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Dare to Doubt 

2007/11/01

Ali Sina 

Yesterday I wrote about daring to know  and daring to ask prohibited questions.  I said how psychologically, the masses of people are still cavemen and that an enlightened person is one who defies the conventional wisdom, dares to seek out the unknown, to see things in a new light and  to “boldly goes where no man has gone before.”

Today I read something in the news that reminded me of the relevance of what I wrote yesterday.  It was about the Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich and what he said during the Democratic presidential debate. As it happens, Mr. Kucinich is a pal of the actress Shirley MacLaine. In her book, MacLaine has claimed that Mr. Kucinich has seen a UFO.  During the debate someone asked him, “did you see a UFO?"'

"I did," he replied. The audience burst into laugher. He quickly stressed that what he saw was an unidentified object and reminded the audience - correctly - that former president Jimmy Carter also saw a UFO.

This was enough ammunition for Kucinich's political foes. They did not lose the golden opportunity to ridicule him and even call him crazy.  John Gibson of Fox News said: “Dennis Kucinich's UFO comments prove he's nuts.” He then addressed his audience and said: “And the rest of you who have seen UFOs, please don't send angry e-mails. It's not going to make any difference -- I'll still think y'all are crazy.

John Gibson was particularly angry with the Ohio congressman because a day earlier, he had called Bush crazy for saying we might have no other option but to go to war against Iran.  Now, I am no friend of Kucinich and I think his political views are crazy.  To be honest I think most, if not all, presidential candidates of the Democratic Party have crazy ideas when it comes to foreign policies and particularly when it comes to Iran. However, that is not what I want to talk about.  My question is whether it is true that all those who have seen UFOs are crazy.

According to a recent poll one third of Americans believe in Ghosts and UFOs and 14% of them actually say they have seen aliens. That is a lot of crazy people, if we take Mr. Gibson for his word.  

Gibson is not alone in thinking that way.  There are a large number of people who think if someone claims to have seen a UFO or anything out of the ordinary, for that matter, he must be crazy.  These people can even become abusive and viciously attack the poor person for saying such thing.

Now, personally I have not seen a UFO yet. I have seen strange things that I can’t explain, but I don’t think they fall into the classical definition of UFO.   My point is not to discuss whether UFOs are alien spaceships or air balloons, or whether those who claim having had paranormal, i.e. scientifically unexplainable experiences, have experienced something real or are imagining things.  What concerns me is the attitude of people towards these topics.  These are uneasy and taboo topics. They defy our conventional wisdom. They belie everything we know about science and reality. How should we approach them?  Should we discard them as superstitions?  Are they mere fantasies, worthless of scientific consideration?  Thinking about this subject I wrote the following piece.  It is of course a work of imagination.  I hope that is clear. I thought to emphasize it just in case someone think it is true. .

This story happened in the year 1007. I and a couple of my buddies were standing in a blacksmith shop waiting our turn to have the shoes of our horses nailed and were discussing about the rising price of hay.  Suddenly we heard a commotion in the street. People were shouting and running towards an open field.  We asked what had happened. They told us that there was a ball of fire in the sky that fell over there. Naturally, we were curious. It is not every day that a ball of fire falls from the sky. We went to see it for ourselves.  Sure enough, there it was. We found a hole in the ground and a stone encrusted inside it. It was clear that the stone had a huge impact on the ground. The vegetation around it were burnt and it was still hot. One of my buddies who was a devout religious man started kissing the hot stone and saying, didn’t I say that God exists? Here is the proof. This is a miracle for all to see and a warning to all the disbelievers.

My other buddy and I, were not convinced.  I turned to him and said, what do you think?  Our scientists tell us that the Earth is flat and the sky is a dome. Everyone accepts Ptolemy's definition of the universe as fact.  He is an undisputed authority on cosmos. However, what we witness here defies Ptolemy's explanation.  According to science, there should be no stone in the sky.  Could it be that Ptolemy was wrong and everything we know about the universe is topsy turvy?  Methinks that there is more to science that we just don’t know.  This strange phenomenon tells me that science is inconclusive.  Maybe we should not just believe what Ptolemy says, but study the cosmos to find out what the heck is going on and why stones fall from the sky. If we can’t believe that the stone was thrown by God or by angels, then we better find out how it got up there in the first place.

My atheist friend, who was a staunch Ptolemist and a firm believer in science, downplayed the entire incident. He denied that the stone had fallen from the sky.  He said that people must have seen a bird and mistook it for a ball of fire and what we were witnessing was the remains of a campfire. Then he gave me a lecture on “mass hallucination.” It was the first time I heard this expression. “Mass hallucination?” I asked puzzled. “What do you mean by mass hallucination? Does such thing exist?  Isn’t this contrary to logic?  This is more hocus pocus than what you are trying to explain away" I told him.

He tried in every conceivable way to convince me that there is a prosaic explanation to the phenomenon, stating that the belief in falling stones is against the science and that all those eye-witnesses were nuts. He offered various theories to explain the phenomenon. His explanations were less plausible than the phenomenon he was trying to negate. .

I asked him, why should we not accept that the stone has fallen from the sky and find out how and why?  He said that is preposterous because it is against the science. “But what if science is wrong?” I asked. “That is nonsense,” he retorted. "What I means is that our understanding of it is wrong!" I clarified. “What you are saying is superstition. There are no stones in the sky, period,” he reiterated emphatically. “Shouldn’t we be open minded and give it the benefit of doubt and investigate things before rejecting them?” I asked softly.  “Yes, but not as open minded as to let our brains fall out,” he quipped with a sneer. He called me gullible and a fool and acted as if threatened by my questions.  

We both were members of CSSR 11 (The 11th Century Secret Society of Rationalists) and met in a basement to discuss Aristotle, Plato, Ptolemy, science, religion and what not, away from the eyes of the Church and other ill-wishers.  He then threatened that if I insist on my unscientific ideas, he would denounce me to the Society so that I could be publicly ridiculed.  

I admit that I can be a coward at times. I did not want to be ostracized and the idea of being ridiculed publicly did not appeal to me.  So I kept my mouth shut and my thoughts to myself.  I wondered if there are others who also see things the way I see them but are afraid to speak their minds, on one hand of the believers and on the other, of the deniers. Both the believers and the deniers are the two sides of the same coin. 

While not speaking to anyone, I remained wondering about the mystery of stones falling from the sky.  There was something amiss and I could not put my finger on it. You see, I am ignorant. However, I am lucky because I know it. When I don't understand something, I don't deny it, not I laugh and ridicule it. I just add it to the long list of things that I don't know.  While my atheist friend denied the whole phenomenon and my religious friend had a renewed faith and they both were content and convinced, the mystery of falling stones was bugging me.

Years passed. Actually centuries passed, until in the year 1634, a couple of months before he was charged with heresy and placed in house arrest, I had the privilege to meet the great Galileo. He made me peep into his telescope and see things I had never seen before. He told me about his discoveries and about Copernicus and his theories. He explained that Ptolemy was completely wrong and the sky is full of stones. Suddenly thing made sense to me. It was a complete shift of paradigm.

I was finally vindicated. I was not crazy for doubting and for not trusting blindly what the scientists were telling me. Years passed and centuries came and went, but people remained the same.  My last horse died a century ago and I now drive a car. We filled our houses with all sorts of gadgets. The world around us changed but we didn’t.  My religious friend is still a believer. He attributes anything that he does not understand to God and stops thinking about them. Realizing the the story of creation as stated in his ancient religious books cannot be true,  he now advocates "intelligent design".  My atheist friend is a university professor. He teaches astronomy and physics and has forgotten all about Ptolemy. As usual, he is a staunch defender of science, the new science of course. He ridicules anyone who believes in UFOs, or any other phenomenon that science cannot explain. These days he is not talking about Ptolemy, but Newton and Einstein. As far as he is concerned, humans have discovered everything that has to be discovered and any idea that may go against science is heresy.  He told me the same thing when I first met him a long time ago. 

Me? Oh well, every day I discover that I am more ignorant that I had previously thought. Unlike my religious and atheist friends who are full of certainty, I am filled with doubts. I continue to wonder whether there is more to this universe and whether there are laws governing it that are  yet to be discovered. Should I  interpret the reality to fit my world view or should I adapt my world view to embrace the reality? Do I trust my own commonsense or my world view? Could there be other dimensions of which we are not aware?  Could there be other breakthroughs in science that would shift our paradigm once again?  I have lived long enough to witness several shifts of paradigms.  I won’t be surprised if tomorrow someone discovers that it is possible to go from one end of the universe to the other in no time. Not through the visible space and time, but through another, as yet unknown dimension, a sort of gateway, a wormhole in space.  

I have seen how things that were thought to be impossible, like flying, telecommunicating or going to moon and mars, have become possible. I won’t be surprised if one day Nikola Tesla’s prediction that “ere many generations pass, our machinery will be driven by a power obtainable at any point of the universe,” come true. I don't laugh when people talk about zero point energy or UFOs. I don't deride those who say extraordinary things because time has shown that those who laughed were eventually those who were laughed at. I don't believe nor I deny. Denial is also a form of belief. I remain a skeptic and full of doubts. As Bertrand Russell once said, "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." Elsewhere he said, "Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric."

I have seen so many “impossibles” become possible that I no longer believe in impossible. The only thing that I doubt will ever change is the thinking and the attitude of us humans. To change that, it requires a miracle and I don't believe in miracles.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Articles Op-ed Authors Debates Leaving Islam FAQ
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  ©  copyright You may translate and publish the articles in this site only if you provide a link to the original page.