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I think its fair to say that a notable amount of active, significant pseudoskeptics seem to hail from the entertainment field of stage magic. With James Randi, Derren Brown and Pen & Teller being only a few of perhaps the most notable pseudoskeptic-magicians, their occupation appears to grant the otherwise seemingly-absurd ability within the eternal debate for truth, in which they may withold (at least up to a point) as much information as suits them on the grounds that it would betray the methodical secrets of the proffession. Of course some seem inclined to do this more than others - being English I'm not too familiar with Randi's track record of this, but those aware of the skeptical crusades of UK magician Derren Brown I expect will agree with the notion that a hell of a lot of the stuff in which he essentially tries to convert viewers is based on the assumption of the viewer and their decision to trust whatever he's getting at. His method of 'debunking' more often than not involves replecating a paranormal-associated feat in a way he claims to be rational, but never complete with an exact explanation as to what he did to achieve the effects.
Now I'm not for a moment suggesting that these militantly atheistic conjourers are in fact knowingly using genuine psychic techniques in these excercises, but instead wishing to draw attention to the unpleasantly high level of influence these people have when performing the process of (a) denouncing a paranormal claim, (b) displaying their ability to effect the results through rational means, and then (c) using their publicly-acceptable status as a stage magician to avoid explaining exactly what rational means they used to achieve this, what the conditions of the experiment were, how many times this was actually repeated before this successful one was chosen to be put in the video etc. - basically obscuring the scientific relevance of the experiment so that researchers and beleivers of the paranormal alike are left unsure of whether techniques were used which otherwise would not work under the conditions of todays scientific tests, or instead (as the magician's confidence would have you believe) whether the magician has in fact discovered a completely new way of rationally replecating paranormal phenomena that invalidated every claim up until the present moment.
The reputation of a magician as one in possession of 'hidden knowledge' also can be argued to enforce their claims toward atheism, members of the public perhaps being persuaded by this and their proffessional confidence to dismiss all claims of spirituality, regardless of how much their individual experiments have actually shown. The proffession of magician as well as this seems to be the only one in the world which supplies its members with an automatic 'licence to lie', wherby because of their reputation as neccessary tricksters, any amount of fabrication which they are caught out on, unlike scientists, doesn't seem to matter at all. Which of course is fine for when these entertainers, when they're restricting themselves to the actual entertaining as their proffession implies. But it's as soon as one decides that their day-to-day pretence of being some extraordinary being with special powers (psychic/psychological or otherwise) isn't enough for their much-needed daily ego-boost anymore, and that they have to go make an impact on the lesser, poorer peoples lives, that they're suddenly handed a great responsibility as to how they go about using the omniscience-reputation and the free-deception grant that society has handed them.
And, as I'm sure others will agree, many completely f**k this responsibilty over, choosing among many reckless and hypocritical things, to expose all sorts of minor, often influentially-devoid spiritual organisations as apparrent 'liars' who hide the truth of their methods from the public in order to stay in business, whilst maintaining (and from what I can tell without actually being questioned on this matter at all, allowing them not to have to ever bring the issue up AS an issue) that it's perfectly okay for THEM to lie, and for THEM to hide the truth from the public, and indeed for THEM to do so in order for the Magic Circle and others who genrally abide by the 'magician's code' to stay in business.
To those who courageously insist in unyeildingly applying the scientific method to uncovering the truth, these televised claims backed up by unreliable evidence mean little. But to many members of the public (who quite frankly, although I'm bound to get a lot of criticism for this, in my opinion shouldn't have to be caught up in these huge debates at all when they're doing a more sensible thing than all of us and actually getting on with their lives regardless of the truth behind these little matters), this irresponsible use of influential power could in essence be seen as a major obstacle in their rights to think for themselves and persue the truth.
As a result I thought I'd stop being a lurker on this particular forum and set up this topic, in which people can discuss this idea of mine concerning the influence of stage magicians, whether it really is unethical/unscientific, if so how bad for people it neccessarily is, and if so what exactly can/should be done about it. My personal view is that in the search for truth people shouldn't have to deal with all these deceptive obstructions, while I'm quite convinced that the apparrent confidence of these people about their pseudoskeptical views only plays on the paranoia of otherwise level-headed investigators and others who otherwise would be completely able of making up their own minds. I think as a result, that this site should start an appeal for some devotion of time into the in-depth investigation and analysis of these magicians' tricks, with a list of possible ways in which these tricks worked published on the site. We live in a world in which information is now more important than ever, both to the individual and the collective alike, and when it comes to truth we can no longer stand idly by while the unsuspecting public is attacked by what I see overall as an unsettlingly corrupt community masquarading in some ridiculously perverse manner as todays wielders of the torches of truth and wisdom and the neccessary guides to tomorrows world (I of course include all pseudoskeptics in this analogy, not just the magicians among them). I personally am not advocating a like-minded 'educational' spree round the world, an which we force the evidence of our ideas down the throats of the public, mocking and belittling them continuously through all possible media devices until they're forced to agree with us (although if SCEPCOP ever gets to the point where it has enough money and power to do that, then all I can say is "kudos"). But I do think that this site alone needs to provide people with all the correct information it can so as to allow people to truly make their own decisions, even if in the process some magicians secrets ae compensated.
I hear ya! These magicians shouldn't be allowed to "lie" to us, no matter how much we volunteer to see their acts, and no matter how many times they assure us that they are indeed, performing tricks.
And what's with those special effects in movies? Eh? That's not real! Right? I mean, am I to believe that Edward really is a vampire? He's nothing like the real thing! I want a ban on vampire movies right away! Unless they're going to star real vampires. That would be ok, I guess. And don't get me started on science fiction! They're always atheist propaganda vehicles, aren't they? Do they really think that we'd believe we can fly to other planets like that? That's not real. We can't even fly to the moon, let alone outside of our solar system! They're LYING TO US! ALL THE TiME!!!!!!!
And I was watching a football game on TV. And suddenly there was this line across the field! I thought to myself. That doesn't look right. So I phoned my buddy who was at the game himself and asked him to tell me if there really was a purple line across the field, right where the down was. Guess what? There wasn't! It was another LIE by those TV tricksters! I'm never watching another football game on tv again.*
God, there's lying everywhere! I don't even think people realise how much lying is going on by those atheist pseudoskeptics in the entertainment industry.
Maybe we should start a facebook group or something!
*some elements of this anecdote may have been fabricated to aid in proving what should be a simple enough to grasp point about entertainment.
Well, as is well established, I AM one of those evil magician type people who is a die-hard when it comes to protecting and preserving the secrets of my craft. It has nothing to do with criminal deception, just trade craft; I doubt Bill Gates is going to openly share trade secrets his company has developed over the years... especially the one on how to create an massive monopoly and keep your head...
While I get seriously bent when it comes to "skeptics" that misapply magic tricks & techniques as explanations or worse "Proof" that this or that is fake, I can assure you that I've not seen, not in 40ish years of being around all this stuff, Randi or any of them step across the line when it comes to public deception, using the excuse of "trade secrecy" as their out. Randi in fact, tipped the workings on a few simpler effects long ago, as he was getting his "Everything is Fake" campaign launched (in the early 70s). What he hasn't disclosed (fessed up to) is how he's bullied so many people who didn't agree with him, threatened the life of several (nearly killing one noted escape artist in South America) and various other questionable "moral" issues... to coin a phrase, he has yet to come to terms that his farts stink just like everyone elses .
Derren Brown has come close to public deception as has Iain Rowland (to my understanding) either gent being known to "pad" his audiences and panels (especially if a TV show is involved) with personality types they know they can manipulate, exploit, etc. To use the lingo, they arrange for "Hot Readings" while claiming to the contrary. Too, Browning in particular is notorious in his deception when it comes to "explanation" to what he does and how he accomplishes things with many others of his ilk following suit, using pseudo-sciences like NLP or FACS as fall backs, which is rarely anything close to truth. This is where my dander really gets up; I am persecuted by this type because of my use of the term "Psychic" and yet, they think their labels are kosher... claiming to be "Psychology Experts" or "Language Experts" or "Lie Detectors", etc. Sorry, but a lie is a lie... if I'm in the wrong for calling myself a Psychic then you're in the very same shoes to claim that you are something you obviously aren't, wouldn't you say? Especially when you are using the same exact methods and in some instances, effects that I use in my programs
I get disgusted when it comes to the definition used by the skeptic's sub-culture, of the concept "Expert"; many of them seeming to believe a casual reading of two or three books on any one topic is sufficient, so long as you understand the key bullet points well enough to B.S. your way through things. At least my claims are a bit more legit; I have a resume (for lack of a better term) within the New Age/Pagan world of my own as well as generations of family ties to such things. If I'm Reading a Palm or the Cards, etc. THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I'M USING... the established meanings and modes of translating those symbols, not some kind of canned spiel or psychological formula... the problem is however, many Readers get into a rut after doing the work for any extended period of time and start leaning on their own stock lines... the one's that seem to get positive feed back. But that's another issue altogether, my point here is that I'm at least telling the truth when it comes to my claims and I dare anyone to prove I'm using any form of deception or working outside the established formulas associated with traditional divination when I'm doing a Reading.
Ok... time for me to sign off, I'm getting too worked up and my thoughts are racing from one issue to another.
Funny, but missed the point by a country mile. The point is that these folks are putting forward a point of view (and quite a definate one) to a public that doesn't bother to understand even half of what they hear but are more than willing to believe all of it, particularly if delivered in the right format (patronising but true). Now, while I reckon that's their problem, it IS misleading for these guys to do that.
I like Derren Brown a lot actually, but i'm not so stupid as to believe that if he calls out a medium, and the guy is shown to have been faking, that scientifically that means mediums are fake. (I have to accept that I have no real conclusive evidence either way about whether or not this is possible - if you did get this from Derren's tv show, please go immediately and wash your brain out with science). However, in this low-educated and band-waggon jumping culture we live in, this behaviour does have a great deal of influence. It can encourage people to not learn for themselves. Worse still, it can encourage people to seek reinforcement for their views and avoid counter points. That's bad, scientifically - not to mention making it increasingly difficult to have an intellectual discussion with people.
However, everyone has a right to choose whether they learn or not, and people will more often prefer to get that warm, lovely, smug knowledgable feeling from watching a misleading and crass tv show and stop there rather than actually learning... so there is very little we can do about it.
Well, I guess here is where we need to bring in specific examples. For example, when I've seen Randi debunk Uri Geller in the spoon bending, I haven't seen him say: this proves that Uri Geller did it fraudulently. What I've heard him say, is along the lines of: "It's possible that Geller is bending spoons using his mind, but if he is, he's doing it the hard way."
When deliberating on whether certain potential psi phenomena is real, it certainly is relevant if the feat can be duplicated using pure trickery and slight of hand. It dramatically changes the probability of the feat having been done through supernatural means. Certainly, magicians should put that proviso in, when they don't know exactly how the proponent is performing the feat (as opposed to say, when they are caught using trickery directly).
I don't know how such debunking would discourage people from learning for themselves. Most people don't have the time nor the skill to personally investigate everything they encounter. We learn from other people. I teach you, you teach me, someone else teaches us. However, in teaching people how to approach a question like say Darren Brown's Pk wheel debunking video (you can find it on youtube), he is directly teaching HOW to think critically, and to not just accept what you see, and that sometimes things are not what they seem. These types of instructions teach people how to think for themselves, not the opposite.
Well, I don't think these magicians are claiming to be doing science, per se, although sometimes they use scientific principles. I guess your concern is that it will close people off to the possibility of psi. That's where caveats like Randi's above comes in.
I guess you're talking about Penn and Teller here. And while I'm not a huge fan of the show (the style doesn't appeal to me, nor the crassness), it certainly is putting forth the message to think for yourself. How many other shows do that? Keep an eye out for Phill Plaitt's Bad Universe coming to Discovery soon. But really, how many shows focus on critical thinking?
Well, I'm most familiar with Derren on this subject and I do like him - I like that his shows, before his recent debunking crusade, did show all the really quite impressive things the mind can do. And yes, critical thinking is in there. But I'm not sure that's what the majority of people get from it. I was not very interested in the fake mediums stuff and all that, because it simply doesn't matter to me whether some bloke was faking or not. I am already aware of how these things can be faked. But I have heard other people cite the show in arguments about how mediums, ESP, whatever is definately not real and you are stupid if you even consider otherwise, "I mean, didn't you see Derren Brown?!?" they say. So I guess I just don't like the lazy thinking behind that. And the fact that people often then feel justified by The Telly (tv if you're American) to not consider any other possibility.
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