Skepticism is perhaps one of the best and most rudimentary spirits in mankind. Without it we cannot search; without it we cannot reason; without it we cannot wonder; we cannot inquire; we cannot contemplate. Without it we are not intelligent. We are a stray and hungry dog, and we will eat anything fed us.
Skepticism is a two edged sword, both sides sharp, as pure as blue steel and just as clean. One side does not allow us to believe everything off hand; the other does not let us necessarily dismiss anything off hand.
Skepticism is, in a way, the mediating influence upon curiosity which guides it toward wisdom.
Curiosity has made us to inquire; and inquiring we have amassed an enormous catalogue of causes and effects; of species of plants and life. This is knowledge.
This is the bedrock of scientific reference. In Latin Scientia merely means To Know. Ideally, before a scientist can contribute to the world of knowledge, he must first learn all that has been compiled before him; what others have observed and cross referenced, many times back thousands of years. “I stand on the shoulder of giants,” said Newton.
This is the world of a priori, which means the system of cross-referencing by accumulated knowledge. When you approach a zoologist with a report of a creature that has feathers, a bill, waddles on webbed feet and goes “quack, quack” there is an a priori reason for that zoologist to say “It’s a duck.” He doesn’t have to go and observe it himself and waste time because there is an appropriate cross reference for such a phenomenon. It’s a duck!
When you approach a zoologist and say “I saw something with scales, that was pink, has 5 legs and a bill like a bird but a tail like a fish.” You are not going to get a good reply because there is an a priori reason for him to say there is not such creature. There is no catalogue for such an animal as you described. “Now, go see your doctor or get off the gin.”
When a zoologist gets more reports of this type of creature from several people a world away, he begins to ponder if something new is not being discovered. Though he is skeptical, he begins to probe into it.
Skepticism, you see, is involved in everything that has to do with discovery, with inquiry and with intelligence.
Now, I doubt there will ever be any such creature as used in the above analogy. But there are still many things happening in this world for which we do not have as yet any appropriate cross reference. The complete disappearance of ships and planes in the so called Bermuda Triangle may be one, as well as stories about strange atmospheric phenomena and electromagnetic anomalies as reported by some pilots and ship captains that survived.
There is no a priori reason to dismiss the latter, since they are not speaking of things so completely unknown. The shape, mass, rotation, inclination and revolution of the Earth play vital roles in some places of the globe as opposed to others. Because of this we know why hurricanes and typhoons strike along the same latitudes, why great winds frequent certain areas as opposed to others, and geology has taught us why earthquakes appear in some areas and do not in others.
The invisible forces of our Earth may be subject and influenced in the same ways. The magnetic field is known to be affected by any number of events. It seems equally possible there are regions of the Earth, again for a variety of reasons, which are more prone to these, as some regions are prone to visible catastrophes like typhoons and tornadoes.
One must approach the Bermuda Triangle and these possibilities with the curiosity of skepticism. This is not an oxymoron. Skepticism set in motion is an integral part of curiosity!
But I’m afraid the world and the world wide web are not always like this. There are those whose minds are so open their brains have fallen out; then there are those whose minds are so closed, their brains have suffocated. They are no better than a bowling ball in mud.
As a true skeptic, I have taken criticism from both sides: those who want me to believe and endorse the most fantastic claims at face value and those gentlemen of the-bowling-ball-in-mud-club who go no where and think all has been discovered. . . or worse that it must be discovered only by a name-brand university or endorsed by high-profile people. That is the world of sales and marketing and not science.
But science is not an institution or an individual. It is a method. “Scientific Method” is often painted as some dull routine that haunts a laboratory. In fact, 9 of the skills of the Method are used by all people everyday. These, the 10 Process Skills of Scientific Inquiry which comprise Scientific Method, are:
Observe; Classify; Infer; Interpret; Measure; Predict; Questions; Hypotheses, Experiment; Model Building.
Within Observe and Classify alone can be years of data gathering. Put together the first 4 points implicitly embody comparative analysis-- the body of natural logic, upon which all knowledge is dependent.
Today, the academic and scientific world is made up of true skeptics, befitting their scientific training and discipline. They discuss such things as inter dimensional physics, supersting, wormhole, hyperspace, light and heat’s travel on magnetism and any number of other theories in physics. As John Napier of the Smithsonian once observed: “Scientists are naturally gossipy people. They will tell all they know and a lot they don’t know at the drop of a chairman’s gavel.”
The opposite end of such an attitude might be found in debunkers who ridicule such curiosity and optimism, public inquiry and debate. “Most people I’ve talked to thought they were doing creative thinking (“stretching their minds” is the current cliché),” once said Larry Kusche, the Bermuda Triangle’s chief debunker, “but all I ever heard was a regurgitation of one liners from Berlitz, von Daniken, and the rest of the gang.”
No doubt if any of these writers just mentioned were “scientific names” of established order their views would have been considered esoteric and perhaps simply far beyond our comprehension. Sagan, Hawkings, Coon, Crick, and many others have said and believed outlandish things, and even tried to prove them, but they were always protected from the S&M scoffer because of their high level position in some academic institution. Sagan, Hawkings, et al, never did anything wrong, even if wrong. Hypothesis is a mandatory step of scientific method. So they got things wrong sometimes, or perhaps were loose cannons that didn’t have enough data gathered yet to support their hypothesis. That happens. It’s actually healthy.
They don’t get mocked from the likes of popular debunkers because debunkers’ authority is based on claiming they reflect some established name brand or authority. Simply put, it is not marketable for debunkers to undermine the only appearance of authority they have. And from what I’ve seen, debunkers are keenly aware of “market.” They know they have no real education in the sciences. They don’t know what Scientific Method is. “Science” is merely an umbrella term or institutional concept to them. They exploit the concept of establishment and “science” to the hilt in their scoffing of others with unorthodox ideas. Debunkers promote people for “who” they are rather than the substance of what is said.
Science has had far more esoteric debates than what is attributed to “sensationalists” in the public forum. Discussions have yielded more than mind stretching can be seen in the work of John Hutchison and his Hutchison Effect, the search for new forms of energy; and Dr. Hans Grabber in his pioneering work in deciphering anomalies of the sea and rogue waves; and several astrophysicists regarding the relationship of Time to Gravity, the Event Horizon and black holes. Such things would no doubt have been condemned 30 years ago as paranormal pursuits or as heresy, as Relative Physics was by Classic Physics.
The sea is a vast world outside our daily endeavor. Many cannot imagine it is a different world. It continues to hold its mysteries into the 21st century, and will no doubt hold many into the 22nd. Though the greatest part of this planet’s surface, it is but a small token of its elements and of the potential interplay of power beyond our ability to consider. Those who have traveled it more than the rest of us have come out with strange tales of unexplained “forces,” if you will. They have never attributed them to any supernatural phenomena.
Despite this, the “Bermuda Triangle” is reputed to be some metaphysical place, and debunkers proclaim that anything odd and unusual reported in it to be a claim of supernatural powers. They are, basically, the only ones who have promoted this.
Skepticism we must maintain, against all who come, pro or con. What we must not forget is Observe and Classify. We cannot forsake comparative analysis. These are the first steps of Scientific Method and of Natural Logic. All logic is deductive, not inductive. Stereotypes, visceral emotions, hearsay, all induce responses and create false impressions and maintain unjustified formulae. But one thing is not within Scientific Method, and it must come before it and logic. It is that gripping desire to find the truth, no matter what. This keeps one on course. In my experience neither the eager-believer nor the debunker has that quality. Only the skeptic with an overriding curiosity possesses that quality.