Bad Spirituality
Sufi Spiritual Training

Moving the Goal Post: A Parable of Psi, by Robert Perry

In 1950's Alabama, the state championship game in high school football has just concluded between the reigning champions, Plantation High, and dark horse team Fieldhand High. In the final seconds of the game, the kicker for Fieldhand kicked a 55-yard field goal that should have won the game. But this field goal was disallowed by the referee. What follows is the tense discussion between the head coach of Fieldhand and the referee.

Coach: How could you disallow that? The kick was good!

Referee: It would have been good enough for an ordinary field goal, but not an extraordinary one.

I beg your pardon?

This is a big game. Your boy's kick, were it allowed, would overturn a twenty-five year tradition of Plantation High being the state champions, upon which much of the morale of this fair town is based. The team's defeat could easily upset the social order. With the very fabric of our society at stake, we have to be absolutely sure such a defeat is deserved. And in this case it's highly unlikely that it is. After all, a Negro team has never won the state championship.

But we've only been allowed to compete in the state championship for the last two years. Before that, we could only play other Negro high schools.

Yes, and there were very good reasons for that, which must be taken into account now. Besides, everyone knows that a Negro boy just can't kick the ball as far as our boys can.

But he just did.

Well, that's the thing. We can't be sure that he really did. For instance, it could have been a mass hallucination. Psychologists have documented such things. You know-mass hysteria and all. The mind is very tricky and crowds are highly unpredictable.

But everyone saw the ball going over the crossbar. And why would fans for the opposing team hallucinate the ball going over? Aren't hallucinations a product of what people wish for and expect?

Mass hysteria is apparently a very infectious thing. Also, you aren't taking into account unconscious desires and expectations, which can be opposite to the conscious ones. Further, we do have some parents in the crowd who are willing to testify that the ball in fact did not go over the crossbar. Yet even if we grant, for the moment, that it did go over, it could have been unfairly helped by freak air currents above the field, maybe a small twister. There have been reports of strange winds in neighboring towns tonight.

I've never heard of such a thing being invoked in a football game.

Again, this is an extraordinary situation, calling for nothing but the highest standards. Moreover, in addition to what I've already offered, there is always the possibility of cheating.

How do you cheat on a field goal?

Well, your boy could have attached a small rocket to his shoe, adding greater force to his kick, or maybe substituted a ball that was filled with helium, causing it to fly higher. We don't know exactly how it might have been pulled off, but a couple of the Plantation High parents are professional magicians and they have assured us that they can provide detailed explanations for exactly how such a thing could have been done.

But do you have a shred of evidence for this? Or, for that matter, for your theories about mass hallucination or freak winds?

I admit that those explanations do not seem very likely. But however unlikely they may be, they are surely more likely than the notion of the twenty-five year champs being beaten by a Negro team by way of an impossible 55-yard field goal.

OK, if I could find a way to show that your three possible explanations did not occur, would the kick be allowed then?

Nice try, but there will always be the possibility of explanations we haven't yet thought of. The fact remains that the odds of your team and your kicker doing what they are claimed to have done are so infinitesimally small that even unlikely unknown explanations are far more likely.

But our kicker has kicked several 55-yard field goals in practice. That's why we went for the field goal in this situation.

But we have no evidence for those other kicks. They were not done under controlled conditions and we have no unbiased witnesses for them.

OK, he kicked a 52-yard field goal in a game earlier in this season. What about that?

Well, given that we have no real evidence that he actually possesses this claimed ability, I think we're forced to conclude that that kick must have a more conventional explanation as well.

Would any kick in this situation have been allowed?

Of course. This is a fair game; we're interested only in the truth here. We have made some calculations and come to the conclusion that if the ball had cleared the crossbar by 30 feet, it would have been allowed.

30 feet?! That is ridiculous! Does that mean the Plantation High's field goal in the first half will also be disallowed? It was nowhere near 30 feet over the bar.

You're not really listening, are you? That was an ordinary field goal. Your team's kick was an extraordinary one. Naturally, different standards apply.

But why weren't we told about any of this ahead of time?

The exact timing of when you were or weren't told doesn't alter the extreme improbability of what your boy supposedly did. And, as a matter of fact, we do have plans to initiate discussions about getting new rules in the books regarding extraordinary kicks. This unfortunate episode has taught us the importance of factoring in the prior probability of a particular field goal, given the kinds of factors you and I have just discussed. To act like those prior probabilities are not there is clearly not sound refereeing.

Speaking of refereeing, can I ask where you went to high school?

Why, here at Plantation, of course.

Right. So how do I appeal your decision to the state football commission?

Well, you could actually talk to them tonight. All five members of the commission are sitting over there in the Plantation bleachers. But I'll tell you, I've already talked to them and they agree with me.

The coach did go over and talk to the commission members, who backed up the referee and gently reminded him that coaches who make trouble sometimes have difficulty keeping their jobs. Having exhausted all his options, the coach walked off the field, defeated. At least, he said to himself, his team can win in the only court left, the court of public opinion. The next morning, the headlines read: PLANTATION HIGH STATE CHAMPS AGAIN! Last Minute Kick by Fieldhand Fails."


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

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

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

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

Very apt!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counter intuitive?

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

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

On the other hand, has anyone read this article?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

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

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

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

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

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

My own defintions are as follows:

Extraordinary claims = those which make a fundamaterialist feel uncomfortable.

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

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

Wow, Rupert, that's quite an indictment!

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

Never were truer words spoken.

Yes, Julie, sorry .....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The comments to this entry are closed.