# 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.

“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.

Published in Science & Technology
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1. Inactive
Odysseus
@Odysseus

SkipSul (View Comment):
Did you ever see the SNL sketch with Christopher Walking spoofing himself from the Dead Zone? In the sketch, all he could see was useless trivia. Things like, “You will… have dinner at McDonalds” kind of stuff. It’s too bad that SNL sketches are so heavily policed on Youtube, I’d love to find a link to that sketch again. What I’ve experienced has been kinda like that, only more muddled – bits of stark clarity while dreaming or only half awake, difficult to sort from the dream chaff and recognizable as having been visions only when later experienced. Save for 1 time.

Like Arahant alluded to above, it felt like finding a disused and atrophied muscle and making it briefly work.

No I’m afraid I haven’t seen that sketch, but I get the gist of just reducing the experience down to something that can be explained rather like “cold reading”. Of course in scientific terms we’d have to talk about stuff like Daryl Bem’s presentiment experiments and so forth, but in general the notion of presentiment or precognition is regarded as suspect because there are so many things we don’t know we know — without getting all Rumsfeldian.

2. Inactive
Odysseus
@Odysseus

Whenever I see or hear the phrase spooky action at a distance I reach for my revolver. There’s nothing spooky about quantum entanglement. It’s been part of standard quantum mechanics for well over half a century. Just because something is hard to understand or counter-intuitive, that doesn’t make it spooky or somehow related to the paranormal. Our intuitions are weak when it comes to phenomena outside of everyday experience. The behavior of individual or small numbers of elementary particles is well outside of first-hand human experience.

Well if I can riff off your username and invoke another cliché I’m strangely attracted to your remarks. Yeah, “spooky action at a distance” is a tired cliché, but it saves time, and it’s helpful (I find) because apparently a lot of people struggle to cope with the notion but if it’s backed up by an authority figure it commands respect. Sue me!

3. Member
drlorentz
@drlorentz

Odysseus (View Comment):
Well if I can interpolate from your username and invoke another cliché I’m strangely attracted to your remarks.

Off topic aside: my username comes from this guy and not this other guy who spells his name without a t.

4. Inactive
Odysseus
@Odysseus

Odysseus (View Comment):
Well if I can interpolate from your username and invoke another cliché I’m strangely attracted to your remarks.

Off topic aside: my username comes from this guy and not this other guy who spells his name without a t.

Yes, I was clutching at straws there.

5. Inactive
Odysseus
@Odysseus

By the way, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, and Happy Hallowe’en all!

6. Member
Arahant
@Arahant

Odysseus (View Comment):
By the way, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, and Happy Hallowe’en all!

And to you.

7. Contributor
@Midge

Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
I can cite psychological reasons for almost every instance.

I have another addition to make (presenting one skeptic’s extremely pessimistic take) that I will post soon.

Well, here it is – The Control Group is Out of Control:

If you were certain enough that parapsychologists’ results were due to experimental error, then parapsychology could be looked at as a control group for other scientific experiments. Namely, if error alone gives us “significant” results according to current methods, what does that tell is about current methods?

Luckily we have a natural experiment in terms of parapsychology – the study of psychic phenomena – which most reasonable people believe don’t exist, but which a community of practicing scientists believes in and publishes papers on all the time.

The results are pretty dismal. Parapsychologists are able to produce experimental evidence for psychic phenomena about as easily as normal scientists are able to produce such evidence for normal, non-psychic phenomena. This suggests the existence of a very large “placebo effect” in science – ie with enough energy focused on a subject, you can always produce “experimental evidence” for it that meets the usual scientific standards.

and

We’ve placed so much emphasis on not mistaking noise for signal that when someone like Bem hands us a beautiful, perfectly clear signal on a silver platter, it briefly stuns us. “Wow, of the three hundred different terrible ways to mistake noise for signal, Bem has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt he hasn’t done any of them.” And we get so stunned we’re likely to forget that this is only part of the battle.

Bem definitely picked up a signal. The only question is whether it’s a signal of psi, or a signal of poor experimental technique.

None of these commandments even touch poor experimental technique – or confounding, or whatever you want to call it. If an experiment is confounded, if it produces a strong signal even when its experimental hypothesis is true, then using a larger sample size will just make that signal even stronger.

Replicating it will just reproduce the confounded results again.

Low p-values will be easy to get if you perform the confounded experiment on a large enough scale.

Meta-analyses of confounded studies will obey the immortal law of “garbage in, garbage out”.

Pre-registration only assures that your study will not get any worse than it was the first time you thought of it, which may be very bad indeed.

Searching for publication bias only means you will get all of the confounded studies, instead of just some of them.

Heterogeneity just tells you whether all of the studies were confounded about the same amount.

Bayesian statistics, alone among these first eight, ought to be able to help with this problem. After all, a good Bayesian should be able to say “Well, I got some impressive results, but my prior for psi is very low, so this raises my belief in psi slightly, but raises my belief that the experiments were confounded a lot.”

This is from a doctor – a psychiatrist, in fact. Medical studies often involve less-than-ideal experimental technique, so I’m not surprised he is this jaded.

A considerably more pessimistic take on the state of science than,  “Psi exists, but even most scientists are too attached to the current conventional wisdom that it doesn’t.”

8. Contributor
@Midge

If I were asked to choose which of just two things were more likely, that “the control group is out of control” or that “Psi exists, but even most scientists are too attached to the current conventional wisdom that it doesn’t”, I would go with the more pessimistic option. (There are of course more things to choose from than just these two.)

9. Member
Arahant
@Arahant

“Psi exists, but even most scientists are too attached to the current conventional wisdom that it doesn’t.”

It needn’t necessarily even be attachment to CCW. It could be fear of bucking CCW.

10. Member
Arahant
@Arahant

Another factor, that has already been alluded to is specialization. There can be too much information to keep up on and be an expert in everything. So, in anything considered to be “fringe,” scientists take a conservative view and stick with CCW as a way not to commit.

11. Member
Judge Mental
@JudgeMental

*Oh Bog, not retrocausality!*  (That one makes me crazy.)

Seriously though, sometimes I know stuff without being able to explain why.  I just accept it and try to use it when I can.  One thing I am aware of is that there is stuff going on in my brain that I’m not aware of.

12. Coolidge
Trink
@Trink

Odysseus (View Comment):
– bits of stark clarity while dreaming or only half awake, difficult to sort from the dream chaff and recognizable as having been visions only when later experienced. Save for 1 time.

Our son’s most dramatic “knowings” occur like this.

13. Contributor
@Midge

Judge Mental (View Comment):
Seriously though, sometimes I know stuff without being able to explain why. I just accept it and try to use it when I can. One thing I am aware of is that there is stuff going on in my brain that I’m not aware of.

Oh, I am the same way.

Even in a world with no ESP, the brain is built in such a way that it’s not aware of all it does.

14. Member
MarciN
@MarciN

I accept that some type of ESP exists simply because of the number of times I have turned my head in a crowd to see someone–often one of my kids–looking at me for some reason. I can’t explain it. I think our research methods have not yet been able to identify exactly how it works yet or even to prove its existence. We can’t make it happen (although there have been many times when I have been able to get the attention of my kids from across a crowded room when they weren’t looking at me!) yet. But I’m sure we will at some time in the future.

I put our knowledge of ESP in the category of things we know but can’t explain yet.

Mendel conducted a lot of experiments with cross-pollinating peas. Without knowing the parts of a cell or anything about DNA or mRNA, he said, “Something is going on here.” :)

15. Member
MarciN
@MarciN

I was watching a television show a while back in which a medical examiner was conducting an autopsy on a human brain. It occurred to me that we could look at that brain from every angle, x-ray it, and analyze its biochemistry in every way. We will still not know a single thought it had ever thought.

Last week it was announced that British researchers had just determined that the brain is still sending signals as long as ten minutes after the rest of the body has “died.” (That’s somewhat alarming in that we’ve been harvesting organs during that time.)

We just don’t know much about human beings’ signaling other human beings through ESP.

16. Contributor
@Midge

Odysseus (View Comment):
– bits of stark clarity while dreaming or only half awake, difficult to sort from the dream chaff and recognizable as having been visions only when later experienced. Save for 1 time.

Our son’s most dramatic “knowings” occur like this.

For some reason, the word “knowing” brought to mind Julian of Norwich’s “showings” as a way of knowing.

I don’t doubt the existence of visionary or revelatory ways of knowing. The experience of composing music, for example, is very much like “taking dictation from God”, as a college friend of mine once described it. As Dominic Cumming’s blog points out,

In humans, the speed of totally controlled mental operations is at most 16 bits per second. Standard school maths education trains children to work at that speed.

The visual processing module in the brain crunches 10,000,000,000 bits per second.

I offer a simple thought experiment to the readers who have some knowledge of school level geometry.

Imagine that you are given a triangle; mentally rotate it about the longest side. What is the resulting solid of revolution? Describe it. And then try to reflect: where the answer came from?

The best kept secret of mathematics: it is done by subconsciousness.

Mathematics is a language for communication with subconsciousness.

Do I have independent verification at my fingertips this very moment of the exact bits-per-second speed difference between controlled mental processes and visualization? No, but the qualitative difference between the “visionary” aspects of reasoning and the discursive aspects of reasoning seems about that great.

Even without ESP, the difference is “spooky”, and I understand why an otherworldly, “sacred” quality attaches to it (whether or not the “vision” in question has an explicitly religious component).

17. Inactive
Curt North
@CurtNorth

It has been utterly fascinating to read this comment thread.  Both for reasons related to the OP and comments pertaining to that, but also to see the human reactions and comments as some intelligent Ricochetti engaged each other.

18. Inactive
SkipSul
@skipsul

Part of what muddles the debate is the difference in what people are even talking about with psi, ESP, telekinesis, etc.  So often these things are lumped together when they should not be.

Having an extra awareness of something out of sync with time as we normally experience it is not at all the same thing as levitating objects with your mind, stopping clocks, etc., yet there is too often a casual dismissal of the entire lot on the grounds that one thing or another may be quackery.

19. Thatcher
Bryan G. Stephens
@BryanGStephens

Midge challenged me to say why I don’t believe based on my understanding of psychology. I will run that risk here, but, I fully expect to be attacked for it, because people will interpret what I say to be an attack on them. They always have in the past.

Personal Stories

I am going to use the Full Moon as an example of why I don’t trust the stories of others. I have worked in behavioral health for 25 years. In that time, most of the people I have worked with know that the full moon affects behavior. They know this because they have experienced it first hand. They have noted busy nights in ERs, psych wards and other times, where the full moon coincided with an increase in psychiatric crisis. They have seen it with their own eyes. It is clear the full moon must have some relationship with the increase.

And the are wrong.

When studies look at the full moon and any set of human behavior, such as psychiatric crisis, crime, babies being born, there is never a correlation*, much less evidence of cause and effect. Yet, no amount of data will ever change the mind of the people who know. They know it to the core of their being. What is going on?

What is going on is observer bias. The full moon has one big thing no other moon has: It really stands out. As such, it is easier to notice than any other phase of the moon. What happens then, is that someone notices it is both a busy night, and the full moon and makes a connection. No connection is made on busy nights with no moon. I have also seen the full moon expanded to “getting full” and “just was full”. One coworker was willing to apply any busy night with a week before and after the full moon, which is half the month giving credit to the full moon for an effect.

Now, I don’t expect anyone reading who knows the full moon causes behavior changes to change their belief based on this post, because people won’t. They may argue with me, and I am not going to argue the point back. They will believe what they believe. Somehow, my saying they are wrong is a threat and they need to argue. I don’t care if they think it is true. Indeed, it does not matter. It is only when irrational beliefs interfere with functioning that I care, and that is more out of concern than anything else.

Another place we see this at work is in a premonition. See, if someone has one, and nothing happens, it tends to be forgotten. But if something does happen, it is remembered. And not only remembered, but amplified. Memory is not recall of a recording, but a recreation of events. We can easily have very clear memories that are false. A study on diaries after 9-11 showed this. People have clear memories of their days when they heard the news, and yet, when compared to what the wrote, their memories are wrong. I have had this first hand with reading journal entries. “But he’ll remember with advantages what deeds he did that day”. Shakespeare had that spot on.

Now, this sort of bias is something we all have. I know I do. The irrational side of me clearly knows that if I worry enough about something, that I can magically effect the outcome. The rational side of me can see this, because despite thinking my worry will not change things, I do it anyway. And the times things get worse though no fault of my own, but I did not worry, it is hard not to see that as punishment for not working the spell. So, I am not somehow more enlightened or special. I am just as irrational as everyone else. It is part of being human. I like to say that we have been on two legs an order of magnitude longer than we have been thinking, and look how poorly our bodies are adapted to that!

This is why no personal story will move me on ESP or any other paranormal event. People are lousy witnesses. And, to be fair, if someone wants to use a personal experience as his or her grounding for belief, then he or she owes me my personal experience as grounding for my lack of belief. My personal experience there, however is that benefit is not usually offered. There seems to be a need on the part of the believer to convert me to the cause.

Studies

Now, as far as studies go, the best anyone has been able to offer is a possible minor effect running right into noise. If there is something there, it is so small as to very hard to measure. My training in psychology shows that belief will overwhelm even hard proof (see Full Moon above), so if an effect is that minor, the human element is strongly at play. This can be abused by the Uri Gellers of the world or simply injected into the studies.

One interesting thing about therapy is, that techniques can all work or not work. The one lasting variable that appears to be most important is the therapy relationship with the therapist and the client. There is something transactional about a process that produces change on the part of the client. Belief by the therapist the client can improve makes a difference. I have had more than one psychiatrist tell me that his relationship with the client has a significant impact on the efficacy of the medications prescribed. Belief is powerful, and harnessed, can drive humans to amazing things. So, belief can overwhelm the small results we see in studies. For me, a long, long history of fraud and poor studies is part of the mix as well.

For me to believe in Psi, I need to see a big enough effect that it is clear it is not noise, and part of that noise it that it cannot be like a magic trick. That is not lifting French landmarks. As I said before, floating a penny by thought would work. If someone can change the ticking of a clock in the past, then certainly they could use that same force to do it in the present. Read my mind, not in the format of a palm reader, but clear and clean. It seems to me if such powers are real, they would be easy to prove.

Proof by Expert

We all use experts in various areas to decides beliefs about things that our outside of our understanding. We accept the truth that the people who designed the bridge we crossed knew what they were doing. And when they built it. We don’t know it is good on a factual basis. In fact, most of us don’t have the ability to figure that out. However, we know it is safe. This applies to almost everything we know. It is a fallacy to deride someone for accepting what is generally known as true. None of us have secret gnosis that makes us the enlightened ones. We all depend on others to be specialists. So I reject that line of attack on my non-belief in ESP.

I don’t understand the world and I don’t have too

There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I am fully aware, and in fact I know, that there are things we do not understand. As a person, I have moved past that creating anxiety for me, and into acceptance. There will always be things that happen that there is not a good answer for. That does not mean I am compelled to do anything more than say “Weird”. I have been accused of arrogance by a member and a mod in this thread. It would seem to me my actual stance is one of humility about my lack of overall knowledge. That does not mean I have to accept anyone else’s explanation for the “weird”.

Conclusion

I do not believe in ESP because I have not been show proof sufficient for me to believe. That should, in no way, threaten anyone’s belief in ESP. It does not mean I am attacking someone for his or her belief. It means that offered the same data set, I do not come to the same conclusions.

*I did see one study that showed an effect, but that year, there were extra number of full moons on the weekend, which does have correlation with crime and crisis. ERs are more busy on Friday and Saturday nights.

20. Member
Judge Mental
@JudgeMental

Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
Midge challenged me to say why I don’t believe based on my understanding of psychology. I will run that risk here, but, I fully expect to be attacked for it, because people will interpret what I say to be an attack on them. They always have in the past.

That was really long.  But I can confirm the moon part.

21. Member
Arahant
@Arahant

Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
And the are wrong.

True.

Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
One coworker was willing to apply any busy night with a week before and after the full moon, which is half the month giving credit to the full moon for an effect.

Oh, I do like this. People are funny, aren’t they?

Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
My training in psychology shows that belief will overwhelm even hard proof (see Full Moon above), so if an effect is that minor, the human element is strongly at play. … So, belief can overwhelm the small results we see in studies. For me, a long, long history of fraud and poor studies is part of the mix as well.

Don’t disagree a bit.

Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
We don’t know it is good on a factual basis. In fact, most of us don’t have the ability to figure that out. However, we know it is safe.

I would disagree with the term “know.” We trust or we hope that it is safe, but if we’re honest, we cannot say we know. Although I understand the point you are trying to make by using the word. What was it Reagan said about Progressives? “They know so many things that aren’t so.”

Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
That does not mean I have to accept anyone else’s explanation for the “weird”.

You are correct that you do not have to accept explanations anyone else puts forward. I don’t believe anyone has a problem with that.

Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
I do not believe in ESP because I have not been show proof sufficient for me to believe. That should, in no way, threaten anyone’s belief in ESP. It does not mean I am attacking someone for his or her belief. It means that offered the same data set, I do not come to the same conclusions.

True.

Now, you’re going to argue with me that others were not letting you have your own conclusions. I think if you reread the thread, you might see a different story emerge. Yes, your statements were challenged. So were all of ours. Big deal. On the other hand, you are also using a very different definition of the terms than the rest of us are. You also made very positive statements, that naturally would be challenged. You also mischaracterized what other people said. Now, this last could have been a matter of trying to restate things to clarify, but that works better if accompanied by questions, such as. “Are you saying…?” You might notice that I asked questions several times in the thread. From my observations, much of the pushback you get is not because people don’t wish to respect your opinion, but because, whether intended or not, you often come off as belligerent. Who started demanding, “Prove it.” and “Prove it to me.”? It’s communication style, Bryan.

22. Thatcher
Bryan G. Stephens
@BryanGStephens

You may disagree with my use of the word “know”, however I would put it to you that the act of using the bridge, if far more indicative of what the person believes or “knows” than what they say.

The same works for other things. People may say they believe the oceans will rise at a fast rate, yet they live seaside. Thus, we can assume what they “know” is that the oceans are not going to change any time soon.

As far as being belligerent and demanding, *I* did not question anyone’s motives as mine were, nor did I tell anyone that he should be embarrassed. Maybe you need to go back and reread the posts and decide who was being rude.

23. Inactive
Odysseus
@Odysseus

MarciN (View Comment):
I accept that some type of ESP exists simply because of the number of times I have turned my head in a crowd to see someone–often one of my kids–looking at me for some reason. I can’t explain it. I think our research methods have not yet been able to identify exactly how it works yet or even to prove its existence. We can’t make it happen (although there have been many times when I have been able to get the attention of my kids from across a crowded room when they weren’t looking at me!) yet. But I’m sure we will at some time in the future.

This “sense of being stared at” is reported by very high numbers of the population (I think >80% for women, if memory serves) and has been the subject of several studies by Rupert Sheldrake. Interestingly it also seems to work remotely, i.e. via CCTV and the like. People who do surveillance for a living are well aware of it, though they may not ascribe it to psi.

24. Member
Judge Mental
@JudgeMental

MarciN (View Comment):
I accept that some type of ESP exists simply because of the number of times I have turned my head in a crowd to see someone–often one of my kids–looking at me for some reason. I can’t explain it. I think our research methods have not yet been able to identify exactly how it works yet or even to prove its existence. We can’t make it happen (although there have been many times when I have been able to get the attention of my kids from across a crowded room when they weren’t looking at me!) yet. But I’m sure we will at some time in the future.

This “sense of being stared at” is reported by very high numbers of the population (I think >80% for women, if memory serves) and has been the subject of several studies by Rupert Sheldrake. Interestingly it also seems to work remotely, i.e. via CCTV and the like.

I thought they had identified a portion of the brain responsible for that.

25. Member
Arahant
@Arahant

Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
You may disagree with my use of the word “know”, however I would put it to you that the act of using the bridge, if far more indicative of what the person believes or “knows” than what they say.

The same works for other things. People may say they believe the oceans will rise at a fast rate, yet they live seaside. Thus, we can assume what they “know” is that the oceans are not going to change any time soon.

Good points, and as I said, I understood how you were using it. It was a very minor quibble, but as I also pointed out, even Reagan used it that way.

26. Contributor
@Midge

SkipSul (View Comment):
Part of what muddles the debate is the difference in what people are even talking about with psi, ESP, telekinesis, etc. So often these things are lumped together when they should not be.

Not only that, but Psi/ESP/telekinesis can be lumped into “things our minds do that we don’t understand”, “visionary experiences”, or other uncanny forms of apprehending the world that don’t necessarily involve ESP.

Having an extra awareness of something out of sync with time as we normally experience it is not at all the same thing as levitating objects with your mind, stopping clocks, etc., yet there is too often a casual dismissal of the entire lot on the grounds that one thing or another may be quackery.

Moreover, having an extra awareness of something out of sync with time as we normally experience could be due to at least two causes – someone may experience something paranormal, or he may experience something non-paranormal but with an abnormal time perception that, when mistaken for normal time perception (as it’s perfectly reasonable to do, in many cases), causes the non-paranormal to seem paranormal.

27. Contributor
@Midge

MarciN (View Comment):
I accept that some type of ESP exists simply because of the number of times I have turned my head in a crowd to see someone–often one of my kids–looking at me for some reason. I can’t explain it. I think our research methods have not yet been able to identify exactly how it works yet or even to prove its existence. We can’t make it happen (although there have been many times when I have been able to get the attention of my kids from across a crowded room when they weren’t looking at me!) yet. But I’m sure we will at some time in the future.

This “sense of being stared at” is reported by very high numbers of the population (I think >80% for women, if memory serves) and has been the subject of several studies by Rupert Sheldrake. Interestingly it also seems to work remotely, i.e. via CCTV and the like. People who do surveillance for a living are well aware of it, though they may not ascribe it to psi.

Also noteworthy that it is in women’s interest, perhaps, to register false positives on being stared at, since false negatives could be especially costly for them.

Noticing when we’re being stared at should be a very primitive adaptation, and so less likely to be a process whose workings are easy for our conscious minds to pick apart.

28. Inactive
Odysseus
@Odysseus

Also noteworthy that it is in women’s interest, perhaps, to register false positives on being stared at, since false negatives could be especially costly for them.

Noticing when we’re being stared at should be a very primitive adaptation, and so less likely to be a process whose workings are easy for our conscious minds to pick apart.

Yeah but it does also seem to happen remotely, as I mentioned, which ought to do away with the notion that it’s some incredibly subtle non-psi process.

29. Inactive
A.C. Gleason
@aarong3eason

@midge

It seems pretty clear to me that the human mind doesn’t really function according to the Bayesian computational theory. For a couple of reasons, but the most important one being that while the mind can of course “compute” its primary activity seems to be perception and experience. And most beliefs are generated in this way.

The discussion about trust is interesting because the mind’s formation of belief is more connected to that than “rational” processes.

But it seems clear to me that Bayes based theories have little to offer regarding Phil Mind or epistemology.  Mind isn’t mechanistic and it’s not primarily a thinking thing. Seems like Bayes theories are popular because neuroscience & scientism have turned the western academy into a philosophical ghetto where even the lunacy of epiphenomalism seems like “black magic .”

30. Inactive
Mark Wilson
@MarkWilson

Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
As I said before, floating a penny by thought would work. If someone can change the ticking of a clock in the past, then certainly they could use that same force to do it in the present. Read my mind, not in the format of a palm reader, but clear and clean. It seems to me if such powers are real, they would be easy to prove.

I’m skeptical and lean toward disbelief in paranormal abilities, but I think you’re moving the goalposts here.  It’s perfectly fair to say these claimed abilities haven’t been proven to exist, and the anecdotes aren’t enough to remove doubt, because there are no controlled experiments to support them.  But you seem to be demanding proof of abilities that nobody is really claiming to have (“floating a penny”, “clear and clean” mind reading).

Suppose somebody claimed the ability to predict the number of heads in any given experiment of 500 fair coin flips to a narrower uncertainty than the typical variance of 125, standard deviation 11.2.  Suppose the claim of accurate prediction is a weak signal but just outside the noise.  This is a pretty mild ability, although impressive from a scientific standpoint of true.  You wouldn’t then demand that he prove his ability to force the coin to come up heads, or to predict every individual flip accurately.  You’d design an experiment to test the claimed ability by taking his predictions and calculating the actual variance of his errors.  And since you’ve already addressed this question (i.e. you have heard of no such positive experiments) then why would you even bother with these requests for fantastical unclaimed abilities like direct mind reading?