Skeptics in the Pub

On Thursday I gave a talk at the second “Auckland Skeptics in the Pub” gathering and it was good. An almost completely off-the-cuff talk (my sole piece of preparation was my line ‘I’m not a Creationist, but I do think the world was created in six days…’) which ran somewhat longer than I thought it would, the talk was well-received and was probably my most succinct statement of what my thesis is about (and, importantly, what I’m not qualified to wax lyrical on).

I sometimes forgot that the thing I’m best at is public speaking1; due to my speech hesitancy having been a problem for me as a child I had years of speech and then public speaking training. One of the downsides for a philosopher is the need to be very, very precise about what one is talking about and this often means you can’t simply talk-off-the-cuff, presentation-wise, to your colleagues; you need to be very, very confident in your subject area to get away with that because one foot wrong and your audience will tear you apart.

Now, the Skeptics are not my professional colleagues (which is by no means a mark of disrespect; we all know standards differ when you give a talk to your academic peers), but the talk I gave on Thursday felt like it would have passed muster even at a Philosophy conference.

Which indicates to me that the general thesis of my doctoral project really is beginning to come together nicely.

This is good. I’ve been working on this PhD for a while now and there have been points in time where I’ve been struck with the question ‘Is this really worthwhile?’ The rewrites, the trying to phrase things in just the right way, the endless putting down an idea on paper and finding out that it doesn’t work; these are issues all doctoral candidates face, especially in the middle of their projects. The hope is that as you get ‘over the hump’ those issues will begin to fade away and the project will start to coalesce around the novel thesis (in my case, the ‘Inference to Conspiracy’ analysis); Thursday night seemed to confirm something I’ve thought for a while:

The thesis will come to a happy end.

Still, I have another chapter to write and there is a lot of editing to do between now and submission. Today’s ‘happy thoughts’ might well turn dour tomorrow, but until then…

Notes

  1. And bluffing; actually, the two are related. One of the most important lessons Elspeth Hitchings taught me was being able to bluff something. Back when I was about fourteen I had to memorise and deliver in character a speech by Willy Wonka (of the Chocolate Factory fame), and I quite flagrantly made an entire section of it up when I suffered a lapse of memory. Mrs. Hitchings knew I made up the section, but some of the other students weren’t so sure, so afterwards they asked me about it. I thought Mrs. Hitchings would out my lie, but instead she passed the question on to them, and I lied through my teeth and said that it was in the text. The lie worked and I learnt that if you can bluff in character you can lie (almost) with impunity. I would say that this lesson has stood me in good stead, but that would be a bit disturbing to admit to, wouldn’t it?

About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.