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.
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.
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.