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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Two Percent Company counters

The Two Percent Company posted a counter to an entry of mine where I criticized skepticism. Now granted, I was asking for it, since most atheists are skeptics or sympathetic to skepticism, I freely admit it. Nevertheless, I think an answer is in order.

One problem was that they thought I was saying James Randi is wasting his time. I don't think Randi is wasting his time with the Million Dollar Challenge, since it is meant as an education and PR move, not as testing of paranormal claims per se. I can imagine a cynic like me setting up such a Challenge, for the same reasons. It is a brillant idea.

They trip all over themselves, however, when they say :

Further, the "possibility" always remains to prove the existence of the supernatural, inasmuch as anything is theoretically conceivable.


There seems to be an obsession amongst a lot of people in confusing possibility and conceivability. I hear the same addle-brained argument used against the argument from the meaninglessness of religious language (and we all have Theodore Drange to thank for that). "I can still imagine it, so it means something !". No, possibility has nothing to do with whether you can imagine it, or conceive it. All that being able to conceive or imagine something means, is that you can hold such a construct in your head. Saying that "X is possible" is a claim about exterior reality, not about your imagination. Possibility has to be demonstrated. And no skeptic is going to be able to demonstrate the possibility of something that is meaningless ! Can't be done.

I'm sure that skeptics have an inter-subjective idea of what it means to "test claims of the paranormal" or "test claims of the supernatural". That's all well and fine, but like all inter-subjective constructs, it is a shared belief which relates to nothing in the reality we all acknowledge. You cannot test something that has no connection to our material senses and instruments (never mind that it cannot exist in the first place).

Even in mundane cases of fraud, the inter-subjective construct does not apply. You can even prove that someone is using cold reading, but you still haven't disproven the claim that he is getting "messages from the deceased" - since it has no meaning to begin with ! How can anyone even give any credibility to such a claim ? Corpses don't communicate. But most importantly, once you accept a meaningless claim, there is no way for you to make the difference between its effects and another claim's effects (such as cold reading). That is what "meaningless" means.

I reiterate what I said - skepticism is a waste of time and judgment. Of course we should all maintain a healthy doubt towards possibilities. I'm always discovering new possibilities and acknowledging I was wrong (most recently on the whole government issue, a couple months ago), so I do have such healthy doubt. The only difference is that I do not waste time on things that have no possibility.

By the way, I have no enmity with Two Percent Company, they are just way too statist for my tastes (and I thought that even before I became a market anarchist). They should start by being skeptical about that, in my opinion, as the idea that force is criminal when performed by one thug, but perfectly moral when done by a group of thugs calling themselves "government", is the second most extraordinary and absurd claim ever made (if you really need to know, the first one is the Trinity).

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5 Comments:

At 2/21/2006 2:07 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

2% said, just prior to your reply: "The moment that someone's claim to be able to read minds through telepathy is proven to be true, their telepathy ceases to be supernatural; if we can detect it by natural means — which are the only means we have — then it falls under the umbrella of 'natural.'"

which contradicts this: "Further, the "possibility" always remains to prove the existence of the supernatural, inasmuch as anything is theoretically conceivable."

So I think we're all back on the same page.

 
At 2/21/2006 2:43 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Very good point Zach, but what page are we on now ? Are we even in the same book ?

 
At 2/21/2006 8:12 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Uh... I think the book's titled, "Supernatural is Super Dumb."

 
At 2/21/2006 9:54 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

"There seems to be an obsession amongst a lot of people in confusing possibility and conceivability."

Ramen!

I love the theoretical, the parallel universe theories, the idea that there are other realities that have different physical laws. One thing is important to remember: IF they do exist, they do NOT intersect with our physical universe or they would BE our physical universe. Speculation is therefore only for amusement purposes, or it is moot.

How improbable does a thing have to be before the dreamer will admit that it is statistically impossible?

Your point about the government's thugish use of force is well taken, but they are not going to stop any time soon. Governments do so because they have the power, and power corrupts. One can oppose, and either be ignored, marginalized, or suffer the same fate as the Melians.

 
At 2/21/2006 10:26 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

breakerslion : The truth is the truth, regardless of how many people agree with it. One person could think the Earth is round against everyone's beliefs, but that would not make it false.

 

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