Pathological Skepticism

A Leading Psychiatrist on Why Some Minds Never Open

In my previous books, The Secret Tao, and 2012 & The Mayan Prophecy of Doom, I have been criticized by skeptics that the theories and evidence I cite have not yet been accepted by mainstream science. So, I think it’s worth examining the question of what constitutes good science. it. That is what he believed before he collected the evidence. Therefore, once he had the evidence, he interpreted it in the only way that made sense to him. In the end, he saw precisely what he wanted to see. His bias had eclipsed his insight, and he failed to see what he had actually discovered, which is that meditation does produce definite benefits and that it is a psychological process, independent of religion. You see, when the facts conflicted with truth, he reinterpreted the facts to fit the truth. But, whose truth? Obviously, his truth is different from the truth of the Dalai Lama or Jon Kabat-Zinn or millions of people who meditate.

When I first read this study, I thought the researcher was purposely creating a straw-man argument. People do this in politics all the time. You mischaracterize your opponent’s position and make it sound ridiculous, then you can easily argue against it. I thought this researcher was intentionally mischaracterizing Eastern meditation as some kind of religious miracle that only benefits you if you are a devout Buddhist or something. In this way he could easily discredit Eastern meditation by showing that it was no miracle of religion. Eventually I realized that this was indeed like a straw-man argument, but I don’t think it was intentional.

Here the researcher really did believe that meditation was some kind of mystical religious experience that could only occur with divine intervention. He never even considered that it might simply be a scientific phenomenon. He thought he was striking a blow against superstition and ignorance, but he was only fighting shadows in his own mind. This is a classic case of what I call pathological skepticism.

I see this all the time with skeptics, such as Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine. Once, in a televised interview, I saw him comment on the Baghdad battery, an ancient artifact found in an archaeological dig near Baghdad. The object was a terra cotta jar that had a copper cylinder inside of the jar, and an iron post that fit inside the copper cylinder without touching it. The metal was held in place in the jar with bitumen. It is believed that the jar had been filled with lemon juice or some other liquid high in citric acid. Well, that sounds like a battery to anyone who knows about electricity. Shermer claimed that this artifact was not evidence that the ancients knew about electricity. He thinks that the device was merely used for electroplating, since we have found evidence of gold plated jewelry from that period. So, they did not know about electrical technology, they only knew about electroplating technology? I know what he means, but I don’t think he realizes how obtuse that sounds. He just conceded that they did in fact know about the technology of electroplating, and actually knew how to build devices to implement it, including a battery cell sufficient to generate the necessary charge.

What he meant to say was that they did not have electrical wires suspended from electrical poles, with giant generators, producing massive energy to power light bulbs and run various appliances. But, he forgets that neither did Benjamin Franklin, Georg Ohm, or James Clerk Maxwell; neither did Thomas Edison in the beginning. But surely he would not deny that these men knew of electricity. Shermer, in his defense, might say that even if they somehow knew about electroplating, then it still does not prove that they had any modern understanding of electricity. That’s fair enough. I have no idea how they explained or thought about batteries or electricity. They may have attributed it to the gods, for all I know. But if you define a battery as any device that holds an electrical charge, and you define electricity as that energy which is stored in a battery, then he is clearly wrong. They had obviously discovered the phenomenon that we call electricity. And if they did use it for electroplating, then that proves that they had discovered the relevant principles and materials involved in that process.

You see, he’s actually using a straw-man argument, and I don’t think he’s doing it intentionally. He thinks that when a crypto-archaeologist says that ancient civilizations “knew about electricity” or were “experimenting with it” that they’re claiming that the ancients might have had electric lights and appliances, or that they lived just as we do today. But that’s actually a straw-man argument. If he did this consciously, he would probably be doing it because he can’t refute the actual facts, so he misrepresents it as something crazy and then argues against that instead. The thing is, I don’t think he even knows he’s doing it. The crazy scenario he is arguing against is all in his head. Most people who are fascinated with the Baghdad battery don’t necessarily believe that the ancients who created it had electric toasters or vacuum cleaners.

This process of unconsciously creating straw-man arguments is really an example of a neurotic behavior, in that it is an unconscious process that skews a person’s thinking and behavior, often in illogical ways. So what would cause someone to do this? Unconsciously, this kind of person probably has a fear of being gullible himself and doesn’t want to be made a fool of by believing in a practical joke, or a con. So he dismisses, downplays, or distorts facts because they are in conflict with the truth as he knows it. I call this pathological skepticism, because it is basically a neurosis, a disorder that causes people to make errors in judgment due to an unconscious fear of being humiliated or being overly gullible.

I’ve heard many such statements by various skeptics over the years. A good example of pathological skepticism is when someone says “there’s no proof that was a UFO; it was probably just some flying object that just hasn’t been identified yet.” Or, how about this one, “faith healing is nothing more than a placebo effect.” And when you ask them what a placebo effect is, they respond, “a placebo is when the person is healed because they believed that they’d be healed.” But isn’t that another way of saying that they were healed because they had faith they’d be healed? These statements kind of remind me of the famous quote by Leo Durocher that, “anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.” Just like the above skeptics, you know what he means, but what he says is so obtuse that it’s actually comical.

In a line from the movie, The Last Crusade, the intrepid archaeologist Indiana Jones says, “Archaeology is the search for fact, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Professor Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.”

We claim to be a society that values science, but we actually value truth more than facts. But truth, alas, is whatever you believe it is. It is time that we as a society learned the difference between fact and truth. We as a people, and especially those of us in the scientific community, need to get back to the basics and start dealing with some inconvenient facts.

I call on all scientists to give up such shortsighted bias and begin to study potentially important, however unlikely, theories with the same zeal that they apply towards making minor contributions to an existing body of knowledge. In the words of F. N. Earll, regarding Hapgood’s theory, “If it is an unworthy thing let it be properly destroyed; if not, let it receive the nourishment that it deserves.”

 

The author is a psychologist, an expert on the occult, and a researcher in the fields of psychology, archaeology, and ancient mysticism. He is the author of several books. His latest book, The Einstein Connection, from which this article is excerpted, investigates ancient myths and scientific theories of a potentially reoccurring global cataclysm.

By D.W. Kreger