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Suspending your Skepticism

I was going through the SGU’s mailbox this morning while downloading the Rift client(1). As I was reading all the great stuff people send us I came across this interesting question from listener Jason from Leeds in the UK.

…  A while ago, my partner and i started watching ‘medium’. Having a daughter of our own, we like the fairly life like family life it portrays. We treat the main character ‘talking’ to the dead as pure fiction. Unfortunately i got hooked before realising it was based on a supposed real life Allison de bois! Am i betraying my skepticism watching it?

The Short Answer

Hell no!

The Long Answer

This is something I struggled with for a bit when I first realized I was a skeptic and found this community.  I had trouble watching movies and shows and reading books about ghosts, monsters, aliens and psychics because I would think that if I let myself suspend my disbelief just for a bit, I would lose my “good little skeptic” status.  It’s not that I wouldn’t watch or read these stories, but when I did all I could think of is how absolutely silly their premises were.  Just trying to debunk everything that was going on.  Constantly telling myself how and why these things are impossible.  Being in that frame of mind made them lose a lot of entertainment value for me. Yes… even Ghostbusters.

During our weekly games of World of Warcraft, I would listen to the rogues talk about the movies and TV they’ve seen, the ones they love, and the ones they hate,  and I got a lot of recommendations from them(2).  And it was strange to me that a very large portion of the stuff they talked about dealt directly with ghost, aliens and monsters.  Especially Zombies(3).  Hell, Bob even operates a haunted house every Halloween.  And that made me realize something.  That whether you’ve just discovered your skepticism or you’re a very experienced skeptic and prominent in the community, that you CAN suspend your disbelief.  And that’s okay.

It can be tough, I know, because some of these things are about stuff we deal with directly in the skeptical community;  Alien UFOs, ghosts and in your case, mediums or psychics.  And I understand that it may be harder in the case of Medium since is based on the claims of a “real life medium“.  That makes it hit a little closer to home and makes it harder to derive all the entertainment value out of it that you could.  But if you enjoy the show for its characters and stories, then just enjoy it.  You’re not any less of a skeptic for that.  And if you watch these types of shows with your daughter, you can use them as good discussion points and education opportunities.

10 of my Favorite Movies(4)

  • Ghostbusters
  • Independence Day
  • Alien
  • Ghostbusters
  • Back to the Future
  • District 9
  • Dawn of the Dead
  • The Exorcist
  • The Shining
  • Ghostbusters

So keep watching the things that entertain you.  Suspending your disbelief purely for the sake of entertainment is fun, and it definitely doesn’t make you any less of a skeptic.


1. Joreth – Eth Cleric – Defiant Faction – Shadefallen Shard
2. Steve… 2001: A Space Odyssey is still boring as shit. Call me a philistine all you like.
3. If you like zombies, check out the Dead Island Announcement Trailer
4. Did I mention Ghostbusters?

3 comments to Suspending your Skepticism

  • I think the point about how claims of “based on a true story” can ruin the willing suspension of disbelief is a good one, but I think the key point of skepticism is a strict separation between fantasy and reality. As long as YOU know it’s fantasy, don’t let the fact that some people confuse it with reality spoil your enjoyment. But also don’t let it it dissuade you from championing rational skepticism when appropriate (i.e. usually not during the movie).

  • DLC

    Sorry. I couldn’t watch Medium for more than a few minutes without angrily switching the channel. Look, I don’t mind the odd show with a bit of the supernatural in it any more than I mind the odd bit of Warp-Drive in my sci-fi.
    But I just can’t stand ghosts, mediums, psychics and so forth. They’re entirely either deluded or con men. I wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire.

  • JoeSkep

    I was talking about this very thing with someone I care about the other day. I told her it was possible to watch the show and instead of being skeptical just keep in mind that this show is in another universe in which anything is possible. Even if it is based on a true story we as skeptics know how to deal with the story but still the TV show is simply another universe where say ghosts are possible.
    Show that claim to be in this universe and claim to be scientifically approaching things like ghosts (while going around scaring themselves with non-science) are something I can not tolerate.

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