delving into the psychology and philosophy of Skepticism
In this article I plan on covering the psychological reasons - down to the roots - why nay-sayers are so adamant to doubt and point out the more eccentric thinkers and the pathology one has to do so. I will also gloss over categories of; skepticism, skeptic philosophy and why some skepticism is necessary.
First let me cover the definition of skepticism. Skepticism is generally any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts; or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere. Now, in order to further tackle the psychology behind skepticism I think it would be best to put up subcategories in the form of ancient Greek philosophy - as I believe they categorized their differing paradigms quite elegantly. I will list them below from most to least skeptical.
NOTE: As you will notice, not much has changed between today and ancient Greece in regards to the wars that are waged amid the different groups of scholars and theorists. I will also state that I am only going to cover the fundamental basics in the core reasoning of each philosophy - there is a lot more behind the paradigms listed below and I encourage others to learn more about the philosophical schools since they are the basic foundations of reasoning today.
1. Pyrrhonism: Was a school of skepticism founded by Aenesidemus in the first century B.C. and was named after the philosopher Pyrrho. Pyrrhonism is based on the belief that nothing can be known for certain and gaining absolute truth or absolute knowledge is not possible to attain (in the modern day we have replaced this with Fallibilism). It is the held belief of the Pyrrhonists that the human senses can be easily fooled and our reasoning is reliant on our observations of the external world, thus nothing can be trusted as absolute truth (they are on the fence about everything, but do not outright deny possibilities). The Pyrrhonists often ridiculed the Stoics for their opposing beliefs.
2. Epicurean epistemology: Is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus who was an atomic materialist. The Epicureans basically believe in the same doctrines that where laid out by Empiricists, but in a very materialistic view (ruling out any supernatural explanations). Some proponents of this are easily led to disprove any sort of supernatural explanation to the point of prematurely accepting anything else that seems like a reasonable explanation at the time, simply for the sake of ruling out or explaining away any room for a supernatural conclusion. This is what I believe is the realm of the big S-skeptic.
The psychologies behind those who trip into the pitfalls of the big S-skeptic spectrum are probably victims of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a state of conflict and discomfort that occurs when an individual's current beliefs or assumptions are challenged or contradicted by new evidence. The individual usually seeks relieving the discomfort by various means. These include, but are not limited to; denying the existence or importance of the argument, reconciling the difference, alerting one of the dissident elements or demanding more and more evidence and information.
An example of this comes into play when a big S-skeptic is faced with evidence of various anomalistic phenomena and say that the evidence is; not enough or the evidence is not relevant, redundant, or will come up with another explanation that is not logical or the explanation they put forward is equally considered 'fringe' by the scientific community as the explanation which was first proposed. The term was coined by Leon Festinger - an American psychologist - in his book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford University Press, 1957). Sound familiar?
3. Empiricism: The belief that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience and evidence. It is the fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, emphasizing the role of experience and evidence - in the formation of ideas - over the notion of innate ideas or traditions. Empiricism is the main component that scientists say they follow today. Unfortunately I believe a more epicurean approach has been adopted by the scientific community - unbeknownst to themselves.
4. Stoicism: Is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno in the early third century B.C. The Stoics believed strongly in ethics as the main focus of human knowledge. In the broader scope of Stoicism they held a unified account of the world based on logic, non-dualistic physics and naturalistic ethics. They also propounded that knowledge can be attained through the sole use of reason alone, however one must be completely free from their emotions when coming to a theory or hypotheses in order to maintain an unbiased conclusion (a kind of opposite approach from Empiricism). According to the Stoics, the senses constantly receive pulsations that pass from objects throught the senses to the mind, where they leave an impression on the imagination.
5. Dogmatism: Is a set of principles laid down by an authority as absolute truth. It is part of the primary basis of an ideology, nationalism or belief system. The doctrines that are laid down by the authority cannot be changed or discarded without affecting the very system's paradigm or the ideology itself. I think that this line of thought branches into another realm of the big S-skeptic, where the dogma is the sole belief that the scientific method is the only means by which one can attain absolute knowledge and any supernatural explanation is not reasonable.
I must state that I am not trying to put down skepticism, but rather that skepticism is necessary when it is balanced properly with logic and done in an unbiased fashion. Skepticism was born in the age of ancient Greek philosophy with the purpose of encouraging philosophers to provide evidence for their claims. There was a time in Greece when philosophy became somewhat lazy in regards to providing evidence and coming up with alternative theories that strayed from the main paradigm of philosophy at the time. It is around that time that skepticism was created and pushed philosophers onward to form new ideas and other schools of thought. It is my conclusion that skepticism does have its role to play when it is done in a respectful and open-minded manner.