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Archive for July, 2009

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

You may or may not recognise this quote and its author. One of the interesting things about it, is that it could easily be the fruits of the mind of an atheist, an enlightened Christian, a scientist, or a devoted mystic, or in fact, anyone who simply has a thirst for the truth, unadorned by the filters of a conditioned mind.

It is, of course, a quote from the Buddha. I am currently immersed in Buddhist thoght and practice and I find that its central tenets agree perfectly with the circumsceptic creed: “don’t simply accept the opinions of others: go see for yourelf.”

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Skeptics need a good PR expert. The popular media tends not to portray them at all fairly, especially when the story is angled towards the believers — whether light-heartedly or seriously. I think there is this general public perception that skeptics want to take all the fun and mystery out of life, and just leave us with boring facts. Totally untrue and unwarranted of course, but then, public perception rarely involves the truth.

When someone like Oprah or Larry King does a show on any paranormal subject, the token skeptic is treated in a rather off-hand manner, (sometimes with barely-disguised derision) and given about one tenth the air-time that the paranormalist gets. Debunking just doesn’t make good television. Which is a shame; the truth should be made more digestible than fantasy.

A good case in point is Richard Dawkins, and his brilliant books and TV documentaries on belief in God and New Age philosophies and practice. With regard to religion, I find myself agreeing with almost everything he says — after all, most of his attacks are on fundamentalism, which is not very spiritual at all. The trouble is, he suffers from an image problem. He is not the warmest of hosts, and comes off a little too academic and, well, nerdy.

Mr Dawkins is in sharp contrast to messrs. Savage and Heinemann from the Mythbustsers (and not forgetting Tory, Grant and the delectable Kari), who are more than happy to throw their scientific hats into the paranormal or alt.lifestyle ring. They are quirky, funny and a joy to watch.

Two entirely different approaches to dispelling fantasy with facts — opposite ends of the spectrum, one might say — yet neither is really heralding any fundamental change in the public perception of applied critical thinking.

So the answer to the question in the header is very simple: skepticism is not cool because ‘what might be’ is always more interesting than ‘what is.’

And to make skepticism ‘cooler’ and therefore the more desirable option, there is a solution, that is just as simple.

“What is’ needs to adopted as the more useful, and valuable, spiritual choice. Not a logical, or even responsible choice, but a spiritual one.

How this might be attempted will be the subject of future posts.

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http://planetarytypes.wordpress.com/

The title of my first book, due out by Bardic Press in a week or two, is rather ambitious to say the least, coming as it does, from a very skeptical approach.

I wrote it around 2001 and only revisited it just over a year ago, when my editor and publisher Andrew heard about the MS and asked to read it. The rest is history, or soon will be, as the release date approaches.

I’d like to share this small excerpt with you from the opening of Chapter 12 of ‘Planetary Types: The Science of Celestial Influence.

“Since I first began my study of types and the possibility of establishing a science of celestial influence, my outlook on life, science and any laws governing human behaviour and mechanics has undergone its own evolution. I spent many years following the ideas of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and though I am no longer a card-carrying Fourth Way student, its influence on my life and my understanding of how the world works is undeniable. Though it is quite a complex system of esoteric knowledge, I have distilled its most valuable nuggets down into a few simple useful guidelines that help me navigate life’s mysteries. I am also strongly influenced by Buddhism, which exhorts us to look at the world directly and innocently, in order to see it as it really is. As a result, I tend to look at the world more simply, and try to be honest and realistic about the way things are.

My critical faculties have also grown over the years, and I actually find myself more of a sceptic now than when I began this work. I rely less on what I would like to believe and more on what is likely, and what is possible. That is why I am under no illusions as to the difficulties of establishing any new Science of Celestial Influence. If it is to have strong foundations I have to be as meticulous and ruthless in laying its groundwork as I have been with the critical examination of traditional astrology.”

The outcome of the book relies heavily on experimental outcomes, as it encourages the reader to undertake their own tests to try and determine whether the planets influence character and physiology. (When I originally did my own tests I found it difficult to enlist the aid of those who could conduct the tests with the strict protocols and methods necessary, so the book is actually a way of furthering the research.)

The book is an experiment in itself, as I see it. It tries to navigate a course between the two extremes of spring-loaded skepticism and rejection of paranormal phenomena, and blind belief. It is not strictly evangelical about one outcome or the other, but simply asks the question: ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if …?’ I think that is a more inclusive approach to metaphysical phenomena, and a far more fruitful one.

The book can be summed up by this snippet from a quote by Johannes Kepler from the chapter on the history of the planetary types. It illustrates one of the hallmarks of circumscepticism: that if you examine paranormalities critically and clear away a lot of the embroidery and nonsense, “… perhaps a good little grain, yes, a pearly or golden corn could be scraped for and found by an industrious hen.”

I believe there are more than a few pearly grains in this book. I hope you enjoy them.

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I know what you’re thinking. ‘Great. Another one of those hip hybrid terms to add to my bulging 21st century lexicon.’

But let me beg your indulgence. It’s the first word I’ve ever invented and I am a proud, gushing daddy. Give it your attention as it dodders out into the world on its tiny little legs. You might find it more than just a cute addition to our lexical playground.

I found it absolutely essential in defining my own philosophical orientation.

So bear with me – I promise this will be a short introduction rather than a lengthy treatise. I plan on expanding on definitions and qualifications as we proceed.

Working out what we believe and, more importantly, why we believe it, is an essential step in understanding who we are. However, most of the world seems polarised into two warring camps.

Skepticism* has a rather dodgy public image. Which, I might add, is generally unwarranted. I have a great admiration for the majority of the high-profile skeptics – most of them are brilliant thinkers and well-rounded individuals. Nonetheless, when most people hear the word ‘skeptic,’ they usually conjure up impressions of a stern, unforgiving academic with a long beard, debunking anything that introduces a little mystery into our mundane lives, popping our mystical balloons with a cold, clinical relish.

One of the skeptic movement’s failings is that they tend to lump everything outside of science together into some mystical blancmange, that is fuelled by gullibility and wishful thinking. The hard-core skeptical culture even uses nicknames like ‘woo-woo’ to describe anything that falls outside science’s boundaries.

Well, I am here to welcome you to the exciting new territory of the inbetween – circumscepticism.

A circumsceptic worldview is not polarised into believer or skeptic; they look at both ends, and are especially on the lookout for hidden existential and philosophical agendas, and are generally a little more comfortable with sequestered juries of the mind than most people. They are happy to suspend final judgement until they are satisfied they have reached a final truth. That doesn’t always happen, but they have learned to embrace uncertainty.

A circumsceptic is someone who doesn’t rush to believe every hare-brained notion, yet does not believe that science can furnish them with the last word about reality. Neither extreme — unquestioning belief or diamond-tipped doubt — can reveal ultimate, fundamental truths about life, consciousness and purpose.

I am a sceptic, make no mistake about that, I am an avowed critical thinker, but I’m not a card-carrying member of any skeptical body, nor do I subscribe to their philosophical charters. I guess you could say I am soft-core, but I have a very pointy end. I am very comfortable inhabiting that no-man’s land between belief and hard-core skepticism.

The fence I sit on has two feet hanging over the skeptic’s side, (as will become obvious as I examine specific paranormalities) but I am very comfortable perched up here.

Now that there is a clear and present danger of mixing my metaphors, (a fence in no-man’s land?) it is time to let my new baby have his nap time.

I’ll have more to report once he wakens. We might even all wake up together.

(*scep/skep is just a cultural spelling issue – the US uses the ‘k’, and I am an Aussie, a race with few prejudices, so I will use both)

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