I was in a discussion forum and somebody asked me to explain The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. I started typing when i remembered a video from several years ago that will explain it better than i can write it.
Enjoy, my friend 🙂
Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi
Original broadcast: October 19, 1993
Description via PBS.org:
Can psychics predict the future? Many people seem to think so. Others argue that, in most cases, so-called psychic experiences are really misinterpretations of events. In this episode of NOVA, magician and confirmed skeptic James Randi challenges viewers to weigh the evidence for and against the existence of psychic phenomena.
Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers. The program highlights some of the methods and processes he uses to examine psychics’ claims. Using his own expertise in creating deception and illusion, Randi challenges specific psychics’ claims by duplicating their performances and “feats,” or by applying scientific methods. His goal is to eliminate all possible alternative explanations for the psychic phenomena. He also looks for evidence that they are not merely coincidental. His arguments can motivate your class to discuss the differences between psychic performances and legitimate cases of unexplained phenomena.
The Misconception: You take randomness into account when determining cause and effect.
The Truth: You tend to ignore random chance when the results seem meaningful or when you want a random event to have a meaningful cause.
Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were both presidents of the United States, elected 100 years apart. Both were shot and killed by assassins who were known by three names with 15 letters, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, and neither killer would make it to trial.
Spooky, huh? It gets better.
Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln.
They were both killed on a Friday while sitting next to their wives, Lincoln in the Ford Theater, Kennedy in a Lincoln made by Ford.
Both men were succeeded by a man named Johnson – Andrew for Lincoln and Lyndon for Kennedy. Andrew was born in 1808. Lyndon in 1908.
What are the odds?
In 1898, Morgan Robertson wrote a novel titled “Futility.”
Written 14 years before the Titanic sank, 11 years before construction on the vessel even began, the similarities between the book and the real event are eerie.
The novel describes a giant boat called the Titan which everyone considers unsinkable. It is the largest ever created, and inside it seems like a luxury hotel – just like the as yet unbuilt Titanic.
Titan had only 20 lifeboats, half than it needed should the great ship sink. The Titanic had 24, also half than it needed.
In the book, the Titan hits an iceberg in April 400 miles from Newfoundland. The Titanic, years later, would do the same in the same month in the same place.
The Titan sinks, and more than half of the passengers die, just as with the Titanic. The number of people on board who die in the book and the number in the future accident are nearly identical.
The similarities don’t stop there. The fictional Titan and the real Titanic both had three propellers and two masts. Both had a capacity of 3,000 people. Both hit the iceberg close to midnight.
Did Robertson have a premonition? I mean, what are the odds?
In the 1500s, Nostradamus wrote:
Bêtes farouches de faim fleuves tranner
Plus part du champ encore Hister sera, En caige de fer le grand sera treisner, Quand rien enfant de Germain observa.
This is often translated to:
Beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers, The greater part of the battle will be against Hister. He will cause great men to be dragged in a cage of iron, When the son of Germany obeys no law.
That’s rather creepy, considering this seems to describe a guy with a tiny mustache born about 400 years later. Here is another prophecy:
Out of the deepest part of the west of Europe, From poor people a young child shall be born, Who with his tongue shall seduce many people, His fame shall increase in the Eastern Kingdom.
Wow. Hister certainly sounds like Hitler, and that second quatrain seems to drive it home. Actually, Many of Nostradamus’ predictions are about a guy from Germania who wages a great war and dies mysteriously.
What are the odds?
If any of this seems too amazing to be coincidence, too odd to be random, too similar to be chance, you are not so smart.
You see, in all three examples the barn was already peppered with holes. You just drew bullseyes around the spots where the holes clustered together.
Allow me to explain.
By autistickyuubi via Autistic Skeptic
I have a theory: There’s something inherent in human nature that makes people need religion. Some kind of religion. Any kind of religion. Even the most atheist people in the world still can’t fight this urge to have some kind of religious conviction.
With this I don’t mean that every single individual person in existence has religious convictions. Of course there are exceptions, ie. people who truly are neutral and skeptic in the proper sense of the word, who do not obsess about some conviction. However, these seem to be more the exception than the rule. What I mean is that no matter what group of people we are talking about, there will always be some fanatic individuals which obsess about something with religious conviction.
Even people with an atheist world view can still have hard time resisting this urge, and thus they will find some substitute.
One such substitute in the modern world are conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theory fanatics present all the symptoms of religious fanatics. Here are some of them:
- A conspiracy theorist has “seen the light”, so to speak. That is, he has seen the Truth, which the majority of other people haven’t.
- A conspiracy theorist has the absolute, irrefutable, unshakable CONVICTION that he knows the Truth, only the Truth, and nothing but the Truth. There’s absolutely no doubt in his mind that what he believes is the Truth.The conspiracy theorist will say things like “there’s NO WAY these photos are not faked” and “there’s NO WAY this is something else than controlled demolition”, etc. He is absolutely sure and certain at all possible levels that he knows the truth.
- There’s absolutely nothing you can say that will convince the conspiracy theorist otherwise. You can refute every single claim he makes to absolute smithereens with hard scientific easy-to-understand facts, and that will not move his conviction even a fraction of an inch. Not even a shadow of a doubt will cross his mind at any point.
- The doctrine which the conspiracy theorist believes is based on a series of books, web pages and “documentaries” made by some other conspiracy theorists (which are completely akin to prophets), and every single word in these works is considered the absolute Truth by the conspiracy theorist. Every single claim, no matter how small or how ridiculous, is the absolute Truth. Not a single claim is considered dubious or unimportant.
- The conspiracy theorist has the irresistible urge to spread the Truth to others, the lost lambs who wander in darkness and still don’t know the Truth, who haven’t seen the light, and who must be converted.Spreading the Truth is in no way limited to the Internet. Like the most vocal religious movements, also conspiracy theorists will organize protest marches and parades, where they will disturb the peace of completely unrelated events, they will get into TV shows to spread their convictions, they will preach to individuals at their workplaces and other places, etc, etc.
Continue Reading @ Autistic skeptic (Archived) – – –
I’ve discussed here and here how practitioners of paranormal piffle wish to look scientific. They fail under actual scientific scrutiny but, we have to admit, they are pretty effective at bamboozling the public with a sciencey show.
I came across a news story in Business Insider about an astrologer who was doing mighty well for herself. In times of uncertainty, society tends to turn to anything that will give them a sense of control. Astrologic and psychic advisors seem to fill that role for some people, even professional businesspeople. This astrologer, who thinks quite highly of her craft, had these things to say:
“What I do is scientific. Astrology involves careful methods learned over years and years of training and experience.”
“There are so many things we don’t understand in the world. What if 200 years ago someone had said that these metal barrels in the sky would get us around the world in a few hours? Or that we’d inject ourselves with mold to treat illnesses? People are so skeptical.”
And then I laughed.
Few examples of pseudoscience are more perfect than astrology, which has been studied A LOT, and whose practitioners still cannot demonstrate a root in reality.
Picture it. You and your better half are on your way home after a night on the town. It’s late, it’s dark, and you pull into the gas station for a pack of smokes. He runs in, you wait in the car.
You’re sitting there, idly waiting for him to return when suddenly you get this inexplicable, overwhelming feeling of terror. You sit up a little straighter and glance toward the driver’s side window, and there, staring in at you, are two children. But not just any children. These are Black Eyed Children. And they want to get in your car with you.
Sounds like something out of one of those Village of the Damned sequels, right? Well, it’s not. This is real life, as real as it gets. And this is just one of thousands of reported sightings. Black Eyed Children are knocking on doors and tapping on windows, asking to be let in, all over the world.
BECs have, as the name implies, black eyes, completely void of color or light. No pupils, no irises, just dead-looking black eyes. In fact, some witnesses say their eyes seem to be bottomless pools of blackness.
These children, typically between the ages of 8 and 16, have very pale skin, some people say it even looks plastic, or artificial, but other than that they look like normal children. Witnesses say they either dress in drab clothes, generally blue jeans and a hoodie, or they wear very old-fashioned, handmade clothing, similar to what Amish people wear.
Sometimes they travel in pairs, sometimes in groups and sometimes you’ll see just one. Regardless, these BECs seem to evoke an instant feeling of terror. Not just suspicion or even fear. But pure, gut-wrenching, “I think I just shit my pants but who cares cuz I’m about to die anyway” mind-numbing terror.
What do they do that’s so terrifying? They ask to enter your home or your vehicle. But it’s not what they ask – it’s how they ask it.
The unexpected facts behind this famous ghost story from the 1970s
It was one of the great ghost stories of the 1970s. One of the world’s newest and flashiest airliners, a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, was making one of its first flights for Eastern Air Lines on December 29, 1972. It infamously crashed in Florida’s Everglades swamp just before midnight, killing 101 of the 176 people on board. The story goes that parts from it were salvaged and installed in other L-1011s, and almost immediately, the ghost stories began. Air crews reported seeing apparitions of their dead coworkers on board the planes that had Flight 401’s spare parts. Books and TV movies frightened audiences, and this ghost story that had it all became a permanent fixture in great American tales of the paranormal. Surely, pilots and air crew would never make up such stories, would they? To all who shivered at night in fear of this creepy story, it seemed that it must have been true as reported.
The actual crash was, in fact, true as reported; and there’s never been any real doubt over what the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigators determined. Pilot Bob Loft, copilot Bert Stockstill, and flight engineer Don Repo were bringing the plane in to land at Miami International Airport. They got a warning light on the landing gear. Loft told Stockstill to put the plane on autopilot while Repo went below to the avionics bay (called the “hell hole”) to manually check the landing gear. Loft accidentally nudged the control yoke, perhaps with his knee, while turning around to speak to Repo, and the autopilot mode was one which followed whatever pitch the pilot set with the yoke. None of them realized in the dark that they were gradually descending, as their attention was on debugging the landing gear indicator. Stockstill began a turn to follow the airport’s approach pattern, and immediately noticed their altitude — but it was too late. The plane crashed into the swamp; fortunately, it was a relatively gentle angle into a soft surface, and that’s what allowed so many to survive. All three of Loft, Stockstill, and Repo were among the unlucky majority who perished.
The stories began four years later . . .
Also See: Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 (Wikipedia)
I’m a huge X-Files fan!
The X-Files returns tonight (Sunday) on the Fox channel. Check your local listings and don’t forget: in some areas the X-Files start time might be delayed by the NFL post-game show – so pad your DVR stop time for the X-Files (i added an additional hour to the end of my X-Files recording).
Then the second episode is Monday evening on the Fox channel. Check your local listings.
While humanity has yet to generate any universally-accepted proof of ghosts or hauntings, millions of people around the world report seeing apparitions or experiencing ghostly encounters every year (and sometimes these events cluster around specific areas). Why? Is there any possible explanation for the purported appearance of ghosts?
By Elizabeth Palermo via LiveScience.com
People who believe in ghosts may be more afraid of actual, real-world dangers — things like violent crimes or nuclear war — than are people who don’t hold paranormal beliefs, a new survey finds.
The Survey of American Fear asked people in the United States to divulge the terrors that keep them up at night. For the survey, nearly 1,500 participants responded to questions about 88 different fears and anxieties, ranging from commonplace phobias (like fear of heights) to less tangible concerns (like fear of government corruption). The survey also asked participants about their beliefs concerning paranormal and mythical things, like ghosts, Bigfoot and ancient aliens.
“The reason we ask [about paranormal things] on the survey is that we’re interested in finding out what kind of clusters of beliefs tend to be associated with fear,” Christopher Bader, a professor of sociology at Chapman University in California and leader of the second annual Fear Survey, told Live Science.
Last year in the survey, researchers asked questions that gauged the respondents’ scientific reasoning. This was done to find out how the individuals’ knowledge of scientific ideas (how electricity works, why the sun sets in the west, etc.) related to those respondents’ fears. But this year, the focus was on supernatural beliefs, not scientific ones.
Bader and his colleagues found that quite a few Americans hold paranormal beliefs. The most common of these is the belief that spirits can haunt particular places; 41.4 percent of the demographically representative group of participants said they held this belief. A lot of Americans (26.5 percent) also think that the living and the dead can communicate with each other in some way, the survey found.
Many survey participants said . . .
By Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know via YouTube
We hear about this mysterious force all the time in fiction and film — but what is it actually supposed to be? Is there any evidence that it might be real?
By Debra Kelly via Listverse
Regardless of anyone’s religious or spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof, Aleister Crowley is an incredibly fascinating figure. There’s as much myth and legend surrounding him as there are facts, and sifting through the stories is a strange, strange look into one of the most notorious lives of the 20th century. He left behind an incredibly rich history of teachings and beliefs, not to mention more than a few outrageous claims.
10 • Claimed To Have Developed The ‘V For Victory’ Sign
There was some pretty powerful symbolism going on in World War II, and according to Crowley, the Allied “V for Victory” sign was his creation. Since we know what happened at the end of the war, it goes without saying that he was right—if, that is, he did do what he claimed.
At the time, he was friends (or at least acquaintances) with real-life super-spy Ian Fleming. Just what kind of impact Crowley had in the war years is up for debate. There are some claims that he was a spy and some saying that, even going back to World War I, he was posing as a German supporter to drum up a significant amount of crazy in order to help sway the Americans to join the war on the side of the British.
Aleister also said that he had the ear of Winston Churchill, and when it came time to develop a symbol that would rally the Allied troops, he was the one that came up with the “V for Victory” salute. More than just an inspirational sign, it was also designed to strike fear in the hearts of Nazi occultists. The swastika, which gained its power from the Sun and solar energy, was a powerful thing; that’s why the Nazis chose it, after all. Crowley stated that the “V for Victory” sign was just as powerful in its opposition. Supposedly, it was a magical, mystical sign that invoked the power of Apophis and Typhon and channeled their destructive forces to fight for those who wielded it.
9 • Crowley And The Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn
Once a major player in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Crowley’s falling-out with the secret society within only a few years of his 1898 induction set a pretty good precedent for just how many different stories have been developed around him. According to Crowley, his disillusionment with the organization came when he realized that the people who were initiated didn’t necessarily know what they were dealing with when it came to mysticism, rites, and rituals. He stated that while the founder, S.L. MacGregor Mathers, did have some mystical powers, he had essentially bitten off more than he could chew and had started mucking about with evils over which he had no control. His actions had destroyed the Order, and Crowley left.
The Order tells a very, very different story. According to their official biography of Crowley, his rather over-the-top personality and his sexual orientation were already causing problems when there was a falling-out between two opposing factions within the organization. Ultimately, Crowley didn’t actually leave the Order, not as he described, but finished off his alienation of the group by publishing some of their secret documents. To add insult to injury, he wasn’t just revealing secrets, but he was giving himself credit for works that Mathers had written. Crowley claimed to be doing it because Mathers was actually under the influence of the evil that he couldn’t control.
Lawsuits soon followed, but since Mathers hadn’t copyrighted the works outside of the organization, Crowley won.
8 • Invisibility And The Lamp Of Invisible Light
After his falling-out with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Crowley fled first to Paris and then to the Americas. While in Mexico, he was absolutely inspired by what he found there and established his own order—The Lamp of the Invisible Light.
According to Crowley, his time in the Order of the Golden Dawn was just a warm-up. He likened his exodus from the Order to putting away “childish things” and went out to learn on his own. Once he was freed from the shackles of the already organized society, he did a lot of things with inspiring names.
He learned to wield the “all encircling chain of the Great Brotherhood” and the “Sword of Flaming Light,” killing the serpent that had started the downfall of Christ, while taming good and evil bulls, sowing dragons’ teeth, and acquiring the Golden Fleece. It was while he was writing his self-initiation ceremonies for his new order that he also discovered how to make himself invisible, which is apparently pretty easy once you know the tricks. Crowley says that it doesn’t have anything to do with truly making yourself invisible but just controlling everyone else around you and making them completely uninterested in making eye contact with you or noticing you in any way. He says that once he figured out how to do it, which he could gauge by the faintness of his own reflection, he could don his red robes and golden crown and walk the streets of Mexico, where no one would ever, ever make eye contact with him or initiate a conversation.
Clearly, this was because he was invisible.
7 • Aiwass
Aiwass meant several different things over the course of the evolution of Crowley’s beliefs. In 1904, Crowley wrote The Book of Law, supposedly with guidance from the otherworldly Aiwass. At the time, Crowley painted him quite clearly as something that existed outside of himself rather than as a part of him. It was necessary, after all, as The Book of Law was designed to be the new religion that he had hoped would make all other religions obsolete. This religion, Thelema, was to be world-changing, and for that, it needed to come as a message from something outside the world. Aiwass was painted as the messenger, but as the doctrine developed, so did Aiwass’s role.
When I was an intern doing a rotation in the emergency department, on one particularly busy shift a nurse commented (to no one in particular) that it must be a full moon. I habitually look at the moon and generally know what phase it is in (right now it is a waxing gibbous, almost full), and so I knew at the time that in fact there was a crescent moon in the sky. I informed her of this. She gave a disappointed look and then went on with her work without any apparent further thought on the matter.
The episode struck me at the time. It seemed to me that I just witnessed a clear example of confirmation bias – what if it had been near a full moon? That would have confirmed her prior belief in a lunar effect, while this negative correlation was brushed aside and likely did not have any negative effect on her belief. (Although, my interpretation and memory of this event can itself be an example of confirmation bias regarding confirmation bias.)
Belief in the so-called lunar effect, that the phases of the moon exert an influence on human behavior with the most common element being a full-moon inducing extreme behavior, is very common. In my experience it is one of the most common pseudoscientific beliefs I encounter in the general public. One survey indicates that 43% of adults believe in the lunar effect, especially mental health professionals, including nurses.
When someone expresses such a belief to me I often use it as an opening to discuss skeptical principles. While belief in the lunar effect is widespread, it is usually not part of any emotionally held religious or ideological belief. It is therefore an excellent teaching opportunity. One question I like to ask is, “how do you think that works?” The most common answer I receive is probably the least plausible – that the tidal effects of the moon influence the brain because the brain is sitting in water (spinal fluid).
The tidal effect answer is incredibly implausible for a number of reasons.
The latest theory and speculation about Bermuda Triangle is that there are multiple Bermuda Triangle-like zones on Earth. Conspiracy theories have been a part and parcel of mankind’s journey on earth. Every unexplained event or a natural occurring has always had an unscientific theory explaining it. These theories have been knowingly or unknowingly ingrained in the minds of our forefathers to our parents all the way through to our generation and possibly to the next.
With the 21st century world that we live in, the developments in science and technology have taken us beyond the realm of our solar system, our galaxy, all the way into theories about multiple universes and dimensions. Today, the scientists are working on solving equations about wormholes and inter-galactic travel. However, there are people in the world who disapprove the simple facts as we know them about the universe and genuinely believe in something unscientific.
Though science strives to explain every unexplained question in the world and the universe with logic and raw proof, there are still certain concepts or theories that remain mystically unexplained. Questions that have been and still are unanswered. One of these concepts or theories is about Bermuda Triangle.
The Bermuda Triangle is a section of our planet on the eastern sea front of the U.S. The Bermuda Triangle area, also known as Devil’s Triangle is the section of the North Atlantic Ocean situated in the space separating Florida, Puerto Rico and Bermuda Islands. It is said that many ships and airplanes have simply disappeared while flying or sailing over the Bermuda Triangle. Hundreds of hair-raising experiences have . . .
Did a poltergeist infest a home in Columbus, Ohio? Or was this the work of a mischievous teen?
In 1982 a terrifying phenomena was lifted from the pages of parapsychology literature and turned into the highly successful film, Poltergeist. Although the film was not based on a real case, and the phenomena in the film veered wildly from the historical symptoms, it did make this peculiar type of event culturally available in a way it had never been before. So when a trouble household in Columbus, Ohio began experiencing flying objects and mysterious disturbances, one had to wonder: was this a poltergeist or merely zeitgeist?
Enthusiasts of paranormal lore will know that the word poltergeist is derived from the german words for noisy and spirit. Before we get into the particulars of the Columbus Poltergeist, lets talk about skeptics and hauntings. Skeptics are often depicted as dismissing the idea of ghosts and spirits without investigation, but there is actually a rich history of thorough scientific investigations of such alleged phenomena. The most difficult challenge is that the allegedly paranormal events rarely manifest themselves when skeptical researchers are present. This leaves the investigator to more of a forensic role and sometimes with nothing but a collection of anecdotes.
Even the terminology for such events is difficult because a skeptical view of any such phenomena is predicated on examining each unusual component rather than collectively viewing them as a haunting. This is a problem for paranormal believers too in that ghost investigations are all trying to explain elusive phenomena. Consider these words: phantoms, shadows, phantasms, ghosts, spirits… there is a robust lexicon to describe these non-corporeal entities, but no scientific proof that any of them exist. For the purposes of this article I’m going to talk about various aspects of this field but remember that these are terms which the scientific community – and Skeptoid – do not endorse as real or genuine. So when I talk about hauntings I’m not endorsing the existence of supernatural manifestations, but using the word to mean “the collection of unusual events” associated with such cases.
Poltergeists cases are characterized by loud noises, things being thrown, apportations of tiny objects, mysterious liquids appearing, rocks falling on the roof, and occasionally people being pushed, clawed, pressed or otherwise harassed. In most cases the poltergeist events are centered around one person – often a teenager. Many times when this central figure is removed from the scene the events stop and do not follow them to other locations.
In 1984 the home of John and Joan Resch became the scene of such events. Glasses, photographs, telephones and lamps were being thrown about and broken and the events all seemed centered on the Resch’s adopted daughter Tina.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
Suppose you were walking in the woods, and suddenly, you stumbled on a root, and fell flat on your face. And while you were lying on your belly, trying to regain your breath and your dignity, you noticed that right in front of your eyes was a twenty-dollar bill that someone had dropped.
You might decide that your bad luck in tripping over a tree root had been cancelled out by the good luck of now being twenty dollars richer. You might, on the other hand, attribute it to complete chance and the chaotic nature of the universe, where sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and the whole thing appears to be a big zero-sum game.
What I can almost guarantee you wouldn’t do is decide that the money had exerted a magical gravitational attraction toward your face, and had caused you to fall.
I bring this up because of a maddening article in the Kent and Sussex Courier that tells of a fortuitous archaeological discovery in the town of Tunbridge Wells. Some “scientists,” we are told, were poking around Calverley Grounds, a local park, and found a mass burial site (probably a “plague pit” from the bubonic plague epidemic of 1660), and also the site of a skirmish between the Normans and the Saxons.
Cool stuff. But I haven’t told you yet how they found it.
Yes, dowsing, that time-honored tradition of holding metal rods or tree branches in your hands, and imagining that aquifers (or mineral deposits or burial sites or damn near anything) could somehow pull on them and alert you to their presence. How on earth could that work, you might ask? Well, an article by Stephen Wagner gives us the following definitive answer:
The quick answer is that no one really knows – not even experienced dowsers. Some theorize there is a psychic connection established between the dowser and the sought object. All things, living and inanimate, the theory suggests, possess an energy force. The dowser, by concentrating on the hidden object, is somehow able to tune in to the energy force or “vibration” of the object which, in turn, forces the dowsing rod or stick to move. The dowsing tool may act as a kind of amplifier or antenna for tuning into the energy.
Righty-o. An “energy force.” That, strangely, is completely undetectable except to a dude holding a tree branch.
I won’t even try to write an intro. There’s nothing i can say. Just watch.
Added 11/13/14: snopes.com: Monster 666 (snopes.com)
In the 21st Century, why do so many people still believe in the paranormal? David Robson discovers that there’s good reason we hold superstitions – and a few surprising benefits.
By David Robson via BBC Future
Soon after World War II, Winston Churchill was visiting the White House when he is said to have had an uncanny experience. Having had a long bath with a Scotch and cigar, he reportedly walked into the adjoining bedroom – only to be met by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Unflappable, even while completely naked, Churchill apparently announced: “Good evening, Mr President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” The spirit smiled and vanished.
His supposed contact with the supernatural puts Churchill in illustrious company. Arthur Conan Doyle spoke to ghosts through mediums, while Alan Turing believed in telepathy. Three men who were all known for their razor-sharp thinking, yet couldn’t stop themselves from believing in the impossible. You may well join them. According to recent surveys, as many as three quarters of Americans believe in the paranormal, in some form, while nearly one in five claim to have actually seen a ghost.
Intrigued by these persistent beliefs, psychologists have started to look at why some of us can’t shake off old superstitions and folk-lore. Their findings may suggest some hidden virtues to believing in the paranormal. At the very least, it should cause you to question whether you hold more insidious beliefs about the world.
Some paranormal experiences are easily explainable, based on faulty activity in the brain. Reports of poltergeists invisibly moving objects seem to be consistent with damage to certain regions of the right hemisphere that are responsible for visual processing; certain forms of epilepsy, meanwhile, can cause the spooky feeling that a presence is stalking you close by – perhaps underlying accounts of faceless “shadow people” lurking in the surroundings.
Out-of-body experiences, meanwhile, are now accepted neurological phenomena, while certain visual illusions could confound the healthy brain and create mythical beings. For example, one young Italian psychologist looked in the mirror one morning to find a grizzled old man staring back at him. His later experiments confirmed . . .