Tag Archives: James Randi Educational Foundation

Testing Psychics with Science

Can you test psychic claims with science? Here are a few creative ways that you can test psychic powers scientifically as well as the results of these types of tests that have been performed hundreds of times over the last fifty years. This is part of my Exposing Psychics series.

Ghost FAQ, Facts and Fiction

Via randi.org – JREF

It’s that time of year…

Fact: Around half of the American population, in survey after survey, say they believe in ghosts and hauntings. 

ElmerGhost02_250pxThere have been dozens of television shows, books, videos and Internet sites in the past 20 years featuring people who claim to be paranormal investigators who found evidence of the paranormal.

Around Halloween time, the media is dripping with hype about ghost tours, ghost hunts, and local paranormal investigations of the community’s historical places with breathless claims of proof of ghosts from these amateur ghost hunters.

What should we think about ghosts? It’s a complicated question. Here are some facts and FAQs to help get you square about where we are with our knowledge of ghosts and paranormal evidence.

What is a ghost?

This is a deceptively tricky question! The answer you get will completely depend on whom you ask. The “ghost” is one of the most popular concepts of the paranormal (beyond normal). Yet, there is not one agreed-upon definition across disciplines of what a ghost is since one has never actually been caught and examined.

ghost on tape 10007068Fact: No ghost has ever been confirmed caught and/or examined by anyone or anything. Therefore, we can’t determine its actual characteristics with any amount of certainty. 

The common features we ascribe to ghosts is what we learn from popular culture where the concept of “ghost” has changed considerably through time.

The most common idea about a ghost is that it is the spirit of a dead person (or animal). This implies there is a “spirit”. However, we can’t define or measure “spirit,” either, because it has not ever been captured or measured. It’s more of a faith-based belief, like the soul.

Ghosts are interpreted as being what remains of a person that has not passed to the next realm of existence.

Fact: There is no scientific conclusion that any other realm exists for our “being” to pass to after death.

For reasons that are not consistent through time, paranormalists conclude that some unlucky folks may remain incorporeally stuck here after bodily death. Alternately, some paranormalists say that ghosts could be a form of psychic projection of the human mind.

Early scientific researchers (in the 1800s) who studied the concept in a methodical way, avoided the term “ghost”. Instead they used terms like “phantasms of the dead” or “apparitions”.

Your neighborhood paranormal investigator is fond of describing a ghost as a manifestation of the “energy” of a former being. “Energy” in this case is also used incorrectly since there is no energy sustained after you die. When bodies decompose, that energy is released into the environment.

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No, this study is not evidence for “life after death”

Sharon_hill_80pxBy Sharon Hill via James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)

Yesterday, a study was announced with a headline that didn’t fit the results. That’s very common. But what was strange was that a few proponents of the study seemed to hang their hats on the headline. I wonder if they actually read the same study I did?

Here was the piece in The Telegraph (U.K.): First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study

tunnel tumble_200pxThe largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.

It is a controversial subject which has, until recently, been treated with widespread scepticism.

But scientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.

And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.

From reading just this pop media piece, I saw no indication of “life after death” mentioned. I saw a claim that people appear to be mentally aware (to some degree) when there is no recorded brain activity occurring. That would be an important new finding, there was no need to jump to a more overarching, unwarranted claim about evidence for “life after death”.Other media outlets followed suit with misleading headlines:

Unconventional theorist Graham Hancock seemed mighty smug about it:

Via Twitter. I’m not Mr. Randi but I’ll give it a response…

Via Twitter. I’m not Mr. Randi but I’ll give it a response…

The first inkling I saw (also on Twitter) that there was something a bit off with this headline was from Dr. Caroline Watt, Senior Researcher at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh.near-death-tunnel_200px (Yes, an actual parapsychologist. She wrote the book.) She seemed less than impressed with the study. I contacted her and, as is good advice, she said I should read the paper. So I did. I was also unimpressed. In a nutshell, the study attempted to objectively measure “out of body” and “near death experience” claims. The researchers concluded that it was not as successful as planned, but they discovered a small percentage of people report awareness in what medical standards considers a nonfunctioning brain.Dr. Sam Parnia, who headed this study, has done such prospective studies before. He suggests that the brain may “live” on minutes or hours after “death”. That is interesting, but not paranormal. Let’s see what the study showed.

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Yes, no, goodbye: The ouija board used for spirit communication

By Bobby Nelson via randi.org (JREF)

Coming up around Halloween is a new movie based on the Ouija board. Popular culture ideas have a great impact on social acceptability and spread of beliefs. You can guarantee that the popularity of Ouija boards and the volumes of strange stories people tell about them will increase precipitously in conjunction with portrayals of totally fictional events. 

ouija-board-gifOne of the most controversial tools ever used in spirit communication, still used today, is a simple wooden board. It comes in many different sizes, with a variety of beautiful painted scenes and symbols. They all share certain characteristics. The surface of these boards will have inscribed the words “Yes”, “No” and “Goodbye“, the letters A through Z, and the numbers 0 through 9. The pointer, a planchette, is most typically a triangular or heart-shaped device that will point to the letters, numbers or words, spelling out phrases, names and dates. The planchette predates these boards, first seen in China a millennium ago and also used with a pencil attached for automatic writing (a method used regularly during the spiritualist movement of 19th century America.) Now the planchette and this board go hand in hand.

The board goes by many names – talking board, a witch board, spirit board – but most of us know it as the Ouija board.

The Ouija board is infamous. I would bet that most people reading this have heard a terrifying story that has either happened to a friend, or a friend of a friend, that involves the Ouija board. What is the history of this fascinating and popular tool of devilish mischief? Was it constructed under candlelight in a dark dungeon sometime in the Dark Ages? ouija board animated_300pxOr maybe it was created by a witch who practiced black magic and satanic rituals. Nope. The Ouija board is fairly young and it was made as a novelty item.

On May 28th 1890, a patent was filed by Elijah Bond, Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin for the item developed by The Kennard Novelty Company. The first boards were stamped February 10, 1891. Kennard named the board Ouija. People say the name Ouija means yes-yes because oui is French for yes and ja is German for yes, but Kennard claims the board itself repeatedly told him that Ouija meant good luck in Egyptian and the name stuck. The company only produced the Ouija board for fourteen months but kept corporate control until 1898 at which time the Ouija board was appointed to a man that would revolutionize the board’s history, William Fuld.

Fuld said that he invented the board and that the name did in fact mean yes-yes. In 1919, Fuld bought the remaining rights and sold millions of these boards along with other toys. Fuld would die from a horrible accident when he fell from his company’s rooftop while supervising a flag pole replacement. Fuld’s children took over the business and the production of Ouija boards. In 1966, the business was sold to Parker Brothers toy company, which was subsequently sold to Hasbro who now holds the rights to the Mystifying Oracle. [Source]

ouija board captain howdy

“Captain Howdy” with the Ouija board

So when did the Ouija Board turn evil? The history seems generally harmless, how did it go from a toy, a novelty item, to being associated with Satan and demons? While use of the board was always criticized by scientists and some religious authorities, the majority of “evil” reports relating to the board came about in the 70’s, after a novel was published which was made into a blockbuster movie two years later. The story was about a teenage girl who tells her mother she has been talking to a person named “Captain Howdy” through the Ouija board. Later this girl becomes possessed by the devil, which causes her body to contort, she spits up green vomit and her head spins 360 degrees (among other extraordinary events).  This iconic film, of course, is “The Exorcist” (responsible for the current popular culture perception of demonic possession.)

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James Randi: How to Squash a Paranormal Claim

By Big Think via YouTube

The James Randi Educational Foundation has never met a “psychic” it couldn’t discredit—easily. Still, Randi understands why such frauds appeal to people.

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Deepak Challenge to Skeptics

steven_novellaBy Steven Novella via NeuroLogica Blog

Deepak Chopra doesn’t appear to like skeptics much, or understand them. He just put out a YouTube video challenging ”Randi and his cronies” to his own fake version of the million dollar challenge.

All we have to do, apparently, is make 50-100 years of scientific advance in neuroscience in a single peer-reviewed paper. Chopra_711_250pxI’ll get started on that right away.

Actually, even that probably would not be sufficient. The whole point of pseudoscientific goal-post moving is to keep forever out of reach of current scientific evidence. It doesn’t matter how much progress science makes, there will always be gaps and limitations to our knowledge. Chopra lives in the gaps.

Here is his exact challenge:

Dear Randi: Before you go around debunking the so-called “paranormal,” please explain the so-called “normal.” How does the electricity going into the brain become the experience of a three dimensional world in space and time. If you can explain that, then you get a million dollars from me. Explain and solve the hard problem of consciousness in a peer-reviewed journal, offer a theory that is falsifiable, and you get the prize.

The challenge is absurd because it is completely undefined. “Explain” to what degree? Science often advances by developing theories that are progressively deeper. Obviously we can explain consciousness on some level, CHOPRAand just as obviously Chopra would not accept that level as sufficient, but he gives absolutely no indication of how much deeper an explanation he would require.

A challenge without a clear way of judging the outcome is worthless. This is very different than the JREF’s million dollar challenge (now supervised by Banachek) which negotiates a very specific protocol with clear outcomes and a clear threshold for what will be considered success.

The vacuous nature of Chopra’s challenge reveals it for what it is – an insincere stunt that Chopra no doubt wishes to use for rhetorical purposes.

If you listen to the rest of the video challenge it is also clear that Chopra likes to operate in the gaps – he is making a massive argument from ignorance, or “god-of-the-gaps” type argument. In essence he is saying that because neuroscientists cannot now explain consciousness to an arbitrary level of detail (determined at will by Chopra, with an endless option to revise), therefore magic.

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Deepak Chopra Gets Owned

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