Sunday, April 29, 2007

HABS syndrome

I enjoyed this remark from an article about the author Kingsley Amis in The New Yorker (April 23, 2007), by Adam Gopnik:
It is a very good thing to have a built-in bullshit detector, but a bad thing when the bullshit detector crowds out the rest of your brain; that's why they call it being narrow-minded. You quickly reach the stage where anything ambitious, complicated, or merely foreign gets spat on along with the things that are genuinely phoney.
I'd add to this that those with HABS (hyperactive BS) syndrome, including cynics who proudly belong to "skeptics" societies, -- which revel in the presumed stupidity of others who don't belong to the club -- tend to reflexively spit on anything they regard as unorthodox or anomalous, including claims of psi experiences and experiments supporting those claims.

This is not to say that a refined BS detector is a bad thing. On the contrary, it is a necessity, especially when it comes to evaluating all those exciting new opportunities arriving in our email every day from Nigeria.

A truly refined BS detector, somewhat rare to find these days, is also recursive -- it applies its discernment not only to unexpected claims, but also to itself. It does this both to avoid the mindless spit reflex and to discriminate between the genuinely interesting and the genuinely phoney. Some day I should write a book on the tension between critical thinking and creativity, and how to apply these two skills to each other.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Some noteworthy books

Nancy Zingrone provides a nice annotated list (reachable here) of 36 basic books on parapsychology covering the history and evidence of this field.

Another book to consider: The Spirit of Dr. Bindelof: The Enigma of Séance Phenomena by Rosemarie Pilkington, PhD. You can read about it here, including a sample chapter. Warning, this book is likely to push your boggle threshold. But I know Rosemarie, and I know she's meticulous about her facts, so prepare to be boggled.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The trouble with Wiki

The idea of a large, user-contributed encyclopedia is, in principle, a good one. But the implementation of the largest such effort to date, the Wikipedia, is an excellent example of how good ideas can go dreadfully wrong.

Authors of Wikipedia articles are anonymous in many cases, so expertise in the topic is not vetted for accuracy or depth. Worse, for controversial topics and for biographies of living persons, experts are specifically asked not to contribute to the articles. I discovered this when attempting to correct factual errors in the entry page on my name, and for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. I've been asked not to edit these pages, even though I am arguably the expert on me, and an expert on IONS, because it violates Wikipedia's guidelines.

The most persistent editors on Wikipedia, by the way, largely seem to be 20-something students who are riding high on arrogance, because like all kids, they're suffering under the delusion that they know everything. (I recall this state of mind quite clearly from when I was 20-something.) For you young folks out there, believe me, that grandiosity dissolves with life experience. The fact is that nothing is certain, especially what science pretends to know.

Wikipedia's absurd guidelines means that for topics of interest to many people, namely controversies, the articles are guaranteed to be of poor quality. What a ridiculous state of affairs this good idea has come to, one that very effectively does one thing well -- it perpetuates stupidity.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Radio shows

This week I participated in a series of radio shows all around the US, promoting Entangled Minds, which can be purchased for one dollar as part of an IONS membership promotion.

The stations included WPEG-FM (Charlotte), KXXR-FM (Minneapolis), WOCA-FM (Gainesville), WEOL-AM (Cleveland), WICO-FM (regional Baltimore), KSFR-FM (NPR, Santa Fe), FRES-FM (Columbia), Voice of America, WLRN-FM (NPR, Miami), WMEL-AM (Daytona Beach), WQUB-FM (NPR, Illinois), WFTL (regional Florida), WLW-AM (Cincinnati), KRLD-AM (Dallas), KKZZ-AM (Los Angeles), KXKL-FM (Denver), KFWB-AM (Los Angeles), and KPQ-AM (Spokane). I have a few more stations remaining on the "tour" next week, including KSVY-FM (NRP, Sonoma) and KLPW-AM (St. Louis).

In general, I do not enjoy the self-promotional aspects that are necessarily associated with being an author (that is, necessary assuming the author wants to sell books!). I have author friends who love traveling on speaking tours; they're on the road almost continuously. For me, flying around the world to give talks is the exception rather than the rule. I find travel to be exhausting rather than exciting, especially given the frantic crush one often finds in airports these days. Fortunately, I do enjoy radio shows, which only requires moving leisurely from one room in my home to another.

More lunacy. Not.

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Peter Sturrock and James Spottiswoode report another confirmation of a lunar phase relationship with psi perception performance. Their paper is entitled "Time-series power spectrum analysis of performance in free response anomalous cognition experiments." Their analysis was based on 3,325 free response trials.

The reason I mention this finding and the one recently published by Eckhard Etzold is because over 10 years ago I published two articles on this topic, both finding lunar phase relationships with psi performance, one based on casino payout data. At the time no one paid much attention to those reports (except for a few skeptics, who felt that mixing lunar effects with psi in the casino was further justification for simply dismissing this realm of research). So it is gratifying to see that independent analyses are now finding the same result.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Quantum Enigma

Here's a new book I highly recommend for those who wish to learn why physics and consciousness are inextricably linked, regardless of how much some physicists may wish to exclude this "skeleton in the closet" from their domain.
The authors are physics professors at the University of California at Santa Cruz and critics of movies like "What the Bleep."
To read more about the book, go to the authors' website here.