Re:  - There is a Hole in Materialism .

By Avijit Roy

E-mail:  [email protected] 

The first part of my response can be found here 

The objective of this part of the article is to focus on the scientific method that is characterized by skepticism and mistrust of human nature. Of course there is no such thing as A Scientific Method of Discovery (which Meeker tried to point out  in his piece), but there is a method to scientific thinking and it includes being constantly vigilant against self-deception and being careful not to rely upon insight or intuition in place of rigorous and precise empirical testing of theoretical and causal claims.

Before starting, I would like to state one term  clearly - "Self Deception". Self-deception is the process or fact of misleading ourselves to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid. Self-deception, in short, is a way we justify false beliefs to ourselves. Here is one example of self deception from Ali Sina's piece:

I read what James Randi wrote about Van Praagh. If I had never seen Van Praagh I would have probably agreed with Randi. But I saw Van Praagh and hence know what Randi is saying is pure bull. I see a phenomenon with my own eyes. I have to use my own judgment not someone else�s to explain what has happened. I am afraid Randi is living in lala land and denials.

 The most probable explanation of the above event is  that Ali Sina wanted to "trust" Van Praagh's psychic power  without critically examining it. This is what I call self-deception. But there are many experts  who will not agree with Sina. For e.g, Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine calls Van Praagh "the master of cold-reading in the psychic world." Sociologist and student of anomalies, Marcello Truzzi of Eastern Michigan University, studied characters like Van Praagh for more than 35 years and he describes Van Praagh's demonstrations as "extremely unimpressive." ("A Spirited Debate," Dru Sefton, Knight Ridder News Service, The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 10, 1998, p. E1.) Truzzi says that most of what Van Praagh gives out is "twaddle," but it is good twaddle since "what people want is comfort, guilt assuagement. And they get that: Your parents love you; they forgive you; they look forward to seeing you; it's not your fault they're dead." I am sure Ali Sina does not have any expertise like Randi or Michael Shermer to know how to critically test Van Praagh just as Randi has less expertise to critically see Quranic verses than Ali. 

It is known that Van Praagh can�t get a good bite, he reminds his audience that sometimes the message is in fragments, sometimes he doesn�t understand it, sometimes he misinterprets it, etc. If he�s wrong, don�t blame him since he never claimed to be perfect. In "Why People Believe Weird Things" Michael Shermer describes Van Praagh's success and how he wowed audiences on NBC's New Age talk show The Other Side. Shermer also tells us how he debunked Van Praagh on Unsolved Mysteries. Yet, no one in the audience was sympathetic to Shermer. One woman even told him that his behavior was "inappropriate" because he was destroying people's hopes in their time of grief!!! 

Again, many famous scientists even do not understand how psychics use techniques such as warm and cold reading just like many of us do not know how good magician's magic works. Even a famous scientist is also a human being like you and me. When s/he fails to figure out the tricks behind, s/he may think as a scientist like him/her could not come out with the answer, it must be paranormal. It might sound like Ali's statement - "I see a phenomenon with my own eyes. I have to use my own judgment not someone else�s to explain what has happened." We forget our mind can deceive, our vision can deceive, and that is the technique magicians use to play always. Again, the accuracy of prophecies is also grossly exaggerated because of lack of understanding of "confirmation bias" and "The Law of  Truly Large Numbers"; their accuracy is also exaggerated because of ignorance about how memory works, especially about how premonitions are often filled in after the fact etc.

Again when Ali Says-

I am not familiar with any of those names and stories you mentioned. But I read something about Edgar Cayce. The stories about him were fascinating. A doctor worked with him and sought his input in diagnosis of his patients....

It shows again his complete surrender towards psychic claims without investigating. It is true, however, that many people considered themselves cured by Edgar Cayce and that's enough evidence for true believers. Cause it works! Again the fact that thousands don't consider themselves cured or can't rationalize an erroneous diagnosis won't deter the true believer. For example, Gardner notes that Dr. J. B. Rhine, famous for his ESP experiments at Duke University, was not impressed with Cayce. Rhine felt that a psychic reading done for his daughter didn't fit the facts. Defenders of Cayce claim that if a patient has any doubts about Cayce, the diagnosis won't be a good one. Yet, what reasonable person wouldn't have doubts about such a man, no matter how kind or sincere he was?

Frankly speaking, the support for his accuracy consists of little more than anecdotes and testimonials. There is no way to demonstrate that Cayce used psychic powers even on those cases where there is no dispute that he was instrumental in the cure.

Let's examine  another statement of Ali:

I recall when I was a teenager, one day my mother told us, she dreamt a giant had fallen from a height and its pieces were scattered all around. The dream left her traumatized. That very day, the big and overweight maid of our neighbor went to the roof to shovel the snow off. She fell from the third floor and her brain was scattered all around.

That is how psychic power works. It is clear that my mother's dream was a premonition to what happened that very day but how in the world we could have known what that dream meant?

The psychic can see things like this. What they perceive is dream-like. It is a feeling of things.

This is an example of selective thinking. Selective thinking is the process whereby one selects out favorable evidence for remembrance and focus, while ignoring unfavorable (common) evidence for a belief. Having vague feelings that something bad is going to happen followed by something bad happening is not "dumb luck" but highly probable, as a rational person  like Ali should know. One reason scientists follow rigorous methods of testing claims is because many claims are so vague or ambiguous that the kinds of things that could count as confirmation of those claims becomes almost limitless. 

Anxieties about one's loved ones--parents, children, spouses--are very common. Some people are anxious to a fault. They are forever contemplating what could go wrong, what harm could befall someone. Such people are likely to have one or more of their fears realized. Again, the vagueness of the anxiety allows for numerous kinds of things to count as confirmation.

You sensed something wrong and focused in on details most people would ignore. I would be willing to bet that you are a very observant person, and frequently see and remember details that others don't pay attention to. You may also be so observant that you implicitly recognize when something is "not right."

We use to have bad dreams hundreds of times in our entire life, but how many times our dream comes true? And most importantly, why we need to give so much importance if once a bad dream comes true? This can be explained by law of truly large numbers (coincidences). For example, you might be in awe of the person who won the lottery twice, thinking that the odds of anyone winning twice are astronomical. The New York Times ran a story about a woman who won the New Jersey lottery twice, calling her chances "1 in 17 trillion." But is it a paranormal event? No. But certainly a rare incident. I can understand why this experience of your mother seems like a dream come true to you. But the explanation for this does not seem to demand a paranormal account. May be there is no correlation either.  Your mother dreamt about a giant but incident happened to a innocent maid. Are they Proof of psychic phenomenon? May be simply selective observation or coincidence. Moreover, this experience is not uncanny. She could have warned your neighbor about the impending disaster. But she did not. Why? Because she did not know that it would  happen to her neighbor's maid. Let's assume the incident did not happen to that maid. Would she remember the episode of her bad dream even then? Certainly not. Again, the incident could happen to any of his good friends, relatives or anyone she knew  instead of her neighbor, and then she would have again tried to correlate the incident with her dream, isn't it? Is this a coincidence? Wishful thinking? or May be both?  I have no idea. But human mind works in that way.

Ali Said:

I did that and I came to believe that psychic power is not implausible or incredible. It is a reality. How it works and why is now what I would like to learn. I have no doubt that it exists.

"I have no doubt" - is not a process of critical thinking, Ali. You have to have doubt in mind, unless you have already came to your own biased conclusion. How can you be so sure that psychic power exists? Just like those believers who are quite certain about God's existence because of their religious experience? When we think critically, we use our knowledge and intelligence effectively to arrive at the most reasonable and justifiable position possible. When we're thinking uncritically, no matter how intelligent or knowledgeable we are, we'll make unreasonable decisions and arrive at unreasonable beliefs or take unjustifiable actions--unless we are lucky and end up making the right choice for the wrong reasons!

Ali Said:

Psychic  ability is not about guessing the lottery number. They  simply can't do that. It is not about predicting the future.  It is about dream-like impressions that psychics get while awake.

Why Psychic ability is not about guessing the lottery number? Just because they can't do? If they could, it is you who would put such example in favor of existence of psychic power. In either case, your position is always wining situation.

Ali Said:

Even if I had to believe all those who claim something extraordinary happened to them are lying. Even if I believed Piggy and the other person who wrote me the above notes I posted here are lying, I can�t dismiss my own experiences.

The testimonial of personal experience in paranormal or supernatural matters has no meaningful value. If others cannot experience the same thing under the same conditions, then there will be no way to verify the experience. If there is no way to test the claims made, then there will be no way to tell if the experience was a delusion or was interpreted correctly. If others can experience the same thing, then it is possible to make a test of the testimonial and determine whether the claim based on it is worthy of belief.

It's however, quite valid to use personal experience to illustrate a point; but such anecdotes don't actually prove anything to anyone. Your friend may say he met Elvis Priestly or  Mahatma Gandhi in the supermarket, but those who haven't had the same experience will require more than your friend's anecdotal evidence to convince them.

Anecdotal evidence can seem very compelling, especially if the audience wants to believe it. This is part of the explanation for urban legends; stories which are verifiably false have been known to circulate as anecdotes for years.

Ali  objected to Meeker's  explanation of the orange globe of light because he believed it 'behaved intelligently'. If he could think critically, he could have searched more rather just sticking in paranormal explanation. Regarding Piggy's experience, I am sure there are some explanation which need some good research. Please check this site and responses made on such experiences without invoking paranormal:

It's irony that by believing in the paranormal without having substantial proof (only testimonial of personal experience is provided), you are claiming to be a true critical thinker or a true skeptic. Anyone can extend his or her beliefs to the wildest paradigms imaginable, but that only means they have a wild imagination. It does not imply they are thinking critically. Just because you can't or won't come up with an explanation for whatever happened to you, doesn't mean it was paranormal.

Ali said:

Randi is a magician alright! But he is not a psychic. He may be able to tell us spoon bending is magic. I never heard any credible psychic claim to bend spoons or lift things with mental power.

Remember, you said, "We are all psychics". So by your definition Randi has to be a psychic too! But in my dictionary,  psychic refers to a medium or a person who has paranormal powers in which Randi shows his profound doubt just as you show doubt on the term "Islamic Scholar" :-). I am surprised to know that you haven't heard about those spoon bending psychics! One example is Uri Geller. Uri Geller is a Hungarian/Austrian is most famous for his claims to be able to bend spoons and keys with his mind. Geller claims he's had visions and may get his powers from extraterrestrials. He calls himself a psychic. If you doubt his great powers or my account of them, you can read about them on the WWW by tuning in to Uri-Geller .com. The interactive part of his site is where you  get to try to bend a spoon Geller has placed somewhere with a video camera on it, transmitting to his home page.

BTW, it is James  Randi, who has written a book and numerous articles aimed at demonstrating that Geller is a fraud, that he has no psychic powers and that what Geller does amounts to no more than the parlor tricks of a conjurer [For a detailed account of how easy it is to demonstrate incompetence and to commit fraud in this area, read James Randi's account of the Uri Geller experiments designed and executed by Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff of the Stanford Research Institute. See either chapter 7 of Flim-Flam! or The Magic of Uri Geller.]

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