Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#41  Postby Will S » Jan 22, 2011 3:01 pm

science_is_god wrote: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?

I'd suggest that, if something similar happens in future, you make detailed notes at the time, using written words or a voice recorder. This would support you memory of what happened.

If you were still convinced of your paranormal abilities, then, surely, you could volunteer to have them tested by professional investigators.

I don't know how interested you are in money, but you might even win the $1,000,000 James Randi challenge.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#42  Postby science_is_god » Jan 22, 2011 3:18 pm

I'm as interested in money as the next person. Maybe? It doesn't drive me in any way shape or form, I need to live and to take care fo my family etc but that's about it. I'm a musician when I can be so I really can't afford to be driven by money.....
I'll check out the James Randi thing and give my mate a shout, he is motivated by the money stuff so we'll see what happens.
I guess if I'm gonna "talk the talk", especially on a site like this, I owe it myself and those that have been bothered/interested enough to talk with me regarding it to try and back it up in some way. Walk the walk.

I wouldn't say I have any paranormal abilities as such, just maybe the world is not exactly as it appears.
I don't think there's anything sensational about it. Maybe that's the trick! Don't worry, I don't actually mean that.

I'm off to find a notebook!
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#43  Postby John P. M. » Jan 22, 2011 3:23 pm

Just to have said it, I - and I think many with me - am not completely opposed to the idea of paranormal activity per say. Neither am I opposed to the idea of extraterrestrials existing and perhaps even visiting (as per that other thread), but this thread highlights the problem; evidence and the interpretation thereof. Or lack of evidence, as is mostly the case. We need reproducible effects in order to say anything meaningful about it.

An interesting thing to note is that when science does encounter specific events that has no evident explanation but unfortunately is also not reproducible, it is, and has to be, rigorous and intellectually honest enough to not say much of anything about it at all until further data comes up - if it ever does. One such example is the so called "Wow!" -signal from the SETI program. A one-off signal that seemed to have extraterrestrial origins, but never occurred again. So what can one conclude? That it was aliens? No, one simply can't. Not without further evidence. Not as a scientist anyway. That may be 'boring', but that's the way it has to be.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#44  Postby science_is_god » Jan 22, 2011 3:27 pm

John P. M. wrote:Just to have said it, I - and I think many with me - am not completely opposed to the idea of paranormal activity per say. Neither am I opposed to the idea of extraterrestrials existing and perhaps even visiting (as per that other thread), but this thread highlights the problem; evidence and the interpretation thereof. Or lack of evidence, as is mostly the case. We need reproducible effects in order to say anything meaningful about it.

An interesting thing to note is that when science does encounter specific events that has no evident explanation but unfortunately is also not reproducible, it is, and has to be, rigorous and intellectually honest enough to not say much of anything about it at all until further data comes up - if it ever does. One such example is the so called "Wow!" -signal from the SETI program. A one-off signal that seemed to have extraterrestrial origins, but never occurred again. So what can one conclude? That it was aliens? No, one simply can't. Not without further evidence. Not as a scientist anyway. That may be 'boring', but that's the way it has to be.



Very well said if you don't mind me saying.

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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#45  Postby Will S » Jan 22, 2011 5:21 pm

John P. M. wrote:Just to have said it, I - and I think many with me - am not completely opposed to the idea of paranormal activity per say. Neither am I opposed to the idea of extraterrestrials existing and perhaps even visiting (as per that other thread), but this thread highlights the problem; evidence and the interpretation thereof. Or lack of evidence, as is mostly the case. We need reproducible effects in order to say anything meaningful about it.

There's a nasty problem with the word 'paranormal'. If you define it as 'phenomena which today's science can't explain', then, clearly, only an idiot would deny that the paranormal exists. For example, for 19th century physicists, the fact that there were certain stones which could produce an image on a photographic plate in total darkness was, indeed, (in that sense) paranormal. It's not paranormal for today's physicists because they know about radioactivity.

So what usually seems to happen is that the paranormal is defined as abilities/events on a kind of open-ended list: telepathy, psychokinesis, dowsing, spoon-bending .... Which leaves the question: what goes, and doesn't go, on the list? Not very satisfactory!

As I understand it from my reading of their terms and conditions, the way in which the James Randi Foundation gets round the problem as far as their $1,000,000 prize is concerned is that, in the last resort, they reserve the right to say whether something is, or isn't, paranormal. Again, not very satisfactory - but it's hard to see what else they could do.

So, as I understand it, in theory, somebody might successfully complete, say, an old-fashioned, card-guessing telepathy test and the JRF could withhold the prize, saying that it wasn't paranormal. Of course, nothing like this ever has happened, and, if it did, there would be the most terrible stink; Randi and the JRF would be permanently discredited.

The fact that there have been (as far as I know) no such stinks, and the $1,000,000 has never been won does say something rather important, I think.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#46  Postby Spearthrower » Jan 22, 2011 5:29 pm

To be fair, I don't think that the JRF are going to shift the goalposts like that. It's 'paranormal' by our current understanding, not by a future understanding.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#47  Postby Will S » Jan 22, 2011 5:36 pm

Spearthrower wrote:To be fair, I don't think that the JRF are going to shift the goalposts like that. It's 'paranormal' by our current understanding, not by a future understanding.

No, I don't think for a moment they would. If somebody gave a genuine demonstration of telepathy or dowsing (as we generally understand them to be) I don't doubt that they'd brass up.

But somebody, I think Dawkins, pointed out that the JRF might be embarrassed by something which he called 'perinormal' i.e. inexplicable by today's science, but explicable by tomorrow's science.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#48  Postby VK-machine » Jan 22, 2011 5:49 pm

Will S wrote:As I understand it from my reading of their terms and conditions, the way in which the James Randi Foundation gets round the problem as far as their $1,000,000 prize is concerned is that, in the last resort, they reserve the right to say whether something is, or isn't, paranormal. Again, not very satisfactory - but it's hard to see what else they could do.


2.2 What is the definition of “paranormal” in regards to the Challenge?

Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “paranormal” as “not scientifically explainable; supernatural.”

Within the Challenge, this means that at the time your application is submitted and approved, your claim will be considered paranormal for the duration. If, after testing, it is decided that your ability is either scientifically explainable or will be someday, you needn’t worry. If the JREF has agreed to test you, then your claim is paranormal.

http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/com ... e-faq.html
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#49  Postby Will S » Jan 22, 2011 6:27 pm

VK-machine wrote:
Will S wrote:As I understand it from my reading of their terms and conditions, the way in which the James Randi Foundation gets round the problem as far as their $1,000,000 prize is concerned is that, in the last resort, they reserve the right to say whether something is, or isn't, paranormal. Again, not very satisfactory - but it's hard to see what else they could do.


2.2 What is the definition of “paranormal” in regards to the Challenge?

Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “paranormal” as “not scientifically explainable; supernatural.”

Within the Challenge, this means that at the time your application is submitted and approved, your claim will be considered paranormal for the duration. If, after testing, it is decided that your ability is either scientifically explainable or will be someday, you needn’t worry. If the JREF has agreed to test you, then your claim is paranormal.

http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/com ... e-faq.html

Yes, that's the same thing that I read.

What I take it to mean is that, when you submit an application, the JRF decide whether what you're claiming to be able to do is scientifically explainable. If they decide that it is scientifically explainable, then, of course, they'll turn down your application. They also seem to imply that if what you're claiming isn't scientifically explainable now, but they think it will be scientifically explainable someday, then they reserve the right to turn down your application. (Though, of course, whether something will be scientifically explainable someday is a matter of opinion - and, presumably, it's the JRF's opinion which counts!)

However, they also say that, if they accept your application, then they won't, at some later stage, try to dodge and refuse to pay up on the grounds that 'it wasn't paranormal, anyway'.

It seems to me to be about as generous a set of conditions as it's possible to devise. All I'm saying is that there's a problem which stems from the fact that scientific knowledge is (of course!) incomplete.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#50  Postby John P. M. » Jan 22, 2011 6:39 pm

I don't think I read it the same way, Will S.

The way I read it, the moment your application is approved by them, your claim is considered paranormal throughout the testing, and even if it is later decided that it is scientifically explainable (or will be), that doesn't matter ("you needn't worry"), because "if the JREF has agreed to test you, then your claim is paranormal", period. So, the way I read it - if they approve your attempt, then that means they have gone through the claim beforehand, evaluating if it could be scientifically explained, and decided that if you indeed can do what you claim, then it is paranormal.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#51  Postby Will S » Jan 22, 2011 6:51 pm

John P. M. wrote:I don't think I read it the same way, Will S.

The way I read it, the moment your application is approved by them, your claim is considered paranormal throughout the testing, and even if it is later decided that it is scientifically explainable (or will be), that doesn't matter ("you needn't worry"), because "if the JREF has agreed to test you, then your claim is paranormal", period. So, the way I read it - if they approve your attempt, then that means they have gone through the claim beforehand, evaluating if it could be scientifically explained, and decided that if you indeed can do what you claim, then it is paranormal.

I don't follow. What do you think we disagree about?

(To be clear: I have a high opinion of what the JRF does - I'm not criticising them.)
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#52  Postby John P. M. » Jan 22, 2011 6:55 pm

Lol (and I use that rarely) - it seems I simply misread your post. :tongue:

So... we agree, it seems now. :)
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#53  Postby science_is_god » Jan 31, 2011 12:50 pm

Will S wrote:In another topic, I earnestly recommended an article in the 'Oxford Companion to the Mind': 'Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof'. It was suggested that I start another topic with my own summary of the article as its OP. So, here goes:

(If you have access to the Oxford Companion to the Mind, do please read the complete article. The author of the article is Christopher Scott, a Consultant Statistician, about whom I know nothing more except that he writes cogently and lucidly. Any failings in what follows should, in the first instance anyway, be attributed to me, not to him.)

Scott's starting point is that 'paranormal phenomena are not claimed to be repeatable at will'. For example, it would be extremely unusual if anybody claimed to be able to perform telepathic feats on demand, or conjure up a ghost on demand. Therefore, if you want evidence against the paranormal, it's no good saying that some particular experiment involving telepathy failed, or that no ghost appeared on some particular occasion, or that spoons failed to bend on this or that TV programme.

The logical consequence is that the only evidence against the paranormal consists of criticisms of the evidence in favour. This weights the scales against the sceptic.

In some cases, the sceptic will be able to examine in detail the evidence in favour, and come up with a convincing critique of it: this is precisely what happened when the work of S G Soal was reexamined. But in many cases this is just not possible; Soal's records might easily have been destroyed, making reexamination impossible. Also, the amount of work involved is likely to be very great.

In any case, the sceptic is like Hercules fighting the Hydra: chop off one head, and immediately two more grow to replace it. Discredit one paranormal claim, and next week another claim will pop up.

Scott's key finding it this: '.. the argument that there can be no smoke without fire - that the continuing flow of positive results proves the reality of the phenomena since the evidence has not been systematically disproved - is scarcely compelling.'

Then follows what I think is the most important sentence in the article: 'If the paranormal did not exist the situation could well be very close to that which we observe today.'

He concludes: 'The characteristic symptom of this situation would be a continuing failure to build up any solid body of accepted knowledge in the area of the paranormal. For the time being, this is the situation we observe. As long as this situation persists it will be reasonable to regard the case for the paranormal as not proven, though outright disproof is certainly unobtainable.'


How far away from the "paranormal" would you say the placebo effect is? Just out of interest.
Also, if there is another thread on here dealing with the Placebo effect come someone let me know please - if they are aware of it?
I know it may come across as exceptionally lazy - because it is - but I don't get to spend too much time on here and there are lots of threads. I've obviously been drawn to the ones that interest me the most currently but haven't had a chance to look for anything on her regarding the Placebo effect yet.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#54  Postby Will S » Jan 31, 2011 1:13 pm

science_is_god wrote:How far away from the "paranormal" would you say the placebo effect is? Just out of interest.
Also, if there is another thread on here dealing with the Placebo effect come someone let me know please - if they are aware of it?
I know it may come across as exceptionally lazy - because it is - but I don't get to spend too much time on here and there are lots of threads. I've obviously been drawn to the ones that interest me the most currently but haven't had a chance to look for anything on her regarding the Placebo effect yet.
Cheers

If you were going to say that the placebo effect is paranormal, then you'd have to come with a very odd definition of 'paranormal' - but, having said that, I'd be the first to admit that it's very hard indeed to define that word in a satisfactory way!

The reality of placebo effects has been demonstrated repeatedly by classic 'double blind' trials. As I understand it, a good deal is also known about what kinds of placebo work best: big pills vs little pills; red pills vs blue pills etc.

There's a Wikipedia article on the subject http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placebo which looks good - but I don't say that I've read every word. :smile:
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#55  Postby science_is_god » Jan 31, 2011 1:18 pm

Will S wrote:
science_is_god wrote:How far away from the "paranormal" would you say the placebo effect is? Just out of interest.
Also, if there is another thread on here dealing with the Placebo effect come someone let me know please - if they are aware of it?
I know it may come across as exceptionally lazy - because it is - but I don't get to spend too much time on here and there are lots of threads. I've obviously been drawn to the ones that interest me the most currently but haven't had a chance to look for anything on her regarding the Placebo effect yet.
Cheers

If you were going to say that the placebo effect is paranormal, then you'd have to come with a very odd definition of 'paranormal' - but, having said that, I'd be the first to admit that it's very hard indeed to define that word in a satisfactory way!

The reality of placebo effects has been demonstrated repeatedly by classic 'double blind' trials. As I understand it, a good deal is also known about what kinds of placebo work best: big pills vs little pills; red pills vs blue pills etc.

There's a Wikipedia article on the subject http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placebo which looks good - but I don't say that I've read every word. :smile:


Yeah I've read the whole thing pretty much. It's what kind of spurned my question, whilst there's been lots of double blinds etc it's more the do with how powerful an effect it can have as opposed to why it has an effect at all. I know from the article they've managed to link it to something so as to make it not occur, or occur less, but that's about it.
It's almost as if a belief in something can actually manifest that something in reality! (said with massive smile on face)

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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#56  Postby nojesusknowpeace » Jan 31, 2011 2:28 pm

If paranormal activity can't be proven, then its existence like, its usefulness, is irrelevant.
If even after exhaustive study, the presence of ghosts, spirits,etc or the ability to see the future can't be tested because of their "transient nature" then they have little if any value and are better off being ignored.
That's what I took away from the article.
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#57  Postby Will S » Jan 31, 2011 3:16 pm

nojesusknowpeace wrote:If paranormal activity can't be proven, then its existence like, its usefulness, is irrelevant.
If even after exhaustive study, the presence of ghosts, spirits,etc or the ability to see the future can't be tested because of their "transient nature" then they have little if any value and are better off being ignored.
That's what I took away from the article.

I suppose it's always logically possible that somebody might have genuine and useful paranormal abilities which, unfortunately, operate only occasionally and unpredictably.

But, basically, I think you're right. If telepathy were a reality, and even if it operated with only, say, 20% reliability, it would still deliver a huge advantage in, for example, card games like bridge. It would be a real talking point: to what extent were two bridge partners using telepathy to communicate? Yet the question never seems to be asked!

Similarly, a medium who could, just sometimes, obtain reliable information from people who had died would be in enormous demand, for example from people investigating their family history. Yet, I've just been looking at mediums' adverts on the Web, and I can't find one who offers services to genealogists!
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#58  Postby GrahamH » Jan 31, 2011 3:21 pm

Will S wrote:Similarly, a medium who could, just sometimes, obtain reliable information from people who had died would be in enormous demand, for example from people investigating their family history. Yet, I've just been looking at mediums' adverts on the Web, and I can't find one who offers services to genealogists!


There's a market opportunity for someone! :lol:
Why do you think that?
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#59  Postby Will S » Jan 31, 2011 3:36 pm

GrahamH wrote:
Will S wrote:Similarly, a medium who could, just sometimes, obtain reliable information from people who had died would be in enormous demand, for example from people investigating their family history. Yet, I've just been looking at mediums' adverts on the Web, and I can't find one who offers services to genealogists!


There's a market opportunity for someone! :lol:

Well ... up to a point. :angel: For example, there are certain things about my great grandfather which I should very, very much like to know. I would even be willing to p*y quite a lot of m*n*y for the information. On the other hand, I already know a good deal about him, so I could very quickly determine whether what a medium told me was worth taking seriously or not.

Which may have something to do with the fact that this is not a service which mediums usually offer.... Bereaved people are a distinctly softer target. :(
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Re: Paranormal phenomena: the problem of proof

#60  Postby Thommo » Jan 31, 2011 3:37 pm

Will S wrote:I suppose it's always logically possible that somebody might have genuine and useful paranormal abilities which, unfortunately, operate only occasionally and unpredictably.

But, basically, I think you're right. If telepathy were a reality, and even if it operated with only, say, 20% reliability, it would still deliver a huge advantage in, for example, card games like bridge. It would be a real talking point: to what extent were two bridge partners using telepathy to communicate? Yet the question never seems to be asked!

Similarly, a medium who could, just sometimes, obtain reliable information from people who had died would be in enormous demand, for example from people investigating their family history. Yet, I've just been looking at mediums' adverts on the Web, and I can't find one who offers services to genealogists!


A link someone provided in another thread, which contains a particularly illuminating comment on how even a small scale effect which was intermittent and unpredictable would have massive effects at the observable scale:-

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1018886/Bem6.pdf
To appreciate how unlikely the existence of psi really is, consider the facts that (a) casinos make profit, and (b) casinos feature the game of French roulette. French roulette features 37 numbers, 18 colored black, 18 colored red, and the special number 0. The situation we consider here is where gamblers bet on the color indicated by the roulette ball. Betting on the wrong color results in a loss of your stake, and betting on the right color will double your stake. Because of the special number 0, the house holds a small advantage over the gambler; the probability of the house winning is 19=37. Consider now the possibility that the gambler could use psi to bet on the color that will shortly come up, that is, the color that will bring great wealth in the immediate future. In this context, even small effects of psi result in substantial payoffs. For instance, suppose a player with psi can anticipate the correct color in 53.1% of cases—the mean percentage correct across participants for the erotic pictures in Bem’s Experiment 1. Assume that this psi-player starts with only 100 euros, and bets 10 euro every time. The gambling stops whenever the psi-player is out of money (in which case the casino wins) or the psi-player has accumulated one million euros. After accounting for the house advantage, what is the probability that the psi-player will win one million euros? This probability, easily calculated from random walk theory (e.g., Feller, 1970, 1971) equals 48.6%. This means that, in this case, the expected profit for a psychic’s night out at the casino equals $485,900. If Bem’s psychic plays the game all year round, never raises the stakes, and always quits at a profit of a million dollars, the expected return is $177,353,500.5

Clearly, Bem’s psychic could bankrupt all casinos on the planet before anybody realized what was going on. This analysis leaves us with two possibilities. The first possibility is that, for whatever reason, the psi effects are not operative in casinos, but they are operative in psychological experiments on erotic pictures. The second possibility is that the psi effects are either nonexistent, or else so small that they cannot overcome the house advantage. Note that in the latter case, all of Bem’s experiments overestimate the effect.
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