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Understanding Believers in Pararnormal and New Age Ideas
Posted: 18 March 2013 07:59 AM   [ Ignore ]
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For some time now I’ve been trying to understand where these believers are coming from. Unlike many skeptics, I’m not willing just to dismiss such people as gullible or stupid. They just have a very different world view and very different starting assumptions on many important questions in life.   

First of all, as I’ve said elsewhere on this forum, such believers think that if a certain phenomenon is very commonly reported at many different times and in many different places, then there must be some truth to it. So they would argue that there just has to be some truth to things like ghosts, faith healing and communication with the dead, since such beliefs have been so widespread throughout history. The fact that western science hasn’t accepted these things just shows that there is something fundamentally wrong with western science.         

Secondly, believers tend to think that everything happens for a reason, and that everything is going to be for the best in the end. In this, they are quite similar to Christian fundamentalists. They don’t have much time for accidents or coincidences. Everything is part of some big plan, and we all have a destiny or a calling or whatever other word you want to use for it. Also, they don’t like to admit that there are genuine tragedies in life. Rather they will talk about how apparent tragedies can help us grow spiritually and become better and stronger people. 

Finally, believers tend to resort to relativism or subjectivism when they get into a tight spot. So you will often hear them say that their belief or perspective is as good as anyone else’s. However, this does seem to be somewhat in tension with their idea that we should go with what most cultures have believed throughout history rather than with what modern western science says is real. Should we believe what most people have believed, or should we believe what feels good or works for us? It’s not entirely clear. I think they’re just a bit confused on this point. 

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts.

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Posted: 18 March 2013 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Posted: 18 March 2013 08:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Dom1978 - 18 March 2013 07:59 AM

For some time now I’ve been trying to understand where these believers are coming from.


—We know where they are coming from. They come from houses of worship where their brains have been fried.


Unlike many skeptics, I’m not willing just to dismiss such people as gullible or stupid. They just have a very different world view and very different starting assumptions on many important questions in life.   

First of all, as I’ve said elsewhere on this forum, such believers think that if a certain phenomenon is very commonly reported at many different times and in many different places, then there must be some truth to it. So they would argue that there just has to be some truth to things like ghosts, faith healing and communication with the dead, since such beliefs have been so widespread throughout history. The fact that western science hasn’t accepted these things just shows that there is something fundamentally wrong with western science.         

Secondly, believers tend to think that everything happens for a reason, and that everything is going to be for the best in the end. In this, they are quite similar to Christian fundamentalists. They don’t have much time for accidents or coincidences. Everything is part of some big plan, and we all have a destiny or a calling or whatever other word you want to use for it. Also, they don’t like to admit that there are genuine tragedies in life. Rather they will talk about how apparent tragedies can help us grow spiritually and become better and stronger people. 

Finally, believers tend to resort to relativism or subjectivism when they get into a tight spot. So you will often hear them say that their belief or perspective is as good as anyone else’s. However, this does seem to be somewhat in tension with their idea that we should go with what most cultures have believed throughout history rather than with what modern western science says is real. Should we believe what most people have believed, or should we believe what feels good or works for us? It’s not entirely clear. I think they’re just a bit confused on this point. 

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts.

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Posted: 18 March 2013 05:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Lois, paranormal and new age believers are also often very anti-authoritarian and anti-organized religion, so it’s not really plausible to say that they’ve been indoctrinated or brainwashed. I’m arguing that they have a certain personality type, and this is what makes them believe the things they do. Again, we need to get away from the idea that they’re usually stupid, gullible or brainwashed. 

For example, consider the argument that there must be a life-force or qi because this has been believed for thousands of years in places like China and India. We should go with this folk wisdom that’s been gathered over the ages, and the fact that this particular modern western scientific culture doesn’t accept the existence of this life force is neither here nor there. We know it’s real, and in the future there will no doubt be scientific evidence for it. For now, though, we’re perfectly rational in believing in the existence of this life force.

This is where the believers are coming from, and they will use the same kind of reasoning for other things like ghosts and communication with the dead. Personally, I believe that they are completely wrong, but the point is that these people are not crazy or stupid. We need to try to figure out exactly why they believe what they believe. Then we have a much better chance of changing their minds.

[ Edited: 18 March 2013 05:10 PM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 18 March 2013 06:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dom1978 - 18 March 2013 05:02 PM

Lois, paranormal and new age believers are also often very anti-authoritarian and anti-organized religion, so it’s not really plausible to say that they’ve been indoctrinated or brainwashed. I’m arguing that they have a certain personality type, and this is what makes them believe the things they do. Again, we need to get away from the idea that they’re usually stupid, gullible or brainwashed. 

—maybe not stupid and maybe not necessarily gullible, but I would bet they’ve been brainwashed.  That they have come to be anti religion or anti authoritarian means very little.  A person can be anti a lot of things and still carry around a need for “spiritual”  answers and comfort, whatever “spiritual” might mea. I maintain that this need comes from religious indoctrination and a loss of that religion—a need that’s quite prevalent among those who have not found a substitute for the religion or authority they have given up by rejecting a belief system they have been indoctrinated into. 

For example, consider the argument that there must be a life-force or qi because this has been believed for thousands of years in places like China and India.

—How long and by how many people something has been believed has no bearing on the truth of it..  All it means is that there is something in humans, either inborn or indoctrinated into them,  that such a concept as “life force” exists.  it is usually a part of the culture they have grown up with.  It’s almost always very difficult to give up an idea a person has had since childhood and which has been reinforced for years. 


We should go with this folk wisdom that’s been gathered over the ages, and the fact that this particular modern western scientific culture doesn’t accept the existence of this life force is neither here nor there. We know it’s real, and in the future there will no doubt be scientific evidence for it. For now, though, we’re perfectly rational in believing in the existence of this life force.

—“Folk wisdom” has been shown to be notoriously unreliable. For millennia “folk wisdom” said the sun revolves around the earth. “Folk wisdom” is the result of many uneducated people looking for common ground. It’s also the source of voodoo and other “spiritual” rituals and beliefs.  Sure,  there could be something that can be described as a “life force” but nobody knows what that is, what it comes from or why some people think it is “real” and others don’t.  All of those things come from persistent indoctrination. Until some empirical evidence is presented for such a force, the rational position would be to reject it—most especially since, if it exists, we don’t know what it is, where it comes from or what effect it might have on anyone. There are almost as many definitions of this so-called force as there are religions and none of them have shown the least evidence that what they are suggesting exists.  There are thousands of gods, too, that billions of people have sworn are real, yet no one has shown any evidence for any god.  But somebody’s “folk wisdom” will claim theirs is true.

This is where the believers are coming from, and they will use the same kind of reasoning for other things like ghosts and communication with the dead. Personally, I believe that they are completely wrong, but the point is that these people are not crazy or stupid. We need to try to figure out exactly why they believe what they believe. Then we have a much better chance of changing their minds.


—I think that’s what we’ve been doing.  But so much of belief has become entrenched, it has seeped into everyday experience and in our opinion it has been shown to be destructive to societies and individuals.  If it weren’t,  there would be a lot less motivation among non believers to uncover it and examine it dispassionately.  You appear to be taking the positions of rationalists, now that they finally have the floor, as personal attacks.  Rationalists have just as much right to publicize their views as believers have been doing loudly and persistently since the dawn of man.  Why the double standard?  Whoever has the floor is going to claim to be right and to view opposing positions to be wrong.  What’s new about that?  Only that atheists and rationalists have only recently been able to get their points across and the believers resent it as an encroachment on “their” territory.  Someone is always going to have his feelings hurt by new ideas. It is inevitable.

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Posted: 19 March 2013 10:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Lois, as a a skeptic, I naturally agree with pretty much everything you’ve written here. What I want to do, though, is to try to understand the personality/mindset/worldview of the believer. We have to try to put ourselves in their shoes. The explanations that we give for stories about ghosts or telepathy will sound completely implausible to the believer. They think it’s incredibly arrogant to believe that we modern western people alone can see through all the bullshit and get to the truth. They think it sounds desperate when we try to explain away these beliefs by saying that human beings are just really good at telling stories and deceiving themselves and others. Surely, they say, there must be more to it than that. Very often, believers, will also try to use some postmodern ideas to criticize the skeptics. They’ll say that we’re stuck inside this dogmatic materialist paradigm, and are incapable of thinking outside the box. This modern western scientific (white male etc etc) culture is just one among many. To think that we have nothing to learn from other cultures and traditions is absurd. 

Also, I would suggest that believers tend to have a much more positive conception of human nature than the skeptics. They think that human nature is basically good and wise and only gets corrupted by modern society. This goes naturally with the idea that modern scientific culture is blinding us to the reality of the paranormal. So there’s this very strong idea that we’ve lost touch with our real humanity. Moreover, this positive conception of human nature makes it impossible for believers to accept the idea that these paranormal beliefs can all be explained in terms of wishful thinking, deception, power, greed, and so on. This also explains why believers take stories and personal testimony much more seriously than skeptics do.     

In short, believers and skeptics are very different in many ways, but we don’t want to think of this debate as one between smart and critical skeptics on the one side and gullible and brainwashed believers on the other.

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Posted: 02 April 2013 01:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Hello. New here (found this in a post on reddits atheism subreddit). Maybe I can lend a little help. 

Pretend that you are a person of average education, moderate in your thinking, and fairly curious.  You have a strange experience you cannot explain, lets say it is what seems to be some telepathic event or a vision of somekind. And so, you go to the internet in search of information. 

Six weeks later, after a dizzying array of websites and several hundred published studies, you have found:

Skeptics and believers of the whole array of subjects are equally guilty of ridicule, bullying, condescension and fraud (outright lying). 

That science is taking a beating because the believers are more willing to invest time and money in “study” than the scientific community.

(My all time favorite is “there is no scientific evidence” stated, only to find out there has been no study done! This usually comes from “the FDA has no evidence…”) The misuse and abuse of science is rampant in the United States, from manufacturing to courtrooms.

Somewhere along the line, you discover the massive abuse hurled in academia at archeologists who challenge their predecessors findings. And the stories of how many careers were destroyed before rogue waves were finally proven via satellite imagery. And ball lightning, and on and on…

So you see, the idea of an “open mind” in science, is more hype than it is reality. Science is facing a credibility problem. I find it amusing and sad at the same time, that reality tv shows are doing more than our universities to address the questions of ghosts, ufo’s and bigfoot.

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Posted: 02 April 2013 05:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Amaranth - 02 April 2013 01:59 PM

Hello. New here (found this in a post on reddits atheism subreddit). Maybe I can lend a little help. 

Pretend that you are a person of average education, moderate in your thinking, and fairly curious.  You have a strange experience you cannot explain, lets say it is what seems to be some telepathic event or a vision of somekind. And so, you go to the internet in search of information. 

Six weeks later, after a dizzying array of websites and several hundred published studies, you have found:

Skeptics and believers of the whole array of subjects are equally guilty of ridicule, bullying, condescension and fraud (outright lying). 

That science is taking a beating because the believers are more willing to invest time and money in “study” than the scientific community.

(My all time favorite is “there is no scientific evidence” stated, only to find out there has been no study done! This usually comes from “the FDA has no evidence…”) The misuse and abuse of science is rampant in the United States, from manufacturing to courtrooms.

Somewhere along the line, you discover the massive abuse hurled in academia at archeologists who challenge their predecessors findings. And the stories of how many careers were destroyed before rogue waves were finally proven via satellite imagery. And ball lightning, and on and on…

So you see, the idea of an “open mind” in science, is more hype than it is reality. Science is facing a credibility problem. I find it amusing and sad at the same time, that reality tv shows are doing more than our universities to address the questions of ghosts, ufo’s and bigfoot.

Yes, well there are dogmatic people on both sides. There are dogmatic materialists on the skeptic side who think we now know for sure that the mind is just the brain and therefore that things like ESP and communication with the dead are impossible. It doesn’t surprise me at all that these people will do anything they can to try to bring down NDE researchers and others in similar fields. But this doesn’t change the fact that skepticism is still a much more sensible position. The claim that a person can continue to exist with the same personality, emotions and memories after the death of the body and brain is an extraordinary one, and therefore requires extraordinary evidence.

As for ghosts and ufos, we’re still waiting for some really good evidence. If there really were large craft from other worlds flying over our cities, surely the evidence would be overwhelming by now. You would have daylight sightings with hundreds of witnesses all getting pictures and video of the craft from different angles. A few cases like this would force skeptics to do some serious rethinking. And it’s the same with ghosts. If there really were these things in people’s houses moving furniture around and doing various other things, the evidence would be overwhelming by now. More and more skeptical scientists would go into the haunted house and eventually the existence of ghosts would just have to be accepted by science. But paranormal believers always manage to come up with new excuses for why we don’t have any really good evidence for these things. It all sounds very desperate.

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Posted: 02 April 2013 06:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Amaranth - 02 April 2013 01:59 PM

So you see, the idea of an “open mind” in science, is more hype than it is reality. Science is facing a credibility problem. I find it amusing and sad at the same time, that reality tv shows are doing more than our universities to address the questions of ghosts, ufo’s and bigfoot.

There are as many ‘questions’ about ghosts ufos and bigfoot as there are about Russel’s teapot circling Mars. No current evidence of any of these things.

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Posted: 02 April 2013 09:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Amaranth - 02 April 2013 01:59 PM

Hello. New here (found this in a post on reddits atheism subreddit). Maybe I can lend a little help. 

Pretend that you are a person of average education, moderate in your thinking, and fairly curious.  You have a strange experience you cannot explain, lets say it is what seems to be some telepathic event or a vision of somekind. And so, you go to the internet in search of information. 

Six weeks later, after a dizzying array of websites and several hundred published studies, you have found:

Skeptics and believers of the whole array of subjects are equally guilty of ridicule, bullying, condescension and fraud (outright lying). 

That science is taking a beating because the believers are more willing to invest time and money in “study” than the scientific community.

(My all time favorite is “there is no scientific evidence” stated, only to find out there has been no study done! This usually comes from “the FDA has no evidence…”) The misuse and abuse of science is rampant in the United States, from manufacturing to courtrooms.

Somewhere along the line, you discover the massive abuse hurled in academia at archeologists who challenge their predecessors findings. And the stories of how many careers were destroyed before rogue waves were finally proven via satellite imagery. And ball lightning, and on and on…

So you see, the idea of an “open mind” in science, is more hype than it is reality. Science is facing a credibility problem. I find it amusing and sad at the same time, that reality tv shows are doing more than our universities to address the questions of ghosts, ufo’s and bigfoot.

The only thing those reality shows are doing is milking the credulity of the public.

Science has always faced a credibility problem with those who don’t know what they are talking about, and it probably will for a long time. One reason is because many humans perhaps are not mentally equipped to understand science, another reason is that many humans are apathetic about science.

The paranormal simply doesn’t have any empirical evidence going for it; investigators of the paranormal have to accuse a scientific materialist boogyman of sabotaging their research, in order to maintain support.

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Posted: 03 April 2013 12:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Dom1978 - 19 March 2013 10:16 PM

Lois, as a a skeptic, I naturally agree with pretty much everything you’ve written here. What I want to do, though, is to try to understand the personality/mindset/worldview of the believer. We have to try to put ourselves in their shoes. The explanations that we give for stories about ghosts or telepathy will sound completely implausible to the believer. They think it’s incredibly arrogant to believe that we modern western people alone can see through all the bullshit and get to the truth. They think it sounds desperate when we try to explain away these beliefs by saying that human beings are just really good at telling stories and deceiving themselves and others. Surely, they say, there must be more to it than that. Very often, believers, will also try to use some postmodern ideas to criticize the skeptics. They’ll say that we’re stuck inside this dogmatic materialist paradigm, and are incapable of thinking outside the box. This modern western scientific (white male etc etc) culture is just one among many. To think that we have nothing to learn from other cultures and traditions is absurd. 

Also, I would suggest that believers tend to have a much more positive conception of human nature than the skeptics.

I would call that a much more unrealistic conception.

They think that human nature is basically good and wise and only gets corrupted by modern society. This goes naturally with the idea that modern scientific culture is blinding us to the reality of the paranormal. So there’s this very strong idea that we’ve lost touch with our real humanity. Moreover, this positive conception of human nature makes it impossible for believers to accept the idea that these paranormal beliefs can all be explained in terms of wishful thinking, deception, power, greed, and so on. This also explains why believers take stories and personal testimony much more seriously than skeptics do.     

In short, believers and skeptics are very different in many ways, but we don’t want to think of this debate as one between smart and critical skeptics on the one side and gullible and brainwashed believers on the other.

We don’t? I might not use those words, but that’s pretty much the way I see it.  I don’t blame them for their Pollyanna approach because, as a hard determinist, I don’t think they have any control over it, any more than skeptics have control over their position.  I simply think the believers in unproven ideas are wrong and often dangerously wrong about many things. It’s fine to try to understand why they believe. It doesn’t make their thinking any more right or any less dangerous, however.


.....

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Posted: 03 April 2013 10:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Amaranth - 02 April 2013 01:59 PM

Pretend that you are a person of average education, moderate in your thinking, and fairly curious.  You have a strange experience you cannot explain, lets say it is what seems to be some telepathic event or a vision of somekind. And so, you go to the internet in search of information. 

Six weeks later, after a dizzying array of websites and several hundred published studies, you have found:

Skeptics and believers of the whole array of subjects are equally guilty of ridicule, bullying, condescension and fraud (outright lying).

Which is exactly why you don’t hunt for opinions at random on the internet!  What you should sift for is:  Which side actually seems to know what they’re talking about?

That science is taking a beating because the believers are more willing to invest time and money in “study” than the scientific community.

The problem here is that most believers don’t really know what it means to “study” a paranormal event.  I watched an episode of “Fact or Faked” once.  They were supposed to be “investigating” one specific claim—that a ghostly image had appeared at a supposedly haunted location.  They threw a couple of ideas around, finally concluded that it was a optical illusion I think.  BUT in the process they decided to test for Electronic Voice Phenomena!  Why?  Who knows?  The point is they got sidetracked and concluded that there WAS in fact paranormal activity going on!

Science is facing a credibility problem. I find it amusing and sad at the same time, that reality tv shows are doing more than our universities to address the questions of ghosts, ufo’s and bigfoot.

Uh no.  Reality TV does not “address” these phenomena at all.  It just wallows in them.

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Posted: 05 April 2013 10:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I think you’re all missing the forest for the trees.  Times are tough, people are curious, people want meaning in their lives, and more importantly, not everyone, probably most everyone, doesn’t view science as something to take into account when forming beliefs.  Doesn’t mean they’re anti-science, just that they don’t even think in those terms. I think it’s actually a positive trend to see more and more turning away from religion, which I think most of us agree has been/is a force for bad, towards the merely spiritual aspects of new age, paranormal ideas. You all are acting as if people come by their beliefs through some reasoned process. Religion, and all the new age stuff, is primarily emotional, based on what I said in the 2nd sentence.  I’ll bet too you did a survey a majority of new agers are divorced, or have suffered a personal loss, or something that triggered an emotional need.

AND I certainly think it’s a big mistake for guys like the OP to somehow think it’s his mission to change their minds. As long as they’re not trying to force their ideas on schools, the country, etc. leave them be.

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Posted: 05 April 2013 11:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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You certainly make a great point there, Cuthbert.  The trouble is a lot of people get their “meaning” from television.

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Posted: 12 May 2013 09:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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advocatus - 03 April 2013 10:04 AM

Uh no.  Reality TV does not “address” these phenomena at all.  It just wallows in them.

Heh.

I gave them a chance. I was a good skeptic, I thought, “I’ll watch it with an open mind.”

Ugh.

Ghost Hunters = People psyching them out in the dark. A fake medium who recites everything he’s just been told about the “hauntings.” A woman who screams at every bump and gust of wind. It at least was funny.

Bigfoot = Never anything remotely useful for evidence of Bigfoot, or the “squatch” as they call him, like they’re seasoned pros.  Like Ghost Hunters, at least it’s funny. In the same way Moonshiners and Jersey Shore are funny.

Ancient Aliens = The worst of the lot. Doesn’t give our ancestors enough credit for their achievements, assumes the viewer is an idiot, and pretty much just makes it up as it goes along. Almost infuriating to watch.

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Posted: 13 May 2013 03:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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King - 12 May 2013 09:23 PM

Ghost Hunters = People psyching them out in the dark. A fake medium who recites everything he’s just been told about the “hauntings.” A woman who screams at every bump and gust of wind. It at least was funny.

Ancient Aliens = The worst of the lot. Doesn’t give our ancestors enough credit for their achievements, assumes the viewer is an idiot, and pretty much just makes it up as it goes along. Almost infuriating to watch.

Haha, so true. You have to be absolutely dumb, or have absolutely zero critical thinking skills, to find these shows rationally worthwhile.

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