An Honest Liar: The James Randi Story

February 23, 2012

Yup, unfortunately I”m still taking a break from the blog. I actually did write a lengthy piece a few weeks ago but WordPress accidentally erased it all, which was super discouraging. Anywho, I’ve been business with a lot of other projects and haven’t really been in the frame of mind to get back to blogging about skeptical issues. But I do plan to return at some point in the near future.

But in the meantime, here’s a trailer to an upcoming documentary about James Randi:

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News From Around The Blogosphere 10.27.11

October 27, 2011

1. Skeptical zombies ignored by James Van Praagh – In possibly the best PR stunt the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has ever come up with, their president, DJ Grothe led an army of zombies on a mission to get self-proclaimed “psychic” James Van Praagh to finally take the JREF’s Million Dollar Psychic Challenge. Not surprisingly, Praagh’s goons kept the zombies from meeting with him but of course that doesn’t matter as this story is getting a lot of press.

2. Church’s bogus AIDS cure causes 3 deaths – Though this is an isolated incident, this is precisely the kind of tragedy that can be expected in a culture that demands unquestioned belief and condemns skepticism.

3. 60 Minutes pisses off anti-vaxxers – As part of their Steve Jobs-centered episode this week, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the remarkable benefits that iPads and other tablet devices have demonstrated for people with autism. And somehow by simply highlighting an important, practical tool in helping autistic people communicate, they’ve pissed off Age of Autism. And bravo to Age of Autism’s commenters for declaring war on Temple Grandin of all people. That takes serious balls. Maybe their next target will be blind nuns, adorable puppies, and AIDS-infected orphans. I’m just shocked Age of Autism didn’t rant about the fact that Pfizer is a major sponsor of the show.

4. ‘Sybil’ admits she never really had multiple personalities – The most famous alleged case of multiple personality syndrome, or what’s now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder was based on lies and manipulations.

5. Atheists doing volunteer work – This is something I want to see more of in atheist groups. This is one of the ways we’ll change people’s negative stereotypes about atheists.

 

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Psychic Sally exposed as a fraud

October 12, 2011

BUSTED!

Back in the 80’s, James Randi exposed “faith healer” Peter Popoff as a charlatan on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It seemed that Popoff was being fed information about his audience by his wife through an earpiece. When Randi and company found the right frequency, they managed to record Popoff’s wife feeding her husband everything he needed to know to appear as though “God” was directing him to the specific person he was to “heal.”

The earpiece has been a common tactic for those pseudo-psychic mentalists who are just too lazy to cold read and just want to have everything they need to know spoon-fed to them. Now  one such lazy “psychic” is Psychic Sally Morgan, who is clearly spotted in HER OWN VIDEO removing a hidden earpiece at the end of her act.

Of course, coward that she is, she’s actually threatening her accusers with legal action. I for one hope she does. It will be very entertaining listening to her try to prove her magic powers in court…which of course she would have to do in a defamation suit because, among other requirements, defamation cases demand that the defendants’ accusations are actually false. She’d also have to prove the defendants knowingly lied. Good luck with that, Sally. It doesn’t take a psychic to figure out that her threats of legal action are empty and that, if carried out, would only end in embarrassing defeat for her.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 8.21.11

August 22, 2011

1. Bionic leg gives amputee natural gait – Once again, science achieves where gods have failed, creating a practical prosthetic leg that closely simulates the function of a biological one. Now unfortunately, the article was unclear whether the leg comes with a Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman sound effect option.

2. A pro-science GOP candidate? – Republican presidential candidate John Huntsman has come out in support of both evolution and climate change. It began with a Twitter post where they tweeted: ”To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming.  Call me crazy.”  He then went on ABC’s Sunday morning show This Week and came out even stronger in support of science. And in doing so, he’s proven to be the only GOP candidate who seems to have graduated from elementary school and has immediately moved up to the top of my list of who I’d like to see running in the general election against Obama…at least out of the options that are currently on the table…which admittedly doesn’t say much.

I'm pretty sure this is the right Rhett S. Daniels

3. Science blogger silenced by quack’s lawsuit – Fortunately, U.S. libel cases are notoriously hard to prove and Rhett Daniels doesn’t seem to have anything even resembling a good case. But at least for the time being, René Najera has been successfully silenced by this intellectual coward’s bullying tactic.

4. Can science engineer a human with bulletproof skin?

By mixing the genomes of spiders and humans, researchers say they can create genetically altered human skin that could withstand a bullet fired from a .22-caliber long rifle.

They just better make sure this spider-man is taught that with great power comes great responsibility. This story sounds pretty far-fetched but it still makes for an interesting read.

5. JREF targets famous ‘psychics’ following Nightline episode – Last week’s episode of Nightline looked at the world of alleged psychics. It did a pretty decent job of representing the skeptical side, featuring guys like Banachek and James Randi himself voicing their criticisms and mimicking standard mentalist tricks. And now the James Randi Educational Foundation is following up the piece by issuing personal invites for several of the famous psychics featured in the show such as James Van Praagh to apply for their Million Dollar Challenge. Of course, one doesn’t have to be psychic to predict they’ll either ignore the challenge or refuse to take it with a silly excuse.

6. Psychic family caught in fraud case:

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Julia Galef on The Ethics of Paranormal Investigation

August 17, 2011

My friend, Julia Galef, recently moderated a panel at The Amazing Meeting 9 on the topic of The Ethics of Paranormal Investigation. Since then, she has put up on Measure of Doubt, the blog she shares with her brother, these two videos discussing her own further thoughts on the subject:

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‘Faith Healer’ Peter Popoff caught on camera…again

June 10, 2011

Many years ago, James Randi exposed the disturbing truth about Peter Popoff on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, that Popoff was the worst kind of fraud, one who preys on desperate people’s most sacred beliefs while giving them false hope of miracle cures to their often uncurable diseases:

After being exposed, Popoff disappeared for a while, only to return years later peddling the same old sham faith healing.

But now agents from the Center For Inquiry have infiltrated Popoff’s show with recording equipment that captured Popoff shamelessly up to his old disgusting tricks as well as them giving out tracts exposing Popoff’s trickery to audience members on their way out:

 

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Insane Troll Logic 5.15.11

May 15, 2011

More fun trolls invade my most unpopular article about Quantum Jumping:

Troll 1

micksays:

do you still believe that Randi is going to give $1 million to those who prove their abilities??Its all a publicity stunt to feed his ego and a tool to attack his perceived enemies. Since he controls the test, he can always prevent a winner.
www psipog.net/art-beware-pseudo-skepticism html

Once an appropriate protocol is agreed upon by both parties, both parties sign a legally binding document. So should the applicant satisfy their end of the contract, the foundation is legally required to give them the money. Therefore, your publicity stunt excuse doesn’t hold much water. And as I just explained–and is quite clearly laid out on the challenge’s webpage, he (nor the foundation) in fact do not control the test as both parties must consent to the protocol before proceeding. But even if you suspected it was rigged, that hardly would seem like a sufficient criteria to not bother trying given that a million dollars is on the table. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

Troll 2

Steve Pavlinasays:

From my viewpoint a skeptic is someone whose awareness is too constricted to have psychic experiences, just as some people’s color-deficient eyes are too limited to detect purple. In general I think skeptics are too fearful of what would become of their lives if they started having psychic experiences, so they tune them out like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

And about that million dollar challenge,It’s an experience, not a test. Of course if you’re coming from an objective reality mindset, then for you it is a test, but that mindset will only corrupt your results on the experiential side. If I were starting the MDE today, I would name it the Million Dollar Experience instead. My personal intention for the MDE isn’t to test whether or not I can manifest a million dollars. My intention is to experience the unfolding manifestation. Why? Because it’s a fun, rewarding, and enriching experience.

Ultimately skepticism is rooted in fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of being gullible. Fear of living foolishly. From a subjective reality standpoint, skepticism is a mental adaptation that occurs after you’ve made the choice to live in a fear-based objective universe. Once you’ve objectified your universe, skepticism is the next step.

Unfortunately, testing for subjectivity is an oxymoron. You can’t actually test for a subjective universe. The whole idea of testing implies doubt, and doubt will corrupt the test if the universe really is subjective.

If our beliefs are just a self-fulfilling prophecy, then the prophecy of skepticism is a lame one to fulfill. All you manifest is evidence that causes you to continue doubting. It would be hard to manifest a more boring reality than that.

Once objectivity has been chosen, a skeptic will regard a non-skeptic as reckless, foolhardy, gullible, or misguided. From the emails I’ve received, I can see it really bothers some skeptics that I don’t believe in an objective universe, yet I’m still able to function just fine in the world (probably better than most skeptics in fact). I would think that if I believed in a subjective universe, and the universe was really objective, then my ability to function should decrease. But from any measurable standpoint, the opposite occurred when I adopted a subjective mindset.

As I previously noted though, if you take skepticism far enough, it eventually leads you to question the nature of reality, and that’s where it finally self-destructs. Most skeptics don’t go nearly this far, however.

If we live in a subjective reality, then you’re free to manifest whatever the heck you want. If you spend a lot of time observing external reality, then you’re intending continuity. You’ll simply manifest more of the same. However, if you imagine something totally different, then you’ll manifest a discontinuity now and then. Your experience of reality will twist and turn in exciting new ways.

A skeptic is concerned about the probabilities of success vs. failure in any endeavor. For example, before a skeptic starts his/her own business, lots of questions must be answered to alleviate fear and doubt. How well are other people doing in this industry? Do I have enough money? How will I support myself? What if it doesn’t work? Am I good enough? What are my chances of success?

A non-skeptic doesn’t see life this way at all. If such a person were to start his/her own business, it would be with an experiential attitude. There wouldn’t be so much attachment to specific outcomes. When I started my personal development business, I didn’t ask all these skeptical questions because I wasn’t thinking in terms of success vs. failure. I just wanted to experience its unfolding. It made no difference what level of success others were having. I was simply going to dive in and experience it in my own unique way. With such an attitude, there’s no success or failure. There’s only the unfolding experience.

When you seek to experience life instead of doubting and fearing it, joy becomes your natural state of being. It doesn’t matter what outcome you get because your attitude is always, “What a fascinating experience!”

“From my viewpoint a skeptic is someone whose awareness is too constricted to have psychic experiences, just as some people’s color-deficient eyes are too limited to detect purple.”

And from my viewpoint, that’s a very, very convenient excuse to try to dodge one’s burden of proof for a rather extraordinary claim. If you can’t provide a good reason for someone to believe in something, then why expect them to believe it? Or perhaps more importantly, why believe it yourself? Your color blind analogy doesn’t hold any water because of course that is a sufficiently provable physical phenomenon. Science doesn’t just take people’s word for it; we understand its actual physiological causes.

“In general I think skeptics are too fearful of what would become of their lives if they started having psychic experiences, so they tune them out like an ostrich with its head in the sand.”

I’m sorry you can’t fathom any other possibility for why people might disagree with you other than it must be their own biases even though you refuse to provide sufficient evidence for your beliefs. Just because you have no standard of evidence beyond appealing to the mere popularity of a belief and anecdotes, that doesn’t mean that should be persuasive to anyone else. I think you’re highly underestimating the flaws in human perception. I recommend reading some psychology books on the subject of perception. I think you’d be shocked to learn how distorted people’s memories can be of even a very recent experience.

“And about that million dollar challenge,It’s an experience, not a test.”

No, it’s a test. Both parties consent to a fair and appropriate, quantifiable protocol, and then the person either does what they say they can do or they fail. Pass or fail. It’s that simple. Why people whose claims suggest they could easily win the challenge are so determined to discredit it without even trying it is beyond me. It’s almost like you don’t want the million or are afraid the money will eat you.

“Of course if you’re coming from an objective reality mindset, then for you it is a test, but that mindset will only corrupt your results on the experiential side.”

How’s that exactly? It seems to me that you just refuse to embrace an actual falsifiable position out of your own fears that your beliefs might be proven wrong. As long as it remains unfalsifiable and “mysterious”, you never actually have to have your beliefs challenged. In that case, why not just say the magical powers come from Santa Claus and call it a day?

“Ultimately skepticism is rooted in fear.”
No, it’s quite explicitly rooted in scientific methodology, reason, and the honest pursuit of truth. It’s just that those who’d rather just believe in magic because they find it comforting wish to project their own insecurities onto those who have the audacity to tell them to put their money where their mouth is or, to borrow another cliche, to put up or shut up.

“Fear of making a mistake.”
LOL. On the contrary, I have little trouble admitting to being wrong. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. For instance, I once believed in psychic powers. Then I realized I was wrong to believe in such nonsense as it was not sufficiently proven, and so I admitted I was wrong and changed my mind. Rather, it seems like it’s you who have trouble with admitting even the possibility that you’re wrong. So you make excuses that conveniently place your beliefs beyond that which is falsifiable and then shift the burden of proof. I’m not saying I absolutely know there are no psychic powers; all I’m saying is I’ve not been sufficiently convinced that there are while you’re too cowardly to even begin to make an honest case.

“Fear of being gullible. Fear of living foolishly. ”
Nope, but I can say with some degree of confidence that this never crosses your mind. You seem to have no problem with being gullible and living foolishly.

“From a subjective reality standpoint, skepticism is a mental adaptation that occurs after you’ve made the choice to live in a fear-based objective universe.”

From objective reality, skepticism is methodological naturalism plus logical inference. You’re really are fixated on this whole fear thing, aren’t you? I’d ask you to explain how you arrived at this notion but you obviously don’t feel you need to base your beliefs on good reasons (or any reasons), so what’s the point?

“Once you’ve objectified your universe, skepticism is the next step.”
Reality is not a subjective opinion, but if you disagree, feel free to hop out the nearest 30-story window and prove me wrong.

“Unfortunately, testing for subjectivity is an oxymoron. You can’t actually test for a subjective universe. ”
No, it’s just testing a moron. So are you claiming psychic powers are literally real or just someone’s baseless, subjective opinion? Which is it? You can’t have it both ways. Or is it that you just don’t understand what the word subject means?

“The whole idea of testing implies doubt”
[facepalm] Let me ask you a question. Suppose you’re a math teacher. You need to assess how well your students understand the material. You can’t in any way test their knowledge of the material because that automatically assumes they don’t know the material. So you begin to ask them to just write down the information as they understand it but then you realize that this too is a form of test and implies they don’t know the material. So what method do you use to determine if the students indeed understand the material without any implications that they don’t know it?

“If our beliefs are just a self-fulfilling prophecy, then the prophecy of skepticism is a lame one to fulfill.”
Your beliefs are a self-fulfilling prophecy as you refuse to challenge them; I’m actually trying to test claims to determine what’s true and what isn’t. YOU’RE the one who rejects anything that even hints at less than 100% commitment to your beliefs.

“All you manifest is evidence that causes you to continue doubting.”
Um, I don’t think you know what evidnece means.

“It would be hard to manifest a more boring reality than that.”
I don’t know about that. You’re doing a superb job of boring me.

“Once objectivity has been chosen, a skeptic will regard a non-skeptic as reckless, foolhardy, gullible, or misguided.’
But then again that’s just your subjective opinion about subjective things happening in a subjective universe, so who gives a shit?

“From the emails I’ve received, I can see it really bothers some skeptics that I don’t believe in an objective universe, yet I’m still able to function just fine in the world (probably better than most skeptics in fact).”
No, we just pity you. And the reason you function in the world is that you live your life as if it were objective. As I asked before, why not hop out a 30-story window? If it’s all just subjective, and there are no objective consequences, what’s the difference? Or why not slice open your own eye  with a razor or only enter rooms by walking through walls? Why lock your doors at night? Why look both ways before crossing the street? Why see a doctor when your sick? It’s all just subjective anyway, right? [And feel free to send me your address and a copy of your house key. No objective negative consequences are possible, so why not?]

“As I previously noted though, if you take skepticism far enough, it eventually leads you to question the nature of reality, and that’s where it finally self-destructs. Most skeptics don’t go nearly this far, however.”
There’s no such thing as taking skepticism too far. That’s a Straw Vulcan argument. What you describe is philosophical skepticism. This is a completely different thing as scientific skepticism, which simply means applying methodological naturalism and making logical inferences. If someone “takes it too far”, then their methodology is flawed, which by definition, precludes them from the category of scientific skeptic. It’s like arguing that a person is being too reasonable. There’s simply no such thing.

“If we live in a subjective reality, then you’re free to manifest whatever the heck you want.”
Didn’t work. You’re still here.

“A skeptic is concerned about the probabilities of success vs. failure in any endeavor.”
Is that what a skeptic is concerned with? Thanks for telling me. And to think, all this time, I thought we were concerned with determining what is true.

“For example, before a skeptic starts his/her own business, lots of questions must be answered to alleviate fear and doubt.”
Um…what? You lost me there, buddy.

“A non-skeptic doesn’t see life this way at all. If such a person were to start his/her own business, it would be with an experiential attitude.”
Yeah, you’re real mavericks. You betcha! You don’t read books or listen to those factinistas, those fact-nazis. You go with your gut and follow your own sense of truthiness. You go, boy!

“When I started my personal development business…”
Wow. Just wow.

“When you seek to experience life instead of doubting and fearing it, joy becomes your natural state of being.”
Tell that to Anne Frank.

“It doesn’t matter what outcome you get because your attitude is always, ‘What a fascinating experience!’”
For someone so joyful, you seem awfully pissed off at those who don’t share your opinions. And if being so joyful means being such an asshole, I prefer this imaginary miserable state you’ve concocted for me.

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My dog ate my homework or conversations with brick walls, part 2

February 6, 2011

Okay, so the other day I reported an exchange I had with a commenter on an older article calling himself Dusty. Dusty is a devoted believer in psychic phenomena and not a big fan of those who aren’t, particularly James Randi, who he despises…for some reason. Well while mostly ignoring my responses, he wrote three more consecutive ones, which I responded to. Then he wrote another comment that mostly ignored what I said previously, which I have now just responded to, but which he’ll probably never see.

In any case, I decided to make another post featuring our exchange for educational (and entertainment) purposes. Since his three comments were posted together, I’ll treat them like one long comment and, like my previous article, I will intersperse my responses to specific passages immediately after those passages in [brackets] and in BOLD.

So here we go with those first three comments:

It’s late and I don’t have time to respond in detail right now…..
However, one of the passeges in Carter’s book sums it up for me when it comes to Randi [Your friend Carter doesn’t seem to know much of anything about Randi’s Challenge, or else you didn’t read his book very thoroughly because I’ve already addressed numerous misconceptions you’ve had about Randi’s Challenge. Of course, again, if you don’t like that challenge, you can apply to the far more difficult challenge of proving psi to the scientific community by producing peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate this phenomena exists. Of course when you tell me that you already “know” this phenomena exists despite its lack of compelling scientific evidence because you don’t understand how flawed human perception is and don’t seem to know what a coincidence means, I find it nearly impossible to ignore your admitted bias on the subject and to take you seriously. Knowledge should be proportional to the available evidence; if you’re going to say you know something despite the evidence, this is called blind faith, and it’s not a virtue when doing science.]

“With regard to his “challenge” Randi has been quoted as saying, “I always have an out”… That’s not Chris’s quote, but he does site the source….

The book also talks about someone that Randi refused to test… Again, Chris backs up the sources. [Now I would very much like to see evidence that Randi has said what, according to you, Mr. Carter has said he said as I suspect that he either said no such thing or has been horribly quote-mined by an ideologue who is simply looking for any means of poisoning the well of his critics. That being said, in the grand scheme of things, who the fuck cares what Randi has or hasn’t said or whether his particular challenge is legitimate, as if psi were real and empirically falsifiable, there are many equally lucrative alternative avenues of demonstrating it is real that have yet to yield the results you happen to like. When all you do is focus your energy on ad hominem attacks against your critics and making up endless excuses for failure instead of actually demonstrating empirically that the phenomena is real, this is a massive red flag.]

Randi is far from the Saint that you make him out to be, but you can continue to worship him, that’s fine.

enuff said….

Cynics need to step away from the lab and at least acknowledge the possibility that science doesn’t have all the answers regarding our brains and consciousness, and perhaps there are things well beyond our comprehension, and until mainstream science can humble itself enough to do so, it’s just going to be the same old arguments over and over again.. [Simply demanding scientific claims be proven with the appropriate level of evidence is not cynicism…at least that’s what the invisible leprechauns tell me. And when you condescendingly suggest that science needs to “humble itself”, you reveal nothing but your fundamental ignorance of how science works. Science is not just a body of knowledge but a method for determining what is true, the best method we have. And if you’ve ever spent any time doing science or even knew any professional scientist, you’d know that science is nothing but humble. Science is a meritocracy where good ideas go far while bad ideas get discarded like used condoms. The arrogance here is coming from you who state outright that you just “know” what is true regardless of the evidence.]

Some people can’t just accept the possibility of existence beond their physical senses. …..It’s just too hard for them to grasp, so the best way out of it is to refute any possiblity. Well, in the end, the joke may be on them. [I am more than willing to accept any belief that has can be empirically demonstrated to exist under proper controlled conditions. Otherwise, we’re just dealing in magical thinking here and your beliefs are no more legitimate than saying Harry Potter is real. Again, evidence talks whereas endless excuses don’t. But I guess some people can’t just accept that the possibility that they’re wrong and have been horribly misled by fools…if’s just too hard for them to grasp, so the best way out of it is to make excuses for why their beliefs fail every legitimate means of testing. Well, in the end, the joke is on them.]

I meant to also say that your blind belief in Randi just blows me away..

Another quote that I totally agree with is:

“Given his countless disparaging and insulting remarks concerning parapsychology and his financial stake in the debunking movement, he can hardly be considered an unbiased observer”…

Again, your trust in him blows me away… I’d much rather prefer a non-biased group of scientists doing the testing that had absolutely NOTHING to do with Randi whatsover, and I’ve felt that way about Randi for a long time, even when I was a hard core skeptic myself. Something about him has always rubbed me the wrong way… I’ve just never had a good feeling about the guy. I just don’t think his ego would allow him to be wrong. Sorry, that’s just the way I feel. [I have met hundreds of people in the skeptic community and have yet to meet anyone who had “blind belief in Randi.” Again, that’s not what the skeptical movement is about. In fact, it couldn’t be more dissimilar to how you describe it. Our goal is science advocacy and merely ask that beliefs be proportional to the evidence. In fact, when Randi started flirting with climate change denial claims, many in the movement harshly criticized him for it.
http://www.nycskeptics.org/blog/?p=1713&cpage=1#comment-491
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/say_it_aint_so_randi.php
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/randi_responds.php
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/12/17/randi-and-global-warming/
http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/12/james_randi_anthropogenic_global_warming.php
http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/12/james_randi_anthropogenic_global_warming_1.php

Our scientific positions are in no way reliant on James Randi thinks. And my patients has run out on this pathetic attempt to dodge the scientific evidence against you by pretending its all a conspiracy by James Randi and his cult of deniers who just won’t accept the amazing evidence despite your admitted inability to present any evidence.

There is no such “debunking movement”, only a movement that values truth and demands extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And I have no more “trust” in him than anyone else. I too harshly criticized him for his flirtation with climate change denial. You seem to be projecting your own admitted blind faith onto those who disagree with you. Well sorry but you don’t know what you’re talking about and have clearly not made any genuine attempt to understand the position of those who disagree with you. And the only reason Randi “rubs you the wrong way” is because he disagrees with you, not because you have any good reason to believe he’s behaved poorly. It’s unfortunate that you can’t seem to put your own beliefs under scrutiny and would rather invent accusations against those who disagree with you than accept the possibility that you’re wrong. And if Mr. Carter has any legitimate evidence of foul play, again, he can sue Randi with my blessing.]

Here’s an other post to chew on…One of the things that I’ve experienced in the past is precognative dreaming. [What about all those mornings where your dreams did not have any similarity to events that happened in the real world?]

For example, I’e been meditating for about 25 years now on a daily basis and prior to the meditations, I didn’t have any psychic experiences, nothing.

Now, I had a very bad thing happen to me on 911. I was living alone. The morning of the 911 event, I had a dream that morning of a plane flying into a building and the building exploded. Keep in mind that prior to that, I had never ever had a dream about a plane crashing into anything whatsover. I woke up actually shaking. Now, after I had composed myself I walked into the kitchen, had some breakfast and turned on the tv and it was exactly as I had seen it. As a matter of fact I was so shook up about it that I didn’t go to work that day. Never again after that did I have a dream of a plane flying into a building. Heck, I don’t think I had a dream of a plane period. [I once had a dream that I was fucking Angelina Jolie. Still hasn’t happened in the real world. Coincidences happen all the time. And on a long enough time line, the odds of really impressive coincidences happening are inevitable. There’s no mystery here. There’s also no testable hypothesis here. It’s just an anecdote, which on its own is scientifically worthless. And for the record, we dream every night and forgot most of our dreams. And if a plane hadn’t crashed on that day, you probably wouldn’t even remember that dream. This is just cherry-picking from millions of occasions where no such coincidences happened. And since 9/11, I’ve had probably a dozen dreams involving planes crashing into buildings, as I’m sure have countless over people, without it actually coming to pass.]

Now, during that same month I had another dream of my dog getting out and getting hit by a car, and it woke me up suddenly in the middle of the night, trembling again…..I had never even thought about the dog getting out because I knew he couldn’t dig under the fence. So I thought that dream was just a bad coincidence and I went back to sleep for another hour….

Well, I woke up in the middle of the night and found out that one of the neighbors kids had left the gate open and he got out. that was the first time he ever got out. I didn’t know he got hit by a car until later that morning when I found him in the road…He was in the same exact location that I saw him in the dream. There were also a couple of other more minor dream events after that…. [You you can keep listing anecdotes about your dreams but the plural of anecdote is not data, and its certainly not any more compelling. In Iceland, people see elves all the time. That doesn’t mean they’re real.]

Now, I didn’t want this and I was completely petrified as to why it was happening to me…I remember going into meditation and trying to heal my mind with the intent that I didn’t want to know this information. I wanted to be released from the pain that it was bringing me… Well, sure enough it cleared up the next month and I haven’t had ANY horrible pre-event dreams ever again….. In fact, all of my dreams are beautiful. I don’t even have bad dreams.
Now, you would have had to have been in my mind to see the clarity and precision that was in those dreams and just how detailed they were to the actual event..I don’t expect anyone to believe me unless they WERE in my mind. Heck, it was even hard for me to believe. In fact, I didn’t WANT to believe it.

Now with that said, how is one to explain something that comes and goes like that to a scientist? Do I just put my head in the sand and say, “It must have a logical explanation or a coincidence?”[Yes. Because that’s exactly what the word coincidence means.], or do I humble myself and say that the world may be completely different than what we believe it to be. Well, I tend to be a humble guy who believes that science doesn’t have all the answers, so the last reasoning made much more sense to me…. [Just because you don’t understand the definition of the word “coincidence” doesn’t make you “humble” for embracing magical thinking. And refusing to consider you may be wrong and align your beliefs with the available evidence is the exact opposite of humble.] I’m skeptical of my own experiences, so I’m tough on myself.  [Clearly (sarcasm overload!)] But if you would have seen what I had seen, you would have felt the same exact way. [No, I wouldn’t. I’m too humble to think I have special knowledge no one else has]

Other than to a few close friends and family members, I really don’t like to talk about those dreams because the pain was just too much….I don’t think it was precognative dreaming either, because it seemed as if I dreamed the events just as they were happening, but to me that was just as bad and just as painful….. Believe me, this is something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone…
Goodnight…….. [Listen, you’re going to believe whatever you want to believe regardless of what I say because you’re just so incredibly “humble”, so I see no place for this conversation to go. I guess you’re just too damned humble to proportion your beliefs to the available evidence. Best of luck to you.]

Now onto the last comment he wrote after presumably reading my above comments:

Well, I know it’s not a coincidence because I don’t dream normal dreams that can happen in reall life. My dreams, while usually awesome and beautiful, usually have no root in real life, as they are usually nonsensical in nature. [The definition of the word “coincidence” is:
“the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection” Please explain how what you describe is not, by definition, a coincidence.] Again, you would have had to have been in my head to even be able to judge something like this. [I once had a dream that my next door neighbor in his 80s was being hailed out by EMTs in a stretcher and a few weeks later, he died. Is that a pretty weird coincidence? Sure, but that doesn’t make it prophetic. You you have millions of dreams that don’t match closely with reality all the time and had 9/11 never happened, you probably would have forgotten that particular dream a long time ago. This is just a classic lottery fallacy, aka the Law of Large Numbers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Truly_Large_Numbers), where you’re remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. The Law states that with a sample size large enough, any outrageous thing is likely to happen. Because we never find it notable when likely events occur, we highlight unlikely events and notice them more. It’s like you won the lottery and decided that, given the odds of you winning, some force must have deliberately caused your victory even though the odds that someone was going to win the lottery was almost 100% and you just happened to be that person by chance alone.] You would have had to seen the extreme level of clarity and details that I saw…[while these anecdotes may superficially seem impressive, merely noting anecdotes is not science. Science, recognizing how flawed human perception is, requires specific testable, falsifiable predictions that can be repeated and that show measurable outcomes. And to quote Barry Beyerstein, “Anecdotal evidence leads us to conclusions that we wish to be true, not conclusions that actually are true.” If anecdotes were worth their salt, we’d all have to believe that the Martians invaded Grovers Mill, NJ in 1938. Afterall, just look at the extreme level of clarity and details of the accounts.]

That’s the thing, I had never ever dreamed of a plane crash or my dog getting hit by a car EVER in my entire life, and I keep a dream journal and remember all of my dreams, because I practice lucid dreaming on a nightly basis.

But then again, I don’t care if you or anyone else believes me or not, as I know what happened and that’s all that matters. You can scoff, that’s fine. I should have known just to keep my mouth shut.

and I’m sorry but many experiences like this do come as anecdotal nature, that’s just the nature of the paranormal…Sure you can ignore the millions of experiences of others as say they are ALL hallucinations, that’s your right. However, experiences is the best teacher.

Sorry, but you can’t change my mind on Randi.[Cause you’re so open-minded] I’ve heard way too many negative stories about the guy to trust him. I would never trust someone who worked as a magician in the first place, and YES, his reputation would be ruined if someone ever passed his test…He knows that as well. He would no longer be the debunker that constantly and rudely put down and lashed out at the paranormal at every opportunity he could…You think he really wants to lose that title? Really? Are you kidding me? [As for your insistence on blacklisting James Randi, a man you’ve never met and know next to nothing about other than he disagrees with you, have at it. I don’t really give a damn. McCarthyism never worked in the past, so I don’t know why you people think it will start working now.]

I had thought by a couple of your earlier posts that you MAY have been more open-minded and at least be a skeptic and not a pseudoskeptic. Somebody who’s a true open-minded skeptic would say:

“Ya know, paranormal experiences are interesting, and even though I can’t accept it without proof, there may be paranormal phenonmena that very well may be valid, but we just don’t have the proof we need right now, but I very well could be wrong on my current assumptions of the paranormal.”…

That’s what a true skeptic would say… I don’t see anything on here reflecting that attitude from you at all, which means that your beliefs are cemented as factual, and no amount of testing(no matter what the results) will ever change your mid… [Oh, don’t you dare pretend I’m not open-minded when I repeatedly asked for proof and you provided absolutely none or pretend you’re open-minded when you flat-out stated that you “knew” your beliefs are true despite a complete lack of empirical evidence. If you’re open-minded, then what would convince you that you’re wrong?]

So yes, we are both wasting our time… [because you are too open-minded to accept the possibility that you’re wrong or change your mind while I have no such problem]

Read the following book by Elizabeth Mayer and you’ll see what a true skeptic is who still keeps an open mind..

One final word, by locking in such a rigid anti- metaphysical belief system, you are also locking out an amazing beatiful life that goes beyond any words I can accurately express here…

Deleting this site from my bookmarks as it’s obviously just a waste of my time…
Take Care

[Now you recommended a book and I’ll do the same: Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World.” To quote Sagan, “”Pseudoscience differs from erroneous science. Science thrives on errors, cutting them away one by one. False conclusions are drawn all the time, but they are drawn tentatively. Hypotheses are framed so they are capable of being disproved. A succession of alternative hypotheses is confronted by experiment and observation. Science gropes and staggers toward improved understanding. Proprietary feelings are of course offended when a scientific hypothesis is disproved, but such disproofs are recognized as central to the scientific enterprise. Pseudoscience is just the opposite. Hypotheses are often framed precisely so they are invulnerable to any experiment that offers a prospect of disproof, so even in principle they cannot be invalidated.”]

You just can’t reason with people out of beliefs they didn’t reason their way into in the first place. I used to believe in this psychic crap too but I was never that devoted to it and once I was actually presented with rational arguments, I stopped believing very quickly. All you can do is hope that you’ve planted some kind of seed of doubt in them that others will water down the road.

First, this guy tries to poison the well of his critics, accusing James Randi and the JREF of moving the goalpost without presenting a single example of this happening. Then he himself moves the goalpost by insisting that though he “knows” psychic phenomena exists, it may just be too “subtle” and “unpredictable” to be falsifiable with any scientific test…but he still just “knows” it’s real because of a couple of cherry-picked anecdotes involving rather minor coincidences that he feels somehow transcend the definition of coincidence because he doesn’t actually understand what the word “coincidence” means or how likely seemingly uncanny coincidences are to occur on a long enough time line (the answer is very fuckin’ likely). This guy is putting the proverbial cart before the horse, beginning with his conclusion and then working backwards to justify it as he plainly says science can’t test the validity of this phenomenon but still is absolutely certain its real. That’s not science. That’s religion. And it will always be religion unless he can present a hypothesis that can actually be tested.

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Homeopathy is a scam – Happy 10:23 weekend!

February 5, 2011

The second annual 10:23 campaign festivities are upon us again. I’m disappointed that the NYC Skeptics have not organized our own creative grassroots demonstration to educate the public about the bullshit that is homeopathy, but events are being organized around the world.

And even James Randi has produced a video on YouTube to promote the event:

I just want to wish everyone participating in the 10:23 campaign this year all the best. Let’s make 2011 the worst year for homeopaths yet!

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My dog ate my homework or conversations with brick walls

February 4, 2011
Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other ...

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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.

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