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

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February 19, 2013

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Randi's Social Darwinism views are quite disturbing, as is the fact that it seems he supports eugenics. Greg Taylor wrote a good article:

http://dailygrail.com/Skepticism/2013/2/James-Randi-Let-Survival-the-Fittest-Act-Itself-Out-Those-Low-IQ-and-Mental-Aberra

Part of what makes Randi's position so ridiculous, is how can Randi (or anyone, for that matter) arbitrarily decide who are the "fittest" amongst the species, anyway?

He says he thinks Social Darwinism should be allowed to act itself out as long as it doesn't affect smart people like himself.

Not only are there numerous ways of defining intelligence – so people he believes are “stupid” may be more intelligent than he thinks – who’s to say that survival of the fittest and natural selection will work according to levels of one’s intellect? In the animal kingdom, it’s often the physically strong which survive. What of people who are lesser in intelligence but physically very strong and robust? Suppose the laws of nature deem those to be the “fittest”. That would mean that Randi, and others like him, who are intelligent but probably not all that physically strong, would be dying out.

Furthermore, if one is a compassionate human being, then they would seek to assist those weaker than themselves in living full and happy lives. That is what I think is the appropriate course of action to take, rather than scorning them and allowing the “survival of the fittest” aspect of nature to weed them out.

Also, in regards to the book itself, it sounds interesting and I applaud Storr for being objective enough to criticise sceptics in some of their attitudes and behaviour.

However, I find the title a little discomfiting - implying that UFO believers, those who practice homeopathy, etc are "enemies" of science. I firmly believe they're no such thing. It hints at a prejudicial attitude to those who have those kind of beliefs and implies that the people are irrational and illogical. For the majority, that's simply not the case (in my experience.)

"I also think there's a growing temptation to look for answers in controversies such as these to the power of the brain to create illusions, narratives, patterns, etc. In fact I'd argue that it's getting out of hand."

IMO, sane people have an ever-changing worldview. Of course, that's part of my worldview. With billions of people with billions of varying, even starkly different ways of looking at the world, it doesn't take much effort to realize that all of them can't be right, but all of them can't be wrong. Some folks have some things 'right', other folks have other things 'right'. The question is, which folks are right about what?

All we can trust is our experience, and our interpretation based on our previous experiences and the experiences of others. For instance:
A scientist does an experiment with bacteria in a petri dish, using a scientific method that he/she accepts. Based upon this scientist's experience with her/his chosen scientific method, a Truth is discovered.
A physicist does a double slit experiment with light, using an experience-trusted scientific method. The physicist sees that light is both a particle and a wave. This conclusion is illogical, but experience wins out, and another Truth is discovered.
A person dies and encounters deceased relatives, an expansive multidimensional life review, and an awe-inspiring Light as bright as a million Sun's. Again, experience wins out, and another Truth is discovered.

I can think any way that I want to, but at the end of the day, all I know what I absolutely know, based on my life's experiences. Experience is woefully underrated.

Should offer Jacques Benveniste some consolation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ILSyt_Hhbjg

"All this confirms the central idea that Storr has been coming to, which is that we humans tell ourselves stories that help us make sense of the world...
I was full of admiration at the effortless way he gets advocates of extreme positions to damn themselves from their own mouths...
I don't doubt the importance of myths and narratives in the formation and maintenance of our worldviews."

Yes, a very important perspective. This applies to everyone, though, not just hardliners. We are all full of self-deceptions. We tell ourselves porkies and forgive ourselves our many failings, either by overlooking them, pretending they don't happen or rationalising them away. It comes from being composite individuals: different aspects of our natures have different agendas.

Yet though we so rarely admit our own faults, we so easily see those same faults in others.

And we sometimes judge ourselves very harshly, forgiving ourselves nothing, in circumstances where we would be far kinder towards others. 'Tis all a matter of character.

Another great piece on the prejudice that James Randi exemplifies is "the Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi" which can be found in his "Right Where You Are Sitting Now." He really is just as much as a close-minded bigot as Jerry Falwell only at the other end of the ideological spectrum.

The sceptic/psi debate is really getting on my nerves. As you say, efforts like Storr's will not get anywhere. What I think needs to happen is for the "para" to be removed from "parapsychology". Psi needs to be seen as a normal, mundane process used routinely in everyday life. People were very sceptical about the existence of heavier-than-air flying machines even for years after the Wright brothers' first flight(!) and also quantum mechanics but now technology from those ideas has become an absolutely routine part of everyday life. Psi needs to be brought to a level such that disbelief would be akin to doubting airplanes can fly. On that note, there is a new Silicon Valley startup working on a practical psi technology but whether it can break out and be successful remains to be seen.

From the entry above:"Psi needs to be seen as a normal, mundane process used routinely in everyday life. People were very sceptical about the existence of heavier-than-air flying machines even for years after the Wright brothers' first flight and also quantum mechanics but now technology from those ideas has become an absolutely routine part of everyday life. Psi needs to be brought to a level such that disbelief would be akin to doubting airplanes can fly." Okay, but airplanes really DO fly, regularly, so we believe in that fact. Principles of quantum mechanics are in use, too. So, both beliefs are established as facts. Where, then, is the proof of psi...? In the imaginations and misconceptions of the naive, nowhere else...

@James Randi

My point is that if someone can use parapsychology to make a reliable technology work, repeated thousands, even millions of times, everyone would have to admit the existence of psi phenomena. On a scientific level the results of parapsychology are at a quality and level of statistical significance comparable to other scientific fields. The next step is to create technology from the science. This should be the proof which is needed.

Some of us who are actually scientists have seen the latest electrophysiological presentiment results form researchers like Dean Radin and see that his experiments are very solid and convincing. Why don't you try replicating Radin's work himself? This is your chance to expose Radin as a fraud... or learn something new about the Universe. Some of us are doing just that.

Since I learned about Randi's pro-eugenics beliefs I'm not so concerned about him anymore.

"... including the notorious claim, which he admitted to Sheldrake was untrue, that he had tested the 'psychic dogs' claims and 'they fail'."

Minor correction: Randi has never admitted that his claim was untrue. His story (delivered to both Sheldrake and Storr) is that he performed the tests informally, and that the data were subsequently lost in a flood. Details of this account have varied, including the year in which the flood (or hurricane?) occurred. I think the whole story is poppycock, but Randi himself has not acknowledged it as such.

I agree that Storr goes overboard on the "mind creates illusions" idea, which seems to play into some kind of postmodern, deconstructionist worldview in which nothing is ever true or false. (And is this not itself just another narrative?) Still, I really admire Storr's tenacity in getting to the bottom of several Randi-related controversies and then aggressively challenging Randi in the interview. It may be the first time Randi has ever been confronted by a well-informed, persistent, and truly "skeptical" interrogator. I found it, well, "amazing."

@ Dear Mr. James Randi:

I noticed you made ​​a comment. I wonder what is the reason that you have committed scientific fraud, the prosecution is not free:

1) In 1988 you released a report which said the findings of four laboratories on high dilutions are poorly controlled. You can not answer the reply of Dr. Benveniste, that you never analyzed data from three laboratories.
In 1991 Benveniste replied his experiments with the statesman Alfred Spira. In 1994 Benveniste hirst critical study that supported their results, contrary to the conclusion that Hirst says. Later Dr. Italo Venchi reanalyzed the data showing that the study confirms the findings of Hirst Benveniste.

2) In 2001 you with Professor Martin Bland, President of the Royal Society, and others, conveyed the Horizon program where they say they were going to replicate an experiment (not say which). In 2005, Professor Bland published a report detailing the study was to replicate the Ennis-Brown on dilutions of histamine. However, fraud is served: 1) that Dr. M. Ennis never approved the experimental protocol Waynte T., 2) You say that they would replicate an experiment, when even the report of Dr. Bland shows that there was a replica, even Bland says the Horizon program was to replicate the study Ennis-Brown.

Professor Martin Bland has refused to answer whether or not your conscious participation was one of the biggest frauds in the history of skepticism.

I wonder why no one has told the James Randi Educational Foundation as a fraud. The Horizon program is clearly junk science, an act of fraud and defamation.

I trust his honesty, if you have one, so you can respond and clarify the facts soon.

Is there any reason to believe that the comment signed "James Randi" is actually from James Randi? Has the real Randi participated in Paranormalia discussions on previous occasions? If not, I'm guessing this is an impersonator.

Michael, it's possible. Randi made quite a lengthy comment to a post here some years ago, and another to my reply in a separate post (links below). Haven't heard from him since until this.

http://monkeywah.typepad.com/paranormalia/2008/11/spr-study-day---the-psychology-of-the-sceptic.html

http://monkeywah.typepad.com/paranormalia/2008/12/reply-to-james-randi.html

Okay. FYI, you could check the IP address to see if it matches. Or do a traceroute search and see if it points to Ft. Lauderdale. Or not.

"Not" is probably the simplest option.

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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.

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