Recovered: Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim

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Recovered: Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim

Unread postby pln2bz » Tue Mar 18, 2008 2:19 pm

Political, economic, and scientific theories can command the same unquestioning support from the general public as do their religious counterparts. Sometimes this support is imposed on us, but more often than not the public has indeed, to repeat the phrase, bought the message – and of its own accord, because of the emotional security it can bring to individuals (illusory, but none the less potent). Systems of belief depend on such complicity. Neither organised religion, chauvinistic politicians, nor the multinationals like opposition; in fact, they do their very best to quash it and force conformity and obedience on the rest of us wherever possible.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 2

This book confronts those empires in all their breadth – they can even include the institutions of science and technology, as Chapter 4 will go on to outline in greater detail – and the effect they are having on our lives. It insists that their expansionist aspirations must be resisted if we are to maintain anything like a democratic, pluralist, lifestyle that enshrines freedom of expression as a natural right for all individuals without exception. And by freedom of expression I mean explicitly to be able to criticise those running the empires and all their beliefs: to criticise them until their activities are brought into public disrepute.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 2

There is a pressing need for a concerted campaign on behalf of a sceptical attitude, and this book is designed to stir up as much debate as it can towards that end. I am at least as interested in why individuals buy into systems of belief that support empire-building as in the systems themselves: I want to argue the case for buying out. In scepticism, I would argue, lies the way to a more egalitarian future, in which conformity and obedience need no longer be seen as our destiny. We are under no obligation passively to submit to the power of empires of belief: that would be a betrayal of all that is positive about modern, post-Enlightenment society, such as freedom from superstition and authoritarianism in both public and private life.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, pages 2-3

Those in possession of ‘the truth’ are rarely concerned with such niceties as the right of opposition.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 4

Unquestioning belief is deeply embedded in our culture, and is striving to become even more so. It is all the more urgent to restate the case for scepticism under the circumstances, a skepticism acting on behalf of all of humanity. The claim here will be that we are in need of less belief and more doubt; less fundamentalism and dogmatism, and more scepticism – far more scepticism.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 4

Scepticism in philosophy is the position which questions the possibility of there being any absolute ground for theories of truth or knowledge, or for belief. All such theories depend on the existence of some basic principle, or central criterion, taken to be beyond doubt; that is, self-evidently true and therefore ideal as the basis for a system, which can then build outward from that point to construct a larger body of knowledge. Sceptics draw attention to the contradictions in such an assumption: that it is more an act of faith than reason. If something is assumed to be self-evidently true, then it has not been proved to be self-evidently true – and philosophy as a discipline depends very heavily on the notion of proof. Without rational proof, arguments are to be considered suspect.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 6

In his classic study, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza, Richard H. Popkin notes how scepticism in classical Greek thought was eventually formulated in the Hellenistic period into two main types, Academic and Pyrrhonian, describing these as follows: ‘(1) that no knowledge was possible [Academic], or (2) that there was insufficient and inadequate evidence to determine if any knowledge was possible, and hence one ought to suspend judgment on all questions concerning knowledge [Pyrrhonian]’.8

Whereas Academic scepticism became a form of dogmatism in its own right (there were no shades of opinion on the topic; Academics were certain, paradoxically enough, that knowledge simply was not possible), Pyrrhonian was more of a ‘mental attitude’ for opposing such claims to certainty, seeing itself as ‘a cure for the disease called Dogmatism or rashness’.9 Pyrrhonians, such as Sextus Empiricus, further wanted to achieve ‘a state of ataraxia, quietude, or unperturbedness, in which the sceptic was no longer concerned or worried about matters beyond appearances’.10 I incline more towards the Pyrrhonian position with its sense of being a free-floating critique of received ideas rather than yet another dogmatism seeking converts to the cause. While not wishing to suspend judgements altogether – particularly on dogmatism, in whatever form it may take – I want to retain the open-endedness of Pyrrhonian scepticism with its refusal to take on any aura of authority, its desire to remain a thorn in the flesh of dogmatists everywhere.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 7-8

Scepticism is essentially an argument against authority, contesting the assumptions on which this is based and the power that flows from these. That is certainly how we want it to operate in the new century, causing institutional and governmental authority in particular to be extremely circumspect in its ways and constantly aware of the possibility of challenge from within its own domain. Unless it is kept under constant scrutiny, such authority has a distinct tendency to become authoritarian and to strive to maintain its power base at all costs: scepticism will form the basis of that scrutiny, the perpetual source of dissent. We shall go on to consider the history of philosophical scepticism, including the pivotal role of Sextus Empiricus, in more detail in Chapter 1.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 8

We should think of scepticism more as an approach than a theory as such (although as we shall see in Chapter 1, it has had a long and distinguished history within philosophy, attracting some of the most acute minds in the field). Scepticism will be presented as a ‘little narrative’: a loose conglomeration of interests resisting the might of the many empires of belief that have come to dominate our social and political landscapes.13 A pressure group, if you like; but none the worse for aiming no higher than that, and one moreover that is open to all motivated by a genuine spirit of enquiry.

The little narrative of scepticism aspires to be a genuinely openminded, public-spirited critique of authoritarian paradigms which are more interested in protecting their own power bases than in upholding genuine intellectual rigour about their beliefs and principles. To be a little narrative is to have specific objectives, generally directed against the abuses being committed by the world’s powerful and dogmatic individuals, institutions, and corporate organisations, but to resist becoming a source of dogma in one’s turn. That last point is crucial; the primary motivation must be to remain a pressure group. This is not to say that sceptics do not, or cannot, have beliefs and principles they hold dear; rather that they will feel themselves under an obligation to keep examining these with the same open mind they do those of others. If one’s own ideas and principles cannot stand up to such scrutiny, then they ought to be changed. It is something of a balancing act that is required of us, but one worth persevering with, as there is no lack of empires to be confronted.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 11

The case for developing scepticism into more of a force in our public life is plain. Sceptics are confronted by determined opposition from the many adherents to the empires of belief we shall be examining, however, and those will not give up their power base lightly. Such adherents have extensive resources at their command, both financial and psychological, and they will use these to curb the spread of a sceptical outlook that is clearly inimical to their interests. I am speaking here not just of those in control of the empires, the officials at the top, but the ranks of believers whose commitment ensures that empires become monolithic in character. The power-holders of these empires traditionally display a pathological hatred of opposition as an expression of their zeal, and our twenty-first-century adherents are no exception. It is up to sceptics collectively to make life as difficult as they can for these exponents of empire; to worry away at their authority, to question their ideas, to call attention to their totalitarian leanings, and to refuse to give up when they strike back with all their considerable power and support.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 14

Western philosophical scepticism begins with the Greeks, and as we saw in the introduction soon settles down in the Hellenistic world into two main forms, the Academic and the Pyrrhonian. As I noted before, the latter is the one for which I feel the most sympathy, the one most inclined towards undermining ‘the disease called Dogmatism’ – the enemy of true sceptics everywhere. Its virtue lies in its very lack of claims; in its desire to be a technique for analyzing the claims of others, and identifying their shortcomings, rather than a new source of authority in its own right (a condition that Academic scepticism tended to gravitate towards). While classical Pyrrhonians wished to reach a condition of quietude, I am more concerned to use scepticism to create disquiet, not just amongst dogmatists, but within the sceptical community itself.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 17

Pyrrhonism is to be considered, therefore, more than just a historical curiosity. It provides an extremely useful point of reference for rethinking the project of scepticism in the twenty-first century. This is particularly so since, as Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes point out, Pyrrhonism’s emphasis was very firmly on belief: ‘The ancient sceptics did not attack knowledge: they attacked belief’ (whereas in modern scepticism it is often the opposite).


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 17

Descartes may have resolved his difficulties over finding a starting point for philosophical enquiry, but Hume never did, and bravely faced up to the consequences. It is in his researches into the nature of causality that Hume’s importance for the history of skepticism mainly lies. He called into question the connection between cause and effect, arguing that this was contingent only. There was no ‘necessary connection’ between causes and effects; we merely assumed there was on the basis of previous experience, and had no justification other than ‘custom’, as Hume put it, for projecting such experience into the future:25 repetition could not be depended upon. The uniformity we assumed to be all around us in nature was just that, an assumption, and could be breached at any point. Just because the sun had risen every day did not mean it would do so again tomorrow – and even if it subsequently did, that offered no greater probability for the day after that.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 22

Hume offers us a genuinely disturbing view of the world, although there are positive aspects to note as well: we are left with an open future and a powerful argument against determinism or predestination (those great standbys of monotheistic religions, and powerful ways of preventing us from questioning the order of things). We simply do not know what will happen next, although we can of course make an educated guess based on past experience, which will generally be confirmed (but you cannot bet on it). This is a state of affairs that some will find alarming, others exciting, depending on how much security you crave in your everyday life. An open future, as we shall go on to see in Chapter 3, is one of the cornerstones of poststructuralist and postmodernist thought, and those thinkers certainly consider it to be a liberating notion, worth disseminating and celebrating.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 23

At any one point the self was simply the series of sense impressions that were flowing through it, and these would endlessly change over time:

For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception. . . . I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement. Our eyes cannot turn in their sockets without varying our perceptions. Our thought is still more variable than our sight; and all our other senses and faculties contribute to this change; nor is there any single power of the soul, which remains unalterably the same, perhaps for one moment. The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, repass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations.28

Even memory, although it did give us a sense of past events, could not stamp unity on this process. There was no fixed personal identity that we carried with us through our lives, no central ‘self’ that endured no matter what happened to us; therefore, we must also assume, no certainty as to our knowledge either. With the mind as ‘a kind of theatre’, there could be no basis for unquestioning belief. Indeed, belief of any kind at all would be hard to sustain, with ideas constantly passing, repassing, gliding away, and mingling indiscriminately. We were deluding ourselves to think that we had anything solid to hang onto with which to construct a stable world-view. Again, this was a conclusion which some would find alarming, some exciting, depending on their psychological make-up.


Hume certainly did prove to possess the talent to make the selfimportant feel distinctly uncomfortable, and his scepticism continues to resonate in similar fashion through to our own day. So does, more positively, his insistence that sceptics have to do their best to engage with the everyday world: ‘To whatever length any one may push his speculative principles of scepticism, he must act, I own, and live, and converse like other men.’29


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 24

It seems to be a characteristic of contemporary mainstream philosophy (the analytical tradition) to try to neutralise scepticism as a philosophical position, calling into question its assumptions and methodologies. As one notable defender of the sceptical outlook,
Barry Stroud, has put it,

scepticism in philosophy has been found uninteresting, perhaps even a waste of time, in recent years. The attempt to meet, or even to understand, the sceptical challenge to our knowledge of the world is regarded in some circles as an idle academic exercise, a wilful refusal to abandon outmoded forms of thinking in this new post-Cartesian age.63


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 35

While it is perfectly reasonable to think that our senses could deceive us, as patently sometimes they do, it is altogether more questionable to generalise from this observation to say that they are therefore totally unreliable as a source of knowledge about the external world


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 37

The benefit of philosophical scepticism for Stroud is that it forces us to examine what lies behind all those ‘familiar assessments’, and this encourages a high degree of rigour in our reasoning.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 38

Scepticism is a normal and natural part of philosophical thought, therefore, wherever this is being conducted, in whatever culture; an all but inescapable stage in disputation about the basis for truth, knowledge, and belief. Even those committed to the grand narrative of religion cannot avoid scepticism’s attractions on occasion (nomatter how repressive the religion in question may be), try though they might to steer clear of the ‘malady’. I would rather see skepticism as a cure for philosophical pretension, a permanent internal critique of philosophical discourse, tactically geared to thinking the unthinkable, and saying the unsayable, about all grand narratives, in open opposition to the latter’s guardians. It is in the conflict with the world’s grand narratives that scepticism performs its greatest service for philosophy, raising doubt about the grounds on which claims are made, systems organised, authority assumed, and power wielded. It becomes a critique, in other words, of the drive towards certainty. Grand narratives, in philosophy as elsewhere, will always strive to give that outward appearance of uncontestable authority, and that is what scepticism is concerned above all to unpick.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 40-41

Neither authority nor ideology is to be accepted on its own terms; instead they are held up for disdain from their target audience.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 52

History was instead for Foucault really about power, and he came to distrust whoever held this, on the grounds that their desire for control would always lead to a marginalisation of those who did not conform to the norms that were set; that is, the different.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 62

The attitude towards authority in Foucault is resolutely sceptical, and he had a keen eye for how society tended to set up codes of acceptable and unacceptable practices across a wide range of human activities such that the different were soon exposed – and all too often exposed to scorn. Discourses were there to be challenged and destabilised in his opinion, and we could do so by encouraging difference and diversity of conduct wherever they were to be found: the more of these there were, then the harder repressive systems would find it to operate. Again, this was super-scepticism in action, with authority being cast in an almost entirely negative light as a barrier to individual freedom of expression. In the realm of poststructuralist theory at least, authority had no role at all to play in human affairs, and unquestioning belief in it was to be despised. Justifiably or otherwise, all authority was deemed to be authoritarian, with no redeeming features to be noted.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 63

Totalitarian theories cannot abide things which do not fit into their system, especially if that system claims, as fascism notoriously did, to represent the purest expression of humankind – the ‘master race’ mythology. Difference is an affront to such a belief, which wants to mould the world to its image and to control every last aspect of it, with no exceptions whatsoever to the rule.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 68-69

Lyotard’s dislike of fascism is plain to see, and he is anything but morally relative about it as a form of politics. Fascism was, is, and always will be, unacceptable. Whether his commitment to ‘not forgetting’ and ‘bearing witness’ can be worked up into more general moral principles is perhaps more doubtful, but at least worth consideration. In some ways these notions might be regarded as the basis for a sceptic’s charter. ‘Not forgetting’ means that we must never allow a political theory or ideology – a ‘grand narrative’ in Lyotard’s terminology – to explain away, or cover up, events that do not fit into their scheme of things. In other words, they are to be scrutinized constantly on the assumption that, given half a chance, they will most probably abuse their authority. Philosophers are being asked to become the conscience of humankind; to bear witness on everyone’s behalf to all breaches of justice that occur in the world and make sure these are included for all time in the public record. This is what Lyotard calls a ‘philosophical politics’, and it demonstrates his very high-minded conception of the philosopher’s social role.42 Philosophers are supposed to act in such a manner as to put a check on authority and unquestioning belief, not to reinforce these, as was the case with Heidegger. It is Heidegger’s silence on the issue of the Jewish question that Lyotard condemns most of all, arguing that the German philosopher ‘has lent to extermination not his hand and not even his thought but his silence and nonthought. . . . [H]e forgot the extermination.’4


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 70-71

Science and technology have taken on the dimensions of a belief system in recent times, and increasingly they set the agenda for how our culture is developing … [S]cience is arguably the intellectual paradigm of our time


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 74

There ought to be much more public scepticism of the scientific – and particularly technological – enterprise. Unquestioning belief in the value, methods, and objectives of science is all too prevalent amongst the general public, which will generally extend the benefit of the doubt to scientific practitioners. Science needs to be placed under permanent critique, otherwise it begins to take on a quasi-religious status that is inimical to the cause of pluralism – and science’s own ideals, it should be emphasised, which are certainly well worth defending. Sometimes, admittedly, this scrutiny can be misguided, as in creationist ‘scepticism’ of evolutionary and geological theories; but this only points up the value of the real scepticism being promoted here (we’ll return to this issue later in the chapter).


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 75-76

(death and retirement always work to the benefit of new paradigms,removing troublesome opposition from the fray eventually).


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 77

Douglas takes refuge in a saying of Aristotle: ‘It is the mark of a civilised man, and a hallmark of his culture, that he applies no more precision to a problem than its nature permits, or its solution demands.’5 The sceptic can only agree, regarding the search for perfection and certainty, and with them authority, as the source of much of our culture’s stock of unquestioning belief.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 77

Whether evidence is always transparent is another interesting issue. There is, as even devotees admit, a problem with the sheer volume of evidence available for consultation:


We still often need to search large databases such as Medline to find original research data because reviews may not cover our questions, may be out of date, and may not be relevant enough to real clinical problems. Databases of primary research are staggeringly large (there are more than 12 million citations in Medline, and 7 million in Embase). . . . Finding evidence can often seem easy, but those searching may either be blissfully unaware that they have not found the best evidence, or might suspect that there is still better to be found.9


When certainty becomes a matter of trying ‘to find the needle in the haystack’, as the above author pictures the process of data searching, we may begin to wonder about evidence-based medicine’s claims.10 Certainty can come to seem an all but unreachable condition.

The general public has an odd role in this controversy about methods and procedures, because, as Davies indicates, in the main it wants to believe in medical authority and its mastery of the problem solving paradigm. Most of us feel very vulnerable when being treated for any serious medical condition, and do not really wish there to be any significant degree of doubt about the course of treatment being recommended. ‘Informed consent’ may appear to empower the patient (that is the intention, anyway), but it is just as likely to be passed back to the doctor for ‘expert’ advice. Few patients will feel qualified to make such a decision on their own, to conceive of themselves as one statistic amongst many, particularly in extreme circumstances. It will only be after the event that we can think about the process, and wonder about the basis of the medical authority we trusted so implicitly. It is the public as much as the profession that is responsible for medicine’s obsession with certainty, and the consequent semi-deification of medical practitioners. Hence the rush to sue these days, particularly in the USA, when medicine fails to deliver as expected. We really do want to believe, we really do want the sense of security that such belief can bring. Davies’ plea for doubt and uncertainty to be accepted as normal both inside and outside the profession is one that sceptics everywhere must applaud – even if they might find it hard to live up to when they become patients themselves.

I say the ‘general public’, but there are exceptions, such as those who use and advocate alternative medicine. Such individuals are very sceptical of the authority of the medical establishment, which they see as resistant to ideas that do not fit easily into their scientific regime (generally because the evidence for the efficacy of these ideas is sketchy, anecdotal, or clinically doubtful). There is also felt to be a mistrust in the profession for treatments derived from more traditional cultures than our own in the West. Again, however, this is not scepticism as we understand it in this study, but commitment to another belief system – often because the official one is failing to deliver the release from doubt, uncertainty, and existential angst that Peter Davies feels nearly everyone is, unreasonably enough, demanding these days. To the outsider, alternative medicine seems to be largely a matter of faith, since if its treatments were scientifically verifiable then they would be absorbed into standard medical practice. In some cases in homeopathy and acupuncture this has occurred, but a market still remains for truly alternative systems which trade in faith and are not reducible to scientific fact – that is the very basis of their attraction for a certain kind of customer. We enter the grey area between rationality and spirituality (it is no accident that alternative medicine often involves elements of new age mysticism), and sceptics will always be wary of finding themselves there.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 78-80

Yet Darwin can also be used to reinforce Christianity, along with other religions as well, as David Sloan Wilson has argued in his book Darwin’s Cathedral. Wilson’s premise is that religion is an organism that has evolved over the course of human history, and that religious groups, through the process of natural selection, ‘acquire properties that enable them to survive and reproduce in their environments’.30 Religion becomes an adaptive process along Darwinian lines: ‘we should think of religious groups as rapidly evolving entities adapting to their current environments. Religions appeal to many people in part because they promise transformative change – a path to salvation.’ 31 For Wilson, religions have a ‘secular utility’ in enabling people to come to terms with a complex and often bewildering world, and the promise of salvation is a critical aspect of the exercise, offering a sense of purpose to human existence.32


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 84

Pearce also makes the salient point that global warming has turned into the new geophysical paradigm, and that those who are in any way sceptical of the paradigm can find it difficult to be taken seriously within the profession – or even to get their views published, especially in academic journals edited by global warming proponents. Peer review of submissions for such journals ensures that the ‘paradigm of doom’, as it has been dubbed, remains the dominant voice on the topic.41 In that sense the paradigm-dissenters may be deemed to be proper sceptics, up against an establishment which only wants to hear reinforcing evidence for its theories and is dismissive of anything to the contrary. The supporters of paradigms invariably close ranks when challenged, and those of global warming are no different: they will not entertain other interpretations of its data. To persist in such interpretations is to put one’s academic credibility at risk – no small matter for consideration in such a competitive field. A form of scientific fundamentalism takes over at such points, with ‘true believers’ vigorously defending their orthodoxy against supposed heretics. From that perspective, global warming sceptics are performing a public service in pointing out the gaps, and they certainly do exist, in the global warming case.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 89

Difference and diversity are precisely what the forces of techno-science are trying to eradicate, since they can only inhibit the total efficiency that is being sought through its increasingly sophisticated systems. From a techno-scientific perspective, homogenisation is what is wanted, and homogenisation is what it will pursue with single-minded zeal.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 94

Rana and Ross certainly put considerable effort into making their RTB model work, and demonstrate some ingenuity in integrating science and religion – if you give them the biblical creation span of six days to start with. Yet the question does come to mind: what if one does not need that hypothesis? In real terms it is the religion that requires the apologetics, not the science. Drop religious belief and most of the problems disappear – even if that does still leave the issue of what caused the Big Bang unresolved. But sceptics have no difficulty living with such metaphysical uncertainty; not enough to project them into unquestioning belief anyway. We find similar situations arising throughout the history of science, with ever more baroque modifications being put forward to save theories, rather than switch the perspective and devise new theories with less ideological baggage. Ptolemaic astronomy, for example, evolved complex systems of epicycles to explain why stars did not appear where they were supposed to do under its cosmological scheme (based on perfectly circular orbits, and an Earth-centred universe). In the later days of the theory these were, to put it mildly, extremely unwieldy, to the point of credibility ebbing away from the cosmological model being used. Eventually the discrepancies became glaring enough to encourage a radical rethinking of the model and its hypotheses, with the theory being scrapped in consequence in favour of the new Copernican system of cosmology.69


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 102

Scepticism is, in fact, in the best interests of science: without the sceptical temperament there is always the danger that science will lapse into dogma. Unless paradigms are prevented from suppressing or even silencing their detractors, unless new paradigms keep coming on stream on a regular basis, then science will not be doing its job properly. Not all of those detractors have a case to be answered – the creationists patently do not, and intelligent design’s assumptions at the very least call for very close examination – but all of them deserve their chance to question scientific authority and its accompanying mystique (as long as they acknowledge the right to be questioned in turn, and for others to question the paradigm as well).


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 104
pln2bz
 
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Re: Recovered: Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim

Unread postby pln2bz » Tue Mar 18, 2008 2:41 pm

PLASMATIC:

You do realize that "skepticism " philosophy maintains that NO certainty is possible , don't you. That the thought that ones senses are valid and therefore reliable , and ABLE to perceive the objective world correctly is IMPOSSIBLE. You may not be aware of this being the reason for this books campaign against REASON and Knowledge of any objective kind. It seems that you havent expressed this yourself , and from my read , you don't maintain such extreme a position, but Objectivity is more correct in my opinion , but that may be because I understand the philosophical history behind "skepticism".

PLN2BZ:

You're prejudging the materials. Pyrrhonian skepticism indeed does offer a useful framework for laypeople trying to understand complicated subjects. Read carefully ...

In his classic study, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza, Richard H. Popkin notes how scepticism in classical Greek thought was eventually formulated in the Hellenistic period into two main types, Academic and Pyrrhonian, describing these as follows: ‘(1) that no knowledge was possible [Academic], or (2) that there was insufficient and inadequate evidence to determine if any knowledge was possible, and hence one ought to suspend judgment on all questions concerning knowledge [Pyrrhonian]’.8

Whereas Academic scepticism became a form of dogmatism in its own right (there were no shades of opinion on the topic; Academics were certain, paradoxically enough, that knowledge simply was not possible), Pyrrhonian was more of a ‘mental attitude’ for opposing such claims to certainty, seeing itself as ‘a cure for the disease called Dogmatism or rashness’.9 Pyrrhonians, such as Sextus Empiricus, further wanted to achieve ‘a state of ataraxia, quietude, or unperturbedness, in which the sceptic was no longer concerned or worried about matters beyond appearances’.10 I incline more towards the Pyrrhonian position with its sense of being a free-floating critique of received ideas rather than yet another dogmatism seeking converts to the cause. While not wishing to suspend judgements altogether – particularly on dogmatism, in whatever form it may take – I want to retain the open-endedness of Pyrrhonian scepticism with its refusal to take on any aura of authority, its desire to remain a thorn in the flesh of dogmatists everywhere.


Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim, page 7-8

PLASMATIC:

Laughing .... You do realize this is not a rebuttal right??? It just means that one says "I know knowledge impossible" and the other says " I dont know if its possible but Ill critique your ideas no matter what they are , but never dare to attempt to to say that something else is correct ,or take a stance on anything. Ill be happy with saying "no one knows " and pretend that my critiques of your ideas are not judgments in them selves , because I havent thought long enough to realize that to say otherwise is a contradiction, and therfore worthy of abandonement"

But thats just my take . No pretense of force here , just being honest. Wink

PLN2BZ:

I don't agree that a philosophy of science needs to make any statements that something is correct, or "take a stance on anything". A philosophy of science is useful if it can be applied and lead to useful results or better understanding. Hopefully, it's clear that a proper philosophy of skepticism would drive more people to investigate the fringes of scientific discourse. In the case of complex issues like cosmology and the aether, I've found Pyrrhonian skepticism to offer a valuable framework for keeping us cautious in formulating premature consensus. It can serve this limited role without having to propose a complete philosophical solution, and solving this limited problem actually leads to a great amount of benefit -- especially for laypeople attempting to understand these complex issues, but also in generally inducing us to expand the breadth of our investigations. What you will find when you talk to people about their beliefs regarding science is that they place extreme faith into establishment science. Pyrrhonian skepticism suggests nothing more than that establishment science should never be allowed to feel too comfortable. It suggests that the public should create systems whereby establishment science must constantly defend itself. This, by itself, is a very important statement because it leads to the conclusion that peer review requires its own third-party review, and that the lack of such an entity is in fact part of the problem of science right now.
pln2bz
 
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Re: Recovered: Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim

Unread postby Plasmatic » Fri Mar 21, 2008 4:29 am

Pln2bz wrote:I don't agree that a philosophy of science needs to make any statements that something is correct, or "take a stance on anything".


Heres the problem, and my point. YOU JUST TOOK A STANCE, precisely because you feel my point was NOT "correct." All I'm pointing out is that YOUR motivation and that of Skepticism, Pyrrhonian or otherwise are NOT the same. You are mis-integrating the foundation of the word and concept, in spite of a decent motivation. The reason skepticism is nonsense is because it disregards these exact premises. The only context of knowledge is one that requires what Skepticism tries to dismantle! Nonetheless your intention is an honorable one IMO. ;)
"Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification"......" I am therefore Ill think"
Ayn Rand
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
Aristotle
Plasmatic
 
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Re: Recovered: Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim

Unread postby pln2bz » Fri Mar 21, 2008 10:41 pm

To be clear, it's Stuart Sim's philosophy. All I've done is agreed with his claim that we'd all be better off if we thought this way. If you want to imagine that it's not called "skepticism" or that it's not actually a real philosophy of science, that doesn't change the fact that it's incredibly useful for helping laypeople to understand very complicated issues.

:)

It's value derives entirely from the fact that it is an appropriate reaction to the current predicament in science -- the eagerness to formulate premature consensus. Without that singular problem in science today, we'd all be way better off. So, to formulate an information filter -- an alternative term that Sim suggests -- that solves that problem is very effective and helpful.

I know that this is true because I've been using this strategy to write all of my papers lately. I frequently ask the audience what a skeptic would do, and it's extremely useful as a writing technique. Skepticism essentially turns memorizers into thinkers, which is just what is needed to get people to consider the Electric Universe, Nikola Tesla, aether theory, and so on. True skeptics tend to listen to both sides of an argument.
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Re: Recovered: Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim

Unread postby Plasmatic » Sat Mar 22, 2008 5:15 am

an information filter


You already have one its called the faculty of "REASON" . Heres my point , the use of objective reason is a volitional activity. when one does this ,one will already be differentiating and integrating. Of course one can mis - integrate concepts. But Scepticism as a philosophy , as well as Stuart Sims implicit theme [ Ive read quite alot of it now ] is that Integration is impossible or at least doubtful to the point of non consideration. And so since "certainty" is an "illusion" no one should be allowewd to take a firm position on anything , even if the fact of reality have been properly reviewed and integrated in context. DIssention for the sake of dissention because how dare you be so "egotistical" as to "believe" your right and that its even possible to be so. Modern self abnegation!! Its an old concept brother , ask PLato!
"Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification"......" I am therefore Ill think"
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"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
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Re: Recovered: Empires of Belief by Stuart Sim

Unread postby MGmirkin » Sat Mar 22, 2008 4:48 pm

Not necessarily a "Resource," per se (Resources are more like science sites, news sites, paper archives for doing research, I think). So, I've moved it over to to he NetTalk section of the forum (having to deal with issues of how EU is perceived, how science is/should/shouldn't be done, etc.). However, I've left a copy of the link in the "Resources" forum, in case anyone is expecting to find it there. In fact, one could almost put this thread in the "Human Question" thread, since it deals with the human mind, how we deal with things, etc. But, I still think the NetTalk section is still probably most appropriate? If not, I suppose it could always be moved back...?

Cheers,
~Michael Gmirkin
"The purpose of science is to investigate the unexplained, not to explain the uninvestigated." ~Dr. Stephen Rorke
"For every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD." ~Gibson's law
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