Something from Nothing
Atheists and Neuroscience

The Politics of Psi

Halfway through writing Randi's Prize I started to feel a nagging sense that many of the people I hoped to reach weren't really open to persuasion. The brilliance or otherwise of my arguments wouldn't make much difference; they would be acclaimed by people who already on some level accepted them, and denounced by those who never could.

The fact is, surely, that when it comes to our personal worldview, studies and experiments play a secondary role. We accept findings that best fit our preferred narrative, and reject those that don't. Mostly, I think, we gravitate towards writers who reinforce what we already intuitively feel to be true. Paranormalia readers aren't likely to frequent JREF or Pharyngula, which they probably find alien and uncomfortable, and vice versa.

So these days I'm thinking less about psi evidence itself and more about the social and psychological context. As a psi-advocate, I believe I know why my group believes what it does: we're convinced by the evidence, which happens to validate our ideals. But what about sceptics? Why is it so extremely important to them that psychic claims be shown to be false? Why does it irritate them so much, and why do they go to such extraordinary lengths to explain it away? (I'm thinking of the tenacity of people like Gerald Woerlee, for instance.)

This would seem to be a question for psychologists in their quest to identify the drivers of human thought and behaviour. Our brains stopped evolving when we were still hunter-gathering, they say, and aren't terribly well equipped to deal with the challenges of modern living. Among other things, that's why some of us tend to go on believing in fantasies like gods and ghosts and life after death.

Interestingly, sceptical thinkers implicitly exclude themselves from this tendency towards irrationality, at least in this context. They don't have hallucinations, so it doesn't apply to them. But having close-up experience of the way they argue, it seems to me that it very much does; they are as profoundly affected by emotive thinking as any of us, and with the added complication that their complacency blinds them to the fact.

Two books I've been reading recently seem relevant to the psi controversy, at least indirectly, driving home the emotive basis of so much human behaviour. One is Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious At Our Peril, by Margaret Heffernan, a British writer and businesswoman. The other is a widely-covered new book by American psychologist Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

Wilful Blindness describes how people manage to close their eyes to obvious wrongs, often out of solidarity with the group they belong to. That results in catastrophes that could easily have been avoided. Doctors close ranks in support of a paediatric surgeon accused of incompetence, with the result that dozens of babies die who might otherwise have been saved. An oil company orders severe cost-cutting at a distant refinery, which local employees obediently carry through, all the while knowing that it is compromising safety: the resulting explosion kills 15 people. Citizens of a small town fiercely resist emerging health concerns about a local asbestos mine, to protect jobs, even while all around them their friends and family members are dropping like flies.

In big corporate scandals like Enron, plenty of people in positions of authority knew that its success was built on a giant scam, but looked the other way. When it's a choice between exposing wrongdoing or showing loyalty to peers and superiors, the latter usually wins. That's why whistleblowers are so rare, and why they have to struggle so hard to be heard.

The sheer number of Heffernan's stories builds a deeply depressing picture of the limits of human thinking. Especially when one realises how much of the present economic troubles are due to the wilful blindness shown by bankers, regulators and politicians who for years fell into a kind of moral slumber. Yesterday I read a news item about the Bernie Madoff scandal, that what seemed to hit the world like a bolt from the blue was really no such thing. Most of Wall Street suspected he was fraudulent - as indeed it should have, considering his abnormally high returns to investors and his refusal to tell anyone how he managed it - but no one publicly said or did anything about it. Earlier I might have been shocked, but now I understand this is absolutely normal.

This is relevant if we agree that science itself is subject to the negative effects of groupishness. Even some scientists themselves are at pains to deny the idealised picture that the public has of science, as a process of disinterested truth-seeking that is absolutely rational, fair and objective. On the contrary, they say, it's a hugely emotive business driven by cliques and factions who identify with pet theories and beat up their opponents (intellectually if not actually). They close ranks to freeze out intruders like parapsychologists, who are not loyal to the central tenets of materialism.

Unsurprisingly, there are persistent reports from scientists and medical professionals sympathetic to psi-research that some of their colleagues privately agree with them, but publicly wouldn't dream of exposing themselves to ridicule by speaking out. It's quite literally more than their job's worth. For most, the group-think is the truth, and what they personally think doesn't come into it.

I've often felt, grappling with sceptics' arguments, that they literally can't see why paranormalists argue as they do. They are literally blind to the paranormal element, so they can't see what the fuss is about - they think people are just making it up.

Heffernan references a 2005 experiment in which subjects were placed in an fMFRI brain scanner, shown some objects, and asked to decide which of them were similar to others. In one version they made the decision on their own, and in another decided only after knowing what their fellow participants had decided. The subjects tended to be swayed by the group, which was expected; the purpose was to determine which area of their brain was active as they made the decision. Activity in the prefrontal cortex would indicate that it was a conscious choice ('I'm going to follow the others on this one'.) But in fact, there was no activity there. Instead the activity was centred in the occipital and perietal regions of the brain, suggesting that conformity was an act of perception.

This is a shocking finding. Social influence had altered what the volunteer actually saw.

Jonathan Haidt too is sceptical about the primacy of reason, arguing that its role in human judgements has been vastly exaggerated. He follows David Hume in believing that intuition, not reason, is what drives people in their decision-making (interestingly, given Hume's status as the patron saint of sceptics, who glorify the primacy of reason). His image is of the rider (reason) perched on top of the elephant (intuition), and trying, for the most part ineffectually, to guide it.

Haidt is a moral psychologist who has studied the basis of leftwing and rightwing political thinking. No space, alas, to go into detail of his wonderful book. (It's a bit complicated, and confusingly structured, but if you stick with it all makes sense in the end.) He's a liberal, but found himself becoming critical of the relatively shallow basis of liberal or progressive morality compared with conservatives, and coming to appreciate the true value of conservative morality (of the Burkean rather than the Tea Party kind). The liberal emphasis on fairness and equality, he thinks, can have negative effects if it tries to override the moral foundations that conservatives are big on, such as respect for authority, loyalty and sanctity.

That sounds like common sense, but this is the most detailed and nuanced explanation of human morality that I've found coming from a scientist, and a lot more satisfying than the rather crude speculations of evolutionary psychologists.

Haidt's thinking about politics chimes with my own about psi. What one believes - and how one responds to claims and evidence - has a lot to do with one's genetic predisposition, and how that predisposition is shaped by life experience into a worldview.

I don't know what the equivalent foundations would be of advocacy and scepticism. As a moderate leftie myself, I've been tempted in the past to think of scepticism as a rightwing thing. It's perhaps partly because I associate the crude and noisy intolerance of people like Martin Gardner and James Randi with the blow-hard, Rush Limbaugh-Fox News tendency in American politics; also the way the Right espouses extreme climate scepticism, arguably another form of denial. In general, there seems to be something inherently reactionary in the deference to established scientific authority and tradition, and the knee-jerk rejection of radical new thinking. At its worst, the rhetoric looks like an angry white (mainly) male defence of the establishment against dippy idealistic liberal New Agers.

OK, this is far too simplistic and I wouldn't seriously argue it. Psi-sceptics just as easily fit the secular liberal model, and progressives can be every bit as snarky as their opponents.

But what interests me about Haidt's analysis is that it provides a in-depth view of both sides' motivations, particularly that of the group he has always opposed. I think we should be doing something similar. If sceptics take what seem to us to be extraordinary, egregious and indefensible positions to defend themselves from the implications, of, for instance, veridical out-of-body perception in the near-death experience, it's worth exploring why. Is it personal fear, or does it threaten an idea of the world that they value and want to defend?

Off the top of my head, I can think of all sorts of things that bother them. The corruption of personal privacy implied by telepathy; the threat to the integrity and authority of science; the invitation to witchcraft implied by psychokinesis; the notion of a supernatural interference in human affairs; the terror of living on after death (and having nothing to do) and so on. These are things which may not bother psi-advocates, or even appear on our radar. But quite possibly they are legitimate worries. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, what kind of world this would be if science did an about-face, and endorsed the reality of psi. Is it something we're ready for?

All questions for another post, and things I'll be exploring in my next book.


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Love to see you tease out the differences between "the Burkean rather than the Tea Party kind." It's interesting how irrelevant hip shots can reveal a lot. Which biases are exactly the point of your post. Ironic.


I read your brilliant Randi book but managed to miss your blog for a year or so! I knew it existed so I don't know how I did this. Anyhow, it's RSSed!

I think I can explain skeptics' seemingly irrational and obsessive opposition to what we perceive as plainly evidential. Consider the context.

The original battle wasn't skeptics vs. every day psi experiences and NDEs and Ganzfeld laboratory experiments. It was skeptics vs. Christianity.

Now I think Jesus was a great spiritual teachers and the parable of the Good Samaritan to be the best teaching on morality that the world will ever see--sheer perfection. And I honor much else in the Gospels.

That said, the original teaches of Jesus and the religion called Christianity are not the same thing. I think, overall, Christianity has been a net plus for humanity and has resulted, on the whole, in the spiritual advancement of the planet, but it is a dogmatic religion with a very great many flaws and untruths in it.

Thus, again and again, the forces of secularism went at Christianity with a wrecking ball--and they were right to do so. They pointed out the violence and inanity of the Old Testament, they advanced the theory of evolution, they supported sexual liberation, and they attacked the very concepts of dogma and revelation themselves.

Just as Christianity had helped humanity advance, the opponents of the faith were now helping humanity to advance. Nothing to blame them for here.

Opposition took many forms, certainly not all secular or atheistic in nature. Yet the psychology of those who did take the path of atheism in this regard is understandable. They didn't think, "We see that everything in Christianity is untrue... but maybe a thing called psi could be true. And maybe life after death could be true." No, human psychology is such that we like neat packages. We tend to be all or nothing.

So they thought, "Everything in Christianity is untrue. And all religions are untrue. And everything that even slightly smells of religion is untrue."

A group of people thinking this way developed in the 19th century, and that lineage and all the groupthink and peer pressure that goes with it continues today. Despite the fact that he is "out" today, the influence of atheist Freud cannot be underestimated, either. He made the case for atheism in an utterly confident manner.

So today, understandably, skeptics join in the credit their forbears earned for getting rid of, or at least lessening the burden of, dogmatic religion. Thus, to admit the existence of psi is to them the thin end of the wedge. Hey, if that meta-analysis shows that the Ganzfeld experiments proved a psi effect... then we might as well be creationists, right? Hence the oft-repeated warning of a "return to the Dark Ages."

Their thinking seems to us bizarre and out of date. By the same token, I find it bizarre that people still go to Catholic church and really believe it, or pretend to (I'm a Catholic escapee). No one would make up a doctrine as bizarre as Catholicism from scratch today.

In either case, it comes down to the amazing momentum that worldviews can retain even after they become thoroughly obsolete.

The Politics of Psi sets out with authority deriving from the fruits of full and thoughtful research what, I am sure, large numbers of people have quietly concluded in their own considerations of various schools of thought. It is for this reason that I have advocated tolerance and open-mindedness in viewing points of view other than one's own (cf "God, Ghosts, and Independent Minds" by Newton Green). There really is a degree of fear involved in differing from the collective consensus of views held by one's own associates. The result of individualism can be career catastrophe, social suicide, or a variety of exclusions, 'anti' whispering campaigns, rumour-mongerings against the individual, and similar activities designed to reveal not the truth of any particular matter in contention, but merely the 'rightness' and acceptability of the views expressed by one's own group. This may be the dogma of a religious sect, the 'psrty line' of politics, or the corporate 'ethos' of simeintitution. Sooner or later, these will take on a life of their own, and only change when their most influential advocvates - ie, those who control pay and promotion - literally die and cease to influence the culture. I have often thought that this is why large institutions seem to view the world as it was about 30 years ago! So, let individuals flourish, publish, and be heeded in a spirit of open-minded tolerance - and let criticem of thier views be constructive and based upon ALL the evidence, not just the bits selected to fit the collective view (or please the Boss, which is often the same thing.)NG

Changing your metaphysics requires more than just reading a book, unless if you are nuts. A book like Randi's Prize can help you swing in a direction you were already aiming at-- it had that effect on me, and I'm very glad I found it. But if you're firmly convinced that there is nothing to see on the other side, you won't be able to actually take the book at face value, just as I can no longer take the American political books I loved in my youth at face value.

Reminds me of experiments we replicated when I was a psychology student (sometime in the last century). It was great fun watching innocent subjects conform the the perception that two lines of *obviously* different length were exactly the same. A sad indictment against human integrity, methinks.

BTW, you're getting to be a bit like the Bible, our Robert. People read you at varying levels of understanding. 8)

Ps. There's always one, isn't there. Forgot to add the quote to which my response was directed:

"This is a shocking finding. Social influence had altered what the volunteer actually saw."

Slightly off topic, but I thought a few people might find a bit of warmth and humanity in this article. Last year, an unusually fierce tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri. The town was literally blown away. Almost every home and business was destroyed, and one hundred sixty one people died.
This article examines stories circulating about the "Butterfly People", as told by children. It has a bit of a sceptical bend to it, but whether the stories are true or not isn't the point. I found the stories told by the children to be deeply moving. Maybe you will, too.


"Other students reported seeing white lights. The stories came from students with different religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. "It was across the board," she said."

I have regularly seen the white lights myself (and so, occasionally, have others too in my presence).

Apropos the butterflies, I've had several uncanny experiences where these colourful insects have appeared suddenly following the death of relatives and friends; and, in the case of my sister, before death.

But who can explain or pass judgement on such intriguing phenomena?

" As a moderate leftie myself, I've been tempted in the past to think of scepticism as a rightwing thing. It's perhaps partly because I associate the crude and noisy intolerance of people like Martin Gardner and James Randi with the blow-hard, Rush Limbaugh-Fox News tendency in American politics"

Skepticism is not conservative, at least in the US where religious beliefs, which usually includes belief in the afterlife, tends to be associated with conservatives. Atheism and (therefore skepticism of psi and survival) tends to be associated with liberals.

As an aside: I've never been a mental conformist, and I can't tell you the problems it's caused me over the years! These days I prefer to think of myself as a Jonathan Swift, but then again 'a bloody nuisance' might equally apply - depending upon one's perspective. ;)

So perhaps there's an important survival aspect to group perceptions. After all most people prefer others to be inside the tent p*ss*ng out rather than outside the tent p*ss*ng in . . . . . . if you get my drift. 8)

As my old grandmother used to say, there's safety in numbers.

Robert, there is quite a literature on the motivations of extreme or pseudoskeptics in denying the evidence for psi.

One is clearly atheism. Given psi's associations with mysticism, shamanism and the occult in general, its religious implications and associations are obvious. There is also the extreme difficulty, if not impossibility, of reconciling psi with scientific materialism and reductionist views of the cosmos and nature, that necessarily underlie an atheist worldview.

Another reason for the refusal to acknowledge psi is religious fundamentalism, where psi isn't so much denied, as seen as the tool or temptation of the Devil and his forces.

Another factor - addressed by the likes of D Radin, S Braude and other parapsychologists - is that psi tells us how powerful we really are, how our intentions and attitudes have effects and consequences that run deeper than we know, in ways we don't know how, in ways both good and bad. In other words it only adds to the weight of human responsibility and our true potential, which is actually quite frightening. We don't want to acknowledge our responsibility, we are always surrendering it along with our freedoms, whether to lying politicians (across the spectrum), bureaucrats, the authority of Big Science or the Church and yes New-Age gurus and what have you. This fear of psi runs parallel and has an association with the human fear of authentic freedom.

Also I agree with a commentator above, that liberals are more likely if anything to deny the paranormal than conservatives. I don't have a dog in this fight as I am completely apolitical. Given the strong atheistic and agnostic leanings among many on the Left, especially of course the radical Left - communists, socialists, anarchists - this bias among certain quarters of the political Left against the paranormal is to be expected. The Western scientific establishment is generally hostile and dismissive of psi, as McLuhan alludes to above. It's something still kept very much in the closet. This is so among the universities, the big bureaucracies, research institutes and scientific bodies, the mainstream journals etc. Yet in the main, the honchos here who call the shots and enforce the group-think-or-else mentality are liberal. Obviously I am generalizing. Yet it does appear to be the case for the most part, especially among biologists (and in the US, Canada, UK which is what I am familiar with).

And yes it is a waste of time to argue with true dogmatic believers across the board, why liberals and conservatives never change one anothers' minds on anything (for the most part at least). People just become more dogmatic and entrenched in their position. This is well-known, people literally do not hear what the other side is saying if they are dogmatically wedded to one position and are determined to hold onto it for dear life. We literally speak different languages. Man is not - or very rarely - a rational animal.

It is cognitive dissonance. People are their beliefs. If their beliefs shatter, they themselves shatter, it literally means a breakdown of the ego. And most all of us would prefer to trek through Siberia, or contract a rare and deadly disease than have our egos shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. And in this day and age, in which egoism and narcissism is encouraged, reinforced and emphasized constantly..

Also there are believers in psi who just believe anything and everything no matter how patently false and delusional, and the extreme skeptics are also reacting to that, even if they are the other side of the coin. Hence the routine disasters of dubious and dishonest gurus fleecing their New-Age followers.

Perhaps to consider evidence fairly we need to be open-minded and honest, particularly with ourselves.

I doubt there are many who don't have a prejudicial view of something in life which may be based on incomplete knowledge of the evidence, subjective personal experience or pure indoctrination.

I do wonder whether there is a tipping point as far as evidence is concerned for most people and that is the point at which they reach a personal conclusion. At this point, I suspect that for many the ego intrudes and one switches from being objective about the evidence available to defending one's position. It may be difficult from this point forward to change the mindset, short of a direct, unequivocal personal experience.

There are many examples of prominent sceptics changing their viewpoint; Sir William Crookes is perhaps a good example in some ways.

I was amazed at the amount of evidence available and the period over which it was collected, and by whom. I cannot see how anyone reading even a fraction of it with an open mind can assert that non-survival is a fact.

I am not saying they would necessarily be converted to the opposite view mind you.

Speaking of different languages, wasn't it Einstein who said that radical progress in science is made only when the old school dies out? Put simply, you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

This adage was brought home forcefully to me yesterday, when I spent almost two hours on the telephone to a technician (propeller head?) who was painstakingly talking me through setting up my new iPhone. In the end he had to resort to taking remote control of my computer. He was very polite and spoke to me as if he was talking to his ailing grandmother.

Speaking of which, it never ceases to amaze me how my four-year-old grandson (who isn't even yet in school) can operate my laptop with ease. He negotiates is way through YouTube, finding all the best Brio train videos, and regularly turns my screen orientation upside down. He does this for fun because he knows I haven't the foggiest idea how to turn it the right way up again. This is humiliating. After all, while I might not be the sharpest knife in the box when it comes to IT, I have been using the Internet for some twenty years now and am a former chairman of Mensa!

So it seems to me that, however bright and adaptable we think we are, we will always resist that which makes our brains hurt in unfamiliar ways. Not only that. most of us live in a kind of mental squalor. We prefer to blag our way through life with mind-bogglingly complex rationalisations - however long-winded and tedious - rather than think outside the box, our own box. Which, I suppose, is the principle upon which we all here seem to agree.

Hi Robert, very interesting blog you have here. I am a regular reader of your blog and I am also a regular reader of the lovely PZ Meyer's Pharyngula and the legendary JREF forum. Unfortunately I completely disagree with you about skeptics being afraid or uncomfortable with PSI.
We want PSI and the Afterlife to be true, we want to survive death, we want to merge with the loving light and meet all our loved ones again. Unfortunately the evidence for an afterlife and a non-material soul is weak and anecdotal. Neuroscience has established beyond doubt that the mind depends on the brain. Our memories, thoughts, emotions and consciousness all arise from the workings of the organic brain, no soul has been detected, we are purely machines made of meat, and this makes me sad.

Also the searing light of Neuroscience and Psychology has shown over and over again how we deceive ourselves. We should be careful about relying on the evidence from the field of Parapsychology. Always ask yourself which is more likely, that the powerful laws of Physics have been overturned or there is some fraud and deception involved. In my humble opinion Materialism is the most reasonable, reliable and objective world view. We must shun uncorroborated intuition, revelation, religious authority or sacred texts.
Thanks again for all your interesting blog posts Robert.
Best Wishes,

Hello, our Sniffy! Good to see you're still alive and kicking. I've missed you. 8)

Hi Julie, thank you, sorry I didn't recognize it was you from the skeptiko forum, good to see you here our Julie, I've missed you too :)
Sadly I have been banned from the Skeptiko forum again, the moderation there is just awful, SandyB is a control freak, she wants complete control of the forum :(

Yes, well. That's a bit like getting banned from purgatory, isn't it. ;)

Ps. Sorry, our Robert. (Will stop hijacking your blog.)

Neuroscience certainly has not established beyond doubt that the mind is dependent on the Brain.There are two prevailing models, transmission and production which I am sure you're aware of and IMHO they are both possible until one includes evidence of psi.

Speaking of psi, there is a wealth of evidence demonstrating that consciousness may be independent of the physical body (previous topics here alone plus the writings of Chris Carter (and many many others) will give a dispassionate observer food for thought).

The laws of physics would only be overturned if they were complete. Of course they are not, and physicists have often change their views quite radically (and so they should) as new discoveries come along. The history of physics during the 20th Century alone is a great example.

Hi Paul, unfortunately neuroscientists do not entertain the tranmission theory, I myself did my undergraduate degree in neuroscience and never once did my professors mention the tranmission theory.
The notion of consciousness being independent of the physical body is sadly a deeply flawed belief known as dualism. Neuroscientists, Psychologists and Philosophers have a good time ridiculing dualism.

I would also like to point out that the legendary Keith Augustine author of two very important paper's debunking Near Death Experiences which you can read here:, has a new book coming out this August. Keith along with many philosophers and neuroscientist completely debunk the notion of an afterlife in that new book, I highly encourage all readers of Paranormalia to obtain a copy of Keith's book. He has also stated that he will point out the major flaws of the transmission theory.

Whenever we generalize about groups of people, there will always be exceptions. Sure, here in the U.S., the Atheist sceptic types tend to be liberal, but then, there is a strong streak of psi scepticism in the conservative leaning Libertarians - think: Ayn Rand.

My generalizing observation to bring to the table is that I've noticed most "mainstream" psi advocates tend to be more civil than their sceptical counterparts. Sure, Ricahrd Wiseman, Sam Harris and Lawrence Krauss can be warm and genuinely funny when they want to, but that's pretty much it. I can't think of a single pro-paranormal spokesperson that can compare to the vulgar snarkiness of James Randi and Richard Dawkins.

Also, paranormal proponents tend to be more open minded than most pseudo-sceptics. My definition of open mindedness here is the willingness to self-question. Sure, we have plenty of credulous Swami Kool-aid drinkers in our midst, but most of us aren't afraid to give the 'other side' a fair hearing, and we tend to admit it if we're wrong.

Exhibit A of my evidence is: The Paranormalia, Micheal Prescott, Daily Grail, Dancing Past the Dark and Skeptiko blogs, just to name a few. Maybe I'm in some kind of denial, but I can't find a single skeptical blog that is as tolerant of dissent as the aforementioned blogs. The closest I can find is The Bad Thinking blog, and that's only because the authors at least seem to try to hold back on their vitriolic spew. (I assume the readers of this blog already have the links to the paranormal friendly blogs already bookmarked).

Exhibit B is: Snuffy's back. Good to see ya! I take it you'll likely disagree with my portrayal of Skeptiko, but hey - Sandy's a good kid! Sometimes folks just can't click. When that happens to me, I just move on. You have. Welcome!

"There are no butterflies!", says the caterpillar.

Good read, Robert. Thanks for your effort.

Hi Sniffy
I look forward to reading Keith's book however I have read Keith's work before and didn't find it conclusive - especially surprising as it is all apparently so obvious. I will be amazed if there is anything new as there hasn't been in his recent online work, that hasn't already been covered by Chris Carter.

I can't see how the fact that you were not taught about the transmission model at University affects whether it is a viable alternative model. Accepting that the transmission model may be correct brings with a lot of implications that don't fit with what you were taught at University but without which one is forced to ignore psi evidence. It is up to you whether you are prepared to look beyond that.

I don't expect we will reach a conclusion as these kind of discussions have been going on for quite some time, however I thought I'd stick my oar in as your original assertion ignores the results of psi experimentation and the results of investigations by the foremost scientific minds of their day.

Hi RabbitDawg and Paul, yes I do agree that proponents of PSI do give the other side a fair hearing. Also Materialism does have it's fair share of problems such as Qualia and intentionality. However as Sam Harris asks us to consider ''you damage one part of the brain, and something about the mind and subjectivity is lost, you damage another and yet more is lost, [but] you damage the whole thing at death, we can rise off the brain with all our faculties in tact, recognizing grandma and speaking English!''

Could that be because experimentation on rats has shown that, no matter how much of the brain is destroyed, memory is never truly lost, Sniffy?

I've posted several comments that didn't make it past moderation and I respect that decision as the information I shared was controversial to say the least. But then George P. Hansen has emphasized this "trickster" aspect of the paranormal making it not amenable to scientific reproduction and rational analysis.

I had posted several comments on PZ Myers' blog but I was then banned as a crank and then he even mentioned me later in a blogpost he did summarizing cranks on his blog or some such. I had even embraced my "crank" status to PZ Myers says that being a crank is actually being an online shrink for all these scientists stuck in their rational limited worldviews.

Stuart Kauffman, a quantum chaos scientist, has a fascinating pdf on consciousness that then mentions his paranormal experience about the hit and run death of his 13 year old daughter. Kauffman says as a scientist he knews he's supposed to dismiss this anomalous synchronicity as simply being remembered because of its emotional significance but he doesn't think that is accurate.

Despite all the scientists having these experiences like Jill Bolte's NDE, the dogmatic "skeptics" remain in denial. But to look on the bright side as Kauffman keeps emphasizing the new quantum biology affirmation of quantum entanglement in "warm wet" systems like the chlorophyll of plants and the avian compass system -- these things are hard physics not to be dismissed by the likes of PZ Myers, et. al.

The Quantum Zeno Effect has taken on new importance in describing the avian compass migration mystery -- enabling quantum decoherence to be delayed. This happens to radical ions which is noted by Kiminis to apply to many biological systems - DNA, etc. In other words the hard physics science now proves something PZ Myers steadfastedly has insisted is not true -- quantum woo-woo. haha.

I had previously posted on biophotons and quantum biology on PZ Myers blog and of course he had a hissy-fit -- especially when I brought in qiqong paranormal science, etc. Why shouldn't I laugh at these scientists like PZ Myers who refuse to consider qigong master Chunyi Lin whose "external qi" ability is proven at the Mayo Clinic and the U of Minnesota. Myers is a professor at the U of Minnesota but he's at a small town farm school -- so he would need to get a phone healing or take a road trip to at least experience the laser-love qi transmissions. haha.

Sniffy - I'm so sorry. I looked straight at you name at the bottom of your posts, and I swear I saw "Snuffy". I'm getting old, my eyes are getting bad. Can't blame my mind though. It's always been feeble. :-)


Thank you for mentioning my humble blog – Bad Thinking. It is very new and I am surprised it is being quoted here.

You are right to say that I am tolerant of dissent (I have even posted an unflattering quote about me on the front page of the blog). Actually, I am not aiming it specifically at other sceptics; I don’t think it would be particularly useful to have a blog that is merely a self congratulatory back-slapping club: my intention is to establish my point of view and then take on anyone who claims to be able to prove the existence of the paranormal.

As you can probably guess, I am a sceptic and I am not convinced that psi/the paranormal and so on has any substance. Strangely enough, I tend to spend as much time on the internet looking at the pro paranormal sites as I do looking at sceptical sites. It makes sense to me to examine what the “opposition” is up to; otherwise I might be accused of not knowing what is really going on in the psi field.

As I said, the blog is still very new, and there is a lot more I want to do to it before I start to give it any significant publicity. Unfortunately, work and home commitments have prevented me from posting new items during the last few weeks, but I hope to remedy that in the next few days with some new material.

One more point: the blog is a work in progress and I am not ignoring pro paranormal sites. I have started a list of links to sceptical sites (obviously), but I will be including another list of links to psi-friendly sites. Paranormalia will be included as one of the places to visit; if nothing else, I want to be all-inclusive.

Although moderation of comments is in place for the time being, no comments will be stopped because of disagreement with my own views. If you have something to say, just say it. I really don’t mind. I don’t want to have too many rules in place, but I will probably draw the line at gratuitous profanity, potentially libellous comments, and comments that are obviously intended to disrupt things ( eg, trolling, sock puppetry).

One final point: I used to be a regular commenter on this blog until Robert said to me, “... may I respectfully suggest that you have made your position sufficiently clear, and it might now be time to find a forum that's more suitable to your particular ideas and inclinations.” You might remember me as Harley. I have posted this comment only because my own blog has been mentioned.

Best regards.


In my experience, Robert is a most kind and tolerant man. Therefore, if he made such a request to me then, out of respect, I would not return here.

There are *many* forums for discussion where control-freak moderation makes for a deeply unhelthy psychological environment. This is not one of them. So if Robert asks someone to leave here then my feeling is that they probably belong in the other kind.


Harley, I stand by my opinion that your blog is less snarky and more open to dissenting opinions than most sceptic oriented blogs. Now that I feel like I "know" you, I'll head over there in the next day or so and put up a few dissenting comments for your moderation.

As far as the other stuff, I obviously can't speak for Robert, but as I remember, the content of your comments were never an issue. It probably was the seemingly endless tit-for-tat exchanges that had a habit of taking control of the comment section, drawing attention toward you and away from the original blog post. By "drawing attention toward you", I am in no way insinuating an ego issue. I believe you really wanted to have a full-blown rational discussion. Speaking for myself, that sort of discussion is better suited for an internet forum (like Skeptiko has) with its multiple threads and pages.

I know other folks...okay...Julie comments a lot, but her comments tend to be less argumentative and more insightful, yet chatty. She adds, but never seriously distracts from the discussion.
Your posts, though well thought out, were more visceral and seemed to demand a response. One thing would lead to another and then we'd be off to the races. Long, drawn-out exchanges like that are the lifeblood of internet forums.

In any event, we'll see ya over there :-)

Oh dear, RabbitDawg. One is dammned by faint praise and led to feel something of a nuisance here. 8(

Ps. Damned, even!

Julie...wha...huh? Insightful commentary is a good dispute there. I have to admit that I initially hesitated to use the word "chatty" because it implies different things to different people. Where I come from, it conjures up images of an excited, interesting conversation. I can read your comments and never fear being bored or offended. I also want to point out (again) that you often add, but never subtract or distract from the conversation.

The only other thing I can think of is that the word "Chatty" resembles the word "catty" so much that it can be misinterpreted if you're sensitive, and intuitive people tend to be sensitive. You're never catty. However, I do I see you as being the number one Paranormalia fan, at least. Sort of like a blog mascot, at best. That's another good thing. :-)

You mean like a gargoyle?? 8(

Ps. First rule of holes our RabbitDawg: when you're in one stop digging. ;)

Or else dig a hole so deep nobody can find you.

I love your comments Julie - for real :)

Rabbit - I have to respectfully disagree. Harley was rarely (if ever) prepared to discuss matters on the basis of common reading of research.

For example, when there was a suggestion that we might read a piece of research, say Lodge, and then compare opinions - this was never taken up. In this situation discussion therefore takes the form of exchanges of opinion, but is not based on a common accepted basis for the discussion which is futile.

I can see that this kind of discussion might be enjoyable for some, perhaps even useful as a challenge - hell, I've certainly done it myself - maybe even a learning experience, but it rarely seems to result in any kind of consensus or progression on the matter under discussion.

One problem from a sceptical perspective is that there is very little research carried out by skeptics themselves (other than folks like Crookes for example, who subsequently came to accept the phenomena he investigated as being genuine).

That leaves the research that is available.

Since very often the posters against (Harley included)it seem already to have decided their position they are not engaged in a learning exercise, but seeking to justify their own conclusions, being assured they are correct.

RabbitDawg is right in that Harley belongs in Skeptiko. Endless, meaningless combat is the order of the day there - and in so many other forums. 'Tis all so very boring.

Back to McLuhan here...

Robert, terrific post. I'm delighted to see your comments about the Jonathan Haidt book. I've been watching him from afar for several years, and on reading this post went and dug up a piece I'd saved from a talk he did some five years ago.

And sure enough, right on topic, he points out that as humans we learned very early
"to forge a team by circling around sacred objects & principles… We’re just really good at binding ourselves together into teams, mostly when we’re competing with other teams.
"Sacredness is a central and subtle concept …'any value that a moral community implicitly or explicitly treats as possessing infinite or transcendental significance …” Sacredness precludes tradeoffs. When sacred values are threatened, we turn into 'intuitive theologians.' That is, we use our reasoning not to find the truth, but to find ways to defend what we hold sacred. … Within a moral force field, deviance is deeply disturbing. Apostates and heretics must be banished or executed."

Note that this applies to any community of shared moral principles--say, the scientism folks and skeptics, when their sacred value of materialism is at stake.

I think it's in a different article that Haidt notes that although science works well as a self-moderating social process, "But the private reasoning of any one scientist is often deeply flawed, because reasoning can be counted on to seek justification and not truth."

Your point exactly, isn't it?


Lemme be clear - I don't want to imply that Bad Thinking is a fair sceptic blog, it's just less offensive than most.

And Nancy, thanx for redirecting the comments back to the topic.

Hi Rabbit, that's clear :)
I wasn't referring to his blog (which I haven't looked at) but rather the discussion on here.

ps I take the hint about going off-topic lol - I don't like that either :)

Gee thanx Paul, another clarity! At this rate we ought to be invisible to others. As far as the off topic bit is concerned, it wasn't directed toward you, and besides - that was all Nancy's fault - she started it! (It's okay - I can tease her like that :)
Off topic discussion applies to all of us sometimes. That, and using the comment section as a publicly viewable email service. Like I'm

'course, I guess that's what gives Paranormalia it's refuge-from-hateful-sceptics family feel. :)
BTW, has anybody done a smilie count lately? :)

At the risk of steering us all off-topic again, I would like to say that these days, in general, I loathe internet discussion forums: I regard them as hornets' nests, and prepare to make a sharp exit at the slightest provocation (after I've made my views abundantly clear, that is). 8)

'Psi' is one of the most provocative of all contemporary subjects and gang warfare is rife in this field. But I'm not wholly convinced that the problem lies with the subject itself, I suspect the problem (attraction?) lies more with its very power to polarise and, thereby, create passionately opposing factions. A bit like football, I suppose: if you're not for us you're against us. And of course one must pick one's team or the bullets come from both sides.

And Robin Skynner fans will understand all-too-well just how much we like to project all the bad onto the other team. One might almost say it's therapeautic - in a perverse kind of way. ;)

And, like every other issue, it's multifaceted. Erm, is anyone out there listening? 8)

"There are no butterflies!", says the caterpillar. (posted by Tim J)

Perhaps we should look at the properties of matter that allow "hard science" to exist.
If the caterpillar lived for a thousand years the existence of butterflies might be difficult to establish.
Or the reverse:
no stability of phenomena vis a vi our life span.
e.g when is a symbol not a symbol?
Can a symbol have a definite period of existence? And if not, how do we investigate its properties?Its effects?
A new science is necessary?

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