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.
More than a decade after the terrorist attacks that shook the nation, questions still surround what happened during 9/11.
From the collapse of the twin towers, to whether the White House had inside knowledge, AllTime 10s brings you, the 10 most shocking conspiracies about 9/11.
During Sylvia Browne’s decades-long career offering psychic readings and doing television appearances, she made numerous claims about working with law enforcement to solve crimes. In an age before the Internet, fact-checking by television and newspapers was more labor intensive. It was difficult to find sources to support or deny many of her claims. While several articles in the Skeptical Inquirer have cast doubt on her psychic abilities, Browne defended herself by citing her “work” on cases and giving the media endorsements from seemingly respectable law enforcement members, such as former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Ted Gunderson. Recently obtained FBI files shatter her insinuation that she had a relationship with federal law enforcement and show that the only interest the agency had in Browne was investigating her for fraud.
Records about a person in possession of an investigating government agency, such as the FBI, are available with the person’s permission or if they are deceased. In all likelihood, Browne would not have consented to the release of her FBI file given her refusal to allow Robert Lancaster, of StopSylvia.com, to post a transcript online that her own office sent him in 2007 (Lancaster 2007a). In her haste to refute claims from an ex-husband about an alleged lack of higher education credits, Browne’s office sent Lancaster her St. Teresa’s College (now Avila University) transcripts. The transcripts, according to Lancaster, did show Browne’s ex-husband was incorrect about how long she attended college. Yet unfortunately for Browne, that transcript also demonstrated that she did not complete college and proved her often-made claim about having a higher education degree was false. Given Browne’s reluctance to make records her office sent to a critic publicly available, she probably would not have been willing to allow the release of her law enforcement records. Following her 2013 death, anyone can now obtain the government files concerning Browne.
I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI asking for documents about Browne, using her date of birth under her previous legal last name of “Brown” and her later addition of “e” to the name.
The June 18 crash of Michael Hastings took the life of a talented but troubled journalist. As Gene Maddaus’ excellent feature in the latest issue of LA Weekly demonstrates, people around the L.A.-based writer were truly concerned about his state of mind and reported drug use.
The coroner’s report released last week says blunt force trauma from the collision with a tree ultimately did Hastings in, but it notes that he had drugs in his system, which were listed as noncontributing factors. The conclusion that this wasn’t a homicide, however, hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists.
Hastings’ supporters have pointed to his work covering the military, the NSA and other Big Government institutions as reasons to be skeptical. They’re wrong. Here are the five conspiracy theories or assumptions about the case that haven’t panned out:
5. The FBI did it. The FBI doesn’t normally kill civilians because it doesn’t like the journalism they’re working on. Nonetheless, the federal government has been suspect No. 1 in a case without a crime, mainly because the day before the crash Hastings told colleagues he believed he was being investigated by the bureau. The FBI says that’s not true. Hastings also said he had zeroed in on a big story and needed to go off the grid. So far, though, there’s no evidence of a murder here.
4. His last moments were being videotaped on purpose. A freelance news crew happened to be at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue when its dash cam, which was rolling, captured what appears to be Hastings’ Mercedes-Benz C250 coupe blasting through a red light at high speed en route to his death a few blocks south.
Some folks couldn’t believe that a news crew just happened to have tape rolling at that moment. But it happens. Early morning hours are prime time for random news, and freelance crews are the bred-and-butter of local television’s overnight coverage.
3. He was being followed. In the days and even months before his death Hastings expressed increasing concern about government wiretapping. And, yes, he apparently thought he was being watched. Some conspiracy theorists have shared their belief that Hastings was being followed, or even chased, in the minutes before his crash, thus explaining the estimated speed of 75 miles per hour, perhaps more.
If you check out the dash-cam video above, however, you’ll see that nobody was following Hastings’ car as it sped through the red light. And no witnesses have come forward to report that the Mercedes was being tailed or that any other car might have been involved. Police have released no statements indicating this was anything other than a solo-vehicle crash into a tree.
- Michael Hastings: 5 Conspiracy Theories That Didn’t Pan Out (blogs.laweekly.com)
- Michael Hastings Had Returned To Drug Use At Time Of His Death (huffingtonpost.com)
- Michael Hastings Death: Readers Respond to Our Cover Story (wikileaks-forum.com)
Another terrible situation unfolded in Southern California this week and self-described “intuitive” Pam Ragland is already positioning herself and her daughter for more media attention. Ragland’s visions and claims have unsurprisingly turned out to be flat out wrong.
Amber Alerts were sent throughout California Sunday evening for James Lee DiMaggio, suspected of abducting a 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and wanted in the death of the girl’s mother and younger brother. The alerts were quickly expanded to Oregon and Washington. [full story] [wiki]
Steven Gregory at KFI AM640 radio called Ragland to talk about the case and was aired on Bill Handel’s morning program on Thursday, August 8th. The segment begins with a background on the Amber Alert search and the portion involving Pam Ragland begins at about 4:30. Listen to the trimmed segment below:
Unfortunately for the Pam Ragland media jamboree, a little over twenty four hours after Ragland’s interview aired on KFI, the authorities found James DiMaggio’s vehicle after a man riding horseback spotted hikers he believed to be the missing pair.
Over 830 miles away from San Diego, California.
The rescue of Hannah Anderson is such a positive outcome to such a tragic situation after the deaths of Hannah’s mother and younger brother.
This does not let Ragland and her discredited claims free from continued skepticism. Here are a few observations and thoughts on the radio interview points that were discussed:
- Amber alert teen says captor shot dead ‘deserved what he got’ (kgw.com)
- Amber alert teen says captor ‘deserved what he got’ (king5.com)
- Amber Alert successes: More than 650 kids rescued (cnn.com)
- Local pilots found Amber Alert suspect’s campsite (krem.com)
- AMBER ALERT OVER!! Suspect James Lee DiMaggio “shot & killed.” Victim: Hannah Anderson Safe (theobamacrat.com)
By Ashutosh Jogalekar via Scientific American Blog Network
Why do people believe in God, ghosts, goblins, spirits, the afterlife and conspiracy theories? Two common threads running through these belief systems are what skeptic Michael Shermer in his insightful book “The Believing Brain” calls “patternicity” and “agenticity”. As the names indicate, patternicity refers to seeing meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Agenticity refers to seeing mysterious but palpable causal ‘agents’, puppet masters who pull the strings and bring about unexplained phenomena. God is probably the perfect example of an agent.
Patternicity and agenticity can both be seen as primitive evolutionary features of our brain that have been molded into instinctive behaviors. They were important in a paleolithic environment where decisions often had to be made quickly and based on instinct. In a simple example cited by Shermer, consider an early hominid sauntering along somewhere in the African Savannah. He hears a rustle in the grass. Is it a predator or is it just the wind? If he assumes the former and it turns out to be the latter, no harm is done. But if he assumes it’s just the wind and lets down his guard and it turns out to be a predator, that’s it; he’s lunch and just got weeded out of the gene pool. The first mistake is what’s called a ‘Type 1’ or false-positive error; the second one is a ‘Type 2’ or a false-negative error. Humans seem more prone to committing false positive errors because the cost of (literally) living with those errors is often less than the cost of (literally) dying from the false negatives. Agenticity is in some sense subsumed by patternicity; in the case of the hominid, he might end up ascribing the noise in the grass to a predator (an ‘agent’) even if none exists. The important thing to realize is that we are largely the descendants of humans who made false-positive errors; natural selection ensured this perpetuation.
Before we move on it’s worth noting that assuring yourself a place in the genetic pool by committing a false positive error is not as failsafe as it sounds. Sometimes people can actually cause harm by erring on the side of caution; this is the kind of behavior that is enshrined in the Law of Unintended Consequences. For instance after 9/11, about a thousand people died because they thought it safer to drive across the country rather than fly. 9/11 did almost nothing to tarnish the safety record of flying, but those who feared airplane terrorism (the ‘pattern’) reacted with their gut and ended up doing their competitors’ gene pools a favor.
Yet for all this criticism of pattern detection, it goes without saying that patternicity and agenticity have been immensely useful in human development. In fact the hallmark of science is pattern detection in noise. Patternicity is also key for things like solving crimes and predicting where the economy is going. However scientists, detectives and economists are all well aware of how many times the pattern detection machine in their heads misfires or backfires. When it comes to non-scientific predictions the machine’s even worse. The ugly side of patternicity and agenticity is revealed in people’s belief in conspiracy theories. Those who think there was a giant conspiracy between the CIA, the FBI, the Mob, Castro and the executive branch of the government are confronted with the same facts that others are. Yet they connect the dots differently and elevate certain individuals and groups (‘agents’) to great significance. Patternicity connects the dots, agenticity sows belief. The tendency to connect dots and put certain agents on a pedestal is seen everywhere, from believing that vaccines cause autism to being convinced that climate change is a giant hoax orchestrated by thousands of scientists around the world.
Notwithstanding these all too common pathologies of the pattern detection machine, it’s satisfying to find a common, elegant evolutionary mechanism in our primitive brain that would be consistent with generally favoring false positives over false negatives. What I find interesting is that this behavior even seems to exist at the level of molecules.
- Conspiracy theories only create more conspiracy theories (illuminutti.com)
- The Conspiracy Theory Flowchart “THEY” Don’t Want You To See (illuminutti.com)
- What do conspiracy theories, religious beliefs and detoxifying proteins have in common? (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories (richarddawkins.net)
- What The New York Times Missed When It Tried to Explain Conspiracy Theories (reason.com)
- Why Do Rational People Believe in Conspiracy Theories? (readingbyeugene.com)