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Observers, believers, and crackpots

  1. Jul 14, 2005 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    Almost all fringe topics have these common traits:

    1). The events described seem to defy prosaic explanations.

    2). Events described are transient by nature and, unless an explanation is found, not reproducible upon demand.

    3). The only evidence for the event is eyewitness testimony. On rare occasion some physical evidence may remain but is either inconclusive, or suspect due to the nature of the claims. In other words, no smoking gun is found.

    4). The events described are relatively rare. Some small percentage of the population claims direct observations of the alleged phenomenon.

    5). We find observers, believers, and crackpots associated with the claim.

    One of the most common errors made is to use of the word believer, or crackpot, to describe an observer. A moment of thought reveals the obvious truth in this statement. One might observe a phenomenon but have absolutely no belief about what was seen or how to explain the observation. But to insist that one saw what one believes that they saw, is not the makings of a crackpot, it is justified by our daily experiences. We all depend on observations and interpretations of those observations, in order to cross the street, make coffee, or to do any of the many tasks that we consider to be almost automatic. We learn to trust our observations. That's how we function each day.

    When confronted with claims of ghost, UFOs, ESP, or any fringe topic, most scientists either dismiss the whole business as nonsense, even though they almost certainly know very little about it, which is irrational, or they will demand evidence, when what they really mean is proof. Simply put, most scientists will avoid any serious discussion of fringe topics by any means possible, including to demand proof that they know full well doesn't exist. Its a good thing that scientists don't act so irrationally when it comes to other topics. If we need proof of an explanations before we begin, we would never study anything.

    Now, one can argue that the fringe topics are a different problem since we are talking about demanding proof that an alleged event took place; not how it could have taken place. If we compare this problem to evolution, the Big Bang, or String Theory, as examples, we can argue that we exist, the universe exists, and the laws of physics exist even if we haven't figured out all of the details. There is no doubt [in the prosaic sense] that these statements are true. But, as a random example, did the chair in the living room move all by itself as claimed? Who can ever really say for sure except the observer, and even that person can't have absolute certainty. And what would constitute proof if it did happen? A film or video, one hundred witnesses, a thousand...? I think it is easy to see that there is no evidence that would ever suffice - the nature of that particular "event", being now in the past, precludes any possibility of obtaining physical evidence that satisfies science.

    So what is the role of science in these situations? Many would argue that science has no role without physical evidence. But as soon as evidence, such as photographic evidence, is presented, it's dismissed as [assumed to be] a hoax or a fluke. And, as soon as someone pops up with an explanation that sounds vaguely reasonable, no matter how unlikely, even if the explanation lacks any good evidence, the skeptics jump on the bandwagon; abandoning their skeptical posture like a bad habit. So, what this shows is that many people are not really skeptical, they are using skepticism to further a personal agenda. That is why observers are lumped together with true believers and crackpots. It provides an easy out to avoid dealing with questions for which we have no answers. It's really about fear.

    There is nothing wrong with accepting that person is being honest even if that presents a problem for our personal beliefs. And, of course, people do lie, but in many cases we have several or many witnesses, and it reaches the point of absurdity to dismiss all as nonsense based solely on one's personal expectations or the inability to account for the claim. There is nothing wrong with the answer: I don't know. But it is wrong and illogical to automatically attack anyone who claims to have experiences that we don't understand. And I would add, it is dangerous for amateurs to play pop psychologist. This has become very trendy and itself is a form of pseudoscience.


    Sorry for the late edits...paste and cut, paste and cut.... :rolleyes:
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2005
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  3. Jul 15, 2005 #2

    arildno

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    Damn good post.

    Just a couple of points I'd like to add to what might be a stimulated discussion:

    1. Reproducibility
    If you can't reproduce a result or observation, that essentially means that the event belongs to a world science can't talk about. That doesn't mean the event necesssarily
    was fictional (i.e, didn't occur), it just means science haven't got anything to say on the matter.
    Take the case of ball lightnings.
    I believe most scientists believe in their existence, but as to what they really are, or what the conditions are to produce them a large variety of opinions exist.
    That is, the "scientific community" haven't got a clue as to what ball lightnings really are, or perhaps more precisely, scientists can't distinguish between the clue and the red herrings.

    2. Acceptable forms of evidence:
    UFO abductees will typically discover that they must have been abducted because their dreams start telling them so, and the dreams become clearer, providing a lot of detail about what happened during the abduction episode.
    Clear dreaming of various kinds have been known throughout history, and in earlier times (for example, classical Greece) they were regarded as messages from the Gods.

    But, however compelling such clear dreaming is, however real it is felt by the dreamer, I cannot see how any such dream material on its own can be regarded as evidence of a type science should recognize as valid.

    Being in a rather light-hearted mood lately, I would say that we shouldn't perhaps regard such abductee dreams as the ravings of lunatics (i.e, effectively dismissing the dreamer as a madman), but neither can I see any reasons for why we should regard such dreamings as subtle signs of a "deeper" reality than that which conventional science can explore.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2005
  4. Jul 15, 2005 #3

    SGT

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    No real scientist will demand proof of anything. Proof belongs to axiomatic disciplines, like mathematics and logic. And in them the proof follows from the axioms.
    Empirical sciences can prove nothing. An empirical scientist makes observations, formulates a theory about how the phenomenon could be explained and tests the theory against new data. If the observations match the results previewed by the theory there are more evidences for its validity, but there will never be proof.
    As arildno exposed very well, non reproducible phenomena cannot be tested against any theory, so cannot be the object of study by empirical science.
     
  5. Jul 17, 2005 #4

    Ivan Seeking

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    Yes, abductees are a special case so I stay away from the subject unless something really interesting comes up. If there is any evidence to suggest that anything more than smoke and mirrors, confusion, hypnogogic states, seizures, sleep paralysis, psychological disorders, etc, are involved, then I haven't seen it.

    Edit: Well, not quite so fast there Ivan :biggrin: . There are exceptions: Take for example the Travis Walton story where there were allegedly three witnesses to the event.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2005
  6. Jul 17, 2005 #5

    Ivan Seeking

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    Proof of an explanation, or a derived proof is what you mean. I can submit my car and title as proof that I own a car.

    We all know that this argument fails. We study many phenomena that can't be reproduced;. Big Bang, evolution, etc. If there is evidence it can be studied. What we can't study directly is the original event.

    Consider this: Nowt that ball lighting is finally, generally accepted as real, almost like magic we find people trying to produce it in the lab.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2005
  7. Jul 17, 2005 #6

    SGT

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    The Big Bang cannot be reproduced, but the theory imply several effects and those effects can be and have been measured. And any scientist who decides to measure them can do it. The more scientists that arrive to similar results the more likely is the theory.
    Psychic phenomena cannot be reproduced and every time a researcher arrives to a result that does not comply with his theory, he dismisses the result instead of reviewing the theory.
     
  8. Jul 18, 2005 #7

    Ivan Seeking

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    So first we had to discover the CBR and then we could study it. Its a good thing that just by chance, Jansky happened to look. If you know the story, you would know that it pays to keep your head in the clouds once in awhile. :biggrin:
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2005
  9. Jul 18, 2005 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    Well, you have suddenly zeroed in on psychic phenomenon. And you make unsubstantiated, generalized claims with no specific references. This sounds like pseudoscience to me.
     
  10. Jul 18, 2005 #9

    SGT

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    If you want references take this excerpt from the Skeptic Dictionary:
     
  11. Jul 18, 2005 #10
    I just picked up these links to throw into the soup. I actually printed of the PDF's.

    Those how don't want to believe that which seems 'impossible' to them won't ever change.

    On the other end of the scale are those that will believe anything.

    These types of attitude are counter productive to any studies whether it's UFO's, Psi, ghosts, whatever...

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=1018637&dopt=Citation

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=9188913&dopt=Citation

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/...ve&db=PubMed&list_uids=12699715&dopt=Citation

    http://www.boundary.org/articles/jaytee2.pdf

    http://www.boundary.org/articles/Anomalies_&_Constraints_JSE.pdf
     
  12. Jul 18, 2005 #11

    Ivan Seeking

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    I can find crackpots or "pseudoscientists" in any discipline. My objection is you wish to discredit the entire subject and everyone interested based on a select few examples.
     
  13. Jul 18, 2005 #12

    SGT

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    Well, J.B.Rhine is considered for many one of the most prominent parapsychologists. If you recognize him as a crackpot and a pseudoscientist I will not contradict you.
     
  14. Jul 19, 2005 #13

    Chronos

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    The burden of proof falls upon the advocate. But proof is never absolute, it can only be held to the preponderance of evidence. By the strictest of scientific standards, it is statistically unlikely frequently reported 'paranormal' events [e.g., UFO, ghost] have naive explanations, The anomalous few are what push the envelope of science. But it remains the advocate's burden to make predictions that are not contradicted by observational evidence.
     
  15. Jul 20, 2005 #14

    Ivan Seeking

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    As for the Rhine institute, I have no opinion other than to say that many accuse them of playing games with numbers. Since I have caught debunking sites making many errors wrt the UFO issue, I can't argue the point either way, but I certainly don't "believe" what I read at debunking sites.

    What is the term for linking studies...meta-analysis. I have seen the parapsychology community slammed for using this and then I see it used for other applications in the mainstream. I just saw a reference to this the other day... can't remember what now... I am not clear on how and when this applies or who may be using it improperly, but it seems to be a part of debate.

    To me, the point here is that there are times when scientists should just listen and make no judgements. If there are experiments that can be done, and if so motivated and funded, someone will do them. But the attitude towards fringe subjects is often that we must provide an up or down answer today; as if there is some kind of race to make a declaration.

    People do experience strange things and eventually we will probably learn something from these experiences, but its not logical to hold observers accountable for anything beyond telling their stories as honestly as they can.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2005
  16. Jul 21, 2005 #15

    Chronos

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    Agreed, it is intellectually dishonest to disregard evidence just because it does not conform to current theory. But it is very fair to question whether all viable objections have been ruled out.
     
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