I just had a moderately lengthy exchange in the comments section of an old article from a year and a half ago that I thought would make a great post on its own. The conversation concerned Psi research or alleged psychic phenomena and spanned two comments from someone calling themselves “Dusty” with my comments after each one. The first comment is short enough for me to just print my full response after it, but for the sake of easy readability, I will intersperse my responses to specific passages in the second comment immediately after those passages in [brackets] and in BOLD.
Here’s the first comment:
The James Randi Foundation is a complete joke. There are some areas I’m skeptical in when it comes to metaphysics, but I would never have a professional trickster such as James Randi develop tests and determine in his mind whether or not my ability is valid or not… See Chris Carter’s book “Parapsychology and the Skeptics”. It will open your eyes when it comes to the not so great James Randi, and it will also explain how skeptics have an answer for everything…The book will give MANY examples of how PSI has been proven and yet ignored by the skeptics, even when the tests worked in favor of PSI… It’s basically the book that skeptics were hoping was never written…..
James Randi does not develop the tests used for the challenge. Both parties agree on a reasonable protocol. And Randi himself is usually not even directly involved. Also, the tests are conducted in a scientific fashion that require measurable outcomes, so it’s not a matter of whether you can convince someone but whether the tester performs the measurable outcome they agreed they could achieve. For instance, if an alleged dowser claims they can find water 80% of the time, they conduct a test where they must score 80% or higher. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter what James Randi or anyone else thinks. When you agree to the do the challenge, the JREF enters into a legally binding contract with you that requires them to pay if you indeed do what you claim you can do. If they refuse, you can sue them. Of course that problem hasn’t come up yet. The typical response is applicants simply making up excuses after the fact to explain away why they failed. And then they can choose to reapply after one year (they never do). So if these are the accusations by Mr. Carter in his book, he is not only misrepresenting the facts but is potentially committing libel.
You also seem to completely fail to understand what skepticism is, as evidenced from your “It’s basically the book that skeptics were hoping was never written” remark. My goal as a skeptic is not to deny aspects of reality I might not like; on the contrary, my goal as a skeptic is to align my beliefs as closely with how the world really works as possible. If psychic powers really existed, I’d be thrilled…as would any scientist. It would open up a whole new area of science to be explored and could effect major positive change to the world. We could close down the CIA and the NSA while replacing all our intelligence agents with psychics who could determine when and where a terrorist attack was going to take place in advance. The TSA could dispose of all these metal detectors, x-ray scanners, and pat-downs and hire psychics instead to smoke out anyone planning to blow up or hijack a plane. There is no shortage of valuable roles psychics could play to make our world a better place. And I for one would welcome that if there was any compelling evidence for it. Unfortunately however, there is not and the alleged studies that believers put forward as proof of this phenomena are horribly not compelling to the scientific community, nor to science-informed skeptics.
Now I don’t have a million dollars to give away but if you think you can prove psychic powers exist under proper scientific controls, I would happily offer $10,000 as the discovery would make me rich, get me a Nobel Prize, and secure me immortality in the history books. Honestly though, if you think you can prove it, I don’t know why you haven’t presented your findings to the scientific peer review to make yourself rich and famous.
Now onto comment two, which presumably meant Dusty read my answer above but then again, maybe not:
The thing is that in my opinion, James Randi will NEVER part with that million dollars. [Well that’s the real trick, isn’t it. It’s not that you have proof the test is unfair; it’s that its your speculation that the test is not fair because you don’t want to believe that it’s fair and simply hasn’t reinforced your bias. Not my problem. Again, if you can prove it’s rigged, sue the organization. Have at it and put your money where your mouth is. Otherwise, I don’t appreciate my blog being used to spread libelous rumors.]. He’s got his reputation at stake. He’s known as the debunker that has never been proven otherwise. Do you really think honestly that he wants to lose that title? Because if people think that, then they are naive and just kidding themselves. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. What would happen to his book sales if all of the sudden someone passed the test?? and yes, I’ve read his books, although it’s been awhile since I’ve read “Flim Flam” [Now I’ve already explained to you that how the test works and how it does not conform to the straw man you’ve concocted. It doesn’t matter whether Randi or anyone else wants the applicant to be successful or not; all that matters is that they can actually do what they say they can do. This is like a kid claiming that he failed his Social Studies test because the teacher doesn’t like him when anyone is free to look at the test themselves and see with their own eyes that the kid’s answers do not match the correct answers.]
[But just for kicks, let’s play this little hypothetical game of yours since you prefer it to the cold hard facts of the matter. You honestly think a Nobel Prize and going down in the history books for being the first to scientifically prove psychic phenomena would be a blight on Randi’s reputation? Seriously? Do you also not think there’d be a huge financial incentive for the world’s most famous psychic critic to publish a new book reversing his position on the subject? Hell, given Randi’s expertise as a mentalist, he could make a huge living by pretending to be psychic himself if he wanted. Though at the age of 82, I doubt money makes much of an incentive.]
Regarding that book I mentioned, Chris backs up everthing he says in that book with footnotes and resources to check out yourself. However, He only talks about Randi for about 2 pages, as he tries to cover alot. [Now I haven’t read this book you refer to but again, if he has evidence of fraud, he can sue Randi and the organization. Otherwise, its just speculation and conjecture, which I find no more compelling than your speculation and conjecture.] Most of the rest of the book is giving excellent examples and graphs of documented PSI studies etc, and how even those that were impressive were ignored…. [Now I don’t know which studies this author refers to but I have looked at numerous studies that have been championed by psychic enthusiasts over the years and found them horribly lacking. And if you have a specific study in mind, I’d be happy to research it, though I’m not a qualified scientist in a field that would make me an appropriate choice for peer-review. I do have to say though that given that no psi studies have seemed to survive the scrutiny of the peer-review process, my expectations are not very high.]
In my oppinion, if someone presents a real threat of winning that 1 million dollars, then Randi will just move the goal posts further away.. [Now again, you keep asserting your opinion about a test you clearly have not researched. As I’ve already explained, the conditions for the test are worked out and MUST BE APPROVED BY BOTH PARTIES prior to the challenge for the express purpose of avoiding trickery and the moving of the goalpost on either side. The challenge needs to be arranged to ensure the applicant cannot cheat or reasonably accuse the organization of cheating, or else it defeats the whole point of the challenge in the first place.] I just wouldn’t trust James Randi as far as I could throw him, and I don’t think I’m alone there either. . Randy is the ultimate judge and jury as far as whether or not someone will get that million dollars…[The challenge is arranged as to make it near impossible for an applicant to cheat while making it super easy for an applicant who can actually just do what they claim they can do. For instance, if you claim you can fly, the test might involve the applicant jumping out of a 30-story window. Then they either fly or they don’t, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER RANDI OR ANYONE ELSE WANTS TO BELIEVE IT OR NOT. They make a legal contract to which the organization is legally obligated to obey. So it doesn’t matter if you trust Randi or not. He’s got the U.S. legal system behind him. If you think you can prove the challenge is not legitimate, sue him already. I, like the legal system, respond to evidence, not flimsy excuses like “my dog ate my homework.”]
Here’s the bottom line as far as I’m concerned. When you are dealing with something so subtle as PSI, you are dealing with very sublte energies, so new protocols need to be developed that allows for that. [As for the agreed upon protocols, as I said before, the test is always tailored to the specific claimant. If they say they can dowse for water 80% of the time, they have to at least get 80%. That’s all hammered out prior to the challenge in a legally binding written contract. But if someone’s going to show up and claim they can dowse for water with a degree of accuracy not much higher than chance alone, that is not a legitimate claim of psi. I’m sorry that this whole psychic power thing has failed so miserably that its been downplayed to the point where its now “subtle” but again, not my problem. But if the goalpost has been moved to the point where the bar is so low as to be indistinguishable from chance, then honestly why even waste time on it as it clearly would have no practical application anyway?]
Let me ask you this, what if PSI exists, BUT it behaves in very unpredictable ways? [Science deals in falsifiable claims. If something is by nature unfalsifiable or “unpredictable”, then what knowledge of our universe does it give us and what practical application does it serve to waste our time on it? And more to the point, if its not measurable, why not just say it’s a religion and call it a day?]
That’s why Quantum Physics is mentioned so much when it comes to metaphysics, becauase Quantum Physics is whacky and crazy and nobody completely understands it, expecially when it comes to studies such as the double slit experiment and the importance of the observer… So Quantum Physics is mentioned quite a bit when it comes to PSI, because it’s possible that Quantum Physics allows for the existence of PSI more than Classical Physics would, due to it’s strange and whacky behavior. [Quantum Physics is quite different. While there is much for us to still learn about the field and while we understand that there is currently some element of unpredictability to it, it still provides measurable outcomes that have practical applications. It’s falsifiable. And if there’s one thing quantum physics is not, it’s subtle. Now regarding the double slit experiment, it’s not the observer that influences quantum particles but our process of observation. This is an important distinction that people, particularly misguided individuals trying to co-opt real science to justify their pseudosciences, often don’t acknowledge.]
There are too many that think that PSI doesn’t exist because it can’t be reproduced “ON DEMAND” in a lab setting. [Nobody is asking for psi to be produced “ON DEMAND in a lab”, only that it be it can be repeatedly shown to make testable, falsifiable predictions under proper scientific controls, the same exact standard that every currently held scientific conclusion has been held to.] Well, what if PSI doesn’t lend itself to be tested that way? [then what way can it be repeatedly tested that controls for perceptual biases and any other unrelated noise?] What if it happens more randomally and is dependent upon certain conditions that we just don’t understand yet?? [Well then I guess the same thing that happens when your dog really does eat your homework. We say too fucking bad and cry me a river. I, my fellow skeptics, and numerous scientists have bent over backwards trying to develop a reasonable protocol to test this hypothesis that many insist on believing in despite its unproven nature. But where we draw the line is unreasonable, poorly designed tests that aren’t entered into on good faith and which stack the deck unfairly in favor of reinforcing the bias of those who just want to believe no matter what. That’s not how science works.] As an example there’s an excellent book written by physicist Tom Campbell called “My BIG TOE’ that has a chapter covering something called “The PSI Uncertainy Principle” explaining why PSI may not be testible on demand etc…
So why doesn’t the skeptics concentrate more of their energies on focusing on perhaps developing new ways of testing PSI….Just because it’s not often testable on demand does not mean that it doesn’t exist…
On a personal level I know that PSI exists because I’ve seen it happen far too many times in my life to outweigh coincidence … For me, it seems to happen in waves….I don’t want to get into that though because it’s personal, and I’m not out to prove my own belief to anyone, as I know it’s anecdotal. I just smile when it happens . [Either develop a specific hypothesis that accounts for this unpredictable phenomena you already “know exists” on faith and fallacious logic or you’re done. That’s it. Science can only go so far to accommodate unfalsifiable, faith-based claims. I for one am growing sick and tired of all the excuses.]
Regarding your comment about how science would be thrilled etc about PSI, MAYBE… Without science understanding how to even explain or test it (see what I wrote above), I don’t think they would ever make the claim that it exists in the short-term..
I do honestly believe though that in time(might be a few decades from now), new protocolls will be developed and an understanding of PSI and Intention will allow for more accepted protocolls. Thus, I do think PSI will be proven eventually, but who knows how long that will take.
(excuse my spelling errors above)…
Sometimes I don’t know why I even bother.