When philosophers speak of skepticism being the foundation of science, they are not referring to the inept spewing of methodical cynicism, prejudicial doubt and stacks of provisional knowledge of unacknowledged risk, which is practiced by those who today pretend to be, or pose as if representing, science. Skepticism possesses no ax to grind, save for the idempotent ethic of defending the knowledge development process. It challenges manipulation of opponents, semantics, data, method, science, argument, assumption, groups, authorities and perception of self on the part of agenda carrying agents. These agents enforce a fiat knowledge agenda through intimidation, defamation, ridicule, surreptitious malevolent activity, social control, ethnic disdain, tortious interference, business tampering, murder, targeting of ideas, observations or persons, media domination, propaganda, mafia and elite corporate power. This all oriented towards the desired set of social goals enacted under a particular cultivated ignorance.
Philosophy is the moral conscience of science; yet in this role it cannot pretend to step in and act on behalf of science. Skepticism therefore, as philosophy, is the complement of sound science method, not the privilege sword of a few pretenders culling and provisionally promoting in lieu of science. Skepticism is the hallmark of those who possess the grace, integrity and acumen requisite in the wielding of great ideas.
Of course the ethics (practice methods) of Ethical Skepticism are not really new. However, to most people, because of the false form of skepticism thrust upon them daily by agenda driven forces, Ethical Skepticism does appear to be novel and heretical thinking. The modern pop/lay definitions outlining the mindset of persons who identify themselves as skeptics often include some version of the task of ‘carefully scrutinizing claim validity,’ ‘doubting’ and ‘demanding proof’ as a response to novel intelligence. Skepticism, as philosophy, cannot make the boast of replacing science, as this is not the purpose of philosophy. Those that substitute skepticism in lieu of science hunger for premature conclusiveness and exploit convenient ambiguity in science method; a tacit permission which justifies just about any oppressive action of denial one chooses. It affords any jerk, know-it-all or activist the ability to promote their religious or political ideas under the luxury of cozenage as a scientist – all through the simple act of declaring themselves to be a skeptic. It revolves around a false practice set implying that you personally must derive a conclusion on every mystery in the here and now, with only the information you have been given. This is a pressure sales pitch – usually involving identifying the bad people. This is dishonesty. This is pseudoscience. It is skepticism derived for the sole sake of being identified as a skeptic. It is a pretense, purposed for power.
Ethical Skepticism in contrast, focuses on application of the scientific method to produce a consequentialist duality of clarity – regardless of whether or not the insights are liked or disliked, probable or improbable, favored or disfavored, and value – as measured by three goals: love, understanding and the alleviation of suffering.
Skepticism is a practice discipline of the ethical scientist. However, being skeptical does not therefore make one a scientist. Indeed rather, such self-regard without circumspection can serve to mislead one into obsessing about skepticism itself; to stand in lieu of actual understanding or qualification history. This is the cause of much extremism in our society today, falsely in the name of science. Therefore, Ethical Skepticism can be viewed as a personal practice set which seeks to avoid the pitfalls portrayed inside application variants of Neuhaus’ and Goodhart’s Laws:
/philosophy : skepticism : fallacies/ : where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.
Therefore, by this principle, we see how skepticism, as a goal in and of itself will always escalate to extremism. Because anything which can be encompassed inside a halo of ‘doubt’ will eventually be ‘debunked’ by default, whether or not research is done inside the subject at all. All it takes is a bit of club self-delusion and a little shove of doubt. This is encompassed then as an outcome of Goodhart’s Law:
Goodhart’s Law (of Skepticism)
/philosophy : skepticism : fallacies/ : when skepticism itself becomes the goal, it ceases to be skepticism.
Both of these principles become favorable leverage angles for the adept forces seeking to conduct Bernaysian social engineering. The social skeptics they target to participate in this ploy are smart enough to support the agenda, but not smart enough to spot the methods of counter-intelligence and the role they play therein. Nassim Taleb’s ‘Intellectual Yet Idiot‘ class of smartest people in the room.
Moreover, with regard to even the valid aspects of pop-skepticism, there exists a problem in that a sufficiently detrimental portion of those who identify themselves as ‘skeptics’ teach and purposely practice agenda driven methodical cynicism and promotion of their personal religion, Nihilism. The flaw in this process is embodied in The Riddle of Skepticism:
The Riddle of Skepticism
The question one must ask them self, before venturing into this hall of mirrors called skepticism, is this: It is not whether or not I can establish a likelihood of being right or wrong on a matter; the question in the mind of the ethical skeptic is ‘If you were wrong, would you even know?” This is the focus of the philosophy of skepticism and not this business of pretending to act in lieu of science.
By proclaiming skepticism, one has already struck the tar baby and can no longer plead denial of their action in contending philosophy. The discipline of philosophy, even an examination as to how we go about developing knowledge, cannot be employed as a means to bypass science and pretend to act in its place, as this is not the purpose of philosophy.
Doubt, belief and social pressure to accede to provisional knowledge therefore are the raw materials which compose the fabric of the lie. This is why the ethical skeptic relies upon the suspension of these things – embodied in the philosophy of the epoché. Rather than decide for himself what is true and untrue, instead he robs the lie spinner (even if himself) of the raw material he desperately needs. He is not denying knowledge, rather denying the tradecraft of the lie.
The entire realm of ethical skepticism is occulted through the sleight-of-hand trick wherein Pyrrhonistic Epoché is strawman defined as a ‘denial of knowledge’. This is philosophical ineptness – and creates the false dilemma that methodical cynicism is therefore the only bifurcated alternative inside the process of seeking truth..
~ The Ethical Skeptic
With the exception of inalienable natural rights, philosophy, despite standing as the foundation of science, cannot be abused to supplant or act in lieu of the methods of science. Skepticism too is bound by this construct. Much of our false skepticism and scientific pretense today stems from a misunderstanding of or ignorance around this key principle. Therefore, in order to clarify the difference between false and valid skepticism based on this understanding, I have introduced a more rigorous professional definition of the mindset; one more clearly and effectively focused on application of the scientific method. One which I call Ethical Skepticism. A personal choice of scientific professional character which is expounded upon in the series parts below:
/ Epoché Vanguards Gnosis / : a means of disciplining one’s mind, practices and data sets in order to maintain objectivity in methods of science. The positive technique of developing a neutral phylogeny, cataloging existing and new data without prejudice. An aversion to obsessing over proof or the disposing of subjects, people and claims; while instead, focusing on accruing field observations and asking the critical reduction path, value and clarity enhancing, next question under the scientific method. Defense of the Knowledge Development Process through application of Ockham’s Razor and full scientific methodology. Opposition to all thinking which seeks to surreptitiously establish power through errant science or method, religion, institution, cabal, oligarchy, intimidation or ignorance – regardless of how ‘critical’ or ‘rational’ it purports to be.
So let’s revise the pop misunderstandings of skepticism and the “scrutinizing validity/proof” boasts above, into the true definition; in a way that transforms it from a shill pretense, acting in lieu of science – and into real professional skepticism:
Skeptic – One who practices the method of suspended judgment, engages in dispassionate evidence gathering and objective unbiased reasoning in execution of the scientific method, shows willingness to consider opposing explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs, and who pursues goals of clarity and value in support of our knowledge development.
Ethical Skepticism – The Seven Tropes
Explained how skepticism is a thirst to know and authentically investigate. An extreme distaste for man’s propensity for self deception, social power, posing and contrivance. Not solely for the sake of simply knowing; but moreover to in small part, help in easing the pain of mankind’s suffering and lack of knowledge about the realm in which he finds himself unwilling participant.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 1 – The Octavus Thesauri and What it Means to Be an Ethical Skeptic
Explained how skepticism is a method of preparing the mind and data sets to conduct the Knowledge Development Process. That it has nothing to do with simplest explanations or defending why the right answer is correct. It is a form of disciplined receptive thought; a way of handling new data without resorting to the errant method of deniability or defending pat/institutional answers.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 2 – The Riddle of Skepticism
Explained how Ethical Skepticism is a clarity and value oriented assemblage of the best of Philosophical, Empirical and Cartesian Skepticism developed in side a Kuhn Theory of Revolution context, focused on employment of the entire scientific method, not simply the experimental method.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 3 – Ethical Skepticism Detailed Through the Knowledge Development Process
The purpose of skepticism is not to defend the correct answer; rather to defend the integrity of the Knowledge Development Process, and to challenge the imposition of ignorance. The Ethical Skeptic must ever be vigilant for abrogation of the scientific method and surreptitiously promoted religion.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 4 – Ethical Skepticism and How it Relates to Religion and Belief
Explained how Ethical Skepticism’s being defined philosophically as Defense of the Knowledge Development Process, only affords room for definition of belief and religion in one way. A way in which those who pretend to represent science are correctly framed in the light of the same religious mindset as the theist religious minded opponents.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 5 – Ethical Skepticism and The Real Ockham’s Razor
The actual role of Ockham’s Razor, the real scientific principle, is to begin the scientific method, not complete it in one felled swoop. Rational thinking under Ockham’s Razor (ie. Parsimony) is the demonstrated ability to handle plurality of argument with integrity. The ability to wield great ideas and not drop them through incompetence.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 6 – Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say
It behooves the Ethical Skeptic to ensure that people’s words are not implied as club weapons to enforce specious religious doctrines. It behooves the Ethical Skeptic to understand their own employment of such words inside a context of ethical clarity; to disarm the social inference that such words mean more, than they really do. To err either way, is the source of fanaticism.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 7 – The Unexpected Virtue of Allow-For Thinking
The practice of Allow-For thinking is not tantamount to a confirming belief nor a denial belief on the part of the ethical skeptic. It is not a belief at all. Rather, a practical allegiance to science, a pledge to allow a matter of coherently observed plurality its day in the court of science, no matter what methods our personal prejudices, provisional knowledge, bunk intolerance, and social pressures might tempt us to bias.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 8 – The Watchers Must Also Be Watched
One of the tenets of Ethical Skepticism is “Monitor those who do the monitoring.” Two pitfalls derive from a monitoring process which has gone out of control. In-group biases tend to reinforce in the mind of the watchers, the need for their quality entity (external skepticism in lieu of science) and they may fail to be able to recognize a quality outcome – becoming the source of error themselves..
Ethical Skepticism’s being defined philosophically as a mindset defending the Knowledge Development Process, only affords room for definition of belief and religion in one way. A way in which those who pretend to represent science are cast in the light of the same religious mindset as the theist religious.
Skepticism: The Philosopher’s View of the Knowledge Development Process
Now we will discuss the perspective of Ethical Skepticism and its interplay with and dynamic as contrasted with beliefs and religions. In Ethical Skepticism Part 1 we examined a chart called “The Epignosis” or more plainly The Knowledge Development Process. Within that section, the contention was made that the role of skepticism is to defend the Knowledge Development Process and to challenge the Ignorances of religion. Specifically, pseudo-skepticism, credulity, fanaticism, denial, plausible deniability, cynicism, mores, and doctrine. These are the presumptions of a person enforcing a religion. Robert Nozick, former Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard University, avers regarding skepticism:
“The skeptic argues that we do not know what we think we do. …Given [the variety of causal knowledge] [how then] is knowledge possible? In answering this question, we do not seek to convince the skeptic [or our self], but rather to formulate hypotheses about knowledge and our connection to facts which show how knowledge can exist…” ~Nozick¹
In other words, the purpose of skepticism, whether preparing our own mind to develop knowledge, or demonstrating to others a necessity that they develop knowledge as well, is not to defend the right answer, but rather to defend the integrity of The Knowledge Development Process, or science – as we more commonly call it.¹
Religion in Skepticism is The Illusion of the Absolute. It is Not Defined Simply by Veneration of a God or Gods
Noted philosopher Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel cited in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion that religion was defined as “The Image of the Absolute.”² In this context he expounds about religion in that
“Still [religion] always remains a certainty, and its rays stream as something divine into this present temporal life, giving the consciousness of the active presence of truth, even amidst the anxieties which torment the soul here in this region of time.” ~Hegel²
In other words, religion as defined by Hegel, is the illusion of the presence of absolute truth, which counteracts the anxiety of our present. Notice that Hegel sets his reference to the divine as more metaphorical and not parametrical inside this context of definition. Social Skeptics are keen to equate religion with the acceptance of a god or gods. This is an artifice and non-viable definition of the principle. Religion in a skeptical sense is a defense mechanism against fear of the unknown. Indeed, one of the tenets of Ethical Skepticism is the contention that all religion, stems from the same set of common fears.² If both man A and man O are afraid of the same thing P, then the fact that they devise two diametrically opposed solutions to that anxiety, Pª and Pº, does not dismiss the reality that they have both devised an illusion of truth by which to protect them self from the incumbent current anxiety. What they have devised makes no difference in terms of their ontology constituting a religion. One believes that benevolent frogs will welcome us into the afterlife, so we should not be afraid of death. The other believes that there is no afterlife so we should not be afraid of death. In the Robert Nozick definition of skepticism, both man A and man O have manufactured knowledge from the unknown, independent of fact, based upon anxiety. Both are not skeptics.
Man A develops knowledge Pª (RED) to counter fear P
Man O develops knowledge Pº (GREEN) to counter fear P
Both Pª and Pº are therefore religions
Ethical Skepticism seeks to remove the mind of the participant from this process of fear (P) and Hegel’s ‘Illusion of the Abosolute’ (Pª and Pº)
If one becomes a Nihilist Pª over personal anger or dislike of Fundamentalists Pº, one is nonetheless adopting a religion all the same. Simply one Illusion of the Absolute used to combat the anger and fear over another Illusion of the Absolute. There is no real difference.
For the Ethical Skeptic, there are points of interest in all these beliefs, but he adopts none as his illusion.
This principle plays out in the graphic to the right, wherein we employ the Hegel-Nozick definitions of religion and skepticism to illustrate that all beliefs, adopted to quell the anxiety of the present, are religions. You can see those belief sets which qualify as a means of deflecting anxiety by means of the illusion of truth, marked with a red star in the chart to the right. Further then, the Ethical Skeptic defines a religion in terms of how it is expressed in the social discourse, by means of two qualifiers:
- If you do not accept my illusion of truth, you are ignorant, silly or unacceptable in some fashion, and
- My truth cannot be approached by means of falsification testing.
A Prison of Their Own Mindset – Never Aware That They Could Leave at Any Time
In other words, what the religious participant is really saying is “I must protect my ‘knowledge from the unknown’ (Pª and Pº) at all costs. The alternative (P) terrifies me.” It does not matter whether they have invented a deity or confabulated a ‘nothingness’ to assuage this fear. These ontological machinations are both simply relgion in the Hegel sense. It does not matter that their life practices might not keenly adhere to the tenets of the religion. It is the terror, after all which must be allayed through mindset, not practice. Fundamentalists do not seek to perfect morality, and Nihilists perform very little scientific method. These are only symbols for them. For this reason, the Ethical Skeptic should bear affinity to many of the arguments from both sides of the spectrum depicted in the chart. The Ethical Skeptic understands and empathizes with the ‘why’ of all this. This understanding of the artifice (P) which has created this polarization depicted above, frees him from this fear. Part of your ethos as an Ethical Skeptic is to recognize and work to ease the bars of the prison in which people like this exist. Remember it is not a prison of their own crafting, rather it has been thrust upon them. Your voice should work to counter those who craft and sell these prisons on other people. Those are the religious.
Given this professional definition of religion, let’s examine the field of illusions of truths, beliefs. Beliefs are not excused by the apologetic that one is applying ‘critical thinking’ or ‘rationality’ or ‘the tools of science.’ When one uses ‘science’ to refuse to collect data, and to dismiss information elements they dislike one at a time, one is not performing science, rather one is allaying their terror. Such are the actions of Social Skeptics, actions of belief as defined in the chart above. Much of this claptrap is adorned no differently than are robes and talisman. It is this chosen illusion of truth, the Image of the Absolute, which protects one from anxiety (whether fear of god or simply the unknown) which qualifies the doctrine as a religion. Indeed, it is drawing absolute out of the unknown, which is the handiwork of those protecting a religious stand. Now to the degree that some of the list of ontologies shown in the chart, are not forced on others, or their tenets are set precariously on the crucible of falsification (such as in the cases of interventionism, atheism (not Big-A Atheism) and evolution for example) these ontologies are not religions for the most part, as they do not meet the two criteria.
The Ethical Skeptic intercepts this process of illusion of the absolute via two means. First, to remove the influence of fear of the unknown in their ontological development discipline, and second, to link the development of knowledge to a professionally, ethically developed set of what can be known, with nothing thrown out. In Pyrrhonistic Greek Skepticism, the removal of this fear (and its derivative disdain, hatred or reactionary fear) and replacement of it with a suspended state of Epoché is called the state of Ataraxia.
Ataraxia (ἀταραξία, “tranquility”) is a Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for a lucid state of robust tranquility, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry.³
It is the act of dismissal of an ‘anecdote’ which betrays servitude to this fear, the desire to enforce a religion. If the data you are credibly presented is inconsistent with your favorite view, collect it anyway. How will it harm you? There is no need to make a MiHoDeAL claim to knowledge. Even lies can deliver a wealth of value, and eventually under diligence of accrued verity, prove themselves to be false. In an environment where all ‘incorrect’ data is MiHoDeAL, one will only find what one has assumed to be true in the first place.
The Ethical Skeptic divests him or herself from the belief/fear/hate business, and instead chooses to let the mystery be, until sufficient knowledge can be developed which falsifies any or all of the belief sets which he has at his disposal.
He is neither accepting, nor ruling out any particular ontology, rather being patient enough to accept new data as it arrives. His chief frustration is at the hands of those who claim they have truth because ‘god told them’ or ‘science told them.’ He does not stray unnecessarily to either the red or green extremities of the panoply chart above, and moreover, removes himself from the process altogether. He eschews subjects which are prohibited falsification by existentialism or law, and refuses to enforce belief sets on others.
For me personally, you can see my ontological preferences in the boxes marked in white at the neutral center of this chart. As an ignostic, I do not know what a god is, and moreover seek falsification bases to my perceptions about the unknown. Yet as an Ethical Skeptic, neither have I ruled out the possibility of a spiritual realm, nor the necessity to develop a spiritually advancing and enlightened life. Were I forced to make a choice today, I would have to say that both Nihilism and Fundamentalism have been falsified, along with much of their spectrum of beliefs. The only reason they survive today, are the false skeptics who promote those religions in the name of their personal fear and Image of the Absolute.
¹ Nozick, Robert; Philosophical Explanations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1981, ISBN 0-674-66448-5; pp. 167-171.
² Rosen, Stanley, Editor; The Philosopher’s Handbook: A User’s Guide to Western Philosophy, Random House, Inc., New York, NY, 2000; ISBN 978-0-375-72011-6; pp. 165-169.
³ Ataraxia, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ataraxia, extracted 8 Dec 2014.
By focusing on skepticism as a method, outside of science, of disposing of people, ideas and observations, one corrupts the discipline into nothing more than that of a practice of methodical cynicism. Under this errant version of skepticism large groups of smart people can end up arriving at an ignorance based conclusion very easily. Real skepticism, as exhibited inside Ethical Skepticism, combines elements of traditional skepticism, under the principle of plurality, with the goals of value and clarity.
Why Sagan and Shermer are Wrong: False Dilemma Skepticism
Below we retract Social Skepticism back to its core basis of Descartes’ Cartesian Doubt and outline how Ethical Skepticism, in contrast, draws its tenets from the most value laden elements of the three classic (and one modern) approaches to the knowledge development process. The contrast resides in no better form than when framed against much of the false wisdom put forth by celebrity SSkeptics over the years. For example, in the oft touted words of Carl Sagan:
“What is Skepticism? It’s nothing very esoteric. We encounter it every day. When we buy a used car.”
Point 6 of the Baloney Detection Kit: Where does the preponderance of evidence point? – Carl Sagan¹
As much as I loved Cosmos and read many of his books which inspired me in my youth towards a science and engineering career, unfortunately Carl Sagan was wrong (see link) here, as this is not skepticism. This is simply a guide to methodical cynicism (a method of being a cynic, while at the same time convincing yourself you are not a cynic). Carl has purposely conflated human tactical presumption and the exercise of dogma/stereotype with the ethical mindset which facilitates the process of knowledge development. True Skepticism alerts to the condition of not holding sufficient evidence, or in the asking of the wrong question. A used car salesman (or person) might burn you if you do not collect your data, and you do not observe before pretending to ask the right question. In other words, fail to be skeptical of self. They do not burn you simply because of what job they hold, who they are or that you are involved with them in the sale of a used car. If we go out and develop a research study which proves that used car salesmen are hired based upon being or trained to be more corrupt than the general population handling large money negotiations, then we will have developed that conclusion by the disciplines and method of science, not ‘skepticism’ of car salesmen acting in lieu of science. We will then need to change the law. The latter presumption is simply human prejudice masquerading as science, so we do not have to undertake the gumption, epoché and curiosity requisite in actually studying the issue of buying a used car in the first pace. This process alluded to by Sagan simply serves to cultivate ignorance. It is not skepticism in the least. Where we failed in skepticism in this process is the first rule of ethical skepticism: being skeptical of our selves and that we have the information and observation basis to ask the right question.
Healthcare will also burn us all and destroy our economy soon through overdriven costs, fake industry exclusivity and privilege of expertise/access to treatments, if we do not question those who craft and pay to have its policy legislated. But do we question Science Based Medicine, which promotes this present healthcare film-flam? No. Because, in broach of skepticism, we have declared them in advance to be the ‘good guy.’ They have sought to step between the public and block our access to government – remove rights and afford power to withhold information, to Crony institutions. This is not skepticism in the least. Their claims to be ‘evidence based’ fall hollow on philosophically trained ears (see Kilkenny’s Law). Skepticism is about opposing mechanisms and institutions who seek power and illegal trust advantage by the restriction of information and rights. Both the pigeon-holing of the used car salesperson and the blessing of Science Based Medicine pretenses results from what is called in ethical skepticism: cultivated ignorance.
This Sagan/Shermer approach of identifying the good guys and bad guys and good subjects and bad subjects and good observations and bad observations in advance is simply an exercise in human tactical presumption and prejudice. It is evidenced in today’s skeptically crafted and inappropriate use of the term pseudoscience. In other words Methodical Cynicism. So on everything else in our lives besides used cars, we can relax and not question? This example foisted by Sagan bears nothing whatsoever in common with skepticism. It is the pretense, or M’ in the Novick sense.
Carl habitually conveyed false depictions of what indeed is skepticism; conflating it in the quote below with cynicism and completely missing the fact that skepticism involves precisely an active, researching and open mind. Pretending that possessing an open mind is somehow the opposite of skepticism, and involves giving all ideas ‘equal validity.’ In his mad rush to pummel this strawman of what a researching open mind is, he attempts to foist below – that the purpose of skepticism is therefore the alternative: to force most-likely conclusions in lieu of scientific research (see Garbage Skepticism).
This false dilemma (bifurcation fallacy with a call to choose side) about what skepticism entails has resulted in a mis-education of the public as to the definition and ethic of skepticism – one which affords the cynic a comfortable hiding place inside of science. We continue with Carl Sagan’s quote:
“If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. But every now and then, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress.
But if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful as from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all.
Some ideas are better than others. The machinery for distinguishing them is an essential tool in dealing with the world. And it is precisely the mix of these two modes of thought that is central to the success of science.”
Skepticism: 50% Gumption, 49% Curiosity, 1% Provisional Assumption
Nor does true skepticism simply combine “empirical rigor and imaginative whimsy” as Michael Shermer puts it. One will notice that this is the same exact bifurcation fallacy as Sagan cited; Shermer having simply re-worded it so that he could take credit for the thought at a later date. On the personal level, whimsy is a boast of self-serving entertainment, while empirical rigor is often a self delusion as to intellectual prowess and ability to target shoot. A delusion wherein once we play in the fantasy role that we alone represent science, thereafter every thought we possess and every belief we hold is ’empirically based.’ This especially when both whimsy and rigor are applied as an excuse for lazy provisional skepticism, in lieu of science. Both form the mental chewing gum we employ to deceive ourselves into thinking we are “open minded” and have done our job – and can now make a comfy conclusion from which to demonstrate to those we wish to impress, our skill in fealty to truth.
This is a game of intellectual idea skeet shooting, attended by our self-appreciation as science, applauding to the powdered explosion of every whimsical skeet of busted bunk. It habituates one into committing an Existential and Transactional Occam’s Razor Fallacy when faced with any challenging argument. It is trained methodical cynicism.
Moreover, this arrogant mentality is all centered on the idea that since we are a skeptic, we are now science too, and therefore are no longer in need of personal gumption and curiosity. We can assume sufficient equipage is held to be able to make a scientific determination, in lieu of science. Gumption is the drive to research and seek; curiosity a dissatisfaction with pat answers coupled with the mental discipline of withholding conclusion (epoché) until we are able to undertake the monumental task to fully observe. “Empirical rigor and imaginative whimsy” when applied at a personal level as ‘skepticism,’ all occur in a closed domain. Armchair, academic, bookshelf, aged-tenure pretend science. In a closed domain the only next step left is to throw up one’s hands and guess on the most likely conclusion based solely on what one knows right now (see Novella’s ‘provisional knowledge’ in Garbage Skepticism). None of this faldara is science. This is the essence of fake skepticism.
“Stupidity consists in wanting to reach conclusions. We are a thread, and we want to know the whole cloth.”
~ Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary author and French Literary Realist, circa 1850-1880)
In contrast to Michael Shermer’s teachings, true skepticism challenges the notion that we have completed the knowledge development process and have vetted thoroughly what we regard as being assumed to be ’empirical.’ Nor is science constrained to only the academic sciences, as Mr. Shermer contends in his editorial in the June 2015 Scientific American. This false equivocation of the word ‘science’ to mean only the academic sciences, affords skepticism therefore tactic permission to be applied ‘outside science’ and therefore be employed in any fashion deemed useful to one who has declared themselves to be a skeptic (since they cannot, quod erat demonstrandum, be an actual scientist). Ethical Skepticism eschews all of Shermer’s ideas that 1) we must immediately tender a disposition or disposal of an idea, 2) that the actual and correct empirical knowledge base has been fairly represented by Social Skepticism, 3) that anything other than the conforming explanation is ‘whimsy’ and 4) that anyone can act as an authority on anything provided they apply (outside of science and method) skepticism, empiricism and reason. These are all beliefs of a fake skeptic.
Both Sagan and Shermer imply that skepticism is the process of applying personal brilliance and current understanding in lieu of scientific method to arrive at most likely conclusions. This is the process of one acting in lieu of science.
Protecting the integrity of the methods of science is not the same thing as tendering conclusions in lieu of science. This is the litmus test of Ethical Skepticism.
These principles are embodied inside The Riddle of Skepticism:
Ethical Skepticism in contrast detects pretense or premature empirical rigor, and dismisses the idea that humans naturally know how and when to ask the right question, and what data to base that question upon. Michael Shermer will imply that science has proved his religion Nihilism true, and then through a process of inverse negation demonstrate that your subject, your observation and indeed you, are therefore irrelevant. True skepticism examines (even our own) furtive claims to knowledge first, before pretending to examine seemingly contradictory observations, data, intelligence, sponsors or ideas. And then, it refuses to immediately dismiss those elements (and yes, even sometimes their ‘claims’) until we have better knowledge. Ethical Skepticism is Boolean idempotent, as it does not seek to filter or alter for its own goals, the underlying data it surveys; rather, it catalogs them all. Michael spins the game that observations, data, ideas and people must be evaluated and disposed of immediately upon encounter, so that later arguments will have a predisposed favorable playing field. Moreover in fashion as if the stage role Pollyanna skeptic were an erstwhile version of Popeye in a fight; all his enemies lining up to do combat with him and be defeated, one at a time. This is the Transactional Occam’s Razor Fallacy error, which along with the Fictus Scientia Fallacy are two of the central sleight-of-hand techniques employed by false skeptics.
This fundamental mis-definition resides at the heart of the conflict between those who squelch science in the name of their own religion, and those who conduct actual research. Skepticism is NOT the “evaluation of claims based on personal experience;” rather, it is the mindset which allows that experience to be accrued in the first place. In science, and I know this is a shocker, science evaluates claims, not our pre-prejudices. And the only way science can accrue the tackle necessary in conducting this evaluation, is through Ethical Skepticism. Not prejudicial doubt and data filtering, as that constitutes a process which will only result in finding what one is looking for. One is not born magically all knowing, nor does an academic youth correct this weakness – and if one presumes such – much deleterious result will come from such a boast. If you presume all used car salesmen to be fraudsters, you will make just as many mistakes as those who presume them all to be honest. It is your ability to understand the information sets and questions necessary in grasping the nature of used car sales which exhibits skepticism on your part. Not your prejudice about people.
This boast, this a priori prejudice of ‘what is’ and ‘what is not’ indeed stands as the most extraordinary claim in the fake skeptic’s quiver of boasts. The claim to absolute knowledge along with the divorce of one’s mind from the need to accrue any more. As you can see in the graphic to the right, a MiHoDeAL claim to knowledge is an example of our error in making grandiose boasts about what we think we know. Our pre-adopted prejudices are the weak link in our skeptical minds, the practice which allows us to fall prey to religious thinking. In contrast, real Skepticism in reality, is a method of preparing the mind and data sets to do actual science – not to conclude it in one felled swoop of personal brilliance.
The Essential Code of Ethical Skepticism: Epoché vanguards Gnosis
Ethical Skepticism is a blend of Empirical and Philosophical Skepticism, the tenets of both of which are vetted through Ockham’s Razor and the scientific method, as to their efficacy in delivering value and clarity inside man’s knowledge development process. It rejects today’s versions of Cartesian Doubt as a racket of a priori simplistic predictive based knowledge, self delusion and methodical cynicism. Instead, Ethical Skepticism dictates a mute disposition on any topic which science has not studied, there is simply not enough data on or the Ethical Skeptic himself has not studied. This is called the state of Epoché. It is the vanguard which links both the deontological and consequentialist facets of traditional ethics. Ethical Skepticism petitions for Ockham’s Razor plurality in research when sponsorship has shown adequate necessity, and opposes all efforts to squelch such research. The context of ethics employed here is deontological in as far as the adherence to standards of protocol, such as the real scientific method, are regarded as the standards suitable to direct our actions. Yet, still consequentialist from the perspective that the outcomes of value and clarity manifest as the signature handiwork of those who practice such ethics.
The Deontological Fulcrum of Ethical Skepticism: Ockham’s Razor and The Principle of Plurality
The inputs into the Ethical Skepticism process involve three key steps necessary in introducing Ockham’s Razor plurality. Three key steps which are blocked, ignored and obscured by modern efforts to enforce ignorance. Plurality is both the condition where one justifiable avenue of research is no longer warranted under the current conditions of intelligence inside a discipline; and as well, the condition where no single faceted explanation is sufficient to encompass the explanatory basis of a set of observations. These conditions are termed ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ plurality (or that which has departed for necessity from the singular or simple). These principles are outlined in the graphic to the right:
Observation – the first step in the scientific method is not “Ask a Question,” it is Observation. Observation is one of the central character traits and habits of an Ethical Skeptic. It is fed by an incessant curiosity and dissatisfaction with pat answers.
Intelligence – Intelligence is not personal acumen, but rather the assimilation, retention, cladistics and processing of observations such that they are transformed into useful value. Nothing is thrown away through Knowledge Filtering. Every observation offers value of some kind. In military intelligence, lies are just as important as are truths, each tells us something more and more as we begin to construct an analytical framework.
Necessity – the point at which Observation and Intelligence – or even a stand alone event, developed or observed by sponsors (and hopefully science, but sponsors when science has been misled by Social Skeptics), have provided sufficient predictive or falsifying evidence which mandates that a sole explanatory approach to a problem is no longer warranted.
The principal role of Social Skepticism is to thwart the Observation – Intelligence – Necessity process at all costs. In this fashion, any prejudicial question maybe be asked for testing – thereby emasculating the effectiveness of the scientific method. The true application of skepticism involves the principle of Parsimony as follows:
Parsimony – the resistance to expand explanatory plurality or descriptive complexity beyond what is absolutely necessary, combined with the wisdom to know when to do so
When parsimony argues for ‘simplicity’ it is referencing the term in contrast to complicated-ness, not the principle of complexity. We must expect complexity in our epistemology and not fear it. Use of the equivocal term ‘simple’ to oppose complexity as well is a method of deception, which constrains incrementalism to only develop along pathways of expectation. This is pseudoscience.
The Valid Consequentialist Outcomes of Ethical Skepticism: Value and Clarity
The conclusion of these three steps, then introduces Ockham’s Razor plurality: The existence of more than one explanatory avenue of research. In absence of these three steps, the Ethical Skeptic contends that science cannot “Ask a Question.” Therefore the outcomes of Ethical Skepticism are not ‘conclusions and claims’ as the dilettante believe. The outcomes of Ethical Skepticism, are:
Value – providing
- knowledge increase or accretion
- easing suffering
- developing a business which serves, produces and/or employs
- falsifies an oppressive belief
- falsifies an oppressive movement
- improves our ecosystem and sustainability
- enables a more successful governance
- supports ethical military capability
- makes money through a provision of equal value
Clarity – exhibited by
- ability to describe an opponent’s position without mocking
- integrity and mental capacity to hold Epoché on issues of plurality
- ability to hold observations without knowledge filtering
- ability to cogently outline a problem
- ability to bring the right data and argument to bear
- the over-riding desire to apply inquiry over enforcing established answers
- the ability to outline the scientific method in straightforward and accurate fashion
- the ability to inspire through presentation, other than simply those in your club
You will notice that – in Ethical Skepticism – nowhere is the burden placed on the adherent to ‘evaluate claims’ or speak in lieu of science nor enforce correct answers or simplest explanations. These activities betray a mind which is ill prepared to handle the questions science is meant to address. Skepticism is a means of preparing the mind and data sets to perform science. That is it.
It is incumbent upon us to promote genuine skeptical thought and decry pseudo-skepticism, imperious institutional doctrines and the cultivation of ignorance.
¹ The Burden of Skepticism, Carl Sagan, Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 12, Fall 1987; “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.”
Skeptic – One who practices the method of suspended judgment, engages in dispassionate evidence gathering and objective unbiased reasoning in execution of the scientific method, shows willingness to consider opposing explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs, and who pursues goals of clarity and value in support of our knowledge development.
This is the valid definition of skepticism. There exists a problem however, in that a sufficiently detrimental portion of those who identify themselves as ‘skeptics’ teach and purposely practice a different version of skepticism. In order to clarify the difference between false and valid skepticism, I have introduced a more rigorous professional definition of the mindset; one more clearly and effectively focused on application of the scientific method. One which I call Ethical Skepticism:
/ Epoché Vanguards Gnosis / : A means of preparing the mind and data sets in order to accomplish science. The positivist technique of developing a neutral disposition based phylogeny around existing and new data. An aversion to obsessing over disposing of subjects, people and claims; while instead, focusing on accruing field research and underlying data. Defense of the Knowledge Development Process through application of Ockham’s Razor and full scientific methodology. Opposition to all thinking which seeks to surreptitiously establish power through errant method, religion, institution, cabal, oligarchy, intimidation or ignorance – regardless of how ‘critical’ or ‘rational’ it purports to be.
Ethical Skepticism is a blend of Empirical and Philosophical Skepticism, the tenets of both of which are vetted as to their efficacy in delivering value and clarity inside man’s knowledge development process. It rejects Cartesian Doubt as a racket of a priori simplistic predictive based knowledge, self delusion and methodical evasion (See Ethical Skepticism PART 2). Instead, Ethical Skepticism dictates a mute disposition on any topic which science has not studied or the Ethical Skeptic himself has not studied. Ethical Skepticism petitions for Ockham’s Razor plurality in research when sponsorship has shown adequate necessity, and opposes all efforts to squelch such research. One should not infer from the term ‘Ethical Skepticism’ a personal boast of morality, as those who are ignorant of graduate level philosophy are prone to accuse; rather comprehend it as an intellectual and practical allegiance to an actual long held standard of science. The context of ethics employed here is deontological in as far as the adherence to standards of protocol, such as the real scientific method, are regarded as the standards suitable to direct our actions. Yet, still consequentialist from the perspective that the outcomes of value and clarity manifest as the signature handiwork of those who practice such ethics.
Ethical Skepticism is an invaluable tool for conditioning of mind and data sets, practiced by those in our history who have born true brilliance in their successes inside of science, social issues, technology, government and discovery. An Ethical Skeptic first recognizes the shortcomings of those who hold power and those of his own assumptions. The Ethical Skeptic then sets about a methodology which neutralizes these shortcomings and approaches solving the riddles wrapped around our resulting ignorance as a culture and body scientific. The Ethical Skeptic is not as concerned about doubting things and always being right as he is about defending a mental self discipline of epoché; followed by the establishment of clarity and value in his research. He is insatiably curious, yet obsessive in defending the integrity of the knowledge development process. He says “Look here, at what is predictably consistent. It may be significant. Let’s mature it enough to test, along with its counter claims, for falsification.” He tolerates the potential falsification of his own pursuit, despite the irony of having pursued it passionately.
As an Ethical Skeptic, you are the one tasked with maintaining a discriminating mind with regard to process. No, you are not claiming to represent science or its conclusions. But one can as a skeptic indeed take a stand to defend the method of science when one observes it being abrogated. This is what the term ‘ethics’ means, an allegiance to a standard of practice – and not an allegiance to a particular set of outcomes, or categories of thought one considers invalid.
Protecting the integrity of the methods of science is not the same thing as tendering conclusions in lieu of science.
Skepticism does not evaluate claims, as only science can do that. Skepticism does not pretend to speak for science nor act in lieu of science. Skepticism is a mental discipline which prepares its participant to do science. The pretend SSkeptic in contrast has memorized the one-liners which explain why the scientific method is unnecessary. That simply by means of the miracle of rational thought, which only they and their fellows possess, they can intercede on behalf of science. The pretend SSkeptic proselytizes children and promotes themselves through celebrity and intimidation, in a vain attempt to squelch unwelcome subjects, observations or thought. The pretend SSkeptic uses doubt like a weapon, via its selective and prejudiced application employed to promote an unacknowledged set of beliefs. The pretend SSkeptic highlights visibly and often that he is a skeptic and enforces plausible conformance claims without evidence, based on a list of disfavored subjects. He employs predictive testing supporting favored explanations, at best; and stopping there, then demands proof be the first step provided by outsiders, without the aid of science. The pretend SSkeptic is an opportunist who leverages scientists’ lack of knowledge of sister disciplines to change the message of what scientists think, then boasts in visible media that his contentions represent the consensus opinion of scientists.
The Critical Role of Scientific Resilience Through Ethical Skepticism
Within each of us resides the Quixotic heart, the romanticist longing to be free from the prison which progressively adapts its walls to our observing of the reality in which we reside. A Schrödinger’s Cat entrapment. Bars which afford us emancipation, only to reveal that our escape has served simply to introduce us to another prison cell of observation and paradox. It is the keen intellect and ethical nature of the true skeptic, the true scientist, which prompts him to tilt his lance toward such phantoms. He does not mock; rather, he laughs. He recognizes that conformity is simply a resignation, a giving up; and is nothing akin to the purity of Taoist surrender. In defiant errand of mercy, he succumbs to an irresistible dissatisfaction; a labor of understanding that pattern solving and conformance serve to produce nothing but the walls and bars of the prison itself. This is our appel aux armes, the call to arms of the ethical skeptic.
A true scientist can discern the prison walls. It is in his nature to rebel. The technician and the diagnostician observe only arms waving in the wind.
This rebellion of course is not tantamount to Michael Shermer’s ‘whimsy;’ an exercise foisted to elicit the compliant and false version of skepticism. Whimsy is simply a tennis ball employed inside a game of self entertainment. A flailing of arms in the wind, deriving comfort at the striking of strawman and scarecrow constructs. Whismy is the shotgun skeet of the pseudo-intellectual and pattern recognition intoxicated. Endlessly reminding themselves of how smart they are through a repetition of offering up ridiculous notions and successfully shooting them down via the ceremonial and marital art of denial. Mocking is the surety that knowledge is something to be possessed, when the whole of the universe teaches us the abject lesson that such is not true (see Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality). The ethical skeptic must first spot this game in himself. It is the first dragon he must slay; and whether of stone or flesh it makes no matter. In such day, he becomes an ethical skeptic.
Thomas Kuhn accordingly laments in his work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions :
“…my most fundamental objective is to urge a change in the perception and evaluation of familiar data…” ³
Are Kuhn’s data windmills or dragons? In one frame of reference we mock, inside the other we effect resilience. This is what the mind yearning to be free, recognizes in Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. The second lesson of ethical skepticism is to understand this. Revolution does not, nor even most often, reside in the upturning of groundbreaking new measures or discoveries. It resides instead within our collective ability to recognize the recursive delusional entrapments of our scientific circles. Our love for Don Quixote resides not in celebration of the tilting at windmills, rather the comedic changement de cap, which allows him to exercise his tragic quest inside a realm of agreed containment.† We weep at the containment of the resilient will. We celebrate ethical skepticism.
The Legacy of Scientific Rebellion: Resilience
Today we are undergoing a revolution in the science surrounding intestinal health, auto-immunity and this amazing and diverse new organ we have discovered called the microbiome. This discovery was made despite the efforts of, and not by, Science Based Medicine. Instead it was precipitated by the Don Quixote’s of health – the consumers – the patients. Those who’s children are injured, those who suffer and those who are ethically skeptical of being forced to endure endless, expensive, side-effected and useless symptom treatments, passed off as ‘medicine.’ Science Based Medicine has sought to do nothing but criticize the ethical actions of these victims and seek to enact legislative prohibition of their rights. This is the true delusion – the mandatory thinking that they own, represent and are, science.
/philosophy : nature of science : ethics/ : ability of a society to perceive and deliberate a course of discovery and development which targets the alleviation of suffering; one which rehabilitates its scientific methodology and knowledge gracefully and robustly to misfortune, mistake or change.
Resilience is defined as the ability of an entity to both recover from and adjust its future course gracefully and robustly in relation to error and change. The Khun-loss of science is demonstrated only in the very nature and level of its ability to effect resilience.‡ Ethical Skepticism recognizes that the whole of life is one tumult, a crescendo of misfortune and change. Our will to effect entropic benefit inside this chaos not only serves to prove that we exist as consciousness, but moreover are a precursor and independent actor inside the interplay of tragedy and comedy. Our prison is a tragedy, and we transcend through the freedom of comedy, extant before such tragedy ever dawned on our mind. In the same way, science must be directed by the collective will of our society and not by those who declare themselves and their cronies to indeed be science. The same principle applies to skepticism. Resilience will come by handing the ethical direction of science back into the hands of those it is meant to serve. This elicited in no better fashion than by delineation of the difference between mocking and comedy:
Comedy is the protest of consciousness to the tragedy of paradox. Mocking is the abject refusal to see it.
Today we observe that it is mocking, which is the chief tool of those who seek to squelch and control the direction of science for their own selfish ends. The control freaks among us, refuse to see the true nature and need of scientific rebellion and resilience. They are the fakers, the mockers, the ‘anti-science’ among us all. They can only see windmills to their last dying and ineffectual breath. It is incumbent upon us to promote genuine skeptical thought and decry pseudo-skepticism, imperious institutional doctrines and the cultivation of ignorance.
The Ethical Skeptic (Octavus Thesauri)
First and foremost finds fulfillment through disciplined pursuit of an insatiable curiosity; scrutinizing and maintaining caution around his own assumptions, regardless of where they are obtained; discriminating with discipline, ontological and religious cosmologies from actual science.
Holds his skeptic peers accountable for abusive behavior, dishonesty, conflative or extrapolative pretense with actual science, epistemological broaches and appeals to false authorities.
Challenges pat answers, one-liners, old truisms, social pressure mandates and institutional doctrines which surreptitiously evade scrutiny under the scientific method.
Does not enforce one answer, nor consider/accuse under the basis of a ‘belief;’ rather considers new data without pre-filtering, exploring several ‘constructs’ at once, some of which may be diametrically in opposition.
Acknowledges with integrity a sufficient threshold of plurality attained on a singular construct, warranting hypothesis development under the scientific method. Keeps a keen eye on the next appropriate question and objects at the asking of the wrong or manipulative question under the scientific method.
Is not arrogant nor disdainful, nor seeks personally aggrandizing victory over others. Rather, is self-confident enough to allow the scientific method to proceed no matter whether or not the subject threatens his own club, status, philosophies, authorship, ego, or even rational tolerance.
Does not strive to disprove, but rather allows constructs to falsify themselves through accrued verity; eschewing promotion of a favored idea solely because it is promoted by peer pressure or is the conforming, predicate confirming or simplest explanation.
Does not seek immediate forced proof before consideration of an idea, nor promote any enforced truth; but rather pursues
Value – as measured by achieving beneficial outcomes in their research,
Clarity – as measured by the ability to obtain common ground or understanding with opponents when possible, and
Integrity of The Epignosis – defends the integrity of the Knowledge Development Process, resists the promotion of religion as absolute truth and denies the cultivation of ignorance.
The Knowledge Development Process (The Epignosis)
¹ Nozick, Robert; Philosophical Explanations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1981, ISBN 0-674-66448-5; pp. 179-187.
² Rosen, Stanley, Editor; The Philosopher’s Handbook: A User’s Guide to Western Philosophy, Random House, Inc., New York, NY, 2000; ISBN 978-0-375-72011-6; pp. 165-169.
³ Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1996, 3rd edition, ).
† Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra; El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha; Public domain.
‡ Bird, Alexander, “Thomas Kuhn”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/thomas-kuhn/>.