Sunday, September 13, 2009

Woos and Experience

I've got six of these so far. Guess that qualifies as a series.

Granted, this comes from personal experience, and that requires taking it with a grain of salt, but in my experience, many woos prize personal experience above all other forms of evidence. This is precisely backwards.

There's a reason anecdotes are considered the least credible form of evidence. People have biases. These biases can change what details a person focuses their attention on. Lack of knowledge can make a known, boring phenomenon into a supernatural experience. That same lack of knowledge can also render them vulnerable to trickery a more wary person could see through. Biases can color a person's memory. Biases can force connections and causes where none exist.

When we point these things out, it's common for the woo to indignantly say we're accusing them of stupidity or dishonesty. That's hardly the case: Everyone has these problems. Often, the only dishonesty involved is that which the woo performs on himself: They aren't being honestly acknowledging their flawed nature. This is known as arrogance, and is one of the most frustrating things I have to deal with.

Raw volume of experience is worth nothing if you don't know how to take measures against your biases. I've seen ufologists so excited about seeing alien spacecraft that they apparently watch the sky every night, but can't even identify an airplane. Most cases don't go nearly that extreme, but those biases do affect a person's perceptions.

Those flaws that affect all of us are part and parcel of why we need science. Scientists don't perform statistical analysis for the fun of it. They don't repeat experiments out of boredom. They don't replicate other people's work for the "me too!" glory. They don't point out other people's experimental flaws in peer review because they're jerks. They do it because they're diligently double-checking all the work. Small mistakes can really add up over time, and science is quite often a field where lives and livelihood are at stake. Catching mistakes when they're still small in scope is vital.

Too many woos, however, spend their time thinking they can't make mistakes when it comes to personal experience.


Berlzebub said...

"When we point these things out, it's common for the woo to indignantly say we're accusing them of stupidity or dishonesty."
Actually, at this point we're pointing to their ignorance. If they continue to assert the same claim after we've pointed out the incosistency, then I start to call them stupid and dishonest.

It's far too easy for a person to tamper with their own memories of an event, and especially is the event is "evidence" of something they want to believe in. However, I've gotten to the point that I'll only give someone two chances when I'm in a debate. If I have to post a third time to refute fallacies or irrational beliefs, and they haven't shown the slightest inkling of understanding of why they're wrong, then I wash my hands of them.

Depending on my mood, I'll either simply call them out on their stupidity or just simply let it go. Lately, I've been too busy to pursue such things, but if what they say is particularly stupid then I can't help but give them a cyber-lashing.

Berlzebub said...

And that should have been inconsistency.

Yakaru said...

It's ploy to avoid tricky questions. In earlier times spiritual people (thoesophists, anthroposophists etc, from whose work the New Age is derived) had complex and fairly coherent philosophies, which were actually not so unthinkably incongruent with the gaps in the science of that time. (Or at least with sciernce as popularly known at the time - vitalism was still only recently put to sleep, for example).

But those days are gone, and they have to either torture science into some weird form and insist they have its support, or they make some silly statement and insist that they know from personal experience that its true.

Theosophists and the like thought (and still think) that a theory is stronger the more unfalsifiable it is. So at least their making some kind of effort, even if its in completely the wrong direction. But New Agers don't bother with any kind of coherence.

Anonymous said...

atheists cause 911 - treat them accordingly

djfav said...

Fuck off, Dave. And get help.