Dare to Doubt
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.”
read something in the news that reminded me of the relevance of what I
wrote yesterday. It was about
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.