In a recent post on the functioning of magickal energy, I was confronted with comments from a couple of posters who presented the pseudo-skeptical, pseudo-scientific and so-called debunking position. As I have repeatedly pointed out, some of the techniques of this position consist of:
1) Demanding proof but not saying what will happen if you provide such proof.
2) Not giving specific and clear examples of what such proof should entail. This will allow people following the debunking position to change what is acceptable as proof—what is commonly called “moving the goalposts”—so they never have to admit their position was in error.
Perhaps most importantly, though, I would contend that the pseudo-skeptical position that was being represented is neither objective nor scientific. Rather, it is highly personal. When I tried to bring this up, one commenter simply refused to respond, instead just repeating his position, eventually leading to a long blog post on his own site that ignored the personal issues.
This Time It’s Personal!
The ugly little secret that people holding the pseudo-skeptical viewpoint never seem to want to respond to is that their supposed objectivity is non-existant. What does exist is their personal belief in their objectivity. If this sounds contradictory, it is not. There is a big difference between being objective and only thinking you are objective. The supposed objectivity of pseudo-scientists and pseudo-skeptics is not real even though they believe it is real. Holding onto this belief for dear life seems to be a motivating factor for people who hold that they are (pseudo-) skeptics. They hold this belief with the strength and fervor of the followers of any fundamentalist religion.
So-called skepticism (actually pseudo-skepticism) is not objective.
It’s a personal belief system.
And it’s a belief system the followers of this ersatz religion do not want to discuss.
I’ve realized this for some time, and when I bring it up, rather than deal with it, the followers move to attack. This is the same psychological response followed by believers of any fundamentalist religion when they think the belief system they adhere to is being questioned. They don’t respond to the questions on this belief and attitude. Instead, they simply deny them (“It’s not a belief, it’s real!”) and attack those who would question. The Roman politician and orator Cicero (106 b.c.e.–43 b.c.e.) said, “When you have no case, abuse the plaintiff.” Thousands of years later, this practice is still being followed.
Underpinnings Becoming Undone
Fortunately, the understanding that the belief system of the pseudo-skeptic is just a belief system is beginning to become better known. Here is a LINK to a blog post by British journalist Robert McLuhan who is also the author of the book, Randi’s Prize.
The blog post agrees with my thinking. McLuhan begins with the realization that the people he most hoped to reach with Randi’s Prize aren’t going to read it. He writes, “The fact is, surely, that when it comes to our personal worldview, studies and experiments play a secondary role. We accept findings that best fit our preferred narrative, and reject those that don’t. Mostly, I think, we gravitate towards writers who reinforce what we already intuitively feel to be true.”
He continues following the same line of thinking that I have presented: “So these days I’m thinking less about psi evidence itself and more about the social and psychological context. As a psi-advocate, I believe I know why my group believes what it does: we’re convinced by the evidence, which happens to validate our ideals. But what about sceptics? Why is it so extremely important to them that psychic claims be shown to be false? Why does it irritate them so much, and why do they go to such extraordinary lengths to explain it away?…This would seem to be a question for psychologists in their quest to identify the drivers of human thought and behaviour.”
Next, McLuhan mentions things he thinks are irrational beliefs (and I disagree with him there), then writes exactly what I’ve been presenting: “Interestingly, sceptical thinkers implicitly exclude themselves from this tendency towards irrationality, at least in this context. They don’t have hallucinations, so it doesn’t apply to them. But having close-up experience of the way they argue, it seems to me that it very much does; they are as profoundly affected by emotive thinking as any of us, and with the added complication that their complacency blinds them to the fact.”
In other words, people trying to push the pseudo-scientific view on others don’t even realize that their desire to do so is based on their personal psychological issues and not objective fact. Debating with them is very much like trying to tell someone that the world is spherical after they have spent a lifetime believing it’s as flat as a board. They can’t even conceive of people thinking objectively and coming to a different conclusion than they know (i.e., believe) is the only one that is correct.
This was exactly what happened during the recent comments to my blog. People presenting the pseudo-skeptical point of view seem blind to the fact that their emotions and beliefs color their opinions in this area. Their objectivity is not real; it is their belief in their objectivity that is real, not objectivity itself.
Real Skepticism is Vital to the Magician
By “pseudo-skepticism” I mean a person or philosophy that claims to be based on skepticism but is actually a set of dogmatic beliefs that are to be defended no matter what happens.
By “pseudo-scientist” I mean a person who has a limited knowledge of sciences (or knowledge that is wide but not deep) and claims to defend some amorphous thing called “science.” In actuality, they are only defending dogmatic beliefs, often by using techniques contrary to good scientific protocol.
By “real skepticism” I mean taking the attitude of not knowing whether something is valid or invalid until evidence to support either position is collected, verified, analyzed, and, in certain instances, repeatable. This means that contrary to taking a believer or disbeliever attitude, one is completely objective and waiting to see the results which may also produce alternatives to either the believer or disbeliever attitude.
For example, when I give workshops on past lives, I don’t take the “they must be proven objectively true” position or “they are demonstrably false” position. Rather, I give multiple possibilities as to what the experience of past lives represents and how such experiences can be used to improve your life today.
The Law of Requisite Variety
In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), there is a presupposition known as the Law of Requisite Variety. This concept goes back to the middle of the last century. From an NLP perspective, it means that in any given physical system, that part of the system with the greatest flexibility of behavior will control the system.
Thus, the person who is in most control of a question of magickal energy, magickal efficacy, or understanding magick is not the person who simply believes in all of magick—he or she could mistake chance for cause and effect. Nor is it the debunker who strongly defends his or her dogma—he or she won’t accept anything outside of his or her belief system. Rather, it is the real skeptic who does not dogmatically defend what others see as an either/or question. The real skeptic looks at all the evidence before concluding, for example, that the effects of a ritual were magick, chance, coincidence, a blend of things, or something else.
My point for this post: if you are involved in magick—either believing or disbelieving in its effectiveness—you do have a belief system that modifies your objectivity. Rather than being a believer or disbeliever, I suggest holding the position of a real skeptic. That way, when your magick works, you’ll know that you are an effective magician.