Tag Archives | Skepticism

Educating the Potential Human – Skepticism, Psychical Research and a New Age of Reason

Seeking HarmonyAfter a recent investigation into the public presentation of anomalistic science, it’s fairly clear to me (as if it wasn’t already) that much of the information being fed into the popular consciousness is nothing more than hyped up fantasy fixed and formatted for mass mediated consumption. With Dean Radin’s new book, Supernormal, reaching the top if it’s sales categories on Amazon, and ranking high in the Nielsen ratings, there is an obvious desire for more detailed investigations of these areas that go beyond the paranormalist freak show and the skeptical sub-culture’s deflated debunking.

The binary argument of real vs. fake, of truth vs. fraud, or any such division, is merely a set up to market to one side or the other, and both proponents and defamers alike rely on each other to stoke the fires of contention so that an audience lulled by the rhythms of the work place will feel called to seek some solace in the untenable possibilities of the unknown, or the thin empowerment of a pseudo-scientific righteousness found in the knowledge that all their dreams and fears from childhood have been firmly put to bed by the cold light of rational, technological progress.… Read the rest

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Rupert Sheldrake: Are Psychic Phenomena Illusory?

Are psychic phenomena illusory?This is a fascinating excerpt from Chapter 9 – Are Psychic Phenomena Illusory?, of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s new book Science Set Free. Reproduced here with permission.

How an open-minded scientist opened my mind

Telepathy literally means “distant feeling”, from the Greek tele, distant, as in telephone and television, and pathe, feeling, as in sympathy and empathy.

In the course of my scientific education at school and university, I was converted to the materialist worldview, and absorbed the standard attitude towards telepathy and other psychic phenomena. I dismissed them. I did not study the evidence because I assumed there was none worth reading. But when I was a graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University, in a conversation in the laboratory tearoom, someone mentioned telepathy. I dismissed it out of hand.  But sitting nearby was one of the doyens of British biochemistry, Sir Rudolph Peters, formerly Professor of Biochemistry in Oxford, who after retirement continued his research in our laboratory in Cambridge.  He was kindly, his eyes twinkled, and had more curiosity than most people half his age.  He asked if any of us had ever looked at the evidence.  We had not.

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The Natural History of the Incorporeal Garage Dragon

dragonSkeptics, believers. Lay down your shotguns and knives. Take a moment to bandage and reload, and I will explain to you why an incorporeal garage dragon means that you should not be fighting. As much.

This strange beast, and its fantastical properties, are described in The Demon Haunted World, by Carl Sagan.

“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage,” he begins, “…Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself.”

You do, but you can’t. The dragon is invisible. You could spread flour on the floor to capture its footprints, but, alas, it also floats. You offer to fetch your infrared camera, but, sadly, its fire is heatless. Perhaps a can of spray paint, then, to make the dragon visible? Oh, right. Incorporeal.

You see where he’s going: “Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless,” he writes, “the only sensible approach is to tentatively reject the dragon hypothesis, [but] to be open to future data…”

The garage dragon is a straightforward parable about the scientific value of a non-falsifiable hypothesis, but it contains an important nuance.… Read the rest

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Stephen Bond: ‘Why I Am No Longer a Skeptic’

strawman2Writer Stephen Bond’s eloquent rejection of  the skeptic movement is sure to ruffle a few feathers here.  Is he overstating his case and condemning a large group of well-meaning people for the actions of a poorly behaved few? (I’m particularly intrigued by his own dismissive and somewhat patronizing generalization of people who hold minority beliefs as only doing so because they’re powerless and marginalized and need to reject whatever authority has dictated to be an acceptable  belief system.)

What about his suggestion that many of his former colleagues prefer to spend their time reaching for low-hanging fruit instead of taking a swipe at thornier issues? It is important to emphasize that he isn’t rejecting the idea of skepticism, per se, and certainly not reason and science. His fight is what he perceives as dogma rather than the message itself.

Excerpt:

Our political system, education and culture leave a lot of people marginalised, lost, impotent, irrelevant, and made to feel so daily.… Read the rest

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The Conspiracy Theorist Glossary

300806jfkIf you’ve ever scoffed when someone told you that JFK’s second gunman destroyed the World Trade Center with assistance from reptilian extraterrestrials as part of a plan hatched at Bohemian Grove to corner the gold market before the return of Planet X, you’ve probably found yourself subject to a bevy of indicting catch phrases machine gunned at you so fast your head spun.

To help decode the buzzwords that form the conspiracy theorist lexicon, the Skeptic Project developed a handy glossary. Here are some highlights:

Awake: the opposite of “asleep.” Essentially, the condition of believing in conspiracy theories and not believing (supposedly) any government or “mainstream media” source. CT’ers employ numerous variations on the “asleep”/”awake” concept, such as “I woke up,” “You’re asleep,” “Why did you go back to sleep?”, “When I was asleep I believed…”, “We’re trying to wake people up!”, “A lot of people are waking up,” etc., etc.

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The Reason Stick: “The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense”

Picture: Crispian Jago (C)

 

Blog The Reason Stick (Header: A blunt, shit-stained instrument wielded indiscriminately to bludgeon pseudoscience, superstition, blind faith and common or garden irrational bollocks.”) has issued a handy Venn Diagram to classify varieties of “woo”.

When you’re done with the Venn Diagram, you might also enjoy Reason Stick proprietor Crispian Jago’s “Multi-Faith Blasphemy Generator“.

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Hunting for Unicorns – Skeptic Challenges & the Illusion of Scientific Inquiry

“The attacks on the million dollar challenge are likely to continue. This is a sign, in my opinion, of the success of the challenge. Con artists know they cannot beat the challenge, and so they have no choice but to try to discredit it. Those who truly believe they have abilities but fail the challenge almost universally make up post hoc excuses for their failure.”

Our writing is an interesting window into our beliefs and opinions, even when we may not be fully aware of what it shows. What does it say to end a critical piece with a manipulative double bind that leads the reader to conclude those who question the JREF Challenge are either gullible or cons?

The opening quote comes from a recent article by Steven Novella discussing Steve Volk’s critique of the James Randi Educational Foundation Challenge. As usually happens when the JREF is brought up, either positively or negatively, Volk has ignited a vigorous back and forth between skeptics and believers.… Read the rest

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The Problem with Proving Things: NDEs and the Failures of Science

Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander wrote an account of his near-death experience that pissed off a lot of skeptics.  It sort of annoyed me too, but not as much as the skeptical annoyance annoyed me.  The conflict between NDE believers and skeptics points to bigger problems in science and culture.

“In the materialistic demand to somehow untangle ourselves from the world completely in order to understand it, we’re asked to borrow a popular theological narrative. First, researchers are meant to believe there’s a way to create an experiment and not intervene or interact with it, and that they’re meant to do everything they can to preserve this principle.  Then, they should believe that thoughts, feelings, and impressions have nothing to do with the reality they’ve set up inside the experiment and that there are laws (controls, etc.) that they’ve also created that actually prohibit them from interfering with whatever takes place inside the experiment world.  This is remarkably similar to the deist or TV-addicted version of God — an old man on a distant cloud with a billion billion TVs.  He set the show in motion so he could watch, pretending things happen independent of him.… Read the rest

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Democratic Republic of Congo – Cannibalism in the Modern Age?

I’m incredibly skeptical of this story simply because of a Universiy teacher of mine who furiously claimed to us that cannibalism was a racist myth invented by evil British Imperialists. He was, I think, inspired by the book “The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy” by William Arens. However, a quick glance at the cannibalism wikipedia page suggests the debate may have moved on since the late 90’s and I assume it will be attened to further in the comments section of this piece.

In short it appears that France 24 are reporting an act of cannibalism as a weird form of vigilante behaviour amid what sounds like continuing mob rule and civil war in the region:

Recent fighting between government forces and rebel groups has dramatically destabilised the Democratic Republic of Congo. During the night between December 2 and 3, a barbaric scene unfolded in the capital Goma, in North Kivu province.

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