An easy example to take is the electron.
No one has ever seen an electron. All we have is indirect evidence, second hand, coaxed out of a variety of subtle experimental apparatus. It's not easy to see second or third hand evidence of an electron. It takes precise equipment and careful experimentation. It takes theoretical knowledge - you can't just jump straight to knowing an electron if you don't understand other principles like magnetism or Newtonian force or the basic mathematical models of motion or chemistry. It depends on the experiment what background you need, but you always need background.
So first you prove that all the background is true. If you're going to do this all for yourself, with 100% incontrovertible proof, and you don't believe any accounts that other scientists have given you (you don't stand on anyones shoulders) then this alone will take you years.
A physicist can show you Milliken's Oil Drop Experiment that originally "proved" the existence of the electron but you aren't gonna have a clue what you're looking at unless you've already significant background work. You aren't going to be able to have first-hand self-seen proof unless you have years of background work and experimentation on your own. It's not something you can just do in one day. It's not something someone else can do for you - it's not enough that they show you Ohm's formula and the Newton's second law. You will have to take time alone to understand them on your own, and to prove them to yourself. This is no small feat.
Once you have all the background proved you can do the experiment that produces a phenomena that other people call electrons. But you still don't have personal proof that they're electrons - they could be anything! There could be any number of reasonable explanations for those little particle traces!
It takes work.
You believe in electrons just because you were told to, because society accepts them as fact. I believe in electrons because I've taken years upon years of grueling physics and math training. I can't prove to you the existence of an electron in 1 day, and in truth I can't prove it to you ever. You'll have to prove it to yourself, and the best you can do is second hand evidence anyway. You still will never actually get to see an electron.
We believe electrons are real because the belief in electrons gets us useful results.
Useful results are the metric of scientific fact. The wise reader will realize that this principle extends to ALL fact. Useful results are the metric of ALL fact. Nothing else. THIS is the purpose of Steve's 30 day trial. It's a shortcut. You try on a belief for 30 days, see what results you get. If the results are good, it is probably somewhere near the truth. If not, you discard it. Pure science.
To many people, after observing supernatural phenomena, they subscribe to a certain model that gets them useful results. For all intents and purposes, this is AS TRUE as the electron.
For many years I thought I was a hardcore skeptic. One day I realized that I wasn't a skeptic - I was a dismisser. I wasn't objectively judging the paranormal (and this included just typical PD techniques and all kinds of stuff which most people wouldn't even label paranormal) in the way that I'd objectively judge an electron. Instead I was taking anything that society conditioned me to dismiss, and then finding creative ways to dismiss it as being fraudulent. If society had conditioned me to accept something, I'd do the opposite. I would find a creative way to accept it. Once I realized that I wasn't being fair to the truth, and that I had to accept the truth and observe the truth no matter how strange it was (as I delighted to do in physics where society allows people to freely explore and discuss without ridicule) then I began to learn that a lot of this paranormal stuff IS crap, but that there is an element of truth within it. Newton was an alchemist - he had the wrong idea. But there was an element of truth in his alchemy, and from that element of truth chemistry was eventually developed. It took a courageous mind like Newton to start down the wrong path - to dare to fail - and dare to succeed. Newton is mocked today for his alchemy, which just shows how little society has learned from him. He wasn't afraid to be wrong. He tried stuff out. This courageousness is what leads us to the truth.
Last edited by yossarian; 01-23-2008 at 03:29 PM.