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More adventurous than the average bear

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Philosophical Namedropping, Obfuscation and Jedi Mind Tricks

"If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else." - Laurence J. Peter


On the group Drinking Skeptically (DS):

A: Someone mentioned "True Skeptic". Found this on how a skeptic should behave. What do you think?

Characteristics and Behaviors of PseudoSkeptics vs. True Skeptics

B: After fifteen hours, no comments. Nearly a hundred on TCM [Ed: Traditional Chinese Medicine]. Is knowing the "truth" about TCM more important than knowing ourselves?

Plato thought this important enough to have Socrates refer to it six times in his dialogues.

D: But, but... This site is about debunking skeptics who don't believe in the paranormal! And they have a logo comprising a meditating guy with chakras!

Ok, I'm poisoning the well... guess that qualifies me for the pseudoskeptic camp :)

A: oh wow yeah. My bad! Googled true skeptic and came upon this. Scanned through and thought it was legit, didn''t see this line "When all mundane explanations for a phenomenon are ruled out, are able to accept paranormal ones"

Yes we have naturalism as our premise so to them we are pseudo-skeptics.

B: Agree fully with all on the naturalism belief. I suppose this relies on data sets gathered through systematic observations. Science then gives the best current explanation of observed regularities. Notice the variables: observations, data collection, processing and display.

Could we be a little complacent about the stability of these variables? Maybe, we even unconsciously assume they are "givens". Surely observations are now mostly when not completely reliant on sensors and instruments? Will they not change with different or more sensitive? Will we be able to detect and measure different and previously hidden aspects of "nature"?

Even direct sense data is not what we perceive.Otherwise the world would be inverted. double and flat!

Guess I'm less clear about natural and non ....

E: That article contains the biggest straw man I have ever seen! It's not as black and white as the article makes out. I think we should question everything and base our reasoning on the evidence. Occams razor is a good tool.

B: Does it matter what the site is about, if it asks penetrating questions? Or do skeptics get to pick and choose about what they wish to be skeptical?

C: what penetrating question?

A: ‎"Will we be able to detect and measure different and previously hidden aspects of "nature"?" I thought science has done that? In fact isn't that what science is about? Not sure what you mean by "stability of these variables" etc.

Me: Do they question whether we are brains in vats? If they don't, are they pseudoskeptics?

"Regardless of the facts and evidence, they always START and END with the following dogmatic positions:

Paranormal claims are all bunk and cannot be true. There is no evidence for them.
Conspiracies are all false. There is no evidence for them. Official sources are not to be questioned.
Anything that challenges the status quo and materialism is wrong and must be debunked.
Only mundane materialistic explanations are acceptable. Paranormal ones are not."

It will be good to have some pre-hoc pointers for what would falsify these "dogmatic positions"

That said, the fact that so far these 4 have repeatedly proven to be correct is telling.

B: A, "I thought science has done that?" Yes, and will continue to do so ...

" Not sure what you mean by "stability of these variables" etc." When sensors and instruments change, data collection, processing and displays change and so, data sets change; e.g. Galileo and better lenses: medicine and microscopy, chemistry with mass spectopgraphs and gas chromatography.

C, "What penetrating questions?" Exactly ... LOL

Lets not forget my original point: 15 hours after A's post, no one bothered to comment while posting about 100 comments on TCM.

C: B, I don't understand your respose. My question to you was what penetrating question this site asks?

ehh i would assume that was because others saw the argument on the site for the strawman it was

B: If it does not penetrate, then it does not penetrate, C. Don't make me do this, please ....

Or , they just saw the site as the usual paranormal site and didn't read it attentively. If A saw fit to draw my attention to it, then I will give it my attention.

C: please do i dense help me out

and you assume others didn't?
i assume they did and dismissed it because of the poor argument
If you think there is something that should not be dismissed i would like to hear what it is. Hence my original question "what penetrating question?

B: The question: "Does this (stuff on the site about preudosceitcs) apply to me? Know thyels?

Me: "If it does not penetrate, then it does not penetrate, C. Don't make me do this, please ...."

I am vaguely disturbed by this comment

C: Knowing your own biases certainly is important, but arguments in this site are motherhood statements and strawmen that are easily dismissed. Don’t blame people for not wanting to dwell on crap when there is a far more interesting discussion on medicine. If the site were better this question may have had more responses.

if you can recall the dawkins and skepchick debacle a last month. There were extensive and vigorous discussion on this site and offline on the biases and culture of the skeptic community. So I don’t think skeptics avoide “knowing themselves”.

E: B, imo, there should be skepticism about taken-for-granted positions too... But you haven't actually advanced anything concrete.

B: Must I?Although risky, I admit my bias for the vague and open-ended. They stimulate many requests to say more exactly what I mean which misses the point of ambiguity.

The response for which I yearn is; "If I understand what you're saying is ...., then ... " rather than "What are you saying?"

When I don't understand, I ask what perceptions and assumptions I must change to understand. If there are too many and they do serious damage to my weltanschang, then I, regretfully, consign them to the incomprehensible pile. Yet, I remain hopeful that this pile will crumble slowly.

Me: The joy of ambiguity is you can say much and mean nothing

B: Same for pedantry. Or orthodoxy. The joy of being human is to be able to find joy in anything ...

E: The problem is you have no way to tell apart a pile of crap and a yet-to-be comprehensible pile of X. I don't even think one can even tell between a crumbling away or a piling up.

B: Don't get distracted by the metaphors, focus on meaning however ambiguous ...

Me: No, when someone is pedantic he says what his beef is, so you actually know what is point is and why


B: Still, the pedant can say much and mean little ... and enjoy it. Or else they would avoid it .....

E: What is the meaning?? That there is more??
B, you realise you will also have to account for how you manage to perceive whatever-it-is you, and you alone, seem to be perceiving?

Me: Presumably you are enjoying what you're doing now?

B: Pls see my original post. I was just curious, after reading A's pagelink, why no one seemed to be interested in it but debunking TCM seemed so "natural".

If I'm the only one who isn't put-off by the label "pseudoskeptic" and use the descriptions on the page as a checklist on my own thoughts and attitudes, then that's okay with me.

As to always making clear statements, that to me is too Wittgenstein I, viz. the Tractatus; which he corrected himself. I would be sorry if DS became a Popperian mutual-admiration society dedicated to debunking. Can skepticism not be more ...? Let's not forget the "drinking" part ot the name. Wasn't "symposium" Greek for drinking party? Or does DS stand only for Debunking Skeptically?

Sad ...

E: B, why feign surprise? DS is a skeptic affair, and debunking does come naturally. As for pseudoskepticism, sure, there are probably pseudoskepticis here. So? And as you can tell, we don't exactly agree on everything here. Forget about the checklist, you are probably too far out even for them if you are into wittgensteinian frames of references. We do drink, every last Saturday of the month. Incidentally, I posted a critique of popper that didn't draw interest. No, it wasn't saddening.

F: What has the love of ethanol at concentrations between 5 to 50% got to do with credibility of the group? DS was meant to be a social meet-up-in-real-life group; were you unaware of that when you joined? If you're are teetotaller you can order coke. If the level of intellect displayed here disappoints you, there is always a 'leave group' button.

Me: You will notice that we addressed your queries earlier on the nature of skepticism.
Notice also that 2.5 days after I posted the 9/11 Truth Movement link, no one has commented on it, but lots of people have commented in this thread. Why? Is knowing the truth about 9/11 unimportant?

And it seems you are a fan of obfuscation. Very good. I shall drink a shot and ignore you when you are firing blanks.

B: Gabriel, please comment on the elaborations demanded on me.

As for name-calling like "fan of obfuscation ...", I await comments on whether this is kosher for skeptics. C?

E, not sad if DS is Popperian or not but that it sometimes descends into mutual admiration when debunking. Sad also that this seems to be its elan vital. Sad that so many require clear propositions into which they can sink their debunking teeth. Sad that suggestion is "obfuscating" and not stimulating. This strict Wittgenstein-ism, a la Tractatus, was corrected by himself and after Heisenberg and Godel, is under serious threat. And, many other sad things but I shall stop here.

Thanks, A, for a useful mirror in which I can see myself. Go, Delphic Oracle!

F: Fine if you wanna judge people on the # of comments on posts that you think should be more important. If you had bothered to read the TCM thread to the end you'll find comments on experiment design, objectivity and outcome assessment. These are important aspects of scientific inquiry. Yes some of us might be very interested in TCM because of the fields we studied/work in. That doesn't give anyone the right to judge us as being insufficient skeptics.

Me: I have already addressed your points (which you raised in another thread). Was my reply too clear for you? Perhaps it would help if I channeled the spirit of Judith Butler in replying to you?

The only thing I have not addressed here is the Wittgenstein thread, since that seemed to be an aside. Since you have demanded that I respond to everything I shall spend 10 minutes of my time, whereupon I will no doubt be sniped at, accused of bad faith etc.

With regard to the later Wittgenstein I assume you are alluding to the treachery of language, the impossibility of someone else understanding totally what you mean and stuff like that. Be that as it may, it does not hold that all forms of communication are equally nebulous/pointless.

I freely confess that I have very little acquaintance with Wittgenstein, but since you refuse to come out and say what you're talking about I have no choice but to advance my flawed attempt to psychically pry into your mind and divine your intentions.

And if you want me to address your vague musings, you have to commit yourself to not claim that you have been misinterpreted later. If you do not want to come out and put your points in the open, and at the same time complain that people are ignoring you, you cannot at the same time complain that you are being misinterpreted. The fact that we are trying to see what you are alluding to is already very charitable.

‎"I would be sorry if DS became a Popperian mutual-admiration society dedicated to debunking. Can skepticism not be more ...? Let's not forget the "drinking" part ot the name. Wasn't "symposium" Greek for drinking party? Or does DS stand only for Debunking Skeptically?"

When I saw this it had the same rhetorical content to me as:

"Roses are red
Violets are blue"

Did you have a point?

As F said, "What has the love of ethanol at concentrations between 5 to 50% got to do with credibility of the group"

The only point I am able to divine after reading that many times over 2 days is that you think that we should drink more alcohol to be better skeptics. Which seems to be a nonsensical point for someone who likes to quote Wittgenstein.

Or perhaps I need to be drunk to understand what the hell you are talking about, hein?

B: None so blind as those who will not see. And, I prefer ideas to "points " but thats my misfortune.

Did I say that "all forms of communication are equally nebulous/pointless"? Still, nebulousness may be in the eye of the beholder.

I was just curious why so many clever people have bashing paranormal and alternative medicine as their favourite sport. This has been ridden to death on Point of Inquiry (by experts) and has no residual mileage. Repetition of the obvious, however elegant, is, at least for me, a big yawn.

A's pagelink made me ask: "Is this me?" And so, after fifteen hours, I wondered: "Is it only me?" That's all.

Didn't intend to upset anyone. Still, I have learned a lot.

About myself. And others ...

Me: Quod erat demonstrandum

B: I forgot my manners. Of course, I promise, Gabriel, not to complain about being misinterpreted. That is the purpose of my "vague musings"!

I repeat: what I yearn for is "If what you mean is ..., then ..."; and not "What do you mean?"; which is what I almost inevitably get.

I cannot decide if this is knee- jerk logical positivism or mental sloth or both.

G: B, either you are saying things with no meaning, or you are saying things with meaning. If you are actually saying things with meaning, why not make that meaning understood to others? Why make people try to guess at your meaning?

And please don't answer the above with another question

Me: If what you mean is that you are just trolling, then I will ignore you

If what you mean is that you are deliberately being obtuse, then I will ignore you

If what you mean is that clear communication is a vice instead of a virtue, then I will ignore you

If what you mean is that you are lazy to think about what you're trying to say, formulate it in terms that other people can understand and then type it out, then I will ignore you

If what you mean is that you want us to come up with hypotheticals for anything you could possibly mean, and then come up with responses to all of these hypothetical meanings, then I will ignore you

If what you mean is that we are being mentally lazy when all of us are trying to figure out what the hell you're trying to say while you just sit in one corner and bash us while being too lazy to say what your point actually is, then I will ignore you

If what you mean is that you just want to namedrop philosophers when your vague allusions make it impossible for us to know what you are talking about (as well as whether YOU know what you are talking about), then I will ignore you

If what you mean is that A is the only one here who has any skeptical credibility - even though all of us have already looked at the link and dismissed it as nonsense, and even though A herself has realised that it is nonsense, then I will ignore you

If what you mean is that you just want to snipe without ever putting forward anything concrete, then I will ignore you

If what you mean is that you are making sexual passes at C, a married man, with comments about penetration, then I will ignore you (and I hope that he will too - though I'm not sure about [his wife])

If what you mean is nothing, then I will ignore you

F: Could you please answer the question: what exactly is the issue with the group's name?

B: G, my fondness for ambiguity is, I think, incurable. Not just mine but that of others. It makes me wonder and I try to infect others with similar wonder. The pre-requisite is a sense of insignificance. Works well so far, except here in DS where it seems to enrage some.

C: Sense of insignificance is a prerequisite for your ambiguity? Or is it the other way round? Caus i wonder were this sense of insignificance comes from.

I think it’s completely possible to have a profound sense of insignificance (and even awe) by looking at the universe, asking clear questions and admitting that many answers are beyond us. Romanising ambiguity too easily allows is to fudge the questions and be satisfied with poor answers. Having to choose between ambiguity and clarity I would hope I chose clarity all the time. Clarity is harder though ambiguity may feel better. I see no other utility in ambiguity.

E: B, You will be hard pressed to advance an affirmative case, avoid sprouting gobbledygook or self-contradiction if your argument entails hacking away at the foundations of knowledge: logic, reason, the naturalistic methodology, ordinary language….
Put another way, how would (could?) you distinguish your position from that of a raving madman?
Pseudo-profundity can enrage. Will you give the likes of Deepak Chopra the time of day?

G: B, Thank you for answering my question. I am actually really interested more about your fondness for ambiguity. Mostly because I don't really know anyone that shares that trait, and personally I don't yet understand it. Perhaps I'll press you for more information sometime about it. Unfortunately though, I do have to agree with C and E given what I know. It does seem to me that ambiguity has very little utility, and using it makes it far too easy to mask poor thoughts and ideas. I see nothing in clarity that would reduce the sense of insignificance or wonder. For example, one problem I see with ambiguity is that both right and wrong can fit within that regime, so how do we actually learn the difference? It is far too hard to advance knowledge if keeping things ambiguous isn't it?

B: C, One has to be very sure of clarity and rectitude of one's thoughts before composing a clear proposition. I am insignificant, so I'm not.

But no one in DS has to be. Whatever you are, just be ....
The alternative is to become ... whatever.
It's a choice ...

G: B, one has to be quite sure of clarity and rectitude, but should never be so sure that they aren't willing to listen to counter evidence and change their minds. Perhaps you are mixing up the two and thinking that if someone says something outright they aren't willing to change their minds? I think to have any kind of intelligent conversation that is meant to learn and accomplish something, clarity and a willingness to have a position is necessary. If you are just saying things that can't be studied, then there is nothing more to do with it, and you might as well have not said it.. If you just want to say unclear things that are not well thought out, and that you are not able to defend (because you said nothing clear), then I don't see how to have a discussion. Sure, poets can be ambiguous, but I don't see how this group can be, given the subject matter.

E: There's utility in ambiguity in art.

B: G, ambiguity works best before experiment. It generates many vague ideas which lead to some muddled ones which can be clarified by desk research or quick and dirty experiments.

As things become clearer, some experimental design can be done with existing people, instruments, recorders, machine shops ...

It's a strategy, one of many, for speed and economy. Also, it promotes project ownership and team spirit (oops!). I'm a boring old fart but I learned a few tricks ...

G: B, I can see how it could work that way. It could be used during concept formation, and to induce some creative thoughts. But pretty much every time you have used it (which is almost everything you have said), it has not been during the "before experiment" faze.

Me: E occasionally asks strange questions I don't get, but at least he has a point which he explains when I prod (usually with a "???")

B: C, agree fully. Just that I like to take some time to play around with various ideas and questions before trying to answer them. Why get excellent answers to poor questions, however elegant?

As for insignificance, I speak of my understanding. Not how small I feel when viewing the deep field images of the Hubble. Forgive for saying that this is obvious and trivial.

There are many clever people in DS and I have learned much from their teaching; so our benefits might be somewhat asymmetric. Never mind, it's my gain.

C: Acknowledging that ambiguity exists is very different from aspiring to be ambiguous.

B: Gabriel, your "????" works with E. Not with me. Maybe I'm wrong but I find that too easy. You have to work if you want me to ...

Please do not take this as teaching you how to suck eggs but if I may suggest, sometinh like: "What you wrote could mean this, that and other .. And they don't hang together.. Do you actually mean ...?"

G: B, why should Gabriel put so much work into responding to your ambiguous statement when it is quite possible you put no work into it? There's no way to know you are making a well thought out statement.

Me: WebAIM: Writing Clearly and Simply

"It is not easy to write clearly and simply, but it is important to try. Users are more likely to understand your writing if you take the time to organize your thoughts and write them in the clearest, simplest form possible, taking into account your audience. To maximize understandability for people with cognitive disabilities, limit the text, add appropriate illustrations, and avoid indirect or implied meanings (such as sarcasm or parody). In the end, nearly everyone benefits from clarity and simplicity."

Addendum: A good summary:

"(dunno what on earth he's trying to say -> ask for clarification -> get replies that don't make sense) X N -> get seriously annoyed and yell at him -> he starts prancing around, doing the waltz in a meadow of flowers, with teletubbies in the background -> realise that having proper discussions with him are beyond the limits of one's intelligence."
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