What a fool believes he sees, the wise man has the power to reason away. The world around us bears no obligation to serve our rationality. Nor should it.
My friend Kevin is an Atheist, or so he explained to me in the dark midst of a mission many years ago while we were both serving as officers in the military. I responded reflectively in that same night’s conversation, outlining my frustration at not being able to derive a definitive conclusion about the nature of the universe, both understood and otherwise. I surmised that this would place me solidly in the agnostic camp in most minds (although I understand it as ignosticism now). He agreed. And though we were both fugitives from a forced Catholic upbringing, for a moment on that watch we shared a partially common vision – albeit mine not seated under the same presumption of certainty as was his.
The Origin of Fanaticism and Correctness – an erosion of ethics:
Not knowing is just as valid a state of intellectual ethics as is the state of knowing, as long as the not knowing is not the result of cultivated ignorance. An ethical skeptic avoids cultivating ignorance by resisting the temptation to filter and deny data. He or she is perceptive enough to observe that the heart of one who practices such ignorance subconsciously perceives the inner hypocrisy – its betrayal compensated for through fanatic methodical doubting and authoritative correctness.
Indeed, it is the integrity and rigor of rational thought which compels a person to not filter out data, nor adopt unproven conclusions, nor pretend that their science has everything already solved. These are the disciplines of regarding data dispassionately, as it might support several possible constructs at once, a habit which is the signature of true intellect. Even if that data shatters the longstanding paradigms of the erstwhile belief holder. Especially if repeated data threatens to shatter old untested paradigms. An ethical skeptic heeds such alert flags.
Black Vapor Man …thing
Of this ilk was the dilemma faced by my friend Kevin when he called me from his office 19 years later. Not a believer in paranormal phenomenon, Kevin was confronted with a ghostly mutiny of sorts inside his household. His daughter, son and wife all staunchly refused to live in the home any longer – until something was done about the ‘black vapor man.’ It seems his pragmatic, honors student daughter would, upon coming home from school while both parents were working and his son was at football, apparently see a man in a 40’s style coat and hat walk out from a bedroom down the hallway and down the front stairs. It happened to her once, then again. This second time was her limit, as she saw the man clearly, who at once turned to look at her while embarking on the first step down to the lower level. She screamed, gathered her courage and ran down the stairs and out the door to a neighbor’s house. The daughter refused to come back in the house, staying with a neighbor girlfriend that night.
Again, poor Kevin was faced with this perplexity in that his son also came face to face with a man in a coat and hat in the middle of the hallway one evening. A man who, as his son described, subsequently dissolved into a black shadow of his former self, and finally into a black growling mass of anomalous vapor. Kevin Jr., a strong, fearless, and disciplined young man, stood his ground and watched as the vapor then moved away and disappeared. His level headed concurrence with his sister, almost swung Kevin into realms of consideration into which he had never before ventured. Kevin asked the family to meet, and in the ensuing meeting his wife revealed that she had seen the black vapor as well. She had kept it to herself thinking that if she mentioned the observations she might be regarded as loosing her senses. Kevin was a no-nonsense C-level executive of a technology and integration firm. There was not an academic nor intellectual slouch to be had anywhere in the household.
83 percent of respondents have witnessed some paranormal activity inside their own home.
1 in 10 Americans have moved because they thought their house was haunted.
~ Study Finds: Cinch Home Services Survey
So it was after that fateful set of days, that Kevin placed his call. “This is upsetting my whole realm TES. My entire family is demanding that we move. This house cost a fortune, we just moved in less than two years ago, and I do not want to move out now simply because of some black vapor man …thing. So, you and I are friends and you are the only person other than my family, with whom I have ever discussed such a topic. What do I do?”
“Become a skeptic” I replied.
“What? Become a skeptic? You know good and well that I am a skeptic already. I subscribe to Skeptical Inquirer magazine. I don’t believe in any of this stuff.”
“Listen to your family. Don’t dismiss what they say, out of hand. That’s the main challenge Kev, you adopted a spoon-fed conclusion before you ever had any evidence. That’s not being a skeptic. The time has come to be a REAL skeptic, and question the beliefs you adopted at age 15, as you know I did too, in a reaction to the Church. Open your mind to more than one possibility. Make no conclusion, seek to prove nothing in particular. Just because a bunch of academics say something, that does not make it true. For me, denying the data so that everything fits what I was taught by cynics, means that when I left the church – I was simply switching religions – not really becoming a skeptic. Ponder the possibilities fearlessly. You do not have to research everything, nor do you have to believe anything. Just do not filter data when it comes from good sources, like your entire family. Even if you do not like the data, pursue it as sincerely as your favored data. Take it to its end and keep your mind open. That is real skepticism.”
I personally thought Kevin should hire a medium, see if that produced any valuable information. He does not speak now about the circumstance and what happened thereafter. They moved within that next year.
The Ethical Skeptic, “What a Fool Believes He Sees”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 1 Jan 2012; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=3445