Like most things, skepticism is good in moderation but, today, on International Skeptics Day, on October 13, go ahead and question some of your beliefs. The ‘investigation’ of your assumptions can be fruitful and worthwhile.
History of International Skeptics Day
Research thus far has not revealed an inaugural year of recognizing International Skeptics Day, nor does skepticism itself follow a clear timeline that would be punctuated by specific events.
But as a paradigm within which to operate, skepticism shows no loss of momentum, with periodicals like “The Skeptic” and “The Skeptical Inquirer” still in print, along with podcasts, TV documentaries, and meet-up groups all over the world. The Doubting Thomas who is reading these words should have no trouble finding like-minded people, whatever his or her current location.
The word ‘skeptic’ comes from the Greek word ‘skepsis,’ meaning ‘investigation.’ The skeptics in the ancient period were actual individuals comprising a school of thought — in the literal sense of the phrase. Their ultimate goal was ‘a life without belief.’ In written arguments, a skeptic would often be found debating with a Stoic, a Cynic, or an Epicurean — interlocutors whose main function in the writing would be to elicit the opinions of the skeptic for all to read.
In the modern day, skepticism is considered a sign of intelligence because it indicates a desire to get at the real truth but skepticism in an individual can also stem from a feeling of insufficiency on their part — “That girl is asking me out for a dubious reason. She just wants something.”
International Skeptics Day timeline
The Eleatic philosophers question the reality of the physical world.
In his “Apology,” Socrates states that all he really knows is that he knows nothing.
The putative father of Greek skepticism, Pyrrho of Elis is born.
The followers of William of Ockham question the divine origins of knowledge and ask if God could deceive man.
International Skeptics Day FAQs
How do I deal with skeptical people opposing me?
There’s no hard-and-fast set of rules, but we do recommend a number of strategies, including safeguarding your goals, traveling with people who enable and support you, setting and maintaining boundaries, and carefully evaluating the words of the skeptic.
What are the benefits of skepticism, in reality?
Skepticism is truly a good thing in science because it causes researchers and innovators to constantly question not only what is ‘known,’ but their ideas and conclusions about it, which always leads to fruitful inquiry.
What’s the difference between a skeptic and a cynic?
A skeptic’s constant questioning and investigating of the ‘known’ is not necessarily done with a negative attitude, while cynics are known for being habitually negative.
HOW TO OBSERVE INTERNATIONAL SKEPTICS DAY
Question something you take for granted
Say you’re a firm believer in science and progress, then, today, on International Skeptics Day, take a second to truly ponder whether the moon landing of 1969 could have indeed been a hoax. Or, if you’re sure it was, give some thought to whether it did indeed happen. Often, simply giving yourself permission to step outside your firm beliefs and entertain a different idea, even if just for a moment, can be an illuminating experience.
Read some Greek philosophy
We’re not Socratic scholars, but when we do find ourselves in front of an ancient text — or more likely, the translation of one — it’s always an eye-opener. It’s generally recommended that you start with “The Trial of Socrates,” a good example of the interlocution method of setting forth a way of thinking.
Play the ‘devil’s advocate’
This could be taken to extremes, but that’s not what we’re recommending. Simply, the next time you’re in a group that has to come to a consensus, be the dissenting voice. Exercise your skepticism, not taking the status quo as the truth just because it’s generally accepted. It could be something as simple as choosing a fast-food joint for the crew. Why are burgers better? Why is chicken better? Bring up a logical argument about something with your friends that makes them raise their eyebrows.
FIVE AMAZING FACTS ABOUT SOCRATES
Socrates was born into a humble family, his father a stonemason, and his mother a midwife.
Like father, like son
Before taking up philosophy and becoming a paid tutor for students like Plato, Socrates worked alongside his father as a stonemason and sculptor.
Not loving the mirror
It’s known that Socrates was far from handsome, with bulging eyes, a flat nose, and limp hair falling from a balding pate.
“Pull your weight!”
According to one of his students, Socrates suffered at home because his wife wasn’t satisfied with his ability to provide for the family on a philosophy teacher’s salary.
“Write this down …”
Socrates rarely wrote anything down; we know of his teachings due to the diligent record-keeping of his students, like Plato and Aristophanes.
WHY WE LOVE INTERNATIONAL SKEPTICS DAY
Questioning things can be good
In a way, nothing would have ever been learned by mankind if it weren’t for skepticism. Take the curing of a disease, for example. Someone had to be skeptical enough of — as in, unwilling to accept — the presence of the disease to begin thinking about battling it for a cure. So scientific curiosity could be labeled as a form of skepticism.
It mixes things up
Think about the rumor mill around the water cooler at the office. Say you hear a juicy tale of two of your co-workers hooking up the night before. Try being skeptical. Instead of repeating the gossip, think of ways it could have been invented, either through misinterpreted cues or sheer malice. We think “consider the source” is a skeptical view, in a healthy way.
Well, at least it’s fun for a while. You don’t want to come off like a two year old who answers “no” to every single question, but to mix up the pot a little and cause your friends, family, and workmates to occasionally question their assumptions? It’s good for everyone.
International Skeptics Day dates