Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Why You Woos Got to be Such a Downer, Maaaaan?

Heads up: This post is going to be on the foamy side.

One of the things that always irritates me about woos is their rampant hypocrisy: They're usually the ones accusing us skeptics of being limited, small-minded, and so forth. What's really annoying is that they've usually got Hollywood on their side, spouting unrealistic propaganda about skeptics, logic, intellectuals, and science.

First, what I find most annoying is that they've done everything they can to associate skepticism, materialism, science, and even knowledge intimately associated with depression. They constantly preach by implication that discovery is a bad thing. How the frell is a philosophy of constant discovery, improvement, and bravely striving into the unknown depressing? Our universe may not have The Force, 20th level wizards, and warp drive (yet), but every time we use science, we tend to find that the universe is even cooler than we initially thought. It's becoming an increasingly common occurrence for me to surf my blogs and find a new discovery that blows me away. That's a real joy. Heck, to use an example of 'stealth skeptics', there's usually something that surprises me on Mythbusters. You'll often catch me doing a joyous, sputtering laugh when such a thing happens, followed by me reporting the results to everyone in my meatspace vicinity.

And I have an entire universe of these surprises awaiting me! Instead, however, the woos would prefer that we discuss the same failed, unsurprising, uninspired, perfectly mundane, and, in short, boring canards for eternity while they scream and moan at us daring to even possess curiosity and a penchant for suggesting experiments.

Next on this list is the crazy idea that skeptics are limited. The only limits we have are those reality itself puts on us. Science works through methodological materialism. You can dispute the various definitions, but the way I see it: Anything that has an effect is by definition material. If telekinesis can bend a spoon, telekinesis would be included in materialism. If souls exist, and can communicate from wherever, or affect all those electrochemical signals bouncing around in our heads, souls would be included in materialism. In short, anything that can do stuff is included. How is such an inclusive philosophy limiting? Woos, on the other hand, are often astoundingly quick to say what known material stuff can and can't do, and then they'll refuse to discuss the evidence when we show clever things the universe can do. In the words of that great skeptic with the (material) soul of a poet:
How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths." -Carl Sagan
One pair of characters that brought both amusement and irritation in the videogame, Okami, was the denialist (and most certainly not a skeptic) mother and her believing daughter. For those who haven't played the game, Okami Amaterasu (Ammy to her friends) is a goddess in the shape of a wolf. To most mortals in the game world, she appears to be just a sociable snow white wolf. Other 'supernatural' beings and humans with sufficient belief in deities, however, see Ammy's true form, covered in red markings and a divine instrument (weapon) floating over her back. The daughter can see Ammy's true form, and the mother can't. At this point, in the game, I already devised a method for proving one of Ammy's unusual characteristics. All it takes is finding another person who can see her true form: First, have the daughter draw Ammy's markings and divine instrument. Making sure there's no information leakage to the other believer, have him draw the same. If they get the same result, that's a positive mark. Replicate for other believers whenever possible. Ask Ammy to change out her invisible divine instruments between experiments to see if all the available believers produce the same instrument each time. Despite what woos try to imply, it's quite easy to prove photography to a blind man. Science is in the business of doing that sort of thing: Making the invisible visible. Too bad I couldn't put words in Issun's mouth, and Ammy can't really form words.

And that's before the mother starts demanding miracles and moving the goalposts when they occur. What's oddly amusing about the whole thing is that she sounds like a Creationist in the real world when we show just what clever methods and amazing abilities the material world has. She demands a tree sprout up right in front of her, so I make a tree sprout in front of her (through tightly arranged cobblestones in one instance!). Then she demands that it rains right after the tree sprouts, so I try the next best thing available to me: Spraying her with water from the adjacent waterway. That doesn't trigger a scene, and neither does a (mild) lightning bolt. So once I found out that some of Ammy's power have greater version, I'm off to see if her water manipulation allows for rain if I find some secret area or something. (Anyone? I decided to play the game cold, so I still won't look at gamefaqs.) Eternally moving goalposts are a pain. Give me someone who'll commit to one set of protocols per claim, like Randi demands, any day. And yet, whenever someone like that denialist mother shows up in popular media, woos pretend that we're just like their mirror opposite: Same tactics, different conclusions.

Still another annoyance that spills over into rage is that woos seem to think that the whole skepticism thing is like prudishness: That we're all just wet blankets, raining on their parade because we've got nothing better to do. The big problem with that: Woo is harmful. Woo can even kill. Worse, woo can even sometimes drive people to kill. Some of the more 'innocent' woo out there risks closing people's minds: If you didn't get into your belief through reasoning, it's often astoundingly hard to get yourself out of a wrong belief. Skepticism and science demand that there's always an escape from wrong ideas: All hypotheses and theories must be falsifiable. Woo has no such demand. Next up, are the various forms of fraud, where woo frauds demand money for their nonexistent services: They lie to people in order to make money. And the unconscious frauds who authentically believe in their power set up the atmosphere for their customers to fall for more fraud. How can we not feel anger, rage, and disgust? Lying to people for personal gain is wrong. The woos who leap to the defense of these frauds always, always avoid that issue, and act as if our disgust for immorality is a failing on our part. "Why are you so angry? Why are you so obsessed?" Should we just cease caring about people? Are we supposed to just wall off our sympathy and compassion? I refuse to. Thinking is a part of caring, and I will continue to do both.

Another horrid lie is that skeptics are dispassionate, uncaring, and without emotion. The above section should have blown that one out of the water. We seek the truth because we care about people: The first thing you need to improve reality is to know something about it. Pretending to possess knowledge while handwaving away epistemology is the best way to get stuck in a rut with your closed mind.

By fighting for truth, knowledge, and open-mindedness, we're arming ourselves with the best tools for making the world a better place, and encouraging others to do the same. Reality can be harsh, but that's why we need to put aside our biases, authorities, and egoism: We can make the world a better place. Why dream of what might be, when we can cherish what is as well as work towards finding out if those dreams are possible? A dream is only a dream until you make it happen. Woos would have us return to the unexamined slumber of the Dark Ages. If we don't return to enlightenment values, we'll be creating a Dim Age.


Q said...

Hey there. Recent reader, first time poster. Love the site and opinions.

**Slight spoilers below**

Thought I'd clue you in on the rain skill in Okami though. I assume you've done all you need around the palace, but have you checked the small pool behind the Queen's residence proper (the square one behind the tower where she lives)? You'll find her attendant there and she'll help you persuade Camille (or was it Camilla?).

Keep up the good work!

Bronze Dog said...

Thanks. Forgot about that spot among all the other things. I'll be all on it in my next replay.

Chris Noble said...

If souls exist, and can communicate from wherever, or affect all those electrochemical signals bouncing around in our heads, souls would be included in materialism. In short, anything that can do stuff is included.

Exactly! You can't have your woo and eat/measure it too.

Woo proponents just love to appropriate quantum mechanics because it is counter-intuitive to "common-sense" notions of materialism. Quantum mechanics is a form of scientific materialism.

If you get an MRI scan you are getting your the quantum state of your protons manipulated.

Bronze Dog said...

Small note I picked up on the "have your cake and eat it, too" expression: Originally, it was "eat your cake and have it."

I think the original expressed the intent: You can't both consume your product and save it at the same time: You can't do two mutually contradictory actions at the same time.

Chris Noble said...

1562 J. HEYWOOD Prov. & Epigr. (1867) 79 What man, I trow ye raue, Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?

It's definitely less ambiguous with the "eating" and "having" in that order in the phrase.

Ryan said...

Somethin' piss the Dog off today? Not that I blame you. Well said.

Berlzebub said...

Give 'em hell, BD. Maybe, just maybe, one of the woos will pay attention to what we're trying to get through their close-minded skulls. Doubtful, but maybe.

Margaret said...

Bronze Dog said "If souls exist, and can communicate from wherever, or affect all those electrochemical signals bouncing around in our heads, souls would be included in materialism. In short, anything that can do stuff is included."

Thomas Jefferson said something similar: "To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart."