Saturday, July 10, 2010

I'm Emotional and I'm a Skeptic. So fuck off.

I do not have a degree in bio-genetics or astronomy. I'm not an expert on evolution or black holes. I have not studied philosophy or consciously debunked paranormal claims using logical fallacies. I try my best to stay informed of scientific issues that are important to me. I try my best to step back and consider the validity of an argument and I'm willing to admit I do not know enough to state an opinion on something. I value proof, logic and reason. I consider myself a skeptic.

But still, I can't wrap my head around a lot scientific knowledge. It's not because I'm a girl and I'm a less inclined. It's because I've chosen a different path. My talents and interest like outside the realm of being any kind of scientific expert. I make the world a better place by helping people understand the world through connections and metaphors. I find painful beauty in a well crafted poem. I am very in touch with my emotional self. I am full of passion and spark and vision and excitement. I'm emotional.

And I'm pissed off.

Why? Because of these question that's being posed by Bruce Hood (author of Supersense) at TAM8:

* Would you willingly wear Jeffrey Dahmer’s clothing?
* Could you stab a photograph of a loved one?
* Would you accept a heart transplant from a murderer?
* Would you exchange a sentimental object for an identical duplicate?

Actually, I'm not pissed off because of these questions. I LIKE these questions. You know why? Because it's proof that skeptics aren't untouchable. It's supposed to be an exercise that shows skeptics that we are HUMAN TOO. Even the most skeptical of us have irrational beliefs. This doesn't mean we aren't skeptics. This isn't a weakness. I repeat: it's called being human.

I'm pissed off because people assume I am less of a skeptic because I wouldn't be willing to get rid of an object because it holds special meaning. I'm also pissed off because people are taking these questions out of context and using them to play "I'm a better skeptic than you are!" game because one person would be willing to throw away their wedding ring.


Liz said...

Just so you know, I will forever and ever keep my Weave button in my box of irreplaceable awesome things.

emotionally yours,

AtheistAmputee said...

I saw this on friendlyatheist as well, but I like your take better. While these questions open our eyes to how unnecessarily superstitious we can be (even as skeptics), I think that at the same time, they show us how necessary comfort is to our minds. While we may not need a material object in question, or may feel tarnished in wearing Dahmer's jail suit, the fact of the matter is that we feel uncomfortable. I think that superstition and the like are simply there to provide familiarity and instinctual caution. While an athlete might perform a ritual or wear a special garment under his/her uniform under superstitious pretenses, they do it as a habit, and a comforting one at that.

I can't say that getting the heart from a murderer transplanted in my body would bother me, as I would see the need to live in a greater light than that of death... especially if it was my only/best option, but stabbing a picture of a family member would bother me to no end, as it would be an uncomfortable representative of something I could never imagine doing.

Thanks for the post, L. I hope to see you at another Drinking Skeptically!

PS. I was the guy who made fun of you for using Macs, who did all the voice impressions, and is missing his left hand. :)

dearouterspace said...

Liz! I miss you. I will forever associate drinking Yuengling in a loud bar with memories of you. Therefore I will never give up drinking Yuengling.

dearouterspace said...

I see this whole discussion as something that is completely lacking attention in the skeptic community. We fail to value the emotional response, but it can deeply affect us as skeptics. It doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, I would argue that most people are actively skeptical because they FEEL passionate about an issue. They, in some sense, are following an emotional response and placing an attachment to an issue.

For example, I left the church because I was excluded as someone who identifies as queer. This made me feel a number of emotions: anger, confusion, sadness but I eventually felt passion toward helping others and promoting gay rights. My emotions lead me toward the skeptic movement where I now promote organizations like the CFI who support gay rights.

I think this is a big area in which the skeptic movement is missing gaining ground. Phil Plait said that we must appeal to people emotionally, because no one likes to be told they are stupid. If we are going to appeal to people emotionally, we have to have compassion, empathy and an understanding of our own emotions - and quite honestly, I don't see a lot of these qualities among many skeptics. Our lack of empathy can be our greatest set-back. If we can realize that our emotional needs are a valid and important part of the human experience, we will have a greater respect when we approach someone with the idea of arguing against their emotionally-charged belief. By learning to understand the human heart as much as the human mind, we can help the world become a more rational place.

Mrsdahmer8 said...

i would LOVE to wear something of jeffrey dahmers, infact, i wrote his dad a letter asking for an article of his clothing, so i COULD wear it. and my answers to ALL the rest of your questions is YES, except for the last one because it would serve no purpose. if there was ANY sort of LOGICAL reason to do so, then i probably would.

Kmeadows74 said...

Hmmm. As for Dahmer's clothes and the murder's heart, I guess that would be tying some kind of strange superstitious significance to these if anything could possibly be passed from thee people to you by touch, which is silly. As for the loved one's photograph, I guess the superstitious bit is thinking the act of causing harm to this object will somehow cause harm to the loved one...again, silly. The exchanging a sentimental object for an identical object I don't get, though--nothing supernatural or superstitious there, though it does speak to emotions. But superstitions and emotions aren't the same thing.

Why is the emotional life of skeptics such a strange subject among skeptics? Are skeptics striving to eliminate emotional responses from their lives, and if so, for what purpose? Emotional doesn't equal irrational, and one would think that folks priding themselves on their rationality would see this very clearly.

dearouterspace said...

I think a number of things were happening when I posted this. Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) posted the question about trading in your wedding ring for an identical duplicate. A number of people responded with some kind of "so what's the big deal" remark. I was frustrated by people's approach to the questions because they failed to see it as part of a broader question about irrational beliefs in the skeptic community. They were supposed to make you think about areas where you might still have superstitious beliefs, despite your skepticism (if not the above questions, perhaps something else). Most people just saw it as a chance to chime in and prove they were detached from their wedding rings, making those that might have an emotional attachment feel strange.

Good point about emotional not being the same as superstitious. While the first three are superstitious they are also things that might make you feel something. Uncomfortable. Icky. Anxious. While someone might rationalize that wearing Dahmer's clothing has no affect on you (evil does not transfer through clothes) they still might hesitate in being willing to wear them because of the emotional creep-factor. (Not to mention that we don't know what psychological effects these might have on someone. If someone asked me to stab a picture of my late grandfather I'd probably end up bawling on the floor or barfing or both. But that's a whole other argument).

Emotions and skepticism are not strange bedfellows. In fact, at TAM this weekend it seems that if skeptics want to make strides in the mainstream, having a good understanding of a believers emotional attachments can be beneficial. Also, being willing (and humble enough) to admit that we all have areas where we fall into superstition might be a better avenue to making a case for rational thinking, instead of just staying up on our high horses with science on our sides.

As someone who is highly emotional, I've been told so many times that I'm crazy, psycho, irrational, messed-up, etc. Not by skeptics, but mostly by (ex) friends and people I've (formerly) dated. I get a little sensitive about this subject because its important to me that we value the emotional experience of our humanity as much as we value our ability to reason. They can inform one another. I wish I heard more about these topics on the skeptic blogs.

Kmeadows74 said...

I would be categorized as 'emotional' as well, though I'm pretty pragmatic and rational with my approach to most things in life (school, job, etc.). I can be very emotional, but more than that, I am very sentimental. Skeptics are doing themselves a great disservice by distancing themselves from emotion and not just irrationality. There is nothing irrational or unreasonable about sentimentality. It doesn't take a genius to figure this out.

For me, I've always hated the idea of placating people with irrational beliefs by trying to make skepticism more irrational-friendly (ex: offering people with religious beliefs a comparable alternative...something fluffy and feel-goody to make them less afraid of the world)...I just want to tell them to suck it up and deal with it. But there is something to be said about not making skepticism any *more* unpalatable than it might already be. Acting as if skeptics have to let go of something like their own emotions and valuing memories and loved ones, is utterly ridiculous and damaging. In fact, if that's what it means to be a skeptic, I'll just opt out and find something other word to describe myself,.

Kmeadows74 said...

Sorry...another thought. And probably a better one. In August, I am going on an overnight spookhunt at the West Virginia State Penitentiary. The folks I am going with believe it is haunted. I expect it will be a lot like Most Haunted, where a group shhes each other, asks "Did you hear that?" and then when the house settles they all run screaming. Good fun.

So, if I don't believe in ghosts, why am I going? I suppose like any good skeptic, I'll always be open to anything, although, at this point, it would take a full-bodied phantom horse and carriage with flames shooting out here and there for me to consider it. But I'm not expecting anything like that, so why go? Because I like to get creeped out the same way I like scary movies. I enjoy it. It's a fun feeling, and frankly, as a skeptic, I get to tap into that less and less these days.

So, then, how am I able to get creeped out if I don't believe in this stuff? Admittedly, if something goes bump, I'll most likely be the best person to go investigate, as I'll likely be much *less* creeped out than the others, but in fact, I wouldn't be creeped out because I am expecting to be attacked by a spook. I believe that there are innate instincts in us, probably left over from our caveman days, that makes our bodies react certain ways under certain conditions. Dark, unfamiliar places, I think, will creep a person out no matter how rational they think they are, and I don't think it's a discredit to their skepticism. Now, I suspect the folks who are trying to out-skeptic each other would find this to be silly and try to do everything they can to rid themselves of this 'irrational' instinct. I, however, don't think it's irrational. I think it's perfectly rational for the body to become tense, the palm start to sweat, the heart to start racing...if you feel l you might be threatened. It's a fear of the unknown rather than the fear of something specific and supernatural, like a ghost. For all I know a murderous escaped convict could come out of the dark and stab me in the eye.

Point: There are a lot of things some skeptics think it's embarrassing to admit, or best to shed as quickly as possible with the least bit ceremony. I think there are somethings that we should hold onto. For me, it's just more fun this way. I would have even more fun if I could bring myself to believe in ghosts (what fun!), but I can't, so I will enjoy this crazy shit my body does when it does it for as long as I possibly can. Some skeptics need to lighten the fuck up. =D

badrescher said...

May I suggest that anyone who plays that game with you is demonstrating the main difference between intelligent people who reason well and intelligent people who are less than rational?

What differentiates intellect from rational thought is hubris, and the people who claim to be immune from magical thinking are those who are too closed minded to admit that they are human.

You've gained a reader (me).

dearouterspace said...

Hey there. Thanks for your comment. I'm not used to people actually reading this blog yet. But I appreciate your readership. I will tell you that I have avoided blogging about skepticism for a number of reasons. This is perhaps my first post. I mostly blog about writing and poetry, sometimes teaching.

Do you have a blog?

Bruce Hood said...

What an interesting set of responses to the thought experiments. I agree that these questions raise issues about rationality that need to be recognized in the skeptical community... Glad to have prompted it to some degree.

dearouterspace said...

Bruce! So funny that you found my little blog post. Your book sounds really fascinating and I can't wait to read it. I've requested it at the library. I am really glad you made these points. It seems that TAM brought a number of important issues to the surface of the skeptic community. Glad to have found out about your book.