Sam Harris vs. James Randi

 
 
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Dee
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06 December 2007 23:48
 
ligh+bringer - 07 December 2007 02:46 AM
archsceptic - 06 December 2007 02:54 PM

It would be an obfuscation of scepticism to say anything else.

I think Randi’s entire career is an obfuscation of scepticism.

I mean, Geller and Brown could have powers, but their ability to take people in and suck their dollars out of them has nothing to do with it.  Skepticism is the part that says: “no, there is no such thing as ESP.”  Randi’s role is more as a watchdog.  He doesn’t really have to be skeptical to do what he does - even if he is deeply skeptical to a fault.

archsceptic - 06 December 2007 02:54 PM

I was eating raw meat as I was trying to type.

“mmmmeeeeaattt!!”
—Kowalski

Raw meat ?  Sounds delicious !  You should use plenty of tenderizer though.

Isn’t anyone here glad that Sam is being given credit for helping Hersi Ali ?  NEWSWEEK has been good to Sam; I hope to see them continue that in the future.

 
 
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Celsus
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07 December 2007 03:33
 
ligh+bringer - 07 December 2007 02:46 AM

I mean, Geller and Brown could have powers…

Surely, you can’t be serious? How many times do these guys need to be debunked before people stop giving them a benefit of a doubt? Seriously, what would it take to convince people that these guys can’t do the things they claim can?

It like the UFO nuts. When France released their UFO files, something like 75% of the UFO’s they investigated had ordinary terrestrial explanations. The remaining 25% were assessed to have no explanation. The UFO nuts immediately leapt on that 25% as proof that UFOs exist. However, from my understanding, the French investigators are only saying that they don’t have enough evidence to come to a reasonable explanation. This, to me, would seem to say that those cases could still be assessed either way.

To my mind, if 75% of any phenomena can be explained, it would seem to be a good bet that the remaining 25% probably can as well.

Why do we feel a need to keep clinging to the ever diminishing ledge that seems to uphold faith in the paranormal? Is the world not enough? Do we really need ghost and goblins and little green men so desperately that we must deny that, despite all the time and money wasted looking for them, no evidence for their existence has ever come to light?

 
 
 
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Carstonio
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07 December 2007 03:37
 
Celsus - 07 December 2007 08:33 AM

Why do we feel a need to keep clinging to the ever diminishing ledge that seems to uphold faith in the paranormal? Is the world not enough?

They want to believe that there is more to live than this. They don’t understand that life is what they make of it.

 
 
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Celsus
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07 December 2007 16:50
 

Want to see just how belief in the paranormal can beharmful to society. Here, read this:

Bad Journalism Encourages Psychic Detectives
By Benjamin Radford, LiveScience’s Bad Science Columnist

posted: 29 November 2007 09:38 am ET
Ada Wasson and Mary Ellen Walters vanished.

The elderly pair left their Warren County, Ohio, retirement home on April 19 for a day of shopping at an outlet mall. They never arrived. Days turned into weeks and months, with no clue about their fate. Their car was missing, their credit cards had not been used, and no one had reported seeing them.

Police were puzzled, and their families were desperate. The case was widely publicized, attracting attention, sympathy—and psychics.

While the news media often report on a psychic’s introduction into missing persons cases, reporters very rarely follow up on the psychics. The result is that the public hears about psychics being involved, but doesn’t hear about whether or not psychic information actually recovered the missing person or solved the case.

(An early news report on Wasson and Walters was headlined “Psychic Aids In Search For Missing Women,” despite the fact that the women had not been found, and thus there was no way to know whether the psychic had in fact helped in the search. Giving wild guesses and incorrect information to police hardly “aids” in the search.)

Digging deeper

News of the women’s recent recovery was reported in dozens of newspapers, but only one enterprising journalist dug a little deeper and interviewed police about the information they received from dozens of self-proclaimed psychics. The result was an excellent article headlined “Psychic Tips Were Off On Missing Women Case,” by Deb Silverman, a reporter for WCPO in Cincinnati.

According to Silverman, police were contacted by about 30 psychics over the course of the six-month investigation. They sent maps, audiotapes, letters, dream journals, and e-mails. One supposed psychic said that the numbers 42 and 27 were significant and would help police find the missing women. Another said the pair would be found about five miles from where they were last seen; another said searchers should look in the Ohio River; still another said the women were within 300 feet of a rural, white church somewhere. Thirty different “psychics” gave 30 different answers.

The women were found, not by psychics, nor by police.

The skeletal remains of Wasson and Walters were spotted Oct. 14 by a hunter and his son in a secluded field near Interstate 71 in Kentucky. One of the women was in the car, the other was nearby, apparently having tried in vain to reach the highway. There were no signs of foul play; the pair had missed their exit to the mall, and tried to turn around but got lost on the country roads before driving into a dry creek bed where their car got stuck. Both were in poor health and neither had a cell phone.

The significant numbers? 30 and 40

All the information that all 30 psychics gave was wrong. The numbers, the dreams and visions, the river, the white churches—every detail was not only completely wrong but wasted time and resources. Police spent about 40 work hours sorting through the information.

The psychics are largely to blame, but journalists bear some responsibility. If more journalists covering missing persons cases followed up on their reporting and publicized psychics’ consistent failures, perhaps fewer would contact police with their visions and hunches, wasting police time and falsely raising the hopes of the missing person’s family.

How many times do these idiots have to fail before before we stop giving them the benefit of a doubt?

 
 
 
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SaulDeOhio
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08 December 2007 11:51
 
Celsus - 07 December 2007 08:33 AM

It like the UFO nuts. When France released their UFO files, something like 75% of the UFO’s they investigated had ordinary terrestrial explanations. The remaining 25% were assessed to have no explanation. The UFO nuts immediately leapt on that 25% as proof that UFOs exist. However, from my understanding, the French investigators are only saying that they don’t have enough evidence to come to a reasonable explanation. This, to me, would seem to say that those cases could still be assessed either way.

To my mind, if 75% of any phenomena can be explained, it would seem to be a good bet that the remaining 25% probably can as well.

Actually, for any of that to actually be evidence of alien spacecraft, at least some of that 25% would have to be explained—as alien spacecraft. There has to be actual evidence that those sightings actually are what the UFO nuts imagine them to be. Otherwise, they are just unexplained. Somebody saw something in the sky and couldn’t identify it. I will be impressed when somebody actually identifies it, AS an alien spaceship.

 
 
ligh+bringer
 
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ligh+bringer
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08 December 2007 14:02
 
Celsus - 07 December 2007 08:33 AM
ligh+bringer - 07 December 2007 02:46 AM

I mean, Geller and Brown could have powers…

Surely, you can’t be serious?

Not seriously suggesting that they have powers, but remaining open to the possibility.  Be aware that the claim on ESP is often times that every human and a number of animals have this ability, and so Geller and Brown would be no exception.  Exposing them as thieves doesn’t debunk ESP on a whole, nor is it an act of skepticism.

Celsus - 07 December 2007 08:33 AM

Why do we feel a need to keep clinging to the ever diminishing ledge that seems to uphold faith in the paranormal? Is the world not enough? Do we really need ghost and goblins and little green men so desperately that we must deny that, despite all the time and money wasted looking for them, no evidence for their existence has ever come to light?

This is a good point and you’re not the only person to think this way, but let’s be clear that saying “no evidence,” as in absolutely zero beyond any shadow of a doubt, is false.  There is evidence, but as archsceptic said its all about the standard of evidence.  If you’re saying that the standard of evidence that we as rational scientifically minded people should uphold is high enough that we must reject x, y, and z paranormal phenomena, that’ perfectly understandable.  That doesn’t change the fact that there is some evidence.  Skepticism doesn’t make it disappear, only holds that the null hypothesis is true.

[ Edited: 08 December 2007 23:11 by ligh+bringer]
 
 
 
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Celsus
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08 December 2007 16:43
 
ligh+bringer - 08 December 2007 07:02 PM

Not seriously suggesting that they have powers, but remaining open to the possibility.

That’s more credit than I would give them.

This is a good point and you’re not the only person to think this way, but let’s be clear that saying “no evidence,” as in absolutely zero beyond any shadow of a doubt, is false.  There is evidence, but as archsceptic said its all about the standard of evidence.  If you’re saying that the standard of evidence that we as rational scientifically minded people should uphold is high enough that we must reject x, y, and z paranormal phenomena, that’ perfectly understandable.  That doesn’t change the fact that there is some evidence.  Skepticism doesn’t make it disappear, only holds that the null hypothesis it true.

Perhaps, but the evidence that has been presented is so ridiculously sight that it doesn’t support the absolute certainty that many people have (That does seem to be the major leitmotif of this forum). Saying that one must keep an open mind is fine and all, but the evidence would seem to propose that we should act as if these things do not exist. Most people seem to want to act the other way.

I think that’s why I’m so annoyed by the suggestions that there must be something there. Why must there? Isn’t it all possible that all this is just wishful thinking, deception, and self delusion?

Believers in the paranormal seem unwilling to believe that there just might not be anything out there. They just seem so certain that their truth will prevail, and that their truth is beyond the present abilities of science. One just needs to wait and keep the faith and all will be revealed in the end.

That’s why I respectfully feel that your logic is deeply flawed on this notion. The skeptics, such as Randi, Shermer, Nickel, and, if I may be allowed an indulgence here, me, are taking the correct approach. We don’t disallow the possibility of the paranormal, we just don’t buy into the probability of it. I’ll believe in the existence of E.T.’s, apparitions, or even Nessie when the evidence warrants it, and not a second before. Would I change my mind if I saw one of these up close and personal? Almost definitely.

The thing is, eyewitness testimony is a tricky thing. Most police officers will tell you that eyewitness testimony is the lowest form of evidence. As Scrooge said about his senses, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats.” However, I will admit that a personal experience would still go along way towards convincing me, just as it did with ole’ Ebenezer. This is, I think, The crucial diference. I am willing to change my mind as the evidence warants.

But the believer will not go the other way. It seems no amount of debunking, no amount of evidence to the contrary, no amount of proof will spoil their utter certainty. This is unscientific. Would one keep believing on a scientific explanation that has been discredited? Why not keep an open mind about geocentric notions of the solar system? Many great minds believed in this, and the belief lasted for centuries. Surely, there must be something to it?

 
 
 
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Carstonio
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08 December 2007 19:03
 

Celsus, excellent post.

Celsus - 08 December 2007 09:43 PM

I think that’s why I’m so annoyed by the suggestions that there must be something there. Why must there? Isn’t it all possible that all this is just wishful thinking, deception, and self delusion?

I’ve noticed the same thing with UFO believers. They want to believe that “there is more to life than this.” What they and the supernaturalists don’t understand is that it’s up to them to get more out of lif. Celestial beings or alien races cannot do this for them.

Celsus - 08 December 2007 09:43 PM

We don’t disallow the possibility of the paranormal, we just don’t buy into the probability of it. I’ll believe in the existence of E.T.’s, apparitions, or even Nessie when the evidence warrants it, and not a second before…But the believer will not go the other way. It seems no amount of debunking, no amount of evidence to the contrary, no amount of proof will spoil their utter certainty.

The craving for certainty is a big part of the problem. All certainty is false except the certainty of death. We must acknowledge this as individuals and as a species.

 
ligh+bringer
 
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ligh+bringer
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08 December 2007 23:24
 

Don’t confuse desperation for certainty.

Seeing is not believing.

 
 
nick chapman
 
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nick chapman
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22 January 2008 16:53
 

Hi all, any chance of a link to the skeptic piece this discussion was started by? nick

 
Ecurb Noselrub
 
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Ecurb Noselrub
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22 January 2008 18:16
 
Celsus - 08 December 2007 09:43 PM

But the believer will not go the other way. It seems no amount of debunking, no amount of evidence to the contrary, no amount of proof will spoil their utter certainty. This is unscientific. Would one keep believing on a scientific explanation that has been discredited? Why not keep an open mind about geocentric notions of the solar system? Many great minds believed in this, and the belief lasted for centuries. Surely, there must be something to it?

Many unbelievers who post here started out as believers. Something made them change their minds. Likewise, many believers start out as unbelievers. The change can go either direction. So I think your premise is mistaken. We talk, we write, we experience life, we change our minds and our beliefs. There is no bright-line absolute rule that controls this process.

 
 
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Carstonio
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23 January 2008 03:42
 
Bruce Burleson - 22 January 2008 11:16 PM

Many unbelievers who post here started out as believers. Something made them change their minds. Likewise, many believers start out as unbelievers. The change can go either direction. So I think your premise is mistaken. We talk, we write, we experience life, we change our minds and our beliefs. There is no bright-line absolute rule that controls this process.

Still, physical reality exists independent of belief, and determining the nature of that reality involves empirical observation and deduction. Determining certain subjective truths about human existence involves a different process. Beliefs about human existence are valid as long as they are defensible, meaning they have some basis in logic and in common experience. But beliefs should not apply to the physical universe - if humans didn’t exist, the universe would still have certain properties.

 
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tavishhill2003
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23 January 2008 13:14
 
SaulDeOhio - 08 December 2007 04:51 PM

Actually, for any of that to actually be evidence of alien spacecraft, at least some of that 25% would have to be explained—as alien spacecraft. There has to be actual evidence that those sightings actually are what the UFO nuts imagine them to be. Otherwise, they are just unexplained. Somebody saw something in the sky and couldn’t identify it. I will be impressed when somebody actually identifies it, AS an alien spaceship.

So….yer saying they would remain unexplained…flying objects.  Hmmmmm…if only we had a name for those things to keep the nutjobs from rallying! 

raspberry

I must admit I do buy into the UFO thing purely based on one guy, Bob Lazar.  His testimony seems pretty legit though I haven’t seen any criticisms on him to be fair.  That said, I have absolutely zero confidence in any other claims.  Lazar’s claims stem from Area 51, but don’t actually include most of the shit out there on the topic. 

More on topic, I kinda feel that Sam gets a bad rap for being a supporter of spiritual ideas.  He doesn’t seem to think the mystics are legit, but rather he seems to want to look at their claims scientifically without having to invoke the reputation of a debunker like Randi has.  He thinks there MAY be some very interesting mental processes going on in some of these claims that may be useful for science.

 
Ecurb Noselrub
 
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24 January 2008 14:54
 
Carstonio - 23 January 2008 08:42 AM

Still, physical reality exists independent of belief, and determining the nature of that reality involves empirical observation and deduction. Determining certain subjective truths about human existence involves a different process. Beliefs about human existence are valid as long as they are defensible, meaning they have some basis in logic and in common experience. But beliefs should not apply to the physical universe - if humans didn’t exist, the universe would still have certain properties.

So you are eliminating the possibility of a reality that exists beyond this universe, that is not subject to empirical observation and deduction. However, you cannot justifiably eliminate this possibility using only empirical observation and deduction. All you can say is that “we haven’t detected any such entity using empirical observation and deduction.” So it remains an open question whether such a reality exists, and, if it exists, how it can be experienced, if at all. Christianity simply says that such a reality exists, and that it is known by faith in response to revelation. By requiring that all realities be “known” only by empirical observation and deduction, you are shutting the door on other possible avenues of experience. Where IS your sense of adventure?!?!

 
 
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Carstonio
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24 January 2008 19:58
 
Bruce Burleson - 24 January 2008 07:54 PM

So you are eliminating the possibility of a reality that exists beyond this universe, that is not subject to empirical observation and deduction.

In several threads I have acknowledged the possibility of such a reality, however remote. But I have also said that the possibility has no relevance because of the undetectability of such a reality. The effect of its existence and the effect of its nonexistence would be exactly the same - zero. Since such a reality would have no perceivable effect on perceivable reality, there’s no reason to even contemplate the possibility.

Bruce Burleson - 24 January 2008 07:54 PM

So it remains an open question whether such a reality exists, and, if it exists, how it can be experienced, if at all.

That wrongly assumes that the existence and nonexistence of such a reality are equally probable.

Bruce Burleson - 24 January 2008 07:54 PM

Christianity simply says that such a reality exists, and that it is known by faith in response to revelation. By requiring that all realities be “known” only by empirical observation and deduction, you are shutting the door on other possible avenues of experience. Where IS your sense of adventure?!?!

Your “other possible avenues of experience” comment makes no sense. Sensory experience is the only way humans collect data about the world around them. There are no other sources of data. It’s not like we have an extra nose on the back of our heads, or suddenly developed a shark’s ability to sense electricity.