Tag Archives: The Skeptic’s Dictionary

‘Ebola is man-made’, and other crazy conspiracy theories

By Will Storr via The Telegraph

Icke - Remember what you are_250px

Who are the Anunnaki? What is the Planet Nibiru? Click the image to find out.

The best conspiracy theories are like enchanting mazes of logic whose thresholds, once crossed, are hard to return from. As ludicrous as they can appear from a distance, the closer you get, the stronger their gravity and the greater the danger of being sucked in. How else to describe the extraordinary rebirth of David Icke? Best known to some as the former BBC sports presenter who appeared on Wogan in a turquoise tracksuit implying he might be the son of God, to the post-Twin Towers generation he’s the visionary master of conspiracy, performing his unscripted 10-hour lecture about the secret forces that rule the world to sell-out crowds at Wembley Arena.

A 2011 BBC poll found that 14 per cent of Britons believed 9/11 was an inside job. Just as conspiracy websites are flourishing, so are those dedicated to undermining them, such as Snopes, The Skeptic’s Dictionary and Skeptoid. The number one debunking podcast on iTunes, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, claims a weekly listenership of 120,000 and tens of millions of downloads since its 2005 launch.

Icke often describes his work as “dot connecting”. But connecting dots is precisely how all sorts of mistakes about reality arise. “Our brains evolved to spot patterns in the environment and weave them into coherent stories,” says psychologist and conspiracy theory expert Dr Rob Brotherton. “We’re all conspiracy theorists because of the way our minds work. It’s how we make sense of the world. But it’s easy to connect dots that shouldn’t be connected.”

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.

So humans are rampant dodgy dot connectors, and they also suffer from an array of biases that make them susceptible to faulty belief. “We’re biased towards seeing intentions in the world, to think things were done deliberately instead of being chaotic,” says Dr Brotherton.

“There’s also a proportionality bias, so we want to think that when something big happens in the world it has a big explanation. In the case of JFK, you don’t want to believe some guy you’ve never heard of killed the most important man in the world and changed the course of history. Another is confirmation bias – when we get an idea in our head it’s very easy to find evidence that seems to support it. It takes a very unusual mind to de-convince itself. We’re made to believe.”

And some of the theories out there at the moment really take some believing. Here are five:  .  .  .

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Gerson Therapy

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

Gerson therapy is the name given to a regimen that claims to be able to cure even severe cases of cancer. The regimen consists of a special diet, coffee enemas, and various supplements. The regimen is named after Max Gerson (1881-1959), a German physician who emigrated to the United States in 1936 and practiced medicine in New York.

In 1977, Gerson’s daughter, Charlotte, co-founded the Gerson Institute, which oversees The Baja Nutri Care Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. The clinic’s website has a very strange message on its front page for such a cheery, optimistic site: BNC reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, at anytime without notice for any reason. It is still illegal for a clinic to offer the Gerson treatment as a cancer cure in the U.S. Charlotte is not a medical doctor but she was given on-the-job training in her father’s clinic. She trains physicians in the Gerson method, lectures widely on the benefits of the therapy and the evil forces trying to suppress it, and has written a number of pamphlets centering on testimonials from various people who claim to have been cured of their cancer. She’s co-authored a book on the Gerson way and is joined in her endeavor by her son Howard Strauss. Howard has a degree in physics and has written a biography of his grandfather called Dr. Max Gerson: Healing the Hopeless. Mother and son believe that Howard’s wife was cured of cancer by Gerson therapy.*

Gerson says he started on the road to his regimen when his migraines went away after going on a vegetarian and salt-free diet. The diet in the regimen eventually came to include lots of juice from organic fruits and vegetables, and to exclude coffee, berries, nuts, dairy products, tap water; bottled, canned or processed foods; and cooking in aluminum pots and pans. SnakeOil-250pxThe supplements came to include linseed oil, acidophilus-pepsin capsules, potassium solution, laetrile, Lugol’s solution (iodine/potassium iodine), thyroid tablets, niacin, pancreatic enzymes, royal-jelly capsules, castor oil, ozone enemas, vaccines, and vitamin B12 mixed with liver.* The liver injections were removed from the regimen after it became clear that it was making some people sick.*

Who was Max Gerson and why would anyone with cancer follow his advice of massive quantities of vegetable juice and daily coffee enemas? The second question is easy to answer. The therapy appeals to those who believe a “natural” cure exists for cancer and most other diseases but special interests (known in some circles as “they”) have suppressed these cures. It appeals to cancer patients who are extremely fearful of or violently opposed to surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. It appeals to cancer patients who have been told that science-based medicine has no treatment for them and who are desperate to continue living. The first question requires a longer answer.

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Palmistry

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

palm 817Palmistry, also known as chiromancy, is the practice of telling fortunes from the lines, marks, and patterns on the hands, particularly the palms.

Palmistry was practiced in many ancient cultures, such as India, China and Egypt. The first book on the subject appeared in the 15th century. The term chiromancy comes from the Greek word for hand (cheir).

Palmistry was used during the middle ages to detect witches. It was believed that certain spots on the hand indicated one had made a pact with the Devil. Palmistry was condemned by the Catholic Church but in the 17th century it was taught at several German universities (Pickover, 64). Britain outlawed palmistry in the 18th century. It is popular enough in America in the 20th century to deserve its own book in the Complete Idiot’s Guide series.

The Book of DivinationAccording to Ann Fiery (The Book of Divination), if you are right handed, your left hand indicates inherited personality traits and your right hand indicates your individuality and fulfillment of potential. The palmist claims to be able to read the various lines on your hand. These lines are given names like the life line, the head line, the heart line, the Saturne line. The life line supposedly indicates physical vitality, the head line intellectual capacity, the heart line emotional nature, etc.

Some palmistry mimics metoposcopy or physiognomy. It claims that you can tell what a person is like by the shape of their hands. Creative people have fan-shaped hands and sensitive souls have narrow, pointy fingers and fleshy palms, etc. There is about as much scientific support for such notions as there is for personology or phrenology. All such forms of divination seem to be based on sympathetic magic and cold reading.

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Acupuncture & What They Don’t Teach in Medical School

Via Skepdic.com

Another improperly done and ineptly reported acupuncture study has appeared. Julie Medew is the health editor for The Age, an Australian newspaper with an online presence. She authored an article yesterday with the headline:

Acupuncture as effective as drugs in treating pain, trial shows

acupucture_chinese_medicine_300pxThe headline is accurate but falsely implies that acupuncture was effective, which most people will probably take to mean that acupuncture, by some as yet undiscovered means, really relieves pain. Many people will also jump to the conclusion that this is a good thing because drugs have side effects and acupuncture doesn’t. Is that true? It’s not obviously true or intuitively true. We need evidence before we should accept such a claim. Many people will also jump to the conclusion that this is a good thing because acupuncture is cheaper than pain pills. Is that true? If it is, it is not obviously true or intuitively true. Where’s the evidence?

Anyway, the study was done by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s [RMIT] school of health sciences in conjunction with emergency physicians at four hospitals. I’d never heard of RMIT until yesterday. The website says it is a university and the health sciences webpage says:

The School of Health Sciences engages in teaching and research in Complementary Medicine, Nursing and Midwifery, and Psychology.

We recognise that many of the greatest advances in Science are made at the intersections of disciplines. With our strong interdisciplinary approach we have set our sights on establishing an evidence base for the quality, safety and effectiveness of interventions for the ageing population and those with chronic diseases. Our research findings inform clinical teaching and advance the treatment of patients.

acupuncture 835_225pxOne can only hope that the quality of research in other areas investigated by this institution is superior to that reported on by Ms. Medew. According to her, the “randomised controlled study of about 550 patients” gave acupuncture to some and a”strong oral analgesia, such as Endone, Panadeine Forte, Voltaren and Valium” to others. Medew reports that Dr Michael Ben-Meir “said it showed acupuncture offered the same level of pain relief as analgesic drugs when patients rated their pain one hour after treatment.” You read that right. The conclusion that acupuncture is as effective as pain pills was based on asking the patients about their pain level one hour after treatment. Was there a group of patients in the study who were give a dummy pain pill or fake acupuncture? No, but there was a group given both acupuncture and a pain pill. Guess what? After one hour, their reported pain level didn’t differ from those given only acupuncture or only a pain pill.

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Dowsing (a.k.a. water witching)

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

dowsing1Dowsing is the action of a person–called the dowser–using a rod, stick or other device–called a dowsing rod, dowsing stick, doodlebug (when used to locate oil), or divining rod–to locate such things as underground water, hidden metal, buried treasure, oil, lost persons or golf balls, etc. Since dowsing is not based upon any known scientific or empirical laws or forces of nature, it should be considered a type of divination and an example of magical thinking. The dowser tries to locate objects by occult means.

Map dowsers use a dowsing device, usually a pendulum, over maps to locate oil, minerals, persons, water, etc. However, the prototype of a dowser is the field dowser who walks around an area using a forked stick to locate underground water. When above water, the rod points downward. (Some dowsers use two rods. The rods cross when above water.) Various theories have been given as to what causes the rods to move: electromagnetic or other subtle geological forces, suggestion from others or from geophysical observations, ESP and other paranormal explanations, etc. Most skeptics accept the explanation of William Carpenter (1852). The rod moves due to involuntary motor behavior, which Carpenter dubbed ideomotor action.

In the 16th century, Agricola described mining dowsers using a forked twig to find metals (De re metallica). He didn’t think much of the practice. A miner, he wrote:

should not make us of an enchanted twig, because if he is prudent and skilled in the natural signs, he understands that a forked stick is of no use to him, for … there are natural indications of the veins which he can see for himself without the help of twigs. (Quoted in Zusne and Jones 1989: 106)

Despite this sage advice, dowsers continue to dowse, claiming that they have a special power and that what they are dowsing for emanates energy, rays, radiations, vibrations, and the like.

Does dowsing work?

Some people are less interested in why the rods move than in whether dowsing works. Obviously, many people believe it does. Dowsing and other forms of divination have been around for thousands of years. There are large societies of dowsers in America and Europe and dowsers practice their art every day in all parts of the world. There have even been scientists in recent years who have offered proof that dowsing works. There must be something to it, then, or so it seems.

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dowsing

Reichenbach’s odic force

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Baron Dr. Karl Ludwig Freiherr von Reichenbach (1788-1869) thought he had discovered a basic force in nature, which he called “od.” He is one of several classic examples of a respected scientist becoming fixated on an idea that only he can validate. The delusion in such men is impervious to criticism, which might lead one to conclude that a psychological aberration has occurred in a previously well-balanced and competent scientist.

Reichenbach was a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences and had made numerous contributions to science in several fields before he became fixated on “sensitives” and their claims of perceiving things that other people didn’t perceive. For most of the last thirty years of his life, he did research and defended his discovery of a totally new, hitherto unknown physical force. He was unable to convince the scientific community of his discovery, yet he persisted. After he was rebuked by a scientific committee in Berlin that heard his arguments and sat through his demonstrations, he ridiculed them as den Gelehrten Berline Sieben (the seven wise men of Berlin) and was undaunted (Jastrow, p. 342-343). When his sensitives failed to detect positive from negative current or whether the current was on or off (as Reichenbach claimed they could do because of their ability to detect the odic force), Reichenbach claimed that the “magnetic” current reacted upon the “odic” current and confused the sensitives (Jastrow, 343). The committee of seven experts wrote:

the demonstrations of Baron von Reichenbach have in no wise established what they were intended to show, and give no proof of a new natural force.

As far as I know, the baron had no training in psychology or psychopathology and no training in devising experiments involving people. He applied many standard scientific techniques and followed standard practices of data collection and recording, including graphs and charts. But he seems to have had no sense of how to do a controlled experiment with so-called “sensitives,” people who might better be described as neurotics or delusional.

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Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

I think the more you want to become more and more creative you have to not only elicit other peoples’ (plural) strategies and replicate them yourself, but also modify others’ strategies and have a strategy that creates new creativity strategies based on as many wonderful states as you can design for yourself. Therefore, in a way, the entire field of NLP™ is a creative tool, because I wanted to create something new.

Richard Bandler

“..the assumptions of NLP, namely that our cognition, behavior and emotions can be ‘programmed’ by mimicking the more superficial aspects of those with desirable attributes (for example posture and mannerism) are wrong. The last thirty years of research have simply shown that NLP is bunk.

Steven Novella, M.D.

…after three decades, there is still no credible theoretical basis for NLP, researchers having failed to establish any evidence for its efficacy that is not anecdotal.

–Gareth Roderique-Davies

Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is one of many self-help programs that emerged in the 1970s and ’80s but whose popularity has waned somewhat in recent years. NLP might be seen as a competitor with Landmark Forum, Tony Robbins, and legions of other enterprises promising to teach the masses the key to success, power, health, and happiness.

Robbins is probably the most successful “graduate” of NLP. He started his own empire after transforming from a self-described “fat slob” to a firewalker to (in his own words) “the nation’s foremost authority on the psychology of peak performance and personal, professional and organizational turnaround.” The founders of NLP, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, might disagree about who is the master authority on the psychology of self-help and success.

NLP seems to have something for everybody, the sick and the healthy, individual or corporation. In addition to being an agent for change for healthy individuals, NLP is also used for individual psychotherapy for problems as diverse as phobias and schizophrenia. NLP also aims at transforming corporations, showing them how to achieve their maximum potential and achieve great success. If you shop around, you’ll find NLP Practitioner Certification Training for under $100 and only a couple of days of your time. What is NLP? “NLP is the comprehensive training that covers everything you need to know to succeed (and help others succeed) in any area of life including business, relationships, career and any other area of life.”

Who discovered NLP?

understanding-the-brain_250pxNLP was begun in the mid-seventies by a linguist (Grinder) and a student of mathematics (Bandler) who had strong interests in (a) successful people, (b) psychology, (c) language and (d) computer programming. It is difficult to define NLP because those who started it and those involved in it use such vague and ambiguous language that NLP means different things to different people. While it is difficult to find a consistent description of NLP among those who claim to be experts at it, one metaphor keeps recurring. NLP claims to help people change by teaching them to program their brains. We were given brains, we are told, but no instruction manual. NLP offers you a user-manual for the brain. The brain-manual seems to be a metaphor for NLP training, which is sometimes referred to as “software for the brain.” Furthermore, NLP, consciously or unconsciously, relies heavily upon (1) the notion of the unconscious mind as constantly influencing conscious thought and action; (2) metaphorical behavior and speech, especially building upon the methods used in Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams; and (3) hypnotherapy as developed by Milton Erickson. NLP is also influenced by the work of Gregory Bateson and Noam Chomsky.

One common thread in NLP is the emphasis on teaching a variety of communication and persuasion skills, and using self-hypnosis to motivate and change oneself. Most NLP practitioners advertising on the WWW make grand claims about being able to help just about anybody become just about anything. Below is an excerpt from a website called The National Board of Professional and Ethics Standards on the wonders of NLP:

NLP can enhance all aspects of your life from improving your relationships with loved ones, learning to teach effectively, gaining a stronger sense of self-esteem, greater motivation, better understanding of communication, enhancing your business or career, bending steel bars in a single bound and an enormous amount of other things that involve the use of your brain.

The National Board of Professional and Ethical standards is not an accredited board, but a name pulled out of the air by a guy in Florida named D. A. “Doc” Brady. Brady says he has three doctorates, but he doesn’t say where he got them, and he is certified in NLP. One critic claims he got his doctorates from a diploma mill. Brady doesn’t say where he got certified in NLP.

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Craniosacral Therapy

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

“…craniosacral therapy bears approximately the same relationship to real medicine that astrology bears to astronomy…. [it] is medical fiction….” — Steve E Hartman and James M Norton*

craniosac_250pxCraniosacral therapy (a.k.a. craniopathy and cranial osteopathy) is a holistic therapy that involves the manipulation of the skull bones (the cranium) and the sacrum to relieve pain and a variety of other ailments, including cancer. (The sacrum is a bone between the lumbar vertebrae and tail vertebrae, composed of five fused vertebrae that form the posterior pelvic wall.) The therapy was invented by osteopath William G. Sutherland in the 1930s. Another osteopath, John Upledger, is the leading proponent of craniosacral therapy today. Like other holistic therapies, this one emphasizes subjective concepts such as energy, harmony, balance, rhythm, and flow.

Craniosacral therapists claim to be able to detect a craniosacral “rhythm” in the cranium, sacrum, cerebrospinal fluid and the membranes which envelop the craniosacral system. The balance and flow of this rhythm is considered essential to good health. The rhythm is measured by the therapist’s hands. Any needed or effected changes in rhythm are also detected only by the therapist’s hands. No instrument is used to measure the rhythm or its changes, hence no systematic objective measurement of healthy versus unhealthy rhythms exists. The measurement, the therapy, and the declared cure are all subjectively based. As one therapist put it:

During the treatment, the client is usually supine on a table. The therapist assesses the patterns of energy in the body through touch at several “listening stations” and then decides where to start that day and how to focus the treatment. [Woodruff]

agy4-3The same therapist maintains that the therapy is “a waste of time and money” for people who do not have faith in the therapy. Successful treatments, however, may well be due to the placebo effect and subjective validation. Since there is no plausible biological basis for the claims made by therapists for craniosacral rhythms, it is likely that the therapists are deluded, i.e., imagining they are detecting and manipulating a subtle energy.

Skeptics note that the skull does not consist of moveable parts (unlike the jaw) and brain cells lack actin and myosin (the things in muscle cells that make them move). The only rhythm detectable in the cranium and cerebrospinal fluid is related to the cardiovascular system, but craniosacral therapists deny craniosacral rhythms are due to blood pressure. When tested, therapists have been unable to consistently come up with the same measurements of the alleged craniosacral rhythm. (Dr. Ben Goldacre says there have been five such published studies and “in none of them did the osteopaths give similar answers.”) In a systematic review of the scientific evidence for craniosacral therapy, the British Columbia Office of Health Technology Assessment (BCOHTA) concluded that

The available research on craniosacral treatment effectiveness constitutes low-grade evidence conducted using inadequate research protocols. One study reported negative side effects in outpatients with traumatic brain injury. Low inter-rater reliability ratings were found. CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review and critical appraisal found insufficient evidence to support craniosacral therapy. Research methods that could conclusively evaluate effectiveness have not been applied to date. (1999)

The fact that there is no objective measurement of craniosacral rhythms and that the subjective measurements of practitioners show much disharmony, imbalance, and lack of unity far outweighs the anecdotes of people who give credit to the therapy for relieving them of some malady. If the anecdotes were backed by scientific studies, using proper controls and randomization techniques, the weight of the evidence would swing in favor of the therapy. Such studies are lacking. Six studies have been done, but only one was done with proper controls and that study was negative. There is simply no good evidence for the claims made by practitioners of craniosacral therapy about cranial rhythms being either measurable or an important factor in anyone’s health and well-being.

CSTflowCNS-1

Craniosacral therapists claim to be able to detect a craniosacral “rhythm” in the cranium, sacrum, cerebrospinal fluid and the membranes which envelop the craniosacral system.

As one research professor at a college of osteopathy put it:

since interexaminer reliability is zero, and since no properly randomized, blinded, and placebo-controlled outcome studies demonstrating clinical efficacy have been published, cranial osteopathy should be removed from the required curricula of colleges of osteopathic medicine and from osteopathic licensing examinations.

View a video:


[END] via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Kirlian photography – electrophotography

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

Kirlian_200pxIn 1939, Semyon Kirlian discovered by accident that if an object on a photographic plate is subjected to a high-voltage electric field, an image is created on the plate. The image looks like a colored halo or coronal discharge. This image is said to be a physical manifestation of the spiritual aura or “life force” which allegedly surrounds each living thing.

Allegedly, this special method of “photographing” objects is a gateway to the paranormal world of auras. Actually, what is recorded is due to quite natural phenomena such as pressure, electrical grounding, humidity and temperature. Changes in moisture (which may reflect changes in emotions), barometric pressure, and voltage, among other things, will produce different ‘auras’.

Living things…are moist. When the electricity enters the living object, it produces an area of gas ionization around the photographed object, assuming moisture is present on the object. This moisture is transferred from the subject to the emulsion surface of the photographic film and causes an alternation of the electric charge pattern on the film. If a photograph is taken in a vacuum, where no ionized gas is present, no Kirlian image appears. If the Kirlian image were due to some paranormal fundamental living energy field, it should not disappear in a simple vacuum (Hines 2003).

There have even been claims of electrophotography being able to capture “phantom limbs,” e.g., when a leaf is placed on the plate and then torn in half and “photographed,” the whole leaf shows up in the picture. This is not due to paranormal forces, however, but to fraud or to residues left from the initial impression of the whole leaf.

Parapsychologist Thelma Moss popularized Kirlian photography as a diagnostic medical tool with her books The Body Electric (1979) and The Probability of the Impossible (1983). She was convinced that the Kirlian process was an open door to the “bioenergy” of the astral body. Moss came to UCLA in mid-life and earned a doctorate in psychology. She experimented with and praised the effects of LSD and was in and out of therapy for a variety of psychological problems, but managed to overcome her personal travails and become a professor at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. Her studies focused on paranormal topics, such as auras, levitation and ghosts. One of her favorite subjects at UCLA was Uri Geller, whom she “photographed” several times. She even made several trips to the Soviet Union to consult with her paranormal colleagues. Moss died in 1997 at the age of 78.

Moss paved the way for other parapsychologists to speculate that Kirlian “photography” was parapsychology’s Rosetta stone. They would now be able to understand such things as acupuncture, chi, orgone energy, telepathy, etc., as well as diagnose and cure whatever ails us. [new] For example, bio-electrography claims to be:

…a method of investigation for biological objects, based on the interpretation of the corona-discharge image obtained during exposure to a high-frequency, high-voltage electromagnetic field which is recorded either on photopaper or by modern video recording equipment. Its main use is as a fast, inexpensive and relatively non-invasive means for the diagnostic evaluation of physiological and psychological states. [from the now-defunct http://www.psy.aau.dk/bioelec/]

bioshirt
There is even a bioresonant clothing line that has emerged from the “study” of bio-electrography; it’s allegedly based on “an astonishing new theory in bio-physics: that the information exchange in human consciousness can be directly influenced and enhanced by vibrations of Light [sic], that we call colors.”

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Also see: Debunked: Soul Leaving Body Photo (Russian scientist Konstantin Korotkov)

Slate Writing

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Henry Slade (1840-1905)

Henry Slade (1840-1905)

Slate writing was a trick used by mediums that involved school slates and the claim that spirits were writing messages on them. Usually, a pair of slates would be used. They would be shown to the viewer clean, hidden in some way, and then shown to the viewer again but now with a written message. Henry Slade (1840-1905) is credited with inventing slate writing and incorporating it in his act as a psychic medium. Slade called himself a spiritual doctor and is often referred to as Dr. Henry Slade. Whether he invented slate writing or not, I can’t say, but he popularized the trick and was found guilty of fraud several times for his efforts.

The trick was done in several ways, but could be done either by surreptitious replacement of a blank slate with a slate that had a prewritten message on it or by surreptitious writing on the blank slate by the medium with a hidden piece of chalk. I imagine the trick could be done with or without the help of an accomplice. Clearly, it’s a good trick when done properly.

At one time Slade was reputed to be worth $1 million. When he was at the height of his fame it was impossible to gain an audience with him without making arrangements weeks in advance. He lived with great prodigality, but as he grew older, his wonderful powers weakened and gave way under the strain of his dissipation. His fortune was soon squandered and he eked out a miserable existence by slate writings at 50 cents a sitting.*

His luck ran out, though, and Slade died a poor man in a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Slate with a message purportedly from the spirit of Abraham Lincoln.

Slate with a message purportedly from the spirit of Abraham Lincoln. (SOURCE)

Transcript:
transcript

The idea of a spirit writing silly messages on a slate kept out of view may strike us as absurd as the idea of pulling cheesecloth out of a sleeve and calling it ectoplasm from the spirit world, but at one time such ideas were taken seriously by many looking for some evidence of the reality of life after death. Perhaps the fact that science was discovering more and more about the universe that supported materialism was disconcerting and opened up a crack in the critical thinking abilities of laymen and scientists alike. Whatever the reason, ideas that seem transparently deceptive to us (séances in dark rooms, table rapping, apports and deports, spirit photography, etc.) were once willingly accepted as proof of the spirit world by educated people, many of them eminent scientists.

[ . . . ]

The deception is easy because of the overwhelming desire to survive death and be reunited with loved ones, and to believe, despite the incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, that the universe is not indifferent to our existence. For some, even survival of consciousness and purposiveness to the universe would not satisfy their cosmic cravings. They want, like Hodgson, a universe of “ineffable Love and Wisdom.” The contemplation of the fact of their existence as percipient beings against all odds and the magical discoveries of science about how things work and came to be cannot satisfy their unquenchable thirst for mysticism. Join that unquenchable thirst to a belief that one is too intelligent to be fooled by a trickster and you have a perfect formula for gullibility among the learned.

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See also magical thinking, mentalist, spiritualism, and “A Short History of Psi Research” by Robert Todd Carroll.

Near-Death Experience (NDE)

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

One study found that 8 to 12 percent of 344 patients resuscitated after suffering cardiac arrest had NDEs and about 18% remembered some part of what happened when they were clinically dead (Lancet, December 15, 2001).*

near-death-tunnel_300pxThe term ‘near-death experience’, or NDE, refers to a wide array of experiences reported by some people who have nearly died or who have thought they were going to die. There is no single shared experience reported by those who have had NDEs. Even the experiences of most interest to parapsychologists–such as the “mystical experience,” the “light at the end of the tunnel” experience, the “life review” experience, and the out-of-body experience (OBE)–rarely occur together in near-death experiences. However, the term NDE is most often used to refer to an OBE occurring while near death. Both types of experience have been cited to support belief in disembodied spirits and continued existence after death.

[ . . . ]

Raymond Moody

Raymond Moody

Raymond Moody (1944-), an M.D. and psychology Ph.D., is considered by many to be the father of the modern NDE movement. He coined the expression ‘near-death experience’ and has written several books on the subject of life after life. He is well known for his compilation of a list of features that he considers to be typical of the near-death experience. According to Moody, the typical NDE includes a buzzing or ringing noise, a sense of blissful peace, a feeling of floating out of one’s body and observing it from above, moving through a tunnel into a bright light, meeting dead people (saints, Jesus, angels, Muhammad); seeing one’s life pass before one’s eyes; and finding it all so wonderful that one doesn’t want to return to one’s body. (The typical experience he describes does not, however, include trips to the body repair shop or sexual encounters with spirits.) This composite experience is based on interpretations of testimonials and anecdotes from doctors, nurses, and patients. Characteristic of Moody’s work is the glaring omission of cases that don’t fit his hypothesis. If Moody is to be believed, no one near death has had a horrifying experience. Yet, “according to some estimates as many as 15 percent of NDEs are hellish” (Blackmore 2004: 362). Reports of Christians meeting Muhammad or Muslims meeting Jesus or Jews meeting Guru Nanak, if they exist, have not been publicized.

depths-of-hell-cartoon_250pxThere are numerous reports of bad NDE trips involving tortures by elves, giants, demons, etc. Some parapsychologists take these good and bad NDE trips as evidence of the mythical afterlife places of various religions. They believe that some souls leave their bodies and go to the other world for a time before returning to their bodies. If so, then what is one to conclude from the fact that most people near death do not experience either the heavenly or the diabolical? Is that fact good evidence that there is no afterlife or that most people end up as non-existing or in some sort of limbo? Such reasoning is on par with supposing that dreams in which one appears to oneself to be outside of one’s bed are to be taken as evidence of the soul or mind actually leaving the body during sleep, as some New Age Gnostics believe.

What little research there has been in this field indicates that the experiences Moody lists as typical of the NDE may be due to brain states triggered by cardiac arrest and anesthesia (Blackmore 1993). Furthermore, many people who have not been near death have had experiences that seem identical to NDEs, e.g., fighter pilots experiencing rapid acceleration. Other mimicking experiences may be the result of psychosis (due to severe neurochemical imbalance) or drug usage, such as hashish, LSD, or DMT.

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Therapeutic Touch

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: Therapeutic touch is a kind of energy medicine. Those who do therapeutic touch wave their hands over a patient’s body to fix their subtle energy. The science says there is no such subtle energy.

energyhealingTherapeutic touch is a kind of energy healing. Some people believe that health and sickness are caused by some sort of magical energy being blocked or out of whack in some way. There is no scientific support for this magical energy. It can’t be measured by any of our very high tech machines. Yet, many people swear it exists and that they can move it around or transfer some of their energy into another person.

Energy healers say they can “feel” the energy going through or around a person’s body. This is odd because the human hand is not a very sensitive instrument compared to some of the million-dollar machines we have these days to measure very small particles or packets of energy.

Therapeutic touch healers wave their hands over the body of a sick person. The healer thinks she is moving energy around and that this somehow helps the healing.

patlinsedrawingNine-year-old Emily Rosa tested twenty-one therapeutic touch healers to see if they could feel the energy in one of her hands when they could not see if a hand was actually placed under theirs. She placed a screen with a hole in it for the healer’s arm to go through. Emily sat on the other side of the screen and placed her hand or didn’t place her hand under the healers hand for each test. The healers had a 50% chance of being right in each test, yet they correctly located Emily’s hand only 123 times in 280 tests. Wild guessing would have got about 140 correct answers. The test was very simple and seems to clearly indicate that the subjects could not feel the energy of Emily’s hands when placed near theirs. If they can’t feel the energy, how can they move or transfer it? What are they feeling? Most likely they are feeling what has been suggested to them by those who taught them this practice. Their feelings of energy appear to be created in their own minds.

How does energy healing work?

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Pragmatic Fallacy

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

pragmaticThe pragmatic fallacy is committed when one argues that something is true because it works and where ‘works’ means something like “I’m satisfied with it,” “I feel better,” “I find it beneficial, meaningful, or significant,” or “It explains things for me.” For example, many people claim that astrology works, acupuncture works, chiropractic works, homeopathy works, numerology works, palmistry works, therapeutic touch works. What ‘works’ means here is vague and ambiguous. At the least, it means that one perceives some practical benefit in believing that it is true, despite the fact that the utility of a belief is independent of its truth-value.

The pragmatic fallacy is common in “alternative” health claims and is often based on post hoc reasoning. For example, one has a sore back, wears the new magnetic or takionic belt, finds relief soon afterwards, and declares that the magic belt caused the pain to go away. How does one know this? Because it works! There is also some equivocation going on in the alternative health claims that fall under the heading of “energy medicine,” such as acupuncture and therapeutic touch. The evidence pointed to often uses ‘works’ in the sense of ‘the customer is satisfied’ or ‘the patient improves,’ but the conclusion drawn is that ‘chi was unblocked’ or ‘energy was transferred.’

There is a common retort to the skeptic who points out that customer satisfaction is irrelevant to whether the device, medicine, or therapy in question really is a significant causal factor in some outcome. Who cares why it works as long as it works? You can argue about the theory as to why it works, but you can’t argue about the customer satisfaction or the fact that measurable improvements can be made. That’s all that matters.

It isn’t all that matters. Testimonials are not a substitute for scientific studies, which are done to make sure that we are not deceiving ourselves about what appears to be true. It is especially necessary to . . .

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Integrated Medicine

2011_quackery
Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Experts in the psychology of human error have long been aware that even highly trained experts are easily misled when they rely on personal experience and informal decision rules to infer the causes of complex events. —Barry Beyerstein

Integrative medicine is a synonym for “alternative” medicine that, at its worst, integrates sense with nonsense. At its best, integrative medicine supports both consensus treatments of science-based medicine and treatments that the science, while promising perhaps, does not justify.

Andrew Weil

Andrew Weil

It mixes the scientific with the metaphysical (“spirit-mind-body connection” is a favorite expression) and the scientifically untested, discredited, or questionable. Defenders of integrative medicine have an exceptionally high opinion of things “natural” or “organic.”

The expression is a marketing term popularized by Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative medicine is not a medical “specialty,” nor is it special or superior to plain old science-based medicine. As David Gorski, M.D., says, “integrative medicine” is a brand, not a specialty. Weil’s branding and marketing strategy has paid off. The University of Arizona has given him his own Institute of Integrative Medicine to direct.

Weil graduated from Harvard Medical School but did not complete a residency nor, as far as I can ascertain, ever take the medical boards in any state.

According to [Andrew] Weil, many of his basic insights about the causes of disease and the nature of healing come from what he calls “stoned thinking,” that is, thoughts experienced while under the influence of psychedelic agents or during other states of “altered consciousness” induced by trances, ritual magic, hypnosis, meditation, and the like. —Arnold S. Relman, M.D.

[ . . . ]

SnakeOil-250pxToday, Weil mixes scientific medicine with Ayurvedic and other forms of quackery and calls this practice “integrative medicine.” One of his main tenets is: “It is better to use natural, inexpensive, low-tech and less invasive interventions whenever possible.” However, there is no scientific evidence for the claim that natural interventions are always superior to artificial ones. Millions of people use herbs and natural products for a variety of conditions, such as calcium, echinacea, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, glucosamine, saw palmetto, shark cartilage, and St. John’s wort. All of these, when tested scientifically, have failed to support the traditional wisdom regarding their healing powers. Pharmaceuticals and other treatments are much superior to most herbal remedies. If a plant has been shown to be effective as a healing agent, the active ingredient has been extracted and tested scientifically and is part of scientific medicine. Otherwise, any beneficial effect following use of the herb or plant is probably best explained as due to the placebo effect, natural regression, the body’s own natural healing processes, or to some other non-herbal factor.

aura_150pxWhy so many people—including many highly educated and medically trained people—believe in the efficacy of quack remedies is a complex issue. As Barry Beyerstein has pointed out in his most thorough analysis of this phenomenon, there are a “number of social, psychological, and cognitive factors that can convince honest, intelligent, and well-educated people that scientifically-discredited [or untested] treatments have merit” (Beyerstein 1999). The typical believer in untested or discredited medical treatments accepts uncritically the apparently clear messages of personal experience that such treatments are effective. To the uncritical thinker, many worthless or harmful treatments seem to “work” (the pragmatic fallacy). Such people are either unaware of or intentionally ignore the many perceptual and cognitive biases that deceive us into thinking there are causal relationships between quack treatments and feeling better or recovering from some illness or disease. They uncritically place “more faith in personal experience and intuition than on controlled, statistical studies” (Beyerstein 1999).

Furthermore, the mass media is rarely critical of “alternative” healing and often presents non-scientific medicine in a very positive light. And critics of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are often . . .

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Mind Control – Brainwashing

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Mind control is the successful control of the thoughts and actions of another without his or her consent. Generally, the term implies that the victim has given up some basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes, and has been made to accept contrasting ideas. ‘Brainwashing’ is often used loosely to refer to being persuaded by propaganda.

conceptions & misconceptions of mind control

HypnotizeAnimatedThere are many misconceptions about mind control. Some people consider mind control to include the efforts of parents to raise their children according to social, cultural, moral and personal standards. Some think it is mind control to use behavior modification techniques to change one’s own behavior, whether by self-discipline and autosuggestion or through workshops and clinics. Others think that advertising and sexual seduction are examples of mind control. Still others consider it mind control to give debilitating drugs to a woman in order to take advantage of her while she is drugged. Some consider it mind control when the military or prison officers use techniques that belittle or dehumanize recruits or inmates in their attempt to break down individuals and make them more compliant. Some might consider it mind control for coaches or drill instructors to threaten, belittle, physically punish, or physically fatigue by excessive physical exercises their subjects in the effort to break down their egos and build team spirit or group identification.

mindcontrol 858_200pxSome of the tactics of some recruiters for religious, spiritual, or New Age human potential groups are called mind control tactics. Many believe that a terrorist kidnap victim who converts to or becomes sympathetic to her kidnapper’s ideology is a victim of mind control (the so-called Stockholm syndrome). Similarly, a woman who stays with an abusive man is often seen as a victim of mind control. Many consider subliminal messaging in Muzak, in advertising, or on self-help tapes to be a form of mind control. Many also believe that it is mind control to use laser weapons, isotropic radiators, infrasound, non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse generators, or high-power microwave emitters to confuse or debilitate people. Many consider the “brainwashing” tactics (torture, sensory deprivation, etc.) of the Chinese during the Korean War and the alleged creation of zombies in Voodoo as attempts at mind control.

Finally, no one would doubt that it would be a clear case of mind control to be able to hypnotize or electronically program a person so that he or she would carry out your commands without being aware that you are controlling his or her behavior.

[ . . . ]

the government and mind-control

mind control 857_200pxThere also seems to be a growing belief that the U.S. government, through its military branches or agencies such as the CIA, is using a number of horrible devices aimed at disrupting the brain. Laser weapons, isotropic radiators, infrasound, non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse generators, and high-power microwave emitters have been mentioned. It is known that government agencies have experimented on humans in mind control studies with and without the knowledge of their subjects (Scheflin 1978). The claims of those who believe they have been unwilling victims of “mind control” experiments should not be dismissed as impossible or even as improbable. Given past practice and the amoral nature of our military and intelligence agencies, such experiments are not implausible. However, these experimental weapons, which are aimed at disrupting brain processes, should not be considered mind control weapons. To confuse, disorient or otherwise debilitate a person through chemicals or electronically is not to control that person. To make a person lose control of himself is not the same as gaining control over him. It is a near certainty that our government is not capable of controlling anyone’s mind, though it is clear that many people in many governments lust after such power.

ElectroshockIn any case, some of the claims made by those who believe they are being controlled by these electronic weapons do not seem plausible. For example, the belief that radio waves or microwaves can be used to cause a person to hear voices transmitted to him seems unlikely. We know that radio waves and waves of all kinds of frequencies are constantly going through our bodies. The reason we have to turn on the radio or TV to hear the sounds or see the pictures being transmitted through the air is that those devices have receivers which “translate” the waves into forms we can hear and see. What we know about hearing and vision makes it very unlikely that simply sending a signal to the brain that can be “translated” into sounds or pictures would cause a person to hear or see anything. Someday it may be possible to stimulate electronically or chemically a specific network of neurons to cause specific sounds or sights of the experimenter’s choosing to emerge in a person’s consciousness. But this is not possible today. Even if it were possible, it would not necessarily follow that a person would obey a command to assassinate the president just because he heard a voice telling him to do so. Hearing voices is one thing. Feeling compelled to obey them is quite another. Not everyone has the faith of Abraham.

paranoid02There seem to be a number of parallels between those who think they have been abducted by aliens and those who believe their minds are being controlled by CIA implants. So far, however, the “mind-controlled group” has not been able to find their John Mack, the Harvard psychiatrist who claims that the best explanation for alien abduction claims is that they are based on alien abduction experiences, not fantasies or delusions. A common complaint from the mind-controlled is that they can’t get therapists to take them seriously. That is, they say they can only find therapists who want to treat them for their delusions, not help them prove they’re being controlled by their government. Thus, it is not likely that the “mind-controlled CIA zombies” will be accused of having delusions planted in them by therapists, as alien abductees have, since they claim they cannot get therapists to take their delusions seriously. In fact, many of them are convinced that their treatment as deluded persons is part of a conspiracy to cover up the mind control experiments done on them. Some even believe that False Memory Syndrome is part of the conspiracy. They claim that the idea of false memories is a plot to keep people from taking seriously the claims of those who are now remembering that they were victims of mind control experiments at some time in the past. It is hard to believe that they cannot find a wide array of incompetent New Age therapists willing to take their claims seriously, if not willing to claim they have been victims of such experiments themselves.

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Clever Hans (Kluge Hans)

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: Clever Hans was a horse that some people thought could do math in his head and understand German. One group of people tested him and found these claims were true. Another scientist tested Hans and found the claims weren’t true.

cleverhans_250pxClever Hans (German: Kluge Hans) was a German horse who seemed to be able to do math problems in his head, tell time, name people, and answer questions by tapping his hoof. When asked to add 3 + 2, Hans would tap his hoof five times. If asked my name, Hans would have tapped twice for ‘B’, paused, tapped 15 times for ‘O’, paused, and then tapped twice again.

Hans could even answer hard written questions. Was he really able to read?

“If the eighth day of the month comes on a Tuesday, what is the date of the following Friday?” Hans could figure that out. He answered by tapping his hoof eleven times. This was one smart horse!

Hans’s owner, Wilhelm von Osten, began showing his clever horse to the public in 1891. He did so for about twenty years. Many people, including some scientists, were sure that Hans was really doing some heavy duty thinking. They were certain that his hoof tapping was not a trick. Clever Hans became famous.

CleverHans02The German board of education sent a group of people (the Hans Commission) to study Hans. Carl Stumpf, a philosopher and psychologist, led the commission. A few school teachers, a veterinarian, a director of the Berlin zoo, and a few others joined Stumpf.

The Hans Commission listed some possible explanations for what Hans could do. Maybe he could really understand both spoken and written language. Maybe he could do math in his head. Maybe he was acting on cues his owner was giving.

[ . . . ]

a skeptical scientist tests Hans again

[ . . . ]

Oskar Pfungst (1847-1933), a biologist and psychologist, tested Hans again. He found that the Hans Commission had not done a very good job. Pfungst proved that Hans was responding to very slight movements of those watching him. Hans was especially sensitive to small head movements by his owner. Pfungst also found that the movements by those watching Hans were not done on purpose to cue the horse. If asked to add 3 + 2, for example, the horse would start tapping. smart horseWhen he got to five taps, von Osten (or others watching Hans) would lean forward very slightly and that was the cue for the horse to stop tapping.

How did Pfungst figure this out?

He set up a test where the horse could be asked questions but could not see von Osten or others who were watching. He put blinders on Hans. When the horse couldn’t see anyone, he didn’t respond. In another test, the horse didn’t respond when the one asking the question didn’t know the answer to it. But the horse did give the right response when the one asking the question did know the answer to it, even if von Osten was not present. That last test ruled out the hypothesis that von Osten knew he was signaling Hans. He wasn’t cheating. He really believed his horse was doing math and reading letters. The evidence collected by Pfungst led the scientific community to hold that Hans was responding to slight movements rather than understanding written and spoken words. Von Osten, however, kept on believing that his horse could read, do math, and understand German. He was making a little bit of money showing off Hans and he kept on with his pony show.

one scientific discovery leads to another

ouija-board-gifOne of the beautiful things about science is how one discovery leads to another. One of the things Pfungst found is the ideomotor effect: making slight movements without being aware of making them. (See the entries on dowsing and the Ouija board for other cases of the ideomotor effect.)

While testing Hans, Pfungst discovered that animals respond to movements around them that can barely be seen. He also found that people aren’t always aware that they are moving and giving cues to animals (or other persons). We now know that humans also respond to movements or sounds without being aware of it. We call this giving of signals without awareness unconscious signaling. This discovery has had a major effect on how experiments should be done when they involve either people or animals.

We now know that humans are unconsciously aware of many things right before their eyes. A botanist might see a rare flower out of the corner of his eye and not be conscious of having seen it. Later, he finds himself thinking of that rare flower. Then, he sees the flower and says “wow, I was just thinking of that flower.” Isn’t that amazing? Yes. Scientists call it “sensing without seeing.”

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ESP

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: ESP stands for extrasensory perception. If you had ESP, you could see, feel, or hear things without using your eyes, hands, or ears. There are some scientists who say they have proof of ESP, but most scientists think the proof is weak and does not support a belief in ESP.

ESP stands for extrasensory perception.

mindcontrol_640px_200pxSensory perception is seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, or tasting. Extrasensory perception is when you see or hear something that can’t be seen or heard with your eyes and ears. Such experiences happen outside the normal range of the senses and are said to be paranormal or psychic. Most scientists don’t think paranormal events actually happen or that anyone is actually psychic.

If you had ESP, you could see, feel, or hear things without using your eyes, hands, or ears. Somehow your brain would get messages and images from distant places and distant times. If your brain confused you with perceptions from the past and from places far away while you were trying to get dressed, eat breakfast, get on the school bus, pay attention in class, or do your homework, you would have a very hard time making it through the day. As far as we know, this has never happened to anybody.

mind reading or telepathy

Mind reading is a type of ESP where a person “sees” what is in another person’s mind. Mind reading is also called telepathy. The scientific study of telepathy began over one hundred twenty years ago when it was called psychical research. Today, scientists who study ESP are called parapsychologists and their science is called parapsychology. (Psychical comes from the Greek word for spirit. Many parapsychologists say the mind is a spirit.)

rsz_museumesptestThe first scientific test of telepathy was done in England in 1882. Scientists at the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) tested several young girls who said that they could tell what each other was thinking. The scientists put the girls in different rooms and asked those in one room about a card or name of a person that a girl in the other room was thinking of. Many tests were given over a period of six years. The scientists said there was no way the girls could have got as many right answers as they did just by guessing. The scientists also said they were sure the girls weren’t cheating. The scientists agreed that the girls were reading each other’s minds. The scientists were right about one thing. The girls couldn’t have gotten as many right answers as they did just by guessing. But the scientists were wrong about the cheating. The girls—the Creery sisters and their servant Jane Dean—admitted they cheated by using secret signals. This wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time, that children would fool scientists.

In 1848 two sisters, Kate Fox (age 12) and Margaretta Fox (15), said they heard strange rapping noises in their bedroom. They got people to believe that they were getting messages from spirits. Soon they went on tour with their big sister Leah who was in her mid-30s. They did séances, which became the rage in both the U.S. and Europe. In 1871, the Fox sisters fooled Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), an important scientist who attended a Fox-girls séance in London. Sir William said he tested the girls “in every way that I could devise” and was sure they were not producing the rapping noises “by trickery or mechanical means.” In 1888 the sisters confessed that they made the raps by cracking their toe-joints. They made bumping noises by fastening an apple to a string under their petticoats and bouncing it off the floor.

q461-2From 1979-1983, two teenagers tricked scientist Peter Phillips into thinking they were able to move and bend objects by their thoughts, a power known as psychokinesis. (Psychokinesis comes from two Greek words meaning mind or spirit and movement. Psychokinesis, when it involves moving an object with mental power alone, is called telekinesis, literally distant-movement.) Steve Shaw (18) and Mike Edwards (17) fooled the scientist for four years through more than 160 hours of tests. One of their favorite tricks was to pretend to bend a spoon or fork with thoughts, a trick made popular by Uri Geller. Geller, however, claimed that he had psychokinetic powers. At one time, he claimed he got his powers from the planet “Hoova” in another star system and a UFO called “IS” or “Intelligence in the Sky.”

Skeptics don’t think there is good evidence that anyone has moved even a pencil across a table using only the power of thought. Psychokinesis nearly always involves trickery, though we might occasionally think we caused something to happen when it happens right after we thought about it happening. If you point to the sky during a rain storm and say “let there be lightning” and then a lightning bolt shoots across the sky, you might think you caused it. You’d probably be wrong.

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James Alan Hydrick claimed to be able to perform acts of telekinesis, such as his trademark trick involving the movement of a pencil resting at the edge of a table.

Here he is exposed as a fraud by none other than James Randi:

It was soon after this appearance on That’s My Line Hydrick confessed the fraud to an investigative reporter.


Uri Geller’s Tonight Show failure (courtesy of James Randi):


Also see: Top 10 Psychic Debunkings

Cryptomnesia

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

fingerCryptomnesia is, literally, hidden memory. The term was coined by psychology professor Théodore Flournoy (1854-1921) and is used to explain the origin of experiences that people believe to be original but which are actually based on memories of events they’ve forgotten. It seems likely that most so-called past life regressions induced through hypnosis are confabulations fed by cryptomnesia. For example, Virginia Tighe‘s hypnotic recollections of Bridey Murphy of Cork, Ireland (Bridie Murphey Corkell), if not deliberately fraudulent, are most likely recollections of events that happened in this life but which she had forgotten. Likewise, the “past-life” memories of Ann Evans, produced while under hypnosis by Arnall Bloxham, were almost certainly unconsciously produced confabulations.

Cryptomnesia may also explain how the apparent plagiarism of such people as Helen Keller or George Harrison of the Beatles might actually be cases of hidden memory. Harrison didn’t intend to plagiarize the Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine” in “My Sweet Lord.” Nor did Keller intend to plagiarize Margaret Canby’s “The Frost Fairies” when she wrote “The Frost King.” Both may simply be cases of not having a conscious memory of their experiences of the works in question.

The first recorded instance of cryptomnesia occurred in 1874 and involved William Stanton Moses, a medium who, during a séance, claimed to be in contact with the spirits if two brothers who had recently died in India. The deaths were verified, but “further research showed that the obituary ran in a newspaper six days before the séance and all information in the obituary was given in the séance and nothing more was added.”*

See also automatic writing and memory.

Deepak, and the Emptiness of Spiritual Gibberish

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

CHOPRADeepak Chopra is a master of the vague, cognitively empty but emotively charged expression. Science and spirituality should be friends, says Deepak. Like Dick and Jane, I suppose. The only sensible thing he says in his entire article published in Michael Shermer‘s Skeptic magazine (vol. 16 No. 2, 2011) is “With no data to support the existence of God, there is also no reason for religion and science to close the gap between them.” Of course, he asserts this truism only to deny it.

Deepak gets aligned with reality by proclaiming that “God is inside the consciousness of each person.” (In each of us, I suppose, there is a divinity trying to escape.) Does this mean anything more than that God is a thought? Yes, according to the Master:

The physical building blocks of the universe have gradually vanished; that is, atoms and quarks no longer seem solid at all but are actually clouds of energy, which in turn disappear into the void that seems to be the source of creation. Was mind also born in the same place outside space and time? Is the universe conscious? Do genes depend on quantum interactions? Science aims to understand nature down to its very essence, and now these once radical questions, long dismissed as unscientific, are unavoidable….

It is becoming legitimate to talk of invisible forces that shape creation – not labeling them as God but as the true shapers of reality beyond the space/time continuum. A whole new field known as quantum biology has sprung up, based on a true breakthrough – the idea that the total split between the micro world of the quantum and the macro world of everyday things may be a false split. If so, science will have to account for why the human brain, which lives in the macro world, derives its intelligence from the micro world. Either atoms and molecules are smart, or something makes them smart. That something, I believe, will come down to a conscious universe.

Yes, the universe might be conscious, and Deepak might be giving it a giant headache with his frequent, noisy jabbering about quantum this and that. Deepak ought to . . .

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Cold Reading

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

“In the course of a successful reading, the psychic may provide most of the words, but it is the client that provides most of the meaning and all of the significance.” —Ian Rowland (2000: 60)

Note: to understand cold reading you must understand subjective validation.

psychic_300pxCold reading refers to a set of techniques used by professional manipulators to get a subject to behave in a certain way or to think that the cold reader has some sort of special ability that allows him to “mysteriously” know things about the subject. Cold reading goes beyond the usual tools of manipulation: suggestion and flattery. In cold reading, salespersons, hypnotists, advertising pros, faith healers, con men, and some therapists bank on their subject’s inclination to find more meaning in a situation than there actually is. The desire to make sense out of experience can lead us to many wonderful discoveries, but it can also lead us to many follies. The manipulator knows that his mark will be inclined to try to make sense out of whatever he is told, no matter how farfetched or improbable. He knows, too, that people are generally self-centered, that we tend to have unrealistic views of ourselves, and that we will generally accept claims about ourselves that reflect not how we are or even how we really think we are but how we wish we were or think we should be. He also knows that for every several claims he makes about you that you reject as being inaccurate, he will make one that meets with your approval; and he knows that you are likely to remember the hits he makes and forget the misses.

Thus, a good manipulator can provide a reading of a total stranger, which will make the stranger feel that the manipulator possesses some special power. For example, Bertram Forer has never met you, yet he offers the following cold reading of you:bertram-forer_200px

Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary and reserved. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. You pride yourself on being an independent thinker and do not accept others’ opinions without satisfactory proof. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety, and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. Disciplined and controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside.

Your sexual adjustment has presented some problems for you. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a strong need for other people to like you and for them to admire you.

Here’s another reading that you might find fairly accurate about you:

People close to you have been taking advantage of you. Your basic honesty has been getting in your way. Many opportunities that you have had offered to you in the past have had to be surrendered because you refuse to take advantage of others. You like to read books and articles to improve your mind. In fact, if you’re not already in some sort of personal service business, you should be. You have an infinite capacity for understanding people’s problems and you can sympathize with them. But you are firm when confronted with obstinacy or outright stupidity. Law enforcement would be another field you understand. Your sense of justice is quite strong.

The last one was from astrologer Sidney Omarr. He’s never even met you and yet he knows so much about you (Randi 1982: 61). The first one was taken by Forer from a newsstand astrology book.

psychicFair_210pxThe selectivity of the human mind is always at work. We pick and choose what data we will remember and what we will give significance to. In part, we do so because of what we already believe or want to believe. In part, we do so in order to make sense out of what we are experiencing. We are not manipulated simply because we are gullible or suggestible, or just because the signs and symbols of the manipulator are vague or ambiguous. Even when the signs are clear and we are skeptical, we can still be manipulated. In fact, it may even be the case that particularly bright persons are more likely to be manipulated when the language is clear and they are thinking logically. To make the connections that the manipulator wants you to make, you must be thinking logically.

Not all cold readings are done by malicious manipulators. Some readings are done by astrologers, graphologists, tarot readers, New Age healers, and people who genuinely believe they have paranormal powers.

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31 Inanimate Objects With Secret Inner Lives – Pareidolia

How many times have you heard a paranormal investigator claim to see faces and images of the deceased in everything from a cinnabon swirl to a waft of smoke rising from a candle? Are they seeing the deceased? No. What they’re experiencing is a nearly uncontrollable urge by our brains to seek out and identify patterns. Especially human faces. This phenomenon has a name . . .

Pareidolia

«A psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.» – Wikipedia


«. . . a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct.

«Under ordinary circumstances, pareidolia provides a psychological explanation for many delusions based upon sense perception.» – The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Try to NOT see the face in the shadow.

How powerless are we to our own brains? Look at the image to the right and try to NOT see a face in the shadow cast on the garage door. Bet you can’t!!!

See? Our brains are hardwired to seek out and find faces.

Just HOW hardwired are we to see faces where none exist? Look at the following montage of photos and try to NOT see faces. Prepare to lose control of your mind to the power of pareidolia!!!! Bwahaha!!!!!!

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)

Via BuzzFeed

Click here for 23 more mind-controlling examples of Pareidolia.

How did the psychic know that?

Actually, he didn’t.
The Great Psychic Con

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

There’s no way he could have known my grandmother’s name?” “How do you explain his predicting the lights would go off at the shop?” “How did he know my uncle’s name?” “There’s no way he could have known my father died of a heart attack.” “How could he possibly know that my brother collects cuckoo clocks?

John_Edward_3_200px

John Edward has been described as a fraud by James Randi [Skeptic, v. 8, no. 3] and Leon Jaroff [Time, March 5, 2001].

These and millions more like them represent the kinds of statements we get from people who say they’re skeptical, but who’ve been to a psychic and have come away as believers in the paranormal. Many times I’ve been asked to try to explain the “paranormal” experiences of people who tell me they’re skeptics, but who can’t think of any other explanation for something than that it was paranormal. I call it the “Explain That!” game. I’ve posted responses to some of these requests, but I can’t say I’ve been able to persuade any of the believers to consider alternative explanations, even though they ask me to provide them with one. [Some of my explanations for various psychic readings are here, here, here, and here.]

George Anderson, a former switchboard operator.

George Anderson, a former switchboard operator, now claims he talks to the dead via his psychic switchboard.

How do psychics know so much about me? I’ve heard or read many times variants of that question asked by people who are intelligent and educated, but naive. For example, a local sports writer visited a psychic to get a story about her predictions for the local high school athletic teams. He ended up writing two stories. I didn’t read the second one, but the first revealed how amazed he was at how much she knew about him and how accurate she was. It made him think, he wrote, that maybe there’s something to this psychic business. There is, but it’s not what he thinks. In my letter to the editor of the local paper where the sports writer plies his trade I said:

Bruce Gallaudet is an experienced journalist, but he seems to know nothing about cold reading and subjective validation, the two tarot cards up the sleeve of a working psychic. He’s dazzled within 60 seconds and befuddled when she tells the old man that she’s sorry he had to cancel a trip. Did she ask about your knee injury? Or about the outdated calendar you keep at home, along with the box of newspaper clippings? Did she mention your business venture setback (but you’ll do well in new endeavors) or the health problems a loved one is having?

Stick to local sports, Bruce. You were in way over your head with Ms. Mertino, the Davis Psychic.

James Van Praagh plays a kind of twenty-questions game with his audience.

James Van Praagh plays a kind of twenty-questions game with his audience.

The fact is, psychics may know certain things about you in the same way that many people know many things about others by knowing their age, sex, occupation, education, where they live, how they dress, what kind of jewelry they’re wearing, or their religion. Does anyone have perfect knowledge of others based on what are sometimes called warm reading techniques? Of course not. We’re dealing with probabilities, not absolute certainties here, but it doesn’t matter. The psychic is not obligated to stop the reading when she makes a mistake. If she misinterprets your wearing black as a sign of grieving for someone who has died, she doesn’t have to say “oops, wrong again.” No, she just slithers on to the next question or statement, ignoring her “miss” and counting on you to ignore it as well. Eventually, she’ll hit something that resonates with you, that you can validate. The key to a psychic reading is not the psychic’s ability to tap into a world you are not directly privy to. The key to a psychic reading is your willingness to find meaning or significance in some of the statements she makes or questions she asks. If mentioning the death of a loved one evokes no response from you, the psychic will move on to another statement, another question.

“Psychic” Sally is seen removing a microphone from her right ear, and what appears to be an earpiece from her left ear.

It is also possible that the psychic you are dealing with is a very sleazy professional fraud who investigates her clients before she does the reading. Doing a hot reading, however, is not likely if you are a drop-in. Although, even drop-ins can be conned by distracting the client and looking through her purse or wallet. Some psychics who work fairs, for example, have a colleague who walks by those in line trying to pick up information about various clients who are in conversations. The colleague passes on the info to the “psychic” via a wireless device. Most people who visit psychics on a whim are probably not going to be a victim of someone using hot reading, however. Why? Because it’s really unnecessary. Cold reading works just as well. (For a special case of using hot readings by sharing information in order to con wealthy clients who go from psychic to psychic, see Lamar M. Keene. The Psychic Mafia. Prometheus, 1997).

MORE . . .

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Electro-sensitives

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

electromagnetic-radiation 1005Electro-sensitives are people who suffer from various physical and psychological ailments that they say are caused by electro-magnetic radiation (EMR) from ordinary household appliances, radios, televisions, cell phones, Wi-Fi, computer monitors, overhead power lines, and many other sources. The term is self-descriptive and not a medical term.

Double-blind, controlled studies have repeatedly shown that electro-sensitives can’t tell the difference between genuine and sham electro-magnetic fields (EMFs).1, 2 For example, a research team in Norway (2007) conducted tests using sixty-five pairs of sham and mobile phone radio frequency (RF) exposures. “The increase in pain or discomfort in RF sessions was 10.1 and in sham sessions 12.6 (P = 0.30). Changes in heart rate or blood pressure were not related to the type of exposure (P: 0.30–0.88). The study gave no evidence that RF fields from mobile phones cause head pain or discomfort or influence physiological variables. The most likely reason for the symptoms is a nocebo effect.”

A systematic review of 31 experiments testing 725 “electromagnetically hypersensitive” participants concluded:

The symptoms described by “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” sufferers can be severe and are sometimes disabling. However, it has proved difficult to show under blind conditions that exposure to EMF can trigger these symptoms. This suggests that “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” is unrelated to the presence of EMF, although more research into this phenomenon is required.

cell phone no_200pxTwenty-four of these studies found no evidence supporting biophysical hypersensitivity. Seven reported some supporting evidence. “For 2 of these 7, the same research groups subsequently tried and failed to replicate their findings. In 3 more, the positive results appear to be statistical artefacts. The final 2 studies gave mutually incompatible results….metaanalyses found no evidence of an improved ability to detect EMF in ‘hypersensitive’ participants.1

Some electro-sensitives believe their cancer was caused by EMR. It is very unlikely that the kinds of things that electro-sensitives fear actually cause cancer. All electromagnetic radiation comes from photons. The energy of a photon depends on its frequency. “Roughly one million photons in a power line together have the same energy as a single photon in a microwave oven, and a thousand microwave photons have the energy equal to one photon of visible light” (Lakshmikumar 2009). Ionizing radiation is known to cause health effects; “it can break the electron bonds that hold molecules like DNA together” (Trottier 2009). “The photon energy of a cell phone EMF is more than 10 million times weaker than the lowest energy ionizing radiation” (Trottier 2009). Thus, the likelihood that our cell phones, microwave ovens, computers, and other electronic devices are carcinogenic is miniscule.

Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence against the view that our electronic gadgets are causing our headaches, nausea, Alzheimer’s, or stress, there are organized movements in several countries to enlighten the world about the dangers of EMR.

MORE . . . .

Medium

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

“Death is a part of life, and pretending that the dead are gathering in a television studio in New York to talk twaddle with a former ballroom-dance instructor is an insult to the intelligence and humanity of the living.” –Michael Shermer

“…we [psychics] are here to heal people and to help people grow…skeptics…they’re just here to destroy people. They’re not here to encourage people, to enlighten people. They’re here to destroy people.” —James Van Praagh on “Larry King Live,” March 6, 2001

“I’ve never heard of a skeptic helping anybody with their skepticism. To a large degree, they just want to shame somebody so they can feel greater than them. But they’re not going to shame me. I’m very proud of what I do.” —Allison DuBois in an interview with Allen Pierleoni

“…nearly all professional mediums are a gang of vulgar tricksters who are more or less in league with one another.” —Richard Hodgson

psychic 920_250pxIn spiritualism, a medium is one with whom spirits communicate directly. In an earlier, simpler but more dramatic age, a good medium would produce voices or apports, ring bells, float or move things across a darkened room, produce automatic writing or ectoplasm, and, in short, provide good entertainment value for the money.

Today, a medium is likely to write bathetic inspirational books and say he or she is channeling, such as JZ Knight and the White Book of her Ramtha from Atlantis. Today’s most successful mediums, however, simply claim the dead communicate through them. Under a thin guise of doing “spiritual healing” and “grief counseling,” they use traditional cold reading techniques and sometimes surreptitiously gather information about their subjects to give the appearance of transmitting comforting messages from the dead. Subjective validation plays a key role in this kind of mediumship: The mediums rely upon the strong motivation of their clients to validate words, initials, statements, or signs as accurate. The clients’ success at finding significance and meaning in the sounds made by the medium are taken as evidence of contact with the dead.

[…]

GeorgeAnderson_124pxGeorge Anderson, a former switchboard operator and author of Lessons from the Light: Extraordinary Messages of Comfort and Hope from the Other Side (2000), got his own ABC special featuring celebrities who wanted to contact the dead. Some mediums even get their own syndicated television programs, such as John Edward and James Van Praagh, although the latter’s show was canned by Tribune Media Services after only a few episodes.

John_Edward_150pxJohn Edward established himself as the first clairaudient to have his own show that featured deceased loved ones contacting audience members: “Crossing Over with John Edward” on the Sci-Fi Channel. Edward has been described as a fraud by James Randi [Skeptic, v. 8, no. 3] and Leon Jaroff [Time, March 5, 2001] to no avail. He may be a fraud, but he is an attractive and impressive one. Edward’s show was syndicated and for some time he joined Xena the Warrior Princess and Jerry Springer on the USA Network. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the animated series South Park, named Edward the Biggest Douche in the Universe in episode 615.

james_van_praagh_200pxJames Van Praagh is a self-proclaimed medium who claims he has a gift that allows him to hear messages from just about anyone who is dead. According to Van Praagh, all the billions and billions and billions of dead people are just waiting for someone to give him their names. That’s all it takes. Give Van Praagh a name, any name, and he will claim that some dead person going by that name is contacting him in words, fragments of sentences, or that he can feel their presence in a specific location. He has appeared on “Larry King Live,” where he claimed he could feel the presence of Larry’s dead parents. He even indicated where in the room this “presence” was coming from. He took phone calls on the air and, once given a name, started telling the audience what he was “hearing” or “feeling”. Van Praagh plays a kind of twenty-questions game with his audience. He goes fishing, rapidly casting his baited questions one after the other until he gets a bite. Then he reels the fish in. Sometimes he falters, but most of the fish don’t get away. He just rebaits and goes after the fish again until he rehooks. The fish love it. They reward Van Praagh’s hard work by giving him positive feedback. This makes it appear to some that he is being contacted by spirits who are telling him that being dead is good, that they love those they left behind, and that they are sorry and forgive them everything.

Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine calls Van Praagh “the master of cold-reading in the psychic world.” Sociologist and student of anomalies, Marcello Truzzi of Eastern Michigan University, was less charitable. Truzzi studied characters like Van Praagh for more than 35 years and describes Van Praagh’s demonstrations as “extremely unimpressive.” (“A Spirited Debate,” Dru Sefton, Knight Ridder News Service, The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 10, 1998, p. E1.) Truzzi said that most of what Van Praagh gives out is “twaddle,” but it is good twaddle since “what people want is comfort, guilt assuagement. And they get that: Your parents love you; they forgive you; they look forward to seeing you; it’s not your fault they’re dead.”

MORE . . .

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Past Life Regression (PLR)

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

PLR 815_02_250pxPast life regression (PLR) is the alleged journeying into one’s past lives while hypnotized. While it is true that many patients recall past lives, it is highly probable that their memories are false memories. The memories are from experiences in this life, pure products of the imagination, intentional or unintentional suggestions from the hypnotist, or confabulations.

Some New Age therapists do PLR therapy under the guise of personal growth; others under the guise of healing. As a tool for New Age explorers, there may be little harm in encouraging people to remember what are probably false memories about their living in earlier centuries or for encouraging them to go forward in time and glimpse into the future. But as a method of healing, it must be apparent even to the most superficial of therapists that there are great dangers in encouraging patients to create delusions. Some false memories may be harmless, but others can be devastating. They can increase a person’s suffering, as well as destroy loving relationships with family members. The care with which hypnosis should be used seems obvious.

Door to mystical UniverseSome therapists think hypnosis opens a window to the unconscious mind where memories of past lives are stored. How memories of past lives get into the unconscious mind of a person is not known, but advocates loosely adhere to a doctrine of reincarnation, even though such a doctrine does not require a belief in the unconscious mind as a reservoir of memories of past lives.

PLR therapists claim that past life regression is essential to healing and helping their patients. Some therapists claim that past life therapy can help even those who don’t believe in past lives. The practice is given undeserved credibility because of the credentials of some of its leading advocates, e.g., Brian L. Weiss, M.D., who is a graduate of Columbia University and Yale Medical School and Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. There are no medical internships in PLR therapy, nor does being a medical doctor grant one special authority in metaphysics, the occult or the supernatural.

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Hutchinson hoax

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Given that Hutchison’s claims are outlandish and his credibility damaged by admitted fakery, it is likely that the effect named for him is complete claptrap. —Alan Bellows

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“John Hutchison has not been able to convince the scientific community that he is anything more than a crackpot.”

The Hutchison hoax is named after an eccentric Canadian, John Hutchison, a fan of Nikola Tesla and Tesla coils. Hutchison claims to have discovered a number of weird things, such as the levitation of heavy objects and the fusion of metal and wood by forces heretofore undetected by normal scientists. Hutchison calls these weird things “the Hutchison effect.” Some of the things he calls weird seem to be explainable in terms of electromagnetism and other known physical forces, but he has more mysterious explanations, such as zero point energy and electromagnetic fields that cancel out gravity. Unfortunately, he seems to be the only one who can produce the effects, but not even he can replicate them—at least not in the presence of unbiased observers. His evidence consists mainly of his word and his videos.

One suggestion made by skeptics is that Hutchison uses an electromagnet on the ceiling, and places hidden pieces of metal inside objects so they will be attracted to the magnet. He could then film the objects with an upside-down camera as he powers down the electromagnet, making the objects on film appear to float up and out of the shot when in reality they are falling down to the floor. Many of the videos include conspicuous objects in the scene which do not move (such as an old broom), which could be deliberately attached to add to the illusion that the camera is not upside-down. Critics also point out that the videos do not show what happens to the objects after they levitate.*

His laboratory is his garage, kitchen, and other rooms in his apartment. Much of his apparatus seems to have come from military surplus stores.

Hutchison came on the scene around 1979, but he has not been able to convince the scientific community that he is anything more than a crackpot.

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50 Things That Look Like Faces – Pareidolia

Do i see Jesus on this telephone pole?

Do i see a crucified Jesus
on this telephone pole?

Many ghost hunters claim to see the faces and images of the deceased in everything from a smudgy mirror to a swirl of smoke rising from burgers on a barbecue. Religious people claim to see images of holy figures in everything from tree trunks to vines on a telephone pole.

Are these figures really showing themselves or is there something else going on?

Pareidolia

«A psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.» – Wikipedia


«. . . a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct.

«Under ordinary circumstances, pareidolia provides a psychological explanation for many delusions based upon sense perception.» – The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In other words, our brains are hardwired to seek out and find faces.

Just HOW hardwired are we to see faces where none exist? Look at the following montage of photos and try to NOT see faces. Prepare to lose control of your mind to the power of pareidolia!!!! Bwahaha!!!!!!

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)

by James Plafke via geekosystem.com

Click any image to begin viewing.

See more examples of Pareidolia . . .

Cattle Mutilation

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

cattleMut613_250pxThe term “mutilation” is used to describe animal corpses with “unusual” or “inexplicable” features by UFO devotees and those who think our countryside is plagued by Satanic cults in search of animals for rituals. What counts as “unusual” or “inexplicable” is just about any cut, mark, wound, excision, incision, swelling, distention, abrasion, contusion, scrape, bruise, or organ or blood absence. These “mutilations,” we are told, are being done by bad aliens or bad devil worshippers. No one has shown either that there are thousands of inexplicable animal deaths around the globe or that, if there are, they are related, much less that they are the result of alien experimentation or satanic cult activity. These facts, however, are no deterrent to those who are sure we are not alone and that Satan is everywhere. To these true believers, Satanists or visitors from other worlds are not only responsible for the deaths and mutilations of thousands of cattle, horses, cats, and other domestic animals around the globe, they are also responsible for numerous human abductions for the purpose of sacrifice (by the Satanists) or experimental and reproductive surgery (by the aliens). Furthermore, some of these aliens are destroying crops around the globe in an effort to impress us with their artistic abilities or to communicate to us in strange symbols just how much they like our planet’s cattle.

cattleMutilation602_300px_300pxThe belief that aliens or Satanists have been killing and mutilating thousands of animals is supported by little more than an argument to ignorance: Since there is a lack of evidence that they aren’t responsible for the deaths or the post mortem conditions of the animals, it follows that the aliens and Satanists are responsible. Defenders of this view reject the notion that there could be an earthly and naturalistic explanation. They are convinced that aliens need cow blood and organs for their experiments and that Satanists need bodies or body parts for their rituals. What seems most convincing to the true believers is that “wounds” or missing organs—such as the tongue and the genitalia—seem completely inexplicable to them in any but mysterious terms, i.e., alien or Satanic surgeons. Naturalistic explanations in terms of diseases and predators (skunks, buzzards, weasels, etc.), insects (such as blowflies and maggots), or birds are to no avail, even though the most thorough examination of so-called cattle mutilations concluded there was nothing mysterious that needed explaining (Rommel 1980).

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Creating Your Own Pseudoscience

2011_quackery
via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

How to create your own pseudoscience:

pulver2_300px1. Appeal to something that most people fear or desire, things like suffering and death, or sex and longevity.

2. Make big promises about having scientific proof that you can relieve any physical illness or emotional pain, or that you can deliver “fantastic” sex or “help” people live for hundreds of years.

3. Use a lot of jargon and weasel words. Throw in words like “quantum” and “energy field” frequently. Make your product sound enormously complex, but couch all your promises with vague expressions like “may help.”

4. To ward off critics who might actually know something about science, lace your promotions with references to government and business conspiracies that are keeping the truth from the general public. Make sure you remind everybody that “science doesn’t know everything” and “science has been wrong before.”

5. Don’t be afraid to make stuff up and lie like a government leader. Even if you are prosecuted for fraud, you’ll just get a lot of valuable publicity for free. The odds of you being made to suffer by a big fine or jail term are near zero. If you do have to pay a fine, change the name of your product and start over again with a few tweaks here and there in your language. You can keep doing this forever, given the kinds of things our law enforcement agencies focus on. And don’t worry about the media investigating you and exposing you for a fraud. They won’t bother you until you’ve been arrested. Even then, they’ll just report that you’ve been charged with an “alleged” crime, which you will deny and turn in your favor by playing the persecution card.

6. Don’t be cheap. Charge an exorbitant amount of money for your product. The more you charge, the more likely people, especially government procurement officers, are going to think that your product is genuine.

quack-doctor7. The ideal pseudoscientific product should be a hand-held device that promises eternal life, perfect health (it should detect and cure all diseases), astounding sex (by enhancing your immune system and your personal energy flow), and can also detect bombs or golf balls with the flip of a switch.

8. Make sure you claim that you have discovered a “secret” that every other scientist in the history of the world has missed. If you’re feeling especially daring, claim to have discovered a new law of nature that has scared the scientific community into trying to silence you.

9. Lace your commercials with testimonials from athletes, washed-up celebrities, and psychics. If you can get Sylvia Browne on board, do so. She has written over twenty books that have made it to The New York Times bestseller list. She’ll be expensive, though, so if you can find someone who looks and sounds like her and will work for scale, do it.

10. Never forget that most people trust celebrities more than they trust scientists, physicians, or government agencies. Use this knowledge to your advantage.

11. Claim that the reason your work has not been published in peer-reviewed journals is because of a conspiracy to keep you silent or that the development of your product has taken all your time and money, so you haven’t had the time or been able to get the funding (because of the conspiracy) to do the studies.

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Eneregy Healing: Looking in all the Wrong Places

By Robert Todd Carroll via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

(This article was written in response to “The energy to heal” by Jenny Hontz, Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2004.)

reiki-hand_200pxHow is it possible to get relief from swelling, pain, nausea, headaches, anxiety, and an assortment of other ailments without the use of medicine or surgery? It happens all the time and has been going on for centuries. It’s called by many names but these days it’s mostly called “energy healing.” Whatever name it goes by, ultimately it amounts to faith healing. The amazing thing about it is that the healer need not even touch the patient. In fact, the healer need not even be in the presence of the patient. Powerful medicine, no? Yes, very powerful and not completely understood, though there are many theories being offered, the most common ones these days being couched in terms of chi or prana, meridians, auras, and chakras. Is there any evidence that there is a metaphysical life force (call it “energy” or “chi” or whatever you want) that determines health depending on whether it is blocked or flowing? If there is, I’d like to see evidence for it that’s not just post hoc reasoning and begging the question.

In the eighteenth century, Franz Anton Mesmer had the ladies of Paris convinced he could heal them. He convinced himself he had tapped into a new force. He called it “animal magnetism.” There’s about as much evidence for animal magnetism as there is for chi. Most scholars now believe that Mesmer stumbled upon hypnotism. He eventually figured out that he didn’t need the magnets he was using. Just waving his hands did the trick. Modern day nurses practicing what they call “therapeutic touch” seem to have hit upon the same formula. Aura healers and chakra healers have been practicing their craft under different names for centuries. In Japan the practice of energy healing is known as reiki. Psychometry636They just wave their hands over the patient and “feel” the energy moving. The patient feels it, too. Great stuff but what’s really going on? How did so many different people independently discover energy healing? It must be because there really is energy that can be manipulated to bring about healing, right? Not necessarily.

Nine-year old Emily Rosa tested 21 therapeutic touch (TT) practitioners to see if they could feel her life energy when they could not see its source. The test was very simple and seems to clearly indicate that the subjects could not detect the life energy of the little girl’s hands when placed near theirs. They had a 50% chance of being right in each test, yet they correctly located Emily’s hand only 44% of the time in 280 trials. If they can’t detect the energy, how can they manipulate or transfer it? What are they detecting? Dr. Dolores Krieger, one of the creators of TT, has been offered $1,000,000 by James Randi to demonstrate that she, or anyone else for that matter, can detect the human energy field. So far, Dr. Krieger has not been tested.

MORE . . .

ReikiCat

Organic (food and farming)

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

“People got in their head, well, if it’s man-made somehow it’s potentially dangerous, but if it’s natural, it isn’t. That doesn’t really fit with anything we know about toxicology. When we understand how animals are resistant to chemicals, the mechanisms are all independent of whether it’s natural or synthetic. And in fact, when you look at natural chemicals, half of those tested came out positive [for toxicity in humans].” –Bruce Ames

“I’m going to live to be 100 unless I’m run down by a sugar-crazed taxi driver.” —J. I. Rodale, a father of the organic movement who died of a heart attack at age 72 while taping an episode of “The Dick Cavett Show” shortly after announcing “I’ve decided to live to be a hundred” and “I never felt better in my life!” The show never aired. [For those who think this is a cheap shot: this kind of wishful thinking is common among the defenders of all things organic.]

Key myths and beliefs

organicOrganic food is food produced by organic farming, a set of techniques based on anti-scientific beliefs, myths, and superstition.

A key belief of groups like the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and the Soil Association, which oppose conventional farming in favor of organic farming, is that pesticides and fertilizers are so harmful that they should be avoided unless they are “natural.” This belief is contradicted by the vast majority of scientific studies that have been done on these subjects (Morris and Bate 1999; Taverne 2006; NCPA study). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has put in place a set of national standards that food labeled “organic” must meet, whether it is grown in the United States or imported from other countries. “USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Organic food differs from conventionally produced food in the way it is grown, handled, and processed.”*

Harm from bacterial contamination is a much greater possibility from natural fertilizers (Stossel 2005: 194). (For those of you who hate John Stossel, read the newspaper. The most dangerous bacteria in America’s food supply is E. coli, which is found in abundance in cattle manure, a favorite “natural” fertilizer of organic farming.)

The residues from pesticides on food, natural or synthetic, are not likely to cause harm to consumers because they occur in minute quantities.* (This fact does not make either kind of pesticide safe for those who work with them and are exposed to large quantities on a regular basis. I refer to residues on foods you and I are likely to find on fruits and vegetable we buy at the store or market.) Using natural biological controls rather than synthetic pesticides is more dangerous to the environment (Morris and Bate 1999). The amounts of pesticide residue produced by plants themselves or introduced by organic farmers are significantly greater than the amounts of synthetic pesticide residues. Almost all of the pesticides we ingest in food are naturally produced by plants to defend themselves against insects, fungi, and animal predators (Ames and Gold 1997). The bottom line is that fresh fruits and vegetables are good for you and it doesn’t matter whether they’re organic.

Over 30 separate investigations of about 500,000 people have shown that farmers, millers, pesticide-users, and foresters, occupationally exposed to much higher levels of pesticide than the general public, have much lower rates of cancer overall (Taverne 2006: 73.)

Groups like IFOAM refer to synthetic pesticides as “toxic,” even though the amount of pesticides people are likely to ingest through food are always in non-toxic amounts. Many toxic substances occur naturally in foods, e.g.,arsenic in meat, poultry, dairy products, cereals, fish, and shellfish, but usually in doses so small as not to be worthy of concern. On the IFOAM website you will find the following message:

Although IFOAM has no official position on the quality of organic food, it’s easy to conclude that the overall nutritional and health-promoting value of food is compromised by farming methods that utilize synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.

It’s easy to conclude—as long as you ignore the bulk of the scientific evidence that is available.

The myth of organic superiority

The evidence for the superiority of organic food is mostly anecdotal and based more on irrational assumptions and wishful thinking than on hard scientific evidence.

Continue Reading or skip ahead in this article to read about:

Telepathy

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

“To the present day, no one has come up with a persuasive experimental design that can unambiguously distinguish between telepathy and clairvoyance….Based on the experimental evidence, it is by no means clear that pure telepathy exists per se, nor is it certain that real-time clairvoyance exists.” The evidence “can all be accommodated by various forms of precognition.”–Dean Radin

telepathy500a_300pxLiterally, “distance feeling.” The term is a shortened version of mental telepathy and refers to mind-reading or mind-to-mind communication through ESP.

Since there is no way to distinguish direct communication with another mind from communication with a future or past perception by that or some other mind, there is no way to distinguish telepathy from precognition or retrocognition. There is no way to distinguish telepathy, clairvoyance, retrocognition, or precognition from a mind perceiving directly the akashic record. There is no way to distinguish telepathy, clairvoyance, retrocognition, precognition, or perceiving the akashic record from perceiving what is directly placed in the mind by God (occasionalism). There is no way to distinguish telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, perceiving the akashic record, or having perceptions directly implanted in our minds by a god from perceiving the hidden record of all perceptions in the eleventh dimension that is vibrating in the intersection between the tenth and twelfth dimensions. I could go on, but it would be too annoying.

The term ‘telepathy’ was coined by psychical investigator Frederick W. H. Myers (1843-1901) in an 1882 article in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Myers was a classics scholar and one of the founders of modern psychology.

[…]

[E]verybody knowledgeable of the history of psi research remembers Joseph Banks Rhine (1895-1980). In 1925, Rhine and his wife, Louisa, both with doctorates in biology (plant physiology) from the University of Chicago arrived at Harvard to study psychology, philosophy, and what Rhine would come to call “extra-sensory perception.” Both heard Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lecture on spiritualism and were impressed not only with his message but his serene demeanor. The possibility that spirits might be communicating with the living, said Rhine, was “the most exhilarating thought” he’d had in years. The Rhines sat in on a number of séances but were not completely taken in by their experiences. They were quick to claim that famed medium “Margery” (Mina, wife of Dr. Le Roi Goddard Crandon, a respected surgeon) was guilty of “brazen trickery.” Yet, when they went to Duke in 1927 to work with William McDougall, their first investigation was of an alleged telepathic horse called Lady Wonder. They declared that they could detect no trickery and that the horse was genuinely telepathic. In a follow-up study, the horse couldn’t perform and the Rhines declared that Lady Wonder had lost her psychic ability.blueconsciousness_150px A similarly clever horse had been studied by Oskar Pfungst in 1904 and it was found that the horse was responding to subtle visual cues. Had the Rhines been so inclined, they might have found the same thing with Lady Wonder. It turns out humans are as clever as horses and the phenomenon of unconsciously responding to sensory cues is now known as the clever Hans phenomenon. In any case, the Rhines took over the Duke lab from Dr. McDougall and ran it until Rhine’s retirement in 1966. What did Rhine have after nearly forty years of scientific research on ESP and psychokinesis? He had a lot of data, a number of followers, but there was no Noble Prize on the horizon.

The Lady Wonder fiasco was just one of several blunders made by America’s most preeminent name in parapsychology.

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Superstition

via The Skeptic s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

“The superstitious man is to the rogue what the slave is to the tyrant.” —Voltaire

superstition 140_300pxA superstition is a false belief based on ignorance (e.g., if we don’t beat the drums during an eclipse, the evil demon won’t return the sun to the sky), fear of the unknown (e.g., if we don’t chop up this chicken in just the right way and burn it according to tradition while uttering just the right incantations then the rain won’t come and our crops won’t grow and we’ll starve), trust in magic (e.g., if I put spit or dirt on my beautiful child who has been praised, the effects of the evil eye will be averted), trust in chance (if I open this book randomly and let my finger fall to any word that word will guide my future actions), or some other false conception of causation (e.g.,  homeopathy, therapeutic touch, vitalism, creationism, or that I’ll have good luck if I carry a rabbit’s foot or bad luck if a black cat crosses my path).

black cat03_250px_02The indiscriminate power of nature is obvious. For as long as humans have been making sounds and instruments, magical methods have been created in the attempt to control the forces of nature and the life and death matters of daily existence. Good and evil befall us without rhyme or reason. We imagine spirits or intelligible forces causing our good and bad fortune. We invent ways to placate them or direct them. Many of the superstitions we developed seemed to work because we didn’t know how to properly evaluate them. There are many instances of selective thinking that might lead to a superstitious belief that something is good or bad luck, for example. The “curse of Pele” exemplifies this kind of superstition. According to one website devoted to the legend of the Hawaiian goddess Pele:

It is well known to locals on the island of Hawaii, that there is a curse upon those who take one of Pele’s lava rocks. It is said that he who takes a lava rock, is taking something from Pele and shall receive bad luck because of it. In the old days people were said to die from the curse, but now you only receive bad luck.

Every day, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park receives several rocks from people who took them home from the park and are returning them because of the bad luck they’ve had since taking the rocks. Many of these people think there is a causal connection between their taking the rocks and their perceived bad luck because their bad luck came after they took the rocks. Of course, their perceived bad luck may have happened even if they hadn’t taken any rocks from the park. Or they may not have paid much attention to the “bad luck” had they not heard there was a curse associated with taking the rocks. Such people may . . .

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Uri Geller

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

“If Uri Geller bends spoons with divine powers, then he’s doing it the hard way.”James Randi

“Because a good magician can do something shouldn’t make you right away jump to the conclusion that it’s a real phenomenon.” —Richard Feynman

“Geller is at his ingenious best in laboratories where he is being observed by scientists who believe he has extraordinary ESP ability and think—without justification—that they have ruled out every possibility of fraud.” —Milbourne Christopher

geller

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Uri Geller is most famous for his claim to be able to bend spoons and keys with his mind. An international star in the psychic circuit, Geller is a Hungarian/Austrian who was born in Israel and lives in England. He claims he’s had visions for many years and may get his powers from extraterrestrials. He calls himself a psychic and has sued several people for millions of dollars for saying otherwise. His psychic powers were not sufficient to reveal to him, however, that he would lose all the lawsuits against his critics. His arch critic has been James “The Amazing” Randi, who has written a book and numerous articles aimed at demonstrating that Geller is a fraud, that he has no psychic powers, and that what Geller does amounts to no more than the parlor tricks of a conjurer.

Geller has been performing for many years. The first time I saw him was in 1973 when he appeared on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. He was supposed to demonstrate his ability to bend spoons with his thoughts and identify hidden objects, but he failed to even try. He squirmed around and said something about how his power can’t be turned on and off, and that he didn’t feel strong right then. Randi had worked with Carson’s producer to change the spoons and metal items Geller planned to use, as there was a suspicion that Geller likes to work (i.e., soften) his metals before his demonstrations, as would any careful conjurer.

View Geller’s Tonight Show lack of performance (courtesy of James Randi):


(video source)

I have always been fascinated and puzzled by the attraction of Uri Geller. I suppose this is because nearly every one of our household spoons is bent and what I would like to see is someone who can straighten them, with his mind or with anything for that matter. Likewise with stopped watches. I have several of those and I would love for someone to use his powers, psychic or otherwise, to make them start running again. Of course, even I can get my stopped watches to run again for a short while by shaking or tapping them, but a permanent fix would be appreciated. There is something mysterious, however, about a person who has built a career out of breaking things.

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Reiki

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

reiki_300pxReiki (pronounced ray-key) is a form of energy healing that centers on the manipulation of ki, the Japanese version of chiRei means spirit in Japanese, so reiki literally means spirit life force.

Like their counterparts in traditional Chinese medicine who useacupuncture, as well as their counterparts in the West who usetherapeutic touch (TT), the practitioners of reiki believe that health and disease are a matter of the life force being disrupted. Belief in a life force, known as vitalism, was common in the West until the 19th century. Since then, the concept of life force has joined phlogiston, ether, and many other superannuated ideas on the rubbish heap of discarded scientific notions.

The belief in vitalism is still strong in China, India (where the life force is called prana), Africa (animism), and Japan  Each believes that the universe is full of some sort of vital energy that cannot be detected by any scientific instruments, but which can be felt and controlled, often by special people who learn the tricks of the trade.

reiki-cat 1104Reiki healers differ from acupuncturists in that they do not try tounblock a person’s ki, but to channel the ki of the universe so that the client or patient heals. The channeling is done with the hands, and like TT no physical massaging is necessary since ki flows through the body of the healer into the patient. The reiki master claims to be able to draw upon the energy of the universe and increase his or her own energy while performing a healing. Reiki healers claim to channel ki into ill or injured individuals for “rebalancing.” Depending on the training and beliefs of the healer, reiki is used to treat a wide array of ailments. Larry Arnold and Sandra Nevins claim in The Reiki Handbook (1992) that reiki is useful for treating brain damage, cancer, diabetes, and venereal diseases. Many reiki healers are more modest and treat lesser problems such as fatigue or muscle soreness. I was once treated by a reiki practitioner for a wrist injury. The treatment didn’t work because I was a non-believer, or so I was told. If the healing fails—and it will inevitably fail for such things as cancer—it is because the patient is resisting the healing energy. Non-belief is one of the great blocks to healing energy. There is a reason for that, which we will explore below.

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Perfect Prediction Scam

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

Scam Alert 1114_300pxThis scam involves making a series of opposite predictions (on winners in the stock market, football games, or the like) and sending them to different groups of people until one group has seen your perfect track record sufficiently to be duped into paying you for the next “prediction.”

For example, Notre Dame is playing Michigan next week, so you send 100 letters to people, predicting the outcome of the game. It doesn’t really matter whether the recipients of your letter are known to bet on college football games. The information you provide will stimulate some of them to want to bet on the game. You name your letter something swell like The Perfect Gamble. In 50 letters you predict Notre Dame will win. In the other 50 you predict Michigan will win. You write a short introduction explaining that you have a secret surefire method of predicting winners and to prove it you are giving out free predictions this week. Notre Dame wins.

The next week you send a free copy of The Perfect Gamble to the 50 who got the letter that predicted a Notre Dame victory. In the introduction you remind them of last week’s prediction and you inform them how much they would have won had they followed your advice. To show there are no hard feelings and to give them one more chance to take advantage of your surefire system you provide—free of cost—one more prediction. This week Notre Dame is playing Oregon State. You divide your list of recipients and you send 25 letters predicting Notre Dame will win and 25 predicting Oregon State will win.

After the second game, you will have 25 people who have seen you make two correct predictions in a row. Three correct predictions in a row should convince several recipients of your letter that you do have a surefire way to pick winners. You now charge them a substantial fee for the next prediction and, if all goes as planned, you should make a handsome profit even after postage and handling costs.

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Thoughtography

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

Thoughtography was made popular by psychiatrist Dr. Jule Eisenbud, who wrote a book about a Chicago bellhop named Ted Serios, who claimed he could make images appear on Polaroid film just by thinking of an image.

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Theodore “Ted” Judd Serios was a Chicago bellhop known for his production of “thoughtographs” on Polaroid film. He claimed these were produced using psychic powers. (Wikipedia)

Since the publication of Eisenbud’s The World of Ted Serios: ‘Thoughtographic’ Studies of an Extraordinary Mind (1966), others have claimed to be able to perform this feat. Eisenbud claimed that Serios made his thoughtographs by psychokinesis and that some of them were instigated during out-of-body experiences.

Charlie Reynolds and David Eisendrath, both amateur magicians and professional photographers exposed Serios as a fraud after spending a weekend with him and Eisenbud. Serios claimed he needed a little tube in front of the camera lens to help him concentrate, but he was spotted slipping something into the tube. Most likely it was a picture of something that the camera would take an image of, but which Serios would claim came from his mind rather than his hand. The exposé appeared in the October 1967 issue of Popular Photography. Serios’ psychokinetic powers began to fade after the exposure and he has remained virtually unheard from for the past thirty years.

Many years after Serios faded from the paranormal spotlight, Uri Geller began doing a trick in which he produced thoughtographs. Geller would leave the lens cap on a 35mm camera and take pictures of his forehead. He claimed the developed film had pictures on it that came directly from his mind. There is no doubt that the images came from Geller’s mind, but perhaps they took a more circuitous route than he says. James Randi, magician and debunker of all things paranormal, claims that thoughtography is actually trickery done using a handheld optical device (Randi 1982: 222ff.; 1995: 233) or by taking photos on already exposed film. Intelligent people who are ignorant of photography are susceptible to being duped about psychic photographs and photographs of  prehistoric monsters or fairies, as was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

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The Ouija board

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

If there really is an afterlife, I’ll bet the best way to contact it is through a plastic, mass-produced board game from Milton Bradley!Mad Magazine

ouijaA Ouija board is commonly used in divination and spiritualism, often by friends out to have some fun. Sometimes, users become convinced they’ve been contacted by the spirit world. The board usually has the letters of the alphabet inscribed on it, along with words such as ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘good-bye,’ and ‘maybe.’ A planchette, a small 3-legged device with a hole in the middle or a pointer of some sort, is manipulated by those using the board. However, users often feel the planchette is moving of its own accord rather than responding to their own unconscious muscle movements (ideomotor action). The users ask a “spirit” a question and the pointer slides until it stops over “yes” or “no” or a letter on the board. Sometimes, the selections “spell out” an answer to a question asked.

Some users believe that paranormal or supernatural forces are at work in spelling out Ouija board answers. Skeptics believe that those using the board either consciously or unconsciously move the pointer to what is selected. To prove this, simply try it blindfolded some time Have an unbiased bystander take notes on what words or letters are selected. Usually, the results will be unintelligible.

The movement of the planchette is not due to spirits but to unconscious movements by those controlling the pointer. The same kind of unconscious movement is at work in such things as dowsing and facilitated communication.

Before there were Ouija boards in America there were talking boards. These could be used to contact the spirit world by anybody in the privacy of one’s own home; no séance was required and no medium need be present (or paid!). No experience necessary! No waiting! Quick results, guaranteed!

The Ouija board  was first introduced to the American public in 1890 as a parlor game sold in novelty shops.

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Vibrational Medicine

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

NewAgeVibrational medicine is a type of energy medicine. Energy medicine is based on vitalism, the metaphysical doctrine that living organisms possess a non-physical inner force or energy that gives them the property of life. This metaphysical force goes by many names: chi or qi (China), prana (India), ki (Japan); Wilhelm Reich’s orgone, Mesmer’s animal magnetism, Bergson’s élan vital (vital force), Reichenbach’s odic force, etc. American advocates much prefer the term energy or subtle energy. Many kinds of alternative therapies or energy medicines are based on a belief that health is determined by the flow of this alleged energy: acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, crystal therapy, therapeutic touch, reiki, and qigong are a few of the better known therapies. Not so well known are practices such as Aura-Soma, aura therapy, Comprehensive Energy Psychology, radionics, Sacred Santémony, and tone vibration transformation.

albertabrams

Dr. Albert Abrams (1863-1924)

The founding father of modern vibrational medicine was Dr. Albert Abrams (1863-1924), the “dean of twentieth century charlatans.”* Abrams called his healing method radionics and claimed that he was able to detect distinct energies or vibrations (radiation) being emitted from healthy and diseased tissue in all living things. He invented devices that allegedly could measure this energy (vibration, radiation) and he created a system for evaluating vibrations as signs of health or disease.

The fact that no scientific instrument has been able to detect subtle energy and that modern science abandoned vitalism more than a century ago has had little deterrent effect on the belief that health depends on an invisible form of energy. Worse, despite the lack of compelling scientific evidence for any form of energy medicine, there are many pseudoscientific devices on the market that claim to heal by vibrational therapy (see here). The sellers of these devices have found a niche market among the desperate who cling to magical thinking against the claims of science.

aura_150pxAs true believers are wont to say: the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That is, just because there is no compelling scientific evidence that subtle energy exists doesn’t mean that such energy doesn’t exist. True, but belief in subtle energy is based on faith. The compelling scientific evidence shows that what is often attributed to subtle energy is due to the placebo effect, is an illusion, or can be easily accounted for by other non-mysterious factors such as poor study design, regression to the mean, suggestion, conditioning, or the body healing itself naturally.

Vibrational medicine adds the twisted belief that subtle energies vibrate and that these vibrations are either healthy or unhealthy. (Note: there is absolutely no evidence for these beliefs about vibrations and there have been no scientific studies that have ever identified such vibrations.)

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Long Island Medium – The Learning Channel

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Long Island Medium is a television program on The (so-called) Learning Channel featuring Theresa Caputo doing readings as a psychic medium in the tradition of Sylvia Browne, James Van Praagh, John Edward, and thousands of other men and women claiming to get messages from dead people. What are the odds that Caputo is not deluded or a fraud? I’d say they’re about the same as those for Gordon Smith or Allison DuBois or Char Margolis or Noreen Renier or Sylvia Browne or Rosemary Althea or Lynn Ann Maker or Greta Alexander or Phil Jordan or James Van Praagh or John Edward or George Anderson or Dorothy Allison.

Theresa Caputo is just one of many unsinkable rubber duckies, as James Randi calls them. No matter how many of these characters skeptics expose, dozens more will pop up to replace or join them. Why? Not because they really get messages from the dead or have special powers, but because people want to believe in them, people are easily deceived, and most people don’t understand subjective validation and how it works. For more on how subjective validation works see “Gary Schwartz’s Subjective Validation of Mediums.”

It is understandable that many people want to reconnect with loved ones who have died. Belief in the afterlife and in spirit communication seems natural to many people. People who are skeptical of life after death seem to be in a minority, so there is little reason to distrust such beliefs when there is substantial communal reinforcement for them.

Another reason these rubber duckies remain unsinkable is that they are playing a win-win game. Skeptics don’t have a chance against them. Even when caught in egregious falsehoods–as Sylvia Browne has been several times–support for their work increases rather than suffers. When Sylvia Browne appeared on the Montel Williams show and told the parents of a missing 10-year-old boy that their son was dead, she did not lose any followers when four years later Shawn Hornbeck was found alive. Browne had also claimed that the man who took Shawn was a “dark-skinned man, he wasn’t black — more like Hispanic.” She said he had long black hair in dreadlocks and was “really tall.” She was wrong on all counts.

She was also wrong about the vehicle driven by Michael J. Devlin, the man convicted of kidnapping and child molestation in the case. Another alleged psychic, James Van Praagh, said that two people were involved in the abduction and that a person who worked in a railroad car plant was involved and the body might be concealed in a railway car. He was wrong on all counts.

A look at Van Praagh’s message board will reveal why such errors do little to destroy people’s faith in characters like Browne or Van Praagh. To the devoted believer, the psychic can do no wrong. If there was an error, it wasn’t the psychic’s fault. What may appear to be an error may not really be an error. It’s possible the psychic got his or her wires crossed and mistook one spirit for another. And so on. And, as Van Praagh and Browne have often said, they’re not gods and not infallible. When you’re validated you’re right and when you’re wrong your fallibility is validated. For the alleged psychic it is always a win-win with your devoted followers.

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Subjective Validation

via Skepdic.com

Subjective validation is the process of validating words, initials, statements, or signs as accurate because one is able to find them personally meaningful and significant. Subjective validation explains why many people are seduced by the apparent accuracy of pseudoscientific personality profiles. Subjective validation deludes everyone from the housewife who thinks her happiness depends on her blood type or horoscope, to the FBI agent who thinks criminal profiles are spot on, to the therapist who thinks her Rorschach readings are penetrating portraits of psychological disorders.

Subjective validation is an essential element of any successful cold reading done by astrologers, palm readers, tarot readers, mediums, and the like. The sitter in such readings must cooperate. Fortunately for the medium, most sitters are usually eager for the reader to succeed and are willing to work hard to find personal meaning in whatever the reader throws out. In a successful cold reading, the sitter will be convinced that the accuracy of the reading was not due to her ability and willingness to cooperate but rather to the powers of astrology, palmistry, tarot, or mediumship.

Sitters are often very compliant. A medium will say he senses a father figure trying to contact him from the spirit world and the sitter has only to find someone to fit the bill. It need not be the sitter’s father. So, when the sitter identifies this father figure as her deceased husband, the medium is validated by the subject. The medium is validated by the subject when the medium says she is getting the message “I do not walk alone” and the sitter makes sense out of this by seeing it as a communication from a departed soul who was in a wheelchair before she died. There may be thousands of ways to make sense out of an ambiguous stimulus like the name ‘Michael’ or the expression ‘broken wheel’ but all it takes is for the sitter to find one and the medium is validated.

Selective memory is also involved in subjective validation because it is very unlikely that any sitter will be able to find meaning in every utterance the medium makes. Fortunately for the reader, the sitter will usually forget the misses and remember only the hits. That is, the sitter will remember what she was able to make sense out of and forget the stuff that made no sense to her. Also, it rarely occurs that anyone makes an independent check of the accuracy of the sitter’s rating of the reader.* So, if a sitter is satisfied that a reading is very accurate that is usually taken as sufficient evidence by the medium – and by experimenters who test mediums such as Gary Schwartz – as proof of the accuracy of the reading.

The stronger the desire to make contact, the harder the sitter will work to find meaning and connections in the medium’s items. This fact should impact the design of experiments that are supposed to test a medium’s ability to get messages from spirits. Experimenters should always checks factual claims made by sitters. But even though the concern with factual accuracy is important in verifying the success of the medium, one should not lose sight of the importance of the studies that have been done on how the human mind works when it comes to making sense out of and giving significance to disparate data presented to it. The overall effect of subjective validation should show up in the way sitters rate the accuracy of the mediums’ claims.

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Apophenia

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Face? What face?

Apophenia is the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena.

Soon after his son committed suicide, Episcopalian Bishop James A. Pike (1913-1969) began seeing meaningful messages in such things as a stopped clock, the angle of an open safety pin, and the angle formed by two postcards lying on the floor. He thought they were conveying the time his son had shot himself (Christopher 1975: 139).

Peter Brugger of the Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Zurich, gives examples of apophenia from August Strindberg‘s Occult Diary, the playwright’s own account of his psychotic break:

He saw “two insignia of witches, the goat’s horn and the besom” in a rock and wondered “what demon it was who had put [them] … just there and in my way on this particular morning.” A building then looked like an oven and he thought of Dante’s Inferno.

He sees sticks on the ground and sees them as forming Greek letters which he interprets to be the abbreviation of a man’s name and feels he now knows that this man is the one who is persecuting him. He sees sticks on the bottom of a chest and is sure they form a pentagram.

He sees tiny hands in prayer when he looks at a walnut under a microscope and it “filled me with horror.”

His crumpled pillow looks “like a marble head in the style of Michelangelo.” Strindberg comments that “these occurrences could not be regarded as accidental, for on some days the pillow presented the appearance of horrible monsters, of gothic gargoyles, of dragons, and one night … I was greeted by the Evil One himself….”

According to Brugger, “The propensity to see connections between seemingly unrelated objects or ideas most closely links psychosis to creativity … apophenia and creativity may even be seen as two sides of the same coin.” Some of the most creative people in the world, then, must be psychoanalysts and therapists who use projective tests like the Rorschach test or who see patterns of child abuse behind every emotional problem. Brugger notes that one analyst thought he had support for the penis envy theory because more females than males failed to return their pencils after a test. Another spent nine pages in a prestigious journal describing how sidewalk cracks are vaginas and feet are penises, and the old saw about not stepping on cracks is actually a warning to stay away from the female sex organ.

Brugger’s research indicates that high levels of dopamine affect the propensity to find meaning, patterns, and significance where there is none, and that this propensity is related to a tendency to believe in the paranormal.

In statistics, apophenia is called a Type I error, seeing patterns where none, in fact, exist. It is highly probable that the apparent significance of many unusual experiences and phenomena are due to apophenia, e.g., ghosts and hauntings, EVP, numerology, the Bible code, anomalous cognition, ganzfeld “hits”, most forms of divination, the prophecies of Nostradamus, remote viewing, and a host of other paranormal and supernatural experiences and phenomena.

Those of us who have had the pleasure of spending some time with a person having a psychotic episode have often been asked to see the significance of such random things as automobile license plate numbers, birth dates, and arrangements of fallen twigs.

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Automatic writing (trance writing)

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Automatic writing is writing allegedly directed by a spirit or by the unconscious mind. It is sometimes called “trance” writing because it is done quickly and without judgment, writing whatever comes to mind, “without consciousness,” as if in a trance. It is believed that this allows one to tap into the subconscious mind, where “the true self” dwells. Uninhibited by the conscious mind, deep and mystical thoughts can be accessed. Trance writing is also used by some psychotherapists who think it is a quick way to release repressed memories. There is no scientific evidence that trance writing has any unique therapeutic value.

Advocates of automatic writing claim that the process allows them to access other intelligences and entities for information and guidance. They further claim that it permits them to recall previously irretrievable data from the subconscious mind and to unleash spiritual energy for personal growth and revelation. According to psychic Ellie Crystal, entities from beyond are constantly trying to communicate with us. Apparently, we all have the potential to be as clairaudient as James Van Praagh and John Edward.

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Anecdotal (testimonial) Evidence

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Testimonials and vivid anecdotes are one of the most popular and convincing forms of evidence presented for beliefs in the supernatural, paranormal, and pseudoscientific. Nevertheless, testimonials and anecdotes in such matters are of little value in establishing the probability of the claims they are put forth to support. Sincere and vivid accounts of one’s encounter with an angel or the Virgin Mary, an alien, a ghost, a Bigfoot, a child claiming to have lived before, purple auras around dying patients, a miraculous dowser, a levitating guru, or a psychic surgeon are of little value in establishing the reasonableness of believing in such matters.

Anecdotes are unreliable for various reasons. Stories are prone to contamination by beliefs, later experiences, feedback, selective attention to details, and so on. Most stories get distorted in the telling and the retelling. Events get exaggerated. Time sequences get confused. Details get muddled. Memories are imperfect and selective; they are often filled in after the fact. People misinterpret their experiences. Experiences are conditioned by biases, memories, and beliefs, so people’s perceptions might not be accurate. Most people aren’t expecting to be deceived, so they may not be aware of deceptions that others might engage in. Some people make up stories. Some stories are delusions. Sometimes events are inappropriately deemed psychic simply because they seem improbable when they might not be that improbable after all. In short, anecdotes are inherently problematic and are usually impossible to test for accuracy.

Thus, stories of personal experience with paranormal or supernatural events have little scientific value. If others cannot experience the same thing under the same conditions, then there will be no way to verify the experience. If there is no way to test the claim made, then there will be no way to tell if the experience was interpreted correctly. If others can experience the same thing, then it is possible to make a test of the testimonial and determine whether the claim based on it is worthy of belief. As parapsychologist Charles Tart once said after reporting an anecdote of a possibly paranormal event: “Let’s take this into the laboratory, where we can know exactly what conditions were. We don’t have to hear a story told years later and hope that it was accurate.” Dean Radin also noted that anecdotes aren’t good proof of the paranormal because memory “is much more fallible than most people think” and eyewitness testimony “is easily distorted” (Radin 1997: 32).

Testimonials regarding paranormal experiences are of little use to science because selective thinking and self-deception must be controlled for in scientific observations. Most psychics and dowsers, for example, do not even realize that they need to do controlled tests of their powers to rule out the possibility that they are deceiving themselves. They are satisfied that their experiences provide them with enough positive feedback to justify the belief in their paranormal abilities. Controlled tests of psychics and dowsers would prove once and for all that they are not being selective in their evidence gathering. It is common for such people to remember their apparent successes and ignore or underplay their failures. Controlled tests can also determine whether other factors such as cheating might be involved.

If such testimonials are scientifically worthless, why are they so popular and why are they so convincing? There are several reasons.

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Here is a great podcast:

Robert T. Carroll, Ph.D. discusses anecdotal evidence (8 minutes).

Click here to open in a new window or listen right here:

Via Skepticality – the official podcast of Skeptic magazine and the Skeptic Society

The Perfect Prediction Scam

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

This scam involves making a series of opposite predictions (on winners in the stock market, football games, or the like) and sending them to different groups of people until one group has seen your perfect track record sufficiently to be duped into paying you for the next “prediction.”

For example, Notre Dame is playing Michigan next week, so you send 100 letters to people, predicting the outcome of the game. It doesn’t really matter whether the recipients of your letter are known to bet on college football games. The information you provide will stimulate some of them to want to bet on the game. You name your letter something swell like The Perfect Gamble. In 50 letters you predict Notre Dame will win. In the other 50 you predict Michigan will win. You write a short introduction explaining that you have a secret surefire method of predicting winners and to prove it you are giving out free predictions this week. Notre Dame wins.

The next week you send a free copy of The Perfect Gamble to the 50 who got the letter that predicted a Notre Dame victory. In the introduction you remind them of last week’s prediction and you inform them how much they would have won had they followed your advice. To show there are no hard feelings and to give them one more chance to take advantage of your surefire system you provide—free of cost—one more prediction. This week Notre Dame is playing Oregon State. You divide your list of recipients and you send 25 letters predicting Notre Dame will win and 25 predicting Oregon State will win.

After the second game, you will have 25 people who have seen you make two correct predictions in a row. Three correct predictions in a row should convince several recipients of your letter that you do have a surefire way to pick winners. You now charge them a substantial fee for the next prediction and, if all goes as planned, you should make a handsome profit even after postage and handling costs.

Since you are a crook for running this scam, you won’t feel guilty in promising the prospective suckers their money back if not completely satisfied with your predictions. Your hope is that they will be greedy and say: “How can I lose?” You needn’t remind them how. You might even be able to rationalize your behavior by telling yourself that they deserve to be scammed because they’re so greedy!

For different audiences, you can pretend to be a psychic or an astrologer or a mathematician or a gambler who knows how to fix college football games. If you are cheating the gullible as well as the greedy, you may be able to convince yourself that you are performing a beneficial service to the community by cheating these people out of their money. You might persuade yourself that rather than try to put you in jail for being a fraudulent scammer, society should give you an award for reminding people to use their common sense and critical thinking skills.

A variant of the perfect prediction scam is used by some psychics. If you tell enough clients “someday you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams,” then if one of them inherits a great sum or wins a lottery, you may get credit for being psychic. (More . . . )

Indian rope trick

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

This alleged trick, reportedly witnessed by thousands of people, involves an Indian fakir who throws a rope to the sky, but the rope does not fall back to the ground. Instead it mysteriously rises until the top of it disappears into thin air, the darkness, the mist, whatever. Now, that would be trick enough for most people, but this one allegedly goes on. A young boy climbs the unsupported rope, which miraculously supports him until he disappears into thin air, the mist, the darkness, whatever. That, too, would be trick enough for most of us, but this one continues. The fakir then pulls out a knife, sword, scimitar, whatever and climbs the rope until he, too, disappears into thin air, mist, darkness, whatever. Again, this would a great trick even if it stopped here. But, no. It continues.

Body parts fall from the sky onto the ground, into a basket next to the base of the rope, whatever. Now, that’s quite common in some neighborhoods and would not count as much of a trick. But the fakir allegedly then slides down the rope and empties the basket, throws a cloth over the scattered body parts, whatever, and the boy miraculously reappears with all his parts in the right places. That would be a great trick, especially since it must be done in the open without the use of engineers, technicians, electronics, satellite feeds, television cameras, whatever.

Actually, the only thing needed for this trick is human gullibility. According to Peter Lamont, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh and a former president of the Magic Circle in Edinburgh, the Indian rope trick

Read More: Indian rope trick – The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

Experimenter Effect

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

The experimenter effect is a term used to describe any of a number of subtle cues or signals from an experimenter that affect the performance or response of subjects in the experiment. The cues may be unconscious nonverbal cues, such as muscular tension or gestures. They may be vocal cues, such as tone of voice. Research has demonstrated that the expectations and biases of an experimenter can be communicated to experimental subjects in subtle, unintentional ways, and that these cues can significantly affect the outcome of the experiment (Rosenthal 1998).

Robert Rosenthal has found that even slight differences in instructions given to control and experimental groups can affect the outcome of an experiment. Different vocal intonations, subtle gestures, even slight changes in posture, might influence the subjects.

[…]

The experimenter effect may explain why many experiments can be conducted successfully only by one person or one group of persons, while others repeatedly fail in their attempts to replicate the results. Of course, there are other reasons why studies cannot be replicated. The original experimenter may have committed errors in design, controls, or calculations. Or he may have committed fraud.

Keep Reading: experimenter effect – The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

Astral Projection

The Skeptic’s Dictionary definition of the day …

Astral projection is a type of out-of-body experience (OBE) in which the astral body leaves its other six bodies and journeys far and wide to anywhere in the universe.

There is scant evidence to support the claim that anyone can project their mind, soul, psyche, spirit, astral body, etheric body, or any other entity to somewhere else on this or any other planet. The main evidence is in the form of testimonials.

via astral projection – The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

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