Subjectivity and Objectivity, Synchronicity and Science

Subjectivity and Objectivity, Synchronicity and Science

Posted on Jul 15th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
Patterns With No Known Cause

The world is filled with patterns.  We rarely notice them and we rarely even think to try to notice them.  Even when we do notice them, we don’t know what to make of them.  Are we seeing order because that is what the human mind does?  The paranoid notices patterns where none exist or at least where no one else notices them.  If we are correct in seeing an objective pattern, how can we be sure and how can we discover its cause?  Mostly, we’re in the dark and our ability to test our hypotheses is extremely limited.  We end up believing in what feels true or useful and just ignoring all the rest.  But what if you’re a person who feels compelled to question all beliefs and feel incapable of ignoring the data that doesn’t fit?

Events That Seem To Defy Scientific Knowledge

Usually, the strange events of life are rather mundane.  They’re easy to ignore and forget about.  We most often don’t even give them a moment of thought.  Oddities happen all of the time.  Our perspective and information is limited, and we don’t have the time to consider all of the possibilities.  We have things to do and places to be… so, curiosity and wonder get put on the backburner.  For most of us, we only remember our child-like wonder when around children.  A kid who has no adult responsibilities makes an unusual observation and the adult pauses for a moment.  They walk past that place everyday… why hadn’t they noticed it?  As we go about our lives, we normally just assume or act as if everything is explainable according to known scientific laws.  Its easy to explain away or dismiss the minor odd events that pop up every now an then.

Experiences That Seem To Deny Rationality

Most of our daily experiences are non-rational.  Thoughts and emotions and perceptions flow through our consciousness, and for the most part we don’t bring much self-awareness in investigating them.  However, sometimes a weird experience jolts us into a moment of wonder or at least a moment of nagging uncertainty.  Synchronicities are a good example of this.  Subjectivity and objectivity, nearness and distance, randomness and order seem to briefly collapse into an unclear middle category.  Its easy to dismiss it as a mere coincidence after the event.  You can’t prove a correlation and certainly there seems to be no rational link, no common cause.  At best, all one can say is that it felt meaningful.  But even then one can’t say exactly what is meaningful about it.

Synchronicities abound.  But if you’re not looking for them, you’re not likely to notice them.  On the other hand, if you intentionally look for them and thus notice them, it doesn’t rationally prove anything.  We find what we look for; about everyone understands this factor.  Where one person sees an acausal principle another sees perceptual bias.  Coincidences happen… so what?  Objectively, a coincidence is just that, but that misses the subjective experience. 

Can Subjectivity Be Objectively Studied?

Science assumes objectivity and subjectivity are separate or if anything that the subjective mind is just a result of an objective brain.  Synchronicity brings this scientific assumpiton into question.  That the scientific method proves a scientific worldview is no surprise.  However, even traditional science based on a mechanistic paradigm is starting to be questioned by new research based on a new paradigm.  But, no matter what paradigm, science will always be limited in what it can research.  Science, by its very design, has difficulty dealing with the complex and nonlinear, the multicausal and the acausal.

Science doesn’t ever prove anything.  Science just assumes through general concensus that a theory is true when repeated research hasn’t yet disproven it.  The problem is that some phenomena can’t be scientifically studied at all or not very easily.  According to the scientific  paradigm, such issues are never denied, but by not dealing with them they are subtly dismissed.  For instance, mainstream science has barely studied the paranormal and only because of a few mavericks within the mainstream.  But, at the same time, mainstream science excludes the paranormal as if its been disproven.  If the paranormal was untrue, it wouldn’t be difficult to disprove given enough research.  So, why do most scientists avoid the matter altogether?

What Can We Discover Through Our Own Subjectivity?

So, science can’t directly prove much of anything especially in the area of subjective experience.  All we do is use data to build up statistical probabilities.  If anything, science tends to dismiss the subjective factor.  Simply based on research, there is probably more reason to doubt freewill than to believe in it.  But can we prove something as fundamental as freewill in our own subjective experience?

Some would say yes because they feel they’re free.  However, everyone has plenty of experiences where what they felt to be true was wrong.  Of course, the naturally optimistic human mind tends to ignore data that doesn’t fit into their reality tunnel.  Yes, people who believe in freewill feel they have freewill, and vice versa.  But what if we step outside of this self-contained thought system, this self-reinforcing loop?

With synchronicities, subjectivity and objectivity seem to collapse into a middle category.  When we look at the dilemma of freewill vs determinism a similar collapse seems to happen.  Synchronicities are just one category of paranormal experience.  The paranormal undermines our whole sense of reality.  Not only is objectivy as we understand it questioned but subjectivity as we experience it is also questioned.  If neither objectivity nor subjectivity can give us a clear answer, where can we turn?  Is there even a clear answer to be found?

Conclusion

Life is strange.

Access_public Access: Public 27 Comments Print Post this!views (488)  

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

Nicole – I’m glad you linked those.  This gives me the opportunity to bring up some more details.

The first two links are from CSICOP which is an organization I had specifically in mind while writing this blog.  They’re the most well known debunking organization.  This blog is a partial continuation of my previous blog: Integral, the Paleolithic, and the Liminal.  In that blog, I mentioned George P. Hansen and I linked to his article about CSICOP.  He uses this organization as one of his major examples in his book The Trickster and the Paranormal

There are two basic points he makes. 

First, CSICOP does no academic research and doesn’t publish an academic journal where research is peer-reviewed.  They focus on case studies which are easy targets of debunking.  However, most paranormal research doesn’t rely on case studies for the very reason that deception is a problem.  The reason that CSICOP only does case studies is that earlier in its history it did do some research that supported what they were trying to debunk, and that was the last time they did real research.  They actually try to dissuade academic scientists from doing research on paranormal, and they have a fair amount of influence.  So, in this sense, they are discouraging science.

Second, the people who are the head of CSICOP aren’t scientistst and the scientists who support the organization aren’t paranormal researchers.  It has no connection to academia except through individual support of some scientists.  It isn’t a research institute.  Simply put, its only purpose is to debunk by taking on easy targets and ridicule those who actually do serious research.

The other link is ASSAP which is an organization I’m not familiar with.  I’ll look into it more later.

I’m still reading the book by Hansen and so I’m still weighing the evidence.  He looks at all sides with a particular emphasis on deception.  He says that he has been involved in paranormal for a long time.  I’m not overly familiar with the field, and this is the first book I’ve read by him.  He seems to have a wide grasp of not only the research, but he also seems to know a lot about the different people involved and he has an interesting take on various theories that are applicable to the paranormal field.

I’m not direclty interested in the paranormal field in terms of research, but this book has made me more interested in it.  The reason I bought the book is because he discusses the trickster archetype and its relationship to culture.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 1 hour later

Nicole said

this is really good to know. one of the things i liked about the articles i linked from them was that they came across as kinder somehow…

i haven’t been super interested in the paranormal either, but am intrigued by what you are saying… relationship with trickster archetype makes a lot of sense.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

I skimmed through the first article by Benjamin Radford about the haunted house investigation.  The guy presented himself as a neutral observer who is open to the possibility of ghosts, but doing a quick search of him on the net and he seemed to fit the profile of a debunker.  By this, I mean that all his investigations that I could find seemed focused on disproving.

One thing that came to mind is that their is a difference between his being open to the possibility in a vague theoretical way vs what he actually expects to find.  A major discovery of paranormal research is how researchers influence their research even when they’re are double-blinds and randomness to protect against influence.  There is a theory that some debunkers can psychically have a negative influence on that which they investigate. 
In paranormal research, this creates a problem because some researchers are consistently successful in finding evidence for the paranormal and some researchers have the opposite effect.  I was just reading about this in Hansen’s book.  He used an example of two researchers that had these opposite influences.  They did research together in order to test this and the evidence did show they seemed to be influencing their research even though there was no way to explain it except through psychic influence. 

Even in mainstream research, there is what is called ethnomethodology which studies culture.  It has been used to study scientific culture, and it has shown how easy it is for researchers to influence their research.  Objectivity is a very difficult ideal to achieve, and ethnomethodology even questions the assumptions of objectivity.

Its interesting that paranormal research was one of the first fields to use randomeness and statistical analysis in order to protect against influence.  Paranormal researchers understand deception and influence better than most scientific researchers.  Of course, this learning came about because of past mistakes of earlier researchers. 

It was because of how easy deception can occur with exceptional case studies that the researcher Rhine institued using large groups of normal people as test subjects.  Rhine’s methods have been standard protocol ever since.  Its because of the difficulty of control that case studies such as haunted house investigations haven’t been focused on in paranormal research for the past half century.  An article about a haunted house attracts attention in the popular media (which essentially is what CSICOP functions as), but no general conclusions can be based on such investigations.

The second link was an article by Joe Nickell.  He is a lead investigator of CSICOP who isn’t a scientist, and was influenced by James Randi who also isn’t a scientist.  Nickell is definitely a traditional debunker.  Everything I said about Radford applies to him.  He debunks specific cases such as in the linked article.  I did a quick search on Radford and Nickell.  I couldn’t tell if either had ever investigated paranormal research or simply limited themselves to case studies.

Something Radford said jumped out at me: “I am less interested in mysteries than explanations; mysteries are dime a dozen, and it is explanations that are valuable.”  He admits that mysteries are prevalent and oddly he concludes that mysteries are uninteresting because there are so many of them.  Jeez!  I’d say its quite interesting that mysteries are dime a dozen.  Doesn’t he find it amazing that explanations are so rare?  I’m all for explanations, but how much jaded cynicism does it take to lose one’s wonder and curiosity in the face of ineffable mystery?  Without mysteries, there would be no new explanations.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 10 hours later

Marmalade said

I wasn’t intending to discuss CSICOP and debunkers in this blog, but that is fine.  In writing this blog, I was inspired more by my personal experience.

 – I’ve had many synchronicities such as where I’ve heard a word on the radio at the same time I was reading that word. 
 – Working downtown, I notice patterns in crowd behavior and I always wonder what is the cause. 
 – The other day I had an experience where I was pouring a can of pop into a cup and somehow the liquid spilled 6 inches away from the cup, and I couldn’t figure out the reason as the can looked normal.

These are all completely mundane experiences and that is partly what interests me.  Such minor events happen to us all of the time, but we rarely know the reason.  They aren’t important as in the sense that they have no great effect on our everyday lives, but they’re the type of thing that catches my attention.  I’m always thinking about the world and I’m always noticing patterns.

I’ve also had more dramatic weird experiences.  But in this blog I was thinking more about these more minor events that are easy to not notice or dismiss if noticed.  Most people don’t give much credence to coincidences.  Most people don’t care about the reason behind the behavior of crowds.  Most people don’t think about a spilled can of pop beyond being annoyed by it.  

Yet,  these are all things that signify the limits of our personal knowledge of the world.  Even if you were a genius that memorized all of human knowledge, you’d still know very little about the world.  Our ‘knowledge’ will look as naive and simplistic to future generations as the ‘knowledge’ of past generations looks to us.

Our knowledge is an island in a sea of mystery.  As Radford said, mysteries are so common as to be deemed insignificant.  And yet every moment of existence is an utter mystery.  What I find amazing is that despite all of the explanations we come up with we can’t seem to banish mystery from our rational world.  And it most often pops up in small ways… God in the gutter.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 14 hours later

Nicole said

God in the gutter. There are so many mysteries, small and big. Rationality and objectivity are limited and illusion to a certain extent. It’s true that if we survive for more centuries, what we “know” will look pitiful.

I’m happy to discuss personal experiences. and speaking of personal experience, you will be glad to know that I spent time yesterday staring at the water. it felt so good.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 20 hours later

Marmalade said

Hey Nicole!  I was just now checking out the third link.  ASSAP looks promising.  Its not a debunking site, but neither does it seem to be a believers’ site.  The director of ASSAP was referred to as a Fortean researcher. 

I like how Charles Fort went about things.  Like many debunkers, he wasn’t a scientist and so some of the same criticisms could be made against him.  The difference is that he was more open-minded in considering all possibilities and he was more fair in his willingness to question everything equally.  Fort was no defender of scientific materialism.  His viewpoint seemed to be that the world is too weird for any single explanation whether scientific or otherwise.  He had an imagination similar to Philip K. Dick but without the naive credulousness.  PKD wanted to believe in something.  Fort wanted to disbelieve everything.

There are several interesting writers that followed in the footsteps of Fort. 

Jacques Vallee is the most prominent ufo investigator, but he was different from Fort in that he had a background in the hard sciences.  It was because Vallee saw firsthand astronomers destroying data of ufo sightings that led him to investigate it for himself.  Vallee was an innocent young scientist who was shocked that scientists aren’t always objective.  🙂  Vallee was the first investigator to make a connection between ufo experiences and folklore.

John Keel (of Mothman fame) was more similar to Fort than Vallee was.  Keel was a journalist like Fort.  Vallee was more specific in his interest with ufos, but Fort and Keel had more wide-ranging interests.  Also, Vallee seemed to be a more balanced fellow.  He took a decade or so break from ufo research because it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere.  OTOH Fort and Keel dedicated their whole lives to endless investigation.  However, even though Fort was obsessed with his work like Keel, Fort never went off the deep end.  Keel had a mental breakdown at one point.

What is interesting about the Forteans is that they’re equally willing to consider the debunkers and the believers.  Debunkers often write articles for the magazine Fortean Times.  For instance, one of the CSICOP investigators you linked to has an article on the Fortean Times website.  Forteans are a special kind of debunker because they want debunk everything… and then see what is left standing.  They’re something like the negative theologians of the paranormal.  They’d rather say what isn’t than what is.

The problem with the Forteans is the problem with all debunkers.  They tend to focus on specific case studies rather than on scientific research.  Case studies are important though because some things simply can’t be reproduced in a lab.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 20 hours later

Nicole said

this is really great. gotta run, but if you have time, please look at my blogs and share your thoughts… hugs… will respond properly later 

about 21 hours later

Nightphoenix said

The awakening happens differently for each of us — but the end result is that we realize that heaven isn’t a place but rather a state of mind.   The journey is all that matters because in this never ending evolving consciousness we never reach the end of our journey.  check my recent blogs about consciousness. I posted a great video that covers the reasons why we have free will.  

Quote from the Movie Contact: 

You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Welcome to my blog NightPhoenix!

I tend to view heaven as a state of mind, but of course not state of mind in the normal sense of mind.  I noticed you blogged about A Course In MIracles.  That is a book that was a major influence of my thinking when I read it in highschool, and it still influences me.  As for life as journey, I don’t normally think of life that way but I am a present-oriented kind of person. I couldn’t figure out which of your blogs is about freewill.   Would you mind linking to the specific video?

Contact is a pretty good movie, but I haven’t watched it a second time.  I don’t remember that quote.  I’ll probably watch it again one of these days.  I saw that you blogged about What Dreams May Come.  I love that movie and have watched it many times.  Some of the scenes are utterly beautiful.

The other blog of yours that stood out to me was the one about the Johari Window.  That model is relevant to this discussion here.  Part of what I’m focusing on is the Unkown quadrant, the unknown unknowns, unknown by everyone.

about 22 hours later

Nightphoenix said

The link

please note:  you’ll have to watch the entire video to grasp the information contained in it.  But it does cover free will…

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

I just finished watching that video.  It reminds me of What the Bleep Do We Know!?  It also reminds me of Lynne McTaggart.  I’ve read some of her books and I found them fairly insightful, and very good summaries of some of the strange research that scientists do.  She is looking at paranormal research like Hansen is doing in his book, but she takes a more New Age perspective with considering how we can learn to direct our intentions towards the good. 

She brings up strong evidence for the power of the mind to influence the world, but she also comes up with strong evidence for the power of the mind to influence others’ minds even unbeknownst to those being influenced (Hansen also discusses this).  So, freewill still seems unclear to me.  Who or what is influencing whom?  All the research shows is correlations.  Based upon that we can theorize various types of influence.

However, it gets complicated very quickly.  Psi research has shown evidence for the possibility that influence can work in the reverse.  Research suggest that we might be able to influence events and people in the past.  That is a pretty cool trick, but it also means people in the future may be influencing us right now.  Freaky!  

What I get out of all of this is that we’re all connected and nobody really knows exactly what that connection is.  This is why I don’t believe in freewill.  I believe in influence which simply means I believe the world is complex beyond simple notions such as the ideal of freewill or even the mechanisms of science.  Of course, I could simply redefine freewill as influence and still retain the word.  I do believe we aren’t merely helpless at the whims of reality.  We are participants even if mostly blind and ignorant in how we participate.  Bumbling in the dark isn’t so bad.  Many great discoveries are made that way.  🙂

about 23 hours later

Nightphoenix said

I liked what the bleep do we know?  especially the court of infinite possibilities & the double slit experiment.  But back to free will // if this is all a program for lack of better words  then it’s a very advanced program by any standards and it may be possible in such a program to allow for free will.  It probably wouldn’t appear as free will to the programmer but to us it might appear as free will.  sorta like those books with alternate endings depending on the choices you make in the book. Do you remember those books from childhood?

Zephyr : Poeticspirit

about 23 hours later

Zephyr said

Having had many synchronistic and paranormal ESP experiences in my life, in tthe end I deduced that somehow I was connecting or more likely universal consciousness was making a connection with me, it was totally random not any effort on my part and no way could I make it happen to order,  either in or out of a laboratory but I could not deny the experiences.   Information was popping into my mind of occurrances that I couldn’t possibly have known about because I was too far away,  there is no way to prove any of it  after the event but after ignoring and disbelieving, I learned to heed these experiences. 

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 23 hours later

Marmalade said

Another way to think about it is that freewill is true just as the mechanisms of science are true.  But these are only relatively true.  There is predictable order and that is what science studies, and yet not all experience is controlled by this order which is where freewill has whatever influence it has.  What I’m interested in is what exists in between the two and what exists beyond both.  Is there a reality beyond the objective world and our subjective individuality?  Both science and freewill seek to control, and so what resides outside of the reach of our methods of control?  What is free even from our desire for freedom?

Yes, I remember those books from childhood.

Choose Your Own Adventure

I know its cheating, but I always would reverse back to the previous choice when I didn’t like the ending I got.  I’m sure those books helped to teach me how to think in terms of non-linear connections and multiple possibilities.  They even have Choose Your Own Adventure movies now.  I watched one with my niece a while back.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 23 hours later

Marmalade said

Hi Zephyr!

Uh-huh… the kind of thing your describing fits into what I was thinking about.  Its good that you learned to heed them.  The best we can try to do is to learn from these experiences, but it isn’t always clear whether there is something to be learned.  So, we pay attention and be patient.  How did you go about testing this information that was popping in your head?  Was any of the information helpful or insightful… or just information?

I resonate with what you said about not controlling nor being able to deny these experiences.  This is how reality feels to me most of the time.  We influence things and we make various relatively minor choices throughout our day, but there is a immense world beyond our sphere of control.  We’re constantly being effected by the world and often by forces beyond our awareness… call it God, a guardian angel, the Daimonic, universal consciousness, or even simply the unconscious.  We can bring awareness to bear upon these situations, but our consciousness ego-minds are limited. 

Did you find that your experiences helped you to become more aware? 
Did they help you to have more respect or wonder for that which lies beyond your awareness?

starlight : StarLight Dancing

1 day later

starlight said

i think science is actually beginning to look at this subject with more depth, because it has too…

Larry King just did a show highlighting the new A&E series about children that posess these abilities.

here is the link, incase it should interest you…

http://www.aetv.com/

btw, this blog entry was very well written…
always, star…

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

Hello Starlight,

For some reason my blog is popular today.  🙂

Yep, I too think that science is looking more into this.  Scientists have to deal with it because the evidence is piling up too much to be ignored and the public interest keeps growing.  Plus, I’m willing to bet that the new generation of scientists are more open to the paranormal.

Thanks for the link.  I’ll check it out later.

Gotta go to work now.  Have a wonderful evening everybody!

Marm

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

what a cool blog conversation! see, Ben, you should blog more often! You’re getting so popular… hugs…

Zephyr : Poeticspirit

1 day later

Zephyr said

Hi Marmalade, my ESP happens when someone needs my help, the first time I was 8 and my brothers friend was being swept out to sea by a strong current, there were no strong swimmers on the beach something said to me go back to the cafe above the beach there I found the islands champion swimmer who swam out and rescued the child who believe it  or not could not swim but somehow managed to stay afloat !!!!
The next time was when my boys were out playing, I was baking at home and had a strong urge to go to my youngest son, I stopped what I was doing, crossed the road, went along the road through a shortcut to the play park and found my son who had fallen off a six foot slide and was quite distressed. When I was nursing there were several instances where I had an urge to visit my community patients when a regular visit was not planned –
I found one had fallen and broken a limb
one was in the middle of a heart attack
one was sitting in front of a gas fire and the room was filling with gas from an unlit ceiling gas lamp, amazing the place didn’t explode when I opened the door and got her out.
one was in panic with a paraffin heater ablaze
I also had one ESP episode with our dog, driving home from work one day I thought the dog’s in trouble in the sea –  my next thought was to laugh at myself thinking how foolish, dogs can swim. I arrived home to find my husband and our great dane dripping wet, the dog had apparently jumped off a groyne into deep water and panicked, my husband had to wade into the sea and fish him out.!!!!  That is just a few examples of ESP
i pick up peoples thoughts sometimes, and am very sensitive to the atmosphere of places
where there have been unhappy incidents. I only mention because it’s pertinent to the subject here,  most people are pretty sceptical about such things.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

how cool is that! what i love about these gaia discussions, where blogged or podded or both, is that things we have become reluctant to talk about come into the light and we all benefit.

Ben, I think you’re right, that the direction is that rigid closed attitude science used to have is eroding with new generations of science and all the inroads of quantum physics etc. the universe is much full of wonder, a place where electrons tunnel and cats are in boxes neither alive nor dead…. so mystical…

Balder : Kosmonaut

1 day later

Balder said

Very nice blog and discussion, Ben.  I appreciated how you used an examination of causality to problematize the distinctions between subjective and objective; I felt you did this in a fairly clear-eyed and balanced way, rather than jumping to untenable conclusions.  “Life is strange” just about sums it up!  The ordinary is shot through with strangeness, which sometimes we see when we suddenly snap to and perceive our worlds in a fresh way; and the strange lurks around so much it’s downright ordinary…

You wrote:  For most of us, we only remember our child-like wonder when around children.  A kid who has no adult responsibilities makes an unusual observation and the adult pauses for a moment.  They walk past that place everyday… why hadn’t they noticed it?

This reminded me of a phone call I received from my six-year-old son a couple hours ago.  He said, “Dad, how come there is an icecream maker in my world but we don’t really have one?  How come everyone has a whole different world inside them?”

He’s seeing a wonder that we walk past so often: the  rich universes we each are.

Best wishes,

Balder

Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

Hey Balder,

This was an interesting blog because I wrote it without much editing.  It was a single flow of thought with one point leading to the next.  I had no particular goal in mind other than trying to convey a certain mood, a certain way of looking at the world.

Problematize… I love that word!  It amuses me. 

“Ben, I appreciated how you problematized that.”  Thanks!  🙂

…rather than jumping to untenable conclusions.

Yeah, I was trying to avoid conclusions whether tenable or not.  But I came to the end and I figured that some kind of conclusion was required.  Plus, I just felt like being funny.

“Dad, how come there is an icecream maker in my world but we don’t really have one?  How come everyone has a whole different world inside them?”

Now, that is a good question.  So, what was your answer.  🙂

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

2 days later

Marmalade said

I was recently talking to Sandra and looking at her profile I discovered that M. Alan Kazlev has a blog here on Gaia.  He mentioned an article of his on Integral Praxis which is partly run by Bright Abyss from OSI.  In the comments of that article, there was mention of Robert Searle’s Multi-dimensional Science which is described on Kazlev’s website.  I noticed that Robert Searle has a blog here also.

I felt like writing that paragraph with those links in order to justify the time I spent the last several hours wandering around the web.  🙂

Also, I wrote it because of what was being proposed by Robert Searle.  He seems to believe that exceptional case studies can lead to scientific knowledge if you have enough case studies.  It seems a bit optimistic to me considering the difficulty of trying to study exceptional people.  I’d love to see actual research attempted according to Searle’s methodology.  If done on a large enough scale, it could provide some useful insights.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

Hi Ben,

You are diverse in your friends 🙂 Cool info … I have the same doubts as you – my company has tried a similar approach by doing case studies of our very best students to see what light is shed on educating everyone… it seems counterintuitive from a scientific approach for sure but from other standpoints is intriguing.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

2 days later

Marmalade said

Hey Nicole… just noticed this comment as I was preparing to log off.

How did the study work out for your company?
Did the results show any clear patterns?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

it’s still ongoing… yes, there are many commonalities between highly exceptional students that enable them to self learn material very very quickly. The challenge is using what we learn from them to improve our instruction of the 95%+ of other students we have, many of whom have serious learning or attention problems…

21 thoughts on “Subjectivity and Objectivity, Synchronicity and Science

  1. Hi there!

    I came across your site, and thought I’d correct a few errors… Not necessarily by any posters here, but by whoever quoted Mr. Hansen:

    1) First, CSICOP does no academic research and doesn’t publish an academic journal where research is peer-reviewed.

    Not true; CSICOP has done plenty of research and investigations; they are in nearly every issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, which is often peer-reviewed (depending on the topic). I invite readers to look for themselves to see if this is true.

    2) They focus on case studies which are easy targets of debunking.

    Again, simply not true. For example, the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine has the published results of a 9-month investigation into what has been called the “best case” for psychic detectives. I’d say the “best case” is hardly an “easy target” for debunking, wouldn’t you?

    3) They actually try to dissuade academic scientists from doing research on paranormal

    Um, nope, Hansen is wrong again. In fact, CSICOP (who I work for) has actively engaged many academic researchers, including Gary Schwartz (of the Afterlife Experiments book).

    4) Second, the people who are the head of CSICOP aren’t scientistst and the scientists who support the organization aren’t paranormal researchers.

    This is partly true. CSICOP has plenty of scientists on staff, some of them Nobel prize winners– a list of them can be found on the inside front cover of the magazine. But it’s true that most of them are not conducting research into the paranormal or hunting for ghosts- though some of them are, for example Dr. Steven Novella of Yale University.

    It’s fine to have opinions about skeptics and scientific paranormal investigators, but you should at least have the facts right and not believe anything someone wrote years ago on the Web!

    • All I can say is that you make certain claims and Hansen makes other claims. To be fair, I don’t know how recent are the claims Hansen made. Maybe CSICOP has changed it’s policies and behavior since he made his criticisms. Hansen claims that CSICOP initially did some research to disprove some theory, but ended up proving it and so that is why he claims CSICOP stopped doing research.

      There are two possibilities:
      1) Hansen was wrong in his initial claim.
      2) Hansen was correct at the time of the claim, but since then CSICOP has started doing research again.

      If CSICOP is now doing research, I fully congratulate all involved. If you now have an actual paranormal scientific researcher on staff, I’m glad to hear it.

      Some of these claims (by Hansen and by you) would be difficult for an outsider to prove or disprove. I’d love to see a debate between Hansen (or someone with similar criticisms) and a CSICOP representative. Until I see such a debate, I’ll withold any absolute conclusions in either direction.

      • >>All I can say is that you make certain claims and Hansen makes other claims.

        These are matters of fact, not opinion. Don’t take my word for it, look for yourself, check out just about any issue of Skeptical Inquirer (including the current one), and you’ll find original published research into a wide variety of paranormal claims.

        >> To be fair, I don’t know how recent are the claims Hansen made.

        Hansen’s self-published book is from 2001, so it’s about a decade behind the times. It’s true that for a while in the 1970s CSICOP wasn’t doing much research because of fear of litigation, but these criticisms really aren’t relevant to the past 20 years or so.

        >>If CSICOP is now doing research, I fully congratulate all involved. If you now have an actual paranormal scientific researcher on staff, I’m glad to hear it.

        Yes, thank you, I’m one of them. I’m also author of an upcoming book titled Scientific Paranormal Investigation, which I think an open-minded reading of will dispel these “debunker” stereotypes.

        >> I’d love to see a debate between Hansen (or someone with similar criticisms) and a CSICOP representative.

        So would I. I’d be happy to debate Hansen about his statements any time, any where. He’s obviously got an axe to grind; all I would ask is that people not take his word for it and look into it a bit themselves. Many of his claims are either self-evidently false, or badly outdated.

        • Yes, they’re matters of fact. But not all facts can be verified by the average person.

          It would take some thorough research to see if CSICOP had stopped doing research (if only for a period of time) after a study failed to give the results desired. This claim of Hansen’s could be proven or disproven, but you’ll have to pardon me if some uncertainty remains in my mind for the time being. Maybe you’re correct that legal factors were the only reason research was stopped for a time.

          When I have the time, I’ll do more research on the matter. Until then, Hansen’s claim is just that. I’m always willing to change my mind. I follow the facts where ever they lead.

          I have some interest in science and I try to stay moderately informed. I’ll check out CSICOP again and look at other views as well. At some point, I’ll probably do another post and I’ll try to be fair to the best of my ability.

          I’ll also do more research on Hansen. I’ll look into the criticisms directed at him as well. Also, he might have some more recent opinions on the matter.

          Anyways, thanks for commenting. If the information I presented here is incorrect in any way, please accept my apology. I do appreciate hearing all sides. If you have any further info to add or if you’d like to offer some links to info, feel free to post them. If you wish to write a short rebuttal, I’ll even post it to my blog here and link it to this post.

          • Sure… I’ll do a quick reply to this:

            Something Radford said jumped out at me: “I am less interested in mysteries than explanations; mysteries are dime a dozen, and it is explanations that are valuable.” He admits that mysteries are prevalent and oddly he concludes that mysteries are uninteresting because there are so many of them. Jeez! I’d say its quite interesting that mysteries are dime a dozen. Doesn’t he find it amazing that explanations are so rare? I’m all for explanations, but how much jaded cynicism does it take to lose one’s wonder and curiosity in the face of ineffable mystery?

            I think you misunderstood my point… I did not conclude that mysteries were “uninteresting”—in fact I’ve spent a decade investigating just such mysteries. I merely meant that solutions to mysteries are more important. “Doesn’t he find it amazing that explanations are so rare?” No, I don’t find it amazing at all, I find it obvious. Unknown things are all around us: what caused a loved one’s cancer, why our car is making that odd noise, where Osama bin Laden is, what will happen in Iraq and Iran, and so on. You could almost say that mysteries are the default state of being for humans, we will never know as much as we could know—that’s why science is ongoing. Creating a mystery takes little or no effort; if I tell someone I saw a strange light in the night sky, I have automatically created a mystery. Solving mysteries and understanding the world around us takes time and effort and investigation. Therefore, solutions to mysteries and problems will always be more important and more valuable, for the same reason that knowledge is more valuable than ignorance.

            Nor am I remotely jaded; I think the world is a fascinating place, full of amazing things and wonder and curiosity. I find it odd that you would assume that!

  2. better yet, send me your mailing address, and I’ll send you a copy or two of the magazine, you can decide for yourself if it’s a “debunking” exercise, or if I and other skeptical investigators are making a sincere effort to understand the mystery…

  3. Oh, and one other thing, before I forget (or get too tired):

    As a scientific paranormal investigator, I occasionally get called derisive names like “debunker” or “scofftic” or whatever– almost always from people who have never actually read my work. They just make a blanket statement that anyone who works for CSICOP or calls himself a skeptic is automatically a debunker or dismisses claims out of hand. This is not only unfair, it is not true.

    Furthermore, I ask my critics (not you specifically): What are YOU doing to help the field? You may or may not agree with my approach and methods, but at least I’m out there doing real investigation. I’m out on the lakes looking for lake monsters, I’m in the field looking for ghosts, I’m in the jungle looking for chupacabra. I’m writing articles and books trying to make paranormal investigations more scientific and valid. I’m trying to help people improve their techniques and critical thinking.

    It’s easy to sit back and snipe and criticize other people and dismiss their work and research without giving it a fair hearing. But at the end of the day, I have more respect for someone who’s actually out there DOING the investigations, even if I question their methods. Anyone can sit back and call people names and take potshots; very few people take the time, money, and effort to take the subjects seriously and do investigations.

    • I think of myself as a skeptic and I suppose Hansen does as well. The difficulty is that many people think of themselves as skeptics in the same way that many people think of themselves as being above average in intelligence. lol

      I see several varieties of self-identified skeptics.

      I’m against anti-intellectualism (which means I’m for intellecutalism), and there are many ‘skeptics’ who are anti-intellectual and anti-scientific. I’m a strong proponent and defender of science. I’ve spent way too much time dealing with climate change denialists.

      Besides those, there are also many scientific-minded skeptics. Some of these are defenders of scientism and naive realism, but some of them are more philosophically astute. As far as I can tell, Hansen is one of these philosophical-minded skeptics.

      There is often conflict between skeptics who are more philosophical-minded and skeptics who are more practical-minded. Both sides have their own conception of what science is and should be. I tend to side with philosophical skepticism because it points out the potential weaknesses of the scientific method, and it’s only through analyzing the weaknesses that it can be strengthened. That seems to be Hansen’s purpose. Like me, Hansen is skeptical about what science can and can’t do. I consider this to be a realistic point of view, but I realize others disagree.

      I tend to analyze these differences along psychological differences. People tend to believe in what they experience. People who have experiences of the supernatural tend to believe in the supernatural. And those who don’t don’t. This is the challenge of where subjective experience meets objective science. This is an area that insight can be gained by studying integral theory, enactivism, and mind-body research.

      I agree that blanket statements are bad (on all sides) and I suspect Hansen would agree as well. I admit I’ve never read your work. I do read a lot (constantly in fact), but there are lots of people I haven’t read. Unfortunately, time does not allow me to read all those deserving of being read. No one knows everything and so everyone makes statements in varying degrees of ignorance.

      Did Hansen make blanket statements abou CSICOP? I don’t know that he did. He made statements and backed them up with evidence that he cited. His evidence may be incorrect, his sources may be unreliable, and his conclusions may be suspect. I don’t know. But I don’t think it would be fair to make blanket claims of dismissal towards his claims.

      You and Hansen seem to be interpreting CSICOP differently even though you both agree that CSICOP stopped doing research for a time. The question is: Why did the research stop? I personally don’t know. For me to determine the probable motivation would necessitate much research and analysis.

      So, what are the critics of CSICOP doing to help the field? Well, like you, many CSICOP critics are or have been paranormal researchers. As I remember, Hansen wrote his book from the perspective of someone who had been a very active researcher in the field.

      From a casual survey (based on what I’ve observed in my studies), most of the paranormal research seems to be done by people who believe in or who are open to the possibility of the paranormal being real. It makes sense. People tend to dedicate their time and effort to that which personally interests them. For this reason. most biblical scholars are or were Christians and most chefs like food.

      I myself am not a researcher. I’m not a profession or an expert of any variety. I’m just a student and observer of life. I certainly am glad that people such as yourself are doing research. The field of paranormal isn’t the main focus of my studies and so any comments I can make are of limited insight. As I said, I tend to come from the direction of psychology. I’m more interested in the experiences people have and how they interpret those experiences.

      So, I’m not surprised that those who don’t have paranormal experiences tend to not believe in the paranormal. And I’m not surprised that those who don’t believe in the paranormal tend not to have paranormal experiences. I’ve had weird expiences, but I tend to be agnostic. As I see it, weird things happen all the time that can’t be explained by present science. Maybe science will discover a natural explanation for all phenomena or maybe not. I admit that my doubts bias my assessment.

      I think research is only as good as those who analyze it. I defend those who analyze the research even if they don’t do research themselves. It takes all types. So, if you merely criticize your critics without seriously considering their criticisms, I’d consider that a potential weakness in your approach. It would be, to state it lightly, unhelpful to dismiss them as merely calling names and taking potshots. And it would also be unhelpful to make a blanket statement that all your critics lack experience in research and investigation.

      If you want to further the field, a more open attitude is required to encourage more open discussion. Parnormal research and skepticism is rife with people who simply take sides. I say a pox on both of your houses. I prefer people who take the middle path.

  4. >>If you merely criticize your critics without seriously considering their criticisms, I’d consider that a potential weakness in your approach.

    I guess it would be if I did that, though I do solicit, engage, and consider any criticisms of my work. I have always been happy to discuss the subject and respond to informed criticism; it’s inherent in the scientific process.

    >> And it would also be unhelpful to make a blanket statement that all your critics lack experience in research and investigation.

    Indeed. Which is, again, why I have never made such a statement!

    >>If you want to further the field, a more open attitude is required to encourage more open discussion.

    If you are referring to me (instead of generic “skeptics”), I’m really not sure how much more open I could be, nor why you would think my attitude isn’t open… I can only speak for my investigations and research (and not other people), which I would encourage you or anyone else interested in the paranormal to read with an open mind and decide for themselves if I approach the subject trying to dismiss the phenomena (or “ridicule” eyewitnesses or investigators). I go into an investigation trying to understand what’s going on, and rule out natural explanations before reaching for supernatural ones.

    • My response to your criticism was that you were directing it at a generalized “my critics”. As a generalization, it’s a bit broad and makes your comments into blanket statements… because how could they be otherwise without any specifics. The only specific critic that was referred to in our discussion is Hansen, but oddly your crticisms of “my critics” doesn’t seem to apply to him. Without knowing which specific critics you’re talking about, the phrase “my critics” doesn’t mean much to me. By itself, it felt like an attitude of generalization… whether or not that was your intention.

      The only critic of CSICOP that I’m overly familiar with is Hansen. So, if you have a detailed article criticizing Hansen in return that would be helpful. All your statements here have been general which is fine since this is just a casual discussion. My point is that it would be easiest to determine the validity of Hansen’s criticisms about CSICOP if I were to read a counter-argument that took on Hansen’s criticisms point by point. Hansen has presented what he claims to be fact-based conclusions and I’d love to see any attempt at a refutation. A successful refutation of Hansen’s argument would be a major public relations win for CSICOP.

      Have you read Hansen’s book? I consider it one of the most intellectually interesting books I’ve read in my life. The reason I say this is because he looks at the field from many different angles and discusses in detail many of the major players. His critcisms of CSICOP are just one small part of a very large book. Even ignoring his opinions on CSICOP, his book would still be a worthy book for it offers an insightful overview. The best part of his book is where he analyzes the research on how scientists influence their research which, by the way, includes mainstream scientists.

      Your assessment of his book probably would be different. I’m curious now about whether Hansen has read your work. I don’t recall any comments he has made in reference to you and so maybe he isn’t directly a critic of your work. I did a websearch on your two names and nothing came up.

      My comment about being open relates to the implied blanket attitude of “my critics”. The sense I got was that you felt antagnonistic against this generalized opponent. Maybe you didn’t intend to communicate any of this. If so, then speaking in specifics would help to clarify your meaning.

      As far as I can tell, you seem like a rational person who is sincere. I can’t say anything about your work at the moment, but I am intrigued enough that I will study further any writings of yours I can get a hold of. I sense that we’re coming from different directions and so probably wouldn’t agree, but I’m open to considering your views.

      I am wondering about your background. What is your education and training? Have you done paranormal research in a laboratory setting? Besides CSICOP, are you a member of any other scientific organizations? Are you or have you been on the faculty of any schools, especially any research schools? How did you get into the field of skeptical investiations?

      In case you’re interested, my skepticism is more open-ended and not limited to science. I’m a person who questions anything and everything. My definition of a denialist is someone who denies evidence. My definition of a debunker is someone who only turns their skepticism towards specific subjects or who doesn’t apply their skepticism equally, someone who is merely using skepticism as a stance or as a tool to defend a particular position. I often label my own skeptical view as zetetic or Fortean. I think of myself as an intellectual agnostic. The problem I have with most skeptics is that they’re not skeptic enough. They don’t turn the skeptic gaze towards themselves nor do they turn it towards the very act of questioning, of investigating.

      What I liked about Hansen’s book is that he seemed like an equal-opportunity skeptic, a scientific researcher willing to be skeptical of both believers and scientists, willing to look at the data of science and accept that science offers no clear conclusions about such matters. Hansen looks at the science and realizes the rabbit hole goes very deep indeed.

      Anyways, I get the sense that your work and the work of Hansen is focused on two different areas. From what I can tell, you seem to be more of an investigator in that you go out into the field. Hansen was a researcher in a lab. I don’t know that Hansen has any opinion about Fortean subjects such as ghosts and lake monsters. The laboratory research is confusing enough, but the Fortean research is even more difficult as it tends to be about investigating events after the fact and so is depenent on mostly anecdotal evidence. When Hansen said that CSICOP had no paranormal researchers, I think he was only talking about those who do research in a lab which is the focus of his book.

  5. >>oddly your crticisms of “my critics” doesn’t seem to apply to him.

    No, I wasn’t including Hansen as one of my critics– the book was published before I joined the organization! Most people who dislike skeptical investigators don’t read their work, so I expect Hansen hasn’t either.

    >>Without knowing which specific critics you’re talking about, the phrase “my critics” doesn’t mean much to me.

    Sure, we can start with “he seemed to fit the profile of a debunker.” If I read it right, that was your comment, wasn’t it? Even though you admit you’ve read very little of my work…

    >>So, if you have a detailed article criticizing Hansen in return that would be helpful.

    I don’t actually; I am not an expert on Hansen, and never claimed to be. I expect someone has written such a response, but offhand I can’t put my hands on it. Some of his criticisms of CSICOP in the 1970s and early 1980s may have some merit; I honestly don’t know. Hansen’s description of CSICOP bears little resemblance to the organization I’ve worked at for 12 years.

    >>Hansen has presented what he claims to be fact-based conclusions and I’d love to see any attempt at a refutation.

    I’ve given you several. Example: Hansen claims that CSICOP doesn’t conduct research or investigations. Refutation: I can name dozens of investigations; pick up any issue of Skeptical Inquirer, the official journal of CSICOP (now CSI) to see samples. Among the higher-profile cases in recent years was testing Natasha Demkina (“The Girl with X-Ray Eyes”). Hansen is simply incorrect (or his information is badly out of date). Anyone with access to a library, bookstore, or the Web can see for themselves whether or not it is true that CSI doesn’t conduct investigations. Maybe Hansen misunderstood a quote or something, I really don’t know where he got that.

    >>A successful refutation of Hansen’s argument would be a major public relations win for CSICOP.

    Perhaps… though I don’t know that Hansen’s decade-old self-published book is of a sufficiently high profile to be a public relations problem for CSI– especially when at least some of his claims are self-evidently false.

    >>Have you read Hansen’s book?

    I haven’t read the book in a long time. There was a copy of it around the office a few years ago, I looked through it but it seemed like a tempest in a teapot, raging about real or imagined slights from two decades ago.

    >>What is your education and training? Have you done paranormal research in a laboratory setting?

    I have a degree in psychology; I’ve done a bit of lab research, but not very much. My speciality is field investigations. I’m not as interested in SRI-type research, I’m happy to leave that to Wiseman, Hyman, etc.

    >>My definition of a debunker is someone who only turns their skepticism towards specific subjects or who doesn’t apply their skepticism equally, someone who is merely using skepticism as a stance or as a tool to defend a particular position.

    Ah, well, then the more you read my work (and breadth of subjects I apply skepticism to), the more you will realize I’m not a debunker! Not to plug my book, but I really do think you’ll get a different view of CSICOP after reading more of my work.

    >>The problem I have with most skeptics is that they’re not skeptic enough. They don’t turn the skeptic gaze towards themselves nor do they turn it towards the very act of questioning, of investigating.

    Indeed, I’d say we agree on that!

    >>Anyways, I get the sense that your work and the work of Hansen is focused on two different areas. From what I can tell, you seem to be more of an investigator in that you go out into the field.

    Yes, I’d agree with that. My specialty is field investigations, not lab research, though I have helped design some medium studies.

    • “Most people who dislike skeptical investigators don’t read their work, so I expect Hansen hasn’t either.”

      Most people don’t read about subjects they dislike. That goes for everyone. As for skeptics, many of your critics most likely consider themselves skeptics as well. I know Hansen considers himself a skeptic. He seems to be very well read in his area of expertise which is parapsychology, but he might not be well read in your area of field investigations.

      As for my comment, yes I did write “he seemed to fit the profile of a debunker”. I openly stated that I hadn’t read much of your work and that is why I said “seem”. I pick my words carefully. I don’t like making absolute statements unless I have strong evidence.

      Furthermore, you left off the last part of my comment about you: “By this, I mean that all his investigations that I could find seemed focused on disproving.” My original ‘conclusion’ was extremely tentative, more of a quick appraisal really, and so I would point out that “seem” is the important word in my original statement. In my minimal knowledge about most things in life, “seem” is a word I use often.

      Out of curiosity, have you ever researched something that you suspected not to be true and then discovered convincing evidence that changed your mind? Or have you had a pet theory that was proven false?

      “Some of his criticisms of CSICOP in the 1970s and early 1980s may have some merit; I honestly don’t know. Hansen’s description of CSICOP bears little resemblance to the organization I’ve worked at for 12 years.”

      Okay. Those are fair statements. I can work with that. So, there is a discrepancy between Hansen’s portrayal of CSICOP in the past and your experience of CSICOP in the present. You say CSICOP is doing lab research now. The point of contention is why they stopped in the first place. That is the hinge of Hansen’s argument.

      One further point. When Hansen refers to lab research, I think he is also speaking about research that has been published in peer-reviewed journals. Is the CSICOP research published in professional peer-reviewed scientific journal? If I remember correctly, Hansen may have stated that CSICOP doesn’t have its own peer-reviewed journal. Is that correct?

      “Perhaps… though I don’t know that Hansen’s decade-old self-published book is of a sufficiently high profile to be a public relations problem for CSI– especially when at least some of his claims are self-evidently false.”

      What do you mean “self-evidently false”? To be honest, it’s not self-evident to me. For one, you’ve made claims as he has, but I’ll have to do further research before I can determine if either of you is wrong. Even if you turn out to be correct, it certainly isn’t self-evident just from this discussion alone. And, even if CSICOP does now do peer-reviewed research, that doesn’t disprove that Hansen’s statement was true at the time he wrote it. I doubt Hansen wasn’t attempting to predict what CSICOP might do in the future.

      I’m not sure how high profile Hansen’s work is. At his website, he has a number of articles that have been published in various journals. He seems to have done most of his work in the 1990s, but he has written some articles in recent years. According to his bio, he was professionally employed in in two different parapsychology labs for 8 yrs and “[h]is papers in scientific journals cover mathematical statistics, fraud and deception, the skeptics movement, conjurors in parapsychology, and exposés of hoaxes.” His specific expertise would seem to be in determining the quality of research.

      I guess he has written some about other phenomena such as bigoot and ghosts, but the abstract of one article on the subject seems to be about how parapsychology relates to sightings/experiences. Relevant to this discussion, he does have 4 articles about skepticism and one of them is about CSICOP.

      http://www.tricksterbook.com/ArticlesOnline/CSICOPoverview.htm

      “I have a degree in psychology; I’ve done a bit of lab research, but not very much. My speciality is field investigations. I’m not as interested in SRI-type research, I’m happy to leave that to Wiseman, Hyman, etc.”

      Part of my difficulty in assessing your work is that I’ve never studied in any detail the field of cryptozoology. My interest is in psychology and parapsychology.

      It’s interesting that as someone with a psychology degree you’d decide to become an investigator in a field that is entirely outside of psychology. Parapsychology, on the other hand, is considered by some to be just an extension of psychology as parapsychology research is often done in psychology labs. Why are you interested in field investigations? Is it that there is a more room for the psychological to play out in field investigations (perception, critical thinking, etc)?

      Still, I’d think you’d find Hansen’s work at least potentially interesting. He focuses on hoaxes and deception (along with self-deception). It seems to me that some of Hansen’s work (especially about hoaxers) would be directly relevant to your area of study.

      My skepticism may be different than yours, but I suspect I have about equal skepticism when it comes to cryptozoology. I actually have little opinion on the subject and so feel next to no desire to defend any claims of undiscovered animals. I’m only familiar with the field because I listened to Coast to Coast AM for more than a decade.

      My take on sightings whether of bigfoot or aliens is more in the realm of psychology and parapsychology. I’m more interested in the experiences themselves. I suspect looking for hard evidence for sightings isn’t the best method of investigation although still important.

      What do you think of the views of someone such as Jacques Vallee? He thinks that people actually are having ‘real’ experiences, but the question then is exactly what are those experiences. It’s hard to know what is true.

      One claim that has intrigued me is that sightings of UFOs and bigfoot tend to happen in the same general locations. Some speculate that there could be electromagnetic anomalies that alter people’s brains and perception. There are a lot of people who have these sightings and experiences and so something must be going on. The percentages of people claiming unusual or supernatural experiences is extremely high.

      I’m particularly skeptical of people looking for physical explanations. I doubt that the body of a bigfoot or alien will ever be found. I think the strongest evidence are the people themselves who have the sightings/experiences. I find it compelling that experiences of UFO abductions have similar patterns to folklore and religious stories about fairies and shamanistic inititiations. That doesn’t prove anything. It simply means that these experiences are inherent to the human species even if that means they’re merely an epiphenomenon of the brain.

      So, what do you think about that angle? Does it interest you at all? Or does it seem like nothing but fluff, nonsense, woo?

  6. >>Most people don’t read about subjects they dislike. That goes for everyone.

    No, I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear: the issue is not the subject, it’s the point of view. Most “believers” (for lack of a better word) don’t read the “skeptical” literature. This is easily verified with a look at the index and references in most “believer” books on psychics, ghosts, Bigfoot, etc. Skeptics almost always read the “believer” literature, because that’s where the claims come from. If you look at the references in most work done by me or Joe Nickell, for example, you will find many less-than=skeptical sources— almost none of which make any reference to skeptical research.

    >> As for skeptics, many of your critics most likely consider themselves skeptics as well.

    Indeed, virtually every ghost hunter and paranormal investigator calls himself/herself a skeptic or scientist. Yet even a cursory look at their methods reveals that most of them haven’t the faintest idea what good science is, they couldn’t tell a dependent from an independent variable, and don’t employ basics like control groups in their “experiments.”

    >>He seems to be very well read in his area of expertise which is parapsychology, but he might not be well read in your area of field investigations.

    Fair enough.

    >>I would point out that “seem” is the important word in my original statement.

    Also fair enough. I also often qualify my conclusions when I can’t conclusively prove something.

    >>Out of curiosity, have you ever researched something that you suspected not to be true and then discovered convincing evidence that changed your mind?

    Oh yes, many times. In my investigation of the KiMo theater ghost (http://alibi.com/index.php?story=25111&scn=feature&submit_user_comment=y), I suspected that the story behind the legend (involving a poltergeist ruining a play) was simply a fabrication, an urban legend. I did some more research and discovered that the play did in fact occur, much to my surprise. I changed my mind about it and kept investigating.

    >>Or have you had a pet theory that was proven false?

    Yes, several times. For example, in my investigation of the Santa Fe Courthouse Ghost (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Fe_courthouse_ghost) I really thought the “ghost” was a piece of floating cotton fluff. Scientific experiments proved that theory was incorrect, so I abandoned that idea and kept looking.

    >>You say CSICOP is doing lab research now.

    No, from my reading of Hansen’s statement, it did not specify “lab research,” but instead investigation or research. If you mean does CSI employ PhD scientists full-time to study psi in the lab, no, of course not. I don’t know any organization that does that. Does CSI do research and investigations into the paranormal, including some lab testing? Absolutely.

    >>Hansen may have stated that CSICOP doesn’t have its own peer-reviewed journal. Is that correct?

    As I noted before, Skeptical Inquirer articles are peer-reviewed when it is relevant and merited (i.e. on technical subjects, not opinion pieces or book reviews).

    >>“Perhaps… though I don’t know that Hansen’s decade-old self-published book is of a sufficiently high profile to be a public relations problem for CSI– especially when at least some of his claims are self-evidently false.”
    What do you mean “self-evidently false”?

    Please, I’m trying to be cooperative, but this is becoming tiresome, I’ve said this at least twice: The claim that CSI does not conduct investigations or research IS self-evidently false…. Skeptical Inquirer, the official journal of CSI, regularly publishes original research and investigation in nearly every issue, 6 times per year.

    Example: “In March 2004, the producer of a Discovery Channel documentary on Natasha asked the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and the affiliated Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health (CSMMH) to scientifically test the young woman’s claims.” (see http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/reason_demkina_050128.html).

    Why is it so difficult to admit that this is a scientific test of paranormal claims conducted by CSI? As I noted, I’m talking about what CSI does now, and has done for well over a decade. I’m not terribly interested in the nuances of what CSI did or did not investigate in 1982 or whenever. If this is very important and relevant to you, then that’s fine, I guess.

    >>It’s interesting that as someone with a psychology degree you’d decide to become an investigator in a field that is entirely outside of psychology.

    Actually, I find my psychology training to be incredibly useful in– and very relevant to– paranormal investigation. In fact, I devote an entire chapter in my book to The Psychology of the Paranormal. With so little hard evidence, most claims come down to personal experience and the associated perceptual and cognitive processes.

    I’ve done my best to answer most of your questions and provide evidence and references… for now it’s late…

  7. Oh, one other comment on Hansen’s statement that CSICOP doesn’t do research or investigations:

    Even if that was true in the 1970s or early 1980s (and I’m not sure that it was), that has demonstrably NOT been true for many years. If the only place where Hansen made this statement was in his 2001 book, one could excuse it as simply being outdated; after all, as you point out, Hansen can’t be blamed for not knowing about the many investigations since then.

    However, from what I can tell, Hansen repeats these statements on his Web site in 2010 (or whenever he last updated it). There is no reason that in 2010 anyone would be making such blatant mistakes– especially an author who seems to pride himself on careful research and scholarship. I haven’t looked over every word on his Web site, but I wonder if he has updated his information to state that CSICOP/ CSI does in fact do investigation and research (perhaps citing the examples I did above).

    If he does not, I wonder why? Is he unaware of the last 10 to 20 years of research and investigations? Does he not want to admit either that he was wrong, or that if he was right, it’s ancient history? Does he not care to update his information and (to adopt your phrase) revise his theories and claims in light of better evidence? It seems that Hansen might easily fit your definition of a debunker…

  8. On Hansen’s site, I only noticed a couple articles from recent years. I haven’t looked at his site in detail. I don’t know if he has made any further comments about CSICOP since his book was published. I don’t know that he updates his website other than simply to post new writing. There is no particular reason he needs to update old articles as he is presenting them as they were when they were published. Of course, I’d love to see him write a new article about CSICOP. But I’m not sure he is still very active in the field. He may not be as familiar with the present staff at CSICOP. If you think he should append an update to his old CSICOP article, I’m sure you could contact him and make that request.

    Anyways, I don’t know that his old statements were incorrect. In my original comments, my understanding was that Hansen was referring to peer-reviewed lab research. I don’t recall that he ever denied that CSICOP did field investigations. In my mind, I understood Hansen as differentiating between lab research and field investigations. I could be wrong. I’ll try to find his exact statements from his book.

    I think the reason for his statement was to point out that many scientists and a number of scientific institutions over the decades have been dedicated to doing parapsychological lab research and having it peer-reviewed. He was criticizing CSICOP being critical of these people doing actual lab research. If I remember correctly, his point had several parts. CSICOP didn’t do lab research. CSICOP didn’t have a peer-reviewed journal. CSICOP didn’t have any parapsychology lab researchers on staff. And CSICOP’s full-time staff weren’t scientific researchers in any field. His argument was that, without any experts with actual parapsychological lab experience, the worth of the criticisms were minimal.

    His further point was that CSICOP did early on do at least one lab study. He claims that the study produced positive results when CSICOP was hoping for negative results. As I recall, he stated that there was internal conflict about this incident and supposedly some didn’t want it published. After this incident, he claimed they stopped doing lab research and stuck to field investigations instead.

    That was Hansen’s argument as I understood it from reading his book. Assuming I understood him correctly, you haven’t provided any data that contradicts this argument about the past behavior of CSICOP staff. Still, this is just my understanding of what I remember having read. Maybe he did make some incorrect statements. If so, I’m open to any corrections. I accept that Hansen’s claims about the early decades of CSICOP apparently no longer apply to CSICOP in this last decade. That, however, doesn’t disprove his earlier claims about the earlier CSICOP. If his claims are true about the past CSICOP, then his criticisms are fair in respect to all who were involved at that time. Whether or not Hansen is correct about the past CSICOP, the past is the past. The only way it would still be relevant is if some of the same people still are on staff or still hold great influence. But it doesn’t matter all that much to me. I’ll keep my mind open about any CSICOP
    research I come across. I don’t make blanket judgments.

    On the other hand, if you persist in calling Hansen a debunker without any evidence, my confidence in your professional expertise will be weakened. There is no need to get defensive and attack the work of others. Hansen’s articles and books all show the date when they were published and so any claims within his writings is specific to the date they were published. That is just the way of life. Anything that is published only reflects the time at which it was published. As a published writer, you should understand that.

    Let me share an example of the problem of the field. The article in question is “Bad Yeti Science form Ben Radford” by Loren Coleman. The author does seem to have a grudge against you and in the comments you act as if you have a grudge as well. The comments section is filled with plenty of defensiveness and attacking. As I see it, neither side was entirely innocent. I have no opinion about the Yeti science itself, but the author did make a point that I considered valid:

    http://www.cryptomundo.com/cryptozoo-news/bad-ben/

    “Unfortunately, as often occurs in such skeptical assaults against new pieces of evidence in cryptozoology, I find Ben Radford has drifted into an ad hominem (Latin: “argument against the man”) attack aimed at Joshua Gates. Radford writes: “Gates is an actor, not a zoologist or animal tracker, and has little or no experience with supposed Yeti footprints. Gates’s credibility is not helped by his appearances on the ‘Ghost Hunters’ television show.”
    Radford makes no sense in this criticism. First of all, Radford is the person that actually wrote me in an email comment that Gates has a degree in archaeology. But here we find Radford questioning Gates’ credibility in his article because Gates is “working” in the entertainment field. If Gates is an actor and television host, won’t we expect him to have on his resume some jobs in this field? That makes as much sense as me asking you to question what degrees does Radford have to write about Yeti, because after all Radford’s been a part-time film critic since 1994.”

    And you responded:

    “Loren suggests that mentioning Gates’s lack of scientific credentials is somehow a personal attack. What? Gates either has scientific credentials or expertise or he doesn’t. This is a factual matter, not a personal insult. Again, everything I wrote is true: Gates is an actor; as far as has been reported, he has no particular expertise in zoology or animal tracks. Yes, Gates apparently has a degree in archaeology… what does that have to do with his ability to analyze Yeti tracks? And as for the Ghost Hunters, I have been quite candid about the lack of science on the program, and in my opinion, that does not aid Gates’s credibility.”

    Your attitude is dismissive here. I realize you could argue that you were defending yourself against being attacked, but the author was defending the work of another investigator. In reference to the above quotes, my point isn’t that one side is right and the other is wrong. Rather, I feel critical towards this confrontational style of debating which often leads to people acting dismissive.

    I’m sure the author wasn’t being completely fair in his article. Likewise, you weren’t being fair in your own article in portraying Gates as merely an actor. The author turns the criticism back towards you because the same argument can be applied to your own credentials. You’ve also done work on tv and apparently the only degree you have is in psychology. Gates, on the other hand, has a degree in archaeology which has closer relevance to hard science than does psychology. Also, this article was about Gates doing field investigations. You admit you don’t focus on field investigations any longer and it seemed that you hadn’t looked at any of Gates’ evidence for yourself or even been to the site where the evidence was found. In your earlier comments, you complained about your critics who don’t do real research out in the field.

    By the way, I’m not saying that Gate’s evidence is credible. Your analysis and conclusions about that case may be perfectly valid. I could look into the case myself, but when I see both sides attacking one another I feel turned off from the whole field.

    I’m not being dismissive towards your work. I have great respect for psychology. For certain, psychology can offer great insight into the field. But having a degree in psychology isn’t applicable to analyzing hard evidence. Your opinions about cryptozoology are of no great concern to me, but I am interested in your psychological insights about the paranormal.

    In Hansen’s book, he discusses the psychology of paranormal experience. He refers to Ernest Hartmann’s research about boundary types. Thin boundary types are more likely to have experiences that they consider to be paranormal. He goes into great detail about how this relates to the Trickster archetype. He discusses the relationship between hoaxers and skeptics, and I thought it particularly intriguing that fair number of those interested in parapsychology (whether as believers or skeptics) also have trained as professional magicians.

    I mentioned Vallee earlier. You didn’t respond, but I’m still curious. Vallee focused on UFOs which is a field that has attracted some psychologists. I always liked Vallee’s story about how he became interested in UFOs. He was trained in astronomy and was working at an observatory. They captured footage of a UFO. The lead scientist(s) at the observatory destroyed the film because they didn’t want negative attention. Vallee was a naive, idealistic young scientist and he was shocked by this behavior of destroying inconvenient evidence. This type of behavior, however, makes sense in light of Hansen’s insights about how psychology plays out on the level of respected institutions.

  9. Hey there

    I’m swamped with work, and as a professional writer I need to devote my writing time to stuff that helps pay the bills, so I’m not going to be able to contribute much more here…

    >> I don’t know if he has made any further comments about CSICOP since his book was published.

    Nor do i…

    >>you haven’t provided any data that contradicts this argument about the past behavior of CSICOP staff.

    As I previously stated, I wasn’t there at the time. I’m not sure what evidence Hansen provides, other than his own opinion.

    >>if you persist in calling Hansen a debunker without any evidence,

    I did not call Hansen a debunker, what I wrote was “It seems that Hansen might easily fit your definition of a debunker…” and that was based on YOUR definition, if indeed he had not changed his opinions in the face of contrary evidence.

    >>The author does seem to have a grudge against you and in the comments you act as if you have a grudge as well.

    Loren does not have a grudge against me, in fact he wrote the foreword to my latest book! You can read whatever you like into that exchange, but I”m curious what part of archaeology training you feel informs Gates or anyone else to interpret footprints. I’d think that zoology would be much more relevant.

    >>You admit you don’t focus on field investigations any longer

    Of course I focus on field investigations! I’ve done more field investigations than just about anyone else in cryptozoology… Loch Ness, Central American jungles, Canadian lakes, Jamaica, etc. e-mail Loren and ask him yourself!

    You believe that a degree in archaeology qualifies a person to correctly interpret images in snow, you think that Loren holds a grudge against me, you think I no longer do field investigations…. I don’t blame you for these things– anyone who’s not really familiar with my work might think the same things, but I’m really spending a lot of time correcting basic errors of fact instead of fruitful discussion. And I honestly don’t have any real opinion about Vallee.

    Perhaps we can try again some time, I’ll still be happy to send you some info to get you up to speed on CSICOP.

    cheers,

    B

    • The fact of the matter is that Hansen doesn’t fit anywhere near my definition of a debunker. Even suggesting the claim is absolutely ludicrous. I realize you feel you must defend your own work at all costs, but it’s not the best way of convincing others of the validity of your own views. You keep claiming that he should alter his articles written more than a decade ago. That is a stupid request. The validity of an article stands according to when it was written. You honestly can’t be so thick-headed as to not understand that.

      Loren may not have a grudge against you, but there seemed to have been a very negative way of relating between you two in the article and comments. Loren criticized your work harshly and you responded harshly. If Loren wrote the foreword to your latest book, that would seem to be proof against your claim that your critics don’t read your work. Also, you were criticizing Gates who did field investigations, but you asked a question that implied your critics didn’t do research like you do.

      I agree that zoology would be more relevant than archaeology in interpreting footprints. However, either of these is more relevant than psychology in relation to the entire field of cryptozoology. I respect psychology, but psychologists aren’t trained to deal with hard evidence. On the other hand, zoologists and archaeologists are trained to deal with hard evidence. With a degree in psychology, you have the knowledge to analyze the motives of those who believe in or claim to have experiences of the unusual and you have knowledge to understand how people make mistakes in critical thinking. However, unless you have other professional training or education your not sharing, you aren’t more qualified than someone with an archaeology degree in analyzing hard data.

      By the way, I have only made claims about you according to what you have stated. You said you don’t do many field investigations these days. I think you said it in the comments here, but it could’ve been in the comments of Loren’s article. I don’t know why you made that statement if you now are saying it’s not true.

      I must admit I don’t like your attitude. Hansen doesn’t fit my definition of a debunker, but you come close to fitting it. I don’t like people with an attitude of condescension and dismissal. You came here to challenge my comments which were based on Hansen’s writings, but you’ve admitted you’re almost entirely uninformed about Hansen’s writings. So, basically, you have nothing of merit to add to this discussion. Hansen’s allegations still stand. You’ve offered no evidence that CSICOP wasn’t a debunking organization in the past. Maybe it’s no longer a debunking organization, but maybe it still is. Going by your attitude, I suspect it still is or at least that it’s a haven for debunkers.

      That is the end of our discussion. Your comments are no longer welcome here. I will delete anything you write.

  10. “Originally I was invited to be a co-chairman of CSICOP by Paul Kurtz. I helped to write the bylaws and edited their journal. I found myself attacked by the Committee members and board, who considered me to be too soft on the paranormalists. My position was not to treat protoscientists as adversaries, but to look to the best of them and ask them for their best scientific evidence. I found that the Committee was much more interested in attacking the most publicly visible claimants. . . . The major interest of the Committee was not inquiry but to serve as an advocacy body, a public relations group for scientific orthodoxy. The Committee has made many mistakes. My main objection to the Committee, and the reason I chose to leave it, was that it was taking the public position that it represented the scientific community, serving as gatekeepers on maverick claims, whereas I felt they were simply unqualified to act as judge and jury when they were simply lawyers. . . . ” Marcello Truzzi in Reflections on the Reception of Unconventional Claims in Science

    “Complicating matters, Truzzi wanted to make the [CSICOP] publication an academic journal, giving all sides an equal chance to speak their mind on any given issue, but others in the [CSICOP] group were afraid that this could lead to the journal being taken over by the other side. The controversy over the purpose and goals of the magazine, plus personal differences with Paul Kurtz, resulted in Truzzi’s resigning as editor and leaving CSICOP.” Ray Hyman quoted in http://www.skeptic.com/archives03.html

    “Surveys show that over half the adult population in the U.S. have had psychic experiences and believe in the reality of the phenomena. . . . Those who have had the experiences but encounter the debunking attitudes of apparent “scientific authorities” are likely to conclude that science is a dogma and inapplicable to important aspects of their lives. . . . Ironically, CSICOP’s activities will likely inhibit scientific research on the paranormal and might potentially foster an increased rejection of science generally.” George P. Hansen in CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview

  11. I’ll add another comment for anyone who happens across my interaction with Ben Radford.

    I’m indifferent about Mr. Radford’s professional career or his credibility as a skeptic. I’m certainly not making any claim about his being or not being a debunker. I ended my ‘debate’ with him because it seemed pointless and I felt annoyed by what I perceived as his slightly antagonistic attitude.

    He doesn’t seem like an asshole or anything, but I was just tired of dealing with his unwillingness to just admit he knows almost nothing about Hansen and leave it at that. He didn’t know much about the history of CSICOP which he was trying to defend. One thing I respect is intellectual humility. In my humble opinion, Mr. Radford would be better off if he were more humble aobut subjects he is ignorant about. There is nothing wrong with simply saying you don’t know and leaving it at that.

    I tried my best in being fair with him by allosing him to present his defense of CSICOP. He didn’t succeed in making a counter-argument to Hansen’s argument, but that is because he didn’t know Hansen’s argument in any detail and didn’t seem interested in informing himself on the matter.

    In conclusion, Mr. Radford’s style of interacting probably did more in convincing me that I’m probably right in my original assessment. Either way, it doesn’t matter to me. Even if he isn’t a debunker, I doubt I would find his writing all that enjoyable if his behavior in these comments is representative.

    I don’t objectively know that he is wrong about any particular issue, but subjectively speaking he just annoyed me. I’m sure he wasn’t trying to annoy me and I’m sure I was annoying him as well. I don’t think I’m his targeted audience and he certainly isn’t my targeted audience.

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