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William O

Why do skeptics love ideas that say everyone is irrational?

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By skeptics, I mean people like Michael Shermer and James Randi who go around disproving unscientific ideas like homeopathy. I'm not talking about philosophical skepticism as in "you might be a brain in a vat."

Here are two recently released books that are viewed favorably in the skeptic community (the former has a lot of upvotes in the "skeptic" subreddit, and the latter is by Michael Shermer):

Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions Are So Compelling

The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

I haven't read either of these books, but they both basically seem to argue some variant of "everyone is irrational" based on the reviews I've seen.

Now, an Objectivist will immediately see that this is a contradiction. If you advocate rationality, you can't tell people that everyone is irrational, because then there is no obligation to be rational. Everyone is on a par in that case. You can deduce that Albert Einstein is indistinguishable from Deepak Chopra in terms of rationality from that premise.

So, I have two questions for discussion:

1. Why does this contradiction persist in the skeptic community? What makes this plausible or attractive to them, given their premises?

2. We have to assume that the leaders of the movement, like Shermer, know that what they are saying is nonsense, because any intelligent person can see that their position refutes itself. So my second question is, what's the motive?

Thanks for your responses.

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I haven't read the books either, so this conversation is borderline meaningless, but I would love to find out more about this sentence, from the Shermer book's summary:

Quote

 

"Ultimately, he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality."

 

It's a little unclear what that means. Does it mean that science is the best tool to determine whether ANY belief matches reality?

Because it's clearly not. To talk about tools, you must first define the problem you're trying to solve. So what's the best tool to do that? What tool is he using to define the problem he's trying to solve with science?

Specifically, what tool did he use to determine that there's such a thing as reality, and that he is conscious of it?

Just asking, obviously. Hopefully someone who actually read the book comes along, and tells us about what's in it. So that we have something more than guesses, to discuss.

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17 hours ago, William O said:

1. Why does this contradiction persist in the skeptic community? What makes this plausible or attractive to them, given their premises?

2. We have to assume that the leaders of the movement, like Shermer, know that what they are saying is nonsense, because any intelligent person can see that their position refutes itself. So my second question is, what's the motive?

"There is an unseen underlying irrationality in everyone, and even you are not immune from it, but I know it, and you can know it too... if you listen to me... and pay a small fee."

Edited by StrictlyLogical
Said "rationality" when it should've been "irrationality"

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18 hours ago, William O said:

I haven't read either of these books, but they both basically seem to argue some variant of "everyone is irrational" based on the reviews I've seen.

Are you sure it's not "everyone is fallible" instead of "everyone is irrational"?  From my experience with Shermer (and Randi), I expect that's the mix-up (/equivocation) being made by whichever reviewers you've seen.

 

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William, looking through the "Look Inside" Table of Contents and text available from that first book, by the psychology professor, it looks like a large compendium of human errors, conceptually and scientifically amenable to analysis and discovery of their mechanisms. Starting with the second chapter, that is. In that, it seems like Dennis (Ninth) is right. However, the first chapter does seem to parade some all-too-common irrationalities that it suggests will be explained by the material in the succeeding chapters. I don't know if the book does fulfill that, and it is indeed unclear from what is shown whether the author regards the irrationalities such as murderous religiosity as anything more than deterministic errors. Also, I don't catch anything about rational belief such as our belief that the moon illusion is an illusion. In fact, he just seems to wave his hand, saying surely no one could believe the moon could be actually a larger size near the horizon. But what about people 25,000 years ago? They had natural language like us, but not our accumulated exploration, science, and mathematics. I don't see why they would not just presume the moon changes its size in the way it visually appears to change. I've taken a photograph of the rising moon before with my camera. It's marvelous largeness in our eyes is just not there in the photo. The largeness and marvelousness are not there in the photo. We have rational methods of investigating illusions. Not only in how they come about, but for determining that they ARE an illusion in the first place. Offhand, it does not look like this book stresses, if it addresses it at all, that we have rational beliefs and methods and why THEY are so compelling.

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