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Sam Harris vs. James Randi
Posted: 23 November 2007 04:36 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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In the latest issue of Skeptic, James Randi crosses swords with Sam Harris. Not on the subject of faith, on which they are in complete agreement. The problem Randi has with Harris is with the latter’s views concerning reincanration and psyhci pehenomena. Randi, of course, beleives paranormal phenomena are all fake. Harris responds that he does not believe doggedly in such things, only that they have NOT been throoughly debunked by evidence. I would say Harris is wrong to beleive that that the supernatural aspect of Christianity HAS been throughly discedited, as there is some paranormal phenomena which suggest otherwise.

But Randi says he has written books in which he has researched and discredited some sources Harris mentions, and he has sent the books to Harris. Harris may find some truths in Randi’s books that he—and myself—might not particularly want to agree with. I’m certain he’ll keep an open midn though, so I’ll try to do so as well.

However, I’ve read many books on the paranormal, and I’m convinced there must be SOMETHING to at least some of them. Not becuase the books saw print, as Randi suggests to Harris, but because, there’s so many reports, and because I’ve known acquaintences and relatives, who have had strangley similar experiences. This indicates that something is indeed “out there.”

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...it has to put into the equation: the possibility that there is no God and nothing works for the best. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that view, but I don’t know what I do subscribe to. Why do I have to have a world view? I mean, when I wrote Cujo, I wasn’t even old enough to be president. Maybe when I’m frty or forty-five, but I don’t now. I’m just trying on all these hats.
-Stephen King

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Posted: 23 November 2007 06:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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What if it’s not “out there”, but merely “in here”, meaning a mental phenomenon that can easily be reinforced by the seemingly identical experiences of others? We can all imagine a frightful boogeyman, and most of us HAVE imagined such a thing in our nightmares, or under our beds, or looming in dark alleys on unfamiliar streets. Not everything we can imagine is “out there”. Most are just in our heads.

I read the article and felt that Randi was quite respectful of Sam, while being of the opinion that Sam just needs to “do his homework”. . . which Randi considers his own books to be, apparently (and they may well be comprehensive; I haven’t read them), so he sent them all to Sam, presumably thinking that if Sam would only read them, then he would come to Randi’s conclusion. Maybe yes, maybe no.

But Sam’s point (I think) is that while many people have given voice to these experiences—and let’s not forget that a great many have NOT had these experiences—we currently lack adequate formal research and study in these phenomena—we lack even a practical means of measuring it, much less interpreting it as being rooted in some external or universal source or force. So drawing conclusions based on anecdotal data would be premature. That’s it; that’s all he seems to be claiming. As a neuroscientist, I think he will likely pursue this area of study himself, since it seems to intrigue him.

I can afford to be agnostic on the subject, since I don’t believe the fate of my soul depends upon whether or not my consciousness is capable of more than I’m currently aware of. In fact, I’m agnostic on the existence of the soul, as well.

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Posted: 23 November 2007 06:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Tad Trenton’s Ghost - 23 November 2007 09:36 PM

However, I’ve read many books on the paranormal, and I’m convinced there must be SOMETHING to at least some of them. Not becuase the books saw print, as Randi suggests to Harris, but because, there’s so many reports, and because I’ve known acquaintences and relatives, who have had strangley similar experiences. This indicates that something is indeed “out there.”

Tad,

Can you be more specific about the experiences you speak of.
That way there is something to discuss.

For me, I don’t doubt there are many things ‘out there’ and a fine line ought to be walked between stone-cold cynicism and the well documented desire of people to believe any dumb-ass propostition just because we so desperately want to believe something.

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Posted: 24 November 2007 07:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I’m talking about reports of UFOs, ghost, religious visions—that sort of thing.

Some of the books I’ve read are by John A. Keel, a famous paranoraml invstigator. According to Keel, the collective human mind (and perhaps some individual minds as well) are capable of creating psychic projections called “Tolpas.” These are not hallucinations in the ordinary sense of the word, but are capable of assuming a solid physical shape. However, he also beleives there’s some supernormal intielligences or intelligneces behind all paranoraml phenomena other than human controlling it all. Whatever it is, it’s responsible for ALL our cults and religious beleifs.

According to Keel, we see “only what it wants us to see.”

Now consider this: if Keel is right about this, and all thses opposing faiths are killing each other over belief, what does this say? Whatever “it” is, it looks to be very sinister indeed, hardly the benevolent God most theists want to believe in.

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...it has to put into the equation: the possibility that there is no God and nothing works for the best. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that view, but I don’t know what I do subscribe to. Why do I have to have a world view? I mean, when I wrote Cujo, I wasn’t even old enough to be president. Maybe when I’m frty or forty-five, but I don’t now. I’m just trying on all these hats.
-Stephen King

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Posted: 24 November 2007 07:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Tad, your talking nonsense. If these hallucinations are able to take on physical form, then they’re no longer hallucinations, are they. So why presume a “supernormal intielligences or intelligneces” (you tried twice, but still missed the right spelling) had anything to do with it? If it’s physical, we will be able to observe it whether some Being wants us to or not.

I wouldn’t get too excited about how ‘famous’ a paranormal investigator is. Not a single one of them has ever been able to prove anything about their claims, else they would be $1 million richer via James Randi’s prize. Most have never even applied, presumably because they know they have nothing.

Stephen King writes some killer fantasy, but you know that’s all it is. . . right?

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Posted: 24 November 2007 07:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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For awhile, Duckphup was posting here.  He is, I think, a dyed-in-the-wool atheist.  However, he reported an experience he had when he suddenly knew that his father had died, even though he was thousands of miles away. This was later confirmed by his family, that his father had passed away at the time he had this experience. If he is still around, maybe he can verify this. This was an example of information being instantaneously transmitted to him independently of rational thought (if he was telling us the truth, which I assume that he was). This is the kind of experience that people have which tends to show that there is something “out there.”

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Posted: 24 November 2007 07:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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That’s just what I said—they are NOT hallucinations but thoughtt projections. They are able to assume solid form only temporarily. THey leave no evidence that can be proved, becasue whatever’s controlling them does not WANT to be discovered. At least, that’s more or less what Keel beleives.

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...it has to put into the equation: the possibility that there is no God and nothing works for the best. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that view, but I don’t know what I do subscribe to. Why do I have to have a world view? I mean, when I wrote Cujo, I wasn’t even old enough to be president. Maybe when I’m frty or forty-five, but I don’t now. I’m just trying on all these hats.
-Stephen King

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Posted: 24 November 2007 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Tad Trenton’s Ghost - 25 November 2007 12:47 AM

That’s just what I said—they are NOT hallucinations but thoughtt projections. They are able to assume solid form only temporarily. THey leave no evidence that can be proved, becasue whatever’s controlling them does not WANT to be discovered. At least, that’s more or less what Keel beleives.

Right, so why do YOU believe it? Have you caused (or has some unseen force caused) any thought projections to physically manifest before your very eyes lately?

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Posted: 24 November 2007 07:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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For awhile, Duckphup was posting here.  He is, I think, a dyed-in-the-wool atheist.  However, he reported an experience he had when he suddenly knew that his father had died, even though he was thousands of miles away. This was later confirmed by his family, that his father had passed away at the time he had this experience. If he is still around, maybe he can verify this. This was an example of information being instantaneously transmitted to him independently of rational thought (if he was telling us the truth, which I assume that he was). This is the kind of experience that people have which tends to show that there is something “out there.”


My Dad had a college professor who he claimed had this same type of experience. The man was in Australia spending the night at a hotel at the same moment his brother died.

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...it has to put into the equation: the possibility that there is no God and nothing works for the best. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that view, but I don’t know what I do subscribe to. Why do I have to have a world view? I mean, when I wrote Cujo, I wasn’t even old enough to be president. Maybe when I’m frty or forty-five, but I don’t now. I’m just trying on all these hats.
-Stephen King

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Posted: 24 November 2007 07:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Iv’e never experienced ANY paranoraml phenomena at all, but I’ve already said I’ve known people who have. Yes, Keel might be a liar seekibg publicity, but others are not.

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...it has to put into the equation: the possibility that there is no God and nothing works for the best. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that view, but I don’t know what I do subscribe to. Why do I have to have a world view? I mean, when I wrote Cujo, I wasn’t even old enough to be president. Maybe when I’m frty or forty-five, but I don’t now. I’m just trying on all these hats.
-Stephen King

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Posted: 24 November 2007 08:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Tad Trenton’s Ghost - 25 November 2007 12:58 AM

Iv’e never experienced ANY paranoraml phenomena at all, but I’ve already said I’ve known people who have. Yes, Keel might be a liar seekibg publicity, but others are not.

You don’t have to be a liar to experience a hallucination, Tad, nor to chronicle other peoples’ imaginings in a book. I’m sure this Keel person is only trying to make a buck. He packages the stories together so that they come across as some sort of proof, knowing full well there will be plenty of credulous people out there waiting to lap it up. This is a well-trod path, considering that those who wrote the biblical gospels never personally witnessed anything either; they just wrote down and/or embellished the wild stories of the times.

Tales of the “supernormal” only impress the impressionable. Does that describe you? Anyone interested in a scrap of real proof would not have bothered posting this thread without providing some.

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Posted: 25 November 2007 11:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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I think it’s easy to see where Harris and Randi fall out.  Randi is a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, and is thusly forced to defend his position that any evidence of the paranormal has to be nothing – no exceptions, no excuses, no way out.

For Sam, he’s envisioning a future in which faith plays a diminished role in human experience.  For him, people can be subscribers to any number of theories regarding the paranormal, and still not believe in the paranormal.  While someone may have lived in a haunted house, or seen a UFO, that doesn’t mean they can’t participate in the end of faith.

From my own armchair research and experiences, I think it’s worthwhile to point out how pursuits of the paranormal often times lead people further away from religious faith – even when they may be failing to adequately consider evidence.  People who are unfortunate enough to be living in haunted houses often times seek the help of clergy.  The clergy are in turn just as baffled and powerless as the homeowner.  Even though they claim to be on top of spiritual problems, they have no idea how to deal with actual cases of what we might call “spiritism.”  The result is a loss of faith, which, for Sam Harris and most people here, is a good thing.  For Randi, though, it’s still just as unacceptable.

[quote author=“Tad Trenton’s Ghost”]Now consider this: if Keel is right about this, and all thses opposing faiths are killing each other over belief, what does this say? Whatever “it” is, it looks to be very sinister indeed, hardly the benevolent God most theists want to believe in.

Again, a consideration which leads people away from theism

[quote author=“Mia”]I wouldn’t get too excited about how ‘famous’ a paranormal investigator is. Not a single one of them has ever been able to prove anything about their claims, else they would be $1 million richer via James Randi’s prize.

A good rule of thumb in the paranormal is to place more trust in those who make no money and aren’t famous.  Hold them to their evidence, or look for the ways they stick only to their evidence.  You may be surprised.

As far a tulpas, they wouldn’t qualify for Randi’s prize.  Randi requires superhuman powers to be replicated in a laboratory setting he devises.  In the vast range of transient phenomena that fall under a paranormal heading, not all of them will be able to be readily replicated in the lab at will.  This goes for a number of things in accepted science as well. 

[quote author=“Mia”]Tales of the “supernormal” only impress the impressionable.

And those who experience them first hand.  You’d be surprised how many people this includes.  The experience Bruce was talking about duck having is extremely pervasive, considering it’s unlikelihood.  Try talking to group of friends in a relaxed setting.  Many times, much like atheism, speaking freely about these kinds of experiences carries a social stigma.  When people are reassured they won’t be laughed at, all of a sudden the experiences pour out.

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Posted: 25 November 2007 07:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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ligh+bringer - 25 November 2007 04:33 PM

From my own armchair research and experiences, I think it’s worthwhile to point out how pursuits of the paranormal often times lead people further away from religious faith – even when they may be failing to adequately consider evidence.

I’d agree—those who replace faith in gods with faith in other supernatural phenomena tend to veer away, for example, from focusing on passing laws based on the discriminatory concepts implied (or stated outright) in the various holy books. . . but the question remains one of verifiability, not to mention assigning some absolute meaning to the experience.

And since these experiences are by no means universal, they remain anecdotal. They’re intriguing and puzzling, but the cause of them—the paranormal believer tending to assume the cause is external to them—is yet to amount to anything resembling a unified theory, especially considering that none of them aim in a clear-cut direction. Are they the victims of an alien mind-invasion, or demonic spirits from the Hell Realm, or vampires, or Jehovah, Kokopelli, Allah or Shiva? Is it the call of the unsettled souls of the deceased, or is it a learned master from another dimension, channeling his benevolent thoughts through a very special earthly medium. . . or what? Lacking uniformity, the only way to currently categorize these reports is “unverifiable anecdotal experience”.

Knowing how the brain can trick us, even in circumstances not typically associated with illusion—as when attempting to precisely recall the details of a crime scene we were witness to—it’s safe to say that our memories, and our absolute tendency to want to validate them, can lead us to inaccurate conclusions—even highly embellished conclusions.  Pattern-seeking brains are wont to do that. All it takes is a little confirmation bias, a little creative suggestion, a little validation, and soon you have the building blocks of a full-blown belief system.

Tad here says he doesn’t even have any personal experience to go on, yet he comes across as being wholly infatuated with the claims someone else has made. He’s going on the testimony of his father, who heard it from a friend, and an author who merely managed to get a book published about other peoples’ stories. That’s mightly flimsy stuff compared to, say, a university which has set up a large, formal study with sensitive measuring devices and carefully screened participants. I’ll keep my attention on the latter, since I have no reason to believe that studies of the sort are not ongoing.

I’m not denying that it’s an area of intense interest for many, and begs to be investigated in depth, especially as our ability to study the brain keeps improving. I’m only stating the factual, that not a scrap of reliable proof seems to have been uncovered thus far. Is a conspiracy keeping the truth from us? Seriously, bring it on. What have you got?

ligh+bringer - 25 November 2007 04:33 PM

As far a tulpas, they wouldn’t qualify for Randi’s prize.  Randi requires superhuman powers to be replicated in a laboratory setting he devises.  In the vast range of transient phenomena that fall under a paranormal heading, not all of them will be able to be readily replicated in the lab at will.

This goes for a number of things in accepted science as well.

Randi may have restrictive testing environments (I don’t know the details there), but certainly many respected scientists would try and accommodate an individual they wish to study. But if the results are muddy, or worse, entirely fleeting or immeasurable, as they have proven to be thus far, then we currently have to chalk it up to the weirding ways of the human brain. It can be a real 3-ring circus up there, so until we get the ability to see what another person’s brain is seeing, and then trace the source of that vision, there will BE no way to say anything more conclusive than, “Yep, we measured a blip there alright, but have no idea why it happened.”

As far as accepted science being on par with transient paranormal experience. . . I’m no scientist, but I’m under the distinct impression that scientific theory builds on previous proofs and logical projections firmly rooted in those proofs. . . as opposed to a chaotic mix of anecdotal visions. Regardless, a scientific theory is not something I must  believe in or convince others of. If it’s valid, it will pan out and possibly prove useful, and if it doesn’t, no sweat, no skin off my nose. I do not have to waste any time or money on consulting mediums, alien implant doctors, past-life regression therapists, or visits to Billy Meier in Switzerland to hear the latest dire message to humanity from Samjese, the Plejaran (apologies to all Plejarans if I’m butchering these names). Instead, it’s perfectly okay to just let science chug along with its studies.

 

ligh+bringer - 25 November 2007 04:33 PM
Mia - 02 September 2014 04:34 AM
A good rule of thumb in the paranormal is to place more trust in those who make no money and aren’t famous.  Hold them to their evidence, or look for the ways they stick only to their evidence.  You may be surprised.
I would love to be surprised, so by all means. . . please name names and cite some conclusive proofs to get us onboard with your rule of thumb. Surely you wouldn’t have brought this up without such proofs to offer? [quote author=“ligh+bringer” date=“1196037224”>
Mia - 02 September 2014 04:34 AM
And those who experience them first hand.  You’d be surprised how many people this includes. 
Not at all. All people have complex brains which develop under a nearly infinite number of conditions, whether genetic, environmental or self-inflicted, as when foreign substances or external stimuli are introduced. . . hence we would expect a complex variety of mental experiences. Are you aware that the experiences of an OBE can be intentionally triggered in a lab setting? The study has been cited on this forum several times. [quote author=“ligh+bringer” date=“1196037224”>The experience Bruce was talking about duck having is extremely pervasive, considering it’s unlikelihood.  Try talking to group of friends in a relaxed setting.  Many times, much like atheism, speaking freely about these kinds of experiences carries a social stigma.  When people are reassured they won’t be laughed at, all of a sudden the experiences pour out.
I have engaged in hundreds of such talks with friends, and we all have weird mental experiences to yack about. It’s fun. The important distinction seems to be that some people conclude that the experience must ‘mean’ something, and point to some mysterious Universal truth, while others just shrug and say “Cool!” or “Weird!”. . . and then enjoy another glass of merlot, feeling no compulsion to grant it paradigm-shattering importance. .
[ Edited: 25 November 2007 11:21 PM by Mia]
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Posted: 26 November 2007 01:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Sander - 23 November 2007 11:35 PM
Tad Trenton’s Ghost - 23 November 2007 09:36 PM

However, I’ve read many books on the paranormal, and I’m convinced there must be SOMETHING to at least some of them. Not becuase the books saw print, as Randi suggests to Harris, but because, there’s so many reports, and because I’ve known acquaintences and relatives, who have had strangley similar experiences. This indicates that something is indeed “out there.”

Tad,

Can you be more specific about the experiences you speak of.
That way there is something to discuss.

For me, I don’t doubt there are many things ‘out there’ and a fine line ought to be walked between stone-cold cynicism and the well documented desire of people to believe any dumb-ass propostition just because we so desperately want to believe something.

If I may inject a few words here:  As of the last 2 years or so I have almost decided I could be discribed as an atheist, but with a little bit of room there for any real doubts that might come along. So far nothing has convinced me that “God” ( whatever that is ) is real. But you know what ? The one thing that DOES make me wonder is COINCIDENCES ! Think about it : what could explain it ?  Ever have that happen to you ? It’s an erie feeling. I mean, I’ve read and experianced some stuff , and it’s too weird to be random. What force could cause evrything to come together at just the right time ? Especially when it’s a life-saving occurrence. ??

DEE

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Posted: 26 November 2007 01:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Dee - 26 November 2007 06:06 AM

But you know what ? The one thing that DOES make me wonder is COINCIDENCES ! Think about it : what could explain it ?  Ever have that happen to you ? It’s an erie feeling. I mean, I’ve read and experianced some stuff , and it’s too weird to be random.

How do you know what the limits of ‘random’ are? I’m only asking, because I wouldn’t claim to know.

Dee - 26 November 2007 06:06 AM

What force could cause evrything to come together at just the right time ? Especially when it’s a life-saving occurrence. ??

What force could cause everything to come together at just the right time to make a surgeon accidentally cut into a vital artery, causing someone’s untimely death during a routine operation?  It seems to me that the miraculous perception of coincidence mostly gets pointed out when it works in our favor, not when it brings about a situation that sucks.

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Posted: 26 November 2007 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Coincidence is generally defined in such ways as ‘a sequence of events that although accidental seems to have been planned or arranged’ or, ‘an event that might have been arranged although it was really accidental’ or ‘a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance.’ (My italics)

The point is that the Universe is a horribly complex place and we humans deal with it by reducing this complexity into patterns of varying simplicity. People attribute particular meaning to events which happen to fit whichever pattern they use to decrypt the Universe and they tend to do so whether there is causal consociation or not.

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