Blast from the Past: Detecting Reality by Groff Schroeder: Freethought Views January 2018

Detecting Reality

by Groff Schroeder

What is real, and how can we know? Do unidentified flying objects (UFOs) prove aliens exist? Do "EMF spikes" or garbled audio clips prove ghosts exist? Does the survival of a loved one after helicopter airlift, emergency surgery, and extended intensive care prove the power of prayer? Virtually no one wants to spread false information, so it is important to determine whether we are deceiving others – or ourselves.

The roots of the word deception mean “to take from.” Since the dawn of time, biological predators have employed deception to trick, herd, and then consume their targets. Financial predators frequently broadcast “too good to be true” deceptions that sometimes cause "face palm" under careful examination. The need to understand nature and identify deceit caused humans to seek out ways to reliably identify reality.

Thanks to science and "critical thinking," we can often be sure about what is real (correct) – and what is not. Starting at least 3600 years ago, vigorous academic, experimental, mathematical, and philosophical efforts relentlessly improved and evolved our understanding of science (a.k.a. repeatable, verifiable, and predictive interpretations of reality). Although sometimes dismissed as "just another religion," science literally tests proposed Laws (a2 + b2 = c2) over millennia and Theories (such as the Theory of Evolution) over a century or more before accepting that they accurately, objectively, precisely, quantitatively, and reliably predict future system behaviors. Every single day, you can (and do) successfully bet your life countless times on upon the correctness of the scientific equations that model the future behavior of electrons, materials, medical treatments, structures, technologies, vehicles, wings, etc.

But what if equations are too complicated? Critical thinking offers countless tools to help us identify factual reality. With logic and deduction, we can recognize that our inability to tell whether a flying object is a 727 or a 747 means the object is a "UFO" - that may or may not be an intergalactic spacecraft piloted by mysterious extraterrestrial beings. Similarly, "Occam's Razor" suggests the simplest explanation (say for EMF "signatures" and distorted voices on "reality TV" shows) probably stems from the simplest solutions (type of equipment and need for advertisers – rather than chatty electromagnetic spooks).

In any event, it is often useful to be skeptical of what we are told and wary of possible deception. Maybe destroying the financial foundations of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will, "provide great health care at a fraction of the cost" (not explode market stability and skyrocket costs). Maybe laws forcing all American's to surrender their privacy, individual freedoms, and personal religious beliefs by obeying rigid politico-religious mandates governing marriage, sex, and reproduction will, "restore religious freedom" (not grant politicians rancher-like power over the livestock-like sex and spiritual lives of voters). Maybe charging ~$1.5 trillion (~$2.2 including interest) on the national credit card and giving 75% of the borrowed money to the world's wealthiest corporations, families, and individuals finally will, "trickle down" somehow to America's struggling poor and middle class. Right?

Critical thinking methods help us assess information, and science makes technology possible by accurately, precisely, and reliably predicting the future. It is easy to believe what we want to believe, especially when those around us strongly adhere to those same beliefs. However, even scientists who correctly detect reality must sometimes overcome internal and external barriers to accepting it.


Published in the January 3-10 edition of the Colorado Springs Independent with the quotation below.

                    "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

                         Carl Sagan