Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Skeptic's Way


By Michael S. Russo
 
I’ve been teaching philosophy now for over 20 years, and it always amazes me at how gullible students are.  Every year when teaching my philosophy of Leadership course, I come in the first class and inform the students—in a very bad Irish brogue—that I am Fr. Liam McCarthy from County Gallway in Ireland.   I then go on with the prepared script:
 
“Dr. Russo, I’m afraid, has been deemed ill-suited to teach this class and I’ve been asked to take his place.  What I plan to do is examine the leadership styles of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, his blessed Mother Mary, and the saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church, including, but not limited to Saints Perpetua and Felicity, St. Odo of Cluny, and, of course, the blessed Barengarius of Tours.  Our text will be the Bible, which I plan to teach to you in the original Greek.  Many of you, I fear, will not do well in this course, because you are weak of mind and prone to the frailties of the flesh.  I want you to know that I have no problem failing every one of you, if you fail to meet my exacting standards.  Does anyone have any questions?  Good.  Then let’s begin our class with a prayer taken from the Catholic rite of the dead.”
 
I say all this with a perfectly straight face, while at the same time trying to the best of my ability to maintain something like a Barry Fitzgerald-style brogue from The Quiet Man.  It’s a ludicrous performance, and no one with any sense at all could possibly believe that Fr. McCarthy could be real.  But the students all do.  And when I can no longer sustain my performance, break out in laughter, and inform them that they’ve been had, most of my freshmen still don’t know how to react:  They sit paralyzed for some time, trying to figure out how they could have believed something so patently absurd to be true.
 
I know what you’re thinking: how stupid can these freshmen be?  But they’re not stupid at all.  In fact, only honors-level students take my leadership class.   And I would bet that, if you were in this class, you would buy into the reality of Fr. McCarthy, even with his abysmal brogue and his absurd 1950s Catholic worldview.   You would accept that Fr. McCarthy is for real, because, like most human beings, you’ve been trained to accept many things on faith that you have no real evidence for at all.  
 
For instance,
 
  • you believe that you were born in a certain place at a certain time to certain parents. 
  • you believe that the world you experience with your senses exists as you perceive it.
  • you believe that this planet that we are on is part of a larger universe that is very, very large and contains many other solar systems.
  • you believe in God and that when you die your personal identity will live on in some form.
  • you believe that when you look into the mirror every morning that the person you see staring back at you is the real you.

Unlike the reality of Father McCarthy, these are all somewhat plausible beliefs, to be sure.  You’ve probably embraced many of these beliefs most of your life and people that you trust and love undoubtedly hold to them as “gospel truth.”  But how do we really know that any of these so-called “truths” are actually true at all? 
 
Mind Games
 
Let’s play a few mind games.  For these games to work, you’ll have to put aside all the beliefs about your life that you have taken for granted are true.
 
We can start with your experience of reading this very text.  Your assumption, I’m sure, is that you, __________________ (fill in your name), are sitting down in front of your computer reading the words that appear on the screen.  But can you really be certain that this is what you are actually doing?  Haven’t you had the experience of thinking that you were enmeshed in some activity—hanging out with your friends, visiting a strange, exotic place, making love to a desirable partner, only to wake up and discover that everything you thought was real was actually nothing more than a dream?  But while you were dreaming, the dream seemed totally and completely real to you, didn’t it?  Well, how do you know that something similar is not going on right now?  Perhaps instead of reading this text on your computer, you are, in fact, in deep REM sleep, dreaming about reading this text.  Can you really be 100% certain that this is not the case (remember, while you are in a dream, everything seems completely real to you)?
 
Let’s try another mind game, just for fun.  Once again, you are reading this text, imagining that what you are experiencing is real.  But I’m here to tell you that the you that you think is you is not really you, and the world that you think is really real is not real at all.  You are actually a being of a much more highly evolved species than homo sapiens (You have a body only about 4 feet tall, four fingers on each hand, a huge cranium to support your impressive brain, and no icky genitalia, since reproduction of your species is done purely through mental contact).  Every 150 years members of your species go into a coma-like state, called “The Phase”  in order to regenerate, and remain in this state for about five years.  During that time, it’s not uncommon for beings like yourself to imagine themselves as completely different sorts of creatures on strange new worlds.  For example, while you are in your coma-like state, you’ve imagined yourself as _______________ (fill in your name) living in a place called ___________ (fill in your town and country), on a planet called Earth, in a period described as the early 21st century.  You’ve even created a bizarre physical form for yourself that is totally unlike the “real” form that you actually possess (pubic hair…yuck!).  The further along you are in The Phase, the more elaborate the dream becomes until you no longer even begin to question that it’s real.  You establish relationships, develop a career, beget children, etc.  But—and here’s the kicker—you are now approaching the end of your five year sleep cycle and very soon will be ripped from the fantasy reality that your mind has created.  When that happens, everything you experience in that dream-like state will become nothing more than a vague memory that you will eventually forget completely as you resume your “real” life. 
 
I know that you are probably thinking that both scenarios that I’ve described are completely implausible.  You know exactly who you are, and you know damn well that what you are experiencing at this very moment is precisely what it appears to be.   But can you really be certain that is the case?  In fact, the “certainty” that you possess about just about every aspect of your life is actually more like a belief or conviction—something that ultimately can’t be proven or disproven.  You could, in fact, be sleeping or you could be an alien creature in comma-like state.  How could you ever prove that you’re not?
 
The Way of the Skeptic
 
What’s the point of all this, you’re probably asking by now?  The point is to set you on a path that some philosophers have called the ultimate road to self-realization.  It’s called the path of skepticism, and its practitioners—called, not surprisingly, skeptics—argue that true liberation comes from embracing the uncertainty inherent in human life.  Dubito”—I doubt—is the motto of all skeptics, and a truly radical skeptic doubts every aspect of his experience. 
 
The way of the skeptic is the opposite of that of the dogmatist.  Dogmatists believe they have certain knowledge about the nature of reality, the right way to live, how to organize society, etc.  Their supposed certainty leads to conflict with other dogmatists who also believe that they hold the truth. Aggression, violence, war, and genocide are the end results of embracing a philosophy that holds that one’s own truth is absolute and everything else is error, lies, and heresy.
 
The skeptic, in rejecting the idea of universal or transcendent truth, avoids the tension and conflict that the dogmatist inevitably experiences when his views run counter to the views of others.  When the skeptic encounters someone with an alternative perspective on reality, he simply acknowledges the beliefs of the other and moves on humbly and graciously. He doesn’t get angry or frustrated, because he has no personal stake in the debates dogmatists love to have among themselves.
 
The total suspension of judgment that the skeptic has about what is true or false leads to a kind of inner peace that dogmatist can never possess.  Things may “appear” or “seem” to be true to the skeptic, but when he’s shown that this is not the case, there’s no psychic rupture that occurs within him.  His beliefs are recognized to be beliefs, and nothing more, and when new beliefs come along that are superior to the ones he’s previously held, he’s capable of embracing them with a cognitive flexibility that the dogmatist could never even imagine.
 
Not convinced?  Try suspending judgment for just a week on matters that you’ve always assumed to be true.  For just a week, instead of reacting dogmatically when your beliefs encounter opposition, make an effort to remain open to conflicting viewpoints.  You just might find that your life has become much more pleasant by giving up some of your certainty about the truth…and you also might find that the world around you becomes a much nicer place as a result.

___________________


Dr. Michael S. Russo is a Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at Molloy College in New York, the manager of The Sophia Project, an online repository of educational resources in Philosophy, and the author of That's Right: An Introduction to Ethical Theory.  He can be reached at mrusso@molloy.edu.


42 comments:

  1. I think everyone can agree that they have woke up from a dream and thought that that dream was reality. I do it all the time. I also sit there and wonder is the life i'm living reality or just another dream that i'm living that feels real. I think the mind is an amazing thing, and the things we can think and come up with are amazing. I as well always question if what we feel is actually what we are feeling, or if what we see is actually real. Its hard to tell whats real and fake sometimes, and of course you can have proff that its physically there but a part of me always wonders if what I see is what the person next to me is seeing as well.

    I guess I can call myself a skeptic to an extent. I was always told what is really and fake. I was always told the beliefs I should follow and how I should follow them. However not everyone follows the same beliefs, so who is to say what I follow is correct. I think you need to have an open mind going through life. Not everything we see or are told is truthful, there could be many truths for a situation but because of how we are brought up we can only see and agree on one truth. Recently more then ever it has been bothering when people only see their truths and never look at someone else point of view. I especially see this in the older generation. This generation in my opinion is very judgmental. They judge people based on their skin color, religion, their way of life etc. Judging people and being close minded is just foolish and starts unnecessary problem. People need to let go of their judgements and be open to the different people around them. They need to question their beliefs and be willing to believe other beliefs as well. My generation is judgemental as well, whether it be based on clothing or appearance, type of music they listen to, their sexual orientation, we all judge its part of human nature. I agree though that if you let go of these judgements and open your mind and have a more wordly view on life then you will form an inner peace.

    -Jessica

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  2. Aside from agreeing with the position of the professor of the class in order to obtain brownie points, I agree with this position in general.

    This is such a true world view, because at the end of the day what is life? We live on a world called earth, that we ourselves don't really know anything about. There are so many truths of the world that may have never yet been revealed. Maybe where we live, and everything we've learned to know is all this world has to offer. OR maybe, there is entirely another set of truths that we as humans have not yet been made aware of.

    I always find myself questioning, what is out there that we've never learned throughout the process of growing up. Especially all the material that we've learned throughout the system of state education and mandated subjects and information. At such that young age, we never had the choice to learn what we wanted to learn, instead we had certain topics force fed down our throats. Maybe it was because, we as children don't know what's best for us, and it was an attempt by society developing us for humanity with necessary areas of study. Or maybe it was an attempt to have everyone focus our intelligence on something else, and maybe dull out our curiosity of other worldly possibilities.

    Realistically, I'm not even sure if this is relevant to the essay question. However this is my interpretation on the skeptics world view. Someone who questions the world around us for what it is, and how did we get here. How do people mindlessly go through life without asking questions of how civilization advanced to where it is today? I know for damn sure that the curiosity of the unknown intrigues me to an extent. I think thats the path that the philosophers chose, in their given time era. They questioned everything, especially the unknown, for the pursuit of knowledge, and most importantly the pursuit of wisdom.

    Kris

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  3. As I read this blog, I put myself in the scenarios that were given and I found that any of those could be true. Who is to say that I am not a different life form, who is living in a fantasy world? Who is to say this isn’t my dream, and I am not asleep? This is not the first time I have thought like this. I find myself questioning the reality of things on a regular basis; because in actuality, who is to prove any of this is real? If they try, I can argue that I am dreaming and they are attempting to prove this in my dream. I may end up in a mental institution, but who’s to say that isn’t just a twist in this dream? This all circles back to our beliefs as humans, and our faith and hope that there is more to life than what meets the eye.

    I have never been a very religious person. I am more spiritual than anything else and I feel that being in this mental state allows me to be open to others opinions and oppositions of my beliefs and of me. I agree with the position being stated in this blog. To let go of judgments, is to let go of your naiveness and let in other ways of thinking. In media and society today, judgment surrounds us and it is all we know. We see it in ads, commercials, and even in religion. It has become a model for generations to follow, but is it the right way to be teaching new generations? They will grow up thinking that other ways of doing things are “wrong”. Other cultures aren’t up to our standards because they do not live a certain way or praise a certain God. Who is to say which God one should praise, or if one should praise one at all? It is all one’s perspective on life, and how that person perceives others.

    It is fine for someone to feel that their beliefs are the truth, but it is arrogant to feel that those beliefs are the only truth. To be able to accept and understand other’s beliefs, and be open to learning from those beliefs is when you are of sound mind. You are not judging, but accepting. This to me is when you truly can accept your own beliefs as well. We should not judge others beliefs or thoughts. We are here to gain knowledge from one another; not reject it because it is different.

    - Melissa

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  4. This is possibly the most peaceful and most sensible argument I’ve heard when referencing philosophical arguments. It’s not just an argument but a way of life; and it makes perfect sense (to me) as I (without labeling/realizing what I was doing) try and live my life as closely as possible.

    This idea is peaceful in the sense that it allows one to keep their beliefs while allowing others to maintain their differing views as well. The kicker here is that no one gets upset or becomes a jerk, ergo, no anger or bitterness is exchanged. Huh!

    “Cognitive flexibility,” a phrase termed in the second to last paragraph of “The Skeptic’s Way,” was the driving notion for me. It’s so simple and profound yet so unpracticed that I literally stopped reading and sat back in my chair. You mean, it’s really okay to let others believe what they want to without trying to coerce them into your side of the ring? You don’t HAVE to become Mr. Hyde when someone’s beliefs aren’t YOURS? Yes, that’s why they’re called beliefs!

    It’s so simple yet so many of “us” are unwilling to accept that notion. For if we were to accept it, well, that would mean we could be wrong and if we’re wrong we could have been wrong for most of our lives and if this is the case… what have we been doing for all of these years? Yikes, right? Too much pride stands in the way of acceptance. If we could relax and embrace this cognitive flexibility there would be a lot less stress and anger (and/or murders and protests etc… too).

    As I reflect on the past, (before I had adapted my spiritualistic lifestyle), and think about all of the times that I had become angry because I had acted like one of those dogmatic, there’s only my way, people I see now how I could have prevented all of those ill feelings. Accepting all beliefs, including my own, as simply beliefs I could’ve bypassed unnecessary stress and anger. I realize that by trying to convince someone of something they don’t believe in was much more of a hassle for me than it was for them especially because my anger would linger and they could just carry on. I felt burned. I was so stubborn (and silly). I enjoy hearing other’s views now, and although I still find myself bubbling up from time to time or catching myself from past behaviors, it’s become much easier, and A LOT more peaceful to come from a more accepting and understanding place; to just relax, listen, smile, and say, “tell me more.”

    Jackie



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  5. It is very hard for an individual to accept things that they know nothing about. We known that we are human, made of flesh and blood, we have been told that there is a Universe in which we live, we live on Planet earth and have family members and friends. We believe what we can see, measure and feel. I personally do not like to think about the things that are unknown or the "what ifs" or "possibly's". I do not believe in anything other than what I know to be true. I do not believe I am another species or a higher being. I believe I am my experiences, my morals and beliefs. I do not believe my whole life has been a dream or anything of the sort. I personally do not believe in god or heaven or an after life. I am not sure if I believe in a "higher being" or not but I do believe in myself because I know I am real and the things I have accomplished in my life, the experiences in my life positive and negative are all consequences of decisions I have made.

    As a young girl I thought about heaven, hell, the Universe, God, and all thins unknown, I would ask my mother questions that she didn't know how to answer and I would make myself apprehensive and anxiety ridden thinking about these things that no one had answers to. Well, I taught myself how to control these thoughts and not allow them to over whelm me. I know what makes me happy and what makes me unhappy. I know what I believe in and what I do not believe in. I sometimes question these topics still but then i remind myself of the things I have experienced, people I have met, accomplishments and obstacles and I know all of that is real, and I am no longer apprehensive. I do believe that as a society we are gullible because we have been taught to believe everything we are told, this I believe to be true but I do not believe that as a society if we were more skeptical we would be happier and lead more pleasant lives. No, I do not think anything is certain, however I do believe we live our lives in a way that is most pleasant to each and everyone of us individually.

    -- Caitlin G

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  6. Although I've only been alive for 18 years, I thought by this time in my life I would of had the meaning of life, relationships and happiness almost figured out. As a child, I could remember
    older adults saying, "Don't worry about getting older, you'll marry a good looking man, have just about 2 1/2 kids by the time your 28 and work in a job for 30 years then retire to become a grandmother IF your lucky enough". I can remember looking at this person and thinking, "what a miserable life to have".

    There are sometimes in my life where I wish there was an alternative universe, that this "thing" we call life isn't all there's too it. Human beings strive to be successful or famous or live in a big fancy house-I wont lie, I wished all the same things until I started to question, what is the point of it all? Eventually,all the quests we seek in our life will ultimately terminate when our time on earth has run out. Most people wont remember the accomplishments or adversities we dealt with on a daily basis just to assimilate with societies outrageous expectations of what a "good" life is.

    Although I still have many things to figure out within my life, I'm certain about one thing- people take life too seriously. I always admired the quote, "Don't take life too seriously because no one makes it out alive anyway", this is not the same concept as the overly clichéd term YOLO but instead a reminder to people who live the same boring lives everyday to expand out of your pathetic box. Take risks, think crazy things because who even knows If they're real or not, think your an alien for a day or your living in an opaque dream because sometimes its better to run free from the herd then to just be another cow.

    After 18 years of life, I'm not a dogmatist of anything. I'm sure cavemen, who lived about 65 million years ago never thought humans could create a transportation device that has four wheels and an engine or an object that converts your voice into an electrical signal, which is then transmitted via radio waves all over the world was created just to have a simple phone call with someone else. If cavemen were able to be reincarnated to live in the 21st century, I'm sure they would think they're living In an euphoric dream state. And as I'm writing this, I can only imagine what life will be like in another 65 million years-maybe we'll become giant sloths. I'm not really sure but I don't underestimate nor question the infinite possibilities of this thing called "life" or anything else beyond it.

    Ashley P

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  7. Before reading this article, I never considered the effects of leading either an extremely dogmatic or radically skeptic lifestyle. While dogmatists can never accept change in a belief, skeptics are not rattled by change in what is believed to be “true” because they are complacent with whatever may be. So is being a skeptic bad or good? Reading this almost gave me an out of body experience, the ability to question, “what if all of this was a dream? What if I woke up at any time in a completely different world?” I’ve had dreams so vivid that I would wake up the next morning completely confused, or even scared depending on the dream. I think some humans accept the truth because it is the easiest thing to do. The best thing we can do as humans in order to not become robots is question what others believe to be true.
    Perhaps there is a healthy balance of being a skeptic. Personally, I don’t need to see something to believe it. For example being a Roman Catholic, I believe in God and his son Jesus Christ. However, I do not put my beliefs on others who don’t choose to believe in them. I think it is healthy to explore other people’s views and understand them. Putting myself in the two situations from the article, I was able to explore the “what if’s” in life. It’s important that we do not grow satisfied in our way of life so that we can better ourselves. Exploring other individuals’ views and being skeptical of some things we hear is healthy. After all, if we believe everything we hear, we become robots with no voice and none of our own beliefs. Skepticism can be healthy to an extent to be sure we as humans do not grow complacent in our ideas and explore others to expand our thoughts and beliefs.

    Elizabeth P

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  8. Before reading this article, I never really considered having the mindset of skeptic or dogmatist or even following their lifestyle. If this is the way we are supposed to be, then why are we brought up otherwise? Your Fr. Liam McCarthy act works every year and will continue to work because we are a society that values trust. We are brought up to trust what people in high authority say is right and not question it. So, when a new professor comes in and tells us that he will now be taking over, we are in a sense trained to not question it.

    Being Catholic, like so many others, I believe in God and his son Jesus Christ. Catholics, believe the word of the bible is true and don’t question it. I don’t need to see it to believe it’s true. Even though I have these beliefs, it doesn't mean I’m not open to hear other people’s views. Sometimes it’s good to hear a different opinion because it will get you thinking if what you’re saying is true.
    Being completely skeptical and questioning everything I believe is not the way one should live. I believe that we should find a balance in which we believe something’s and question others. Though, what we decide to question is up to the person.

    Ryan B.

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  9. Interesting, I like what you are getting at. Kind of like we are in the Matrix; obviously it's all-hard to believe that we could be aliens in a deep sleep or even in my own dream. However, anything is possible, I could be the only real person on this planet and you are all just figments of my imagination. I've never been one to be a skeptic though; I do have my own opinions and beliefs, obviously, but I tend to keep them to myself. Everyone’s opinion if backed up with a reasonable story or evidence, is valid.

    When you walked in pretending to be, Fr. Liam McCarthy, I was completely thrown. I too was ashamed to be so gullible along with the rest of my class mates. However, I got to thinking, I did nothing to help my chances of not being gullible; I didn't do any background research on you, nor did I even care to check what teacher I had for my Leadership Philosophy class. With all that said of course I should have been ashamed and I am sure most of my classmates were in the same situation. I then conclude that, we as students actually don't know, nor prepare for what we should expect in classes from the beginning, and expect our teachers to hold our hands and tell us how it really is.

    Bravo for allowing us to realize the rut we are in when we come out of high school.

    ~Travis L.

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  10. I have never considered becoming a skeptic prior to reading this article. I have been brought up trusting individuals for their word. Unless I see a flaw in their reasoning and/or evidence, I do not question said individual's word. It is possible that we are a 'highly evolved species than homo sapiens,' as mentioned in the article, but I am not aware of any evidence that supports this statement- so I continue to believe that I am a homo sapien not in a coma-like state, called "The Phase" for five or so years. I am not one that needs to physically see evidence to believe something. However, I am glad to have read this article in order to understand a point of view that is different than mine.
    When you walked into the classroom and introduced yourself as Father Liam McCarthy, I believed you. It is possible that a professor can be deemed ill-suited to teach a class so that a replacement would have to take his or her position. The only evidence that did not line up to me is that my schedule said otherwise- causing me to question a little, but not enough for me to lose my trust in you. I am highly gullible and perhaps I can stop this trait from further developing if I become a bit of a skeptic. Perhaps skepticism can help individuals expand their minds and views.

    Kelly S.

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  11. We are told right out of the womb what life is about and how we should live it. We never once question the typical daily expectations- get an education, become a dedicated employee, fall in love, and raise children, all while attending church every Sunday, dedicating our time and money to those less fortunate and enjoying the beautiful nature God has put forth to us. We all can categorize ourselves as dogmatist- as we don't doubt anything that is told to us. In this sense, we may never truly realize what can and will make us happy or how we should truly live in order to fulfill our life and our goals. As a very judgmental world, we only care about what others think of us and what we are doing. We never do things for ourselves. As we continue the next important chapter in our life, we can all reflect on the brilliant words you have written to us as we try to decide what will make us happy in the next four years.
    As for Father Liam McCarthy- sorry Mike, but Sister Judy gave it away! Maybe next year you should keep Father on the DL, and guaranteed you will have a classroom of 15 intelligent students in hysterical tears as you conclude the final words of your peculiar speech!
    -Chelsea Brandimarte

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  12. Skepticism is something that I never really considered. I never truly second guessed the basic information that was fed to me as I was growing up. After reading this, skepticism will certainly become a larger part of my life. I am not saying that I am second guessing such basic information as my name, age, gender, and race. However, skepticism can be used in the real world to help solve problems that plague America today. For example, in a business sense, a skeptic would always second guess and try to change traditional business practices for the better.
    On the contrary, an excess of skepticism could be bad. Too much skepticism could lead to a tremendous amount of change even when change is not needed. Skepticism, like anything, needs to be done in moderation. Skepticism can be a valuable tool if you use it in the correct way.
    By the way, I quietly saw right through Father McCarthy.
    -Shawn Klotsche

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  13. This article gave me a new perspective about how we view the world. We may view the world through only one lens, but as this article shows there are millions of different lens to view the world. Each lens presents the world in a new light. As we go through life, we discover new lens everyday. We all accept certain truths of the world to keep us grounded to keep us sane. But we accept these truths without every knowing how they came to be. I look forward to taking this class to learning what truly makes a leader and evaluate the different ways to view the world.
    -Stephen Rochford

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  14. I have always been a gullible person. I usually tend to fall for every gag or joke in the book before I realize how absurd it really is. Often, I jerk myself awake in the middle of the night after dreaming that I fell. Although this is different than believing that my entire life is just the result of being in a futuristic alien coma, both scenarios have caused me to view life in a different perspective.
    Attending Catholic school for the entirety of my life, I was taught about the existence of one true God with absolute power Who created the universe. As I grew, I began to accept this truth because it is what I believe, rather than because it was what was taught to me. Many are skeptical of this because they are not able to see or touch God. Although there is no proof of His existence, no one can disprove it either.
    This article changed my way of viewing life and truths that I have accepted for years.
    Catherine K.

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  15. I believe reading this article has opened my eyes to new points of view in toady's world, however I still believe I am a skeptic. In order for me to believe something I need true scientific fact in order to prove a point. Many people in this world believe anything they hear and what kind of country do we live in if people can be persuaded so easily? (Sorry Catherine I just saw your post above mine) I always believed in questioning everything because if you can question it, you might find out that what information you're being fed, is not entirely valid.

    However, if a person questions everything, society may breakdown based on the fact that no one will trust anyone and people will be overcome with fear and paranoia. There should be a slight balance between questioning information and trusting information from reliable sources.

    As for Fr. McCarthy, I'm sorry for not believing in him. Sister Judy may have given me the initial push I needed to question his existence.

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  16. I would agree with the professor and I have been a skeptic ever since i was a child. Ever since I watched The Matrix and pondered the idea of the blue pill and the red pill. What if this is all fake? What if it's a dream? What if we are just a game, a pawn, to some higher beings? I have always tried to not have to concrete views, at least religiously speaking because I know that there are things,, such as this article, that can change my views in a second. And this has also lead me to question life. Why am I here? People say that everyone has a purpose, but how true could that be? Maybe we don't all have a purpose. I mean lets just say that we are higher beings in a coma? what is the point of this dream? nothing. Absolutely no point. You wake up after the 5 years and realize that you had 150 years of life before the coma. If anything it just confuses you rather than change you. But back to being a skeptic. As a skeptic its very easy to question the motives of those around you. Question the world around you. Being a skeptic is more than just a defense mechanism. It's a way to view life. You question everything and this can either hold you back or help you depending on how far you go with being skeptical and don't cross the line into a paranoid psychopath coming up with conspiracies 24/7.

    -Victor A.

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  17. Reading this article was very interesting, I have considered myself a skeptic for a majority of my life. I question everything. I don't always do it publicly but it's always a thought in my mind. What if none of this is real? It's impossible for us to know the answer but we have to believe that it is real.

    People are brought up to believe certain things and most of them are different beliefs from mine, now how can I tell someone that my views are right and theirs are wrong? The answer is I can't but there is a wrong and a right we just don't know which is which.

    I think I started to become more of a skeptic once i started my religious studies. I began to question everything from science to god himself. The science I had learned all my life was being questioned and the more I learned about religion the more skeptical I became. Once I started questioning religion and science the more I started questioning everything else.

    In response to Fr McCarthy I did not have any idea what was going on. I said to myself i don't know if I could take this accent all year. I have to admit I believed Fr McCarthy for a few seconds but I started questioning him as the speech went on.

    -Christian T

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  18. I’m not going to lie, when you first came into class Thursday I was really confused. Immediately the wheels in my head started turning, I needed to know who you were and what you were doing. While I knew Fr. McCarthy was certainly not taking over for Dr. Russo, because that would just be absurd, I needed to know what was going on. Luckily, a few students questioned the Fr. McCarthy act and my questions were answered.

    I am sure many other students in our class, and in years past, picked up on the fact that this was all an act pretty quickly but were too afraid to speak up. I think that just goes to show you how nervous and timid freshmen are.

    The mind game scenarios are totally absurd. I have no reason to question the fact that I am alive and experiencing my life as it happens, so I am not going to start questioning that now.

    While it is important to question things, it is not necessary to over question every statement someone makes. There is a great deal of uncertainty in this world, so it is a good idea to be certain about an endeavor before pursuing it. It is necessary to question someone so you have a better understanding of his or her perspective on the world, not to prove him or her wrong immediately.

    As a practicing Catholic, there are certain things that I hold true, such as the existence of God, Jesus, Mary, and all the angels and saints. I believe this because of my faith and reasoning that I have heard. That certainly does not mean I never have doubts; doubts about any aspect of your life can help you develop your perspective further and help you grow.

    Liz Camillery

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  19. I do not consider myself to be dogmatic, but I do not see myself as a skeptic either. I am merely a curious person who likes to question things to learn more. I differ from a skeptic in the sense that at some point I do stop questioning because my view is that once all logical points of doubt have been exhausted to keep questioning would be counterproductive. I know I could be wrong about anything at any given time and I am always open to debating an issue because even if I still feel I am right at the end, new perspectives could be introduced that get me to think differently. There are times when I question the very core of my beliefs, because I never want to become set in my ways I always want to keep growing as an intellectual human being. As I said before I feel there should be a point where I at least take a break from questioning one thing and move on, because if I am always questioning the foundation of my beliefs I can never build on them and progress because I am second-guessing the very foundation of them. So my view is to be open to the possibility of being wrong and being willing to question yourself, but you have to balance that with being confident in yourself and being able to defend your beliefs/perspective because if you’re skeptical of yourself others will likely be skeptical as well.

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  20. I personally would consider myself a skeptic. I do find myself questioning common belief and wondering what it would be like if none of this was real.

    In all honesty, I fell for the whole Fr. McCarthy prank. I sat down and said, “Mr. Russo isn’t teaching us this year? This is going to be the easiest A I ever got in a class!” When you fell out of character and told us it was fake, I thought to myself, “Why the hell is this crazy guy impersonating an Irish priest?” After reading this article I realized the whole purpose of the joke, and I think it sent a good message to all of us; don’t believe everything you hear or see.

    The scenario about the coma is actually a scenario I’ve wondered about in the past. I’ve thought to myself, “What if none of this is real and I’m just waiting to wake up?” Another scenario I’ve imagined is what if my whole life is being filmed and my whole life has been scripted?

    I found the article to be very informative and eye-opening. It has me questioning daily beliefs and stopping to think before I just accept things as fact.

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  21. Russo, THERE IS TRUTH and CERTAINITY....And that comes from the awful JUDGMENT of GOD ALMIGHTY, who HATES skeptics and cynics like you. BEWARE his WRATH!

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    1. you are the reason people look down upon religion.

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  22. when people are asked to question things that they know to be "certain" the almost immediate and generic response is to get upset and just stomp around going its true because it is, not having any physical proof or real true knowledge to back up their claim. For anyone in the world that has ever had an experience of deja vu, you understand the feeling of truly having no idea how or what the situation is. In those few seconds that you feel you have experienced in the past how can you be certain you haven't? the same can be said for anyone that has ever woken up in the middle of the night and needed a few moments to snap back into reality. I'm sure more people than not have felt a moment where what they are experiencing physically is not matching up to what they are experiencing mentally and vice versa. With the fact that the mind has no idea of its capabilities, what does that say for the rest of the universe. Philip Castrovinci

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  23. The only problem I have with this post is that there is an assumption made that all of us "young people" have the same dogmatic beliefs that shape our lives. I am of the minority who do not believe in all of the aforementioned beliefs that you listed, so from the beginning I was skeptical (pun intended). It made me question whether or not I would have fallen for your class trick. I'd like to think I would have walked out... Just because I go to a "Catholic" college does not mean I would blindly accept the Bible forced down my throat in every class.

    As for the mind games, fascinating stuff. I have found myself waking up from dreams so realistic that I was unsettled at the thought of possibly getting dream and reality confused at some point. Although that is not the point, for it was merely to demonstrate a point, it is very effective.

    I find myself afraid to take dogmatic stands every day. While some people call me "wishy-washy," I am just afraid of taking a stand that is too firm that it won't give me the ability to see the viewpoints of other people. I am always up for a debate or an argument, and would love to be proven wrong by a sound argument.

    I have always found myself drawn to the skeptics, and I'm looking forward to getting more deeply into their ways of finding happiness.

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  24. I really liked reading this post because it raises some thoughts that I have been pondering for a while, and I can see that there are many different perspectives of reality like what is real and what is truly real? I know that right now my physical body is sitting down in front of my computer reading this blog, but what about my spiritual state? Who is to say that that part of ourselves is in a state of REM. Topics like these have always been hard for me to talk about because I myself sometimes get confused on what reality truly is all about.

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  25. Dogmatist or skeptic, my personal opinion is rooted in the idea that I cannot merely accept information as true because I heard it from someone, or read it on the internet. Heavy cross examination is required to arrive at the true essence of something. By showing 50,000 things that something is not, it becomes much easier to conclude what it is. I believe the skeptics are to skeptic and almost involve themselves in circular arguments, or reductio ad absurdum. Where on the other hand you have the dogmatist who believe he/she has some innate universal knowledge that can be applied anywhere.

    Regarding Fr. Mccarthy, it’s not too far off for the students to believe something like that. Coming in as a freshmen, with no presupposed knowledge of what a Molloy class is like, they’re very well could be a devout catholic priest teaching a course straight from the bible. Fr. Mccarthy sounds a lot like Sister Bozak-Deleo. Not knowing Dr. Russo prior to the class would also give reason for someone to believe this act. Having taken more than half a semester of Happiness with him, I would know instantly that this was a job. The point I’m trying to make here is that past experience plays a major role in shaping your common, normative beliefs about life!

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  26. The entire first section, the mind games, makes it seen as if we live in a world similar to that of the Matrix movie. I don't really agree with that at all. I also don't really see myself as a skeptic. I have my own beliefs. I do not impose them on others but do share them. I also respect the beliefs of others even if I don't agree with them. However I would not just shrug my shoulders and agree with someone else just for the sake of agreeing.

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  27. This is a very difficult concept for me to grasp. I know what I know. I am a vessel ready to be filled with the "things" of the world that I do not know. If I were one of those freshman students in your leadership course, I would have without hesitation completely believed you to be Fr. McCarthy. As a nursing student I take information given to me at face value. Biological science is a very objective disciple. It's memorizing what this part of the body does, how it might interact with another part of the body, disease processes that could occur within a specific body part, etc. There's no two ways about it. It is through evidence based practice that we hold these truths. If I were to say that the primary function of my medulla oblongata were to control the movement of my left pinky toe; I would be the laughing-stock of the entire anatomy&physiology class. Changing the way I think about certain truths would not be beneficial, especially in the scope of my practice.
    But, I would be open to thinking about virtue and happiness in a different way. Just not the cold hard facts of the medical sciences.

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  28. As society I believe we should have more open minded to certain things, we shouldn't be as close minded because for one we would be in a closed bubble and wouldn't know what's in the outside world. We are gullible I believe to an extent. With the mind games, I've woken up to dreams that I have felt were real but I don't question the fact that I'm in a real state. I don't think I've ever questioned " is my life a dream and I'm just in a sleep " if I did I think I would go nuts. I wouldn't question that fact that I'm alive.

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  29. There has been a time where i thought to myself, "What if the life i am living right now is actually a dream and none of it is true?" I think the generation today believes in everything they hear and see because that's what we were all born into. We all have different beliefs and thinking about the two different scenarios makes you wonder what the truth really is. I think i can be skeptic at times when others present their view to me but i also withhold all judgments and move along with the beliefs i still have. I tend to be a curious person in general and always find myself asking a lot of question to know more about things and the question of “is this life real” always pops into my head. If it was all a dream I honestly don’t know how I would react to it.

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  30. I feel like I’m in between being a dogmatist and a skeptic. I have my own beliefs and I acknowledge the beliefs of others if they are different from mine, but its not like I’ll actually accept them and incorporate them into my own way of living because I might not necessarily agree with the belief itself, like with religion. The alien example creeped me out because it can be applied to many different situations and what I might believe in may actually not be true and will end up disturbing my whole way of living.

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  31. While I definitely believe myself to possess dogmatic views, I also feel that I possess some skeptic qualities as well. I was able to relate to this article in regards to reality, perception and dreams. I can remember so vividly always challenging what was going on around me. I guess I can come off a little crazy, but I had always wondered, “What if everything is not what it seems?” I often caught myself at a young age manifesting ideas like wondering if my life was really real. For some reason I was also fixed on the idea of, “What if somebody was reading a story about my life right now and what I perceive isn’t what it actually is? Am I really real?” Reading this article gave me a little comfort, knowing that I wasn’t just a crazy child and that there is actually a school of thought for these ideas.

    -Christina Restivo

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  32. I cannot say whether or not I am a skeptic or a dogmatist whole-heartedly. I do believe some of the things that I have always been taught were true through my religion. However, I do also question many of the things that I have been taught to be true. In response to the mind game if "this life is really real or not", maybe our lives are being watched by some other beings somewhere else, maybe we are dreaming all of this, maybe this is what happens when we die...we just go on living the same life over and over again without knowledge of our previous lives until we experience deja-vu and maybe that's a glimpse into our previous life, or maybe this is all real. As of now I can not say I know anything is true or false. I cannot say something happened for a definitive reason. No one can say that. You can believe something someone has "proven", but you might be wrong. They might be too. But who knows... So in response to the article, I am definitely questioning things that I have always been taught to believe and accept.

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  33. The two mind games were great examples of the overall theme of skepticism. It showed the reader that maybe what you think or belief is not the truth. It begins to explain there is no one universal truth to life or beliefs and I think if people thought like that more often and respected others peoples opinions it would cause much less stress and tension between two different people or sides. People should begin to just be able to take others "truths" and instead of getting angered by it or frustrated to just walk away with an understanding that there isn't one truth. I will begin to try and be more of skeptic and respect others people beliefs even if my belief is totally different.

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  34. It is definitely possible for these other realms to exist and no one really knows for sure if this life is real or not. I’ve had the occasional thought of this doubt of life being what it is but in the end, as a society, we believe what we feel. We all have this sense of trust in people. People are gullible. With the ideas of the mind games, they are really something to think about. Waking up from dreams that have felt so real really make you wonder why they felt so real. Being a skeptic I think could be dangerous also. Always doubting the truth of the world and your own existence puts you at this risk of becoming unhappy. Who wants to live in the constant mindset of always doubting your own existence? Questions about this topic are confusing because no one really does know the truth.
    Michelle Mase

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  35. I work in a hospital and i see people everyday walking around terrified of the Ebola outbreak. I ask these people do you think the media is just hyping this up or maybe its being publicized for politicians for the midterm elections coming up? I also raise the point that Kim Kardashian has been divorced more times than people died from Ebola in the United States. I believe we all should be skeptical and shouldn't be like sheep that are force feed information and buy in to it. If we are skeptical and have an open mind we can find real truth in the end. -Michael Jimenez

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  36. I totally agree in that people don't question their reality enough, I mean who knows? This could be the matrix, this could be Sword Art Online, caught in a virtual world emulating the 21st century. How would we ever know? That is the very beauty of existence and having human cognitive abilities, being able to perceive the world around us and having the knowledge to question it. How would we know if everyone experiences the world in the same way, if everyone has different features and bodies, how could we be certain that these other beings around us are real? As an Oculus dev, I am beginning to question our very reality more and more, as I see the opportunity and appeal to having a virtual reality open up that allows people to be whoever and whatever they want. I truly enjoy questioning everything, and I believe that I'm a skeptic myself, as I question both reality and every aspect of society, from the government to our very being, because who knows, nothing might be real, just, or true. :)

    -Mike Schultz

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  37. I was raised in an extremely Baptist house hold. To believe that his is a life that is given to s from the god almighty, and when the time comes that we will receive judgment. We are told this right from the womb that we are a child of god. That we should have our faith in the lord and not to question the word. Just know that the word of the lord is what you will follow for the rest of your life. When you look at I it almost as if you born into a huge cult that you cannot get out of. But as I grow up I begin to question whether or not if this life is really a life that is ours.
    This is where I believe where skepticism come into place towards the religious community. Where are the facts from these stories that shows that this is true? I believe that when you question not your belief it allows you to grow. How can you learn about you self when you just stick to one idea? You need to question, observe, and investigate your beliefs and everything around you in order to fully understand. Only a fool does not ask questions.
    -bianca

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  38. I completely agree with the professor that the when the skeptic, he simply acknowledges the beliefs of the other and moves on humbly and graciously. We do it all the time e.g. during watching a movie, while watching a movie we tend to put our-self in that position and think that what happening at the time of the moment in real. Things appear” or “seem” to be true to the skeptic. We some time cry and gets emotional when we see a sad scene .Once the movie end we get out of that mind zone real fast. We do not get be anger or frustrated afterwards. We know that what’s shown that this is not the case, there’s no psychic rupture that occurs within him. Meanwhile during movie we cheer up, when our hero to wins at the end of the movie .We all felt real happy after watching a good comedy movie. The total suspension of judgment that the skeptic has about what is true or false leads to a kind of inner peace.
    mmallick@lions.molloy.edu

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  39. I believe in this sense of looking at things I am a skeptic because I have definitely presented these ideas to myself one time or another. Personally I wish I could have attended your class to see if I too would have fallen for the mind game of Fr. McCarthy. I would like to assume that I wouldn’t have because I do enjoy questioning and challenging things that I am not very sure on. I constantly questioning life and if what and how we are living right now is real or just a greater form of imagination or dreams. I find it truly fascinating and a wonderful question to ponder whether all the “certainties” of everyday life are actually all made up scenarios. I feel it is important to obtain at least a little bit of skepticism because it seems equal to having an open mind and being able to accept new and different ideas, just like you had said in your post can make us a better person and only prosper as an individual. -Stephanie Brown

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