These Are Not The Graphs You’re Looking For – an updated post on doubt and dogma.

UPDATE: The blog post below was written a few hours before driving to ABC’s Q&A with Brian Cox. In the build up to his debate with Malcolm Roberts, I had been thinking about the conspiracy mind set and how it may be different to healthy scepticism. Reading some of the the conspiracy magazines, I was interested in the appearance of a shared agenda – Pro-Putin, Anti-Vaccination, keen on climate science conspiracy theories, and some possessed the age old, lurking anti-semitism. Active and researched doubt seems healthy, but it seems that it is not religious enough, and so the step to scepticism is avoided and exchanged for a leap to dogma which is described as free thinking, but is chained to oft-refuted, oft-repeated misinformation & disinformation. Whatever evidence is offered is rejected as “the wrong kind of evidence” or evidence from a corrupted source. While we reap the rewards of technological and scientific understanding, we then use the systems that have emerged from this to deny anything that methods of experiment, inquiry and testable hypotheses reveal if it is not to our liking. Overwhelmed by information, we reject doubt and opt for a new church, instead.

Our 21st century cognitive dissonance is tumescent.

Anyway, this is what I wrote on the way to the studio.

My brain is confused today, so please excuse grammatical and logical errors found below.

Looking out from the 35th floor at the city beneath me, I experience vertigo.
This is not a vertigo inspired by a fear of falling into the ventilation fans 25 storeys below, but cosmological vertigo.

My brain can’t analyse the information from everything it sees and reads, so it is just stuttering like a faulty traction engine.

There was the article on consequentialism, the interview with David Icke, the news reports on Donald Trump, the chapter on quantum indeterminacy, and the episode Bewitched. I should have just stuck with the episode of Bewitched, I was safe there.
I first read about cosmological vertigo in Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress. Paul Gauguin found the rapid accumulation of scientific knowledge about our universe and ourselves abysmally befuddling, so decided that the civilisation he was drowning in should be left behind.
He famously journeyed to Tahiti where he knew there was a simpler way of life and all the women went about topless, which would take his mind off Darwinian evolutionary theory and atomic hypotheses. Finding out that women now popped a top on in Tahiti and things were not as Eden-ish as he had imagined, he nevertheless painted it as he had hoped it would be so as not to show himself up too much.

Tahiti would be no escape for me, they’ll have wifi by now.

I went into a Sydney newsagent looking for the excellent Cosmos science magazine. Unable to find any evidence based glossy, I went violently in the other direction and picked up New Dawn (“Consciousness, Quantum Science, Akashic Paradigm”) and Uncensored (“David Icke was right” “Who is Edward Snowden Really Working for?” “The Real Reason for Cellphone Towers”).

I have moments of consumer desire where I see these sort of magazines in a rack and imagine they might be fun to read. Then I sit in a hot bath, sulky and confused as I turn the pages and squint at the burbling, bubbling text. I remember that there are great books still unread and so much science for me to still understand (nearly all of it actually), as well as Alan Moore’s Jerusalem to finish before the end of the week. Therefore, spending time reading how the LGBTTTT (“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transabled, transhuman”) agenda stems from the ancient interbreeding illuminati bloodlines lusts for sexual deviancy or sentences such as “the patient is incarnate awareness disconnected from inspiration, knowing, insight and intuition from its greater self operating at frequencies outside of this fake reality we call the world”, may not be time well spent. It seems that outlets that encourage free thinking are often rigid about which dogmas are stamped with the certificate of freedom.

And none of this scepticism stems from a confidence in the mainstream media, the trustworthiness of corporations, or a delight in our current political systems. Wars are rarely fought for the given reasons, business and banking deals frequently reek of skullduggery on the occasions that the stink of deceit seeps through the cracks, and there appears to be bulky, hulking slabs of misinformation and disinformation stealthily seeded across multiple platforms. But these revelations are usually not as hammily melodramatic as the alien spaceship moon beams controlled by the viper tongued and lizard-eyed secret cave dwelling overlords that scramble our minds and lure us to fast food outlets where the milkshakes tastily sterilise us and brainwash us into dunkin donuts complicity.

It is a problem when the means of mass communication are controlled by so few, and the users frequently prefer confirmation bias over scepticism.

I watched a David Icke performance recently. The first three sentences pointed towards the possibility of an interesting lecture looking at the media in a Chomskyian manner, but before the end of the paragraph, we were in to Von Daniken-ese with a lengthy explanation of why the moon is an alien spaceship. If you want to know more of how that may affect your life, read Our Mysterious Spaceship Moon by Don Wilson. Pragmatists, you may have something more useful to do. Sometimes, I worry that it may be Icke who is the pay of a shadowy splinter group who live in the basement of the CIA. Or is he really from the lizard bloodline, making it all so preposterous then eating big rats whole with Rupert Murdoch and Princess Anne.

So much information, everything is true. I wish it was just a matrix or an angry god or I was brain in a jar being manipulated by an evil mastermind, it would make it much easier to find a handy dogma. I think for the time being I’ll have to believe that humans are confused and confusing, that there’ll be no supermen to save us from ourselves and that, even if our universe is a hologram, stubbing your naked toe on a swollen boulder would create a seemingly accurate sensation of annoyance and pain.

As the history of science has taught us, there may be no right answers, but with careful thinking and experiment based interrogation, we may find a way forward that is at least less wrong than some of the others. Looking at our current carnival of political chaos, it is surprising that we haven’t found a less wrong solution than this. I wish I could blame the lizards.

The latest Book Shambles podcast is science (and Mills & Boon) book special with Brian Cox, Rosetta Missions’ Monica Grady & Matt Taylor, and Ben Miller. Earlier episodes include Chris Hadfield, Mark Gatiss and Sara Pascoe – all are HERE

Johnny Mains and I have edited a new anthology of horror stories by comedians and Alan Moore, including stories by Stewart Lee, James Acaster, Alice Lowe, Josie Long and Isy Suttie. It is out now.

FOOTNOTE: I am going to be returning to Australia and New Zealand in March with a bunch of comedians and scientists for some shows, keep an eye on the AFA website for news – http://atheistfoundation.org.au/

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One Response to These Are Not The Graphs You’re Looking For – an updated post on doubt and dogma.

  1. I think a good distinction is this – is your “skepticism” aimed at undermining your own personal convictions and beliefs or – are you coming at a question with a full narrative about “what’s really happening” which you read somewhere and adopted because it bolsters what you already feel. If someone describes themselves as a “skeptic” but spends all of their time attacking say Black Lives Matter (for instance) in a way that betrays obvious bad faith from the start – ie…the person has no history of actually being interested in the lives of Black people in the US except to attack #BLM with “skeptical” inquiries – I have no basis to take that person seriously at all as a skeptic. The person is a reactionary using skepticism only as a rhetorical strategy but not as a mode of inquiry. If their entire output online is reactionary what is clear is that skepticism is something they only apply to what OTHER people say and do and it is never a tool meant to use as a method of self enquiry. Where is MY thinking gone wrong, what are MY biases, who and what am I invested in defending emotionally, why do Black people self advocating for their safety and the safety of their kids – irk me so much?

    False “skepticism” is a mere rhetorical device to attack all ideas but my own….it’s not really skeptical is it?

    This pose is so so common in the right wing of the “secular/atheistosphere” that I can’t and don’t take it seriously AT All as a movement or as a place to find interesting people any longer…I mean yes, they are around but not at pole surrounding the Sam Harris wing…

    (I use #BLM as an example only and hope people won’t just ferret down that rabbit hole rather than discuss the meta point I’m trying to make.)

    To get all Biblical … which is odd because I am an atheist – check that plank in your own eye before pointing out the splinter in another’s…not bad advice really.

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