Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sept. 14th - My "Tipping Point" Day

I found myself on the Internet all day today, watching the video series Why People Laugh at Creationists - 25 installments and growing, and Here Be Dragons.

Anyone who looked at this blog way back in February when I started blogging in earnest may remember that one of the sites on my blogroll was related to astrology. I took it off a month or two later, in part because I rarely ever clicked on it, but mainly because of my growing self-identity as a skeptic.

Watching these two videos has made me alarmingly aware of my own vulnerability to pseudoscience and superstition. I was into astrology in varying degrees, starting with my teen years and continuing into my 20's, 30's and 40's. My willingness to believe its tenets shrank steadily, however. On one level I absolutely knew that the planets don't influence events on earth and there's no more reliability in horoscope profiles than there is in tea leaves or Tarot cards. I had rejected every other such field completely, except astrology. My acceptance of astrology had most recently boiled down to just using the 12 houses as shorthand ways to take stock of things going on in my life -- 4th house for home, 6th house for work, etc. It had become a remnant of something that I had finally rejected without feeling any sense of loss. But in truth, it took longer to put astrology aside than it took to do so with religion.

Here Be Dragons also takes some good whacks at alternative and complementary medicine (ACM). My use of such practices has been reined in by the healthy streak of skepticism I've always had, as well as a reluctance to shell out the money for them, and my opinion of the people who endorse them. For example, a high school pal of mine was a devoted follower of all things ACM, and she was alarmingly dysfunctional, so much so that I finally cut off contact with her.

There are one or two herbal supplements that have seemed to have a reasonable degree of effectiveness for me, but I try always to keep in mind the fact that they are not FDA approved, and that the placebo effect is better documented.

So, I feel satisfied that I've succeeded in slaying a couple of major dragons...but it occurred to me, while watching Why People Laugh... that for me, there will always be a danger, unless I'm constantly vigilant. The danger lies in the fact that my understanding of science, and more importantly, math, is very poor. My sub-par ability to grasp those subjects is what prevented me from finishing my Bachelor's degree in business, and it led me dangerously close to becoming just another gullible victim of the Christian snake-oil hucksters. It struck me that without the well-presented counter-arguments to such assertions as "Water is not found anywhere else in our solar system," I would not have a problem accepting that. Any argument that starts out with probability would no doubt have me at hello because I failed that subject 3 times in college. I even dozed off in front of the computer for a minute while the narrator was explaining the fallaciousness of the argument versus the more complex behaviors of chemicals in creating life forms. I am a skeptic, and considered reasonably intelligent by most, but if I'm susceptible, by my own knowledge deficits, to phony-baloney "science," then I shudder to think of how many other people have it so much worse than I. People who have lived their entire lives in the Bobble Belt, whose entire families and communities preach the evils of science, evolution, learning and skeptical inquiry. The ones who preach that ignorance is next to godliness.

Anyway, today was indeed a tipping point. The videos have made it that much easier to discern fact from fiction, and more confident of my ability to do so going forward.


Ipecac said...

Congratulations! It's very difficult to examine your beliefs with a critical eye. I think you'll find that once you become practiced at it and reach a certain point, it will get easier and easier. It did for me.

But it's definitely worth it to see the world as it really is.

Lugosi said...

Wait.... Are you saying there's no such thing as dragons?!?

Volly said...

Oops, I forgot about Nigel.

He lives in me pocket...