Thursday, December 02, 2010

Reply to Parsons on the Spelling Bees, Theories, and Explanations

Keith Parsons responds to the Spelling Bee incident: 


Am I skeptical of Victor's report? No. Why should I be? People frequently think that they have had clairvoyant episodes, premonitory dreams, ESP, etc., so there is no reason whatsoever that I should doubt such a report. It is not at all outside of the "ordinary course of nature." On the contrary, people have such experiences all the time. How did he (the violin teacher) know what had happened? Well, of course, he did not know. People get hunches, feelings, and intuitions all the time. Some, by chance, are going to be close to something that actually happens. Confirmation bias then steps in to make sure that we remember those that seemed to correspond to what happened and forget all of those that did not. 


I have trouble seeing why people are so sure that he didn't know, even if they are naturalists. Does he really know that this is naturalistically impossible? It might be less likely given naturalism than given supernaturalism, and thus the evidence might probabilistically support supernaturalism via Bayes' theorem. (OK, OK, people accuse me of abusing Bayesian probability theory on a daily basis, so I'm already bracing myself). But the most we can say, I think, if my teacher knew that my rival had gone down and been upset, this might be difficult to explain naturalistically based on what we know about nature at this point. Why do we have to assume it was a guess that turned into an appearance of knowledge because of confirmation bias. 


A few more details about the incident are relevant here. First, he said he had this "perception" just at the time when the rival went down. Second, my violin teacher never reported anything like this in the three years when he was my teacher. It's not as if he brought up a bunch of them, and this one just happened to fit.  He did mention other clairvoyant incidents, but didn't claim to have a whole lot of them. Third, although spellers, like all competitors, experience the agony of defeat, nobody ever was quite as demonstrative as this guy. So I'm just not sure you can chalk it all up to guesswork and confirmation bias. In fact, in the absence of some good reasons to believe that he couldn't have known something that was going on a couple of miles away in that school auditorium, I think the reasonable thing to say would be that he did know. 


Of course, Victor raises these queries because of their seeming relevance to miracle reports. Didn't Hume say that we should be skeptical of reports of events outside of the "ordinary course of nature?" Well, it depends on what we mean by the "ordinary course of nature." The largest largemouth bass ever caught was a lunker of 23 pounds landed by a Georgia angler circa 1924. Now this is pretty astonishing since a largemouth bass of ten pounds is a whopper. My Dad was a lifelong bass fisherman and he never caught one over eight pounds. Suppose, though that in tomorrow's paper I read that a largemouth bass weighing 24 pounds had been caught. Would I be skeptical? Maybe slightly, but I would probably tentatively accept the story. What if the report said that a largemouth bass of 50 pounds had been caught? I would most definitely be skeptical and would strongly suspect a hoax. What if the report said that an enormous, glowing bass had levitated out of the water and pronounced maledictions on all fisherman? Obviously, no newspaper--with the exception of the (now sadly defunct) Weekly World News would every publish such a story. 


But, of course, we have to consider the not only the probability of the event given naturalism, but we must also consider the laws of supernature. How probable is the event given supernatural involvement. Is it the sort of thing God is likely to do, or not, if we suspect God? Of course, Keith and I disagree as to whether it is possible to consider the laws of supernature, but people who have beliefs about supernature have probabilistic expectations concerning what to expect from supernature. If you say that's not enough for a law, well guess what. In quantum mechanics all you get are probabilities also. Are we worried that God isn't observable? Well, science commits to unobservables all the time. 


In considering miracles claims like the Resurrection, we can formulate a theory about what kinds of miracles God is likely to perform, and why he would perform them. Given this theory, we can ask whether the historical evidence is more likely to be the sort thing we should expect if the theistic theory is true, or whether it is more like the sort of thing we should expect if the theistic theory is false. There is a very large trail of historical evidence to look at. 


Of course, you can end up deciding that yes, the historical evidence confirms the theistic story, but the atheistic account is more probable based on the total evidence, or relative to your priors. 


Have the laws of nature been established by a firm and unalterable experience, as Hume suggests? I don't think so. My experience is far from establishing the laws of nature on a firm and unalterable basis. What about yours? 



53 comments:

Brenda said...

"I have trouble seeing why people are so sure that he didn't know, even if they are naturalists."

Which is more likely? That he possesses supernatural powers or that he was mistaken?

"Why do we have to assume it was a guess that turned into an appearance of knowledge because of confirmation bias."

Because of the law of parsimony and due to the fact that everyone is familiar with guesses and no one is familiar people who have with super human powers. If the super human power of clairvoyance were an everyday occurrence then I think we'd be justified in assuming he used those powers. Even then we still wouldn't know.

There are people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Do we just accept their word for it? No. Neither should we do so here.

"we have to consider the not only the probability of the event given naturalism"

Which is zero.

"but we must also consider the laws of supernature."

There are none as there is no such thing as "supernature".

"How probable is the event given supernatural involvement."

Question begging. "How probable are supernatural events if we assume that supernatural events exist?"

"people who have beliefs about supernature have probabilistic expectations concerning what to expect from supernature."

Perhaps they do but one's belief that X has exactly zero to do with the truth that X.

"we can formulate a theory about what kinds of miracles God is likely to perform"

I can form a theory about the miracles Fred is likely to perform. Fredian theology is the holy trinity plus Fred.

Fredian theology is just as valid as yours.

Victor Reppert said...

Let's just start from naturalism for a minute. Why would you really think that knowledge of what is going on two miles away is impossible given naturalism. It may well be an everyday occurrence, or something that happens a lot more often than people realize. All we have is the claim that our present science can't explain it.

There's nothing naturalistically impossible about alien abductions. The main problem there is that none of the abductees have brought anything home with them. But I wouldn't rule out alien abductions a priori.

Whether there is a supernatural is what is at issue. So Bayes' theorem says we have to look at the likelihood of the event given naturalism, and the likelihood of the event given a supernaturalist alternative. By ruling out the supernatural option a priori, you beg the question against the supernatural.

Suppose we are looking at evidence and comparing two theories. We have to consider how likely the evidence is given each theory. Now, if one of the theories is wrong, then presumably the entities it postulates don't exist. So we can still meaningfully ask, for example, how likely the evidence we have would be if phlogiston existed, even though, in actual fact, there is no phlogiston.

You can come up with theories as to what the evidence would look like on the Fred hypothesis. And then it can be confirmed and disconfirmed by evidence, just like any other theory. The deity's name is irrelevant.

unkleE said...

It is easy to find incidents where the information received is too detailed to easily fit the confirmation bias theory. I read one just yesterday from someone whose blog I have been reading for years and who I regard as a reliable person. Of course naturalists have, and have to have, another explanation, but I have no problems accepting such incidents in principle as true and genuinely "unnatural".

Brenda said...

"Why would you really think that knowledge of what is going on two miles away is impossible given naturalism."

I don't think its impossible. I watch TV and listen to the radio all the time. But under the conditions given we know that it is impossible to have information of a distant event without a medium to carry that information to us. Without transmitters and receivers in our heads it is impossible just know about a distant event.

"Whether there is a supernatural is what is at issue."

Which is why you can't invoke it to explain clairvoyance.

"So Bayes' theorem says we have to look at the likelihood of the event given naturalism"

Zero

"and the likelihood of the event given a supernaturalist alternative."

unknown.

"By ruling out the supernatural option a priori, you beg the question against the supernatural."

No, I don't. The question we are asking is one of possibility not probability.

TheCharles said...

"But under the conditions given we know that it is impossible to have information of a distant event without a medium to carry that information to us"

It is absolutely possible to transmit information without a medium or a particle carrying the information. That is the whole point of "Spooky Action At A Distance" that is quantum entanglement. Perhaps inconceivable is a better word than impossible.

Russell said...

Brenda,


Your first response is question begging because what is being discussed is whither such an action is possible. You are already implicitly implying that one is more likely then the other.

Which is zero and there is no 'supernature' are pretty big blanket statements. To use your own language and standards Can I haz evidence plz? You know, besides your unreferenced, unsupported declarations?


And the question is a legitimate question because we are trying to determine whither or the supernatural exist.

Perhaps they do but one's belief that X has exactly zero to do with the truth that X.

Agreed but it can also go that disbelief in X has exactly zero to do with the truth of X.

Ah, appeal to ridicule. Not to mention dishonest comparison. As Winston Wu puts it:

The main problem with this argument is that what people actually experience is NOT the same thing as what a skeptic deliberately makes up for the sake of argument! To put the two in the same category is both illogical and underhanded...everyone knows that he is deliberately making up something fictitious to put down something he doesn’t believe in while the paranormal experiencer or claimant is not. Regardless of whether what the claimant experienced was real or not, it is certainly NOT in the same category as what a skeptic makes up out of thin air. Comparing them would be like comparing my real life experience of visiting a foreign country to any fictitious story you can find such as Peter Pan or The Wizard of Oz. That simply makes no sense, even if misperception was involved on my part in my experience. Not only that, but it would be shady and underhanded as well.

JS Allen said...

"Without transmitters and receivers in our heads it is impossible just know about a distant event."

Brenda, this is the second time you've said this, and it's astonishingly stupid. I'm beginning to think you're only adept at copying text from skeptic websites, but completely incapable of any critical thinking on your own. Clearly, the gem above came from your own beautiful mind, since no skeptic site I've ever seen would claim that "radio transmitters" are the only naturalistic explanation for premonitions.

First, radio waves are not the only way to communicate at a distance. You are reading this communication from me, courtesy of:
1) physical transmission through tactile contact with keyboard
2) electrical signals
3) photo optical light pulses
4) light transmissions from your screen

Now, if humans were to try to engineer an artificial "premonition system", it's true that we might use radio waves. But it's certainly not the only way, any more than radio is the only possibility for transmitting this message that you're reading right now.

Next, the phenomena of premonitions do not even require "action-at-a-distance". All that is required is that the two agents' states be correlated. Such correlated states could naturally result from a sufficient predictive capability (of one agent, or in collusion), or could be engineered by manipulating the state of both agents some time before the event; whether directly or indirectly.

Given how suggestible people are; and how suggestions are embedded by metaphor and story; I wouldn't be surprised if many of the reports of premonitions are explained by a variation of this final explanation -- a sort of "accidental hypnosis".

JS Allen said...

Oh, and regards to Brenda's continued confusion over existence versus explanation, I found one of my favorite lines from Luigi Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author":

"Oh sir, you know well that life is full of infinite absurdities, which, strangely enough, do not even need to appear plausible, since they are true."

Gregory said...

Brenda:

If we were to traverse time to the point of the "big bang" singularity, we would lose all rationalizations over "probability theory". It's only when we have something, that we take into account what things/events will count as "probable"....or even "possible".

I think skeptics get so hung up on words that they begin to lose their grip on concepts.

A universe originating from a non-physical equilibrium (i.e. a "singularity") with no scientific consensus on "how" this could happen; and then continuing a process of "self-organization", "cosmic evolution", "stellar inflation", etc., over billions of years via large scale improbabilities inherent in "chance", is, indeed, a "miracle".

I would take this further and say that a "resurrection" of a dead person is akin to the creation of life; albeit, that a "resurrection" is a very minor "miracle" by comparison. Broadly speaking, both involve the infusion of "life".

"Scientific" explanations of the origin and evolution of the universe, in the end, are nothing more than modern versions of alchemy....like Pythagorean mystagogy sprinkled and covered, as it were, with the dew of abstruse jargon.

The irony is that it's much, much more likely that scientists will actually figure out how to turn lead into gold, than they will finding a "naturalistic" solution for the origin and evolution of all life.

Brenda said...

TheCharles said:
"That is the whole point of "Spooky Action At A Distance" that is quantum entanglement."

1. Humans do not have conscious access to quantum states.

2. The wave function for the entangled particles collapses the moment either one interacts with other matter. Making travel from one brain to another impossible.

3. I believe in the Bohm interpretation which is a hidden variable version of QM. No action at a distance.

Brenda said...

JS Allen
"Now, if humans were to try to engineer an artificial "premonition system", it's true that we might use radio waves. But it's certainly not the only way"

True but I'm pretty sure people would have noticed the electrical cables connecting every clairvoyant with every human being on earth. Or the light pulses from their heads or the fleshy tendrils they use to probe your mind.

"Your first response is question begging because what is being discussed is whither such an action is possible."

No it is not. The only possible means of communication from human mind to other minds that would explain clairvoyants is by some kind of electromagnetic transmission. There is no other.

--
Gregory said:
"It's only when we have something, that we take into account what things/events will count as "probable""

Sure, but as of yet we don't "have something" i.e. evidence that psychic phenomenon even exist. That must be established first. We have to know what is possible before we can calculate what is probable. Trying to calculate the probability of psychic events is like trying to calculate the probability that a six sided die will turn up a seven.

I'm pretty sure the violin teacher did not travel back in time to the big bang so he could gain psychic abilities.

Mark Frank said...

Victor

"So Bayes' theorem says we have to look at the likelihood of the event given naturalism, and the likelihood of the event given a supernaturalist alternative."

You are quite right about abusing Bayes' theorem. Bayes also says we have to take into account the a priori probability of a natural or supernatural explanation. You have only considered the likelihood side of the equation. This is the famous gremlins in the attic paradox. Given gremlins in the attic it is very likely that they caused a noise. But that doesn't mean that Gremlins in the attic are a likely explanation of a noise in the attic.

GREV said...

When will the atheist and agnostic crowd recgonize that the Law of Parsimony is not as useful as they like to think?

It gets quoted like some seemingly unanswerable religious mantra.

TheCharles said...

(1) There are not experiments that I am aware of that show that premonitions really happen.
(2) We don't have a model for how clairvoyance would work based on our current physics framework and that we can't easily think of one.

Even given 1 and 2, impossible is a strong word. Entanglement is a case of information transport where we are not really sure what is going on and there could be others that we just haven’t found yet.

2. The wave function for the entangled particles collapses the moment either one interacts with other matter. Making travel from one brain to another impossible.

I don't think that this is right, because we can store a qubit in the crystal structure of a quantum dot. I think that it is measurement rather than interaction with matter that causes wave function collapse.

3. I believe in the Bohm interpretation which is a hidden variable version of QM. No action at a distance.

QM has a lot of implications that bother me and make me think that it may be an accurate mathematical description, but that it is missing something in the physics. As we were solving endless particle in a box problems, my professor indicated that she had problems believing QM, but that it worked (she was an instrumentalist.)

Blue Devil Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue Devil Knight said...

Charles has suggested, a couple of times, that entanglement lets you send information over long distances. This is false in all but a picayune sense.

You can learn that someone else saw something spin up (if you observed spin down), but that isn't something you have control over, it is a stochastic process. It's like saying I can send you a message by sitting here flipping a coin if your coin always comes up the opposite. In a sense you learn something, "I got heads", but to actually transmit a message ('Obama was elected president') this will not work.

There's a bit more about this at this article, e.g., :
The link of entanglement works instantaneously at any distance. So it would be amazing if it could be used to send a signal. In fact this isn’t possible. Although there is a real connection between two entangled particles, we don’t know what the information is that it’s going to send. If I measure the spin of an entangled electron, yes it communicates the value somehow to its twin — but I can’t use it. I had no idea what the spin was going to be.

This is just as well, as faster than light messages travel backwards in time. If I could send a message instantly it would be received in the past, and that really would disrupt cause and effect. However, there are still real and amazing applications of entanglement. It can be used to produce unbreakable encryption. If you send each half of a set of entangled pairs to either end of a communications link, then the randomly generated but linked properties can be used as a key to encrypt information. If anyone intercepts the information it will break the entanglement, and the communication can be stopped before the eavesdropper picks up any data.


This is different to the ESP question: perhaps if two brains are entangled in a quantum superposition that is a unique way to have our brains in the same state so I can "know" what you know, without collapse ever having to happen. This seems quite unlikely: to set up entanglement even between two electrons in a lab takes a special bit of care and preparation, and there is no good evidence that individual brains are sensitive to quantum effects on a large spatiotemporal scale necessary for such things (though I would be very surprised if the brain didn't exploit quantum effects for things like retinal phototransduction, individual ion channel function, other things on tiny spatiotemporal scales).

On the third hand, I don't buy the skeptics' argument that having no mechanism is enough to show it didn't happen. If we observed ESP reliably in the lab, even if we had no clue of the mechanism, we'd still have to believe it. We don't observe it reliably, but just sayin...

Also, Mark Frank is right.

Blue Devil Knight said...

That gremlins in the attic example is great, by the way. Where is it from?

JS Allen said...


"The only possible means of communication from human mind to other minds that would explain clairvoyants is by some kind of electromagnetic transmission. There is no other."


Brenda, this is now the third time you've made this absurd claim. Apparently you didn't understand the two times I explained that "action at a distance" is unnecessary -- all that is necessary for "clairvoyant" phenomena is that the two agents' states be correlated properly at some point before the experience. It seems that such correlations happen with some regularity.

Before I try a third time to explain this obvious point, let me ask you a question. Do you believe in libertarian free will?

If you assume that there is libertarian free will, then your failure to grasp this point is understandable. Otherwise, feeble-mindedness is the only alternate explanation.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

"Why would you really think that knowledge of what is going on two miles away is impossible given naturalism."

No reason to think this. In fact, we have excellent reason to think it's false: see radio, telephones, internet, etc.

But if the question is "why think unaided humans can't know what's going on two miles away, given naturalism," the answer is because we have good reason to think that "unaided humans can't know what's going on two miles away, period."

Our reasons for thinking that are just like our reasons for thinking pigs can't fly. We don't see it happen.

These sort of judgments could of course be overturned by solid evidence to the contrary. But your anecdote isn't solid evidence of ESP.

JS Allen said...

"we have good reason to think that "unaided humans can't know what's going on two miles away, period."

Like Brenda, you still seem to be stuck on explanations that require "action-at-a-distance", such as radio, internet, etc.

There are myriad other ways that people typically know what is going on miles away, without need for communication at a distance. For example, calendars, schedules, previous conversations with the people in question, looking at the sky, etc. For example, I can know that the Celtics are playing a game without having to use a TV or magic woo-woo "remote-vision" -- all it requires is a pre-printed schedule. Vic's teacher didn't need "remote vision" to subconsciously know when that kid was going to be choking on stage -- it was a scheduled event.

Honestly, you and Brenda come across as superstitious sops who lack intelligence and imagination. You can think only of "radio"; and then apply a "naturalism of the gaps" to anything you can't explain. It's shameful.

Brenda said...

JS Allen
"Brenda, this is now the third time you've made this absurd claim. Apparently you didn't understand the two times I explained that "action at a distance" is unnecessary -- all that is necessary for "clairvoyant" phenomena is that the two agents' states be correlated properly at some point before the experience. It seems that such correlations happen with some regularity."

You don't know what you're talking about and it seem you're just repeating pseudo-scientific words you heard somewhere. Humans do not exist in quantum "states" which can be "correlated", properly or not.

Quantum decoherence

"decoherence is the mechanism by which the classical limit emerges out of a quantum starting point and it determines the location of the quantum-classical boundary."

We exist above the quantum realm and live in a world where the classical rules apply as approximations of the underlying quantum world. So while an electron may (in a sense) pass through both slits you cannot. Quantum effects do not and cannot be manifested at our macro level.

What does it even mean to correlate two agents? How does the content of one agents mind get transferred to the other's?

You are engaged in magical thinking.

"Do you believe in libertarian free will?"

I'm undecided. I think there might be a way for intentional causation but it's still pretty speculative. But it's not relevant to this question.

"I can know that the Celtics are playing a game without having to use a TV or magic woo-woo "remote-vision""

No you can't. You can believe they are playing a game but you cannot know it. The game may have been cancelled. The other examples you give for communication without a need for action at a distance, if used by someone claiming to be clairvoyant, he would be called a fraud.

JS Allen said...

Brenda, add poor reading skills to the reasons for your confusion.

I have never stated that quantum entanglement would be a suitable naturalistic explanation for these phenomena. In fact, I explicitly said that quantum entanglement was not a remotely good explanation, before you brought your big bad boisterous self here.

Why don't you try to slow down, read what has actually been written, and use your brain; rather than respond to your own strawman fantasies?

Bobcat said...

I would be shocked if Brenda believed in libertarian free will. When you remember that she rejects quantum indeterminacy (so no random libertarianism, a la Balaguer and Ginet) thinks there is clearly an external, physical world (so no Kantian or Berkelian noumenal libertarianism) and that there is no objective moral right or wrong (so no van Inwagenian libertarianism), and you get a kind of worldview where libertarian free will would be impossible.

How would libertarianism allow her to rule out telepathy?

JS Allen said...

"How would libertarianism allow her to rule out telepathy?"

It wouldn't; it might explain her utterly bizarre notion that apparent phenomena of telepathy could be explained only by radio waves.

See, in a deterministic world, the fact of the kid choking on stage was all but a foregone conclusion, weeks before it actually transpired. So was the teacher's "vision".

By claiming that the teacher could only know about the student choking via "radio waves", Brenda seems to be subconsciously smuggling in libertarian free will. Why would radio waves be necessary? Just in case the student *didn't* choke?

TheCharles said...

BDK, Let me be clear that I am not saying that quantum entanglement is the cause of clairvoyance or telepathy or whatever. I was reacting to the comment that we can't transmit information from a distant event without a medium. We can transmit quantum information.

You can learn that someone else saw something spin up (if you observed spin down), but that isn't something you have control over, it is a stochastic process. It's like saying I can send you a message by sitting here flipping a coin if your coin always comes up the opposite. In a sense you learn something, "I got heads", but to actually transmit a message ('Obama was elected president') this will not work.

Entanglement doesn't communicate a classical message, but it does communicate a quantum message without needing to decode it. This is useful if you have a quantum computer or are storing qubits in quantum dots and need to move information around. Further, I think that with the work on spintronics, quantum teleportation may well be able to carry a classical message. We know that you can use entanglement to dramatically reduce the amount of classical communication required for a given number of bits of information (Superdense coding), but I digress.

Brenda said...

JS Allen
"I have never stated that quantum entanglement would be a suitable naturalistic explanation for these phenomena."

I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. It is the only explanation that is even remotely possible and the most common that people claim. Since you are not trying to appeal to QM, again, the most common appeal, that leaves only radios in the head.

"In fact, I explicitly said that quantum entanglement was not a remotely good explanation"

Oh I know that, I just didn't believe you could be so stupid as to think that magic is an explanation.

There is one and only one method which could explain how the unaided human could communicate mind to mind across great distances and that is by some kind of radio transmission. Since you claim there is some other way I think you need to spell out exactly what that could be.

"See, in a deterministic world, the fact of the kid choking on stage was all but a foregone conclusion, weeks before it actually transpired."

That is not an explanation of how the violin teacher could know the kid would choke. So... you're going to say that god told him? Because only god could have complete knowledge of future events.

JS Allen said...

"So... you're going to say that god told him? Because only god could have complete knowledge of future events."

You're just being stubborn. The fact that humans don't have complete knowledge of future events doesn't mean that we can't make accurate prediction. We make accurate predictions all the time. For example, I predict that you'll steadfastly continue to argue that radio waves are the only way for apparent telepathic phenomena to occur. I predict that you'll continue to dig in your heels and refuse to admit that you were wrong about all of the stupid things you've said.

Now, fist off, the teacher didn't know the kid would choke. He just had a hunch. If the hunch hadn't played out, he quite likely would've forgotten about it.

Second, we don't know the teacher could've had a hunch about the kid choking. Why did the kid choke? We don't know why, but it's plausible that there are good reasons, and it's plausible that the teacher was privy to some of these reasons.

Here's an example from my own life, just two days ago. I had a dream about an old school friend who I haven't talked to in at least 8 years. It's the only time I can remember ever dreaming about him -- he wasn't particularly close. The following morning, I got an e-mail from a different friend, who discussed multiple things, but mentioned in passing that he was going to call Ryan (my old friend), because "today is Ryan's birthday". It's the only e-mail that mentions Ryan that I've received in at least 8 years, as well.

Now, I could take that as an example of a premonition -- what are the odds that I would have the only dream about a person in 8+ years, and then receive an e-mail about the same person the following day? Magic! But really, it's not necessarily that mysterious. His birthday is a fixed date -- it's the same day every year. I'm sure I knew it at one point. And if I hadn't received the e-mail, I would've forgotten the dream.

Brenda said...

"He just had a hunch."

Clairvoyance is claimed to involve more than a good guess. You went through all this drama just to point out that he could have a a good hunch?

Bobcat said...

Hi Brenda,

I confess to being a bit puzzled about your insistence that radio waves are the only way the violin teacher could have known about the events of the spelling bee. You wrote, "But under the conditions given we know that it is impossible to have information of a distant event without a medium to carry that information to us. Without transmitters and receivers in our heads it is impossible just know about a distant event." You also wrote, "No it is not. The only possible means of communication from human mind to other minds that would explain clairvoyants is by some kind of electromagnetic transmission. There is no other."

I don't know very much about science, so I wonder how is it you know this? You know for sure in 500 years that scientists won't have discovered a different medium besides radio waves for transmitting this kind of information? If so, how do you know this? And are you saying that we could never, even in 500 years, come up with a technology that would allow for the transmission of information of that sort without resort to radio waves? And if you're not saying that, then how could you rule out that there isn't some means right now that would allow people to know things without resort to radio waves? (Or, maybe there are some advanced aliens who have our 500-years-in-the-future technology right now.)

Now, it seems to me that we have a right to be skeptical about the claim that current fundamental physics is correct (based on pessimistic meta-induction), whereas we don't have a right to be skeptical that, say, the germ theory of disease is wrong, or that water is identical to H2O. I take it that the ruling out of knowledge of the sort of violin teacher had is based on the fact that it would conflict with something as fundamental as water being identical to H2O. So what is this fundamental thing?

These questions aren't asked in the mock-modest fashion typical of philosophers. As I said, I don't know much science, so I'm genuinely open to your knowing this fundamental things that rules out the violin teacher's knowledge.

JS Allen said...

"Clairvoyance is claimed to involve more than a good guess."

More evidence of muddled thinking. Guesses and hunches are not the same thing.

Guesses are typically conscious, and based on little information. Hunches arise from subconscious "intuitive" processes, and often based on a wide variety of inputs.

People who report apparent psychic phenomena never report "guesses", but they often report "hunches", "gut feelings", "dreams", or other such things that originate in the subconscious.

In any case, I am glad you are finally compelled to admit there are valid naturalistic explanations for apparent psychic phenomena beyond fraud and radio waves. As I said, there are others beyond these, but I don't have the patience to walk you through all of them.

Shackleman said...

""Do you believe in libertarian free will?"

I'm undecided."


This HAS to win for Ironic Post of the Year award.

JS Allen said...

In case others are interested, we can plausibly theorize that humans have some degree of electromagnetic sensory apparatus, and the research at this stage is quite in its infancy.

First, we of course know that birds have electromagnetic sensory apparatus, as do hammerhead sharks. It has been theorized that whales do, as well. And we now know that bats, which are mammals, also have electromagnetic sensory apparatus. It turns out that deer and cows have an electromagnetic sensory apparatus, and this finding from 2008 has been reinforced by subsequent research showing that the magnetic fields from power lines will disrupt these mammals' sensory apparatus. Finally, research shows that people dream more when they sleep aligned to the magnetic north-south axis.

This is suggestive, since the only scientifically demonstrated instances of electromagnetic sensory perception in humans have been related to the unconscious and dreaming, which are where reports of clairvoyance tend to cluster. However, I would be skeptical of this conclusion. I just don't think magnetism is necessary.

Brenda said...

Bobcat said:
"I don't know very much about science, so I wonder how is it you know this?"

There are only four fundamental forces, gravitation, electromagnetism, the weak interaction and the strong nuclear force. That's it.

"You know for sure in 500 years that scientists won't have discovered a different medium besides radio waves for transmitting this kind of information? If so, how do you know this?"

Science does not give us absolute certainty. But.... it is not a valid argument to say that non existent force X explains non existent event Y. What does it mean for something to be real? It means that under certain conditions it can be reliably produced.

"And are you saying that we could never, even in 500 years, come up with a technology that would allow for the transmission of information of that sort without resort to radio waves?"

In 500 years there will still be only four fundamental forces. I know this with as much certainty as any scientific fact can have.

"Or, maybe there are some advanced aliens who have our 500-years-in-the-future technology right now."

Scientific facts are universal. There are only four fundamental forces, this is true for aliens also, even highly advanced ones. UFO believers don't like me saying there is no such thing as faster than light travel either. I don't care how advanced these aliens are. They will never travel at speeds faster than light.

Period.

(I am not contradicting myself. I am expressing a very high level of confidence, not absolute certainty.)

Brenda said...

JS Allen
"In any case, I am glad you are finally compelled to admit there are valid naturalistic explanations for apparent psychic phenomena beyond fraud and radio waves."

I am very happy to have you on board as a non-believer in psychic phenomena.

"we can plausibly theorize that humans have some degree of electromagnetic sensory apparatus"

If we ever do then that would completely defeat claims of psychic phenomena.

JS Allen said...

"If we ever do then that would completely defeat claims of psychic phenomena."

No it wouldn't. You're continuing to reveal your ignorance. You're muddling "psychic" with "supernatural", just like you previously muddled guess/hunch, and several other things.

Such a discovery would potentially refute claims that these psychic phenomena occur via supernatural means. It would be a ding against supernaturalism. That's all.

You're demanding that a phenomenon must be proven to be supernatural to be considered "psychic". Aside from the incoherence of "proving" the supernatural (WTF does that even mean?), your strong linkage of psychic to "supernatural" is just absurd. Nobody does that.

And besides, we're talking about the veracity of these reports. For an atheist, the fact that the reports are shown to have potential natural causes does not make them less likely to be true -- it makes them more likely to be true!

I am a materialist naturalist, and I do not believe in supernaturalism. Yet I find it plausible that many of these reports throughout the last few thousand years are truthful. I don't believe supernatural explanations are required. I do not believe in a "God of the caulks", as BDK put it.

FWIW, if you had bothered to skim the Bem paper, or other papers that other commenters pointed you toward, you would have avoided this embarrassing mistake. Bem himself speculates (poorly, IMO) about potential naturalistic explanations of the phenomena that he measured in his lab.

Brenda said...

"You're demanding that a phenomenon must be proven to be supernatural to be considered "psychic"."

That is the common interpretation of what is referred to by psychic abilities. That it constitutes evidence for souls or spirits. Your claim now is that so-called psychics are in fact frauds and acting on cold readings or "hunches", which makes you a skeptic.

I was asked what natural explanation there could be for ESP. My answer was radio, which you scoffed at but now it turns out you admit is maybe conceivable.

I got the answer right the first time and continue to be correct.

JS Allen said...

"Now it turns out you admit is maybe conceivable. I got the answer right the first time and continue to be correct."

Except, that's not what you said. You said, several times, that electromagnetism was the only naturalistic explanation.

And I never said that electromagnetism was not a conceivable explanation. Just rather implausible. I believe there are other explanations that far more plausible. And, since I accept the veracity of many of the reports, it seems likely that the ultimate explanations will include things that we currently can't imagine.

Brenda said...

JS Allen
"You said, several times, that electromagnetism was the only naturalistic explanation."

Yes, it is. On the assumption that the clairvoyant is neither a fraud nor deluded. Human deceit or belief is usually not considered part of a naturalistic explanation. You are not explaining ESP by claiming the test subject cheated.

" I believe there are other explanations that far more plausible."

What would those be?

"And, since I accept the veracity of many of the reports, it seems likely that the ultimate explanations will include things that we currently can't imagine."

This is question begging. It's like saying "Because I believe UFOs are aliens from another world FTL travel must be possible." You are saying "Because I believe in ESP there must be some unknown force to account for it." It's nonsense.

JS Allen said...


"You said, several times, that electromagnetism was the only naturalistic explanation."

Yes, it is. On the assumption that the clairvoyant is neither a fraud nor deluded.


OK, so your three explanations are still magnetism, fraud, or delusion? Can you please tell me which of your three explanations apply to each of these 2 examples of reported phenomena?

A) Someone tells you that he had a dream about his friend Ryan, then received an e-mail about Ryan the following morning. He has never, to his recollection, dreamed about Ryan before, and has neither seen nor communicated about Ryan for at least 8 years. Note that the person reporting does not offer up any explanation, and does not claim to have any special powers. What is your explanation for this reported phenomenon?

B) Someone reports that he had a "gut feeling" of a spelling bee champion choking on-stage, at the approximate time that the spelling bee champion is choking. Said person has had frequent contact with the student who choked, and may have been privy to the reasons for that person's breakdown. Note that said person does not claim to have any special powers; he is just reporting factually what he experienced. What is your explanation of the phenomenon reported?

JS Allen said...

"This is question begging. It's like saying "Because I believe UFOs are aliens from another world FTL travel must be possible.""

Yes, you're right about this. I didn't intend to say that, but the way I wrote it is certainly question-begging.

What I should've said is:
1) I believe that many of these reports are veracious, for a variety of reasons completely independent of explanation.

2) I believe, for a variety of other reasons, that we are nowhere near a full and complete model for how these reports (the veracious ones) can be explained. Some of them (like my dream about my friend) can be easily explained, of course.

Brenda said...

JS Allen

A) Coincidence.

B) Self deception.

JS Allen said...

Excellent! But "coincidence" wasn't on your list previously. Shall we add it? Shouldn't we also distinguish between "pure" coincidence and coincidence which has some mitigating factors (like, the person's birthday was that day).

For case #2, I assume you mean to say that the phenomenon didn't really happen as reported? IOW, are you saying that the professor couldn't possibly have had such a hunch at that moment? So he's lying, without knowing it?

TheCharles said...

In 500 years there will still be only four fundamental forces. I know this with as much certainty as any scientific fact can have.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_force

You don't know that there isn't a fifth force. I know for sure that the Eöt-Wash folks would differ with you about the possibility of such.

Bobcat said...

Re: the fifth force, there is this appendix from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by physicist Allan Franklin:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physics-experiment/app4.html

Nevertheless, I don't get the sense from the article that we know with certainty that there couldn't be a fifth force, just that right now the evidence tells against. I could be misinterpreting that last sentence, though.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

@JS,

Yup. Total failure of imagination on my part, not thinking of schedules.

The point remains. If you can explain something in terms of things that you know happen, you should those explanations much more likely than those involving heretofore unknown things.

As Parsons says, if you hear hooves, think "horse," not "unicorn."

JS Allen said...

"If you can explain something in terms of things that you know happen, you should [consider] those explanations much more likely than those involving heretofore unknown things."

Yes, that's a good strategy.

There is a flip side to that strategy, which embodies the same epistemic humility, IMO. If you witness something that you can't explain in terms of things you know, you should withhold explanation, but not be too hasty to reject the veracity of your experience. Same goes for experiences of people you trust. The failure to explain may be a deficit of imagination, a deficit of knowledge, or may eventually prove to be proof of fraud or delusion. Conservatism is important, and proactively erasing data would be a tragedy.

JS Allen said...

BTW, I posted a compendium of links describing several interesting and recent "communication" discoveries where the "four forces" are not the relevant issue. It seems to have been swallowed by Vic's spam filter.

If anyone is interested, leave a message and I can send to you directly. Or, perhaps, Vic can rescue from the spam filter. If you were subscribed to e-mail notification of comments, you already got it.

Brenda said...

JS Allen
"Excellent! But "coincidence" wasn't on your list previously."

Because a coincidence is not a causal explanation, which is what was requested.

" I assume you mean to say that the phenomenon didn't really happen as reported?"

The guy believed he has psi powers. He also knows the people involved so he misinterprets his subconscious intuition as psychic knowledge.

JS Allen said...

"Because a coincidence is not a causal explanation, which is what was requested."

Wrong. All that was requested was an explanation, and you gave an explanation.

You have also dodged the question about the "coincidental" events being correlated through a third, shared, variable -- the day being his birthday.

"The guy believed he has psi powers. He also knows the people involved so he misinterprets his subconscious intuition as psychic knowledge."

Wrong. The question clearly states that he does not interpret the phenomenon as being psychic or otherwise "special".

Supposing that he doesn't claim any special powers, does that mean your explanation is (quoting you) "subconscious intuition"?

JS Allen said...

BTW, Brenda, it's perfectly acceptable to offer explanations qualified by percentage of confidence. Even the person experiencing the phenomenon should do this. For example, in the case of my dream about Ryan, I would tentatively say:

1) Dream and e-mail both influenced by the birthday -- 95% likelihood
2) Dream and e-mail purely coincident. -- 5% chance
3) Some other reason, like radio waves or lying -- minuscule chance

For the professor, I would say:
1) Subconscious intuition followed by survivorship bias -- 90%
2) Lying - 1%
3) Radio waves - miniscule
4) Some other reason -- 9% (There are a number of other ways the two coinciding events could be linked through a prior influence; I would have to know the situation better to guess)

Blue Devil Knight said...

JS Allen said:
In case others are interested, we can plausibly theorize that humans have some degree of electromagnetic sensory apparatus...

Yes, we call them eyes. :)

JS Allen said...

@BDK - Baby steps :-) I was just imaging the retort if I said that our organ of visual sensation could also sense magnetic fields. Some crap like, "Yes, light is technically electromagnetic radiation, but how could your eye sense something that is not in line of sight? Where're the radio receivers in the head?" The whole thing about "four fundamental forces" has been painful enough already...

rashid1891 said...

"people who have beliefs about supernature have probabilistic expectations concerning what to expect from supernature."