The Big List



A: Many reasons.

Also see: Weird Science Articles by billb

1. New discoveries come from the "fringe."
Why fringe science? Foremost is the fact that, throughout history, The Experts relegated a significant portion of new ideas, unexplainable discrepancies, and amazing discoveries to the "fringe." They proclaimed them to be impossible. They heaped them with scorn and derision, ridiculed them in public, and interfered with the efforts of their originators. Yet eventually it was just these discoveries which proved to be the latest advancements in science. Famous examples are: hot rocks falling from the sky, the germ theory of disease, the Wrights and human flight, Goddard and spacecraft, Wegner and continental drift, Margulis and evolution's cooperation vs. competition, Ovishinski and his amorphous semiconductors, ball lightning, T. Gold's subterranean bacteria and spinning neutron stars, and on and on. (And "cold fusion", too, although the majority still assumes that CF is crackpot.)

Though eventually all these fringe ideas proved to be legitimate science, either they were ignored during those eras when they were discovered, or they were attacked and ridiculed as being crazy. There is a streak of this unfortunate behavior running throughout science: somehow the researchers KNOW that science only progresses gradually, without enormous creative leaps. Without even looking at the history, they KNOW that any discovery which goes against the accepted worldview is invariably "crazy pseudoscience" stuff" and can be safely stamped out. They know this *without testing the evidence*. They have no need of evidence, because "If this new discovery were true, we'd have to throw out all the basic theories of physics." Apparently it's not only the Church who indulges in "Galileo bashing" behavior. Scientists sometimes behave even worse.

And so historical hindsight has educated me: if I want to be involved with the early stages of really new discoveries, I know exactly where to find these discoveries... In the reject pile, stamped "DISGUSTING PSEUDO- SCIENCE," "GOES AGAINST ACCEPTED THEORY," and "TOO CRAZY TO BE TRUE!" So bring on the antigravity and free energy and cold fusion. I know that most of this crap really just crap. But I also know that among the current crop of crackpot theorists, maverick researchers, and crazy inventors are the next Wright Brothers; currently laboring in obscurity and reviled by all of the reputable researchers for their offensive, heretical, and impossible discoveries.


2. Seeking unexplored areas in science.
As an Amateur Scientist, I could compete with the big guns and make my tiny contribution, maybe find a small unexplored niche not yet swarming with grad students, or perhaps polish the tenth decimal place of someone else's discovery. But I'm after more than this. I note that the world is still full of wonders, yet the Scientific Mainstream ignores them. Even worse, the Scientific Mainstream tends to forbid itself from exploring them. Any professional who dares to stray from the "herd" and get into research that's "too wonderful to be true," will incur the wrath of peer review. They will risk being labeled as "misguided," perhaps "irrational," and will lose scientific reputation and, more important, will lose funding.

The threat of scientific excommunication is no joke. A researcher who touches the wrong subject will destroy their own career. Scientific Taboos erect barriers which cannot be safely crossed... therefore the "crackpot amateur" can go where no reputable scientist dares.

Yes, the world needs more scientists. But even more, it needs skilled heretics who dare to tread the unconventional path. It needs people who can go against the flow, march backwards in the parade (listening to that other drummer?), people who can be openminded where all others are closed, and who can withstand rejection by all of their colleagues. The world needs maverick researchers who can teach themselves to notice the unusual things; the important and revealing things which are invisible to everyone else.

3. Flee self-congratulatory arrogance, hubris, consensual mob-rule.
As a child I hoped to grow up to become a scientist. But slowly over the years I realized that there are several serious problems with the social, human aspects of modern science. I'm offended by scientists' treatment of new ideas as "heresy", and by their arrogant belief in the perfect, "objective" behavior of all scientists (meaning themselves.) I'm put off by their self-congratulatory, overwhelmingly self-important stance, and by their belief that, because science does not investigate the meaning of life, that therefore life is meaningless. I'm dismayed by their subtle attacks on religion and the spiritual side of reality as being mere superstition. I became convinced that researchers should have the attitude that "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio..." Instead I see that many take the attitude that "We scientists have figured out 99.999% of the universe, are we not incredible?" At the same time recent polls show that 30% of scientists believe in god. Sounds like hypocrisy? It's Dishonesty and Narcissim in powerful synergistic combination. It's a cult of belief which can suck in anyone who gets close to the "infected population." It nearly got me.

"Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive, but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent than a fellow being or fellow scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community." - Albert Einstein
I believe that a good scientist should strive for humility, and should always think: "we're human and have to be on constant guard against our human folly". Instead I often hear skeptics saying: "we've trained ourselves to be objective and skeptical, therefore we no longer are prone to the irrational beliefs and crazy superstitions of the credulous and ignorant mass of humanity which surrounds us." As a result, skeptical people sneeringly dismiss a very large portion of the world which they really should be investigating. And when scientists become convinced that Science has no faults, or that rationality/objectivity automatically cancels out their personal bias and blindness, then scientists lose their habits of self-examination and self correction. This lays them open to all sorts of shameful subconscious motivations and unexamined emotional biases and even some intellectual bigotry.

But I also see the great attraction in the skeptical scientific worldview. It's a form of "groupthink", a cultlike belief system. It's a set of beliefs which require external "deprogramming" if one wishes to break free of it. I was originally in the modern science camp 100%. For those like me with a great need to always be right, for those who take themselves too seriously, and for those who need to feel self-important, science is profoundly attractive. I still feel it's pull upon my weaker, narcissistic side. And so I react by diving deep into the fringe where I still have a good chance of doing worthwhile work, yet where I can conquer my self importance, where I will never take myself overly seriously, or lose my humility, or fall into the ego trap that captures the majority of contemporary scientists. If I dive deep enough into the fringe, I will never be accepted back into the fold of conventional science, and will never require another Deprogramming session. People may laugh at me, but this will remind me to continue laughing at myself.

4. Excess rationality poisons creativity
I perceive many researchers' striving for skeptical rationality and "right answers" as having damaged their creative ability and their capacity to brainstorm. If this were not the case, then most scientists would be just like Richard Feynman, and RF's accomplishments would be common. Creativity comes from our "darker" side, from our crazy irrational subconscious regions. Any overwhelming pursuit of intellect, reason, and skepticism can be poison to creative discovery. If we become certain about what is impossible and what is not, we'll guarantee our blindness to any phenomena which are "too wonderful to be true." History shows that solid knowledge of the limits of possibility were often wrong.

If I become too confident in my ability to judge what is possible, I put unnecessary constraints on my creativity. If I distrust my subconscious realms, then I shut off my creative voice. But if I cultivate some "irrational," "superstitious," and "credulous" styles of thinking, then I dance with Mystery, and court the impossible discoveries.

We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. - Einstein
I've always thought that human creativity has traces of "psychic powers" about it. If PSI is real, then those who strongly deny the existence of everyday PSI are cutting off the source of their own creative thought, to say nothing of giving themselves psychological damage by suppressing the data of their (extra) senses. According to modern science, a "collective unconscious" is impossible. But creative leaps come from a very mysterious source; a strange source whose characteristics fly in the face of a worldview based entirely on materialism. If I insist on "Total Rationality," then I will believe that the irrational parts of creativity are impossible and simply cannot be. And so I will become blind/deaf to them.

And so I tend to pursue an opposite course, involving myself with the dark irrational underbelly of science from whence comes cranks, crackpots, and the *really* creative ideas.

5. Be skeptical about so-called 'Scientific' hyper-skepticism
Is it really so dangerous for scientists to be overly credulous? Is it that dangerous to (provisionally!) take seriously the things like psychic phenomena, free energy, cold fusion, etc., in order to investigate them? Maybe, but I believe that it's even more "dangerous" to swing too far the other way. A belief in untrue ideas may be harmful, but there are serious consequences in the opposite stance: it is also quite harmful to DISbelieve ideas which are true.

Pathological Science: seeing things because we WANT to see them.

Pathological Skepticism: blindness to things we refuse to accept.

If we too fiercely flee from the one, then we end up embracing the other. Both are pseudo-science. Science hides in the space between the Believers and the Scoffers.

Suppose that we always act with hostile skepticism towards any apparently-crazy idea. If we reject ideas because of their irrational appearance, or because they endanger our world-view should they prove valid, then we'll never inspect the actual evidence. We might never even listen to the claims of their discoverers. As a result, any new discoveries which are valid but which appear crazy will be suppressed by being ignored. Total openmindedness may be equivalent to insanity, but I believe the universal skepticism of the modern scientist to be a similar evil. Excessive skepticism should be avoided because it cannot help but squash new discoveries and erect barriers against change.

In the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF IGNORANCE, R. A. Lyttleton proposes that one's belief in a particular hypothesis is like a bead which slides along a wire. One end of the wire represents 100% disbelief, and the other end shows 0% disbelief (or 100% acceptance.) Nothing prevents the bead from falling off the ends of the wire. Since all theories are tentative, proper scientists should strive to keep their "beads" somewhere between 0% and 100%. However, many otherwise intelligent people have been convinced to move their beads regarding contemporary science theories to the position of 100% belief, whereupon their "beads" fall off the wire and their beliefs can can no longer be altered. At the same time, they move their "fringe science" beads to 100% disbelief, whereupon the beads fall off the other end of the wire and are nearly impossible to restore. Then, whenever a piece of "fringe" science gives signs of being proved valid, those fallen-bead skeptics must launch remorseless emotional attacks against it. Or, when a piece of solid mainstream science starts to look shakey, they must leap to blind defense of the dogma. This is entirely sensible, because their alternative is to court insanity.

If we all could avoid this "fallen bead" state, science would be much improved. In other words, we should never sneeringly, hostilly disbelieve things that look "fringy". We should never adopt a viewpoint where some ideas are 100% right and others are 100% wrong. Instead, we should cultivate a healthy .01% belief in crazy things. And correspondingly we should never accept any theory 100% no matter how solid and widely acclaimed, but should maintain a small, non-zero amount of doubt and suspicion. After all, there is always a tiny chance that a basement inventor will discover antigravity or a violation of thermodynamics, or that parapsychologists will find irrefutable evidence for telepathy or precognition. And someday a dropped rock may unexpectedly fail to fall downwards. No joke. When such things happen, we should avoid being driven into insane denial by our 100% disbelief. Instead we should be saying "yeah, I always thought that there was a *tiny* chance that this might happen!

I myself see the contents of my "weird science" page as being 99% bogus. (Perhaps the index of bogosity is even far higher!) However, hidden in the bulk of the crazy-and-false material there is an extremely valuable 1% which is crazy-but-true. There are diamonds in the compost. But there is no reliable way to sort the crap from the treasure. Therefore I believe that a small portion of federal science funding should be directed to the "crazy" stuff. This would serve the same function as the investment practice of "long-shot betting": investing in businesses having a large chance of failure but also a small chance of incredibly large returns. To support the 1% of our investment which strikes it rich, we must also pour 99% down a hole. (But as with playing the Stock Market, such a thing requires highly skilled investors, not mob rule by a committee called "peer review.")

Science funding has traditionally stayed with safe bets, with incremental advances piled upon older discoveries. Funding sources only want to support projects which have a large chance of positive returns. Funding sources demand that all dollars be passed by a large committee for approval (a committee composed of people whose careers would be destroyed if the unconventional work was successful.) As a result, many earth-shaking discoveries throughout history have not been supported by mainstream science (and indeed were often suppressed by the violent skepticism of the close-minded majority of scientists.) Breakthroughs coming from left field are rare, but when they happen they change the world. And so the arena of unconventional research should be supported in accordance with the large size of its individual discoveries, and the low probabilities of making these discoveries.

Think about it: if we invest in the 99 failures in order to support the one success which gives a thousand-fold return, the result is a 10:1 return on our investment!

6. The world is still 99% unknown.
Suppose that science has explored and explained 99% of physical reality. Assume that the scientists of 100 years in the future will have very little to do. Assume that they'll wish they had lived today, when there was still a bit of the world left to explore. Suppose that we are high up on the learning curve, and that we're running out of really new things to discover. This being the case, we'd be well advised to only pursue research which remains within the bounds of known science. That's where all the remaining important work must lie. Pursuit of the total unknown would be folly, since there is so little of it left. And what's left is "not important," i.e., it is interesting only to the extreme specialists.

Now instead suppose the opposite. Assume that our current knowledge is very small. Suppose that scientists of 100 years hence will see us as ignorant children who have barely scratched the surface of possible knowledge. Suppose that we've only really uncovered 1% of the Really Important Things, and that all around us are lying these unseen vast dark areas, all awaiting our illumination.

Which of the above scenarios is right? There is no answer, because the answer depends on the size of the Unknown. And the size of the unknown is... unknown! Of course we can always make an informed guess at its size, but perhaps the information we base our guess upon is wrong. When we put together a puzzle which has invisible borders, one missing puzzle-piece can hide huge vistas of uncompleted work.

Do you think that scientists of 1890 would guess right about 1990? Would they predict all of the approaching changes that blossomed from the tiny inconsistencies in 1890 science? Or instead, would they tend to see 1890 science as 99% complete, and see it as rapidly running out of new realms to explore, while the realities of 1990 would be obvious, delusional, H.G. Wells Scienti-fiction? Obviously the latter, no? But isn't this a lesson for us? Aren't modern scientists doing the same thing as Lord Kelvin, who ridiculed X-rays and Flying machines?

Given the above alternatives, I choose the latter: I choose to believe that we have barely scratched the surface. Why? I can't know that this is the real situation. So why do I choose to believe that our knowledge is small, and that the unknown is still vast?

It's partly because I distrust the idea that science is complete. This idea of near-completion comes from scientists, and it reeks of self-congratulatory conceit: "If *I* cannot discover anything new, why then, there must be nothing new left to discover!"

But also, look at the consequences of my decision. If I choose to believe that opportunies exist to make really major discoveries, yet I turn out to be wrong, then I may waste life looking for something that doesn't exist. Then look at the opposite stance: if I become convinced that science is complete, when it really is 99% incomplete, then I lose my chance to participate in all the coming exploration. As a result I would abandon a wondrous journey after taking only a few steps. And also, if I choose to believe that the unknown is tiny and unimportant, then my beliefs will guarantee my blindness to the many clues which lead to all thosegenuine vast unknown regions awaiting the first explorer.

Therefore I court both humility and clear vision by choosing to believe that the unknown is vast, and that all our work has barely scratched the surface of what is really there. Why would anyone do otherwise?

7. And last:
I've always wanted to be able to truthfully say:



A: I myself grew up on disgusting heresies; UFOs, Pyramid Power, paranormal, etc.. It didn't affect me any. (Eyebrow twitches frighteningly.)

But seriously, I view childhood explorations of fringe science as analogous to playing in the dirt and making mud pies. Many parents might be aghast, and might try to shield their kids from such 'contamination.' Yet the children who play in dirt grow up healthy, while those kept clean and indoors will often end up with flawed immune systems, and be subject to various allergic overreactions later in life. They weren't exposed early, so they didn't develop a tolerance for everyday contaminants.

Fringe science exposes us to many sorts of conflicting and contradictory beliefs. Besides the "mud pies" analogy, fringe science is analgous to having them study a variety of different religions. This, as opposed to raising them in one narrow faith which must never be questioned. For a future scientist, the end result of fringe science experience can be a critical eye regarding belief systems, a "tolerance for crazy hypotheses," and a healthy disrespect for orthodoxy-worship of all kinds.

Speaking of that, I suspect that early exposure to fringe science may derail a growing problem. I've met many people who regard science in an odd way. They're angered by any questioning of the content of science textbooks. They believe that science has already unveiled all the major discoveries, and that only a diminishing residue remains. They hate new untested ideas, especially the eccentric ideas which imply that a large Unknown exists, or that mankind might not know as much as we think we know. And while this type of person might make an excellent lab tech, they lack the creativity and humble self-criticism required of professional scientists. If science involves out-of-box thinking and the questioning of what we already know, then these are the very opposite of scientists. They regard any such questioning with deep disgust ...as if they were religious fundamentalists asked to question the Bible. And that's exactly the situation: they treat science as their personal religion, regard is as unquestionably true, and if given the chance they'd silence the heretics (or at least burn their books.) And so... early involvement with fringe science may derail this religious tendency in people. I'm convinced that it saved me from just this fate. Playing in the dirt give us a chance of changing from rigid textbook-worshippers into genuine scientists having an ability to criticize any of our own preconceptions.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION. Hypocricy. worshipful belief in textbook science, hatred of 'science heresy' attitude of a book-burner: silence their opponents rather than to debate them. religious fanatic who loathes pornography, then disingenuously starts a campaign to "protect the children," while actually they could care less about the children. Here's a way to expose such intentions: if they genuinely wanted to protect children from Bad Science, they'd be spending their lives crusading to improve the really terrible K-12 textbooks which ruin science as a subject for most people. So, are they? Or are they just trying to "silence the heretics" which they hate, while protecting the children is hypocricy concealing their hatred of all things Fringe?


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