Tag Archives: paranormal

Secrets of the Psychics

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.

Chemtrails: Widespread Conspiracy Theory DEBUNKED

Escherian Stairwell Deconstruction

3 Times Psychics Fooled Scientists

How psychics tricked scientists on three separate occasions. Uri Geller, Steve Shaw & Michael Edwards, and Ronny Marcus managed to dupe scientists at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), The McDonnell Laboratory at Washington University, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory respectively. Here’s how, as well as how skeptics James Randi (magician), Dr. Ray Hyman (psychologist), & Martin Gardner (science communicator) responded to the psychic trickery.

Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi

Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi
Original broadcast: October 19, 1993
Description via PBS.org:

james-randi-69Can 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.

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.

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.

MORE . . .

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation. While some psychics are known to cheat and acquire information ahead of time, these ten tips focus on what is known as “cold reading” — reading someone “cold” without any prior knowledge about them.

Click Here For All 10 Lessons (PDF)


Click Here For All 10 Lessons (PDF)

Believers in conspiracy theories and the paranormal are more likely to see “illusory patterns”

By Emma Young via The British Psychological Society – Research Digest

Irrational beliefs – unfounded, unscientific and illogical assumptions about the world – are widespread among “the population of normal, mentally sane adults” note the authors of a new study in European Journal of Social Psychology. It’s been proposed that they arise from a mistaken perception of patterns in the world. But though this idea is popular among psychologists, there’s been surprisingly little direct evidence in favour of it. The new work, led by Jan-Willem van Prooijen at the Free University of Amsterdam, helps to fill the void.

Pattern perception is a crucial cognitive ability. It allows us to identify meaningful relationships between events – such as “red traffic light means danger” or “drinking water quenches thirst”. When people join the dots between events that are in fact unrelated (I wore red socks and aced my exam – they are “lucky socks”), they engage in so-called illusory pattern perception.

To explore whether an adherence to conspiracy theories or a belief in the supernatural really are grounded in illusory pattern perception, the researchers devised a series of studies.
First, they assessed belief in existing, well-known – and also fictitious – conspiracy theories in a group of 264 American adults. The participants were asked, for example, to indicate, on a scale of 1 to 9, how strongly they believed in the statement: “The US government had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks”. Their belief in the supernatural was evaluated using a scale that measured agreement with statements like “I think I could learn to read other people’s minds if I wanted to”.

When shown the results of a series of randomly generated coin tosses, people who scored relatively highly on these two scales were more likely to mistakenly perceive patterns – they believed that the series of heads and tails wasn’t random even though it was. “These findings are the first to directly suggest a relationship between belief in conspiracy theories and pattern perception, and [to] conceptually replicate this relationship for supernatural beliefs,” the researchers wrote.

Continue Reading @ The British Psychological Society – – –

Related: Connecting the dots: Illusory pattern perception predicts belief in conspiracies and the supernatural

Tricks of the Psychic Trade

By Karen Stollznow, Ph.D. via Psychology Today

Psychic mediums perform one-on-one sessions for sitters. Stage mediums typically offer personal readings, but they also perform short psychic readings to an audience. Unless the stage medium performs a hot reading, otherwise known as cheating, the main tool is cold reading. This involves observation, psychology and elicitation to provide the appearance of psychic powers. Let’s look at the typical formula used by stage mediums, and explore some commonly used linguistic and psychological techniques.

Naming is a fundamental part of any psychic medium reading. The medium mentions a common name, in order to find willing subjects for readings. Additional names or initials may be added, to narrow down the contenders to a single subject. I recently witnessed a different technique used by up-and-coming medium Rebecca Rosen at her Denver show. She began her performance by reading a list of names of spirits that had “lined up all day to leave messages for the audience.” This way, the audience was already drawing connections to the names and preparing for a reading. Her list included:

Continue Reading @ Psychology Today – – –

The Most Brutal Psychic Fail Compilations

These two videos are absolutely brutal to watch. I love it. I enjoy watching these con artists fail at their con game.

Part 1 –


Part 2 –

The Consequences of “Stupid”

By Hayley Stevens via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

I used to believe in ghosts, an afterlife, and that people had the ability to talk to the dead; these beliefs were fuelled by an information overload. As a curious teenager, I had the internet at my fingertips and I wasn’t really taught how to critically examine claims like these at school. Thus, when I joined web forums dedicated to discussing paranormal experiences and the proof of these experiences, I wasn’t able to distinguish between the plausible and the implausible.

In addition to the forums, there were numerous television shows catering to aspiring ghost hunters that championed spiritual and pseudoscientific methodology, and many magazines in the shops that encouraged the belief that paranormal ideas were real because others had experienced them.

I could get psychic readings in person, online, over the phone, on television, or by writing into my favorite magazines. Having paranormal beliefs validated is easier today because we are constantly bombarded with information that we can then cherry pick to suit our particular ideas.

Falling into the trap of illogical thinking is very easy. You can quickly invest a lot of yourself into your new beliefs, and thus they become an important part of your life. I speak from experience when I say that calling people who hold such beliefs “stupid” because of their lack of rationale does nothing to make them reconsider the conclusions they have reached about those subjects.

In fact, dismissing people as “stupid” may have the opposite effect, depending on why they hold those beliefs and what they’ve invested in them. Abandoning important beliefs isn’t a light hearted change of mind, and forcing someone to turn their back on what they hold sacred too quickly can have a harmful and negative effect. Attacking someone—calling them names and suggesting they’re an idiot—because of what they choose to believe can push them away from reason and logic, and can cause them to develop such dependency upon those beliefs that nothing will ever change their minds.

Continue Reading @ The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – – –

The Mystery of Ball Lightning

by Stephen Wagner

Much of what we call “paranormal” are facets or properties of the natural world that we do not yet understand. And although ball lighting is not usually considered a paranormal phenomenon – and is almost certainly a natural phenomenon – its mysterious nature has puzzled scientists and paranormal researchers alike for centuries.

There currently is no fully satisfactory or generally accepted scientific theory for ball lightning, mainly because it is so rare, and when it does occur it doesn’t stay around long enough to be studied; it generally has a lifetime of less than five seconds. According to one researcher, “ball lightning is the name given to the mobile luminous spheres which have been observed during thunderstorms. Visual sightings are often accompanied by sound, odor, and permanent material damage.” Many scientists still deny its existence, but there are so many eyewitness accounts of the phenomenon that it’s difficult to deny its reality.

It’s these personal encounters with ball lighting that have given it its mysterious reputation. Many eyewitnesses describe its movement or “behavior” as seemingly intelligent, as if it knows where it wants to go. When it enters houses, it often enters through doorways or windows and travels down hallways.

But people tend to personify such peculiar events and it’s ludicrous to think that the balls of light have any intelligence, but the anecdotes are no less intriguing.

Here are some fascinating first-hand accounts.

Continue Reading @ paranormal.about.com – – –

Ouija board helps psychologists probe the subconscious

By Clare Wilson via New Scientist

Beloved of spiritualists and bored teenagers on a dare, the Ouija board has long been a source of entertainment, mystery and sometimes downright spookiness. Now it could shine a light on the secrets of the unconscious mind.

The Ouija, also known as a talking board, is a wooden plaque marked with the words, “yes”, “no” and the letters of the alphabet. Typically a group of users place their hands on a movable pointer , or “planchette”, and ask questions out loud. Sometimes the planchette signals an answer, even when no one admits to moving it deliberately.

Believers think the answer comes through from the spirit world. In fact, all the evidence points to the real cause being the ideomotor effect, small muscle movements we generate unconsciously.

That’s why the Ouija board has attracted the attention of psychologists at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Growing evidence suggests the unconscious plays a role in cognitive functions we usually consider the preserve of the conscious mind.

Continue Reading @ New Scientist – – –

Is The Bermuda Triangle Home To Atlantis?

The Bermuda Triangle has the reputation as the home of numerous disasters and disappearances, but could it also be home to the lost city of Atlantis?

Is Spontaneous Human Combustion Real?

Grounding the Ghost of Flight 401

The unexpected facts behind this famous ghost story from the 1970s

by Brian Dunning via skeptoid

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.

N310EA, the aircraft involved in the accident, photographed in St. Louis just weeks before the crash. (Source: Wikipedia)

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  .  .  .

Continue reading or listen @ skeptoid . . .
Also See: Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 (Wikipedia)

The Mandaellah Effekt (The Mandela Effect)

Captain Disillusion discusses the Mandela effect while, in a completely different universe, Holly does the same.

Interdimensional UFO Portal Tutorial!

The Story Behind the Crop Circle Phenomenon

crop circle alien mowBy via todayifoundout

In 1991 two men by the name of Doug Bower and Dave Chorley rocked the worlds of ufologists and paranormal experts alike when they claimed to be the driving force behind the crop circle phenomenon of the late 1970s and beyond using little more than a plank of wood and a length of rope. This was a claim self-professed experts on the phenomenon dismissed as ludicrous, until the two men showed everyone how they did it.

Doug Bower Dave Chorley_325pxFlanked by members of the press from across the world, in a small field in Warminster, the two men proceeded to methodically push over wheat using wood planks. A few hours later, they stood in the middle of a crop circle so perfect actual aliens armed with a Spirograph would have struggled to make one that looked any better. The men then explained to the waiting cameras that they’d been making crop circles this way for well over a decade, starting in 1976, shortly before similar looking crop circles suddenly started cropping up in other areas of the world.

According to Chorley and Bower, the decision to first start flattening wheat in 1976 was inspired by two things- a story Bower had heard while living in Australia about mysterious circles appearing in sugarcane fields, and a few too many pints of beer. In regards to the former, Bower was referring to a series of large circular patterns that appeared in fields in Tully, Queensland in the mid to late 1960s. Unlike modern crop circles which often feature amazingly complex patterns and uniform pressing of crops, the Tully Saucer Nests were simple, somewhat crude circles of destruction. Ufologists have long maintained that these circles were caused by UFO’s landing and subsequently taking off, hence the name “Tully Saucer Nests”. The more accepted alternate theory is that they were simply caused by whirlwinds touching down briefly.

Whatever the case, after Bower moved back to England, the two men became friends over a mutual appreciation of art and their favourite hobby- watercolor painting. They eventually began a weekly tradition of meeting for a few drinks on a Friday evening at the Percy Hobbs pub in nearby Winchester. One day in 1976, they decided to have their usual drinks outside and noticed the acres of pristine wheat surrounding them, which is when Bower recalled the story he’d once told Chorley of the mysterious circles that had baffled experts in Australia. With a glint in his eye, Bower turned to his friend and said, “How would you like a bit of a laugh?”

Continue Reading @ todayifoundout – – –

10 Unexplained Paranormal Events

By Alltime10s via YouTube

From the mysterious death of Elisa Lam, who’s body was found in a hotel water cooler, to the real life events that inspired The Exorcist, check out our terrifying list of the top 10 unexplained paranormal events.

DEBUNKED: Floating China City

The logical paradox of ghost hunting

Source: The Logic of Science

Many people believe in the paranormal, and a great deal of time and effort is spent searching for evidence of it. Indeed, shows like “Ghost Hunters” are extremely popular, and the notion of using scientific equipment to detect the supernatural is well ingrained into our literature, movies, and culture more generally. The reality is, however, the ghost hunting is a perfect case study in pseudoscience, and it is based on a series of logical fallacies and amusing paradoxes.
ghost ElmerGhost02_350pxMost obviously, ghost hunting (along with related pseudoscientific ventures such as UFO spotting, searches for Big Foot and Nessy, Creation Research, etc.) suffers a serious flaw which automatically removes it from the realm of science. Namely, it starts with a conclusion (i.e., ghosts exist), then tries to prove that conclusion. In contrast, real science always starts with the evidence, then forms a conclusion based on that evidence. This distinction is extremely important, because  if you start with a conclusion, you will inevitably find a way to twist the evidence to fit your preconceived view, even if it results in ad hoc fallacies. For example, suppose that ghost hunters go into an abandoned building and detect electromagnetic energy (EM). They will view that as evidence of a supernatural presence, but to those of us who aren’t already convinced that ghosts exist, that energy could be a bad wire, a faulty transformer outside, the cameras, lights,and other equipment being used by the ghost hunters, etc. You see, the explanation that the energy is coming from a ghost is only convincing if you are already convinced that ghosts exist. This is why real science always has to start with the evidence, then form a conclusion. If you set out to prove something, you will always find a way to do it (at least in your mind).
ghost hunt emf_200pxGhost hunting also suffers a serious paradox which is somewhat unique to it, and which I find highly entertaining. Ghosts are supposed to be paranormal, supernatural, metaphysical, etc. yet ghost hunters try to document their existence by looking for physical clues. This is problematic because, by definition, science is the study of the physical universe. It is inherently incapable of answering questions about the supernatural. So anytime that you are looking for the metaphysical, you are automatically doing pseudoscience, not science.
To put this another way, you cannot prove the existence of the metaphysical by documenting the physical. Let’s say, for example, that a ghost hunter goes  .  .  .

Continue Reading . . .

ghost-hunters

Spooky Science: Paranormal Beliefs Linked to Fearful Worldview

By Elizabeth Palermo via LiveScience.com

ghostly_173People 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.

An inforgraphic demonstrating the paranormal beliefs included in the Fear Survey. Credit: Chapman University

An inforgraphic demonstrating the paranormal beliefs included in the Fear Survey.
Credit: Chapman University

“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.

ouija-board-gifLast 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  .  .  .

Continue Reading at LiveScience.com – – –

4 STRANGE Paranormal Phenomena! feat. Jack Black

By Vsauce3 via YouTube

Read the video description for lots more information.

Five Stupid Things About Ghost Hunting

By Steve Shives via YouTube

Rarely (outside of organized religion) has the combination of ignorance and fraud been as profitable as with so-called paranormal investigators.

Legends of Skinwalker Ranch

By Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know via YouTube

There’s a ranch located southeast of Ballard, Utah, bordering the Ute Indian reservation. Legally, it’s called the Sherman Ranch — but it has another name, too: the Skinwalker Ranch.

The burden of proof

Makers of supernatural claims have an inescapable burden of proof.


Via The burden of proof – YouTube.

The Columbus Poltergeist

Did a poltergeist infest a home in Columbus, Ohio? Or was this the work of a mischievous teen?

skeptoid eyeby Blake Smith via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

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?

poltergeist 02_250pxEnthusiasts 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.poltergeist 0800_225px 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.

MORE – – –

Dream weavers

Gordon Bonnetby Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia

Hard-nosed science types like myself are often criticized by the paranormal enthusiasts for setting too high a bar for what we’ll accept as evidence.  The supernatural world, they say, doesn’t come when called, is highly sensitive to the mental states of people who are nearby, and isn’t necessarily going to be detectable to scientific measurement devices.  psychic newspaper-1_250pxAlso, since a lot of the skeptics come into the discussion with a bias toward disbelief, they’ll be likely to discount any hard evidence that does arise as a hoax or misinterpretation of natural phenomena.

Which, as I’ve mentioned before, is mighty convenient.  It seems to boil down to, “It exists, and you have to believe because I know it exists.”  And I’m sorry, this simply isn’t good enough.  If there are real paranormal phenomena out there, they should be accessible to the scientific method.  Such claims should stand or fall on the basis of evidence, just like any other proposed model of how things work.

The problem becomes more difficult with the specific claim of precognition/clairvoyance — the idea that some of us (perhaps all of us) are capable of predicting the future, either through visions or dreams. future-sign-wide5_200px The special difficulty with this realm of the paranormal world is that a dream can’t be proven to be precognitive until after the event it predicts actually happens; before that, it’s just a weird dream, and you would have no particular reason to record it for posterity.  And given the human propensity for hoaxing, not to mention the general plasticity of memory, a claim that a specific dream was precognitive is inadmissible as evidence after the event in question has occurred.  It always reminds me of the quote from the 19th century Danish philosopher and writer, Søren Kierkegaard: “The tragedy of life is that it can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards.”

This double-bind has foiled any attempts to study precognition… until now.

MORE – – –

SS Iron Mountain

A large riverboat vanished without a trace on the Mississippi River in 1872. Or did it?

skeptoid eyeby Jeff Wagg via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

We’re all familiar with ship disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. Though many say they’re the result of some supernatural force, it’s far more likely that each incident is a case of a big, stormy ocean taking its toll on small, poorly-maintained, or simply unlucky craft. But when a ship disappears without a trace from a river, it’s harder to imagine an explanation. And the legend of the SS Iron Mountain is difficult to explain away.

Here is how her story is usually told. This is an excerpt of the version on paranormal.about.com, complete with the picture that’s most often associated with the SS Iron Mountain:

not_iron_mountain

In June, 1872, the S.S. Iron Mountain steamed out of Vicksburg, Mississippi with an on-deck cargo of bailed cotton and barrels of molasses. Heading up the Mississippi River toward its ultimate destination of Pittsburgh, the ship was also towing a line of barges.

Later that day, another steamship, the Iroquois Chief, found the barges floating freely downriver. The towline had been cut. The crew of the Iroquois Chief secured the barges and waited for the Iron Mountain to arrive and recover them. But it never did. The Iron Mountain, nor any member of its crew, were ever seen again. Not one trace of a wreck or any piece of its cargo ever surfaced or floated to shore. It simply vanished.

Some versions go on to say that ghostly voices can be heard near the site screaming “They’re trying to hurt me! Help!”

As with most legends, there is some truth and some fiction. Let’s see if we can separate the two.

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James Randi: Debunking The Paranormal

By Studio 10 (Australia) via YouTube

Skeptic James Randi joins us on Studio 10, ahead of his tour around Australia in December: http://thinkinc.org.au/jamesrandi

James Randi An Honest Liar

Psychology: The truth about the paranormal

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.

David RobsonBy 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.lincoln ghost_300px 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.

visions_200pxIntrigued 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  .  .  .

MORE – – –

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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Acupuncture

Is acupuncture really ancient Chinese medicine? Does it work? Is it safe?

Craig Good Skeptoid 02_90pxby Craig Good via skeptoid
Read podcast transcript below or listen here

This ancient Chinese medical tradition stretches back over 3,000 years, the wisdom of the ancients producing medically valid results even today. As in antiquity, slender needles are inserted at precise meridian points on the body and manipulated by a skilled practitioner. acupucture_chinese_medicine_300pxEach acupuncture point relates to a specific organ or function in the body, and the practice manipulates the body’s energy, or qi to manage pain and treat a host of conditions including allergies, asthma, headaches, sciatica, insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, constipation, and even sexual dysfunction. Acupuncture is, in short, a venerable medical miracle.

Or is it? Let’s cast a skeptical eye at one of the most popular “alternative” medical modalities in the modern world.

Exactly how ancient is acupuncture? Not nearly as ancient as you may think. The first clue is right there in the hands of the acupuncturist: Those slender, flexible, stainless steel needles. The technology to make them didn’t even exist until about 400 years ago.

There are even more historical clues. The Chinese have long kept detailed records. When we examine them we do, indeed, find references to a practice called needling, but the earliest dates to about 90 BCE. The needles from that era were large, and the practice of needling refers to bloodletting and the lancing of abscesses, a treatment nothing like today’s acupuncture. Earlier Chinese medical texts, some reaching back to the 3rd century BCE, never even mention it. There’s no evidence at all that acupuncture is anywhere near 3,000 years old.

No matter. At least acupuncture is Chinese, right? Maybe not.

Chinese scholar Paul Unschuld thinks that the practice may have started in ancient Greece, with Hippocrates of Cos, and later spread to China. A fundamental feature of acupuncture, namely the special meridian points where the needles must be placed, can be traced to the medieval Islamic and European ideas of astrology mapped onto the body. This rather obvious link led researcher Ben Kavoussi to call acupuncture “Astrology with needles” He writes:

…for most of China’s long medical history, needling, bloodletting and cautery were largely practiced by itinerant and illiterate folk-healers, and frowned upon by the learned physicians who favored the use of pharmacopoeia.

funny_medical_acupuncture_poster-rd59e5d04896c4a0a8f114cb47de682b6_wvk_8byvr_512_250pxAccounts of Chinese medicine first reach Europe in the 13th century. None of them even mentioned acupuncture. Wilhelm Ten Rhijn, writing in 1680, was the first Westerner to reference acupuncture. But what he described bears little resemblance to the acupuncture of today. There was no mention of qi, which is sometimes translated as chi, or any specific points. He spoke of large gold needles that were implanted deep into the skull or womb and left in place for 30 respirations.

The first American acupuncture trials were in 1826, when it was seen as a possible method of resuscitating drowning victims. As Dr. Harriet Hall describes it, “They couldn’t get it to work and ‘gave up in disgust.’ I imagine sticking needles in soggy dead bodies was pretty disgusting.”

Even through the early part of the 20th century nobody spoke of qi or meridians. Practitioners merely inserted needles near the point of pain. In fact, qi used to refer to the vapor arising from food, and the meridians were called channels or vessels, which is part of acupuncture’s link to medieval astrology and vitalism.

So just when and where did meridians enter the picture, and qi finally become some kind of energy?

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Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The clash between the champions of scientific skepticism and supernaturalism.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) was best known as the world’s most famous magician during his lifetime, and also as a tireless debunker of false mediums and dishonest claims of profit-driven supernaturalists. He followed a simple strategy, one that’s the fundamental basis of the scientific method: Work hard to falsify all new hypotheses, and maintain a mind open to all new evidence. houdini_conan_doyle_250pxSadly for Houdini, this meant testing what could have been one of the most important personal relationships to the history of public understanding of science.

Much has been made of the friendship between Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur would seem to have been a man of science and rational thought, but he was a lifelong steadfast believer in the supernatural. In fact, it was something that was at the forefront of his attention much of the time. One of the most telling events in Sir Arthur’s career came when he was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, which is often criticized for being composed mainly of true believers in the paranormal, and not all that interested in objective research. In the 1920s, Sir Arthur led a mass resignation of 84 members of the Society, on the grounds that it was too skeptical. The staunchest of the resignees joined the Ghost Club, of which Sir Arthur was a longtime member. The Ghost Club made no apologies for being fully dedicated to the supernatural as an absolute fact. In addition, Sir Arthur’s wife, Lady Doyle, was a medium who often conducted séances appearing to be in communication with the dead, and Sir Arthur was absolutely convinced of the reality of her ability.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spirit photo_200px captionedDespite a radical difference of opinion, Houdini and Sir Arthur managed to keep their friendship alive for some years, each often writing to the other of their mutual respect, their agreement to disagree, and the value of honesty and integrity in one’s own beliefs — neither man ever doubting the other’s sincerity; at least for a while.

In the spring of 1922, Houdini invited Sir Arthur to the home of his friend Bernard Ernst, a lawyer in New York, in an effort to show him that even the most amazing feats of mediums could be accomplished by skilled — albeit earthly — trickery. He had good reason to sway Sir Arthur if he could; Sir Arthur was passionately engaged in promoting the supernatural to his vast worldwide audience, a public disservice if there ever was one, as honestly intentioned as it was. Houdini prepared a magic trick, one that’s familiar to any practitioner of the art. He had Sir Arthur go outside in private and write a simple note that there’s no way Houdini could have seen; and then upon his return to the room, Houdini had a cork ball soaked in white ink magically roll around on a slate and spell out the very note Sir Arthur had written. Sir Arthur was aghast. Houdini wrote him:  .  .  .

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Also See: An Actual Recording Of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Spirit” From A 1934 Séance (io9.com)

Seance

The Many Voices of Frank’s Box

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Frank’s ghost box is a radio designed to hear communications from ghosts. What can we actually learn from it?

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Many times have the annals of the paranormal been graced with descriptions of Frank’s ghost box, an electronic device that is claimed to allow ghosts to communicate with us through randomly tuned radio broadcasts. Imagine turning the tuning knob on a radio (first, imagine a radio that still works that way), and recording the sound output. You’d expect a bunch of random noise from across all those stations you just swept past, and that’s exactly what Frank’s Box produces. FranksBox 844But inventor Frank Sumption, and many imitators who have built similar devices, believe they receive intelligent communication in that noise. It’s basically an iteration of what ghost hunters call Electronic Voice Phenomena, the idea that ghosts communicate with us through electronics.

I should note that the impetus for this episode was an email I received from Frank Sumption’s niece. I won’t give her name or what she said in the email, but her point is that Frank is a good, honest, average guy who is notable only in that he believes he’s stumbled onto something. He doesn’t scam anyone; he’s neither selling his box with unproven claims, nor is he charging people money to talk to their dead relatives. Frank makes the plans to build his device available for free as a downloadable PDF file, and he has a page on SoundCloud where he posts his most interesting recordings, for everyone to hear. He’s a guy who has some bad information, and has failed to apply critical thinking to it within the context of scientific literacy. In other words, he’s exactly like 99% of the people out there. Nevertheless, most of the time when Frank Sumption has been mentioned anywhere, online, in print, or on a radio program or podcast, he’s dismissed as a crazy nutcase — and that’s precisely what prompted his niece to write. So today we’re going to look at the phenomenon of Frank’s ghost box and talk about how and why it occupies the place it does in pop paranormal culture, and hopefully find something more intelligent to discuss than hurling personal insults.

So let’s get to what you really want to hear, some of Frank’s received messages. Let’s get started with one just to get the idea. On his SoundCloud page, Frank posts clips that he has already edited down to just the moment that he considers significant, and then repeats each one several times as he adds equalization and/or changes the pitch to make the speech more distinct. Here’s one, and I’ll just tell you in advance that Frank has identified the words “Frank we’ll save you” in here:

Frank’s Box, or the “ghost box” as Frank prefers it to be called, is often described as a random radio tuner, but there’s a bit more to it than that. He first developed the idea in 2002, and there are three basic parts to his device. First is a component that generates either white noise, like this:

Or, a sweeping tone like this:

GhostBox_300pxThen the voltage of that signal is moderated to the correct voltage that can be used to control the tuner of a radio taken from a car stereo, which is the second component. Car stereos are used whose tuners are voltage controlled, which in their original factory condition, would have come from the tuning knob; but in Frank’s case, it’s either a random signal that constantly tunes the radio all over the dial, or a sweeping signal that tunes the radio all the way from one end to the other. Frank has said he believes that the sweeping method gives better results than the random, or white noise controlled, method.

The third component is what he calls the echo box. It’s a box about the size of a shoe box with speakers and a microphone inside. The radio’s audio output is played over the speakers inside the chamber, and picked up by the microphone. The signal coming from this microphone is what produces the final product. So what you hear from the box is not the direct output of what the radio tuner picks up; you’re actually hearing it one generation away. It’s played over speakers into a small box and then that live audio is recorded and played for you.

Frank describes the purpose of the echo box  .  .  .

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The Haunted Dybbuk Box

A popular tale tells of a haunted Jewish wine box that brought ill fortune upon its owners… apparently.

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Every once in a while, there’s a small, local ghost story that’s not very good, or that even has an obvious commercial origin, and that has no business becoming popular — but it does. The famous “dybbuk box” (also spelled dibbuk) is one such story. It went from a screenwriter’s pen on an eBay auction page, all the way onto the Hollywood big screen, with 2012’s The Possession starring Kyra Sedgwick and directed by Sam Raimi. It is the story of a small antique wooden box designed to hold a few bottles of wine, to which was attached a horror story going all the way back to the Holocaust. Whoever owned the box, it was said, experienced terrible disturbances for as long as the box was in their home. Why? Because, according to the story, the wine box was inhabited by a “dybbuk”, said to be a tormented spirit come back from the dead.

Dybbuk, by Ephraim Moshe Lilien.

Dybbuk, by Ephraim Moshe Lilien.

The whole idea of the box being inhabited by a dybbuk (דיבבוק) is nonsensical, according to what a dybbuk is supposed to be. The Encyclopedia Mythica describes it as “a disembodied spirit possessing a living body that belongs to another soul” and usually talks from that person’s mouth. An important 1914 Yiddish play The Dybbuk was about the spirit of a dead man who possessed the living body of the woman he had loved, and had to be exorcised. The word comes from the Hebrew verb “to cling”, so a dybbuk is specifically a soul who clings to another. Nowhere in the folkloric literature is there precedent for a dybbuk inhabiting a box or other inanimate object.

But of course, we’re talking definitions of folkloric terms, fictional by their very definition; so there’s no reason why this particular dybbuk can’t inhabit a wooden box if it wants to. And besides, the fact that folklore exists for a possessing spirit tells us nothing about whether or not factual events did indeed harass the owners of this box. dybbuk box_225pxThe folklore is irrelevant to the question of whether or not this wine box did indeed cause the frightening disturbances attributed to it. So let’s see what the box’s claimed history is.

One thing to keep in mind is that, if you’ve heard this story before, you’ve probably heard that the box was owned by a whole series of people, each of whom had lots of terrifying experiences, and they then got rid of it to someone else. In fact, the lone skeptical quote associated with this story is from Chris French, who said of these many owners:

“[They were] already primed to be looking out for bad stuff. If you believe you have been cursed, then inevitably you explain the bad stuff that happens in terms of what you perceive to be the cause. Put it like this: I would be happy to own this object.”

kevin mannis syfy_250pxBut then when we look at its actual history, the number of people whose hands it is documented to have gone through becomes astonishingly small, two or three at most; and each of whom went to great pains to tell the ghost story in a dramatic way. Let’s have a look.

The dybbuk box first appeared in 2003 as an eBay auction by Kevin Mannis, who owned a used furniture shop in Portland, Oregon. But it was not listed as a piece of furniture; it was listed as a mysterious haunted item. Mannis wrote on his eBay page an elaborate horror story.

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Click image to watch

Click image to watch

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

why-people-see-ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts (and gods, angels, demons, and aliens and why they float, fly, and travel out of their bodies)

via Skeptic.com

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience like the examples that we list in this FREE PDF booklet? If so, you know how compelling they can be. A life can be changed or an entire religion founded on the basis of a single brain-generated hallucination. These phenomena are so powerful that throughout history seekers of knowledge have sought to induce them. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be more than a waste of time and energy. It can be dangerous for both the individual and larger society.

While science has made considerable progress in discovering how the brain is hard-wired to produce these illusions, the public is largely unaware of much of this research. This is where your Skeptics Society comes in—we provide the scientific explanation.

DOWNLOAD the free PDF

The Legend of the Flying Dutchman

Flying Dutchman 734_600px
What is the real source of the ancient nautical legends of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship?

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Some say it is a spectral schooner seen under full sail, sometimes in the distance, sometimes at night or through the fog, sometimes gliding above the water; its sails may be torn to ribbons, or it may be making great headway even in the lack of wind. Some say the Dutchman refers to the captain of the ship, a man cursed to sail the seas forever and never make land. Flying Dutchman 736_300pxSome say the captain and his ship are doomed to forever try to round a stormy cape, never quite succeeding and always being beaten back by the howling wind and waves. But whatever the specifics of the legend, the Flying Dutchman has become a mainstay of maritime lore.

With such a famous story, it would seem worthwhile to see whether it grew from some seed of fact. References to the Flying Dutchman have been around for more than two centuries, and sailing ships were plowing the salt water for centuries before that; so it seems a practical certainty that we should be able to nail down exactly what triggered the stories. A good place to start is its most famous iteration in pop culture. In Wagner’s 1840 opera Der Fliegende Holländer, it is not the ship that is named the Flying Dutchman, but refers to the captain of the ghostly vessel.

The Dutchman, who is unnamed in the opera, commands a ship with only a spectral crew. He makes port in a storm in Norway, and grapples to the ship of Captain Daland. The Dutchman reveals to the captain that years ago, me made a curse during a storm, swearing to Satan that he would round the Cape of Good Hope even if he had to keep trying until doomsday. Satan took him at his word, and cursed him to never be able to make port until he found a woman who would love him until she died. Fortunately, the captain has a nubile daughter, Senta, who, upon hearing of the Dutchman’s terrible plight, falls in love with him. But another suitor, the muscular and handsome huntsman Erik, reminds Senta that she had once promised herself to him. When the Dutchman hears of this, he assumes he is lost forever and casts off with his ghostly crew. Flying Dutchman 735_300pxBut Senta’s love was true, and when she sees the Dutchman sail away, she throws herself into the ocean and drowns. The terms of the curse thus fulfilled, the Dutchman and his ship are seen ascending to heaven (thus becoming the “flying” Dutchman), where he will finally be able to rest.

Interestingly, the Cape of Good Hope is not the cape infamous for its stormy seas; that’s Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America. The Cape of Good Hope is the tip of the peninsula jutting south from Cape Town, South Africa, and is some 150 kilometers west-north-west from the true southern tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas.

The ship is known for its many ghostly appearances; showing up out of the dark or the fog and then disappearing, often terrifying the sailors who witness it. An interesting point shared by so many of the books and articles written about the Flying Dutchman is that they all list the same half dozen or so famous sightings of the ship; but these reports are all terrible, because in not a single instance is there any reason for the witness to have identified the ship as that of the infamous Dutchman. They saw, or believed they saw, unidentified wooden ships under sail. Let’s have a look at a few:

In 1881, the future King George V of the United Kingdom was a midshipman aboard the H.M.S. Bacchante, when he reported unambiguously that a ship he identified as the Flying Dutchman had crossed their bow. Thirteen men on the Bacchante and two other ships saw it, and it remains in the Admiralty’s official publications in The Cruise of H.M.S. Bacchante.
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In 1942, Nazi admiral Karl Dönitz, at that time the senior commander of the U-boat forces, is reported to have said that “Certain of his U-boat crews claimed that they had seen the Flying Dutchman during their tours of duty east of Suez.”
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In 1939, dozens of people at Glencairn Beach in Cape Town reported seeing the Flying Dutchman charging toward shore under full sail, only to disappear just before disaster.
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Lighthouse keepers at the Cape Point Lighthouse are said to have frequently sighted the Flying Dutchman during storms.
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In 1835, a British ship came near having a collision with the Flying Dutchman, approaching at night under full sail in a storm, but it vanished at the last instant.
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And so on, and so on.

Tall ships remain common all around the world, and have been ever since they first took to the water. Even most modern Navies maintain a multi-masted square rigged ship for training purposes, such as Norway’s Christian Radich, the American USCGC Eagle, and Japan’s Nippon Maru II. Oman is even launching a brand-new three masted, square rigged ship in 2014. Combine these with the hundreds of other square rigged ships afloat and at sea worldwide, and it’s very possible to go out today and see what you might think to be the Flying Dutchman.

So to narrow it down, let’s work backward from Wagner’s 1840 piece, to can see what source materials were available for him to work from.

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Faking Science Cred at a Sci-Fi Con: Not Smart

Paranormal investigators playing the role of “experts” and pretending to be scientific is not going to fly when the lack of deep knowledge is evident and there are actual scientists in the audience.

Sharon_hill_80pxBy Sharon Hill via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

When it comes to Creationists, I’m actually fine when they say “God did it—that’s what I believe.” They don’t have a scientific worldview, and that’s their choice (I don’t think it’s a good choice, but that is not the point). They ought to be happy with their science-suspending miraculous explanations. Instead, a few try to interject the sciencey stuff in there and shoehorn blatantly unscientific ideas into a scientifical framework. They just don’t know what they are talking about. For the listener with a scientific background, it is painfully obvious that they are ignorant of how difficult research is, how rigorously it must be undertaken, how carefully definitions are crafted, and how diligently records are documented. hill-faking-cred-dog_250pxIt’s nails-on-a-chalkboard difficult for me to listen to. The champions at doing this same thing are paranormal investigators. So what happens when paranormal investigators give talks at a science-fiction convention? It doesn’t go over very well.

I was at RavenCon, a sci-fi fantasy convention in Richmond, Virginia, last April. As an invited speaker, I was there to talk about science from a scientist and skeptical advocate’s point of view. Bob Blaskiewicz, CSI’s “Conspiracy Guy,” was also there to talk about conspiracy theory. We aimed to bring the hammer down on nonsense thinking! Not really—we were going to schmooze and look at people in cool costumes and listen to presentations and panels about topics we just don’t get to talk about every day.

As with any such event, I expect that the invited speakers have prepared quality content. Many are professional authors and artists, and there were many scientists, too. One thing that is noticeable at these events is that the audience is pretty up on science and engineering. ElmerGhost02_250pxThe majority is really smart, read a lot, and comprehend and appreciate complexity and detail. This is not the best place to show off weak science cred.

The paranormal view has a presence at RavenCon. Not all sci-fi cons have speakers in that subject area. (I’ve been to the Paranormal track at DragonCon, but there is not an equivalent at Balticon.) In the lead up to RavenCon, the organizers invited Bob and me, perhaps partly to counter the presence of the paranormal group, to give some talks. One original idea was to have a panel about paranormal investigation with the different views represented, pro-paranormal versus application of scientific skepticism, or as I prefer to call it, evidence-based skepticism. However, this idea was scuttled when the leader of the paranormal group said she doesn’t do debates. (I actually don’t wonder why not.)

hill-faking-cred-muppet_250pxSo, they presented their talks and we presented ours separately. They didn’t come to our talks, but I went to theirs. I’m interested in their views and what they have found. The first presentation was by the group’s “scientist.” He did some demonstrations and experiments with chemicals (that should NOT have been used in a hotel ballroom) presumably to show that science looks like magic… or something. I thought the whole thing was rambling and pointless, meant to look “gee whiz” but was more like “Oh, Jeez…”

Up goes my hand: “Can you tell us about your scientific background?”

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Paul Zenon: Secrets of the Psychics

This video of Paul Zenon (Wikipedia) was recommended to me, i haven’t watched it yet, so I’ll be watching it along with you for the first time.

It starts out in Russian, the English begins at the 0:50 mark. The description below the video has been translated from Russian to English by Google Translate.

I have my fingers crossed. 🙂

MIB


Via Paul Zenon: Secrets of the Psychics – YouTube

Description via Google Translate:

Paul Zenon is one of the most famous British magicians with extensive experience in the representation of different tricks, illusions, frauds and paranormal topics. It has several hundred appearances in television shows and almost 30 years experience in participating in public. Began to earn money as a street magician and learns how people can be fooled and manipulated. Then apply their practical knowledge of human psychology and attention to good causes like exposing pseudoscientific “stars”.

Gender Ratio of Zeno presented the most common techniques of mediums, illustrated with examples from the past few centuries. Cold reading (cold reading) and pre-collect information about companion enjoy the same frequency as in the 19th century and television fortune-tellers today.

The Baldoon Mystery

Baldoon Mystery Headline
The surprising truth behind Canada’s most famous ghost story.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going to go back in time nearly two centuries, to the Great Lakes region of Canada. What is today an expanse of flat, rectangular agricultural fields cleft by winding rivers was then a land of wild green abundance, and the white settlers were blending in with the native Ojibwe peoples. In 1829, the family of John McDonald had a picturesque two-story frame house in a Scottish settlement named Baldoon, near the town of Wallaceburg, Ontario.McDonald Home_300px The story goes that the family suffered an extraordinary series of poltergeist attacks culminating in their house being burned to the ground; whereupon they moved in with their father nearby only to have the attacks continue unabated. While many Canadians today still consider the Baldoon Mystery to be their greatest ghost story, it leaves skeptical researchers an interesting problem on how to regard stories that are so old and so thinly documented.

The Baldoon story has been told and retold so many times over the centuries, and written up in so many histories by so many different authors, that there is considerable variance among the versions. But the gist of the tale is like this. Disturbances began plaguing the family in 1829, mainly consisting of small objects like lead bullets striking people harmlessly as if thrown by unseen hands. But the disturbances increased to a nearly constant bombardment, as described by Neil McDonald, John’s son, who wrote it up in his book:

The dishes of water would rise of their own accord from the table, the tongs and shovel bang against each other on the hearth, the chairs and tables fall over with a loud crash, and even that sober domestic creature, the kettle on the hearth, would toss off its lid, tip over on one side, and suddenly, as if seized by unseen hands, dash itself in a paroxysm of fury on the floor. An Indian knife, with a blade ten inches long, was violently dashed against the window frame and its blade stuck fast in the casement.

Neil wrote of many visitors who witnessed such incidents firsthand, and even included the statements offered by 26 family members, relatives, and neighbors who were there and were party to the strange events. But the worst was yet to come:

At last, one day the crisis came. Worn out with anxious watching, the unhappy man was becoming desperate, when flames burst from a dozen sources in his dwelling. No time to save his household goods; the fire razed his habitation to the ground. Not even his coat was saved, and he saw the home to which he had so lately led his happy bride, bouyant with future hope, strewed to the winds in ashes.Baldoon Mystery fire_225px

The family moved in with John McDonald’s father next door, but the events persisted. Neil wrote about the thrown objects as if they were nearly constant, especially the strange cases of objects like rocks and bullets being thrown in wet as if they’d just been taken from the river outside. Sometimes, the family would mark such stones and throw them back into the river, only to have them thrown back in later with the same markings; an event strange enough to safely exclude any mere human mischief as the cause.

The family moved out again, finding no refuge in a new temporary home, and so resolved to return and stay in a tent outside their own home. A number of authorities came to the house . . .

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“Chemtrails”? Really? Did you flunk science?

Donald Protheroby Donald Prothero via Skepticblog

For the past few years, my Facebook page kept flagging strange websites that claimed that ordinary contrails formed by high-flying aircraft are “chemtrails,” a special kind of chemical sprayed on the unwitting population for reasons too bizarre and illogical to take seriously. For a long time, I’ve ignored this garbage on the internet, but in recent years it has gotten more and more pervasive, and I’ve run into people who believe it. There are whole shows about it on the once-scientific Discovery Channel, and the History Channel as well. chemtrails scare meNow the chemtrail community circulates their photos and videos among themselves, put hundreds of these videos on YouTube, and on their own sites and forums. But the way the internet works as a giant echo chamber for weird ideas with no peer review, fact checking, or quality control, it’s getting impossible to ignore them any more, and it’s time to debunk it.

The first few times I heard about “chemtrails”, my reaction was “You can’t be serious.” But the people who spread this are serious. They are generally people who have already accepted the conspiracy theory mindset, where everything that they don’t like or don’t understand is immediate proof of some big government conspiracy. But there’s an even bigger factor at work here: gross science illiteracy. The first thing that pops in my mind reading their strange ideas is “Didn’t this person learn any science in school?” And the fastest rebuttal I give when I run into one of these nuts is: “Do you even understand the first thing about our atmosphere? Anything released at 30,000  feet will blow for miles away from where you see it, and has virtually no chance of settling straight down onto the people below, and be so diluted it would have no measurable amount of the chemical by the time it lands. That’s why crop-dusting planes must fly barely 30 feet off the ground so their dust won’t blow too far away from the crops!”

As Kyle Hill describes it:

If the chemtrail conspiracy were true, millions of pilots would be needed to crop dust the American population. A typical crop duster might use seven ounces of agent diluted in seven gallons of water to cover one acre of land. Chemtrail “people dusters” would use a similar concentration to cover the entire United States, just to be safe. For 2.38 billion acres of land, the pilots would then need—for just one week of spraying—120 billion gallons of these cryptic chemicals. That’s around the same volume as is transported in all the world’s oil tankers in one year. And such an incredible amount of agent would need an incredible number of planes. Considering that a large air freighter like a Boeing 747 can carry around 250,000 pounds of cargo, at the very least, the government would need to schedule four million 747 flights to spread their chemicals each week—eighteen times more flights per day than in the entire US.

The entire chemtrail conspiracy idea is a relatively recent one, and an idea that would not have become so popular without the ability of the internet to spread lies. As this site shows, it was an ideas that was simmering among conspiracy theorists in the 1990s when one person in particular, William Thomas, made it popular back in 1996.chemtrail cat_225px By 1997-1999, he was trying to spread his ideas through interviews and media coverage and early conspiracy internet sites, and gotten many believers to buy in to his bizarre fantasy. Then in 1999, he was featured on Paranormal Central, Art Bell’s show on Coast to Coast radio. If there is any fast way to reach the mob of UFO nuts, paranormal fanatics,  and conspiracy theorists besides the internet, Art Bell’s show is the place. Soon the phenomenon exploded far beyond William Thomas or Art Bell, and became a widely accepted idea among the people who tune in to the paranormal or the conspiracy mindset.

So what are “chemtrails”? Allegedly, they are different from normal contrails produced by aircraft, and allegedly they contain some sort of evil chemical that the government conspiracy is trying to poison us with. Normal contrails are  .  .  .

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The Bermuda Triangle

By Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know via YouTube

Decades of strange accidents and alleged disappearances have given the Bermuda triangle a terrible reputation — but how much of this is deserved?

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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The Truth About Remote Viewing

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The psychic technique of remote viewing is consistent with simple, well known magic tricks.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid (May 11, 2007)
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going to sit in a quiet room and draw sketchy pictures of — well, of anything, really — and claim psychic powers, for we’re demonstrating the amazing psychic ability known as “remote viewing.”

remote viewing psychic_300pxRemote viewing was made popular beginning in the 1970’s, when some in the US intelligence community grew concerned that the Soviets had better psychics than we did. $20 million was appropriated to test the skills of a group of psychics called remote viewers. Supposedly, you could ask them a question about some place, and they’d use psychic abilities to draw you a picture of whatever’s going on there, and it was hoped that this would lead to useful intelligence. Project Stargate, and a few others like it, was canceled by the 1990’s, due to a lack of reliable results. Proponents of Project Stargate say that the US government’s investment in the project proves that it had merit. Critics point out that the funding was stopped, and say that if merit had been found, funding would have at least been continued, if not dramatically increased. We can be reasonably assured that the project did not move underground with renewed funding, since the participants have all long since gone public with full disclosure of what happened. Since none of them have turned up mysteriously disappeared, we can safely assume that the government is not too concerned about this supposedly “classified” information.

The most famous remote viewer to emerge from these projects is a man named Joseph McMoneagle. Today he offers his remote viewing services on a consulting basis, and in 1994 he went on the television show “Put to the Test” to show just what he could do. [This] is a clip from the show … and if you want, … watch it, form your own opinion, then [read] my comments.

remote viewing_250pxWhat you’ll find is that the show’s unabashed endorsement of his abilities contributes largely to the perception of his success, but if you really listen to the statements he makes, and look at the drawings he produces, you’ll find little similarity to what he was supposed to identify. They took him to Houston, Texas and sent a target person to one of four chosen locations. McMoneagle’s task was to draw what she saw, thus determining where she was. They edited the 15 minute session down to just a couple of minutes for the show, so you’ve got to figure that they probably left in only the most significant hits and edited out all of the misses.

The four locations were a life size treehouse in a giant tree, a tall metal waterslide at an amusement park, a dock along the river, and the Water Wall, a huge cement fountain structure. Here is what McMoneagle said:

  1. There’s a river or something riverlike nearby, with manmade improvements. Houston is a famous river town, so this was a pretty good bet. It applies equally well to the waterslide and to the dock.
  2. There are perpendicular lines. I challenge anyone to find any location anywhere without perpendicular lines.
  3. She’s standing on an incline. She was not standing on an incline, and there were no apparent inclines at any of the four locations. Remember, they edited it down to just the most impressive two minutes.
  4. She’s looking up at it. This would apply best to the treehouse, the waterslide, or the Water Wall. There was really nothing to look up at at the dock.
  5. There’s a pedestrian bridge nearby. Sounds like a close match for the treehouse or the walkways on the waterslide.
  6. There is a lot of metallic noise. Probably the big metal waterslide structure is the best match for this.
  7. There’s something big and tall nearby that’s not a building. This applies equally well to all four locations.
  8. There’s a platform with a black stripe. Not a clear match for any of the locations.

That’s it – those were the only statements of Joe’s that they broadcast. Strangely, at no point did they ask McMoneagle to identify the location; they did not even ask him to choose from the four possibilities. Instead, they simply took him to the actual destination where the target person was, which turned out to be the dock, and then set about finding matches to Joe’s statements. Suddenly, nearly all of Joe’s statements made perfect sense! Certainly there’s a river nearby. There was a traffic bridge in the distance: traffic, pedestrians, near, far, no big difference. Metallic noise and something big: there was a ship at the dock, but if you ask me what kind of noise a ship makes, metallic is not the word I’d use. And that platform with a black stripe? Could be a ship.

I argue that the target person could have been  .  .  .

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Project STARGATE: Psychic Soldiers via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube

Project STARGATE may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but for years taxpayer cash funded experiments with psychic powers. Tune in to learn more about the Cold War psychics — and why some people believe these programs continue today.

Para.Science – Orbs ARE a Load of Balls

quick note_150pxFor some believers in the paranormal, the site of orbs in a photo is confirmation of a spirit energy. To people like me, orbs are nothing more than something like dust.

For the last word on orbs, head on over to the ParaScience web site. You will never believe in orbs again.

Enjoy 🙂

MIB


Identical pictures. Taken at the same instance. Why does an orb appear in the photo on the left but not in the photo on the right?. Read the answer at Para.Science.

Identical pictures. Taken at the same instant.
Why does an orb appear in the photo on the left
but not in the photo on the right?
Read the answer at Para.Science.

5 Things I’ve noticed about … Sandy Hook Hoax Conspiracy Theorists

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The LockeBy The Locke via The Soap Box

Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists.

sandy hook elementary_250pxMany skeptics (including myself) consider these people to be the lowest of the low.

There are actually two different types of these conspiracy theorists: those who think that the massacre at the elementary school was a false flag attack, and those that think that it didn’t even happen at all, more commonly called Sandy Hook Hoaxers.

Today I’m going to focus on the lesser human of the two, the Hoaxers.

Now I have noticed a lot of things about these “people”, but I’ve narrowed it down to five different things.

So here are five things I’ve noticed about Sandy Hook Hoax conspiracy theorists:

5. They’re psychopaths.

Many Sandy Hook hoax conspiracy theorists display behaviors that to some people would be similar to psychopathy.

Most of the believers in this conspiracy theory show no empathy or sadness towards the adults and children that were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, nor do they show any empathy towards the people that lost loved ones that day.

conspiracy-theory-alert_200pxSome conspiracy theorists have even been in an active campaign of harassment against survivors and people who lost loved ones in that massacre, much of which has been very volatile and vial. Even those that don’t engage in any harassment do often give support and encouragement to those that do.

Worst yet many of them, especially the ones that engage in harassment, will try to “justify” their behavior by claiming that the massacre didn’t happen, or that they have every right to do what they’re doing (which they don’t).

Even if they do sincerely believe that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary didn’t happen it doesn’t justify their behavior, because they should be taking into consideration that that the massacre there did happen and that what they are doing is very hurtful, but they’re not doing so.

Many of them also don’t seem to understand or care that they’re behavior could have some severe consequences for them, such as being arrested and going to jail and even prison. And speaking of being arrested and going to jail and prison…

4. They’re criminals.

conspiracies05Many of these Sandy Hook hoax conspiracy theorists since the massacre happened have been engaging in a unorganized campaign of internet based harassment against the parents of the children who were murdered, as well as anyone else who was involved with the events of that day.

The harassment in itself is a criminal action, but over the months it has de-evolved into more serious crimes, such as stalking, threats, and even vandalism. There is some speculation that it may be a matter of time before one of these conspiracy theorists finally goes off the deep end and tries to kill one of the parents of the murdered children, or someone whom was involved with the events of that day.

Even those that don’t engage in any criminal actions could be considered criminals by-proxy, either by encouraging and giving support to those that do engage in harassment, or to a lesser extent condoning or just not condemning such behavior.

3. They’re mentally ill.

I know that most skeptics tend to call certain conspiracy theorists crazy as a means of insulting them (whether we realize that or not), but in the case of Sandy Hook hoax conspiracy theorists many of them have shown signs of having real and perhaps severe mental health issues.

Many of these conspiracy theorists show definite signs of  .  .  .

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Derren Brown – Messiah

Intro by Mason I. Bilderberg

Derren Brown_300_250pxI’m not one to sit and watch lengthy videos on my laptop. So when i suggest you watch a 49 minute video, you can trust me – it’s worth watching.

Have you ever heard of Derren Brown? I’ve been following Derren Brown for over a decade, i’ve read many of his books and i think i’ve seen all of his performances. I’m never disappointed.

Here is how WikiPedia describes him:

Derren Brown (born 27 February 1971)[3] is a British illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer, and sceptic. He is known for his appearances in television specials, stage productions, and British television series such as Trick of the Mind and Trick or Treat. Since the first broadcast of his show Derren Brown: Mind Control in 2000, Brown has become increasingly well known for his mind-reading act. He has written books for magicians as well as the general public.

Though his performances of mind-reading and other feats of mentalism may appear to be the result of psychic or paranormal practices, he claims no such abilities and frequently denounces those who do.

From Derren Brown’s webpage (2012):

Dubbed a ‘psychological illusionist’ by the Press, Derren Brown is a performer who combines magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship in order to seemingly predict and control human behaviour, as well as performing mind-bending feats of mentalism.

In a nutshell, while repeatedly reminding us he doesn’t have any kind of magical abilities, Derren Brown mimics with perfection all those who DO claim to have magical abilities.

In this video, Derren takes on the following roles:

  • A psychic that can see what you’re drawing when you’re in a different room,
  • The ability to convert people to Christianity with just a touch,
  • A new age entrepreneur with a machine that can record and play back your dreams,
  • An alien abductee who was left with the ability to sense your medical history and
  • A psychic medium that communicates with the dead.

He is so convincing in these roles that he gets endorsements for his “special powers” from the “experts” who witnessed his performances.

I believe he will convince you too!

Enjoy! 🙂

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)

More:

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