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Swiftsure,

Yes everyone has psychological bias, that includes Materialists as well. That is why I don't put much stock in anyone's experiences. I rely on experiments and studies done on such phenomenon and I find such experiments with strong positive results as very convincing. Those experiments have been posted numerous times on Michael's blog.

Vitor wrote, "Poro and the sitter are not in fact seeing Eusapia levitating with the chair. Remember, is semi-darkness. They passed their hands in what they think is Eusapia and the chair."

They passed their hands under the chair simply to ascertain that it was actually levitating - i.e., that there was nothing supporting it from below. Lighting in the seances was dim but adequate to make out what was happening. It was usually described as bright enough to read by.

Wiseman is not, in my opinion, a reliable source. He hypothesized that an accomplice entered the hotel room after the seances began, somehow skulking around unnoticed despite the fact that lamps were lit.

I still maintain that the only alternatives are a) Palladino sometimes produced genuine phenomena, b) the investigators lied, or c) the investigators were hopelessly and comically incompetent (I'm talking about an Inspector Clouseau level of blinkered stupidity). I see no likelihood of "c" or "b," leaving me with "a."

I notice that Garvarn, who assured us he knew of "publications" that explain exactly how Palladino did her tricks, has fallen silent since I asked him to explain the material I quoted.

"until psychic “energy” or whatever anyone wants to call it can be demonstrated by its objective detection and manipulation, it cannot be accepted as proven to exist."
But "not proven" doesn't mean "dismissible." There's a gray area of varying shades along a continuum, one end of which is proof. If something really weird is 90% of the way to being proven, or even just 9%, it deserves to be taken seriously and investigated—and funded too, if no private donors step up to the plate.

Further to my comment above, Here's a blog comment by physicist R.G. Brown of Duke, at https://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/10/06/real-science-debates-are-not-rare/#comment-1756731

Cox and Jaynes also realized that the Cox axioms finally resolved the problem of David Hume and put the theory of knowledge on a sound basis. The proper basis of knowledge isn’t the logical positivism where meaning comes from the ability to be empirically proven (an assertion that is in fact inconsistent as it cannot be empirically proven) or the notion of falsification advanced by Popper and others to repair some of the inconsistencies — it is probability theory wedded to skepticism at a very deep level. We can never prove any non-contradictory proposition about the real world to be unconditionally true or unconditionally false. The best we can do is demonstrate a kind of consistency in a process of iterative recomputation of posterior probabilities of a model as it is compared to data, to evidence. Positive evidence increases our degree of belief. Negative evidence decreases our degree of belief.

MP wrote: "Lighting in the seances was dim but adequate to make out what was happening. It was usually described as bright enough to read by."

It's exactly in this point we disagree. See Hodgson's papers on mal-observation:

a)ProcSPR 4 (Mar. 1886), 381ff;

b)JSPR 2 (Oct 1886), 409ff;

c)JSPR 3 (Jan. 1887) 8ff.

MP wrote: "Wiseman is not, in my opinion, a reliable source. He hypothesized that an accomplice entered the hotel room after the seances began, somehow skulking around unnoticed despite the fact that lamps were lit."

Well, I would not say he is not a reliable source just because of a hypothesis. Anyway, he clearly saw true problems in the Report.

"the original transcripts are seriously incomplete and give the misleading impression that Palladino was well controlled for all six table levitations. Also, in this example, and indeed on many occasions throughout the Report, readers have to rely on information recalled by the investigators many days after the termination of the seances. Yet much of this information may be far from reliable. Indeed, it is difficult to know whether one should believe Carrington's statement (regarding the inadequacy of his control of Palladino's foot) given that (two weeks later) Feilding added to Carrington's note, writing (Report, p. 366) :—

... it must be remembered that the medium's feet were tied to the legs of her chair, with only four inches' play, so that substitution of feet was impossible.

Feilding, in trying to account for this rather embarrassing discrepancy, later explained (Report, p.374) :—

We tied her [Palladino's] feet, and then presently forgot that we had tied them, and to judge by C's somewhat elaborate note at 11.19 [reproduced, in part above], did not even remember the next day. This attitude of suspicion must be read, therefore, into the report, which of itself, as a complete record of events, is very imperfect, [italics mine]

Thus Barrington is prepared to declare that she believes certain table levitations inexplicable, despite the investigators' own admission that much of the report pertaining to the seance in which they occurred was "very imperfect"."

Wiseman, R. Barrington and Palladino: Ten major errors (1993) Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 59 (830), 27-28.

I am sorry, MP, but I really can't trust in a report so flawed that even the researchers admit this.

Just a thought or two on psychic energy. WE all experience "burn out" or "excitement" concerning certain activities. We feel our energy being "high" or "low" at certain times of day. Everyone knows what I mean. Artists feel the vibe, get in the zone, are entranced, etc and they paint, or play their music or write with a flourish at these times. At other times it just isn't happening. They can't feel it. We've all been there.

The skeptic ignores these commonly expressed states. If they had to consider it, they'd say it had to do with hormone levels, caloric processing or something mechanical like that. All of which is totally unproven in a laboratory. Can anyone show me where if we feed this or that food or inject this or that hormone, a writer begins to write his best stuff or a musician suddenly starts composing a peak? Of course not. The skeptic in this instance - as they often do - falls back on totally unproven hypothesis, in violation of everything he claims to value most, to explain, yet turns around and rejects the idea of psychic energy - even though it's something most of us feel all the time.

I still don't know why we're talking about mediums from a hundred years ago, when we have Julie Beischel's recent studies. Other than, I suppose, it is instructive as to how Skeptics filter evidence.

I will not provide Vitor the name of the medium that convinced me (and some others). I think it might open to harassment.

I do have the publications, I will type that up shortly. Just been tired the last few days. I post it tomorrow after work.

Thanks, Garvarn. Before you devote a lot of time to typing it up, please keep in mind that I'm specifically asking about the claims made in the material I've quoted (twice, in fact) in this thread.

I know all about how mediums can make a table rise a small distance off the floor by wedging a foot under a table leg or hooking a ring (on a finger) to a screw head in the tabletop. I know about the use of phosphorus to create spirit lights, or simply blowing on someone's face to simulate a sudden breeze. I know about threads that can be used to pull small objects around at a distance.

But the material I quoted concerns dramatic effects (such as Palladino levitating, chair and all, onto the table) that clearly can't be explained that way. I'm interested in what these publications say about the *spectacular* stuff, not the routine stuff that has already been well covered in both skeptical and parapsychological literature.

Also note that the tests took place in the investigators' hotel room, and that the table and other items (musical instruments etc.) were closely examined before and after each sitting. And that there was suffucient light to see by, albeit dimly, and that the light was sometimes augmented by a lantern held under the table when it levitated, so as to permit close inspection of the table legs and the medium's feet and knees.

If someone has really provided a plausible explanation for all this, it will be fascinating to read. I am, to coin a phrase, skeptical. :-)

Swiftsure just debunked all the science in string theory and supersymmetry as non-scientific. Impressive - we should have known this earlier would have saved a lot of money going into that research.

Damn! What am I supposed to do with all the supersymmetric string I bought off eBay?

Richard Jordon,

Funny, I drove by an Indiana casino on the way to Ohio yesterday, and I was thinking about this topic (I missed your message until today). You raise some interesting points:

||I am a skeptic when it comes to paranormal stuff. I'm certainly not dogmatic about it and I'm perfectly happy to change my worldview if presented with, as you put it, an exceptional individual case of psi.||

Of course! ;)

||if it were possible to read people, see the future, etc, then I would expect casinos to be impossible to operate. Even a small group of psychics could easily hurt the profits of a casino.||

Potential false assumption: that casinos aren't already hurt by *non*-paranormal cheating:

http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-1476-5-things-i-learned-cheating-and-getting-caught-in-casino.html

Card counting in blackjack 1) exists, 2) works, 3) gets called out by the casino. Quote from the article:

"In fact, casinos are so afraid of even a single person causing a scene that when I was caught counting at the Sahara in Las Vegas (where I had taken a whopping $40 off the table) all the pit boss did was come up to me and very politely say: 'You're welcome to play any other game in the casino, but you can't play blackjack.'"

So, if someone were plying blackjack as a psychic and seemed to be winning in an unusual way, they would probably just be considered a card-counting cheater and processed thus.

The article also says,

"In my experience, outside of high-stakes games, the majority of pit bosses tend to be surprisingly lackadaisical about the threat of card counters."

If psychics were winning either blackjack or in other games, as long as the winning wasn't absurd, it's possible that such winning was just being blown off.

Do you think most psychics are going to go into casinos and kill the golden goose with a spectacular performance, or do you think they'd skim over the long term?

||A group of psychics that targeted casinos would be unstoppable because their edge would be undetectable -they would just look extremely lucky.||

The article says in a headline, "It's Still Just a Job" and says,

"That's the thing -- you can't just show up at the casino with $5 in your pocket and breed it with some basic math on top of the casino table in the hopes that it will give birth to $100,000 in chips. It doesn't work like that. You can get a lot out of blackjack only if you first put a lot into it."

A psychic can try to get an edge in a casino game--but that's all it's going to be: an edge. Whether it's knowledge-based psi or pk, a psychic is not going to be able to sit down (in most cases) and command that all the hands go his or her way, etc. It will be a slog trying to win a bit of money at a time.

But I think it's a potential false assumption that psychics are not active in casinos and casinos are doing nothing about them. Just like previously presented information about dowsers int the military, a lot more is going on that we assume. The gambling industry is also pretty secretive. They have *no* interest I'm sure in putting out PRs about psychics and any countermeasures.

||A psychic would be unbeatable at poker. There is no one dominant poker player and the best often get beat by random swings of luck. That would never happen to a person who could read the feelings/cards of their opponents.||

Potential false assumption: top poker players are not using psi, consciously or unconsciously.

||I guess you can say, "It doesn't work that way," but that isn't very satisfying when everyone seems to have a different conception of how it's supposed to work.||

I think it works that way. But psi is strongest when it comes to things that have a direct emotional connection. This is just a very basic truth of psi. The arbitrary suits and ranks of cards and other such things in a casino are just arbitrary information. They *can* be detected at a rate greater than chance, but expecting omniscience of a psychic is expecting too much. Even the best psychics do not know all--not even close.

||If it's real, it should be easily reproducible.||

It is and has been in laboratory experiments.

||You say at the end that in order for skeptics to accept psi, it has to lead to a productive end. You predict that this will happen within 100 years. However, psi phenomena has been written about for centuries -why has there been no industry developed yet||

That industry *was* developed: oracles and soothsayers were widely and openly consulted in the ancient world. The Roman government maintained augurs and others using what we would call paranormal phenomenon. The ancient Chinese were the same way. The use of psychics and diviners has never died out. My personal impression of your basic New Age store psychics is *not* that they are fraudulent but that they tend to have real ability. But since this industry has never died out *but* is left out of the modern media narrative, it can be ignored. I am saying that a new industry will arise that cannot be ignored, inasmuch as it is new.

||and what is supposed to change in the next 100 years?||

The atheist-materialist narrative will collapse, the media narrative will change, and people will become more open to what is already happening in this vein, as well as to new things.

Leo MacDonald wrote,

||I honestly cannot see Psi ever being accepted by Mainstream Science.||

"Ever" is a long time. :) Also, psi and what we would call the paranormal were accepted by serious scientists as a simple fact of life at least until the 18th century, diminishing but not disappearing thereafter. (I remember one thinker describing the 19th century as "Our atheist century"--I think we underestimate how powerful the rise of atheism-materialism in that century, even as spiritualism was becoming a mania, per Michael's observation. I think the 19th century is such a big century, even bigger than the 20th, and holds so many forgotten truths...)

Roger Knights,

Thanks for that Bigfoot article. In the process of reading. Most edifying!

A few responses to Swiftsure:

||My previous comment seems to have put everyone on the defensive||

What Michael said, but yes, we're playing defense inasmuch as we are trying to create a picture of the world based on the phenomena, whereas you Skeptics are free to take potshots at what we say without creating a picture of your own. It's a highly asymmetrical relationship, though Skeptics never seem to notice this fact (probably because it's not to their advantage in the argument to do so).

||When I am faced with someone who believes in, or promotes, the paranormal, I assume that they are sincere in their belief, and as honest as they can be when they make their claims. I do not assume that they are dishonest, but I might think they are mistaken.||

Thanks. For my part, I think Skeptics are very smart people, and I admire that they have thrown off the standard, dumbed-down dogma of our society. I feel, however, that you have accepted another dogma that you feel compelled to defend no matter what.

||Nor do I name-call as a substitute for argument, or accuse anyone of making “dumb” comments, even though I do sometimes refer to the paranormal as “woo.”||

In this regard, you are different than most Skeptics, who seem positively enjoy the chance of mocking others and feeling superior to them.

||Many believers have a poor understanding of what science is and how it works (some of the comments here show that).||

As do Skeptics.

||Are there really lots of “theories” regarding how psi supposedly works? Not in the scientific sense of the word theory, which in science means a well-tested explanation of some aspect of the natural world.||

I will grant you this point. We are still in the infancy of understanding the brain, the mind, and human nature in general. This applies to psychology and all the established social sciences as well.

||but until psychic “energy” or whatever anyone wants to call it can be demonstrated by its objective detection and manipulation, it cannot be accepted as proven to exist.||

Cool. It has.

||There are certainly anomalous experiences that people sometimes have, but something that cannot be explained immediately does not imply psi.||

We apply the term "psi" to phenomena of a certain type. A lack of complete understanding does not imply nonexistence. Since humans became able to speak, we've had words meaning "water," but it was only in the 19th century that we understood that water was H2O. It was only in the 20th century that we learned how hydrogen bonds work and why water expands as it freezes, etc. The phenomena of psi are real. It's now the duty of science to understand how the phenomena work.

||Palladino and many other alleged psychics (maybe including the one Eric refers to) are often said to cheat “when the energy is weak,” just so that their clients are not disappointed. Seriously? That is unethical at best, and can justifiably be called fraud.||

Absolutely. Psychics shouldn't cheat. No one should cheat. Cheating isn't right. Skeptics, however, accuse anyone and everyone associated with the paranormal of fraud.

||No psychic’s client can ever be sure they aren’t being duped.||

As a person with many psychic friends and who pays non-friends for readings from time to time, I don't think psychics cheat all that much, really. In fact, I have never experienced a psychic cheating, and I know that I personally have never cheated. I have no incentive to do so.

||It was a similar situation when Uri Geller appeared on the Johnny Carson show, not having previous access to the items Carson presented him with.||

Skeptics regularly argue like litigators in a court of law. You seek to discredit the witness. You argue as though one failure or one instance of cheating ought to lead the jury to convict, as it were. I reject this epistemological stance, as should anyone who wishes to know the truth. Geller has been tested successfully in the laboratory. He's done amazing things that people could not explain (see previous quote provided by me about metal continuing to bend without Geller touching it).

Skeptics have it easy in that all you have to do is deny and discredit everything. But your job is also difficult in that you *must* deny and discredit *everything.* EV-ry-thing. One white crow, and your game is over. And it *is* over.

||There are many more examples, of course, but what astounds me is that not only do the believers accept such glib excuses like Fry’s, and others, but go to great lengths to defend it all.||

I am a great believer in evolution and the ability, nay, the necessity of an organism to adaptat to its environment. One thing required of Skeptics to adapt to the ecosystem of ideas is an ignorance of your opponents and what we are actually saying. For if you *knew* about us, your job would become impossibly burdensome. Had you actually been following this blog, you would have seen we had quite a bit of a debate a couple weeks ago about Leslie Flint and whether the phenomena he produced were genuine, valuable, etc. We *do* police our own and regularly call out and reject phenomena we feel are not legitimate. I understand, however, that it's not in your interest to recognize this.

||[...] but unlike believers, I am not content to experience something I can’t immediately explain and assume it must be paranormal; I need to try to find out what is going on.||

Why would you surmise we're any different? (Already explained above.)

||UFO sightings are a case in point. [...] after all, how could any living organism survive what would have to be fatal G-forces?||

I don't believe that UFOs are "real" nuts-and-bolts spacecraft, but this is simply a failure of imagination and research on your part. This is regularly explained as a technology that would cancel out the force of inertia within the craft. I.e., the ETs would not feel as though they are moving at all.

||Then the very same thing happened to me: I was driving along the coast where I live, and a “UFO” took off from the sea, did a right-angled turn and shot off into the distance! [...] It was just an optical illusion that took me a while to work out, but I could eventually repeat the experience almost at will.||

That's great. Last year, walking along a public trail in Carmel, Indiana, my friend and I saw a *very* bright light high in the sky in front of us, a flash that lasted for half a second or so. Was it a flare of some sort? Maybe, but this is a major urban area with a high amount of air traffic, and I have to assume that setting off flares here is a bad idea. What else could it be? I don't know. It is unexplained. It didn't feel particularly weird or "paranormal," and I don't know its cause. I've never otherwise seen a UFO or UAP. The lesson of this story: I'm a "believer" but am not necessarily going to jump on everything I experience that I can't explain as something "paranormal." Our side has judgment too.

||but it would be helpful if the believers could at least consider the possibility that there might be an alternative explanation for their own sightings, whether it’s a UFO, ghost, precognition or anything else.||

"Believers" run the gamut from those who are chary of recognizing phenomena to those who, admittedly, are eager to turn any small thing into a big deal. I understand that it would complicate your narrative to recognize this truth.

||I have to disagree with the assertion that the paranormal is now part of mainstream science; it is not||

I understand that recognizing that Science! (to be read dramatically as in Thomas Dolby's song "She Blinded Me with Science") is a social system with many players with many agendas and foibles will complicate your narrative.

||, even if some people believe that lab experiments done by a small number of researchers who happen to have some scientific qualifications get the results they want.||

Small? Concretely speaking, how small?

||Those results are not definitive; science doesn’t work like that.||

I am getting the impression that you did not actually read the OP.

||And no, paranormal claims do not have an underlying theory, just speculation.||

And if we apply this observation to any science outside of psychics, chemistry, or biology, what do we get?

||One more point: every human being is subject to psychological bias. When someone interprets their experience through the lens of their beliefs, then what is perceived is not necessarily what actually happened.||

Indeed, but if you can explain the relationship of perception to "what actually happens," then you will be a very accomplished thinker indeed.

||Did thousands of religious people in Fatima in Portugal in 1917 really see the Sun plunge towards the Earth and then dance around the sky back to its usual position? I don’t think so, and no one else on this planet seemed to notice it at the time, but I suspect no one would convince any of those observers that they might have been wrong.||

Great example! I doubt those people believed that the stellar object the sun actually changed its relationship with the planet known as earth. Rather, they believed that God was showing them a sign, as God did regularly in the Bible. If a large number of people saw an inexplicable phenomenon in the sky, then that's what they saw. Acknowledging a phenomenon's existence does not mean that you have to acknowledge a particular belief system.

||Such is the power of belief, then and now.||

As is true also among Skeptics.

Eric wrote,

||And how many scientists - the kind that you would accept as being real scientists - have fudges results? Answer....a lot.||

Oh yeah, great point. This is a huge problem. But Science!

Glad you liked it. Here's a link to the home page of the Relict Hominoid Inquiry:
http://www2.isu.edu/rhi/

Scepticism is not what most believers think it is. It is not, for example, any kind of belief system. I can’t speak for all those who identify as sceptics, but from my perspective, I am not defending scepticism as if it were a belief system; rather, I am trying to find anyone who can truly produce the phenomena they claim to be real.

When I comment on a blog like Michael’s, it is not to attack believers, but to try to find any reason to take paranormal claims seriously. And yes, I think the people here have gone on the defensive. No one has actually provided any reasonable evidence to support the assertion that there is anything paranormal happening. Arguing about Palladino or other historical psychics doesn’t really lead anywhere, because the reports of the day are open to various interpretations, and even on this thread people are arguing about what did or did not happen. Did William Crookes have an affair with Florence Cook, the alleged medium who supposedly channelled the spirit of Katie King? There are reports that this alleged affair was the sole reason for Crookes promoting the whole thing. And there are contemporaneous photographs of Crookes supposedly arm in arm with the purportedly materialised spirit of Miss King.

Am I really just a pseudo sceptic if I say I reject the whole idea of a solidified, ectoplasmic spirit appearing in front of, yes, witnesses, and actually being photographed for posterity? I doubt claims like that, especially because even though those kind of alleged seances are quite rare nowadays, the ones that do occur do not allow photography of any kind. Wouldn’t you think that as technology has advanced, then those who promote seances for “evidential purposes” would welcome at least unobtrusive infrared video recording of what happens when the actual audience can’t see a thing that’s happening at the time, but could have the chance to confirm their perceived experiences later? I mentioned Gary Mannion in my previous comment; he was caught on video without knowing it at the time, and I think it’s going to take more than his proclaimed powers to get him out of that predicament.

In fact, photography or any recording of events is forbidden at any séance that anyone performs nowadays. Not only that, but anyone who attends such an event is going to be searched and required to hand over their personal belongings before entry to the séance room is allowed. And the reality of a reading from any psychic is that, despite what Eric said, the sitters do not, and would not, allow any client to put in place any “controls,” whatever he means by that. The “psychic” controls the “reading,” not the client. That’s how it works.

Matt has written an essay in which he claims that sceptics will never be convinced of the reality of anything paranormal, and backed up his hypothesis with what he believes to be sound reasons for that assertion. My “counter-hypothesis” is that sceptics can be converted if the believers can supply the evidence that fulfils the actual requirements of science – if the believers really and truly believe that what they are doing is scientific and has scientific validity. They might even come to understand why what they have produced so far does not fulfil the requirements of science, including what is called “consensus.” That’s when a hypothesis is on the way to becoming a theory. Whatever the believers think about it, in scientific terms there is no scientific theory that underpins paranormal claims. That is why sceptics do not accept it, but if a theory can be produced, and the paranormal turns out to be real, it will become a scientific fact the same as any other. (I use the word “fact” advisedly here. Science is rather less sure than the believers.)

One more point: scientists and sceptics get no free ride from me when their integrity has been compromised. It is true that some scientists and some sceptics have let the side down, as it were, and not only will I not make excuses for them, I am more than willing to expose them. If you want to doubt that, then you can look at a blog post of mine from four years ago where I do just that:

https://badthinking.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/skepticism-science-and-ethics/

If you can give me some credit for that, then you will understand my annoyance when some fraudulent psychics have been exposed, but their supporters defend them at all costs. I find it particularly offensive and nauseating when medical quackery is involved, including, for example, the disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield who was (and still is) at the forefront of the anti-vax campaign, and whose supporters are still defending him as they are railing against the very thing that has saved millions of lives (including their own) and prevented so much suffering.

As a sceptic, I don’t claim to be privy to any knowledge that is available to only me and a select circle of other members of some exclusive circle of scepticism. There have been dishonest sceptics, dishonest scientists, dishonest “Big Pharma,” dishonest alternative medicine quacks, dishonest paranormal proponents, and in all of those fields and others, there are people who will shill the rubes - if I can put it like that.

Yes, I criticise paranormal claims, and I criticise paranormal claims that assert they have some kind of scientific validity. In this very thread, it has been said that the paranormal (psi) is true and scientifically verified. I will say, no, you are wrong. If my car breaks down, then its failure can be traced and my vehicle can be repaired. It’s happened before, but I have never had to experience a mechanic telling me that he can’t fix it because it doesn’t work that way, or the energy isn’t right, or I don’t have enough faith, or any of the excuses that are routinely expressed by believers for the failure of psi in this thread already.

Accuse me of being (horror of horrors) a “materialist” if you like. But we live in a material universe, and no one can demonstrate that the “immaterial” exists. And let’s be honest here, describing something as being immaterial is pretty much the same as saying that it does not exist. The burden of proof remains with those who assert that anything psychic is going on. The “proof” that the proponents say exists seems to exist only in the “labs” that they say have produced it. Now we just need a real-world application that no one can reasonably deny. A psychic satnav that works on psychic energy rather than a flow of electric current might just do it for me. I will also publicise it if it ever happens.

I am sceptical about that, and all other psi claims. Produce a psychic satnav, and the world will beat a path to your door: as Matt suggested, a money-making enterprise based on psi. (I guess it won’t work like that, though. As usual.)

Swiftsure wrote, "Scepticism is not what most believers think it is. It is not, for example, any kind of belief system."

Depends on whether you're talking about skepticism or Skepticism. Lowercase skepticism is the critical analysis of controversial claims. Uppercase Skepticism is the militant, dogmatic denial of anything that falls outside the conventional wisdom. (Roger Knights is the one who first suggested capitalizing the term when it has the second meaning.)

"If you can give me some credit for that, then you will understand my annoyance when some fraudulent psychics have been exposed, but their supporters defend them at all costs."

I think this is a straw-man argument. When you brought up Mannion and Colin Fry last time, I linked to posts on this blog denouncing both of them. If you browse the blog archives, you'll see that I was locked in a rather acrimonious yearlong debate with supporters of the alleged materialization medium David Thompson a few years ago. But you don't have to go back that far. Just look at the much more recent posts on Leslie Flint.

As far as Palladino is concerned, the topic only came up because a commenter declared that she was an obvious fake. If you want more recent and well documented examples of physical mediumship, I suggest looking into the well-known case of "Philip the imaginary ghost," which has been covered here and in many other places.

" ... describing something as being immaterial is pretty much the same as saying that it does not exist."

Does consciousness exist?

By the way, the last quoted statement rather undercuts the idea that you're not arguing for "any kind of belief system." But I'm sure you meant what you wrote. It's just that you don't see your own basic premises as controversial; to you, they seem self-evident.


||No one has actually provided any reasonable evidence to support the assertion that there is anything paranormal happening.||

Wrong:

http://aip.scitation.org/doi/pdf/10.1063/1.4982772

||Am I really just a pseudo sceptic if I say I reject the whole idea of a solidified, ectoplasmic spirit appearing in front of, yes, witnesses, and actually being photographed for posterity?||

You are not, but you are when you assume that all evidence of psychic phenomena is as dubious as ectoplasmic materialization, or when you consider that psi must be as robust as powered flight if it is real and so on.

Swiftsure,

First, what Michael said (though my OP mentions Palladino, so that would be a reason to discuss her in the comments).

Second, your Skeptical kung fu is not strong. Or maybe it is. A lot of Skeptical kung fu seems to depend on *not* understanding what your opponents are saying so that you can argue against a variety of straw men about a variety of tangential points. But anyhow:

||[...] I am trying to find anyone who can truly produce the phenomena they claim to be real.||

This is what you get: lab experiments and individual cases. If you want to see phenomena yourself, you're going to have to go out and visit psychics, etc.

||And yes, I think the people here have gone on the defensive.||

I'm fine being on the defensive. I have a belief system based on specific data points and experiences. I need to be open to the fact that I could be wrong about a variety of things, as well as to the fact that no one gets it totally right and I will inevitably be wrong about some or many things. And, although some progress in history is tearing down and denying what is incorrect, all progress begins with someone proposing something and supporting it, or supporting the work of others. If that is "defensive," then I accept that.

||No one has actually provided any reasonable evidence to support the assertion that there is anything paranormal happening.||

Sure, this is Skeptical boilerplate: there is NO evidence! But, as we've said, you have the lab experiments. If that's not "reasonable" evidence, then I'm not sure what is. You may end up not changing your belief system based on this evidence, but it *is* evidence.

||Arguing about Palladino or other historical psychics doesn’t really lead anywhere, because the reports of the day are open to various interpretations, and even on this thread people are arguing about what did or did not happen.||

That's life, and you could say the same thing about *anything* outside the three laboratory sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology. If you Skeptics wish to say that all knowledge comes down to these three sciences and everything else is such in doubt that it's not worth acknowledging, then saying so would clarify the conversation greatly.

||Am I really just a pseudo sceptic if I say I reject the whole idea of a solidified, ectoplasmic spirit appearing in front of, yes, witnesses, and actually being photographed for posterity?||

Straw man. We "believers" don't believe in every phenomenon, nor in every case pertaining to those phenomena in which we do believe. I would encourage you not to believe in everything either. Though I would also encourage you, or anyone, to perceive the forest that arises from the many trees. A requirement of being a Skeptic, however, is refusing to see the pattern.

||Wouldn’t you think that as technology has advanced, then those who promote seances for “evidential purposes” would welcome at least unobtrusive infrared video recording of what happens when the actual audience can’t see a thing that’s happening at the time, but could have the chance to confirm their perceived experiences later?||

I absolutely agree. Not allowing passive infrared but allowing voice recording (which many do allow, including the David Thompson mentioned by Michael) makes no sense to me.

||In fact, photography or any recording of events is forbidden at any séance that anyone performs nowadays.||

You are definitely wrong about voice recording. It's not true that there is no photography of seances since, say, the year 2000. I've seen some online. Not sure about video.

If the materialization phenomena are legit, then infrared video will produce basically unfakable evidence comparable to the Patterson-Gimlin film in impact. Sure, Skeptics will still say that it is fake no matter what it is, but it will quickly get to the point where reasonable people will have to acknowledge that CGI fakery is impossible.

||Not only that, but anyone who attends such an event is going to be searched and required to hand over their personal belongings before entry to the séance room is allowed.||

That helps prevent cheating, however. To the extent that they are simply trying to prevent people from catching fraud on infrared video, yeah, that's BS.

||And the reality of a reading from any psychic is that, despite what Eric said, the sitters do not, and would not, allow any client to put in place any “controls,” whatever he means by that. The “psychic” controls the “reading,” not the client. That’s how it works.||

First, "sitter" *means* "client" in this context. Eric and others have said they have called the medium in question without giving her *any* information with which to do hot reading, and they even used pseudonyms to prevent this. In that sense, they were in control. The medium had to produce or not produce, and they say that she did.

||My “counter-hypothesis” is that sceptics can be converted if the believers can supply the evidence that fulfils the actual requirements of science – if the believers really and truly believe that what they are doing is scientific and has scientific validity.||

Here is where your kung fu is especially weak (strong). My whole post is about this very issue and horns of the dilemma that the scientific establishment now faces: accept the lab evidence for psi, or reject the evidence in other sciences based on protocols that are at the same level or weaker. You seem uninterested in addressing this point.

||That is why sceptics do not accept it, but if a theory can be produced, and the paranormal turns out to be real, it will become a scientific fact the same as any other.||

It all starts with recognizing that phenomena exist. Skeptics believe that they can stick their fingers in their ears and go, "Na na NAH na, can't hearrr you," and the phenomena will eventually go away. They won't. If we don't have a theory of psi 100 years ago, we will still be dealing with the phenomena, and the work of understanding them will lie yet ahead of us.

||One more point: scientists and sceptics get no free ride from me when their integrity has been compromised.||

That's fine, but Skeptics enjoy excluding and ostracizing (whether it's deserved or not), so your doing so does not make you especially virtuous. I.e., the problem with Skeptics is not false positives (accepting that which should not) but false negatives (denying that which should be accepted, or at least acknowledged as existing).

||If you can give me some credit for that, then you will understand my annoyance when some fraudulent psychics have been exposed, but their supporters defend them at all costs.||

Not the host or commenters here. And please don't confuse us with anti-vaxers or conspiracy theorists, either.

||In this very thread, it has been said that the paranormal (psi) is true and scientifically verified. I will say, no, you are wrong.||

OK, but why is the laboratory evidence wrong? The study protocols are now so tight that the higher-up Skeptics who communicate with the experimenters and evaluate the results are at least civil and acknowledge that the work has to be taken seriously on some level. They have to look for excuses not to accept the results--or, instead, start denying the results of other sciences. That's the aforementioned dilemma. Skeptics like you way down on the food chain, however, are free work outside such a social situation and scream, "There is no evidennnce!" We see this all the time and it is, in effect, lying. It misinforms people about what the situation really is. I am not saying you are doing that right now, since you are responding in a context in which the situation has been explained, but you do seem obtuse in not acknowledging what the problem here actually is. I.e., read the OP, respond to the OP.

||If my car breaks down, then its failure can be traced and my vehicle can be repaired. It’s happened before, but I have never had to experience a mechanic telling me that he can’t fix it because it doesn’t work that way, or the energy isn’t right, or I don’t have enough faith, or any of the excuses that are routinely expressed by believers for the failure of psi in this thread already.||

Right, and we are back to the implied conclusion that physics, chemistry, and biology and applied sciences like engineering are the only ones worthy of acknowledgment.

||Accuse me of being (horror of horrors) a “materialist” if you like.||

I never intend that as an accusation, merely an identification. I don't feel it's wrong or shameful to be a materialist, but simply incorrect.

||But we live in a material universe, and no one can demonstrate that the “immaterial” exists. And let’s be honest here, describing something as being immaterial is pretty much the same as saying that it does not exist.||

You are committing a very basic fallacy called "begging the question."

||The burden of proof remains with those who assert that anything psychic is going on.||

This is true in the most basic sense, yes. However, I have seen Ian Wardell point out elsewhere that psi is such a universally experienced phenomenon, in every country and every time period, that there is a kind of burden of proof on those who claim that it does not exist. For example, it would be similar if I claimed that falling in love didn't exist. Hey, it's immaterial, it can't be proven "scientifically," there's no theory on how it works, etc. All the same points could be raised.

If I were to make that claim, it would at least fall on me to explain *why* so many people *think* it exists when it doesn't. And that is true of psi as well. It would be *bad science* to say that people have been fooled since the dawn of history into think that psi is real, yet remain incurious as to why that was the case. Skeptics, however, regularly commit this error. And why is that? Because you are litigators and propagandists and not truth-seekers. You want to discredit psi so that as few people believe in it, and leave it at that. You don't really want to *know* what's going on.

||The “proof” that the proponents say exists seems to exist only in the “labs” that they say have produced it.||

See, putting "labs" in scare quotes is pure propaganda. Top-level Skeptics don't flagrantly try to discredit researchers in this way. Hence the Bem article.

||Produce a psychic satnav, and the world will beat a path to your door: as Matt suggested, a money-making enterprise based on psi. (I guess it won’t work like that, though. As usual.)||

As I have said already, that path was already beaten: people did and still do use psychics, and their use by people at every level of society including governments was simply a fact of life. Our current global society has chosen not to do so (for very clear social and political reasons). Thus, the path has to be re-beaten, as it were, in a modern context. I am saying that that will eventually happen.

Rupert Sheldrake has many threads up on his site describing the results of various tests of "the sense of being stared at," most of them conducted by others. (See links in his sidebar.) In one set, over many trials, the hit rate was 57%, which is about what other sets of trials found. The thread at the link below was automated, to eliminate artifacts. (Tests can also be conducted over closed circuit TV for further artifact elimination.) If anyone is Skeptical about this uncanny result, let him set up an experiment at a college and bet even money against a hit rate over (say) 52%, and rerun the experiment multiple times.

http://www.sheldrake.org/research/sense-of-being-stared-at/the-sense-of-being-stared-at-an-automated-test-on-the-internet

a) "No one has actually provided any reasonable evidence to support the assertion that there is anything paranormal happening."

Here we go again:

1) http://spiritualscientific.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Telepathy_and_Dreams_Krippner.14671555.pdf (1970)

2)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/18852785_An_Experimental_Approach_to_Dreams_and_Telepathy_II_Report_of_Three_Studies (1970)

3) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232513393_A_Precognitive_Dream_Study_with_a_Single_Subject (1971)

4) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232549642_A_second_precognitive_dream_study_with_Malcolm_Bessent (1972)

5)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/18648716_An_experiment_in_dream_telepathy_with_The_Grateful_Dead (1973)

6) https://app.box.com/s/6pizod8i2w4f4r6tiaaoz8zvylf9pagc (1987)

7) https://app.box.com/s/x1gdeslar6hxqmw43stva64ljczc38va (1996)

8)https://www.scientificexploration.org/docs/21/jse_21_4_graff.pdf (2007)

9) http://aip.scitation.org/doi/pdf/10.1063/1.4982772 (2017)

b) "Whatever the believers think about it, in scientific terms there is no scientific theory that underpins paranormal claims. That is why sceptics do not accept it, but if a theory can be produced, and the paranormal turns out to be real, it will become a scientific fact the same as any other."

For many decades scientists have coexisted with a highly uncomfortable absence of physical theory: there is no theory that reconciles the theory of relativity with quantum mechanics.

Besides that, Daniel Sheehan’s chapter “Remembrance of Things Future: A Case for Retrocausation and Precognition” in the book "Extrasensory Perception Support, Skepticism, and Science", revolves around two central axes of a physical theory of precognition: (1) causality and the thermodynamic arrow of time and (2) quantum mechanics. He first examines the experimental evidence for precognition, followed by the basic physics of retrocausation, starting with basic definitions and an examination of the time-symmetric nature of physical laws. Next, he considers how reality unfolds in a temporally asymmetric way, that is, why time appears to have a direction, an arrow. The most important of these is the thermodynamic arrow, governed by the second law of thermodynamics, which probably
conditions our own perceived (psychological) arrow of time. Retrocausation is then examined as it pertains to mainstream quantum theory and
experiment. For this, he introduces an interpretation of quantum mechanics that explicitly incorporates retrocausation and then surveys some recent quantum experiments that purport to demonstrate it. Finally, he assess precognition in light of current physics, ending with several questions that may help guide future research.

Mat wrote:

This is regularly explained as a technology that would cancel out the force of inertia within the craft. I.e., the ETs would not feel as though they are moving at all.

Or maybe the ETs are androids or robots.

Swiftsure: ||But we live in a material universe, and no one can demonstrate that the “immaterial” exists. And let’s be honest here, describing something as being immaterial is pretty much the same as saying that it does not exist.||

Matt: You are committing a very basic fallacy called "begging the question."


The perfect squelch.

Here is an interesting book published by the American Psychological Association:

Transcendent Mind:
Rethinking the Science of Consciousness
By Imants Barušs, BSc, MSc, PhD, and Julia Mossbridge, PhD


From the APA website:
http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4316171.aspx?tab=1

"Where does consciousness come from? For most scientists and laypeople, it is axiomatic that something in the substance of the brain — neurons, synapses and gray matter in just the right combination — creates perception, self-awareness, and intentionality.

Yet, despite decades of neurological research, that "something" — the mechanism by which this process is said to occur — has remained frustratingly elusive. This is no accident, as the authors of this book argue, given that the evidence increasingly points to a startling fact: Consciousness may not, in fact, reside in the brain at all.

In this wide-ranging and deeply scientific book, Imants Barušs and Julia Mossbridge utilize findings from special relativity and quantum mechanics, modern and ancient philosophers, and paranormal psychology to build a rigorous, detailed investigation into the origins and nature of human consciousness.

Along the way, they examine the scientific literature on concepts including mediumship, out-of-body and near-death experiences, telekinesis, "apparent time" versus "deep time," and mind-to-mind communication.

The result is a revelatory tour of the "post-materialist" world — and a roadmap for consciousness research in the 21st century. "


Swiftsure said:

. . . lab experiments done by a small number of researchers who happen to have some scientific qualifications . ..

The number of persons and groups who have investigated paranormal effects in labs is not small, compared to the number of researchers who have made accepted breakthroughs in other fields.
. . . get the results they want.

It's just as likely that investigators became believers as a result of their findings.

Here’s an interesting paragraph from RT Carroll’s
Skeptic’s Dictionary
(2003 edition), page 273:

… a study of 1100 college professors in the United States found that only 34% of psychologists believe that ESP is either an established fact or a likely possibility. Comparable figures for other disciplines are much higher: natural scientists (55%), social scientists (excluding psychologists) 66%, and academics in the arts, humanities and education (77%). Of the psychologists surveyed, 34% belief psi is an impossibility, while only 2% of other respondents maintained this position (Wagner and Monnet).

Michael –

Your distinction between upper and lower case skeptics is fairly redundant. In my experience, skeptics on pro paranormal blogs and websites are invariably referred to as “pseudoskeptics” anyway, however reasonable their comments are. Matt believes he was clever enough to dismiss me with the assertion that my comments were “dumb.” Maybe it’s time for a similar distinction to be made between upper and lower case Believers and believers to separate the thinkers from the gullible.

Whichever way you look at it, seances are still secretive and murky affairs. Modern, unobtrusive video recording equipment is still not allowed in what has to be a darkened room where no one can really see for sure what is going on. Why not have them performed in full light if they are real? Audio recordings are meaningless: is that rasping voice you hear a ghost, or could it just be someone creating that effect?

You ask, “Does consciousness exist?” I would say yes, consciousness exists as an abstract concept that describes a process, not as an independent entity that somehow attaches itself to an individual person. You could ask, does “calculation” exist? It’s what computers do, and I don’t think anyone would deny that; they also wouldn’t claim that calculation has any kind of independent existence that survives on its own when a computer is switched off.

Matt Rouge –

You said, “Skeptics like you way down on the food chain…”

That was the point where you lost the argument, and any credibility you might have had.

(Still, I might add that comment – fully attributed, of course – to the joke “testimonials” column on my own blog. I’m not without a sense of humour, however “far down on the food chain” you think I am.)

Nice info, Faisal and Vitor!

"Whichever way you look at it, seances are still secretive and murky affairs."

This is true of physical and materialization mediums, but not mental mediums. It's one reason this blog tends to be skeptical of the physical and materialization types, unless they were tested exceptionally well. In any case, I don't think that type of mediumship ordinarily offers evidence for life after death; if the phenomena are genuine, they are probably attributable to PK, as the "Philip" case suggests.

Mental mediums, however, can be tested in normal lighting conditions while videotaped and audiotaped, applying double blind or even triple blind protocols. Much interesting work in this area has been done and is still being done.

"You could ask, does 'calculation' exist? It’s what computers do, and I don’t think anyone would deny that; they also wouldn’t claim that calculation has any kind of independent existence that survives on its own when a computer is switched off."

I'm inclined to think that calculation, in the broad sense of information processing, is at the heart of what we call the physical universe, and indeed has an independent ontological existence, as does consciousness. This is, of course, a worldview or belief system.

But the opposite set of assumptions (that physicality is the ground of being and consciousness is an emergent phenomenon) is also a worldview or belief system.

You don't seem to quite realize that the position you're espousing is not uncontroversial "common sense," but rather a particular philosophical school (materialism or naturalism) which has enjoyed a centuries-long debate with its opposite (idealism in its various forms). The debate remains unresolved. In my opinion, paranormal phenomena provide powerful empirical support for some (modified) form of the idealist position. This is one reason (probably the main reason) materialists or naturalists deny such phenomena so stridently.

The word "materialist," as I use it, is not pejorative and has nothing to do with the popular usage as an over-attachment to material wealth or comfort. It's purely descriptive and refers to a recognized philosophical tradition dating back at least as far as Democritus.

As for skeptic vs. Skeptic, I think there are open-minded skeptics and there are dogmatic close-minded Skeptics. We started using the uppercase term suggested by Roger Knights precisely it was because the least inflammatory term anyone here could come up with. It has none of the insulting connotations of pseudoskeptic, armchair skeptic, militant skeptic, scoffer, professional debunker, cynic, and similar terms tossed around on other sites.

Swiftsure,

I went to see a mental medium that was recommended by Michael Prescott (actually my wife and I sat with her twice). This medium actually encourages people to use pseudonyms when they arrange the sitting if they are skeptical. I went even further. I used a fake name. I googled the name to make sure that I hadn't subconsciously chosen a name that is somehow associated with my real name. The appointment was established using the medium's website. I set up a gmail account, using the fake name, for the specific purpose of making the appointment (the medium sends a conformation to the email address the customer provides). I decided to see the medium in person so I would not have to use a credit card that could reveal my true identity and give the medium an opportunity to research me (I ultimately paid the medium with a personal check that I kept in my wallet until AFTER the séance). I took a train to see the medium and walked from the station to the medium's house because I considered the possibility that the medium could look up a license plate number and get information that way. Also, I didn't want my vehicle to give the medium cold reading clues. I dressed differently than usual to give off confused clues that a cold reader could obtain from that source.

Other than brief introductions, I said nothing to the medium. The medium asked if there was someone I wanted to talk to and I replied, "Whoever wants to talk to me". I gave her no clues as to who in my life was deceased.

So the medium was totally blind as to my identity.

Yet the medium, without fishing in the least bit, knew that my father and mother had died and that they wanted to talk to me (I was in my late 40s at the time. So a pretty risky guess that both parents were deceased). I emphasize that there was no fishing. The TV mediums fish. "Someone is here. It's a father figure...maybe a grandfather....someone who acted in a father role....maybe they felt that way and you didn't know it". None of that. The medium simply looked at me and told me that my father and mother wanted to talk to me.

Then there were all kinds of details provided. The medium, speaking as my father, was talking about the "damn airplane crash" that killed my mother (that would be a hell of guess if not real psi. How many people have a mother killed in an airplane crash?).....more details like my father's spirit talking about a pink wallet that he had caused to disappear. This was spontaneously brought up by the spirits with no input from me (my wife's pink wallet had, in fact, disappeared). There was much much more.

I don't expect you to believe me. But I offered that up to help explain - just one reason - why I cannot be a skeptic. Some of us believers are simpleton fools

Yet the medium was able to produce detail after detail coming from the spirits of my deceased father and mother that could not be otherwise known

Swift sure said:

skeptics on pro paranormal blogs and websites are invariably referred to as “pseudoskeptics” anyway.

"Invariably"? Really? Certainly not by everyone on pro-paranormal sites. And sometimes not by anyone.

Thank you Eric. That's very interesting.

I note for the record that Garvarn, who assured us he was in possession of publications that explained all of Palladino's reported phenomena as magic tricks, has still not found time to post this info for us.

I'm guessing the publications explain run-of-the-mill tricks familiar to anyone who's studied this subject, but not the spectacular effects achieved by Palladino. Of course it's the spectacular effects that make her case interesting.

Most skeptics seem to assume that the pro-paranormal camp has no acquaintance with skeptical literature and will be dumbstruck upon learning of the simple tricks used by mentalists and other fakers. And this is true of a portion of the pro-paranormal side. Some of them simply have no knowledge of skeptical objections. It's a mistake, however, to categorize all of us that way. Some of us have a pretty good working knowledge of the various tricks used by fake psychics and mediums, and also of the limitations of those tricks.

Has anyone checked into what's involved with replicating Daryl Bem's experiment? As I understand, he makes the information for doing a replication freely available. I'm inclined to Google it myself, but this is such a knowledgeable crew here, I thought I'd throw the question out here first. I, myself, would be interested in considering doing a replication, if it was anywhere near affordable.

What I meant to say regarding Daryl Bem's experiment, is that I would be interested in performing that experiment, and seeing whether or not it would replicate his results. As mentioned, I'm wondering if anybody here has already checked into wbat's involved in doing the experiment, or whether it's something I'll need to research myself. Thanks in advance for any info!

The following is off-topic, but I thought I'd tbrow it out into the Prescott Psi Salon :-) Probably many of you know that a frequent commenter to this blog, Bruce Siegel, has written a book scheduled for release on July 15th. The title of it slips my mind right now, but here's a link to a review of it by the prominent and estimable psi-scholar, Robert McLuhan.

http://monkeywah.typepad.com/paranormalia/2017/07/bruce-siegels-dreaming-the-future.html

I have pre-ordered the book.

The book is about the author keeping records of hundreds of his dreams, and observing which ones were precognitive. He considered a solid percentage of his dreams to be precognitive. This is especially significant given his background as a self-described "militant skeptic."

Eric –

I don’t doubt your sincerity and honest belief that the medium you saw was the real deal. But if you will allow me to explain my scepticism:

My own degree is in psychology, and I know that people’s interpretation of their perceptions is not necessarily reliable. Memory itself is notoriously unreliable. What people believe, is what directs their understanding of their experiences. Few people actually check themselves and say, “Hang on a minute…”

For example, I am an experienced cold reader who occasionally demonstrates how people are fooled by so-called psychics. And it is amazing how many people who truly believe they can’t be fooled are, in fact, so easily fooled. I can recall instances of demonstrating to people things I “couldn’t possibly have known,” and then taking them back through the process and explaining exactly where the information came from – only to be told that I was wrong about how I got the information they were so certain I could not have known. Unbelievably, despite showing (dare I say, proving) that I am not using any psychic powers, I have been told in no uncertain terms that I really am psychic; apparently I am in denial because I just don’t want to believe in it. But I can assure you from personal experience that the stronger a person’s belief, the easier it is to fool them. Show me someone who is confident that they can’t be fooled, and I will show you someone who can be fooled.

I can’t really comment on the episode you describe from your own experience, of course, but I have to raise an eyebrow. I would just observe that although believers in mediums and psychics are sure they have not been fooled, there is little doubt that they will admit they can’t explain how a stage magician makes his glamorous assistant disappear. That’s maybe sleight of hand, in the sense that it is physical in nature; with psychics, I would describe it as sleight of mouth: in both instances, the magician and the psychic use psychological manipulation to fool their audiences. The magician, of course, is openly admitting that he is there to fool you; the psychic, however, insists he is really using psi.

(Here in the UK, however, all psychics and mediums now advertise their shows as being “For entertainment purposes only.” That is because a fairly recent change in British consumer law requires that anyone who advertises a service must be able to prove that they can do what they claim, or face the risk of prosecution. One has to wonder why the well-known psychics who are currently raking in huge amounts of money from their stage and TV shows bother to use such a disclaimer. Couldn’t they prove they are real in a court of law?)

As it happens, I recently bought a ticket to see a psychic perform live later next month. I will be interested to see if he does anything that is indistinguishable from cold reading. Who knows – he might convince even me that he’s the real deal. (Oh, and the poster on the wall advertising his performance says that it is for… guess what kind of purposes only?)

Roger Knights wrote,

||Or maybe the ETs are androids or robots.||

Yep, though presumably they would not need to travel in craft designed apparently for humanoid animals, etc. etc.

||The perfect squelch.||

Thank you.

Also, great stats from the Skeptic's dictionary. I really think the high percentage of atheists among psychologists is due directly to Freud's influence. He was such a virulent atheist (though a brilliant thinker in many ways), and people took his word as dogma as late as the 1970s.

Swiftsure wrote,

||Matt believes he was clever enough to dismiss me with the assertion that my comments were “dumb.”||

I said, "This is dumb," with respect to one thing you said. I think your comments are neither particularly dumb nor particularly clever. They are pretty much standard Skeptic boilerplate.

||Maybe it’s time for a similar distinction to be made between upper and lower case Believers and believers to separate the thinkers from the gullible.||

I don't think "believer" would identify a consistent belief system, however. Some people believe (in things Skeptics don't) because of their religious upbringing, whereas some believe because they've done research and come to their own conclusions. So I don't think the term is particularly useful. In contrast, the term "Skeptic" does identify a very consistent belief system.

||Whichever way you look at it, seances are still secretive and murky affairs. Modern, unobtrusive video recording equipment is still not allowed in what has to be a darkened room where no one can really see for sure what is going on.||

I agree with you.

||Why not have them performed in full light if they are real?||

It depends on the medium. I can understand not wanting the sensory stimulation that daylight brings. Total darkness doesn't seem necessary, however, and it does make me suspicious when it's required.

||Audio recordings are meaningless: is that rasping voice you hear a ghost, or could it just be someone creating that effect?||

I disagree, as recordings at least provide a record of the content of the seance. One reason I do *not* believe in David Thompson and have serious doubts about Leslie flint is that a lot of the content they have produced is terrible.

||You ask, “Does consciousness exist?” I would say yes, consciousness exists as an abstract concept that describes a process, not as an independent entity that somehow attaches itself to an individual person.||

Consciousness isn't an abstract concept at all; even materialists would recognize it as being at least a *concrete* biological function. I don't think it's analogous to calculation at all, as least not in your way of expressing it.

||You said, “Skeptics like you way down on the food chain…”

That was the point where you lost the argument, and any credibility you might have had.||

Lulz. So if I insult you a wee bit, then I lose, huh? Oh well. I mean, *I* am way down on the food chain of anything having to do with the paranormal. The point I was making was that the elite Skeptics have to be polite and fair in certain circumstances, whereas the Skeptical Shock Troops on the Internet can and do screech, "No EV-I-DENNnnnCCcce!!!"--even though that's a lie.

||Still, I might add that comment – fully attributed, of course – to the joke “testimonials” column on my own blog. I’m not without a sense of humour, however “far down on the food chain” you think I am.||

You're not posting under your real name. I have no idea who you are or what your accomplishments may be. Them's the breaks.

Swiftsure,

||Few people actually check themselves and say, “Hang on a minute…”||

But Eric was "checking himself" and checking the medium as well before and during the encounter.

||For example, I am an experienced cold reader who occasionally demonstrates how people are fooled by so-called psychics.||

Could you provide concrete examples? I'm not doubting you; I actually am interested.

||I can recall instances of demonstrating to people things I “couldn’t possibly have known,” and then taking them back through the process and explaining exactly where the information came from – only to be told that I was wrong about how I got the information they were so certain I could not have known.||

Are you actually researching them in advance? That is called "hot reading." If, however, you are getting your big hits only on reading their body language and facial expressions and fishing for information, yes, that is cold reading. I would be interested in hearing more about your specific techniques.

||Unbelievably, despite showing (dare I say, proving) that I am not using any psychic powers, I have been told in no uncertain terms that I really am psychic; apparently I am in denial because I just don’t want to believe in it.||

I am curious as to why they continued to believe you were psychic after you explained (as you will surely to us) how your techniques worked.

||But I can assure you from personal experience that the stronger a person’s belief, the easier it is to fool them. Show me someone who is confident that they can’t be fooled, and I will show you someone who can be fooled.||

So you are a Skeptic, and you are confident you can't be fooled, right? So are you saying that you therefore would be easy to fool? I'm confused.

||I can’t really comment on the episode you describe from your own experience, of course, but I have to raise an eyebrow.||

Because you would "raise an eyebrow" about anything, right?

||I would just observe that although believers in mediums and psychics are sure they have not been fooled, there is little doubt that they will admit they can’t explain how a stage magician makes his glamorous assistant disappear.||

That's highly convenient reasoning. People have been fooled by tricks in some situations--so they can be fooled by tricks in *any* situation! Yet you don't want to address specific things. The medium came right out and said his mother died in a plane crash... that's amazing, no? That's a really stupid thing to guess, inasmuch as it's insanely unlikely to be true. So either Eric is lying about that, or the medium came up with something that she simply couldn't have known. Your generic aspersions to the effect that, "Well, people can be, you know, fooled 'n' stuff," are absolutely meaningless.

||The magician, of course, is openly admitting that he is there to fool you; the psychic, however, insists he is really using psi.||

This is calumny, and I resent it. AGAIN I will say: the Skeptic's method of argument requires him (yes, it's always a guy) to simply ignore or be oblivious to the actual words of his opponent. I've talked at length in this comment thread about how my friends and I are psychic, and we're all sincere. I've never met a psychic whom I thought was deliberately trying to snow me or others. Yet you assume without evidence that all psychics are knowing frauds.

||One has to wonder why the well-known psychics who are currently raking in huge amounts of money from their stage and TV shows bother to use such a disclaimer. Couldn’t they prove they are real in a court of law?||

I hope you are not truly that naive. You think that's how societies work? Why couldn't Galileo simply prove his heliocentrism in a court of law?

||As it happens, I recently bought a ticket to see a psychic perform live later next month. I will be interested to see if he does anything that is indistinguishable from cold reading. Who knows – he might convince even me that he’s the real deal.||

Suuuuure.

||Oh, and the poster on the wall advertising his performance says that it is for… guess what kind of purposes only?||

You are confident of your worldview, so why are you bothering?

Swiftsure,
I knew you were going to come up with a lame response to my vignette about seeing a medium. It probably won't change your mind if I add that I wasn't a "believer" in this, or any medium, at the time. That I have subsequently seen mediums that I dismissed as being complete frauds or delusional about their abilities. That my wife accompanied me to the séance I described and she did so because she was a complete skeptic. Yet she came away with her world view shaken to the core and is now a believer. Also, I have some training in my background that makes me more analytical and less prone to self-deception or delusion when it comes to assessing information gathered via human interaction. I also have an undergraduate degree in psychology (for whatever that is worth).

But here's where the rubber meets the road. Tell me something amazing that will demonstrate your cold reading abilities. The medium that convinced me also does readings over the phone. My wife had an amazing séance with her over the phone (using identity masking techniques to keep the medium blind). You have the advantage of knowing something about me from this blog and you can look me up elsewhere on line. So go ahead, cold reader, tell me what's in my wallet (the medium could do that). Tell me what I had for breakfast yesterday. Tell me something that demonstrates to power of cold reading that would convince me. Otherwise, I say that you're a mere troll.

"My own degree is in psychology, and I know that people’s interpretation of their perceptions is not necessarily reliable. Memory itself is notoriously unreliable. What people believe, is what directs their understanding of their experiences."

Swiftsure, I hope you don't mean that you needed a degree in psychology to work all that out.

As Hayley Stevens told you a couple of years back, you come over as patronising; in a remarkably ineffectual way, I might add. I'd agree with Stevens that people like you (and Garvarn, and a whole load of others) get Skepticism a bad name. Ironically, you're a bit like the crap mediums you decry, in that you make your idealogy resemble a self-limiting medical condition, or a self cauterising wound.

Great post, Matt. Nice one!

http://hayleyisaghost.co.uk/bad-thinking-blog/

Matt –

I have legitimate reasons for commenting under a pseudonym. If I were using my anonymity to throw out name-calling and insults, then you would have a point to be made. In any case, you don’t know who is or is not using their real name here anyway, in the same way you said that you don’t know who I am or anything about me, despite your claim to be psychic. Your “wee” insults are still insults, not reasoned arguments, but if you think that’s the best way to support your beliefs, then go ahead. Personally, I don’t think that attitude shows the pro paranormal cause in a good light.

As far as cold reading goes, it is clearly not what you (and Eric) think it is. In fact, it is the sitter who makes the connections between the different things the psychic says, and also attaches all the meaning. Rather than go into what would have to be a lot of detail on this thread, I think it will be better if I do a new post on my own blog about it. Just tune in at your convenience once I have posted it, if you want to.

Eric –

You want me to use cold reading to tell you what is in your wallet? I can’t do that and don’t pretend that I can. Matt has just said that he is psychic, so ask him to do that and see what happens. (My sceptical powers – that I have vowed to use only for good – tell me that it is not going to happen.)

Cold reading is essentially trickery, whereby believers in psi convince themselves it is real. In cold reading, I might say something that the sitter latches on to and assumes, quite wrongly, that I had some special insight available only through psychic powers. It’s not really that a cold reader is fooling his (or her) client, he merely allows the client to fool themselves. It is obvious that you and Matt misunderstand the nature of cold reading. Some people even have a natural ability to empathise with others, and they use that innate ability – often without realising they are doing so, to be able to “read” other people. That is why some people genuinely believe they have psychic abilities, although what they are doing has nothing to do with any supposed psi powers.

As far as your assertion that I am a troll is concerned, I’m not sure if that is name-calling, or just an insult. It’s poor form either way, but if you think it’s the best way to promote psi claims, then stick with it - but don’t complain when sceptical observers furrow their brows and chuckle inwardly – or even laugh out loudly.

"You want me to use cold reading to tell you what is in your wallet? I can’t do that and don’t pretend that I can."

The problem, though, is that you did say you could dazzle people with your cold reading skills. But those skills don't seem to be in evidence. It appears as if you did "pretend that [you] can" perform impressive mentalist feats that are actually well outside your capabilities.

Also, it's a little tiresome for you to keep telling commenters that they don't know anything about cold reading or skeptical literature, etc. I think you'll find that many of the people commenting here are extremely knowledgeable on these subjects. It's just that we're "skeptical" enough to doubt your claim of highly advanced cold reading skills.

Cold reading is a difficult thing to pull off; even James Randi failed at it in a public demonstration in Great Britain a few years ago, and explained his failure by saying that he was not a trained mentalist, but an escape artist. It strikes some of us as unlikely that someone who is presumably a nonprofessional could pull off dazzling hits on a regular basis.

Most people who are familiar with cold reading know what to look for. I remember a pretty clear example of it on a live interview show featuring the alleged psychic Sylvia Browne. She was taking phone calls from viewers. In one case, she claimed to have made contact with the caller's deceased loved one, a man whom she described as "young." The caller made a demurring sound. Sylvia quickly recovered by saying that at her age, most people seem young. She then guessed that the man was middle-aged, a suggestion the caller accepted.

The caller may well have counted this as a hit, but anyone familiar with cold reading could see that Sylvia simply chose from among three options: young, middle-aged, old. When the first guess failed, she maneuvered her way out of it and tried again. Had the second guess failed, she would have been left with only one remaining option ("old"), and she probably would've explained her two failures by saying that the person in question was young at heart, or had only been incarnated a couple of times so he was young in a spiritual sense.

Sylvia Browne was a professional cold reader who made a great deal of money, and yet her performance was easy to analyze and debunk in real time. I find it extremely doubtful that your own performance would be any better, and you certainly haven't provided any evidence of it.

Swiftsure wrote,

||I have legitimate reasons for commenting under a pseudonym.||

Which are? I am posting here under my own name. Why not you?

||In any case, you don’t know who is or is not using their real name here anyway||

Yes, we do, to a large extent.

||in the same way you said that you don’t know who I am or anything about me, despite your claim to be psychic.||

This is dumb. (There, I said it again.) This is common thing to say by those who don't know psi and don't care to know psi. Psi does not mean omniscient. I haven't tried to read on you and don't care to expend the energy on that.

||Your “wee” insults are still insults, not reasoned arguments, but if you think that’s the best way to support your beliefs, then go ahead. Personally, I don’t think that attitude shows the pro paranormal cause in a good light.||

I have barely said anything, and what I've said has been about your words here. You seem like a young person without very deep knowledge about the topics we're discussing, and you come across as a peevish and not particularly competent representative of the Skeptical cause. I've seen you say nothing that hasn't been boilerplate, and it hasn't even been a particularly good replication of the boilerplate. You may be a capital fellow in other ways, but you are not a skilled Skeptical rhetorician. If that's insulting, then consider yourself insulted.

||As far as cold reading goes, it is clearly not what you (and Eric) think it is. [...] I think it will be better if I do a new post on my own blog about it. Just tune in at your convenience once I have posted it, if you want to.||

Sure, let us know.

||It’s not really that a cold reader is fooling his (or her) client, he merely allows the client to fool themselves.||

Are you saying that you have some special insight into cold reading or that everyone agrees on your definition here? I certainly dispute either. See Michael's comments for details. Cold reading is not passive but is an active method of fooling people.

||Some people even have a natural ability to empathise with others, and they use that innate ability – often without realising they are doing so, to be able to “read” other people. That is why some people genuinely believe they have psychic abilities, although what they are doing has nothing to do with any supposed psi powers.||

OK, how do you know that it has "nothing to do" with psi? I'm curious as to how you've fully explored this topic and come to these conclusions.

||It’s poor form either way, but if you think it’s the best way to promote psi claims, then stick with it - but don’t complain when sceptical observers furrow their brows and chuckle inwardly – or even laugh out loudly.||

Or raise those eyebrows! Mercy me!

"I have legitimate reasons for commenting under a pseudonym. If I were using my anonymity to throw out name-calling and insults, then you would have a point to be made."

Nah. I think Matt has a point to be made.

I'm still waiting , cold reader, tell me something that will rival what the medium was able to do. Tell me something amazing.

ugh..I can't believe I'm responding to a 20 something kid in his parent's basement. You'd better freaking amaze me kid.

for further insights into "swiftsure's" thinking, here is his blog; https://badthinking.wordpress.com/about/

And yep, standard boiler plate Skeptic propaganda.

should add that he's not a 20 something living in his parents' basement (apologies swiftsure for the stereotyping. He appears to be a cab or Uber driver in middle age.

His blog, IMO, is all about erecting straw man "believers" and then knocking them down. He is way into stereotyping "believers" and truly doesn't understand the evidence and other reasons why people like us do believe. I am not sure he is interested either. His persona seems to be built up around having a superior and more rational intellect than the average person. I imagine that it would be difficult to admit that he doesn't understand the evidence or even people all that well because then he'd have to discard his online persona. He's also British.

Steve Hume –

I’m not the only sceptic that Hayley Stevens has had a swipe at. She has also taken some prominent sceptics and scientists to task, including – of all people - Neil de Grasse Tyson, if you please! If Hayley is bracketing me with those such as Tyson, then I am quite happy with that. I imagine he loses as much sleep as I do worrying about it. I still like Hayley, although I’m not too taken with her gratuitous use of the most appalling obscenities she peppers her social media posts with. I think it lets the side down.

Michael –

You have accused me before of using a straw man argument. I disagree, but examine what you have stated. I did not say much more than I am experienced at cold reading. You are the one who thinks I said words like, “dazzling.” And where did I say that I can perform “impressive mentalist feats”? I’m not a mentalist and I don’t pretend to do anything outside of my capabilities; you are interpreting my words to suit your belief, but then again, psychics’ marks do the same thing.

Sylvia Browne was an obvious fraud, but would you deny that countless people fell for it, and even now there is a core of her supporters who still defend her? That was pretty much my point: when people believe, they will not be deterred or convinced otherwise. There is more to cold reading than the (very) obvious observations you have made. The subtleties of it are not obvious at all to the lay person. That’s how it works.

I already said that I can’t tell Eric what is in his wallet; in Matt’s comment after yours, he implies – quite correctly – that cold reading needs interaction. That’s not possible here, especially because everyone here is on guard and wouldn’t give me a chance anyway. But in a one to one situation, cold reading is easier than you think, or even imagine. Using Sylvia Browne as an example of a cold reader is as close to a straw man argument as it is possible to get. As it happens, I wrote an obituary for Sylvia Browne; you can find it here, even though it is just “sceptical boilerplate,” obviously:

https://badthinking.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/shes-dead-honey/

Matt Rouge and Eric Newhill –

You’ve gone full school playground on me now; I can’t compete with that. Do you think that “Michael Prescott’s Blog,” that I used think was a serious discussion area for matters paranormal (which is why I have a link to it on my blog), should now be renamed “Michael Prescott’s Kindergarten”? It would be a pity if those sceptics who read this blog would agree with that idea, but you make this place look as if it’s nothing more than a self-congratulatory back-slapping club. I wouldn’t tolerate that sort of self-indulgence on my own blog, but it’s up to Michael. The real reason why sceptics don’t accept the existence of psi is that it is championed by people like you.

I’ll just leave you to your infantile name-calling.

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