From this thread at JREF I learned of a recent post at a blog called Fengshui Forward (“We aim to gather fellow Chinese Metaphysics enthusiatics to discuss and promote Chinese 5 arts”), entitled United we stand, Divided we fall!. The author, ken, is bothered by the Penn & Teller Bullshit episode on Feng Shui – the one where each of the three Feng Shui experts comes up with completely different recommended colors and arrangements of furniture at the exact same house. Unfortunately ken has completely missed the point of the P&T program, and criticisms of Feng Shui in general:
It is very easy to discredit a practice like Feng Shui because Metaphysics is defined by Wikipedia as “investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science”.
No, that’s not how to discredit Feng Shui, although I agree it is easy to discredit. P&T discredit Feng Shui not by reference to a definition in Wikipedia (which would be an absurd way to do it anyway), but by simply showing that three so called “experts”, all using the exact same “science”, come up with completely different recommendations for the same problem. Let’s face it – they can’t all be right. The fact that they’re all different just demonstrates to any rational person that it’s nonsense. How would you tell which of the recommendations was right and which wrong? If Feng Shui had any actual real effect then it ought to be possible to tell by testing. But according to ken, you can’t test Feng Shui:
Feng Shui is not superstitious. It merely looks superstitious because it is beyond science and hence science cannot explain it and neither can humans. How do you expect a kid to explain the action of his parents? Since Feng Shui transcends science, one cannot get a satisfactory explanation of Feng Shui using scientific principles.
“Beyond science”? Science is just an organized way of testing hypotheses against reality. The phrase “beyond science” just means “can’t be tested to see if it works”. But why not? If it has any real effect surely that effect must be measurable (ie it is testable). If it’s effects really aren’t measurable, then what is the difference between Feng Shui and something that doesn’t exist? (Clearly, nothing.) In reality, what ken means by “beyond science”, is “can be tested to see if it works – we just won’t admit it doesn’t”. This is just science doesn't know everything combined with an appeal to other ways of knowing – a smokescreen to hide the fact that Feng Shui is made up nonsense that has very little correspondence with reality.
The lack of any basis Feng Shui has in reality is hilariously (and unintentionally) exposed in ken’s appeal for unity among fellow woomeisters:
If even Feng Shui enthuasiasts (sic) and practitioners can be going all out to discredit someone with the same beliefs, what more outsiders who are like Penn & Teller? Sometimes I wish fellow enthusiasts in Chinese Metaphysics wisen (sic) up and not be the proverbial “divided loose grains of sand”. If we help each other in this interest group or profession, Chinese Metaphysics & Feng Shui as a whole stands to gain. We as enthusiasts and practitioner of the same field stand to gain too. After all, one famous Chinese saying by the victimized Cao Zhi in the Romance of the 3 Kingdom goes “Why cannibalize one that is of the same family?”
How can we help each other? By treating fellow practitioners and enthusiasts as allies and suggest areas of weakness as points to consider for improvement. By not treating fellow practitioners and enthusiasts as rivals and going all out to attack one perceived point of fallible practice or advocate.
Translation: “don’t criticize someone else’s woo even if it makes no sense, because they might criticize your woo for making no sense.” Of course, in actual science, scientists do criticize each other. It’s only by criticizing and dismissing weak ideas, that the good ones can flourish. But then with actual science, they have a way to determine what is real and what isn’t – they look at evidence. This is of course a problem for woo such as Feng Shui, since with no evidence and no way of testing it (it transcends science, remember), there is no way to determine what is real and what isn’t. Consequently woomeisters such as ken have no option but to accept uncritically everyone else’s woo. And that’s the problem (one of them, anyway) with woo. With no rational way of testing your hypothesis against reality, you are in freefall – you have to believe in everything. Ken really is in danger of being so open minded that his brains will fall out. If they haven’t already.