• Paranormalia is written by Robert McLuhan, a journalist and author based in London. Please contact me at robertmcluhan@gmail.com

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July 05, 2012


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Roberts Perry and Mcluhan this's a very sharp very apposite point maker.

I've always maintained if everything was subjected to the extraordinary proof criterion very little of anything'd survive.

I'd only suggest you'd make the point even sharper if you prefixed each statement with a C: or an R: because the further down one reads there's an increasing tendency to muddle up who's saying what.

Very apt!

Yes, it doesn't sound like a very objective process at times does it?

Skeptics "move the goal post" because their demands for proof are not sincere attempts to validate psi. Their demands for proof are intended to allow them to continue to believe in materialism. If you satisfy one demand for proof of psi, they simply come up with another demand so they can continue to reject psi.

When you understand why skeptics demand proof, it makes perfect sense that they keep demanding more and more stringent conditions. They don't want proof of psi they want an excuse to maintain belief in materialism.

Nice one, our Robert! Puts me in mind of some private correspondence I had with the late Dr. Robin Skynner:

Me: "Surely highly intelligent people are able to identify the cause of their own psychological problems and thus remedy them?"

Robin: "On the contrary. Highly intelligent people are the most difficult to treat in psychotherapy because they're so very good at self-rationalization."

It has been my experience that the greater the statistical mode IQ, the greater the tendency towards the kind of collective insanity outlined in the above article.

Counter intuitive?

Regarding what's "good enough" to be significant in science, check out the Higgs boson. This video lays it out nicely, starting around 5:45: http://vimeo.com/41038445
Short version: the Higgs discovery is the result of zillions of trials that give only the tiniest hint that something might be there, maybe. It seems that extraordinary levels of proof is only necessary for psy, not sci.

There is no scientific attitude if you require extraordinary evidence for psi but not for the Higgs boson, but this is because the Higgs boson fits the current scientific paradigm and apparently not psi, which prevents many scientists realize the presence of phenomena that do not fit the current scientific paradigm.

On the other hand, has anyone read this article?


In this article, the writer believes that all psi phenomena are actually abnormal or pathological phenomena, not paranormal phenomena, not objetive phenomena that present a challenge for science. But while it is true that many apparently paranormal phenomena are really abnormal phenomena, not paranormal, it is also true that there are other cases very robust on genuinely anomalous phenomena, both in ordinary life and under laboratory conditions. Also the article only exposes the weaker cases about the paranormal, without apparently being aware of the strongest cases: what about precognition experiments in the laboratory? what happens with the investigations of psychic research society? What about NDE cases where accurate information was obtained that could not be the result of the ordinary senses, false memory or guess? Well, what think you?

I suspect you are right Juan. The emphasis on the word believes in your initial statement. I am with you on this and am disappointed to see how little of the psi evidence seems to be actually known by some scoftics.

Can an attitude really be considered "scientific" when it ignores all the evidence, and goes with its prejudices, instead?

No. Such an attitude merely reflects human fallibility . . . . . which is something that science has very little control over!

In the words of the late, great, Terence McKenna: "My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with facts". 8)

Thank you, everyone, for your kind remarks. I really appreciated them. I wrote this as a kind of catharsis. The more I learn about parapsychology, the more ridiculously tilted the playing field seems to be. So this metaphor slowly formed in my mind. Thank you again for reading it and for your comments.

By the way, I read the article linked to above, which apparently has now been retitled--it's now called "Your Sixth Sense" (http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201206/your-sixth-sense). If you haven't read it, you might want to check it out. It doesn't even dabble in the subtleties of statistics and other fine points. It's just a straight pathologizing of all things paranormal. Pretty gutsy, and a telling sample of what's out there in the mainstream media--not so much the popular media, but the more intellectually-oriented media.

For a time I got the magazine Scientific American Mind which had a similar article, this one on death. The article stated it as fact that death is the permanent extinguishment of consciousness, and therefore the only thing left to ponder was what deep needs in the psyche drove us to believe in something so patently false.

I too read the article, Robert . . . . but couldn't be bothered commenting on it. As is always the case when dealing with such people, I can hardly contain my indifference. 8/

"The article stated it as fact that death is the permanent extinguishment of consciousness, and therefore the only thing left to ponder was what deep needs in the psyche drove us to believe in something so patently false."

I know I am beating a dead horse here but in regards to the Scientific America article, how can the author of that article say that with such absolute certainty? That is stated as if it is a scientific fact that cannot be disputed. As we all know it only takes one, just ONE after death communication in a controlled environment (example Leonora Piper)to at the very least challenge the notion of death is the end. But to state is as an absolute fact when the evidence suggests otherwise...is a classic case of a true believer syndrome for the materialist

@ or perhaps just ignorance (wilful or otherwise) of the range of evidence available :)

I bet the author of that article has a really tidy desk, with all his pens neatly lined up like soldiers. 8)

Well, Robert, I don't know if this is an actual recounting of a conversation but being a "Negro" who grew up in the American South just a decade after the 1950s this is pretty much exactly how that conversation might have transpired! Seriously.

Hi Carl,
as a "white" person who grew up in the same south about the same time I have to say you are sadly correct. But, we are growing up, finally. Not there yet but maybe farther than we get national credit for. As for the article? I am so pleased to find this blog. I am just worn out at times with the hostility toward any mention of hope of the afterlife by so called "logical" "free" thinkers.

Don't let the b*st*rds grind you under! 8)

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

This is quoted so often by hardline materialists (a.k.a. fundamaterialists) that it has become little more than a kneejerk reaction - not one iota different from Christian fundamentalists quoting Scripture.

The beauty of it is that it allows the materialist to cease thinking. No need to engage with the existing evidence - just move the goalposts, and convince yourself that this constitutes critical thinking.

Here's the thing: "Extraordinary claims..." is usually, and incorrectly, attributed to Carl Sagan. In fact it was coined by Marcello Truzzi, co-founder of CSICOP - an organisation which he left in disillusionment, realising that it had become a meetingplace for militant atheists and fundamaterialists, not genuine skeptics.

In his last years, Truzzi realised that his "extraordinary claims" mantra was "a non-sequitur, meaningless and question-begging", and planned to write a debunking of this particular piece of materialist Holy Writ. Sadly, he died before he was able to do so.

Two minutes critical thought should enable the fundamaterialist to realise that one has neither defined what constitutes an "extraordinary claim", nor what would constitute "extraordinary evidence" - hence the phrase is a meaningless cop-out.

My own defintions are as follows:

Extraordinary claims = those which make a fundamaterialist feel uncomfortable.

Extraordinary evidence = that which is sufficiently unrealistic, and far enough distant in the future, to enable the fundamaterialist to slip back underneath his scientistic comfort-blanket.

It's nothing to do with EVIDENCE, you see - it's all about allowing fundamaterialists to live peacefully in their consensus reality tunnel.

Wow, Rupert, that's quite an indictment!

"The beauty of it is that it allows the materialist to cease thinking. No need to engage with the existing evidence - just move the goalposts, and convince yourself that this constitutes critical thinking."

Never were truer words spoken.

Yes, Julie, sorry .....

Mine was an ill-tempered post, notwithstanding that I stand by my opinion.

I'm afraid that the "extraordinary claims" mantra has been used so often that I felt I had to vent my spleen about it. I feel much better now!

You see, one thing that disturbs me greatly about the "Skeptic" movement is the delusion, held by many "Skeptics", that critical thinking equates to the quoting of Fundamaterialist Scripture.

"Extraordinary claims..." is one such. "The plural of anecdotes is not data" is another. The former is simply indefinite goalpost-moving, the latter is an excuse to ignore anectotal evidence. (If humanity had ignored anecdotal evidence throughout history, we would still be living in caves!)

PS "Fundamaterialist" is not my invention; it was coined by philosophy professor Neal Grossman who felt - as I do - that Materialist Fundamentalists have an identical mindset to Religious Fundamentalists.

One thing that gets me about "the plural of anecdotes is not data" is that, once you come back with hard experimental data from the lab, the response is "Isn't it interesting that this purported effect only shows up in the lab?" I'm laughing as I write that because it's such an absurd Catch-22.

Don't apologise, Rupert. I agree with all that you wrote. I can be pretty forthright myself. ;)

Knock knock! Hello? Robert? Where'ya at?
I know, I heard that there's a little sports thingie going on in your town right now, but really, it's okay to come out and play. :)

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  • ‘These disturbing phenomena seem to deny all our usual scientific ideas. How we should like to discredit them! Unfortunately the statistical evidence, at least for telepathy, is overwhelming. It is very difficult to rearrange one’s ideas so as to fit these new facts in.’ Alan Turing, computer scientist.

  • ‘I have noticed that if a small group of intelligent people, not supposed to be impressed by psychic research, get together and such matters are mentioned, and all feel that they are in safe and sane company, usually from a third to a half of them begin to relate exceptions. That is to say, each opens a little residual closet and takes out some incident which happened to them or to some member of their family, or to some friend whom they trust and which they think odd and extremely puzzling.’ Walter Prince, psychic researcher.

  • When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. Arthur C. Clarke

  • ‘Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.’ Thomas Henry Huxley

  • We can always immunize a theory against refutation. There are many such immunizing tactics; and if nothing better occurs to us, we can always deny the objectivity – or even the existence – of the refuting observation. Those intellectuals who are more interested in being right than in learning something interesting but unexpected are by no means rare exceptions. Karl Popper, on the defenders of materialism.

  • If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run - and often in the short one - the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative. Arthur C. Clarke.

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