Sai Baba
Dawkins on Fatima (by Robert Perry)

Fairy Stories

Hawking

It's not surprising that Stephen Hawking thinks there is no heaven or afterlife. It's what most scientists think.

But I admit to having experienced a moment of pique at seeing him describe it as a 'fairy story for people afraid of the dark'. And that the national newspaper that elicited the comment considers it so newsworthy that it makes it into a banner headline on page 3, as well as prominently displaying it above the masthead.

The remark expresses the usual contempt for people who believe things 'for which there is no evidence', and atheist readers of the rationalist Guardian will gladly assent. Useless to explain that for some of us it's a belief arrived at over a period of years, from a long process of reading, researching and reasoning. Or that others understand it experientially. We've tried to explain this, many times, in all sorts of ways, but it's a brick wall. For many people it's an unquestioned dogma: afterlife can only ever be an irrational belief,

And where does this idea come from - another of Hawking's remarks - that people who believe in a continued existence after death, for whatever reason, are not living fully in this one? Why does one have to be an atheist to value life properly?

One somehow expects top scientists - the exceptional minds that for some reason the world considers somehow to hold the ultimate secrets to human existence - to express themselves more diplomatically. Like Einstein. Or like Hawking himself, when he talked of 'knowing the mind of God', and then politely explained he only meant it metaphorically. For pragmatic reasons, if nothing else - after all, it wastes so much of their time to take sides in public controversy.

Perhaps he's just had enough. That would be understandable. He's lived, as he says, close to death for five decades, so he's had a lot of time to think about it. He got criticised by religious types for his reasoned rejection of a creator God in his last book The Grand Design. He's been seriously ill and has been working hard to prepare a public lecture tomorrow on 'Why we are here'. Perhaps he's tired of being diplomatic.

The Guardian got to pitch six questions to him, and I'm not sure they got much back - apart from this. Another of the questions elicited this cryptic response:

The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can't solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those Societies most likely to survive. We assign them a higher value."

There's been a lively debate on the Guardian blog about what this means.

Michael Prescott has had an interesting discussion on what Osama bin Laden might be experiencing on having finally arrived in the next world. As a matter of principle I try not to speculate about such things, but actually I do. I wonder what convinced atheists like Hawking will experience. A deep sense of surprise?

Bertrand Russell - another Great Brain - said that if he went to heaven and God demanded to know why he didn't believe in him, he would say: 'Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence'. Russell didn't find evidence in mathematics, although some people do. What sort of evidence for God would Hawking find in space?

Comments

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

Like many atheists, Stephen Hawking has an angry edge to his position. A statement like "fairy story for people afraid of the dark" is an obvious punch. Me, and most theists that I know tend to show more respect for atheists than than we receive. People of faith tend to be more tolerant and accepting, probably because we're not as angry. Radical fundamentalists are an exception, but then, their 'faith' is more akin to atheism, in that it is rooted in, and expressed as hatred and fear.

I can't see through the depths of Richard Dawkin's psyche, but at least the source of Stephen Hawking's anger is obvious. Despite the accolades that he is lavished with, I can imagine why no amount of praise can substitute for the anguish of his disability. Many severely disabled folks are atheist oriented. Of course, many disabled people find great strength coping with their disabilities in their faith.

The fact is, our emotions can affect out thought processes, and anger is a stupifier. My evidence is in my own experience, and I'm sure that most people can relate. Any time I've been in a situation where I'm angry, and I have to make a decision, the decision is almost always irrational. Road rage, anyone?

A lot of scientists are atheists, but I think I read that it's by no means even across fields, and that many physicists are not. Perhaps you have some stats on that, Robert.

I think it's largely an accident of history. Or, rather, understandable based on history. I think the fact that Freud and some other very influential scientists were atheists created an enormous amount of social pressure for scientists to put themselves in that group.

On the whole, denying and rejecting are cooler and easier than believing and accepting. You've got nothing to defend, and so you can't look stupid. People may not like that you're an atheist, but there is nothing really to make fun of. So I can see why it's advantageous to a scientist in the media.

But I think RabbitDawg is right about the angry edge that a lot of these guys have, which would seem to go "beyond the call of duty," as it were.

It really does seem to come from anger, and I think ultimately it's related to character. Does Dawkins, for example, seem like a happy guy who just happens to get angry and indignant when he's talking about "belief"? Not really. He seems like a d*ck who is happy to beat up on believers for not, in his perception, being as smart and enlightened as he. And so it is with most of these guys.


I think that starting

"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,"

Yes, a little bit over the top. I probably regard myself as agnostic, although I don't get hung up on these terms. It's the expression of complete certainty from a proportion of the atheist camp that turns me off from going there. Take this comment from Hawkings. Ok, so he's referring to the mind/body problem and the implications thereof. Last I looked, this is still a hotly debated issue in the philosophy of mind with plenty of papers rejecting materialism/physicalism as a coherent foundation for an explanation of subjective experience. So why the flippant remarks Prof Hawkings?

I agree with Matt Rouge that being seen as an atheist in the popular press is "cool". Ask these people in private and you may get a different story (like with belief in psi I guess).

First we must distinguish between God and afterlife, because they are two different things and only connected historically.
About God, the only evidence I could accept would be the design argument, but one could argue if they are preferable infinite universes with different constants rather than a single universe with a designer, etc. However, there are numerous evidence of life after death, strong evidence as unexpected communicants mediumship sessions, cross correspondence, children seem to remember their past lives, etc. "Fairy tale? Clearly not, what happens is that these scientists neither know nor want to know this kind of evidence.
On the other hand, consider the parallel universes and travel into the past, two topics that are very dear to the current paradigm of physics. On the parallel universes we have only some cosmological theories postulate the emergence of bubble universes in the Big Bang, but no evidence that these theories are right, and the interpretation of Hugh Everett quantum mechanics, which is just an interpretation among many others. And on the travel into the past, but physicists are repeating that it is theoretically possible, there is no evidence of beings who have come from the future, and it may be impossible, under the second law of thermodynamics and the principle of indeterminacy of quantum mechanics.
So there is more evidence of afterlife than about parallel universes and travel into the past. What happens is that the issue of afterlife lacks a theoretical envelope to be taken seriously by scientists, but if this happens, because most scientists simply ignore this issue. Something that makes me very angry, because they speak on different topics as facts when only high-flying speculation and certainly not facing the facts about afterlife.

While, like Matt, I'm not sure most scientists will be athiests per se; it is clear that many profess to be. But just as spirituality and belief can take many forms, so it is important not to lump all atheistic scientists together.

Hawking's athiesm, I suspect, has different roots from, say, that of Dawkins. For a start, unlike Dawkins he does not come over as an idealogue. Also, as has already been pointed out, there have - and still are - powerful personal factors in his life that may well explain the 'edge of anger' commented on by others. I also suspect - to pick up on Scepticofall's point - that he is not philosophically curious, or even has much of an aptitude in that direction.

His last book "The Grand Design" was certainly crticised by many as being philosophically inept. I remember a while back Hawking contributing to a book by his main scientific collaborator, Roger Penrose. In 1989 Penrose had written a best selling book called 'The Emperor's New Mind'; a remarkable mix of quantum mechanics, Platonic philosophy and speculations as to how QM relates to mind & consciousness, that attracted much interest and criticism. Hawking's contribution was to a follow up book that explored further some of the issues raised by the orginal book and the subsequent comments. What struck me was how incurious and dismissive Hawking was towards all of the large issues under discussion. His fondness for his close working colleague was clearly evident. But his attitude was that he was a physicist and and as far as he was concerned these larger questions were of no interest.

I suppose the moral to this is that being a top scientist doesn't necessitate having great philosophical or spiritual insight. There is nothing to criticise in this, but it does mean the pronouncements of scientists on spiritual matters should not necessarily carry any special weight.

Over at the Subversive Thinking blog, there's an interview with Physicist Ulrich Mohrhoff . Jime asks him about the latest Atheistic scientist theory that the Universe was naturally created out of nothing, or to use Sthephen Hawings words “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

Mohrhoff responds with "My only reply to this is a statement by C.D. Broad: “The nonsense written by philosophers on scientific matters is exceeded only by the nonsense written by scientists on philosophy.”

Nice.

"Mohrhoff responds with "My only reply to this is a statement by C.D. Broad:

"The nonsense written by philosophers on scientific matters is exceeded only by the nonsense written by scientists on philosophy.”

LOL RabbitDawg!

I must use the quote. It also reminds me that I need to read more about C.D. Broad.

BTW and slightly off topic... Have anyone out there read or is reading Stanley Kripal's new book "Authors of the Impossible"? I'm a third of the way through and I it is a nice addition to Paranormal literature.

Unless he has researched the subject then I cannot see how his opinion is anything more than prejudice. Without an explanation as to why he holds this opinion in the face of the evidence that has been gathered such statements are not worth much, if anything as far as I can see.

I'm as interested in Hawkings opinion of the possiblity of an afterlife as he should be in my quantum theorizing.

Lol Tony you may be underestimating the value of your own opinion as you might have at least considered the evidence.

Hawking is obviously a devout believer in the Darwinian hypothesis regarding the cause of biological evolution. People are very confused about this hypothesis, an many think there is something scientific about it. However, it is not scientific.

I hear what your saying realpc - my own view is that he has formed an opinion without examining the evidence which would be a shame.

“Sit down before facts like 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” - T.H.HUXLEY

“Take my word for it – it is not, as a rule, safe to trust yourself to a man who tells you that he does not believe in a God or a future life.” – WILLIAM PITT

The difference between science and religion, of course, is that there is at least some kind of consensus in the former, whilst some adherents of the latter would be happy to slit your throat if they think your religion is wrong. I have yet to hear of a fundamentalist scientific suicide bomber.

The laws of physics apply as much in Detroit as they do in Timbuktu or on the event horizon of a black hole. Evolution is also true and any dispute between scientists on the matter tends to hinge on the details rather than the overall theory. Science is not divided by country borders in the same way as religion is.

It doesn’t matter how much evidence anyone thinks they have to “prove” the truth of their own religion. Every religious person (that’s more than about 95% of the world’s population) believes that the other fellow’s religion is just wrong. Should Christianity be regarded as the “true religion” because it is the largest religion (about two billion adherents)? But that would mean that the actual majority of the world (the other five billion) agrees that Christianity is a false religion.

Take Islam, for example, (about 1.5 billion): 5.5 billion people believe that Islam is a false religion. Take that to its logical conclusion and we can see that every person on Earth believes that every other religion is just a load of old cobblers. Overall conclusion: all religions are false.

The same applies even within a single religion. As I write, Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims are busy trying to wipe each other out, and other Islamic sects are trying to do the same to each other.

Christianity itself has several thousand sects. Two obvious ones consist of Catholics and Protestants. But each of those is divided into thousands of subdivisions. Opus Dei is a famous Catholic sect, but I know a few people in my own home town who form a church based on their own interpretation of the bible; and those twenty or so people believe that they, too, have the one true religion and that everyone else is wrong. Just imagine that: twenty people in an ordinary town in England have the true religion, and the other seven billion people in the world are wrong. Ah, yes – the power of faith over evidence.

In the meantime, science just plods on, develops new treatments for illness, makes better processors for computers, finds ways to harness new forms of energy in a world that is fast running out of fossil fuels, etc., etc. Perhaps fundie Christians think they are better employed in the “Lord’s work” when they bomb abortion clinics, deny gays basic human rights, or even burn “witches” in Africa.

The bottom line is this (not my own quote): “Science has questions that might never be answered; religion has answers that may never be questioned.”

Even though science can sometimes get it wrong, it is a self-correcting enterprise that actually works.

I admit I have to raise an eyebrow, and I chuckle inwardly, when people say that scientists such as Stephen Hawking have not seen or read “the evidence” that supports religion (or clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psi or anything about the paranormal in general). In fact, scientists are people whose whole lives are spent studying evidence! They know what they are doing, and they are better qualified than most of the rest of us to make informed comments on such matters.

As an example, fundagelical Christian big-mouth Harry Camping in the USA predicted the beginning of the end of the world to occur on 21 May 2011. As it happens, I am writing this post on 23 – 5 – 11. Now there’s a thing: science knows nothing compared to the inerrant authority of the bible, according to Christianity. But we still seem to be here. Of course, I didn’t believe the pronouncements of this elderly fundie, and as it happens, most other Christians also thought he was just making loony announcements.

This is a serious matter, however: a woman in America is under arrest for trying (but, thankfully, failing) to kill her children and herself because of Camping’s pronouncements; some others have, in fact, committed suicide because of him; more people have made themselves destitute by selling their property and possessions to pay for advertising hoardings to let everyone know that they should “repent their sins.” And in the meantime, Camping himself is nowhere to be seen. Where is he? Is he the only person who was actually “raptured” into heaven? I doubt it.

But I can predict one thing with certainty: if scientists were to announce that they have detected a massive meteor on a crash course with Earth, and that it is going to wipe out all life in the world, there is not a single person on this planet that will doubt it.

Yeah, but – what do scientists know? They have to rely on verifiable evidence. They just don’t have faith! Tut, tut.

In fact, scientists are people whose whole lives are spent studying evidence! They know what they are doing, and they are better qualified than most of the rest of us to make informed comments on such matters.

Evidence of what?

Has Hawking studied the evidence for survival after the death of the physical body?

I worked in a company where virtually every person had a PhD in something or other. Although they were good in their own field they were in no position to comment on something they hadn't investigated.

Scientists are no better informed than the rest of us. The same applies to religious believers.

"I admit I have to raise an eyebrow, and I chuckle inwardly, when people say that scientists such as Stephen Hawking have not seen or read “the evidence” that supports religion (or clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psi or anything about the paranormal in general)."


Why have you put psi phenomenon in parentheses as if they belong to the same category as religeous beliefs? The most important difference between science and religion is their methods. Psi phenomena consist of observations in the natural world and, as such, are amenable to scientific investigation. If the history of sceptical commentary is anything to go by, it is quite likely that Hawking has not studied the claimed evidence for either psi or the survival of consciousness after death, regardless of what he thinks of that evidence. However, I think that his comments about the "brain as a computer" are more relevant to the philosophy behind the mind/body problem. Perhaps the plausibility of "life after death" is affected by your philosophical stance on that issue. For example, I imagine a mental monist would be more sympathetic to the idea of the continuation of consciousness after death than a materialist/physicalist.

How would he know it was dark if he was dead ? Taken in total, the evidence for survival is very persuasive. He clearly hasn't looked properly at it because he 'knows' there is no point. Why hasn't somebody told him that the dying often see a brilliant light getting ever more brilliant. Even if it eventually leads to death, it clearly isn't darkness. Therefore his statement is plain wrong. I can hear his voice modulator emitting that superior,  dismissive ' Wolpert ' chuckle. Circular thinking from a clever scientist who hasn't looked at all the data.

Zerdini – when you ask, “Evidence of what?” I am talking about evidence of the objective reality that exists out there. I am talking about the things that can be observed and tested. If you can define precisely what “psychic energy” is and show how it can be measured, then you will be welcomed into the scientific world. But there’s the problem – unlike the electromagnetic spectrum, say, which can be measured, manipulated and put to practical use, all claims about how psi supposedly work are just that – claims that have nothing to back them up. Please show us how to detect, measure and use “psychic energy.” Produce as many anecdotes and as much personal testimony as you like, but until this mysterious energy is objectively detected, science is going to ignore it.

Scientists do not, in fact, need to investigate claims that have no scientific plausibility. Various claims made about psi do not fit in with known physical laws, so if someone wants to insist that some mysterious energy from outside the universe can interact with earthly matters, then the onus is on the claimant to prove their assertions. The laws of thermodynamics are at stake here, so it’s a big deal. (An extraordinary claim, in fact, so extraordinary evidence is required)

As to how well informed scientists are compared to religious believers, try visiting a library – especially a university library - and see how much information is available about the world and the universe. This is information that has been painstakingly worked out by patient thinkers over thousands of years. Some of the most fundamental discoveries upon which modern science is based came from the ancient Greeks (or maybe that should be ancient Geeks). On the other hand, what has religion given us by way of real knowledge? The sole source of “knowledge” in Christianity, for example, consists of one single source – the bible. And yet these people also claim to have the answers to every aspect of reality. The only problem is that their answer to every question - from where the universe came from to why people die of cancer - is the same: “God did it.” They might be smug and self satisfied, but they explain exactly nothing. Unlike science. I suspect that if you had a fault with your electricity supply, then you would call an electrician rather than have your local minister pray for you or exorcise your fuse box.

I would say that scientists do know more than most of the rest of us; but the religious have simply surrendered to ignorance.

Scepticofall – yes, I do indeed put alleged psi phenomena in the same category as religious belief. They both appeal to what can only be called the supernatural, and they also have the same lack of objective verification. To believe in either is to believe in magic.

Are psi phenomena really amenable to scientific investigation? After about 150 years of psi investigation, its promoters are still trying – and failing – to prove that there is anything happening at all, never mind showing what the underlying “forces” might be. As I said earlier, it is going to be necessary to show what this alleged psychic energy is, how to measure it and how to use it. In the meantime, flawed research by parapsychologists whose results cannot be replicated by others is rather meaningless.

I would be reasonably satisfied, however, if you could answer a question I have asked here many times, but which has been continually ignored as though I had never asked it, namely: believers in psi say that psychics are real, and there is agreement that there are some frauds out there. Please tell me how to tell the difference between a real psychic and a fraud (or even a sincere non psychic who is merely self-deluded).

In other words, please show us an objective test that will show us who is, or is not, psychic.

I don’t know what, if any, evidence Stephen Hawking has studied with regard to psi, but at least what he does do has had significant results in the real world. I could ask you, as I have asked here before: what has parapsychology added to scientific knowledge?

T T – I know that dying people sometimes report seeing a bright light; but drunk people often report seeing pink elephants. I take that as evidence that they were drunk, not that pink elephants exist. Similarly, a dying person seeing a bright light does not prove the existence of an afterlife, just that they believe they saw a bright light.

BTW, Harold Camping has reappeared. Apparently, according to him, the Rapture DID happen on Saturday, but it was spiritual, not physical. It was a test of people’s faith. God has spared us – for now. But the end of the world will still happen on 21 October this year, he says. I can’t tell you how worried I am.

Scepticofall

You are new here, so just be warned Harley is a troll. No amount of evidence will change is mind, no matter how obvious it is he is wrong he will never concede it, he will misrepresent your arguments and reading his responses it will become evident he never once read the literature and research in question.

Talking with him about parapsychology is a useful as discussing the merits of gay rights with Fred Phelps.

If you doubt me ask Paul or the Major about his past conduct on here.

Harley,

"yes, I do indeed put alleged psi phenomena in the same category as religious belief. They both appeal to what can only be called the supernatural, and they also have the same lack of objective verification. To believe in either is to believe in magic."

I assume you would agree that since religious belief is based on faith, people who hold such beliefs do not offer them to the process of objective verification. Parapsychology, on the other hand, assumes that psi can be studied scientifically just like other natural phenomena. Regardless of how you interpret the current evidence for psi, the fact that psi can, in principle, be studied scientifically sets it apart from religious faith. That is my first point.

My second point is related, and is an objection to your claim that psi phenomena appeal to supernatural concepts. Parapsychology is the attempt to study psi scientifically. In doing so, one presumes that psi is a natural phenomena, not supernatural. The concept of the supernatural, by definition, is not amenable to scientific investigation.

Similarly, the concept of magic (not conjuring of course) precludes its scientific investigation. To claim that belief in psi is tantamount to belief in magic is the same as claiming that you cannot study psi scientifically. Notwithstanding your lack of logcal justification of that claim, this contradicts the establishment of the SPR and parapsychology as a scientific field of inquiry. If these organisations thought psi was magical, they would not be scientific organisations.

Are psi phenomena really amenable to scientific investigation? After about 150 years of psi investigation, its promoters are still trying – and failing – to prove that there is anything happening at all, never mind showing what the underlying “forces” might be.

This is a description of how you have interpreted the history of experimental parapsychology. We need to put such interpretations aside in order to get at our disagreement about the relationship between religious beleif and psi. What sets aside the concept of psi phenomena from religious belief is the principle that the former can be scientifically investigated whereas the latter is based on faith. You can claim that parapsychology has had 150 years of failure if you like - I disagree - but it does not impact on my argument that you are confusing two very different approaches to getting at the truth. Personally, I evaluate the existence of psi based on scientific evidence. That is different from believing or disbelieving in psi because of faith. I appreicate that you are putting across a message of scepticism towards the current evidence for psi, but it was not the intention of my original post to challenge that contention. That is a different story altogether.

In answer to your request for an objective test that will show us who is, or is not, psychic, based on the current state of play I would suggest running your individual through about 1000 precognitive ganzfeld sessions and see what result they get. If it's significantly above chance - psychic.


"I could ask you, as I have asked here before: what has parapsychology added to scientific knowledge?"

That depends on your interpretation of the evidence. For example, proponents might say that parapsychology has demonstrated that current assumptions about the limits of cognitive information processing are wrong, or that we have evidence for retro-causal effects in the central nervous system - quite an achievement. Sceptics would say otherwise as you well know. It's all about the interpretation of the evidence.

Harley

Can you tell me where I mentioned "psychic energy"? I have no idea what you are referring to.

I have no interest in religious beliefs either whether it is atheism or any orthodox religious belief.

You state: "Scientists do not, in fact, need to investigate claims that have no scientific plausibility."

If they are real scientists they will investigate everything whether they regard it as plausible or not.

As Professor Hyslop wrote:

“Personally I regard the fact of survival after death as scientifically proved. I agree that this opinion is not upheld in scientific quarters. But this is neither our fault nor the fault of the facts. Evolution was not believed until long after it was proved. The fault lay with those who were too ignorant or too stubborn to accept the facts. History shows that every intelligent man who has gone into this investigation, if he gave it adequate examination at all, has come out believing in spirits; this circumstance places the burden or proof on the shoulders of the skeptic.”

Sir Oliver Lodge:

“Experience must be our guide. To shut the door on actual observation and experiment in this particular region, because of preconceived ideas and obstinate prejudices, is an attitude common enough, even among scientific men; but it is an attitude markedly unscientific. Certain people have decided that inquiry into the activities of discarnate mind is futile; some few consider it impious; many, perhaps wisely mistrusting their own powers, shrink from entering on such an inquiry. But if there are any facts to be ascertained, it must be the duty of some volunteers to try to ascertain them: and for people having any acquaintance with scientific history to shut their eyes to facts when definitely announced, and to forbid investigation or report concerning them on pain of ostracism, is to imitate a bygone theological attitude in a spirit of unintended flattery – a flattery from which every point of view is eccentric; and likewise to display an extraordinary lack of humour.”

Sir William Crookes:

“It argues ill for the boasted freedom of opinion among scientific men, that they have so long refused to institute a scientific investigation into the existence and nature of facts asserted by so many competent and credible witnesses, and which they are freely invited to examine when and where they please. For my own part, I too much value the pursuit of truth, and the discovery of any new fact in nature, to avoid inquiry because it appears to clash with prevailing opinions. But as I have no right to assume that others are equally willing to do this, I refrain from mentioning the names of my friends without their permission.”

Harley,I  was merely making the point that Stephen Hawking's assumption about death equalling darkness is clearly wrong. 
Do drunk people  really see pink elephants or any other large African mammals painted in gaudy colours ? Have you surveyed on the subject ? I've been drunk enough on many occasions and I for one have never seen a pink elephant or a magenta rhinoceros nor even a  flourescent green wart hog.You don't believe in all this 'silly nonsense' about spirits and the afterlife do you, Harley.  I do believe in it, because I've looked at the evidence and whilst it's not conclusive, I'll jump the last little bit and if I'm wrong, well I'll never know will I. 

Kris – the grown-ups are talking, so please butt out. Scepticofall might well be a relatively new commenter here, but he (she?) has raised some reasonable points that I would like to address without your vacuous and inane ad hominem interruptions.

Scepticofall – I agree that religion is a matter of faith, although there are those who believe that it is scientifically testable and that proofs can be offered. Harold camping thought he could do that through a series of mathematical calculations to prove that the beginning of the end of the world would happen on Saturday 21 May. It didn’t happen, of course, and his prediction can now be added to the ever-growing list of failed doomsday predictions.

But I think that scientific study of alleged psi phenomena is in pretty much the same situation. As I said earlier, the study of psi phemomena is still about trying to show that there is something actually happening when claims of the paranormal are made; but there is nothing being produced that investigates or explains what might be causing such alleged phenomena.

The evidence for the existence of psi consists mostly of anecdotes and personal testimony, and parapsychological research that has never been replicated by mainstream science. It’s all fine and well to postulate “psychic energy,” or “vibrations” or whatever, but until that hypothesis can be tested and verified, parapsychology is going to be left out in the cold.

Personally, I don’t mind if the existence of psi can be proven – it would, arguably, be the greatest discovery ever made. However, and as I have said here before, I am against the idea that frauds and charlatans can get away with bilking vulnerable people. A friend of mine has spent thousands of pounds running up credit card bills and bank loans to pay for psychics to contact her father who died suddenly. And for all that, all she has found out is the usual, “He’s fine and he wants you to know that he loves you...” cold reading nonsense.

If psi were real, and could be verified, then it would be possible to regulate the industry (and an industry it is), to ensure that psychics would have to achieve at least a minimum level of competence before they are allowed to ply their trade. And that is why I often ask the question, “How does one tell which psychics are real, and which are not?” It is, I think, the most important question that can be asked. It is also the question that no one will answer.

I can (sort of) go along with your second point that psi is, (if it exists) perhaps a natural rather than supernatural phenomenon. But the same problem remains – what is the underlying mechanism? I get tired of people throwing words like “quantum” around. If it exists and quantum physics, for example, can explain it, then please prove it. I suspect that if quantum physics can explain psi phenomena, then it will be a quantum physicist that will win a Nobel Prize, not some cold-reading stage psychic or parapsychologist.

But wouldn’t you think that if people survive physical death (and they include some very eminent scientists including Nobel laureates) that they would tell us through some psychic mediums just how the whole process works? Then that could be tested, verified and proved. If that happened, then there would be no more disagreement about the existence of psi than there is about anything else in the world that actually works.

I don’t deny that the SPR and parapsychology are trying to be scientific in their investigations, but they have not produced any results that can be independently confirmed. What they produce is, to say the least, controversial – but certainly not conclusive. Albert Einstein introduced the concept of time dilation, which was a very radical idea. But it has been tested and confirmed over and over again. GPS positioning systems work only because of it. Only a fool would deny the existence of satnav.

Let me quote another point you made:

“In answer to your request for an objective test that will show us who is, or is not, psychic, based on the current state of play I would suggest running your individual through about 1000 precognitive ganzfeld sessions and see what result they get. If it's significantly above chance - psychic.”

I have to say that that would not be acceptable as a scientific test, not least because the Ganzfeld tests are not established science. Controversial, maybe, but not acceped science. And a score significantly above chance does not, in itself, imply that there is anything psychic going on.

What about this as a test: I would suggest that we try to find a psychic who can win the lottery at a rate higher than chance (I know it’s a cliché, but please bear with me, and I’m not even asking that the psychic of your choice should win every time).

The probability of winning the lottery in a six out of 49 draw, as we have here in the UK is this:

49x48x47x46x45x44/6x5x4x3x2x1

= 1/13,983,816. (Say, 1 in 14 million)

But we can also factor in the fact that there are additional prizes for 3, 4, or 5 numbers, and also a nice extra prize for getting five numbers plus the bonus ball. A psychic doesn’t have to just predict the six balls, but just get significantly more wins and more money than anyone else.

We could invite, say, 100 psychics to pick a set of numbers; 100 randomly selected members of the public to pick a set of numbers; and then 100 independently generated random sets of numbers.

The lottery in the UK is drawn twice per week, so a thousand trials could be done over a period of about ten years (there’s no hurry).

My prediction (hypothesis) would be that the psychics and members of the public would have approximately equal results, and that the random number generators would get the most hits. The problem, though, is that even if the psychics get a significantly higher than average number of wins (as I said just earlier), then that, on its own, would not necessarily mean that clairvoyance is what is happening, anymore than if the random number generator comes out on top.

My “interpretation” of the history of parapsychology is, in fact, correct. I will be willing to admit to error if you can show me that there is more to it than merely trying to show that there is something happening. I have no argument with scientists such as William Crookes with regard to his actual, verifiable, scientific work, which is still very relevant today. But that work can still be done, tested, verified and put to practical use. The same does not apply to his paranormal research.

If the paranormal is real, then there must surely be a mechanism by which it works. And apart from the fact that no-one can even replicate the results claimed by parapsychologists, the parapsychologists themselves can offer no testable hypotheses about what underlies these alleged psi effects. And that is the crux of the matter (for me, at least).

One does not need faith to believe that Crookes, for example, was correct in his scientific work (it has been well tested and verified); but one certainly needs faith to believe in his paranormal hypotheses.

As for “interpretation of evidence,” I agree that evidence often has to interpreted against the background of what is being tested, but if the evidence is such that it can be “interpreted” to suit completely different hypotheses, then I think the evidence is worthless and a new experiment is needed. Sometimes evidence from various experiments does lead straight back to the drawing board, as it were.

Zerdini – I know you didn’t mention “psychic energy” explicitly, but I mentioned it because I assume you would agree that there must be some underlying cause for alleged paranormal phenomena. In the same way that astronomers use “dark matter” as a convenient term to describe something they have observed but cannot yet explain, psychic energy is usually posited as a name, at least, for an explanation of psi. But, like dark matter, it still has to be demonstrated and explained. You seem to be a supporter of the psi hypothesis, so I’m not sure why you seem to take exception to me mentioning it.

I am also correct when I say that scientists do not need to investigate claims that have no scientific plausibility. Are you serious that scientists should investigate any old claim that comes their way? Should we really spend time and scarce resources searching for leprechauns, fairies, hobgoblins and anything else that anyone can think of? It’s fine by me if some investigators want to take it upon themselves to do such investigations, but so far they are just going up so many blind alleys. The Large Hadron Collider cost billions to construct, but it is there to follow up serious science, not to waste time trying to find out if someone has fairies at the bottom of their garden.

Names you offer such as Hyslop, Lodge and Crookes, and what they had to say carry no weight with me. Add as many other scientific names as you like, but there is still one major hurdle to overcome: all of those scientists might well have had distinguished careers and contributed greatly to society through their scientific work, but their speculations about the paranormal remain just that – speculations. The quotes you gave are little more than rhetoric, and such an appeal to authority does not make the paranormal true.

I can be convinced that anything supernatural is true only if someone would kindly demonstrate it for me. Does God cure dying people? It happens all the time, according to the believers, but I would like to see a prayer result in an amputee being healed. Somehow it never seems to happen. Cancers can go into spontaneous remission, but amputated limbs never regrow, no matter how much prayer is applied.

T T – I agree with you that death does not equal darkness, but only because the perception of darkness requires consciousness, which no longer exists for those who have died. I think that after physical death there is no experience whatsoever, anymore than there was for anyone before they were born (or even conceived, if you like).

I probably don’t have your experience of being drunk. It is several decades since I have allowed that to happen to me, but my point about pink elephants was not meant to be taken literally except in the sense that drunkenness induces weird experiences that seem real at the time, but are not real at all.

You might well believe in the afterlife because you, like most other commenters on this blog, have “looked at the evidence.” But like the other commenters here, you have not studied any evidence that contradicts your beliefs (or if you have, you clearly do not have the scientific training that would allow you to critically evaluate your position on the subject). You believe. You accept it on faith. Just like the religious accept their own beliefs – no (verifiable) evidence needed.

When the Large Hadron Collider starts to produce results, I don’t think there will be much dispute about it. LHC, however, is real physics (science). But I’m not really expecting anyone to start a blog to argue about whether the LHC actually exists or not.

Harley

I am have skinned your idiotic ass for years, people can simply read our discussions to see how stupid you are. And yes you are an idiot of the first order. I am simply warning the new comers of what a troll you are.

Harley, it’s clear that we differ greatly in our approach to this topic. You make lots of interesting comments, too many for me to address in the spare time I have to comment on this blog. So I thought I would respond to this one because I see it as the most fundamental:

I can (sort of) go along with your second point that psi is, (if it exists) perhaps a natural rather than supernatural phenomenon. But the same problem remains – what is the underlying mechanism? I get tired of people throwing words like “quantum” around. If it exists and quantum physics, for example, can explain it, then please prove it.

Why is any of this objectionable? In science, observations can exist that have no current explanation. They are called anomalies. Scientists propose hypotheses and theories to explain those anomalies. Sometimes, the observation can come first, explanation second, which you then test with further experiments of course. A classic example would be the scattering of alpha particles observed by Geiger and Marsden. The problem faced by parapsychology is that the observation (psi) is much more difficult to elicit in a reliable way than the effects observed by Geiger and Marsden (which incidentally, were at first quite difficult to elicit in their laboratory). So in this sense, psi can exist as an anomalous observation – an observation that shouldn’t theoretically happen in certain circumstances. As scientists, one thing we can do is to set up those circumstances and observe whether the observation appears. You and I, of course, disagree upon whether the observation has, in fact, appeared consistently over the course of parapsychology’s history (which, as it happens, is equivalent to only a few months of research in American psychology).

In addition, paranormal experiences are already part of the natural world. On average, survey’s suggest that something like 30-40% of the population have had these kinds of spontaneous experience in one form or another. That doesn’t mean that they have a truly paranormal underlying cause – that is for science to find out. But the fact that we know these extra-ordinary experiences exist provides an a posteriori reason to search for explanations, normal or paranormal.

'But like the other commenters here, you have not studied any evidence that contradicts your beliefs (or if you have, you clearly do not have the scientific training that would allow you to critically evaluate your position on the subject).'

What evidence in particular are you thinking of, Harley?

Harley,
You are an odd bird, aren't you. All kinds of sweeping statements and generalisations. How do you know what I have looked at or not looked at or what credentials I have or haven't... ?
I was surprised to learn that you haven't been drunk for several decades because I didn't think you were really that old based on your ' combative teenage internet atheist' style of composition and opinion.

There really is no point in debating with you, Harley, because clearly you already know the answers.

But like the other commenters here, you have not studied any evidence that contradicts your beliefs (or if you have, you clearly do not have the scientific training that would allow you to critically evaluate your position on the subject

Translation: "Because you disagree with my position you must not have understood it"

just kidding.

Zerdini – I know you didn’t mention “psychic energy” explicitly, but I mentioned it because I assume you would agree that there must be some underlying cause for alleged paranormal phenomena. In the same way that astronomers use “dark matter” as a convenient term to describe something they have observed but cannot yet explain, psychic energy is usually posited as a name, at least, for an explanation of psi. But, like dark matter, it still has to be demonstrated and explained. You seem to be a supporter of the psi hypothesis, so I’m not sure why you seem to take exception to me mentioning it.

Harley – Don’t ‘assume’ – ask yourself what comes between ass and me?

I have no idea what you mean by the psi hypothesis.

I am convinced (I do not believe) beyond a shadow of doubt that my friends and loved ones have survived the death of their physical bodies. Why? Simply because over the last fifty years everyone I have known and cared about have given me evidence of their survival through every form of mediumship possible. I have seen them materialise as solid as any human being and watched them dissolve through my fingers while holding their hands. I have had conversations with them in their own voice on a regular basis over more than ten years.

I am also correct when I say that scientists do not need to investigate claims that have no scientific plausibility. Are you serious that scientists should investigate any old claim that comes their way?

No I never said or implied that.

Should we really spend time and scarce resources searching for leprechauns, fairies, hobgoblins and anything else that anyone can think of? It’s fine by me if some investigators want to take it upon themselves to do such investigations, but so far they are just going up so many blind alleys. The Large Hadron Collider cost billions to construct, but it is there to follow up serious science, not to waste time trying to find out if someone has fairies at the bottom of their garden.

As Lodge said: “Certain people have decided that inquiry into the activities of discarnate mind is futile; some few consider it impious; many, perhaps wisely mistrusting their own powers, shrink from entering on such an inquiry.” I agree with Lodge – let us look at the evidence.

Names you offer such as Hyslop, Lodge and Crookes, and what they had to say carry no weight with me. Add as many other scientific names as you like, but there is still one major hurdle to overcome: all of those scientists might well have had distinguished careers and contributed greatly to society through their scientific work, but their speculations about the paranormal remain just that – speculations. The quotes you gave are little more than rhetoric, and such an appeal to authority does not make the paranormal true.

These are all distinguished scientists who have investigated the paranormal. Hardly speculations! They may carry no weight with you but they do carry a lot of weight in the scientific community at large.

As a matter of interest, Harley, what are your scientific credentials? And in what area of scientific research?

Harley, the distinguished scientists whose works you dismissed as specualtion wrote the following books regarding their investigations:

“Enigmas of Psychical Research” by James Hyslop Ph.D, LL.D

“Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism” by William Crookes F.R.S.

Among the numerous books written by Sir Oliver Lodge F.R.S. are the following:

“Survival of Man”, “Phantom Walls”, “Why I Believe in Personal Immortality” etc.

Harley your suggestion regarding the lottery would not prove anything.

You would think independent numbers would hit randomly, but they don't exactly, they trend in sequential probability. The sum of the six numbers when plotted as a graph always form a bell curve.

In a 6/49 lotto game, 27.4 percent of the sums fall within the Sum Range of 115 to 185 yet account for 71.32 percent of the jackpot winning combinations!

This means that if you play a six-number combination with a sum that falls either above or below the 115 to 185 range, you can expect that the numbers with the sum you selected will fail to show up, giving you no chance to win, 71 percent of the time.

I have had five numbers correct on four occasions at odds of 55491/1.

I've also had four numbers correct at odds of 1032/1 on innumerable occasions.

I don't claim to be a psychic but simply apply simple mathematical principles.

It's simply a fun hobby for me as I enjoy working with figures.

Scepticofall – I don’t disagree with much of what you said in your first paragraph, but I will clarify one point, namely the fact that I object to people using the word “quantum” as if it is some kind of explanation for psi. Not only has the existence of psi not been conclusively demonstrated, the use of “quantum” as an explanation is as meaningless as “psychic energy” or any other terms that paranormal supporters use in their arguments. It might sound science-y, but that’s all.

I would say that people do experience odd things that appear to them to be paranormal, only because they do not have a natural explanation handy. But I think it might be a claim too far to say that paranormal experiences per se are a part of the natural world. I do not dismiss paranormal claims on a priori grounds, I merely point out the fact that no one who claims to have paranormal powers can ever demonstrate their claims under controlled conditions, and mainstream science can never replicate the claims made by parapsychologists. As it happens, Richard Wiseman’s failed replication of Daryl Bem’s recent work has just been rejected for publication in the same journal that published the original study.

T T – my “combative teenage internet atheist' style”? Hmm… you’d be surprised if we ever met – I don’t look my age, either.

I don’t, however, claim to “know the answers.” I ask a lot of questions on this blog, but they are usually ignored or I am subjected to insults and abuse. I can take that, without even feeling ill will towards those who use such tactics. If some believers in psi think that such tactics are the best way to promote the paranormal view, that’s up to them. If you don’t want to debate me then fine – that is your privilege.

Zerdini – you say, “Harley – Don’t ‘assume’ – ask yourself what comes between ass and me?” I don’t know what you mean – perhaps you can tell me what does come between ass and you.

You don’t know what I mean by the psi hypothesis? Fair enough.

You appear to be describing séances when you give your account of conversing with those you believe have survived the death of their physical bodies. I do not doubt that those experiences seem very real to you, but I am not convinced by anecdotes. And of course filming such events just isn’t going to happen. Nothing in the way of tangible evidence for claims such as yours ever – dare I say it – materialise.

You quote me correctly here: “I am also correct when I say that scientists do not need to investigate claims that have no scientific plausibility. Are you serious that scientists should investigate any old claim that comes their way?”

But then you say, “No I never said or implied that.”

In fact, you said, “If they are real scientists they will investigate everything whether they regard it as plausible or not.” Here is the link:

http://monkeywah.typepad.com/paranormalia/2011/05/fairy-stories.html?cid=6a00d8341c6d8553ef01538ec4f9f3970b#comment-6a00d8341c6d8553ef01538ec4f9f3970b

That seems pretty unambiguous to me. But if you cannot remember what you wrote in the last couple of days, forgive me if I pause when you are recalling séance events over several decades.

Distinguished scientists have investigated the paranormal, right enough. But none of them have supplied confirmable evidence of its existence. Their speculations do not, in fact, carry any weight in the “scientific community at large.” We might as well discuss alchemy; after all, Sir Isaac Newton was distinguished and studied it and believed that base metals can be turned into gold. But he got nowhere with that, either. When a distinguished scientist proclaims something to be true, he (or she) can still be wrong. We need the claims to be demonstrated unambiguously.

I would not really expect my suggestion about the lottery to prove anything other than that psychics, like anyone else, can score no better than chance, and that there is no need to assume they have any special abilities.

Your last point is interesting – you seem to be suggesting that you have a system that can beat the lottery.

But you are not the first one to think that. In fact, what you have is a variation of what is called The Gambler’s Fallacy. In a fair system, independent numbers do actually hit randomly. And Harold Camping was just as certain that his own mathematical calculations proved the imminent end of the world. People who have a betting system are often uncharitably called mugs, but the owners of gambling companies call them “valued customers.”

Robert – your question to me, “What evidence in particular are you thinking of, Harley?” is deeper than it seems on the face of it.

Contradictory evidence that I allude to does not purport to be evidence or proof that psi does not exist, or that any claimed psychic does not have paranormal abilities. James Randi himself has stated clearly that the failure of someone to win his million dollars does not disprove the existence of psi, nor does it prove that any claimant does not have paranormal abilities. That’s true, and the best that can be said in such a situation is that a claimed psychic did not produce psi effects at that particular time on that particular day.

Randi’s challenge is not meant to disprove the existence of the paranormal for the simple reason that one cannot prove a negative (maybe that can be done in formal logic, but that does not apply here). No one can give proof that psi does not exist.

However, the contradictory evidence I allude to is not as direct as a randomised double blind experiment. It is a bit more subtle than that. I can’t speak on behalf of other sceptics, but mostly (for me, at least) contradictory evidence lies, for example, in the fact that the promoters of psi simply dodge fair questions – sometimes with the additional bonus of insults and abuse hurled at me, or just give lists of standard excuses for the failure of psychics to just do what they claim. But let me try it with you and see what happens:

People on this blog claim that the paranormal is real, not least because Crookes, Lodge and a host of others say so. They claim that it is an established scientific fact. They claim that psychic mediumship is therefore true.

But we all agree that of the mediums plying their trade, there are at least some who are not real psychics but frauds, or merely honestly deluded about their professed abilities.

So the question is this: what objective, testable method is there to determine whether a psychic is the real deal or not?

The thing about all of this, of course, is that anywhere else you go – your doctor, car mechanic, TV repair man or whoever, all of them have had to undergo accredited training and satisfied an examining body that they have reached an acceptable level of competence in their chosen field. The same cannot be said about psychics. Anyone can call themselves a psychic and set up shop. Something is wrong with that sort of situation. But no one who believes in the paranormal will support the idea of formal regulation of the psychic industry. I find that very understandable, however.

No one can demonstrate a reliable method to detect the difference between a so-called real psychic and someone who claims to be psychic but is not. There is no one on this blog who will offer such a testable method, nor is there an established protocol equivalent to an academic exam; the SPR cannot provide a definitive way of establishing the psychic credentials of a professed clairvoyant; people who are found cheating in their psychic performances are quickly excused – no (real) questions asked, etc.

None of that, of course provides proof that psi is not real. But everywhere I look I see claims being made. Remote viewing is often put forward here as an example of “proven” psi. But when I ask a simple question about why remote viewers have not been sighted in Japan I am ignored or the discussion is deflected. The same applies with the fact that these remarkable people are not directing the clearance of minefields or preventing suicide bombers from killing thousands of people every year. They don’t find missing people, either, or live up to the innumerable claims made for them. Remote viewing is just one example of a big claim being made, but absolutely no real-world results to show for it. I look at the claims, and then I look at the actual results – zero. That, for me, counts as strong evidence that remote viewing (as just one example) is not real.

And the same applies in other areas of psi. Claims are made. Nothing happens.

Harley

I remember exactly what I wrote.

You stated: "Are you serious that scientists should investigate any old claim that comes their way? " to which I replied:

“No I never said or implied that.”

I also wrote:

“If they are real scientists they will investigate everything whether they regard it as plausible or not.” adding the opinions of distinguished scientists such as Crookes, Lodge, Hyslop etc regarding the above.

You may not regard the matter of life after death to be scientifically plausible and unworthy of investigation but these and many other scientists did.

Your references to hobgoblins etc I regarded simply as a red herring to deflect attention from the main argument.

By the way, when discussing direct voice seances I didn't trust to memory - they were all tape recorded.

Have you read the works I listed? They give detailed results of their investigations.

“Enigmas of Psychical Research” by James Hyslop Ph.D, LL.D

“Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism” by William Crookes F.R.S.

Among the numerous books written by Sir Oliver Lodge F.R.S. are the following:

“Survival of Man”, “Phantom Walls”, “Why I Believe in Personal Immortality” etc.

Quote: "These are all distinguished scientists who have investigated the paranormal. Hardly speculations! They may carry no weight with you but they do carry a lot of weight in the scientific community at large.

"As a matter of interest, Harley, what are your scientific credentials? And in what area of scientific research?"

I note you did not answer the above.

Regarding the lottery you state: "Your last point is interesting – you seem to be suggesting that you have a system that can beat the lottery."

I never said that I have a system that can beat the lottery. I stated that I had won on numerous occasions.

I am not a gambler. I just applied simple mathematical principles. I also wrote:

"Harley your suggestion regarding the lottery would not prove anything.

"You would think independent numbers would hit randomly, but they don't exactly, they trend in sequential probability. The sum of the six numbers when plotted as a graph always form a bell curve."

You haven't proved that incorrect.

The odds of winning the jackpot are about 14 million to one but it is possible to win smaller amounts on a regular basis. You don't have to be psychic to do that.

I don’t disagree with much of what you said in your first paragraph, but I will clarify one point, namely the fact that I object to people using the word “quantum” as if it is some kind of explanation for psi. Not only has the existence of psi not been conclusively demonstrated, the use of “quantum” as an explanation is as meaningless as “psychic energy” or any other terms that paranormal supporters use in their arguments. It might sound science-y, but that’s all.

There are many different contexts in which quantum theory is invoked to explain psi. Sometimes it’s done by the layperson with no scientific training. Other times it’s done by physicists with extensive knowledge of such matters. I would naturally trust that the latter group are more justified in their opinion than the former, without wanting to fall victim to the argument from authority. So it is unwise to tar everyone with the same brush. There are notable physicists who have theorised about psi in terms of extensions to existing quantum theory (see papers by Henry Stapp, Brian Josephson, Walter von Lucadou). With respect, I assume that they know more about these matters than you (or I). If I am wrong, perhaps you could explain why you think explanations of psi that invoke quantum theory are inappropriate? Or perhaps point out the errors in the above authors papers?


I would say that people do experience odd things that appear to them to be paranormal, only because they do not have a natural explanation handy. But I think it might be a claim too far to say that paranormal experiences per se are a part of the natural world.

Perhaps you misunderstood my point. The existence of these experiences per se is not in question. There is no doubt they exist. The arguments begin when they are either interpreted as having normal or paranormal causes. I was merely pointing out that since such experiences exist in the natural world, we are compelled to find the best explanation for them. Many people, like yourself, believe that normal explanations are sufficient to explain all cases of paranormal experience. I’m not so sure. But the best way to find out whether some of them may be paranormal is to do science with that goal in mind. That is where parapsychology comes in, which is different from the equally legitimate science that assumes these experiences have normal causes (in which case you are doing anomalistic psychology - see Chris French etc).


I do not dismiss paranormal claims on a priori grounds, I merely point out the fact that no one who claims to have paranormal powers can ever demonstrate their claims under controlled conditions…

Well, this is clearly where we disagree, and to be honest I’m a bit puzzled as to what kind of data you are basing your argument on. For example, do you have any specific criticisms of the studies that are out there? There are numerous cases in the literature of ‘exceptional subjects’ performing well in controlled experiments. For example, Hubert Pearce performed remarkably well at Rhine’s lab. I would also suggest looking at the book Dream Telepathy by Krippner at. Pay particular attention to Malcolm Bessent and his precognitive dream trials which were highly significant. Later work using EEG and a forced choice test revealed some very interesting results with him. Alternatively you might want to check out Joe McMoneagle and his remote viewing work with Dr. Edwin May and colleagues, again a very high scoring subject.


…and mainstream science can never replicate the claims made by parapsychologists. As it happens, Richard Wiseman’s failed replication of Daryl Bem’s recent work has just been rejected for publication in the same journal that published the original study.

It does appear as if sceptical experimenters on the whole produce negative results more often which is interesting (I’m using the term ‘sceptic’ here to refer to a position rather than a method. Everyone doing science is a sceptic in the truer sense). Yes, Wiseman and co.’s replication attempts failed and did not get published in JPSP, but they will get published somewhere I’m sure. And that’s the main thing. As far as successful replications from mainstream scientists go, there are quite a number of examples. Recently, Jonathan Schooler (a conventional social psychologist) has reported conceptual replications of Bem’s retro-causal studies (why are his experiments not mentioned by the sceptical crowd?). There is an interesting paper in the Humanistic Psychologist by a group of sceptical researchers who report positive results for a series of ganzfeld studies. They report an overall significant hit rate of 32% which is pretty much the same as reported in meta-analyses. Yet, if you read the paper, they bend over backwards to explain this result away by performing one more study with an ad hoc hypothesis loaded with assumptions about how psi should work (apparently, both the received and sender need to be psychic in order for ganzfeld to work – this is news to me). On the basis of this last single failed study, they simply ignore their previous data and claim they found no evidence for psi which I find extraordinarily unscientific.

The last thing I would say is that from reading your responses so far, I’m not sure what kind of evidence you are looking for. You claim that there is no way to tell whether someone is psychic or not. I have suggested one way you could do this in a previous post, but you haven’t responded directly to my suggestion. Do you disagree with the suggested methods?

You also seem to be confusing issues of practical utility with issues of existence. Scientists did not need light bulbs to know that electric charge existed. Similarly remote viewers do not need to locate missing people or enemy mines for us to know that remote viewing is probably real. We just need controlled experiments.

Zerdini and Scepticofall – my apologies for not replying to your comments yet. I’m helping some friends with a project that is taking up most of my limited free time, but I hope to get back to you very soon. I’m not ignoring you, but if you can bear with me for a day or two I’m looking forward to addressing the points you have raised.

No problem, looking forward to it. In the meantime, looking back I noticed that you did in fact address my suggestion about an experiment that would test whether someone was psychic ir not. Apologies for that. I'll respond to your points on that matter in due course also.

Zerdini – no, I do not regard the matter of life after death to be scientifically plausible, but I don’t object if there are some researchers who want to take it upon themselves to research the subject. But the fact that Crookes and others believed in survival does not make it true. The constant references on this blog to “distinguished scientists” really is nothing more than an appeal to authority. I could probably list even more distinguished scientists who think the whole idea is hokum, but I don’t think comparing such lists is going to settle anything.

My hobgoblin reference was not a red herring. It was meant to illustrate the fact that you said that scientists should be prepared to investigate ANYTHING, however unlikely. And I think fairies and suchlike – like ghosts, say, are extremely unlikely.

In your last comment you refer to voice séances, although I was referring to what you said earlier: “I have seen them materialise as solid as any human being and watched them dissolve through my fingers while holding their hands.” You say you have tape recordings, but they would not reveal much. If you have video recordings of those materialisation séances, then I am very interested if you can produce them

I have not read the specific works you have listed, and I confess I have no inclination to do so. I have, however, read a number of works that you have not listed but which come under the same umbrella, as it were. I do buy and read paranormal literature and have a (modest) library of such works. The problem, however, is that when I have taken the trouble to read specific recommendations from various believers, they do tend to be pretty similar and equally disappointing. And it is certainly repetitive when people here keep on throwing out the same hundred and odd year old references to Crookes, Lodge and others – work that can easily be quoted, but cannot be tested. Such quotes are, without a doubt, an appeal to authority. Compare that with science today. Although it is true that some of the earliest scientific pioneers are still quoted in their correct historical perspective, it is the latest, cutting-edge research that that modern scientists focus on. In all seriousness, I’m sure you would be aghast if modern doctors were promoting blood-letting as a viable treatment nowadays for anything.

With regard to my scientific credentials, that is a question I have been asked often here, and I have given relevant details. I don’t want to have to start every post I make with that information, but if you care to look through previous threads on this blog I am sure you will find what you want to know.

With regard to the lottery, I will tackle that head-on.

As you say, the sum of the numbers in a lottery draw form a bell curve, (or normal distribution). I’m not going to dispute that, it’s true, but utterly irrelevant if anyone thinks they can gain an edge when they pick their numbers. It won’t work.

Look at a simpler example: throwing two dice. The possible combinations of numbers thrown also form a normal distribution, with 1-1 on one tail of the bell curve, and 6-6 on the other. Right in the middle is 7, because although there is only one combination that can make 1-1 or 6-6, there are 6 possible combinations that will add up to 7.

The thing to keep in mind here is the fact that the lottery does not ask people to pick a winning total, but a specific set of numbers. And in the dice example, even if you picked the six combinations that form 7, your probability of winning is 6/36, because the probability of any of those combinations individually is still only 1/36. In a game of dice, the odds are adjusted to reflect that fact, so the return for a particular stake is going to be less than for a less likely combination like 6-6. I suppose if the lottery were to be run on the same basis, then you could buy a ticket for a named total (right in the middle of the curve) but you might have to pay a hundred thousand pounds for the ticket, and be prepared to accept fifty pounds as your jackpot winnings. Wherever you look on your bell curve, the probability of any particular combination of numbers is still only one in fourteen million.

I’m not going to spend time plotting that lottery curve, but I can say this: if you are correct in your calculations, it will not help you at all if you think it will increase your probability of getting a higher percentage of even small wins. 1,2,3,4,5,6 as a combination is no more or less likely to come up than any other combination. I don’t know about you, but I have never seen a down-at-heel bookie – they’ve got it all worked out (they do it for a living).

I can only add that independent numbers in a fair lottery game really do hit randomly, the same as a fair set of dice. If the numbers drawn or thrown formed a skewed curve, then that would be indicative of a flaw in the system – loaded dice, for example.

Scepticofall – the problem with invoking quantum physics as an explanation for alleged psi phenomena is that “quantum” seems to be used as some kind of universal panacea to explain absolutely everything that is not, in fact, explained at all. Telepathy? Quantum. Homeopathy? Quantum. Anything alleged but not even proven to exist? Quantum. I’m not accusing you of doing that, but I’m sure you will have noticed that it is a term used liberally in the psi (and alt med) community.

I would not presume to argue with Brian Josephson (or any others you quote) about their own sphere of expertise, but it seems to me that he and others are making claims they cannot justify. I have read quite a bit about quantum physics, but I don’t claim anything other than to say that it is so bizarre that I am quite baffled by it. As soon as I think I have a handle on it, something else comes along that just throws everything I thought I knew up in the air. It seems to me that trying to explain something that is unexplained (psi) with something else that is also not explained (quantum) is a futile gesture, at best.

I don’t think you’re relying on an argument to authority, although you might be getting close to the general vicinity. If those who are experts in quantum theory were to demonstrate an unambiguous link with anything psi-related then I would be immediately interested. As I have said here many times, I have no objection if the paranormal is real, but it will take more than speculation to convince me.

What does bother me is the fact that some people make life-changing decisions on the say-so of so-called psychics, astrologers and so on. I have already mentioned a friend who has spent money (lots of it) trying to contact her dead father. It really is a heartbreaking scenario to see someone you care about feeding the leeches who charge premium rates to bilk a naive and vulnerable public.

It’s one thing to claim that psi is a possible, real phenomenon – a very weak but maybe just detectable force that parapsychologists are trying very hard to pin down. But it’s another thing entirely to claim that some stage psychic who says to his audience, (right on cue) “I’m getting the name Harry – does that mean anything to anyone here?” is actually contacting anyone who has physically died. Similarly, the claims made for remote viewers have very real consequences if they are true. The claims are made (and that can hardly be denied), but we do not see the results in the real world.

With regard to paranormal experiences being a part of the natural world, let me modify my previous comment. I have actually witnessed this myself. I do not deny at all that people have experiences that they cannot account for in normal terms. To them they are paranormal or even supernatural.

Many years ago I was cajoled into going to what might be called a “revival meeting.” This was a family thing in which a very religious member of my wife’s family insisted that I (and my wife) should be there. OK. I went along. And I was absolutely flabbergasted at what I witnessed (you can see the same thing if you tune into the GOD TV channel). As the evening went on, the atmosphere evolved, as it were, and the people there were becoming more and more emotionally involved in the whole thing. Eventually, most of the people there were writhing on the floor, supposedly possessed by “the spirit of Jay-zuz, Halleluyah!” In fact, to me they looked more like people having a mass epileptic fit, and I remember feeling quite alarmed at it all. I am not disputing the fact that they were having what, to them, was a supernatural experience, but having seen this on TV, and also seeing it happen in front of my very eyes, I can only say that these events appear to follow a script of sorts, and those involved seem be role-playing a part in which they do what they think they are expected to do. Yes, people certainly do have experiences they believe are paranormal or religious, but how do we know they are truly paranormal or religious?

With regard to my claim that no one can produce their paranormal powers under controlled conditions, that appears to be true. Although parapsychologists can easily repeat their own results, the acid test is replication by others. As I have already said, I do delve into psi literature, but I wonder how many people who believe in psi delve into the opposing sceptical – or scientific literature. There’s an impasse there, I think you would agree. But none of that would matter if the big claims made could be matched in the real world. If the believers were content to say that they think they have detected a new weak force in nature that could account for the alleged psi experiences of others, I would be quite happy to follow it with interest.

What happens, though, is that huge claims are made on the basis of flimsy evidence. Joe McMoneagle is quoted extensively here as the star of the remote viewing world, for example, but where is he when natural disasters happen? I’m told that he and others have remarkable psi abilities, but when I question that assertion I’m told about a rare and elusive phenomenon that can’t just be called up at will, etc. So is that true, or can people really do what they claim, at will, as the believers say?

I’m not familiar with the Jonathan Schooler work you quote, so I can’t comment with any insight.

I’m not sure what to make of your last point. True, scientists did not need light bulbs to know that electricity existed, but light bulbs could not have existed before electricity was discovered anyway. I think your analogy misses the point. But I would say that remote viewers really do need to start finding missing people or enemy mines before they can be taken seriously.

Your last comment about controlled experiments is possibly where most of the dispute lies. Parapsychologists do those experiments, and other scientists fail to replicate them. It’s not conclusive for either side in this debate to claim victory. I, as you might realise, do not claim that the paranormal is not real, just that the probability of its existence is so vanishingly small that it can be safely ignored until someone demonstrates it conclusively. And in the meantime, whether it is real or not, you can hardly deny that there are charlatans bilking vulnerable people. Just show me a definitive way – that everyone can agree on - to separate the frauds from the real deal. That, I think, would convince me of the reality of the paranormal.

Harley, you said in reply to my statement, “I have had conversations with them in their own voice on a regular basis over more than ten years.”

You appear to be describing séances when you give your account of conversing with those you believe have survived the death of their physical bodies. I do not doubt that those experiences seem very real to you, but I am not convinced by anecdotes.

They didn’t ‘seem real’ they were very real – not a matter of belief – as I tape recorded them over many years so they aren’t simply anecdotes.

“But the fact that Crookes and others believed in survival does not make it true.”

Of course not but at least Crookes and others investigated the subject and published the results of their investigations.

It is interesting that Crookes confesses that he began his investigations into psychical phenomena believing that the whole matter might prove to be a trick. His scientific brethren held the same view, and were delighted at the course he had adopted. Profound satisfaction was expressed because the subject was to be investigated by a man so thoroughly qualified. They had little doubt that what were considered to be the sham pretensions of Spiritualism would now be exposed. One writer said, "If men like Mr. Crookes grapple with the subject we shall soon know how much to believe."

Dr. (afterwards Professor) Balfour Stewart, in a communication to Nature, commended the boldness and honesty which had led Mr. Crookes to take this step.

Crookes himself took the view that it was the duty of scientists to make such investigation.

Harley,you may ... “think ...... like ghosts, say, are extremely unlikely” but that doesn’t make them so.

You further state: “I have not read the specific works you have listed, and I confess I have no inclination to do so.” Fair enough.

“With regard to my scientific credentials, that is a question I have been asked often here, and I have given relevant details. I don’t want to have to start every post I make with that information, but if you care to look through previous threads on this blog I am sure you will find what you want to know.”

Just indulge me this once and I won’t ask you again!

Regarding the lottery I am well aware of what is possible and what isn’t. My point was that it is not as random as suggested and that it IS possible to win regularly (even small amounts) using mathematical principles.

I have done so whether you say it is impossible or not.

Harley,

I think this will be my last post in this discussion. We seem to be going around in circles on certain issues. The first is the laboratory evidence for psi. You seem to think that there has been little to no independent replication of significant findings. It is not really a case of disagreeing on that because the literature speaks for itself. For that reason I wonder whether you are simply not aware of the relevant experiments or otherwise regard the current level of independent replication as inadequate.

I understand your frustration with the more obvious cases of gullibility when it comes to taking the claims of professional psychics at face value. I guess there are organisations who are actively opposed to charlatans but I would suggest not letting your frustration cloud your judgement on the reality of psi in general. The are many cases of spontaneous psychic experiences reported from people who are just going about their daily lives. These are the more interesting cases and the ones that the majority of experiments have been based on. Don’t have the bar set so high that it precludes consideration of abilities that are more subtle than full blown superpowers.

There are a few specific points I’d like to finish on which I thought were the more important and interesting ones.


the problem with invoking quantum physics as an explanation for alleged psi phenomena is that “quantum” seems to be used as some kind of universal panacea to explain absolutely everything that is not, in fact, explained at all.

Yes, I agree that there are numerous examples of people writing about psi who use terms from QM without adequate explanation, justification or reference to other work on the same issue. I assume that these writings are the focus of your objection.

However, you have not identified any inherent problem with using extensions of QM to explain psi. For example, I note that you admit to not fully understanding either QM in its conventional format or the published papers by Josephson, Von Lucadou, Stapp and others that claim to account for psi phenomena using extensions of QM. How, then, can you object to such theories if you don’t understand them? Claiming that such theorising is “unjust” or “futile” on the basis of ignorance is not a very solid argument.


What happens, though, is that huge claims are made on the basis of flimsy evidence. Joe McMoneagle is quoted extensively here as the star of the remote viewing world, for example, but where is he when natural disasters happen?

This seems like a straw man argument. McMoneagle claims to achieve a consistent level of accuracy in his remote viewing. However, the issue you need to address is what this level of accuracy actually is and whether it follows that he could predict the details of natural disasters from it. Even then, since it is not clear how remote viewing (or psi in general) works it is not clear whether accurate details of this nature could theoretically be obtained. This is why it is important not to assume properties of the phenomena you are trying to investigate. Theory and experiment usually resolve that.


I’m not sure what to make of your last point. True, scientists did not need light bulbs to know that electricity existed, but light bulbs could not have existed before electricity was discovered anyway.

So what is it you are objecting to? Are you objecting to the principle of remote viewing per se? Or are you simply challenging the level at which particular individuals can use their remote viewing abilities? Because if it’s the former, you shouldn’t be concerned about the individual claims of remote viewers. All you should be concerned about are the results of scientific experiments. Like I said, we did not need light bulbs to be developed to understand that electric charge existed. Similarly, we do not need remote viewers to locate enemy mines to know that remote viewing is possible in principle.

Hi Harley you never mentioned what areas of evidence for an afterlife you have researched?. I have looked at both sides of the issue researching both sides. You mention you love to see a test to distinguish between a real medium and a fake medium. Well those tests have been done, for example cold readers can't get specific information that true mediums can.

Sorry for the delay in posting (still busy with stuff).

Zerdini – as you say, “...at least Crookes and others investigated the subject and published the results of their investigations.” Unfortunately, mainstream science is unconvinced. Those claims have still not been confirmed.

I know that Crookes and others claimed to start out by thinking that paranormal claims were probably trickery but were later convinced it was real. But the same thing happens nowadays in paranormal investigations – modern investigators describe themselves as “open-minded sceptics” and say that they go into investigations sceptical but open minded. And they just happen to always find the evidence they think supports their hypothesis. I am a sceptic, but using the term “open-minded” is rather redundant. It seems that present day paranormalists regard scepticism as good and healthy, but only as long as the paranormal hypothesis is accepted. It seems only “open-minded sceptics” can discover the truth – as long as it supports the conclusion decided upon at the outset.

I still think you are way off the mark if you think that any mathematical principle will help anyone get even small wins in the lottery, and I still think that the numbers are drawn randomly. You will have to show me your working out (evidence) to convince me otherwise. Claiming to be able to beat the lottery with mathematical principles is, I would say, as big a claim as the existence of anything paranormal. If you have discovered something that has eluded the greatest mathematical minds in history, it is an extraordinary claim that really does require some extraordinary evidence.

Scepticofall – we might be going around in circles, at least in the sense that we are probably not going to settle anything definitively. But with regard to replication of research, I am thinking in terms of replication that one would expect to be published in scientific journals rather than, say, the SPR’s own publications or the books written by paranormal researchers for a general readership.

I’m not sure what would count as “spontaneous psychic experiences” – I’ve had them myself (depending on your definition). A while ago I went through a period where I just “knew” who was on the other end of the phone before I answered it (at work, anyway). In fact, I started to make notes because this was outside of my normal experience and contradicted what I believed about any kind of precognition. It wasn’t a scientific experiment; I did it for my own benefit. In fact, some of my clients, business contacts and others tend to telephone at similar times on similar days, and overall there was nothing that fitted the idea that there was anything paranormal going on. Regular contacts at regular times anticipated by me unconsciously is the most likely explanation of that series of “psychic” experiences, so not really psychic at all – although I can see how some people would interpret such things as paranormal.

As I said, I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable about quantum physics, and I have to rely on what the experts have to say. Brian Josephson is in a good position to speculate about it in relation to possible psi effects, but other quantum scientists say that his speculations are just that - speculation. It’s not just me who thinks that he has not demonstrated psi as being a result of anything quantum, it is others who work in that field. Any link still needs to be demonstrated.

I’ll just add that I am constantly told on this blog that I should “look at the evidence.” But I wonder how many people here look at the science – and see why psi speculation does not fit in with what is known about the physical universe, and therefore why mainstream science does not accept psi as a valid “force of nature,” as it were.

I don’t think my McMoneagle reference is a straw man at all. He and others do make remarkable claims about his alleged abilities. He is quoted extensively as the top man in the remote viewing world. I hear about these abilities, but I can’t find any objective confirmation. The accounts of how good he is are almost legendary. If he (and others) are really as good as the claims made for them, then they should be doing what they claim; if they aren’t that good, then surely people should stop making those claims.

Although you say that it is not clear how remote viewing or psi in general works, it seems to me that it is not proven that it works in the first instance. And that seems to be the basis of our disagreement.

You are right that we do not need remote viewers to locate enemy mines (in particular) in order to know that it is a real phenomenon. But they do need to locate something – and do it consistently and accurately and in a way that can be replicated independently. And if that happened, then like everything else we know that exists, it would become a scientific fact the same as anything else. Even if the underlying mechanism were still elusive, it would be better if the phenomenon could be shown to actually exist. The nearest analogy I can think of is ball lightning. Science is still trying to work out what causes it, but there is no real doubt that it exists. The existence of the paranormal at all is controversial at best, but no one really doubts the existence of ball lightning.

There are lots of things in science that are accepted as being real, even though science is still trying to work out what is going on. Unfortunately, the paranormal is not one of them.

Leo – I’m sorry to disappoint you, but cold readers do, in fact “get” information that “true” mediums cannot.

In fact, I am an experienced cold reader who occasionally gives demonstrations of that particular skill. I will add, however, that I do it within an ethical framework where, after I have given someone a “reading,” I then take those sitters through the whole thing and explain to them exactly how the information was elicited. And the key word is “elicited.” I do not tell people things I “couldn’t possibly have known.” Rather, I use a range of techniques that allows those sitters to give out information in such a way that they think that I have told them things that they, themselves, have provided.

But one doesn’t need to be accomplished, as it were, to be a good cold reader. All one needs is a willing mark (er, I mean, sitter). Some time ago, I gave a reading for someone who is a believer, and later, as usual, I went through the whole thing to explain how it works, but I was met with some – dare I say – scepticism, in the form of a statement directly to me: “No! You ARE psychic – you’re just in denial because you don’t WANT to believe in it.” And since then, the same person has been trying to organise her friends to have a “psychic” reading from me, and for me to make myself available to give those readings. It isn’t going to happen, but it illustrates a point: if someone believes enough, nothing will change that belief. And any self-styled medium can clean up by taking advantage.

I’ll just add one more point. I don’t know if you have read Robert’s book, Randi’s Prize. I bought it and it’s an interesting read. However, although Robert has touched on – and dismissed – cold reading as an explanation for how mediums seem to get great results, there is a glaring omission: there is no reference to what is, arguably, the best book there is about the techniques of the cold reader: Ian Rowland’s The Full Facts Book Of Cold Reading. If you ever read it, you will never perceive mediums in the same light again.

I have to say that I watch mediums on TV, I have been to see mediums “live” and I follow the whole thing with the limited time available to me. If there are any genuine mediums out there, I have yet to see one that does anything that is distinguishable from cold (and warm and hot) reading.

Harley

I noticed you avoided my statement in reply to yours viz.

"Harley, you said in reply to my statement, “I have had conversations with them in their own voice on a regular basis over more than ten years.”

You appear to be describing séances when you give your account of conversing with those you believe have survived the death of their physical bodies. I do not doubt that those experiences seem very real to you, but I am not convinced by anecdotes.

They didn’t ‘seem real’ they were very real – not a matter of belief – as I tape recorded them over many years so they aren’t simply anecdotes.

As far as Crookes' detailed investigations are concerned you simply dismiss them by saying "Unfortunately, mainstream science is unconvinced." - with no evidence to back up your assertion. The other scientists who investigated the paranormal and whose books I suggest you studied you stated you had no inclination to do so.

How can I take you seriously with statements like that?

I have been unable to find any reference to your scientific credentials so please indulge me and tell me what they are.

Regarding the lottery I have no intention of telling you my methods otherwise you will be as wise as me! (lol).

It has nothing to do with the great mathematical minds of the past. I have the evidence in my bank account so I don't have to convince you or anyone else for that matter.

However, here are a few of my latest small wins:

16/06/11
Congratulations! You're a winner £27.50
Plus 5 ticket number 1301145207 This prize has already been paid to your National Lottery Account.

02/07/11
Congratulations! You're a winner £10.00
Lotto ticket number 1318568416 This prize has already been paid to your National Lottery Account.

29/06/11
Congratulations! You're a winner £10.00
Lotto HotPicks ticket number 1312030203 This prize has already been paid to your National Lottery Account.

22/06/11
Congratulations! You're a winner £10.00
Lotto ticket number 1306867584 This prize has already been paid to your National Lottery Account.

18/06/11
Congratulations! You're a winner £10.00
Lotto ticket number 1303495382 This prize has already been paid to your National Lottery Account.

08/06/11
Congratulations! You're a winner £10.00
Lotto ticket number 1296795869 This prize has already been paid to your National Lottery Account.

I also, recently, had five numbers correct which paid out a four figure sum.

As I stated before statistics is a hobby of mine, nothing more.

By the way, I have appeared on television with Ian Rowland (whose book I've read) when he gave a demonstration of cold reading to a member of the audience. All I can say is that it was extremely boring and bore no resemblance to genuine mediumship.

Harley,

Yet another topic where you manifest the identifying features of a pseudo-skeptic. One can disregard the topics covered by Robert's blog and clearly see your shortcomings by simple analysis of your discourse.

I'll admit it's not an edifying feature of my psyche, but I spend most time here when you are active in the comments. Frequently I am rewarded with a belly-laugh. Today's was when you suggested Kris leave the adults to their debate. It put me in mind of a toddler marching around wearing a mortar board.

You clearly cannot see what I mean, or you wouldn't offer to enlighten people about things like Ockham's razor and (this post) the gambler's fallacy. These are hardly esoteric knowledge; do you really suppose the posters here are ignorant of them?

It seems to me that Harley's reference to Occam's Razor is perhaps misrepresenting it. My understanding of OR is that it is the simplest explanation which explains 'all the facts' - not just the simplest explanation. Of course if one simply rejects the evidence of psi research the materialistic model is the simplest QED.


You are of course correct in your understanding, Paul. Not that you'd necessarily know that without looking into it yourself. It's unbelievable how often it is misrepresented on the internet, invariably by people trying to 'enlighten' those who they have pigeon-holed as benighted 'believers'.

Harley,

I am thinking in terms of replication that one would expect to be published in scientific journals rather than, say, the SPR’s own publications or the books written by paranormal researchers for a general readership.

Why don’t you regard the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research as a scientific journal?


I’m not sure what would count as “spontaneous psychic experiences”

I view parapsychology as a way of using science to understand what is possible in the natural world, in principle, rather than being an attempt to definitively explain specific real-world cases. A “spontaneous psychic experience” would be an experience that occurs involuntarily and which appears to convey information that could not ordinarily have been obtained. Your telephone experiences would fit into that category, except that in your case it is likely that your experience was paranormal only in appearance. In other words, you have attributed them to normal causes. But with other cases it may be more difficult to do that. However, at the moment we cannot really tell whether any particular real-life experience was due to normal or paranormal factors. This is mainly because they occur in uncontrolled settings. Even if paranormal factors were real, the best we can do at the moment is to say “well, this particular experience is likely to have been due to paranormal factor X, but perhaps not because of normal factor Y”.


It’s not just me who thinks that he has not demonstrated psi as being a result of anything quantum, it is others who work in that field.

This is fine. Disagreement is healthy in science, as is speculation. Science becomes unhealthy when interesting, novel and speculative ideas are not given chance to develop.


I’ll just add that I am constantly told on this blog that I should “look at the evidence.” But I wonder how many people here look at the science – and see why psi speculation does not fit in with what is known about the physical universe, and therefore why mainstream science does not accept psi as a valid “force of nature,” as it were.

Perhaps, while acknowledging your ignorance of modern physics, you could tell us why you think psi does not fit in with what is known about the physical universe? The way I see it, psi is quite compatible with concepts from physics. Interestingly, evidence has recently been published in Nature demonstrating quantum coherence occurring in a biological system (photosynthesis in algae) at room temperature. I dare say that 20 years ago this would have been pooh-poohed just as much as the idea of the quantum brain is pooh-poohed today.


I don’t think my McMoneagle reference is a straw man at all. He and others do make remarkable claims about his alleged abilities.

But you are not describing what these claims are or who is making them, leaving us to wonder just what is it you think McMoneagle is capable of. I am reasonably familiar with his level of performance in scientific experiments and in informal demonstrations. On the basis of that data, I can think of quite a few reasons why he might not be able to locate enemy mines for example. The reason why you may be failing to find confirmation of wild claims made about McMoneagle’s abilities is because those claims are unsubstantiated exaggerations of his true ability. Perhaps you should be more specific.


You are right that we do not need remote viewers to locate enemy mines (in particular) in order to know that it is a real phenomenon. But they do need to locate something – and do it consistently and accurately and in a way that can be replicated independently.

Please tell us what you think of Ed May’s papers detailing the performance of McMoneagle and other remote viewers in describing remote visual stimuli? And what about the results from the independent laboratories such as Chris Roe from the University of Northampton or Eugene Subbotsky from the University of Lancaster?

Zerdini – you say you have tape recordings of séances you have attended. But those recordings you refer to seem to be audio recordings, which will prove nothing at all. After all, audio recordings of voices can be made, manipulated and presented to an audience. If, like me, you enjoy BBC Radio 4 plays, you will know that one can be transported anywhere in time and space for the duration of such plays, but they are sound effects, nothing more.

You did say, however, in relation to your séances, “I have seen them materialise as solid as any human being and watched them dissolve through my fingers while holding their hands.” Video can be manipulated, of course, but with much more difficulty. Do you have video (or film) recordings complete with audio that could be examined? That kind of evidence would be more difficult to dismiss, but I do not think you can provide it.

Until such time that physical evidence is supplied, any claims you make about your paranormal experiences are just anecdotes – unverifiable, and no use as evidence (except to yourself).

Yes, I dismiss Crookes’ claims, because they have not been verified independently. They are not accepted by mainstream science, but I do not need to prove that; it’s true. You can prove me wrong by giving a reference to any mainstream (accredited) scientific institution that has verified the paranormal claims of William Crookes. It’s fair to say that his actual scientific work has been verified and is accepted by science, but his claims about the paranormal are still floundering out there with Sir Isaac Newton’s claims about the reality of alchemy.

No, I am not going to read the specific references you gave, for the reasons I gave. I don’t expect you to take me seriously, no one here does. But it seems to me that few people here are familiar enough with science and its methodology to understand why the claims of psi do not fit in with the (verifiable) scientific knowledge that has been accumulated over centuries.

If the paranormal is real, and your séances are real, then surely I don’t need to tell you anything about my academic qualifications. Psychics, mediums, spiritualists and all the rest of them claim to get information that can only be gained by psychic means. You tell me what my qualifications are.

You don’t need to tell me your methods for winning the lottery; your claim without evidence can be safely dismissed without evidence. You might have been lucky in the lottery, but many others just happen to be unlucky. Your list of wins is totally meaningless. You could probably make a fortune by going to a tabloid newspaper and exposing the big flaw in the lottery system. Even more money if you went to the lottery operator itself. I have no doubt they would pay well. But they might want evidence rather than just your say so.

If you have met Ian Rowland, I have to confess my envy: he is someone I would like to meet and talk to. You might well have found him to be boring, as you say, but did you convince him of the reality of physical mediumship? I doubt it.

But if you did, just post it here.

Matt – I’m not a “pseudo-skeptic.” I am a sceptic.

It’s nice that you can enjoy a belly laugh here. I can see how my comment about Kris leaving things to the adults would make you think of him as a child walking about wearing a mortar board.

With regard to Occam’s Razor and the gambler’s fallacy, it is clear that there are at least some people that are ignorant of them. Zerdini is convinced that he has a system that can beat the lottery, after all.

Paul – your brief description of Occam’s Razor is a neatly-done summary and I agree that you are correct in its definition.

But I don’t “simply” reject psi research. It just isn’t compelling, and therefore there is no necessity to invoke supernatural explanations for events that can be explained in ordinary terms.

As William of Occam said, “Do not multiply entities without necessity.” In other words, don’t make stuff up. When someone sees a light in the sky and they don’t know what it is (out of dozens or scores of possible ordinary explanations), there is just no need to posit an alien space ship – at least until every other possible explanation has been discounted. When someone sees such a light in the sky and does not know what it actually is, then their first reaction should not be, “I don’t know what it is, therefore it is an alien space ship.”

Scepticofall – The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research is certainly produced in the style of a scientific journal, from what I can tell from some of the abstracts I have read. But do mainstream scientists reference the SPR’s journals to support their own research? I don’t think so. I don’t mind being corrected if I am wrong, but I can’t see physicists referring to paranormal literature to explain physical events.

I think it’s just too easy to attribute something that is unexplained to paranormal factors. Before science was established in the form we understand it today, something like lightning could be explained by angry gods and everyone accepted it. People lived their whole lives around those assumptions. But today, when something happens that does not have an obvious explanation, there is still a tendency by some to offer speculation of a paranormal nature rather than just accept that the explanation is (right now, at least) not known. There are still many things in science that have not been explained, but to call it supernatural would be a cop-out.

I’m not totally ignorant of modern physics, it’s quantum theory that baffles me. It also puzzles those who work in that field. There is a long way to go. You might want to argue that psi is compatible with concepts from physics, but gods throwing thunderbolts is also compatible with concepts of lightning. I think I’ll go with the electrical discharge theory, though. It has been tested and verified, even though no one can disprove the existence of angry gods.

No, I didn’t describe the claims made about McMoneagle; I assumed that some of the claims made here on numerous occasions would be familiar enough to readers. If you can think of reasons why he can’t locate enemy mines, or whatever, that does sound a bit like the reasons people find to explain why clairvoyants can’t predict lottery results. For you, they might be reasons; for me, they are excuses. Exaggerations of McMoneagle’s abilities seem to me to be very similar to the exaggerations of psychic abilities generally.

I’m not aware of Ed May’s papers, so you have me at a disadvantage there. Are you referring to a parapsychology department at the University of Northampton or a parapsychology department at the University of Lancaster? You asked me to be specific just earlier; can you be specific with a link to what you are referring to?

Harley,

It wasn't Kris I was referring to with the mortar board image.

Considering Zerdini's comments about the lottery, I would consider myself skeptical. That's not to say that I assert they are wrong. I suspend my judgement because I guess Zerdini knows more maths than me and I am aware (from Murray Gell-Mann's excellent 'The Quark and the Jaguar') that producing a genuinely random number string is next to impossible. I won't simply assume Zerdini is talking nonsense just because I can raise some objections to it. Skepticism is not snapping into a position of disbelief with regard to something that appears bizarre.

While I won't argue with your position that psi eveidence is 'not compelling' (I would use the word 'ambiguous'), I'm still not convinced you understand Ockham's Razor. I think you don't grasp what 'necessity' means, in context. To reduce it to 'don't make stuff up' makes it all too easy to slip into "Well, we already know that stuff's nonsense, so lets not include it in our thinking".

Harley

First of all you stated that the reports of séances I attended were anecdotal then when I pointed out that I have tape recordings of these séances, recorded by me, you say they ”prove nothing at all”.

Are you then saying that all tape recordings made by the BBC are just “sound effects, nothing more”?

Are the recordings of Chuchill’s wartime speeches just “sound effects, nothing more”?

“Do you have video (or film) recordings complete with audio that could be examined? That kind of evidence would be more difficult to dismiss, but I do not think you can provide it.”

Of course I can’t provide it as at the time it wasn’t realised that in years to come a person called Harley would want to see it!
In any case, you say it would be ‘difficult to dismiss’ but I’m sure you’d find a way!

Materializations have been filmed as I saw when I was in Japan in 1995. They were also shown on Japanese television.

“You tell me what my qualifications are.”

That’s the easy part – you haven’t got any scientific qualifications!

“If you have met Ian Rowland, I have to confess my envy: he is someone I would like to meet and talk to. You might well have found him to be boring, as you say, but did you convince him of the reality of physical mediumship? I doubt it.”

I wasn’t trying to convince him of the reality of physical mediumship.

The scientists you so glibly dismiss, and their works you won’t read, have testified to the reality of physical mediumship. I don’t need a ‘cold reader’ to confirm it.

Matt

I never claimed I have found a way to beat the lottery. I simply told Harley that it is possible to win small amounts on the lottery using simple mathematical principles and I posted examples of my recent wins.

He doesn't accept it and that's fine by me.

Matt – Zerdini has made an extraordinary claim, namely he has suggested that he has a system that can beat the lottery, although I accept he is not claiming that he can win the jackpot at will. He is, however, claiming that his method brings in regular small wins.

You can hardly deny that when someone makes a claim, the onus in on the claimant to prove his claim, not on me or anyone else to disprove it. Can you believe that no one has noticed a bias in the numbers drawn? Or that no mathematician in the world has discovered a way to beat the lottery if such a way exists?

Such a claim is on a par with paranormal claims. Zerdini is not, apparently, going to share his secret with us, so I can only assume that he is kidding himself. But if he is willing to show us how he does it...

Then again, how many psychics are prepared to do what they claim under controlled conditions? I don’t doubt Zerdini’s honesty, but I think he is wrong.

I agree that producing a genuinely random number string is, very likely, impossible; but for human purposes in our finite universe (and even in the infinite multiverse, if it exists), the random strings that we can produce are more than good enough for what we need.

I agree with you that scepticism is not snapping into a position of disbelief just because something is – or appears to be – bizarre. I don’t do it myself, I just ask someone who makes an extraordinary claim to justify that claim. Even in mundane circumstances, I will ask someone who wants access to my home or my business, or any property of mine to produce identification, and supply evidence of what they are about. But some people just hand over their life savings to Nigerian scammers whose unsolicited letters make promises they have no intention of keeping. (I have a bridge for sale, by the way, would you like to buy it?)

I do, in fact, understand Occam’s Razor very well, and if you look at Paul’s comment earlier, it is a good summary. I might have been a bit glib when I referred to “don’t multiply entities unnecessarily” as “don’t make stuff up.” So let me clarify that point:

Take UFO enthusiasts, for example. Someone sees an unidentified light in the sky and there can be numerous possibilities to explain it. But the key word is “unidentified.” It could be an aeroplane, or a satellite or a number of equally likely explanations. So why introduce an alien space ship as an explanation? Such a hypothesis is an unnecessary entity to introduce as an explanation. It is also a made-up explanation. Planes and satellites and so on are entities that we know for sure exist, so surely those explanations should be exhausted before extraterrestrial visitors are brought into the picture. When I take my car to be serviced every year, I drop the car off at the garage in the morning and pick it up in the afternoon. So, is it serviced by a car mechanic, or did the car fairy do it? The car mechanic hypothesis is sufficient as an explanation without inventing (an unnecessary) supernatural intervention.

Zerdini – I am correct when I say that your accounts of séances are anecdotal. And I am also correct when I say that your tape recordings prove nothing.

What’s that about me saying, “...all tape recordings made by the BBC are just “sound effects, nothing more”?” That is a straw man argument; I suggested no such thing. If I hear a tape recording that goes like this:

“Is there anybody there? Knock once for yes, and twice for no.”

“Knock.”

What, exactly will that prove? Absolutely nothing. It proves neither the truth nor falsity of any claim that there is anything paranormal going on. Only a fool would fall for it.

Your Churchill reference is a red herring.

Of course no one knew I would want to see video or film evidence of séances: that would require clairvoyant abilities.

Have materialisations really been filmed and shown on Japanese TV? How can I get to see them, and how can we find out the protocols used to eliminate fraud? Sorry, Zerdini, but that is just another unverifiable claim – unless you would care to supply a link – and verification that these materialisations have been confirmed.

If you have used psychic powers to determine that I have no scientific qualifications, then those psychic powers have let you down on this occasion.

You put a lot of faith in the scientists who “testify” to the reality of physical mediumship, but that really does require faith, which is nothing like confirmable evidence.

Harley said:

"Zerdini – I am correct when I say that your accounts of séances are anecdotal. And I am also correct when I say that your tape recordings prove nothing."

No, you are not correct.

My recordings prove that conversations took place between people I knew on earth and have since passed on - they are NOT simply
"sound effects nothing more" (your words not mine.)

They are nothing to do with your 'knock' statement - - that is deliberately misleading and untrue.

I have tape recordings of Churchill's speeches - it is not a red herring - it is a fact not just 'sound effects nothing more'.

"If you have used psychic powers to determine that I have no scientific qualifications, then those psychic powers have let you down on this occasion."

I didn't say I'd used psychic powers. It was fairly obvious - you made an 'unverifiable claim' without any supporting evidence so that claim can be easily dismissed.

Materialisations have been filmed and shown on Japanese TV - I, and others, have seen them. I also stated I have witnessed and seen full form materialisations through the mediumship of Alec Harris in South Africa.

I admit it is a rare form of mediumship, which few people have seen, but that doesn't negate my experience.

"You put a lot of faith in the scientists who “testify” to the reality of physical mediumship, but that really does require faith, which is nothing like confirmable evidence."

You refused to read the evidence, not me.

You are the one who has faith in your beliefs.

Regarding the lottery - I don't claim to have a secret way to beat the lottery - all I said was that it is possible to win small amounts regularly and I posted evidence of that from the National Lottery. You chose to ignore it.

Harley

Thanks for your measured and patient response; I got away with only one hackneyed joke directed at me. Which is fair enough, though it exhibits an exaggeration of my stated position.

Allow me to reassert my idea of a sound skeptical attitude using a different example. You may remember a few tears ago a huge light was seen over the Channel Islands by pilots and air passengers.

A weak believer's position would be that it was a mothership heralding our impending enlightenment/subjugation (depending on taste). A pseudosceptic position might dismiss it as any of the usual misidentification suspects (which I'm sure I don't need to list for you), or even sheer fantasy.

The research of David Clarke et al (google Clarke, Channel Islands UFO/UAP pdf if you're interested) examined a range of hypotheses and rejected those that did not fit all the data. It concluded we had no explanation for the phenomena. It did not invoke little green men. Ignorance and mystery are fine in science, it gives direction in the next territories to explore.

Which brings me to another niggle with your arguments. Did those who investigated Leonora Piper all those years ago put forward faith as evidence? I don't think so. I think you're conflating one kind of faith with another. What scientist doesn't require some kind of faith while working in a new area? Relativity had to wait for the measurement of the transit of Mercury to be experimentally confirmed.

The comments to this entry are closed.