Tag Archives | Skepticism

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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Man Faces Death Threats and Jail for Pointing Out That Weeping Jesus “Miracle” Is Just Faulty Plumbing

Science and skepticism are under constant attack around the world; climate denial here in the United States, magic bracelets in Australia, and geologists in Italy being punished for not magically predicting earthquakes. Despite the strides of rationalists like Sanal Edamaruku in India (famous for disproving a tantric guru’s ridiculous claims), the law of the land still often sides with the religious zealots.

Picture: Koshi Koshi (CC)

via AlterNet by Henry McDonald

When water started trickling down a statue of Jesus Christ at a Catholic church in Mumbai earlier this year, locals were quick to declare a miracle. Some began collecting the holy water and the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni began to promote it as a site of pilgrimage.

So when Sanal Edamaruku arrived and established that this was not holy water so much as holey plumbing, the backlash was severe. The renowned rationalist was accused of blasphemy, charged with offences that carry a three-year prison sentence and eventually, after receiving death threats, had to seek exile in Finland.

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Reality Sandwich Interviews Rupert Sheldrake

Picture: Rupert Sheldrake (PD)

Gabriel D. Roberts of Reality Sandwich interviewed the controversial (in some quarters) biologist Dr. Rupert Sheldrake. It’s well worth a read. Here’s a snip:

You’ve experimented a good deal with the sense of being stared at. This sort of thing seems so simple to the average person, and yet a scientific materialist might say, “That’s just nonsense.” Is this another example of the dogma you refer to?

One of the ten dogmas I discuss in Science Set Free is that the mind is inside the head. The assumption of materialism is that the mind is nothing but the activity of the brain, therefore it is all inside the head. That means that when you look at somebody, your image of that person is inside your head, it’s not out there in any way. So when you look at somebody, you shouldn’t be able to affect them.

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Near-Death Experiences as Proof of Afterlife? Not Really.

Picture: Dr. Mario Markus (CC)

A rebuttal to the articles: Heaven is Real: A Doctor’s Experience with the Afterlife and A Neuroscientists Describes His Near-Death Visit to Another Realm.

Dr. Eben Alexander’s article can be summarily dismissed with one sentence in the words of the late, great, (kind of a jerk but…) inarguably intelligent, and erudite Christopher Hitchens: “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” And there you have it. However, considering the nature of my disagreement with Dr. Alexander, I suppose I should put forth an actual case for why I believe his experience does not constitute evidence (let alone proof) for life after death.

There are many possible explanations for what Dr. Alexander went through. Perhaps he really did experience an event in which his disembodied consciousness was whisked away to heaven on the wings of a magical butterfly with a hot brunette in tow.… Read the rest

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A Phantasmagoria of Scientific Jargon, Sleight of Hand and the Ol’ Scientistic Bait & Switch

“The horrors that (Mr. Clarke) witnessed in the dreary laboratory were to a certain extent salutary; he was conscious of being involved in an affair not altogether reputable, and for many years afterwards he clung bravely to the commonplace, and rejected all occasions of occult investigation. Indeed, on some homeopathic principle, he for some time attended the seances of distinguished mediums, hoping that the clumsy tricks of these gentlemen would make him altogether disgusted with mysticism of every kind, but the remedy, though caustic, was not efficacious.”

- from The Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen

A recent piece on LiveScience.com presents a study by Paul Brewer, a professor of communication at the University of Delaware, where participants were given one of four write ups, three dealt with a paranormal investigation, the fourth was on a different subject. One write up contained “science’y’ sounding terminology to describe the event, one couched it in metaphysical terminology, and the third, was the same as the first, only it contained a rebuttal from a science’y sounding authority.… Read the rest

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Want People to Believe in Your Paranormal Experience? Make it Sound “Science-y”

Picture: Harry Price (PD)

In this technological and mechanistic age that good old fashioned ghost stories don’t stand a chance of being accepted as plausible unless you sprinkle a little pseudoscience into the mix. This generation of  flim-flam artists may be just stumbling onto this fact, but fiction writers (as well as some of the earliest ghost-hunters) have known it for years. The protagonists of Bram Stoker’s Dracula bring modern technology to their fight against the eponymous vampire, as do the heroes (and villains) of several H.P. Lovecraft tales such as “The Shunned House”, “From Beyond”. Even Arthur Machen utilized scientific jargon in his classic story of the supernatural (or preternatural?) “The Great God Pan.”

An interesting study from LiveScience shows that a little techno-babble can go a long way in convincing people of the plausibility of supernatural experiences:

Fans of paranormal reality TV shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures” are treated to an array of technical jargon and references to fancy instruments — ion generators, electromagnetic field detectors and video goggles with built-in speech-synthesizers that allegedly can sense spirits.

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PZ Myers Calls Eben Alexander’s Visions Brain-Damaged ‘Bullshit’

Harvard-educated neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander woke up one morning with a bad case of E. Coli eating his brain. Before he could say “alakazam,” his neocortex had shut down completely, while his incorporeal body was whisked away on butterfly wings into the depths of the Infinite Beyond. He saw visions, was given messages, and upon returning to consciousness, wrote down his story, which he summarized for Newsweek.

Upon reading this account, blogging biologist and professional party-pooper PZ Myers basically accuses Dr. Alexander of being retarded.  Relishing in his contempt for any Swedenborgian realities that may lie beyond atoms and the void, Myers wipes his ass with Newsweek on his famous science blog Pharyngula:

I’ve got to wonder who is responsible for this nonsense, and how it gets past the staff at Newsweek. Every once in a while, they’ve just got to put up a garish cover story touting the reality of Christian doctrine, and invariably, the whole story is garbage.

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Arctic Ice Melt is ‘Decades Ahead’ of Previous Models

Picture: Stefan Lins (CC)

The climate scientists are wrong again!  Via Common Dreams:

In lieu of recent statistics showing ‘unprecedented’ and ‘amazing’ Arctic sea ice melt at record levels, leading climate scientist Michael Mann stated this week that rising water levels are “decades ahead of schedule” and that “Island nations that have considered the possibility of evacuation at some point, like Tuvalu, may have to be contending those sort of decisions within the matter of a decade or so.”

Arctic sea ice is “declining faster than the models predict,” Mann, who is the director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center, told the Guardian this week.

“When you look at the major Greenland and the west Antarctic ice sheets, which are critical from the standpoint of sea level rise, once they begin to melt we really start to see sea level rises accelerate.”

“The models have typically predicted that will not happen for decades but the measurements that are coming in tell us it is already happening so once again we are decades ahead of schedule.”

“Island nations that have considered the possibility of evacuation at some point, like Tuvalu, may have to be contending those sort of decisions within the matter of a decade or so.”

Perhaps the AGW denial psy-op is part of the Illuminatis’ depopulation plan?

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