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

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    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?

    The OP asks what it would take for me to believe.  I have answered that now several times. It appears my answer is “wrong” for you people.

    • #121
  2. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    A.C. Gleason (View Comment):
    @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.

    There is quite a bit of evidence that human perception is approximately Bayesian, actually.

    For example, our perception of optical and other illusions, our perception of pain, our ability to understand each others’ speech, and so on, show how sensitive our perception is to priors. So does, as I argue in the OP, our skepticism and mutual doubt. How optical illusions can appear to flip appears better-explained by us having a Bayesian (by which of course I mean approximately Bayesian) sensory system than anything else.

    It is possible you’re conflating the computations the brain must perform to embody mind with conscious computation. I grant you that most brains are pretty lousy at conscious computation (arithmetic, solving an integral, etc), but that only suggests that the brain is structured with layers of awareness, with most of its activity happening outside conscious awareness (apparently, this is a pretty good way to structure advanced AI, too).

    How do you think the brain embodies the mind without being a biological computer, I’m curious?

    …where even the lunacy of epiphenomalism seems like “black magic .”

    I am unsure what you mean by this? Are you criticizing scientists who describe consciousness as an epiphenomenon?

    • #122
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    @aarong3eason, the big question for me is, what do you fear will be lost by gaining a better understanding of the mechanics of the brain as a “biological computer”?

    Such understanding need not obviate other ways of understanding human experience. (It certainly doesn’t for me.) I know people (especially conservatives) worry that it might,  but this worry still strikes me as puzzling.

    What is the real worry?

    If the worry is CS Lewis’s “men without chests”, for example, I don’t think better understanding of mechanical or mathematical realities causes that. I especially don’t think it causes that in those who are good at understanding the world that way.

    I am not a great mathematician, nor a great composer, nor a great poet. I did manage to reach a level of proficiency in all three, though, that makes it clear none is a “heartless” activity. None is “passionless”. Nor does supposing, “My brain is doing approximately Bayesian things when I engage in these activities,” make the activities “heartless”.

    Michael Polanyi wasn’t a positivist. His account of doing science (which I value greatly) reads to me like Jaynes without the math. Indeed, Jaynes’s acknowledgement that it is rational (in the Bayesian sense) that personal commitments (such as trust) inform our beliefs about even “objective” claims strikes me a way out of positivism’s problems.

    • #123
  4. Mark Wilson Inactive
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    It appears my answer is “wrong” for you people.

    Who are you grouping me in with here? This is the first time I have addressed you on this thread. You could just answer my point without taking umbrage for offenses I did not give.

    • #124
  5. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    It appears my answer is “wrong” for you people.

    Who are you grouping me in with here? This is the first time I have addressed you on this thread. You could just answer my point without taking umbrage for offenses I did not give.

    I have made my point already. I want extraordinary proof of powers. Period. That means, minor powers that have almost no effect to detect are not going to do it. Every single counter example given on something I do believe in, has been something big enough to measure easily, and over and over, without controversy. That is the proof I require. I have never seen it. My demand to “prove it”, is a demand that if people want me to believe, that is what they need to come up with.

    Again, I am the one told I should be embarrassed. I am the one told I am not being honest in my dialog. I am the one being told I am belligerent. I have not insulted anyone in a thread were I have been repeatedly insulted. I will not apologize at this point for being defensive.

     

    • #125
  6. Mark Wilson Inactive
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Again, I am the one told I should be embarrassed. I am the one told I am not being honest in my dialog. I am the one being told I am belligerent. I have not insulted anyone in a thread were I have been repeatedly insulted. I will not apologize at this point for being defensive.

    I was not involved in any of that.  It’s unfair to treat me as some kind of enemy when I’m trying to have an honest conversation with you.  I am not asking for an apology, just the courtesy of being treated as an individual.

    • #126
  7. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    I have made my point already. I want extraordinary proof of powers. Period. That means, minor powers that have almost no effect to detect are not going to do it. Every single counter example given on something I do believe in, has been something big enough to measure easily, and over and over, without controversy.

    This is an ad hoc argument of the sort (discussed by Kuhn) that’s frequently used to dismiss anomalous results in all areas of science where there’s a strong consensus, and when normal- gives way to post-normal science.

    It’s patently unreasonable to demand that an effect has to be of an arbitrary size in order to be acceptable as evidence. There could be any number of counter-examples, but off the top of my head would it be reasonable to demand that the gravitational effect on light be visible to the naked eye? Should I have to bend light around an object of arbitrary mass in a lab? I would add that Eddington’s results were highly controversial at the time, and there are still those who refuse to accept them.

    I would point out that the autoganzfeld experiments are something that meet your test, except for the “controversy” part. i.e., the effect is big enough to measure easily, over and over. Like all startling results in science, there have been controversies, but the experiments have held up remarkably well under repeated attack by a few ardent sceptics.

    It’s not the case that evidence has to be non-controversial in order for it to be good science. Science is not opinion, and controversy is not a method of falsification per se. One doesn’t have to think very hard to come up with dozens of examples (Kuhn cites several) where controversy has raged, but where the results eventually led to big changes in the overall consensus.

    • #127
  8. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Odysseus (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    I have made my point already. I want extraordinary proof of powers. Period. That means, minor powers that have almost no effect to detect are not going to do it. Every single counter example given on something I do believe in, has been something big enough to measure easily, and over and over, without controversy.

    This is an ad hoc argument of the sort (discussed by Kuhn) that’s frequently used to dismiss anomalous results in all areas of science where there’s a strong consensus, and when normal- gives way to post-normal science.

    It’s patently unreasonable to demand that an effect has to be of an arbitrary size in order to be acceptable as evidence. There could be any number of counter-examples, but off the top of my head would it be reasonable to demand that the gravitational effect on light be visible to the naked eye? Should I have to bend light around an object of arbitrary mass in a lab? I would add that Eddington’s results were highly controversial at the time, and there are still those who refuse to accept them.

    I would point out that the autoganzfeld experiments are something that meet your test, except for the “controversy” part. i.e., the effect is big enough to measure easily, over and over. Like all startling results in science, there have been controversies, but the experiments have held up remarkably well under repeated attack by a few ardent sceptics.

    It’s not the case that evidence has to be non-controversial in order for it to be good science. Science is not opinion, and controversy is not a method of falsification per se. One doesn’t have to think very hard to come up with dozens of examples (Kuhn cites several) where controversy has raged, but where the results eventually led to big changes in the overall consensus.

    Great. Get back to me when the overall consensus changes. I will risk being one of the unenlightened who goes with the current model. Not believing in ESP is not going to hurt me one whit.

    • #128
  9. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    I have made my point already. I want extraordinary proof of powers. Period. That means, minor powers that have almost no effect to detect are not going to do it.

    I answered your question:

    I want extraordinary proof of powers. Period. That means, minor powers that have almost no effect to detect are not going to do it.

    And to back up my last comment, if the scientific consensus comes to say the Psi exists, then I can accept that.

    • #129
  10. Mark Wilson Inactive
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    I have made my point already. I want extraordinary proof of powers. Period. That means, minor powers that have almost no effect to detect are not going to do it.

    I answered your question:

    I want extraordinary proof of powers. Period. That means, minor powers that have almost no effect to detect are not going to do it.

    And to back up my last comment, if the scientific consensus comes to say the Psi exists, then I can accept that.

    Somehow your words have been attributed to me in that quotation.  Please consider editing with a correction.

    By the way, I was not complaining that you didn’t answer my question.  I was complaining about the chippy attitude with which you did it.

    • #130
  11. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Great. Get back to me when the overall consensus changes.

    <Google> site:ricochet.com "Bryan G. Stephens" climate change
    
    • #131
  12. Nick H Coolidge
    Nick H
    @NickH

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    It’s patently unreasonable to demand that an effect has to be of an arbitrary size in order to be acceptable as evidence. There could be any number of counter-examples, but off the top of my head would it be reasonable to demand that the gravitational effect on light be visible to the naked eye? Should I have to bend light around an object of arbitrary mass in a lab?

    This is very different than measuring ESP or other paranormal activity. We have a theory and a way to calculate and predict how gravitational lensing works, and that gives us a specific measurement to evaluate. You can’t say the theory is invalid because it doesn’t predict what you want, but you can say it’s invalid if reality doesn’t match what it predicts. We don’t have a theory for Psi that provides for measurable predictions. Therefore I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for clear and convincing proof that it even exists. I’m with @bryangstephens on this one. The evidence presented so far is nowhere near sufficient to convince me and the evidence against the possibility is hard to refute.

    • #132
  13. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    Nick H (View Comment):

    This is very different than measuring ESP or other paranormal activity. We have a theory and a way to calculate and predict how gravitational lensing works, and that gives us a specific measurement to evaluate. You can’t say the theory is invalid because it doesn’t predict what you want, but you can say it’s invalid if reality doesn’t match what it predicts. We don’t have a theory for Psi that provides for measurable predictions. Therefore I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for clear and convincing proof that it even exists. I’m with @bryangstephens on this one. The evidence presented so far is nowhere near sufficient to convince me and the evidence against the possibility is hard to refute.

    I’ll refer you to this comment by anonymous earlier in the thread with respect to the necessity or otherwise of having prior hypotheses in order for something to be considered a real effect. Or how about the Mpemba effect for another weird phenomenon that is difficult to replicate and for which there is no consensus explanation.

    However, I appreciate that what you are saying is more nuanced than that. You’re saying that greater care should be taken when effects seem to stray too far from the normal or explicable. Whilst it’s really satisfying and convincing when we can make a prediction and find it true under experimental conditions, I cannot accept as a principle that when we don’t have a prior explanation we ought to view the effect as less real or less worthy of investigation. This would seem to imply that we know that because we don’t know and can’t explain an effect that it’s less worthy of investigation — when in fact, this is an argument from ignorance, and when the history of science shows precisely the opposite to be true.

    I mentioned Thomas Kuhn previously. He’s really essential reading on this. His thesis, broadly speaking, is that science moves through cycles. It seems settled for a while until anomalous results start to get too many and too difficult to explain, and eventually the old consensus collapses in a “paradigm shift” (though he never used that term). If we start taking less care of investigating anomalies, science proceeds more slowly or not at all.

    Also I’d dispute that the evidence for psi is insufficient, and would urge you to review the literature, if you haven’t already: many assume the evidence is weak because there is a seeming consensus (read “lots of stage magicians”) against it, when in fact there is decades of work that suggests the evidence is really quite strong.

    • #133
  14. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Nick H (View Comment):
    …and the evidence against the possibility is hard to refute.

    What evidence is there against the possibility?

    • #134
  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    I cannot accept as a principle that when we don’t have a prior explanation we ought to view the effect as less real or less worthy of investigation.

    You may not be able to accept it, but that is how humans really work, and it may in fact be reasonable to an extent.

    Let’s take this out of the realm of psi and quantum and into the realm of something much more mundane: quality-of-life-issues whose medical provenance is debatable. Like, for example, a complaint of recurrent pain or discomfort. Doctors and nurses hardly ever tell patients this to their face, but absent an obvious cause, “Patient is a whiner” is a very common diagnosis. And why not? People whine.

    Are people wrong to be skeptical about others’ complaints of discomfort when the complained-of discomfort seems to have no plausible cause? And what is a “cause”? It’s an explanation – a theory for why it’s happening.

    I say, no, people are not wrong to be skeptical. I say this despite the damage this skepticism ended up doing to my own life. Life is full of trade-offs, and yeah, if we don’t want a “snowflake society” where every least little complaint is treated as serious whether it is or not and then gets medicalized up the wazoo, people like me are occasionally gonna pay for it. (Heck, even now that I have an explanation that finally seems to “fit”, I still expect generally well-meaning people to be quite skeptical – it would be the height of naivety for me to expect otherwise.)

    • #135
  16. Nick H Coolidge
    Nick H
    @NickH

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):
    …and the evidence against the possibility is hard to refute.

    What evidence is there against the possibility?

    What Bryan alluded to very early on in the thread. If there really were people with special abilities beyond that of “normal” people then we’d see evidence of them. Las Vegas and all the casinos there exist. If any significant number of people had some type of psi or ESP then there would be no way they could stay in business. Telekinetics would clean out Roulette, Craps, and slot machines. Someone who could predict results for a game of chance would wipe out the house profits on Blackjack and Baccarat. Mind readers would own the poker tables. There’s no incentive for people with these talents to keep them secret, or at least the advantages of not keeping them secret outweigh the disadvantages enough that some people would be using their talents openly. Either these abilities don’t exist, are so insignificant that they might as well not exist, or are not subject to conscious control which makes them essentially useless.

    • #136
  17. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    I cannot accept as a principle that when we don’t have a prior explanation we ought to view the effect as less real or less worthy of investigation.

    You may not be able to accept it, but that is how humans really work, and it may in fact be reasonable to an extent.

    I’ve snipped your post, but I accept what you’re saying, that human beings’ real attitudes (and limited resources) mean that it wouldn’t be reasonable to investigate certain patient reports, etc. And this is exactly what happens with psi: the field gets an absolutely miniscule level of funding and is a career-killer because of the level of opprobrium surrounding it, though it does sometimes get attention when people who have credibility for prior work move into psi and post big results (Daryl Bem is a recent example).

    So it’s just a matter of plugging away at it, posting the results and hoping that eventually enough people will stop being dogmatic about it and actually look at the evidence seriously.

    Incidentally, a really good example of this is the Sheldrake-Wolpert debate on telepathy. An accurate summary is given by Sheldrake:

    Prof Wolpert claimed that telepathy did not exist. He provided no evidence for this opinion. He just kept repeating it, implying that those who disagreed with him must have something wrong with them. When I summarised evidence for telepathy from thousands of scientific tests and showed a video of recent experiments he looked away from the screen. He did not want to know.

    This is precisely the reaction that proponents of psi get all the time. The “sceptics” tend in the main not to know the evidence, and often refuse even to look at it, sometimes getting angry too.

    My point is that, whilst it does happen, I don’t think this is science.

    • #137
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Nick H (View Comment):
    Either these abilities don’t exist, are so insignificant that they might as well not exist, or are not subject to conscious control which makes them essentially useless.

    I think we have had some people in the thread more or less arguing the latter – the abilities may simply not be very useful, in part because of the difficulty of controlling them consciously. (Although other insights not under direct conscious control, such a those that go into problem-solving and creative work, can be useful though still not break-the-bank useful).

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):
    …and the evidence against the possibility is hard to refute.

    What evidence is there against the possibility?

    Interestingly enough, the replication crisis in research that relies much more heavily on statistical studies than it does developing a theoretical framework may be part of the evidence against psi. Snipping here from something that’s a bit tongue-and-cheek, but makes a real point:

    My friend then unleashed an amazing theory: that Bem really really doesn’t believe these ESP claims, that he did this whole project with a straight face to demonstrate problems with our current system of statistical/scientific research and publishing. Never breaking character, Bem will take this secret to his grave.

    I don’t know, but my friend is the one who knows Bem, and that’s what he tells me.

    • #138
  19. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    Nick H (View Comment):
    […] If there really were people with special abilities beyond that of “normal” people then we’d see evidence of them. Las Vegas and all the casinos there exist. […] Either these abilities don’t exist, are so insignificant that they might as well not exist, or are not subject to conscious control which makes them essentially useless.

    I can understand where you’re coming from, but this would imply a test for psi that is much more stringent than the lab effect sizes would suggest is really possible, at least over any period of time. One thing that comes out of experiments is that the subjects do well in the short term, but the “hit rate” falls off as they get tired, and also that low-stress environments (or even sensory deprivation) are necessary to bring out psi.

    However, as to the general point about psi apparently not being visible or useful in the real world, there are a number of everyday examples to suggest otherwise, some of which have been the subject of study. This is a particular interest of Rupert Sheldrake (see his books), but in the interests of brevity I’ll just give a brief précis of the ones that come to mind.

    1. People frequently report that their dogs (and to a lesser extent cats) somehow seem to know when their owners are coming home. This was demonstrated by Sheldrake in a series of experiments (which accounted for obvious things like the sound of the car engine, predictable return times, etc.).
    2. Cats that know when their owner wants to take them to the vet and who run and hide. Sheldrake did a survey of vets and found this is an universally recognised phenomenon. He tells a good anecdote about his survey results but it’d take too long to find.
    3. Mothers and their babies. (This could be very useful.)
    4. Women in African tribes that seem to know when the men’s hunt has been successful and who prepare to cook the meat in anticipation.
    5. “Telephone telepathy”. Lots of people report (and it’s been the subject of several experiments) that people who have a close bond (e.g., family, lovers, etc.) “know” when that person is calling them before they pick up the telephone.
    6. “Phantasms of the Living”. There are the huge numbers of reports from people who have had visions/dreams of loved ones who’ve died in a faraway place, usually at the exact time they died, and often revealing information about how they died.

    The point I’m making is not that these have been finally proven scientifically, rather that there is evidence that, in ordinary life, psi is observable. You can argue about how useful these apparent effects are (I’d argue they are useful in that people/animals can take actions based on them), but these are real world examples that could be investigated further. (Perhaps I should have raised all this earlier in the thread.)

    • #139
  20. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Nick H (View Comment):
    What Bryan alluded to very early on in the thread. If there really were people with special abilities beyond that of “normal” people then we’d see evidence of them. Las Vegas and all the casinos there exist. If any significant number of people had some type of psi or ESP then there would be no way they could stay in business. Telekinetics would clean out Roulette, Craps, and slot machines. Someone who could predict results for a game of chance would wipe out the house profits on Blackjack and Baccarat. Mind readers would own the poker tables. There’s no incentive for people with these talents to keep them secret, or at least the advantages of NOT keeping them secret outweigh the disadvantages enough that some people would be using their talents openly. Either these abilities don’t exist, are so insignificant that they might as well not exist, or are not subject to conscious control which makes them essentially useless.

    Whoever came up with this theory initially and those who have propounded it have obviously never had psychic experiences of their own or been close to those who have. This would be very true if the psychic powers were under control and much, much stronger than they are. Generally speaking, psychic events are not like what you see on TV. They are sporadic, even for those who have “trained” themselves to use and pay attention to what they have. Likewise, any PK that is real, is probably negligible unless under extraordinary circumstances. Now, I can point you to plenty of videos on Youtube with the levels of PK you’re looking for, but guess how verifiable they are?

    I do know a psychic, a medical intuitive, who was studied by doctors. (I am not sure if they ever published the results of their research, but stories I have heard are interesting.) She is a very extraordinary case, and part of the reason I suspect that the phenomena are soul-related rather than body/genetics related. But even she is not perfect. She can’t always tune in, or whatever it takes.

    Maybe some day, we’ll figure it all out and people will be able to take advantage of psychic powers in the way you envision (or as I write in my books), but that day is not yet, and won’t get here without people making serious studies and coming up with theories of how it all works.

    One thing I will tell you: it ain’t midichlorians.

    • #140
  21. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    “Telephone telepathy”. Lots of people report (and it’s been the subject of several experiments) that people who have a close bond (e.g., family, lovers, etc.) “know” when that person is calling them before they pick up the telephone.

    I have long joked that my family had caller ID before it was invented.

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    “Phantasms of the Living”. There are the huge numbers of reports from people who have had visions/dreams of loved ones who’ve died in a faraway place, usually at the exact time they died, and often revealing information about how they died.

    Well, it was neither a vision nor a dream, but I could feel that he was laughing at me, since he went and died and came to visit while I was doing the dishes.

    Again, though, the abilities are not that marketable.

    • #141
  22. Odysseus Inactive
    Odysseus
    @Odysseus

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Again, though, the abilities are not that marketable.

    Yes, and I don’t think they can really be separated from “spirituality”. It might sound ridiculous to some that a person might actually prevent themselves (consciously or subconsciously) from using it to win money at a casino, but given how strange psi apparently is, can we assume it’s morally neutral and that one can use such abilities for arbitrary and/or impersonal ends?

    • #142
  23. Nick H Coolidge
    Nick H
    @NickH

    Odysseus (View Comment):

    • People frequently report that their dogs (and to a lesser extent cats) somehow seem to know when their owners are coming home. This was demonstrated by Sheldrake in a series of experiments (which accounted for obvious things like the sound of the car engine, predictable return times, etc.).
    • Cats that know when their owner wants to take them to the vet and who run and hide. Sheldrake did a survey of vets and found this is an universally recognised phenomenon. He tells a good anecdote about his survey results but it’d take too long to find.

    Oh these are easily explainable. Dogs have a special connection to the Almighty, and that’s what gives them the special abilities needed to function as man’s best friend. Cats also have an otherworldly connection, but it ain’t heavenly.

    • #143
  24. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    It might sound ridiculous to some that a person might actually prevent themselves (consciously or subconsciously) from using it to win money at a casino, but given how strange psi apparently is, can we assume it’s morally neutral and that one can use such abilities for arbitrary and/or impersonal ends?

    It’s certainly not the way I was taught.

    • #144
  25. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Nick H (View Comment):
    Cats also have an otherworldly connection, but it ain’t heavenly.

    Hey, now!

    • #145
  26. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Odysseus (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Great. Get back to me when the overall consensus changes.

    <Google> site:ricochet.com "Bryan G. Stephens" climate change

    I choose not to believe in climate change because:

    • It is clear the data is rigged, much like almost all ESP studies have been
    • There are more scientists saying the data is not clear for anthropomorphic climate change than there are saying there is ESP
    • There is a huge funding advantage for supporting climate change, there is no such advantage for not supporting ESP

    I might add, I’d love for ESP to be real. I mean, I would love it. It would be so cool.

    • #146
  27. Nick H Coolidge
    Nick H
    @NickH

    anonymous (View Comment):
    The general consensus among astronomers is that dark matter and dark energy exist, even through we have no idea what they may be and can’t directly observe them, while only a relatively small community of people, not exactly on the fringe but somewhere near it, suggest that our theory of gravitation breaks down at very large scales, and that what we’re seeing is the failure of a theory which hasn’t been tested at scales larger than the solar system when we try to apply it to galaxies and the universe as a whole.

    The latest gravity wave event of merging neutron stars provided some very strong evidence that the current theory of gravitation is not breaking down outside the solar system. I will admit that I found this theory somewhat compelling in the past, but the LIGO results combined with the visual observation of the event essentially rule out the possibility. I’m not yet 100% convinced that dark matter exists, but I’m reluctantly leaning that way.

    • #147
  28. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    “Telephone telepathy”. Lots of people report (and it’s been the subject of several experiments) that people who have a close bond (e.g., family, lovers, etc.) “know” when that person is calling them before they pick up the telephone.

    I have long joked that my family had caller ID before it was invented.

    Odysseus (View Comment):
    “Phantasms of the Living”. There are the huge numbers of reports from people who have had visions/dreams of loved ones who’ve died in a faraway place, usually at the exact time they died, and often revealing information about how they died.

    Well, it was neither a vision nor a dream, but I could feel that he was laughing at me, since he went and died and came to visit while I was doing the dishes.

    Again, though, the abilities are not that marketable.

    No does that sound like anything other than selection bias. People remember what stands out.

    • #148
  29. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):
    What Bryan alluded to very early on in the thread. If there really were people with special abilities beyond that of “normal” people then we’d see evidence of them. Las Vegas and all the casinos there exist. If any significant number of people had some type of psi or ESP then there would be no way they could stay in business. Telekinetics would clean out Roulette, Craps, and slot machines. Someone who could predict results for a game of chance would wipe out the house profits on Blackjack and Baccarat. Mind readers would own the poker tables. There’s no incentive for people with these talents to keep them secret, or at least the advantages of NOT keeping them secret outweigh the disadvantages enough that some people would be using their talents openly. Either these abilities don’t exist, are so insignificant that they might as well not exist, or are not subject to conscious control which makes them essentially useless.

    Whoever came up with this theory initially and those who have propounded it have obviously never had psychic experiences of their own or been close to those who have. This would be very true if the psychic powers were under control and much, much stronger than they are. Generally speaking, psychic events are not like what you see on TV. They are sporadic, even for those who have “trained” themselves to use and pay attention to what they have. Likewise, any PK that is real, is probably negligible unless under extraordinary circumstances. Now, I can point you to plenty of videos on Youtube with the levels of PK you’re looking for, but guess how verifiable they are?

    I do know a psychic, a medical intuitive, who was studied by doctors. (I am not sure if they ever published the results of their research, but stories I have heard are interesting.) She is a very extraordinary case, and part of the reason I suspect that the phenomena are soul-related rather than body/genetics related. But even she is not perfect. She can’t always tune in, or whatever it takes.

    Maybe some day, we’ll figure it all out and people will be able to take advantage of psychic powers in the way you envision (or as I write in my books), but that day is not yet, and won’t get here without people making serious studies and coming up with theories of how it all works.

    One thing I will tell you: it ain’t midichlorians.

    None of that is proof. It all is slight enough that it seems more likely, to me, to be poor memory, and making connections in error. In short, if what is described sounds no different from events I know are memory errors, I am going to go with the more prosaic explanation and say it all is that way.

    Now, I know that is tantamount to calling someone who has had these things happen to them deluded, and I am not doing that. They have not happened to me, and therefore I don’t believe in them.

    • #149
  30. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I have made my point already. I want extraordinary proof of powers. Period. That means, minor powers that have almost no effect to detect are not going to do it.

    I answered your question:

    I want extraordinary proof of powers. Period. That means, minor powers that have almost no effect to detect are not going to do it.

    And to back up my last comment, if the scientific consensus comes to say the Psi exists, then I can accept that.

    Somehow your words have been attributed to me in that quotation. Please consider editing with a correction.

    By the way, I was not complaining that you didn’t answer my question. I was complaining about the chippy attitude with which you did it.

    I apologize for being chippy.

    • #150
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