REPLY #10 TO
"PSEUDOSCIENCE AND THE PARANORMAL"
are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.
My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text
and are prefaced by my initials (MB)
(R) Excellent rejoinder, Mark. Let me attempt to provide as satisfactory answers as possible to your reasonable questions regarding psychic phenomena.
(MB) I'll be interested to see what you have to say!
(R) There is very little ongoing concerted effort by professionals such as myself to expose the frauds in the field. Why this is, I don't know. It's frustrating. Such a thing would not be difficult to do at all, and if a person has a genuine gift such as my own, it does not cast aspersions upon your own practice....it's never hampered or harmed mine, and I'm one of the most vocal opponents of the psychic frauds! Your analogy of the professional religious clergy to have failed in exposing the religious frauds is a good example. I think people assume that if "you ignore it, it'll go away," but unfortunately such is not the case. It only grows bigger!
(MB) Absolutely! Not to mention that it raises questions as to the honesty of the entirety of the profession. The best organizations or disciplines are the ones which are self-policing in order to support their own integrity.
(R) I really don't know why I have more of these paranormal experiences than others, any more than I can understand why I can sit at the piano and play a reasonable rendition of Chop Sticks and Horowitz can sit at the same piano and move us to tears with the phenomenal talent of his gift. Why do some get these gifts and others do not? Why was Nolan Ryan able to throw a baseball with astounding accuracy, and I can go to the sporting goods store and purchase the same exact baseball and succeed in doing nothing greater than breaking the window of my house with an errant throw? These are questions that have plagued us all for millennia, and no doubt will continue to do so for awhile. Why, I don't know. I wish I did!
(MB) I'm sure that the answer lies in each of our individual genetic makeups. The normal richness of genetic variation in our species must certainly mean that some people will have attributes and abilities that others do not or that some people will have them at higher levels than do most others. This should apply just as well to mental abilities as to purely physical characteristics. Training and desire count for a lot, as well, but there's no chance that I could play basketball as well as Michael Jordan no matter how much the appeal of a $30 million paycheck might motivate me to try. On the other hand, I'd take a whole lot of money off of MJ if he was ever to compete against me in bowling.
Some people find and maximize their inherent potential. In others, it goes wasted or unrealized. Most people likely don't have any outstanding inherent abilities due to the inevitable "smoothing" effects of population genetics. Therefore, we should learn not to be frustrated by being "ordinary" in most aspects.
(R) The experiences seem to happen mostly at their own beck and call, not mine; however the exercise of my psychic gift is available to me all the time with no special preparation or ritual involved; indeed I can exercise it in the middle of rush hour on a busy Manhattan street if required to!
(MB) Interesting. What sort of experience could you have in such a situation?
(R) As far as distinguishing between a real experience and a coincidence, a very good question by the way, there's an old proverb which says: "You'll know it's true when it happens to you." I think there's a great degree of truth in that statement, in that for a person to be convinced of the reality of the invisible realm, they must experience it firsthand, and it must be something on the order of a dog's barking coming from the next room which awakens you in the middle of the night, and you have no dog!
(MB) Since our minds are always functioning even when we are asleep, isn't it possible that such an experience could be the result of a particularly strong dream or other burst of mental activity? I'm sure that most of us have awoken with a profound sense that we have experienced something very real even though we may know otherwise. The human mind is a very fertile place.
I wonder why many of the most powerful experiences are those which are unaccompanied by any physical evidence? I suspect that this may be because we are always computing possibilities in our minds. When we are asleep, the mind is freed from having to devote any attention to the normal sensory overload it processes during our waking hours. Therefore, it can devote more of its resources towards other things. This should make it more susceptible to arriving at a conclusion that is comparatively profound and "realistic". This would be the natural analog to the powerful experiences produced by the use of hallucinogenic drugs. The experience does not have to be one of relative importance in order to be strongly felt and believed. In fact, the unconscious experience may be more likely to have a stronger impact on us.
(R) The experience you describe of having a song run through your head and then turning the radio on and that song is the next one played is an example of what the eminent Swiss psychologist Carl Jung related to the phenomenon of "synchronicity," and may or may not be a "paranormal"
Jung, by the way, was a believer in, and experiencer of psychic phenomena. Such an experience occurred while he was in the presence of Freud that it convinced Freud that Jung had control of psychic powers and led to Freud's irrational fear that Jung might "curse" him or some such thing, and they separated over just such an issue. And maybe at that moment you perhaps did exercise or experience a degree of clairvoyance. I believe we all do at one time or another, but, just as making one good pitch with a baseball doesn't entitle me to throw for the Yankees next year, one such experience does not a professional psychic make.
(MB) Quite true. I wonder if there is a correllation between higher intelligence and/or cognitive abilities and the frequency of synchronistic experiences? It would seem that those people with more active minds will more often arrive at conclusions which fit that mold.
(R) By "controlled conditions" I assume you mean as observed in a laboratory? If that's your meaning, then the answer is no. Yes, these things sometimes leave evidence of their having happened, and I'm not the only person to have little items that have mysteriously appeared and remained. I have, to this day, a small chunk of wood that mysteriously appeared in a bowl of chili I was eating (I had made the chili myself, and as I'm a scrupulously clean cook and very observant as well, I know that the wood was not in the chili as of its making).
(MB) Unfortunately, the number of claimants is certainly greater than the number of actual such events. I'm open to any possibility, of course, I'm sure we both understand that the number of bogus claims makes it reasonable to be skeptical. I'm also sure that those who have experienced real events would dearly love to have them verified independently and would want the bogus claims to be exposed. Since it only takes one such verification to provide solid evidence, I would think that this should be a priority.
(R) When I say that I saw people as solid as you or I who subsequently disappeared, I mean that I saw a ghost who appeared so solidly I assumed they must be a "real" person. I've even attempted to interact with some of these apparations, only to be shocked when they disappeared!
(MB) Were these the ghosts of people you had known during their lives? Were their appearances completely random events or had any attempt been made to communicate or channel with them prior to their appearance? If the latter is true, that might be something that could be reproduced and verified under strict observation.
(R) Also, just as the willingness of the gullible to be deceived, the unwillingness of some so-called "investigators" or "skeptics" who apparently already have their minds made up that there can not be any such thing tends to hamper serious investigation of such matters. It's bad to skew the results with a bias in either direction, I'm sure you'll agree.
(MB) Absolutely. While investigations should be conducted in an unbiased manner, it should be accepted that skepticism is the norm for any case where an extraordinary event is proposed. Also, the implications of positive proof of the supernatural are so profound that we must be absolutely assured that we have not been mistaken or misled.
The same understanding applies to such things as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Scientists are virtually unanimous in their desire to prove that intelligent life exists somewhere other than Earth. The supporting arguments are strong and, of course, many people claim to have had close encounters with "ET". However, it is proper to be skeptical and to demand rock-solid evidence in any given SETI search before declaring that "we've found them". Again, this is because SETI success would have such a profound impact that we *must* ensure that any positive result is correct.
(R) As for our agreement on religious dogma, it astounds me more each day to see those who proclaim to be so loving and godly turn into vicious killers when their matter of faith is challenged, and they will kill you if their religion or religious leader tells them to, without a shred of evidence that they are indeed acting on the order of some Deity!
(MB) What better evidence of the false or self-serving nature of religious claims? Strange how "do as I say and not as I do" often gets shoved aside when it comes to one's actions or arguments in defense of their religion.
(R) How do I differentiate my ability from those such as the entertainer Kreskin, etc? Very simply: mine works. Their's doesn't. And I preface every reading by telling my client that I'm not there for their "entertainment," i.e. not going to tell them what they want to hear. Many times my clients are disappointed in the content of what I've told them, but have had to come back to me and agree that what I predicted did indeed happen, all odds to the contrary, and that a reasonable course of action such as I had suggested would have been the best one, rather than them allowing their emotions to rule them.
(MB) I think that this is the best way to go. After all, if the client only wants to hear certain things, what's the real point of the consultation in the first place? It would seem that such a client is only interested in moral support rather than in honest discovery. If somebody is only receptive to a limited range of outcomes, they would become more susceptible to a charlatan who will cater to those outcomes while pocketing the client's cash.
This likely applies to stage performers such as Kreskin. I'm aware of some of the shenanigans pulled during his act that contribute towards the entertainment and "convincing" of an audience which is largely predisposed to believing anything he presents.
(R) Yes, that is one of the standard jokes directed at psychics. Interestingly enough though I have made my business partner some profitable predictions about the stock market, and he began as an even greater skeptic than you, Mark! :)
(MB) *grin* Actually, I used to be pretty good at predicting the ups and downs of the exchange rate between the German D-Mark and the US Dollar while I was stationed in Germany in the mid-80s. But, I'd ascribe this more to an inherent understanding of economics more than to any psychic ability.
(R) I think perhaps psychics, genuine psychics, do inherently have a greater understanding of human nature, but I think that's part of the genuine gift. And, when I tell someone accurately what's going to happen in their lives six months or a year from now, or describe the interior of their house accurately over the phone while speaking to them from across the U.S., that has nothing to do with a superior understanding of human nature. That's "above and beyond."
(MB) Are you able to accurately predict events that do not depend in any way on human actions? I ask because it is possible to influence future events in a client's life through a prediction that he believes. That client may take subtle actions over the next six months to raise the chances that the prediction will come true. A simple example would be a client buying extra lottery tickets as a result of a prediction that he will win a major prize. Another might be his paying more attention to tall, blonde women after a prediction that he will marry one.
I agree that a greater understanding of human nature is part of a psychic's gift. But, wouldn't that same increased understanding contribute to the success of sports coaches, military leaders, politicians, TV evangelists, teachers or just about anybody else who has influence over the lives of others? Using this gift properly is a good thing no matter what one's profession might be.
(R) Several people have said that there are million dollar rewards, and then there is Randi's. Randi puts such ridiculous standards on the winning of his supposed reward that I don't see how Jesus Christ Himself could get it!
(MB) *grin* Yes, the requirements are stringent, but that should be expected. As I said before, the profound effect of a successful demonstration mandates tough standards of proof. It's not as if this prize was the equivalent of garbage like Creationist looney Kent Hovind's $250,000 prize for "proof of evolution" in which he demands standards of proof for things that have absolutely nothing to do with evolution at all.
Randi, as a professional magician, is well aware of the sorts of tricks that can be used to deceive even a trained observer. His standards are tough, but I don't think that they are unreasonable. How would you modify them and still ensure the integrity of a successful challenge?
(R) All I know is that I saw Randi (on an hour-long PBS special of his) give a woman psychic an object for her to psychometrize. Randi stated that he felt that this object and its origins were of such obscurity that if she got anything right about it at all it would be a feat. Well, she, according to Randi himself, began to accurately rattle off where the object came from, etc! Randi said "So far, she was batting a thousand!" Then came Randi's curve ball. The woman stated that the man who had given the object to Randi wore something about the neck, like a Nehru jacket. She didn't say the man wore a Nehru jacket, but something like one. The man did indeed have a proclivity for turtle-neck sweaters, which in manner about the throat, you can liken to a Nehru jacket. But Randi demured, saying that if she missed on one thing (and I'd hardly call that a miss!!) she was wrong on all counts, including the ones he himself admitted that she had called correctly!! Man, I ain't even gonna involve myself with such wild moving of the rules when it comes to the Randi game!!!!
(MB) I can't comment on this because I didn't see it. Is it possible (since this was a special about Randi) that he did this for dramatic impact in order to scare away dubious claimants? Also, his prize is not for somebody to perform a supernatural feat of Randi's own choosing. It is designed to test an event of the claimant's choosing. For example, if Uri Geller wants to prove that he can bend spoons through psychic power, he would not be asked to perform feats of divination instead.
(R) As for Randi and Geller, there's plenty of stuff on both of their websites and in the popular literature that I don't need to bandy that about.
(MB) Very true. The public record on both sides of the story is quite clear and extensive.
(R) As far as Geller being unable to do that in controlled conditions, there is a vast amount of literature that claims he has done just that....not Geller's claims, but others, including several prominent and respectable scientists, and now David Blaine, the prominent magician, has climbed on the Geller bandwagon by proclaiming that Geller did indeed do such a thing while Blaine held the object in his own hand and Geller never touched it.
(MB) There have also been cases of former Geller believers who have jumped off that same bandwagon.
(R) I think some of the problem when we examine things, Mark, is that we also want the people proclaiming such powers to be perfect, saints, or without perceived fault....well, nobody's perfect, myself included, and just because some people may have a genuine gift doesn't mean that they always follow their own best knowing or always act appropriately either. We are all, after all, human.
(MB) Some people certainly demand perfection, but I don't and most honest seekers of the truth also don't. We are undeniably human, but, reality is still reality whether or not there are any humans mucking about and getting things confused. The best we can do is to demand that there be facts and evidence to support any and all claims -- especially those which would present serious challenges to current knowledge. Even the most entrenched beliefs can be overturned if a new paradigm is given sufficient support. Consider what happened to the former "obvious truth" that the world is flat and unmoving.
(R) I think Mark, that if you will sincerely reach out to the "invisible realm," all on your own without the coaching or leading of others, and begin to ask to receive these types of experiences, and not discount them when they come, that you too will begin to be convinced that there is something greater than what we behold daily with our physical eyes!
(MB) That sounds rather like the claims of Christians who tell non-believers that if they just reach out to accept Jesus and ask him to come into their lives, that they will understand and believe and can be saved. Of course, the obvious logic flaw here concerns the silliness of making a sincere overture towards somebody/something that one doesn't believe in!
(R) The frustration comes when we try and figure out what it all means, why some proclaim miraculous healings and yet our cancer wards are still filled with young children, why some get the lottery numbers out of thin air and others try for years and don't, why these needed operations such as healing, knowing, etc., aren't more predictable and reliable. Smarter men than I have wrestled with these very questions (and the moral dillema of good and evil in the world) for thousands of years, and we're very sadly no closer to any answers that make any real sense. Hence the retreat to faith that the Higher Power, if there is one, must have a master plan that we just can't quite see. If you come up with any better answers, be sure and share them with me, will ya?
(MB) Sometimes, the best answer is an honest "I don't know". That may not be very satisfying, but Timothy Ferris described it quite nicely in "The Mind's Sky" when he remarked that the broad emotional appeal of any given idea is not related to the probability that it is true. Personally, I feel that the ability to say "I don't know" leaves one free to continue to seek answers and to accept what he eventually finds. It's much more difficult to give up a belief that is held only because one does not feel happy with *not* having some sort of answer.
The seeming irrationality of the world would seem to be strong evidence that there is, in fact, no master plan or other specifically-derived purpose in place. We can't even decide which deity or deities (if any) are responsible for this plan. How much time and effort has been wasted in attempts to unravel this unresolvable philosophical dilemma that could have been better spent dealing with everyday reality?
There will always be unanswered questions in a complex world. We would all be well advised to ensure that there are no unquestioned answers.