The Blind Side of Skepticism

Over the years, we’ve noticed that people who take a highly skeptical approach to all things paranormal will ponder the possibilities more closely when such an event happens to them. Yet, as time passes, they retreat to their previous skeptical position, as if that astonishing event never happened. As if ‘seeing’ for the first time was too much to accept. Blinded by the light.

Case in point, in October, 2014, we wrote a post called “A Skeptic’s Conversion?” It was about an extraordinary synchronicity/spirit contact event experienced by Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptic Society, editor of its magazine, Skeptic, and a columnist for Scientific American. He wrote about it in his column, published September 16,2004, and ironically that column probably attracted more attention than any others he has written for Scientific American. In it, he described his own paranormal experience that—at the time—seemed to have penetrated his skeptic’s armor. Here’s a summary:

His fiancé’s belongings were shipped to the United States from Germany, and among them was her grandfather’s 1978 transistor radio. Her grandfather had died when she was 16 and she’d been quite close to him.

The radio had been silent for decades, and Shermer couldn’t get it working again. It continued its silence in the back of a desk drawer in the couple’s bedroom. In June of 2014, Shermer and his fiancé were married. After the ceremony, his wife confided that she was feeling lonely, missing her family back in Germany and also wishing her grandfather could have been alive to give her away. The couple walked to the back of the house where they heard music playing, a love song.

They searched for the source of the music, then his wife “shot me a look I haven’t seen since the supernatural thriller ‘The Exorcist’ startled audiences. ‘That can’t be what I think it is, can it?’ she said.

It was the transistor radio in the drawer.

“My grandfather is here with us,” she said, tearfully. “I’m not alone.”

Shermer’s daughter had heard music coming from the radio just before the ceremony started, though the couple had been in the room only moments before without hearing any music. The radio continued to work through the wedding night.

“Fittingly, it stopped working the next day and has remained silent ever since,” Shermer wrote.

This experience led Shermer to conclude, in his column, “We should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.”

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Now we jump ahead two years to September 2016 and Shermer has another column in Scientific American that makes us think that he might be suffering from amnesia. Here is what he wrote in part:

“Where the known meets the unknown we are tempted to inject paranormal and supernatural forces to explain unsolved mysteries. We must resist the temptation because such efforts can never succeed, not even in principle.”

He continues on with assurance: “…the particles and forces of nature don’t allow us to bend spoons, levitate, or read minds.” To justify his certainty of the non-existence of anything paranormal, Shermer quotes Caltech physicist Sean Carroll:

“…we know that there aren’t new particles or forces out there yet to be discovered that would support them [psychic abilities]. Not simply because we haven’t found them yet, but because we definitely would have found them if they had the right characteristics to give us the requisite powers.”

Shermer concludes that searching for psychic powers is a waste of time, because such a search can never succeed. It seems that Michael Shermer has forgotten what he wrote two years ago. That’s the problem when there’s no room for anything paranormal. When it happens, you have to deny or forget, even if it happened, that you were in awe of all that is for at least a moment or two.

We want to thank Dean Radin for reminding us of this story and the follow up column by Shermer, in his new book, Real Magic. Radin provides us with a great concluding quote from Mark Twain that fits well: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

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3 Responses to The Blind Side of Skepticism

  1. Trish says:

    Michael Shermer will still be a skeptic when he dies and comes to on the other side and realized his consciousness survived.

  2. Nancy says:

    I look forward to reading this book. I often wonder if people cannot believe in the mysteries, because, like the tribe that could not see the ships sailing into their harbor, they do not believe these things exist. It reminds me of the UFO my daughter and I saw hovering over a carpet store on a busy street at 8:00 in the evening. How could the people passing NOT see it? My youngest, who is very sceptical of all things mystical, saw it at the same time I did. Yet, dozens of cars were going by and no one stopped.

    • Rob and Trish says:

      Rob is enjoying the book. I haven’t read it yet. I remember that UFO sighting of yours, Nancy. Something similar happened to us, an object hovering over the parking lot at Barnes and Noble. No one else was
      looking up. No one else saw it.

      Maybe some of us see these things because we expect to!