Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Knower

The most striking moment in the recently released Tom Cruise Scientology video (see it on comes about five minutes in, where Cruise laments his inability to, say, frolic mindlessly on vacation, because he "knows". Just what does Tom Cruise know?

It is no good looking for any explicit answer to this question in the video itself - Cruise is - almost unnervingly - nearly incoherent through much of it, leaving sentences unfinished, speaking in the vaguest terms, jumping instantly from topic to topic, etc. But from the context and other remarks in the video, it seems that what Cruise thinks he knows is just how the world really is. Mindless frolicking is out of the question because his special knowledge about the true state of the world imposes on him the obligation to eschew idleness and help redeem the world from its impurity; or as he might put it, from its overabundance of "SP"s (Scientology-speak for "suppressive personalities").

This is what Cruise thinks he knows. But what does he really know?

I suggest that the most Cruise can know is that Scientology has "worked" for him (which is to say, that he likes Scientology); and that it has worked for others (that is, that others like Scientology, too). But that is only what everyone already knows. In short, what Tom Cruise really knows, is hardly anything at all, and nothing that any normal eight year-old couldn't instantly grasp. His actual knowledge can be summed up like this: "Scientologists like Scientology". (Or, if you like, "Scientology has worked for Scientologists", or "Scientologists believe in Scientology").

But here is something that Tom Cruise doesn't know, but which he thinks he knows: that "Scientology will work for everyone". This conclusion comes from the following (invalid) inference. We could call it the Fanatic's Inference:

P1.) X (Scientology in this case) has worked for me;
P2.) X has worked for others;
C.) Therefore, X works (for everyone).

And implied in this invalid inference is another invalid inference (call it C2): that if Scientology doesn't "work" for someone, it means that that person didn't really give it a proper chance, or wasn't really sincere to begin with. There is yet another implied invalid inference here (C3): "Therefore, X (Scientology) is all it claims to be (X is 'true')".

The point is that neither C, nor C2, nor C3, follow from the premises, and so they cannot constitute knowledge. It is, in fact, perfectly possible that X (whatever it may be) can rescue someone from drug addiction, or an unhappy marriage, or suicidal depression, or anything else, and yet not do anything for others with different natures, goals, and experiences. It is also perfectly possible that X be a fraudulent claim, salutary effects notwithstanding. For example, we might tell an ill-behaved child that if he obeys, Santa Claus will fly from the North Pole and give him lots of presents - and the story might very well "work": Johnny will change his behaviour, and find his life much improved as a result. But this doesn't mean the Santa story is true. Indeed, it only worked because it wasn't true. It was a fiction calculated to appeal to certain aspects of Johnny's nature: acquisitiveness, for example. So Johnny might "know" that his life has improved (after all, he's now getting smiles instead of frowns, and treats instead of time-outs), but that's pretty much it. He doesn't have "special" knowledge at all.

So, that Scientology has "worked" for Tom Cruise - whatever that may mean in his particular case - cannot validly lead to the conclusion that it will "work" for anyone else, nor to the conclusion that ex-Scientologists weren't sincere about improving or weren't intelligent enough to understand Scientology, nor to the conclusion that L. Ron Hubbard's stories about an alien dictator named Xenu who, 75 million years ago, presided over "The Galactic Confederacy", are true.

And this means, I suggest, that Tom Cruise doesn't actually know what he thinks he knows, by any stretch; and by extension, that he doesn't bear the burden of redeeming the world through Scientology that he thinks he does.

And of course, that means that he might as well go ahead and enjoy his vacations, guilt free.

I know you're sincere, Tom - but honestly, you don't need to worry about us or 75 million year old dictators from outer space. Go forth and...mindlessly frolic!


erlybird said...

Right on, Tal. I was thinking about this myself the other day. Going back to my favorite story "The Emperor's New Clothes". Tom Cruise is the coolest kid on the street and even though he is shouting about The Royal Personage and about how well He is dressed it does not make it so.

I know of a guy who was addicted to drugs...his life was in the toilet. He started doing triathlon and turned his life around. See? Triathlon is the true sport and everyone should do it!

zalia said...

Having been in a mindset where I thought I knew more about the cosmos than the average person, this video was really uncomfortable to watch. I know just how sincere he is...and it's scary. I thought the part about needing to stop at the scene of an accident because only he can help because he has special knowledge...was creepy and weird, but somehow I knew what he was trying to say. That's the nature of cult-like thinking.

Cr@ig said...

Damn it Tal....Just when I thought I had found another Cult to go and spoil it for me with your logic...

Guinevere said...

(call it C2): that if Scientology doesn't "work" for someone, it means that that person didn't really give it a proper chance, or wasn't really sincere to begin with.

I recently watched a documentary about a tribe of people who use army ants to combat termites in their village. The ants must be collected by hand and brought in a special leaf container to the infected building(s), where the ants are released and eat only the termites, then run off to do whatever it is army ants do during their days.

At one point a, very leathery, village elder sent a group of young, not leathery, kids out into the woods to look for the correct species of ants. When they fulfilled the task, he followed them to the ants and instructed them to say some prayer and pick up the ants, which he did with ease, as the ants were unable to bite through his jerky-like hands. Following the old man's instructions, the young kids did the same thing, and - surprise! - ended up being bitten horribly by the ants, and were then chastised by the old man for not believing in the prayers enough for it to work.

Leonard Susskind said...

I'm kind of embarrassed to be posting this, since it's rather out of place in a serious post, but...this is a pretty funny parody of the infamous Cruise video...

Melissah said...

I know a profound truth but I had to work hard to get it so I'm not going to freely share it quite yet. But I know!

my best argument is by Blaise Plascal. I adore him, wonder if he has nice hands or ould play the piano? hmmmmm. Really he took ideas and put them on a matrix or punit square like genesists do.

One side reads "Believes in god vs. Doesn't believe in god.
The other side reads "God exsists vs. God doesn't exsist" then you just fill in the efeects, and onclude that all consequences considered it is best to believe in what you cannot yet prove.

It is real handy to use in any situation. but I know that sometings will never be arguable they just are, reason aside.