Solve et Coagula or Against the Debunkers: A Response to Skeptics

Solve et Coagula or Against the Debunkers: A Response to Skeptics

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.- Hamlet, Act I, Scene V.

At risk of typing up a huge non sequitur, the recent Who Forted article on James Randi had brought some ideas to mind about skepticism and debunkers in the paranormal community. It has helped me express, in part only mind you, why I am a magician.

It seems like people such as James Randi, the folks at Skeptic Magazine, the Brights, that one smug guy that used to be on UFO Files, and even some folk who have been on this site are all very proud of their “contribution” to science. But who really notices or cares? Yeah, I can understand what Greg was saying about “pulling weeds” but considering even something as microcosmic as the nature of dialogue on this site, by those who don’t seem to be professional skeptics, is it really that necessary?

Yes, there are people who believe in ghosts, aliens, the New Age, and Bigfoot wholeheartedly and think that magazine horoscopes can tell the future; they’re generally pretty annoying. They make us, those people interested in the paranormal, strange, or occult, look like credulous fools a lot of the time. I mean, Giorgio A. Tsoukalos makes anyone whose ever said that aliens have visited the planet in the past look like a bunch of twats. But then, no one is really listening to these people and those who do are too busy preparing for the December end of the world in some cabin in the Yukon to affect anyone else. Or masturbating in their mother’s basement… the point is those who really, really, believe in big, blank eyed analrapists from Zeta Reticuli aren’t a threat to science or consensus reality. They don’t even have the respect of their fellow enthusiasts. The nuts don’t need James Randi to make themselves look bad.. they do a fine job of it themselves. Yes, occasionally cunts like Jonathan Edwards will dupe a lot of people into giving him money for his make believe talent or produce a show on air… that’s bad. I think we can all agree with that. However, religious sects, political ideologies, pharmaceutical companies, or event old fashion business scams all do the same thing on a daily basis… it’s called human greed and corruption and it isn’t limited to the paranormal community.

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These crusaders of rationality, presumably driven by the righteous disdain for charlatans and their condescending pity for their victims, then ride out upon a wave of self satisfaction and generally try to take the wonder out of life. If you believe that some light you saw in the sky was something unexplainable you’re an idiot and should be treated as such. If you draw a connection between some strange encounter and events in your personal life based on intuition you’re pathetic. If you don’t accept that all of human existence is diagrammed, mapped, and can be put away into neat cubicles you are either a dupe or a fake.

They enforce the cultural malaise that’s been haunting us since the Enlightenment. (In no way whatsoever am I saying that the conditions of living, the institutions that provided meaning, or the societal structure was better before the Enlightenment. Stick with me for a moment.) While the mass advent of rationality and science in the Western world has done a whole lot of good, arguably more so than any other institution, a nasty side affect was robbing man of his sense of meaning in the cosmic scheme. (Don’t like Christianity or any religion myself so no endorsements that way.) While I’m tempted to say for most people this was an okay thing, I do not believe that most “normal” human particularly need god or spiritual belief except during times of crises, it really wasn’t okay in the end. While I still would maintain that a select few people need an actual dialogue with whatever their idea of god is, everyone needs some kind of purpose in the background.

Jung once said that people who believe in UFOs are missing a vital factor in their life. They see or want to see the mandala to give them a sense of interconnectedness. I remember being sad when I first heard that because I realized it was true; I was missing something and my weird pseudo-Nieztchean/ pseudo-Apocalyptic yearning for UFOs did fulfill that. Then I remember coming to terms with that and being okay with the whole mess of myself. It’s okay I’m missing a part of myself because humans, in my reckoning, are incomplete and small in comparison with the Universe; there’s nothing stupid about wanting to somehow reconcile yourself with the facts of life, the Universe, and everything. I then put all the pieces of my life together/hit rock bottom and devoted myself to magic; I have a pretty meaningful existence in my mind and am always striving for more. I’m okay with the idea that I may be insane or ridiculous in other peoples eyes. Even thinking that war is ever necessary or that the government, McDonalds, or what-have-you, is anything less that banal human evil are pretty insane notions to me and most everyone in society buys into those myths.

But I digress. Some of these debunkers are high and mighty in their attitude and bearing. They believe themselves to be above our childish need for UFOs or god and are much wiser and more advance than the rest of us. Some are so self-deluded they believe that their way of living is better and ultimately more satisfying than the rest of humanity’s and they must help us all reach their level. Look at Ricky Gervais, Richard Dawkins, and other celebrity atheists today and their evangelical need to tell everyone that there is nothing after this life and our prayers are futile. Damn, their attitude is a lot like that one other institution that thinks their ways are better and tend to force it down other’s throats… what’s that called… damn, its on the tip of my tongue… oh yeah… religion.

The fact is Randi, Gervais, a few folks who hang out in the comments section here at Who Forted (shouldn’t they be above our silly activities?), are as every bit as small and pitiful as the those they so violently revile. They are desperately trying to make sense of the Universe themselves. They’ve just performed a double-blind. They have “explained life” to themselves by categorizing it and adopting their dead-end philosophy of materialism. Every thing can be explained, damnit, and you better accept that! There is no mystery and there hasn’t been for ages! I know how the universe runs! Heathens! Heretics! Fools!

They harp on and on… if anyone possibly believes otherwise… then maybe they don’t know everything and, oh fuck, they have to struggle with meaning in their life.

Science isn’t cut and dry. It hasn’t explained everything and the fact is that even rationalism cannot explain everything. Much of Art does not come from the rational and I would argue that is humanity’s greatest achievement and aspiration. Look back at the Greeks and their plays; these were dedicated to Dionysus; the god of divine drunkenness. Even arch-Enlightenment figures such as Newton studied alchemy, Pascal had his “night of fire”, and Spinoza was… well Spinoza maybe wasn’t ever that rational to begin with. Heisenberg came up with the Deep Anthropic Principle which entails that mankind, by observing the Universe, has influenced it’s composition… a bit more nuanced though. How wondrous, how terrible. Neils Bohr had the Copenhagen Interpretation. Quantum Physics entails a lot more than mainstream science and is rife with further possibilities.  Even that information is somehow an independent substance than underlays everything. Science cannot explain consciousness as it cannot be sensed empirically or tested in repeatable laboratory conditions. (When Alan Moore, who I have brazenly stole this assertion from, argued this point on the science podcast “The Infinite Monkey Cage” one of the devout materialists responded that eventually the Church, I mean Science, will be able to build a computer that will replicate consciousness. Like Mister Moore, I disagree and think the whole idea is a stupidly far-fetched as me, saying that to prove that “wondrous things” exist, will go kill a unicorn and show it on television.)

There is still unknown territory that every human being is entitled to explore for themselves. No one can tell you that you are boxed and perfectly explained creature with impunity. However, when you assert this point it will make some people very angry.  It’s like when I was told by Christians as a child that I would go to Hell… that’s fine, according to them all my heroes are in Hell and who wants to spend eternity with fucking Jerry Falwell? I’d rather be with Heisenberg, Bohr, Joyce, Crowley, Blake, Wilson, and Moore than a bunch of grubby materialists any day. More fun, better party games.

As for Randi’s million dollar contest, well, maybe some phenomena are beyond the realm of science. Maybe some of the extraordinary things in this world require personal experience or intuition. Maybe money isn’t the best incentive to draw out those who have truly known something fantastic and is more or less merely bait for charlatans. Magic happens largely in the mind and when it happens outside of it there’s a lot of personal issues involved.

Maybe.

In conclusion, these people aren’t open minded. Militant atheists, materialists, professional debunkers are every bit as disgusting and evangelical as Christians and their ilk. They are crusaders for an incomplete ideology and mistake the method of science for an all consuming philosophy. If they must preach, why don’t they go teach science in Kansas and combat Creationism or something that’s actually useful? I’d vote for agnosticism over atheism and real self-wrestling doubt other than hiding behind some ideology. Please reference the works of Aleister Crowley and Robert Anton Wilson for further details.

And now for some Blake:

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, mock on; ’tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton’s Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.


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10 Comments

  1. Maritimer

    08/09/2012 at 12:11 PM

    Bravo, very well said and thank you for pointing out that both factions are essentially two sides of the same coin. I’ve been pondering this a lot myself lately, that skepticism is a train of thought, not a movement or ideology. I think it’s for this reason that I have a lot of respect for people who tackle these topics neutrally, rather than labeling themselves as a Skeptic Vs. Believer. They tend to observe, rather than preach Stentor from the mount.

    I feel you can be a skeptical person, but not a “skeptic” if that makes any sense. Ironic how auto-debunkers expect you to be skeptical of everything, provided your not challenging their personal or shared status quo, then your just brain damaged/an idiot/fool/ or whatever ad hominem springs to mind.

  2. Sharon Hill

    08/09/2012 at 5:25 PM

    Ermmm…. no.

    You just painted “skeptics” with a broad brush and created a token strawman that you then conveniently tore down. You also did the same with science, using the public idea of “dry” and “analytical”. And for some reason, assumed that people who value rationality have no mystery or wonder in life.

    Well, skeptics are human. Science is done by humans. And to suggest that we are somehow missing out on life is absurd.

    I value the truth. Believing in nonsense is human (we all do it) but it can get us in some very deep trouble. http://whatstheharm.net

    Your sense of meaning is obviously very different than mine.

  3. Ken Summers

    08/10/2012 at 10:58 AM

    I’m going to have to agree with Sharon on this one. Yes, even a fence-sitter like me who “dabbles in spookery” thinks that, while there are some skeptics who behave rather poorly, that’s not true of all… or even, necessarily, a majority.

    The truth is that without skepticism, paranormal investigation is nothing more than rampant insanity in the form of an unofficial religious belief. Just as there are staunch skeptics who act like buffoons lurking on the interwebs like trolls under a bridge, there are also staunch believers who won’t accept even the most blatant misidentifications because it shatters their magical world view.

    Let’s face it: most of us are not neurologists, geophysicists, or any one of a number of experts on the amazing goings-on in the universe as well as the human body. We need to be looking to those answers too, not just hypothetical guesses based on age-old folklore, if we want to find answers.

    In reality, Joe (or Jane) Skeptic is a paranormalist’s best friend. Not the “of course you don’t look fat in that dress” friend we want to have, but that blunt, honest “maybe you shouldn’t have that 10th Twinkie” pal who might hurt our feelings, but really has our best interests at heart. The greater the divide between these two warring factions, the more misinformation is left floating around the cosmos.

  4. S.

    08/10/2012 at 1:27 PM

    Don’t you fucking dare agree with Sharon. Don’t you fucking dare.

    Nah, I don’t particularly care. I realize that my position is idiosyncratic and I wouldn’t particularly want the “true believers” flocking to my banner either. I guess I just think there are those of us who have a genuine interest and enthusiasm about non-materialist forms of reality that possess enough of a degree of humor and skepticism that “professional” debunkers and skeptics are unnecessary.

    Don’t get me wrong though. The only thing I dislike as much as fundamentalist Christianity is fundamentalist materialism. Eh, then again, fundamentalist, or dogmatic, belief in anything is typically a poor stance to take.

    On another note:

    The site that I was provided a link to is, in my humble opinion, fucking ridiculous. I read over a few sections, to be fair probably more than anybody is going to read of the works I recommend in the article, and found them unconvincing. Most of the awful consequences of “magick” happened in primitive areas of the world, like Texas. I could very easily make the same argument about science and technology…while science is spawned by hermetic philosophy and alchemy, magicians never help proliferate the use of fossil fuels or created the hydrogen bomb. Again, its called human stupidity and its not going to go away due to the righteous efforts of an enlightened few to correct my benighted, wayward view of existence.

    One last thing Sharon, I know that our senses of meaning are different. As far as I can tell my sense of meaning is unique. It’s just I don’t have a website devoted to displaying the foolishness of others that helps me get my jollies while preaching my view of how things must be for everybody else. Always.

    Anyways I’m smarter than everybody because I believe in magic! Sparkles! I’m off to sacrifice virgins and take Lovecraft too seriously. Tah!

    • Ken Summers

      08/10/2012 at 1:43 PM

      *cough* You do write for Who Forted…. how many cases of absurd foolishness have been lambasted on here? 😉

      Having a sense of humor about it is what has kept me from (completely) running screaming from the paranormal community as a whole…

      • S.

        08/10/2012 at 9:27 PM

        Ken, you’re not getting a Christmas card from me this year.

    • R. A.

      08/21/2012 at 12:07 AM

      I agree with this article for the most part; it seems to me you are speaking out against the kind of person that condescends to anyone who doesn’t hold the same beliefs/ideas as they do…fanaticism, in other words. People can be fanatics about anything–religion, science/atheism, whatever the current “end of the world” scenario is, vegetarianism, global warming, fluoride, health/exercise, etc…people can be fanatical about pretty much anything(though it is true that some things seem to draw more of the fanatical type than others).
      Like you say in the article, the kind of atheist/autodebunker that parades around wearing a lab coat and carrying a flag with a flask on it, telling everyone that they and their beloved Science has all the answers and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool, is the same kind of person as the religious fundamentalist who parades around carrying
      The Book/Scroll/Codex, and is saying the same thing only substitute ‘god’ for ‘science’.
      So I try to see that kind of person as a sub-genus of homo sapiens, and not attach them or their attitude to any particular idea. They are everywhere, and they are incredibly annoying, and they are detrimental to whatever ideas they attach themselves to because they spend their entire lives pissing off the rest of humanity. So I try to remember that not all vegetarians should be converted into compost and fed to starving weeds in Africa just because I was unfortunate enough to have an encounter with a militant vegetarian.

      Instead, I just shoot them in the face and feed them to Cthulhu, who sleeps in an ancient temple buried under the foundations of my house. Because that’s how we do things down here in Texas.

  5. Cullan Hudson

    08/18/2012 at 7:30 AM

    I didn’t agree 100% either, but I thought it was, in all, a good post. I strive to make a distinction between skeptics and denouncers, the latter being a better term since “debunk” implies actually doing some investigation instead of dismissing it out-of-hand. Skeptics are open-minded. They have their doubts, but await further investigation before arriving at any conclusion. Denouncers sit at keyboards and onanistically shoot their vitriol across various sites such as yours (and mine). Tissue anyone?

  6. Shamus

    01/21/2013 at 3:01 PM

    If anyone feels that science robbed them of his “sense of meaning in the cosmic scheme” he probably didn’t have much meaning in the first place. Science comes from the human quest to know, which is driven by a sense of wonder. Science is the cousin of magic and has roots in religion and alchemy if you look at history.
    What science may have done to some individuals is make them realize nothing we know is written in stone.

  7. S.

    01/22/2013 at 9:18 AM

    The problem with writing polemics is running the risk of inarticulately portraying your personal beliefs. What I was talking about during that section of the post was a historical, sociological fact; many humans felt robbed of their sense of identity after the “God in heaven, angels in between, and demons below” view of the universe was struck down. I don’t advocate such a view myself and I view science as overall a good thing.

    My best friend has also pointed out that I come off as anti-science in these types of articles which honestly baffles me. Being anti-science, to my mind, is pointless as science is pretty well established. What one *can* and *should* argue against is dogmatists who have replaced an all-knowing and all-powerful deity with “Science.” Such people believe that science can explain everything.

    It cannot. Science is not “the Truth.” Science is a method at arriving at the truth. People such as James Randi or any of the other celebrity atheists I mentioned here are not “skeptics” nor is woman who commented here. They’re very *faithful* to their idea of “Science” and consensus reality; which isn’t skepticism. Nor is their preaching of the good word of consumerist, materialist, atheist reality skepticism. It is evangelism. The same as when a Christian preaches about sin, Heaven, and Hell. If you don’t understand what I’m saying please examine James Randi’s moronic “Encyclopedia of the Occult” where his bias is noxious and suffocating; I perused most of it and his articles on Swedenborg and Dee were revolting. Coming from the position of someone who knows substantially more about the subject than Randi or whoever the ass is that compiled the website (the one about the “harm” in believing in magic) that was provided by one of my earlier detractors I can attest that these “resources” are inaccurate and slanderous.

    “What science may have done to some individuals is make them realize nothing we know is written in stone.” When viewed correctly yes. Science is wonderful when used as a tool to pursue that human quest to know. It is not wonderful when it becomes the end-all-and-be-all or this false god of “THE TRUTH” that so many atheists, especially the obnoxious breed on the internet, want it to be. That is what I am arguing against.

    I’d encourage you to reexamine the article above with or without this response in mind. If you read carefully, which is a rare ability on the web but you seem to be intelligent, you’ll see that I’m not taking away from science but the hubristic and suffocating idea that Science is everything. If you still have any more qualms please look into “The New Inquisition” by Robert Anton Wilson, “Magic Running Through the Gutters Like Lightening” or “Life on Another World” in Dodgem Logic (they’re both by Alan Moore) for a more thorough background.

    “All affirmations are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense.”- Sri Syadasti

    Oh, just as a postscript: science isn’t the cousin but is the child of magic, as is religion. As religion came out of organized magical ceremonies and findings so science sprouted from hermetic scholarship and alchemy. Pythagoras, Hypatia, Bruno, Newton, etc. were all devoted to magical scholarship and practices and most were more magicians than “scientists.”

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