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Michael Shermer: Often wrong

  1. Sep 6, 2005 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    I like Shermer but some of things he says are silly. In fact he often misrepresents issues in order to make his point, which really makes him a debunker with a bias rather than skeptic.

    Here is a good example of something I just caught on the History Channel's History's Mysteries. The show was about superstitions, but Shermer uses a poll from the early nineties which indicates that something like 66% of all people in the US believe that they've had a psychic experience. Well, first of all, this is not a superstition. It is a belief based on an experience. The definition of superstition is "an irrational belief arising from ignorance or fear". Now, one might argue that it is irrational to believe that anyone ever has psychic experiences, but this is a statement of faith that, in this case, denies about 200 million claims based on nothing more than Shermer's personal opinion.

    He then continued to describe how dangerous superstitions are by referencing cults that have committed mass suicide. So here is my question to Mr. Shermer: Of all of the people who have superstitious beliefs, how many commit suicide due to those beliefs? It sounds to me like Mr. Shermer is a little superstitious.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2005
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  3. Sep 6, 2005 #2

    SGT

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    You are using a logical fallacy named appeal to popularity (argumentum ad populum). The fact that there are 200 million claims about psychic phenomena says nothing about their existence.
    The fact is that, after more then a century of research, no conclusive experiment was performed that confirms the reality of psychic experiences.
    To believe in something with no evidence is either religion (if it is your belief) or superstition (if it is other people´s beliefs).
     
  4. Sep 6, 2005 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    Well, first of all, I am not using the appeal to the popularity. My point is that the claim is common. So it certainly possible that people are experiencing something inexplicable. Would you find it more compelling if only 20 people made such claims?

    This only shows that it is not something easily controlled. Take for example Ball Lightning. After more then a century of research, no conclusive experiment was performed that confirms the reality of ball lightning, however most meteorologists now believe it exists.

    If something exists which is random, or seemingly so, not reproducible by its very nature, or at least not for now, but still we find hundreds of millions [and really billions if we consider all people alive today] of people who in many cases tell compelling accounts that deny pedestrian and prosaic explanations, science has very little to say about it other than it can't be quantified as yet. To ignore hundreds of millions of testimonials is ludicrous.

    Edit: And note also that we don't have to accept any particular belief in order to consider the claims. But to outright deny all claims is outrageous. This is not science or skepticism, this is a faith based reaction by those who don't want to believe that it could be true.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2005
  5. Sep 6, 2005 #4

    Phobos

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    Context? (I didn't see the show.) Perhaps he was trying to point out that many (most?) people have a belief in the supernatural (aside from mainstream religion)?
     
  6. Sep 6, 2005 #5
    It's a belief based on percieved experience. There is usually no way to prove anything authentically psychic happened.

    I've had many an instance where I was thinking about someone and the phone rings and it's them, which it is very hard not to attribute to something like telepathy, but, really, it could have just been coincidence.

    I don't actually hear "hundreds of millions" of "testimonies", either. I hear the occasional anecdote, some more convincing than others, none of which is checkable.

    SGT is right. The number of claims in a case like this is irrelevant. I would, indeed, prefer 20 really solid reports to hundreds of millions of stories that could be people overreacting to coincidences and other stuff.
     
  7. Sep 6, 2005 #6
    Would you say that Shermer is helping or hurting the case for critical/skeptical thinking?

    Name one person who claims to have a belief that is not based on an 'experience.'
     
  8. Sep 6, 2005 #7

    Ivan Seeking

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    That is not proof or evidence against the claim either.

    But "maybe" doesn't count any more as proof against than it does as proof for a claim.

    That was based on what Shermer said: About 2/3 of everyone in the US believe that they have had a psychic experience. And I already addressed the issue of reproducibility. This is just like ball lightning or "UFO" sightings. If it happens, it happens and then its over.

    It is not irrelevant. It shows that the perception is that these experiences are common - first hand experience mind you. The certainly plays a role in evaluating any claim. What you and SGT mean is that this is not proof for psychic claims. I never said that it was.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2005
  9. Sep 6, 2005 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    Most scientists will tell you that anecdotal evidence is the lowest form of evidence in Science. But, as is unavoidably implied, it is still evidence. So then we consider how much evidence we have. It seems that if we could interview everyone in the world, the answer is that we have billions of testimonials. Here in the US, hundreds of millions.
     
  10. Sep 6, 2005 #9

    Ivan Seeking

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    This was used in the context of superstitions and why people have them. The thing that I find objectionable is to use psychic experiences in the same context as having a fear of black cats, for example. A first hand experience goes far beyond some old wives tale. So context was exactly my objection. This is a error often made by the "skeptics" - lumping many subjects into one discussion so that we can generalize as much as possible - which is really meant to debunk due to personal beliefs but under the guise of skepticism. Now I' not saying Shermer is being dishonest, but I think his personal bias can blind his thinking. And because he is a "skeptic", the utterly failed logic is ignored by his fellow skeptics just as true believers ignore logical failures in their position.
     
  11. Sep 6, 2005 #10

    Ivan Seeking

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    I think the skeptics cloud the facts with personal biases just as do the true believers. Not only do skeptics like Shermer often try to discredit claims, no matter how compelling they may be, they also try make any such claim sound silly. It is also common to see the most difficult cases to explain go ignored. Skeptics are great at cherry picking, on this point however the true believers have a great advantage: they are entitled to cherry pick since they only have to be right once, but the skeptics don't get to cherry pick since they have to be right every time.

    I think all sorts of people believe all kinds of crazy things for no reason whatsoever other than because someone said so.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2005
  12. Sep 7, 2005 #11

    SpaceTiger

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    I agree with what you're saying, Ivan and personally, I would really like to see more scientific exploration of potential psychic phenomena. Singularity of consciousness seems to be more of an assumption of science rather than a demonstrated fact. If things like ESP existed, it might have consequences for our interpretation of relativity and quantum mechanics.
     
  13. Sep 7, 2005 #12
    I believe James Randi is willing to offer a “one-million dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.” I would say that Michael Shermer has every right to dismiss 200 million people who claim to posses psychic abilities.

    Yes, you’re quite right about the phenomenon being common, but I think you’re missing a crucial point, these people have irrational or otherwise delusional beliefs, to say 200 million people can’t be wrong, is no argument at all, 200 million people can be wrong, and in this case they are, in other words they all have irrational, delusional beliefs – superstitions

    And here is this funny statement appearing again, ironically by another moderator. Does it occur to those who make such attacks on people who are skeptical of such claims that, we simply don’t have any evidence? We are not simply saying “We Don’t Want to Believe” we’re looking for evidence, that unfortunately never comes, and I’m afraid if you investigate from a psychological perspective, you’ll understand that it is more to do with a persons psychological makeup. To spell it out clearly; people fool themselves into believing they have psychic abilities, why? How? Pick up any womans magazine, or UFO magazine, flick through and look at how many adds there are for psychic hotlines, astrology, numerology etc. It’s a billion dollar industry, and they’re ripping off billions of people, not to mention screwing with they’re beliefs.
     
  14. Sep 7, 2005 #13
    I'm not trying to disprove it.
    Again, I'm not trying to disprove it.
    Which is alot milder than saying there are 200 million "testimonies".
    No, the number is really irrelevant. In 1000 A.D. you could round up millions people who could give good faith testimony that the earth is flat.

    Or take Galileo: his one good claim that objects of different weight fall at the same rate backed by evidence, overturned thousands of other claims that heavier objects fall faster.

    I realize you're not trying to prove psychic phenomena, but you're wrong about the weight that should be given to the number of claims in a case like this.
     
  15. Sep 7, 2005 #14

    Ivan Seeking

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    That is what the survey concluded. 2/3 X 300,000,000 = 200,000,000

    This has nothing to do with direct experiences. Edit: sorry, I see where you were going here. This only speaks to the possibility that everyone is wrong, but it doesn't imply that they are.

    I don't see what this has to do with the discussion... [edit] Okay trying again here, I think this has the same answer as the last question. All that any of this says is that 200,000,000 testimonials is not proof. We already established that fact.

    What weight did I say they should be given? I simply stated that they exist and they can't be completely ignored. To ignore them outright for no reason other than because we don't want to believe it, has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with intellectual censorship based on personal bias.

    ------- Late Edits --------
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2005
  16. Sep 7, 2005 #15

    Ivan Seeking

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    You obviously didn't read the posts. It helps to do that first. I already said that if it exists, psychic abilities are not easily controlled or available upon demand. ,

    I didn't say that.

    I wish some of you people would learn to read before posting.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2005
  17. Sep 7, 2005 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Another common tactic of the debunkers is to misquote anyone they disagree with. That way we get to argue all day long about something that was never said.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2005
  18. Sep 7, 2005 #17
    Yes, which is still quite a bit weaker than "testimonies".
    Sure it does. You go out, have a look at the world around you, and your direct experience of it is that it's flat.
    It addresses quality of testimony, rather than quantity.


    This weight:
    The commoness of the experience is equated with it being possible in your argument. You think that 20 claims would be less convincing.

    Without arguing for or against the existence of psychic phenomena, SGT and I are just pointing out that the number of claims do not make it more possible. You are claiming that the more people who say they've had it, the more foolish it is for anyone to ignore it. That's not correct. As vast pointed out, it is quite faddish to believe in psychic stuff and there is, in fact, an industry fostering belief in it, so, in this case, the number of reports is irrelevant.
    I agree with this, but I don't think skeptics are ignoring the number of reports because they don't want to believe them. There is a long history of all kinds of psychic scams going back to ancient times that leave any thinking person...skeptical. You, yourself, don't believe in those TV guys who contact dead relatives, ot Uri Geller et al, yet you fail to make the connection with the millions who interpret coincidences and whatever as "psychic" experiences with having been primed to do so by these scam artists, and by popular culture in general.
     
  19. Sep 8, 2005 #18

    Ivan Seeking

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    Well, I see this as nitpicking since it was the point of the study to determine the truth about what people believe.

    See late edits to my last post.

    Again, late edits above

    There is a huge difference between events rare to the point of absurdity, and something believed to be true due to personal experience in a large percentage of the population. Strictly speaking, no doubt about it, the number of claims does not increase the chances that the beliefs are true, however it establishes as fact the most people believe that it's true. So one implication is that in fact psychic events are common. And no one is in position to say that everyone is wrong here, so the demand on science is of a social and not statistical nature. Science has a responsiblity to listen. There may not be much to be done, but denial based on personal bias is certainly not an option.

    That is another issue all together. I agree completely that the scam artists are well targeted by the debunkers, but 2/3 of the country are not scam artists, yet the skeptics almost always fail to make this distinction. we are not talking about Cleo here, we are talking about your family, friends, and neighbors.

    edit: These beliefs have been around a lot longer than Cleo.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2005
  20. Sep 8, 2005 #19
    Ivan, you said:

    Once again, you’re implying that some people are experiencing something, implying that some may be legitimate, based solely on the phenomenon being common. Which is the same as saying 200 million people can’t be wrong. But wait a minute, you also said inexplicable, meaning that some of these people’s experiences are difficult to explain. Well sure, difficult for them to explain to themselves, take for example the situation used by zooby with the so called telepathic phone call, many people find that difficult to explain, but to many its nothing more than a coincidence. People do fool themselves very easily, and a situation similar, but a little bit more inexplicable, will no doubt convince a person they have psychic abilities.

    Similarly, the difficulty you’re suggesting in reproducing these experiences, is I believe a bit over overrated. Wouldn’t you agree that a significant percentage of people receiving a phone call, just when they were thinking of that person, would convince themselves they might possess psychic abilities? Wouldn’t this be something reproducible? I’m not hundred percent certain whether it is a reproducible experiment or not, and if you disagree, fine. But I seem to recall an experiment done which showed that out of hundreds of millions of people in one day, a significant percentage would indeed receive a phone call by those they were thinking of that very moment, law of large number or something I think it was.

    The other major problem for psychic proponents, is that they have no theory of mechanism; how thoughts generated in one persons brain can transmit themselves out of their skull into another persons. Personally, my opinion along with most other scientists, is that there is no mechanism, there is no theory, in other words its simply not possible, which is quite different from the misconception that “we don’t want to believe” isn’t it? Its similar to how we would treat claims of someone levitating above the ground in India just say. Millions will tell you they’ve seen for themselves people levitate, and millions will tell you that levitation is possible, but we know that levitation is impossible, because it simply defies the laws of nature.
     
  21. Sep 8, 2005 #20

    Ivan Seeking

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    Well if you take a look at my last post, which I admit you probably haven't had the chance yet, I make this distinction clear. But I did go out of my way to say not only that this does not constitute proof, but also that anecdotal evidence is the lowest form of evidence.

    Or maybe not. That is just one possibility, but it also ignores the fact that not all claims are so vague. However, even if this were the only type of example, "maybe" is not proof either. Can you prove the statistics or only shoot from the hip and argue that this could be the correct explanation?

    So how often does this happen? We don't know, do we? So we could just as well find that if we could measure for this, these events happen much more frequently than is statistically likely.

    We are getting hints from QM, but this doesn't matter. Casual observers are usually not scientists. And I have never said a thing about how this might be possible. But this is also a common error made by the skeptics and debunkers: They wish to assign the responsiblity for proof on everyone except scientists. Now that doesn't make much sense, does it? In other words, it is the position of science that you're lying or wrong about what you say happened, that is anyone and everyone, unless you can prove it?

    So we should exclude any potential for new frontiers?

    They were tricked. The fact that people can be tricked by con artists does not apply here except to say as I have already many times, everyone could be wrong, but that doesn't imply that they are all wrong.


    I don't hear one skeptic admitting that people could be right about this. Now why is that? Do you see the bias here?
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2005
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