Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#21  Postby Will S » Aug 21, 2010 7:47 am

When I look back over the last 50 years ...

(OK - I know it can be infuriating when somebody goes into greybeard mode in this way - but I think there's an important point here.)

If you look at any almost any science, you see that really significant progress has been made in the last 50 years. Delightful example: when I was an earnest young bloke, I bought a book 'A New Outline of Modern Knowledge'. It told me, amongst other things, that biologists were beginning to think that deoxyribonucleic acid might have something to do with heredity :smile: And it's the same where ever you look: biology, physics, chemistry, cosmology, earth sciences, oceanography. What is known now is very much greater than what was known then.

But not parapsychology. No progress. It's even fair to say that progress has gone into reverse. For 50+ years ago, it was very generally believed that telepathy, and even precognition and psychokinesis, were facts about the world for which there was clear experimental proof. But that belief is very much less general now. I'm sure there are many reasons, for example the fact that the work of one of the leading experimenters, S G Soal, has been discredited, or the continued failure of the Randi challenge to attract serious contenders.

What's the explanation for parapsychology being the odd man out? One obvious explanation is that there's nothing in it; it's simply a product of prejudice and wishful thinking. It's dead in the same way that phrenology (determining people's characters by feeling the bumps on their heads) is dead. The difference is that, in the case of parapsychology, some people still persist in flogging the dead horse.

Or is there some other possible explanation? Can anybody suggest one?
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#22  Postby twistor59 » Aug 21, 2010 8:07 am

Will S wrote:
Or is there some other possible explanation? Can anybody suggest one?


Our reptilian overlords have deployed a pyschic transmitter to suppress our inherent paranormal abilities ?

No I can't suggest one. The best fit seems to be "there isn't any pyschic ability".

I used to want that stuff to be true - I thought it would make the world more exciting (read Lyall Watson's "Supernature" as a kid, along with Von Daniken and Charles Berlitz), however when I learnt some modern physics - quantum mechanics and relativity in particular - I realised that the world had more than enough excitement and weirdness in it to keep me happy.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#23  Postby xrayzed » Aug 23, 2010 5:27 am

I also read Supernature too when I was a kid.

When I was 16 I thought it was the cutting-edge of coolness, and thought that within my lifetime we'd see amazing progress in putting a large number of traditional spiritual/mystical beliefs on a scientific footing.

I overlooked the tiny little detail that most of these beliefs don't actually seem to correspond to reality. I think the most likely explanation is that they're wrong, but can be persuaded by evidence to the contrary.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#24  Postby Will S » Aug 31, 2010 7:54 am

I'm about to go into mourning for the death of this topic, which I started with such high hopes. :(

I was certainly very impressed by what I thought was the strength of Christopher Scott's article, which I attempted to summarise in the OP. However, I expected it to provoke some kind of response from believers in the paranormal - and there are some of them around, aren't there?

As a last attempt, here's another quote from his article:

If the paranormal did not exist the situation could well be very close to what we observe today. We have only to assume a small but continuing flow of researchers ready to deceive themselves, or perhaps to deceive others, victims of wishful thinking or conscious frauds. That such people are rare is no doubt true - but so are successful parapsychologists. If the paranormal does not exist, then a parapsychology experiment is a selection procedure for finding such people among the overwhelming majority of genuine scientists. On this hypothesis the evidence will continue to flow in from all countries and perhaps all centuries to come. As for the sceptic, he may expose the more important cases but he can never hope to catch up; the dice are loaded against him.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#25  Postby science_is_god » Jan 21, 2011 4:11 pm

I've had a paranormal experience.
Telepathy basically. Myself and 2 friends were sat around outside a library partaking in some herbal intoxication. Nothing too strong. We thought it would be a laugh to try and read each others minds, if you've been stoned it's a perfectly reasonable thing to attempt. We spent maybe half an hour trying to guess numbers between 1 and 10 and failed miserabley, I would assume we did worse than chance would dictact. So I said let's try something else - instead of numbers what about shapes? Simple distinct shapes.
I'm not sure how long we were doing it but at one point it was my turn to project my imagined shape to my mates. I struggled thinking of a simple yet striking shape to project but settled on a helicopter, realising that it was't that simple I thought plane! Again too complicated, then (and you'll love this) I thought UFO (classic flying saucer type) and then thought to myself no, space shuttle! Finally I thought fuck it and settled on the Sun, a nice big bright burning disk, good for projecting I thought. Then from some part of my Catholic childhood came the image of a crucifx, it just appeared! All this happened in about 20 seconds I would assume.
My mate then pipes up, he says "I don't know, it's weird. I got a helicopter, or a plan, maybe a shuttle or UFO and then a buring crucifix"
I literally went from a corss legged position on the floor to standing in a second, such was my shock - I even remember feeling a little bit exposed for want of a better word, like my mate had been privy to something he shouldn't have been.
In terms of better or worse than chance would dictate I'm fairly sure that my mate perfomred somewhat better than chance. Thing is you have only my word that it happened the way I describe it and I'm the only one who knows for sure.
It did - point being though how the hell would you set up a controlled experiment for this?
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#26  Postby iamthereforeithink » Jan 21, 2011 4:18 pm

Well, if we found "proof", then it would no longer be paranormal, would it? It would just be "normal".
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#27  Postby science_is_god » Jan 21, 2011 4:29 pm

I have proof, how do I prove it though?
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#28  Postby Tbickle » Jan 21, 2011 4:47 pm

science_is_god wrote:Thing is you have only my word that it happened the way I describe it and I'm the only one who knows for sure.
It did - point being though how the hell would you set up a controlled experiment for this?


They have run controlled experiments testing these claims, but they show no more success than correct answers based on chance alone.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#29  Postby Will S » Jan 21, 2011 4:48 pm

science_is_god wrote:I have proof, how do I prove it though?

Sorry, but you don't have proof that anything paranormal happened.

What you have is a memory of one particular incident. What's more, at the time that the memory was formed you say that you had been 'partaking in some herbal intoxication'.

If somebody claimed, in similar circumstances, that he had seen a pink elephant, would you agree that he had 'proof' of the existence of pink elephants? :angel:
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#30  Postby Spearthrower » Jan 21, 2011 5:26 pm

science_is_god wrote:I have proof, how do I prove it though?


It's called distillation...

Oh you mean in the 'provide evidence' sense?

Well, that's quite difficult. I can tell you one thing that's not 'proof' - anecdote. And let's remember another thing while we're here. The plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not evidence.

So, how would you go about establishing evidence for your claim?

Easy peasy.

Set up a double blind trial.

If you go to the James Randi foundation, they'd be happy to help you, and you'd win a million dollars if you 'proved' it.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#31  Postby science_is_god » Jan 22, 2011 11:03 am

Tbickle wrote:
science_is_god wrote:Thing is you have only my word that it happened the way I describe it and I'm the only one who knows for sure.
It did - point being though how the hell would you set up a controlled experiment for this?


They have run controlled experiments testing these claims, but they show no more success than correct answers based on chance alone.


Which is fine, I understand where you are coming from completely, the scientific method asks for things to be repeatable etc
I get it.
However, I think you're maybe not understanding why I think it was better than chance in this single (potentially unrepeatable?) instance. The fact that my mate went through the images I had imagined in the order I had imagined them, with the exception of the last one (he never said sun , he said burning cruciix which I took as being the sun and the crucifix combined - I completely accept I made that connection and therefore it is easily and maybe best dismissed) he managed to come up with 4 images/shapes in the order I had thought them. Even if they weren't in order the fact that he picked 4 out of 5 images that I had thought of would suggest better than chance results to me. Maybe I'm wrong? This is always possible.

What I'm saying is what is the chance of you thinking of four images and someone else repeating them to you, those four images? In the order you thought of them or otherwise?
If it only happens once do we necessarily have to write it off as pure fluke? Especially if the intention at the time was to attempt to guess or "pick up" these images? Is it that easy to repeat it, since the subject being tested is human not a bit of rock or something which I would assume has less vairables to take into account?
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#32  Postby campermon » Jan 22, 2011 11:21 am

science_is_god wrote:

What I'm saying is what is the chance of you thinking of four images and someone else repeating them to you, those four images? In the order you thought of them or otherwise?
If it only happens once do we necessarily have to write it off as pure fluke? Especially if the intention at the time was to attempt to guess or "pick up" these images? Is it that easy to repeat it, since the subject being tested is human not a bit of rock or something which I would assume has less vairables to take into account?


The evidence you present is invalid. The smoking of herbs does have a habit of screwing up your memory formation, so your recall of the event may be corrupt.

What you need to do is get a sober third party to record your experiments and to repeat it many times!

:thumbup:
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#33  Postby science_is_god » Jan 22, 2011 11:34 am

Will S wrote:
science_is_god wrote:I have proof, how do I prove it though?

Sorry, but you don't have proof that anything paranormal happened.

What you have is a memory of one particular incident. What's more, at the time that the memory was formed you say that you had been 'partaking in some herbal intoxication'.

If somebody claimed, in similar circumstances, that he had seen a pink elephant, would you agree that he had 'proof' of the existence of pink elephants? :angel:


I think your question is more about the nature of proof and what constitutes as proof and this may be part of the problem with proof and the paranormal.
If someone stoned claimed to have seen a pink elephant I would most defintely want to know what they were smoking and where I could get some, because that sounds like some good shit! Seriously though, I would of course try to understand how this may have happened? How could this person have seen a pink elephant, such a bold claim, he must have been hallucinating surely. But the weed he smokes is not so strong and is not known, under repeated clinical trials to exhibit such behaviour in subjects who have taken it? hmmmmmm. Maybe he has some sort of mental condition which is known to cause hallucinations in sufferers? No. hmm, how can this man claim to have seen a pink elephant when they clearly don't exist? I mean I know they don't exist because I have never experienced seeing one or any evidence to that effect, therefore they simply cannot exist. I mean sure - people swear blind (because they're crazy, or want attention, or whatever - they've always got some alterior motive) that they have seen pink elephants but it's 100% certain none of them are telling the truth for the sake of just sharing their experiences with the world. Well, even if they are this inconceivable truthful person who has nothing to gain from their claims whatsoever then they are surely mistaken. I know this, I wasn't there, I've never met them or anything of the sort but I can tell them THEY are mistaken.

That's always going to be the problem with subjective experience though isn't it?

The point is, you don't have proof that anything paranormal happened, I however have my experience which for me is enough proof. Yes I was stoned at the time but I did not imagine this up, my memory (despite what is said about the short term memories of those who smoke weed) is rather good and I have nothing to gain from making my claim. Neither do I think my claim is so fantastic, maybe there's something in that fact?

Maybe some nutter decided to paint an actual elephant pink and then let the fucker loose whilst I just happened to be in the area stoned off my face! Surely a pink elephant is a pink elephant!
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#34  Postby science_is_god » Jan 22, 2011 11:55 am

campermon wrote:
science_is_god wrote:

What I'm saying is what is the chance of you thinking of four images and someone else repeating them to you, those four images? In the order you thought of them or otherwise?
If it only happens once do we necessarily have to write it off as pure fluke? Especially if the intention at the time was to attempt to guess or "pick up" these images? Is it that easy to repeat it, since the subject being tested is human not a bit of rock or something which I would assume has less vairables to take into account?


The evidence you present is invalid. The smoking of herbs does have a habit of screwing up your memory formation, so your recall of the event may be corrupt.

What you need to do is get a sober third party to record your experiments and to repeat it many times!

:thumbup:


Fair enough - I have to admit that my memory may have been corrupt, as long as it is accepted it may not have been corrupt.
I again have to accept that my evidence is invalid in terms of scientific proof. So maybe the proof should be measured against the claim?
I don't see the relevance of the inclusion of the sober person as such. If I were on LSD then maybe but I have no experience of hallucinations of any scale when smoking weed. No more so than may be experienced through eating too much sugar, or drinking too much coffee, or breathing rapidly etc.
Sobriety is not so common as far as I'm aware.

I don't know - I'd be up for trying an experiment but supposing I do that with the presence if a sober 3rd party, just for the sake of it, how many times would we need to yield similar results of "guessing" 4 out of 5 images in the same order they were thought of for it to be better than chance.
What are the chances of guessing correctly, 4 out of 5 images that someone might think of, even once?
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#35  Postby NineOneFour » Jan 22, 2011 12:02 pm

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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#36  Postby Will S » Jan 22, 2011 12:03 pm

science_is_god wrote:The point is, you don't have proof that anything paranormal happened, I however have my experience which for me is enough proof.

But, going by your account, I don't think it should be enough proof. For I can easily think of at least two explanations which don't involve anything paranormal at all. Of course, you may have further information which rules these explanations out - in which case, I'd be interested to hear what it is.

For example, as you were thinking, you might have been vocalising: saying or whispering something under your breath. Your friend may have heard this (perhaps without even being conscious of having done so) and that might explain how he knew what you were thinking.

Or, perhaps your mind has been tidying up and 'improving' your memory of what actually happened. Perhaps what actually happened was not really quite so impressive as what you remember. This is not, repeat NOT, to accuse you of dishonesty or stupidity. It's a well known and well researched phenomenon that memory plays tricks on all of us. One good place to start looking at this might be Daniel Dennett's ideas concerning 'multiple drafts of consciousness' in 'Consciousness Explained'.

What investigators routinely do in their experiments is to incorporate precautions which rule out these and other possible non-paranormal explanations. And what normally happens is that the paranormal effects disappear.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#37  Postby John P. M. » Jan 22, 2011 12:03 pm

Well - as for your example, it is certainly powerful to the person(s) experiencing it. I would probably have gone pale (even more than I usually am) myself from that.

But how would you feel if you had thought of, say, six or eight numbers (or more), and he had them all right? Perhaps not in order, but still?

This happens every week, in lotteries. The person delivering the winning lottery ticket has picked numbers at random (or perhaps from personal dates like birthdays etc.), and then they all correspond to the numbers the lottery has picked beforehand. Imagine how that feels. How the hell did you pick all the right numbers? That's pretty much miraculous. Except that it isn't. Sure, there may be millions of people playing that lottery, but to the person winning, that doesn't matter - he/she got the numbers right.

Is that a fair example? Not taking away from your experience, because - if recalled correctly by you - it was very specific. But could be coincidence, is my point.

Personal anecdotes are hard to deal with sometimes for a skeptic, because sometimes one is bombarded by them. "Well, how do you explain this then!?". On and on. And you don't want to embarrass them, as much as you don't want to be seen as completely closed minded. Well - that's how I experience it anyway. But without evidence and with possible flaws in memory, and possible Chinese Whispers, it's hard or impossible to say anything sensible about them except that however compelling they may be, they cannot be taken as proof (evidence). I like these video in this regard, btw:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98OTsYfTt-c
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69TOuqaqXI
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#38  Postby science_is_god » Jan 22, 2011 1:55 pm

NineOneFour wrote:Image


I like this!!!

I was under the impression though that oil companies had used dowsing methods, and the military had used remote viewing?
I'm not sure if they still do or how reliable my source was.
Just out of interest where did you get the employee records for the oil companies and military?
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#39  Postby science_is_god » Jan 22, 2011 2:15 pm

Will S wrote:
science_is_god wrote:The point is, you don't have proof that anything paranormal happened, I however have my experience which for me is enough proof.

But, going by your account, I don't think it should be enough proof. For I can easily think of at least two explanations which don't involve anything paranormal at all. Of course, you may have further information which rules these explanations out - in which case, I'd be interested to hear what it is.

For example, as you were thinking, you might have been vocalising: saying or whispering something under your breath. Your friend may have heard this (perhaps without even being conscious of having done so) and that might explain how he knew what you were thinking.

Or, perhaps your mind has been tidying up and 'improving' your memory of what actually happened. Perhaps what actually happened was not really quite so impressive as what you remember. This is not, repeat NOT, to accuse you of dishonesty or stupidity. It's a well known and well researched phenomenon that memory plays tricks on all of us. One good place to start looking at this might be Daniel Dennett's ideas concerning 'multiple drafts of consciousness' in 'Consciousness Explained'.

What investigators routinely do in their experiments is to incorporate precautions which rule out these and other possible non-paranormal explanations. And what normally happens is that the paranormal effects disappear.


that's fair, I cannot rule out what you have said above. to be fair though if I had uttered something barely audible and neither I or my friend had conciously been aware of it it's a bit convenient would you not say? I get what you're saying completely, but do you understand where I'm coming from on this one?

It's not solitary case though. 2 other times in my life stuff has happened which I guess could be described as paranormal.
One time on LSD (I know, I know) I had a conversation with a mate of mine without using words. I know it happened not because of what I perceived (I didn't freak out at all, for some reason I thought it was all very reasonable?) he properly freaked and asked me to "get out of his head". It's very hard to describe but I basically ended up in his head (man that sounds stupid) I guess I said something along the lines of "oh, um, you can hear me can't you" without saying it aloud, he then said that he wanted me to leave, again not aloud. Lastly he said that it was too much, this he did say aloud. a little while later I came up to him and asked him if as far as he was concerned we had indeed had a conversation without words a little earlier. He said yes and that he still didn't feel comfortabl with it at all.
Antoher time a friend of mine was in a coma, officially braindead going by the current scientific definition of a complete cease of brain activity. I was at home in my room and got the sudden feeling he was there with me (again I know how this sounds, really I do). For once I was sober. I proceeded to have a chat with him and we talked about the worthwhile-ness of him "coming back" to reality. the conversation ended with me saying that if it didn't matter either way to him (this is what he had alluded to) then very simply why not come back? and that was that.
About 2 months later when he had recoverd enough for me to go and visit him at home, I went to see him.
He came to meet me and one of the first things he said was that he remembered us having a conversation whilst he was in a coma and he remembered what had been said in that conversation. I said I rememberred it too and relayed what I thought had happened and been said. He was astounded, truly astounded. To this day he gets massively pissed off at the fact that I'm not hugely impressed that it happened whereas he is.

The last one with my friend who was in a coma is the hardest to explain away I would assume. We weren't together so I couldn't have given him any cues as such. We have independant memories of the event which corroborate each others and the fact that he was supposedly brain dead throws yet more problems into the equation.

What do you reckon?
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#40  Postby science_is_god » Jan 22, 2011 2:20 pm

John P. M. wrote:Well - as for your example, it is certainly powerful to the person(s) experiencing it. I would probably have gone pale (even more than I usually am) myself from that.

But how would you feel if you had thought of, say, six or eight numbers (or more), and he had them all right? Perhaps not in order, but still?

This happens every week, in lotteries. The person delivering the winning lottery ticket has picked numbers at random (or perhaps from personal dates like birthdays etc.), and then they all correspond to the numbers the lottery has picked beforehand. Imagine how that feels. How the hell did you pick all the right numbers? That's pretty much miraculous. Except that it isn't. Sure, there may be millions of people playing that lottery, but to the person winning, that doesn't matter - he/she got the numbers right.

Is that a fair example? Not taking away from your experience, because - if recalled correctly by you - it was very specific. But could be coincidence, is my point.

Personal anecdotes are hard to deal with sometimes for a skeptic, because sometimes one is bombarded by them. "Well, how do you explain this then!?". On and on. And you don't want to embarrass them, as much as you don't want to be seen as completely closed minded. Well - that's how I experience it anyway. But without evidence and with possible flaws in memory, and possible Chinese Whispers, it's hard or impossible to say anything sensible about them except that however compelling they may be, they cannot be taken as proof (evidence). I like these video in this regard, btw:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98OTsYfTt-c
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69TOuqaqXI


I agree, it could indeed be coincidence. There's no way I can rule that out.
I would however say that in my opinion there's less chance of my mate pulling those images out by chance, than by doing something which maybe, just maybe, isn't fully understood by science at present.

In terms of your example I'm sorry, no disrespect whatsoever but I don't think it's a fair example.
As you yourself said people doing the lottery will pick numbers significant to them, not so much try and sense what numbers they will be. I'm sure there are a few out there who do try to specifically pick the numbers they think will come up. I'd say the vast majority however do not.
Whilst I understand the point your example is making, I reckon there may be a better one out there, like I said though - You're right, I cannot rule out coincidence at all.
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