Thursday, July 2, 2009

The saddest thing

It's occasionally thought that skeptics are in the business of taking away hope. This is sometimes true. Not always true, of course. Sometimes skeptics are in the business of delivering good news. There is no conspiracy to take over the world! Cell-phones are pretty unlikely to give you cancer! Demons only exist in your imagination! You can save your money because all that alternative medicine is useless!

But other times, we're in the business of delivering bad news. You cannot speak with your dead wife! You will never be psychic, no matter how hard you try! Your personal experiences are often inaccurate and worthless as evidence! All that alternative medicine is useless!

Really, we're in the business of delivering news which we think to be accurate and true. Whether it's good or bad news is sort of besides the point. But since people are more likely to have misconceptions they like rather than misconceptions they don't like, our news will be, more often than not, bad news. Tough.

So in a sense, we are in the business of taking away hope. But we're doing it in the interest of truth and accuracy. So we're really in the business of taking away false hope.

And why should false hope be desirable? Well, our emotions and desires can be rather irrational. But in my own experience, false hope is not even emotionally desirable. False hope is not happy. It's the saddest thing in the world.

I've had false hopes before (I will remain unspecific). Guess what happens when they go unfulfilled. It kills me, everytime. I become more bitter and more cynical. I trust people less, I trust myself less. It is the experience of disillusionment. And yet, though I feel disillusionment, I am not instantly disillusioned. Hopes are often resilient enough that they can withstand several blows of reality. Things didn't work out because maybe I did something wrong. This is all my fault. Or maybe it's all your fault. If I just keep on hoping, it will come. So let's try again. And the loop repeats...

There's an easier way than this cycle of quasi-disillusionment and blame. Have a realistic picture from the beginning. Then we can get an early start accepting the things we cannot change, and changing the things we can.

1 comment:

DeralterChemiker said...

You said, "Cell-phones are pretty unlikely to give you cancer!" Here's my comment. I used to consider it completely impossible for the radiation from cell phones to induce cancer because the energy in the wavelengths encountered is simply insufficient to bring about any chemical reaction. However, I subsequently realized that it might be sufficient to move around the components of cell membranes and in that way change the permeability of the cell walls. Conceivably, this could allow substances to pass through the cell walls and thereby induce reactions leading to cancer. It's still a stretch, but I think it may be possible. Fortunately all the evidence seems to indicate that there is no connection between cell phones and cancer.

Along the same line of thought, there appears to be no evidence between living close to high tension electric lines and cancer. However, I think I saw a study that indicated the women bent over electric sewing machines to make a living have a somewhat greater tendency to get cancer.

Perhaps someone else can comment on this.