From Mystery to Mastery

March 29, 2010

I am often asked about the process of conducting paranormal investigations-something I have elaborated on in a textbook (coauthored with the late Robert A. Baker) titled Missing Pieces: How to Investigate Ghosts, UFOs, Psychics, and Other Mysteries (Prometheus Books, 1992). I have also given workshops on the topic, including at the July 2009 Amaz!ng Meeting in Las Vegas, sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation.

Here is a concise summary of the steps by which skeptics-as opposed to True Believers or their polar opposites, debunkers-advance science and reason through inquiry, investigation, and use of the scientific method. It is outlined by the acronym SKEPTICISM :

           S cience

           K nowledge

           E vidence

           P ostulations

           T esting

           I mpartiality

           C riticism

           I nvestigation

           S olving

           M astery

That is, with Science as a basis, one approaches some question or mystery using past Knowledge and acquired Evidence to form Postulations (or hypotheses) which undergo Testing to rank them, with Impartiality (i.e., guarding against bias) and Criticism (the act of making judgments), finally conducting an Investigation (targeted research) that results in Solving (or determining the most likely explanation for) the mystery at hand, providing Mastery over it.

Thus we gain mastery over mystery. Indeed, as I like to say, we can see the progress of science as a series of solved mysteries.