

‣ Instructing the obese that they are obese from eating too much and watching too much TV.

‣ Citing as medical authority that diabetes is caused by ‘sugar’.

‣ Citing as medical authority that heart disease is caused by excess serum blood ‘cholesterol’.

‣ Citing as medical authority that tinnitus is caused by exposure to loud noises.

‣ Citing as medical authority that ‘one gets all the nutrition they need, from a western diet’.

‣ Citing as medical authority that ‘supplements are useless and/or harmful’.

‣ Citing as medical authority, without any study whatsoever, that a skyrocketing medical trend is ‘simply a matter of change in diagnosis’.

‣ Rolling out a major change in food technology for every human to eat 3 times a day for life, and then only testing that product on rats for 240 days after you have deployed the technology, and only after the stakeholder population started to complain of new and skyrocketing chronic, autoimmune and intestinal diseases.

‣ Rolling out a 68 event vaccine schedule without safety testing even one single vaccine injection at all, and then only conducting unethical linear affirmation studies of mild statistical observation of absences, in the wrong population of people, only after the population/doctors started observing skyrocketing related maladies in our children.

‣ Despite persistent observation or suffering by millions reporting direct personal or eyewitness experience, instructing the world as scientific authority and without any research, that ________________ does not exist.

‣ Instructing millions of ulcer sufferers that they were the cause of their ulcers, for doing _________________.

The assertions which served to precipitate these large-scale actual events of harm – these assertions constitute the real ‘extraordinary claims’. This is a core philosophy which drives ethical skepticism. It satisfies my soul to be able to apperceive, craft and teach this much needed philosophy.

The Ethical Skeptic, “Carl Sagan was Just Dead Wrong”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 11 Dec 2019; Web;

December 11, 2019 - Posted by | Ethical Skepticism | ,

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Dear Ethical Skeptic, I am a 21-year-old college student in the United States who just recently discovered your work. I have also read much of the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb and I notice similarities in your understanding of the world and wide breadth of knowledge. I consider it one of my central purposes in life to do the most that I can as a person to change this world for the better. My intuition tells me that a first step in this process is to become better educated and experienced. This would allow me to act more effectively and,… Read more »

Tommy Schopenhauer

Beautiful, as always. Since finding your site I’ve been feeling a little less alone in this strangest of worlds. Best wishes from Germany !

Tommy Schopenhauer

Thank you for your reply … and indeed, the truths one can encounter in life are most definitely stranger than all the abstract rationalizations that are usually employed to make sense of it all. I’m just glad someone like you exists – someone who sees through the pseudointellectual aggrandizement and intimidation tactics that rule so much of today’s Intelligentsia. You expose the mechanisms behind all that, which is no small accomplishment …

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