Thursday, September 24, 2009

Doggerel #201: "Something to Think About"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

The real world, viewed through science, is full of strange and wonderful things. New knowledge tends to add to its depth and form novel interactions. Science gives us a lot to think about. This post is not about that sort of thing.

Most of the time, in the context of skeptic versus believer, "It's just something to think about" comes across as a last ditch attempt to sound deeper than thou. The problem is that skeptics like me know a lot about the claims and methods of our adversaries. In short, we probably have thought about it and came to or reinforced our disbelief as a result of that thought.

One of the most frustrating things for me in such debates is a lack of new, useful information. Science demands certain standards. We have those standards because we are aware of how perceptions can be biased, and what methods we need to minimize those biases. Anything less is typically an anecdote with biases and lack of detail left intact, ad hoc hypotheses that exist to explain away failures, doggerel, and other innumerable defense mechanisms.

To me, "woo" is often just an attempt to disguise the mundane and boring as magical. Those who know about the flaws in human perception, the laws of probability, and science in general know a great deal about what is possible, and how it can be misinterpreted. It takes something truly extraordinary, unexpected, or unlikely to grab our attention. Unfortunately, we often face off against people who don't understand what that really means.


Unknown said...

Sounds a bit like, "I'm just sayin." -- Yeah, just sayin’ what exactly!?

One time had an argument with a friend over whether my rational, materialist world view was appropriate. Essentially, she just wanted me to admit to ‘other ways of knowing’ but she wasn’t getting anywhere so in the end she closed with a vague attempt to sound deeper than I. She said something like, “Well, I have had a number of very unusual experiences during my life. Maybe, one day when something profound happens to you, like it did to me, you will see that there is more to life than the scientific.”

To my credit I immediately replied, “I just hope that when my time comes and I also experience something profound, I can see it’s true, rational, material nature instead of letting my emotions and prejudices cloud my perception to the point that I end up believing in the supernatural.”

We left it there and never picked it up again. My point being that her final volley consisted of a similar insubstantial, attempt to give me ‘something to think’ about, but contained no information or insight. It was just a cheap, parting shot. An attempt to save some face.

Yakaru said...

"deeper than thou" - yup. That's summed it up. It's also a way of making some kind of claim without actually having to really make it, defend it, or listen to any kind of criticism of it.

Anonymous said...

Jason posted:
“Well, I have had a number of very unusual experiences during my life. Maybe, one day when something profound happens to you, like it did to me, you will see that there is more to life than the scientific.”

I've had a few weird experiences, like seeing a demon at the bottom of my bed, that started to pull the covers from me. I also experienced an invisible child climbing over me one night. These were a different type of dream, that were unusually realistic. A less rational person would have immediately chalked them up to the supernatural, but there were clues to show that these experiences were merely dreams.
I've also had a few coincidences happen to me. But these only occured once, and I think were well within the realm of possibility. Again some woo believer would have read the hand of woo in these events, but I didn't.


Valhar2000 said...

Man, I've never had stuff like that happen to me. My dreams are always dream-like, and I have not felt presences or heard noises or experienced coincidences (that were not entirely ordinary, if you see what I mean).

I am so very rational that things that would strike the fear of woo in anyone else leave me cold? I don't think so. Or do I just not have the proper brain centers for it?