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Two types of skepticism
Posted: 01 April 2010 02:34 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I would like to ask which type of skepticism should skeptical movement apply in some cases of paranormal claims. This question is inspired by an article of Susan Blackmore on parapsychology. She says for example:

I would love to be able to provide a fair and unbiased assessment of the evidence for psi and decide whether it exists or not. But this is simply impossible. Many people have tried and failed. In some of the best debates in parapsychology the proponents and critics have ended up simply agreeing to differ (e.g., Hyman and Honorton 1986; Hyman 1995; Utts 1995) or failing to reach any agreement (Milton and Wiseman 1999). The only truly scientific position seems to be to remain on the fence, and yet to do so makes progress difficult, if not impossible.

For this reason, if for no other, you have to jump to one side or other of the fence — and preferably be prepared to jump back again if future evidence proves you wrong. I have jumped onto the side of concluding that psi does not exist.

I will abbreviate the position of parapsychologists as p. An opponent can say: its not true that p (first type of skepticism). Or we can say: it cant be decided in the presence whether p or non p (second type of skepticism).

Which one is better? What is your opinion?

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Posted: 01 April 2010 02:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I would just say that it is up to the person making the extraordinary claim, to provide the proof. That has not been done. Skepticism would simply say that it has not been proved, and it is up to those making the claim of it’s existence to provide the proof. It is not my responsibility as a skeptic either to disprove or prove it.

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Posted: 01 April 2010 05:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Czech - 01 April 2010 02:34 AM

I will abbreviate the position of parapsychologists as p. An opponent can say: its not true that p (first type of skepticism). Or we can say: it cant be decided in the presence whether p or non p (second type of skepticism).

Which one is better? What is your opinion?

This is a great question, Czech, and I can only say that in a sense, it depends. Now, in science we do end up saying “it’s true that X” or “it’s not true that X” all the time. E.g., we say “It’s true that objects fall to earth at 9.8 meters per second squared.” This statement logically implies the second sort: e.g., “It’s not true that objects fall to earth at 15 meters per second squared.”

In the same way we can and should say, in a scientific manner, that “It’s not true that parapsychological phenomena exist.” When we say that, we aren’t saying that there’s no possible evidence that could convince us that parapsychological phenomena exist. We aren’t saying that the existence of parapsychological phenomena are somehow logically impossible or contradictory. What we’re saying is that all available evidence, after literally decades of trying, has been null.

Now, for the second part of the problem: any such statement (“it’s true that X” or “it’s not true that X”), if made in a scientifically appropriate fashion, must include the possibility of error, the possibility that future experiment will prove it incorrect. And in that sense we can say that even though it appears that it’s true that X, it could be that our information is incomplete somehow, or erroneous, and so we are open to future correction that will tell us that it’s not true that X. And vice versa. In that sense, nothing in science can ever truly be said to be decided X or not-X.

However, the latter issue is really more of a philosophical point, rather than the sort of thing we want to say in everyday language.

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Posted: 01 April 2010 03:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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My answer is far less rigorous and quite simplistic compared to Doug’s, but I would be willing to tentatively consider p, but ask that those who accept it to demonstrate the existence of p to my satisfaction. 

I think “it cant be decided in the presence whether p or non p” is a defective position.  It is claiming that neither p nor non-p can be demonstrated or proved.  This appears to put it in the Popper meaningless statement category.

Occam

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Posted: 01 April 2010 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Options:
1. Not-P
2. P or not-P can’t be decided

But there’s also:
3. Suspending belief until more evidence is found

This corresponds to Blackmore’s “on the fence”. I’m not sure why she says it makes progress difficult/impossible, though. Perhaps she considers having a working hypothesis as being on one side of the fence or the other. I would simply consider it being on the fence but facing one way or the other.

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“What people do is they confuse cynicism with skepticism. Cynicism is ‘you can’t change anything, everything sucks, there’s no point to anything.’ Skepticism is, ‘well, I’m not so sure.’” -Bill Nye

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Posted: 01 April 2010 11:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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dougsmith - 01 April 2010 05:27 AM

However, the latter issue is really more of a philosophical point, rather than the sort of thing we want to say in everyday language.

...all this once again confirms what I already knew. I know nothing about philosophy!!  wink

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Posted: 02 April 2010 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Which one is better? What is your opinion?

If psychic powers exist then it is necessary to find a person with reliable abilities to test.

But imagine that you were such a person.  Suppose you could read minds with a 90% reliability.  Would you let anyone know or would you be off using it for your own purposes?  It is the charlatans that would have an incentive to let some people know about their “abilities” to run their scams.  Like the people expoased by Houdini.

Sure, the psychic investigators want to make discoveries and write papers but why would any potentially REAL psychics give a damn?

psik

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Posted: 04 April 2010 02:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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You could always test them by saying: “So, as a sceptic what am I thinking about your claims?” wink

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Posted: 07 April 2010 05:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Thank you for your reactions! My comment:

I agree with Doug, that we should distinguish between philosophical and scientific context. In a philosophical sense (if we wanted absolute certainty), practically nothing can be decided.

I wanted to put the question only in scientific terms. And I dont thing Blackmore speaks in any second, philosophical context, when she takes the view of indecision (or suspending belief as domokato suggests).

So it seems to me that you (Doug and Occam at least) disagree with Blackmore at that point. Is it right or is it only some inaccurate impression of mine?

I will tell you why I am so interested in that article. My question is: is parapsychology something which has to be taken as serious possibility? It is difficult to believe parapsychologists, because they are personally too involved in apology, but if a noted skeptic says that we are “on the fence”, it is something which really caught my attention.

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Posted: 07 April 2010 06:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Czech - 07 April 2010 05:22 AM

wanted to put the question only in scientific terms. And I dont thing Blackmore speaks in any second, philosophical context, when she takes the view of indecision (or suspending belief as domokato suggests).

So it seems to me that you (Doug and Occam at least) disagree with Blackmore at that point. Is it right or is it only some inaccurate impression of mine?

I’m not sure what Blackmore thinks on the topic, but if you’ve described her position accurately, I disagree with it.

(Except, again, in the sense that I have my mind open to new and disconfirming evidence of what I previously thought. As always. But as Carl Sagan and others have said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence).

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Posted: 07 April 2010 05:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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One of the errors most of us make is when we find someone who has a characteristic we admire and agree with, we assume that s/he must also have the other characteristics we admire and agree with.

Just because Blackmore happens to claim or even demonstrate that he’s a skeptic in some areas, doesn’t preclude him from being far less skeptical (less rational or critical thinking) in other areas.

So we shouldn’t be surprised if he’s logically a skeptic in general but happens to semi-believe in parapsychology and to try to justify this belief pseudo-logically.

Occam

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Posted: 07 April 2010 07:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Occam - 07 April 2010 05:01 PM

One of the errors most of us make is when we find someone who has a characteristic we admire and agree with, we assume that s/he must also have the other characteristics we admire and agree with.

Just because Blackmore happens to claim or even demonstrate that he’s a skeptic in some areas, doesn’t preclude him from being far less skeptical (less rational or critical thinking) in other areas.

So we shouldn’t be surprised if he’s logically a skeptic in general but happens to semi-believe in parapsychology and to try to justify this belief pseudo-logically.

Small correction: this is Susan Blackmore—a “she” ...

wink

At any rate, IIRC she’s a pretty ardent skeptic nowadays about parapsychology. Used to study it professionally but found nothing and now writes articles for Skeptical Inquirer about it, from a negative angle. That said, perhaps she doesn’t call herself anything other than “agnostic” on the issue, I don’t know.

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Posted: 07 April 2010 11:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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In many respects my “scepticism” is underpinned by philosophical naturalism: the proposition that the universe can only be explained via natural (and of course no supernatural) causes.

Then there are those who call themselves sceptics, but in reality are simply contrarians who enjoy thumbing their noeses at perceived authority figures and majority opinions.

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Posted: 07 April 2010 11:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Citation from “First Person - Into the Unknown” at Blackmore’s website. Here she explains why she stopped doing parapsychlogical research.

But perhaps the real reason is that I am just too tired - and tired above all of working to maintain an open mind. I couldn’t dismiss all those extraordinary claims out of hand. After all, they might just be true, and if they were then swathes of science would have to be rewritten.

Another “psychic” turns up. I must devise more experiments, take these claims seriously. They fail - again. A man explains to me how alien abductors implanted something in his mouth. Tests show it’s just a filling, but it might have been…

No, I don’t have to think that way. And when the psychics and clairvoyants and New Agers shout at me, as they do: “The trouble with all you scientists is you don’t have an open mind”, I won’t be upset. I won’t argue. I won’t rush off and perform yet more experiments just in case. I’ll simply smile sweetly and say: “I don’t do that any more.”

(Bold by me)

So it seems she cannot say psi does not exist methodologically, but for all practical purposes (“I don’t do that any more.”) she really does not believe in it anymore.

GdB

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Posted: 08 April 2010 08:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I can’t speak for others I can only speak for myself . I have had psychic abilities since I was a child . My 1st memories of this happening I was 4 years old. Spirit guides speak to me . They sometimes show flashes of the future or an event that has taken place. I will sometimes see people that have passed. I’ve read past forums about why don’t the psychics in Albuquerque help the police to solve crimes. I have tried to help them and have ran into a brick wall. I live in sw Albuquerque and I called the police when I was smelling the smell of rotting flesh and no one else around could smell it . When my family and I would ride bikes around the area where the bodies of all those prositutes where found I would get violently ill and need to turn around and go home. I had a woman come to me in my bedroom holding a baby in 1 hand and her throat with other then she disappeared. (she looked like Michelle Valdez ‘s picture) But she didn’t speak to me and I didn’t know of her at the time so what could I really do with that info? I talked to the policeafter the discovery of the bodies and they pretty much laughted at me and told me they needed more than feelings and visions to investagate anything. They wouldn’t make a sketch of the man I saw in a vision that I feel murdered these girls . So that is why I ‘m not able to help the police find this sick man that did this.My hands are tied.

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Posted: 08 April 2010 09:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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BobbiB - 08 April 2010 08:46 PM

I can’t speak for others I can only speak for myself . I have had psychic abilities since I was a child . My 1st memories of this happening I was 4 years old. Spirit guides speak to me . They sometimes show flashes of the future or an event that has taken place. I will sometimes see people that have passed. I’ve read past forums about why don’t the psychics in Albuquerque help the police to solve crimes. I have tried to help them and have ran into a brick wall. I live in sw Albuquerque and I called the police when I was smelling the smell of rotting flesh and no one else around could smell it . When my family and I would ride bikes around the area where the bodies of all those prositutes where found I would get violently ill and need to turn around and go home. I had a woman come to me in my bedroom holding a baby in 1 hand and her throat with other then she disappeared. (she looked like Michelle Valdez ‘s picture) But she didn’t speak to me and I didn’t know of her at the time so what could I really do with that info? I talked to the policeafter the discovery of the bodies and they pretty much laughted at me and told me they needed more than feelings and visions to investagate anything. They wouldn’t make a sketch of the man I saw in a vision that I feel murdered these girls . So that is why I ‘m not able to help the police find this sick man that did this.My hands are tied.

Bobbi, if you apply to the James Randi Million dollar challenge, and prove you are psychic, you will not only win a million dollars to use as you wish, but the police department would have to listen to you. smile

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