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Thanks for recommending this book. I have Limits of Influence and, although it's not easy reading at times, I know I'm going to learn a lot from reading it. Thanks for that suggestion too.

Kuznicki's predispositions make his opinions irrelevant. Since he refuses to consider inconvenient data and remains safely ossified in his stunted worldview ("There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio..."), we can justifiably ignore his comments. He is a waste of your time. Why attempt to drag horses (mules?) to water?

Michael... I don’t know... he got some very valid points.
I´m totally on your side of the fence, but be careful out there, we don’t need another Zammit.
-B

"Another Zammit"?

Them's fightin' words!

;-)

Michael: To me it seems to be more than a clash of world views. JK is playing ostrich. It's one thing to interpret the available data in the light of different world views. It's quite another to pretend that perfectly valid data do not exist. For instance, the evidence for remote viewing is much stronger than the evidence for aspirin preventing heart attacks, yet I suppose JK has no objections to taking aspirin in order to prevent heart attacks. And I second Kevin: JK is a waste of your time.

Source: UC Davis statistician Jessica Utts, http://tinyurl.com/2e3kqd

I think JK sounds like a nice guy, and rational too. The paranormal is like no other area of inquiry. It is routine for intelligent people to dismiss it as nonsense.

One can't just jump into the field at the most bizarre end and take all the data seriously. It takes years of patient study. It is best to start with the data you find the least challenging, and gradually push the envelope. Braude's latest work is the result of this approach, his first book was on the lab data, in 1979.

I don't blame Jason for being skeptical of the gold leaf lady. However his positional skepticism of phenomena like ghosts, telepathy and the like is the sign of a closed mind.

Cross-posting my response, just so I can be worthy of the tag "increasingly unhinged"...
;)

-----------------

Good points made, a far better post than your original on this topic. I think it would be worthwhile though, rather than posturing, to take Michael Prescott’s critique on board. Michael is a very sensible person, who is not afraid to take bad science to task - equally, he takes bad skepticism to task, and there were some examples of that in your first post (as commenter RayG also pointed out). It would be worth learning lessons from that.

To take UoCP to task for publishing the book is arrogant cynicism. Braude is a well-credentialled (and quite skeptical) researcher of parapsychology and the paranormal. Being familiar with his work, your initial post to me smacked of ‘mouthing off’ about a subject you have little background in, on the basis of an excerpt from an entire book.

You say yourself that “The skeptic takes the cautious middle path…he tests…he tries to repeat stuff. He shares evidence and tries hard to record everything he can…The skeptic takes little steps, and he takes them seldom”. Your initial post was one big step into territory you are unfamiliar with, and your foot appears to have ended up (partially) in your mouth.

On those points:

a) “The true skeptic most certainly does claim to recognize nonsense — at times. At times: as when brass foil with recognizably industrial characteristics “somehow” materializes on a woman’s body.”

No, a true skeptic would - as you point out yourself - doubt the claim, but test carefully. Supposed ’skeptics’ throughout history have recognized nonsense, such as stones falling from the sky, continental drift, and hypnotism. They were not skeptics, they were cynics. It’s worth learning from lessons of history. By your own test here, your first post fails the standard of ‘true skepticism’ miserably.

b) “First, I think I should point out that, contrary to Mr. Prescott, I don’t always claim to know what is or is not nonsense. I keep a studied silence, for example, about theoretical physics, a field about which I know little”.

But in this case you did not keep a studied silence, you decided to shoot your mouth off. And Michael Prescott called you on it. Perhaps worthy of ruminating on, rather than throwing diatribe the way of Michael Prescott?

c) “I hereby apologize for failing to name Mohrhoff. He was an unknown to me before this exchange, and I did not think that his name was particularly important.

Nor is it particularly important that some individual scientists have believed in the existence of paranormal phenomena. ”

It is very important when you criticized the quoted reviewer for not understanding science, and in particular selecting a quote which mentioned quantum physics. Again, you make a good point in your second post, but your first post threw caution to the wind and you tried to criticize a highly credentialled scientist for not understanding how science works. Considering your humility about your own scientific credentials in this follow-up post, probably a decent criticism by Prescott, n’est ce pas?

d) “Witness the increasingly unhinged commenters at Prescott’s blog”

I mean really, what is this? The last refuge of scoundrels? Give yourself an uppercut, and then debate Prescott’s points please.

Personally, on first impression the gold leaf lady case strikes me as fraud - mainly on the basis of my past experience. But I certainly don’t know that for a fact. I would be interested though - as I hope any scientist would be - that if I was privy to data and circumstances that suggested otherwise, to study the phenomenon more closely. I’m not sure why you discussed ‘angels, ghosts and aliens’ as possible explanations, as Braude doesn’t. Again, perhaps it’s worth ruminating on your own posts, which have been a mix of salient points, and dogmatic, unscientific rubbish.

Kind regards,
Greg

Science first needs to come up with humane protocols to test human subjects...

you can go around expecting to test humans like lab mice...

Most humans would prefer not to be tested like lab rats...

Therein lies the difficulty of experimental verification for the paranormal...

The above comment shoudl read..

"you can't go around expecting to test humans like lab mice..."

As I read the comments here it reminds me of the problems the scientists had in the late 19th century hundreds and early 20th century even getting other scientists to take their research seriously. Even scientists with mega positive international reputations; when they started their paranormal research were held in contempt by many scientists that in my personal opinion had very small and closed minds.

I am reading ghost hunters and reading with interest their belief that by the 21st century the world would be more receptive to paranormal research. This does not appear to be the case but the Internet may change this.

I am continually fascinated by how we humans allow our cherished and often conditioned beliefs to overwhelm our rational mind. This statement applies to scientists, atheists, journalists, and religious alike. Even the author of the ghost hunters if one reads carefully is letting their bias reflect the tone of the book. (i.e. human condition)

There is a quote in this book that goes something like this: "why is it so noble to ask whence man came from but so suspicious and dishonorable to ask and ascertain whither he goes." Hyslop. Considering that the fear of death may account for a lot of neurotic behavior in the world it might be worthwhile to seek answers to what happens to us after we die.

This book reinforces my belief that if one does the research into the paranormal one will come away with at least the belief that this universe is a whole lot more mysterious than materialism has to offer as explanations for our being here. Of course there is a catch a person must not have already made up their mind as to what is reality. (i.e. open mind) I know an open mind is an oxy moron but.

Thanks, Greg, for your support.

One thing I really should have mentioned in my original post is that Braude's book is a memoir. Unlike his earlier books The Limits of Influence and Immortal Remains, this one is not intended as a presentation of the most strongly evidential cases of psi. It's a review of the more memorable cases he's personally looked into. In at least one case, he comes to the conclusion that a purported psychic is a fake. In the case of the gold leaf lady, he clearly believes she is genuine, but acknowledges that anyone who doesn't know Katie and didn't witness the events will be skeptical.

Great post, Greg.

"I am reading ghost hunters and reading with interest their belief that by the 21st century the world would be more receptive to paranormal research."

Actually, I think one of the reasons that so many people avoid this subject is because they are absolutely terrified of asking the big questions in life. When I've tried to discuss these questions with most of my friends, I've noticed that they're scared shitless by the possibility that there may be more to life than working for a living, watching football, buying things, clubbing, etc. Most people are scared of losing the banal suburban comfort that is provided by mundane affairs.

>they are absolutely terrified of asking the big questions in life.

That's an excellent point. Many people are afraid to discuss anything that pertains to death. They seem to be in denial about the fact that they themselves will die someday. They just don't want to think about it and will change the subject whenever it comes up.

>They just don't want to think about it and will change the subject whenever it comes up.

I completely agree, Michael and anon. When I have brought up the subject of a possible afterlife in conversation, as positive thing. It is considered morbid.'Ghosts', for example, are not considered as positive evidence, but are feared because they belong to the Darkside.

I really hadn't taken on board that the occult has always been considered an area to fear. This may be a manifestation of a suppressed fear of death, but if it is, it is a socio-historical phenomenon. Some of my friends would be prepared to go 'ghost hunting' but would spend most of their time being over dramatic, running away, and swearing. If I asked them whether the ghost may represent a glimpse of their future selves, I would be met with a blank look followed by 'Shhhh...here he comes.'

Still, fear of the occult, a good reason for embracing atheistic humanism, don't you think?

I've encountered a lot of those people who fear death. But lately, I've been amazed at how many of my new friends and acquaintances are open to discussing this stuff. But even among them, you can sense the fear. Some are very open about it.

I was one of those who feared the topic of death. So I immersed myself into "something" that forced me to confront it dead on. It was the best thing I have done in my life, for many reasons.

It involved spending time with people close to death.

My response has been responded to (http://positiveliberty.com/2007/09/the-continuing-story-of-the-gold-leaf-lady.html), so thought I'd cross-post my response again (yes Michael, that way madness lies - I'll get on with other things now!).

Thanks for your reponse. To continue the dialogue:

* "I was perhaps being a little bold, but given the uncritical response I’d seen so far, I thought someone really needed to step in. I have an enormous respect for the University of Chicago Press and for the school to which it is attached, and I was frankly concerned for its reputation."

Really? And you thought posting a blog entry would alleviate any possible harm to the University of Chicago Press, or would make them recall the book? Call me a skeptic, but I doubt this was the real motivation for the posting. But I certainly don't claim to know your inner thoughts, so this is entirely my opinion.

Yes, you were a 'little bold'. Hence the criticism. Take it on board, it can only make your already solid take on science even stronger.

* " Moreover, if it is wrong for me to doubt, based on this excerpt, then it is also wrong for the others to believe, or to conclude that something paranormal must be happening, based again only on this excerpt. It’s a little amazing to me that I should be attacked for criticizing an excerpt — by people who base their opinions of the case on that very same passage!"

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. I would hope though, considering your phrasing here (generalising with 'people'), that you took note that *I* certainly don't believe that something paranormal is happening. (Nor do I 'believe' that something normal is happening. I'm just reading with interest at this stage.) But my response/opinion wasn't about the excerpt, it was about your shoddy 'skepticism' in this particular case.

* "To the first, I noted the metallurgical report on Katie’s materialized foil, which found it to be brass foil of a very common type, easily available to anyone. This is an important test, since it rules out a large set of potential paranormal explanations"

No it doesn't. It makes them less likely, and enhances the likelihood of a mundane explanation. But it certainly doesn't "rule them out".

* "As to your second point: Yes, skeptics are sometimes wrong! You’d better believe it. Absolutely we are."

You appear to be talking as if you are a member of some group known as 'skeptics', to which I am not affiliated. I find that interesting.

* "Others may very well believe, but they would be believing against a tremendously strong weight of evidence."

So, Braude's in-depth personal investigation, versus your own analysis from a distance based on an excerpt, results in a "tremendously strong weight of evidence" against a paranormal explanation. I'm intrigued by your conclusion here...

* "I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re getting at here. Do you mean to say that Drew Hempel is not unhinged? He most certainly is, and I haven’t the slightest clue what he means to say in his long and rambling comments to Prescott’s post. This is not a strike against Prescott, to be sure, but it is a strike against the uncritical mindset that is skepticism’s opposite."

What I was "getting at", is that this little snipe was unrequired, and attempted to portray some 'guilt by association' onto Michael Prescott (despite your protest of innocence). Let me point out that you used the words "increasingly" and "commenters" (interspersed with the lovely "unhinged"), twice over when referring to "Prescott's blog". If you want unhinged, try YouTube. Why post it in regards to "Prescott's blog"? Again, only you can answer that one.

* "It’s far from a perfect system, but chucking it out the window at the first sight of something new is hardly a better one."

Who said anything about chucking it out the window? My point was that strange phenomena have occurred throughout history (as have frauds, hoaxes etc), and many were quick to write them off as 'nonsense'. I agree, the scientific process is wonderful. How about we use it in this case, rather than writing blogs castigating the UoC Press for publishing 'nonsense'? Kind of ironic how you're actually making my point here?

* "All I wanted to do was to point out that either a conscious paranormal entity or an unconscious paranormal process seems to be implicated here. Yet the latter seems a bad fit for paranormal events that also include peculiar knowledges (automatic writing and clairvoyance)."

No, you were painting Braude's scientific investigation (which, in this particular book, is related in anecdotal form) as being associated with angels, aliens etc. If you think that his investigation implicates these things (entities rather than processes), you really have not done much background reading on Braude's research (perhaps start with 'super-psi', with which Braude's name is synonymous)...

* "But there is a larger point here — It seems that I’m the only one actually looking for explanations. Everyone else is just running around saying “Ooh look, unexplained, unexplained!”"

Really?

Kind regards,
Greg Taylor

Jason says:

On Leaves of Gold The University of Chicago Press has responded to me (and to P Z Myers):

Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty took us to task, opining that “university presses … have certain responsibilities, including above all scientific rigor.” (Gosh, thanks for the reminder.) To his credit, though, he engaged with his critics and has perhaps gained a more complete sense of what rigor requires.

One of those critics was Michael Prescott, who posted a defense of the book on his self-named blog. Taking the other side of the issue is biologist P.Z. Myers, blogging on Pharyngula, who for some reason mixes in a discussion of bottled water with his shoot-from-the-hip criticism.

“Isn’t that sweet?” (Pats the skeptic on the head.) “Maybe youve learned something!”

Give me a break.

Really, I don’t feel that I’ve learned much at all. I knew what scientific rigor was before I went into this discussion. The only thing I may have learned is how quickly some people will throw it all aside in favor of oohing and aahing at the unexplained.

How the oohing and aahing is intellectually preferable to testing and explanation is beyond me, but apparently some people do prefer it. To me these people are nothing but pompous intellectual frauds. It always takes more brains and more courage to do genuine science than it does to gesture, vaguely and vacuously, at the limits of human knowledge.

If I still have the attention of the publishers, I have to say I remain disappointed that you would publish the excerpt that appeared on your site. It is still possible that something else in the book redeems it all, but I don’t think it’s likely. Katie the so-called gold leaf lady is nothing more than two-bit huckster, and one of your authors fell for her routine. This much is just bleedingly obvious, even going on the author’s own account of the situation.

Although he was physically present for many of Katie’s supposedly paranormal manifestations, a physical presence doesn’t count for much when you’ve turned off your brains and just started accepting that no known explanation could possibly fit the data. Braude’s marked disinterest in more rigorous testing shows that he is employing a shoddy scientific method. The presence of someone whose research standards are this low makes me less inclined to accept the given account, not more.

Sorry folks, but I still think you blew it bigtime on this one.

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