Nice little video from a Muppets Christmas special featuring a character named Emmet Otter. The video is from that show, while the audio is the version of the song performed by John Denver on a subsequent Muppets album.
Here is the most damning passage in the book, starting at Kindle location 1789:
Around May of 2007 Pavel Ziborov contacted JREF to apply for the challenge. After two years and almost 900 forum posts plus e-mails and letters, he and the volunteers had agreed on a straightforward protocol. Zibarov was to determine whether envelopes held a black or white piece of paper (50% chance) with 100 trials. It was agreed that he needed 67% correct answers to win (odds of that being chance are 1000 to 1). When this was submitted to Randi, it was changed to 20 trials with this explanation to Pavel: ...
“Suggest that he merely identify for us which of two photos are in an envelope, 20 times. We cannot satisfy each and every whim, and it’s too expensive. I’d say, if he refuses, he’s refused to be tested.”
This is straight up unethical. In addition to framing Pavel’s possible refusal as chickening out:
1. Randi violated his own rule that applicants have eight hours to complete their challenge.
2. Pavel still had to comply with the 1000 to 1 odds, so in order to achieve this with 20 trials, he would have had to have a success rate of 80%, where he had claimed to be able to achieve 67%. He was being asked to succeed at something he never said he could do.
3. The take it or leave it demand violates the condition that “both parties have to agree to the protocol.”
4. All of the JREF volunteers who had worked with Pavel were thrown under the bus as JREF blithely disregarded the protocol they had come up with ...
Rather than show their warts, JREF has produced a handy little synopsis of the outcome of the Ziberov application:
"In accordance with the suggestions item from other JREF staff, Pavel was given one last opportunity to simplify his protocol. He has declined, and his Challenge file has been closed.
"Pavel will have the opportunity to re-apply for the Challenge in one year, assuming he qualifies under the guidelines governing the Challenge at that time."
This kind of dissembling is an indication that the JREF organization doesn’t take their own challenge seriously. While they have acknowledged that it is a publicity stunt, it is this sort of organizational behavior that demonstrates something worse: outright dishonesty.
No wonder, with Randi taking heat like this, that he is shutting down the Challenge!
It would make a great mainstream TV episode to show Pavel Ziberov taking the 100-envelopes test. As a start, he could be tested and YouTube video’d by a neutral testing organization, with a few skeptics overseeing the preparations, venue, etc. Such a video would attract a lot of attention and might provoke a big TV network to do a rerun.
Not only would success vindicate Pavel and psi, it would severely discredit the MDC (Million Dollar Challenge)—and the gullibility of the Skeptics who cited it as the bulwark of their faith.
But what if Pavel gets only 62 hits, say? Then both sides could claim victory. Here's a way around that problem. If Pavel can regularly (90% of the time, say) obtain a 60% hit rate in 100 trials (of guessing if an envelope contains a black or white card), or even a 55% hit rate, and if he could acquire a YouTube channel, then he could post a video every month or two showing him achieving that result—and under Skeptic auspices. The "kicker" would be that those Skeptics conducting the experiment would have to donate $1000 (say - the amount could vary for each challenge) to a psi-research outfit like the one Radin works at if Pavel succeeded. Pavel, or those backing him, would have to make a similar donation to JREF or CSI if he failed. It could be dubbed The Double-Dare-You Counter Challenge.
Maybe there are others who could achieve a 55% hit rate reliably. If so, maybe the testee needn't be the same person every time. (Varying the person would make the YouTube videos more interesting, and would undermine any Skeptical claims that the testee was some undetectable super-magician. It would also dodge the Decline Effect, if one testee’s powers showed signs of fading in pre-session test-runs. Substituting testees isn’t something Skeptics should have a rational objection to.)
This standing challenge would give Skeptics no "out." They couldn't dismiss results by saying that a 60% or 55% hit rate isn't "proof" because it's only beating odds of 1 in 200 or 1 in 50 or so, because betting against Pavel repeatedly should be a long-term winning strategy.
They couldn't claim that the results were somehow due to the incompetence or worse of paranormal investigators, because the show would be under Skeptic control (with maybe a neutral or Believer observer present), and because any flaws in the procedure could be corrected in the next iteration of the bet.
They couldn't claim it's not worth their trouble to get involved, because their chance of winning would be over 98%, and because JREF could surely do with a free $1000 (at a minimum) every other month.
Their last ditch defense might be to claim (absurdly) that Bayesian statistics should be used instead of Frequentist statistics. But that claim would go down to defeat too, if the testee could demonstrate repeated success.
Or maybe they would claim that Derren Brown (say) could replicate Pavel's success. He might--but not if he were tested with parapsychologists in control of the experiment. (Unless he actually has psychic powers!)
A year or two ago I argued in one or more threads on this site that it would be terrific to turn the tables on the Skeptics with a Counter-Challenge of this sort. I'm very happy to have discovered (I hope) that there is a person like Pavel who has the skill my DDYCC would require.
One of the problems with arguing about psychic phenomena, and particularly evidence for life after death, is that critics often come at the subject from the standpoint of hard-and-fast preconceived notions that create a sort of mental box. They are so accustomed to viewing the world from inside this box that they cannot think their way outside it. They end up employing circular reasoning without even realizing it. What seems obvious and inarguable to them is actually the crux of the disagreement.
I’ll give a few examples.
In arguing against the idea that people who report near-death experiences have actually left their bodies, G.M. Woerlee points out that when these people describe the out-of-body component of the experience, they talk about seeing their physical body on the operating table, hearing the doctors talk, etc. But, he says, “an invisible and immaterial disembodied consciousness does not interact with physical forces like electromagnetic radiation (such as visible light), or with matter (including sound waves in air). This absence of interaction with physical matter and forces implies that a disembodied consciousness cannot see or hear during an OBE. So how could the disembodied consciousness of a person see and hear during an OBE?” It cannot, he concludes; therefore, the experiencer must have still been “in the body” and using his or her physical senses.
It should be obvious - but to Woerlee it isn’t - that this argument merely begs the question. The whole point at issue is whether or not some form of extraphysical experience and perception is possible. To Woerlee, the assumption that the physical senses are the only possible way of perceiving reality is so deeply engrained that he doesn’t question it, even in the context of a discussion of psychic perception, which by definition would be extraphysical.
2. In arguing against the idea that consciousness can operate outside the brain, many skeptics go into detail about the close correlations between brain states and mental states. They point out that brain damage can affect thought, memory, and personality; that patients with surgically split cerebral hemispheres exhibit different kinds of awareness depending on which half of the brain is being used; and that brain scans show different parts of the brain “lighting up” in conjunction with different mental operations.
But at most, this line of argument establishes only that there is an intimate connection between the brain and mental operations, just as there is an intimate connection between the electrical circuitry of a TV set and the pictures and sound it displays. It does not establish that consciousness originates in the brain, any more than a TV repairman could prove that TV programs originate inside the TV set. The brain as a receiver, with consciousness as the signal, would explain the known facts equally well.
Faced with this objection, skeptics say that the theory of the brain as the originator of consciousness (the "production theory") is just simpler than the alternative "transmission theory." But the simpler explanation is only preferable if it covers all the facts. The transmission theory covers both the neurological facts and the paranormal evidence, while the production theory covers neurology but not parapsychology.
To this, the skeptics reply that neurology is science and parapsychology is bunk. But how do they know that the large body of parapsychological evidence is entirely wrong? Well, it just has to be - because brain states are closely correlated with mental states, proving that the mind can’t operate outside the brain …
3. Finally, in arguing against a particular case, skeptics will often claim that it has been “debunked.” Sometimes, however, the alleged debunking consists merely of a hypothesis offered by a given debunker as to how the case might have been faked, with no evidence that it actually was faked. In some cases, there’s not even that much - merely an unsupported assertion that fakery of some unspecified sort was employed. (Of course, some cases really have been debunked, but I’m talking about the weaker debunking efforts, of which there are many.)
If you reply by pointing to more sympathetic examinations of the case by parapsychologists, the skeptic will dismiss those citations, saying that parapsychologists are biased and cannot be trusted. What it comes down to is that any debunker assumes automatic, unquestionable authority as soon as he expresses doubt about a case, even if he provides no evidence to back up his doubts, and even if his doubts are vague and generalized. Meanwhile, parapsychologists are denied any authority and dismissed as “fringe” figures even if they investigated the case at first hand and published detailed peer-reviewed reports on it.
The assumption is that there simply cannot be anything paranormal, so anyone who endorses a paranormal claim is automatically ruled out of court, while anyone who scoffs at a claim is automatically granted the status of an impartial and serious authority.
The above skeptical arguments all fit the description of circular reasoning or the closely related fallacy of question-begging. Yet the people advancing these arguments are usually of above-average intelligence and education, and I believe most of them are sincere. They are simply wedded to a certain set of assumptions about the world, assumptions they cannot challenge - in fact, cannot even imagine challenging.
You can’t argue them out of a worldview that seems, to them, as indisputable as the truth that 2 + 2 = 4. You’ll only find yourself running in circles.
I've been a little distracted lately and haven't been focused on blogging. But for what it's worth, here are some random tidbits of wisdom, or if not wisdom, at least thought-provoking stupidity.
First, this science article claims new support for the theory of a holographic universe. Note that the universe as a holographic projection is entirely consistent with an idea often explored on this blog – that the space-time cosmos is projected out of pure information. A holographic plate, after all, is nothing but a record of wave interference patterns, which constitute information. It is possible to convert any interference pattern into a series of ones and zeros, or (conversely) to convert a series of ones and zeroes into an interference pattern. In fact, it is possible to create a holographic plate without any physical template at all, simply by plugging in the right numbers to create the appropriate interference patterns. This is called computer-generated holography.
I don't think anyone believes that the space-time universe is produced as a hologram of some other physical universe that serves as a template, as would be the case in conventional holography. If the universe is, in some sense, a vast animated hologram, then its point of origin is presumably a set of raw information (and algorithms) that underlies physical phenomena. This is the essence of the virtual-reality universe hypothesis.
Second, Victor Moura points me to a new study of mediumship that appears to show distinctive brainwave patterns for mediums when they practice their art. However, the number of mediums studied was small – six people, only four of whom could be evaluated (and, even then, just three of the four scored above chance in their readings).
I'd still like to see what would happen if a medium with a good track record were to consent to be hypnotized before a reading. I suspect that accuracy would improve considerably, though of course I could be wrong. Hypnotic states seem to be strongly correlated with increased psi abilities, possibly including mediumistic skills. Trance mediums seem to possess the ability to hypnotize themselves, but since there aren't many trance mediums operating today, hypnotism performed by a hypnotherapist might be a viable alternative.
Third, the more I look at life on earth, the more I'm convinced that – for whatever reason – it's supposed to be nasty, brutish, and short … or at least rough sledding for most of us. I don't understand why, but the challenges and difficulties of life seem to be a feature, not a bug. Maybe it's all about learning separation, as Art likes to say, or maybe it has to do with free will, or maybe the earth is a dumping ground for immature and destructive spirits, or maybe there's some other explanation. I have no idea. But the sheer amount of craziness, evil, violence, suffering, and pain in the world goes far beyond an incidental glitch in the system. If we believe that earthly life has a larger purpose, then that larger purpose must encompass the negative things as well as the positive.
For that reason, I wouldn't be too quick to judge people who might be viewed negatively in "spiritual" terms – people who are drawn to lives of violence, such as professional soldiers. It's commonplace for those who regard themselves as spiritually enlightened to look down on the warrior class and to mouth platitudes like "war is bad for children and other living things." But war and many other kinds of strife and conflict seem to be built into the nature of reality as we experience it on this plane. Constant clashes between neighbors and nations appear to be an inherent part of earthly existence, which means that people with the personality of a fighter are very much at home in this world, and often very much needed.
We might extend this point of view to people who are militant in intellectual areas, such as militant debunkers of the paranormal. As much as we may dislike or disagree with their point of view, they are undoubtedly serving a vital purpose in the larger scheme of things.
In fact, we might go so far as to say that everybody is serving his or her purpose – that everyone is on the right path, whether or not it looks that way from our perspective.
FYI, here's a link to a blog post by Stafford Betty on John Adams' dying words - a subject that was discussed here recently in a comments thread.
And here's a link to a book released last year, The Last Frontier, by Julia Assante. It covers the evidence for postmortem survival and discusses ways of accessing your own mediumistic talents. I've read only part of it so far, but it seems like a very good overview, well researched and clearly written. It's available in print and ebook editions.