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The Quicksands of Belief

The Need for Skepticism


Janet Winn Boehm

The Quicksands of Belief: The Need for Skepticism draws on history, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and the cognitive sciences in an accessible, non-academic style in order to argue that humans don’t question enough. Instead, uncritically accepting the often absurd beliefs swirling around them, too many lack the skepticism needed to avoid global disaster. The claim of this book is that humans need to question everything they think they know.
The way the human brain works is impressive and has taken Homo sapiens a long way. However, it is also the source of our failure to doubt. Janet B. Winn explores consciousness first, then the sense of self and how it affects thought. Subsequent chapters deal with beliefs – about reality, politics, religion, pseudo-science – and attempts made to explain human behavior by the social sciences. This concept includes a consideration of the failure to grasp the meaning of evolution, the evolution of language, and how language distorts understanding, along with the role culture plays in these distortions. The remarkable human brain has made an extraordinary creativity possible, yet this ability is used to find ever-more powerful ways to destroy the planet and its inhabitants. Winn argues that this sequence follows primarily from absolutist thinking. In spite of the fact that we cannot know what is true with any certainty, we try to impose our certainties on each other, leading to the lies and chaos of the political world, to the destruction of the environment, and to war.
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5 Pseudo Science: Witches, Astrology, and Ufos


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Pseudo Science: Witches, Astrology, and Ufos

Pseudo-science is another form of mythology, in this case often pretending to have scientific background. It does deserve credit for its display of human imagination. You’d think humans have an innate need to terrify themselves. Books published in recent years and being bought by the American public include Picturing Extraterrestrials, The UFO Invasion, Studies in Spiritism, Ancient Astronauts—Cosmic Collisions, Alien Abductions, Spaceships of the Pleiades, Flying Saucers are Everywhere, Ghosts, Channeling into the New Age. These tell of séances and appearances of long dead ancestors, of calling in the voices of the dead and mind-readings. They frighten with tales of ghost ships, ship wrecks foretold and astrological effects of Mars on athletes. People read and trust these books; after all, they are in print, aren’t they?

Modern humans have a remarkable lack of skepticism about so much that contradicts scientific understanding. Psychics and astrologers claim they have special access to knowledge, not only of the past and present but even of the future, knowledge not available to mere science. Para-psychologists are believed to be powerful. And, today, even some prominent politicians are busy denying the results of centuries of research, from evolution to climate change. We take huge leaps backwards.

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