Monday, January 07, 2008

Why I'm not a skeptic

No, not why I'm not skeptical, or critical-minded, because those traits are essential in science. Rather, I don't consider myself a "skeptic," as in a card-carrying member of a skeptical society, because most (not all) of the people I know who belong to such societies are loud, arrogant, angry, and cynical. I prefer to spend time with people who are quiet, humble, calm and hopeful.

This came to mind after reading one of Steven Novella's blogs. In it he parrots skeptical mantras that are known to be wrong. I won't bother to address them here because they are addressed in detail in Entangled Minds. But I will respond to two comments. First:
"There is no proposed mechanism for ESP that amounts to a reductionist model based upon established physics or biology."

This is a peculiar complaint, because if we can only accept things in terms of what we already understand, then science is no longer an open system. It collapses into the worst sort of mindless dogma, and no genuinely new discoveries are possible. If you have any inclination to agree with Novella's comment, please read the history of science.

The second comment was:

"The lack of a possible or even hypothetical mechanism for ESP also means that ESP research is limited to anomaly hunting. All studies that propose to look for ESP (for example the research of Dean Radin or Rupert Sheldrake) are not looking for ESP (because no one knows what ESP is) but rather are looking for anomalies. In fact some researchers more honestly label what they are looking for as “anomalous cognition.”



I sometimes use the term anomalous cognition as a euphemism, mainly when I want to avoid freaking out academics. But psi research is absolutely not a "hunt for anomalies." Psi experiments are conducted to test, under rigorously controlled conditions, whether the experiences labeled telepathy, clairvoyance, etc., are what they appear to be (i.e. genuine ESP), or whether they are better understood as coincidence, delusion, or one or more cognitive biases. The anomaly label is valid only in the sense that verifiable effects are unexpected with respect to existing theories. But as I've mentioned above, to assume that nothing exists outside of what we already understand, especially when the effect is empirically and repeatable demonstrable (as some psi effects are), is exceedingly bad science.

46 comments:

~C4Chaos said...

good point. btw, i love your book Conscious Universe.

that said, i'm interested to know what you think of Susan Blackmore's statement on Edge:

http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_13.html#blackmore

if you already have a public dialogue/debate with Blackmore about her issues with the paranormal, i would love to check it out. let us know.

thanks and keep it flowing.

~C

Chris said...

Dean:

Although it doesn't really contain anything more than you have already written about, I covered this issue on my blog back in 2006 in this piece.

I believe our essential problem is that we don't teach philosophy of science to scientists and, in the absence of this, dogmatic attitudes breed in which ideologies (including but not restricted to reductionistic or materialistic ideologies) are alleged to be scientific cornerstones rather than personal beliefs.

Where you say in this piece "please read the history of science", may I suggest directing people to Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolution"? This is an excellent resource for understanding the nature of the scientific endeavour.

After many years, I find myself quite agnostic about psi - but I remain passionately committed to protecting this field of research as legitimate science. To you, and the others like you, I commend your tenacity.

Best wishes,

Chris Bateman

Gwen said...

Out of curiousity, are there any links to peer-reviewed studies on ESP that you would recommend? He claims in his blog that there is no studies he is willing to accept as proof of ESP, and notes that certain studies, when replicated other times, show no ability to replicate their results. Are there public, accountable studies that do replicate their results, contrary to what he says?

Dean Radin said...

To Gwen: At one time I started to create a set of links to relevant publications, but I soon saw that that effort would take more time than I was willing to spend. Many of the relevant publications (or their abstracts) can be found through Google Scholar, PubMed, and through university libraries that have subscriptions to journals.

The claim that there are no peer-reviewed, published studies showing replicable psi effects is an example of pseudoskepticism, meaning an assertion that presents the appearance of skepticism, but isn't.

Dean Radin said...

Regarding Sue Blackmore's statement on Edge, this is her story, repeated dozens of times for decades in many different venues. She basically says that at one time she completely believed in things psychic, but now she completely doesn't believe, but maybe she'll change her mind. Okay then. She presents this story well, and she's a very pleasant, engaging, and entertaining speaker. So people listen.

My take on such a message is that some people prefer to view the world in black or white terms. Psi either absolutely exists, or it doesn't. I would suggest that people with such predilections probably shouldn't go into science in the first place, because exploring poorly understood realms of Nature is practically guaranteed not to lead to absolutely black or white answers.

By contrast, people who are comfortable tolerating high ambiguity without collapsing into premature conclusions are much better suited to studying the great unwashed paranormal.

The reason I prefer the latter folks to the former is that the latter recognize that uncertain realms of knowledge need to be nurtured, and not ridiculed. To overcome our prejudices, we need to be especially careful to avoid reaching premature conclusions.

Speaking long and loud about why we should disregard topic X causes great damage not just to our understanding of topic X, but to science in general. Alleged skeptics who confidently assert that personal experiences that have captured the public's attention for millennia are wrong or stupid, only perpetuate the public's view that scientists are arrogant and completely out of touch with ordinary people and their interests.

For me, my natural agnosticism towards practically everything has moved towards acceptance of psi, based on my understanding of and experience with the empirical evidence. Yes, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. That's the type of double-edged, self-reflective skepticism that I feel comfortable with.

By the way, the same personal predilections that I've mentioned in the context of skepticism and psi manifest in many other realms of life. E.g., the conservative Republican vs. the liberal Democrat. The former gravitates towards authoritarian certainty and absolute ideologies, the latter towards democratic tolerance and relational ideologies. I think you can guess which side of that spectrum I'm on.

skepTick said...

I understand what you mean by "loud, arrogant, angry, and cynical" people. You can certainly find examples of that on skeptic forums. However, you can also find the same type of people in the Apple vs. Microsoft discussion groups, conservative vs. liberal blog comments, the sci.* newsgroups, NASA history forums...and on and on. When there is any opening for debate, there will be friction and, unfortunately, acerbic participants.

So, do you reason that you're an Apple loyalist because the Microsoft fanboys are arrogant? Do you tell others you're a democrat because Republicans are rude? Is your religion preferable because it is more palatable? Or is it really the philosophy underpinning these groups that informs your choice?

I am in no way defending the rude and unpleasant people that insinuate themselves into what would otherwise be intelligent debates. I lament the near non-existence of "gentlemanly" discussions in open forums. My point is that I think the reasons you gave for not being a skeptic boil down to you just not liking them, and not just because they are "loud, arrogant, angry, and cynical". These abrasive qualities are not solely limited to skeptics, but can be found in your own camp as well.

John said...

I don't know how Blackmore could have gone from such a believer in the psychics to an extreme materialist. It's almost like she was going for popularity and not truth.

Dean Radin said...

skeptick said: ... I think the reasons you gave for not being a skeptic boil down to you just not liking them, and not just because they are "loud, arrogant, angry, and cynical".

No. It is not the case that I automatically don't like anyone who identifies with the label skeptic. As the saying goes, some of my best friends .... However, in my experience many people who do proudly wear "skeptic" on their sleeves often do display this very constellation of nasty traits, and those are the people I avoid (as I do in any domain).

Roulette said...

I once went to a booktour talk by Michael Shermer, who seems to me to be a decent, thoughtful guy. But as he was 20 minutes late for the talk, I had to spend 20 minutes listening to the loud and nasty ignorance of the people around me. I was so put off by what I heard that I couldn't stomach the thought of sticking around for more of it after the talk in the hopes of catching a word with Shermer. Bummer.

Eric said...

"I don't know how Blackmore could have gone from such a believer in the psychics to an extreme materialist. It's almost like she was going for popularity and not truth."

I recommend reading Chris Carter's book, "Parapsychology and the Skeptics." He has a section that critiques Blackmore's experiments that convinced her that psi is nonexistent. There is information about the book here:

http://www.parapsychologyandtheskeptics.com/

The relevant section is discussed here also:

http://www.dailygrail.com/node/5799

Roulette said...

After reading the Novella blog entry you mentioned, it occurred to me to wonder why the study in question didn't attempt study any differences in the fMRI data between ESP trials where the subject either 1) scored a hit and did not score a hit, or 2) subjectively felt as though they were receiving information via ESP and subjectively felt they could not sense anything.

Not all ESP trials will find a subject in an ideal state of attention to receive/notice the target information. This is not offered as an excuse for the study's failure to find differences between ESP and non-ESP trials. Rather, it is offered as a suggestion for a study that might actually find something interesting in fMRI data. It seems to me that any data of interest in this study might very well be lost when all ESP trials are treated equally.

But then, I haven't read the actual study, so perhaps this was taken into consideration. It's depressing that *this* criticism was not mentioned by Novella, as that would have indicated he was at least *familiar* with basic psi research.

Another basic criticism of this study would be that ESP information may trigger *existing* mental representations, rather than forcing new ideas or representations upon the subject. (This would be supported, for example, by what you hear remote viewers say about what happens when they get information about the target.) If existing representations are what is being triggered, then the location of brain activity might vary within, say, the visual cortex. And there would be no really good way to tell if what signals were generated by the subject's own thought chain, and which were prompted by an 'extrasensory' trigger, EXCEPT to ask the subject. And preferably a subject who has experience differentiating one from the other. Again, if you are going to front yourself as a skeptic, at least be an informed skeptic.

Rant over - thanks.

Caecilius said...

"My point is that I think the reasons you gave for not being a skeptic boil down to you just not liking them, and not just because they are "loud, arrogant, angry, and cynical". These abrasive qualities are not solely limited to skeptics, but can be found in your own camp as well."

With skeptics, it goes way beyond the Internet forums, and this group of people is remarkably quick to use personal insults and ridicule. The poster boy for the skeptical movement, James Randi, exhibits all four attributes mentioned by Dean. I think the description is hardly off the mark.

Rose said...

I had an out of the blue thought on Sunday about a woman I had worked with about a month ago. Two days later I found out that she had died in a car accident at approximately that same time. Why was I able to think of her at that time, but not to know why I was thinking of her (which was presumably because she had died)? Can people train their ESP to give them more information?

Thanks.

lightseeker said...

"I prefer to spend time with people who are quiet, humble, calm and hopeful."

Dean, it's no wonder to me why you do. These are the very traits associated with people who are open to and experience psi. In other words, these are the people (if I may use your words) able to perceive more deeply into the world than others - which is exactly the opposite of the card-carrying skeptics. And that's why most of those skeptics will remain skeptics, and because of such negative attitudes they will likely never experience psi themselves! (If they did/were able to, gee, they wouldn't be so fervently anti-psi! Perhaps, subconsciously, the skeptics are actually jealous of or fear a "power" - psi - they cannot experience and which they perceive they do not have...) The career skeptics are so attached to their need to be right (in proving psi are non-existent and believers/experiencers are either stupid or deluded) that if they ever have to publicly accept that psi exist and they were WRONG, it would destroy their identity, sense of personal self. The big difference is that most people who believe in, and especially experience, psi also experience a sense that who they are is greater than the individual sense of self - a oneness or unity with the world/universe (maybe due to the quantum field?) and that consciousness lives on after physical death - a sense/intuition/internal knowing which the skeptics (and even materialists/reductionists) tend to lack.

Why is it that the most enlightened beings who ever walked the planet, who could be considered mystics - Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, for example - taught us to strive to subdue the self, and its "self-ish" qualities such as arrogance, anger and doubt, and to reach for higher qualities (the "better angels of our nature") of humility, faith/hope, love and compassion/understanding? Perhaps so that we human beings - our consciousness - might transcend the individual sense of self and perceive that we are connected to and part of a much greater whole, a reality that is both seen and unseen.

Until the skeptics understand this and move beyond their self-defined, limited paradigms, they will never admit to the existence of an unseen, non-3D realm in which psi are possible and do occur, let alone experience it for themselves.

And it's cool to admit one is agnostic - that one just doesn't know, one way or the other - which leaves one OPEN to the possibilities of what may be, i.e., one's paradigm is expanded, even if that is beyond our current understanding of the physical laws of nature or our ability to measure certain phenomena. To the skeptics: just because you can't hear a dog-whistle or see infrared light rays doesn't mean they don't exist; science just had to figure out a way to detect and measure them - and it took a bright, expanded mind to realize the possibility of their existence in the first place! It seems premature to me to declare psi non-existent when science can't yet even define consciousness - what it is, how it arises or even why life exists at all!

It is a mistake, even dangerous, to invest one's identity (i.e., sense of self) too heavily in any belief, one way or the other. The pendulum swings both ways; the opposite of skepticism is fanaticism. The more one digs in one's heels for the cause of being "right," the more one risks losing it all, including one's very sense of self. When we finally have proof one way or the other regarding psi, the rug could be pulled out from beneath either the skeptic or the fanatic. It's for the highest good of all to seek the truth, no matter what that turns out to be, rather than be self-serving just to be right or to prove another wrong.

Those who are "quiet, humble, calm and hopeful" are on the right track to finding truth, to opening up higher consciousness and a better world for us all. That's good company in my book!

N said...

lightseeker - Well said. Though I would add that anyone who wishes to see 'a better world for us all' via scientific recognition of psi faces an inevitable showdown with the skeptics - something that doesn't come easily to 'quiet, humble, calm and hopeful' individuals.

mixxxr said...

The Butterfly Effect.


Do you believe in Quantum Modulation ?

Do you fly in your dreams ?

Do your dreams fly out of you ?

Do they become reality ?

Do you love I ?

Do we love we ?

Do you fly or are you centered ?

Is it a flower your food ?

Are you the nectar ?

Where do you fly when you fly ?

Do you fly at all ?

Am I just dreaming ?

Or is it ...

Just me ?


qb

http://people.tribe.net/quinto

cris _ qb at y a h o o . c o m

lightseeker said...

Thanks n.

n said: "anyone who wishes to see 'a better world for us all' via scientific recognition of psi faces an inevitable showdown with the skeptics - something that doesn't come easily to 'quiet, humble, calm and hopeful' individuals."

It needn't be a showdown. There's no gun fight if the one being challenged refuses to kowtow to ego (the need to be right) and show up for the shoot-out. It often takes more wisdom and courage to refuse to take the bait. I believe one very enlightened Teacher advised, when one is provoked, to "turn the other cheek." Chances are the provoker will eventually give up and walk away, and be seen for his true colors - as a bully and a coward.

It takes two to do battle, and when those two are battling it out, they are caught up in the drama of dualism (which to the physical senses is how this physical world appears to be - a system of duality, of unconnected opposites). But when one realizes the underlying reality of the connectedness and oneness of humanity/the world/the Universe, one then understands there is no need to do battle - it's like your right arm trying to punch out your left side... or the left side of your brain making war with the right side of your brain - yeah, it's insane. :-) Taking the path of higher consciousness means making conscious choices - and the choice not to do battle is one of them. Rather than get sucked into a fight, shine a light and lead by example!

IMO, Dean is taking the high road by not responding to the card-carrying skeptics, not taking the bait of provocative, irrational claims to get into a heated battle of words, but rather to publish such responses/positions in peer-reviewed journals, books, and this blog. A battle of words (especially on the skeptics' own turf) is blind foolishness and a waste of energy which is better focused elsewhere. Dean, you're doing the far better thing. Keep chugging along with the research - quietly, calmly, humbly and hopefully - and setting a great example for all in the field. Anyone - scientist or layman - with an ounce of wisdom can see thru the bluster of the career skeptics and ignore their loud, immature cries for attention.

When the time arrives that humanity/human consciousness is ripe for a shift in perception, the truth about psi will be revealed. And I believe that time, that shift, will come soon. The rational scientists and others who are open but yet not believing will then come along; the skeptics will then, too, have to choose to come along peacefully and humbly into the new paradigm or be dragged kicking and screaming. It's a choice we all face. Make your choice - with a self-centered, unconscious knee-jerk reaction or with wisdom, courage and conscious intent for the highest good of all.

Jess Boldt said...

Very good post. I sometimes found it amusing how a prominent "skeptic" will say something along the lines you mentioned, then a few days later that argument (no matter how silly) would be echoed through out the internet. And more often than not, would amount to nothing more than a semi-clever word play or just a catchy phrase... i.e. woo woo. But almost always without content. Honestly, not so amusing anymore. Just sad.

Keep up the good work. I have really enjoyed your books and your blog. Thanks

~C4Chaos said...

Dean,

thanks for entertaining my question about Susan Blackmore.

i went ahead and groove on your response in my blog. here's the link.

http://coolmel.typepad.com/iblog/2008/01/levels-of-skept.html

take care and stay lucid.

~C

realpc said...

"The lack of a possible or even hypothetical mechanism for ESP..."

That is not true. Sheldrake explained his ideas, carefully and logically, in "A New Science of Life." Like most "skeptics," this one is ignorant of non-mainstream science.

Eric said...

"The big difference is that most people who believe in, and especially experience, psi also experience a sense that who they are is greater than the individual sense of self - a oneness or unity with the world/universe (maybe due to the quantum field?) and that consciousness lives on after physical death - a sense/intuition/internal knowing which the skeptics (and even materialists/reductionists) tend to lack."

Your statement has revealed the problem with parapsychology. No offense, but one of the reasons that mainstream academia has such a strong aversion to this research is because it is so strongly associated with the undisciplined, extravagant, and touchy feely metaphysics of the New Age movement (e.g. being one with the universe, cosmic consciousness, "spiritual" language). This field will never progress until it extricates itself from such sentimental mumbo jumbo and develops the impersonal, conceptually coherent terminology that characterizes a field such as physics.

"Perhaps so that we human beings - our consciousness - might transcend the individual sense of self and perceive that we are connected to and part of a much greater whole, a reality that is both seen and unseen. "

I would be careful about making generalizations about the so called "mystics." There are a lot of New Age bastardized versions of ancient traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Early Buddhism, for example, wouldn't endorse any philosophy of "interconnectedness" or "oneness with the universe:"

SN 12.48: Lokayatika Sutta — The Cosmologist {S ii 77; CDB i 584} [Thanissaro]. The Oneness of all being is sometimes taught as a basic Buddhist principle, but this discourse shows that the Buddha himself rejected the idea. It is simply one of the extremes that he avoided by teaching dependent co-arising.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.048.than.html

Dean Radin said...

Eric said: "Your statement has revealed the problem with parapsychology...."

That was lightseeker's comment, not mine. I agree that neutral language is useful in academic circles to avoid unnecessary irritations. This is why I personally avoid touchy-feeling interpretations of what the psi data mean.

I'm often asked what I think it all means, and the best I can come up with in neutral terms is that I think at some level of reality everything is deep interconnected. But this is nothing new, even within physics. E.g., gravity connects everything in the universe. We conveniently overlook such connections in science because otherwise everything becomes a hyper-complex system which is impossible to study.

This field will never progress until it extricates itself from such sentimental mumbo jumbo and develops the impersonal, conceptually coherent terminology that characterizes a field such as physics.

I doubt that this is going to happen any time soon, if ever. When academic psychology attempted this through behaviorism, it concluded that there's no one home -- we're all mindless zombies. I think it's clear that whatever else we may be, we are also sentimental creatures. Indeed, those without discernable sentiment are regarded as dangerous sociopaths. So attempting to eradicate this essential nature of being human in the hopes of being perceived as more "scientific" is IMO doomed to failure. Developing more refined explanations and generating better data is where we need to go. And I suspect that future explanations for psi may nicely accommodate (not avoid) touchy-feely concepts like empathy, intuition and meaning.

Lauriel said...

Dean:
You said to Gwen that there were many studies in PubMed and I am very interested in reading them, but when I went to Pubmed, I didn't have much luck. I tried psychic and ESP but the studies that came up were not about ESP (as ESP is short of electro static something-or-other). I tried ESP and psychic, but only 6 papers came up. Three were studies of psychics, but they were journals I am unfamiliar with (Br J Psychol., Explore, and Perception), one was by Shermer and you can guess what that was about, one was looking for a link between belief in the paranormal and Narcissism, and the last was a paper for 1976.
Am I using the wrong search words? Can you help point me in the right direction?
Thanks!

Jime said...

A critical examination of Susan Blackmore's "research" in parapsychology may be read at:
http://www.parapsych.org/psiexplorer/blackmore_critique.htm

To a critique of Susan Blackmore's book Dying to Live, see:
http://www.near-death.com/experiences/articles001.html

On "skeptics":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoskepticism
http://paginas.terra.com.br/educacao/criticandokardec/criticizingskepticism.htm
http://www.tricksterbook.com/ArticlesOnline/CSICOPoverview.htm
http://michaelprescott.freeservers.com/FlimFlam.htm
http://www.nderf.org/NDE%20Rhetoric.htm
http://www.suppressedscience.net/skepticism.html
http://www.orgonelab.org/skeptics.htm
http://www.serendipity.li/wot/sciam_reply.htm
http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/New/Examskeptics/index.html
http://www.happierabroad.com/Debunking_Skeptical_Arguments.htm
http://www.anomalist.com/commentaries/pseudo
http://www.fiu.edu/~mizrachs/truzzi.html
http://www.canlyme.com/quackwatch.html
http://www.humanticsfoundation.com/barrettvsrosenthal.htm

Book Surgeon said...

Jime, that Suppressed Science page on skepticism is incredible. I'd never seen it before. A hat tip on behalf of the commentocracy for bringing it to my/our attention.

Dean Radin said...

Lauriel asked how to search PubMed to find articles on psi-related topics. Searching on "ESP," "psi" or "psychic" will not return much because these terms are taboo in academia, so other words are used.

Here are some search terms to begin with on PubMed:

"dean radin" will retrieve 12 of my authored or coauthored articles. Also search for "distant intentionality", "richards standish functional magnetic resonance", "walach wackermann," and "edwin may."

Dean Radin said...

I just ran across a nice quote that explains at least one reason for skepticism of the arrogant kind:

The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated.

- Oscar Wilde

Jime said...

Thanks Book Surgeon. The suppresedscience.net website is one of the best I've ever read.

Dr.Radin, regarding the arrogance of some "skeptics", I have the following opinion: many "skeptics" (I think more of them) oppose the paranormal by ideological/philosophical reasons: most of them are hard-core metapsychical naturalists/ontological materialists. This philosophy of life, if applied consistently, entails atheism, anti-religiosity and scientism (all these are common traits of most "skeptics"). They see themselves as the only "rational" and superior beings according to their own criteria or theoretiical framework.

It's explained very well in the article of Neil Grossman:
http://www.noetic.org/publications/review/issue61/r61_Grossman.html

This is also the reason why they use scoffing (in fact, Marcello Truzzi called them "scoffers"), ad hominem rhetoric, double standars, uncontrolled criticism, sophistical tricks and other characteristics explained in the wikipedia article on pseudoskeptics.

Fundametalists and dogmatic believers of any ideology (if it is religious or secular) will fight or disbelieve any evidence contrary to their worldview (they'll use a clever double standard to evaluate contrary evidence to their views) . It's a psychological fact (not related to the logical value of their arguments, which should be independently evaluated regardless of the psycholopgical/ideological motivation.)

So, arrogance, scoffing and the air of rational superiority of most skeptics is a psychological consequence of their philosophy. (Of course, there are other reasons to be arrogant; but in cases of "skeptics", the ideological factor is prominent and evident)

Richard Carrier, from the secular web (infidels.org) wrote a book in defense of metaphysical naturalism and atheism titled "Sense and Goodness without God". You can read an excellent critical review of this book by Christian philosopher (and ex-atheist) David Wood:
http://www.answeringinfidels.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=86

You can see how Carrier see himself as a great thinker/philosopher, as a super rational being and he considers ("modestly") that his book "is only for sane, reasonable people". (You can see the unreasonable, inconsistent, puerile and fallacious of Carrier's arguments, exposed by David Wood)

Roulette said...

Came across this article as I was looking through back issues of the Journal of Scientific Exploration.

The Pathology of Organized Skepticism, by L. David Letter (2002). He does a follow-up article a few years later as well.

http://www.scientificexploration.org/jse/articles/pdf/16.1_leiter.pdf

David Bailey said...

I think the efforts of dogmatic skeptics can backfire. My interest in this subject was sparked in part by a TV program in which a skeptic (whose name I have forgotten) asserted that there was no scientific evidence for Ψ phenomena - just like that, no qualifications, not even a recognition that scientific papers containing positive results even existed! This sparked my interest, because I was pretty sure I had read of at least some successful experiments - which meant I was being fed propaganda rather than straight information!

This gelled in my mind with another scientific story that did not ring true. The reductionist-materialist explanation of consciousness is peculiarly barren, summed up perhaps by the title of Tor Norretrander's book: "The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size". The idea that consciousness is not that big a deal is not new, and had inspired an enormous irrational belief in the 1980's that artificial intelligence (AI) was achievable and just about to take control (for good or ill). This spawned a huge and expensive AI research effort that just seemed to end in a whimper of (unacknowledged) defeat. At the time, I was very interested in AI, and was even involved in a peripheral way because I worked on a compiler for an AI language. It had always amazed me that existing AI programs seemed more like a cheat - designed to give the impression of intelligent understanding when none was really present. Of course, it may always be that one extra push will produce real AI, but a more interesting possibility is that the whole conventional underlying theory of consciousness is wrong.

If consciousness itself was so hard to explain in terms of conventional science, I realised that it was not reasonable to rule out phenomena such as Ψ on the basis that they were scientifically impossible.

To me, the nature of consciousness and the nature of Ψ are almost the same problem, and I think it might help if people were more aware of the bizarre attempts by orthodox theorists to fit consciousness into existing theory - such as the above-mentioned "user illusion" idea, or the notion of epiphenomenalism, in which mental phenomena are supposed to have no influence on the physical world. These theories bring home the sheer implausibility of the standard scientific picture of consciousness.

Jime said...

Another very interesting aspect of pseudoskeptic's psychology and crooked thinking is his extreme credulity of official theories and stories. They're uncritical believers of official and accepted theories.

For instance, take a look at Michael Shermer's uncritical defense of the official story on 9/11:
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000DA0E2-1E15-128A-9E1583414B7F0000

A detailed and documented reply to Shermer's article may be read at:
http://www.serendipity.li/wot/sciam_reply.htm

Also, you can hear the Shermer vs. Fetzer debate about 9/11:

Part 1:
http://twilightpines.com/media/Shermer_Fetzer_Rd_1_09_11_07.mp3

Part 2:
http://twilightpines.com/media/Shermer_Fetzer_Rd_2_09_11_07.mp3

I'm not a fan of "conspiracies", but I think that in the topic of 9/11, the official story is very flawed and incorrect.Any true skeptic will doubt it and ask for the best evidence for it. But Shermer won't do it, he's very busy defending it against the "9/11 deniers"

Dean Radin said...

Speaking of Shermer, the arguments he uses (effectively in my view) against people who deny that the Holocaust occurred can also be used to argue in favor of psi experiences and sightings of UFOs. That is, to use Shermer's phrase, when considering the "preponderance of the evidence" for UFOs and spontaneous psi experiences, both involving a gigantic number of case studies, reported over very long periods of time by credible observers, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that something interesting is going on.

By contrast, those who deny insist that unless a UFO lands on the White House lawn (which almost happened in 1952!), or that someone levitate on national TV (as though anyone would accept that as real), then none of the evidence should be taken seriously.

Tor said...

Dean, I seem to remember that you didn't think UFOs had anything to do with extraterrestrials. Have you changed your mind?

I live in Norway myself, and here we have the so called Hessdal-phenomena, these lights that seem to make frequent appearances over and around the Hessdal valley.

I was (and still am) utterly fascinated by this. It isn't until just recently (about 1 year ago) that the subject got accepted into the mainstream. But only because some physicists and engineers took the subjects seriously and actually monitored the area with radar and an automated surveillance camera that in the end has produced some pretty solid evidence.
Previously all people claiming to have observed this (apart from the scientists, basically the whole valley) were seen as nut cases.

The skepTick said...

Is anything worth ridiculing by rational people? Consider the set of all phenomena that we have knowledge of. Through rapid communications with other cultures via the internet forums, email, etc., this society of ideas is continually expanding, so there is an ever richening pot to sample. While we remain culturally distinct, some new supposed phenomenon that appears in our pot from the other side of the world must surely leave us, at best, questioning its veracity. Planck’s idea of quanta comes to mind. We can categorize all the ideas within our set as “impossible”, “sufficiently proven”, or “possible”.
Naturally, each of these ideas have their supporters and those who find their pet theory labeled “impossible” may strive to place it in the “possible” category or, even better, into the “sufficiently proven” category. This will be an obvious source of friction and ridicule is one of the tools used to keep the idea labeled as “impossible”. Unfortunately, this tool is often the first one chosen and wielded with a heavy hand. But is it useful? How about when faced with the Flat Earth theory or the TimeCube missives?
Organized skeptics stylize themselves as the housecleaners of the “sufficiently proven” and the “possible”, sweeping entire concepts back to the “impossible” realm. There is no organized “believer” group that sweeps the other way. I don’t know of any that work to simultaneously remove Psi, ESP, telekinesis, hauntings, bigfoot, UFOs, Atlantis, homeopathy, faith healing, communications with the dead, gravitational energy beam technology provided by aliens, hollow earth theory, flat earth, or (fill in your pet theory here) from the “impossible” ranking. Certainly, there are people who say that “all things are possible”. I have to believe that even Dr. Radin must believe that some ideas are profoundly ridiculous, just like there are skeptics who are not skeptical of everything. For them, there are some phenomena that “just can’t be explained”.
Ridicule may not be the most “gentlemanly” tool, but it can be effective. It won’t silence promoters of crackpot ideas, but it will help others to see that the ideas are crackpot. Even the believer must believe that some of the notions espoused are simply, if not absolutely, crazy. Whether you say so or not is another matter. Skeptics just happen to be predisposed to saying so.

Dean Radin said...

The skepTick said... Is anything worth ridiculing by rational people?

No. Ridicule is not simply an emotional reaction, which contradicts the idea that rational people would use it, but it also arises from a position of arrogance. Those who resort to ridicule to oust what they view as offending ideas, including supposedly crackpot ideas, really need to sit down quietly and seriously read the history of science. Today's so-called crackpot sometimes becomes tomorrow's Nobel Laureate. No one is smart enough to a priori distinguish the genuinely mistaken from the genius. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who are arrogant enough to think they know the difference.

In my book, ridicule is never justified.

This does not mean we should be lenient when it comes to scam artists. Anyone who intentionally sets out out to deceive another should be prosecuted and punished.

Jime said...

Ridicule is a ad hominem strategy. It can be useful or not, but it isn't "rational" nor "logical" nor "scientific". In fact, it's a logical fallacy:
http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-ridicule.html

(The fallacies are used just because they're useful; but it don't make them less irrational or dishonest, specially if they're used intentionally)

Rational and scientific argumentation doesn't use ridicule as discursive strategy. Real science is done by empirical evidence and rational argument and criticism, not appealing to the emotions of the public or ridiculing the intellectual adversary. It's fallacious. It's a sort of anti-scientific sophistry.

Pseudoskeptics use ridicule as a ad hominem fallacy to discredit the "opponent" and make them appear as fools, incompetent or idiots.

I can't promote myself as the ultimate defender of reason, logic and science, and at the same time use ad hominem fallacies, appeal to emotion, ridicule, double standars and other rhetorical and sophistical tricks. It's contradictory (but it's obvious that pseudoskeptic's biased thinking can't see it. Honest self criticism is out the intellectual reach of pseudoskeptics)

As wrote Michael Prescott in his essay "Why I'm not skeptic": "They'll call names, cry fraud, and holler that civilization is in danger and the barbarians are at the gates. They'll do anything, really - except examine their own assumptions with a remotely critical eye"

http://michaelprescott.freeservers.com/skeptic.htm

Crackpots, liars, frauds and real charlatans (in all fields) should be exposed using evidence and documentation.

Problem is that similar kind of people also exist in organized "skeptic" movement:
http://www.canlyme.com/quackwatch.html
http://www.quackpotwatch.org/quackpots/california_superior_court_judge_.htm

Will "skeptics" dare to use ridicule against these people too?

david said...

"The lack of a possible or even hypothetical mechanism for ESP..."

This is the usual position of skeptics, based on 19th century mechanistic science. Orthodox psychology and biology are still based on this despite nearly a century of work in quantum mechanics and the related nonlocality and observer dependency. Rupert Sheldrake's theory of morphic resonance is just one of many modern theories of psi that utilize current physics. The best ones are the field theories and most of all the quantum theories, in particular those of Schmidt, Mattuck and Jahn/Dunne. These are closely related to quantum theories of consciousness developed by Stapps, Josephson, Eccles, Penrose/Hameroff and others.

Most skeptics will of course refuse to look at this work and pretend it doesn't exist as they also refuse to look at the data, because it is contrary to their prejudices.

Jime said...

I'd like to clarify my last comment. Ridicule may be used against a claim or against a claimant. In the first case, it's a fallacy of appeal to ridicule. In the second case, it's an ad hominem fallacy. (Pseudoskeptics used both of them, discrediting the claim and the claimant at the same time)

David, I agree with you. But I think that "skeptics" commit another conceptual mistake: the fact we don't have a mechanism to explain phenomena X, don't imply that X doesn't exist.

Some "skeptics" use the "lack of mechanism" argument to reject the empirical and reproducible phenomena. They reject the phenomena because they don't have a (materialistic) explanaition to it.

For instance, the disease "AIDS" was discovery in 1981, but its mechanism and cause (HIV) was unknown until 1983/84. (This is the official theory; recently Henry Bauer have published a book questioning that theory. See his new blog: http://hivskeptic.wordpress.com/ )

My point is that you can recognize the existence of a phenomena and prove it scientifically, even though the exact mechanism is unknown or it's controvertial.

david said...

Jime, I agree that some skeptics make the obvious logical error of denying the existence of anything that is not comfortably handled within an accepted theoretical structure in physics. It is astonishing to observe the absolutely pathological skepticism exhibited by some scientists, who are so totally invested in their belief system that some of these people have been known to say in effect that even if they experienced the phenomenon (like telepathy, remote viewing, etc.) they still wouldn't believe it. It must have been a hallucination, or they were somehow fooled by a clever trickster.

WWu777 said...

Hi Dean,
Have you written any new books since "The Conscious Universe"? I never understood why your department at the university has a problem with your writing.

Anyhow, did you all know that Susan Blackmore recanted her statements?

http://www.happierabroad.com/Debunking_Skeptical_Arguments/Developments.htm

For a complete debunking of pseudo-skepticism on every point, see my free online treatise at:

http://www.happierabroad.com/Debunking_Skeptical_Arguments.htm

Regards,
Winston

Dean Radin said...

WWu777 said... Hi Dean,
Have you written any new books since "The Conscious Universe"?

Yes, Entangled Minds. See my website: www.deanradin.com

Anyhow, did you all know that Susan Blackmore recanted her statements?

Yes, Chris Carter's new book, Parapsychology and the Skeptics, reports this in some detail.

Why don't some academics embrace this topic? It's all about taboo. See my post about this in this blog, and the Google Tech Talk I gave on the topic in January 2008 (via YouTube).

Pat said...

Hello Dean,

I just watched the video of 'Science and the Taboo of PSI'. It's terrific. I highly recommend it for anyone with a serious interest in the entire phenomenon and the research that's being done.
I'm far from being a skeptic, but that certainly does not mean that I'm not interested in finding actual proof of what may actually be going on. In fact, it's just the reverse. I keep trying to think of new ways to set up double-blind tests to establish proof.
Keep up the great work.

Dannemanne said...

Here's Mr. Novellas respons to your post:
http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=389#more-389

Jean-Michel Abrassart said...

Hello,

Very good reply from Steven Novella! He really shows why Dean Radin should be a skeptic...

Of course that parapsychology is a "hunt for anomalies". I don't understand how Dean Radin can't see that.

Sincerely,

Dean Radin said...

Read through the other comments on this thread to see why. As I've previously pointed out, parapsychology is not searching for anomalies because the anomalies are already among us, and have been throughout history.

The question is how do we account for the exceptional stories that people report? Card carrying skeptics would like to dismiss them all as superstitious nonsense. I disagree not because I'm a fan of anomalous mysteries, but because of a substantial body of empirical data.

Unlike skeptics who can't seem to grok this, I do understand the skeptical mindset and all the counterarguments. And I simply do not find it to be a persuasive position.

Dean Radin said...

Apropos to my comment from a few years ago, this blog entry was brought to my attention:

Why I am no longer a skeptic.

http://plover.net/~bonds/nolongeraskeptic.html