Appearances and illusions can be effective ways to manipulate people, but they’re still transparently ineffectual motivators for those of us who want to put in the right kind of effort to understand how things really work.
This essay is for people in my tribe, and for people who may want to better understand my tribe. It’s also for people who want to criticize my tribe. It’s especially for those people who are firmly standing on the fence.
On November 20th, 2014 David Young, the main host of Skeptics in the Pub events in Hong Kong, interviewed Rebecca Watson at Delaney’s Pub in Wan Chai. Rebecca Watson is the founder of the Skepchick Blog, and has been a long time member of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe Podcast (SGU). She was able to visit us on her way to New Zealand and Australia where she will be attending a number of events on her own, and as a member of SGU. I envy our friends Down Under.
I’m happy that David had the presence of mind to invite Rebecca to visit and
I’m grateful that Ms. Watson decided to stopover in Hong Kong to talk with us.
I was invited to make a video of the interview, and parts one through three are in this post. The color choices in the video are there to highlight a “Skeptic Noir” atmosphere - high contrast black and white juxtaposed with color - to imply that skeptics aren’t just a bunch of cynical debunkers lurking in the shadows of your hopes and dreams, ready to pop out behind you in an alley or parking lot, forcing you at intellectual gunpoint to give up your cherished beliefs, ideologies and worldview.
(Also to avoid several hours in Davinci Resolve color correcting video from three different cameras;-)
I’ve heard quite a few religious friends of mine, as well as dozens of true believers of all kinds of implausible phenomena say: “Steven, you’re like a vampire trying to suck the faith right out of me!”
I can imagine how hard it must feel to have a scientific-skeptic in your face throwing data, facts, background information, book titles, all kinds of obscure references from the Internet, and claims of scientific census at you like a Major League Baseball pitcher, pitching fast balls at your head, one after another. It must be exhausting, deflating, annoying and down right vexing. Details are deafening at times. And believe me, I’ve seen tempers flare - many times.
Those who are desperate to look smart will never be smart.
Now that I’m getting up there in age I’m mellowing a bit. I no longer engage in conventional conversations about Aliens or the Loch Ness Monster. I conserve my energy by ensuring that my discussions of religion, science, the humanities and culture are limited to my ability to find someone, somewhere, with a great deal of knowledge in a subject. Unfortunately this is a rare occurrence so I mostly find myself in the company of books, websites and podcasts that pique my intellectual curiosity and hopefully teach me something interesting and useful. When I do get lucky enough to have a leisurely discussion about things I’m interested in I simply pester my interlocutor with questions - hopefully intelligent ones. I try. Oh, and sometimes I lecture on and on enthusiastically with my drinking buddies. I’m a terrible bore sometimes.
There are still things, however, that I’m willing to passionately discuss with “the faithful”, the “true believers”, the “deniers” and the “conspiracy theorists”. These are subjects I feel that I have a responsibility to discuss: Climate Change; Evolution; Science, what it is and what it does; How the human mind works; “Ideas” and how they become popular to name a few. We make choices everyday that can have a profound impact on our lives and our loved one’s lives. Therefore, I believe it’s important to know when to think fast or slow.
I’ve been listening to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe since their first podcast in May of 2005. The Novella brothers, Steven, Jay, and Bob, Evan Bernstein and Rebecca Watson are like family. I’ve listened to their voices every week for almost 10 years. What a run people - congratulations! When I finally got a chance to say hello to Rebecca at the event on November 20th, about all I could say was, “Hello family member”. I told David Young who was interviewing Rebecca, “I was channeling my thoughts through you both, almost word-for-word, for over an hour, and everyone in the audience thought that you two were doing the talking.” Of course, at this moment, I have no reason to believe in “channeling” or telepathy. I’m simply part-and-parcel of our culture - a culture informed by active, positive, scientific-skepticism. I listen to it, read about it and parrot it. I am still in search of an original thought. I have only form to play with.
Even though I read Rebecca’s blog, and am familiar with her views, I was still excited to hear her talk about her political sensibilities, and her stands on various issues. As I was videotaping the interview I kept thinking to myself, are these her opinions, my opinions or our communities opinions, or all of the above. I thought, I’ve said these kinds of things myself, many times, to many people over the years. Every word bounced around my head like an echo in St. Peter’s Basilica. (Where I envision myself preaching skepticism at the end of some great cultural paradigm shift of course.)
I was a “mystic” until 24 or so, not because of my insatiable reading in metaphysics, philosophy, religion, pop psychology, and other silly New Age stuff. I had a natural, youthful sense of mystery, and I liked stories, movies, theater and all kinds of cultural pursuits. I think this was a result of having traveled since I was a zygote more than anything else. My heroes in the 1970s, other than rock musicians, were Albert Camus, Frederick Niche, David Hume, Carl Sagan, any Greeks or Romans I could get my mind around, and Joseph Campbell. I loved “COSMOS” and “THE POWER OF MYTH” on PBS! And when I was working in my father’s wood shop, building furniture, we listened to National Public Radio.
Because of these interests and influences, I knew a little bit about the difference between myth and reality as rendered by the natural sciences and the humanities.
I couldn’t play the electric guitar, and my singing was just above average; I was sporty, but not a big time athlete, and it just happened that during the 70s and 80s girls also liked mystics. So I donned a mystical pose from time-to-time. I was a good story teller for sure and the mystical bit helped a lot with the ladies. Does anyone remember Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, A.K.A., OSHO? Those kinds of cults were full of attractive European girls back in the day. I admit it - that’s all I’m saying.
I still read a lot. I’ve had different eras where I read different things in different places. No doubt influenced all the way by random stuff I was exposed to. I loved libraries too, and I was the kind of student who would leave a class I was enrolled in and go audit some other class I hadn’t even thought would be interesting until a conversation or a book would impel me to look into it. By 1985 my reading began to focus on history, science (all domains), technology, politics and economics. Political philosophy was of particular interest. I also loved psychology. I became interested in business late in life. Having studied drama, and film in college I thought office buildings were just sculptures - I really had no idea what went on inside an office building. I had vague memories of ashtrays on desks from visiting my mother’s office. I would marvel at urban skylines, alleys and streets, and think of them as movie sets for me and mine. I loved pretending to be a beatnik, thirty years after their extinction, in Grant Street cafes in San Francisco, wandering the streets of the East Village in NYC, somewhere near St. Stephens Green in Dublin listening to a busker, watching Cricket in Holland Park in London, in tiny snack and beer bars in Tokyo, or in a cozy, dark cafes, or Greek restaurants in the University District of Seattle. I wrote more than a few rambling poems trying to "Howl".
Suckling your _______ I imbibe the sweat scents of new and obscure mysteries…
Silhouetted by solitary clouds, icy stars float in the zenith and the depths of the Universe
A lonely soldier searching for a worthy cause or a young man who contemplates death
I am all these things… BLA BLA BLA... OK, I'm blushing, the follies of youth.
I think skeptics are curious by nature. We love getting lost. We like finding out we’re wrong. At least I hope we do.
In the early 1990s I found Skeptic Magazine and was delighted to know that there were people out there like me. Back then there really didn’t seem to be many. I remember when Johnny Carson asked James Randy to help him expose Uri Geller on the Tonight’s Show. The Amazing Randy was brilliant at challenging all kinds of scammers. When his book Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions hit the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 1982, I bought it along with a Gill Scott Heron LP, “1980”, and had a really good week reading Flim-Flam in cafes with a glass of read wine and singing along with Gill Scott in my Corporate Utilitarian Vehicle (pickup truck) - “Shut’Um Down…” I forgot to mention my interest in ESP when I was in junior high school. I read so many popular books about it. Perhaps that’s really what started me down the skeptic track.
The 1990s were marked by “the economy stupid”, the tech industry, “.coms” and bubbles, and I was in the thick of it. Trust me, I’ve got more than a few stories to tell about ’85 through 2005 when SGU first appeared on my computer. Dabbling in the tech-biz-game and trying to satisfy an insatiable appetite for learning, while laboring to keep my proverbial shyte together, made those years an exciting adventure. Basically, throughout it all, I just wanted to know how things really worked, myself included, and I figured the best way to do that was to roll up your mental sleeves and get busy making mistakes.
I knew my thought processes were terribly flawed and I wanted to improve them. In the last 15 years it seems we’ve learned more about these subjects than all the generations that came before. I get excited when I see “Thinking Fast and Slow” and “The Art of Thinking Clearly” in airport bookstores. Back in 1990s all you saw were books by people like Jack Welch - everyone was a want-to-be CEO of a fortune 500 company or a (pinky at the corner of my mouth) millionaire investor.
That’s a little bit about my background and what led me to skepticism. Next let me refer you to some resources that might help you get started if you want to rekindle your interest, or start looking into Skepticism. For more links related to these subjects please visit, Links We Love on Globe Hackers.
I’d like to refer you first to a definition of skepticism from The Skeptic’s Dictionary. Please take a moment to visit the hyperlink and read the whole article. Take your time. Come back to this blog-post and continue reading when you are ready. I really hope you’ll read the whole article.
“One who doubts the validity of what claims to be knowledge in some particular department of inquiry; one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to some particular question or statement.” Michael Shermer
Now that you’ve read the article at The Skeptic’s Dictionary you should have a very good idea about what we mean when we call ourselves Skeptics.
One thing I want to emphasize now is that being a skeptic takes a lot of practice, it’s an attitude, a framework, a worldview, scaffolding for your brain, a discipline, a kind of brain plasticity, a way of life and a culture. It’s a mode of thinking that helps you ferret out what is as close to reality as we can know right now. It’s not cynical; it’s not merely debunking claims, and it’s meant to be a positive intellectual act. At least I think so.
Now I’d like to introduce to those of you who may be new to skepticism a few resources under the heading “Toolkit”. These are methods and tools one can use to begin a skeptical journey into the details of a subject of inquiry. None of these toolkits are comprehensive, they’re meant to be guidelines to get you started analyzing things so that you can discover if what is being said or claimed is likely to be as close to the truth as we can get at the moment: A consensus of opinion, of knowledge and understanding, or a scientific consensus.
Here’s a quick one: Skeptical Software Tools, Applying the power of the programmable web to the purposes of skepticism. Tim Farley is an incredibly active and hard working skeptic. Check out his websites.
(Caution: None of this can be taken out of its social, or cultural context. It’s a messy subject, I know, but all of our thinking remains within this human context, and people are complex hyper-social animals living in complex socio-economic-cultural-political worlds.)
Arguments require judgement. It’s hard to analyze premises. You need a lot of background information. You may even need deep expertise that you can only acquire though years of hard work. Steven Novella is a neurosurgeon and one doesn’t become a neurosurgeon overnight. The Precautionary Principle, for example, should be put in the context of the many details within the subject at question and surrounding the actions proposed (check out, “The Precautionary Principle In Action - A Handbook”). You can easily find it with a Google search. I included a hyperlink to an episode of “Rationally Speaking” in my last blog-post that included a discussion of, “inference to the best explanation”, which I think sheds a lot of light on our approach to inference and absolutes. It’s complicated of course. Basically, we try to come as close to “truth” as we can, while examining our premises, logic and thinking. Over time, our inquiry, our investigation, and our quest for understanding continues to evolve as our tools, the quality of our data and of our data analysis improves. This continued focused inquiry for the sake of inquiry and for the sake of the most accurate understanding of things in our world that we can currently achieve, is a never ending process (although we may get stuck in complex theoretical wrangling in quantum physics, and come close to a complete understanding in certain domains like classical physics for example). As the resolution of a subject sharpens over time we will understand it more clearly. Skeptics are comfortable with knowing that we are only close to truth, and we are less likely, hopefully, to need to believe that we know the absolute truth about any given subject.
There are also various forms of “The Baloney Detection Kit” popularized by Car Sagan in his bestselling book, “The Demon-Haunted World - Science as a Candle in the Dark”. Rebecca referred to this book in her talk as one she would highly recommend to a newcomer to skepticism. The hyperlink above has a good article about this, please take a moment to read the complete article and then come back to this blog-post when you have time.
“The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you’re so inclined, if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.” Carl Sagan
And of course, the method is science.
I hope you take your time with this post and go through all the hyperlinks. The resources are important and will help you in your journey to become an active scientific-skeptic and critical thinker. (If that’s what you so desire.) Again this kind of “kit” is one of many you will find from brilliant skeptics from around the world. As the skeptic community grows, new experts and inspired creators from across domains of inquiry are constantly adding their insights and knowledge to these sets of tools. Even Steven Novella will readily admit that it’s taken him years to acquire these tools and be able to use them effectively.
It takes energy and willpower to exercise effective skepticism and critical thinking. Certain principles and processes must be practiced and internalized to the point where it becomes almost second nature. I say almost because it’s really hard to monitor your thoughts all day long to ensure you are always thinking clearly. All of us are vulnerable to mistakes in reasoning. There is a very large scientific literature out there about these subjects. If you are one of the few who chooses to read these kinds of books you will find the subjects will constantly yield new and challenging information - simply doing so is a great exercise for your brain and spirit. We can use the analogy of muscle memory in sports, the more you train, the more you practice and use a skill, the more reflexive it will become. Your muscle has memory, just like your brain and your brain is embodied. Your brain and body are “plastic” and can be transformed. It’s fantastic! I’m constantly amazed! Your nervous system is more than the gray matter in your head.
And just another quick tip. If you want to learn another language, move your mouth a lot! Get your mouth and tongue on the language. What you do with your body will stick in your mind.
As skeptics we’re concerned with science and all of its methods, processes and tools: Logic, reason, and cognition; all grounded in the acceptance that we are all flawed thinkers prone to biases and likely to make errors in logic. The scientific method is dedicated to exposing these errors. We are also humble enough to know that we don’t have all the background information needed in every subject to carry on a highly informed discourse. In some cases our tools may be inadequate and in other cases our data may be flawed or our method of acquiring date skewed, or we may not have enough data. These facts are why we are so committed to skepticism, science and critical thinking. These facts are what keep us curious and constantly learning.
You’ll find lots of people with websites focused on another area close to our hearts: Critical Thinking. I’m not going to attempt to reproduce another introduction to the subject in this blog-post. If you want to read what might be the definitive guide to critical thinking, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Steven Novella and Massimo Pigliucci will be collaborating on a book on the subject that may be out in 2016. I’m going to preorder it now just to keep the gentlemen motivated. Believe me, we want to see this book on the bookshelves and in the hands of teenagers.
For now I’ll refer you to a couple of places that can give you a good primer on the subject. Here’s one that I like: “Critical Thinker Academy” with Kevin deLaplante. He has a very nice collection of videos on YouTube that give good introductions to areas of critical thinking. He has premium content on his website, and a nice podcast you can find on iTunes that will definitely get you started. If you haven’t thought about critical thinking in a while, it never hurts to go back and get another good introduction. You can take all of his courses online for $40 bucks U.S.D.
Another good introductory resource is from Hong Kong University: The Critical Thinking Web. I live in H.K. so I like to tell my Chinese friends about this website. I love this website, it’s got loads of good stuff on it. His resources tab has more than enough to help exponentially increase your knowledge of the subject so I won’t recommend anything else at this time. I’ll just say that there is a vast literature on the subject, a subject that has been too long ignored in public and private middle school curricula. I think all children should be exposed to critical thinking as an area study by middle school. We need interesting and engaging teachers devoted to this subject.
Oh, and one more, Great Courses also has a lot of good content to can get you started. Please be on the lookout for discount offers for super cool Great Courses on Rationally Speaking’s webpage or The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe’s webpage. I’ve also found that many skeptic websites and podcasts have been great places to get good book recommendations.
Please check the hyperlinks and continue when you’re ready.
Forgive me, now it’s time for me to explain why I think this stuff is so important. It’s a daunting task for me, because it’s such an important part of my everyday thought processes; it’s a huge subject of interest for me, it’s imbedded in my worldview. I believe these subjects are of absolute importance to the future of humanity, to our quality of life, to the survival of our species, not to mention other species of life effected by human behavior. Without a wisdom centered understanding of science, engineering, mathematics, the humanities, skepticism, critical thinking, and our natural ecosystem (our ecosystem being our only life support system that we know of in the Universe) our future will be in dire jeopardy. We really don’t want to experience the results of our unenlightened, ill-informed, and destructive activities. War is indeed hell, but knowing with certainty, that within a few years or decades our species will be extinct would be even more horrific. It’s possible friends. We all have threats to deal with, but extinction is the coup-de-gras - the ultimate tragedy. Especially when we potentially have so much to look forward to.
I want to look at children’s hopeful faces and believe they will have a chance to experience and do wonderful things.
I’m so passionate about skepticism, critical thinking and having a very good understanding of science, that I will never stop evangelizing about it. And I am proud to know that through these skills I can own my worldview. I don’t have to take it only on faith. Faith is important, but we have even more stable reasons to believe and take action than blind faith or fashion.
I think it’s vital to know what’s closest to factual, real, and truthful. We are faced with a changing world in which technology, and science will present us with totally unpredictable challenges that, if handled poorly, could result in disaster. We’re living in a world that could know more abundance, peace and prosperity than we could ever imagine, and yet flawed thinking could hold us back leading to disastrous consequences.
Some people in the skeptic community say they want to keep social-political, economic and cultural areas way off to one side, and focus on issues of science that can be more easily presented to a broad audience. Me thinks they fear ideology. Let’s go back and familiarize ourselves with the word. Wikipedia defines it as: a set of conscious and/or unconscious ideas which constitute one’s goals, expectations, and actions.
I can understand their point of view, but it worries me a little, because everything in the human world exists in a social, economic, political, historic and cultural context. There is no way around it. If we’re unable to discern how best to develop artificial intelligence, how to deal with the risks inherent in pharmaceutical medicine, how to handle disruptive technologies, issues of inequality of access to education and life transforming technologies, then we risk experiencing terrible imbalances that could eventually impede our progress and make us fragile to disasters that could put humanity back in the Stone Age. And it will be our fault if we don’t get it right. Odds are it won’t be a particular deity or an asteroid that does us in, it will be our naive credulity that allows our human adventure to crash and burn.
I don’t think any of us really want to see this happen. This is why it’s so important that we get it as right as we can with each and every effort. Things are moving fast. These times of ours are amazing, and exciting, but far from where we could aspire to be. Even if we enjoy the chaos, each of us understands that if we don’t respect our limits, and try to work within them, we will most likely not have a very healthy, happy, peaceful and secure life.
How much education and the quality of education people need is an open question much debated, but we know that it’s important for a long list of reasons. It’s a tragedy to waste human potential. Helping people discover the value of science, skepticism and critical thinking is one of the best ways to mitigate risks that plague humanity.
With these skills and tools we can challenge people to do better and discover more. I believe this process will lead to an even better world. I am not a Utopian, I’m more Dystopian than I want to admit, but I see the benefits of this worldview everywhere, all the time. And within the global community of skeptics, science lovers, scientists, philosophers, critical thinkers and intellectual seekers I find great hope that we can achieve marvelous things. I see the human spirit at its best. I see a way forward.
I sometimes wonder why I care about the future. Perhaps we’re just built this way, maybe it’s in our nature and the nature of the way we nurture ourselves, and our shared experiences that ultimately make us care. Humans are not only smart apes, we’re caring apes. One thing for sure is that enlightened skeptics appreciate their worldview as much as anyone can appreciate anything. We are truly thankful for the giants who came before us and who live among us. They allow us to wake up everyday to new discoveries. They’re hard working optimists who are never defeated by failure. They’re happy to find a million dead ends, if it means that one day they will emerge into the light of an unexpected discovery. Surprises, we love surprises, no matter how hard we try to control things and events.
If skeptics have fears, then they are well founded. We are a diverse community from many backgrounds with a spectrum of ideological baggage in our minds. We are far from perfect, in fact, I’ve never met a mature skeptic who was not humbled in the light of her knowledge of just how flawed a creature she is. It’s the tools and skills we have that allow us to be humbled by nature itself everyday. The awe and wonder that our famous friends talk about belongs to us too. We get it, we feel it as profoundly as religious people feel their love of God - perhaps even more so. And, we are just as committed to the love of reason, nature and our unique ability to perceive and learn about it’s functions, as to cherish it so sincerely, that I can’t but believe that as more of us get turned on by it, there will be a growing number of us on earth to share in its inspiration.
We are lovers of living and champions of life, we frolic in our consciousness and love humankind. We want things to get better for people.
When I was listening to the interview at the Skeptics in the Pub event I couldn’t help but chuckle. These people talk like me, think like me, love the same stuff, more or less, and yet we’re all unique individuals from all over the world. It feels good to be part of a culture, a community, and to know your community has your back. I don’t need to go to church, I know what’s sacred, even though so much still remains a mystery: My evolved nature is built to learn, and every member who contributes to society and to the team help me to acquire the tools to know more.
Reason, a scientific outlook, a skeptical approach and the application of critical thinking can help us better understand what’s going on in our society, it can help us determine what to value and fight for.
Dr. Tyson talked about the perceived threat the Soviet space program represented in the 1950s and 60s. This perceived threat could not have existed in an ideological vacuum. The threat provided the United States with the motivation to commit resources to the Space Race, a competition that the U.S. ultimately won - for a while. Now we hitch rides into space on Russian rockets.
Can there be a balance of efficiencies between government, academia, non governmental organizations and the private sector, that in combination, cooperation and healthy competition, and through combined creative force produce more of the kind of value we developed while jousting with the Soviets back in the 60s? Is it wise to elect people who believe that their job in government is to dismantle all public institutions leaving only corporate quarterly profit targets to determine our next move?
“I govern to make my job redundant” “If you need a doctor run down the street and ask the doctor down the block to put in that stint. Better yet, learn how to do it yourself.”
In the battle of ideas institutions matter. An enlightened constituency will find, promote and support better leaders. Better leaders will help people become better people. What economist call human capital, social capital, intellectual capital really matters. We have to trust that investing in these entities will produce value and growth. Growth isn’t always about producing and consuming things, it can entail producing and consuming ideas, internalizing values, learning new skills, participating in great adventures, shared feelings and experiences in community with others.
Do we do research simply to discover or only to produce a product for a derived market that will provide a profit next quarter? Shall we argue to discover knowing we can’t injure ourselves, or shall we argue to destroy our opponent potentially leaving ourselves in the dark with no apposing force to inspire us and make us stronger?
I don’t mind if Sam Harris states his opinions about religious extremist emphatically, as long as I know what he means, as long as he makes an effort to be perfectly clear. As long as he clearly states what he means by “X” and “Y”. I may be in nuanced disagreement with elements of his position, but I can still learn something from it, and in being clear and making a stand I can learn to refine my position; I can learn where I must draw and toe the line.
Tools that produce rigorous clarity of thought help me know what to fight for. This knowledge allows me to be totally responsible for who I am at the moment and gives my life meaning. When one of ours, a respected producer of skeptical content breaks the law we don’t have to apologize for him, or make excuses, and our hearts needn’t break just because we liked his contribution to our cause. We must learn something from his mistakes, because we are all only human and we make mistakes too. We can forgive when we see true contrition and reform. Trust can be resurrected in certain circumstances. I think I understand what Rebecca meant. “It’s a human issue.” One may rationalize one’s bad actions, but one probably won’t get away with it. Not if we stand up and call them out. Take it like a human!
I stand against misogyny, racism, ignorance, violence, hatred, inequality and destruction. However, we stumble upon who we are through conflict and cooperation, through opposition and collaboration, through knowledge and understanding. Good ethics are imbedded in our society and culture - we simply have to know when to conform and when to resist.
Politics, even in the skeptical community is unavoidable, it haunts us like a desire we yearn to fulfill but cannot grasp, or a distasteful duty that can not be shirked.
Should we build another space telescope? Should we poor resources into a manned mission to mars or a research platform on the moon? Do we need a particle accelerator in Arizona, or an impenetrable wall around Texas? (We can see The Great Wall of China from space. Who got there first?) Would cities without cars help us mitigate the potentially terrible future effects of climate change? Are we skeptical about the value of tar sands and fracking, or is cheap energy too important a factor in maintaining our position in the world? Does the possession of fossil fuel resources define our independence and our culture, or are there other things that matter more now? Tom Cruise might be a good actor in some rolls but he’s a Scieftologist: Why should that matter? Does war really give life meaning?
Forgive me, am I a “dick” because I ask these questions? Do these kinds of questions make you uncomfortable? Is my hemlock to be the limbo of silence and disempowerment?
Some people care if people believe in strange things and seek to find the answers. Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things” is but one treatment of the theme.
Those of us who contribute the most may have flawed characters. Some of us are simply better people than others. It’s a judgement call. Learning how to refine one’s judgement is important.
Life is a kind of battle. Vampires and Angels need each other it seems. Sometimes one can transform into the other. It’s important we know this.
We can’t separate what we’re doing from our cultural context. We live in community with others. It’s important to continue to invite those who stand firmly on the fence to join us in the garden of reason. Come in, sit here, and find your place. Come here and learn what creation is. These things surrounding you here are your relatives, each living thing holds more in common with you than you think. And each thing we’ve created is part of our legacy. The path to understanding this relationship is provided by science, reason and good old healthy skepticism. Through these things you can be made whole, you can learn about yourself and learn to better understand others. It’s a noble thing to be close enough to truth to catch its sent. Come here and refresh yourself. Come here and embolden your spirit. And yes, dance, sing, practice mindfulness and marvel in the profound artfulness of people and the awesome beauty and power of nature.
The old familiar books and slogans may provide comfort, and in those torn yellowed pages one may find a shelter within which all is known - for it is written - but what of those rhythms and rhymes that have yet to be written? Where is our sense of romance and adventure? Should the rules of the road never change, even when our survival depends on taking calculated risks and changing direction?
Each individual that I have followed and loved in our movement I’ve found to be passionate and full of vitality. There was nothing cold or uncaring in their quest to know their world. They were loving warriors, and loving warriors are the only kind that can win.
Our epoch, the Anthropocene began thousands of years ago. We share a proud intellectual history since the age of stories turned into the age of records and then into the age of action. The Renaissance and The Enlightenment held tenderly The Age of Wonder and Science which gave way to our Industrial Revolution, booms and busts, fits and starts right up through the Information Age. It seems that through all the terrible times things have only gotten a bit better. What will our future be like. Do we have a hand in shaping it, or are we just transient players determined to walk a straight line from birth to death? What gives our lives meaning? We know; we know. Stochastic meandering and curiosity fuels the burning bush.
These things of the mind that we talk of are not isolated, but connected things. And through the exercise of reason our hearts grow larger, more inclusive and stronger. We know what we love. Our community has many voices. We are indeed fortunate. We are indeed appreciative. We embrace life and our world like no other community. It’s time to be inspirational and try to reach the other side. This I believe.
We are one big invitation to an amazing and unimaginable future.
***I’m not an insider. I’m someone who loves the general principles of what’s been discussed above. Organizations will have good times and bad. People will come and go. We’ll know disappointment and rancor, but the fundamental principles of critical thinking, science and skepticism can still help us transcend our human foibles, and bad habits. The only reason any of us should have to be proud is if we are honestly in this to serve others with respect and dignity. We are a small and growing community and we should aspire to take the high ground. Honesty, transparency and consideration for people’s feelings should be some of our most important priorities. We have to try to be good examples and represent our culture as well as we can. For example, I can’t stand born again Christians who make no effort at all to be Christlike (in the Jefferson Bible sense). What moral authority can they claim if they are not a living example of their stated values. If our culture is going to grow, and I’m sure we think it would be a good thing if it did, we’re going to have to embody our most important values and act accordingly. I’ll try my best and I hope you will to.