The line beyond which, one has become so skeptical, that they have become stupid in the process. Discipline your mind into a steel trap, but make sure it doesn’t serve to only entrap you.
Rarely do I develop a post article simply for the purpose of promulgating a single definition. But this one element of my lexicon bears so much importance that herein I will depart from the habit. Below, please consider for your lexicon, ‘The Dunning Line’. Think of this principle as constituting an analogue of ‘The Mendoza Line’ from baseball, which is applied to other disciplines as a kind of minimum level of competence required to perform inside a subject. Most skeptic minions reside at a point well below this line. These characters are relatively easy to spot – save for the context of self-circumspection.
The Dunning Line
(or Inretio Line, Latin ‘ensnare’) – the line beyond which, one has become so skeptical, that they have become stupid in the process. One skilled at filtering out only that information which offends their feelings and sensibility – as opposed to being based upon actual evidence or science. Named for the minimum level of prowess one can possess and still barely function as a skeptic, as opposed to a babbling cynic.
Discipline your mind into a steel trap, but make sure it doesn’t serve to only entrap you.
The name of this term is derived loosely from the ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect’. It is also kind of funny in a way. The reader can probably tell that I enjoy the hell out of this. Making fake skeptics angry, is a functional part of ethical skepticism. The wages of dissonance.
At the heart of sciebam, resides what is in essence an embargo of specific ideas, avenues of research, and methods of investigation. It is a simultaneous appeal to truth, appeal to embargo, and proselytization all in one. Religion dressed up in p-values and confidence intervals.
Years ago, I was hired as President of a materials research company, brought into resolve the capital-consuming logjam situation which had developed among the lab’s researchers. The lab and its research team were funded under a scope of finding the solution to an impasse inside material physics which had existed in industry for decades (many of the particulars are/were 32 C.F.R. 2001 Classified). A grand set of assumptions as to what was possible and impossible, had grown like ivy around the state of knowledge inside the subject. The team’s task was to break this impasse in knowledge, so that critical applications of the resulting technology could be developed inside the aerospace and energy industries.
To make a long story very short, we were successful in this development – the first time the particular achievement had ever been accomplished (by mankind at least). I will never forget the 3:45 pm Friday call from one of the techs, “Mr. G, we got 18 successful tests out of 240 iterations, and they all pertained to a single parameter and single reactor setting.” That was exactly what we had been looking for. While this set of happenstance does not serve to make me any kind of expert in material physics by any means, it did derive in part from a prowess in skepticism and the processes of science. It stemmed from a discernment of the difference between real and protect-my-job scientific activity.
I had the team immediately lock the accesses to the building, shut off the internet and phones, and station an armed guard at the front door – and to not allow anyone to enter or leave the facility until I could come (I was a mere 5 minutes away at a key vendor’s shop) and debrief them. This also involved a team celebration of course. It was an exciting evolution for everyone involved. The board members were all very noteworthy and powerful persons, who then unfortunately split according to their level of greed and desire for control of both company and intellectual property – each team encouraging me to join them.
Aside from issues of greed and power, the chief principle which served as the basis of the logjam inside that particular research, involved the conflation of two differing notions of science. One which venerates challenge and incremental discovery, versus another which prioritizes the control and career stability achievable through exploiting established knowledge. The reason I was hired in the first place is because one, I don’t venerate old untested knowledge and two, I am not intimidated in the least by scientists flaunting degrees, exclusionary lexicon, and technical notation jargon. The research team knew it too. Such barriers to entry, can only stand for so long before one eventually figures out the game. Within a week, I was pressing the old guard past their ability to defend the status quo and began developing new testing approaches, lab procedures, and shift dockets.
Sciebam – Consensus Through Appeal to Truth (Implicit Embargo)
In similar principle, much of what is conducted in the name of science today, is not science for the most part – rather a technical process of career qualification through methodical and linear confirmation bias, a set of activities which I call sciebam. Such activity contrasts itself with the discipline of science along the following lines:
Science (Latin: scī́mus/sciḗmus -‘we know/we will know’)1 – leveraging challenging thinking, deductive falsification, straightforward complexity, and consilience to infer a critical path of novel comprehension† – one prosecutes (pursues) truth.
Sciebam (Latin: sciēbā́mus -‘we knew’)2 – exploiting assumption, abduction, panduction, complicated simplicity, and linear/statistical induction to confirm an existing or orphan understanding† – one is holder of the truth.
At the heart of sciebam, resides what is in essence an embargo of specific ideas, avenues of research, and methods of investigation. Of course most researchers do not typically perceive their habits in such fashion, so it often takes an outsider to come in and shake things up. To in effect, sweep out the cobwebs of sciebam and renew an interest in a passion for true discovery (see The Strategic Mindset).
There exists a principle of philosophy that I observe, which falls along the lines of Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, also known as the law of action-reaction. That is, unless one is very careful, an appeal to truth will almost always be accompanied by, at the very least, an implicit appeal to embargo. Nihilism is the embargo, which comes commensurate with the ‘truth’ of not being able to measure outside the bounds of physical reality. Collectivism suffers the embargo which results from the ‘truth’ of a successful deployment of capital. Freedom suffers the embargo which arrives under the awesome specter of an impending cataclysm‘s ‘truth’.
When an advocate appeals to authority of truth, by means of enforcing an embargo of competing ideas – they are typically protecting a lie, or at least hyperbole. Even if that advocate is accidentally correct about their truth in the end, such mechanism still constitutes a lie because of the way in which the truth was enforced – by means of explicit or implicit false dichotomy, and enforcement of a false null hypothesis with no competing alternative idea. Accuracy in such a case, is a mere triviality.
Ethical Skeptic’s Law – if science won’t conduct the experiment, society will force the experiment. One can only embargo an idea for so long.
An Example of Appeal to Truth (Implicit Embargo)
Psychologist (no doubt psychologists often fall prey to this error – observe here which disciplines dominate inside fake skepticism) Dr. Gary Marcus at the University of Washington is a proponent of an embargo regarding any research which pursues a pathway other than material nihilism – particularly as it pertains to arguments regarding the mind/brain relationship and near death experiences. In an interview with Alex Tsakiris of Skeptico several years back, he leads into his argument with these critical thesis statements (they are statements, not arguments):3
I don’t doubt that there’s a [Mind≡Brain] phenomena that needs to be explained, but I doubt that the explanation is that the brain is not [the entire source] of the experience that’s being processed [in an NDE]. I cannot conceive of how that would be true. (Embargo by means of premature rationality and appeal to authority – sciebam, or a religion passed off as science)
Discussion about the brain is basically the province of neuroscience.(Appeal to Authority, Appeal to Privation/Province)
My understanding is that the mind is essentially a property of the brain. (Appeal to Self Authority and Rationality)
I don’t see a lot of room for any alternative [Brain⊆Mind] which does not have something to do with [consciousness being constrained solely to] the physiology of the brain [Mind≡Brain]. (Appeal to Embargo as an Appeal to Truth)
~ Psychologist Dr. Gary Marcus, Skeptico, 6 Aug 2015
Please take note ethical skeptic, of the extraordinary amount of ambiguity, authority, and finality in these statements; crafted in such a way so as to appear non-declarative in nature, and posed inside a fake context of objectivity. Never fall for this. This is an appeal to authority, coupled with an appeal to embargo. This would not be a problem if it were merely a personal metaphysical notion, or if this line of thinking were not further then enforced inside Dr. Marcus’ discipline of study. This is where the error occurs.
These are not statements which should pass peer review (however they often do), because of the incumbent ambiguity and lack of epistemological backing. But his meaning inside them is illuminated in the rest of that same interview with Alex Tsakiris. He is both making a final claim to conclusiveness about the nature of mind and brain, and also is making the assertion that he does not have to back up any of these claims. This was very much akin to the ‘it can’t be done’ proclamations of the older scientists in the lab over which I presided earlier in this article.
Since, in this particular deliberation we have two necessary constructs and a constraint in terms of discipline history of study, plurality under Ockham’s Razor therefore, exists. Two valid ‘working hypotheses’ or constructs (placeholders until true hypothesis can be developed) are at play. Notice that I do not encourage embargo of research regarding Dr. Marcus’ preferred construct (I want that idea researched as well). In contrast, he chooses to embargo those ideas of his opposing camp – to use ignorance as a playground for consensus. I am perfectly fine with a [Mind≡Brain] reality. I however, do not want it forced upon me as a religion, nor even worse a religion which is masquerading as science (sciebam).
Our chief problem is when people, who purport to be persons of ‘science’, such as does Dr. Marcus above – try and push a concept or construct, which is not even mature enough to be a true scientific hypothesis, to status as final truth – skipping all the intervening steps. Then they appeal to their authority as a PhD, to make a claim inside a discipline which is either not their home discipline (Plaiting Fallacy), or is a discipline in which everyone has a stake, not just psychologists – metaphysical choice.
Dr. Marcus is therefore a Type I Expert. He cannot appeal to rationality nor authority here – but does so anyway.
Type I: Bowel Movement Expertise
The bowel movement expert (derived from an activity in which everyone is an expert, but some regard that their own expertise therein is superior – a perfect storm of ‘their shit don’t stink’ and ‘don’t know jack shit’) is an advisor inside a subject which is part of everyday life or is commonly experienced by many or most people.
In other words, I am just as much an expert in the construct [Mind≡Brain] as is Dr. Marcus – he cannot ethically bully me with his PhD in Psychology into accepting his religion, no matter the lexicon, no matter the p-values, no matter the confidence intervals. If alternately he demanded that I accept Heaven as a reality, I would object on the same basis of argument. As a skeptic, what I observe is that the materialist is too lazy and agency-insistent to wait for an actual hypothesis of scientific discipline to mature – so they take the concept/construct that our reality is the only possible basal reality (singular, closed I E and M fields, and non-derivative) and enforce it by means of a heavy handed embargo. Such is a mistake of skepticism.
These are the challenges, which a person like me faces, when tasked to manage a legacy scientific effort. The challenges of sciebam.
/philosophy : skepticism : pseudo-science : alternative reduction/ : an idea which is not yet mature under the tests of valid hypothesis, yet is installed as the null hypothesis or best explanation regardless. An explanation, theory or idea which sounds scientific, yet resolves a contention through bypassing the scientific method, then moreover is installed as truth thereafter solely by means of pluralistic ignorance around the idea itself. Pseudo-theory which is not fully tested at its inception, nor is ever held to account thereafter.
/philosophy : ethics : circularity/ : a condition in which a club, group or society provides little or negative ethical guidance to the individuals which inhabit it or craft its direction.
ad populum – a condition wherein the majority of individuals believe without evidence, either that everyone else assents or that everyone else dissents upon a specific idea.
ad consentum – a self-reinforcing cycle wherein wherein the majority of members in a body believe without evidence, that a certain consensus exists, and they therefore support that idea as consensus as well.
ad immunitatem – a condition wherein the majority of individuals are subject to a risk, however most individuals regard themselves to reside in the not-at-risk group – often because risk is not measured.
ad salutem – a condition wherein a plurality or majority of individuals have suffered an injury, however most individuals regard themselves to reside in the non-injured group – often because they cannot detect such injury.
If an idea is not even mature enough to qualify as a scientific hypothesis, it also cannot be installed as truth, no matter how ‘likely’ you regard it to be. Such error is made even worse if that truth comes bundled with an implicit embargo of any competing research (see The Ethical Skeptic’s definition of religion). If Dr. Marcus were to pursue his notions above as just one ‘working hypothesis’, then that would be ethically acceptable – however he is instead enforcing truth as an expert. He is taking a God position.
There exist at least 1700 other Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence-styled efforts in oppression, on the part of people who have declared themselves to be ‘experts in all that is wrong’, just as Dr. Marcus has done above. We at The Ethical Skeptic oppose such arrogance and false parsimony, even if we end up defending a hypothesis which itself turns out to be false in the end. Being found wrong is informative – being correct, is not. In other words, what we at The Ethical Skeptic object to, is pseudo-science, underpinned by pseudo-skepticism.
It is oft said that fortune favors the brave. But what society witnessed during the last two years of raging human rights abuse, was a feckless ‘skeptic’ community, formerly raging with swagger of doubt – now silent and groveling, prostrate before their bare-naked Emperors.
Our contemporary form of skepticism since the time of Descartes has been defined as
Philosophical views which advance some degree of doubt regarding claims that are elsewhere taken for granted.
But what happens when those who have assumed the task of ‘methodical doubt’ on everyone’s behalf, fail to undertake even basic forms of the very skepticism with which they formerly intimidated all around them? Such a charade now reveals itself to all concerned, as constituting nothing more than a huckster’s act. ‘Why assume the risk of doubting? Let’s let the people we disdain take the flak.’ Having cowered in their basements for two years, my regard for pop skeptics hit rock bottom during the Covid-19 pandemic – and I did not think it could possibly sink any further. Cowards.
Cowardice, has displaced doubt in skepticism.
Fear doesn’t change people. In fact, it exposes them.