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How do you deal with crackpots?

by bigfooted
Tags: crackpots, deal
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Pengwuino
#19
Dec26-11, 08:38 PM
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Quote Quote by mr. vodka View Post
But believing in wrong things can be harmful, for the person him/herself or others. Homeopathy is an obvious example, but even more harmless looking things as participating in the lottery: a lot of small bad choices (based on wrong conceptions or often even wrong chains of reasoning) can lead to a considerable harm in one's life.

Do others agree? And does it weigh into the consideration when deciding if to "convert" someone to reason?
There have been a few threads on the board that show how people can be physically and financially harmed by their ignorance. As an example you brought up, people spend roughly $300-$500 (depending on the source you look at) on lotteries per year. It's essentially an idiot-tax as people with lower education spend a higher portion of their income on them (an interview with TIME about a 2008 reported stated ~10% of their income: http://moneyland.time.com/2009/06/16...tthew-sweeney/ ). Even everyday things like getting your car maintained, spending money on electricity, buying new computers, can all result in people losing a lot of money because they can't critically think or are not knowledgeable about the world.

As George Costanza from Seinfeld put it in regards to mechanics: "Oh, of course their tryin' to screw ya. No one know what they're talkin' about! It's like, 'Oh, seems you need a new johnson rod.' 'Oh, a Johnson rod. Yeah, well, you better put one of those on!' "
Bobbywhy
#20
Dec26-11, 09:42 PM
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Mr. vodka and Pengwuino, thank you for your thoughtful comments and observations. I wrote in post #17 “in some cases rather than trying to debunk someone's mythical belief it is better to just remain silent.” Now you have raised doubts...maybe one should intervene if the other is engaging in harmful/unhealthful activities.

My neighbor is 72, lives on SS, drives a beater car loaded with defects, suffers from malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies, and has various medical problems. He watches a certain televangelist every day for hours and SENDS MONEY every month to “support the ministry”.

Now, it is clear that he would benefit if he would simply invest that donated money on some wholesome food. I have tried to convince him to stop donating his cash and instead come to the supermarket with me, where I would help him discover a more nutritional diet. He answers “But helping to spread the word of God is more important.”

Now I ask you, do you have any suggestions on how I might help him live a more healthy life? Does anyone think I should persist in trying to change his beliefs?
Ivan Seeking
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Dec26-11, 10:04 PM
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Quote Quote by Pengwuino View Post
There have been a few threads on the board that show how people can be physically and financially harmed by their ignorance. As an example you brought up, people spend roughly $300-$500 (depending on the source you look at) on lotteries per year.
$300-$500 is good for about three trips to the therapist; not sure about how much prozac that would buy, but I doubt it would be good for more than a year.

That is a small price to pay for hope beyond hope, no matter how unreasonable. Beyond that, one cannot use inductive reasoning here. There is the implicit assumption that a few harmful beliefs prove that all irrational beliefs are bad.

I have seen people break down and weep while thanking John Edwards for bringing closure to their loss of a loved one. That is one example of how I could argue that crackpots can do a lot of good.
Ivan Seeking
#22
Dec26-11, 10:39 PM
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This quote from the infamous Brookings Report comes to mind.

"Anthropological files contain many examples of societies, sure of their place in the universe, which have disintegrated when they had to associate with previously unfamiliar societies espousing different ideas and different ways of life; others that survived such an experience usually did so by paying the price of changes in values and attitudes and behavior
- pdf 243
http://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?N=0&...%20matchallany
Pengwuino
#23
Dec26-11, 10:45 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
That is a small price to pay for hope beyond hope, no matter how unreasonable. Beyond that, one cannot use inductive reasoning here. There is the implicit assumption that a few harmful beliefs prove that all irrational beliefs are bad.

I have seen people break down and weep while thanking John Edwards for bringing closure to their loss of a loved one. That is one example of how I could argue that crackpots can do a lot of good.
Yes, I should say that not all irrational beliefs are bad. Some are benign (such as the belief that you should mow your lawn a Friday instead of Saturday because the Flying Spaghetti Monster said to), but the rest are basically hard to justify. While what this Edward guy does may seem great for the family, he perpetuates this paranormal world garbage keeps people thinking that logic, reason, and science are on the same level as ghosts and spirits. The vast majority of people don't tune in and go "well, this is all garbage, but I'm glad he's making them feel at peace", they go "wow, they're talking to the dead! (or whatever the hell he does on his show) I knew that could be done!".
Ivan Seeking
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Dec26-11, 10:58 PM
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Quote Quote by Pengwuino View Post
Yes, I should say that not all irrational beliefs are bad. Some are benign (such as the belief that you should mow your lawn a Friday instead of Saturday because the Flying Spaghetti Monster said to), but the rest are basically hard to justify. While what this Edward guy does may seem great for the family, he perpetuates this paranormal world garbage keeps people thinking that logic, reason, and science are on the same level as ghosts and spirits. The vast majority of people don't tune in and go "well, this is all garbage, but I'm glad he's making them feel at peace", they go "wow, they're talking to the dead! (or whatever the hell he does on his show) I knew that could be done!".
So they think he talks with the dead. Why is that implicitly a bad thing? How does this somehow undermine science? How does belief in an afterlife defeat Newtonian or Quantum Mechanics? The last time I checked, all that science has to say is that there is no evidence for an afterlife. We can't even claim there isn't one - that would be unscientific and a statement of faith since we can never prove a universal negative.
Pengwuino
#25
Dec26-11, 11:01 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
So they think he talks with the dead. Why is that implicitly a bad thing? How does this somehow undermine science? How does belief in an afterlife defeat Newtonian or Quantum Mechanics? The last time I checked, all that science has to say is that there is no evidence for an afterlife. We can't even claim there isn't one - that would be unscientific and a statement of faith since we can never prove a universal negative.
That's not how people think though. Also, the idea that he can talk to the dead can easily be tested, even if one can't test for afterlife.
Ivan Seeking
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Dec26-11, 11:04 PM
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Quote Quote by Pengwuino View Post
That's not how people think though.
What specifically is the damage?

Also, the idea that he can talk to the dead can easily be tested, even if one can't test for afterlife.
You can't really test this because he can change his story at any time. "Oh, that's not your mother? Okay, wrong person, I'm with someone over here..." That is how it's done.
MacLaddy
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Dec26-11, 11:08 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
How about this one: Most people aren't geared to be scientists or engineers. In many cases, people simply choose to believe what makes them happy. In fact this probably applies to everyone to some extent. While it isn't appropriate to allow faith-based, unscientific, or pseudoscientific beliefs to be posted at a place like PF, perhaps fantasies are what allow people to function. What if, on the average, most people need fantasies? Perhaps this is simply human nature and a defense mechanism that is necessary for most people to cope with a hostile and confusing world?

What if by proving a person's beliefs to be wrong or fallacious, you are actually inflicting psychological damage? Do we know if this is possible?

I would bet that it is. That is to say, they will be less happy and it won't improve their life in the slightest.
I think there is a very good chance of inflicting some form of psychological damage from destroying a persons fantasies.

My story here reflects this situation very well. I came here to the forum so that I could find more information on debunking Richard C. Hoagland. You see, I was an avid Coast to Coast AM listener and was fascinated by many of the different topics that they touch upon in that show. (Un)Fortunately, I have a bit of built-in-logic that I couldn't control, and it forced me to verify what these crackpots were talking about. Richard C. Being the first of many. (I couldn't stand his "Hyper-Dimensional Physics garbage, even though I knew nothing about it)

So the crackpots drove me here seeking verification, or the real truth. Well, it's obvious what I found here. Luckily I didn't have to post anything as it had all been covered in previous posts that I could search for, but it did have quite an effect on me. My worldview began to change because of people on this forum (most notably Ivan), and I found myself on a path that I never expected. I am currently receiving an education to eventually become a Mechanical Engineer, even though I am almost 34, and I no longer listen to Coast to Coast AM.

However, with all that being said, I don't really know if I am "Happier." I am happy that I am no longer a sucker for much of that hype, but there are certain beliefs that have been destroyed; and it helps me to understand why other people can't seem to let go of their own crackpottery.

It really comes down to having a purpose in this world. These people with their crackpot notions believe so strongly in things, and they believe in them because it is bigger then themselves. They NEED to have meaning in life. They NEED to have purpose and direction. Even if the direction is a doomsday 2012, it means that there is a higher power planning these things, and with a higher power an afterlife.

So am I happier? Well, I no longer listen to Coast, but I am also now a complete atheist. I don't believe in any destiny, purpose, or meaning. I work hard to make my life the way I wish it to be, but I don't delude myself that it means anything once I am gone.

So yeah, I get where they are coming from.
Pengwuino
#28
Dec26-11, 11:17 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
You can't really test this because he can change his story at any time. "Oh, that's not your mother? Okay, wrong person, I'm with someone over here..." That is how it's done.
Then clearly he's wrong or is providing no evidence that he is right. You can play that trick with science and it doesn't work either. If I were to say I have a new modification to Newtonian gravity that says there's a new planet orbiting the Sun at some radius and astronomers look at the orbit to no avail, I can't just say "wait no no, it's at this other radius" again and again.

Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking
What specifically is the damage?
A belief in irrational things like ghosts, spirits, unicorns, and a state lottery that will send my children to college if I just give it 10% of my income every year.
MacLaddy
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Dec26-11, 11:34 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
What specifically is the damage?
Quote Quote by Pengwuino View Post
A belief in irrational things like ghosts, spirits, unicorns, and a state lottery that will send my children to college if I just give it 10% of my income every year.
So specifically, what is the damage? Other than false notions.
Pengwuino
#30
Dec26-11, 11:54 PM
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Quote Quote by MacLaddy View Post
So specifically, what is the damage? Other than false notions.
I'm not sure how handing over 10% of sorely needed income is not considered a damage.
Ivan Seeking
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Dec27-11, 12:51 AM
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Quote Quote by Pengwuino View Post
I'm not sure how handing over 10% of sorely needed income is not considered a damage.
And of course, were it not for the lottery or John Edward tickets, everyone would spend their money wisely.
Ivan Seeking
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Dec27-11, 01:07 AM
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MacLaddy, thanks for your comment, I think. I am glad to hear that your life has generally taken a positive turn [at least, professionally].

I understand your comments completely. In fact, because I was raised with religion, I have seen many people struggle with the need to believe, and the need to be logical. Obviously this would include me. But by no means is this limited to people raised with faith. I knew one engineer who was tied in knots because there was no way to prove God does or doesn't exist. Basically he couldn't be happy unless he knew for certain. And of course, it's hopeless.

In the end, I have seen nothing suggesting that I should allow my personal beliefs to be limited to scientific proofs. By it's very nature, science is limiting. And there are questions that it can never address [esp not in my lifetime]. I don't have a problem accepting that science works, but there still could be more. In this case, hope beyond hope, is free.
Markus Hanke
#33
Dec27-11, 04:42 AM
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Quote Quote by bigfooted View Post
Hi!

I was on a forum recently where I saw a typical message from what some people would call a crackpot.
These people are usually easy to identify:
  • The message is full of spelling errors.
  • The message usually starts with the claim that a great discovery was being made.
  • They never use math beyond high-school mathematics.
  • They address people like Einstein as Dr. Einstein.
  • They respond very aggressively to friendly but skeptical replies.
  • They never use standard mathematical notation.

Although my first impulse is to try to help these people, I usually find that they are beyond help. The discussion becomes grim very fast, most of the arguments are ad hominem ("You do not accept my new theory because you belong to the establishment") and I always hope the topic dies before it reaches Godwin's law.

My question to you: what would you do? Try to help them? Ignore them from the start? When is enough enough for you?
Good point. I have had a sheer uncountable number of such discussions on other forums, many of which readily allow "crackpots" as described above to proliferate their ideas freely. Some of these "posting wars" were actually physically and mentally exhausting, and the outcome usually was that no party was any the wiser or more educated afterwards.
In my mind the best thing to do is calmly present your evidence, give links to appropriate articles ( Wikipedia is invaluable for this ), and see what happens. Usually you can tell pretty quickly if someone is genuinely interested in learning something, or if he/she just wants to proliferate his own ideas in public - and defend them to the death. If I come across the latter I usually just say outright that I don't believe this discussion will lead anywhere, and then abandon the thread, even though that isn't always easy.
Anyway, if you argue too much with a fool, you might end up looking like a fool yourself, so often it is best ( after presenting your own evidence of course ) to just leave them to their delusions and move on.
Ryan_m_b
#34
Dec27-11, 09:22 AM
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I've only flicked through so forgive me if this has already been mentioned but regarding whether or not people are psychologically harmed by someone challenging their beliefs vs. harmed by stupid beliefs: if someone has a pseudo-scientific/ignorant belief it affects all of us. People arent islands, a person who believes in homeopathy is likely to spend money on it (enlarging the industry), are likely to suggest it to others and may vote for politicians on the basis of how the candidates treat homeopathy. It's all fun and games until a group of people with stupid beliefs vote in a politician that promises to divert government funding towards their stupid idea. Keeping with homeopathy the NHS spends millions a year on it just because enough people in positions of power either believe in it or see it as a vote winner; this damages society as a whole.
Evo
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Dec27-11, 10:37 AM
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Quote Quote by MacLaddy View Post
So specifically, what is the damage? Other than false notions.
Then one could say what's the harm with psychic healing. Where do you draw the line when it comes to believing in nonsense?

If a person believes that death is just the door to a better, happier life, then why take precautions to stay in this one? And I've never heard a single person that "talks to the dead" report that Aunt Martha is in hell, or that their loved ones are in agony. They're always happier now and in a better place.
micromass
#36
Dec27-11, 10:43 AM
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For me the danger is not so much what the people believe. If somebody wants to believe something crazy then they're free to. It becomes dangerous when they're starting to tell other people what to do.

For example, if somebody has the notion that blood transfusions are a sin and will rather let their child die instead of giving them blood. That's dangerous.

Or when people want to force their pet belief system into education. That's dangerous.

Or if somebody found a new system to beat the casino and wastes all the money of their family. That's dangerous.

These things happen all the time. It is pure crackpottery gone bad. People can be crackpots all they want. But they shouldn't start forcing their beliefs on others.


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