Dawkins on Haiti
The Twin Thing

Infinity

What can you say about infinity? Not much, to judge by the hour-long Horizon programme on Wednesday, which was padded out with clips of flocks of birds and an unbearably pretentious act-or talking to the camera. The talking heads were baffled, didn't like thinking about it. They preferred a finite universe, it was the only thing that made intuitive sense. They looked confused and embarrassed. It wasn't a rational concept. Wasn't there something else they could talk about?

I was surprised to learn that the way that many of them first discovered infinity through numbers, realising that they could go on counting for ever and ever. (Cue clips of talking heads self-consciously counting large numbers.)  Or else they came up with images to illustrate the problem, like a hotel in which there are always enough rooms to accommodate an extra person (bearded maths geezer walking down corridors looking puzzled.)

To me this seemed an oddly clunky way to think about infinity. My experience was quite different: as a small child looking up at the sky out of my bedroom window after dark and realising that space could have no end, and then hiding under the bed covers until I had managed to expel the thought. Surely numbers are just stepping stones through time and space. Why plod towards infinity one step at a time one when you can fly there at the speed of thought?

People clearly think about these sorts of things in different ways. Apparently for scientists and mathematicians, infinity is an embarrassment. A German professor's solution was simply to abolish it. Infinity, he decided, voss merely a "fiction of the human mind". (Does that remind of anything?) His solution: go on counting until you get to the biggest number - truly massive, he conceded - and then go back to zero!  Ridiculous? Ja, but less ridiculous than the alternative, surely.

OK, so really there is no such thing as infinity. All That Is is round. When you get to the end you arrive back at the beginning. Does this work? I suspect all it does is remove the problem a bit further away, so that it's less obvious, and so less discomfiting. Sceptics do that all the time to deal with the challenges posed by paranormal experience, coming up with pseudo-solutions which can't meaningfully be applied in practice, but hell, who cares, as long as it makes them feel better.

In science, mystery is the enemy. It has to be vanquished, not allowed to fester unmolested.  To argue that there are some things that are beyond us to understand is to invite the pejorative term "mysterian". I understand why scientists and mathematicians think like this, but it's philosophically indefensible.

We can amuse ourselves with ludicrous paradoxes - like the insistence that in an infinite universe a monkey must eventually be able to type the complete works of Shakespeare, another source of imagery for struggling programme makers. We can say, if we like, that the first humanoids did not need to understand infinity in order to hunt and eat their dinner, and that's why our brains can't comprehend it. But the paradox is pointless, and the scientific gloss is misleading, if it implies that had our evolutionary track been a bit different the concept would now be quite intelligible to us.

I'd argue a little humility is in order here. What infinity tells us is that our ability to reason has limits. Some things will always be beyond our ability to grasp. Let's just accept it.

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I think you can have a mathematical infinity but not a real one. Look up Hilbert's Hotel.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilbert's_paradox_of_the_Grand_Hotel

Whenever I think of the monkeys writing on a typewriter, I can't help but be reminded of the version in the Simpsons.

"It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times?!"

Robert – you say, “Some things will always be beyond our ability to grasp. Let's just accept it.”

But science doesn’t accept it – that’s how science advances and human knowledge increases.

A common refrain I hear and read from paranormalists is, funnily enough, “some things can’t be explained.” Which is not, and never will be, an explanation for any alleged paranormal phenomena. If the believers are satisfied with shrugging their shoulders, offering only ad hoc explanations of things because they can’t explain them, that’s up to them. A cynic might think that that sort of outlook is just a cop-out.

However, (to be fair) I say to them, give up if you want to; that is your privilege.

(By the way: once you get to infinity, just add one. Repeat)

Harley

I think you misunderstand paranormalists. I am completely sure paranormal events will be explained. But I think they will be explained at face value. I reject the "skeptical " "explanations" cause they do not remotely explain what is going on.

Like I say infinity cannot exist in real life. In math there are an infinite amount of points between object, say my house and my mailbox. However in real life I take a finite amount of steps to cover all distance to my house and my mailbox.

Harley, When I say ‘some things will always be beyond our ability to grasp’, I mean things like infinity, why there is something rather than nothing, etc. Or do you really believe that science can one day explain these things? What would the explanation look like? An equation? What sort of explanation would that be?

Of course science is driven by the urge to discover and understand, and doesn’t accept limits in this regard. That should one day include psychical phenomena. If some paranormalists think that it could never, then I reject that. But I also reject your distinction between paranormalists (who ‘give up’) and scientists (who fearlessly probe into the future). I think it reinforces your sense of superiority, but I think it’s facile and fake.

‘once you get to infinity, just add one. Repeat’ – Why? What good does that do?

Truth of the matter I think it is the skeptics who give up. They accept obviously false explanations in order to maintain their world view. That is giving up all pretense of rationality in my book.

Harley's rejection of the "explanation" for psi phenomena that not all events are explainable is in stark opposition to the default denialist position first propounded by Anthony Flew and now getting support from Wiseman and French, which says just that.

When French expresses himself unable to fault Honorton's ganzfeld studies, and Wiseman opines that remote reviewing has been proved by the normal standards of science, it looks, at first sight, as though they are making a significant concession. Well, that would be an erroneous impression. What these devious, calculating operators are actually doing is carving out for corporate science a position that excuses them from acknowledging the reality of psi in perpetuity.

Yet Harley is so blinkered in his thinking that he smacks a gift horse in the mouth.

Not sure I agree with that Sesenco

I think French and Wiseman are simply showing their extreme ideological tendencies.

Infinity is... an extremely counterintuitive concept. Just like the nothingess before the big bang is. I mean, if there was nothing, then from whence came something? And if there was something, then it wasn't the beginning of all. I know mathematicians have nightmares about infinity, it's like the mark of the beast to them. I suppose (like Robert was saying) you could always try and imagine reality as circular, where one leaves the end of the universe only to enter it at the other; sortof like a giant version of the maze in Pacman. At least it'd be neat. I think.

Robert – maybe you misunderstood what I was getting at in my previous post. It is a common refrain with those who support the idea that the paranormal or supernatural are real phenomena that “there are things that cannot be explained.” As if that in itself is an explanation. My opinion is that there may well be things that we will never succeed in explaining, but if things are happening, then there is probably a cause; I do not accept that those things cannot be explained, just that we might not, despite our best efforts, do so. But my point is still valid: simply claiming that some things are inexplicable is indeed giving up. It’s much better to at least try.

I don’t think I have a sense of superiority, as you claim. Then again, I’ve been accused of many things on this blog – having a persecution complex, for example; I’ve also been called a pseudosceptic, and been accused of being disingenuous, not to mention accusations of outright dishonesty, as well as the implication that I am a liar, and just plain silly, among other things. Ironically, in the face of all of that, I’ve also been told that I should show humility.

I’m sure I haven’t resorted to such puerile insults as a way of supporting my own position, however.

In fact, I’ve been trying to find evidence here that anything paranormal exists. It seems, however, that I am unable to understand what I am missing when I ask for evidence that stands up to scrutiny. As you know, I do not think that anecdotes and personal testimony are sufficient to establish paranormal phenomena. The believers insist that the criteria hinge on the eminence of the witness, and also how respectable that person is. Well, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fits the bill, and he “validated” the existence of fairies. Am I being unreasonable if I don’t buy it? Or will anyone here argue for the existence of fairies on the basis of their own criteria for what constitutes strong evidence?

But I also don’t think that flawed research is acceptable, either. It seems, though, that admittedly flawed research is acceptable by certain parties here. Fine. Maybe I’m the one who is wrong for wanting evidence that is repeatable by independent researchers.

As to infinity (and beyond, perhaps), it is indeed a strange concept. Does anyone here really have an answer to it? When I said “just add one” it was with the realisation that physicists and mathematicians have not yet given a definitive answer, and I don’t think any of them pretend to, although many paranormalists seem to have confidence that they have the answers to the supernatural. After all, they have anecdotes from eminent and respectable people (quoted from a hundred and more years ago), and research that they think proves it, despite that research being flawed. (But it seems that flawed research is acceptable as long as it supports one’s beliefs)

A huge majority of people believe in the paranormal or the supernatural in one form or another. And the huge majority of them do not question it. When a believer uses Google to find out more information, they do so uncritically, and find websites like this:

http://www.hauntedamericatours.com/ghosthunting/ParanomalSex.php

Anal hauntings? There are plenty of anecdotes there, but I have to shake my head as I try to imagine where “paranormal investigators” are going to stick their EMF meters next.

Harley

Tell me just out of curiosity, why is it you must misrepresent the positions of people who disagree with you? It really doesn't help your side you do realize that.

‘It is a common refrain with those who support the idea that the paranormal or supernatural are real phenomena that “there are things that cannot be explained.”’ Hmm. You’re probably right, there are people who say this, but what informed people (eg parapsychologists) say is that there are things that can’t be explained in terms of science as it currently stands, or that are ‘unknown to science’. This does not close the door on an explanation ever being offered and generally accepted – what scientist would do that?

A constant problem we have in these arguments is that you tend to focus on the worst in paranormalist attitudes, research and literature, while I focus on the best. There’s a lot that’s bad and indefensible, so I understand why you are so taken with it. But for me it’s a red herring, a distraction. Arthur Conan Doyle and the fairies, for instance – credulity gift-wrapped with ribbons. I’d prefer if we talked about William James, for instance, by any standards a shrewd and respected thinker, and his conviction that Leonora Piper was doing something genuinely paranormal.

Harley, I admire your persistence and the way you keep coming back for more, considering the stick you get. But I’m not clear how extensive your knowledge of psychical research actually is. The insistence that it’s all flawed and anecdotal won’t do. William James, to take just one example, would have sympathised with your disbelief, but he might have said, look at the Piper research and then tell me exactly what your alternative normal explanation is. Speaking for myself, I don’t have one, neither did he, and neither, incidentally, did Frank Podmore, who was at the time one of the best informed and most persistent sceptics around.

I think that is a well-rounded response Robert. I asked the same a long while ago regarding the investigations carried out by Lodge and Crookes - what answer? None (and not just from Harley either it also applies to Keith Augustine). I asked what practical research Harley has carried out - what answer? No answer.

Despite what Harley may think, there are many who are genuinely interested in understanding the reported phenomena and not simply accepting them without proper consideration or dismissing them out of hand without same.

The reference to humility I think originated from my remark to Harley. It referred to the manner in which Harley's comments were made and not the factual content.

I agree with Harley on Conan Doyle and his fairies. I don't think it helps his credibility as a witness at all and I find it difficult to accept his testimony in other areas, especially since we cannot question him directly now. Having said that, a great deal of CDs research was supported by other reputable people.

This leads to another comment by Harley that he is apparently expected to accept the opinion of eminent men as fact. This is a misrepresentation of earlier discussions; What he is invited to do is to consider their testimony properly and explain why he rejects it, not the same as being asked to accept it.

Harley,

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might have believed in the existence of fairies, but at least he recognised that human beings have free will and that complex systems have not arisen by chance. He wasn't as bonkers as some people I could mention.

Sometimes I think Harley just cannot admit making an error. That is a very unfortunate traits cause it keeps him from offering something new to us.

Complex systems did not arise through chance. That's the whole point of natural selection...

Natural selection is chance.

Robert – I’m not clear that we are actually disagreeing too much with each other. As you say, “…what informed people (eg parapsychologists) say is that there are things that can’t be explained in terms of science as it currently stands, …” I have no doubt that there are things that science is not even aware of, never mind understands. But if science knew everything, science would be redundant; I think we are a long way from that, though.

Although you think I focus on the worst in paranormalist “attitudes,” I’m not sure what you mean. Some people put forward Gary Schwartz as if he is among the best, but he is one of those who attract the most criticism from mainstream science. But I think it would be futile if I pointed out that Schwartz and others do not have their research published in bona fide peer reviewed scientific journals. His defenders will claim that it is just another example of science quashing dissent. Obviously, I would disagree with that.

You seem to admit that Conan Doyle is an embarrassment to some extent. But I have to say that if a person’s eminence and respectability is the deciding factor with regard to whether reported paranormal phenomena are true, then how does one decide which eminent person’s testimony should be accepted, and which should be rejected? Is there a specific method in parapsychology for determining which eminent person is believed, and which should be regarded as being “away with the fairies” as it were?

I am not very familiar with William James, but I will do some research (as time and various responsibilities allow) and try to come back to you on that.

I’m not sure what to make of your comment regarding Conan Doyle. As you say, “Arthur Conan Doyle and the fairies, for instance – credulity gift-wrapped with ribbons.” Some people would say the same about William Crookes and others, so I would be interested to know why you reject one respected witness and at the same time accept others. Doyle, Crookes, etc., were all intelligent – even gifted – thinkers and doers; my contention here is that being completely rational in most areas of one’s life does not preclude the possibility of irrationality in other areas – particularly with regard to cherished beliefs.

Regarding William James and the Piper research – I have heard of it but I am not familiar with the details. (I will check it out) I will answer one point you made when you said, “William James, to take just one example, would have sympathised with your disbelief, but he might have said, look at the Piper research and then tell me exactly what your alternative normal explanation is.”

I don’t pretend to be able to give “alternative explanations,” at least in the sense of claiming that my “explanation” must be the true answer. I tend to think that if the paranormal or supernatural were true, then physics would be invalid. After all, if a ghost (which, by all accounts, has no physical mass and therefore no energy) can affect the physical world, then the law of conservation of energy must be wrong. Except that the physical laws we know – and can test and utilise – actually work every time we need to use them. So every time I read about another poltergeist, for example, I have another of those “hang on a minute” moments. It’s all very well to read about a massless entity expending limitless (physical? psychic?) energy throwing things around, or even causing solid objects to travel effortlessly through other solid objects, but anecdotes making those claims offer no explanation of how they supposedly happen, and there is nothing to support the idea that the laws of physics can be so easily bypassed. And what, exactly, is “psychic” energy? Is it measured in joules, ergs, or what? We hear the term “psychic energy,” but how is it defined, measured and used? A similar question arises with regard to “psychic vibrations;” what on earth is that, and how are these vibrations measured objectively? You, Frank Podmore, me and many others cannot, perhaps, give a “normal” explanation for many events, but the fact that there is no ready explanation for something unusual does not justify an ad hoc paranormal explanation.

Perhaps William James would, indeed, have said to me, “what is your normal alternative explanation?” But the point is, I would try to find a “normal” explanation before I would start invoking supernatural phenomena. It is only when physical explanations have been excluded that one might be justified in examining possible non-physical explanations. I’m not sure that I am focusing only on the worst parapsychological attitudes, research and literature; there is a lot of it about, and the link I gave earlier is typical of the type of “information” that people find easily. In fact, although I regard your blog as being much more sensible than that, it is not easy to find when using Google, for example. I found it by chance when I was searching for something else.

Paul – I’ve noticed that those here who support paranormal explanations for strange events tend to throw out lists of names. “What about William Lodge?” What about William Crookes?” What about the Ganzfeld experiments?”

Well, what about them? It’s difficult for me to give any answer when there is no particular question. If people were to also give a summary of the point they are trying to make, perhaps provide a link to that point and also give an argument of some sort to justify whatever point they are trying to prove, then I would have something to work with. Throwing out a name and then expecting me to start searching to find out what it is that the commenter is trying to get at is very easy, and also unfair, I think. Robert mentioned William Lodge and Leonora Piper, but if I am to say something about it I now have to start searching; if I don’t have the time to get the relevant information before Robert starts a new thread, then no doubt you will still accuse me of not giving an answer.

I can’t speak for Keith Augustine, of course, but I notice that his posts here have been quite lengthy and detailed. But he might be in the same situation I often find myself in: lists of names and claims thrown about, no links or details given, and not enough time to research them all before answering. When I do answer points raised here I tend to pick what I think are the most relevant or important; but you can hardly accuse me of not replying – often in detail.

As you say: “…there are many who are genuinely interested in understanding the reported phenomena and not simply accepting them without proper consideration or dismissing them out of hand without same.” Yes, we are called sceptics.

With regard to what practical research I have carried out, I could ask you the same question. Are you speaking with authority as an accredited scientific researcher yourself? I am not a full time paranormal researcher, but I have, in other posts, listed some of the odd things I have investigated – “orbs” that turned out (definitively) to be no more than dust particles in front of a camera lens, for example. Where believers assume uncritically that such anomalies are supernatural, I look further. That example, of course, if fairly trivial, but a more puzzling example involved an experience I had when I saw a “UFO” take off from its undersea base at a fantastic speed, make a right-angled turn and disappear into the distance at an even more unbelievable speed. I won’t go into the details here, because I am writing it up for publication elsewhere, but you can be assured that although it was truly startling at the time, it was nothing more than an optical illusion. It did, however, take me several weeks of effort to be able to replicate the event, which I can now do at will when the relevant weather and other factors coincide to make it possible. It’s the sort of event where some people would assume a UFO and simply say, “how do you explain that?” In fact, I can explain it, and aliens from outer space do not come into it.

Is that answer good enough?

"“What about William Lodge?”

Harley, are you referring to Sir Oliver Lodge?

I find it hard to believe you have not heard of him.

Harley

Your comments were directed toward Robert but I have a few comments on them. You acknowledge that science is not all knowing, does this also mean some of our theories are possibly flawed and not written in stone. If so shouldn't we try to integrate valid paranormal research into our views. I just don't see any advantage to the see no evil, hear no evil mentality of the "skeptics".

As for Schwartz who are these mainstream scientists that you speak of? What are their criticism. I have to say hope it is far more substantial then your criticisms. Of course if you don't let someone publish your work in mainstream journals then that forces them to publish elsewhere. Of course all of this above is a red herring. The validity of Schwartz's study raise or fall on it's own merits,not what scientist so and so thinks, and not whose ink is used to put it on paper. Any criticisms of this study must be strong enough to overturn it and I think so far the only criticism offered by Harley utterly fails.

Conan Doyle. I can only suggest we evaluate the claims of a parapsychologist, or anyone else on it's own merits. I for one think Doyle was wrong about the fairies, however this does not invalidate parapsychology any more then Piltdown Man invalidates evolution. As for others about Crookes I would be curious why they say this. It is easy to say someone is credulous but showing that is another thing.

Light has no mass but it can affect the physical world.

I am not sure about this but I think your argument on physics are wrong.

http://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae605.cfm

It does seem at the small scale you can violate the law of conservation of energy.

However you to to a degree assume a poltergeist/ghost is massless and producing it's own energy. It could have a very small mass and be absorbing the energy around it. The second part is often reported in hauntings, of cold spots in areas it is operating around.

I for one like to ask you about things such as the Ganzfeld and the Rhine experiments because they prove the paranormal on a very small scale.

Keith Augustine is one of the weakest debaters I have ever come across. His counter explanations for NDEs are laughable. Anyone with a strong background in that area of research can and will rebut him easily. I recently caught him utterly misrepresenting NDE research and he did not even try to defend himself. Lastly he whines a lot.

Harley, no one calls you guys skeptics except your crowd. Others refer to you as fundamentalist and if we had gone back in time you would have been Luddites. You should really read your side and see what they say to defend their views.

http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2009/05/the-magic-bullet.html

Does that really look open minded to you?

As for UFOs and Ghost pics. I have no doubt some of it is fake, some are optical illusions but obviously it does not mean all of it is fake and illusions.

Zerdini – I was referring to William James, as referred to by Robert. My mistake.

Hi Harley
Thanks for replying. I will try to deal with your replies in some kind of order.

Lodge etc

I do not think it is unfair to ask you for your opinion of the work of eminent scientists who have investigated survival. If you have not read their work then simply say so (as you have finally) - I would not infer that your lack of awareness of specific works invalidates your opinion but if we can refer to work that we have both read, then we have a basis for discussion don't we?

Research

The research I have carried out is mostly book-based as opposed to personal experience. But why such a prickly response? The difference between us it appears to me is that my limited research leaves me to be open minded on the subject of survival. Like most on here I don't have sufficient time, resources or knowledge to conduct full scale 'scientific' investigations and them submit them for peer review. Your own admittedly limited research leads you to make confident statements about whether such phenomena are genuine or not. So we are approaching the issue from different angles. Myself with an open mind and you with a closed mind.

There was a question - 'what similar research have you read, what did you reject and why'. I don't see how much clearer a question could have been (to you and Keith). Answer came there none.

I don't think you fit your own definition of a sceptic to be frank since you are clearly setting out with a closed mind on the matter and holding an a firm opinion not based on on reading existing research by some of the leading scientists of their day.

As far as your not having the time to read the works referred to,your suggestion that you will be accused of not answering: for those who are in personal combat with you that might be an issue, for others seeking a balanced view, your opinion is of no more value (and no less) than anyone else's on here (however long it takes you to assemble it), provided that you explain your rationale and it makes sense.

UFOs

I have no real interest in such phenomena and cannot comment other than to say that surely because you find a non-UFO explanation for one incident, it is is not reasonable to extend that to all similar phenomena? If this is the extent of your research on the subject it appears trivial and offers little value outside the example you cite. It could be that the issue you refer to is a case in which your findings could be extended to a whole class of UFO phenomena, in which case clearly it would be of wider interest.

Is your answer good enough? It doesn't matter what my opinion is on the matter, but since you ask - concerning survival and the evidence to support it, your answer adds no value to the debate as far as I can see.

As far as your personal research is concerned I would say you have done none in the area of survival. This doesn't mean you aren't entitled to an opinion but as you don't seem inclined to base the discussion on work we have read in common, the answers are unhelpful and don't take the discussion forward.

As for UFOs, your comment is interesting but not in an area I have any real knowledge of or interest in.

Overall, I would say your answer is disappointing to me but not surprising.

Paul – I’m sure that you and I both can quote research that the other has not come across. That’s easy, but I don’t simply throw out names. Some people here do that. I agree that if we both referred to work that we are familiar with then there would be a better basis for argument.

I reject your statement that I am closed-minded. I’ll not bother to list the number of times I have said here that I don’t mind if anyone ever proves the existence of the paranormal; but selective thinking on your part conveniently forgets that fact. You and I have both done book based research, apparently, but I have also done practical research – sometimes taking up a big part of my time. I am not claiming that the research that I have done (for my own interest) would be sought after by any scientific journal, but that was never my intention. My point was that many believers experience something odd, and simply claim it is paranormal because they have no other explanation that they can think of - not that they really want a normal explanation. When I have found a mundane explanation for something strange, however, I do not claim that the paranormal has therefore been invalidated, I merely claim that that particular episode is nothing special. Too many people have a strange experience and claim it as supernatural just because they can’t explain it and also want to justify their existing belief. I have lost count of the number of people who have related to me a strange event and then tried to put the burden of proof onto me by saying, “How do you explain that?” I know how they explain it without going beyond their own worldview – that is being closed-minded.

I have read a lot of research, but it is a big area. As I implied earlier, there might not be a great deal of overlap between what you have read, and what I have read. I suspect you prefer research that supports your view, but I prefer science. It is neutral and has no axe to grind.

I don’t think I’ve given my definition of what a sceptic is, whatever it is you are assuming my definition might be.

I don’t think it is up to me to answer any issues raised here. This blog promotes paranormal beliefs, and it is I who want answers. When someone claims that there are things happening that are unknown to science, I feel justified in asking questions about why people believe in it, and I also feel that I should be able to put forward points that I think are justifiable objections.

With regard to UFOs, it’s just one of those things. I’m not too concerned about it and I don’t think we are being visited by extraterrestrials, but it was just an example of experiencing something that many others claim to have experienced, but unlike them I have not accepted it without question, I have actually tried to find out what was going on. And I happen to have found the answer in that instance rather than seeking publicity as so many others do. Perhaps I could have made some money by selling my story to The Sun – it was a good story, and that particular paper is only interested in what will sell, after all. You can easily pick up any downmarket tabloid newspaper and find people who say they have seen UFOs, or even that they have been abducted and been probed in various orifices, and the paper is happy to sensationalise the claim. But you would be hard pressed to find a tabloid wanting to print my own story of seeing a UFO that turned out to be nothing very interesting after all. Anyone who quotes a tabloid newspaper as a primary source of information is living in a fantasy world. Surely you would agree with that?

Survival and the evidence to support it? Well, I’d like to see some evidence that does support it – but it would have to be compelling evidence. But please don’t quote any of the celebrity psychics on TV, or personal anecdotes, or Victor Zammit, etc. If that’s good enough for you, or the majority of people who believe in it, then fine. But it’s not good enough for me.

You have mentioned many times here that you are interested in survival. It seems to be very important to you, so perhaps you can quote for me what you consider to be the very best evidence, and why you think it is compelling. I am willing to consider what you have to say on the subject, but if you merely say “William Crookes” without giving a reference to a specific paper/journal article/report that I can access, then of course I cannot go any further into it. Paranormal supporters here do tend to throw out names without references to specific research or links to relevant web resources.

I’m sure anything I have to say will always disappoint you; I’m different – I want verifiable evidence to support extraordinary claims.

Ok Harley Let's start with "Raymond" by Oliver Lodge or perhaps "Researches into the Phenomena of Spiritualism" by Sir William Crookes, both available on-line. I'd be interested to hear what you rejected and why. If you haven't read either of them and don't want to that's fine it is your choice. If your not prepared to do that then I think further dialogue with you is pointless.

As far as your rejecting my statement that you are close minded, well you would wouldn't you? As for saying you would accept something evidential - I don't think I know anyone who would say they wouldn't accept what is by their own definition 'good evidence' so it's rather a pointless statement.

I am sure that most of us have heard of weird experiences that we cannot account for. I would agree that doesn't 'prove' the paranormal, I don't think I have read anything on here saying that it would.

You gave a definition of a sceptic earlier in this thread. I assumed it was yours since you raised it. If it is someone else's definition and you don't agree with it I am puzzled as to what I should make of it.

No-one on this blog is obliged to answer questions about anything. However if you do not answer questions about matters you have raised then I think it is reasonable to assume that you are simply being argumentative and not after the truth. Some may relish a good argument but I am interested in discovering the truth of the matter, not in winning an argument.

I have never referred you to any Celebrity Psychic as you term it or to Victor Zammit - I don't know why you have mentioned it. We have never discussed it and you have no idea of my view on the matter - if you were truly interested in my opinion you would ask rather than take the approach you have.

Of course I agree that it would be foolish to rely on a report in a newspaper as good evidence in matters such as UFO research or psychic matters (and a good many other areas too). Why on Earth did you mention it - I don't recall saying anything on here that could be construed as supporting such sources.

My objection to your approach is that is is intellectually lazy. You appear not to want to engage in meaningful discourse and seem to want to avoid basing a discussion on common material. I am surprised to hear that someone who has done so much research needs to be told which works by Lodge and Crookes are relevant, there are a few. Let's pick one you have read if you don't want to use the examples I cite. Of course you haven't read any have you because it seems to me that you are not searching for the truth of the matter.You have already decided what the truth is and are content to simply bat away positive discussion.

I don't think it's true to say I would find anything you say disappointing. In fact you will recall I have agreed with you on a number of points. I am disappointed to find though that after spending much time trying to understand your perspective and getting zero useful information from you, I am still in that position. I don't think there is much point in engaging you in further discussion unless you are prepared to answer the questions you have been asked.

If you do decide to read one of the works mentioned I would be interested to hear your opinion. As long as it is your opinion based on reading the material and not a selection of cut-and-pastes from others' reviews of the work.

Harley - Paul has given you two examples for discussion namely Sir Oliver Lodge and Sir William Crookes.

As you are so interested in science perhaps you have studied these two gentlemen and will now be prepared to dicuss their findings as Paul has frequently suggested. For those who may not know who they are here is a brief summation:

Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge (1851–1940)

Lodge's principal scientific contributions were concerned with the transmission of electromagnetic waves, which led to developments in radio broadcasting. His experiments in the field of electricity started in the late 1870s. In 1887–88 he discovered that electromagnetic waves could be produced by electrical means and transmitted along conducting wires. These results were somewhat overshadowed by the work of Heinrich Hertz who in 1888 succeeded in producing electromagnetic waves, transmitted them through air, and demonstrated their similarities with light waves. In 1894 Lodge made his mark, however, by greatly improving the means of detecting these ‘Hertzian’ waves (now known as radio waves) by developing the coherer. This was an electrical device whose function was based on a discovery made in 1890 by E. Branley: that electrical discharges in certain metallic powders, caused by radio waves, resulted in a drop in electrical resistance.
Lodge is also remembered for his work on the ether, which had been postulated as the wave-bearing medium filling all space. In 1893 he devised an experiment that helped to discredit the theory. Other scientific work included investigations on lightning, the source of the electromotive force in the voltaic cell, electrolysis, and the application of electricity to the dispersal of fog and smoke. He played a part in establishing the National Physical Laboratory.

Some of his books which I recommend reading:
"Survival of Man", 1909
"Raymond, or Life and Death", 1916
"Raymond Revised", 1922
"Why I Believe in Personal Immortality", 1928
"Phantom Walls", 1929
"The Reality of a Spiritual World", 1930
"Conviction of Survival", 1930

Sir William Crookes,(1832-1919)

English chemist and physicist. After serving at the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford, and teaching chemistry at Chester Training College, he retired to work in his own laboratory in London. He discovered the element thallium and made special studies of radioactive substances in the course of which he invented the spinthariscope, used to make visible the flashes produced by bombarding a screen with the alpha rays of a particle of radium, and he devised the radiometer, which measures the intensity of radiant energy. He also intensively studied the rare earths and diamonds. Crookes devised spectacles to protect the eyes of glassworkers from damaging rays. One of his chief inventions is the Crookes tube, with which J. J. Thomson, W. C. Roentgen, R. A. Millikan, and others conducted important research. He founded the Chemical News in 1859 and was the author of numerous scientific papers and of Select Methods in Chemical Analysis (1871.

In an article, "Notes of an Enquiry into the Phenomena Called Spiritual, during the years 1870-73," (Quarterly Journal of Science, January 1874), Crookes observes, "The phenomena I am prepared to attest are so extraordinary, and so directly oppose the most firmly rooted articles of scientific belief—amongst others, the ubiquity and invariable action of the force of gravitation—that, even now, on recalling the details of what I witnessed, there is an antagonism in my mind between reason, which pronounces it to be scientifically impossible, and the consciousness that my senses, both of touch and sight—and these corroborated, as they were, by the senses of all who were present—are not lying witnesses when they testify against my preconceptions."

Crookes went on to become one of England's most celebrated and decorated scientists.
He was awarded the Royal Gold Medal (1875), the Davy Medal (1888), and the Sir Joseph Copley Medal (1904). He was knighted in 1897 (while president of the SPR) and received the Order of Merit in 1910. At different times he served as president of the Royal Society, the Chemical Society, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and the British Association. The honours were acknowledgment of his numerous scientific accomplishments, including invention of the raidmeter, the spinthariscope, and the Crookes tube, the precursor to modern television. He was the founder of the Chemical News, and editor of Quarterly Journal of Science.

" I suspect you prefer research that supports your view, but I prefer science. It is neutral and has no axe to grind."

Have you any evidence to support that assertion? Suspicion is not enough.

"When someone claims that there are things happening that are unknown to science, I feel justified in asking questions about why people believe in it, and I also feel that I should be able to put forward points that I think are justifiable objections."

Are they unknown to science? Lodge and Crookes didn't think so.

"Anyone who quotes a tabloid newspaper as a primary source of information is living in a fantasy world. Surely you would agree with that?"

Agreed.

"But please don’t quote any of the celebrity psychics on TV, or personal anecdotes, or Victor Zammit, etc. If that’s good enough for you, or the majority of people who believe in it, then fine. But it’s not good enough for me."

There is no argument about that.

"I’m sure anything I have to say will always disappoint you; I’m different – I want verifiable evidence to support extraordinary claims."

Perhaps if you tried constructive dialogue rather than reeling out a string of non sequiturs we might get somewhere.

Harley wrote:

"I want verifiable evidence to support extraordinary claims."

You already have it, Harley, by the lorry-load, as I suspect you well know.

Let's be clear. The existence of psi is a fact established by science. There are, of course, people who choose to deny that fact, just as there are people who choose to deny the Holocaust or heliocentricity.

Now, I am taking Harley's use of the term, "extraordinary claim", to refer to the reality of psi. But the reality of psi is actually an ordinary claim, in that it is something that we should expect, given what we know about the human organism, consciousness, mental states, etc. The materialist theory of mind, by contrast, is an extraordinary claim, indeed, an impossible claim, because it is conceptually incoherent - no amount of evidence is capable of supporting it.

Harley, your ignorance of journalism is astounding. Most journalists are generalists and work to strict deadlines. That necessarily means that their work contains errors. Anything published in a newspaper needs to be checked, be it a report of a wedding, or a story about UFOs. What we are not entitled to do is dismiss something, simply because it is published in a newspaper. As for the relative reliability of tabloid and "quality" newspapers, the number of libel writs received by the latter is proportionately greater (proportionate to readership, that is).

Victor Zammit, whom Harley traduces in his usual snooty fashion, has done a sterling job over the years in presenting the case for survival to a wide audience. A thousand Victor Zammits, I say.

Whilst I would agree that Victor Zammit has put a lot of work in on the subject, and I particularly refer to his book which is an interesting compendium of information (drawn from other sources but nonetheless useful and thorough) I think Victor's attitude and behaviour on-line sometimes detracts massively from his credibility. It is a shame really.

On Zammit's website he writes: "Rarest of all physical mediums is the materialization medium. In the presence of this one in a million medium, human forms appear. They can touch and be touched. They can speak and answer questions. They can move around and make noise. They can embrace their loved ones and bring to them the message that there is no death."

He very carefully omits that they have to be SEEN yet in all the examples he quotes the materializations were SEEN by all present.

This is illustrated by his constant claim that David Thompson is a materialization medium whereas the latter has stated that he is NOT a materialization medium in that all his seances are held in complete darkness.

He further states: "Materialization mediums are very rare in the world to-day, so much so that many people have never heard of them. To my knowledge, there are only four materialization mediums giving public demonstrations in the Western world, three in England and one, David Thompson, in Sydney Australia."

There are NO materialization mediums " giving public demonstrations in the Western world, three in England and one, David Thompson, in Sydney Australia."

"Psychic News" has been actively looking for materialzation mediums for some time and has advertised in its columns to no effect.

I have no idea how many materialisation mediums there are currently in the United Kingdom, Australia or anywhere else. What I do know as a fact is that certain individuals claiming to be materialisation mediums have demonstrated the power to exude ectoplasm, create full-blown phantoms, etc, under controlled conditions. One such was Marthe Beraud, who was stripped naked, tied up, made to drink bilberry syrup and subjected to examinations "per anum et vaginam" - one feat that Randall Zwinge has never attempted to "replicate" by "nornmal" means!

Before David Thompson emigrated to Australia he gave a materialisation seance in Oxfordshire which was attended by the late Montague Keen, who was so impressed by what he witnessed that he wrote a very favourable report about it (published in the "Psi Researcher"?). So there is every reason to take Mr Thompson's claims seriously even if proof is a long way off (and will remain a long way off until we get infra-red cameras into the seance room).

Mike Roll maintains that a perfect materialisation seance would constitute proof of survival because he considers that "super psi" could not be used to impersonate dead people in conditions where all five senses are working. Mike found what he believed to be an exceptional materialisation medium in Rita Goold, but Rita withdraw from mediumship having received death threats. Professor Archie Roy attended one of Rita's seances, was impressed (so I understand) but has never published his findings.

Infra-red in a seance? It'll never happen. Far be it for me to play blog sceptic (that's Harley's job) but I think the invention of night vision technology did a lot to end the career of many a supposed materialization medium...

Sesenco: There aren't any materialization mediums anywhere in the world at this time (2010. It is an extremely rare gift - the last one being the Welsh medium, Alec Harris.

Previous to him in modern times and whose seances were available to the general public were Helen Duncan and Gordon Higginson. There were also a few in private home circles.

The power to exude ectoplasm does not make you a materialisation medium - it simply shows an aspect of physical mediumship.

I am aware of the seance in Oxfordshire (the sitting took place in the home of Denzil Fairbairn (DF) in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire on Saturday October 25th, 2003) to which you refer but it was not a materialization seance.

Keen claimed "The appearance some time during the séance of a cut on the lower side of the base of my right thumb. It was made without my knowledge or awareness, and was some 2cm in length with congealed blood along the line of what would have normally been considered to be a scratch. My wife’s pre-séance picture shows no sign of any cut on my hand, whereas that taken immediately after the sitting does."

I challenged the above statement as being unacceptable in a physical seance.
Keen claimed, "The scar was still faintly visible twelve days later." (see photograph 13)

Keen later withdrew the claim about the cut finger!!

I had quite a bit of correspondence with Montague Keen when I edited a magazine dealing with physical mediumship.

Mike Roll may have been taken in by Rita Goold but experienced sitters thought otherwise. "Psychic News" refused to publish anything further about her after it's Editor attended one of her seances.

" Professor Archie Roy attended one of Rita's seances, was impressed (so I understand) but has never published his findings."

I suggest you ask Professor Roy why he never published his findings.

I have never attended a Rita Goold seance, and I cannot speak for Mike Roll. What I can do is make the following observations(based largely on what Mike has told me):

(1) Mike Roll attended many more seances than did any of Rita's detractors.

(2) Rita did not have prior access to the house where the seances were held.

(3) Rita never charged money for attendance at her seances.

(5) It is difficult to see how Rita could impersonate people not previously known to her (like Mike's father) sufficiently well to convince people who did know them that they were who they said they were.

(6) Mike attributes the hostile attitude of "Psychic News" and the SNU to professional jealousy.

Below you will see some positive accounts of Rita's mediumship.

http://www.cfpf.org.uk/articles/mediums/cleaver/cleaver.html

Whether or not Rita's mediumship was genuine I am not in a position to say. All I can do is point to serious difficulties with the fraud hypothesis.

Now to Monty Keen and his attendance at the David Thompson seance. I don't think Monty actually claimed that David Thompson was genuine. Rather, he reported his observations and expressed the view that Thompson was worthy of further study. Who could dissent from that?

I don't think the decline of physical mediumship had anything to do with the invention of night vision goggles. It was more a product of changing fashion within the Spiritualist Movement. Most physical mediums had vanished by the end of the 1930s, long before night-vision goggles came on the scene. Physical mediums were seen as tainted and vulgar. They themselves considered their performances spiritually uplifting, while others regarded it as trivial entertainment. There was, of course, a high incidence of fraud, unlike mental mediumship, where fraud is rare to non-existent.

Sesenco: it's always a problem when you quote what other people have told you rather than from personal experience.

I have had correspdence with Michael Roll before now and I find his claims to be very dubious many bordering on paranoia.

Of course Rita had prior access to the house where the seances were held - she lived there!

"Mike attributes the hostile attitude of "Psychic News" and the SNU to professional jealousy."

Strange indeed as Alan Cleaver used to work for "Psychic News".

A well known physical medium told me that he went to one of her seances and what was purported to be a child turned out to be Rita Goold crawling on the floor. The "child" was holding a torch with a red filter over the light which slipped and the visitor found himself looking into Rita's eyes!

Rita never even blinked and carried on as though nothing had happened.

She also had a case of luminous clothing in the room which the alleged spirits used to dress up in to make themselves visible.

It was shortly after these incidents that she started spreading the story that she had death threats and moved onto crop circles.

"Most physical mediums had vanished by the end of the 1930s, long before night-vision goggles came on the scene."

That's strange as I managed to sit with some of the finest physical mediums in the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties.

I dispute there was a high incidence of fraud in physical mediumship equal to what is often found in mental mediumship.

Zerdini, Mike Roll has assured me that he never attended a seance in Rita Goold's house. He may have been so stupid that he didn't realise it was Rita's house, but that is not my impression of him. No, I wasn't there, I can only go by what he tells me. Read the reports on Mike's website. Note that all of them are attributable to actual people, unlike what your anonymous "well-known physical medium" told you. I am not in a position to determine the genuineness of Rita Goold's mediumship, but I am very much in a position to question the motives of some of those who have denounced her.

Zerdini, do you have any evidence that Rita Goold lied about the death threats, or are you merely assuming this because you regard her as a fake medium?

Sesenco,I am very familiar with Michael roll's website. I never said that I regard her as a fake medium but the fact that PN refused to print anything about her after the visit by the Editor to one of her seances speaks volumes.

The "well known physical medium" I quoted has not given me permission to quote his name but he is still giving physical seances in the UK.

As far as the death threats are concerned Mike Roll is simply quoting what Rita told him. Whether they existed is open to question. Friends of mine used to sit with Rita in the early days so I have been quite au fait with her development as a medium. Both have now passed to the spirit world.

Hopefully we are both on the same side which is why truth in mediumship is very important to me.

Have you managed to contact Professor Roy yet? His phone number is on Roll's website.

The comments to this entry are closed.