Tag Archives: Randi

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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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

James Randi’s Response to a Catholic Priest

Via randi.org written by JREF Staff

We get mail: a Catholic Priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago recently sent a veritable love letter to Randi for his decades of good work exposing supernatural fraudsters. It ends with an appeal for JREF staff to convert to Catholicism immediately. jesusHe included two objects with the letter:

  1. An “Image of the Divine Mercy” (which we are told Jesus gave to St. Faustina Kowalska in pre-WWII Poland) and
  2. a medal that he says the Blessed Mother gave to St. Catherine Laboure in LaSallette, France in 1832.

The priest’s big point: “The Lord created the you without your consent, but he will not save you without your consent.”

Especially interesting was the talk of Randi’s age and how right now is surely the best time for him to finally convert: “Mr. Randi, you doubt so much that I know you must want to believe!”

He also provides some helpful instruction: “Go into a nearby Catholic Church, sit before the Tabernacle (which Catholics believe the Risen Lord Jesus IS Truly, Really, Substantially Present in the Eucharist Host) and open your heart, saying “Lord Jesus, if You are real, give me the grace to believe.” Then we are told we can “enter into the Divine Life of the Blessed Trinity!”

Our question is Since when have Catholics become so evangelizing?

We thought you might enjoy reading Randi’s response:

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Mind Over Metal

Joe NickellBy Joe Nickell via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

Can people move or alter physical objects simply by using a hidden power of the mind called psychokinesis? I have encountered many claims of such powers in the course of my work (since 1969) as a paranormal investigator. And I have pretended to have such ability myself—both as a professional stage magician and mentalist (a magician specializing in apparent psychic feats). In the fall of 2012, I attended a workshop that enabled me to investigate the latest popular expression of psychokinetic metal bending.

Psychokinesis

telekinesis_fullpic_250pxThe term psychokinesis (formerly telekinesis), or PK, derives from the Greek words for “mind” and “motion.” Together with extrasensory perception (ESP), it constitutes what parapsychologists refer to as “psi to describe the two seemingly closely related phenomena. However, the existence of psi has never been proven and, indeed, according to a sympathetic source: “Despite decades of research, psi continues to elude physical and quasi-physical theories of how it functions; it operates outside the bounds of time and space” (Guiley 1991, 468).

PK describes the alleged power of mind over matter, including such “micro-PK” acts as subtly influencing how thrown dice will land, or “macro-PK” feats like levitating a table or producing so-called “poltergeist” effects (actually, typically the tricks of children1). Psychokinetic metal bending is another alleged macro-PK phenomenon.

Geller the PK Marvel

Uri Gellermade millions in the 1970s pretending to bend spoons with his mind.

Uri Geller made millions in the 1970s pretending to bend spoons with his mind.

It appears that the first major performer of apparent PK metal bending (PK-MB) was Israeli-born former fashion model and nightclub magician, Uri Geller (b. 1946) (Figure 1). Claiming to be guided by super beings from a distant planet, Geller appeared to read minds, bend keys and cutlery with PK, see while blindfolded, and perform other feats—all of which skilled magicians easily duplicate. (I, for example, have driven a car while blindfolded [Nickell with Fischer 1992, 77].) He typically refused to perform when magicians were observing but, nevertheless, was occasionally caught cheating.

Renowned American magician and psychic investigator James “The Amazing” Randi once observed Geller up close. Posing as an editor when Geller performed in the offices of Time magazine, Randi saw the simple tricks behind Geller’s wonderworking. For example, while Geller pretended to cover his eyes as a secretary made a simple drawing, he actually peeked, thus enabling him to appear to read her mind and reproduce the drawing. Again, while supposedly bending a key “by concentration,” Geller had instead bent it against a table when he thought he was unobserved. (For more on Geller’s methods, see Randi 1982.)

More Benders

Spoon_bending_200pxGeller was soon imitated by other “psychics” who discovered that they, too, could bend keys and spoons. One was Judy Knowles, who impressed London physics professor and parapsychologist John Hasted with her apparent ability. Hasted invited James Randi to observe tests of Knowles in a lab at Bath. Randi arrived with colleagues and his checkbook, offering Ms. Knowles $10,000 if she successfully passed the test, which was designed by Harry Collins of the University of Bath. Collins had tested other spoon benders, but none had been successful, and some children had been caught cheating.

Briefly, the test involved Knowles holding the spoon in a . . .

▶ James Randi – Fighting the Fakers

Via ▶ James Randi – YouTube

James Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.

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.

Confronting The Woo-Woos Head-On…

james-randi-69By James Randi via randi.org

Back in September of 2007, I was invited to speak at the prestigious TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, California. To do so, I had to literally get up out of a hospital bed in Florida – very much against the advice of my doctors – and fly off to address what is arguably the toughest, most influential, and savvy audience to be found anywhere. During that heady experience I met actress Goldie Hawn, neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran, entrepreneur Richard Branson, and prominent skeptical author Stephen Pinker, all for the first time, along with literally dozens of other celebrities.

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Watch the full video below.

I committed homeopathic suicide during that lecture, a stunt I’ve done all over the world to make an important point about homeopathy, that it has no ingredients that will help or affect any ailment, symptom, or disease, and that it’s inane to take it seriously.

Seriously…

During my talk, which can be seen and heard here (and below) I opened and downed an entire bottle – 32 tablets – of homeopathic Calms Forte* sleeping pills, the main ingredient of which was “coffea cruda,” which is not made from instant coffee, nor brewed coffee, nor caffeine, but unroasted coffee beans, friends, but diluted – literally – billions of times, so that there isn’t even a single molecule of any active substance in a truck full of the tablets! I was confident that I’d not toss and turn that evening…

*which has since changed its formula to use “passion flower” rather than coffea cruda as the “active ingredient,” perhaps to invoke a more exciting reaction…?

Well, a Jack Myers was in that audience, and he was apparently not favorably impressed by my attitude or my opinions. Mr. Myers labels himself an “economist,” a media ecologist, author, documentary film producer, and publisher of economic reports on media, marketing and entertainment. Jack’s also a recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award, so I was surprised, following his attendance at TED, to read on his internet site a strong denunciation of me and my statements. In fact, he commented, ominously:

I found Mr. Randi’s presentation, itself, to be very misleading and disingenuous.

Fightin’ words, I’d say, but that tirade – strangely – was deleted from his site shortly after it was published. With the aid of friends, I managed to find an account he’d sent to an Internet columnist who wanted to know more about what she’d seen. I’ll share that with you, and break in to comment. Rather often. It began:

First [Randi] told us not to believe anything he said.

Well, not quite. As I always do, I suggested to the TED audience that they shouldn’t merely accept blindly what I’d said, but should look into the situations for themselves. Jack misheard me, I guess. He continued:

Then he told us homeopathic products are worthless, which he “proved” by swallowing a bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills. There was no seal on the bottle but he presented it as if he was opening it for the first time, even removing the instructions. I don’t believe they were, in fact, the original pills. I know many people who take those exact pills and they do work. I hope he doesn’t prove his “theory” with people who might “try it at home” and potentially die.

warning-homeopathy-not-medicine

Not to worry, Jack. As I said, I’ve done this “suicide” act all over the world for some twenty years now, and the only problem I’ve had has been people laughing to hear just how naïve and dense others can be when smooth-talked to by the operators who obviously also got to you…

Secondly, Randi denigrated those who use herbs and homeopathic products as part of a medical practice. My daughter is a practitioner of Oriental Medicine and studied four full years in an accredited master’s program to gain her degree. She uses many herbs and remedies that have been handed down and have been effective for centuries that would be classified as homeopathic. I wonder who pays Randi – the medical institutions? The AMA? I would like full disclosure on his funding.

Rejoice, sir! That data is all available to anyone who asks for it, because the JREF is registered as a 501(c)3 charity, and by law must provide that information to anyone who asks for it. So, just ask, Jack! And no, we’ve never received a cent from Big Pharma, as you suggest, nor from those perfidious doctors who actually put real medicine into their patients’ bodies.

Next, Randi believes there is no afterlife. Again, he seeks to make anyone who does believe into a fool. He’s entitled to his opinions, but why should it be at the expense of those who disagree with him? I like many others believe there is another level of existence – an afterlife.

No, Jack, though you may choose for yourself any title or definition you want, of course. If you wish to think of yourself as a total jackass, be my guest…!

I have seen someone who has the abilities Randi pooh poohed and am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that a true communication occurred. It changed my life and my beliefs and, by the way, cost me nothing. I don’t feel he has a right to dismiss my beliefs as foolish and idiotic. I agree there are charlatans in every field – but that doesn’t mean he has a right to dismiss someone’s beliefs just because he doesn’t agree with them.

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Well, perhaps it did cost you, Jack. It appears that you witnessed a demonstration that quite impressed you and changed your basic opinions on how the world works. But just think, man! Now you’re potentially rich, a million bucks wealthier than you were before you revealed this to me, because my organization, the James Randi Educational Foundation [JREF], is prepared to pay your “someone” a million bucks upon the demonstration of that ability that I scoffed at! Wow! Now, this guru/saint/medium/gypsy/whatever may be shy – so many are, I’ve found – and may be so strongly spiritual that he/she shuns taking such easy money, but isn’t it worth a try…? C’mon, Jack, give the wheel a spin!

No?

I wonder why… Jack struck me as a far more dependable and worthy opponent in this brouhaha, but just see up ahead how perfidious he actually proved to be. Read on, as he throws down his gauntlet…

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James Randi: Homeopathy, quackery and fraud

Sylvia Browne: Wrong Again

The Randi Show –

Randi dives into the most recent of “psychic” Sylvia Browne‘s failed predictions, hoping that this one may be spectacular enough to put her out of business for good.

via The Randi Show – Sylvia Browne: Wrong Again – YouTube.

James Randi on Dr. Oz and Homeopathy (VIDEO)

Written by JREF Staff

In the latest installment of our ongoing video series The Randi Show, James Randi goes in-depth on Dr. Oz‘s recent support of homeopathy. Should a medical doctor with a large television audience promote baseless pseudoscience? Randi thinks not.

via James Randi on Dr. Oz and Homeopathy (VIDEO).

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.

James Randi Videos Added!

James Randi is one of my heroes.

I’ve just added a new series of James Randi videos from the “James Randi: Psychic Investigator” series from 1991. There were 6 episodes, Randi investigated Mediums, Astrology, Psychic Surgery, Dowsing, New Age, and Psychometry/Graphology – all in front of a live audience.

These video links are now permanently located above, in the pulldown menu links just below the iLLumiNuTTi banner. Enjoy!!! 🙂

Who is James Randi?

Biography*

JamesRandi_300pxJames Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.

Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural.

He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1986.

On October 19, 1993, the PBS-TV “NOVA” program broadcast a one-hour special dealing with Randi’s life work, particularly with his investigations of Uri Geller and various occult and healing claims being made by scientists in Russia.

He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. His lectures and television appearances have delighted — and vexed — audiences around the world.

In 1996, the James Randi Education Foundation was established to further Randi’s work. Randi’s long-standing challenge to psychics now stands as a $1,000,000 prize administered by the Foundation. It remains unclaimed.
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*From the official James Randi FaceBook page.

Top 10 Psychic Debunkings

Via Listverse

james-randi-69James Randi is a stage magician and scientific skeptic best known as a challenger of paranormal claims and pseudoscience. In this list we see 10 of his best psychic debunking (and have a bonus clip of a lecture of his). These are all extremely damning to the practitioners of these magic arts and Randi makes no apologies for his tough approach; in fact he is offering a reward of $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties. As of this time, no one has claimed this prize.

10 • Graphology

According to Randi, a large number of European businesses uses graphology (the ability to determine a person’s traits by their handwriting) to help in their hiring process. In this clip, Randi tests a professional graphologist to determine whether they actually do have the ability to recognize certain traits, or whether their results are determined entirely by chance.

9 • Astrology

Astrology is the ability to forecast a person’s life based upon the positions of the stars and other heavenly bodies. In this clip we see a very prolific astrologer giving a reading for a selected person in the audience. The best part of this clip is the series of witty comments at the end made by Stephen Fry. Excuse the sound quality at the start – it does improve.

8 • Psychometry

Psychometry is the ability to determine information about a person through their personal possessions. In the clip above, James Randi sets up a test for a woman claiming to have psychometry abilities. Unfortunately for her, the test did not go well.

7 • Crystal Power

Crystal power is the idea that certain crystals effect a person in a particular way. For this reason they are used for healing and psychic readings. In the test above, a professional crystal healer was tested. This is definitely one of the best clips. Despite the result, the “psychic” took it all very well.

6 • Aura Reading

Aura reading is the ability to see the aura (a field of color that radiates from an object) around people. In this clever test, James Randi has the reader see the auras of 5 people and then has them stand behind a thin wall. The reader then determines where each person is standing behind the wall based on their auras.

5 • Telekenesis

Telekenesis is when a person is able to move objects with the mind. In the 1980s, James Hydrick developed a cult like following due to his abilities. In this clip, we see James Randi debunk him on television. Some years later Hydrick was exposed as a criminal and he confessed his psychic fraud. He admitted that he learnt his trick whilst in jail. I am not sure what he spent time in jail for, but it may well have been crimes against fashion.

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