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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  15:08:36  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message
My brother has an enduring fascination with every kind of weirdness. He has a broad, but not deep, belief in many phenomena, from Nessie to UFOs, from "rods" to the Face of Mars. His internal rule seems to be: If it's really interesting, he'll give belief a chance. He's a laid-back guy who is very open-minded, but not very skeptical (except that he uses effective skeptical tools to tear into religions other than his own form of Buddhism). He will readily admit that he can be wrong about his beliefs, and he doesn't seem to mind having them disproved. In his own way, he's just having great fun with his shifting beliefs. He is the kind of guy who will believe in any damned thing he wants to. And he's a very nice fellow.

Once, few years ago, while I was visiting my brother, he introduced me to one of his best friends, whom I will call "Sam." Sam is one of these quick-minded, intense people who, while somehow being able to operate flawlessly in a 9-5 world, has constructed a complex system of paranoid delusions about the world around him. He can, and does, connect the MLK assassination with a government cover up of UFOs, which is again connected to Yeti and the faked Apollo moon landings. If you can name a strange phenomenon or unfounded belief, he can tell you just how it ties into a vast conspiracy, in great detail, and with a baffling battery of citations and quotes.

In fact, while having a two-hour conversation with Sam, I occasionally tried to interject mention of some of the most ridiculously weird claims I could think of, just hoping Sam would agree that these, at least, were bullshit. I never succeeded. Sam, I kid you not, was even able to literally connect Bigfoot to the JFK assassination, at least in his own mind, employing such a dense web of arguments and memorized citations that I found myself flustered and unable to penetrate them.

Sam was massively prepared in terms of his research. For practical purposes in our discussion, the sheer volume and complexity of his data more than overcame the no-doubt crappy nature of that information. Sam overwhelmed my counterarguments in massive suicide charges against the machine-gun emplacements of my sweet skeptical reason.

Okay, I like to think that Sam proved nothing that day, and I did hold onto a few shreds of my skeptical dignity and logic. But to those present, including myself, the feeling was that Sam had handed my ass to me.

So, my point? Good question. I guess one point is that skeptics should not assume that believers in nonsense are either stupid or intellectually unprepared. Just winging it against such people may not turn out feeling like a victory, even if, from a purely logical viewpoint, we actually make the stronger arguments.

Have any of you had the same experience of coming away having the feeling that you had your ass kicked by someone like Sam? Anyone have suggestions for more effectively arguing with people like Sam? (One practical suggestion I would offer: Pick easier opponents than Sam.)

Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.

Edited by - HalfMooner on 01/17/2006 16:56:11

H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  15:28:02   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
I've never really had this experience, because I normally slow down people who like to "rapid fire" facts at me in this manner. I make them focus on one thing and dissect it in detail. It is usually in the details that these people flounder and contradictions become evident. However, I will freely admit that most debates I've engaged in have been in written form. Oral arguments are much more difficult to counter, as the creationists learned long ago in their staged "live evolution challenges." It always takes less time to spout untruths than it does to correct them.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 01/17/2006 17:00:17
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Dude
SFN Die Hard

USA
6891 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  17:31:14   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Dude a Private Message
quote:
Good question. I guess one point is that skeptics should not assume that believers in nonsense are either stupid or intellectually unprepared. Just winging it against such people may not turn out feeling like a victory, even if, from a purely logical viewpoint, we actually make the stronger arguments.



It is easy to get overwhelmed by torrents of nonsense, and if you can't respond to each and every point (which is impossible because it takes 3 times as long to show the fallacies then to present them)... you end up the "looser".

As H.H. said, the best way to deal with them is to insist they focus on one single thing at a time. Don't let them bounce around and run you over.

And if they refuse... then you just refuse to acknowledge them further until they stick to one thing and examine it.


Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.
-- Thomas Jefferson

"god :: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument." - G. Carlin

Hope, n.
The handmaiden of desperation; the opiate of despair; the illegible signpost on the road to perdition. ~~ da filth
Edited by - Dude on 01/17/2006 17:32:02
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Ricky
SFN Die Hard

USA
4907 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  18:58:27   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Ricky an AOL message Send Ricky a Private Message
In a way. I have an extremely right uncle. Two Christmases ago, he brought up the war in Iraq, and how it was justified. We started talking, and then he started naming sections of laws saying that those justified the president. Of course, not knowing those, I couldn't respond, and he couldn't quote them.

It's ok though. I destroyed him and the "War on Christmas" this Christmas. I actually got him to say, "Yes, Christians should be above others." And judging from the expression on his face after he said that, he knew it was wrong.

Why continue? Because we must. Because we have the call. Because it is nobler to fight for rationality without winning than to give up in the face of continued defeats. Because whatever true progress humanity makes is through the rationality of the occasional individual and because any one individual we may win for the cause may do more for humanity than a hundred thousand who hug their superstitions to their breast.
- Isaac Asimov
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R.Wreck
SFN Regular

USA
1191 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  19:03:51   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send R.Wreck a Private Message
Halfmooner, have you ever heard this "Sam" guy refer to himself as "verlch"?

The foundation of morality is to . . . give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibliities of knowledge.
T. H. Huxley

The Cattle Prod of Enlightened Compassion
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Dr. Mabuse
Septic Fiend

Sweden
9680 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  19:07:47   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Dr. Mabuse an ICQ Message Send Dr. Mabuse a Private Message
That's how the "Gish Gallop" works. Flood the debate with spurious assertions in such a stream that it is impossible to addess even a fraction of them logically and factually.

Dr. Mabuse - "When the going gets tough, the tough get Duct-tape..."
Dr. Mabuse whisper.mp3

"Equivocation is not just a job, for a creationist it's a way of life..." Dr. Mabuse

Support American Troops in Iraq:
Send them unarmed civilians for target practice..
Collateralmurder.
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  19:32:08   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message
quote:
Halfmooner, have you ever heard this "Sam" guy refer to himself as "verlch"


No, I never heard that handle, R.Wreck, and it's not similar to Sam's real names. I'll only say Sam lives in Southern California.

Thanks to all of you who have suggested ways to handle arguments with people like Sam. I can now see that his "torrent of factoids" method is not Sam's exclusive property. Taking it slow in the discussion, and insisting on covering one point at a time is very good advice.

BTW, Sam and his wife are nice enough people, and have gone out of their way to help my brother over the years. It's purely Sam's fascinating line of sincere paranoid bullshit (and the way he was able to flummox me with it) that got my goat.

Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  19:40:56   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by HalfMooner
No, I never heard that handle, R.Wreck, and it's not similar to Sam's real names. I'll only say Sam lives in Southern California.
Verlch is just a lively character that darkens the doorstep here at SFN from time to time. You can probably dig up a few of his old posts in the "conspiracy" folder. Fascinating stuff.

quote:
I occasionally tried to interject mention of some of the most ridiculously weird claims I could think of, just hoping Sam would agree that these, at least, were bullshit. I never succeeded. Sam, I kid you not, was even able to literally connect Bigfoot to the JFK assassination, at least in his own mind.
On a side note, if you can recall, I'd love to hear how he managed that one.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  19:46:50   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message
quote:
That's how the "Gish Gallop" works. Flood the debate with spurious assertions in such a stream that it is impossible to addess even a fraction of them logically and factually.


I forgot to ask: What's the origin of the term, "Gish Gallop," Mab?

Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  19:52:20   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by HalfMooner

quote:
That's how the "Gish Gallop" works. Flood the debate with spurious assertions in such a stream that it is impossible to addess even a fraction of them logically and factually.


I forgot to ask: What's the origin of the term, "Gish Gallop," Mab?

Duane Gish is a "prominent" creationist in the U.S. who has engaged in several public debates on evolution. From the Wikipedia article about his debating style:
quote:
Most anti-creationists claim however that these debates tend to be unfairly slanted in favor of creationists due to a number of factors. These include a "shotgun" approach to presenting many arguments, each of which would require considerable time and information to refute, a technique which has been referred to as the "Gish gallop."

"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 01/17/2006 19:57:24
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  19:54:51   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message
quote:
On a side note, if you can recall, I'd love to hear how he managed that one.


Sorry, I can't remember how he explained that, all these years later, and especially after a major stroke two years ago that really slowed me down. Not that I'm certain I could have explained Sam's argument even an hour later. As I said, Sam had a fast and complex style.

Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  19:58:28   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by HalfMooner
Sorry, I can't remember how he explained that, all these years later, and especially after a major stroke two years ago that really slowed me down. Not that I'm certain I could have explained Sam's argument even an hour later. As I said, Sam had a fast and complex style.

Ok, no worries. I bet it was a hoot, though.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  20:26:24   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message
quote:
Ok, no worries. I bet it was a hoot, though.



Sam's whole conversation was a hoot. I might have been laughing all through it, except I found that impossible with my jaw stuck at knee level. Sam had a truly paranoid world-view, where everything was malignantly connected to everything else, with the importance of the elements being directly proportional to their weirdness. It was all very similar to the Illuminatus novels, except those were (I hope) as weird as they were mainly for the purpose of humor.

Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 01/17/2006 :  20:48:01   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message
Have any of you had the same experience of coming away having the feeling that you had your ass kicked by someone like Sam?

There's this guy at school (I'm a grad student in art), we nicknamed him "Trenchcoat Charlie". His name isn't Charlie, but he always wears this long, black trenchcoat. The only time he is without it is during the hottest months of summer. He's 34, a little short, a little balding, slightly heavy, but pretty much average-looking guy. And he is the most hard-line, radical, Catholic (converted - the converts are the worst) Republican I've ever met. I swear, the guy must sit in front of his computer for a couple hours every night memorizing what the conservative pundits write.

The first and only time I ever entered into a conversation with him, it went on for over 4 hours and covered everything from gay marriage, to abortion, to the Vietnam War, to Vatican II. It was only over 24 hours later that I realized that every time I made a point that he couldn't contradict, he changed the subject. And he did so in such a fluid way... damn! This guy was just slick. Now I see him almost every day. (He lurks the halls of my school all the time. He loves debating with "liberals" because: "They're so easy to beat. They get all their opinions off bumber stickers."

My only consolation prize is knowing that this guy is highly insecure (He's constantly bragging about his prowess in debating liberals, let alone that mostly debates with art students that are 10 years longer than him. I'd love to see him up against a liberal lawyer or journalist.) and that, as a fine artist, he's politically working against his own self-interests.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

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beskeptigal
SFN Die Hard

USA
3834 Posts

Posted - 01/18/2006 :  01:22:50   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send beskeptigal a Private Message
Sam comes pretty close to the description of a paranoid schizophrenic. They can be occasionally convincing and are incredible tale tellers. But there's no point in arguing with a mentally ill person. You can try to return them to reality but I think only medications work. They're very hard to treat because of course the medication is easily construed as part of the conspiracy.
Edited by - beskeptigal on 01/18/2006 01:24:00
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skepticpsychic
New Member

USA
21 Posts

Posted - 01/19/2006 :  06:13:11   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit skepticpsychic's Homepage Send skepticpsychic a Private Message
Halfmooner, thanks for your thoughtful post. It's interesting that the behavior you describe is not limited to people with conspiracy theories or schizophrenia. I have experienced behavior like that in skeptics here in this forum:
http://www.skepticfriends.org/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=5483

Perhaps its important to remember than when dealing with people who have suffered mental trauma and are actually mentally ill, sometimes the adversarial approach only provokes the insanity. Maybe with some people, using even sweet skepticism is ineffective because of their condition.

Also perhaps in some instances asking questions insted of debating would work. The winner and loser tone often is threatening. Once anyone, crazy or not, is put into an adversarial position, it's inviting to slide the conversation to subjection perception, diversionary emotional issue and outright lying for the sake of not having to lose.

I suppose it's all in your intention. Love can't be proven scientifically, does that mean we shouldn't practice it?

The Skeptic Psychic
www.writingup.com/blog/skepticpsychic
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