Thursday, September 30, 2010

When 'because I said so!' doesn't quite cut it?

Here is one of SHAMland's staple tactics and a deceptively effective con:

The guru says, "My colon whistles The Star-Spangled Banner."

The skeptic replies, "I seriously doubt that your colon whistles The Star-Spangled Banner."


The guru replies, "You have no proof of that!"

Studious types will recognize the foregoing as an artful dodge and a perversion of the scientific method. The guru who says, a la Rhonda Byrne, "Such-and-such works every time!", has to prove that it works every time; he or she must be able to demonstrate that the argument holds under all possible conditions. The skeptic is burdened with no obligation to disprove it. On the contrary, the skeptic is fully within his or her rights to demand proof that "it works every time" (or, in the situation at hand, that the guru's colon can indeed whistle on cue) and in fact can prevail in this debate by finding just one case where "it" doesn't work. Whereas the guru, again, must produce positive findings in every conceivable case.

The burdens of proof are in no way equivalent. Yet the gurus often get away with arguing that they are.

Why do you suppose that is?

30 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

IMO, the answer is really pretty simple (and sad): Far too many people find that counting on the Tooth Fairy is preferable to actually working for what they want. And the "gurus" to whom you refer are more than glad to assume the persona of the Tooth Fairy. Good money in it, apparently, and integrity be damned.

Rational Thinking said...

"The burdens of proof are in no way equivalent. Yet the gurus often get away with arguing that they are.

Why do you suppose that is?"

Primarily because we don't teach critical thinking as a life skill, I think. If we all learned that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence' we wouldn't get taken in by simple assertions. And of course the assertions may be made in good faith, or not - but either way we all need to remember that an assertion is not a fact. It's a belief (or a lie, of course, but that's another issue). And there's a whole world of difference between the two. A belief can only become a fact when it is proven.

Fuzzy thinking appears almost endemic these days, and it's about time, collectively, that we did better. Teach in school how to construct a logical argument, how to examine a proposition, and communication generally will be much clearer.

No matter how dearly we may cherish a particular 'notion', for want of a better word, it's not a fact unless it can be proven. If we can't agree on this kind of basis for communication, any meaningful dialogue becomes impossible. And yet we keep trying :D

roger o'keefe said...

I'm more intrigued by your example. Where do you come up with this stuff?

Steve Salerno said...

Oh, I don't know, Roger. Just a God-given talent, I guess.

Yekaterina said...

Religious concepts and ideas permeate every single society on this earth. From the cradle onward most of us are force fed the idea that there is a God -- whatever his name may be in our part of the world -- taught to believe without a shred of real proof. Have faith.

Maybe it's the concept of reincarnation or some sort of life after death idea that we are taught. Whatever it is, there is no way to escape being influenced to some degree by such beliefs.

These gurus are just riding on the coattails of organized religion who have been selling the unprovable since forever and ever; God. That's why they get away with it.

And they'll keep getting away with it until society wakes up and demands proof of God's existence.

Debbie said...

I don't know why, and I find it incredibly frustrating.

I think because I am, by training, a scientist, I find it hard to believe that people can think that they can make any claim and not be able to back it up.

As an aside, in my communcations class the other night our teacher had us watch 20 minutes of 'The Secret'. (Don't ask me why, I'm still not making the connection) I thought my eyes were going to bleed. It's even more ridiculous than I expected it to be.

RevRon's Rants said...

"And they'll keep getting away with it until society wakes up and demands proof of God's existence."

And that will happen shortly after someone discovers scientific proof of love. I don't think it's necessary to discard all belief systems in order to use common sense. Nor do I think it necessary to quantify the "knowing" that is borne of instinct and experience.

That said, there will likely always be those who have the need to proselytize about their chosen belief systems, even when those belief systems demand the abandonment of belief. And there will also be those who are willing to abandon common sense in their quest for answers. The gurus and the anti-gurus will have sufficient resources from which to mine the reinforcements and personal validation they so desperately need.

Carl Sagan once said that one of the biggest obstacles to our discovery of extraterrestrial life forms is our inherent carbon bias. Unless something conforms to our preconceived techniques for measurement, quantification, and qualification, we will not acknowledge the possibility that it might be alive - much less sentient. The loss will be ours, not the "things" that we refuse to see as "beings." Like any true scientist, Sagan had to acknowledge the limitations of the science, even as he so rigorously applied it to the pursuit of answers.

Steve AZ said...

Before I start, please excuse my grammar and punctuation. Writing is a second language for me, but I am working at it.

I think the gurus hit on something interesting. The difference and similarities between the "known" and "not yet known," a.k.a fact and fiction.

They dance in between the two claiming that everything in this world was once a mystery. That everything at one time was "unknown." That scientists through their "beliefs" were able to prove through research that what was once just faith, is now a truth. So by default, it has to apply to their "faith" also. I think that is the point where they get away with it. Their burden of proof is on layaway, it will come sometime down the road... as proven before by science.

They will never express that something is unattainable, they just say it is "not yet known." So just keep believing and trusting what I say and you will get there. Even though they know within their own experiences that what they express as a "constant universal truth" is in fact unattainable. Nothing in life is that constant to ever be a constant truth. Even something as innocent as a smile to someone can produce drastically different results depending on who you are smiling at. So for gurus to express anything else is simply self delusion or manipulating others for profit, power, etc.


The sad part is that they can have a collateral affect on things that can also be considered "faith based." For instance, I meditate everyday and it has helped me focus and feel more present and expressive in my daily life. I am no longer the angry son of a gun I was when I was younger and I contribute that directly to me having "faith" in my connection to what is considered unknown. I don't pretend to know what it is, I just feel it when I meditate and it helps. Am I going to stop meditating and wait for "science" to give me the go ahead because it is now a "fact" that what I feel and experience daily is indeed real? Probably not, but I also realize that it is a personal belief that works for me. So faith in the unknown isn't necessarily bad and something people need to wake up from. It has it's place within us and allows us to cope. Life can be rough so I am not one to hammer those who choose faith over science from time to time.

Critical thinking has its role also, but to what decision do we come to in the end? After we've analyzed to death the pros and cons of a certain topic or discussion. Do we make that decision based off of what science tells us is real or the proof that is presented before us? Not really. Isn't it really just an emotional decision after all is said and done based on what we are needing or wanting in the moment, so we end up holding onto what is really just true for us individually?

I think gurus understand that, so they hold a strong emotional or referential frame to affect some, and they use just enough circumstantial evidence or plausible deniability to deflect those that are more critical of them and wanting "proof." Nothing really gets solved and the dance goes on and on and on...

SteveAZ said...

Before I start, please excuse my grammar and punctuation. Writing is a second language for me, but I am working at it.

I think the gurus hit on something interesting. The difference and similarities between the "known" and "not yet known," a.k.a fact and fiction.

They dance in between the two claiming that everything in this world was once a mystery. That everything at one time was "unknown." That scientists through their "beliefs" were able to prove through research that what was once just faith, is now a truth. So by default, it has to apply to their "faith" also. I think that is the point where they get away with it. Their burden of proof is on layaway, it will come sometime down the road... as proven before by science.

They will never express that something is unattainable, they just say it is "not yet known." So just keep believing and trusting what I say and you will get there. Even though they know within their own experiences that what they express as a "constant universal truth" is in fact unattainable. Nothing in life is that constant to ever be a constant truth. Even something as innocent as a smile to someone can produce drastically different results depending on who you are smiling at. So for gurus to express anything else is simply self delusion or manipulating others for profit, power, etc.


The sad part is that they can have a collateral affect on things that can also be considered "faith based." For instance, I meditate everyday and it has helped me focus and feel more present and expressive in my daily life. I am no longer the angry son of a gun I was when I was younger and I contribute that directly to me having "faith" in my connection to what is considered unknown. I don't pretend to know what it is, I just feel it when I meditate and it helps. Am I going to stop meditating and wait for "science" to give me the go ahead because it is now a "fact" that what I feel and experience daily is indeed real? Probably not, but I also realize that it is a personal belief that works for me. So faith in the unknown isn't necessarily bad and something people need to wake up from. It has it's place within us and allows us to cope. Life can be rough so I am not one to hammer those who choose faith over science from time to time.

Critical thinking has its role also, but to what decision do we come to in the end? After we've analyzed to death the pros and cons of a certain topic or discussion. Do we make that decision based off of what science tells us is real or the proof that is presented before us? Not really. Isn't it really just an emotional decision after all is said and done based on what we are needing or wanting in the moment, so we end up holding onto what is really just true for us individually?

I think gurus understand that, so they hold a strong emotional or referential frame to affect some, and they use just enough circumstantial evidence or plausible deniability to deflect those that are more critical of them and wanting "proof." Nothing really gets solved and the dance goes on and on and on...

Steve Salerno said...

Steve AZ: Thanks for joining the discussion. Regardless of the difference of opinion there may be with respect to the "proper" answers to the questions you pose throughout your comment, I want to applaud you for your thoughtful and nuanced examination of the subject matter. If only mainstream publishers would take a chance on material that approaches the topic in this way.

Regrettably, nuance seldom sells...and "think piece" is the kiss of death in today's commercial publishing.

Yekaterina said...

RevRon,

I do believe there is a difference between the intangible and the absurd, between what we do not yet know and, again, the absurd.

Steve AZ,

I enjoyed your response to Steve's question, and agree with what you said. The only thing I didn't understand in your comment is the part about equating meditation with "faith in the unknown". I meditated for years. It made me feel great. I tried it, it worked. Where does the faith come in? Just because various religions, spiritual paths, guru's etc... utilize meditation techniques doesn't make the technique's themselves a thing of faith. Just to be clear. Meditation changed me in a very similar way you say it changed you. I can entirely relate. Yet I never felt connected in any way to the unknown while I meditated. Strange that we had similar results yet attribute those results to two entirely different causes.

Steve Salerno said...

Ykat, I agree with you in part, but I think the gurus of SHAMland could turn your reasoning right back around on you: If the only criterion that really counts is whether something makes us "feel great," that could also be used to support, say, affirmations. (Or heroin, for that matter.) My wife says that religious faith makes her feel good and enables her to better cope with the upsets of daily living. So is it therefore "OK" to believe in something for which no logical foundation exists, just because it's a useful crutch in handling life? That's not a rhetorical question. I wouldn't presume to answer it on behalf of another human being. But it's obviously a question whose answer has huge implications. I've asked myself many times, "How does a person who's a Catholic [or a Jew, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim] justify dismissing The Secret as absurd?"

Rational Thinking said...

I think it's important to note that science is absolutely not about faith and belief. It's about hypothesis, investigation, examination, analysis, peer review and cautious publication. And is always subject to amendment as new information emerges.

Also, while some meditation may be faith-based, it doesn't require any faith at all. A willingness or curiosity to look at the workings of one's mind will suffice :D Richard Dawkins speaks of the 'mystery of consciousness' - and in order to examine that mystery, you have to take a look at it, up close and personal.

RevRon's Rants said...

"How does a person who's a Catholic [or a Jew, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim] justify dismissing The Secret as absurd?"

I don't think it necessary to adhere strictly to all the precepts and dogma of a given religion to be inspired and guided by its precepts, Steve. The casual Jew can receive just as much enrichment from the tenets of Judaism as does the observant Jew; the only ones negatively judging the validity of that enrichment are those whose own beliefs demand absolute adherence. Same goes for the casual Catholic versus the devout Catholic.

While I hold to the essence of Buddhism, my own faith isn't based upon the historical truth of miraculous events or supernatural powers, but upon the life and example set forth by the Buddha. I may be inspired by the allegory of certain events, even as I ascribe them to the realm of myths, created to enhance the core message.

Being able to absorb and apply core principles of a religion to one's life is not dependent upon the suspension of the logical mind. On the contrary, finding the bond between one's faith and one's logic is often the most rewarding element of both.

Dismissing a "belief" that demands suspension of what I consider to be the Divine gifts of knowledge, logic, and common sense is a function of good judgment, not cynicism, and is, IMO, an appropriate response to teachings that claim the ability to manipulate elements so obviously beyond our control. And when that "belief" is built upon objectives that are diametrically opposed to the core of one's held beliefs (such as the appropriateness of constantly striving for material things), the act of rejecting things like The Secret, LOA, and the like represents an *affirmation* of one's faith, rather than an inconsistency.

Steve Salerno said...

Rev: We've been down this road before, and I'm still not buyin' it. I believe in God--I guess it's just "in there," for whatever reason--but I realize that I'm being ridiculous in doing so. Religion, The Secret, the Easter Bunny, it's all the same game. The only reason I get really worked up about SHAMland's end of it is that it (forcibly) extracts so much money from people, whereas those who choose to meditate or follow the teachings of Buddha (or Christ, for that matter) can do so for free, at their leisure.

RevRon's Rants said...

Guess you've never sat in a Baptist church when the collection plate was being passed around, Steve. Or at the end of the service, when the pastor pleads with and cajoles congregants to come forward and accept Christ as their personal savior. The pressure is there,in droves.

And fundamentally, what's so wrong with being ridiculous in our thinking now & then, so long as it enriches our lives and doesn't impede our growth? :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve, you wrote:
"The only reason I get really worked up about SHAMland's end of it is that it (forcibly) extracts so much money from people..."

Maybe that's not quite accurate. It's not just about money, although that certainly is a notable factor; sometimes SHAM stuff costs people their health (mental or physical) and, on occasion, their lives. I've seen all of us get (justifiably) worked up about these extreme cases.

Fortunately incidents such as Death Lodge – of which we are approaching the first anniversary, BTW – are relatively rare. But there are many other things to get worked up about, IMO. Apart from the silliness of so much New-Wage stuff, one of the reasons I get worked up about "SHAMland's end of it" (more so than traditional religion, the Easter Bunny, etc.) is that the SHAM/selfish-help/New-Wage constructs were originally supposed to be about getting away from the dogma and restrictive thinking and destructive aspects of traditional institutions. And yet they ushered in their own dogmas, restrictive thinking, and destructive aspects. Friggin’ hypocrites.

As we've discussed here before, most New-Wage believers use "science" when it is convenient for them -- just take a look at all the faux-quantum-fizzix experts such as Scientist Bob Proctor in The Secret -- but they quickly distance themselves from that reductionist Western mindset when they're cornered, and instead of trying to offer "proof" of their magickal claims they simply express contempt for those who demand proof. At best they look upon the request for proof and empirical evidence as a buzzkill and at worst as an impediment to real progress for humanity.

In short, New-Wagers are trying very hard to have it both ways.

Steve Salerno said...

CC: Thank you for--as usual--adding an important added layer to the discussion.

Rev: But see, once we admit the idea of knowingly "being ridiculous" for its own sake, then where do we draw the lines, and who gets to draw them?

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I think that recognizing how foolish we often are would go a long way toward improving things for us. We draw the lines where we are harmed (or harm others), or where our actions prevent us from relishing our lives. That's where the common sense factor comes in, and the ego-defenses begin to fade.

And no... I can't "prove it!" :-)

John said...

Cosmic Connie wrote:
"…just take a look at all the faux-quantum-fizzix experts such as Scientist Bob Proctor in The Secret…"

As usual Cosmic Connie, you criticize what you don't understand. The multi-worlds interpretation of quantum theory clearly states that every possible outcome occurs. So those people are getting rich in some universe, it's just that all their negative programming keeps them in a less fortuitous universe. I cover this in much more detail in my soon to be released book, Change Your Mind, Change Your Life: The Secret-Power of Solipsism.

Best Regards,
John

Kathryn Price said...

Steve,

Regarding your question: how can a Catholic or Jew or Buddhist or Muslim justify dismissing The Secret as absurd? (This is Kathryn Price, by the way. Ever since I wrote my review of The Power, I've been occasionally reading your blog and Connie's too.) I'm in none of the categories you mentioned, but I have made a commitment to a spiritual path. Yet I criticize The Power, not for an absurdity around a belief, although I may consider it absurd, but because it has been posited as a "law" that operates without exception, as science without a shred of scientific evidence, and as the apogee of an enlightenment about the purpose of love that was never espoused by the spiritual practitioners it cites. It never admits to being a belief system, which it clearly is. I have what you could call a belief system--although it's really much less about 'belief' than it is about choosing a way of living relationally in the world. I don't try to present it as fact or science. For many years I eschewed anything that I thought reeked of faith, and I read Dawkins and all, (but really wasn't impressed with his work). I think of myself as a critical thinker. I love science. But ultimately I came to the conclusion that I don't find being a rational person at odds with a sense or perception of something deeper in life, something more comprehensive than that of my ability to completely grasp it. At some point I chose a path, but it's hardly a crutch. I wish it were. Instead, it demands more of me than I'd ever demand of myself. Ultimately, it wouldn't matter to me whether it is "true" or not in an objective way; in other words, if there existed absolute proof that there is not a spiritual component to life in the least, I'd pursue it because I think it's the deepest and best expression of a way to relate to other human beings that I know.

What I also object to in The Power, besides its claiming to be science when it is not, is the way it flattens existence to a positive-negative dichotomy that sucks all the juice out of life, which is mostly what I wrote the review around. In my opinion, it also sucks the meaning from life. Meaning being entirely subjective, of course. Still, we do debate about meaning in social and cultural ways, even if not in some universal sense.

Thanks for what you said about my review. I enjoy reading your blog and Cosmic Connie's too. I also bought your book--the Kindle version. I say that not for flattery; I was interested in knowing more.

Kathryn

Steve Salerno said...

Kathryn: Somehow I think you will not like SHAM. I think you'll agree with much of what's said, but won't like the presentation/format.

I must also say that anyone who thinks the difference between religion and The Secret/Pow-errrrr is that the latter is posited as "law" hasn't spent much time in church. I can certainly speak with personal conviction of the Catholic Church: While it's true that the Church and its minions do not present their program as having a scientific foundation, there are certainly ecclesiastical laws that are every bit as didactic and inflexible as the laws of physics and chemistry, and those laws are drummed into you from the first. In fact, if you were to ask a priest, I'm sure he'd generously tell you that Catholicism is "big enough" to include science as well--in other words, that the laws of science are all part of God's plan. That's quite a mouthful.

I did love your review--as a piece of writing in particular. Very, very nicely done.

Kathryn Price said...

Steve,

I was raised in the Catholic church, too. Fair enough; although its precepts were perhaps not overtly posed as a law of the universe, there was enough in it of the didactic to function as such. (I'm thinking of the apostles' creed, which states a series of beliefs. But you can make the point that the church, at its most didactic, then takes these beliefs and treats them like absolutes.) There are much more progressive approaches coming out of spiritual traditions these days, and dogma and static claims are not part of them.

To Cosmic Connie's point that new age thinking was supposed to be free of such dogma and restrictive thinking, but--at least in the versions we're discussing here-- have ushered in their own restrictive thinking: when I was reading The Power, I halfway thought, hell, give me the old hellfire and damnation; at least there seemed to be some connection between actions and consequences there. I say that facetiously, I think! Positive thinking seems to be sanitized of associations with morality, but it didn't take long after writing my review for me to be denounced as a negative person, which I realized is about the most damnable thing you can be in the universe. The universe strikes back pretty relentlessly for thinking or feeling something besides unadulterated joy, and maybe where I live, I'll be attracted to the frequency of the next blizzard. Kind of hard not to be, in Minnesota.

Kathryn

Steve Salerno said...

Positive thinking seems to be sanitized of associations with morality, but it didn't take long after writing my review for me to be denounced as a negative person, which I realized is about the most damnable thing you can be in the universe.

Once again, in that one sentence you have hit upon the twofold crux of this. First, they're not really preaching "love," as I grew up understanding it; they're preaching unadulterated self-love, which is a very different animal. Your review (Kathryn) makes crystal-clear the disconnect between today's New Age thinking and any/all traditional notions of conscience. I devoted a multi-part SHAMblog entry to this: the similarities between current New Age dogma and sociopathy:
http://tinyurl.com/3yeuk58

The second part of it is the judgment factor. As Ehrenreich has pointed out, this "cult of positivity" or the "tyranny of empowerment" entails a level of ire and condemnation directed at non-believers that is very hard to convey, if you haven't been the object of it.

Steve Salerno said...

P.S. I don't want to put words in her mouth, but Connie could certainly address that (the ire and condemnation) from her own vantage point, in terms of the way some folks turned on her after she began calling a spade a spade.

Cosmic Connie said...

Yes, Steve, though I'm on the run right now and don't have time to address this in detail, I will say that I've received more than my share of irate remarks, curses, and the occasional death threat from folks who are supposed to be all about love, light, and positivity.

OTOH, I've also gotten flak from some people for not being skeptical/critical enough. One of the former SHAMblog participants whose name I will not mention accused me of being a contributor to evil simply because Ron and I have worked on some self-help and spirituality books.

For more details than the average person could possibly want...
http://cosmicconnie.blogspot.com/2009/12/whirled-wars.html

Voltaire said...

Given that far crazier things than patriotic colons have, um, "passed" the credibility filters of many people, I can see one potential problem with your example: some guru will pick it up as his own "proof" he as transcended the material plane. And of course he'll have a flock of followers all bent over, listening to their nether regions.

Steve Salerno said...

Volty: "All bent over...?" Don't know whether to smile or groan.

Kathryn Price said...

Steve, I read your post at http://tinyurl.com/3yeuk58 as well as the horror story links there. The lack of conscience exhibited by some of these self-empowerers is disturbing. The reason I began to explore this stuff at all is because of the behavior of a friend at work, who subscribes to LOA and has gone to consciousness conventions. She did, initially, appear to be happier, at least surfacely. She also began to say the most uncompassionate things I had ever heard anyone say, ever, about the misfortunes of others. I'm now getting the same kinds of comments following my review, where people blithely dismiss the suffering of others by saying they attracted it through negativity (so I guess they deserved it), or they spiritualize it to the point of callousness and cruelty, saying it's all illusion anyway. If they want to go to that level of gnosticism, I have pointed out, why seek big money, homes and cars? If they comprehend that they are pure spirits trapped in matter, it would seem materialism would not be such a primary focus.

Great post, Steve; it clarifies the link between this kind of self-empowerment dogma and behaviors that do parallel sociopathy.

Connie, I read your post on the whirled wars. It's pretty chilling to see how all that light and "positivity", focused on those who question it or reveal some potentially less than positive aspects of it, becomes ugly and threatening. I think both you and Steve are doing a service by bringing this stuff out into the light (no pun intended) and revealing it for what it often is. I am both a "spiritual" person and I think, a critical thinker--although the word "spiritual", after just my brief tour of it with some of its proponents through writing my review, has a connotation for me now such that I don't know if I want to apply it to myself anymore. Anyway, my ignorance of spirit, my presumed friendlessness, and my wallowing in the world of limitations (by noting that there is suffering in the world to which there seems to be no tidy answer), have all been duly noted. Of course, then, it is my own defectiveness that caused me to write the review.

Jenny said...

From the archived posting you referenced: The Sociopath's Guide to the Universe. Part 2. (November 12, 2007)

"The true genius of the new spirituality was that it gave each person license to be his own Pope, free to redefine right and wrong as expedient, free to blow off the very idea of conscience."

Now that is true genius, Steve. Bravo!