Apoplectic Dyspeptic Sceptics

I had been working on a post about Paul LaViolette’s Genesis of the Cosmos and other esoteric material when I received this ‘pingback’ from a sceptic with whom I had exchanged some comments on Youtube. Using my blog polemically or as some kind of bully pulpit from which to berate those with opposing views has never been my intention. I only wish to record the direction of my thinking for my own reference and any interest to others would seem purely incidental. Being drawn into an adversarial back and forth with this gentleman is of no interest to me and would almost certainly be futile. His fanaticism eructs off the page with an invective extreme enough to strike the casual reader as amusing, perhaps even crudely compelling. The ‘paranoid style’, a term coined by historian Richard Hofstadter, is invariably meticulously footnoted (or hyperlinked), has an obsession with facts, evidence, and a certain pedantic flavour that purports in distinctive stentorian tones to be scrupulously scientific and scholarly. In the battle between good and evil, which is ‘the paranoid’s archetypal model of the world struggle’, he sees himself ‘manning the barricades of civilisation’, doggedly entrenched on his tiny island of sanity in a ‘sad, sad world’ where hordes of dangerous ignoramuses are duped by socialism, astrology, or a Jew who rose from the dead. In the war against ‘evil’ – a curiously religious word for a sceptic – there is no room for compromise or even civil argument. Protesting loudly that discourtesy is the norm in the knockabout arena of rigorous debate, the paranoid style makes itself all the more transparent. The discourse grows ever shriller and more ill-mannered, until by degrees it degenerates into the desperate and the ridiculous.

The beleaguered position of the modern sceptic should, in view of the centuries of spiritual abuse meted out by organised religion, be regarded with a modicum of charity. But when professedly rational sceptics label cranks as evil rather than harmless, when they defend the persecution not only of pseudoscientists but of Galileo himself, it would seem we have come full circle, entirely validating Richard Kammann’s warning that ‘The inquirers have indeed become the Inquisitors.’ Promoting a conservative mental attitude to revolutionary ideas is fine when based on sound reasoning, but when consensus opinion is taken on ‘faith’, a word surely anathema to genuine scepticism, this conservative attitude becomes groundlessly dogmatic and imperious. Advocating for ridicule as a critical part of the process to ‘get closer to the truth about the world‘ suggests either a paranoid lack of confidence in debate and peer review or an authoritarian desire to shut people up. Either way, such hysterical recourse to mockery is not particularly edifying; nor was holding my nose while wading through this blogger’s troll-like effluvia of insult and bluster, to filter out the few points worthy of a response. On publishing his Principia, no one ‘laughed at Newton’ for being a crank. But if today, some virginal loner sat in a darkened room, poring over alchemical texts and tomes on the occult before publishing a revolutionary mathematical proof, he would doubtless be contaminated by these associations and not taken seriously at all, or declared ‘evil’ by this blogger. If it was ‘only right and proper’ to laugh at Galileo, at what point should all this amusement have abated? When he was formally ordered to recant? When he was put under house arrest? How exactly would all this righteous guffawing advance science and help bring us closer to the truth, instead of simply being one of the irrational ways that all orthodoxy protects itself?

Ideology will often resort to its pat phrases of unimpeachable truths – ‘If she floats, she’s a witch! – a circumscribed set of hard-wired thought circuitry, as R.A. Wilson might have put it. The assertion that ‘if it ain’t falsifiable it probably isn’t true’ strikes me as a semantic cul-de-sac. To state categorically that nothing exists outside of the strictly measurable strikes me as foolhardy, especially in view of the vast, implicit oceans of uncertainty within current models of quantum physics and let alone the fact that the laws of physics remain open. The hysterical idea that any dalliance with the unmeasurable somehow opens the door to pink unicorns, orbiting teapots and spaghetti monsters underestimates the most basic powers of discernment. The gentleman’s overheated bravado typically precludes the mysterious, hidden aspects of cosmological physics, sub-quantum states and their subtle relationship with the creation of matter. Sceptics have little of value to say about the nature of consciousness, how mind is able to act within matter, a substantive problem that cannot simply be brushed aside. They also fail to distinguish between religious dogma and the ancient origins of spirituality. Heaping everything together on a pompous pyre of self-righteous condemnation, they have helped not only to fossilise the polarisation of religion and science but to reinforce an impasse which has arguably plagued civilisation for centuries. Certainly, my blogging friend is in safe company. As Stephen Hawking said, ‘Mysticism is a cop-out. If you find theoretical physics and mathematics too hard, you turn to mysticism.’ Never mind that Heisenberg, Bohr and Oppenheimer were all at the top of their game when they turned to the East, Hawking clearly lays out the position of mainstream science today.

Outside of the academic consensus stand the ranks of ‘cranks’. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 for his ideas about the presence of spirit in matter. Since then, similar arguments put forward by the likes of Rupert Sheldrake and Fritjof Capra, have been subjected to excessive ridicule not by the church but by the sceptics, who describe these individuals not as misguided buffoons, or even conniving charlatans but – and I kid you not – as actual, bona fide evil doers. Check out this quaint little edit by my sceptic friend as he sensitively contemplates the nature of heresy:

‘Those who promote what is commonly considered pseudoscience and claim a conspiracy is conspiring against them, while ignoring all evidence contrary to their preferred pseudoscience, are evil. (Edit as of 11/12/12: True in a limited sense; their beliefs are certainly “evil”; whether they are evil themselves is a matter of semantics.)’

That a professed sceptic should have dusted off this hoary old question some four hundred years after the ecclesiastical councils pondered it – hating the sin not the sinner, the thought not the thinker, etc – speaks for itself with perverse irony. At least sceptics have the good sense to leave Satan out of it, but it should come as no surprise, given this use of language, to find similarities between scepticism and other hardline, reductionist ideologies. Leaving aside the social and cultural biases that shape them, I think there are two major corollaries from this kind of thinking.

Firstly, outside of the perceived boundaries of a comprehensive and coherent thought system, nothing is deemed to exist except its diametrical opposite. There is no room for nuance or synthesis. Outside of Christian dogma lay the devil and all his works. Outside of free market fundamentalism we find the inexorable march of socialism towards Stalinist dystopia. Scepticism, which reduces all thought to its rational aspect, sees nothing beyond that but a dangerously irrational world of orbiting teapots and spaghetti monsters.

The other most conspicuous aspect of hard-wired, intransigent thought systems, is their consistent attitude towards heretical thought. Although burning at the stake has been replaced with ridicule and ostracism, we find our sceptical friend declaring ‘Cranks deserve to be persecuted’ on his blog, obligingly demonstrating for us just how little the dynamics of hardline ideologies ever change. Astrophysicist Thomas Brophy has observed that, ‘The inertia of paradigmatic belief structures is tremendous, and the reactions to outside evidence in favor of paradigmatic change are severe.’ I therefore think it is quite plausible that Brophy’s acute and succinct analysis could give an interesting perspective to current events in Bosnia, but my thoughts on this will be posted later. (I cannot take my sceptic friend’s blustering comments on Bosnia, or indeed anything else given these observations, particularly seriously. His remark about ‘prior probability’ could in fact lend credence to a Bosnian pyramid given the weight of evidence from ‘Old Europe’. He denies that the Bosnian pyramid is aligned to the cardinal points and yet the picture on his webpage clearly shows it is.) Unless the implicit mechanics and biases within current modes of thought are objectively assessed, we are prone to labour away within what R.A. Wilson called a ‘reality tunnel’, filtering out or ignoring information that comes from beyond its narrowly delineated limits. It is vital to cultivate an open mind, one that is wary of parameterised structures of thought, fiercely independent, thoroughly discerning, free from any of the settling traces of complacency.

(Edit. 5th March 2014: Challenging the consensus trance, especially of someone like my ping-back friend, who is convinced that Kennedy was shot by a lone gunman, is admittedly a wicked pleasure of mine. The Bosnian pyramid therefore fit the bill nicely because it seemed to be a kick in the guts to mainstream academia. Having now heard the opinion of esteemed geologist Robert Schock, and having seen this documentary on youtube and also having heard the views of megalithomaniac Hugh Newman and others, I am now revising that position. It was fun while it lasted. Interestingly, Schoch does recognise the Carpathian sphinx as an artificial geological feature and there is a wonderful documentary on it here)

(Edit. 13th December 2014: Paul LaViolette writes in the December/January 2014 issue of Nexus magazine (Vol.22, No.1) that ‘…between 2010 and 2012 eight different teams of scientists from five different countries came to Bosnia to conduct measurements of energy waves coming from a number of the megalithic structures at Visoko…’ These teams, using ‘expensive measuring equipment’, collected consistent data of electromagnetic energy beams issuing vertically from the peaks of both the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon at Visoko. These energy beams were accompanied by ultrasonic wave beams of similar frequency. LaViolette speculates that these beams could be evidence of an advanced technology from deep antiquity, about 30,000 years old, and therefore completely unacceptable to academic institutions. Interesting. This story is still unfolding. Perhaps I should reserve judgement after all.)

If Laird Scranton and Paul LaViolette are indeed ‘cranks’ then I greatly look forward to arriving at this conclusion on my blog. Scranton at the very least attests to the deep antiquity of Dogon culture, one which modern scepticism has been at great pains to dismiss as a ‘cargo cult’, an idea so demeaning and insulting, one can only be suspicious of cultural bias. I look forward to analysing the official debunking of Scranton by Mark Newbrook in due course.

LaViolette’s contention in Genesis of the Cosmos is that everything productive and generative, whether a human body, washing machine, or weather system, draws from its environment in some way. This idea of open systems, he argues, which pervade all of existence, goes a long way to explaining cosmological functions as well. This is the basis of his book which uses the relatively young discipline of systems theory as its model. Again, I hope to look at this in greater detail going forward.

I had intended to draw a veil over the Gauquelin affair but having been asked where the academic fraud had been committed I am willing to risk tedium here in providing some references should my previous post have lacked any clarity.

It was astronomer Dennis Rawlins, CSICOP co-founder, who had first exposed the fraud here and was excommunicated for his objections. He published a scathing attack in which he unequivocally stated:

‘For all intents and purposes, the Mars Effect now stands as established scientific fact. It may not yet be a satisfactorily EXPLAINED scientific fact; but the cold, hard, scientific evidence can lead reasonable people to only a single conclusion: that the Mars Effect exists, just as Michel Gauquelin originally said it did. The existence of the Mars Effect scientifically verifies the most fundamental principle of astrology: that there is a connection between a person’s character and the planetary positions at the time and location of birth.’

Historian of Science, Patrick Curry, subsequently published a report which appeared in the Zetetic Scholar (no.9, 1982, p.49)

‘Their [CSICOP’s] work could now best function as a model and a warning of how not to conduct such an investigation.’

He concludes:

‘…it seems to me that this situation must call into question any further (unrefereed at least) CSICOP involvement in research on the Mars Effect and possibly other paranormal areas.’

Psychology professor Richard Kammann, a committed member of CSICOP, investigated the matter for almost a year and when he realised Rawlins had been right he quit the Committee in disgust. He sent a report to a fellow defector, Marcello Truzzi, who had left the Committee on recognising its predilection for debunking over genuine scientific investigation. Kammann’s report is pretty damning stuff, accusing CSICOP of suppressing evidence and stonewalling critics. When an article of Kammann’s was rejected by the Skeptical Inquirer it appeared in the Zetetic Scholar (no.10. See above link). He sums up the affair as:

‘…a case study in which a small group of a antipseudo-science skeptics fall back on a remarkable line of illogic and defensiveness when confronted by intractable data suggesting that the position of Mars in the sky when one is born has an effect on the likelihood of becoming a sports champion.’

He goes on to denounce the ‘demonstrably false statistical arguments’, and concludes that SCICOP had

‘…descended into protecting orthodoxy and its own reputation as a goal more important than finding the truth. The inquirers have indeed become the Inquisitors that some feared they might.’ (Emphasis added)

Although he doesn’t explicitly accuse SCICOP of academic fraud the implication is clear enough. Scientific method is fine until it produces an unfavourable result. The Skeptical Inquirer remained unusually silent and never responded to these damning indictments. For CSICOP, the ends having by then justified the means, consensus reality having been preserved, or rather dishonestly fudged, it is now left to impartial readers to make up their minds. I’m all for exposing the Peter Popoffs of this world but when the organisation responsible for doing so has this kind of disgraceful record it is ‘only right and proper’ to be suspicious.

And one final point. The blogger’s unfortunate confusion of vibration with self-abuse is best disabused with an investigation of cymatics and its relationship to astrology. I hope this relieves him of his awkward affliction.

…Time for me to pop off now too. Cheerio until next time..

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