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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Essay on Skepticism vs. True Believer Syndrome

Essay on Skepticism vs. True Believer Syndrome

Some people believe in the after life.  Others believe in ghosts and spirits who continue to live amongst us.  Others believe in witchcraft while others believe in superstition.   There are also those who believe in alien beings or even in the Loch Ness Monster.    These things fall under the category of paranormal.  Paranormal is defined as the belief in things which violate the principles of science (Luis Diaz-Vilela  1).  The belief is paranormal is a trait shared by many.  It can be found in movies, televisions, books, newspapers and even folklores handed down from one generation to the next.  The belief in paranormal is also not confined in a single geographical location but it transcends time and space.  Indeed, wherever one is, a person can find someone who believes in paranormal phenomenon.  It is because of this reason that paranormal is considered one of the most interesting fields of parapsychological study.

True Believer Syndrome
Bertrand Russell, a famous philosopher once said, “Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.” Man has always been known to have a predisposition to believe the unbelievable and the unknown.  This is confirmed by surveys which say that a large proportion of the adults in the US are predisposed toward believing in the paranormal. (Michael J. Dougherty 1).

Specifically, according to a 1996 survey conducted by Newsweek, it was reported that 41% of adults believe in astrology while 66% believe that ESP is real.  Moreover, the same survey showed that 72% of adults believe in angels, 50% believe in UFOs, and 30% believe in ghosts.  (Dougherty 1)
Bertrand Russell is therefore right in saying that in the absence of contrary statements, individuals would believe in anything.  However, he is also wrong because other individuals would like to keep on believing in something even when there are overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  These are the people who suffer from True Believer Syndrome.

True Believer Syndrome is not a scientific or psychological term. It is also not a term used to describe a medical condition.  Rather, True Believer Syndrome is a term coined by reformed fraudulent psychic Lamar Keene in his book The Psychic Mafia where he used True Believer Syndrome to refer to an irrational belief in the paranormal events even after the direct confession and evidence that the events were fraudulently staged.  While Lamar Keene admits that he has no medical background, he thinks that individuals suffering from True Believer Syndrome has a cognitive disorder.

In his book he cited examples of individuals who have True Believer Syndrome.  He mentioned a certain person named Raoul.  He was a psychic medium who later on admitted that he was a fake.  Individuals who have True Believe Syndrome will continue to believe in people like Raoul.  Lamar Keene said that he is amazed at how people who despite having knowledge of the truth will continue to believe in a lie.  He also cites as an example the pretensions committed by James Randi and Jose Alvarez.  It appeared that in 1899, James Randi convinced Jose Alvarez to pretend that he was communicating with a spirit named “Carlos.”  Despite the revelation made by James Randi and Jose Alvarez, the public still believed that “Carlos” was real.

Lamar Keene cites the True Believer Syndrome as the reason why fake psychics remain in the business of fooling and tricking people.

During the time of Socrates, a Greek Philosopher, there was a group of philosophers who considered themselves Skeptics – the Sophists.  The Sophists were great travelers who were often seen visiting different cities.  Because of their travels, they have noticed that people from different states observe different laws.  For example, incest may be a crime for one city state while in another city state, incest may be an acceptable practice.  In view of the differences in laws, customs and practices and in moral principles, they came to the conclusion that man is incapable of having knowledge.  They thought that man is incapable of knowing anything.  While the truth is out there waiting for us to grasp, man’s limitations make him incapable of attaining this knowledge.  This has become the foundation for philosophical skepticism.

The philosophical skepticism advocated by the Sophists and other philosophers like Descartes, is different from Scientific Skepticism or Rational Skepticism.  It is a position where one questions the veracity and truthfulness of a claim unless they are empirically tested.  Skeptics are people who will not believe in something unless that something has been empirically tested.  In effect, only those who pass the test of science can be accepted as true.  Thus, this form of skepticism is different from philosophical skepticism as the former acknowledges that knowledge is possible while the latter thinks that knowledge is impossible.
Taking into account this definition of Skepticism, it can be gleaned that Skepticism adopts an attitude which is contrary to that of individuals who have True Believer Syndrome.  First, Skeptics are not inclined to believe the unbelievable while people who have True Believer Syndrome are more inclined to believe the unbelievable.  This means that Skeptics do not have the tendency to believe anything that is presented to them.  Individuals who have True Believer Syndrome, on the other hand, have a strong tendency to believe anything that is presented to them.  This is the reason why Skeptics consider True Believers as “credulous, uncritical and foolish people. (Matthew D. Smith 2)  For example, Skeptics will not ordinarily accept the idea that some individuals have seen a ghost while True Believers will typically believe the accounts of other persons that they have seen a ghost and that the more persons make the same statement the more they are likely to believe statements that ghosts do exist.

Secondly, Skeptics are also believers but they require that a proposition must be empirically and scientifically tested first while individuals who have True Believer Syndrome are all believers regardless whether the proposition has been empirically and scientifically tested.  (Skeptical professor tracks paranormal deception, hoaxes” 1)  Skeptics require the information and data presented to them to be verified first before they are accepted as true.  Individuals who have True Believer Syndrome do not need verification to accept a proposition as true.  For example, before a Skeptic will believe a claim that a person is able to communicate to the dead, he will normally require evidence or proof from the person claiming it.  A True Believer, on the other hand, will not require proof or evidence from the person claiming that he is able to communicate to the dead, instead, a True Believer will believe with or without evidence or proof.

Thirdly, Skeptics will not accept a statement or proposition once scientific and empirical evidence have proven such statement or proposition as wrong while True Believers will continue to accept a proposition as true even if there is are scientific and empirical evidence to the contrary.  One of the most important roles of science is to test the verifiability and reliability of statements.  If a statement fails to pass that test then the statement or proposition will be discarded as untrue.  For example, once scientific evidence has confirmed that UFO sightings are mere hoax perpetrated by individuals wanting to cause a scare to people by making UFO-like objects to appear using camera tricks Skeptics will immediately reject the idea of UFO.  On the other hand, True Believers despite the admission of individuals and the explanation on how UFOs were made to appear in the sky using camera tricks will continue to believe in them.

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