#24 – Reclaiming Skepticism – Transcript of Interview with Dr. Everett Fulmer

D: Dr. Everett Fulmer is visiting assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Loyola, New Orleans. He does research on the nature of rationality and knowledge and also works on biomedical ethics and diagnostic reasoning. His dissertation explored the philosophical significance of skepticism. He offers workshops on critical thinking at hospitals in New Orleans and does business seminars on applying critical thinking in the workplace. He’s also a close personal friend of mine. Welcome, Everett.

EF: I’m very glad to be here, Dane. Thanks. Thanks a lot for having me. I’m thrilled to be here to talk about this.

D: I had the thought a few weeks ago that it would be excellent to have you come on, because we are committed on the show to small skepticism. As Chris narrates, in every episode, we throw as much skepticism on the mainstream account as we do on the supernatural story. And since you are an expert in skepticism and critical thinking, I thought, well, why not have Everett come on and talk to us about the different varieties of skepticism?

EF: Great.

D: So I was thinking that we could start this evening’s interview with this question: When many people think of skepticism, they think of the American skeptic movement. This is a movement associated with intellectuals like Michael Shermer, associated with the “New Atheist” movement, itself led by figures like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett. And [skeptics] are sort of adjacent to the Silicon Valley rationalists who are interested in becoming more rational thinkers, but they’re way more interested in debunking, focusing on things like Bigfoot, ghosts, aliens and, of course, religion. How do they measure up as skeptics, in your view? Are these excellent examples of what skepticism is?

EF: Great, great question. The short answer is no, they’re they’re not good examples of what skepticism is. And let’s let me try to walk. Walk through why. So I know we’re going to talk a lot tonight about exactly what skepticism is and how it fits with with a helpful, rational, clear headed worldview. But to start with one simple thought, the skeptical tradition. So the philosophers across the history of Western philosophy have advocated and defended skepticism, saw what they were doing as articulating a commitment to complete open mindedness, complete open mindedness, that you were pursuing the truth without any prejudgment about where the truth and even if the truth, we could be found. And you were as clear headed as possible about the difficult obstacles that we face in trying to find the truth. And so one classic distinction that you see in the from an ancient skeptic who skeptic who we’re going to talk about, I imagine, named Sextus Empiricus, as you see it, a distinction between skepticism proper, which he defines as a life of inquiry versus dogmatism. And dogmatism comes in two varieties and dogmatism. A skeptic, Sextus defines it as is just taking yourself to have found the truth. So it’s the opposite of open mindedness. It’s thinking that you have, you know exactly what’s happening. And to think that you know exactly what’s happening, you can think that you know what’s happening because you think that something’s true. But you can also think you know what’s happening because you’re so damn sure that it has to be false. So some of these figures in the American skeptic movement would be labeled by Sextus as dogmatists, not as skeptics at all, as negative dogmatists, you would call them, perhaps because they are starting their investigations and starting the arguments. From a perspective that the topic they’re considering has to be false, though not not considering it with clear and absolute open mindedness, but already starting from a bias is what the right answer has to be.

D: Are you familiar with the television program, The X Files?

EF: Oh, yeah, that was a great, great show. Lots of lots of evenings in the 90s were spent watching the X Files. That’s a great show.

Dane: What do you think of Scully as a paradigmatic skeptic? The Agent Scully, the female partner played by Gillian Anderson, partner of Fox Mulder.

Dr. Everett Fulmer: Good. Yes. So she’s not and she’s not for the reason that I was just articulating. So [Scully] is a character who is much closer to the American skeptic movement mentality. Right. Than she’s she’s committed to the beginning of the falsity of the things her and Mulder are often investigating. And she’s committed to the falsity of some of the things that Mulder thinks is true. And Mulder is kind of making the mistake on the opposite side. Right. He’s like antecedent, exceedingly committed to the truth of these things.

EF: So you can both are being both of those characters from the from a philosophical skeptic’s perspective are guilty of dogmatism, whereas the true skeptical perspective would really try to be completely open minded about whether or not, you know, the various the various scenarios they’re investigating are real.

D: What do philosophers mean by skeptic and skepticism?

EF: Yeah, that’s a good question. There’s there’s a few different things and across across the history of philosophy, I think that the standard use of the terms has shifted a little bit. So, for example, if you if you go all the way back to ancient Greece, the terms would primarily have referred to certain schools that shortly after the time of Aristotle and Plato, philosophy was largely codified among a set of competing schools in and around Athens, or at least Greek, Greek or Western philosophy was. And the word skepticism was referred to some of those schools. But as the history of philosophy went on that the meaning of the term shifted, the the work done by some of the ancient skeptical tools is still part of what we mean by skepticism today. But I think if I was trying to analyze what most professional philosophers use the term today, they actually use the term to refer to a set of puzzles, which is which is kind of funny, perhaps in a different way of thinking about the term. But these are puzzles that have been generated by self-described historical skeptics, including some of these ancient schools I referred to and later participants in the skeptical tradition. So you have this broad historical tradition, that tradition has generated several puzzles and most of what a lot most of what, at least English speaking philosophers work on today are the puzzles generated by this tradition. I call them puzzles because they are sets of inconsistent claims and some of them are seemingly platitudes like. So you start from a few sentences that everybody would think have to be true about what rationality means or what knowledge means. And then you showed that they logically imply something crazy or that they’re inconsistent. And so the puzzle is trying to figure out where in our common sense thoughts have gone wrong. Which of these seemingly obvious claims about rationality that looked so right actually had to be wrong? Or maybe there was something wrong in the inference or so forth. So a lot of contemporary work is focused on these sort of little puzzles. And the goal of trying to solve them is deepen your understanding above rationality or deepen your understanding of knowledge because you thought you knew what it meant. And then, lo and behold, you realized that your understanding of rationality or knowledge leads you to paradox, leads you to something crazy. And so you in solving the puzzle, the goal is to improve and deepen our understanding of what actually knowledge and rationality mean.


D: OK, we are very far afield from what common sense notion of skeptic would be, I take it. So I would think of the man on the street, probably our audience, who would think that skepticism is a kind of doubting, not accepting things, being critical. Philosophical skepticism is actually about figuring out a puzzle….that apparently there are contradictions in the nature of rationality itself and there’s a presumption among philosophers that we can fix that. Can you relate that to the common sense notion that skepticism is just distrust and not knowing what what is true and what is not?

EF: Yeah, yeah. So let’s let’s give an example. So I think that might help. So let’s take so here’s a real simple example. So the first the first claims augment to give a series of claims and then we’ll see a couple of claims and then we’ll see how they logically interact with each other. So the first claim that seems true is a claim about what it means to rationally believe something. So you have all kinds of beliefs. You believe all sorts of things about the world, some of those beliefs you might believe for emotional reasons, irrational reasons. Some of them you probably take yourself to rationally believe. And so what does it mean to rationally believe something? So here’s our first step at the very least, bare minimum, to rationally believe something is to believe it because you have some reason. That seems pretty innocuous, right, that’s a rationally believe something you have to have some basis, some support, some evidence, some reason.

D: Yeah, I believe we’re having this conversation for a reason because I can see you on my zoom and I can hear you, right?

EF: Exactly right. All right. So that seems that seems innocuous. So here’s step two. That also seems seems just as common sensical. Step two would say that the reason that you have for believing what you believe. So the evidence you have that makes your belief rational, that that evidence itself has to be rationally believed. So just think about that for a second. It can’t be that you are rational in believing something if the reason as to why you believe it is staring at a crystal ball or wishful thinking or something like that, that the reason itself should should be rational. So rational believes should be supported by rational beliefs. Yeah. That those two together. What that adds up to….

D: I can see you right now and I can hear you. And I know that from the past experiences I’ve had, when I see and hear things right in front of me, they really are right in front of me. It’s not an illusion. That’s right. So I think we’re really having this conversation.

EF: Yeah, good example. Good example. And so that seems like a great example now. So what we’ve done is we’ve taken little examples like that and formalized them as general principles about what all rationality has to be like. And the claims were, remember, all rationality has to be that your belief is supported. And then the thing doing the supporting has to itself be a rational belief. Now, here’s the problem that maybe some of the listeners can already see is that the two of those together seem to imply an infinite regress, because if the condition on being rational is being supported and then the thing doing the supporting has to itself be rational, then now the thing doing the supporting has to be further supported. And that further support then would have to be another rational belief. And on and on and on infinitely. So these two very seemingly commonsensical claims that are rationality requires support, support and support by rational belief seem to imply an infinite regress and infinite series of beliefs, which no one has. So here’s the here’s the connection to thinking about skepticism in terms of doubt. Well, one lesson to take out of this puzzle is no one has any rational beliefs.

D: It’s not just enough to have evidence. It seems reasonably that if I if I’m committed to the idea that I have to have evidence for everything I believe, then I also have to have evidence for my evidence. And then I need evidence for my evidence. And I need evidence for my evidence for my evidence for my evidence and so on. But I can’t possibly have an infinite amount of evidence. Right? So therefore, I could know nothing.

EF: That’s right. That was a really nice way to put it. So if it’s true that you’re that your evidence, if it’s true that to be rational, your evidence itself needs evidence, then you’ll be stuck with endlessly trying to supply evidence for the evidence, for the evidence, for the evidence, for the evidence, for the evidence. And so it seems something must be wrong with that requirement. We started with it. Maybe it must be wrong that actually rationality requires. Evidence that itself is always further supported by….

D: the skeptical puzzle, at least as it’s presented, it’s about saying you don’t know anything right? Because of this weird thing: the need for infinite evidence, it turns out you don’t know anything. That’s the way it initially, like, comes across. Right?

EF: That’s right. Yeah. And when you read the texts that have generated the Western skeptical tradition, you lots of arguments kind of of this sort of the example I tried to give of a couple seemingly true claims about what knowledge is irrationalities. And then the the self-described skeptic shows you how it leads to an impossible and impossible requirement or a requirement that you don’t have. And so then therefore, you don’t know anything.

D: You don’t know anything. So that’s what skepticism, at least at face value, if you were to go read the texts. Right. Like you go read David Hume or Rene Descartes….You get a sense that there’s a point in the text where they’re facing looks like this thought: I don’t know anything.

EF: Yeah. Let me give let me give you a more of a historic to talk a little bit about some of the things that historical skeptics were really doing to pull this off, to wrap up the first part that a lot of contemporary philosophers are doing something with skepticism that’s detached from what historical skeptics were doing, that a lot of contemporary philosophers are just treating these things like puzzles, and they’re puzzles that are supposed to help us learn more about what rationality is or knowledge is. But the actual historical skeptics were doing something very different with these puzzles, and then they didn’t think about them as puzzles. They thought about them as arguments, and they thought about them as arguments for some pretty radical conclusions. So maybe one thing to do, if you think, would be to talk about a nice example of that from history for sure. OK. All right, let’s do that. So if we go, let’s go all the way back to the early Greek skeptics. So right after Plato died, there was competition among his followers in Plato’s Academy in the school. Right. The first, the oldest European university that was founded there. And there is a competition among Plato’s followers about how exactly to interpret Plato, and they developed a system that was in many ways like what the Vatican does, actually. So there is a vote among the elders of the academy and they voted for a person to sort of sit on the throne of Plato. Right, to be like the pope of Plato. And that person is called the Scholarch. Yeah, they were the head of the academy. And so every time the Scholarch died, just like the pope, the the current elders of the school would get together and vote and elect a new Scholarch. And every scholar represented Plato or the de facto status of being the leader of the school at the time. Now, there is among these folks those fights from the beginning about how exactly to interpret Plato. And it was a few generations on that a guy by the name of Arcesilaus was elected Scholarch, and Arcesilaus looked at Plato’s texts and argued and convinced other people tthat Plato himself was primarily concerned to….Demonstrate how much knowledge people don’t have, and instead of thinking about Plato’s writings as presenting a coherent, positive view of reality, Arcesilaus was seeing Plato’s writings actually is intentionally contradicting each other to sort of teach people how many all the various dead ends in the wrong turns and with there being no positive result. So when Arcesilaus became Scholarch he presented this view of Plato.

EF: You see it if you if you think about the Apology. So if anyone who hasn’t read the apology is listening: the apology is the dialogue where Socrates is defending himself in court right before he’s sentenced to death. And he says in the Apology that the only that the wisdom, so Socrates was supposedly prophesied or declared by the Oracle at Delphi as the wisest person in the world. And [in the Apology] Socrates goes on a bit of a monologue talking about that and claiming to be confused as to how that could be true, because he says he doesn’t know anything. He ends that monologue with the conclusion that perhaps his wisdom resides in knowing that he doesn’t know where other people go around claiming to know.

EF: That thought that Socrates expressed really came to dominate the Platonic Academy under Arcesilaus and the Academy under Arcesilaus was largely in conflict with another school at the time, the Stoics. And the Stoics had developed a pretty serious, positive epistemology, a serious theory about how you know things, how you come to know things, how you tell, and our ceaseless academy was constantly poking holes in it. And a lot of the early skeptical arguments we have are from Arcesilaus and his followers criticizing the Stoics. So let me give you one example of these kind of arguments are about distinguishability. So: The Stoics claimed that if you were really wise, if you could get really wise, if you could be the wise person, that you’d always be able to tell the difference between when something was true and it just seemed to be true. A wise person would get really, really good and in fact infallibly good at always being able to tell the difference between which pieces of information were really true versus just seem to be true.

D: That would be invaluable.

EF: Yeah, it’d be amazing if we had that. So a lot of these skeptical arguments, these early [skeptical] arguments are trying to argue that no one will be able to ever do that infallibly, that the possibility of being duped is ineliminable. For example, if you were shown one grain of sand and then another and then put behind your back, would you be able to tell which was which or one egg and another? You saw two twins. There’s another example. And so there’s there’s there’s an onslaught of examples and arguments built around these examples that are all attempting to show that it’s always possible that you think you have the truth when you don’t, that it’s always possible for you to be duped, that no one would ever be able to actually have the skill the Stoics claim. No one would ever be able to have the skill of to always and everywhere tell the difference between what’s true and what’s false, that it’s always possible that falsity looks exactly like truth to you.

D: It sounds like the Stoics at this point believe that you could acquire almost like magical or supernatural powers. Didn’t they have a notion of a sage who was sort of all knowing and didn’t you become a sage through sort of self-discipline and and various other kinds of practices?

EF: That’s right. Yeah. The sage was the the epitome of the stoic, was the personification of the ideal of what the stoic philosophy was after. And you’re right that the stoic view, the stoic philosophy involves a lot more than epistemology. They had a whole ethics. And in fact. Right, we still use the word stoic today when we describe someone who’s not very affected by their emotions or something we call that person’s stoic. But, yeah, the sage represented all of this stuff. And one of the things the sage was supposed to be able to do is to to be able to tell the difference. Now, at one point in the the fight between Arcesilaus and the Stoics the Stoics admitted the difficulty and then tried to come back and say that, well, the sage will be able to tell the difference between when they’re in a tricky environment and they’re not in a tricky environment. So here’s why that’s relevant: Think about a lot of times when you fall prey to an optical illusion like you are. You know, driving down the road in the desert and it looks to you like there’s a pothole ahead, you’ve been out in the cold too damn long. And so you come in and put your hand, you put your hands into the cold water and they feel hot.

D: Necker cubes.

EF:¬†Yeah, right, yeah, so the Stoics say, look, it’s not that our senses are deceiving us all the time, we’re getting these things in certain environments. And so the sage will be able to distinguish between when they’re really in a tricky environment and when they’re not. And therefore they’ll be able to tell when they really have guaranteed truth before them and when they don’t. And then the skeptics come back and try to run arguments about the sage’s ability to tell what kind of environment they’re in. But this is at the early stages of skepticism. All of the arguments are about whether I can look at information and for sure and certain tell whether I’m being duped or not, whether I can distinguish between something being really true versus it just looking through and that that does that distinguished ability problem is the heart of the early, early skeptics.

D: the impossibility of telling truth from illusion.

EF: which is not to say that there’s not sometimes you can tell. Right. There’s plenty there’s bad illusions. Right. There’s times when you can make distinctions that claim instead is that it’s an ineliminable problem here. It’s always possible that you are being duped in such a spectacular, perfect duping, that you can’t tell, that you can’t tell, right?

D: Yeah, you know, people are making this argument today. It’s becoming popular to say that we might be in a simulation. Intelligent aliens have actually just built a computer program. And that’s all our reality is. So if that even could be true, right. You could say, well, you don’t know that anything is real, because for all you know, you’re in a simulation. So I might think that I’m talking to Everett right now. But for all I know, I mean, the alien simulation, there was never Everett to begin with.

EF: Yeah, that’s a that’s a really nice example of that, because and and just like the film The Matrix as well, that those sorts of scenarios are even to bring it down to earth. You think about an example of we’ve all probably had times where we were dreaming, but we thought we are awake.

D: Yeah.

EF: You know, when you when you when you had one of those dreams and you couldn’t tell it was a dream. So all of those scenarios, the alien simulation that the matrix, the dream that you’re dreaming and you think you’re awake enough to dream. Right. Those are all scenarios where the information you’re presented with looks to be top notch, as good as it gets information. And yet it’s false.

D: Even the sage can’t tell….

EF: That’s right. Yeah, so those are all illustrations of the seemingly always possible fact that you could be being duped right now and you can’t tell.

D: So now it sounds like skepticism was a movement that was about taking down this this sort of cult movement…it was about taking down the Stoics who had gotten into this idea that you could become an enlightened sage and you could have sort of almost supernatural knowledge, insight into the nature of reality. And [skeptics] were saying, no, it’s logically impossible… and then did they go too far? And so they ended up with arguments that were so good that they showed that nobody had any knowledge at all and that that became the problem?

EF: Yeah. So the later the the next stages of development of skepticism are interesting. So bifurcates after this moment. And so one path that you see in the Roman order and sort of philosopher and historians, Cicero, one path where this went is said, OK, we can never tell for sure. And certain we can never distinguish with absolute certainty between truth and falsity. But that doesn’t mean we got nothing right. We have lots of evidence. And so what Cicero in one line of [the skeptical tradition] developed is a way of thinking. [Cicero propounded] realizing that you can never be absolutely certain that anything before you is true, but nevertheless figuring out rules and procedures to follow the evidence as much as possible. And the way Cicero puts it sometimes is in terms of probabilities that we can have probabilistic evidence for this or that conclusion.

D: Oh wow.

EF: The other path is what you see in Sextus Empiricus, who is a figure we know very little about. We think he lived about the year two hundred. We think he was at one point the doctor by his epithet there “empiricus.” Where he went with it was started by another figure named Aenesidemus a bit earlier. But this other trajectory was: it’s completely right that we can never tell whether anything is true or false. We can’t tell that with certainty, and even Sextus will argue that. You can’t tell that with probability that you have no rational reason to be able to say that one conclusion is more likely than another. And Sextus, turned this into an ethical project. In the early days of skepticism, I described it as being primarily just about taking down the Stoics. Under Sextus it became an enlightenment project. Sextus claimed that becoming a skeptic would give you peace. He had to be a little careful with his language there, but he roughly claimed that in following skepticism, peace and tranquility were found for him. The claim is something like: you can get so worked up on which of your beliefs are true and who’s right and who’s wrong, and people are yelling at the Thanksgiving table, how do you find peace? Sextus says, let go, let go of the whole project. And you realize that nobody can actually tell the difference between truth and falsity and you embrace that and detach and let go of it. So that was a really interesting period in the history of skepticism right there under Sextus, broadly called Pyrrhonian skepticism [Pyrrhyronism]

D: So the practical upshot of it was that through thinking through these these puzzles, you could detach yourself from some of your need to have your opinions believed by others or just…?

EF: Believed by others and believed by yourself. So Sextus seems to the way he motivates this is and I don’t know, maybe this is autobiographical for him, but he talks about a kind of anxiety you can feel when you even recognize yourself as having not found the answer to the question you’re after yet. And that you’re going and you’re searching and you’re searching and you’re reading and you’re talking to people you’re researching and you’re, you know, spending hours reading Wikipedia or whatever. And you’re going on and on and on. And you think you’ll finally get peace when you find the answer. And the kind of ironic thing, according to Sextus, is you actually get peace by letting go by, by letting go of the project.

D: Interesting.

EF: It is interesting, but he gets he gets close to contradicting himself here because as I said a bit ago, what he wants skepticism to be is a totally coherent worldview dedicated to saying we’re still searching. We don’t have the answer. Maybe there’s an answer. Maybe there’s not. We’re always still searching. Right. But but still searching sounds like you haven’t given up on the project. It sounds like you’re going after the answer and you think it’s out there. Whereas the way he talks about the tranquility, it seems like it is a kind of detachment and a kind of letting go. So there’s there’s people who have thought about this hard and have have come up with solutions as to how it how it’s all coherent for Sextus. But but that’s another place where at least it looks like he might be accidentally contradicting himself.

D: But maybe the idea is that, you know, you could relax a little while, still holding on to hope that there’s an answer and that reminding yourself that’s possible that it is unknowable. Might just be something to help you chill out a little bit.

EF: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. But….When you look at Sextus arguments, so he he runs a series of arguments, but they all broadly have a similar structure and most most of Sextus’ arguments have a structure like this. Step one is realizing that everything you think is tied to your own perspective. That you you have to see the world through your your biological eyes, not someone else’s. You have to speak, though, your only mother language is the one that you were born into and your particular time and place and your particular culture and the particular facts about how your senses work, how genetically, how you happen to be born, facts about the species, you happen to be born [into] and you realize that if you have a tool set, you are born with. You didn’t choose it. You have a particular tool set of your body and your senses in your mind you were born with, and then you have enculturation on top of it. And every claim you make about the world has to be filtered through that toolset as well as that inculturation. You can only see the word through your own body, through your own five senses, through your own mind. So that’s step one. Step two is well, it sure as heck seems like if I was a difference, it seemed like it could be that if I was a different species member of a different species, if I had a different body, if I was born in a different time and place, I might think very differently about this. I mean, to take one example, you can try to just think about the difference between how we are a very visual species, it seems, and try to just think for a second about how odd reality must be experienced to bats who use echolocation instead of us, like the world they live in is radically different than ours. And and we are just so accustomed to thinking about the world in terms of how it appears to our eyes in terms of colors. But if you are a bat, wouldn’t think that way at all. You think about reality to the extent that bats think about reality in a radically different way, and they’d be as just as damn sure and certain that reality is that way is we are that it’s red and blue and yellow and this and that. And so from Sextus view, step one is you take heed on how every claim you make is tied to your perspective. And then step two is if your perspective was different, [reality] might look very different. It might look just the opposite of what you think might look just as good as what you think looks to you. And so then the conclusion of that, Sextus argues, is that you’re not actually in a position to tell whether any of your beliefs are true, because if you realize that you’re the way the world looks to you is tied to one perspective, and it’s possible that the way the world looks with the world will look differently tied to a different perspective than to be able to tell who’s right. You would need a third perspective. That could be the judge outside who would be able to weigh the two different competing perspectives. But you can’t get that as Sextus puts it. You’re always party to the dispute. You’re always one of the perspectives that we’re trying to choose between. So you can’t occupy the unbiased judge perspective. And so you’re never in a position to be able to rationally tell which perspective is the one that should be trusted.

D: So you’d have to have a God’s eye view, which none of us can ever occupy….

EF: That’s right, yeah, so that’s that argument from his seems like it covers all cases or it’s intended to cover all cases. So that’s another way where it seems a little odd that he wants to say. We’re still searching, we’re still searching, so so Sextus is a fascinating figure and completely worthwhile reading, and there’s lots of good arguments in there and there’s a lot of pushing and prodding and forcing you to think in in in strange new ways.

D: Are you familiar with UFO Twitter?

EF: UFO, Twitter, no,

D: so UFO Twitter is just people on Twitter who believe in UFOs, and they they really do believe in UFOs and, you know, we’re open to that on the show. But one of the things I’ve been noticing lately on UFO Twitter is they really want everyone else to believe in UFOs, too. And they’ve been saying, won’t it be great when disclosure happens and everybody agrees with us? And they’re frustrated that disclosure is not happening because they want the proof to come out so that, you know, everybody’s on board with [the reality of aliens]. Is this an example of getting stressed out by this kind of, you know, this need for knowledge that he thinks you can’t actually have?

EF: Yeah, I think that’s a spectacular example.

D: I think because he would say, you know, even when even when the government comes out and says UFOs are real, suppose that happens, right? Well, you still how do you trust the government? You still have a further concerned: is [disclosure] the definitive answer you really thought you were going to get? Are you still in the same, you know, gray area you were before?

EF: Yeah. So you know that the idea of a disclosure moment is is almost like a messianic dream, right? It’s a dream of this moment when truth is utterly transparent and undeniable. But as you pointed out, we never have that.

D: That’s very good. Can I ask you then about another possible real life example of someone who may have been practicing skepticism or maybe not? Robert Anton Wilson was a man who worked on conspiracy theories and he wrote about them. He actually wrote both fiction and nonfiction about conspiracy theories. And he, during a period of his life, began practicing consciousness expansion exercises that were popular in the 60s. He was a kind of friend of Timothy Leary, and he went through a phase in his life, which he called Chapel perilous, where he felt like he was receiving messages from possibly, he writes in his autobiography, possibly Aliens from the Star System, Sirius. He also questioned whether it might have been his own mind generating it. He questioned whether it might be messages he was receiving from a higher self or whether they might be messages coming from some sort of spirit being located around somewhere in the vicinity of Earth or in another dimension. He’s never able to figure it out in his autobiography, but he writes that the viewpoint that he settled on was what he calls ontological pluralism. He says, I ended up deciding that there’s no one theory that can ever fully describe reality. And so what we need to do is learn to be quick at moving between theories. So that’s why he moves back and forth between his theory that he’s talking to spirits, his theory that he’s talking to aliens, his theory that he’s making it all up in his head. He thinks that that’s the right attitude to have, is a kind of flexibility to move from one perspective to another. Does that sound like skepticism to you?

EF: It’s a movement in the right direction, so one place where the historical skeptics would push back a little bit is in his decision to believe that the right view is this ontological pluralism. So the what the skeptics would push back on and say that that itself is a strong view, a strong, serious philosophical view about reality, and that needs to be interrogated just as carefully. It could be that you just haven’t figured out what the one single unifying ontological theme of reality is. It could be that all the ones you’re considering are wrong. It could be that, you know, you haven’t been creative enough yet to figure out how to fit these pieces together. And so, like the pluralist view itself needs to be just one of the things that’s doubted, along with the various proposals that he enumerated, the alien proposal or his own self or his higher self. So giving a list, going through a list of possible explanations is a spectacular thing to do and a movement in the direction of the genuine spirit of skepticism. But then it has to be taken a further step, one step further to say that like jumping to that being the correct picture of reality itself needs to be scrutinized and considered among only one of the possible explanations to consider.

D: Very good. So the skeptic isn’t just questioning the appearances, but also questioning his methods for adjudicating between the appearances. And then that leads to the natural question: do skeptics need to be skeptical of skepticism itself? What kind of ramifications does that have?

EF: Yeah, good. This is a place where there has been a lot of interesting historical reflection and contemporary work on. On the. The self consistency of the skeptical project in in the ancient world, there’s this worry was largely articulated as a worry about action. The claim was that skepticism is inconsistent because you can’t actually live that and you do live you have to live as a human. And so therefore the view is inconsistent. And here’s why it would appear that you can’t live it, because just think about the things you do every day. Talking to me right now, deciding to go get a cup of coffee, deciding to get in your car, walking across the street, any of those daily actions you do are wrapped up in various beliefs, like if you didn’t believe that there were cars going down the street and that’s why you stopped. The worry is what would prevent you from just walking out in the street and getting run over, for example? And and so, like daily life appears to be necessarily wrapped up with making making judgments and having beliefs about what’s going on. And so to truly doubt everything the way it was, you’d be paralyzed, you couldn’t live. And of course, no one does that. So therefore, the view is, you know, completely implausible and refutes itself.

D: Oh, absolutely. So wait, is that is at the end of skepticism?

EF: No, it’s not the end, because there are lots of sophisticated things that were said back on the other side and and are worth thinking about. So the main move that was articulated, at least in the ancient world to push back was distinguishing between the kind of mental judgment or state, the kind of, let’s say, quote unquote, belief that you need. To practically live versus the kind of belief that is the proper thing to doubt and [be skeptical of]. So another way to put the response is like this: that the the objector to skepticism is using the word belief to mean all and only the same kinds of things. But maybe the kind of beliefs, the sort of belief, that we have to live by, that we need in practical life, including the practical decision to adopt the framework of skepticism, can be a different kind than the sort of things we’re doubting. And here’s roughly how that tried to go. Is that the kind of beliefs that you have to live to walk across the street to engage in a in a project like this? To talk to somebody are not considered judgments about what reality is like, but instead are can be understood as decisions based purely purely along the appearances that there can be. The rational way to live will be to live according that it appears to you that there’s a car coming down the street and that’s enough to hold back and not walk into the street without going on to make the further step of. They’re definitely 100 percent are cars in reality, and that will definitely kill me if I walk out, that the appearances can be kind of judgment that is less committal than a full blown belief. And it’s the full blown beliefs that are the proper object of doubting and skepticism. So that’s one way they tried to push back against those kinds of worries.

D: OK, so practical beliefs would be the things that you just have to do to get to get through life, right. You have to eat and drink and pay your taxes. Right. And avoid the police or avoid running into trouble with the law. But, you know, questions about what’s real from everything from UFOs to skepticism itself might be in the category of what are you call….are these theoretical beliefs to contrast them with practical.?

EF: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s a nice that’s a nice distinction. And in fact, some of that language is is deeply in the tradition. I think even…. I’m not sure if Sextus uses the language of theoretical and practical beliefs, but you definitely see it in Descartes, for example. So Rene Descartes was writing in the sixteen hundreds and is another major figure in the development of skeptical thinking. And Descartes develops these skeptical meditations. Now, Descartes doesn’t think that the skepticism is the right philosophical view, but he thinks that going through these skeptical meditations is an exercise that will teach you what the right view is. And so Descartes is not a skeptic, but is committed to the importance and usefulness of skepticism. And he starts off these skeptical meditation saying this isn’t practical beliefs, don’t don’t do skepticism on practical beliefs at all, that this is all and only for purely theoretical claims about what’s deeply real and in reality and what isn’t.

D: Very good. Yeah, I’ve read meditations and I really enjoy Descartes and his sort of multiple steps, right. You’re supposed to do one meditation a day and it’s supposed to put you into this headspace where, you know, anything could be real, right? You could be possibly you’re being deceived by an evil demon or possibly you’re just dreaming and nothing that you’re seeing is real. And then he tries to walk you out of it. And I think when he’s in the depth of that….what is it meditation four when he’s at the peak of the doubt?

EF: At the bottom of one, actually.

D: Oh, that’s the peak of it? At the bottom of one

EF: Meditation, two picks right back up at the bottom. But you start getting Descartes arguing that he thinks he can step out of the skeptical meditation in two.

D: But he’s almost in a headspace that sounds like something Robert Anton Wilson was in, right? Where Anton Wilson is like, well, maybe I’m talking to spirits or maybe I’m not or maybe nothing’s real. Right. I think Descartes maybe without doing any consciousness expanding exercises or maybe he was doing consciousness expansion….you know, he did he did study with the Jesuits. Right? And they have all kinds of contemplatively prayers….

EF: That’s right. That Descartes was schooled as a young boy. He got a bit lucky in this regard. So he was sent off to a Jesuit boarding school in the French town of Le Fleche. And at the time, that school was small and not very notable, but it grew. And by the time Descartes was an adult at that secondary school had become very popular and was well regarded. And a lot of fancy people in Europe were sending their kids there. So Descartes got this real credential luck that by the time he grew up, the school he went to had become famous and so he could have that social clout. But it was a Jesuit school and we know some things about what he went under there, not tons, but surely he was taught the spiritual exercises of Ignatius, and there’s a nice article that a current philosopher wrote comparing also some of the moves in the meditations exercises to actually the the spiritual exercises in Teresa of Avila’s main work of spiritual exercise called the Interior Castle.

D: Oh, yeah,.

EF: Another Spaniard, I suggest you read. Ignatius [of Loyola] is a Spaniard from the Basque from the Basque region in the northeast of Spain. And Teresa was from I don’t even know where Avilla is off the top of my head. Maybe you do know.

D: I’m sorry, but I don’t either. isn’t she the one who when she was a child, she tried to run away from home to go fight the Moors? You know, I don’t know. I think her parents, like, had to go find her. She’s like 17th century, right? No, because there would be no Moors left to fight. She would have to be back in the 1400s if she thought she was going to go fight them. Spain is unified under Christian rule 1492, right?

EF: Yeah, that’s right.

D: So anyway I don’t know. So we don’t know when Saint Theresa lived.

[note: Teresa of Avilla was born in 1515. After reading accounts of Christian martyrs as a child, she attempted to run away and seek martyrdom at the hands of the Moors but was retrieved by her uncle outside of town.]

EF: We don’t know. But we do, we, it’s very plausible. Somebody, somebody will have to check us on that. But it’s very plausible that they take Descartes… And it’s really fascinating that he did this, by the way. Right. Because when you look at the texts that constitute the canon of philosophy, they are primarily essays and treatises right? There, primarily the author writing you arguments for what he or she thinks you should believe. And Descartes main work, the meditation’s is not that at all. It’s a set of exercises. Descartes doesn’t want to give you an argument. He wants to give you a set of exercises to do with the thought that you’ll come out the other side, a changed person. You’ll come out the other side thinking differently. And once you come out the other side, a changed person, Descartes thinks you’ll be able to see what’s true and why, and that that method just smacks very loudly of Ignatius of Loyola spiritual exercise. But even more broadly, the tradition of spiritual exercises across across Western religions and even even more broadly, still.

D: Yeah, I really like the idea there’s a point of intersection here between philosophy, a history of philosophy and spirituality, and then for us, for the show, it’s with these with consciousness expansion oriented type practices, which you can call spiritual or not. But I’m sure it’s interesting to see that three way intersection there.

EF: I was going to say, and it’s not just Descartes, there’s an interesting history of places where the skepticism has bedded up with religious views of various kinds. And then on the other side, of course. So we think as we’ve begun our conversation here, talking about the new American kind of skeptic movement, which views itself as antithetical to religious commitment. When you look more broadly at the history of skepticism, the history of skepticism is a mixed bag. And there’s some very clearly bona fide skeptics throughout history who took themselves to be deeply religious people or as far as we can tell, from from what they wrote, they appeared to take themselves to be deeply religious people.

D: And how would they reconcile their skepticism then with their faith? We think of being religious as having a faith, being committed to something being true. Right. Which is what skepticism says you’re not supposed to do. Right? You’re supposed to distance yourself…..?

EF: Yeah, good. Great question. So there’s a few a few ways that it’s tried to happen. And most of the figures that I know about here are functioning in and around the reformation in Europe that actually the the Reformation period was a period where there was a renewed emergence and awareness of the ancient skeptical texts. So you see this, for example, in Michel de Montaigne is is one classic example. We’ll talk about him in a second. You see this also in Erasmus. Erasmus is very famous debates with Luther at the time. And you see this even slightly before the Reformation in a figure whose name was [Giorolamo] Savonarola. He had several of his monks ordered to make translations of Sextus and translate his works from Greek into Latin. These were going to be the first Latin translations of Sextus Empiricus in a very, very, very long time. And Savonarola had a kind of reading group almost. And intellectuals from around Florence would come to the monastery and they would talk. And Savonarola was pushing the view that skepticism was the proper preparatory philosophy to accept and understand Christianity. He was a fascinating figure. He was very vocal critic of the pope at the time and lots of other powerful people as well, including the Medici, who the media first invited him to Florence in the first place. And then he started being a very vocal critic of the Medici. And Savonarola also went to went so far as to claim that he was having religious visions directly from God that were supporting his criticisms of the pope and the Medici and was claiming that there was a kind of apocalyptic battle that was ensuing and that the whole city of Florence was going to be sacked and burned to the ground. And, you know, all all kinds of histeria. He was he was propagating and so it’s probably easy to see where this went, isn’t it? He got executed and…..

D: but wait….I thought he was a skeptic and now he’s believing in the apocalypse?

EF: Yeah, so here’s so that’s right in a particularly very immediate human apocalypse, I can’t remember where he was saying the army was going to come from, but there was an army that was going to come invade Florence. And Savonarola was giving these prophecies of an impending apocalypse in Florence and criticizing both the Medicii and the pope at the time on supposed direct revelation from God and saw it was claiming to himself be a greater authority than the pope, which led to his execution. So here’s how it all fit together: his view was that what skepticism does, is it shows you the internal inconsistency of reason. That reason can’t live up to its very own standards, and so since reason can’t live up to its very own standards, the rational thing to do is to not trust reason and instead trust, faith. So it was a kind of negative way of of marrying the two together and used….

D: [inaudible]

EF: Interesting, right and then you you actually saw a similar claim during the Reformation. So, for example, there was these very famous debates between harassment and Luther on a host of things. Right. So Luther, of course, was representing the Protestant side and Erasmus, the Catholic side. And Erasmus would argue, based on some arguments from Sextus, that the way Luther was so convinced that his own reading of scripture was correct was irrational, that he had did not have evidence to be trusting the way scripture appeared to him, that it appeared to Luther one way and appeared to other people the other way. And who are you to make yourself the authority for the right way to read scripture? And so the right thing to do is to distrust your own rational faculties, that you have the ability to tell what scripture really says and and instead defer to the tradition. So it has a kind of a faith move that that asserting faith in the tradition was seen to be the result of skeptical thinking about the limits of our own ability to properly read these texts.

D: Interesting!

EF: It is interesting! So there’s more positive marriages of skepticism and religion around, but the ones that were happening during the Reformation were often to these very negative ones where skepticism was seen as a tool to demonstrate the folly of over trusting human rationality. And so, therefore, you should accept non-rational claims to reality…..

D: Now, I’m not sure I follow that the last part of the logic there, because I can understand skepticism shows that we can’t trust our reason. But then don’t you have to use your reason to decide which faith tradition to commit to?

EF: Yeah, that’s right. And you even have to be using your reason just to make a claim about that, because so let’s say the arguments are correct, that all human attempts to demonstrate the truth are flawed. So then you take further conclusion from that: faith claims are the way to go. But you’d have to be using your rationality to even make THAT further inference as well.

D: Hmm. So you can’t even get off the ground…..

EF: Yeah, that’s right. And these people weren’t as worried about adjudicating between different traditions because they were seeing the more taking this, the more established Catholic and Orthodox views as as the given tradition. It was it was in their culture. It was the Protestants who were claiming to be able to know how to read scripture better and know what Christianity is better than the way it’s been done.

D: Right. Yeah, the way the debate is framed is everything

EF: that’s that’s right.

D: So in our environment, there wouldn’t be this kind of movement, this kind of skeptical defense of religion? Although it seems like you do hear that….I mean, Kierkegaard, right?

EF: There you go. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, Kierkegaard, as this is a similar kind of view about the the essential sort of leap of faith that religiosity requires, which can’t be rationally defended, as I understand.

D: Yeah, and he’s living in, you know, post enlightenment. We might think of as modern time, he’s certainly relatable…. We can relate to him because he’s cognizant of the reality of pluralism; there are many religions that are available to him as options.

EF: That’s right.

D: With all this this talk we’ve had in this conversation about practicing like….. You know, Descartes’ spiritual exercise or Descartes’ meditations and the history of skepticism and spirituality, could we as listeners practice ancient Greek skepticism? Is there a way that we could turn any of these puzzles into meditations? Would that be appropriate? Do you think that would have any benefit?

EF: Yeah, I think it would be highly appropriate and highly beneficial. So let me try to articulate a few ways as to how that would go and what I would recommend. We’ll start with Sextus, one of the themes you see in Sextus is arguments about Pyrrhonian skepticism is an insistence on [restricting] your ability to rationally, really correctly, believe something…. at least we can say [that Sextus says if you are going] to believe it all the way to your toes or to claim to know it, that you should be in a position to quality control each of the parts of that belief that you’re dependent upon. So let’s take a really simple example. So your friend tells you something is true. Or you read something on social media that something is true, the first thing Sextus would have you ask is whether you’re in a position to tell whether that source is reliable. Whether you’re in a position to tell whether that source is telling you the truth in this case. And we are. We are one of the to put that point more broadly, we are thoroughly dependent upon external sources and information for a wide swaths of our beliefs about the world around us. We’re dependent on other people or dependent on books for dependent on news sources. And one of the things you can really get out of Sextus here is a wide eyed awareness of that dependance relation and how often you actually aren’t in a position to quality control the things you’re depending on. Right, we read about something going on somewhere else in the world, we’re not in a position to fly over there and check and see it for ourselves. Yeah, we hear that, you know, the some team of climatologists have said something or some team of physicists have said something or other. We’re not in a position to fully fact check and verify everything they’re doing and all the experience. In fact, they’re often not in a position to do that to each other. The sciences have become so specialized that within the sciences, people aren’t able to quality control each other’s work. In fact, in some very large physics experiments, that’s true within a particular experiment that various members of the actual experiment aren’t even in a position to, quote, fact check each other’s [work]. So we are inextricably bound up in these relations of cognitive or epistemic dependance on other people, and we’re not in a position to often fact check them. So thinking about the ancients skeptical tradition should bring that to your fore and make you aware of that. And then the next step would be to therefore you should pull back on how damned certain you think you are about many, many, many things you believe because you realize you’re not actually in a position to quality check the sources and the things you’re dependent on to get that information.

D: I see.

EF: That that should give a huge dose of humility. And and I think I don’t know what you think, Dane, but my guess is it’s kind of psychologically counterintuitive. That we want we want to believe that it’s natural to hear something from a friend and to believe it, right, to read a news article and believe it. Yeah, it it’s easier. It feels good. It feels nice to know to think, you know, what’s going on in reality. And the kind of humility that the skeptical tradition offers is a little might sound a little uncomfortable at first because you have to you have to be OK with realizing that you’re dependent on things you can’t fact check. You dependent on things you can’t quality control. And so you’re not in a position to really tell whether what you’re being told is true or not. Well, I was just going to say that the ironic thing to turn all the way to Sextus is that Sextus thinks that instead of being psychologically uncomfortable, then coming to terms with this humility is actually liberating. That you can you’ll gain you can gain peace by coming to accept the fact that your beliefs are thoroughly dependent on things you can’t fact check, and therefore you’re not in a position to really go toe to toe and claim for damn certain, you know, and and instead of feeling anxiety about not knowing. You can feel some detachment and some peace from the anxiety of feeling like you have to know.

D: Very good. I think that could have helped out a lot of people that we’ve talked about on this show who were, you know, caught up in strange experiences with things that they they weren’t sure what what they were encountering…..

EF: There’s a there is I think there is a real uncomfortability, though, right? Descartes in the meditations talks about a feeling of vertigo when you’re deep, kind of in a skeptical experience. And I think the figure you were just asking me about before Wilson was describing something similar, right?

D: Yes. Chapel Perilous was what he called it.

EF: I don’t know what you think or what the other listeners out there think, but it’s easy for me to feel like I can get myself in a perspective vertigo that feels deeply uncomfortable, of not knowing what to believe, what to think, which way is up, which way is down. Sextus wants to tell you it’s liberating. But but that itself, we should we should be skeptical of and think hard about and critical about, about whether it truly is.

D: Well, I think I had an experience like this of both the vertigo and the liberation when I was in college. And I was thinking very hard about David Hume. Hume has this argument that we have no rational basis for causality. Right? And he says like there’s no logical reason why the sun might not come up tomorrow. And, you know, anything could happen from any given thing, any other given thing could follow. Right. And so not just that the sun might not come up tomorrow, but, you know, you could drink water and it could fail to quench your thirst. You know, you could strike a match and it could fail to burst into flames. It could do something it’s never done before, like it could produce water. You know, anything you can imagine could follow from anything else. And there’s no logical reason why any of these causal relations have to happen. I spent a lot of time meditating on that or just like thinking it over. And I found it really trippy and really weird because I had this thought like, whoa, I can’t I can’t really be sure then that I can count on stuff like, what if I’m just walking to the cafeteria and I just fall through the ground, you know, just fall forever. Right. There’s no causal relationship I can depend on.

EF: That’s right.

D: It was very trippy. And then I kind of left it kind of forgot about it. But when this coronavirus thing happened. And it was so out of the blue, I found myself going back a little bit to my Humean days and being like, you know, this is something totally unexpected, but I should have expected that the unexpected could happen. I don’t know if that makes sense.

EF: You know, it makes perfect sense. So I’ll say two things. I’ll share a vertigo story, too. And then and then I really like the transition to what [skepticism has to do with coronavirus] the vertigo experience I’ll share actually comes from a student of mine. So I was teaching a class on Descartes’ meditations. As we briefly mentioned here there’s this this set of exercises and in the first meditations it goes into deeper and deeper down. It starts by doubting whether or not you can trust your senses, the way things whether the way things look, touch, taste or similar, really the way they are. And then then it goes down to the level of next level [which] is whether you can doubt whether you can be sure that you’re actually awake at any moment you’re awake because it seems possible that you have had and many of us claim we’ve had experiences of a dream where we thought we are awake in the dream. So that’s a kind of holistic deception where we think all our senses are giving us information of reality. But we’re actually just going to dream. And then there’s the deepest level, which, you know, is almost like a matrix kind of experience, a thought experiment where you think about the possibility of the very rules that your mind works by everything you think is manipulated or systematically wrong.

D: Wow.

EF: And so I was teaching this class and we spent some time really walking through this. And I had this student who was a very good student, who kept coming to me and talking about it. And then I got an e-mail from my chair and the university saying this student was asking for a medical withdrawal and was leaving the university.

D: Oh, no.

EF: Yeah, and the students parents came, I was called in, we had these big meetings and it turned out that reading Descartes had thrown this student into such a vertigo experience that they were having a psychological breakdown.

D: Wow.

EF: And this person couldn’t feel like they could trust anything, didn’t know which way was up or down, their entire worldview is shattered and was deeply lost and left the university for that semester.

D: Wow.

EF: I know, I know, yeah, I know I should have this disclaimer at the beginning of my classes…. And luckily those student came out of it and came back. I’ve talked to her a few times since, but…. The way she came out of it might be similar to actually the way Hume talks, which is not kind of a rational way to come out of it, but just practical life pulling me back right now. You get worried about these things when your friends come over and want to have a beer and play [inaudible]

D: Well, he says, I go play billiards, right? I go play billiards and it all fades away.

EF: That’s right.

D: Hume loved gambling.

D: I wanted to know if this student of yours who had this breakdown, were there positive outcomes? Did she have any evidence of overall, you know, consciousness expansion after this disorienting experience?

EF: I really I really hope so. And I invited the student to my office multiple times the subsequent semester and year. I didn’t I mean, I wasn’t pushy, but I, you know, often offered myself to talk and she didn’t she didn’t want to. So I don’t I don’t really know what happened to me. I know that she decided to become a philosophy major, which worried that the heck out of her parents after this breakdown experience. And she’s read Descartes since and is and did not have another breakdown. But but I don’t I don’t know much else than that, unfortunately.

D: Fascinating. Yeah, well, it’s good to know that, you know, be forewarned, this skepticism has its own dangers too.

EF: And there’s a nice wrap up there, I think back to your point about coronavirus and the uncomfortable idea of these kind of vertigo experiences or even the uncomfortable idea of having no idea what’s going to happen going back to the earlier days of the virus. Yeah, if we are about to enter a global massive recession for decades or who knows what was going to happen. Right. But much of the world was going to die, you know, as all all over the place scenarios. Nobody had any idea I was going to. And now we’re coming out of it and, you know, much, much, much calmer feelings. But a year ago, there were some pretty high feelings. And when you’re feeling so uncomfortable about not knowing what’s going on, I think there’s a real human tendency to want to jump, to believe something jumped, to believe anything, because believing something feels like a lifeboat in the middle of this vertigo sea. And that’s another thing you can learn from the skeptical tradition, I think is being aware that that uncomfortable in itself can make you do irrational things that are very good. And you can. But and it’s not that just knowing that will make you not do it, but becoming mindful of that can help you check yourself like you’re thinking about how. Or maybe I’m just jumping to that belief because it’s feels scary and uncomfortable to to just sit in and not knowing.

D: Yeah, the benefit there could be then the skeptical benefit is training yourself to be comfortable or be aware of the feeling and resisting it, making may. Maybe that makes you more comfortable with uncertainty.

EF: It makes you more comfortable. Yeah, and at the very least, I think it gives you some psychological distance from the belief you jump to. So if you jump to a belief and you find yourself believing it and then you, you have a moment of stopping and you think, well wait a second, maybe I’m just doing that thing and humans are uncomfortable. So we jump to believe. And the moment you think to yourself, maybe that’s what I’m doing. Your belief starts to feel less sure. And so you can get some psychological distance from you. That’s wonderful. It is, and and and perhaps even more broadly, I think the skeptical version throughout many of the things we’ve been talking about can help us get more distance from our beliefs and and not feel as attached to them, not be so ready to yell at the Thanksgiving table about them, to go to bat for them, come hell or high water, and to have some some healthy distance, some healthy distance that promotes real open open mindedness and a real earnest pursuit of the truth without prejudging what the truth will look like.

D:Yes, that could definitely be helpful for not just our audience and members of our audience who are very interested in the occult, in the strange and the unexplained, but just America at large seems like people have become much more dogmatic and less skeptical.

EF: Yes. Yes, I agree. Yeah, we need this now. This could be part of the antidote for a more civil society if we can just give more skepticism out there.

D: Yeah, well, I thought you were going to come on the show and just talk about, you know, just talk about how skepticism could be applied and understood by, you know, seekers of the strange. But now it sounds like it’s the it’s the cure, to the world’s problems.

EF: Well, maybe not all, but it’s a it’s a I mean it. Yeah, it’s it’s hard to imagine people or countries that were thoroughly following skepticism going to much war with each other. It’s hard to imagine there being as many fights and so for us as there are now. You know, I’m not saying there wouldn’t be any, but that it is it does often seem to me to be the case that tensions and fights are exacerbated by people being overly confident about their view of things. And some some psychological distance and some humility could go a long way to to peace and stability.

D: Absolutely. That seems spot on to me. Well, thank you so much, Everett, for coming on the show. I really appreciate it. This has been an excellent conversation. Thanks.

EF: Thanks to you. Thanks for inviting me for having me on the show. It’s been a real pleasure.

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