"So, you're an Atheist/Scientist/Rationalist/Skeptic, eh?"

"Yes... And?"

"I saw a ghost - EXPLAIN THAT!"


If something similar hasn't happened to you guys yet (assuming you're all 'Atheists/Scientists/Rationalists/Skeptics', which I hope isn't necessarily the case, even if this is an Atheist forum), it will.

It may come as a surprise too. Perhaps you don't expect a loved one or a close friend to sincerely utter that damnable phrase with a face like a poo-proud toddler, but it could be them you have to confront. (Or humour.)

People - all of us - are silly.

We're all susceptible to irrationality, to assumption, to superstitious inklings and to bad judgement - but it can be helped. The first step: knowing we're flawed. Acceptance of ignorance and predictability. Knowledge of our cognitive habits, limits, and weaknesses... Or something.

Let me explain. I wouldn't like for all of what's written to come across substance-void and colourfully, baselessly assertive. Not all of it.

I say we're 'flawed', because we are. Our judgements are never anything other than context-skewed and inherently 'self-ish' - which is to say that it's extremely hard to really view 'reality' through anyone else's eyes. There is no true empathy, only highly relatable sympathy. We are our brains, and our brains haven't yet figured out a way to literally plug themselves into each other and exchange raw signal. For now, with regards again to 'empathy', for example, we interpret the outward signals of the brains of others - again within the context of our own biases and character - before coming to some sort of a conclusion as to how they're feeling (and how much we care).

Make sense?

What I think I'm trying to say, (very much) more concisely, is this: a person's perception is skewed by their history.

But how does this fit in? What am I trying to get at?

Allow me to clarify.

If someone comes to you saying they've seen a ghost, it's not unfair to assume that they're the sort of person willing to over-entertain the thought that they have in fact seen one, and that, were they a different person (with a different judgement-shaping history), then they'd probably not even be there challenging you on the matter in the first place.

Now I'm confusing me...

Put it this way: who stands a better chance of attributing hallucination/pareidolia, for instance, to 'ghost' - 'Steve', or 'Vicky the Neuroscientist'?

But the matter is really one of whether or not a person is willing and able to accept the response "I can't 'explain that', I don't have enough information. But it may have been..."

If they can't, I tell them this (emphasis mine):

I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.” - Richard Feynman.

That's not to say I don't enjoy the odd bit of imaginative speculation, it's just that I can entertain a thought without accepting it as fact. It's not that hard.

Not jumping on the 'ghost' bandwagon isn't 'close-minded', it's just cautionary. I'd rather, ultimately, sit on the fence - even if I do, admittedly, lean much more towards favouring a (perhaps presently non-existent) 'natural' explanation over a 'supernatural' one.

Want to change my mind? Show me the evidence. Solid evidence.

And some of the things, in case you were wondering, which don't quite qualify as 'solid evidence' include, to name a few:

  • Anecdote. Your own, or a story you've heard.
  • Many people believing in something.
  • People believing in something for 'thousands of years'.
  • A YouTube video.
  • Someone's blog.

I want reliable, repeatable proof!

Don't you?

Carnun :P

(Re-posted from 'The Ramblings of a Young Atheist' by the Author.)

Views: 264

Tags: Empiricism, Humour, Rationality, Reason, Religion, Skepticism, Superstition

Comment by _Robert_ on September 15, 2013 at 8:15am

I have a buddy who believes in god only because he is convinced he (and his family) once experienced a ghost. Even if I became convinced ghosts exist, I am not sure it necessarily requires a deity. Some say that if you are closed-minded to the supernatural, you will not ever experience it. I told him I welcome all ghosts, and hope it's a dark and stormy night so I can really enjoy it. Now he thinks I'm crazy.



Comment by Unseen on September 15, 2013 at 10:12am

Idiots can't be helped. In order to have fewer idiots, we need to promote critical thinking in school. Critical thinking isn't encouraged in the pre-higher education system. The public is afraid of it before the college level. Don't believe me? Try to get a philosophy course set up in high school, even if all it does is teach logic and doesn't even discuss religious beliefs. You'll be set on your ass in no time.

Comment by Carnun Marcus-Page on September 15, 2013 at 3:46pm

Angela: People, eh?

RobertPiano: The plan all along? :P

Unseen: Agreed. (Which is why I, as a student, set one up!)

Comment by Brendan on September 15, 2013 at 6:45pm

I can explain the pictures comment Sock monkeys are a tiny species of spider monkey that eat left socks only. As for ghosts well the mind is a tricky sucker it seems to enjoy tricking itself oo look i saw a shadow move it must be a ghost, a car just drove past but that wouldn't cause a shadow like the one I saw as I know it was a ghost. Basically if you believe you will see what you want to see and your mind will go along. Unless some drugs are used than thats a different story.

Comment by Stutz on September 16, 2013 at 1:52am

@ Angela:

I have a cool example of superstitions being generated. It's not supernatural, but it's an interesting one nonetheless...

In South Korea, there's a rampant belief that leaving an electric fan running in your room as you sleep can kill you. Google "Korea fan death". Apparently it's been widely believed since the 1970s, and people claim that it either gives you hypothermia or somehow deprives you of oxygen and suffocates you if you don't crack a window first. There are warning labels on fans sold in S Korea and the media there continues to report on "fan deaths" (usually people dying of natural causes who happen to have left a fan running) even though there is no evidence and the rest of the world sleeps with fans all the time to no ill effect.

Comment by hamady hadi on September 16, 2013 at 5:40am

There are deposits religious remain in a person even after he left,
Such as the ratification of the eye or ghosts or magic
But will go with the time and the greater scientific knowledge.


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