Your Skepticism Temperament

Skepticism_MeterA person’s temperament makes skepticism a joy for some, yet uncomfortable for others. In spite of this mechanical fate, we inevitably tend to valorize our own temperaments over the temperaments others. Skepticism can protect us when it sees through lies and delusions but skepticism can also harm us when we find one fault and yet throw out all that is of value attached to that fault. Skepticism can cause further advancement as we throw off long-held misunderstandings, or it can harm us when we hesitate to take action being paralyzed by skepticism concerning inadequate information. Skepticism is a double edged sword.

So, where does your temperament fall on the skeptometer?  What do you feel is the ideal mix of skepticism?  If I were the head of a manufacturing company, I’d want a small percentage of my employees to be manic skeptics, a larger percent to be largely dutiful sheep and everyone else to be a pleasant mix non-confronting skeptics or Bleating Sheep who are joyfully conformative. I think such a company would have better chances than not of being highly competitive and successful against other manufacturing companies.

Well, it seems that perhaps both the human genome and society have realized the competitive advantage of such a mix and thus create a similar mix of temperaments among humans. So if we understand this essentially mathematical Darwinian outcome, we may perhaps be less inclined to unhesitantly declare our own skeptic-temperament to be virtue while imagining the temperament of others to be mere stupidity. Instead, we will understand the inherent frustration of a successful society–its values and dangers.

Questions for readers:  Where do you feel you are on the temperament rheostat?  How would you label the spectrum? Do you ever try to check your own natural tendency to valorize your temperament?



Filed under Cognitive Science

7 responses to “Your Skepticism Temperament

  1. TWF

    I’m somewhere between non-confronting and outspoken.

    You definitely want a good mix of people in a business. Unfortunately for some managers, they don’t know how to properly handle contrary viewpoints from skeptics. We’ve got a bit of this issue going on right now where I work.

    I haven’t tried to valorize my own temperament, partly because I have my own reasons for feeling superior to others ;-), and mostly because at times and in certain situation, I would fall on a completely different spot on the rheostat.

  2. Earnest

    Dutiful Sheep of the world, unite!

  3. By thought patterns? Approaching manic. By actions? Sheep. It sounds hypocritical but is actually a kind of practical. Doubting keeps me on my toes while sheephood keeps me from being too much of a rabble rouser.

  4. Well, I’m outspoken when I need to. If a religious person tries, e.g., to use science to justify his religion then I become very outspoken. If religion is used as a means for justifying one’s actions, then I am extremely outspoken. But if someone tells me that religion is something necessary for him or her and is beyond logic, then I’m OK.

    But skepticism is not about religion only. It’s about rationality. Most of the time, I am outspoken because I can’t call myself a scientist or academic without applying the way I think when I do science to all aspects of life. Here is a real-life example of confronting skepticism. A colleague once announced that she was elated to find out that mitochondrial DNA passes from mothers only. This, in her words, made her feel very feminist. (And she meant that, it was not a joke.) What would a rational person tell her in this case? Well, it’s clear.

    When someone tells me they can apply astrology to predict my future, then I confront them. When someone claims that the earth is still and the center of the universe then I must tell him that he’s an idiot. When the president of the US or the prime minister of the UK claims that god is behind their decision for starting a war then we are irresponsible if we keep silence when we know they are wrong and we know that use of god means loss of lives.

    You see, I’d LIKE to be at the very top of your scale. Unfortunately, I have other things to do as well and this is the only reason I can’t be so. Because if I start applying skepticism to everything, I’d be psychologically destroyed. In Sweden, for instance, a very conformist society, expressing a thought that is different from the mainstream one is totally prohibited. People don’t ever criticize or discuss anything even when they know it’s wrong. They’d rather commit suicide. (And they do.) So, for practical reasons, I can’t be as skeptical as I would like to.

  5. @ TWF :
    Great example, thanx for sharing.

    @ Earnest :
    “Sheep” may sound pejorative, but we need them badly. And who doesn’t like a soft wooly sheep?

    @ Orange :
    Cool differentiation: thought vs. action. Though I was writing about action, of course. But your distinction is important!

    @ Takis :
    I must agree with you — our temperaments sound similar: I speak out in just the same situations that you describe — good descriptions.

    But I must add a caveat: As I have done in other comments, I am going to make an objecting to your phrasing (perhaps it is merely word choices, perhaps it is deeper). You said, “What would a rational person tell her in this case? Well, it’s clear.”

    But you see, PEOPLE are not rational — we use reason but reason is ALWAYS tied to emotions, that is how people think.

    That is fascinating about Sweden, which I imagine is just the opposite of Greece, I’d imagine. Do their economic fates tell us which is better — in -your-face skepticism vs. quiet sheep who keep their skepticism inside (as Orange suggests)? 🙂

  6. CRL

    I try to be somewhere between outspoken skeptic and non-confronting skeptic—but that requires keeping the reflexive rebel in me in check, since the majority is sometimes right.

    Perhaps a range of temperaments is good, provided that people still interact with each other. Because unless we have the reflexive rebels trying to wake mindless sheep up, I can’t see mindless sheep being all that helpful to a society. While they might be economically efficient, they give the wolves far, far too much power.

  7. Sabio,
    You are right. People mix reason with emotion. But I think we gave too many hints to Shirley. I wish she replied rationally, unemotionally 🙂

    As for Greece vs Sweden, the financial problems of the former vs the relative prosperity of the latter are not due to the fact that people are on a different level of conformism, at least this is not the major reason. The reason is simple. Greece was led to financial disaster thanks to politicians who literally abused huge amounts of money (e.g., this fellow stole about 3 billion euro), faked all financial papers (and Europe knew that), and created a situation where running a business without cheating on taxes was not viable. In parenthesis I said that the European controllers knew that the Greek politicians where putting European money in their pockets, but, either because they were being bribed or because Greece was a small potato when the economy was doing well, they didn’t care. But when the excrement hit the fan, they said “where’s the money”? What money? There was none left. All spent or sitting in Swiss banks. Anyone who was in Greece during the 2004 Olympic games and had elementary intelligence could forecast that Greece was heading for disaster head on. But the politicians didn’t care. And EU didn’t care either. Greece’s bankruptcy is not a reason for seizing to be skeptical and becoming a sheep. On the contrary.

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