Halloween Horror: Rhetoric, ESP, and the Other Guy’s Zombie Army

 

What kind of evidence would it take to persuade you that ESP exists? We skeptics say it would take extraordinary evidence. And yet, were we presented with extraordinary evidence, chances are good we’d disbelieve it. That’s irrational, right?

Not necessarily.

Bayesian Prior-ities

We intuitively form initial estimates of how plausible a claim might be, estimates quantifiable as prior probabilities. When we’re reasoning correctly in a Bayesian fashion, we assign extraordinary claims very low prior probabilities. Not exactly zero, since a prior probability of exactly zero implies that no evidence, however great, could change our mind, and extraordinary shouldn’t mean impossible. But close enough to zero to count as zero for most purposes – although not when we’re asked to re-evaluate the claims themselves.

Classical statistics typically employs a null hypothesis and one alternative hypothesis to evaluate data. The human brain, though, can juggle multiple alternative hypotheses, with experience intuiting each alternative’s prior probability – a measure of its plausibility even before it’s tested against the data collected. Drawing prior probabilities from experience and correctly updating them in light of new evidence is the essence of Bayesian rationality.

When claims already comport with our experience, we naturally – and rationally – won’t disdain evidence supporting them. When a claim seems extraordinary to us, though, we trot out the demand “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

The seeming paradox – and evidence of our gross irrationality to those trying to convince us – is that we may persist in our disbelief even when given the extraordinary evidence we requested! Life teaches the sad lesson that people’s beliefs won’t necessarily converge when presented with identical evidence, but may, confoundingly, diverge further. Irrational! Identity-protective cognition! Motivated reasoning! Human perversity!

Not so fast. As physicist and Bayesian scholar ET Jaynes observes, this divergence may be entirely consistent with correct Bayesian reasoning on differing priors.

Evidence, or Reporting Errors?

Jaynes notes we rarely experience evidence directly. Instead, we rely on others’ reports of evidence. One possibility lurking in the back of our minds is that those reports contain reporting errors. What if they’re biased, perhaps through cognitive or publication bias? What if their data was (however inadvertently) cherry-picked? Might we suspect extraordinary evidence is only extraordinary because of experimental error? Might we even suspect deliberate deception?

Not only might we, but the more extraordinary reported evidence seems, the more we should suspect reporting error, and perhaps outright chicanery. It’s reasonable to suspect reports that “seem too good to be true.” Even in high-trust environments where suspicion of reporting error is low, when the likelihood of an extraordinary claim strikes us as even lower than the likelihood of reporting error, all that extraordinary evidence supporting the claim does is bolster our suspicion of reporting error, rather than persuading us of the claim.

Jaynes calls reporting error “deception,” even when it’s unintentional. In “Queer uses for probability theory,” a rollicking chapter in applied mathematics (fellow nerds may begin page 149 of this PDF), Jaynes discusses the famous Soal experiment in ESP and why “this kind of experiment can never convince” him of a person’s telepathic powers

…not because I assert [the probability of telepathic powers] = 0 dogmatically at the start, but because the verifiable facts can be accounted for by many alternative hypotheses, every one of which I consider inherently more plausible… and none of which is ruled out by the information available to me.

Indeed the very evidence which the ESP’ers throw at us to convince us, has the opposite effect on our state of belief; issuing reports of sensational data defeats its own purpose. For if the prior probability of deception is greater than that of ESP, then the more improbable the data are on the null hypothesis of no deception and no ESP, the more strongly we are led to believe, not in ESP, but in deception. For this reason, the advocates of ESP (or any other marvel) will never succeed in persuading scientists that their phenomenon is real, until they learn how to eliminate the possibility of deception in the mind of the reader.

Brains! Brains! (Zombie Hypotheses)

When extraordinary evidence is cited to support an extraordinary claim, the evidence may inadvertently resurrect a skeptical brain’s “dead hypotheses” instead, “dead” because the brain estimates their likelihood at near zero – but still not as close to zero as the estimate that brain assigns to the extraordinary claim. I call these dead hypotheses “zombie hypotheses,” since they spring back to life in the face of the extraordinary to feast on skeptical brains.

Jaynes observes zombie hypotheses attack even in high-trust environments, and even when the extraordinary claim is true and the evidence supporting it valid. Such zombie attacks have

…made us aware of an important general phenomenon, which has nothing to do with ESP; a person may tell the truth and not be believed, even though the disbelievers are reasoning in a rational, consistent way.

If zombie attacks occur even in high-trust environments among people of similar backgrounds, how much more likely are they in politics, where trust is lower, people’s backgrounds differ, and people routinely suspect the “deception” of not only innocent reporting error, but also of subterfuge?

Perhaps it’s no accident that political discourse often devolves into prompting the other guy to resurrect an army of zombie hypotheses, then concluding from the sheer number of zombies he summons that he must be crazy, flagrantly rationalizing, or both. Else why would he attack our reasoning with so many mythical monsters? That he may also be reasoning correctly, given his experience, and his zombie army might be evidence of this, is almost too horrible to contemplate.

The Ungrateful Undead

“You and what army?” we’re sometimes tempted to demand of opponents. Their zombie army – the army of hypotheses they find more plausible than our claim, no matter how extraordinary our evidence – that’s who. Evidence cannot be interpreted except in light of prior beliefs. And because two people’s prior beliefs may differ

…probability theory appears to allow, in principle, that a single piece of new information D [D for “data”] could have every conceivable effect on their relative states of belief.

Data never absolutely supports or refutes any claim, but only supports or refutes it relative to all the other (“prior”) information we have. When our prior knowledge differs, the same data that supports a claim for one of us may refute it for another – maddeningly, without logical error on either side.

[D]ivergence of opinions is readily explained by probability theory as logic, and that it is to be expected when persons have widely different prior information.

Although we hope – and often find – that the more data we share, the more our beliefs converge, it’s logically possible for data sharing to drive two reasoner’s beliefs farther apart without either erring logically. Now, possible isn’t the same as likely. Many of us suspect this possibility is nonetheless extremely implausible. There’s something too morally lazy – or simply too horrifying – about supposing this possibility manifests often enough in real life to justify much human agreement.

Zombie hypotheses would be far less terrifying if they were just bad-faith hypotheses resurrected in order to deny reason. The real horror of zombie hypotheses, especially for political consensus, is not that they’re a defense mechanism against reason, but that they’re baked into what reasoning is.

Is There Hope?

Carl Sagan famously described the world of insufficiently-skeptical brains as demon-haunted. ET Jaynes suggests that skeptical brains, while perhaps not haunted by demons (though I suspect all brains are, more or less) are at least prone to zombie infestations. When mutually-skeptical minds are busy attacking one another with hordes of ungrateful undead, is there any hope? Any way to stop the zombies? Yes, at least sometimes. It was alluded to earlier:

For this reason, the advocates of ESP (or any other marvel) will never succeed in persuading scientists that their phenomenon is real, until they learn how to eliminate the possibility of deception in the mind of the reader.

Jaynes continues, citing a diagram illustrating that

the reader’s total prior probability for deception by all mechanisms must be pushed down below that of ESP.

Pushing a skeptic’s estimate of the total likelihood of “deception by all mechanisms” below his estimate of the likelihood of your claim means establishing trust. Many effective techniques for establishing trust rely on something other than “cold reason.” Some techniques are not even honest (the con in con-man is short for confidence, after all). Rhetoric, for example, need not be used honestly. Rhetoric aims to persuade, and while persuasion requires establishing trust, the very possibility that rhetoric works well enough at establishing trust that it’s useful for establishing unwarranted trust puts the trust-building power of rhetoric under suspicion. Few humans are immune to the blandishments of rhetoric from someone, but when someone strikes us as untrustworthy enough to begin with, the hypothesis that their rhetoric is a confidence trick is often very undead indeed.

In today’s political climate, it’s easy to believe that establishing trust often isn’t feasible. And there’s no guarantee that it must be – indeed there’s a possibility, however slight, that it might be logically impossible.

Jaynes is not the first to observe that high trust among scientists is what enables scientists to keep the zombie hordes at bay long enough for sharing data in common to forge knowledge in common. This process goes by simpler name, learning. Without trust, there’s little hope for even the most rational of arguments to produce learning.

This essay is based off an earlier draft, published just after Halloween last year.

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Real ESP would give people with it an edge. A strong edge.

    I am not so sure that we define ESP in the same way. Also, I am not certain that it is based on somal elements, such as DNA. (Yes, I know the premise of my books is exactly that psychic powers are DNA-based, but my books are fictional.) So, because an individual has ESP and it works would not necessarily be a desirable trait that would also be passed on to children.

    Even if it were DNA-based, that does not mean that it would be a survival trait throughout human history. For instance, in the past, “witches” (often really people with herbal or unapproved spiritual knowledge or abilities) have been judicially murdered for their knowledge and abilities. This would tend to work against the spread of a weak DNA-based power throughout humanity. Any of those showing too much power in such societies would be culled.

    Another factor is that those with ESP might be less likely to procreate, since they can read people better and figure out what creeps they are. ;^D

    So now you suppose a non genetic carrier? Please explain that. Whenever someone has to add more factors, I really start to doubt.

    And the idea that men with mind reading would reproduce less is nuts. If men could detect interest ahead of time, he would run through women.

    Further, in ancient societies,  power would not be killed off in every case. It only takes a tribe or two to celebrate it, and then those tribes would have an advantage.

    Finally, accusing the skeptics of moving goalposts without proof of said accusation, is precisely what I have come to expect from believers in the paranormal.

    You wnpant me to believe? Prove it. Remote viewing?  it would be child’s play to set up a simple experiment,  and run it over and over. Not been done.

    • #31
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Odysseus (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Somehow no one has ever collected on Randi’s offer.

    Randi’s prize is not science, and Randi himself is seriously compromised in all sorts of ways. The scandal-wracked JREF has now been shut down, by the way.

    Please.

    • #32
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    People trust their own experiences more than the experiences of others anyway, and when it sounds like you are threatening their very reasoning, they get their hackles up and refuse to budge.

    This plays into people’s personal experiences with odd events, too. anonymous wrote in his post,

    anonymous (View Comment):
    I was driving on a highway in New Jersey in 1972 precisely when I perceived I’d been fired from my job in Cleveland for the sin of seeking a better job.

    On those few occasions when you know when it happens, you won’t write sceptical dissents: you’ll just step back and say, “Wow!”

    I have had many paranormal-seeming experiences, and none of them has convinced me they couldn’t have some other explanation. I simply do not have the kind of confidence in my own perceptions that would leave no room for doubt even when it’s something I experience directly.

    Moreover, that kind of confidence is not something we have direct conscious control over. It varies, for example, by physical characteristics such as male-vs-female, sick-vs-well, this-kind-of-sick-vs-that-kind-of-sick, and so on.

    • #33
  4. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    We recently found out that upwards of 60% of social studies are bunk. I am willing to accept that parapsychology ones are too.

     

    • #34
  5. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    anonymous (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Real ESP would give people with it an edge. A strong edge. Men with it would have more kids than men without it. It would be something we would have to account for.

    If the powers do exist, they are so ineffective as to be meaningless.

    There are lots of abilities which differ from individual to individual and don’t confer a selective advantage sufficient to cause them to spread in the gene pool Consider, for example, ambidextrousness: there’s certainly some advantage in being able to do things equally well with both hands (and I speak from recent experience having sprained my right index finger a last month and discovering, with it hors de combat, the extent to which I’m an obligate right hander), but it doesn’t seem enough to have propagated whatever causes it among the population. Genetic traits which are more directly related to survival, for example the ability to metabolise lactose into adulthood, have been strongly selected for among those who have domesticated cattle.

    It may be that ESP, if it exists, is sufficiently unreliable that it doesn’t confer on those who possess it a sufficient advantage to cause it to be selected for genetically. That doesn’t exclude the possibility that people with such wild talents may have an advantage, just as a switch-hitter does in baseball, but that the ability is sufficiently rare or has such a specialised advantage that evolution doesn’t select for it and make it more common.

    We know ambidextrous people exist without a doubt. No such thing with ESP.  If I can use it to see at a distance or read minds, that is a clear advantage.

    • #35
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    We recently found out that upwards of 60% of social studies are bunk. I am willing to accept that parapsychology ones are too.

    How scientifically literate are you to evaluate a study? Would you be able to tell whether a particular study is bunk? Would we be able to design a study that you would agree to that would prove ESP? Or, do you not have the expertise to evaluate such?

    • #36
  7. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    @bryangstephens, I don’t wish to make this personal – that’s not my intent – but would I be right in thinking that you haven’t read any academic papers on psi research? You come across as someone who is getting information second- or third-hand.

    • #37
  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    The notion, as presented in the OP, that reasoning from such a patho-sceptical prior may still be rational does not clear away the original sin of starting from such a poor prior – one that, in fact, doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny given the “natural history” of the subject and the number of people who claim psychic experiences. It is somewhat pathological to assert that so many people are not just mistaken but deluded

    But I would like to point out that, to those who doubt, you look like the one with the patho-skeptical prior, believing that so many people are “not just mistaken but deluded” for believing ESP doesn’t exist.

    Which is the point of my essay. Not which side is true, but the gap between them, and the confidence each side has in its own position.

    • #38
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    So now you suppose a non genetic carrier? Please explain that. Whenever someone has to add more factors, I really start to doubt.

    Well, that depends on whether you believe we are just so many chemicals interacting or whether you believe in the human soul as a non-physical element that has existence beyond the body. If you’re a strict materialist, it is not worth discussing it further.

    • #39
  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    So now you suppose a non genetic carrier? Please explain that. Whenever someone has to add more factors, I really start to doubt.

    Well, that depends on whether you believe we are just so many chemicals interacting or whether you believe in the human soul as a non-physical element that has existence beyond the body. If you’re a strict materialist, it is not worth discussing it further.

    On the other hand, anonymous is, as far as I know, a strict materialist. So it doesn’t seem the line is between strict materialism and a viewpoint that’s not strict materialism.

    • #40
  11. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Bryan, my own experiences are random.  I have dreamed wih great clarity of future events- the rub has always been that such visions were horribly mundane, and I have never once been able to control when I have them or how much they reveal.

    Moreover, my father and 1 of my daughters have this same quirk.  Is it “useful”?  Not so much, save for a vague intuition at times.  But then people gifted with such quirks have nearly always said the same thing.  It does not grant world domination nor luck with the ladies, but Ibassure you it exists.

    • #41
  12. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    @bryangstephens, I don’t wish to make this personal – that’s not my intent – but would I be right in thinking that you haven’t read any academic papers on psi research? You come across as someone who is getting information second- or third-hand.

    Not to make it personal,  but I don’t know what I am talking about? Ignore the studies I have seen. My degree in Psychology can’t possibly mean I know how to appraise a study.

    Why not call me closed minded while you are at it?

    You offer no proof. Prove it to me. Show me the clear cut evidence that someone can read minds. Not like a magician,  like Professor X. Show me someone levitating a pencil. Show me someone not doing “ESP”  in the style of magic tricks.

    You cannot.  No, as is usual for believers, you castigate those who do not share in your beliefs.

    Psi should be easy to prove. We can measure the Higgs field.

    • #42
  13. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    So now you suppose a non genetic carrier? Please explain that. Whenever someone has to add more factors, I really start to doubt.

    Well, that depends on whether you believe we are just so many chemicals interacting or whether you believe in the human soul as a non-physical element that has existence beyond the body. If you’re a strict materialist, it is not worth discussing it further.

    So Psi is a matter of spiritual faith for You? OK.

    • #43
  14. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    But I would like to point out that, to those who doubt, you look like the one with the patho-skeptical prior, believing that so many people are “not just mistaken but deluded” for believing ESP doesn’t exist.

    I’d say that’s a false syllogism. Just because I think sceptics regard as deluded the huge numbers of people who report psi-related episodes does not mean that I think sceptics are deluded for not believing in psi. I think they’re usually not well read on the topic, and make assumptions (or have poor priors), but I don’t accuse them of hallucinating away psi.

    • #44
  15. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Bryan, my own experiences are random. I have dreamed wih great clarity of future events- the rub has always been that such visions were horribly mundane, and I have never once been able to control when I have them or how much they reveal.

    Moreover, my father and 1 of my daughters have this same quirk. Is it “useful”? Not so much, save for a vague intuition at times. But then people gifted with such quirks have nearly always said the same thing. It does not grant world domination nor luck with the ladies, but Ibassure you it exists.

    Someone’s personal experience can’t be used a proof. People are sure of all sorts of things based on that, and they are wrong.

    • #45
  16. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    It is not confidence in my opinion,  it is the search for truth.  I have offered what it would take to prove it to me. Scarlet Witch would work too. Gil “The arm” as well.

    Real powers would have as easy to prove an effect as that I can prove I have two hands.

    • #46
  17. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Not to make it personal, but I don’t know what I am talking about? Ignore the studies I have seen. My degree in Psychology can’t possibly mean I know how to appraise a study.

    Why not call me closed minded while you are at it?

    You offer no proof. Prove it to me. Show me the clear cut evidence that someone can read minds. Not like a magician, like Professor X. Show me someone levitating a pencil. Show me someone not doing “ESP” in the style of magic tricks.

    You cannot. No, as is usual for believers, you castigate those who do not share in your beliefs.

    Psi should be easy to prove. We can measure the Higgs field.

    I can only refer you to the literature — it’s quite absurd to demand I prove it to you now. And I’ve recommended a couple of books on the subject already.

    Taken in reverse, how unreasonable would it be of me to demand that you prove to me the existence of the electron in a forum post? A sane person would only refer me to experiments that have been done, e.g. CRTs. You seem to be taking a rather dismissive tone, and have not asserted (in response to my challenge) that you have read any of the literature, so I can only conclude that you are displaying the arrogance that comes with ignorance. It’s rather embarrassing that a psychology graduate should refer to Randi’s prize, frankly. I can only quote Cromwell:

    I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

    • #47
  18. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Bryan, my own experiences are random. I have dreamed wih great clarity of future events- the rub has always been that such visions were horribly mundane, and I have never once been able to control when I have them or how much they reveal.

    Moreover, my father and 1 of my daughters have this same quirk. Is it “useful”? Not so much, save for a vague intuition at times. But then people gifted with such quirks have nearly always said the same thing. It does not grant world domination nor luck with the ladies, but Ibassure you it exists.

    Someone’s personal experience can’t be used a proof. People are sure of all sorts of things based on that, and they are wrong.

    Never said I had the means to prove it.  But I know what I have experienced, and nothing known to science can explain it.

    • #48
  19. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Odysseus (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    But I would like to point out that, to those who doubt, you look like the one with the patho-skeptical prior, believing that so many people are “not just mistaken but deluded” for believing ESP doesn’t exist.

    I’d say that’s a false syllogism. Just because I think sceptics regard as deluded the huge numbers of people who report psi-related episodes does not mean that I think sceptics are deluded for not believing in psi. I think they’re usually not well read on the topic, and make assumptions (or have poor priors), but I don’t accuse them of hallucinating away psi.

    If you’re calling their prior pathological, you are calling it delusional in an important sense – unmoored from reason. You are saying their prior is not reasonable, no matter how well their cumulative experience may in fact comport with that prior.

    If you thought their prior was just different from yours, and that’s why they didn’t believe, you wouldn’t judge their prior as lesser, much less pathological. Just as different.

    • #49
  20. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    By the way I never thought I’d be discussing psi research on Ricochet. But heck I guess it’s Hallowe’en.

    • #50
  21. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Odysseus (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Not to make it personal, but I don’t know what I am talking about? Ignore the studies I have seen. My degree in Psychology can’t possibly mean I know how to appraise a study.

    Why not call me closed minded while you are at it?

    You offer no proof. Prove it to me. Show me the clear cut evidence that someone can read minds. Not like a magician, like Professor X. Show me someone levitating a pencil. Show me someone not doing “ESP” in the style of magic tricks.

    You cannot. No, as is usual for believers, you castigate those who do not share in your beliefs.

    Psi should be easy to prove. We can measure the Higgs field.

    I can only refer you to the literature — it’s quite absurd to demand I prove it to you now. And I’ve recommended a couple of books on the subject already.

    Taken in reverse, how unreasonable would it be of me to demand that you prove to me the existence of the electron in a forum post? A sane person would only refer me to experiments that have been done, e.g. CRTs. You seem to be taking a rather dismissive tone, and have not asserted (in response to my challenge) that you have read any of the literature, so I can only conclude that you are displaying the arrogance that comes with ignorance. It’s rather embarrassing that a psychology graduate should refer to Randi’s prize, frankly. I can only quote Cromwell:

    I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

    Sorry, but no dice. The Standard Model is both well understood and supported by physics at large. You want to introduce something that defies known physics, and castigate me for not reading your stuff.

    I was well into this in college. I have been there, done that. Telling me just to read some more of the same is not going cut it.

    And you continue to attack me personally. Midge, I can only assume you don’t agree, since, as a mod you have done nothing.

    So much for civil conversation.

    • #51
  22. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    It is not confidence in my opinion, it is the search for truth. I have offered what it would take to prove it to me. Scarlet Witch would work too. Gil “The arm” as well.

    Real powers would have as easy to prove an effect as that I can prove I have two hands.

    Can you use both your hands?  Sure, but can you wiggle your ears?  Not everyone can though all posess the muscles to do so.  Some just haven’t found the neural pathways in a way they can intentionally manipulate.

    Further, your demands only for over the top demonstrations of comical “powers” as proof shows that you are condemning, rather angrily, what we are not even claims to exist.  Why the hostility?  It’s like declaring that mountains do not exist because mountains must be 300 miles tall.

    • #52
  23. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    If you’re calling their prior pathological, you are calling it delusional in an important sense – unmoored from reason. You are saying their prior is not reasonable, no matter how well their cumulative experience may in fact comport with that prior.

    If you thought their prior was just different from yours, and that’s why they didn’t believe, you wouldn’t judge their prior as lesser, much less pathological. Just as different.

    Well I did say that it was pathological, so I’ll give ground a little there, but really what I meant to say was that there is a pathology in scepticism which is observable in two simultaneous behaviours: (a) having a prior that asserts that extraordinary evidence is required, and (b) finding ways to get out of having to accept the evidence (because there is extraordinary evidence) when it’s presented to them.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone brought up in modern times to disbelieve in psi. What I find, however, is that when sceptics become knowledgeable and discover evidence that their prior may be mistaken (such as with the large-scale NDE studies I mentioned), they don’t re-evaluate it. So in a sense I’m agreeing with what you describe in your post in terms of the phenomenology of scepticism, but I don’t think it rational, because priors can be re-evaluated and are not fixed points.

    • #53
  24. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Odysseus (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Not to make it personal, but I don’t know what I am talking about? Ignore the studies I have seen. My degree in Psychology can’t possibly mean I know how to appraise a study.

    Why not call me closed minded while you are at it?

    You offer no proof. Prove it to me. Show me the clear cut evidence that someone can read minds. Not like a magician, like Professor X. Show me someone levitating a pencil. Show me someone not doing “ESP” in the style of magic tricks.

    You cannot. No, as is usual for believers, you castigate those who do not share in your beliefs.

    Psi should be easy to prove. We can measure the Higgs field.

    I can only refer you to the literature — it’s quite absurd to demand I prove it to you now. And I’ve recommended a couple of books on the subject already.

    Taken in reverse, how unreasonable would it be of me to demand that you prove to me the existence of the electron in a forum post? A sane person would only refer me to experiments that have been done, e.g. CRTs. You seem to be taking a rather dismissive tone, and have not asserted (in response to my challenge) that you have read any of the literature, so I can only conclude that you are displaying the arrogance that comes with ignorance. It’s rather embarrassing that a psychology graduate should refer to Randi’s prize, frankly. I can only quote Cromwell:

    I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

    Sorry, but no dice. The Standard Model is both well understood and supported by physics at large. You want to introduce something that defies known physics, and castigate me for not reading your stuff.

    I was well into this in college. I have been there, done that. Telling me just to read some more of the same is not going cut it.

    And you continue to attack me personally. Midge, I can only assume you don’t agree, since, as a mod you have done nothing.

    So much for civil conversation.

    Your own remarks here have hardly been a model of civility.

    • #54
  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    Just because I think sceptics regard as deluded the huge numbers of people who report psi-related episodes does not mean that I think sceptics are deluded for not believing in psi.

    As long as we’re getting a little into the weeds here, skeptics need not regard people as deluded for believing in psi.

    I don’t believe, myself, but I’ve had enough weird experiences in life that I can see why a reasonable person would find it the most plausible explanation.

    I have a very active imagination, a body that has never worked quite right (and hence calls sense data into even more doubt than usual, and the usual doubt is already considerable), and I think it’s commonplace for one part of our (well, at least my) mind to figure something out before the conscious, discursive part catches up (if it ever does), and all of these traits in myself lead me to having a lot of “paranormal” experiences (like my “error field”) that don’t seem to need paranormality in order to happen.

    • #55
  26. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Odysseus (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Not to make it personal, but I don’t know what I am talking about? Ignore the studies I have seen. My degree in Psychology can’t possibly mean I know how to appraise a study.

    Why not call me closed minded while you are at it?

    You offer no proof. Prove it to me. Show me the clear cut evidence that someone can read minds. Not like a magician, like Professor X. Show me someone levitating a pencil. Show me someone not doing “ESP” in the style of magic tricks.

    You cannot. No, as is usual for believers, you castigate those who do not share in your beliefs.

    Psi should be easy to prove. We can measure the Higgs field.

    I can only refer you to the literature — it’s quite absurd to demand I prove it to you now. And I’ve recommended a couple of books on the subject already.

    Taken in reverse, how unreasonable would it be of me to demand that you prove to me the existence of the electron in a forum post? A sane person would only refer me to experiments that have been done, e.g. CRTs. You seem to be taking a rather dismissive tone, and have not asserted (in response to my challenge) that you have read any of the literature, so I can only conclude that you are displaying the arrogance that comes with ignorance. It’s rather embarrassing that a psychology graduate should refer to Randi’s prize, frankly. I can only quote Cromwell:

    I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

    Sorry, but no dice. The Standard Model is both well understood and supported by physics at large. You want to introduce something that defies known physics, and castigate me for not reading your stuff.

    I was well into this in college. I have been there, done that. Telling me just to read some more of the same is not going cut it.

    And you continue to attack me personally. Midge, I can only assume you don’t agree, since, as a mod you have done nothing.

    So much for civil conversation.

    Your own remarks here have hardly been a model of civility.

    Really? Because I want proof, and give examples of what would be that proof? That is uncivil?  I didn’t say anyone was pathological or that they should be embarrassed.

    This is a clear case that you cannot prove your case. That is all. I don’t care what you personally belive, but those beliefs can’t change my mind.

    Again, clear proof is needed for a claim of powers that are outside our understanding.  Mountains are not. Ear wiggles are not, and we can easily demonstrate there are people who can do it. And there is a clear understanding of how they can do it.

    I put it to you that your use of the mountain example is making the case I am not arguing in good faith.

     

    • #56
  27. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Sorry, but no dice. The Standard Model is both well understood and supported by physics at large. You want to introduce something that defies known physics, and castigate me for not reading your stuff.

    I don’t think psi “defies known physics”. The Chinese utilise “spooky action at a distance” in their long-distance communications now, so why not humans? What, precisely, in physics does psi “defy”? Nothing.

    As for whether it’s “supported by physics at large”, this is an argumentum ad populum. Just because something is not well accepted in science does not make it false. That is the brilliance of science: opinion doesn’t matter.

     

    I was well into this in college. I have been there, done that. Telling me just to read some more of the same is not going cut it.

    And you continue to attack me personally. Midge, I can only assume you don’t agree, since, as a mod you have done nothing.

    So much for civil conversation.

    I think there’s been a robust exchange of viewpoints.

    • #57
  28. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    On the other hand, anonymous is, as far as I know, a strict materialist. So it doesn’t seem the line is between strict materialism and a viewpoint that’s not strict materialism.

    My point was about theories of non-physical transmission. If we are merely physical, then there must be some DNA transmission, whether nuclear or through endogenous retro-viruses. If we are more than physical, it opens up other possibilities which would not be DNA-dependent.

    • #58
  29. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    Just because I think sceptics regard as deluded the huge numbers of people who report psi-related episodes does not mean that I think sceptics are deluded for not believing in psi.

    As long as we’re getting a little into the weeds here, skeptics need not regard people as deluded for believing in psi.

    I don’t believe, myself, but I’ve had enough weird experiences in life that I can see why a reasonable person would find it the most plausible explanation.

    I have a very active imagination, a body that has never worked quite right (and hence calls sense data into even more doubt than usual, and the usual doubt is already considerable), and I think it’s commonplace for one part of our (well, at least my) mind to figure something out before the conscious, discursive part catches up (if it ever does), and all of these traits in myself lead me to having a lot of “paranormal” experiences (like my “error field”) that don’t seem to need paranormality in order to happen.

    Apparently,  in this thread, skeptics are not afforded that luxury.

    I can cite psychological reasons for almost every instance.  I have not entered this thread to debunk. That would rude. I posted one link to counter one study posted. My link was attacked as was I.

    Pretty weak sauce, to make statements that powers beyond our understanding exist, without much to resort to other than attack on me for not believing.

    • #59
  30. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone brought up in modern times to disbelieve in psi. What I find, however, is that when sceptics become knowledgeable and discover evidence that their prior may be mistaken (such as with the large-scale NDE studies I mentioned), they don’t re-evaluate it. So in a sense I’m agreeing with what you describe in your post in terms of the phenomenology of scepticism, but I don’t think it rational, because priors can be re-evaluated and are not fixed points.

    Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that skeptics who became knowledgeable in the details of these experiments would certainly re-evaluate to have a more favorable opinion of ESP’s likelihood. Then there is a rational phenomenon which describes why they may not do it:

    Rational ignorance.

    Really mastering a body of experimental evidence is an intense commitment. It involves a thorough understanding of the mechanics of the experimental design, the statistics used to evaluate it, and so on. In my Halloween parlance, it involves killing a lot of zombies (zombie hypotheses).

    Killing that many zombies is hard work, and it makes sense that not all rational people would be willing to do it themselves. (It may even make sense that most rational people wouldn’t.) It may be quite rational for a great many people to stick to the received wisdom on ESP. (As you noted, that received wisdom could change depending on historical era.)

    • #60
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