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Wednesday, October 09, 2002

The "Freethinking" Dogma

Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2002 07:45:08 -0500
From: Don
To: Simon Funk
Subject: Freethinking

Sounds like you are a freethinker and you welcome anyone who freethinks the same things you do. You want the truth above everything as longs as it agrees with certain things you already have made up your mind about. You sound like you are identifying your dogma as "freethinking" and anyone who, for instance, believes in "mystical energies" is automatically excluded from your particular orthodoxy. I'll be waiting for you to pronounce your "anathema" on me for daring to question you and how you think. That's always the mark of a dogmatist. If you are free enough to welcome input from someone who believes in mystical energies, let me know. Oh, but, of course, you have already said "don't call us" if you think differently than we do.



Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2002 12:05:08 -0700 (PDT)
From: Simon Funk
To: Don
Subject: Re: Freethinking

Hi Don,

I hear your stance quite a lot as you might imagine.

Let me tell you my perspective, and I'll be curious to hear your advice for how you think I should handle it if you were in my shoes:

First of all, "dogmatic" to me means holding beliefs beyond question.

This is very different than "understanding", but you don't seem to have left room for the two to be different: You assume that if I believe something you don't (in this case, that there are no "mystical energies" conforming to any definition I have thus far heard espoused), that I am being "dogmatic" as opposed to simply understanding something you don't.

Of course, from my perspective, you are holding onto *premises* for which there is no evidence, failing to question those premises, and hence it is your belief in mystical energies which is dogmatic (in the proper sense).

Now, rather than getting into a debate about mystic energies vs. not, I'd rather discuss on a more meta level the basic way of thinking about thinking, since ultimately that's what you are critisizing me of (I assume you are not fundamentally critisizing me for having a different belief than you about mystic energies?).

But rather than talk about mystic energies, which you already have a strong bias to believe in, let me use an example for which you would (presumably) be on my side, so you can tell me how you would handle the same situation on my side:

Imagine you met someone who claimed that the sun revolves around the earth. At first, you are intrigued, because nobody's claimed this in rather a long time, so you wonder if they don't have some new evidence or conspiracy theory or something which might vindicate their belief -- after all, it's not absolutely completely impossible that you've been fooled all these years. So you ask them "why do you think that?" And they point up into the sky, and they say "Look! It's *Obvious*! We're standing here, not moving, and the sun is moving around us. Duh!" And all of their friends nod and say "Yeah." So you start telling them about the more modern scientific understanding of it, and they start poo-pooing things like that you trust what the establishment says, and they question the objectivity of logic, and ultimately they end up telling you that reality is whatever you think it is, or some such epistemologically bankrupt nonsense. And so you give up, because clearly they're not ready or interested in understanding the truth, they're just holding onto some belief they have a vested interest in; they are being dogmatic. Conversely, in fact, you have a firm understanding of the science behind celestial movement yourself, without having to "trust" what the establishment says or anything like that, and computations that you could do youself on paper or your computer would predict many things about the movement of the sun and stars which the earth-centric theories of these guys simply could not. So, given all of that, the odds are so high that your understanding is more correct than theirs, that relative to other places where you could invest your learning-time, you are wasting your time debating with them any more.

So my question to you is: Should you continue debating with them anyway (at the expense of other pursuits which you believe will be more productive) indefinitely? And if not, are you being "dogmatic" for deciding their theory is inadequately supported to warrant your further consideration?


Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2002 15:13:29 -0500
From: Don
To: Simon Funk
Subject: RE: Freethinking

Dear Simon, You sound fairly reasonable. So let's discuss.

1. You said, '"dogmatic" means holding beliefs beyond question.' You apparently hold the belief, beyond question, that there cannot be anything outside of the realm of your possible understanding. You believe that you "understand" enough about reality to reasonably exclude the possiblility that there might be something beyond what you now comprehend. I call that "dogmatic". If you are willing to entertain the possibility that there might be more to reality than you presently understand, then you have opened the door to freely thinking about all possibilities. If not, you have closed your mind because of your dogmatic assumption that all reality theoretically falls within what you now know.

2. Your story about the sun revolving around the earth is beside the point unless you are telling me that you "have a firm understanding of ...science" that scientifically and experimentally proves that there are no "energies" operating outside the realm of your rational understanding. If you do have such experimental, scientific proof, please provide it. Otherwise, leave your mind open to think freely.

If you simply don't want to debate with views you think are a waste of time, you are welcome. But don't claim that you are a "freethinker" and anyone who doesn't fit your mold is dogmatic. It is obvious that the term "freethinker", as it has been used over the years, is actually a code word for someone who doesn't believe in God, but the word, of course, actually means someone who is free to think without fixed dogmatic boundaries. Of course, we discard many possibilities for various reasons. Some for good reason, like whether the moon is made of green cheese, and some, like whether there are "mystical energies" or whether God may not exist,for reasons which are not so good, such as bias or fuzzy thinking.

"keep that I don't know mind"


Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2002 14:04:58 -0700 (PDT)
From: Simon Funk
To: Don
Subject: RE: Freethinking


You have skirted around my questions. Why is that?

Let me assume, then, that you agree with me that in the earth-centric case it would be reasonable, and non-dogmatic, to decide their argument is not worth continuing to debate. (If this is not true, then please clarify.)

I had meant to tie up that last email with one more point, but forgot, so let me add it now:

Imagine now that about once a week you run into *another* person who believes the sun revolves around the earth. And at first, you hold the same optimism for each of them, but eventually you are left looking back at literally hundreds of debates with hundreds of people which all go essentially the same way as the first. That is, you come to expect with very high confidence (no counter examples, and hundreds of positive examples) that when you encounter a new person espousing the earth-centric viewpoint, they're just going to give you the same ol' irrational story as the last few hundred.

Now the trouble is, when you finally decide it's just not worth arguing with them any more, they turn around and call you dogmatic or closed-minded!

My question to you, which I would appreciate if you would actually answer this time, is: What should you do in that case? Continue to argue with each new one, just so they won't call you dogmatic? Or not? And if not, are you, in fact, *being* dogmatic?

Now, to address your points above, in light of the analogy I've just given:

1) I'm not even going to dignify this with a direct response. I've said nothing which warrants this accusation on your part. Please show me where in my previous email I said anything supporting your implication.

2) Your basic claim here is incorrect. My sun example is a case where your scientific understanding allows you to predict and explain (i.e., to understand!) your observations about the sun and stars. I said nothing about a proof of negatives; in fact it is simply Occam's razor, which really just comes down to probabilities of hypotheses, that says your successfully predictive/explanatory theory is substantially more likely to be correct than the huge and ad-hoc system the earth-centrics would need to construct in order to remain consistent with the same amount of evidence.

But, in the vein of your implication, and FYI:

Quite analogous to the sun example, I *do* have a fairly firm understanding of the science and principles which lead to every phenomina that has been brought to me as an example of mystic energies. I.e., to date, no one has shown me, nor have I been able to find on my own, one single bit of evidence or observation which necessitates any theory beyond basic physics and all which is derived from that (which includes everything up to, e.g., psychology and the like, incidentally).

So, my situation is *exactly* like the sun example I gave. You claim there are mystic energies, but everything you point to ("you" in this case includes my entire life's worth of people espousing your position) is not only so much more easily and simply explained by basic physics (and psychology), but is *predictable* from those things, which makes your "mystic energies" claim completely arbitrary, unfounded, and unneeded.

*You* should reconsider how much your bias toward mystical beliefs may be preventing you from learning and understanding the elements of physics and psychology which explain the same things. *I* am *not* going to spend the next three years trying to teach you all of that, particularly because you are already biased against learning it. Does this make me "dogmatic"?

To summarize: I am *not* making an apriori claim that mystical energies can not exist. In fact, I take it for granted that there are many many principles of the universe which I am not presently aware of. However, "mystical energies" is not some synonym for "things we don't yet understand" -- the way quantum physics and gravity tie together is something we don't yet understand, but that does not make whatever the truth of it is a mystical energy! "Mystical energy" is a catch-phrase used by people who have a particular set of fanciful ideas in mind, which they believe in for a variety of reasons but all of which, in all of my life's experience, either simply come down to poor observational skills or poor epistemology on their part.

The day you can show me any phenomina which violates my model of the world (which, as pertains to the topic on hand, is based primarily on my understanding of physics and psychology), I will be *thrilled*!!! I *love* discovering new things.

Unfortunately, to date no self-proclaimed mystic has brought me anything new. Can you?


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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com