Tips For A Skeptical Outlook

Here are a few points on how to have a skeptical outlook. These come from The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. They're just snippets from some of their older episodes that I thought were worth sharing.

To avoid the ego blow of admitting you were wrong, adopt this point of view:

"My opinions are dependent upon the existing evidence. I could be wrong. If new evidence comes out I'll happily change my opinion to correspond to it."
Later, they sum it up a bit differently:

Practice science and skepticism: Attach yourself to the process, not the conclusion. The process has to be valid, has to be scientific, has to be legitimate. Don't be emotionally invested in the conclusion. As long as the process is valid, it leads wherever it leads.

That means if new information comes up, or if someone shows that a different logic is more appropriate, then you can happily change your conclusion because you have no attachment to it.

It's just that you have to get the process right.

That's science in a nutshell. Science is a process. It's about the process, not about the conclusion.

Pseudoscience begins with the conclusion, then they pervert the process. They warp the process to continue to match their forgone conclusion. It can seem very logical and reasonable. It's still not science.

This applies to all areas of thought, from science and pseudoscience to religion, politics and just the world in general. If you're attached to your beliefs and ideas, that's dogma. The secret is to be attached to the truth and let it take you where it leads, and always be open to change your mind if new and compelling evidence comes to light.

In this way, learning new things is a wonderful adventure, it's fun and exciting. When you're close-minded and set on your narrow world view, you then have to lie to yourself and others to make your limiting belief make sense to you. You have to close out the real world to keep the little bubble of dogma around you intact. It's not very much fun. You're constantly threatened by new facts and information that threaten you.

Then again, a lot of us have Sacred Cows. A sacred cow is some area in your life that can't be criticized. It could be a person, an institution, a belief, an area of belief, or a custom.

What are your Sacred Cows? Why have you made them immune to criticism? What would help you to hold them up to the light of reason?


  1. good article. Wish more people thought like that!

  2. I've always tried to think like this. That in itself is an ongoing process.

  3. Thanks Andrew, I wish more people thought like this too!

  4. Yes, Angie, it's definitely an ongoing process. It's not necessarily easy, but worth it!

  5. It's difficult to NOT be emotionally invested in the outcome, though, when I've had to work out the process for myself. I moved a lot as a child, and had parents who weren't that involved with us past infancy. Being the oldest child meant that didn't have any constant guide except for my own intuition. Many people's constant guides are their parents or grandparents. This ties in with the article you posted today.
    I think the only way to change how people intuitively think would be to have them be born into a sterile group environment, such as depicted in the movie "Logan's Run". But then there would be the risk of people raised to have loyalty only to their group affiliation, a kind of dystopian tribalism. I think skepticism is an acquired state-of-mind, not natural. In general, most of us, most of the time, don't want to think that hard. We use heuristics, mental shortcuts, to make many of our decisions about things. Skepticism takes time, and much of the time, we don't have enough time to do that much thinking, and don't feel it worth the effort.
    I recently (August 2010) got my BA in communication, and there's aot of research on how people think, how we make decisions, how to get info across to people. I heard fellow students, in the face of evidence presented in class, say that we think the way that we do, because that's how God planned it; we didn't "acquire" speech, God made us speaking creatures from the start (creationism). While acquring the degree, they resisted the information presented in class.

  6. I agree, Angie, skepticism is acquired, as is critical thinking. I don't think they come naturally to most people. And they require a lot of practice and use too.
    The other students in your class already had their world views set. They weren't about to change them just because some old stuffy professor said something different. That's so sad, and disturbing.