Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Trust? 2

I've been trained by the likes of astronomer Carl Sagan, and professional skeptic, Dr. Michael Shermer, to be skeptical about just freaking everything. They've ruined me, I admit it!
I no longer believe in Santa Claus. I don't think the Tooth Fairy really puts quarters (dollars now due to inflation) under children's pillows at night. I challenge the idea that the Easter Bunny is the source of Easter eggs (I'm not willing at this particular time to debate the existence of Leprechauns, the wily bastards!) Why do I doubt these things that millions of children take for granted? Because there are simpler more reasonable explanations that explain the evidence provided without having to resort to supernatural causes. In these three instances (Santa, Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny) the veracity of the claims for their existence can be easily challenged with some simple research. A Google search can disprove their existence. The point I'm trying to make is that with a little work there is no reason to rely on trust when considering any possible position, or phenomenon, or point of view.
In the case of Lawrence Stowe for instance, for me, if I were unfortunate enough to contract MS or ALS, or any other terminal illness, I would make it my job to become the world's best authority on that particular illness. Armed with that type of information I would be better equipped to deal with the disease (see the film "Lorenzo's Oil"), I certainly would not be taken in by the likes of Stowe (no matter how much his lies compelled me to want to believe him), for what evidence did he offer other than his word? Absolutely none. His word, telling me what I most wanted to hear, with nothing to back it up. Even without being an expert on the disease I would at least thoroughly check Stowe's background, get testimonials from former patients, check authorities in the medical community to verify if the type of stem cell therapy Stowe offered was an accepted form of treatment, and why was Stowe the only one offering it if it indeed was a viable form of treatment. I would at least do those things (most which could be done on the Internet) before I gave Stowe, or his likes, a single red penny.
And like it or not, I would have to go where the evidence took me, not where I would like it to go. Indeed, I would like his story to be true. I would like to think that I had somehow stumbled on to some new fangled treatment option that hadn't been discovered by the mainstream medical community yet, and that I would gain the use of my body and life back. I would like those things, but that doesn't mean I'm going to get them. And the patie... victims of Stowe and Morales certainly didn't get their life back, did not improve their condition in any way whatsoever, no matter how much they wanted too. "Want" and "Like" have nothing to do with the real world we find ourselves in.
Sociopaths like Stowe will always be around to take advantage of those who are weak, sick, frightened, and naive. But potential victims have tools that are available, if they choose to use them, that promote critical thinking, so having to trust an unknown supposed authority, such as Stowe, does not become necessary. In fact, one of the tools of Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit (see, The Demon Haunted World, p. 210) states that "Arguments from authority carry little weight - 'authorities' have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts." That's precisely why patients regularly get second, even third or more opinions from medical doctors when faced with a difficult diagnoses.
I of course recommend as mandatory reading for every citizen who wishes to be informed Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World," and Michael Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things." In order to make sense of the real world around us we need to arm ourselves with the tools to separate fact from fiction in order to formulate an appropriate world view based on one's independent observations and critical formulations. I'm not talking about accepting a particular doctrine or position on anything. What I am promoting is a rigorous scrutinizing of information before accepting it as being true. How simple is that?
Apparently not very simple at all, as most people do not do this. That's why program's like "Ghost Hunters," is such a hit on the Sci Fi Network. As far as I know the ex-plumbers who run the show have never caught a single ghost! Instead they spend most of the show in the dark scaring each other silly, making up very dicey evidence as they go along, then calling it paranormal activity by the end of the show. And that's entertainment. It's much more fun to believe that there are ghosts out there and an afterlife than to go where the actual evidence takes us, which has never, ever presented unequivocal evidence for the existence of ghosts.
Besides medical problems and ghosts, the inclusion of critical thinking can affect almost all aspects of life. Here are two examples of why one should not take at face value what "authorities" have to say. It would seem "authorities" have their own agenda.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel keeps spewing the misinformation that the current effort at financial reform, or regulation, will ensure future government bail-outs, when in fact it does just the opposite. He knows this. Still he persists, repeating the lie, along with his fellow Republicans, hoping that his political base will not bother to check the facts and continue to believe him, and vote to promote his position, which is to continue the reckless deregulation of financial markets. It is very simple to discover the truth in this matter. One just needs to do the work.
Fox News, the authority which has sparked the Tea Party movement, has gotten these poor fools all worked up on various issues, but especially on high tax brackets, when in fact taxes are currently at a 60 year historical low. President Obama has actually cut taxes for 95% of the nation, but the Tea Partiers go on complaining about high taxes. Doesn't make much sense really when confronted with the facts.
My dear friend Michelle and I differ in our attitudes on various subjects, and I once apologized to her for holding "so liberal" views by telling her that was what logic demanded. She retorted by telling me I was using my logic to foster my continued world view, as if there where separate systems called "logic" that can be deployed at any time to promote a particular position. I respectfully disagree with my dear friend, and believe there is a system that when utilized can lead to the truth in all matters, if one is courageous enough to use it and follow it's conclusions, no matter what your view may have been before the investigation. That system is called science, and one of its by-products is the ability to employ critical thinking.
I invite all of you dear readers to use the tools that are available to us to explore this wonderful, majestic, and fascinating world and universe that surrounds us.

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