The Inquisition

Perry E. Metzger (
Tue, 29 Apr 1997 10:46:39 -0400 (EDT)

> From: MikeRose <>
> This is not the National Inquirer, it is the Extropy List, but there does
> seem to be an inquistion by some self-dubbed high priests of
> knowledge/reality.
> (reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson's 'New Inquisition'. W. Reich
> would have been given hell by some of you guys, keep up the good work
> people like him shouldn't be given a voice!!!!!)
> Keep the thumbscrews on the truth

I'm prepared to be wrong. I've been wrong many times in the past and
expect to be wrong many times in the future.

On the other hand, one has to maintain a certain minimum standard of
mental hygene in order to get through your average day. If you don't
maintain a firm and critical understanding of the likely effect of
walking in front of a bus, or handing over your money to a con man,
you won't get very far.

Given this, a balance has to be struck between spending one's days
assessing every claim one hears with full attention, and ignoring all

The way most of us have done this is to assess the strength of given
laws of science we've learned over the years, especially based on how
often and how well they have been demonstrated, and to give less
credence to unusual claims that violate strongly demonstrated laws,
and more credence to those that do not violate any laws or only
violate those that have "problems" with them anyway. The more
extraordinary the claim, the better the evidence had better be.

Thus, I'm not going to waste much time on people claiming that they've
built a "water powered car" that works by perpetual motion
mechanisms. Why? Because it violates too many strongly held laws. I'm
happy to believe in it if someone will drive it up to me and let me
take some time actually examining it and I find it works, or if
someone who I strongly trust has done so. Otherwise, I've got too many
things to do in my day, and too many idiots come up with this sort of
extraordinary claim too often without any evidence backing them at

The probability of it being real is microscopic, especially if its
"easy" to build, so the likely benefit to me of believing in its
reality if its real (measured in dollars) times the probability of of
it being real is a tiny fraction of the money I've already lost
thinking about it. Even spending the time I've spent thinking about
this silly water powered car has likely been far too much thus far, on
a cost/benefit analysis.