How to be an Open-Minded Sceptic (and why it's important)
04 Apr 2018
Learning open-minded scepticism is vital for stopping the fragmentation of society caused by the confusiong of ideologies (maps of reality) with reality itself. Otherwise we will be forever at war with those we disagree with.
OPEN-MINDEDNESS AND SCEPTICISM may appear somewhat contradictory. After all, sceptics are the ones that dole out the greatest “bashings” to alternative perspectives and claimed experiences. So if you are sceptical by nature, then it is assumed that you are not the type to be open to new ideas. This assumption is understandable because most sceptics are applying their scepticism mindlessly, merely as apologists for an underlying faith in scientific realism.
These scientific realists, believing that science has uncovered (and continues to uncover) reality’s true nature, reject any belief or claimed experience that does not appear on their scientific reality-map. After all, one can only be rationally sceptical towards something if one has something “real” to measure against. In other words, a “real” framework or template is needed to assess the reality of a belief or claimed experience. Hence these sceptics must confuse their scientific reality-map with reality in order to elevate themselves to arbiters of what is real and what is not real.(Scepticism that tries to assert itself without such a framework is basically nihilism, and nihilism goes nowhere — by definition.)
So most scepticism is just a blind belief or faith in the standard scientific reality-map drummed into most of us at school. That said, most of those who blindly hold this scientific reality-map do not feel the need to attack anyone and everything that does not agree with that position. Those that do — the scientific fundamentalists — are driven by their own naivety and insecurity: confusing maps with reality and believing that belief systems need vigorous defending for them to persist. And this leads to the pogroms against alternative assertions and beliefs.
However, if sceptics were more epistemologically educated, they would understand that scientific realism at its deepest level, cannot actually be proved. This places scientific fundamentalism in the same basket as religious fundamentalism. A more sophisticated scientific reality-map is scientific positivism — where the science is merely the process of building accurate models of reality whatever that is. Positivism recognises a map as a map and only makes statements about what is the best map or model of reality.
Because it acknowledges that reality itself is elusive and can only be mathematically mapped, scientific positivism does not provide the firm ground needed to be virulently sceptical. For that, as we have seen, you need a direct assertion of what reality actually is to determine what is and is not real. A position of scientific positivism, therefore, cannot be used to definitively reject alternative perspectives, beliefs and assertions. (If you admit that you don’t know directly what reality actually is and that you only build models of certain measurable aspects of reality, then there is enough “wriggle room” for alternative perspectives to assert their maps — although this says nothing about their accuracy.)
However, if your average sceptic was more insightful and open to questioning his or her own beliefs, then he or she would realise that all that can actually be concluded is that what is being claimed does not show up on the sceptic’s reality-map, and that reality-maps cannot be used to reject experience and beliefs per se, and so alternative claims ultimately can only be subjectively rejected.
Of course, those proposing alternative reality-maps are usually equally epistemologically naive, confusing their maps with reality as well. And so, we get the battles of the reality-maps: those childish name-calling exchanges of “my reality” is real and “your’s” is not. But as scientific realism has had some of the best minds refining it for years and ironing out its internal inconsistencies, it certainly has the upper hand in terms of logical consistency, and if your reality-map is not refined, then it is going to appear less valid. This is why sceptics often “seem” to come off better in these reality-map comparisons. But if society had greater epistemological sophistication, such exchanges would be less one-sided, with each side respecting the others’ position allowing for more constructive debate.
Now to the question of open-minded scepticism: how do we measure the validity of an assertion or belief open-mindedly, without the common knee-jerk rejection associated with religious/scientific fundamentalism? Can we find enough epistemological awareness and emotional maturity to make reasonable assessments?
First, as has been stated, it is important to realise that our choice of reality-map is ALWAYS ultimately subjective, even the choice to adopt scientific realism or scientific positivism. We decide which reality-map to use depending on our circumstances and the usefulness of the map (both practically AND psychologically — and perhaps even spiritually, whatever that means). And many of us will hold more than one reality-map, using whichever is most useful to us in the moment. For example, some hardcore scientists hold a religious reality-map in addition to their scientific one.
That said, we tend to have a primary reality-map which we fall back on… that which we label as reality. So in the example above of a scientists holding both religious and scientific reality-maps, if a religious experience were to happen, it would likely still be dismissed as “unreal” from the scientific point of view and relegated to mind (fantasy). This is, of course, the old mind-body dualism.
The second point to bear in mind is that the reality-map itself is also subjective — it is inferred from from experience. So, for example, a hard core empiricist finds consistent sets of mathematical equations that successfully model certain “physical” aspects of reality, and from these equations a mathematical reality-map is devised. To make it less abstract and more “human friendly”, the map is then coloured in with spacial, temporal and material concepts extrapolated from those mathematical equations. This process is very different from the one that formulated the mathematical equations in the first place and is more akin to creative storytelling and is completely different to the exactness of the Scientific Method. More than one colouring or fleshing scheme can usually be used for the same set of equations.
Remember, the equations on their own mean nothing: it is the interpretation of those equations that give them the context to allow scientists to determine when and how to use them, and how much faith to have in this process.
So our choice of map is always subjective, and so is the nature of the map that we choose. This is why it is so asinine to assume that we can objectively assign levels of “truth” or “reality” to our reality-maps. Yes, they may seem to us to be very accurate, but accuracy does NOT imply that the map is somehow morphing into the territory. A map is always a map no matter how well-drawn it is; an accurate map is no closer to reality than an inaccurate one. But it is certainly a lot more useful.
It is important to note that different maps of reality are useful from different perspectives. Generally, the more accurate a reality-map is from one perspective, the less accurate it is from another because reality is always far greater and more multidimensional than any map of it can be. So the mapping process, by definition, is selective and distorting. For example, different projections of surface of the Earth onto a flat map involve different distortions; any 2-d representation of a 3-d surface is going to have distortion, and this holds true for all mapping processes. Maps, therefore, can never be universal or distortion free. This is why the presence of inaccuracies, omissions and/or distortions in a reality-map do not falsify it.
So, for example, if I use a tube map above ground instead of a road map, then the mismatch of my experience to what the map indicates I should experience does not falsify the tube map. It just means I am not using this map for its intended purpose. That said, if my tube map does not reflect my experience in the tube system, the map can certainly be labelled inaccurate or even useless. But we cannot label it as “false” or, if accurate, label it as “true” as these adjectives imply a reality to maps that they cannot actually have.
So the whole focus on falsification, which is central to the scientific process as it is currently undertaken, is misplaced and epistemologically naive. Instead, the focus should be on determining the accuracy and usefulness of reality-maps rather than their “truthfulness”. While this might seem pedantic considering that the iterative process of drawing up accurate reality-maps is independent of whether we assess them on grounds of truthfulness or on grounds of accuracy, this epistemological sophistication is actually important because it reduces the bigotry the drives fundamentalism. And fundamentalism in any of its forms — religious, scientific, medical, political etc. — is the scourge of humankind; the primary human cause of suffering and mass murder throughout history.
It is all too easy to shake your finger at the obvious craziness of religious fundamentalism whilst remaining unconscious of your adherence to scientific fundamentalism. At the end of the day, it is fundamentalism itself, not its particular flavour, that causes so much strife in society.
* * *
One of the most useful reality-maps is the scientific one because it allows us to model the behaviour of the “material” aspects of our experience, and this facilitates the construction of material systems — technology — which can make huge positive net contribution to our lives.
There are three primary scientific reality-maps: the “common sense” Newtonian space-time scientific reality-map; the “challenging” relativistic scientific reality-map; and the downright “bizarre” quantum scientific reality-map. (These are the widely accepted ones; there are others which are considered more fringe.) These three maps do somewhat dovetail in to each other mathematically although they do remain philosophically separate. Each is generally used for different scales of experience: the Newtonian for our everyday human experience; the Relativistic for fast moving objects and cosmic scales; and the Quantum for molecular, atomic and sub-atomic scales. Although for the sake of this essay we will refer to just a single, generic scientific reality-map, we need to remain aware that the there is actually more than one scientific reality-map because science is not (yet?) unified.
But even though the scientific reality-map is considered the most objective we have — the one most accurate and useful for modelling the material world, we must still bear in mind that the map is never the territory and so the scientific reality-map itself is NOT reality. In other words, just because a map appears to be very accurate in one area of our experience does not bring it any closer to becoming reality than an inaccurate map. A model always remains a model.
Of course, the “territory of our experience” is made up of a lot more than just material considerations. If we make the mistake of confusing our scientific reality-map with reality, then we are going to conjure up a fantasy reality that is likely to behave very differently for those aspects of reality that this map was not primarily created for. Consciousness is a prime example.
The scientific reality-maps have been drawn to exclude consciousness in every way to maintain the illusion of absolute objectivity. But despite every effort, consciousness has refused to die in quantum perspectives — although some scientists are still trying hard to reformulate quantum theory to expel consciousness again and return science to the safe illusion of objectivity.
So given the mapping process that has deliberately excluded consciousness, why do so many look to science to understand what consciousness is just because it can accurately map aspects of the material world? Because consciousness has been avoided by generations of scientists, low and behold science puts forward its view that it is merely an epiphenomenon of complex network systems — secondary to matter. And we naively take this perspective as gospel because we are ignorant of the mapping process.
Most sceptics around these days in Western societies are scientific fundamentalists; more specifically, those who have foolishly confused the Newtonian reality-map with reality, and therefore use this map as a template for what is real throughout human experience. It might be tempting to chuckle at this stupidity, until we remember that most humans confuse their reality-maps as reality… most humans do not have the sophistication to realise that the map is never the territory. And even those who pay lip service to this understanding believe, on some level, that their own primary reality-map is somehow imbued with more truth or more reality than other reality-maps. This is called the reality bias and it affects most of us, not just religious fundamentalists where such bias is more obvious.
So practically all scepticism is the rejection of another’s experiences, beliefs or reality-maps based on subjectively assigning greater truth and reality to one’s own particular reality-map — in this case the scientific reality-map — and then using this exalted “super-map” as a truth template by which all else can be measured.
But we must remember, before using the scientific reality-map, that it only accurately models consistently-experienced aspects of reality that we label as material or physical. Therefore, if a claimed experience cannot be found on this map, all that can actually be inferred is that what we are attempting to model is:
- A rare or unusual phenomenon that therefore has not been provisioned on the map we are using;
- A phenomenon that appears logically inconsistent, sporadic or irrational to us;
- A phenomenon that implies a “reality” of consciousness greater than the epiphenomenal reality assumed by the scientific reality-map;
- Related to the above, a phenomenon that is hidden from those adopting a sceptical state of mind.
Phenomena that exhibit one or more of the above traits are generally dismissed as unreal by those who confuse the scientific reality-map with reality itself. Therefore these phenomena are NOT modelled and do NOT appear on scientific reality-maps.
The biggest problem here is probably the third and fourth: our whole experience of reality — even the logically consistent aspects of reality we call “physical” — are mediated through consciousness, no matter how much those fixated on objectivity try to wriggle and squirm out of the fact. As soon as consciousness is part of the equation, then logic and consistency take a step backwards as consciousness is the first layer of our experience. But the primacy of consciousness threatens the sanctity of objectivity, and so consciousness is never allowed to be any more than an illusion associated with complex neural or silicon nets. This is a prerequisite for scientific realism — the elephant in the room that so many are jumping through hoops to avoid addressing.
The rise of the Quantum reality-map, as was mentioned earlier, does lets consciousness out of the bag because one of its philosophical interpretations is that consciousness itself collapses the wave function.
Up until the birth of quantum theory, waves and particles were considered to be two separate and logically inconsistent aspects of physical reality. Particles acted like particles, and waves like waves. They are nothing like each other; they are chalk and cheese. But then new research, at the turn of the 20th Century, showed that energy, which was believed up until then to be wave-like and continuous, could only be accurately modelled if it were assumed to have particular properties as well — the energy coming in tiny discrete lumps called quanta. So suddenly, two entirely different and logically diverse perspectives were brought together into a single model — the wave-particle model. And because energy and matter are so intimately connected, this model applied to matter as well. The result was the quantum revolution.
What is important to realise here is that, just because the best mathematical model of matter and energy involve a logically consistent set of equations that seem to describe both wave-like and particle-like properties concurrently, does not make these two properties any less of a duality than they were before wave-particle models were developed. Waves and particles are still chalk and cheese despite both perspectives seeming to be concurrent interpretations of the same mathematical equations.
When we view a wave-particle system, we can only see it exclusively in the moment as either a wave or a particle because our minds can only think in terms of space and time. We are indoctrinated with a Newtonian worldview. Of course, it is popular to put forward the suggestion that consciousness is somehow collapsing the wave function so that a particle appears in one specific spot, but that is actually a space-time interpretation. Something has to give and many prefer the perspective of consciousness acting on matter than space-time itself being brought into question. In the former perspective consciousness remains just one component of reality; in the latter, consciousness is all there is.
Most working scientists avoid the philosophical ramifications of quantum theory and just use it as a mathematical model to predict the behaviour of matter and light at small scales. (In addition to this, there is a movement amongst conventional physicists to reformulate quantum theory in order to get rid of these “woo woo” implications.)
Unfortunately for hardened materialists, the New Age and New Consciousness movements have run with quantum theory as a means to justify their theories that have consciousness directly influencing reality. The Schroedinger cat has been philosophically let out of the bag and now any mind-over-matter theory can be presented scientifically. But adherents to the New Age and New Consciousness movements are still a tiny (but growing) minority, so most of society still holds a material worldview (a Newtonian perspective) where consciousness is just an illusory expression of a complex system. So despite philosophical interpretations of quantum theory that challenge the pervading material perspective, materialism still has not been deposed. And this is expected: we all live at scales of reality far larger than the atomic realm, and so quantum considerations are considered negligible. (Newtonian physics was accurate enough even for the Apollo moon landings.)
Logical inconsistencies, such as the wave-particle duality, are very discomforting to scientific realists who believe logical consistency is a fundamental property of reality itself, and therefore inconsistencies in scientific theory indicate that the theory is incomplete or just plain wrong. But quantum theory, despite the wave-particle paradox, is an incredibly accurate reality-map for aspects of reality at tiny scales and so these paradoxes have been very reluctantly accepted — at least for now.
This strangeness of the quantum reality-map has inadvertently epistemologically educated many working scientists, who have learnt to use it merely as an accurate mathematically model without concern for its philosophical ramifications. Those ramifications are instead picked up by the New Age community as justification for consciousness creating reality. But this is actually just an extension of scientific positivism: confusing a model of reality with reality itself. In other words, the New Ager is falling into the same trap. (This is not to say that we do not create our reality, or that consciousness does not have a central role in reality — it certainly seems to — only that we do not necessarily need to try to purloin science’s credibility to justify putting consciousness back into the centre of an unquestioned space-time reality.)
* * *
Experiences are usually multifaceted and can be tracked on more than one map — they do not neatly limit themselves to one particular reality-map. If we go back to the previous example of the tube and road maps of a city, we see that these are mapping different facets of experience in that city. The two maps will have things in common because they are mapping different aspects of the same city. But they will also have many differences. So using different (and sometimes seemingly contradictory) reality-maps can give a more complete feel of reality, especially if the mind is flexible enough to look past contradiction towards synthesis.
An example might be when researchers try to validate psychic phenomena using the scientific reality-map, when that map is not ideal because the phenomena generally do not confirm to the criteria for scientific mapping outlined above and tend to only have an objective “shadow”. But nonetheless, some physical attributes can and have been measured, but because these phenomena are unpredictable and not usually repeatable does not in any way make them less real than more “objective” phenomena (unless “objectivity” is foolishly defined as what is real).
So psychic phenomena can be mapped with the scientific reality-map, but the most one can ever see from this perspective is a trace or shadow of these phenomena as the scientific reality-map can only map one dimension of these types of experience. Of course, a trace should in theory be enough to validate those mappable aspects of these phenomena even for scientific positivists, but in practice the implications of those aspects end up being so challenging to scientific positivism itself that these phenomena are almost invariably rejected regardless of evidence.
Mapping our experience requires discernment. We must use an appropriate map rather than foolishly insisting on a one-map-fits-all perspective because we are hung up on pet definitions and perspectives of reality. This is not only a question of open-mindedness but also of wisdom. We have to decide not only what we are trying to map, but why we are trying to map it in the first place. Mapping to gain some level of predictability is a valid use of the reality mapping process. But mapping to determine what is real or not is a misuse of reality-maps and a farcical venture.
For example, suppose we start to regularly meditate and want to know how it might change us. The scientific reality-map is not going to be of much help because it is too objectivity focused. (Again, meditation will certainly leave a trace on the scientific reality-map, but our concerns are not those objective traces of, say, brain waves during the meditative experience, but how that meditative experience impacts us.) We could try using a behavioural psychological reality-map, but that will also not be helpful as the very heart of our meditative experience will be dismissed. So it is better to use, for example, a Buddhist reality-map because it provides a map derived directly from this sort of internal awareness, and a map that has been honed over countless generations of Buddhist meditator.
But what is foolish is to confuse the scientific reality-map with reality, and then dismiss these types of inner experience as mere illusion just because they cannot be mapped by a mapping process honed on physical phenomena. Instead, it would be wiser to chose a map that is able to best offer direction — the one on which what we would like mapped leaves the greatest trace or shadow. This is the wisdom of map selection.
It is not just experiences that reality-maps can map, but also beliefs/ideas and belief systems. As we move from experiences to ideas to beliefs and to belief systems, we are increasing the dimensionality of what is being mapped. Assuming a three dimensional reality-map: an experience could be thought of as a point on the reality-map; a belief or idea as a line on the reality-map (experiences sequenced in time); and a belief system as a whole plane containing those lines. Stack consistent planes together and you have your three dimensional reality-map.
Experiences are the raw data of our thinking and we use them to construct beliefs and ideas, which in turn are used in a larger collection of consistent belief — a belief system. Because experiences have a lower dimensionality than beliefs and ideas — represented in the metaphor above as a point on a reality-map — they are harder to refute as they have no structure. This is why assessment of experiences is almost entirely ad hominem. We reject another’s experience by rejecting their ability to report a genuine experience, either through a lack of integrity or a lack of discernment.
Belief and ideas add a dimension (usually of time) so that experience becomes expected. As it is expected and not a one-off, it becomes repeatable, shareable and therefore testable. (If the experience remains exclusive to one particular person, of course, it is not “objectively” testable and has no collective use (although it may well have an individual use).
Of course, the insistence on some level of consistency rests on the assumption that reality is consistent and somewhat logical, although it is probably more of a case of only those aspects of reality that are logical and consistent are worth mapping as they pertain to the collective environment. Otherwise, reality is no more than a private stream of consciousness.
* * *
So open-mindedness is not the purview of the ignorant, but the natural state of those who are epistemologically aware. Of course, most of both the open-minded and closed-minded have absolutely no understanding of any of this. But those who are aware of the reality-mapping process at the heart of our “interaction” with reality are not so quick to reject an assertion or proposition per se, but will look at it carefully in relation to other factors which we will look at later.
Our ability to intelligently open our minds is more dependent on our personality and experiences than our level of education. That said, many of the most epistemologically ignorant are the best educated. In fact, there is much truth in the assertion that education as it stands today indoctrinates epistemological ignorance. The system is set up this way because the older generations of academics do not like to have their pet theories and truths questioned. However, reduce the truth to a mere map, and students will start questioning their teachers and the curricula.
This process goes on, generation after generation, so that most academics turn a blind eye to practical epistemology. This is particularly the case in science.
The scientific reality-map has remarkable internal logical consistency because generations of the most logically brilliant minds have refined it and ironed out most of the inconsistencies. This remarkable degree of self-consistency means that the scientific reality-map is mapping the logically consistent aspects of physical reality, and is also the main reason why it is confused with reality itself. This is why we so often hear phrases such as “God is a mathematician” — an opinion that betrays epistemological ignorance. All we can correctly say about mathematics is that it is the foundation of the logically-consistent maps used to model certain aspects of reality. We cannot say that mathematics is the foundation of reality.
It is not just the scientific reality-map that has had such an extraordinary iterative process of refinement that many confuse it with reality. Other reality-maps have equal or even greater levels of refinement. Such maps might include Vedanta, Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. These reality-maps have been refined over countless generations — orders of magnitude more generations than those who refined the scientific reality-maps. In this case, the iterative refinement is focused on most accurately mapping the mind and consciousness in an experiential and logical way. And in a similar way to the quantum reality-map, paradoxes are accepted if they result in the most accurate maps. But what is important to realise is that these maps are no more reality than the scientific reality-maps are. These maps of the mind are every bit as valid and invalid as the scientific reality-map. To dismiss them as “religious dogma” is to display profound ignorance. (The writer, by the way, is NOT specifically a Hindu or Buddhist, and so is not blindly trying to validate these belief systems because of some religious motivation.)
The iterative refinement of mature reality-maps like these makes them difficult to be sceptical of within their remit or area of authority. And this is key: each refined map, provided it has been accurately drawn, speaks with authority within the area of experience that it was created for. To apply that authority to a different aspect of experience is a basic cartographical error, as is also to use that authority to deny the reality of an aspect of experience the map was never drawn up for. But it also does not mean that these mature maps are truth, or that they will never be ditched for better maps. During “paradigm shifts”, new maps replace old maps no matter how accurate the old maps were, as happened in physics at the start of the 20th Century. (The outdated Newtonian reality-map was accurate enough to get us to the moon, but still got superseded by the Einsteinian reality-map which was even more accurate.)
That said, religions tend not to have clearcut overall paradigm shifts as science has because unification is more difficult around more subjective matters. So instead, when a religion goes through a paradigm shift, it tends to splinter. This is why there are so many different branches of any particular religion, some of which die off over time because they lose popularity.
* * *
If we cannot dismiss claimed experiences and ideas by accepting or rejecting them against some sort of conceptual truth template — because no reality-map can act as a truth template by definition — then all we are left with is to look for inconsistencies between the claimed experience and the reality-map through which the experience is presented to us (whether consciously or unconsciously). It is a bit like getting a new gadget or piece of software: it invariably comes with an manual by which we can make sense of it. So when someone claims an experience, they will present that experience along with the reality-map by which they personally make sense of it. So we actually receive two pieces of information: the description of what was experiences (such as I saw a light in the sky) and the map by which the person having the experience is interpreting it (that the light in the sky is from another dimension).
The first piece of information we judge from the character, background and standing of the person making the claim. Are they believable? At least, do they believe that they are telling the truth? Secondly we look at their observation skills: are they practised in observation: for example, pilots and policemen are generally more accurate observers than ordinary members of the public. And thirdly, what do they have to gain from making unusual claims? Generally, the higher the social standing, the more that the person has to lose.
These ad-hominem assessments are certainly subjective but can give us a great deal of information. Once we are happy that the person is being truthful (although this does not count out unconscious bias, distortion and misperception) we can move on to measuring their claimed experience against the reality-map that through which they present that experience.
For example, if someone associates the scientific reality-map with their experience or idea, then we have a key by which that experience or idea can be assessed. So those that present ideas by qualifying them with statements such as “scientists do not doubt this” or “this is backed by quantum physics”, in effect borrow science’s authority which gives the idea a greater standing. But that authority comes at a price. Science has a whole systemic approach to verifying ideas, and any implication that the idea has been verified in this way carries the burden of scientific proof.
Of course, if such an association is made to those that are not scientifically literate, then the person associating their experiences or ideas with the scientific reality-map will never be called out on it. They have purloined science’s perceived authority for free.
Now this does not mean that their experience or idea cannot be mapped scientifically. All it means is that the appropriateness of the scientific presentation has not been scientifically established yet.
The issue for those putting out new claims, ideas and belief systems is that the prime or default reality-map in modern times is the scientific reality-map, and so trying to locate experience or belief on this map is essential for credibility. The scientific reality-map is today’s great validator, and has become the gold standard by which reality is determined. (Once again, this is based on an epistemological error, confusing a selectively accurate map with the territory it is describing.)
This is why the New Consciousness and New Age movements, which generate most of the new beliefs becoming popular in society today, are littered with scientific terminology such as “quantum theory”, “tachyons”, “scalar waves”, “electromagnetic”, “frequencies”, “fields”, “dimensions”, “zero-point” and so on. I am not dismissing New Consciousness or New Age thought as pseudoscience per se — some of it may well be genuine unformalised new scientific perspectives and theory — but as new maps of reality do not have the same pedigree as the more established maps (that have undergone the extensive iterative process of refinement), there is a strong tendency (often unconscious) to associate the new map with an established one in order to vicariously give it authority and credibility. And as the scientific reality-map is now considered top dog because it is the ones most confused with reality in modern society at this time, association with this map is rife, even if such association is not ideal or appropriate.
* * *
In our sceptical process, the first level to assess is experience. If someone claims to have experienced something, we make a determination whether that person appears to be honest, of sound mind and of good judgement, and whether there is any benefit to them in presenting something that they know to be false. This does not validate the experience as real — that can ultimately only be done by that experience repeating itself to another person, preferably ourselves or someone who we would trust to be honest and accurate — but it does give a good opportunity to discourage further investigation if we doubt the veracity of the experiencer. So the ad hominem approach is generally the first filter.
The second involves our reality-map bias. Can we map the purported experience on our own reality-map. Of course, most will not see the bias because the reality-map is unconsciously confused with reality. So from this perspective, we are deciding whether what was experienced or what is believed is realistic; it is essentially a “reality-check”. If it can be mapped on our own primary reality-map, then we are more likely to accept it. If it can not, then we are likely to conclude that we are dealing with fantasy, delusion and/or deception.
Generally, any event or belief that fails both or either of these assessments — the ad hominem and the reality-check — are rejected. Please note: although assessing whether an experience, idea or belief is congruent with a particular reality-map is a largely a logical and objective process, the greater context of what we are doing in rejecting an experience, idea or belief on the basis that it does not fit a reality-map is not objective. Just as our ad hominem rejection is also not objective.
If, however, we are open-minded enough to judge the event or belief, not by our own pet reality-map but by the reality-map it is presented with, then we can assess it either by its consistency with that map, if we are familiar enough with it, or we can look for internal rationality and logical consistency.
The question here is how much irrationality and inconsistency we can tolerate in a reality-map. As a general rule, the less rational and logically consistent a reality-map is, the less useful it is as an irrational and/or logically inconsistent reality-map is not useful to multiple individuals who all have slightly different perspectives. Reality-maps require the iterative refinement process of multiple examinations and investigations by many different individuals to ensure that the map has the basic qualities of predictability and collective usefulness. Without these qualities, our “map” is not a map by definition because it is no better at guiding us than our spontaneous direct experience!
For this reason, newer reality-maps are naturally not particularly accurate and can contain many inconsistencies. Unless they are accurately mapping aspects of reality poorly mapped or unmapped by more mature reality-maps, then there really is little point in adopting them. Of course, every reality-map has its own set of die-hards who, for one reason or another, devote their lives to the iterative process of refining the accuracy of their favourite map and trying to persuade others to adopt it (confuse it with reality).
* * *
I would like to end this essay by open-mindedly and briefly assessing three different controversial claims as examples of proper open-minded scepticism. The first is the flat Earth hypothesis (a theory that is making a popular comeback at the moment); the second is the reality creation hypothesis of mind (using quantum theory justification); and the third is the existence of God (whatever that means).
The Flat Earth Hypothesis
There is currently heated debate on the internet over the new-old flat Earth hypothesis. Most scoff in disbelief that anyone could take this hypothesis seriously in the 21st Century, at a time when almost everyone has accepted the spherical Earth hypothesis, and it is the universal Earth model taught throughout ‘global’ educational systems.
Most would argue that the spherical Earth model should be classified as reality and not a model of reality, but that betrays a misunderstanding of the ephemeral nature of actual reality. After all, it is quite possible (and consistent with all laws of physics) that we might exist in a massive computer simulation, and so even “obvious” 3-d space-time observations can only ever be models. We can never conclusively know. So from this perspective, the spherical Earth reality-map is no closer to reality than the flat Earth reality-map. Both are maps. What separates them is their accuracy in application and usefulness.
So once again, the battle lines in this debate should NOT be drawn across the plane of truth, but rather the plane of usefulness. So instead of asking whether the Earth “is” flat or “is” spherical — which betrays only epidemiological naivety — we need to be asking which model is more useful to us for our intended purpose.
If our purpose is geographical — if we want accurate distances between different points on Earth — the spherical Earth map seems to be the better option. And if we want to a more logical model of our experience of the heavens, then the spherical map again seems more useful in predicting experience. (It was good enough to get us to the moon, if indeed you believe we actually went.) And finally, if it is our purpose to emphasise ecological fragility, then once again the spherical model is the map to choose because it provides a model that is a fully closed system.
But… if we are wanting to highlight the global conspiratorial perspective, then the flat Earth model is the one to go for. It may be less accurate geographically, but the fact that it dismisses one of our fundamental worldviews — a worldview indoctrinated into almost every one of us since kindergarten — makes this reality-map a fantastic reality questioner. Embrace the flat Earth hypothesis, and you are likely to question other indoctrinated worldviews. This is invaluable in an age of increasing conformity hidden by superficial diversity.
Of course, very few understand mapping and so battle lines are drawn up between the flat Earth reality and the spherical Earth reality, with proponents of each vying for universal validity. Because the map is being confused with reality, we expect whatever map we believe in to shoulder every piece of evidence and experience. And any evidence and experience that contradicts our map is dismissed as fabricated, delusional and plain wrong.
For this reason, it is actually very difficult to bring the two sides together as their epistemological ignorance and their differing agendas prevent them from being able to rationally find common ground. So all we can really do in this situation is to gather evidence as to which map is more useful for what we use it for.
The Quantum Reality Creation Hypothesis
Reality creation is a central component of the New Age movement, and is justified scientifically by reference to quantum theory.
Quantum theory, like most scientific theory, is a set of mathematical equations that are believed to encompass a subset of experience. In this case, that subset is at atomic scales (although more macro quantum effects are starting to be postulated and observed). These equations are shorthand for how different variables within a system are believed to be related to each other, allowing specific future aspects of the system to be predicted.
But we must remember that our mathematical model of reality — however accurate it seems to be — is not reality itself. So just because we are modelling reality mathematically does not mean that reality is mathematical. All it means is that selected aspects of reality can be modelled mathematically. Those aspects of reality that we experience that are not amenable to mathematical modelling are rejected as “noise”, “outliers” or “junk data”. So there is a filtering process going on that ensures that only those logically consistent aspects of reality that can be modelled mathematically are making it into the scientific reality-map. This creates a strong perceptual bias in this reality-map, and in scientists in general.
So God is not a mathematician; humans who study reality have a mathematical bias.
Mathematical models of reality do not mean much to most people, scientists included. There are very few people who actually think abstractly like this. For this reason, mathematical models of reality are generally translated (in an inductive process) to lower dimensional space-time models that most human minds can grasp. So not only are the scientific theories and laws models of reality, but interpretations of what those scientific theories and laws mean are models of models.
Whilst most scientific theories and laws have somewhat accurate interpretational maps, this is not the case with quantum theory which cannot accurately be modelled with a space-time causal interpretation of the mathematics. This makes quantum theory very very strange, especially to those who confuse maps with reality.
The interpretational model of the quantum equations seems to reject an objective interpretation because the observer needs to be included for it to make any sense at all. However, we must not forget that this is an interpretational model of a mathematical model of reality, and so it actually has no basis as an “objective” justification for our consciousness creating reality.
This is NOT to say that consciousness does not create reality, only that the quantum justification is somewhat contrived. We must always bear in mind that consciousness is somewhere at the back of all of our “objective” observations, and therefore any model of reality that includes consciousness in its foundations cannot be dismissed specifically for that reason. Indeed, even scientific objectivity has been shown to be contaminated with consciousness (see Dean Radin’s meticulous scientific research).
Finally, we must ask what this map is being used for. Most who hold the “I create my own reality” reality-map are doing so for psychological reasons so that they do not feel powerless. Of course, just because there are psychological motives does not mean that the map does not have some accuracy. Maybe we do create our reality, or maybe we don’t. But what we can say is that, whilst the quantum justification can be dismissed, the assertion of reality creation itself cannot.
The God Hypothesis
This old chestnut has fixated mankind for time immemorial and is similar to the above because it relates to consciousness. And like the above, this reality-map cannot be dismissed specifically on the basis of having a consciousness foundation — in this case all-pervading consciousness rather than individual consciousness.
But the idea of God is never isolated from concomitant ideology that maps the world, society and the after-life, and indicates how that God wishes us to behave. These aspects can be assessed and rejected on the basis that they are being mistakenly presented as reality, that their mapping is inaccurate, and/or that they are being used primarily for social control. So there is plenty we can reject in any religious reality-map, but we cannot reject the concept of God or Universal Consciousness itself.
Most sceptics reject the concept of God on the same grounds that they reject the concept of foundational consciousness. In their naivety, they equate reality with the scientific reality-map and then, because God and consciousness do not appear on that map as anything but secondary illusory phenomena generated by complex system, they feel justified in rejecting God or the primacy of consciousness.
However, with more sophistication they would realise that absence of concepts or phenomena from any particular reality-map is NOT evidence of absence of those concepts or phenomena.
Of course humans create complex ideologies around a core belief in God or universal consciousness, and more often than not, these ideologies allow one group of humans to control another. So religion becomes highly politicised. When ideologies like this seem so obviously contrived, inane and downright dangerous, it is easy to equate religious ideology with the God concept and throw out the baby with the bathwater. However, while ideologies are easy to reject, their rejection cannot imply a rejection of God or ultimate consciousness. These ideas are not actually testable and so cannot be scientifically assessed or rejected.
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One final point that must be made is that confusion of maps with the territory is associated with lower intelligence, as well as those with higher indoctrination. So we have to accept that there are some people who just do not have the capacity to understand the reality-mapping process. For them, the map is always the territory and so they are unable to entertain opposing views, period (except in thinking of a defence of their own dogma). As a consequence, they arrogantly and often mockingly reject anything that does not appear on their map. This is actually one definition of fundamentalism: those that mistake their maps for the territory.
This is why lower IQ societies and higher IQ indoctrinated students tend to both be fundamentalists of one guise or other. From this perspective, there is no difference between modern sceptics holding up the scientific reality-map as absolute reality and the Inquisitors of the Middle Ages who held up a Christian reality-map as absolute reality. And there is no difference between a Muslim fundamentalist and an indoctrinated liberal arts student: again, both are fundamentalists. Both are as equally naive as each other… and both are equally dangerous!
How can a scientific fundamentalist be dangerous? By insisting on a meaningless and mechanistic universe that has brought humankind to the despair of a meaningless life, whilst giving governments and others the technology that can destroy humanity. Religious fundamentalism may have murdered millions, but so has scientific fundamentalism. We are often too quick to point the finger at religion, when in fact it is fundamentalism per se, regardless of its flavour or vintage, that creates most of humanity’s problems; it is fundamentalism that starts wars and is behind most hostility. It is fundamentalism that is behind most oppression and authoritarian control. (Big Brother is the poster boy for fundamentalism!)
This is how strange bedfellows such as feminists and Muslims can join together at anti-capitalist and anti-Trump rallies. What they have in common is how they believe — their fundamentalism — rather than what they believe — the flavour of their fundamentalism. This unconsciousness leads to the acceptance of inane concepts such as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. (For more on this, see my essay: Terrorism, the Political Pendulum and Globalism.
Today you see fundamentalism strongly promoted on college campuses, with the result that most students and teachers are unable to hear any opposing views. Students think that they are liberal when in fact their ideological fragility and epistemological naivete forms the perfect foundation for them as the new oppressors: oppressing in the name of liberty! And free speech goes out the window. (George Orwell would be proud!)
Personally, I would rather spend an evening with someone I ideologically disagree with but who is intelligent enough to understand reality-mapping, than someone I agree with but who holds their ideology unconsciously and therefore absolutely. With the former, I have a possibility for conscious human exchange and connection; with the latter, I only have the possibility of ideological connection. The fact is that those who hold ideologies absolutely tend to hide their humanity behind them.
And this is an important point: what makes us compassionate and empathetic is being able to separate ourselves from ideology. Otherwise, our compassion and empathy is just virtue signalling, and the language of learnt by rote with little understanding, squeezing a new vernacular into a brittle fundamentalist frame. You know you are dealing with latent fundamentalists when rational discussion is refused, when opposing ideas are censored (no platform), and when behaviour is generally spiteful and supercilious.
Fortunately, there is a growing movement who understand the contrived nature of the reality we map, and who are pushing for greater breathing space with new ideas and paradigms tailored for a richer and kinder human environment and new definitions of who are what we are. Hopefully, this flowering of humanity won’t be hijacked by ideological morons.
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Open-minded scepticism is an important skill that we acquire by networking with those who are genuinely open-minded and happy to discuss opposing views. It gives us the best chance of finding consensus, and where no consensus can be found, to at least respect the other person for being a conscious human being. This is how healthy societies are made.
Democracy rests on an understanding that we are greater than what we believe, and as such, a level of order and harmony can exist above the din of political disagreement. And from that elevated place, we can accept that someone with a differing viewpoint is as valuable as we are, laying the foundation of free speech. Indeed, you can always tell the epistemological and democratic health of a nation by how much its actual people respect free speech and differing opinions.
But as we fall from this place of grace, every difference becomes entirely personal and magnified, and society descends into a cacophony of waring ideologies. We cannot allow this to continue to happen because this ability to stand higher than our differences is what makes us civilised. Take that away, and we return to barbarism.
Of course, human society has been focused on ideology for eons, but what makes things different now is that we now connected (digitally) as we have never been before, and this encourages a movement to ideological extremes at all ends of the political and sociological spectrums. This is why it is particularly important now, in this age of blanket digital connection, not to define ourselves by our ideologies but to see them merely as our reality-maps.
It is our personal responsibility to understand the reality-mapping process as much as we can, so that we do not, consciously or unconsciously, force ideology onto others. And if we just do not have the ability to grasp the reality-mapping process, then we need to at least be conditioned by society to hold the basic principles of democracy and free speech higher than those of our personal beliefs.
Unfortunately, our current modern educational institutions are preaching an ideological worldview, so that the new generations are defending ideology rather than the freedom to have ideologies. At the same time, our mass media sets up continuous dogfights between one ideology and another in order to grab ratings with our collective addiction to vicious conflict. The result of these perverse educational and mass media systems is that society fragments as we spiral down into hatred and division.
The solution is NOT more ideology but more understanding of what ideology actually is. Otherwise we remain lost in the detail, unable to see the wood for the trees. If you want to know where you stand in all of this — whether you are part of the problem or part of the solution — observe yourself when you hear a contrary opinion to your own. If you react in anger and dismissal, chances are that you are confusing your beliefs with reality. And if you are doing that, then you are one of the ones destroying society with your unconsciousness. So get off your ideological high horse and start start championing more inclusive principles such as democracy and free speech. That may seem -ioned and boring to the young generations, but this is the bedrock of a stable modern society.
Open-minded scepticism, as opposed to the knee-jerk closed-minded variety plaguing humanity, is therefore not a luxury or a philosophical curiosity. It is an important part of finding the tolerance to accept our differences. We need to stop tearing ourselves apart and focus on our shared humanity.