Tag Archives: supernatural

Conspiracy theorists really do see the world differently, new study shows

By Signe Dean via ScienceAlert

To a conspiracy theorist, the world is not what it seems. Invisible threads link seemingly unrelated concepts, and there’s no such thing as a random coincidence.

Researchers have been scratching their heads for years over what makes some people more conspiratorially inclined. Now a recent study has finally tracked down one of the faulty thinking patterns. As it turns out, we all use it – but these people use it too much.

A team of psychologists from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the University of Kent in the UK has determined that conspiracy theorists are hooked on something called ‘illusory pattern perception’.

“People often hold irrational beliefs, which we broadly define here as unfounded, unscientific, and illogical assumptions about the world,” the team writes in the study.

“Although many irrational beliefs exist, belief in conspiracy theories and belief in the supernatural are particularly prevalent among ordinary, nonpathological citizens.”

In other words, conspiracy theorists are not “nuts”. They’re totally sane, which makes their beliefs all the more puzzling – until we realise that they actually see the world quite differently.

Illusory pattern perception is a pretty simple concept. It happens whenever we find a meaningful pattern in random stimuli, drawing correlations and even causation where none has actually occurred.

For example, you might have a dream about an elderly relative, and then receive news the following day that the relative has passed away. For some people that would be enough to conclude that their dreams can predict the future.

Continue Reading @ ScienceAlert – – –

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

Psychic Methods Exposed – Cold Reading Tricks (Part 1)


Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH0zTYTY7K8

Detecting psychic scams & debunking mediums is easier when you know how psychic methods like cold reading work. Don’t be fooled by psychic misdirection. Cold reading tricks are used by psychics to convince an audience that they know things that they don’t – using high probability guesses, generalized statements, and linguistic techniques. Stay skeptical, dare to be curious, but don’t fall for this bullshit, and don’t drink the koolaid.

Related: Psychic Methods Revealed: Hot Reading

Superstition

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 –

Is Spontaneous Human Combustion Real?

Where do superstitions come from?

Altered States of Consciousness: There’s Nothing Supernatural About It

From the video description:

Transcendent experiences that were once attributed to gods, angels, muses, or even possession, are now being demystified by neuroscience. Jamie Wheal, Director of Programs at the Flow Genome Project, explains that each culture has unique rituals and narratives when it comes to non-ordinary experiences of consciousness or ‘altered states’, whether that’s mediation, flow state, psychedelic experiences, or others. A farmer in India, a peasant in Mexico, and a coder in Silicon Valley will all have vastly different ways of approaching altered states, and will give vastly different descriptions once they come out the other side – perhaps they saw a vision of Ganesh the elephant God, received a message from the Virgin of Guadalupe, or produced a brilliant line of code while in a Matrix-like binary blur. However, those experiences are more alike than we think. Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler devised a functional framework so they could compare non-ordinary experiences across cultures. Here, Wheal explains that they identified four common elements of altered states of consciousness, which they coined as STER: selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness and richness. Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler’s book is Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work (goo.gl/m3Quy0).

Continue Reading . . .

Ghosthunters: The Warrens

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.

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.

The burden of proof

Makers of supernatural claims have an inescapable burden of proof.


Via The burden of proof – YouTube.

Poltergeist at Amityville?

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

On December 18, 1975, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into a six-bedroom Dutch colonial home in Amityville, New York. But soon they were driven out, they claimed, by horrific supernatural forces. Ghosts? A poltergeist? Demons? Let’s take a look, as new claims continue to surface.

The Horror Tale

The Lutzes lasted just twenty-eight days before fleeing the house, reportedly leaving behind their possessions except for a few changes of clothes. Just three weeks later, they were telling an incredible tale.

Amityville_Horror_1979_300pxThe Lutzes claimed they had been attacked by sinister forces that ripped open a two-hundred-fifty-pound door, leaving it hanging from one hinge; threw open windows, bent their locks, and wrenched a banister from its fastenings; caused green slime to ooze from a ceiling; slid drawers rapidly back and forth; flipped a crucifix upside down; caused Kathy to levitate off the bed and turned her, briefly, into a wrinkled, toothless, drooling ninety-year-old crone; peered into the house at night with red eyes and left cloven-hooved tracks in the snow outside; infested a room in mid-winter with hundreds of houseflies; moved a four-foot ceramic statue of a lion about the house; produced cold spots and stenches; and caused other ostensibly paranormal phenomena, including speaking in a masculine voice, “Get out!”

These claims were detailed in the book, The Amityville Horror: A True Story, by Jay Anson (1977). However, the tale was a suspicious admixture of phenomena: part traditional haunting, part poltergeist disturbance, part demonic possession, with elements curiously similar to those from the movie The Exorcist thrown in for good measure.

In fact, the story soon began to fall apart, and in time a civil trial yielded evidence that the reputed events were mostly fiction.

‘Poltergeist’ Antics?

Although claims in The Amityville Horror book and movie once seemed to have been laid to rest, in 2013 the case resurfaced again. This time the oldest child of the troubled family, Daniel Lutz, who was nine at the time of the brouhaha, has come forward to claim the essential story was true and that he and his stepfather George had been “possessed.”

A documentary, My Amityville Horror (2013), focuses on Daniel, who revises discredited material. For example, he says  .  .  .

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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.

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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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21st century exorcisms: Examining the psychology of possession

james-randi-69Via James Randi Education Foundation – JREF

A video has surfaced of a reported exorcism as it was taking place last February behind the closed doors of a Roman Catholic church in Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic.  A 26 year old visitor heard screams and filmed through the keyhole of the door. Not much is visible; there is plenty of screaming and obscenity (in another language) but nothing supernatural happens from this perspective. The drama that unfolded is what we would expect an exorcism to look like from our familiarity with sensational news reports. Pope FrancisOnly in the movies, in fiction, are there visions of horror that break the bounds of physics or human capabilities. In reality, exorcisms at their most basic, are an interaction between the victim in some disturbed state and the people who are enacting the ritual. Some might say the ritual enables the victim, encouraging the expression of possession. For some afflicted people, they may benefit psychologically from the process.

The Czech priest confronted over the released video says they were asking for God’s help to protect the anonymous person in the church. He is quoted as remarking, “Of course it helps.” Does it really help, or is this reinforcement of an antiquated belief system harmful? Therein lies a tricky question for religious officials, psychologists, and the skeptically-minded about the value of exorcism. Most rationalists would not condone an exorcism, likely feeling that the potential for harm that could occur is unethical or the endorsement of belief in demons is nonsense.  What once was a given fact – evil spirits can possess people, and had been usurped by modern medicinal practice, has recently been re-embraced by the Catholic Church and endorsed through rejuvenation of the exorcism ritual.

On November 11, 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an English translation of the Rite of Exorcism that was published by the Vatican in 1999.  The vote was 179 “yes” to 5 “no.” Pope Francis recognized 250 priests across 30 countries who are members of the International Association of Exorcists which many observers saw as a surprising step backwards in time for the church. exorcism_225pxThe church sees exorcism as something of a last resort and repeatedly notes that the cases are carefully evaluated by medical professionals to address medical or psychological problems. Who does these evaluations? Are the psychiatric evaluators Christian? What are their criteria for concluding that, yes, this person can not be helped by Western medicine and must be treated spiritually?

Curiously, as noted in this Catholic news agency piece, exorcism is “not magic.  It is the Church imploring God to come to the aid of the person afflicted.” This can be interpreted in a secular way –  if the troubled person believes that they can be helped with this ritual, then perhaps they really are helped. It is plausible that many cases of deliverance or exorcism have been successful because people have “named” their troubles and outwardly cast them away, like the devil, to be gone and leave them free. Professor Christopher French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit of the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London has studied the psychology of possession. He also thinks that, under certain circumstances, people can benefit from exorcism.

“As I believe that “possession” is a purely psychological phenomenon, any psychosomatic symptoms might be cured by any form of treatment that the victim believes in. Also, adoption of the “possessed” role sometimes allows people to let off steam without being held responsible for their actions.”

Dr. French is clear that exorcism will not directly help anyone who has an underlying neurological condition, although, he says, “If the condition was aggravated by stress and the ritual reduced the stress, it might produce temporary relief.” This is not to make light of the several downsides to exorcism. There have been several cases of families who subjected “possessed’ elders, women, the handicapped, and children to abuse. In some cases, this has resulted in death.

Yet, the popular belief in exorcism is growing.

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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  .  .  .

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The Science and Non-Science of the Ouija

Benjamin Radfordby Benjamin Radford via Discovery News

The new supernatural horror film “Ouija” hits theaters soon, and is expected to scare up big numbers at the box office this weekend.

The Oujia board, also known as a witch board or spirit board, is simple and elegant. The board itself is printed with letters and numbers, while a roughly heart-shaped device called a planchette slides over the board. The game was created in the 1890s and sold to Hasbro in 1966. It began as a parlor game with no association with ghosts until much later, and today many people believe it can contact spirits.

“Ouija” is only the most recent in a long line of movies featuring the board. Since the Oujia board’s film debut in the 1920 Max Fleischer film “The Ouija Board,” it has appeared in hundreds of films including “The Uninvited” (1944);”The Changeling” (1980); “Witchboard” (1986); and “Paranormal Activity” (2007).

Speaking to the Dead

People in all cultures have long believed that communication with the dead is possible, and throughout the ages many people have claimed to speak to the dear departed. Ghosts and spirit communication shows up often in classic literature, including in mythology, the Bible, and Shakespeare’s plays.

Seance Scene in Dr. Mabuse the GamblerIn Victorian England it was fashionable in many circles to conduct séances; Ouija boards, three-legged tables, and candles were used to try to contact the dead. A century ago mediums “in touch with the spirit” during séances would write pages and pages of “automatic writing,” the psychic’s hands allegedly guided by ghosts to convey lengthy handwritten messages.

Since that time ghosts seem to have lost their will (or ability) to write—or even communicate effectively. These days the spirits (as channeled through mediums) seem to prefer a guessing game and instead offer only ambiguous, vague information: “I’m getting a presence with the letter M, or J in the name? A father, or father figure perhaps? Did he give you something special to remember him by, something small?” The Ouija board seems to cut out the middleman and let you communicate directly with the dead.

Fearing the Ouija

There’s a reason that scary movies are based on the Ouija game and not, for example, Monopoly or Scrabble. Many evangelical groups believe that playing with Ouija boards can lead to demonic possession.

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Also See: Video: What Makes Ouija Boards Move?

10 Ancient Books That Promise Supernatural Powers

By K.Fane via Listverse

Humankind has long dabbled in the supernatural, lured by the promise of obtaining power and enlightenment. Several texts have been devoted to this practice, outlining complicated and mysterious rituals that were presented as the key to achieving communion with otherworldly spirits.

10 • Greek Magical Papyri

0120

Photo credit: Glasgow University

The Greek magical papyri from the second century B.C. listed spells, rituals, and divinations. These included instructions for how to summon a headless demon, open doors to the underworld, and protect yourself from wild beasts. Perhaps most tantalizing of all, they describe how to gain a supernatural assistant, an otherworldly entity who does your bidding.

The most commonly found spells in the Papyri are divination spells—ceremonies that offer you visions of the future. One of its most well-known passages provides instructions for how to forecast upcoming events using an “iron lampstead,” “an offering of frankincense,” and an “uncorrupted and pure” child. After being placed into a deep trance, the child sees images flickering in the flame.

Among the Papyri’s most famous components is the Mithras Liturgy. This ceremony describes how to ascend through seven higher planes of existence and communicate with the deity Mithras.

9 • The Black Pullet

0218Originating in France in the 18th century, The Black Pullet focuses on the study of magical talismans, special objects engraved with mystical words that protect and empower the wearer. It was reportedly written by an anonymous officer in Napoleon’s Army, who claimed to have received the contents from a mysterious mage while on expedition in Egypt.

The Pullet includes detailed instructions for how to construct talismans out of bronzed steel, silk, and special ink. Among these invocations is a spell to call upon a djinn, a creature made of smoke and fire who will bring you true love. If your ambitions are slightly more cynical, then the Pullet also provides talismans that will force “discreet men” to tell you their secrets, allow you to see behind closed doors, and destroy anyone who is plotting against you.

The apex of the book’s mystical teachings is acquiring the Black Pullet itself—a hen that can find buried treasure.

8 • Ars Almadel

0319The Ars Almadel is Book Four of the Lesser Key of Solomon, also known as the Lemegeton, a significant grimoire of demonology compiled in the 17th century by an unknown author. This particular book of the Legemeton provides a blueprint for constructing an Almadel—a magical wax altar, somewhat like a ouija board, that allows you to communicate with angels.

The Almadel is composed of four Altitudes, or “Choras,” each of which corresponds with a unique set of angels with different domains. The text provides the names of the angels of each Chora (Gelomiros and Aphiriza, for example), the proper way to direct your requests to them (ask only what is “just and lawful”), and the best calendar dates for invoking them. It also includes brief physical descriptions of these angelic manifestations. The Angels of the Third Chora, for example, come in the form of “little women dressed in green and silver” wearing crowns made of bay leaves.

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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 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?

Did the Nazis practice magic?

Via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube

After World War II, conspiracy theorists started making increasingly strange claims about the Nazi party: One of the strangest claims concerns magic.

Is ‘Long Island Medium’ Theresa Caputo A Fake?

Some People Certainly Think So

Laura RosenfeldBy via Bustle

Every show on TLC really knows how to tug at your heartstrings, but The Long Island Medium does it pretty much better than anyone else. LongIslandMedium56That is because the Long Island Medium herself, Theresa Caputo, has an amazing ability to connect strangers with their loved ones who have passed away. By communicating through “spirit,” Caputo can learn how someone died, his or her nickname, and even deliver a message to the living. Her readings are so spot-on, it’s freaky.

Maybe even a little too freaky for some people. When a person has a supernatural ability like this, there are of course going to be skeptics. Caputo encounters them all the time on her show, like when one self-proclaimed skeptic, Brian, started to believe after Caputo’s tape recorder magically stopped without any prompting. Like with most issues in our society, the debate has mainly been alive and well on the Internet, the trolliest of troll-y places, since the show premiered back in 2011. Whether it’s through opinion pieces, blog posts, or videos, there are plenty of people online who make it their mission to debunk Caputo’s ability. So who are these people, and why do they think Caputo is not for real?

Caputo’s main opponent is James Randi, a former magician and escape artist who now spends his days “as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims,” according to his website. caputo_250pxRandi is famous for his “One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge,” where anyone who can prove “evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event” will be awarded $1 million.

Randi claims Caputo uses a technique that many mediums employ called “cold reading,” where it may look like Caputo is simply chatting with the person, but she’s actually picking up information that she’ll use to make what she says seem very specific to the person she’s reading. He says Caputo’s questions about initials and life events are basically just guesses that she hopes turn out to be true. Randi, who has also taken on the famous mediums John Edward and James Van Praagh, awarded Caputo a 2012 Pigasus Award, which is awarded to parapsychological frauds who are most harmful to society.

Inside Edition performed an entire investigation on Caputo in 2012, which found that she was much less accurate in her live readings than she is shown to be on her TV show, as she would “strike out time and again.” Inside Edition had former psychic Mark Edward perform the “cold reading” techniques he believed Caputo uses, and the audience believed him.

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Also See: The Long Island Medium – Can She Really Communicate with the Dead? – News from InsideEdition.com

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Earth Day Festival 2014: How was the Woo?

by The Locke via The Soap Box

Last Sunday, April 26, I went down to my town’s annual Earth Day Festival to check out everything that was there, just like I do every year.

Last year I was appalled by the amount of pseudoscience and alternative medicine woo mixed in with all of the legitimate booths and displays promoting legitimate environmental causes and advice [read about it here] to the point where they pretty much overshadowed what the Earth Day festival was suppose to be about.

The worst offender last year of course was a booth promoting Anti-GMO conspiracy theories.

Fortunately that person wasn’t back this year, but still there were people back again promoting the same woo, including the Astrology and Tarot Card reader from last year  .  .  .

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.  .  .  and the chiropractors from last year are back as well  .  .  .

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.  .  .  but I have some new ones for this year, starting with this one:

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Now I admit at first glance this one wasn’t that bad, even through it had nothing to do with environmentalism.

Creating art can help relax a person and cut down on stress. That’s the good part about what’s being presented there.

Then there’s the woo.

They also promote past life regression and trauma healing, clearing of curses, negative spirits, and other stuff of the like, and how to protect yourself from such things, all while using nature and spiritual energy.

In other words instead of addressing any real things that can cause stress in a person’s life, they’re just claiming that it’s supernatural forces, and use “techniques” they claim to get from Shamanism to “cleanse” a person of these supernatural forces.

The next offender of promoters of woo that I saw there was  .  .  .

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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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10 Strange Tales About Paranormal Research

By Pauli Poisuo via Listverse

Everyone likes a good paranormal tale. However, often the really interesting stories are not about ghosts and UFOs—they’re about the people who run after them with a notebook in hand.

The world is full of tireless paranormal researchers who spend countless hours in a never-ending attempt to understand the incomprehensible and find the truth behind the legends. These are their stories.

10 • William Hope And Spirit Photography

Williamhopehoax5_250pxWilliam Hope (1866-1936) was a famous British medium and paranormal researcher. He gained fame with his amazing “spirit photography,” a seemingly uncanny ability to capture the images of ghosts and spirits on camera. Although this technology is commonplace today (and, more often than not, known as “photoshopping”), Hope was the first man to produce these type of images. As such, his popularity as a medium exploded.

Hope took many precautions with the plate cameras he used in order to rule out any possibility of fraud. However, this itself turned out to be a scam. In reality, the complicated rules he claimed to follow were little more than smoke and mirrors. Hope’s pictures were actually the product of skillful photo manipulation and advanced superimposing techniques. Still, although we can’t respect him as the herald of the supernatural world he liked to present himself as, we can at least give him a nod for his work as a pioneering photography artist.

9 • Independent Investigations Group

The Independent Investigations Group—or IIG for short—is a famous paranormal research organization that was founded in Hollywood, California in 2000, but now operates across America. They’re the largest and best known group of their kind in the US, and their founder, Jim Underdown, is a common sight at panels and discussions around the country.

IIC takes a decidedly skeptical stance in its investigations, but it always strives to give its subjects a fair chance to prove their mystical powers. They have an ongoing offer to pay a large cash prize to anyone who can demonstrate scientifically verifiable paranormal abilities. The sum was originally $50,000, but was recently bumped up to $100,000, possibly thanks to their collaboration with the James Randi Foundation, another famous skeptic organization.

Be warned, though: It’s not easy money. The video above shows the IIC investigating Anita Ikonen, who had claimed to have the power of “medical dowsing” (in this case, telling if someone is missing an internal organ).

It didn’t go well for her.

8 • EMF Meters

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Photo credit: paranormalghost.com

EMF (electromagnetic field) meters are one of the most common tools in the working kit of a ghost hunter. There is some confusion as to why they are so important. Some say it’s because ghosts actually emit electromagnetic radiation, others claim they merely disturb the area’s existing electromagnetic field. It doesn’t really matter which of the theories is true—either way, the ghost hunting community often accepts the idea that ghosts and other spirits can be detected with an EMF meter.

Obviously, the use of the device presents many problems. No one really knows how to interpret the readings—whether or not ghosts are right behind them. Certain researchers have even speculated that EMF anomalies might actually cause hauntings, rather than the other way around.

Some of the more enthusiastic paranormal researchers find their way around the problem by creating complicated sets of fine-tuning instructions for their EMF meters. However, it’s pretty safe to assume that most researchers just carry their meters around and if the needle starts moving, grab their cameras and hope for the best.

7 • Viktor Grebennikov

460495603_250pxViktor Grebennikov was a Soviet scientist and naturalist with a very strange interest in supernatural—or, rather, supremely natural—methods of transport. Grebennikov’s day job was as an entymologist (insect researcher), but he liked to dabble in the paranormal. Before his death in 2001, he had amassed a large amount of research on the art of levitation, and even claimed to have built a platform able to levitate a fully-grown man.

Grebennikov’s alleged levitation techniques were based on a specific, arcane geometrical structure he claimed he had built from insect parts. This bug machine was supposedly able to lift him for over 305 meters (1,000 ft) and could easily reach speeds of over 25 kilometers (15.5 mi) per minute. He was protected from these high speeds by an energy grid all around him.

Well, that’s his story anyway. When you actually look at the video material he left behind, it looks a lot like the few bug parts he’s able to move without touching them only do so because he’s creating static electricity by rubbing the surface under them.

6 • Ovilus

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Photo credit: ghostoutlet.com

The Ovilus is a “ghost box” that has gained notoriety among paranormal investigators in recent years. It’s essentially the ghost hunter’s equivalent of a text-to-speech program. The Ovilus detects the subtle changes ghosts, demons, and other incorporeal entities make in their surroundings, and converts these messages into spoken words. It’s a dowsing rod, EMF meter, and a recording device, all in one machine. Ovilus III, the most recent model, is said to have a vocabulary of 2,000 words, along with a thermal flashlight, multiple operating modes, a recording function, and other neat extras.

As amazing as the Ovilus would be if it really worked, at least one reviewer is certain that the product is actually a fraud. Although it does have all the sensors and functions that it claims to, they do nothing to detect—let alone communicate with—ghosts. The Ovilus merely scans your environment and, when the conditions are right, the machine gives you a preset speech response from its memory.

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Researchers dismiss sixth sense – and put their faith in common sense

Australian survey finds people can reliably detect a change in surroundings, even if they cannot accurately describe it

Oliver Milman via theguardian.com

"I don't really see dead people."

“I don’t really see dead people.”

If you can eerily detect the presence of unseen people or have prescient knowledge of danger, it may be disappointing to learn that scientists have ruled out the existence of a “sixth sense”.

A year-long University of Melbourne study, published in the journal Plos One, found that people could reliably detect a change in their surroundings, even if they could not accurately describe what that change was.

However, the research concluded that this was not due to any kind of supernatural ability, but rather from cues picked up from more conventional senses such as sight.

Researchers presented pairs of photos of a woman to 48 different people. In some cases, the appearance of the woman in one of the pictures would be different – such as a different hairstyle or the presence of glasses.

The pictures were shown to the subjects for 1.5 seconds with a one-second break between them. The people were then asked whether a change had occurred and, if so, to pick the change from a list of nine possibilities.

psychicFair_210pxThe results showed that while the subjects could “sense” a change had occurred, they could not verbalise what it was. While this confirmed to some subjects that they possessed a sixth sense, or extrasensory perception, researchers said it showed there was no such ability.

“What people were doing was processing information that they couldn’t verbalise but were picking up on, often subconsciously,” Dr Piers Howe from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences told Guardian Australia. “It’s a bit like an abstract painting – it doesn’t depict anything you can label, such as a sea or mountain, but you can still get a lot of information on what’s going on.

“The information was enough to tell them that a change had occurred, because they could tell the picture was more crowded, but not enough to say what that change was. Many believed they had a quasi-magical ability even though we had set them up.”

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Prove Your Supernatural Power and Get Rich

If you can demonstrate a power unknown to science, there are people looking to write you a check.

By Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here.

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Houdini’s psychic challenge letter
Photo: Chris Perley
(Click image for larger view)

It can sometimes be quite mind-boggling to hear a friend or family member reveal that they have some kind of supernatural ability. Often they feel an empathetic connection to others, sometimes the ability to perform minor healings, or to predict future events. Many times, these are abilities for which “supernatural” seems too strong a word; they are more spiritual or metaphysical, or based on some sensing of an energy. It’s more than likely that you yourself believe you have such an ability, or perhaps did at one time. Nearly all of us have. But whether the ability is energetic or spiritual, supernatural truly is the best word that applies. A supernatural ability could almost be seen as a superpower, something a fictional superhero might be able to do. And we all want superpowers. We all want your supernatural ability to be proven true. And we want it so much that a large number of groups around the world will pay you to prove it.

Such prizes have been available at least since Houdini, who had a standing $10,000 offer for anyone who could create a paranormal manifestation that he could not duplicate. The granddaddy of today’s challenges is the James Randi Educational Foundation‘s Million Dollar Challenge, which will pay anyone who can prove an ability unknown to science one million dollars, and Chinese journalist Sima Nan will kick in a million Yuan (about $150,000) on top of it. It’s not the only big prize out there: the Belgian group SKEPP offers the Sisyphus Prize for one million Euros, which at current exchange rates, is about a quarter million dollars more than the Million Dollar Challenge. The Independent Investigation Group, with affiliates throughout the United States, offers a $100,000 prize. Puzzling World in New Zealand has long offered the $100,000 Pyschic Challenge, and just across the pond, the Australian Skeptics offer a $100,000 prize. The Science and Rationalists’ Association of India offers a INπ 2 million Miracle Challenge, worth about $50,000. These are most of the largest prizes, but many, many smaller prizes are offered all around the world. If you have a supernatural ability of any kind, you owe it to yourself – or at least to your favorite charity – to prove it and use the reward however you see fit.

It’s easy to dismiss the groups who run these challenges as cynics who just want to gloat over someone’s failure, and for sure, such people are found in those groups. But many members of the groups joined because they, too, have always dreamed of having a superpower. Should you win the money and prove that a supernatural ability is possible, you’ll not only turn the world on its head, you’ll be handed money by people who have never been happier to sign a check.

I truly do encourage you to go for it. Here are three big pieces of advice, based on the experiences of the many previous claimants:

1. Be able to succinctly describe a testable ability.

telekinesis_fullpic_1149_300pxThe biggest headache for the people who offer these prizes is that the claimant can almost never provide a simple, clear description of their ability. For example, if you believe you have the power to influence a cat telepathically, you have to give a specific and testable example. Most claimants usually write in with a great lengthy email, telling about the many examples they’ve experienced of a cat doing whatever they wanted it to do; or perhaps with long rambling experiences of sharing the cat’s feelings or of their history of owning cats with whom they felt empathetic.

The challengers have no use for a long letter. You truly must be able to describe one specific ability in a single sentence. If you have many, then pick exactly one, one that you are most confident you can consistently prove.

Nobody is going to give you a cash prize for the length of your letter, or for the number of cats you’ve felt empathetic toward. You must be able to provide a clear, testable ability. If your ability is broad-reaching and vague, it will not be possible to construct a test protocol, and you will not be able to prove it. You must be able to select, within the scope of your broad-reaching abilities, something specific that’s testable and repeatable. For example, “I can make my cat jump onto its perch, within five seconds of giving it a mental command, when the cat neither see me nor hear me, and I can do it 8 out of 10 times.”

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Ted Serios claimed he could make images appear on Polaroid film just by thinking of an image.
(See: Thoughtography)

It has to be something concise, specific, and unmistakable. If you feel that your ability is too broad to be fairly represented by such a precise example, then you are unlikely to convince anyone, and will certainly be unable to prove your ability to the satisfaction of whatever criteria are agreed upon.

Many claimants report that they feel it’s unfair to try and represent their ability with a single demonstration that’s so much more specific than what they generally do. If you feel the same way and can’t agree to a simple test protocol, then you’re likely to leave the impression that your abilities are really just your own misinterpretation of ordinary coincidences. It’s something the psychologists call confirmation bias – you happen to notice when your cat jumps onto his perch while you were thinking of him, but you failed to weigh it against the far larger number of times your cat jumped onto the perch when you weren’t around and had nothing to do with it.

2. Be aware of why previous claimants failed.

Many people have taken such tests, and so far, all have failed. However, they’ve almost always cited an excuse or some external reason out of their control that the test failed. You must be aware of why previous claimants have failed, and be prepared not to suffer their same fate. This means preparation and anticipation of the problems.

Claimants are generally required to . . .

Weird Word Salad: The Terminology of the Unexplained

Sharon_hill_80px via The Huffington Post

Paranormal investigators say they look for evidence of paranormal activity. That phrase always confounded me. I don’t quite get it. What does it mean when someone says they have evidence of “paranormal activity”? And, how do you know it’s not normal activity that you just couldn’t ferret out?

ElmerGhost02_250pxThere is a problem with how the word paranormal is used because it is often utilized in a way that is perhaps not consistent with the original intent.

Language evolves. Let me take a shot at unpacking some of these definitions about unexplained phenomena. See if it makes sense.

“Paranormal” and other terms for strange goings-on have changed over time. The word paranormal was coined around 1920. It means “beside, above or beyond normal.” Therefore, it’s anything that isn’t “normal” — or, more precisely, it is used as a label for any phenomenon that appears to defy scientific understanding. Ok, right there is a tripping point. Whose scientific understanding? The observer who is calling it “paranormal”? If so, that is problematic as a theoretical physicist sees things a lot differently than a dentist or a police officer. So, it appears too subjective to be precise. Each person may have their own idea of what constitutes “paranormal activity”.

The term “paranormal” used to just mean extrasensory perception and psychic power but, since the 1970s in particular — thanks to TV shows and proliferation of the subject in popular culture — the term expanded in scope to include all mysterious phenomena seemingly shunned by standard scientific study. It was a convenient way to bring many similarly peculiar topics under one heading for ease of marketing. So today, it can include everything that sounds mysterious: UFOs, hauntings, monster sightings, strange disappearances, anomalous natural phenomena, coincidences, as well as psychic powers.

images.jpgUFONot everyone agrees that fields of study such as UFOlogy or cryptozoology (Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster and the like) should be considered paranormal but, if we think about the fact that after all this time, we have yet to document what these things actually are, that is beyond normal. Therefore, paranormal (arguably).

What appears as paranormal could essentially one day become normal. This has happened before with meteorites and still mysterious but likely explainable earthquakes lights and ball lightning. Or, we might not have developed the right technology or made the philosophical breakthrough yet to provide an explanation for some seemingly paranormal events. Perhaps we may find an instrument that can measure whatever it is that results in “hauntings” of a particular type. (Notice that I didn’t say an instrument that detects ghosts — an important distinction.)

Contrasted with paranormal is “supernatural.” To say something is supernatural is to conclude that the phenomenon operates outside the existing laws of nature. We would call such phenomena . . .

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