Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
I’m going to persuade you today to abandon being a skeptic and I challenge you to think differently about how to approach things that you doubt.
I used to think that skepticism was a good thing. I had lots of reasons for this. I was involved in the New Age movement years ago and I would roll my eyes with some of the stuff that I heard. Now granted, I was there as a psychic healer, but there is an expression: Keep an open mind, but don’t let your brains fall out. I encountered rituals that seemed pointless, products that seemed worthless and statements that seemed profound on the surface, but upon reflection were either useless or created more questions than answers.
But in studying parapsychology it was impossible not to also study the skeptics. They have a large influence on this science and one cannot have an understanding of the subject without also investigating those who publish skeptical work. And what I saw gave me pause and made me consider my own approach. Here are three things that I noticed:
When we are skeptical we are creating a narrative in our head about how things are and once we do that, it doesn’t matter how smart we are. We miss stuff. I’ve read articles from various PhD’s and even a neurosurgeon that got facts wrong or dismissed important evidence out of hand simply because these things disagreed with their internal narrative that psychic ability can’t exist.
Skepticism comes from the belief that we must resist ideas that we think are false in order to learn in a rational manner. But this is not the case. It is actually far more efficient to embrace an idea until it no longer bears fruit or to have no opinion at all. For example, I read two books lately. Spook, by Mary Roach, and Ghost, by Katherine Ramsland. Mary Roach chose the highly skeptical route, documenting a series of frauds by mediums and dubious scientific research into the afterlife. Katherine Ramsland chose the immersion route. Not surprisingly, Mary Roach got through all of her research and the entire book without every being truly convinced. Katherine Ramsland on the other hand, became a ghost hunter and found them right away. Her book deals with her adventures after she’s found them. A skeptical attitude wasted a lot of Mary Roach’s time and caused her to look in directions that supported her beliefs, while minimizing evidence she encountered that disagreed with her internal narrative.
I’ve learned to utter three words that save me from the perils of skepticism: I don’t know. Admitting my ignorance about topics I haven’t studied is one of the smartest things I’ve done. It saves me from having idiotic opinions on subjects I know little about and it means that I don’t have to backtrack later or unlearn something and be wrong about it.
So I’m not a skeptic. Instead, when I encounter something that I have doubts about I use the three words that speak to what the truth really is: I don’t know. And if you’re ready to give up being skeptical, I suggest you try those words yourself. I don’t know. Because once we say that, we’re ready to learn.