James Randi on Critical Thinking at TED
By: Barry Belmont

James Randi is an amazing man. It is not an understatement to say he is amongst the greatest heroes that has ever lived. He has single-handedly done more to promote skepticism and critical thinking than any other person in all of history. He has inspired individuals like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, Penn & Teller and Michael Shermer, Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and countless other supporters of rational dialogue. Here is his wonderful talk about how we can easily be duped and what the harm actually is of so-called “harmless” superstitions like homeopathy and psychic abilities.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • email
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • del.icio.us
  • Google Bookmarks
View Comments Posted in Videos
Tagged ,
  • Corinna

    The Amazing Randi truly is an amazing man. You could learn a lot from him, Barry. Particularly Randi's humility, kindness, and patience.

    Randi has made his mark by being resolute, bold, and empathetic. I'm happy to know you look up to him.

  • http://unrforliberty.com Barry Belmont

    Does anyone else remember when the comments for this site weren't just full of hate and bitchiness? I mean, shit…

    And as a side note I espouse the humility and patience and kindness that Randi does: for those who are willing to learn, who wish to know the truth, who have been lead astray, I will spend every moment I can in trying to help them out.

    But Randi and I also share nothing but visceral hatred for purveyors of 'bullshit'. We both hate those that deceive people into a false sense of the world. There is nothing to like about the fact that someone could make a living by selling people homeopathic remedies or palm reading sessions. There is nothing respectable about psychics or mediums. And there is no reason to be kind or humble or patient with faith healers.

    I'm glad you like the Amazing Randi, but did you really need to be such a bitch about it?

  • Corinna

    Barry, you are a performance artist working in the medium of irony.

  • wolf: beta

    Corinna you seem like the kind of person who would have been really fond of saying “I am rubber and you are glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you” as a child. Let me guess, for your next act your going to claim Mr. Belmont is from Castlevania?

    The trolls just flock to this site don't they?

  • Corinna

    Mr. Belmont IS from Castlevania, and for your information I still use that line about rubber, glue, etc.

    Barry doesn't seem to understand Randi, for if he did he would know how much compassion he has for people who suffer from the delusion that they have psychic abilities, and how much he wants to protect people from the exploitive antics of people like Sylvia Browne. If you read his blog, or listen to his videos, it's very clear that “visceral hatred” is the furthest thing from his mind.

    Barry, you are NOT humble or patient, especially not in the model of Randi, and if you believe you are then you are suffering from your own type of delusion.

    Also, wolf: beta, there is an (unclever) framing game where if you accuse someone of something (U R A TROLL!!!?!) then the person accused is placed at a disadvantage. I am calling you on this game: a troll is someone who has the intent of simply creating a reaction. That is not what I am doing at all. My words are sincere: I really would like Barry to be more like Randi, and I am genuinely glad he sees Randi as a role-model. Barry is an outspoken advocate of liberty, but I fear that his approach does more harm than good, and that if he were to be more like Randi that he could be much more effective in propagating his message. Of course, as long as he wrongly believes that his acts in any way resemble Randi's, then it really does no good anyway.

  • http://unrforliberty.com Barry Belmont

    I always try to hold out hope for you VizzleOops kids, but, wow…

    It is quite clear that you have not read Randi's books (The Truth About Uri Gellar, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam) where his hatred for irrationality, frauds, cheats, pseudoscience, and 'bullshit' of all sorts is quite eloquently shown. He is not subtle about it.

    In fact, his hate is my hate: we don't hate those that fall victims to irrational beliefs, rather we hate those that know better and yet use these beliefs to exploit others. I don't hate Christians for being Christians, for instance, rather I would hate a particularly powerful one that prevented stem-cell research for a false belief about the world.

    Thus, he (and I) quite easily “hate” a person like Sylvia Browne who is exploiting innocent people who were unfortunate enough to be roped in by a master con(wo)man.

    So just to be clear, Mr. Randi is a nice person, no doubt about it, he's got a wonderful heart. But it does not extend to Sylvia Browne, John Edward, James van Praagh, Peter Popoff, Uri Gellar…at that point it is replaced with, yes, visceral hatred. As well it should be. We should not at all be happy with the fact that Peter Popoff is telling people to throw away their medicines and pray to God for a miracle: it is despicable and it should be recognized as such.

    Corinna, as we have never met, I'll thank you to hold off your opinion of me til you've got your facts straight. You've obviously never seen me work with children, nor conduct laboratory research, nor wait for a bus: you know nothing of my patience. And as for humility, I've got it in spades in the areas I need it: I don't know everything there is to know about the world, fluid mechanics, dynamics, Chinese philosophy, music theory, computer programming, accounting, seventeenth century art, soft drink manufacturing, the history of mathematics, superstring theory, the socioeconomic crises of Italy, Lewis and Clark, World War II, Allen Ginsberg, the early theological hermeneutics of the Gnostics, and on and on and on and on. There are whole libraries of information of which I will not posses.

    In fact if we're going shear numbers and proportions, then to a large degree of significance it can rightly be said that I know absolutely nothing. But what I do claim to know, I know to a fair degree of certainty because I have evidence and reasoning to support me. Thus I can claim that evolution explains A, B, C and there's a good chance I'm right about it. In fact, I wouldn't be saying it, if I wasn't mostly sure that I was right. Granted that at any moment I could be completely 100%. I know this is true. It is why I have no problem changing my mind if sufficient evidence is present to convince me. I don't care a wit about the beliefs I possess, only that they correspond to the world.

    So when you speak of my “approach do[ing] more harm than good”…it's practically an irrelevant objection. We're not running a PR campaign over here: we're trying to map out of the truth and falsity of our claims as best we can. How we say the truth doesn't, for a moment, change its truth or falsity. I could whisper death threats and scream praise and it wouldn't change the meaning of the words. It should be what I believe that matters.

    This same critique has been launched by Graciwacy and the Thornster, so I think it's worth noting what my precise beliefs are:

    + I believe there is such a thing as human well-being and that there are definite ways to increase or decrease it.

    + I believe we should act such that our actions produce a general increase in human well-being.

    + I do not believe there is only one way to achieve this goal (though some seem to think I do).

    + I believe that among the most parsimonious ways to attain this end is to increase the overall liberty of everybody. In other words, I feel that “doing whatever you want so long as it doesn't adversely affect others” is a good rule-of-thumb way to approach the world.

    + I believe we should rely on reason and evidence to inform our worldview above all else. In other words, dogmatism is probably not the way to go.

    I also think that the non-aggression axiom and the sovereignty of the individual are good ways to promote the liberty of all. I apply those principles as well as all of the above others, and I arrive at my opinions, modifying them when an argument persuades or abandoning altogether if the evidence does not bare out my predictions.

    I have to say, I'm probably more in line with Richard Dawkins on this point, as many of the same criticisms have been launched at him. Many have claimed that he (and Hitchens and Dennett and Harris) are all too “aggressive” in the claims they make…yet a simple retort is “Yes, but is what I say true?” We must all be compelled by solid evidence and good reasoning.

    Even assholes can be right.

  • Shane

    But few like listening to assholes, even if they are right.

    For example, telling Gracie she sucks at life (I think I'm paraphrasing accurately enough) probably won't lead to her accepting your criticisms of her world view. However, I'm sure you know that and are wholly unconcerned with it.

    So, generally if you don't want to try and phrase a critique in such a way that it might lead to acknowledgement, and thereby recognize the existence of the idiosyncrasies of the individual, you'd probably be better of talking at a wall.

  • Keabag

    Man that guy has a huge head. I mean maybe its just cause his pants are pulled up too high, but what a magnificently large noggin he's got there.

    Oh, and I read the comments, and, Barry, while I do feel a sense of your frustration at the shit-slinging people do on here, I would never in the world compare you to Dawkins, Dennett or Harris. Those three are maybe the most mild-mannered people I've ever seen-I mean did you see Dawkins debate Wendy Wright? He may be the most patient person ever.

    Maybe you could be Hitchens if you calm down a bit.

    That said, the video is worthwhile.

  • Dfgdfgdg

    Big people talk about ideas, small people talk about people.

blog comments powered by Disqus