A brilliant debunking of psychic powers

By Phil Plait | March 24, 2007 5:55 pm

It’s rare that I’ll link to something that’s old, but I happened to stumble on this recently, and it’s so good it’s worth reading even this late into it: Skeptico brilliantly tears apart evidence of psychic powers. Sweet, concise, logical, methodical, and really devastating to paranormal claims. I bet they didn’t see this coming!

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Comments (79)

  1. Dan

    Great link Phil. you scared me for a second. I have to keep reminding myself Skeptico with a ‘c’ is good Skeptiko with a ‘k’ is bad:)

  2. Wow… That kicks ass! Thanks for posting it. I’ll pass it around, too.

    Hope he doesn’t mind me stealing the analogy for my own uses…

  3. I love things like this. Makes me feel better about every time somebody’s said something like that to me, and I’ve thought of what to say in rebuttal about 10 minutes too late.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Drbuzz0

    It’s perfectly reasonable to consider it non-existent. Psychic powers, that is.

    Don’t give me this crap about “Science cannot disprove, only prove” or “we must keep an open mind.” For all intensive purposes, it has been disproven. It’s been investigated so many times and so many opportunities for proof, or even very credible evidence. Nada. And don’t give me any “science cannot deal with that which is not repeatable and since this does not always work.” That is just as much bull. Gamma ray bursts, for example. You can’t predict them. You can’t repeat them, and yet science can document and study them.

    What I am getting at is this: Psycic powers don’t jive with science in any way shape or form. No possible reasonable mechanism has been presented. No reason why they would be considered logical to exist. No credible documentation of their existence. I don’t even think “psychics” can agree on what the limitations and possibilities are. Nothing. On the other hand, they totally jive with our understanding of culture and psychology… as being made up.

    My conclusion: They don’t exist and it’s time to stop looking for them.

    Might they exist? I suppose. But there also might be a 7 extremely tall men in flannel pajamas standing on toadstools and yodeling in my grandmother’s basement. There’s no reason to believe it couldn’t happen. But…. I am willing to hazard a bet that there are not. Considering there’s absolutely no reason to think there are and it seems a safe assumption to think there aren’t. I see no reason to call Nanna and have her check and I see no reason to investigate psychics any further.

  5. “I bet they didn’t see this coming!”

    Of course they did. They’re psychic.

    OEJ

  6. KingNor

    Drbuzzo, i agree with you in everyway except its “intents and purposes” not “intensive purposes”

  7. Philip From Australia

    Psycic phenonema seems difficult to reproduce.

    Unless you have a stage show.

    Maybe the need to move the psi labs to concert halls?

    Maybe it’s a real thing. But they can’t even be consistant. Nad that’s the problem. Its not like we MAKE gamma ray bursts. But many psycics claim to b able to generate their abilities. They should be able to do it any time.

    No… I’d like it to be real. And I am, personnally, open to it being real. But collect the million dollars, then I’ll accept it’s real. Otherwise it is mentalism. And I can do (a little) mentalism. And card tricks. And it should be pointed out that dispite my 8 year old neice’s opinion… I do not teleport the card to the top of the deck over and over. :)

    Philip from Australia.

  8. slang

    That’s a wonderful example of the basic principle of debunking ‘proof’ or ‘persuasive arguments’ for something that you know violates physics. Sometimes the stories or arguments believers make can be very, very persuasive, and you start to get a very uncomfortable feeling.. But it really is simple. If you are pretty sure it’s impossible what they claim, keep poking. There IS a hole in the reasoning. It’s just a matter of finding it, and exposing it. And this blog entry shows how :)

  9. See, my real problem with the “phenomenon” is the nature of human ability. The longer you do something, the better you normally get at it, but psychics all seem to peak at a still high margin of error. Individuals who claim telekinesis never seem to develop the ability to move any thing larger or further over time, and we know from common sense that mental ability generally improves with practice. After 30+ years I fully expect Uri Geller to crush cans with his head- er, mind I mean.

  10. Jarno

    That was a great link indeed! The comments are well worth the read too.

  11. Alex Whiteside

    What an amazingly elegant answer.

    It is always surprising that the psychics never realise something’s fuzzy or out of focus until after they’ve guessed and been told it’s wrong, mind.

  12. Gary Mcleod

    In a recent argument with a firend who believes in astrology, I asked her, “if astrology is so reliable, would you be happy to attend a job interview where they accepted you only by your star-sign?” She had to admit she wouldn’t. This stuff only ‘works’ when it isn’t being tested.

  13. Gary Ansorge

    Quantum entanglement is probably the most subtle phenomenon known, yet we are able to consistently replicate it and have sucessfully transmitted information across the lab and, recently, much furthur. This aspect of nature has been cited as a possible explanation of “psychic” phenomena. But what occurs in the realm of single electrons is unlikely to have a gross effect on large structures such as the brain.

    Entrainment, as in when several pendulums left(in a room) oscilating at different rates will resolve into a single, coordinated rate of movement has also been used to “explain” psychic phenomena. My personal experience of entrainment has occurred in the context of drumming, when the drummers seem to all be responding in a coordinated fashion, as though the drummers were of one mind. That produces a sensation of unified consciousness. It occurs when heart rates and brain waves become coordinated and is a very powerful phenomena. It comes close to telepathy. But it will likely never win me Randis million dollars.

    People who think telepathy would be a really cool ability really haven’t thought it thru. Most peoples minds are really noisy, (if yours are at all like mine) and being in a room full of such noise would be torture.
    “Ack, the noisy minds. They’re driving me craaaazy,,,”

    Come to think of it, maybe THAT’s why psychics are so wierd,,,

    GAry 7

  14. If you weed out the predictions that could be made without psychic abilities (“There will be an election in 2008, possibly several”) or that are so vague anything that happens would count as a hit (“I predict some earthquake and volcano activity in the world in 2008”) [Come back and visit this thread in ’09 and I guarantee both these will be hits ;)], you find that psychic predictions have a dismal success rate – so with such a poor record, why would anyone trust it?

    jbs

  15. Sue Mitchell

    “And they say skeptics are closed minded.”

    Actually, I think the descriptor I would use is not so much closed minded as arrogant.

    I mean by that, the arrogance that comes from the view that one’s own beliefs are incontrovertibly correct. Sure, we’ve done all the experiments, used control groups, done double blind tests and everything’s worked out fine – well, within acceptable error rates. But…

    Throughout recorded history, the Men in White Robes have told the uneducated how the world is – centre of the universe and all that. And they have since been found to be wrong about that.

    Now, we have the Men in White Coats telling the open-mouthed masses what the state of the universe is. In the past, they’ve stated, among other things, that the atom is the smallest part of an element or compound and that it can neither be created nor destroyed.

    This has since been found to be incorrect also. So why should ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’ believe the present crop of scientists? Just because the present state of our knowledge says that this is so and that is false, why should they accept that without question? Scepticism is not a one-way street.

    To me, science is a long road and we are only a few steps along it, much as we would like to believe that now, we know pretty much all there is to know; all it needs is a little refining.

    In conclusion, here’s another little thought experiment to wrap your heads around:

    Imagine a race of beings who live on the deepest ocean floor where the only heat is geothermal and the only light is bioluminescence. Now consider how you would explain to them i) a butterfly and ii) a rainbow. 😎

    As I see it, and putting things into perspective, what we have are small islands of knowledge in a vast ocean of ignorance. To think otherwise would be… arrogant.

  16. @Sue Mitchell:

    It’s not arrogance. Psychic phenomenon has been tested so extensively, and failed so miserably, it is safe to say that it either does not exist or is so unreliable as to be useless. Given its success rate, it is pure stupidity to place the belief in it that so many people do. Understand that there are people that make serious life decisions based on what psychics and astrologers tell them.

    It is true that science has made mistakes and always will. The key factor is that science is self-correcting. If solid, reproducible evidence is found for psychic abilities, science will change its position. Ask the psychics to do the same and I doubt you will get a similar response. Wait! On second thought don’t ask them. They already know we’re going to ask. Let’s just wait for their answer… should be coming any minute now… tick, tock… yep… any minute…

    OEJ

  17. icemith

    Psychics and their like are either self-deluded, or actively promote a lie that they cannot, or will not, accept the contrary position. It even could be just a matter of money, usually easy money.

    I remember long ago an argument put to me that it was better to believe something, (in that case – God ), and live as a believer should, dying and finding it was true, and partake in the rewards, than not believing, and finding again it was true, and not being able to benifit. On the other hand the non-believer had no expectations and was not disappointed, (how could he be, he was dead), but the believer would be just as dead, and the argument then went on to imply he would have been very disappointed to say the least.

    I think the logic took a wrong turn at that point.

    I also think these believers in psychic pnemonena have the same distorted reasoning, but won’t admit it. True, the story was an example of the “carrot and donkey” approach of proselytisers. There was always a reward at the end, but it could not be realised, because it was a figment of somebody’s imagination. And the suckers believe it anyway.

    Ivan.

  18. Sue Mitchell

    LOL! Didn’t have to be psychic to see that coming! I notice both of you avoided addressing the points I raised. I was discussing ‘skeptics’ not psychics – however you define the term.

    Addressing your point, yes, there will always be charlatans who will exploit the gullible somehow or other, be it through religion or arcane ramblings or pseudo-science or some other means. Things is, why do you think it’s your job to set them straight? Dare I say, it seems a little arrogant to say, effectively, “I know better than you do and you must believe what I tell you because I’m a scientist and a skeptic.”

    Ya know, I can’t help wondering why skeptics expend so much time and effort ‘debunking’ things they don’t believe in. It seems a complete waste of time. It also suggests that ‘skeptics’ feel threatened by things that they can’t stick under a microscope or test to destruction.

    If something doesn’t happen to fit in with my world view, then either it’s complete bollocks, or my ideas are wrong and need rethinking, or scientific knowledge is not sufficiently advanced to accommodate the idea under consideration.

    And yes, I am a sceptic. I don’t accept things at face value; I am constantly asking questions. Right now, I’m questioning the motives of skeptics. :-)

  19. icemith

    Oops, I forgot to check “pnemonena”. I think I was trying to spell “phenomena”, and I don’t even have a cold. Boy, what mix-up, I could not even get that right.

    Ivan.

  20. Sue Mitchell

    ::chuckle:: I knew what you meant, Sweetie. :-)

    Oh, and regarding ineffable beings and the belief or otherwise in them, it really doesn’t matter one way or t’other:

    If there is no afterlife, neither party will be disappointed because they’ll both be dead.

    If there is an afterlife, then it’ll come as a nice surprise for the unbeliever and probably a bit of a disappointment for the believer… 😉

    And aren’t we getting a bit off-topic here?

  21. icemith

    Sue Mitchell Says at 9:27am : “…there will always be charlatans who will exploit the gullible…”

    Yes, but why should they be encouraged by not at least trying to show them that they could be mistaken in that belief. How does a Supermarket or car manufacturer or politician think he is right, if he has no feedback, or poor sales or active disregard? He, or they would be stupid to expect happy continuance without regard to the said feedback and insist they knew better than the customer or end user. If Ford produced a “lemon”, as they did with the Edsel, but they insisted it was otherwise and tried to keep it in production in the face of severe opposition, with no sales, then Ford would not exist now – in any form.

    Yes, there will always be the gullible, but unless you figure you can earn some easy money by exploiting them, why not speak up and discourage the practice.

    The fabric of society is wearing pretty thin nowadays, when the young have to contend with the exploiters who make huge fortunes. Others wonder when they can get a piece of the action, and try to do so, by “cutting a few corners”, and ending up much, much worse off than before, by following a bad example.

    Isn’t it our duty to have a concern for the welfare of others, not necessarily to interfere, but at least, to indicate a more logical thought process, and hopefully learn something of value, maybe from the experience of society?

    Or, is this just another experiment, and the observer is not allowed to interfere in the process? I’m sure skeptics do have morals too.

    Ivan.

  22. james

    arrogance : adj : the inevitable result of being right most of the time.

  23. icemith

    Sue, thanks for understanding (and ::chuckle::), but while I was composing and checking, I didn’t see what other comments have been made in the meantime. Three times I have been caught out now, and I will have to figure a way to see the latest before I punch the “Submit” button.

    I know, I’ll open the post again, without closing this one. I wish there was a better, even automatic way to see the latest, as that is not possible in this present form. Is it available anywhere else? Anyway I will try it.

    BTW, I wasn’t trying to be off topic. I was trying to convey the exploitation argument, how it is common in areas where there is gullibility and false hope.

    Now to check for late extra comments.

    It works. But how do I comment on the meaning of “arrogance”, without being so? James? Sorry, I don’t really mean it, just had to prove my assumption was correct.

    Ivan.

  24. james

    It’s also worth pointing out that the charlatan will have a FAR higher success rate than someone that merely has a devout belief in their own ‘power’. Anyone that is successful enough to have their own TV show is either a genuine psychic, or a massive fraud shamelessly exploiting the gullable.

    If you want want to question the motives of psychic-debunkers, shouldn’t you go to the psychics themselves? After all – we are not likely to tell you the dark hidden advantage we derive from banging our collective head against the brick wall of ignorance.

  25. james

    >I know, I’ll open the post again, without closing this one

  26. james

    -I know, I’ll open the post again, without closing this one-

    I learn something new every day :-)

    arrogance can also be the product of :-

    prejudice
    privledge
    close-mindedness (catch-22: arrogance feeds close-mindedness feeds arrogance)
    ignorance
    conceit
    vanity
    winning all the time (externally destructive varient of being right)

    all of these are negatives so it is understandable that arrogance is tarred with the same brush; *however* arrogance is no more an indicator for accurracy than talking with a lisp or dropping ones ‘h’s.

  27. Hey Phil, thanks for the plug.

    btw that post was inspired by an actual debate I had with someone on the JREF forum about four years ago. The guy actually got his spirit guide to visit me (through the Internets), and do some kind of psychic reading on me. It was vague and useless, of course. My response to the blind man question pretty much ended the debate – never heard from that guy again. I’m sure he still visits psychics though.

  28. Tim G

    FYI:

    The odds of getting at least 225 out of 1000 is one in 36.166.
    The odds of getting all 1000 out of 1000 is one in 9.33 x 10^698.

  29. Sue Mitchell

    You wrote:

    Imagine a race of beings who live on the deepest ocean floor where the only heat is geothermal and the only light is bioluminescence. Now consider how you would explain to them i) a butterfly and ii) a rainbow.

    You have raised a false analogy. The butterfly and the rainbow have no effect on the beings you describe. As far as these beings are concerned, there is no difference between (a) a universe where butterflies and rainbows exist and (b) a universe where butterflies and rainbows DO NOT exist. However, it is claimed that psychics do have an effect on our world – they can supposedly remote view (help the police solve crime, for example), tell us our future, speak to the dead etc. So this is where psychics differ from the race of beings in your analogy, and it’s where your analogy breaks down.

    If something has any effect on our world at all, we should be able to measure it. It seems like you’re saying (by analogy) that psychics are real but have no effect on our world – they can’t predict anything, remove view anything or tell us anything we don’t already know by other means. In other words, psychics are real but they have no effect or influence on us at all. That’s no different from saying psychics don’t exist.

    The rest of your post is just fallacious appeal to “science was wrong before”. Of course science is sometimes wrong, but science has proved the most reliable method we know for evaluating claims and figuring out how the universe works. This type of argument is just a smoke screen to disguise the fact that there is no evidence for psychic ability.

    And yes, I am a sceptic. I don’t accept things at face value; I am constantly asking questions. Right now, I’m questioning the motives of skeptics.

    And yet the motives are irrelevant. The question is, are the skeptics right or not? The motives of the person answering the question has no bearing on whether their answer is correct or incorrect.

  30. Daniel H.

    @Gary Ansorge

    “People who think telepathy would be a really cool ability really haven’t thought it thru. Most peoples minds are really noisy, (if yours are at all like mine) and being in a room full of such noise would be torture.”

    Actually most of the times I’ve seen telepathy in fiction, the writers took that into account. People could be selective on when they did mind reading, and it really sucked to be someone that couldn’t be selective.

    I guess it just goes to show that psychic abilities make for entertaining fiction, but it’s just as well that they don’t actually exist.

  31. Just Al

    Sue Mitchell says: I mean by that, the arrogance that comes from the view that one’s own beliefs are incontrovertibly correct.

    I have yet to see a skeptic, or a scientist, make any such assertion. Are you sure you aren’t reading into it far more than is there?

    The skepticism that I have seen, on this blog and every other like it, addresses only that which is asserted to exist yet has no evidence of such. Nobody that I have seen makes empirical statements that so-and-so does not, and can not, exist. They simply point out that no useful or objective evidence of such has been forthcoming. Those are entirely different things.

    Sue Mitchell: Now, we have the Men in White Coats telling the open-mouthed masses what the state of the universe is. In the past, they’ve stated, among other things, that the atom is the smallest part of an element or compound and that it can neither be created nor destroyed.

    I’m going to need to see a site on that one. Since the atom, from the creation of the concept, has always consisted of components within it, it’s pretty ludicrous to make any claim that it is the smallest thing.

    Furthermore, there are two mistakes you’re making in your comparisons. The first is, you’re claiming that the Men in White Coats make statements of “this is the only way it can be.” I have yet to see any example of such, anywhere. Science pretty specifically does not accept finite limits. Do not confuse, “The smallest thing that we have found,” to equate with, “The smallest thing possible.”

    Second, the Men in White Coats are more than happy to provide the evidence that led to their conclusions, and in fact, it is a requirement of being accepted in the first place. The ability to replicate the findings is considered a scientific necessity. Thus, you don’t have to believe them – you can see it for yourself if you’re so inclined.

    Sue Mitchell: Imagine a race of beings who live on the deepest ocean floor where the only heat is geothermal and the only light is bioluminescence. Now consider how you would explain to them i) a butterfly and ii) a rainbow. 😎

    I dunno, I think I’d just show them a photo.

    Is there somethng that says that no one can grasp abstracts or analogies? I have never actually seen the infra-red spectrum, and barring some serious alterations to my eyes, do not ever expect to. But I can accept that it exists readily enough, and even make use of it.

    Regardless, in what way does this apply to the topic at hand? The assertions we so often hear is that [choice of woo] is real and has distinct impact on our physical environment. If it does, then it must be measurable. If it does not, and equates with extra-dimensional phenomena that we cannot measure in our physical universe, who gives a rat’s ass? And I’m assuming you’re as physical as I am, so how could you (or anyone else) even begin to encounter it?

    Sue Mitchell: Addressing your point, yes, there will always be charlatans who will exploit the gullible somehow or other, be it through religion or arcane ramblings or pseudo-science or some other means. Things is, why do you think it’s your job to set them straight? Dare I say, it seems a little arrogant to say, effectively, “I know better than you do and you must believe what I tell you because I’m a scientist and a skeptic.”

    Why would you think it is not my job? Do you believe that everyone should remain as ignorant as they are? Do you think that allowing people to base decisions on mistaken beliefs is a useful trait for humankind?

    While you may want to differentiate between the person who buys astrology books and the politician that sets policies or laws based on religious beliefs, in effect, how are they different? Where is that line drawn? Does the child of a fatuous parent deserve to die because the parent believes some kind of positive energy claptrap is more useful than antibiotics? Should millions of residents in Africa be denied medial treatment for AIDS when their leaders attempt to deny its existence?

    Skepticism, despite how you may want to define it, is about critical thought. Because we use it to judge if the oncoming car is far enough and slow enough for us to pull out of our driveways, does not mean we should relax it if we do not see an immediate risk to life and limb. Pay somebody for Feng Shui? I don’t know about you, but I could certainly put that money towards something that can actually be of use.

    Two thoughts for you. I have yet to meet anyone that has benefited directly from anything like psychic powers, crystals, pyramidology, or anything else of the sort, yet I still hear them promoting it. Would you call that arrogant? Why should they bother?

    Number two. I push critical thought because our knowledge is the greatest thing we have, and I feel everyone should benefit from it as much as they possibly can. I hate to see people throwing their money and efforts and votes away on nonsense, because there’s so much better that can be done with them. We could do with a lot less stupidity in the world. I notice that you call that arrogance. But what do you call the practice of tolerating ignorance simply because you can?

  32. TheBlackCat

    @ Sue

    It is not a matter of belief, it is a matter of evidence. Lets assume that psychic phenomena exist. That would mean there are two possibilities. One is that they produce results that can be distinguished from pure chance. The other is that they do not. If they produce results that are distinguishable from pure chance then science can detect them. If they do not then they are not better than pure chance. At the present time the results from parapsychology experiments are either indistinguishable from pure chance or indistinguishable from cheating. So given that, we have a phenomena that is either doesn’t exist or exists in such a way that it is functionally no different than it not existing.

    It is true that in the past science has been wrong. But that does not mean it is wrong this time. Parapsychologists have been unable to find any evidence for the existence of paranormal phenomena. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But it doesn’t mean that it does exist, either. So far all evidence points to it not existing. Based on the evidence, the best conclusion at the present time is that it does not exist. That conclusion may be changed later, but it is the only scientific conclusion right now.

    Your examples regarding airplanes and atoms are good ones. Modern science really came to the forefront in the early 1800’s. Since that time we have gone from horse-drawn carriages to hypersonic aircraft, maglev trains, and rockets to the stars. We have gone from rubbing two pieces of cloth together to fusion reactors. We have gone from mail by horse to fiber optics and globe-spanning satellite communication. We have gone from your indivisible atoms to neutrinos and man-made quarks. It was only about a decade between the Wright Brothers at Kittyhawk and the aces of WWII. The first accurate descriptions of the neurons were at the end of the 1800’s, and it only took about 50 years for them to record from single living neurons. There have been massive advances in every branch of science in the last 50 years, not to mention the last 200. Yet in the last 200 years there has been absolutely no progress whatsoever in parapsychology. The effects are just as indistinguishable from chance today as they were when the first tests were done. There is no indication we have gotten any closer to establishing even the existence of paranormal phenomenon, not to mention a mechanism by which any of dozens of completely different supposed phenomena that fall under that banner occur. Science progresses. Parapsychology does not.

    It is often claimed that the effects cannot be measured. But we can measure the spin in a single electron. We can detect a single neutrino, which hardly interact with other matter at all. We can see the cloud of electrons in an atom. We can measure a single sodium ion passing through a channel in a living neuron. We can measure the mass and charge of single quarks with amazing precision. We can see nearly to the first light after the big bang, and measure the very curvature of the universe to a very high degree of precision. We can measure time dilation due to relativity. We can measure minute amounts of electromagnetic radiation. Yet the human senses are pretty. The brain, which telepathy would have to work on, is an extremely noisy place. The firing of neurons is extremely random, synapses fail more often than they work, connections form and disappear all the time, neurons kill themselves regularly, ion channels are completely random. We can measure a single ion moving across a neuron’s membrane, something that neuron would not even detect yet we cannot measure the massive effects, relatively speaking, that would be needed to cause a change in the brain that would not be lost in the highly random and unreliable system that is the human brain.

  33. I don’t remember who said this, but it’s one of my favorite quotes:

    “If you call a psychic hotline and they don’t answer before it rings, hang up.” :)

  34. icemith

    Imagine in the far future, if, and I emphasise, IF, there was something proven re paranormal phenomena, where mind reading and telling the future and telekinesis was common.

    I assert that society would utterly break down, maybe to the point where there would be a world dictator, because he would be the first and dissallow anybody else, as he had utter power. There would be no point in lotteries, or gambling, (not neccessarily a bad thing), no stock exchange, no point in making suspense movies, let alone showing them, as we would already know “who done it”. Forget your crossword puzzle. There would be no need for schools, or exams as we would already know everything.

    What a boring world it would be!

    Ivan.

  35. Gary Ansorge

    It may well be that certain physic phenomena are real but so ephemeral that they are detectable only once in ten to some rediculous power. There are some nuclear particles that only show up once in ten to the fifteenth power number of particle interactions. But if you deal with particle interactions on the order of twenty or thirty orders of magnitude larger, you can detect these transient particles. Perhaps what we need is to analyze several billion interactions to find the rare physic event. However, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Any such physic phenomena so rare is virtually useless. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real,,,

    Gary 7

  36. TheBlackCat

    @Gary

    No one is saying it is not real, all we are saying is that it is currently indistinguishable from not being real. Since there is currently no way to tell the difference between it being real and not real then, based on Occam’s razor, we must tentatively assume it is not.

  37. Quiet Desperation

    >>> But what occurs in the realm of single electrons is unlikely
    >>> to have a gross effect on large structures such as the brain.

    So can we invoke chaos theory? Where small changes in conditions result in massive changes down the line?

    Not advocating. Just pondering.

  38. Geoff

    If you’re someone like psi researcher Dean Radin, you’ll collect as many photographs as you can and describe what’s in them to the blind man. Then hurl ad hominems if he doesn’t get it. That’s the bes analogy I can come up with. Maybe someone has a better one.

  39. Gary Ansorge

    Ah, the Butterfly effect! Love it! Even have a couple of poems invoking it.
    Pondering is what we(humans) do. It is the source of all our progress.
    “Gee, I wonder what’s over that hill,,,”

    At least half(and probably a great deal more) of humanity accepts psychic phenomena. It is related to the quest for god. For god, like Santa Claus, knows what you’ve been thinking.Telepathy,,,great for CIA snoops, but so unreliable even the cold war couldn’t keep the research going. So instead, we have the far more mundane electronics,,,which, being so much more predictable, is no fun to speculate about at all.
    Besides, where’s the personal power in that?
    Eh? How’d that get in there?

    We want control over our environment. Lacking such, we hope there is someone or something that if only we sacrifice or pray or wave our hands in mystic passes will give us such power.

    There’s a great deal of difference between psychic POWERS and psychic POWER, as in mind power. The understanding of natural phenomena requires psychic power, an intellectual engine that can discern the most minute connections between cause and effect. The butterfly effect says that there are causal connections so small we can’t see them, or, in effect, control them. Ergo, on the lowest levels of reality, chaos rules and yes, it can have macro effects.

    If your psychic engine could only hold all those smallest causes in mind, you could determine the fate of galaxies. That’s power. Maybe some intelligence could exist that has such power,,,

    MAybe it’s Uri Geller???

    God, I hope not,,,

    Mixing fact, fancy and desire makes for some good stories. Sometimes that speculation leads to a real understanding of reality but the tool we use to keep fantasy and reality separate IS the scientific method. It works.
    Now, if I can just figure which electron to tip, I can rule the world and know all your thoughts,,,erk, the noisy minds, they’re back,,,

    GAry 7

  40. Sue Mitchell

    Now, obviously I don’t have time to answer everyone’s comments – aren’t you glad about that?! :-) So, taking one or two points that leap out at me…

    Icemith says:
    “Yes, there will always be the gullible, but unless you figure you can earn some easy money by exploiting them, why not speak up and discourage the practice.”

    It’s not so much the speaking up I was referring to as the endlessly banging on about ‘psychics’ on a site that is allegedly dedicated to astronomy. There’s scepticism and then there’s obsession… That’s a general observation, by the way. :-)

    Moreover, I’m not convinced that applying hard science approaches to soft sciences would work anyway, and no, I’m not trying to legitimize E.S.P. or whatever as a science, though no doubt someone will misquote me on that. {g}

    I’m just wondering how one would set up duplicatable, double-blind yadda yadda tests on, for instance, the apparent ability of animals to foretell life-threatening disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions, yet observations suggest that they can.

    Icemith continues:
    “Isn’t it our duty to have a concern for the welfare of others [ … ] ?”

    I wouldn’t disagree with that, but in the grand scheme of things, protecting the gullible from these minor charlatans is pretty small beer. People who visit psychics do so of their own free will and probably know perfectly well they’re being taken for a ride, yet they still go. Why?

    Likely many will go because they can’t cope with the loss of a loved one. Someone tells them their loved ones are still around somewhere in the ether and it makes them feel better – more able to function properly. It’s a kind of placebo effect, I guess, or maybe they feel that false hope is better than no hope? I don’t know.

    As you clearly care about the welfare of others, why not get involved in a more deserving cause, like Amnesty International for example, and leave the others to their point-scoring ego trips? We tend to take our right to free speech for granted, but in many countries, exercising that ‘right’ can land you in jail and/or get you tortured:

    http://snarkotherapy.blogspot.com/

    By the way, who here voted for G.W. Bush? 😉
    …………..

    james Says:
    “arrogance : adj : ”

    No, Sweetie, that would be a noun. {g}
    ………….

    Icemith again:
    “I was trying to convey the exploitation argument, how it is common in areas where there is gullibility and false hope.”

    Regarding exploitation, you might like to explore present-day slavery, particularly sex slavery.

    http://www.antislavery.org/index.htm

    “Slavery…I didn’t know about all these forms that existed. I think it’s largely because we aren’t expecting it. It is hidden. Generally people would not believe that it is possible under modern conditions. They would say ‘No, I think you are making it all up’, because it’s just too incredible…”
    Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Hull, UK, 1999

    There, that’ll have to do for now. :-) ::gets off soapbox::

    Best wishes,
    Sue – trying not to take herself too seriously. 😀

  41. TheBlackCat

    “So can we invoke chaos theory? Where small changes in conditions result in massive changes down the line?”

    No, definitely not. Small changes can have massive changes down the line. The problem is that they are not necessarily predictable changes. For instance a butterfly flaps its wings in China and we get storms in New York. Or maybe not, maybe they are in Venezuela, or Tibet, or maybe we get a rogue wave in the mid-Atlantic. Psychic phenomena not only has to have small changes that cause big effects, they must have small changes that cause big predictable effects. Chaos theory, as I understand it, says the effects will be unpredictable, but will hover around certain preset values no matter what you do.

    The problem with the brain is that there are much, much larger effects that are completely random and are happening continuously. The brain specifically evolved to filter out those random changes. Any sort of small change induced by so-called psychic phenomenon would run into a multitude of systems that evolved specifically to filter out those sorts of events. The brain is a sea of chaos, of random, stochastic processes. It is all a sea of filters and statistical analysis systems that eliminate those sorts of random effects, and eliminate random effects many orders of magnitude larger. Psychic phenomena requires that it beat the brain at its own game, and do so without trying very hard. It is like trying to start a flood in the nile by dropping single drops of water off the coast of California using a medicine dropper. But besides the impossibility of causing a specific event in that way you also have to deal with a whole series of locks and dams in the Nile designed specifically to prevent floods, as well as people actively adding or diverting huge amounts of water to compensate for any changes, and deal with trillions of other people randomly dumping everything from buckets to supertankers full of water along coastlines all over the world, plus millions of random city-sized meteors dropping all over the world’s oceans causing massive tidal waves, and you have someone standing next to you with a bucket catching most of your drops before they even hit the water (although you do not know beforehand which drops he will catch). What is more you don’t know when you are doing your task where or when any of these event will happen, or where or when they happened in the past.

  42. Quiet_Desperation

    >> but will hover around certain preset values no matter what you do.

    Exactly. Psychic powers are attractor patterns. :)

    I never bought into the butterfly effect, though. IMHO, the flap of the wings gets lost in the general chaos, and the effect is quickly dampened/overidden/obscured/whatever.

    >> multitude of systems that evolved specifically to filter out those sorts of events.

    So psychics are mutants. Oh noes! The Psi Corps! :)

    >> Telepathy,,,great for CIA snoops, but so unreliable even the
    >> cold war couldn’t keep the research going.

    Actually, I thought some of their declassified remote viewing results were rather interesting. In no way convincing, but… interesting. The fact that they used terms like “unreliable” rather than “nonexistent” was odd.

    I’m tempted sometimes to do some amateur investigation of my own. Not for any scientific reasons, but for the enormous commercial possibilities should I succeed.

  43. Cindy

    Anybody see the comic strip Non Sequitur today? It’s relevant to the discussion and it’s really funny.

  44. Drbuzz0

    “# KingNor Says:
    March 24th, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    Drbuzzo, i agree with you in everyway except its “intents and purposes” not “intensive purposes” ”

    Weird. I wrote that quickly and with passion. I’m not the best speller, but that’s a very strange mistake. I guess I was thinking out loud and misheard myself? heh. Freudian? Or maybe… psycic?

  45. TheBlackCat

    Quiet_Desperation:
    “Exactly. Psychic powers are attractor patterns.”

    That is easy enough to say. Now demonstrate it. Give us the math showing that an effect so small that it cannot be measured by our most sensitive instruments is nevertheless able to cause major specific, reproducible effects in the human nervous system of the sort that psychic phenomena requires.

    It is easy enough to just make a statement like “chaos theory does it” or “psychic phenomena is a fixed point”, but unless you can actually show how psychic phenomena can cause the effects you claim it has you are doing nothing more than hand-waving.

    Besides, so is the resting state of neurons. You have to have rather large effects in order to push a neuron out of its resting state. We are talking on the order of 10 microvolts or more. That doesn’t sound like much but it is around a 15% change in membrane potential. What is more, it has to happen quickly since the neuron is likely going to fire if you don’t, and when that happens it automatically resets itself and you have to start all over again. The principles governing much of neuronal dynamics is well-established.

    Quiet_Desperation:
    “So psychics are mutants. Oh noes! The Psi Corps! ”

    If that was the case they would go into seizures and die when they are still a fetus, or the nervous system would not operate at all and the result would be the same. Some of these mechanisms are essential for the orderly behavior of the nervous system, other are necessary for it to operate at all. Not to mention that many of these mechanisms are also in play in the heart, so anyone lacking them would either have a heart attack or heart failure when still a fetus. They are also important in skeletal muscle, preventing you from breathing (either because the lungs won’t contract or won’t expand). If such a mutant existed, and they probably do from time to time, we would never know because they could never be born.

  46. Quiet_Desperation

    >>> That is easy enough to say. Now demonstrate it.

    I’m clearly not using enough smileys.

    :(

  47. icemith

    Sue Mitchell said at 07:21,
    “It’s not so much the speaking up I was referring to as the endlessly banging on about ‘psychics’ on a site that is allegedly dedicated to astronomy.”

    Yeah, I agree with that too. But my point was to set some sort of priority, where a little bit of care may make it so much better for all of us. Nor do I say that we should wrap the gullible in cottonwool, on the contrary, Education is needed.

    And surely that is what this whole topic is really about. Support the cause for rational thought, not disregard those who are ill-informed. In the context with Astronomy, we have had the example of Censor Deutch, trying to “adjust” results of others’ works, and the Evolution Theory deniers, insisting the world is only 6000 years old. Even the creation of the Galaxies has been accounted for in their eyes, by being set in motion in essentially the present state at the same time.

    It is no different thought processes that encourage this nonsense, any more than those who have an abiding belief in fortune telling and other woo woos.

    Yes, help the big things like Amnesty, but also help the small, local things too. I’m not sure how slavery got into this argument, maybe as a part of Exploitation, but I was referring to mind-manipulation, as practiced by certain (all ?) religions, product marketing, politics etc.

    Wouldn’t leaving people to other’s exploitation, whether on a small scale or large scale, be a denial of our concern for their welfare? Again I probably could not interfere, but speaking up should not hurt.

    Catchyalater Sue.

    Ivan.

  48. pgdunne

    Skeptico debunked (correctly) the idea that a person needed to have a psychic experience in order to believe in psychic powers.
    The title of the article claims (incorrectly) that Skeptico debunked psychic powers. There’s a difference.

  49. TheBlackCat

    That is how it starts, but then he extends the example to show how the evidence is firmly against the existence of psychic phenomena. So the title is accurate. Only the first 5 paragraphs deal with psychic experiences, the other 8 paragraphs deal with the evidence in general.

  50. pgdunne

    TheBlackCat – You’re right. I was just looking at the first part.

    The last 8 paragraphs by Skeptico basically say that you need to have good controls on the experiment, ie, you need to rule out cheating, poor judging, etc,, otherwise you can’t make an accurate conclusion. I think Skeptico is implying that all claimed positive results to date are not to be believed because, in every single case, without exception, there were poor controls. Imo, this is debatable, and therefore, it’s a stretch to say that Skeptico ‘debunked psychic powers’.

    The blind person analogy would be more accurate if it was noted that the sighted person could not see very well. Psychics claim to ‘see’ but not consistently or perfectly, ie, not very well. They don’t claim 100% accuracy.

  51. james

    – james Says:
    “arrogance : adj : ”

    No, Sweetie, that would be a noun. {g} –

    {sigh} my lovely comprehensive dictionary is in a box in my new flat somewhere; so I’ve been using internet dictionaries.

    which suck

    big time

    ”I’m just wondering how one would set up duplicatable, double-blind yadda yadda tests on, for instance, the apparent ability of animals to foretell life-threatening disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions, yet observations suggest that they can.”

    No! Bad! Anecdotal evidence says they can. No one has really done any big experiments to see if they can, however there is one very interesting bit of evidence in favour of this idea:

    In late 2000 a researcher at U. British Columbia was trying to discover if dogs suffered from S.A.D. like humans do. Some 200 owners in Vancouver were asked to rate their dogs 1-10 on activity and anxiety at twice weekly intervals. Sadly for the researcher there was no sign of seasonal variation and the project was eventualy shelved. However when the final analysis of the data was done they found an interesting blip: 27 Feb 2001, 47% were well above baseline activity, and 49% (mostly the same dogs) wee well above their baseline for anxiety. The assumption was that there had been a thunderstorm on that day, but when they checked there had been none. Instead they found that the *NEXT* day there had been a 6.8 quake epicentred some 240 km south of Vancouver.

    Intriging no?

    The same article had a rather hilarious debunking of an ‘animal senses tsunami’ story that started after the xmas day tsunami. In the aftermath, the was much shaking of heads and intoning on the wisdom of the elephants that had quit the beaches hours and days before, *except* the WWF were monitoring herds of elephants in the area and they did nothing of the kind, except elephants in sight of the wave, who went ‘S–t! Giant wave! Run away!’

  52. Irishman

    pgdunne said:
    > The blind person analogy would be more accurate if it was noted that the sighted person could not see very well. Psychics claim to ’see’ but not consistently or perfectly, ie, not very well. They don’t claim 100% accuracy.

    Except when they do. Watch Sylvia Browne make her blatant lies with the strongest declaration, and when she is later shown wrong hide behind “I’m not 100% accurate”. If psychics aren’t 100% accurate, shouldn’t they be able to tell when they are more or less accurate? And if they can, why can’t observers tell the difference in their attitude about their claims? If they can’t why do they advocate their perceptions are correct, and not throw out frequent caveats? Oh wait, good cold readers do that.

    If the sighted person inherently has bad eyesight, then photography isn’t much use to them anyway. If they can see clearly enough that photography is useful, then the objection is a weak one. It’s not that errors exist, but that there’s no way to tell the difference between accuracy and errors, and the process doesn’t eliminate errors by being scrutinized more carefully.

  53. pgdunne

    I agree that lots of psychics give the impression that everything they say is true.
    Very irresponsible. I had a reading from a very high profile psychic years ago and made that very complaint to the psychic. But if a psychic gives accurate information far beyond statistical significance, should he be penalized because he claims 100% accuracy and only achieves 50% accuracy? (assuming 50% accuracy is significant)

    Irishman said:
    > If psychics aren’t 100% accurate, shouldn’t they be able to tell when they
    are more or less accurate?

    It would be nice if they could tell, but if they can achieve significant accuracy,
    isn’t that enough to prove psychic ability?

  54. TheBlackCat

    To expand on what irishman said, if the sighted person cannot see very well there are a variety of tools and techniques that can be used to improve things. The person can hold the image much closer to his or her face. The image can be enlarged, the contrast can be enhanced, the image can be digitally manipulated to highlight edges, etc. No such technique has been found for paranormal capabilities. No method has been found to improve the performance of paranormal capabilities despite active searching for centuries.

    Second, what is asked is merely that they perform in such a way that is inconsistent with pure chance. To continue with the analogy, even if photography worked if it worked so poorly that it is no more useful than random guessing then the blind person would have to tentatively conclude that it does not work. This is not a bad assumption, since something that is no more useful than guessing really isn’t worth his time anyway. If we have the choice between pretty much all of physics, chemistry, and biology being wrong or the supposed phenomena being pure chance, but both are about equally likely based on the existing evidence, the logical choice should be obvious.

  55. Irishman

    pgdunne, there’s no evidence any of them achieve significant accuracy.

  56. pgdunne

    Here’s how the blind man’s analogy might play out:
    (Q) Why can’t you just tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?
    (A) Because I’m not 100% accurate.
    (Q) OK, Then why aren’t you accurate to a significant degree beyond chance(200 out of 1000)?
    (A) (being honest) OK, You got me. I thought I was sighted but I guess I’m not sighted after all.

  57. TheBlackCat

    Now you are starting to get it. Unless you are being sarcastic, it’s hard to tell.

  58. pgdunne

    Not being sarcastic. I think a vast majority of those who claim to be psychic are either outright cons or they actually believe they’re psychic but they’re not. I appreciate the debunking of phonies. However, I’m actually a very firm believer based on a psychic who is a personal friend.

  59. TheBlackCat

    pgdunne says:
    “However, I’m actually a very firm believer based on a psychic who is a personal friend.”

    Well then he could become an instant millionaire. If he can demonstrate his abilities, he will win a million bucks no questions asked. But he better hurry, he has to send in his application by April 1st because the rules will chance on that date. All he has to do is show he can perform better than chance in a psychic activity (to a statistically significant degree) and he gets an instant million dollars.

    What, exactly, is your psychic friend able to do, anyway?

  60. pgdunne

    Mainly being psychic, being a medium, and remote viewing.

  61. TheBlackCat

    What about the million bucks? If he can really do remote viewing he could easily win the money. If he can speak to the dead he can easily win the money. If he can predict the future or read minds he can easily win the money.

    Let me rephrase the question. What specifically is he able to do? Those three things are so general that they cover pretty much any imaginable paranormal phenomenon besides telekinesis and “alternative medicine” (which is technically neither).

  62. pgdunne

    The milliion bucks? Not a good idea to do business with someone you don’t trust.

    Specifics? I can see that this discussion is leading to a debate. From reading the internet, debates go on and on and on without either side moving away from their beliefs. I’m not interested in trying to change anyone’s opinion. I think it’s a waste of time. The only reason I even mentioned my personal belief was in response to your post that said “Unless you are being sarcastic, it’s hard to tell.”
    I assume you meant it’s hard to tell whether I was a believer or skeptic, so I wanted to let you know.

  63. TheBlackCat

    Come one. All your friend has to do is do what he claims to be able to do. He has absolutely nothing to lose. So far thousands of people have been tested and none have had complaints about any foul play involved. Your friend comes up with the test, your friend comes up with the criteria of what constitutes a success or failure, and Mr. Randi is contractually required to hand over the money if your friend succeeds. Your friend, on the other hand, does not have to put anything on the line. He does not have to bet any money, or give anything to anyone if he loses. If he can really do what he claims he can win an easy million bucks. If he can’t then he loses nothing. James Randi is one of the most respected members of the skeptics movement. This is not some scam. Read the fine print, it is right there on the website. All the rules are plainly described. You can even check with the bank to find whether the money really exists. He has nothing to lose and a million dollars to gain. I honestly can’t imagine why somebody would turn down an easy million dollars like that. Show up, do your stuff, play around for an hour or two, and walk home a million dollars richer.

  64. pgdunne

    Sorry, not interested.

  65. TheBlackCat

    Please explain to me why your friend does not want a million dollars.

  66. pgdunne

    As I stated in a previous post: “Not a good idea to do business with someone you don’t trust.” He may be trustworthy to you but not to me.
    Would you do business with someone you don’t trust?
    Nothing to lose? Time is a valuable commodity.

    Also, in another of my posts:
    “..debates go on and on and on..”. Now you want me to debate why my friend doesn’t want to take the $1M challenge. Not interested in debating that either. Waste of time.

  67. TheBlackCat

    If you don’t want to debate, you have come to the wrong place. Here, if you make an assertion people expect you to back it up. If you refuse, it is generally assumed it is because you can’t. If you are unable or unwilling to back up your claims, and your claims are outlandish (and yours are), then the only logical conclusion is that the claims are false. It is up to you to show otherwise.

    The burden of proof is on the person making the claim. You claim your friend has paranormal abilities. If you refuse to back that up, or worse yet if you refuse to even specify what those supposed abilities are, the only logical conclusion is that they do not exist. People will not take you seriously if you refuse to back up your claims, and they will write you off complete if you continuously avoid even specifying what your claims are. You are not going to be given the benefit of the doubt here. This is not a court of law. In the scientific arena, evidence is required. Specifics are required. Your claims will be rejected if you do not have these.

    And I should remind you, “anecdotes are not evidence”. But winning the Randi Million Dollar Challenge will earn your friend a lot of attention around here I assure you. He is extremely well-respected and very highly trusted amongst skeptics. He is a living legend amongst magicians. He is well known the world over and highly trusted by countless people. His challenge has been thoroughly investigated and no problems with it have been found. Your friend’s refusal to even investigate the challenge or Mr. Randi seems like evasion by someone who knows their claims are wrong. Surely a million dollars is worth a couple of hours, claiming otherwise is just silly.

    But I do wonder why it is so important that you trust Mr. Randi. Shouldn’t it be your friend’s decision whether he takes the test and not yours? I wonder why you are so quick to speak for him. If I found out a supposed friend of my arbitrarily decided I didn’t want an easy million dollars I would be furious. Especially when there is a time limit in place that will render me ineligible in 48 hours. But you seem to have no problem making this decision for your friend. Curious indeed.

  68. pgdunne

    We’ve now arrived at the inevitable conclusion of a typical debate – the personal insult phase. Very predictable. Our exchanges are a perfect example of what I stated in a previous post, ie, endless debate with no useful result. That’s why I think this is a good place to end the discussion, at least for me. Long live Randi!

  69. TheBlackCat

    Please show me where I insulted anyone.

  70. leon

    how do i apply for randi’s mil? I’m psychic.. I predict exactly one thing. No one will win the million. Black Cat, you insulted no one.

  71. TheBlackCat

    “how do i apply for randi’s mil? I’m psychic.. I predict exactly one thing. No one will win the million.”

    I agree with your prediction, but by using it to win you would prove yourself wrong and thus not have won.

  72. YUNO

    HI IM A STUDENT AND I AM CONFUSED ABOUT IF THE PSYCHIC POWER REALLY EXIST???

    Hi to all i would like to ask if the psychic power is really existing today if it is not or it really exsist give me some proof. Thank you i hope you reply my comment.

  73. Hi every body psychic powers as you call it isnt for the few every body is psychic, a psychic is one who connects with the vibrational energy field of the soul. If you havnt got one of these then you dont exist period. Can science prove or disprove this ? we are a collective thought of energy and consciousness . Hence Eisteins theory E=MCS energy converts into matter. You are a holographic projection of your own thoughts living in a holographic universe, science has proven this hence the matrix proof fact !!!!. So imagine your self as a mass of vibrational frequency ie energy, your energy forms consist of your thoughts,feelings that you experience in your heart,mind,body and soul. You can relate to this through every day experiences you have had in this life time,ie relationships,family,friends,career,study and many more. every experience you have ever had in this life stays with you including your past lives and your future lives. Now here comes the tricky bit you are led to believe through your consciousness that you are only living this one life, can science proof or disprove it ? the fact is that you are interdiamentional beings you are living in many existances all at once. Think about it if you are a holographic projection of your thoughts who says you just exist in this moment where you are now. Is there any limit to thought ?. A psychic is someone who connects to the vibrational frequency of the person they are reading gathering information on an energetic level by tuning into the persons energy . ie the soul who better to know about ones journey in life than the self, this is facilitated by there spirit guides to help them through their journey in life. psychic energy flows through your thoughts,feelings,imagination,creativity,ideas, basically everything just like intuition, most of you have this in the gut its a feeling right ?. Your physical brain is limited to your five senses touch,taste,smell,hearing etc. this part of you is very much limited through programming. Dont confuse the the brain with the unlimited potential of the mind you only use at most 20 percent of your brain. anything beyond this scientist cannot explain because they are dealing with physical matter. they have also done experiments on the atom which proven fact they cannot destroy the atom ,the atom is what ? its energy, you cannot kill energy it is in constant existance at all time. Which means there is no death there is life after death,what dies is the physical body,so what does this mean it means you dont die it is impossible. You are all incredibly powerful beings no body can make you feel or do any thing its not possible they didnt create you YOU DID. You are your own creation you have free will remember you are your own GOD . Life isnt about predictions its about choices the ones you make every day that create and shape your destiny and purpose in life.

  74. A Friend

    IF you read this woman’s blog, you will see just how dangerous and damaging these “psychics” can be. http://star9therapykatehare.blogspot.com/2011/06/implants.html#comments

    She is telling vulnerable people how at risk they are and creating paranoia.

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