Saturday, September 18, 2010


To move toward a greater understanding of the universe we need to be open to learning what we do not yet understand. However it is wasteful to be distracted by spurious claims of nonexistent effects based on nothing more than wild imaginations and undisciplined wishful thinking. It is a difficult and important balance to achieve.

Astrology, biorhythms, fortune telling, channeling, cosmic consciousness, synchronicity, afterlife, reincarnation, faith healing, chakras, exorcism, rebirthing, the law of attraction, and other mystical pursuits are fascinating concepts that remain unproven. Should we explore them further in the hope of revealing a profound cosmic truth, or abandon them as dead ends?

I believe we live in a causal universe but we may not yet know all the causes. Certainly radio waves—those invisible electromagnetic forces travelling at the speed of light—were unknown and unsuspected until 1865, less than 150 years ago. Even the most forward thinker of that time would have been both skeptical and mystified by today’s fantastic uses of the electromagnetic spectrum to phone home or watch YouTube while sitting on the beach. What other phenomenon—analogous to radio waves in their obscurity, ubiquity, and power—remain to be discovered in our universe?

James Randi—previously The Amazing Randi—encourages rigorous investigation and skepticism. He knows that charlatans prey on the vulnerable with knowingly false claims of clairvoyance. He works diligently to end those exploitations. His work is valuable.

I continue to develop my own theory of knowledge—how I decide what to believe. My thinking on nonfalsifiable claims is very simple: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And I recognize this represents a conservative bias.

Even as we explore ever farther into space and probe deeper into subatomic particles we remain profoundly ignorant about the universe. Where did it all come from? Where is it going? Why is it here? But we need to explore the answers, not guess at them or make up stories. While waiting for the facts it is better to suspend judgment, even if feeling certain is so much more comfortable. Will the Large Hadron Collider discover the Higgs boson or not? What is the role of dark matter and dark energy in the universe? What other life forms share this fascinating universe with us?

Stay open, stay curious, stay skeptical. Dream bigger, look farther, investigate deeper.

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