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July 09, 2013

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Perhaps it's not that Truzzi wasn't a true sceptic, it's that the other members of CSICOP aren't true sceptics? :)

Paul

Got it in one!

He told me that he became uncomfortable with the extreme views and behaviour of the other CSICOP founders quite early on.

His disagreement with them over the editorial policy of SI also stemmed from the fact that he wanted to give more opportunity for those who the journal attacked to reply.

Truzzi's approach was rooted firmly in the BALANCED appraisal of evidence and I don't think he could stomach seeing that compromised by the rhetoric, hyperbole and sophistry that the skeptical movement has become known for.

To be frank, I got the impression that he found the public face of skepticism something of an intense embarrassment.

Marcello Truzzi was one of the most balanced, congruent and open individuals I've ever encountered. It's a shame there weren't more like him in the movement.

Lol thanks Steve :)
Unfortunately the problem Truzzi encountered exists at both ends of the debate as far as I can see :)

Absolutely Paul

Over the years I've become so used to the sound of my toes curling against the inner soles of my shoes in response to the various behaviours of people at the extremes of both sides of this tediously polarised debate, that it's pretty much just become background noise. But I've learned to live with the calluses!

I came to the conclusion some years ago that, actually, 'skeptics' and 'true believers' are cut from the same cloth intellectually and emotionally. The end result is a bit like a fight in a swimming pool between two groups of people with no arms.

Not only are "skeptics" and "true believers" cut from the same cloth, but a majority of "skeptics" ARE former "true believers"!

See, for example, David Leiter's articles "The Pathology of Organised Skepticism" and "Organised Skepticism Revisited" (available online).

Leiter found that most "skeptics" had had "an unfortunate experience with a faith-based philosophy" in their formative years.

The "unfortunate experience" is usually dogmatic indoctrination by religious-fundamentalist parents or teachers, but can be worse than that - for example, sexual assault perpetrated by a priest, clergyman or other "religious" authority figure.

I believe that Richard Dawkins - who has always been a very handsome chap (lucky bastard!) and was probably an extremely good-looking youth - was "groped" by the local vicar. One wonders if this incident coloured his whole attitude to religion.

Some of the most revered leaders of the "skeptic" movement are former "true believers". Most notable is Michael Shermer, whole was a Bible-thumping Christian Fundamentalist before his "conversion". Most of the "converts" are simply unable to live without fundamentalist thinking, unfortunately.

(I have to say I quite like Michael Shermer. He seems to have mellowed a bit over the years. I recently watched a documentary in which he talked to some of the most "wacky" UFO enthusiasts. These were people at the loopiest end of the spectrum, but Dr. Shermer was very patient and courteous towards them - there was none of the sneering ridicule I was expecting. I think he could be in danger of developing into a genuine skeptic!)

That's interesting Rupert.

Shermer was one of the Skeptics that Truzzi advised me to talk to and he gave me a contact. I never did for some reason, but I remember feeling surprised, after reading some of Shermer's stuff, that Marcello had recommended him because he seemed, to me, to be just as extreme as the rest. So maybe he's had a more amenable side all along. Who knows.

I must dig out the rest of the stuff that Truzzi sent me all those years ago, because I know there's some interesting material related to rumours, that were circulating at the time (around 1996), about certain eminent skeptics being former or (even) current believers etc.

I do know that one or two of the more rabid skeptics in the UK did (allegedly) have genuine reasons to be personally resentful towards the believer community, albeit that the reasons weren't always entirely rational - such as the guy who's partner ran off with a white witch.

Hi Steve,

Shermer has always struck me as a guy who is slowly working his way out of a fundamentalist mindset. He swung from dogmatic belief in religion to dogmatic disbelief; I think his pendulum may be slowing down and heading towards a point of balance - I hope so, anyway. I was certainly impressed by his forbearance and politeness to the "UFO nuts" during the aforementioned documentary.

You could be right about some of the UK "skeptics" being former believers. Certainly TV magician Derren Brown is a former Christian "fundie" who is now a militant "celebrity atheist". But Brown is gay, and I'd like to bet that during his adolescence he suddenly had to choose between coming "out" and remaining on the right side of his fundamentalist beliefs.

In the end, as Shakespeare said, "the strongest oaths are as straws to fires in the blood", and Brown clearly opted to embrace his sexuality and therefore - of necessity - to reject a faith for which this was a Cardinal Sin.

Interestingly, some observers have suggested that the whole "skeptic" movement is strongly influenced by "angry male homosexuals" - James Randi, for example - who are furious at being made to feel ashamed and unworthy by their religious parents or teachers, and have been getting their own back on God ever since.

... often retaining the male pronoun in describing the ineffable deity

Yes, well, Rupert.

Thanks for that. I've read those two papers just now, and none of it surprises me. It evokes memories of the rather murky association between several prominent CSICOPers, members of the wider Secular Humanist community and the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. And, let's not forget the wide range of sexual material available from Prometheus (including at least one title that was banned in the UK - for allegedly expressing apologia re paedophilia).

It often struck me that some may have been attracted to Skepticism because of the more libertarian aspects of the Humanist Manifestos. And that some within that number may have been interpreting such with, perhaps, rather more license than most liberally minded people would deem to be morally acceptable.

Backing off just a tad, though: There's a rather ironic parallel with Spiritualism here. It's been remarked often enough how many male mediums are gay. If Derren Brown had only got himself along to a Colin Fry séance (during Colin's physical mediumship days) he would have found that one of the main 'controls' was a transvestite called Dolly who made Danny La Rue sound positively butch. Homophobic tendencies don't cut much ice in the putative 'Spirit World' - apparently. If it's all true, then I'm sure DB will feel well at home when he gets there - at least in that respect!

Getting back to Truzzi, though. Particularly Rob's question re the true level of his scepticism.

Truzzi's scepticism merely reflected the state of the evidence as he saw it in 1996 -quite a few years after he resigned from CSICOP. I believe that he expressed these sentiments elsewhere (probably in the Journal of Scientific Exploration). But: -

1) He viewed the skeptical claim that there is 'no' evidence for the paranormal as being nonsense. He merely felt that, hitherto, it had been extremely poor. I would agree with him there, although I would prefer the addition of 'patchy'.

2) His appraisal of the evidence and research methodologies re some phenomena circa the mid-1990's was that it had improved to such an extent (I think he was probably referring to the Auto-Ganzfeld) , that it was becoming much more difficult for skeptics to challenge just by 'moving the goalposts' - or 'raising the bar'.

3) In that regard he regretted deeply having (unwittingly) provided skeptics with what has arguably become their most used rhetorical sound bite i.e. 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence'. He recalled saying something similar in an attempt to paraphrase David Hume's dictum on 'miracles' within earshot of Carl Sagan who then popularised the phrase.

4) He felt that skeptics had twisted Hume's ideas in an extremely inappropriate way, in that, in Hume's day, the concept of a 'miracle' was very different to what today is termed 'paranormal' - i.e. God temporarily suspending the laws of nature for some reason, as opposed to merely poorly understood natural phenomena.

That doesn't sound like a 'believer' talking to me. Yet he was accused by some within skepticism of being just that.

Thanks for reprinting Truzzi's letters. There are however a few additional facts that concern Truzzi's decision to resign. From 1974-78 the Humanist ran several special issues devoted to ridiculing parapsychology, Kurtz was then its editor. In addition in 1977 Reader's Digest (1977, aug) included an article about psi by Laile Bartlett and CSICOP vocally criticized it. Truzzi soon after wrote a letter to Barlett, telling her that he was resigning as co-chairman and editor: "I am not resigning because I now agree with you ... but because of incidents like this I found myself in the midst of a protest meeting Before I'd even Heard of your article!" (Barlett, 1981, p. 160). Truzzi also referred to this when he was interviewed by Jermone Clark and Gordon Melton concerning "The Crusade against the Paranormal" (FATE, 1979, sep & oct)

Hi Nemo

Thanks, that's very illuminating and ties in (the first bit, anyway). with something else he told me: that one of the reasons he became uneasy with CSICOP early on was that he was the only one of the founders (apart from Martin Gardner) who wasn't a committed Secular Humanist. I'm sure also, that the Fate article that you cite was one of the many pieces that he mailed me over the course of my involvement with him. So I'll have to dig that out and re-familiarise myself with it.

One other thing that I'd have to say, related to Truzzi's overall attitude, is that he did not appear to crave the certainty that a certain sort of insecurity seems to demand. It is that, in my opinion, that leads to a lot of the worldview bed-wetting that is a central element of this ongoing debate on the part of believers and skeptics alike. He seemed to be comfortable with having doubts about any aspect of this subject. Truzzi was comfortable in his own skin and was therefore able to be genuinely open and fair with people from either side. I believe that he referred to himself as an 'honest broker' on occasions. That'd be about right, I'd say.

Hi Steve. I did post Another comment, which has disappeared. Prof. Adrian Parker (2003) once wrote: "...Truzzi who was a friend and a resource which I personally miss much. IN this field of ambiguity, Marcello was a much-needed antidote to one-sided views. He told med that it was not sitting on the fence that amused him but climbing over it back and forwards from one side to the other" Those that desires more information about Truzzi should read Hövelmann's (2005) article "Devianz und Anomalistik – Bewährungsproben der Wissenschaft. Prof. Dr. Marcello Truzzi (1935-2003)" - Google Translate provides an adequate translation.

"He told me that it was not sitting on the fence that amused him but climbing over it back and forwards from one side to the other"

LOL

Thanks Nemo. I've been accused of being a fence sitter often myself. When Marcello asked me what my position on Psi was at the start of our correspondence I told him that, given that he had been accused of being a 'wet skeptic', he could regard me as being a 'dry believer'.

I've often struggled to explain my position to those firmly encamped on one side or the other - and to myself, at times. But I'd have to say, reading that quote, that it resonates quite strongly with me. I've drawn fire from both sides on occasions and I have to admit that, sometimes, that has caused me quite a bit of amusement. It's almost like being a kid at school and people getting offended because you won't join their gang.

At the end of the day I think that, sometimes, the fence is the only honourable place to be if you're genuinely attempting to get at the truth. If the truth is that you don't actually know - then it's best to embrace that as being the truth, rather than just making something up, or buying into someone else's fantasy.

I'll download out that article and run it through GT. If any of it looks a bit odd, then I know a few native German speakers who can help out.

George Hansen has thankfully made the old issues of Zetetic Scholar available online (from 1978 through to '87), and thus accessible to a new generation of those interested in the controversies surrounding psi and Fortean phenomena. And one realizes, perusing these old ZS issues, just how valuable, original and balanced Truzzi's scholarship and editorializing was. The Zetetic Scholar has simply been irreplaceable, I can't think of any journal today that truly resembles it. Perhaps the closest publication today to the ZS is the SSE's Journal of Scientific Exploration, but really they are very different in style and character.

I was going to say that many of the arch pseudo-skeptics today such as Dawkins, Shermer and Randi are reacting to unpleasant experiences with organized religion, but that has been pointed out in the above commentary already. When Randi came out of the closet, it did occur to me that the prejudice against homosexuals that is unfortunately experienced by many in the Church's fold, could well have been something he was reacting to.

It's a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This does tend to be all too human, namely a black and white thinking. An 'us vs them' mindset that admits of no nuance, gray areas and ambiguity. One sees it in politics most obviously, but it is there of course in numerous scientific controversies and debates. Truzzi was a rare exception, genuinely skeptical and genuinely fair.

Thanks Lawrence. Thank goodness for George P, the internet and high-speed broadband eh?

I had to go all the way to Cambridge University Library to dig out back-issues of ZS from the SPR archives and photo-copy them, before Guy Lyon Playfair put me in touch with Marcello. I share your sentiments. I was looking at lots of old copies of SI at the same time, and the contrast between the two publications was pretty jaw-dropping. 'Bathos' is the word that springs to mind.

as a relative newcomer to the debates/politics surrounding psi & skepticism (but a long-time doubter/anomalist)i find the personal information shared right here invaluable.

my initial forays into this arena brought me to truzzis ideas via george hansen and i find the trait of sympathy to both/all sides admirable. having recently finished hansens trickster book, i was pleased to find articulated my own liminal position. since i was a teen i always said i have a breast pocket full of doubt, ready for all occasions.

steve,
you mention playfair. in his article 'how csicop lost the 30 yr war', he teasingly references some obscure document re: aha and it's anti paranormalist agenda.
would you (or anyone here, for that matter) happen to know if there is anymore of this document available besides the first page scanned and inserted into that article ?
it looks like delicious reading.

thanks
billy

btw, "worldview bed-wetting" = amazing phrase !

The more I read and hear about Marcello Truzzi, the more I admire him. It must have taken a lot of bravery and strength of character to stand up to his fellow CSICOPers like that and advocate fairness, objectivity and genuine scepticism. Sadly, he was fighting a losing battle.

It seems he was treated pretty shabbily by some of the other members of CSICOP whilst there. They seemed to view him as an enemy in some ways. Guy Lyon Playfair wrote on 'Skeptical Investigations' that some of them even suggested that Truzzi might be a "closet occultist." Ha!

Some pertinent quotations from Truzzi:

"The problem with CSICOP is that it has made debunking more important than impartial inquiry."

"“You asked me if CSICOP really does block inquiry. I very much think it has and still does. This to me is the main objection I have to so much CSICOP does and the way they do it, by acting not as mere attorneys for the orthodox but also pretending to be judge and jury for science.”

Truzzi is to be commended for his honesty and integrity.

Yes Michelle. He certainly was treated pretty shabbily. But as I remarked to Rob, when we were discussing this a couple of weeks ago, I never detected the slightest bit of bitterness in Truzzi's general writings (or his personal communications with me) towards his former colleagues. I'm not sure I would have found maintaining that attitude possible under similar circumstances.

I have to say though, that I have a sneaking suspicion that Truzzi's attitude could prevail in the end. Maybe not within the skeptic movement itself, though. It could be too late for that. But in a wider social sense, on all sides, in the longer term. That's my hope anyway.

Billy: I think I know the piece you're referring to. I'll try and find out. Ah yes - the dreaded damp patch that underlies all extremism. It usually goes hand in hand with red-faced verbal incontinence during the waking hours ;)

"I have to say though, that I have a sneaking suspicion that Truzzi's attitude could prevail in the end. Maybe not within the skeptic movement itself, though. It could be too late for that. But in a wider social sense, on all sides, in the longer term. That's my hope anyway."

i agree. in the face of cumulative wide experience (synchronicities, pre-cog hiccups, 'i knew you were going to call', etc..) it seems the safe bet.

why hold to an extreme position when it is evident that life on this planet, taken as a totality, yields a pretty weird parade ?

tolerance in general seems to be needed. across the board.

@Steve

There are two particular points you make above which I think are especially pertinent for me.

The first one is to do with certainty. Perhaps it's an ego 'thing' but it seems to me that most of us would prefer to be correct in our opinions. There appear to be a number of people who don't seem to be able to abide even the idea that they may not be. Fundamentalist belief gives certainty, as does pseudo-scepticism. It's probably no surprise that some change from one extreme to the other.

True sceptics, it seems to me, are comfortable existing without such certainty.

Secondly, and in a way it's related, is this idea that we all have to be on one side of 'the fence' or the other. I've never understood that. As far as I can see there is no time-frame in which a personal decision must be made. When I am satisfied by the evidence I have seen or experienced, either way, I will jump. Until then sitting on the fence seems to me to be the best way to learn. Once we take a position on either side, we become, in effect, a believer. We are then at risk of merely defending our decision rather than seeking truth.

Hello again Paul.

Again, I’d agree with that.

Will Storr in the ‘The Heretics’ (see Rob’s review) has given a brilliant recent account of people at both ends of the belief scale requiring ‘certainty’. I came to similar conclusions to Storr years ago under quite similar circumstances – i.e. interacting with people who ascribed to various beliefs, largely Spiritualists and Christian Fundamentalists. Ironically, one of my main reasons for deciding to check out skeptics was a book by skeptical science writer John McCrone called ‘The Ape That Spoke’, wherein the author gives a very readable account of how the brain doctors our perceptions by skewing input from the senses to give us a useable model of reality for survival purposes. McCrone also describes how this process is mediated by basic arousal – pleasurable, or otherwise, which we then interpret according to ‘human’ context that we create ourselves.

It occurred to me that these processes had probably been carried forward by a natural evolution to affect the inner moral/intellectual worlds also – something that I don’t think McCrone elaborated on. So I wanted to check out skeptics to see if they were being as unselfconsciously creative with ‘evidence’ as the other groups because they certainly seemed to have the same shouty tendencies as the Christian fundies, at least. Although, I have to say, I expected to find that most of the accusations that had been levelled at them were not very well justified. I was disabused of that notion pretty quickly, unfortunately.

Like Storr, I just found another social group fooling themselves into believing they were right about everything while chasing the buzz of pleasurable arousal that people get when the brain has painted over inconsistencies -in pretty much the same way that it paints over the optical blind-spots in the middle of each retina.

Rupert alluded earlier to the way in which the ‘models’, or criteria, by which we respond to the world around us are formed in childhood. Given that, to me, it seems feasible that these processes have as their foundation arousal-prompted ‘fear’ of physical extinction, it follows that the mental models that, in human beings, have been overlaid on the basic process, respond in the same basic way i.e. the model itself fears extinction or, if you want to put it another way, ‘death’. The model’s version of impending doom is, of course, a threat to its validity.

So, in the human intellectual/emotional world we see the unpleasant arousal that would come from being chased by a hungry predator being interpreted, according to context at a subconscious level, as being ‘I’m not valid’. Therefore, to avoid this, the virtual version of the ‘blind-spot painter’ gets to work and we end up with cognitive dissonance (oh my gawd – danger, try to escape), confirmation bias (find a way to escape by painting over the inconsistencies), and safety (the pleasurable arousal reward of having survived). Of course, the context of the last bit is emotional confirmation of the model’s validity - 'I'm better/smarter than them'. And that validity can only be achieved by comparison to the perceived validity of the competing models of others. The arousal interpretation patterns on which these behaviours are based, as any good therapist will tell you, are formed in childhood and can be incredibly difficult to change after a certain age because the neural pathways in the brain have become less malleable – more ‘certain’, if you like.

The need for that certainty causes people to herd together for safety – in an intellectual sense. Competing groups, based on differently oriented models, need to be identified, blamed for all the world’s ills and eliminated or ostracised. And the people who don’t belong to any group that can be easily identified are even more dangerous than all the other competing groups that can be. Even away from the extremes of belief people still have a need to categorise according to preconception and that, I believe, lies at the root of being required to be on one side of any given fence or the other. I agree, there is a baffling level of un-laidbackness in this department (especially to do with afterlife issues) that can be extremely frustrating.

Enter stage-left Marcello Truzzi and other more ‘balanced’ folk. Of course, people like Truzzi are subject to the same processes – we all are. It’s just that there’s more conscious wriggle room. As Storr remarks – we still all still have our ‘prejudices’, we can’t escape them easily. It’s just that some have more willingness to make the effort to override personal prejudice than others.

Ironically, these days, in world-view terms (at least in the ‘developed’ world) I think that people of no-fixed faith are probably in the majority. Most of us have parents who couldn’t give a stuff about any particular view of god and we have an instinctive mistrust of those who profess ‘certainty’. The problem is that the majority frequently allow those that shout the loudest to gain undue influence.

Hi Steve

Will Storr in the ‘The Heretics’ (see Rob’s review) has given a brilliant recent account of people at both ends of the belief scale requiring ‘certainty’.

I found Storr’s book very interesting too. I couldn’t argue with his conclusions.

So I wanted to check out skeptics to see if they were being as unselfconsciously creative with ‘evidence’ as the other groups because they certainly seemed to have the same shouty tendencies as the Christian fundies, at least. Although, I have to say, I expected to find that most of the accusations that had been levelled at them were not very well justified. I was disabused of that notion pretty quickly, unfortunately.

This was perhaps the biggest shock to me when I started to investigate mediumship and the evidence for it. I have found it very difficult to engage with opponents of the phenomena online as they often simply haven’t looked at the evidence for themselves or seem to be spouting the opinion of others (who often haven’t looked at the evidence either).

It rapidly becomes a cut and paste discussion with demands to ‘show me proof’ as folk sit back in a chair and wait for the evidence to be cut into bite-sized chunks which are simply batted away without proper consideration. I’ve stopped doing that now :)

The other shock was the sheer range of different phenomena evidenced.

Like Storr, I just found another social group fooling themselves into believing they were right about everything while chasing the buzz of pleasurable arousal that people get when the brain has painted over inconsistencies -in pretty much the same way that it paints over the optical blind-spots in the middle of each retina.

Good analogy. It’s easily done though IMHO. :)

The need for that certainty causes people to herd together for safety – in an intellectual sense. Competing groups, based on differently oriented models, need to be identified, blamed for all the world’s ills and eliminated or ostracised

I’ve reached the same conclusion. Fear definitely seems to be the basis.

Enter stage-left Marcello Truzzi and other more ‘balanced’ folk. Of course, people like Truzzi are subject to the same processes – we all are. It’s just that there’s more conscious wriggle room. As Storr remarks – we still all still have our ‘prejudices’, we can’t escape them easily. It’s just that some have more willingness to make the effort to override personal prejudice than others.

The first step is perhaps to acknowledge that the prejudices even exist. I suspect the degree of resistance is proportional to the size of one’s ego.

The problem is that the majority frequently allow those that shout the loudest to gain undue influence.

Also true, however it seems to me the answer is to be prepared to do some work and not sit back and simply watch the debate, filtering out the bits that cause the most cognitive dissonance. I found it quite liberating when I became prepared to listen to all sides. I must admit that maintaining that state is quite hard work sometimes.

The other way of course is to be so fortunate as to have a profound personal experience which removes all discussion on the subject. Though this isn't always of any evidential value to those who do not know us and trust our judgement it seems to me.

I got subjected to the "skeptic" witch hunt yesterday on Jason Colavito's blog - http://www.jasoncolavito.com/1/post/2013/07/scholars-paleolithic-people-got-high-before-painting-caves.html

I pointed out that the best book on the origins of the original human cave art is "Ropes to God" by Dr. Bradford Keeney - a book on the shamanism of the Bushmen culture, as depicted in their cave art.

The skeptics immediately dismissed this source without even reading it! Oh the "blurb" says ... blah blah. haha. Oh it's just "symbolic" and the "belief" of the Bushmen - obviously no need to even read the book!

Then the ad hominems kicked in - I must by asking people to buy the book and I must be "peddling" the paranormal, etc. Nope! I said you can get the book through interlibrary loan and I'm not selling anything.

Anyway then I got IP banned and so I had to reset my IP and after that I was allowed to continue commenting. But the supposed "rational" journalist of the website tweeted me back - so am I implying that hunter-gatherers had "magic powers"? I said well it's an oxymoronic term right? Talk about a trick question! haha. Call it whatever you want but I said that quantum biology science explains a lot of how these phenomenon are real.

I actually like Jason Colavito's article on UFO abductions in the new paranthropology journal issue. But obviously he has an agenda and so he has to outright dismiss evidence that might upset his worldview. haha.

Sorry you had to go through that, Drew. Perhaps you can take heart in that it seems like you got off lightly - there have been run-ins with sceptics that are downright vicious and abusive.

I don't think those individuals are reflective of the sceptical community as a whole, but I do think there is a legitimate problem in that bullying, nasty insults and verbal abuse do seem to be not just tolerated, but encouraged. I'd like to see more people in the community attempt to do something about it.

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