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"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."
The ones that are sincere tend to be willfully uninformed; the ones that are informed can't be sincere. They must be arguing in bad faith. I think that MP's diagnosis of their problem earlier this year (citation needed) is correct: that Skeptics suffer from a psychologically rigid "right-man syndrome" that paralyzes their ability to consider that they might be wrong.

I think the bad faith and extremist mentality of the Skeptical crusaders is brought out in some of the excellent sallies in Craig Weiler's just-out $7 Kindle book, PSI Wars: TED, Wikipedia and the Battle for the Internet.

For instance, see Kindle Locations
248,
426,
477,
601,
648,
791,

853,
986,
1074,
1111 ff. ("pathological disbelief"),
1252,
1327
,
1365,
1700 thru 1900 (Randi's Challenge),
1989,
2026 thru 2050,
2103 thru 2163
,
2564,
2800 thru 3462 (Wikipedia),
3968,
4022 (diversion of bequests to study psi to other purposes),
4094,
4153,
4227,
4254 ff.,
4372,
4433,
4485,
4739 ff.

Interesting comment.

I wonder whether the situation arises in part at least, because some start off determined that the materialist position is definitely correct. Then it is only a matter of finding alternative explanations (without necessarily showing that the explanation was actually valid) for each instance of reported psi phenomena. Having achieved that, there is no need (in their minds) to alter their original premise or concede that there may be anything in such phenomena. You can bat away a lot of inconvenient facts that way.

The nature of much of the phenomena make this easier in that a lot of it seems difficult to reproduce on demand, or relies on statistical analyses which are often sufficiently moot to allow an ardent materialist enough wiggle room to maintain their position.

It is perhaps much more difficult to accept alternative explanations when one is convinced one already knows the truth of the matter. Whether that's the case or not.

I think that the materialist position is comforting in the way it gives some certainty to people who are scared by the great mystery of conscious experience. When every strange experience can be attributed only to ordinary physical phenomena, there is nothing spooky to be afraid of. Non-physical reality is not for cowards.

Here is the most damning passage in the Psi Wars 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.)

Psi phenomena always involve experiences and faculties that lie outside the usual set that critics (and most people) take for granted and experience themselves. Those who accept psi phenomena, and survival, are usually those who have experienced these things firsthand. They have seen the evidence in their own lives. Not only that, but often they've been utterly transformed by them precisely because such experiences DO belie their previous assumptions about who and what they are.

Most spiritual teachings say, in one form or another, that the truth of who and what we are can ONLY be known through experience. I think this is probably at the root of the critics' circular confusion. Acknowledging psi phenomena and survival may require a kind of spiritual breakthrough, a breakthrough in identity, which is in its nature a matter of experience, not reasoning, or not only reasoning.

It's always interesting how, while discussing proposed immaterial entities, the materialists insist on them having the same limitations as material things. If there's one thing that our experience of the physical universe should lead us to realize, things in essentially different categories wouldn't be expected to have the same qualities or properties. It is not, in any way, unreasonable to expect that immaterial entities might not have the limits inherent in material objects. It would be unreasonable to expect they would, if they did they would be material entities, not immaterial ones. Even living animals and plants have properties and abilities that nonliving objects don't have. Of course, one of the materialists' favorite games is to pretend that anything people or animals can do or experience that doesn't fit into the limits of non-living objects is an illusion. To talk about begging questions. They are merely doing what emotionally involved ideologues and true believers do, rigging the rules in their favor. And, in today's decaying intellectual culture, they get away with it, especially among those who are profoundly ignorant of science. For most of the true believers in materialism, science has the same occult status that the written word often had for the illiterate.

Woerlee is the same person that believes God should be stoned for having sex with Mary:

http://www.religion.woerlee.org/jesus-and-mohammed.php

I wouldn't take him too seriously.

@roger-very interesting on Randi.

On this page we can find very similar objections that you show and new objections:

http://www.skeptiko.com/forum/threads/ndes-and-obes-dreams-are-the-key.147/

Here it is argued that if something goes out of the body during NDEs and OBEs and can perceive the environment, then it would have to be visible at all times, which does not occur. But this assumes that a perception can only be optically, assumption that can be false.

It also argues that if exists a realm of the billions of sentient deceased beings, then that realm would have to generate a huge energetic signal and this signal would have been detected by the physics, but has not been detected. However, suppose this could be a mistake, for the afterlife realm can be a sub-quantum realm whose energetic signal is very subtle and undetectable at present or may be a field of lively information that does not generate energy.

It is argued that if possible the mind without the nervous system, then it would have not evolved living beings with complex nervous systems. But this argument is flawed because it is possible that the mind can only take effects in the material realm through the brain, but to persist after brain death.

And there it is argued that what makes us the person we are is strongly built by biological components: genes, hormones, etc., so if our consciousness survives after biological death, then that consciousness hardly be us. But this objection assumes that biological components create our identity, but it need not be so, because the biological components can shape our identity, but once accomplished this task, our identity can shed the biological components.

Interesting questions, right?

Earlier I posted:

"(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 Deren 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.

I thought my previous comment would receive more attention :( Now I thinks that the afterlife proponents would have to put more care to the theoretical considerations about an afterlife, do not you think?

Juan, these are interesting skeptic arguments and your hypothetical responses are good. The skeptic objections all assume that whatever "spirit" is (if it exists at all), it must be material (because that is all there is) and observe our physical world and interact with it through the fields and forces known to physics. This is a sort of circular reasoning or begging the question, because it assumes the object of the argument of whether or not nonmaterial but still interacting spiritual entities exist.

This reminds me of the old argument that dualism is impossible because an "immaterial" thing can not affect or interact with a "material" thing - if it did, it would be physical in some way and be detectable by physical instruments. The problem is with this theoretical reasoning, which should conform to reality rather than trying to force reality to conform to this particular philosophy.

It seems to me that a blanket response is simply to cite the empirical evidence that whether it can be conceptualized and fit into physics theory or not, human consciousness behaves very much like it is an immaterial something that still interacts with matter, other living minds and apparenly with discarnate minds, using the physical brain as a means to operate in the physical world.

Examples of such phenomena having an immense amount of evidence that they undoubtedly do exist are telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, precognition, many veridical cases of mediumistic communication with the dead (or at least where this is the best explanation), crisis apparitions, veridical NDEs, and evidence best interpretable through reincarnation.

Empirical evidence always trumps apparently contradictory theory, showing the existing theory is incomplete.

Doubter I'd like to add to your list Death Bed Visions. There is just something about them that I find very evidential. I can think of no evolutionary or materialistic reason for them to exist yet they seem to be universal and bring comfort and hope to those in attendance at the bedside of dying people. There is something about reading death bed visions that I find very comforting.

Thanks Doubter for your reply.

Your reply is good, but leaves the question if the spirits are not physical, what are they? There is also the option that the spirits are physical, but in a way unknown to modern physics.

By other hand, his / her reply applies to the first two issues, but the other two issues need other independent responses, but I think that my replies are a good attempt to answer them.

Interesting points Doubter. Genuine question, and this is probably my ignorance is a magnetic field immaterial? It interferes with material objects but I'm not sure the field itself could be called immaterial. I'd be interested to hear others' views.

"magnetic field"

Is this what Oliver Lodge referred to as the Ether ?

Juan - It is argued that if possible the mind without the nervous system, then it would have not evolved living beings with complex nervous systems.

This skeptic objection seems fairly strong. But it inherently assumes as a premise one of the basic things that is in contention: it assumes that there is no empirical evidence that minds can in fact somehow manifest independent of brains (or exhibit psi phenomena that cannot be functions of physical brains/nervous systems). The skeptic by denying the existence of pertinent evidence thereby cleverly turns the issue into a theoretical argument involving evolutionary biology.

However, the list of paranormal phenomena indicates that there is such evidence - the mind without (or not entirely a function of) the nervous system is not just a possibility but an evidentiary fact, invalidating the premise.

But it is also a fact that brains and nervous systems have evolved ever more complexity over hundreds of millions of years, producing higher and higher levels of mental functioning, with the evolutionary process appearing to be entirely mechanistic and material operating through random variation filtered by selection for reproduction and survival.

These two facts seem to be conflicting. I think this creates an inevitable cognitive dissonance that can only be resolved with more knowledge of the true mechanisms of evolution, and of the interface with the spiritual realm and its true nature.

And there it is argued that what makes us the person we are is strongly built by biological components: genes, hormones, etc., so if our consciousness survives after biological death, then that consciousness hardly be us. But this objection assumes that biological components create our identity, but it need not be so, because the biological components can shape our identity, but once accomplished this task, our identity can shed the biological components.

A good answer. And there is empirical evidence of what appears to be communication from apparent deceased unique human personalities, not something that is alien. And there is the reincarnation evidence.

But I think this particular skeptic objection may have at least some substance, mainly in the context of the various teachings that as our souls we set up our lives or at least their main challenges. If these teachings have any truth then it is hard to see how our souls are literally ourselves, since no one in their right mind would choose the various terrible fates humans are subject to. That soul consciousness can hardly be "us", at least our ordinary human consciousness.

Genuine question, and this is probably my ignorance is a magnetic field immaterial?

A magnetic field is physical but not material because it is not made of particles.

Is a magnetic field "immaterial"? I don't think so, because though it is not itself matter, it still pertains to the physical world, does not exist independent of matter (always being associated with and generated by aggregations of material atoms and/or elementary particles), obeys the inverse square law, and is detectable by physical instruments. It and the other known fields and forces, matter, and elementary particles do not seem to be candidates for a spiritual "substance".

If we believe spirits exist, I think we must conclude that they are not physical in any way known to modern physics. Since modern physics is supposedly complete as far as identifying by experiment all existing fields, forces, and elementary particles, that seems to mean spirits are simply not physical, even though this does not seem to be conceptualizable.

Most interesting thank you Juan and Doubter. I mention it as the original post I referred to touched on the idea of the immaterial not affecting the physical I think. The observation regarding the immaterial being dependent on the physical in this instance seems a useful one.

Regarding detection of fields etc; although such fields have always existed, we were not able to detect them per se until we had developed sufficiently advanced technology I guess, and of course accepted that such fields existed. We could always see the effect such immaterial forces could exert of course.

Is possible that 'spirit' - whatever it is, simply eludes us at the moment given our state of advancement, but that we may see the effect it has on the physical world and interpret it incorrectly?

Speaking of running in circles, here's an amusing quote on a completely different topic (global warming) that I found so amusing that I want to share it, even if it is a tangent:

JoNova: "Life is like an endless Escher puzzle to the [ad hom] namecallers — one question leads to another, and before you know it, you’re back where you started."

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