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In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Discussions about the James Randi Educational Foundation and its Million Dollar Challenge.

Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby Jayhawker30 » 22 Nov 2011, 12:26

Arouet wrote:Again: keep in mind we are not here talking about whether psi is real, but rather whether people's beliefs that their experiences are psi leads us to conclude that psi is real.


Nothing could be reasonably concluded with just people's beliefs. What counts is the tangible, factual reality of what it is that leads them to believe, and that can't be measured just by how many people give it the thumbs up.
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby Arouet » 22 Nov 2011, 13:15

I agree! Can't get CW to see that though!
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby really? » 23 Nov 2011, 04:50

I think the only reason CW doesn't see it is because he doesn't want to admit he used a logical fallacy. Admitting so would create a very shaky foundation from which to continue the argument of his.
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby Epimetheus » 23 Nov 2011, 13:45

craig weiler wrote:We do not perceive the world through our senses. Our brains receive sensory input and then the mind does something mysterious and presto, we have perception.

If all experience is untrustworthy then we have no knowledge. In my opinion, this is a philosophical dead end. I can't go there with you.

Either demonstrate some evidence why billions of people are wrong about their psi experiences or all you have is opinion. I don't care about your logic.


Even discussions of phenomenology and ontology are subject to the laws of logic.

The irrationality in this post is exactly what puts aggressive skeptics on the offensive. Many aggressive skeptics believe that they are doing the world a service in fighting this kind of thinking, and I tend to agree.

I'm not defending obstinate rejection of supernatural phenomenon; I'm only saying the right fight to be had is against irrational thinking, not against rational assessment of phenomenon.

Fallacious reasoning aside, CW's position seems to be that experience of psi phenomenon is a direct experience that leaves no doubt in the subject as to the underlying supernatural cause. That is, that the cause of the experience was necessarily supernatural therefore the phonomenon was a true supernatural experience, all because the subject 'just knows it'.

Given this position, coupled with the sheer volume of reported experiences, I agree with CW that it does not actually fall into the argumentum ad populum. Consider it rather as a mass anthropological survey, each response becomes a data point, and CW's position is that the volume of *data* (eg. reported occurance of self proving supernatural experiences) provides incontestable evidence for the existence of supernatural phenomenon.

Unfortunately, the plural of anecdote is not data, and a vast number of reported supernatural experiences just means that a vast number of supernatural experiences were reported: Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't mean that they had a concordant cause, or were real in the first place. CW also confuses experiences for occurances: Occurances are data points, experiences are anecdotes.

I also disagree with the position that an apparent supernatural experience is proof of supernatural agency. But we can take that up with Persinger's 'God Helmet', which is a whole different discussion.

I guess my point is, don't mistake a true skeptical attack on reasoning for an attack on evidence or theory.
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby Arouet » 23 Nov 2011, 15:23

Welcome to the forum! You're couching it more philosophically that I did but I think we're saying similar things.
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby ProfWag » 23 Nov 2011, 19:24

ProfWag wrote:
NinjaPuppy wrote:
ProfWag wrote:I'm on vacation this week, so I don't really want to spend time getting too caught up in this conversation...

Can we start a game of "Where in the World is Wag"?

Sure! Clue #1 - Believe it or not, There are some trees around
Clue #2- I'm not too far from "twin mountains"
Clue 3 - I had mushrooms that made me "mellow" for dinner
Clue 4 - I had drinks with Jimi, Carlos, & the Boss
Where am I?

Totally off topic here, but I have to share a story. First, here's the answers to my clues:
1. Believe it or not refers to the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museums. Aquarium, et.al. in this town.
2. "Twin Mountains" was a bad clue. I was thinking off the cuff. Twin Peaks would have been better, but in any event, I was referring to Dolly Parton.
3. There's a pizza joint chain called Mellow Mushroom. Best pizza I've ever had.
4. Hard Rock Cafe. Duh.

I'm in Gatlinburg TN to do some hiking and some naked hot tubbing.
I rented a cabin outside of town and I'm sitting in my living room drinking a beer and I got this unbelievable feeling that someone was watching me. So I glanced over my shoulder to look out the window and there was a huge black bear standing on her hind legs, looking like she really wanted a drink of my Yuengling. Scared the living crap out of me. I mean, if it wasn't for the glass window, I could have touched the thing. So I'm hoopin' and hollerin' and my wife who was in the basement shooting pool came running up, Mojo was like "what's your problem," then he saw it and was like "oh, that's your problem." This thing was still standing on her hind legs when the wife got there. About that time her two cubs came walking around the corner and I realized it probably best that we didn't go outside to try to pet them.
Anyway, I've seen a lot of cool things in my time, but that was one of the coolest. After a few minutes, they finally just mozied off back into the woods but not before one of them leaned on my car to make sure I didn't have left over pizza on my hood. Forgot all about taking it's picture, until they were waliking away and by then, it was just too dark.
We decided not to go out to the hot tub after that though...
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby really? » 23 Nov 2011, 21:09

ProfWag wrote:
I'm in Gatlinburg TN to do some hiking and some naked hot tubbing.


Couldn't you have kept this part to yourself. ;)
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby Epimetheus » 24 Nov 2011, 06:27

Arouet wrote:Welcome to the forum! You're couching it more philosophically that I did but I think we're saying similar things.


G'day Arouet, Thanks for the welcome.

Despite my dredging the canals of memory for first year metaphysics (ah, youth!), I think we're very much on the same page.

Also, as a data analyst, I spend an awful lot of time mining and assimilating data to synthesise proof for anecdotes, so that part of things is pretty familiar ground to me.

I was just worried that CW thought psi generally was being dismissed, whereas it was clear that the methodology of argument was what's in question.

I think this happens more often than not, and leads to a misinterpretation on the part of the faithful that a fundamental aspect of their 'paradigm' (for want of a better term) is being questioned, when clearly the only issue in question is their reasoning.

I prefer to just admit that my belief in the supernatural is irrational, but sustain it anyway, in the hope that evidence will eventually allow me to reconcile the double-think.
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby craig weiler » 24 Nov 2011, 07:56

Epimetheus,
Very interesting argument, but just as with the skeptics, this sort of reasoning ignores the details in favor of sweeping statements. Unfortunately, it really helps to understand what a psi experience is and how it differs from ordinary experience. It is an incredible conceit to imagine that billions of people, who comprise the majority of humans on this planet cannot distinguish between a psychic experience and an ordinary one. I call this the skeptical "they're all stoopider than me" fallacy. That is an insane proposition. If you're going to argue that they cannot tell the difference, I think you should have some bullet proof evidence showing just how that works.
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby Arouet » 24 Nov 2011, 09:00

Craig: its not about stupidity. I don't think you'll ever find a post where I suggest that proponents are stupid. I certainly don't think that you, or CB are stupid: quite the opposite, I think you're both quite bright.

There is a ton of discussion out there about why people believe weird things. In fact, I think someone even wrote a book about it! :)


Epimetheus: yes, while I'm not convinced that psi is real, that is not what I have been arguing in this thread, focusing only on the argument structure.
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby really? » 24 Nov 2011, 09:28

craig weiler wrote:Epimetheus,
Very interesting argument, but just as with the skeptics, this sort of reasoning ignores the details in favor of sweeping statements. Unfortunately, it really helps to understand what a psi experience is and how it differs from ordinary experience. It is an incredible conceit to imagine that billions of people, who comprise the majority of humans on this planet cannot distinguish between a psychic experience and an ordinary one. I call this the skeptical "they're all stoopider than me" fallacy. That is an insane proposition. If you're going to argue that they cannot tell the difference, I think you should have some bullet proof evidence showing just how that works.


CW everything you just said isn't the issue.
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby really? » 24 Nov 2011, 09:30

craig weiler wrote:Epimetheus,
Very interesting argument, but just as with the skeptics, this sort of reasoning ignores the details in favor of sweeping statements. Unfortunately, it really helps to understand what a psi experience is and how it differs from ordinary experience. It is an incredible conceit to imagine that billions of people, who comprise the majority of humans on this planet cannot distinguish between a psychic experience and an ordinary one. I call this the skeptical "they're all stoopider than me" fallacy. That is an insane proposition. If you're going to argue that they cannot tell the difference, I think you should have some bullet proof evidence showing just how that works.


CW everything you just said isn't the issue. Actually nothing you've said in this thread was ever at issue. It was your argument structure that is at issue
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby Epimetheus » 24 Nov 2011, 09:35

craig weiler wrote:Epimetheus,
Very interesting argument, but just as with the skeptics, this sort of reasoning ignores the details in favor of sweeping statements. Unfortunately, it really helps to understand what a psi experience is and how it differs from ordinary experience. It is an incredible conceit to imagine that billions of people, who comprise the majority of humans on this planet cannot distinguish between a psychic experience and an ordinary one. I call this the skeptical "they're all stoopider than me" fallacy. That is an insane proposition. If you're going to argue that they cannot tell the difference, I think you should have some bullet proof evidence showing just how that works.


I don't think it's a conceit at all. I include myself among those teeming ignorant billions, and I've already suggested Persinger's 'God Helmet' experiments, which I think are relevant, in so far as they claim to simulate a paranormal experience. Of course, one could always ask whether they in fact triggered a 'real' paranormal experience, rather than just simulating the appearance of such...

Having had a few events in my past that I can only ascribe to either psychokinesis, ghosts, or another supernatural agency, doesn't mean that I would discount a reductionist mehanistic explanation should an adequate one be provided. I've also had terrifying experiences during meditation, which I would have sworn at the time were evidence of malicious supernatural agents, but which I now recognise as the unhealthy combination of too many horror movies and self-hypnosis. My teen years also had periods of surging hormones, drug induced euphoria, and occasional fever (Glandular Fever, "Mono" I believe Americans call it?)where I would have sworn some kind of contact with the divine. High School was indeed a fantastic time, but I got over it.

I have also been falsely accused of being 'psychic' purely because I was able to accurately describe people's characters and their behaviour in a situation having been given little to no information about them, I explain it as stereotying in action: people tend to choose a role and perform to it. Guess the role, and you can predict the performance. To me it's no different to knowing the next line in a predictable film script, I don't have to think about it, I just let the situation play out in my head, and describe what is going to happen.

Of course there's the old chestnut of knowing who's calling on the phone because its 'their ring'. This still freaks my wife out, when I tell her to get the phone because it's my mother calling, I tend to have about an 80% hit rate on that, but only with guessing if it's my parents. And no, they don't represent an unusually high proportion of our calls.

I've also been privvy to friends and family having some pretty hardcore precog experiences.

Absolutely none of this anecdotal evidence *proves* the supernatural exists.

The "Direct Experience" position is one of faith, and I take no issue with faith (so long as it doesn't invade public policy) but it isn't evidence, and shouldn't be presented as such. I've had your "direct experience", and I don't find them as convincing, or perhaps my experiences haven't been direct enough? I don't see how anyone can claim to know the difference between "It's all directly experienced by the consciousness", and "It's all in your head." That is no reflection on anyone's intelligence, I think we're just motivated differently.

I *believe* instinct and the supernatural are a valid recourse when reason cannot supply an answer one way or another. But the language of reason must always take precedence. I mean, I talk to my cat, and she almost always miaos back, but I'm not under the delusion we're communicating anything beyond [human make noise] - [cat make noise] - [cat get treat], even though on a superstitious level I like to hope there's something more going on.

To get back on topic, whatever suspected motivations JREF and others have for mounting these challenges, the result is, hopefully, that they encourage critical thinking, and that they encourage society to be guided by reason before superstition, and evidence before anecdote. Let the paranormal be the poetry that echoes in the halls of science.
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby Epimetheus » 24 Nov 2011, 09:54

Arouet wrote: Epimetheus: yes, while I'm not convinced that psi is real, that is not what I have been arguing in this thread, focusing only on the argument structure.


I'm with you on the argument structure being irrational, but I think the break in understanding is around CWs concept of "Direct Experience". Given the position that each reported experience is, by definition, an absolutely true occurance of paranormal experience, it is no longer an appeal to the masses; but it looks a lot like begging the question (I think you raised this already?).

CWs entire position hinges on supernatural experience being profound and unmistakable, which is faith, which is pretty much the ultimate apriori. The old computer/math adage holds true here: Garbage in/Garbage out.

Of course, he might be right, but it cannot be proven.

So Chris, can we agree that it's a matter of faith and not reason, and that the argument, while interesting, is without logical merit?
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Re: In defense of the JREF Paranormal Challenge

Postby craig weiler » 24 Nov 2011, 13:03

Oh for Christ's sake! Do the math. Any single person's experience might be explained away. When you're talking about billions of people though, you cannot statistically explain that away. The chance that they are all wrong is so infinitesimally small as to be non existent for all practical purposes.

All I'm arguing for here is the power of extremely large numbers. All of the arguments I've seen put forth do not apply here because they cannot possibly hold up statistically when applied over billions of people. . . unless you can demonstrate your case with actual evidence.
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