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Are You A Good Skeptic?

7 April 2008 2 Comments

"When a man finds a conclusion agreeable, he accepts it without argument, but when he finds it disagreeable, he will bring against it all the forces of logic and reason."  –Thucydides

Being a skeptic is hard. We are a breed of believers. Our brains are hard-wired to prohibit skepticism.


The world is over-populated with information. Our brains have to make sense of it ALL and over time have adapted to take "shortcuts" that prevent information overload. This makes it hard to exhibit good judgment.


Everything’s an approximation. We don’t truly see the world, rather our eyes collect information which is aggregated by the brain, then ENRICHED and converted into conscious thought. Same thing with hearing, touch, taste, all the physical senses.  The brain fills in the blank based on past experience or available information. You come away with an approximation of the actual event.

That’s how illusions work (e.g. Persistence of Vision). That’s how tricksters deceive us (e.g. misdirection).


This makes me wonder if the non-physical is an approximation too? Are we really feeling THAT sad, or do we just fill in the blank so that our overall mental state trends in a given direction? There’s probably some truth to this; how often have you caught yourself being upset about something only to realize that it’s not that big a deal? That’s your brain, filling in the emotional blanks.


More often than not, we don’t get to choose how each blank is filled in. To do so would quickly overwhelm our brain. The amazing thing is that our brain is multi-threaded. We can operate our limbs and move through the environment at the same time as focusing on the bird in the tree or the car on the road. We don’t have to really focus to consciously realize that the bird’s in the tree. Our brain fills in the blank. At the SAME time we can be consciously pondering what to eat for lunch.

And so this leads to the point of this post. Skepticism. When we’re faced with a new experience and tasked with figuring it out, more often than not the unconscious mind forms its own conclusions without us even realizing. The non-skeptic will tend to use logic and reasoning to justify the unconscious minds’ conclusion. In truth it should be the reverse. The conscious mind should follow a path of reasoning to arrive at a conclusion. That’s skepticism.

I heard a good general guideline on the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: focus on the process, rather than the conclusion. Ensure the thought process you’re following is correct and whatever conclusions you arrive at are simply a side-effect rather than the objective.

"When intuition and logic agree, you are always right." – Blaise Pascal


  • Francis said:

    Hi sis, as you know I’m a TERRIBLE multi-tasker. In fact I’m a terrible TASKER for that matter.

    Lately however I have been pondering some mighty questions, without any real conclusions, just more confusion.

  • Teresa said:

    Gosh Fran, I knew you were a bit of a deep thinker but God only knows where you get the time for this level of analysis! Was interested by the example of you walking along, looking at the bird in the tree and deciding what to eat for lunch all at once. Don’t you know that men are not meant to be able to multitask or is this another example of your super human abilities?!!

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