The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

The Psychology of Skeptics: Understanding the People Behind the Skepticism


I have been on a quest recently to understand psi skeptics and skepticism better.  Part of this has to do with a book that I am writing, but part of this also has to do with a personal journey.  I think that this relates to other psychic people and believers[1] as well, hence the blog post.  First of all, it is important to humanize skeptics; they are not subhuman knuckle dragging Neanderthals after all, but ordinary people.

For anyone who takes a pro psi position on the web in an open Internet forum, it can be really difficult to see skeptics as possessing any humanity at all.  The close mindedness we encounter, the ignorance, the spiteful ridicule and the idiotically stubborn refusal to ever be wrong all give the impression that skeptics are the sorriest bunch of losers ever to live in their mother’s basement.  But this description does not fit skeptics; they tend to be well educated, well rounded individuals. They are mostly male[2] and in many situations they share the same values as we do.  I have seen no indication that skeptics are normally racists or bigots either.

Psi skeptics tend to believe in evolution and climate change and favor liberal economic policies, much like many psychics and believers do.  It is rare for me to meet skeptics in real life, but when I do, these people are almost always polite, pleasant and courteous, much in contrast to the lunacy that I see on line.

So what causes these people to check their brains at the door whenever they discuss the topic of psychic ability?  There seem to be some personality characteristics that fit skeptics and explain why understanding psychic ability is so difficult for them.

Trust

One thing that I have heard several times from skeptics is that they are very hesitant to trust their instincts.  It is perhaps the single most important difference between skeptics and psychics.  Psychics and believers in contrast, normally trust their instincts.

From this one significant difference, all of the other pieces fall into place.  One of the most consistent traits that I have noticed from a wide variety of skeptics is that they don’t trust me.  Why should they?  Because I know more about this subject than they do.  The skeptics that I encounter rarely ask questions or wish to know anything about me at all despite the fact that I tell them that I am psychic.  (I can’t remember any skeptic asking me even the most basic question: How do I know that I am psychic?) They are, however, eager to tell me what they think that they know and then defend their position.

Militant skeptics think that I am a fraud and moderate skeptics think that I merely have a mistaken belief based on the assumption that I am not very good at calculating probabilities or chance.

This lack of trust extends to ridiculous extremes.  After all, about ¾ of the world population believes in psi.[3]  According to Wikipedia:

“Another survey conducted in 2006 by researchers from Australia‘s Monash University[37] sought to determine what types of phenomena that people claim to have experienced and the effects these experiences have had on their lives. The study was conducted as an online survey with over 2,000 respondents from around the world participating. The results revealed that around 70% of the respondents believe to have had an unexplained paranormal event that changed their life, mostly in a positive way. About 70% also claimed to have seen, heard, or been touched by an animal or person that they knew was not there; 80% have reported having a premonition, and almost 50% stated they recalled a previous life.”[4]

Skeptics are sitting on a rock in an ocean of believers and they do not trust any of them to be telling the truth about their experiences.  5 billion people must be deluded or liars according to them.  The only way that a person can maintain such an enormous conceit is if they do not trust themselves.  They see their own inability to trust their instincts and they have concluded that instincts are not to be trusted.

A corollary to this is that skeptics have more trouble relating to their own feelings.  This leaves them blind to situations where their emotions are controlling their logic and they are far more vulnerable to cognitive dissonance and less able to cope with it than those who are more aware of their own feelings.

If a person does not trust their instincts, then they must find something else to trust and it is understandable that they will not be particularly flexible about it.  Unsurprisingly, skeptics favor the status quo.  Science is the rock that they typically sit on, clinging to whatever the mainstream scientific establishment favors at the moment and even twisting it if it does not meet their internal image of what it is supposed to be.

For a person that does not trust the world inside of themselves, the world on the outside is all there is, which is how we get illogical and fanatical defenses of a materialistic view of the world even though science is pretty clear on the point that reality does not fit that description.

 Detail Oriented with Compartmentalization

Trust is a right brain feature.  You have to grasp the essence of things in order to trust and you cannot get bogged down in details.  However, this is exactly what happens to skeptics.  Even in discussions with moderate skeptics, I have seen time and again that they do very well when involved in details.  When asked to consider things as a whole, however, they fail miserably.

Of the rare moderate skeptics who actually know something about the science of parapsychology this is a consistent feature of their evaluations.  They can pick at just about any single study and come to the conclusion that something is wrong with it, but entirely miss the fact that they always do the same thing.  For instance:  a skeptic will find nothing wrong with this incomplete chart of parapsychological lab research and the skeptical conclusions:

Overview of Scientific Parapsychology Skepticism

Experiment Positive

 Outcome?

Skepticism
Autoganzfeld*† Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Psychokinesis*† Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Staring Studies*† Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Dog telepathy Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Parrot telepathy Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Dice studies* Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Remote Viewing* Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Precognition* Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Zener Cards* Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
The Afterlife Experiments Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Global Consciousness Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Retropsychokinesis Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Plant and single cell organism telepathy*†† Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher
Distant Healing† (Braud) Yes Flawed methodology and/or Biased Researcher

*Studies replicated by other scientists

†Meta analyses have been done.

†† Cleve Backster, (retired) who performed the original experiments was not a research scientist, he was, however, one of the premiere polygraph experts in the world.

A skeptic will not be able to perceive this as a repetitive pattern of dogmatic denial, but will instead, want to focus on the specifics of each individual case to point out the perceived flaws.  It is almost impossible for a skeptic to grasp that the individual studies can have flaws AND there can also be a pattern of dogmatic skepticism.         The skepticism as a whole has a flaw that cannot be seen in individual cases.

Nor do they have a problem in holding their skeptical views while dismissing the experiences of half the world’s population, the hundreds of case studies on various forms of psychic ability or disregarding consciousness in physics.  The reason is that strongly detail oriented people compartmentalize these things and lack the necessary skills to comprehend them as a whole.

I think that this is often confused with stubbornness on the part of skeptics, when in reality it is a gaping hole in their ability to process information.

Lack of Imagination

Here again, we see a deficiency in a crucial right brain activity.  In the area of imagination, skeptics fly blind.  To a degree, they lack the ability to visualize concepts that are foreign to them and the ability to see issues from all sides.  Imagination is a crucial skill in accepting new ideas, but it requires internal trust because not all of those new ideas will be widely accepted.  Imagination also suffers in the presence of compartmentalization because it requires letting go of such strong focus.

In conclusion, what we have here is a person who has a limited ability to trust with a left-brain outlook and a very narrow ability to focus and a lack of trust in their own instincts.  This necessarily limits their imagination and puts skeptics in the position of trusting exterior sources instead of themselves.  This then makes it extremely difficult for skeptics to take in new information which conflicts with their previously held beliefs.  (Because they put their trust in these exterior sources.)  It also makes them vulnerable to cognitive dissonance .


[1] The term “believer” in this sense is someone who believes in psychic ability and has possibly experienced it, but does not consider themselves to be psychic.

[3] 2005 Gallup Poll on the paranormal

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8 comments on “The Psychology of Skeptics: Understanding the People Behind the Skepticism

  1. MindBody
    March 21, 2017

    Hi Craig,
    I think that your comments about insecurity and fear of using their own judgment are particularly important.
    In my experience skeptics are almost invariably atheists, and largely from a Western background.
    One of the residues of Christianity as it used to be practiced is a disturbing view of the afterlife- the prospect of eternal damnation. I would suggest that atheism is a shelter from that prospect- and that shelter would be all the more needed if as a result of childhood experience one grew up with a view of one’s inherent awfulness. So fear of the afterlife is a good reason to not want to believe in it.

    This was roughly the path that led me to my former position of atheist skeptic myself- but then some things happened that just “did not compute” in the materialist world.
    Now I personally am more interested in developing a neglected the psi side of myself and integrating it with my rational work self.

    As far as afterlife goes- I’m a Buddhist now, and I find that very logical and scholarly philosophy deals with the afterlife problem very well– the Dalai Lama says that reincarnating is just like changing your clothes!

  2. Peter Beacham
    January 20, 2012

    An interesting article, Mr. Weiler. One that I will be citing in my book on Atheism as a religion.

    Relating to your lack of trust reason is the skeptic’s unwillingness to enter into the unknown. This can be a significant problem for those who do have paranormal experiences. I know several people who have had what might be called ‘spiritual emergence problems’ or ‘kundalini rising problems’ and they are not interested in practicing anything, including meditation, that might bring them back to similar types of experiences. They have effectively shut down their spiritual explorations.

    If some people experienced in the psi worlds are reluctant to face those experiences again, it is easy to understand why skeptics who have even fewer resources would want to venture into the unknown. Their rationality might not be able to work there. Their earthly experiences might be useless there as that plane of existence could operate on very different principles. They could not be sure of being able to come back to where they were before. All in all, a very daunting prospect to someone as fear-ridden as skeptics.

    Another aspect you might want to consider is that skeptics are focused on the brain as the only source of all thought. Aside from the validity of that position, considering that there are people leading functional lives who have no brain structure at all, the brain is not the only part of the body to have neurons. The heart has neurons. The spine has neurons. The gut has neurons. Dr. Candace Pert, Ph.D. has shown that every cell in the body has consciousness ( see Molecules of Emotion).

    We have all listened to our gut or our heart at times. That is, we have tapped into these other modes of knowing.

    The heart neurons, for example, communicate with each other simultaneously while those of the brain have only linear sense-based processing. The heart’s consciousness is wholistic and inclusive. It is spiritual vision. It is part of what is referred to as spiritual intuition. The linear processing of the brain divides. It creates duality, problems, and illusion.

    In addition, it is the heart that initiates signals to the brain. The heart thinks and is the primary source of knowledge. This primacy of the heart accounts for why we can intuit what will happen before it happens and before it is witnessed by the senses and the brain.

    All of these modes of thinking and knowing must be used simultaneously in the spiritual process. As Fr. Richard Rohr puts it, the mystic or spiritual sojouner must use three types of seeing – the sense-based, the reason, reflection-based, and the unity of heart, mind and body consciousnesses – simultaneously without resistance or hesitation. Skeptics are concerned only with the first two – sense data and the manipulation of that data. They do not even acknowledge the existence of other types of consciousness or other learning styles.

  3. JohnQPublic
    December 8, 2011

    Skeptics just need to smoke more pot.

  4. Pingback: A Psychic Flubs Psychology Again « The Call of Troythulu

  5. Raven
    November 8, 2011

    So much of what passes for skepticism is just plain bullying. It’s socially acceptable to be rude, even viciously rude, to people who speak of psychic experiences. I think people are more likely to bully when they perceive themselves as being in power, in the majority. (“There are no quasi-crystals – only quasi scientists.”) Most of the bullying skeptics I have known seem to be very afraid of someone being able to access information about them – they have assumed that if one were truly psychic, one would have absolutely no ethics at all. Which says rather more about them than it does about us.

  6. Don Salmon
    October 11, 2011

    Hey Craig: you and your readers may be interested to know I received a very sympathetic response to my essay, “Shaving Science With Ockham’s Razor”, posted at http://www.integralworld.net/salmon3.html. The theme of the essay is that no scientific finding requires a materialistic view, that is – no finding precludes the possibility of consciousness as a causal factor. philosopher David Lane, quite the skeptic, wrote a positive essay, “The Disneyland of Consciousness”, posted at http://www.integralworld.net/lane27.html. I also have a brief follow up essay, “Shaving Visser, Goswami, Lane and Carter with Ockham’s Razor”, at http://www.integralworld.net/salmon4/html.

    I find if you approach skeptics without threatening them (in other words, doing a lot of preparation before even mentioning anything about parapsychology or anything else that obviously, explicitly challenges a materialistic view), they are surprisingly open. I think the root problem with sincere skeptics (people like the Amazing Randi are completely hopeless, of course, though I wouldn’t even give up on Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins – who recently admitted to a longing for something beyond the mateiralistic view – sorry, i didn’t make a note of where it was:<))) – the root problem is they sincerely believe that to give up materialism is the same as giving up science.

    This is why Richard Wiseman has admitted that there is good, solid psi research, as good as any other branch of science, but he won't accept it as proving "anomalous cognition" because he is afraid it would violate materialist views. I think if you start by questioning the basis of materialism, as I did in the Shaving Science essay, then combine that with contemplative exercises, there could be a chance for a breakthrough. I understand that getting them to try out the exercises is the hard part. But we'll see when Jan and I post our video series based on "Shaving Science" next year. I'm optimistic, at the moment.

    Good luck with your book. You should advertise this more on the web; you have a very nice style of writing.

    • Monica
      October 11, 2011

      I’ve found roughly what you have. When you leave out the word ‘psychic’, scientists are very open. Some of it seems to be that the scientists are more interested in the truth than the phenomenon–in my psych class, I learned that the majority of experiments are testing not to see what is actually happening in the psychic’s mind, but how accurate the psychic is. To be truly scientific, you would have to say that accuracy is irrelevant–a large group of people are experiencing similar symptoms, ergo something is happening. Who cares about accuracy? The important part lies in the shared symptoms.

    • craigweiler
      October 11, 2011

      Hi Don,
      We’re approaching this from different directions. Your degree makes it possible for you to address scientists and the scientific community and your approach seems to be the appropriate one for that audience. Even so, you might want to read this:

      http://monkeywah.typepad.com/paranormalia/2008/11/spr-study-day—the-psychology-of-the-sceptic.html

      I’m a little bit farther down that totem pole. On the one hand, I’m not going to be treated as any sort of scholar, but on the other hand I can blab away about whatever I feel like without repercussions, seeing things in whatever way I choose.

      The intended audience of this post is psychic people and believers, not scientists or skeptics and the intention of the post is to help my fellow sensitives to better understand the attitudes of the disagreeable people they encounter.

      Do you have any suggestions for advertising? Stumbleupon is just waaaay too expensive for me. (I’m drawing close to a hundred views a day and at .50 a hit I’d run out of money quickly.)

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This entry was posted on October 11, 2011 by in parapsychology, Skeptics and Skeptic Arguments and tagged , , , .
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