Why so Skeptical?


 

Richard Feynman

Cover of Richard Feynman

There is a reason, a simple one, why I hold to the rules of argument and standards of evidence that I do, and not just ‘accept’ important claims without any reason: To do otherwise would be dishonest, as I’d be fooling first myself and then others in promoting nonsense disguised as fact.

There’s a Dick Feynman quote that applies nicely here:

“The first principle is that you must not be fooled – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

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We live in an imperfect world…


Los Desastres de la Guerra is a set of 80 aqua...

Los Desastres de la Guerra is a set of 80 aquatint prints created by Francisco Goya in the 1810s. Plate 9: No quieren. (They do not want to. ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If wishing made something so, if desire by itself granted its object, then no hope, no desire, no wish, no prayer to a deity would ever go unfulfilled, and words for ‘disappointment’ or ‘rejection’ wouldn’t exist in the vocabulary of any language, for no love would be unrequited, and no personal nor conspiratorial plans would ever fail.

Ever.

All would be perfect in the world. Everything would run smoothly, just like we want it to. But that is not what we see. It does not appear, as far as any real evidence shows, that there is anyone at all fully running or orchestrating this whole mess we call a world. Disappointment is frequent, faith unrewarded, our hopes often dashed.

There appears, instead, that there is no hidden agency in control of anything, much less everything. It seems to me that any such agency, whoever or whatever is claimed, does not appear to be doing a very good job at running things nor of concealing itself.

Not if so many people really do know of its intentions and doings.

Yet such people, quite a few of them rather intelligent and otherwise rational, claim to know these things, but their claims tend to conflict where they overlap. They cannot all be right, but they can all be wrong.

What we see instead is a world badly in need of work, partly because of the consequences of relying on wishful thinking in our policies, and human governmental institutions which sometimes work at their own cross-purposes. We see a world in which fervent, unselfish prayers offered to the deity, for the safety, lives or health of others regularly go unanswered. We see a world in which our best laid plans can fail disastrously, in which our love, even the most pure, is often rejected or ignored.

You could say that those wishing didn’t wish hard enough, but that’s both reprehensible victim-blaming and bunkum. It implies giving a quantitative value to wishing, which is nonsense. How do we measure wishing or even prayer to determine how ‘hard’ or ‘genuine’ they are? It’s saying that the victim must have brought misfortune upon themselves. But we appear very much to live in a world where ‘stuff just happens’ without any obvious conscious intent, or truly knowable purpose.

Sometimes, bad stuff happens to good people, horrible stuff even, and the worst of us can often live long and prosper (with apologies to Mr. Spock). It seems to me, given what I’ve seen of the world in my nearly 50 years of life, that we appear very much on our own, without anything hidden or secret watching over us or delivering unerring justice for the innocent and to the guilty, in this life or afterwards.

No one chooses to get a terminal illness. No one chooses to become a diabetic. No one chooses to have their best friend or a loved one in their family die of complications from an accident or surgery. No one chooses to have their beloved cat die from renal failure, or massive stomach bleeding or liver cancer. Nobody chooses to have a serious psychiatric disorder like PTSD, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. They do not necessarily do something ‘stupid’ nor commit some terrible sin to make these things happen to them.

I’m not arguing that nothing happens for a reason nor that personal blame must absolutely never be laid, but for what does go on, those reasons are usually physics or biology, including the physics and biology of our brains in making our choices, responsible or not, the uncertainty of contingent human social interactions, and not any apparent intent or design of mysterious unseen powers, conspiratorial or theological, in our personal lives or events abroad in the greater world and universe.

At least, that’s what the evidence shows.

The Horrors Of…


When a nation goes to war,

Sending troops to distant shore,

Fighting, though it’s leaders lie,

As its best and brightest die.

Struggle in a foreign land,

At their masters’ dark commands,

Wading through a field of death,

Wasted is their final breath.

Terrible as it may be,

With each soldier’s dying scream,

Though I will not say there can’t,

Be sacrifice significant.

Plato’s Chariot


This is a 1/2/3/4/5/6/7 form poem about Plato’s model of the mind, a chariot drawn by two horses Epithumia and Thumos, guided by the charioteer, Logos. It’s clear who Plato thought should be in charge…

Passions
And Spirit
One steed unruly
The other one stalwart
Reason with the Charioteer’s crop
Giving direction to Passions and Spirit
But going nowhere at all without them.

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