I’ve long been a critic of the writings and methods of high-profile ‘skeptic’ Michael Shermer (I explained why way back in 2004). A long-time columnist for Scientific American, Shermer has regularly pointed out the many ways that anomalistic events are in reality caused by faulty thinking – sometimes employing pseudoscientific techniques, and perhaps even outright deception – to make his point.
Which makes his most recent column for Sci-Am, “Anomalous Events That Can Shake One’s Skepticism to the Core ” quite a weird one. Because in it, he admits that a recent experience (which occurred on his wedding day) rattled him. Check out the column for the full anecdote, but here’s his conclusion:
Had it happened to someone else I might suggest a chance electrical anomaly and the law of large numbers as an explanation—with billions of people having billions of experiences every day, there’s bound to be a handful of extremely unlikely events that stand out in their timing and meaning. In any case, such anecdotes do not constitute scientific evidence that the dead survive or that they can communicate with us via electronic equipment.
Jennifer is as skeptical as I am when it comes to paranormal and supernatural phenomena. Yet the eerie conjunction of these deeply evocative events gave her the distinct feeling that her grandfather was there and that the music was his gift of approval. I have to admit, it rocked me back on my heels and shook my skepticism to its core as well. I savored the experience more than the explanation.
The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy that Michael Shermer has finally seen (at least some of) the light when it comes to the personal impact of anomalistic experiences, and how pat explanations offered by others sometimes just don’t cut it. I’m just a bit…skeptical…that a guy who has for years talked down on and attempted to debunk these type of events suddenly flips in his view. Perhaps the event really did rock him to his core; or perhaps he thought his old-school debunking attitude wasn’t playing as well in 2014, or perhaps he just needed a bit of a controversy to drum up some page hits, or even distract people from other events (Shermer has recently been at the centre of somewhat of a controversy regarding his interactions with women in the skeptical movement).
Let’s just say I’m cautiously optimistic that one of the leaders of the ‘skeptical’ movement has had a genuine insight to ‘the other side’…