Skepticism is a process, a mode of thinking. It’s an organized attempt to base conclusions on the critical examination of available evidence. Skeptics look at evidence before deciding, instead of gathering evidence to support choices they’ve already made. They consciously try to make decisions that are reasoned and considered, and not based on unexamined assumptions.
Skeptics understand that everyone is wired to make certain assumptions about reality. Our brains create patterns in random data. We experience a coincidence, and assume that something must have caused it. We’re terrible at estimating probability. To compensate for these built in mental shortcuts, skeptics work hard to check our assumptions, ask questions, and follow the evidence, even if it defies our initial conclusions.
Skeptics know that even the smartest, most reliable people will sometimes make mistakes. Asking someone to back up their claims with evidence doesn’t mean we don’t trust them. It means we trust them to do their homework before making an assertion.
Skeptics are not simply debunkers, automatically ruling out the existence of the paranormal, the extraterrestrial, or the supernatural. Instead, a skeptic reserves judgment until the evidence is gathered. If the clues points to a mundane explanation, skeptics will accept that conclusion. If the available evidence suggests an extraordinary phenomenon, skeptics will accept that conclusion as well. The difference is in the strength of the evidence required. The more unusual a claim is, the more challenging to accepted science, the more skeptics will demand that the supporting evidence be extensive, thoroughly documented, and objectively verifiable.
Skeptics are people who know we don’t know everything, who are willing to change our minds; if the weight of the evidence is against us, skeptics will admit when we’re wrong. We may not like it – we’re human, too – but skeptics see our own ignorance as an opportunity to learn something more about how the world works.
Everyone is a skeptic, to a certain extent. If you’ve ever asked for proof of something you were asked to believe, you were acting skeptically. If you’ve ever thought you knew an answer, but decided to do some research just to be sure, you were acting skeptically. If you’ve ever walked under a ladder just to see if something terrible would happen, you were acting skeptically. If living with your eyes and your mind open sounds attractive to you, then maybe you’re a skeptic too.
- K.O. Myers