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The Pain of Reflexive Skepticism PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by George Hrab   

tamyspeakerhrabYou see a lot, doctor. But can you point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don't you – why don't you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you're afraid to.”

 

Agent Clarice Starling, as played by Jodie Foster, delivered this memorable line in the most subtle musical of all time: The Silence of the Lambs.

(Sorry to so quickly interrupt myself preterpluparenthetically, but I find that with all good science-based essays, an early reference to homicidal, cannibalistic serial killers tends to put readers’ minds at ease, thereby allowing the general thesis to go down one’s mental gullet as if accompanied by a nice Chianti. Enjoy.)

As skeptics, we know of many examples of un-critical thinking that we often point to and label as not making sense. Like many. Like WAY many. Like maybe there should be an organization that keeps track of these things and has multiple conferences to discuss them, many. Oh… right. Anyway, how often do we as skeptics point the finger back at ourselves and try and determine what dis-critical trolls are residing under our own free-thinking neural bridges? When do we muster the courage to critically whack the credulous Joe Pescis of our mental Cosa Nostra? How hard is it to skeptically catch and re-hurl the flung knife of debunkment at our own unquestioning Lo Pans? And how self-congratulatory is it to come up with these sub-referencing, über-hyphenated metaphors?

 

The answers of course are not often, not soon enough, real hard, and pathetically self-congratulatory.

NOW- Being the trailblazing skeptic that I am (I was the first person to design and offer a “Randi Beard app” for the iPhone) I have decided to admit my own sins of credulity, and beg for your collective absolution.

Here then is a list of non-skeptical behaviors, thoughts, beliefs, and actions that I have been, and continue to be, guilty of:

I have an inexplicable need to shift and reconfigure my collection of “Real Heroes of Science” action figures so that each one of them not only gets to talk to someone new, but also has a chance to gaze out the window. (Plus, I get the weird sense that no one wants to be next to Wilhelm Roentgen for too long… and everyone is always macking on Marie Curie.)

I will not wear plaid two days in a row. Well, more accurately, I will not wear plaid.

Although I no longer subscribe to “step on a crack, break your mother’s back”—I do believe that placing your palm on a Vitruvian arch will give your father dyspepsia.

I have a very hard time trusting anyone in a kilt—UNLESS they are holding some type of bludgeon. Then I’m all about sharing.

I find it very difficult to give a ride to someone who insists on calling a lectern a podium.

Although I wholeheartedly believe that we DID in fact land on the moon repeatedly between 1969 and 1972—I seriously doubt that the astronauts could poop into a bag without giggling.

Whenever I exit a north-facing door on an odd-numbered Tuesday during a month with an R, P, or B in it, I have to re-tie my left shoe twice—UNLESS I’m wearing loafers—in which case I have to find a cat, a badger, a newt or a libertarian and rub their head three times, east to west, while stating Pi to twelve decimal places. Provided there’s no eclipse. If there’s an eclipse I have to do something kinda weird. I don’t want to get into it…

I refuse to believe in knock-knock jokes. That is to say I believe in small doses of humor involving doors on a macro level, but I can picture no way that large examples of inquisitive entrance-based comedic situations could have developed on their own. The concept of Humorous Design (H.D.) is the idea that complex systems of badinage require some type of “Prime Pie Thrower” to get them into motion. Obviously. Teach both sides of the funny, I say!

Witch Hazel is neither, and no amount of proof will make me see this differently.

I tend to cross my fingers while lying, but only when I’m lying to humans.

My uncontrollable need to undulate into a yogic pirouette while convulsing with a Merrick-like tremens spasm during a pathetic attempt to influence the flight path and eventual delivery of an already released bowling ball never fails to fill my pancreas with skeptical regret and embarrassment. “Body english” indeed.

I find the arguments compelling within the “Cubby Truth” movement (and all of its subsequent websites) that state with conviction and undisputable “proof” that the famous Mouseketeer was in fact a government robot.

You do indeed need to know when to hold ’em, but for some indefinable “gut” reason—and it pains me to admit this—I think that folding ’em is a much more transient type of concept better left outside of the construct of “knowing.”

I resoundly believe, albeit without sound evidence, that until the end of time every odd-numbered Star Trek film will be ok, but will be nowhere near as cool as the even-numbered ones. They ALL however, will be better than the Star Wars prequels. (But, then again, so is root canal performed by a Yaderan Ghergher beast, so that’s not saying much.)

I could go on and on with my culpatory self, but I think that these few examples of my hidden, shameful, credulous thinking processes should be enough for now. I hope that I can provide the courage for many of you out there to honestly look at yourselves and ask what non-skeptical ideas, beliefs and actions might be swimming around within your own brain pan. If however, you think this is all just a silly exercise, then I dare you to say “J-REF-JEFF-WAGG” ten times fast and see how cool you feel then.

George Hrab is considered one of the preeminent skeptic-science-atheist-geek-culture music icons currently living in his apartment. He produces a moderately listenable weekly podcast called The Geologic Podcast and his TAM7 performance will feature selections from his Occasional Songs for the Periodic Table, a 118-piece song-cycle comprised of one song per element. Seriously.


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written by MadScientist, May 09, 2009
Hi George, nice of you to drop by. Are your songs about the periodic table inspired in any way by Tom Lehrer's The Elements (inspired in turn by Gilbert and Sullivan's The Very Model of a Modern Major General).
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written by chriskepics, May 09, 2009
smilies/cheesy.gif
This was hilarious. Good stuff!!!
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written by MadScientist, May 10, 2009
@monstrmac1: check out George Hrab's blog and web site (in the link at the end of the article); he's definitely very likable. Anyone familiar with his articles would know the one above was mostly plain silly; George can be very silly but is known to be serious at times.
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written by thatguywhojuggles, May 10, 2009
Using such an advanced vocabulary in a blog article is a sure sign that this writer wants to let everyone know how smart he is. It bothers me when arrogant writers revel in there own syllables as if the length of word makes it more enlightening. I've never heard of this man before but I already don't like him.


And how self-congratulatory is it to come up with these sub-referencing, über-hyphenated metaphors?


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written by Paul Claessen, May 10, 2009
"a 118-piece song-cycle comprised of one song per element. Seriously."

Seriously?
I'm highly skeptical about this claim, George!

Since there are only 117 elements.
What is piece 117 about? (There is no element '117')
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written by Son of Rea, May 10, 2009
That was funny up to where he killed the horse, but I lost interest when he began kicking it.
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Lighten up guys
written by razmatazspaz, May 10, 2009
Can't we all enjoy a piece of writing (or music) just for the humor? I find no need to pick it apart when the point is so obvious and the material is funny. I enjoy George's cds (I think I have them all) and occasionally his podcast. Keep up the good work George. Going to take a cold shower now.
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written by Paul Claessen, May 10, 2009
"Can't we all enjoy a piece of writing .. just for the humor?"

No.
We are skeptics.


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Not again!
written by BillyJoe, May 10, 2009
Swift is filled with responders who seem to be completely bereft of a sense of humour. Try it and you're guaranteed a few negative votes at least. Perhaps they're commenting on the quality of the humour but I rather think they just don't get it.
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@ Son Of Rea
written by BillyJoe, May 10, 2009
That was funny up to where he killed the horse, but I lost interest when he began kicking it.

Good one. smilies/grin.gif

BJ
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written by zaphod, May 10, 2009
I Laughed till I stopped.
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written by mazyloron, May 10, 2009
Using such an advanced vocabulary in a blog article is a sure sign that this writer wants to let everyone know how smart he is. It bothers me when arrogant writers revel in there own syllables as if the length of word makes it more enlightening. I've never heard of this man before but I already don't like him.

That was funny up to where he killed the horse, but I lost interest when he began kicking it.

Yeah, pretty much. I get where Mr. Hrab was trying to go, but really, he tried WAY too hard, I think. There's a fine line between self-referential satire and pretense, and a sure sign you've crossed it is when you use over-sized words and convoluted sentence-structure for no apparent reason.

That being said, I do think a lot of people need to lighten up and just let themselves enjoy a little humor. I think this article was written and posted in the spirit of fun, so even if you didn't find it funny, at least appreciate the fact that someone's trying to have a little fun. Hopefully next time it'll be a little less over-the-top.

One last thing: when I saw the title, I was actually thinking this was a serious article. I think that would be a very interesting topic for an article. Or, perhaps a forum thread...
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written by Rustylizard, May 10, 2009
Great opening, George Hrab. I lost touch with my cannibalistic side after my last communion. Thanks for restoring that memory. And, no, I don’t employ any “uncritical thinking”, although sometimes I am skeptical of that.

I enjoy reading the wide variety of responses on this blog—from Mad Scientist’s typical logical approach to Billy Joe’s unconventional wit and everything in between. And without paying admission, we occasionally get to see a stunning example of a certified cracked-pot, like the guy in the crow suit who kept posting on yesterday’s "Protocol Failure" blog. What fun! C’mon guys & gals, we don’t want to emulate a bunch of stuffy monks holed up in a monastery.

So, let’s all grab a can of Coke, hold hands, and sing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing...”

OK, I’ll shut up now.

smilies/kiss.gif
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written by Dirt, May 10, 2009
written by Paul Claessen, May 10, 2009
What is piece 117 about? (There is no element '117')
Maybe it is about the element-117-sized hole in the periodic table instead. I'm sure it'll be found, or rather made, eventually. And it probably does exist occasionally somewhere in the universe, as high-energy particle collisions are a natural occurrence out in the cosmos.
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written by bigjohn756, May 10, 2009
monstrmac1--"in there own"!!!

Not only do you make an idiotic remark, you don't even know the right word to use.

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written by bigjohn756, May 10, 2009
I don't think that George will be giving many rides. I have heard the word lectern used once(maybe twice) in the past year or two. I am afraid that 'podium' is so frequently misused that we are stuck with it.
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Another rib-tickler
written by bosshog, May 10, 2009
Q: For what specific purpose or purposes did the distaff member of species G gallus domesticus traverse in a lateral direction the cleared pathway?
A: I fear your query puts me at a disadvantage - I cannot but guess at an answer.
A: Her purpose in so doing, quite simply and with a logic that attains to gemlike perfection and lucidity, was to place herself at an antipodal location relative to the one she had previously occupied.

Har har har!
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written by bosshog, May 10, 2009
I mean "Q:"
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written by CryoTank, May 10, 2009
Yay Geo! smilies/cheesy.gif
Reminds me of a piece I was gonna write about what Skepticism means for me and how one should not drown the others in overused metaphors and....I suddenly realized I was overusing overused metaphors. duh
Everyone should apply a good dose of skepticism on themselves from time to time smilies/smiley.gif
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written by Willy K, May 10, 2009
Hi there J-Refer's... Alex Trebek here.

If you have a through comprehension of all the cultural, scientific and literary references made in Mr. Hrab's piece, please contact us. We would love to have you on our little show. smilies/wink.gif

P.S. Oh drat, my knowledge of the universe is incomplete! I understood less than half of the references. smilies/cry.gif
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written by johnhattan, May 10, 2009
George Hrab is like a god, only better, born out by the fact that there aren't any smoking craters where the negative commenters used to be.

Having seen George play in front of literally TENS of people, I can confirm that he's the real thing. He can tell the difference between gravy and sauce with near-perfect accuracy, and he uses more profanity sober than Chris Hitchens after a quart of Tanqueray.
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Don't Give Up Your Day Job
written by Realitysage, May 10, 2009
First a video of a couple of awful musicians performing at a sceptic gathering recently and now this unfunny tedious overblown diatribe. Just goes to show that the only sceptic who is actually an entertainer is Randi. It comes from all those years of him being a magician and TV personality. This confirms the old cliche that writing comedy is hard.
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written by BillyJoe, May 10, 2009
Just goes to show that the only sceptic who is actually an entertainer is Randi.

Hey? I have just never laughed at James Randi.
Cringed at this howlers, yes.

This confirms the old cliche that writing comedy is hard.

Well the user has to play as well. smilies/wink.gif

BJ
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written by Diverted Chrome, May 10, 2009
Enjoyed!
Keep the (bio) rhythm, George!
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written by Diverted Chrome, May 10, 2009
oops, (geo) rhythm
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written by Pierre8550, May 10, 2009
Mr Hrab: a fine, funny article, worthy of SJ Perelman. Thanks for making me laugh.
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written by Kuroyume, May 10, 2009
OMG! LOL! BFF! smilies/grin.gif

Actually, I found the article witty and a nice satirical mirror inwhich we should all comb over what hair remains on our skeptical heads.

Biorhythms! Ack! When I first started to learn programming (C64 BASIC - dating myself), this was one of the first 'real' programs that I wrote. It would lay out the three sinusoidal 'rhythms' (physiological, emotional, mental) based upon birthdate and current date. Even then I wasn't overly believing in this pseudoscience but did it mainly as an exercise.
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written by Steel Rat, May 10, 2009
In the spirit of the post, here's my confession:

I think the idea of Ancient Astronauts visiting Earth during the formative years of humanity is a neat idea. And as whacky as Von Daniken is, I still think there are some weird things that he brought to the fore modern archaeology hasn't (yet) answered sufficiently. Mauybe I think this because I read "Chariots of the Gods?" when I was pretty young, and maybe it stuck a bit too hard.
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written by JasonPatterson, May 10, 2009
Funny, if a bit too long. I can get a ride from the author, as I routinely use the word lectern!!! My students look at me oddly when I do though.
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Heeheehee
written by NoisyAstronomer, May 10, 2009
That was quite funny. I was trying to imagine the verbal delivery of these, so I hope you read it on the podcast!
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written by partypooper, May 11, 2009
Far more hits than misses. Look forward to more from Mr. Hrab (and less from the chronically miserable and humorless trolls)
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@Bigjohn756
written by monstrmac1, May 11, 2009

written by bigjohn756, May 10, 2009
monstrmac1--"in there own"!!!

Not only do you make an idiotic remark, you don't even know the right word to use.


My remark was not intended to be smart or idiotic, it was just the way I feel. I really did not like the tone of his writing and so far I don't have anything else to go on. Its really not important how you feel about my comment but I do find the attack on my intelligence interesting. I have some experience writing and I know the difference between "there" and "their", I also realize that my sentence structure was poorly executed in the comment. However, this is a comments section. There's no reason people should have to constantly worry about grammatical mistakes in a comments section.

In summary, you are a pathetic human being. Go find something worth of criticism and then post a comment.
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I've been waiting for the time to dicuss Randi's delusions
written by COOL Skeptic, May 11, 2009
Here is something of which Randi is guilty as Hell! He suffers from the delusion that words somehow preserve elements of meaning from fossilized forms. "Creature" has no synchronic relationship with "Creator" or "Create". Perhaps it did once upon a time. But such things are not transmitted on some astral plane as the language evolves. When words change meanings they often lose all the semantics of the earlier usage.

Nor does moden usage of "Goddammit" hale any link to a divine being. It is simply an expression of frustration. Nor does the F-word from used as in It is a effing beautiful day! have any crude connotation. It is just a synonym for Extremely. The TV series Battlestar Galactica cleverly invented a new form of expletive and was able to avoid censorship. God forbid [= I hope not] the censors should intervene.

Those who would avoid "tainted" vocabulary will have a devil of a time. Cleaning out the Aegean Stables of our lexicons would make for good union jobs, perhaps, but it isn't going to work. Just relax and feel free to use allusions to religious items as fiction. Randi surely doesn't object to mentioning Superman or The Incredible Hulk in an appropriate context. Why not Jesus, Joseph and Mary?

I see no reason for skeptically-correct language police. English has incorporated many words from religion and given them entirely secular and often profane uses.

I write the above as a scientist, a linguist (Ph.D. University of Chicago). I son't mean to offend or insult Randi in any way. My personal religion (The Church of Original Life) understands that all humans are delusional and that this is an important step in the evolution of our species so that we can try to understand the universe. Without the capacity for delusion we wouldn't have survived. We'd have quickly gone mad from the realization that we are on top of a ball spinning at 1000 MPH and hurling through space at unimaginable speeds. This is not to say that all delusions are harmless. The delusion that using condoms causes "spiritual" damage has cost millions of lives.

We all have lots of delusions. In 19623, when I was 7, my grandfather took me to the Polo Field to see a new baseball team called the NY Mets. I convinced myself that this team, perhaps the most incompetent ever to take the field, would win the World Series. And I was at Shea Stadium when they did, in 1969. My delusion gave me much frustration but a lot of joy. I don't regret it.

So don't worry about spreading delusions by using common English. When you sneeze, smile when someone says "God Bless You!" It is just the same as "I hope you get better!" If you don't let delusional words bother you you will be happier, and, though I have no double-blind studies, you might even live longer.


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Goddamn! You don't say.
written by BillyJoe, May 11, 2009
On the other hand, the black man person, and the gay man person have sucessfully reduced the use of certain words by nearly everyone and virtually eliminated them from public discourse.

BJ
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Goddamn it...
written by BillyJoe, May 11, 2009
man should be man
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written by Kuroyume, May 11, 2009
I don't agree. At first you say, use modern usages foregoing archaic ones and then you acquiesce usages that have just been traditionally passed on generation to generation (archaic themselves). 'God Bless' simply goes back to the early medieval times and is antiquated beyond reason (attributed to the time of Pope Gregory as best I can tell). GoodBye (God Be With You) isn't so bad since the corruption at least imparts positivity while departing from the religious connotations.

The etymology of words is very significant, at least to me. The reason we argue about 'atheist' and 'atheism' is that it is a word derived from Greek (a and theos) and has a particular meaning which has been molded differently throughout time depending upon the referrer. Same for 'skeptic' and 'cynic'. Some people still, to this very day, call us skeptics, 'cynics'! This is preposterously hillarious since cynicism has its roots in Ancient Greece and is a philosophical stance of virtuism unrelated to modern skepticism in any way. The idea that cynicism came to denote some curmudgeonly attitude is divergent from its original meaning.

It must be remembered that English is one part Gaelic/British, two parts Germanic/Norse/Celtic, and one part Franco/Latin. And some of the roots of English go back to Latin because Rome was officially stationed in Britain for a long time and, of course, France (Franco/Gallic) was heavily influenced by Latin after being subdued and conquered by Rome (Gaius Julius Caesar). And Rome was built after Greece. Our current language paradigms are a mix of Ancient Greek, Latin, German, Norse, Celtic, and Gaelic.

I don't see any reason to sustain traditional vernacular and vocabulary just because it is common or accepted. It is in our denial to accept and our desire to improve that language bears fruit and clarity (like a fine wine - which I don't drink). smilies/smiley.gif
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@ Cool Skeptic
written by J.C. Samuelson, May 12, 2009
Nor does moden usage of "Goddammit" hale any link to a divine being. It is simply an expression of frustration. Nor does the F-word from used as in It is a effing beautiful day! have any crude connotation. It is just a synonym for Extremely.


In spite of my own rather prodigious use of both words referred to here, it still makes me uncomfortable to think of my daughter's young niece (5 y.o.) saying something like "Goddammit, it's a f***ing nice day!"

Might be funny as hell, but still...
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J.C. Samuelson
written by Steel Rat, May 12, 2009
In spite of my own rather prodigious use of both words referred to here, it still makes me uncomfortable to think of my daughter's young niece (5 y.o.) saying something like "Goddammit, it's a f***ing nice day!"


ROTFL
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Kids' language
written by COOL Skeptic, May 12, 2009
In my elementary school classes, the trendy expletive is "What the ...?" They claim they can't get in trouble because it is just two ordinary words! They seem to have won this one. Kids can be clever!
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What the....?
written by BillyJoe, May 12, 2009
Hey, that took me a while. smilies/smiley.gif
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written by LilaMae, May 14, 2009
@monstrmac1

My remark was not intended to be smart or idiotic, it was just the way I feel. I really did not like the tone of his writing and so far I don't have anything else to go on. Its really not important how you feel about my comment but I do find the attack on my intelligence interesting. I have some experience writing and I know the difference between "there" and "their", I also realize that my sentence structure was poorly executed in the comment. However, this is a comments section. There's no reason people should have to constantly worry about grammatical mistakes in a comments section.

Yes. Because it would be rude to post snarky criticism without giving someone the benefit of the doubt.

In summary, you are a pathetic human being.

I believe that's what's known as "projection".

Go find something worth of criticism and then post a comment.

Only following your advice. smilies/wink.gif

Oh, and the subscribe via email box is unchecked. I'd rather fantasize you said something thoughtful.
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