"Our sense of wonder grows exponentially; the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery."

-- E.O. Wilson

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Just a li'l essay of my own today....

Instinctively, I'm one of the most skeptical people I know (...assuming of course that I and other people actually exist, that is ;-)) Having said that, I'm also VERY open to all genuine ideas put forward by sincere, intelligent people --- in part because of the many bizarre notions in math and physics that are completely beyond my logic and comprehension (yet accepted by reputable people), I feel compelled to maintain an open-mind about other sorts of "crazy" ideas.
Even upon settling on a given view or belief with a high level of confidence, I'll leave the door cracked open a sliver for anything that might come along to alter that opinion (especially since science does have some history of crackpot-ish notions becoming mainstream.)

I'm not comfortable with the label "skeptic," because of connotations it has in some quarters ("close-minded," "sterile," "nerdy," "hyper-critical," etc.), but in fact am probably MORE of a skeptic than most of those who proudly wear that label --- because I'm skeptical across the board (while also "open" to things across the scientific landscape, as well) --- as much as I love it, I'm skeptical of science and its applications (it DOES get misused, and does get things very wrong sometimes, injuriously so); and skeptical of skeptics themselves --- of their motives, their biases and objectivity, skeptical of their real understanding of the underlying nature of science and knowledge. ...Hell, I s'pose I'm skeptical of my own skepticism at times, knowing it may be overwrought --- annoyingly, I see a broad landscape in shades of gray where others see patches of black-and-white ( -- an old bumper sticker reads "Question Authority;" my own dictum tends toward "Question Everything").

Compared to the comfort that "certainty" provides, being a tad scientifically skeptical of all things all the time is difficult, but it is made palatable by simultaneously remaining open to most things most of the time. 'Remaining open' does not mean 'believing in;' it merely means recognizing that limitations of human rationality make complete dismissiveness inadvisable.
Both skepticism and open-mindedness are needed in science, and perhaps even in equal doses. But if I was forced at gunpoint to choose between an emphasis on one or the other (not that it could even be that black-and-white), without a blink I'd choose in favor of openness. Skepticism helps keep science kosher and unpolluted, but in its essence, openness (to new, unconventional, and even controversial ideas), and not skepticism, is what generally propels science forward.

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