Tag Archives: The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Past Life Regression (PLR)

By The Skeptic’s Dictionary

PLR 815_02_250pxPast life regression (PLR) is the alleged journeying into one’s past lives while hypnotized. While it is true that many patients recall past lives, it is highly probable that their memories are false memories. The memories are from experiences in this life, pure products of the imagination, intentional or unintentional suggestions from the hypnotist, or confabulations.

Some New Age therapists do PLR therapy under the guise of personal growth; others under the guise of healing. As a tool for New Age explorers, there may be little harm in encouraging people to remember what are probably false memories about their living in earlier centuries or for encouraging them to go forward in time and glimpse into the future. But as a method of healing, it must be apparent even to the most superficial of therapists that there are great dangers in encouraging patients to create delusions. Some false memories may be harmless, but others can be devastating. They can increase a person’s suffering, as well as destroy loving relationships with family members. The care with which hypnosis should be used seems obvious.

Door to mystical UniverseSome therapists think hypnosis opens a window to the unconscious mind where memories of past lives are stored. How memories of past lives get into the unconscious mind of a person is not known, but advocates loosely adhere to a doctrine of reincarnation, even though such a doctrine does not require a belief in the unconscious mind as a reservoir of memories of past lives.

PLR therapists claim that past life regression is essential to healing and helping their patients. Some therapists claim that past life therapy can help even those who don’t believe in past lives. The practice is given undeserved credibility because of the credentials of some of its leading advocates, e.g., Brian L. Weiss, M.D., who is a graduate of Columbia University and Yale Medical School and Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. There are no medical internships in PLR therapy, nor does being a medical doctor grant one special authority in metaphysics, the occult or the supernatural.

Continue Reading @ The Skeptic’s Dictionary – – –

Uri Geller

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

“If Uri Geller bends spoons with divine powers, then he’s doing it the hard way.”James Randi

“Because a good magician can do something shouldn’t make you right away jump to the conclusion that it’s a real phenomenon.” —Richard Feynman

“Geller is at his ingenious best in laboratories where he is being observed by scientists who believe he has extraordinary ESP ability and think—without justification—that they have ruled out every possibility of fraud.” —Milbourne Christopher

geller

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Uri Geller is most famous for his claim to be able to bend spoons and keys with his mind. An international star in the psychic circuit, Geller is a Hungarian/Austrian who was born in Israel and lives in England. He claims he’s had visions for many years and may get his powers from extraterrestrials. He calls himself a psychic and has sued several people for millions of dollars for saying otherwise. His psychic powers were not sufficient to reveal to him, however, that he would lose all the lawsuits against his critics. His arch critic has been James “The Amazing” Randi, who has written a book and numerous articles aimed at demonstrating that Geller is a fraud, that he has no psychic powers, and that what Geller does amounts to no more than the parlor tricks of a conjurer.

Geller has been performing for many years. The first time I saw him was in 1973 when he appeared on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. He was supposed to demonstrate his ability to bend spoons with his thoughts and identify hidden objects, but he failed to even try. He squirmed around and said something about how his power can’t be turned on and off, and that he didn’t feel strong right then. Randi had worked with Carson’s producer to change the spoons and metal items Geller planned to use, as there was a suspicion that Geller likes to work (i.e., soften) his metals before his demonstrations, as would any careful conjurer.

View Geller’s Tonight Show lack of performance (courtesy of James Randi):


(video source)

I have always been fascinated and puzzled by the attraction of Uri Geller. I suppose this is because nearly every one of our household spoons is bent and what I would like to see is someone who can straighten them, with his mind or with anything for that matter. Likewise with stopped watches. I have several of those and I would love for someone to use his powers, psychic or otherwise, to make them start running again. Of course, even I can get my stopped watches to run again for a short while by shaking or tapping them, but a permanent fix would be appreciated. There is something mysterious, however, about a person who has built a career out of breaking things.

Continue reading @ The Skeptic’s Dictionary . . .

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.

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Subjective Validation

via Skepdic.com

Subjective validation is the process of validating words, initials, statements, or signs as accurate because one is able to find them personally meaningful and significant. Subjective validation explains why many people are seduced by the apparent accuracy of pseudoscientific personality profiles. Subjective validation deludes everyone from the housewife who thinks her happiness depends on her blood type or horoscope, to the FBI agent who thinks criminal profiles are spot on, to the therapist who thinks her Rorschach readings are penetrating portraits of psychological disorders.

Subjective validation is an essential element of any successful cold reading done by astrologers, palm readers, tarot readers, mediums, and the like. The sitter in such readings must cooperate. Fortunately for the medium, most sitters are usually eager for the reader to succeed and are willing to work hard to find personal meaning in whatever the reader throws out. In a successful cold reading, the sitter will be convinced that the accuracy of the reading was not due to her ability and willingness to cooperate but rather to the powers of astrology, palmistry, tarot, or mediumship.

Sitters are often very compliant. A medium will say he senses a father figure trying to contact him from the spirit world and the sitter has only to find someone to fit the bill. It need not be the sitter’s father. So, when the sitter identifies this father figure as her deceased husband, the medium is validated by the subject. The medium is validated by the subject when the medium says she is getting the message “I do not walk alone” and the sitter makes sense out of this by seeing it as a communication from a departed soul who was in a wheelchair before she died. There may be thousands of ways to make sense out of an ambiguous stimulus like the name ‘Michael’ or the expression ‘broken wheel’ but all it takes is for the sitter to find one and the medium is validated.


Selective memory is also involved in subjective validation because it is very unlikely that any sitter will be able to find meaning in every utterance the medium makes. Fortunately for the reader, the sitter will usually forget the misses and remember only the hits. That is, the sitter will remember what she was able to make sense out of and forget the stuff that made no sense to her. Also, it rarely occurs that anyone makes an independent check of the accuracy of the sitter’s rating of the reader.* So, if a sitter is satisfied that a reading is very accurate that is usually taken as sufficient evidence by the medium – and by experimenters who test mediums such as Gary Schwartz – as proof of the accuracy of the reading.

The stronger the desire to make contact, the harder the sitter will work to find meaning and connections in the medium’s items. This fact should impact the design of experiments that are supposed to test a medium’s ability to get messages from spirits. Experimenters should always checks factual claims made by sitters. But even though the concern with factual accuracy is important in verifying the success of the medium, one should not lose sight of the importance of the studies that have been done on how the human mind works when it comes to making sense out of and giving significance to disparate data presented to it. The overall effect of subjective validation should show up in the way sitters rate the accuracy of the mediums’ claims.

Continue Reading @ Skepdic.com – – –

The Perfect Prediction Scam

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

This scam involves making a series of opposite predictions (on winners in the stock market, football games, or the like) and sending them to different groups of people until one group has seen your perfect track record sufficiently to be duped into paying you for the next “prediction.”

For example, Notre Dame is playing Michigan next week, so you send 100 letters to people, predicting the outcome of the game. It doesn’t really matter whether the recipients of your letter are known to bet on college football games. The information you provide will stimulate some of them to want to bet on the game. You name your letter something swell like The Perfect Gamble. In 50 letters you predict Notre Dame will win. In the other 50 you predict Michigan will win. You write a short introduction explaining that you have a secret surefire method of predicting winners and to prove it you are giving out free predictions this week. Notre Dame wins.

The next week you send a free copy of The Perfect Gamble to the 50 who got the letter that predicted a Notre Dame victory. In the introduction you remind them of last week’s prediction and you inform them how much they would have won had they followed your advice. To show there are no hard feelings and to give them one more chance to take advantage of your surefire system you provide—free of cost—one more prediction. This week Notre Dame is playing Oregon State. You divide your list of recipients and you send 25 letters predicting Notre Dame will win and 25 predicting Oregon State will win.

After the second game, you will have 25 people who have seen you make two correct predictions in a row. Three correct predictions in a row should convince several recipients of your letter that you do have a surefire way to pick winners. You now charge them a substantial fee for the next prediction and, if all goes as planned, you should make a handsome profit even after postage and handling costs.

Since you are a crook for running this scam, you won’t feel guilty in promising the prospective suckers their money back if not completely satisfied with your predictions. Your hope is that they will be greedy and say: “How can I lose?” You needn’t remind them how. You might even be able to rationalize your behavior by telling yourself that they deserve to be scammed because they’re so greedy!

For different audiences, you can pretend to be a psychic or an astrologer or a mathematician or a gambler who knows how to fix college football games. If you are cheating the gullible as well as the greedy, you may be able to convince yourself that you are performing a beneficial service to the community by cheating these people out of their money. You might persuade yourself that rather than try to put you in jail for being a fraudulent scammer, society should give you an award for reminding people to use their common sense and critical thinking skills.

A variant of the perfect prediction scam is used by some psychics. If you tell enough clients “someday you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams,” then if one of them inherits a great sum or wins a lottery, you may get credit for being psychic.

Continue Reading @ skepdic.com – – –

The Case of the Ancient Astronauts – Erich von Däniken

This Nova documentary The Case of the Ancient Astronauts destroys the claims made by Erich von Däniken and his looney ancient astronauts (alien) theory. Read more about von Däniken below the video.

Enjoy 🙂

MIB

From Wikipedia:

Erich Anton Paul von Däniken (/ˈɛrk fɒn ˈdɛnkn/; German: [ˈeːrɪç fɔn ˈdɛːnɪkən]; born 14 April 1935) is a Swiss author of several books which make claims about extraterrestrial influences on early human culture, including the best-selling Chariots of the Gods?, published in 1968. Däniken is one of the main figures responsible for popularizing the “paleo-contact” and ancient astronauts hypotheses. The ideas put forth in his books are rejected by a majority of scientists and academics, who categorize his work as pseudohistory, pseudoarchaeology and pseudoscience.[1][2][3]

The Nova documentary The Case of the Ancient Astronauts shows that all the claims made by von Däniken about the Pyramid of Cheops were wrong in all accounts. The technique of construction is well understood, scholars know perfectly what tools were used, the marks of those tools in the quarries are still visible, and there are many tools preserved in museums. Däniken claims that it would have taken them too long to cut all the blocks necessary and drag them to the construction site in time to build the Great Pyramid in only 20 years, but Nova shows how easy and fast it is to cut a block of stone, and shows the rollers used in transportation. He also claims that Egyptians suddenly started making pyramids out of nowhere, but there are several pyramids that show the progress made by Egyptian architects while they were perfecting the technique from simple mastabas to later pyramids. Däniken claims that the height of the pyramid multiplied by one million was the distance to the Sun, but the number falls too short. If it were true, it would make the pyramid 93 miles high… He also claims that Egyptians could not align the edges so perfectly to true North without advanced technology that only aliens could give them, but Egyptians knew of very simple methods to find North via star observation, and it is trivial to make straight edges.[36]

Continue reading @ Wikipedia  –  –  –

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Ancient Astronauts – Erich Anton Paul von Däniken

From The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Chariots of the GodsThe term ‘ancient astronauts’ designates the speculative notion that aliens are responsible for the most ancient civilizations on earth. The most notorious proponent of this idea is Erich von Däniken, author of several popular books on the subject. His Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, for example, is a sweeping attack on the memories and abilities of ancient peoples. Von Däniken claims that the myths, arts, social organizations, etc., of ancient cultures were introduced by astronauts from another world. He questions not just the capacity for memory, but the capacity for culture and civilization itself, in ancient peoples. Prehistoric humans did not develop their own arts and technologies, but rather were taught art and science by visitors from outer space.

Where is the proof for von Däniken’s claims? Some of it was fraudulent. For example, he produced photographs of pottery that  he claimed had been found in an archaeological dig. The pottery depicts flying saucers and was said to have been dated from Biblical times. However, investigators from Nova (the fine public-television science program) found the potter who had made the allegedly ancient pots. They confronted von Däniken with evidence of his fraud. His reply was that his deception was justified because some people would only believe if they saw proof (“The Case of the Ancient Astronauts,” first aired 3/8/78, done in conjunction with BBC’s Horizon and Peter Spry-Leverton)!

Most of von Däniken’s evidence is in the form of specious and fallacious arguments . . .

Continue Reading @ The Skeptic’s Dictionary – – –

‘Ebola is man-made’, and other crazy conspiracy theories

By Will Storr via The Telegraph

Icke - Remember what you are_250px

Who are the Anunnaki? What is the Planet Nibiru? Click the image to find out.

The best conspiracy theories are like enchanting mazes of logic whose thresholds, once crossed, are hard to return from. As ludicrous as they can appear from a distance, the closer you get, the stronger their gravity and the greater the danger of being sucked in. How else to describe the extraordinary rebirth of David Icke? Best known to some as the former BBC sports presenter who appeared on Wogan in a turquoise tracksuit implying he might be the son of God, to the post-Twin Towers generation he’s the visionary master of conspiracy, performing his unscripted 10-hour lecture about the secret forces that rule the world to sell-out crowds at Wembley Arena.

A 2011 BBC poll found that 14 per cent of Britons believed 9/11 was an inside job. Just as conspiracy websites are flourishing, so are those dedicated to undermining them, such as Snopes, The Skeptic’s Dictionary and Skeptoid. The number one debunking podcast on iTunes, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, claims a weekly listenership of 120,000 and tens of millions of downloads since its 2005 launch.

Icke often describes his work as “dot connecting”. But connecting dots is precisely how all sorts of mistakes about reality arise. “Our brains evolved to spot patterns in the environment and weave them into coherent stories,” says psychologist and conspiracy theory expert Dr Rob Brotherton. “We’re all conspiracy theorists because of the way our minds work. It’s how we make sense of the world. But it’s easy to connect dots that shouldn’t be connected.”

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.

So humans are rampant dodgy dot connectors, and they also suffer from an array of biases that make them susceptible to faulty belief. “We’re biased towards seeing intentions in the world, to think things were done deliberately instead of being chaotic,” says Dr Brotherton.

“There’s also a proportionality bias, so we want to think that when something big happens in the world it has a big explanation. In the case of JFK, you don’t want to believe some guy you’ve never heard of killed the most important man in the world and changed the course of history. Another is confirmation bias – when we get an idea in our head it’s very easy to find evidence that seems to support it. It takes a very unusual mind to de-convince itself. We’re made to believe.”

And some of the theories out there at the moment really take some believing. Here are five:  .  .  .

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Gerson Therapy

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

Gerson therapy is the name given to a regimen that claims to be able to cure even severe cases of cancer. The regimen consists of a special diet, coffee enemas, and various supplements. The regimen is named after Max Gerson (1881-1959), a German physician who emigrated to the United States in 1936 and practiced medicine in New York.

In 1977, Gerson’s daughter, Charlotte, co-founded the Gerson Institute, which oversees The Baja Nutri Care Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. The clinic’s website has a very strange message on its front page for such a cheery, optimistic site: BNC reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, at anytime without notice for any reason. It is still illegal for a clinic to offer the Gerson treatment as a cancer cure in the U.S. Charlotte is not a medical doctor but she was given on-the-job training in her father’s clinic. She trains physicians in the Gerson method, lectures widely on the benefits of the therapy and the evil forces trying to suppress it, and has written a number of pamphlets centering on testimonials from various people who claim to have been cured of their cancer. She’s co-authored a book on the Gerson way and is joined in her endeavor by her son Howard Strauss. Howard has a degree in physics and has written a biography of his grandfather called Dr. Max Gerson: Healing the Hopeless. Mother and son believe that Howard’s wife was cured of cancer by Gerson therapy.*

Gerson says he started on the road to his regimen when his migraines went away after going on a vegetarian and salt-free diet. The diet in the regimen eventually came to include lots of juice from organic fruits and vegetables, and to exclude coffee, berries, nuts, dairy products, tap water; bottled, canned or processed foods; and cooking in aluminum pots and pans. SnakeOil-250pxThe supplements came to include linseed oil, acidophilus-pepsin capsules, potassium solution, laetrile, Lugol’s solution (iodine/potassium iodine), thyroid tablets, niacin, pancreatic enzymes, royal-jelly capsules, castor oil, ozone enemas, vaccines, and vitamin B12 mixed with liver.* The liver injections were removed from the regimen after it became clear that it was making some people sick.*

Who was Max Gerson and why would anyone with cancer follow his advice of massive quantities of vegetable juice and daily coffee enemas? The second question is easy to answer. The therapy appeals to those who believe a “natural” cure exists for cancer and most other diseases but special interests (known in some circles as “they”) have suppressed these cures. It appeals to cancer patients who are extremely fearful of or violently opposed to surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. It appeals to cancer patients who have been told that science-based medicine has no treatment for them and who are desperate to continue living. The first question requires a longer answer.

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Palmistry

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

palm 817Palmistry, also known as chiromancy, is the practice of telling fortunes from the lines, marks, and patterns on the hands, particularly the palms.

Palmistry was practiced in many ancient cultures, such as India, China and Egypt. The first book on the subject appeared in the 15th century. The term chiromancy comes from the Greek word for hand (cheir).

Palmistry was used during the middle ages to detect witches. It was believed that certain spots on the hand indicated one had made a pact with the Devil. Palmistry was condemned by the Catholic Church but in the 17th century it was taught at several German universities (Pickover, 64). Britain outlawed palmistry in the 18th century. It is popular enough in America in the 20th century to deserve its own book in the Complete Idiot’s Guide series.

The Book of DivinationAccording to Ann Fiery (The Book of Divination), if you are right handed, your left hand indicates inherited personality traits and your right hand indicates your individuality and fulfillment of potential. The palmist claims to be able to read the various lines on your hand. These lines are given names like the life line, the head line, the heart line, the Saturne line. The life line supposedly indicates physical vitality, the head line intellectual capacity, the heart line emotional nature, etc.

Some palmistry mimics metoposcopy or physiognomy. It claims that you can tell what a person is like by the shape of their hands. Creative people have fan-shaped hands and sensitive souls have narrow, pointy fingers and fleshy palms, etc. There is about as much scientific support for such notions as there is for personology or phrenology. All such forms of divination seem to be based on sympathetic magic and cold reading.

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Acupuncture & What They Don’t Teach in Medical School

Via Skepdic.com

Another improperly done and ineptly reported acupuncture study has appeared. Julie Medew is the health editor for The Age, an Australian newspaper with an online presence. She authored an article yesterday with the headline:

Acupuncture as effective as drugs in treating pain, trial shows

acupucture_chinese_medicine_300pxThe headline is accurate but falsely implies that acupuncture was effective, which most people will probably take to mean that acupuncture, by some as yet undiscovered means, really relieves pain. Many people will also jump to the conclusion that this is a good thing because drugs have side effects and acupuncture doesn’t. Is that true? It’s not obviously true or intuitively true. We need evidence before we should accept such a claim. Many people will also jump to the conclusion that this is a good thing because acupuncture is cheaper than pain pills. Is that true? If it is, it is not obviously true or intuitively true. Where’s the evidence?

Anyway, the study was done by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s [RMIT] school of health sciences in conjunction with emergency physicians at four hospitals. I’d never heard of RMIT until yesterday. The website says it is a university and the health sciences webpage says:

The School of Health Sciences engages in teaching and research in Complementary Medicine, Nursing and Midwifery, and Psychology.

We recognise that many of the greatest advances in Science are made at the intersections of disciplines. With our strong interdisciplinary approach we have set our sights on establishing an evidence base for the quality, safety and effectiveness of interventions for the ageing population and those with chronic diseases. Our research findings inform clinical teaching and advance the treatment of patients.

acupuncture 835_225pxOne can only hope that the quality of research in other areas investigated by this institution is superior to that reported on by Ms. Medew. According to her, the “randomised controlled study of about 550 patients” gave acupuncture to some and a”strong oral analgesia, such as Endone, Panadeine Forte, Voltaren and Valium” to others. Medew reports that Dr Michael Ben-Meir “said it showed acupuncture offered the same level of pain relief as analgesic drugs when patients rated their pain one hour after treatment.” You read that right. The conclusion that acupuncture is as effective as pain pills was based on asking the patients about their pain level one hour after treatment. Was there a group of patients in the study who were give a dummy pain pill or fake acupuncture? No, but there was a group given both acupuncture and a pain pill. Guess what? After one hour, their reported pain level didn’t differ from those given only acupuncture or only a pain pill.

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Dowsing (a.k.a. water witching)

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

dowsing1Dowsing is the action of a person–called the dowser–using a rod, stick or other device–called a dowsing rod, dowsing stick, doodlebug (when used to locate oil), or divining rod–to locate such things as underground water, hidden metal, buried treasure, oil, lost persons or golf balls, etc. Since dowsing is not based upon any known scientific or empirical laws or forces of nature, it should be considered a type of divination and an example of magical thinking. The dowser tries to locate objects by occult means.

Map dowsers use a dowsing device, usually a pendulum, over maps to locate oil, minerals, persons, water, etc. However, the prototype of a dowser is the field dowser who walks around an area using a forked stick to locate underground water. When above water, the rod points downward. (Some dowsers use two rods. The rods cross when above water.) Various theories have been given as to what causes the rods to move: electromagnetic or other subtle geological forces, suggestion from others or from geophysical observations, ESP and other paranormal explanations, etc. Most skeptics accept the explanation of William Carpenter (1852). The rod moves due to involuntary motor behavior, which Carpenter dubbed ideomotor action.

In the 16th century, Agricola described mining dowsers using a forked twig to find metals (De re metallica). He didn’t think much of the practice. A miner, he wrote:

should not make us of an enchanted twig, because if he is prudent and skilled in the natural signs, he understands that a forked stick is of no use to him, for … there are natural indications of the veins which he can see for himself without the help of twigs. (Quoted in Zusne and Jones 1989: 106)

Despite this sage advice, dowsers continue to dowse, claiming that they have a special power and that what they are dowsing for emanates energy, rays, radiations, vibrations, and the like.

Does dowsing work?

Some people are less interested in why the rods move than in whether dowsing works. Obviously, many people believe it does. Dowsing and other forms of divination have been around for thousands of years. There are large societies of dowsers in America and Europe and dowsers practice their art every day in all parts of the world. There have even been scientists in recent years who have offered proof that dowsing works. There must be something to it, then, or so it seems.

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dowsing

Reichenbach’s odic force

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Baron Dr. Karl Ludwig Freiherr von Reichenbach (1788-1869) thought he had discovered a basic force in nature, which he called “od.” He is one of several classic examples of a respected scientist becoming fixated on an idea that only he can validate. The delusion in such men is impervious to criticism, which might lead one to conclude that a psychological aberration has occurred in a previously well-balanced and competent scientist.

Reichenbach was a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences and had made numerous contributions to science in several fields before he became fixated on “sensitives” and their claims of perceiving things that other people didn’t perceive. For most of the last thirty years of his life, he did research and defended his discovery of a totally new, hitherto unknown physical force. He was unable to convince the scientific community of his discovery, yet he persisted. After he was rebuked by a scientific committee in Berlin that heard his arguments and sat through his demonstrations, he ridiculed them as den Gelehrten Berline Sieben (the seven wise men of Berlin) and was undaunted (Jastrow, p. 342-343). When his sensitives failed to detect positive from negative current or whether the current was on or off (as Reichenbach claimed they could do because of their ability to detect the odic force), Reichenbach claimed that the “magnetic” current reacted upon the “odic” current and confused the sensitives (Jastrow, 343). The committee of seven experts wrote:

the demonstrations of Baron von Reichenbach have in no wise established what they were intended to show, and give no proof of a new natural force.

As far as I know, the baron had no training in psychology or psychopathology and no training in devising experiments involving people. He applied many standard scientific techniques and followed standard practices of data collection and recording, including graphs and charts. But he seems to have had no sense of how to do a controlled experiment with so-called “sensitives,” people who might better be described as neurotics or delusional.

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Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

I think the more you want to become more and more creative you have to not only elicit other peoples’ (plural) strategies and replicate them yourself, but also modify others’ strategies and have a strategy that creates new creativity strategies based on as many wonderful states as you can design for yourself. Therefore, in a way, the entire field of NLP™ is a creative tool, because I wanted to create something new.

Richard Bandler

“..the assumptions of NLP, namely that our cognition, behavior and emotions can be ‘programmed’ by mimicking the more superficial aspects of those with desirable attributes (for example posture and mannerism) are wrong. The last thirty years of research have simply shown that NLP is bunk.

Steven Novella, M.D.

…after three decades, there is still no credible theoretical basis for NLP, researchers having failed to establish any evidence for its efficacy that is not anecdotal.

–Gareth Roderique-Davies

Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is one of many self-help programs that emerged in the 1970s and ’80s but whose popularity has waned somewhat in recent years. NLP might be seen as a competitor with Landmark Forum, Tony Robbins, and legions of other enterprises promising to teach the masses the key to success, power, health, and happiness.

Robbins is probably the most successful “graduate” of NLP. He started his own empire after transforming from a self-described “fat slob” to a firewalker to (in his own words) “the nation’s foremost authority on the psychology of peak performance and personal, professional and organizational turnaround.” The founders of NLP, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, might disagree about who is the master authority on the psychology of self-help and success.

NLP seems to have something for everybody, the sick and the healthy, individual or corporation. In addition to being an agent for change for healthy individuals, NLP is also used for individual psychotherapy for problems as diverse as phobias and schizophrenia. NLP also aims at transforming corporations, showing them how to achieve their maximum potential and achieve great success. If you shop around, you’ll find NLP Practitioner Certification Training for under $100 and only a couple of days of your time. What is NLP? “NLP is the comprehensive training that covers everything you need to know to succeed (and help others succeed) in any area of life including business, relationships, career and any other area of life.”

Who discovered NLP?

understanding-the-brain_250pxNLP was begun in the mid-seventies by a linguist (Grinder) and a student of mathematics (Bandler) who had strong interests in (a) successful people, (b) psychology, (c) language and (d) computer programming. It is difficult to define NLP because those who started it and those involved in it use such vague and ambiguous language that NLP means different things to different people. While it is difficult to find a consistent description of NLP among those who claim to be experts at it, one metaphor keeps recurring. NLP claims to help people change by teaching them to program their brains. We were given brains, we are told, but no instruction manual. NLP offers you a user-manual for the brain. The brain-manual seems to be a metaphor for NLP training, which is sometimes referred to as “software for the brain.” Furthermore, NLP, consciously or unconsciously, relies heavily upon (1) the notion of the unconscious mind as constantly influencing conscious thought and action; (2) metaphorical behavior and speech, especially building upon the methods used in Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams; and (3) hypnotherapy as developed by Milton Erickson. NLP is also influenced by the work of Gregory Bateson and Noam Chomsky.

One common thread in NLP is the emphasis on teaching a variety of communication and persuasion skills, and using self-hypnosis to motivate and change oneself. Most NLP practitioners advertising on the WWW make grand claims about being able to help just about anybody become just about anything. Below is an excerpt from a website called The National Board of Professional and Ethics Standards on the wonders of NLP:

NLP can enhance all aspects of your life from improving your relationships with loved ones, learning to teach effectively, gaining a stronger sense of self-esteem, greater motivation, better understanding of communication, enhancing your business or career, bending steel bars in a single bound and an enormous amount of other things that involve the use of your brain.

The National Board of Professional and Ethical standards is not an accredited board, but a name pulled out of the air by a guy in Florida named D. A. “Doc” Brady. Brady says he has three doctorates, but he doesn’t say where he got them, and he is certified in NLP. One critic claims he got his doctorates from a diploma mill. Brady doesn’t say where he got certified in NLP.

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Craniosacral Therapy

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

“…craniosacral therapy bears approximately the same relationship to real medicine that astrology bears to astronomy…. [it] is medical fiction….” — Steve E Hartman and James M Norton*

craniosac_250pxCraniosacral therapy (a.k.a. craniopathy and cranial osteopathy) is a holistic therapy that involves the manipulation of the skull bones (the cranium) and the sacrum to relieve pain and a variety of other ailments, including cancer. (The sacrum is a bone between the lumbar vertebrae and tail vertebrae, composed of five fused vertebrae that form the posterior pelvic wall.) The therapy was invented by osteopath William G. Sutherland in the 1930s. Another osteopath, John Upledger, is the leading proponent of craniosacral therapy today. Like other holistic therapies, this one emphasizes subjective concepts such as energy, harmony, balance, rhythm, and flow.

Craniosacral therapists claim to be able to detect a craniosacral “rhythm” in the cranium, sacrum, cerebrospinal fluid and the membranes which envelop the craniosacral system. The balance and flow of this rhythm is considered essential to good health. The rhythm is measured by the therapist’s hands. Any needed or effected changes in rhythm are also detected only by the therapist’s hands. No instrument is used to measure the rhythm or its changes, hence no systematic objective measurement of healthy versus unhealthy rhythms exists. The measurement, the therapy, and the declared cure are all subjectively based. As one therapist put it:

During the treatment, the client is usually supine on a table. The therapist assesses the patterns of energy in the body through touch at several “listening stations” and then decides where to start that day and how to focus the treatment. [Woodruff]

agy4-3The same therapist maintains that the therapy is “a waste of time and money” for people who do not have faith in the therapy. Successful treatments, however, may well be due to the placebo effect and subjective validation. Since there is no plausible biological basis for the claims made by therapists for craniosacral rhythms, it is likely that the therapists are deluded, i.e., imagining they are detecting and manipulating a subtle energy.

Skeptics note that the skull does not consist of moveable parts (unlike the jaw) and brain cells lack actin and myosin (the things in muscle cells that make them move). The only rhythm detectable in the cranium and cerebrospinal fluid is related to the cardiovascular system, but craniosacral therapists deny craniosacral rhythms are due to blood pressure. When tested, therapists have been unable to consistently come up with the same measurements of the alleged craniosacral rhythm. (Dr. Ben Goldacre says there have been five such published studies and “in none of them did the osteopaths give similar answers.”) In a systematic review of the scientific evidence for craniosacral therapy, the British Columbia Office of Health Technology Assessment (BCOHTA) concluded that

The available research on craniosacral treatment effectiveness constitutes low-grade evidence conducted using inadequate research protocols. One study reported negative side effects in outpatients with traumatic brain injury. Low inter-rater reliability ratings were found. CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review and critical appraisal found insufficient evidence to support craniosacral therapy. Research methods that could conclusively evaluate effectiveness have not been applied to date. (1999)

The fact that there is no objective measurement of craniosacral rhythms and that the subjective measurements of practitioners show much disharmony, imbalance, and lack of unity far outweighs the anecdotes of people who give credit to the therapy for relieving them of some malady. If the anecdotes were backed by scientific studies, using proper controls and randomization techniques, the weight of the evidence would swing in favor of the therapy. Such studies are lacking. Six studies have been done, but only one was done with proper controls and that study was negative. There is simply no good evidence for the claims made by practitioners of craniosacral therapy about cranial rhythms being either measurable or an important factor in anyone’s health and well-being.

CSTflowCNS-1

Craniosacral therapists claim to be able to detect a craniosacral “rhythm” in the cranium, sacrum, cerebrospinal fluid and the membranes which envelop the craniosacral system.

As one research professor at a college of osteopathy put it:

since interexaminer reliability is zero, and since no properly randomized, blinded, and placebo-controlled outcome studies demonstrating clinical efficacy have been published, cranial osteopathy should be removed from the required curricula of colleges of osteopathic medicine and from osteopathic licensing examinations.

View a video:


[END] via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Kirlian photography – electrophotography

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

Kirlian_200pxIn 1939, Semyon Kirlian discovered by accident that if an object on a photographic plate is subjected to a high-voltage electric field, an image is created on the plate. The image looks like a colored halo or coronal discharge. This image is said to be a physical manifestation of the spiritual aura or “life force” which allegedly surrounds each living thing.

Allegedly, this special method of “photographing” objects is a gateway to the paranormal world of auras. Actually, what is recorded is due to quite natural phenomena such as pressure, electrical grounding, humidity and temperature. Changes in moisture (which may reflect changes in emotions), barometric pressure, and voltage, among other things, will produce different ‘auras’.

Living things…are moist. When the electricity enters the living object, it produces an area of gas ionization around the photographed object, assuming moisture is present on the object. This moisture is transferred from the subject to the emulsion surface of the photographic film and causes an alternation of the electric charge pattern on the film. If a photograph is taken in a vacuum, where no ionized gas is present, no Kirlian image appears. If the Kirlian image were due to some paranormal fundamental living energy field, it should not disappear in a simple vacuum (Hines 2003).

There have even been claims of electrophotography being able to capture “phantom limbs,” e.g., when a leaf is placed on the plate and then torn in half and “photographed,” the whole leaf shows up in the picture. This is not due to paranormal forces, however, but to fraud or to residues left from the initial impression of the whole leaf.

Parapsychologist Thelma Moss popularized Kirlian photography as a diagnostic medical tool with her books The Body Electric (1979) and The Probability of the Impossible (1983). She was convinced that the Kirlian process was an open door to the “bioenergy” of the astral body. Moss came to UCLA in mid-life and earned a doctorate in psychology. She experimented with and praised the effects of LSD and was in and out of therapy for a variety of psychological problems, but managed to overcome her personal travails and become a professor at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. Her studies focused on paranormal topics, such as auras, levitation and ghosts. One of her favorite subjects at UCLA was Uri Geller, whom she “photographed” several times. She even made several trips to the Soviet Union to consult with her paranormal colleagues. Moss died in 1997 at the age of 78.

Moss paved the way for other parapsychologists to speculate that Kirlian “photography” was parapsychology’s Rosetta stone. They would now be able to understand such things as acupuncture, chi, orgone energy, telepathy, etc., as well as diagnose and cure whatever ails us. [new] For example, bio-electrography claims to be:

…a method of investigation for biological objects, based on the interpretation of the corona-discharge image obtained during exposure to a high-frequency, high-voltage electromagnetic field which is recorded either on photopaper or by modern video recording equipment. Its main use is as a fast, inexpensive and relatively non-invasive means for the diagnostic evaluation of physiological and psychological states. [from the now-defunct http://www.psy.aau.dk/bioelec/]

bioshirt
There is even a bioresonant clothing line that has emerged from the “study” of bio-electrography; it’s allegedly based on “an astonishing new theory in bio-physics: that the information exchange in human consciousness can be directly influenced and enhanced by vibrations of Light [sic], that we call colors.”

MORE . . .

Also see: Debunked: Soul Leaving Body Photo (Russian scientist Konstantin Korotkov)

Slate Writing

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Henry Slade (1840-1905)

Henry Slade (1840-1905)

Slate writing was a trick used by mediums that involved school slates and the claim that spirits were writing messages on them. Usually, a pair of slates would be used. They would be shown to the viewer clean, hidden in some way, and then shown to the viewer again but now with a written message. Henry Slade (1840-1905) is credited with inventing slate writing and incorporating it in his act as a psychic medium. Slade called himself a spiritual doctor and is often referred to as Dr. Henry Slade. Whether he invented slate writing or not, I can’t say, but he popularized the trick and was found guilty of fraud several times for his efforts.

The trick was done in several ways, but could be done either by surreptitious replacement of a blank slate with a slate that had a prewritten message on it or by surreptitious writing on the blank slate by the medium with a hidden piece of chalk. I imagine the trick could be done with or without the help of an accomplice. Clearly, it’s a good trick when done properly.

At one time Slade was reputed to be worth $1 million. When he was at the height of his fame it was impossible to gain an audience with him without making arrangements weeks in advance. He lived with great prodigality, but as he grew older, his wonderful powers weakened and gave way under the strain of his dissipation. His fortune was soon squandered and he eked out a miserable existence by slate writings at 50 cents a sitting.*

His luck ran out, though, and Slade died a poor man in a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Slate with a message purportedly from the spirit of Abraham Lincoln.

Slate with a message purportedly from the spirit of Abraham Lincoln. (SOURCE)

Transcript:
transcript

The idea of a spirit writing silly messages on a slate kept out of view may strike us as absurd as the idea of pulling cheesecloth out of a sleeve and calling it ectoplasm from the spirit world, but at one time such ideas were taken seriously by many looking for some evidence of the reality of life after death. Perhaps the fact that science was discovering more and more about the universe that supported materialism was disconcerting and opened up a crack in the critical thinking abilities of laymen and scientists alike. Whatever the reason, ideas that seem transparently deceptive to us (séances in dark rooms, table rapping, apports and deports, spirit photography, etc.) were once willingly accepted as proof of the spirit world by educated people, many of them eminent scientists.

[ . . . ]

The deception is easy because of the overwhelming desire to survive death and be reunited with loved ones, and to believe, despite the incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, that the universe is not indifferent to our existence. For some, even survival of consciousness and purposiveness to the universe would not satisfy their cosmic cravings. They want, like Hodgson, a universe of “ineffable Love and Wisdom.” The contemplation of the fact of their existence as percipient beings against all odds and the magical discoveries of science about how things work and came to be cannot satisfy their unquenchable thirst for mysticism. Join that unquenchable thirst to a belief that one is too intelligent to be fooled by a trickster and you have a perfect formula for gullibility among the learned.

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See also magical thinking, mentalist, spiritualism, and “A Short History of Psi Research” by Robert Todd Carroll.

Near-Death Experience (NDE)

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

One study found that 8 to 12 percent of 344 patients resuscitated after suffering cardiac arrest had NDEs and about 18% remembered some part of what happened when they were clinically dead (Lancet, December 15, 2001).*

near-death-tunnel_300pxThe term ‘near-death experience’, or NDE, refers to a wide array of experiences reported by some people who have nearly died or who have thought they were going to die. There is no single shared experience reported by those who have had NDEs. Even the experiences of most interest to parapsychologists–such as the “mystical experience,” the “light at the end of the tunnel” experience, the “life review” experience, and the out-of-body experience (OBE)–rarely occur together in near-death experiences. However, the term NDE is most often used to refer to an OBE occurring while near death. Both types of experience have been cited to support belief in disembodied spirits and continued existence after death.

[ . . . ]

Raymond Moody

Raymond Moody

Raymond Moody (1944-), an M.D. and psychology Ph.D., is considered by many to be the father of the modern NDE movement. He coined the expression ‘near-death experience’ and has written several books on the subject of life after life. He is well known for his compilation of a list of features that he considers to be typical of the near-death experience. According to Moody, the typical NDE includes a buzzing or ringing noise, a sense of blissful peace, a feeling of floating out of one’s body and observing it from above, moving through a tunnel into a bright light, meeting dead people (saints, Jesus, angels, Muhammad); seeing one’s life pass before one’s eyes; and finding it all so wonderful that one doesn’t want to return to one’s body. (The typical experience he describes does not, however, include trips to the body repair shop or sexual encounters with spirits.) This composite experience is based on interpretations of testimonials and anecdotes from doctors, nurses, and patients. Characteristic of Moody’s work is the glaring omission of cases that don’t fit his hypothesis. If Moody is to be believed, no one near death has had a horrifying experience. Yet, “according to some estimates as many as 15 percent of NDEs are hellish” (Blackmore 2004: 362). Reports of Christians meeting Muhammad or Muslims meeting Jesus or Jews meeting Guru Nanak, if they exist, have not been publicized.

depths-of-hell-cartoon_250pxThere are numerous reports of bad NDE trips involving tortures by elves, giants, demons, etc. Some parapsychologists take these good and bad NDE trips as evidence of the mythical afterlife places of various religions. They believe that some souls leave their bodies and go to the other world for a time before returning to their bodies. If so, then what is one to conclude from the fact that most people near death do not experience either the heavenly or the diabolical? Is that fact good evidence that there is no afterlife or that most people end up as non-existing or in some sort of limbo? Such reasoning is on par with supposing that dreams in which one appears to oneself to be outside of one’s bed are to be taken as evidence of the soul or mind actually leaving the body during sleep, as some New Age Gnostics believe.

What little research there has been in this field indicates that the experiences Moody lists as typical of the NDE may be due to brain states triggered by cardiac arrest and anesthesia (Blackmore 1993). Furthermore, many people who have not been near death have had experiences that seem identical to NDEs, e.g., fighter pilots experiencing rapid acceleration. Other mimicking experiences may be the result of psychosis (due to severe neurochemical imbalance) or drug usage, such as hashish, LSD, or DMT.

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Therapeutic Touch

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: Therapeutic touch is a kind of energy medicine. Those who do therapeutic touch wave their hands over a patient’s body to fix their subtle energy. The science says there is no such subtle energy.

energyhealingTherapeutic touch is a kind of energy healing. Some people believe that health and sickness are caused by some sort of magical energy being blocked or out of whack in some way. There is no scientific support for this magical energy. It can’t be measured by any of our very high tech machines. Yet, many people swear it exists and that they can move it around or transfer some of their energy into another person.

Energy healers say they can “feel” the energy going through or around a person’s body. This is odd because the human hand is not a very sensitive instrument compared to some of the million-dollar machines we have these days to measure very small particles or packets of energy.

Therapeutic touch healers wave their hands over the body of a sick person. The healer thinks she is moving energy around and that this somehow helps the healing.

patlinsedrawingNine-year-old Emily Rosa tested twenty-one therapeutic touch healers to see if they could feel the energy in one of her hands when they could not see if a hand was actually placed under theirs. She placed a screen with a hole in it for the healer’s arm to go through. Emily sat on the other side of the screen and placed her hand or didn’t place her hand under the healers hand for each test. The healers had a 50% chance of being right in each test, yet they correctly located Emily’s hand only 123 times in 280 tests. Wild guessing would have got about 140 correct answers. The test was very simple and seems to clearly indicate that the subjects could not feel the energy of Emily’s hands when placed near theirs. If they can’t feel the energy, how can they move or transfer it? What are they feeling? Most likely they are feeling what has been suggested to them by those who taught them this practice. Their feelings of energy appear to be created in their own minds.

How does energy healing work?

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Pragmatic Fallacy

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

pragmaticThe pragmatic fallacy is committed when one argues that something is true because it works and where ‘works’ means something like “I’m satisfied with it,” “I feel better,” “I find it beneficial, meaningful, or significant,” or “It explains things for me.” For example, many people claim that astrology works, acupuncture works, chiropractic works, homeopathy works, numerology works, palmistry works, therapeutic touch works. What ‘works’ means here is vague and ambiguous. At the least, it means that one perceives some practical benefit in believing that it is true, despite the fact that the utility of a belief is independent of its truth-value.

The pragmatic fallacy is common in “alternative” health claims and is often based on post hoc reasoning. For example, one has a sore back, wears the new magnetic or takionic belt, finds relief soon afterwards, and declares that the magic belt caused the pain to go away. How does one know this? Because it works! There is also some equivocation going on in the alternative health claims that fall under the heading of “energy medicine,” such as acupuncture and therapeutic touch. The evidence pointed to often uses ‘works’ in the sense of ‘the customer is satisfied’ or ‘the patient improves,’ but the conclusion drawn is that ‘chi was unblocked’ or ‘energy was transferred.’

There is a common retort to the skeptic who points out that customer satisfaction is irrelevant to whether the device, medicine, or therapy in question really is a significant causal factor in some outcome. Who cares why it works as long as it works? You can argue about the theory as to why it works, but you can’t argue about the customer satisfaction or the fact that measurable improvements can be made. That’s all that matters.

It isn’t all that matters. Testimonials are not a substitute for scientific studies, which are done to make sure that we are not deceiving ourselves about what appears to be true. It is especially necessary to . . .

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Integrated Medicine

2011_quackery
Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Experts in the psychology of human error have long been aware that even highly trained experts are easily misled when they rely on personal experience and informal decision rules to infer the causes of complex events. —Barry Beyerstein

Integrative medicine is a synonym for “alternative” medicine that, at its worst, integrates sense with nonsense. At its best, integrative medicine supports both consensus treatments of science-based medicine and treatments that the science, while promising perhaps, does not justify.

Andrew Weil

Andrew Weil

It mixes the scientific with the metaphysical (“spirit-mind-body connection” is a favorite expression) and the scientifically untested, discredited, or questionable. Defenders of integrative medicine have an exceptionally high opinion of things “natural” or “organic.”

The expression is a marketing term popularized by Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative medicine is not a medical “specialty,” nor is it special or superior to plain old science-based medicine. As David Gorski, M.D., says, “integrative medicine” is a brand, not a specialty. Weil’s branding and marketing strategy has paid off. The University of Arizona has given him his own Institute of Integrative Medicine to direct.

Weil graduated from Harvard Medical School but did not complete a residency nor, as far as I can ascertain, ever take the medical boards in any state.

According to [Andrew] Weil, many of his basic insights about the causes of disease and the nature of healing come from what he calls “stoned thinking,” that is, thoughts experienced while under the influence of psychedelic agents or during other states of “altered consciousness” induced by trances, ritual magic, hypnosis, meditation, and the like. —Arnold S. Relman, M.D.

[ . . . ]

SnakeOil-250pxToday, Weil mixes scientific medicine with Ayurvedic and other forms of quackery and calls this practice “integrative medicine.” One of his main tenets is: “It is better to use natural, inexpensive, low-tech and less invasive interventions whenever possible.” However, there is no scientific evidence for the claim that natural interventions are always superior to artificial ones. Millions of people use herbs and natural products for a variety of conditions, such as calcium, echinacea, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, glucosamine, saw palmetto, shark cartilage, and St. John’s wort. All of these, when tested scientifically, have failed to support the traditional wisdom regarding their healing powers. Pharmaceuticals and other treatments are much superior to most herbal remedies. If a plant has been shown to be effective as a healing agent, the active ingredient has been extracted and tested scientifically and is part of scientific medicine. Otherwise, any beneficial effect following use of the herb or plant is probably best explained as due to the placebo effect, natural regression, the body’s own natural healing processes, or to some other non-herbal factor.

aura_150pxWhy so many people—including many highly educated and medically trained people—believe in the efficacy of quack remedies is a complex issue. As Barry Beyerstein has pointed out in his most thorough analysis of this phenomenon, there are a “number of social, psychological, and cognitive factors that can convince honest, intelligent, and well-educated people that scientifically-discredited [or untested] treatments have merit” (Beyerstein 1999). The typical believer in untested or discredited medical treatments accepts uncritically the apparently clear messages of personal experience that such treatments are effective. To the uncritical thinker, many worthless or harmful treatments seem to “work” (the pragmatic fallacy). Such people are either unaware of or intentionally ignore the many perceptual and cognitive biases that deceive us into thinking there are causal relationships between quack treatments and feeling better or recovering from some illness or disease. They uncritically place “more faith in personal experience and intuition than on controlled, statistical studies” (Beyerstein 1999).

Furthermore, the mass media is rarely critical of “alternative” healing and often presents non-scientific medicine in a very positive light. And critics of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are often . . .

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Clever Hans (Kluge Hans)

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: Clever Hans was a horse that some people thought could do math in his head and understand German. One group of people tested him and found these claims were true. Another scientist tested Hans and found the claims weren’t true.

cleverhans_250pxClever Hans (German: Kluge Hans) was a German horse who seemed to be able to do math problems in his head, tell time, name people, and answer questions by tapping his hoof. When asked to add 3 + 2, Hans would tap his hoof five times. If asked my name, Hans would have tapped twice for ‘B’, paused, tapped 15 times for ‘O’, paused, and then tapped twice again.

Hans could even answer hard written questions. Was he really able to read?

“If the eighth day of the month comes on a Tuesday, what is the date of the following Friday?” Hans could figure that out. He answered by tapping his hoof eleven times. This was one smart horse!

Hans’s owner, Wilhelm von Osten, began showing his clever horse to the public in 1891. He did so for about twenty years. Many people, including some scientists, were sure that Hans was really doing some heavy duty thinking. They were certain that his hoof tapping was not a trick. Clever Hans became famous.

CleverHans02The German board of education sent a group of people (the Hans Commission) to study Hans. Carl Stumpf, a philosopher and psychologist, led the commission. A few school teachers, a veterinarian, a director of the Berlin zoo, and a few others joined Stumpf.

The Hans Commission listed some possible explanations for what Hans could do. Maybe he could really understand both spoken and written language. Maybe he could do math in his head. Maybe he was acting on cues his owner was giving.

[ . . . ]

a skeptical scientist tests Hans again

[ . . . ]

Oskar Pfungst (1847-1933), a biologist and psychologist, tested Hans again. He found that the Hans Commission had not done a very good job. Pfungst proved that Hans was responding to very slight movements of those watching him. Hans was especially sensitive to small head movements by his owner. Pfungst also found that the movements by those watching Hans were not done on purpose to cue the horse. If asked to add 3 + 2, for example, the horse would start tapping. smart horseWhen he got to five taps, von Osten (or others watching Hans) would lean forward very slightly and that was the cue for the horse to stop tapping.

How did Pfungst figure this out?

He set up a test where the horse could be asked questions but could not see von Osten or others who were watching. He put blinders on Hans. When the horse couldn’t see anyone, he didn’t respond. In another test, the horse didn’t respond when the one asking the question didn’t know the answer to it. But the horse did give the right response when the one asking the question did know the answer to it, even if von Osten was not present. That last test ruled out the hypothesis that von Osten knew he was signaling Hans. He wasn’t cheating. He really believed his horse was doing math and reading letters. The evidence collected by Pfungst led the scientific community to hold that Hans was responding to slight movements rather than understanding written and spoken words. Von Osten, however, kept on believing that his horse could read, do math, and understand German. He was making a little bit of money showing off Hans and he kept on with his pony show.

one scientific discovery leads to another

ouija-board-gifOne of the beautiful things about science is how one discovery leads to another. One of the things Pfungst found is the ideomotor effect: making slight movements without being aware of making them. (See the entries on dowsing and the Ouija board for other cases of the ideomotor effect.)

While testing Hans, Pfungst discovered that animals respond to movements around them that can barely be seen. He also found that people aren’t always aware that they are moving and giving cues to animals (or other persons). We now know that humans also respond to movements or sounds without being aware of it. We call this giving of signals without awareness unconscious signaling. This discovery has had a major effect on how experiments should be done when they involve either people or animals.

We now know that humans are unconsciously aware of many things right before their eyes. A botanist might see a rare flower out of the corner of his eye and not be conscious of having seen it. Later, he finds himself thinking of that rare flower. Then, he sees the flower and says “wow, I was just thinking of that flower.” Isn’t that amazing? Yes. Scientists call it “sensing without seeing.”

MORE . . .

ESP

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: ESP stands for extrasensory perception. If you had ESP, you could see, feel, or hear things without using your eyes, hands, or ears. There are some scientists who say they have proof of ESP, but most scientists think the proof is weak and does not support a belief in ESP.

ESP stands for extrasensory perception.

mindcontrol_640px_200pxSensory perception is seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, or tasting. Extrasensory perception is when you see or hear something that can’t be seen or heard with your eyes and ears. Such experiences happen outside the normal range of the senses and are said to be paranormal or psychic. Most scientists don’t think paranormal events actually happen or that anyone is actually psychic.

If you had ESP, you could see, feel, or hear things without using your eyes, hands, or ears. Somehow your brain would get messages and images from distant places and distant times. If your brain confused you with perceptions from the past and from places far away while you were trying to get dressed, eat breakfast, get on the school bus, pay attention in class, or do your homework, you would have a very hard time making it through the day. As far as we know, this has never happened to anybody.

mind reading or telepathy

Mind reading is a type of ESP where a person “sees” what is in another person’s mind. Mind reading is also called telepathy. The scientific study of telepathy began over one hundred twenty years ago when it was called psychical research. Today, scientists who study ESP are called parapsychologists and their science is called parapsychology. (Psychical comes from the Greek word for spirit. Many parapsychologists say the mind is a spirit.)

rsz_museumesptestThe first scientific test of telepathy was done in England in 1882. Scientists at the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) tested several young girls who said that they could tell what each other was thinking. The scientists put the girls in different rooms and asked those in one room about a card or name of a person that a girl in the other room was thinking of. Many tests were given over a period of six years. The scientists said there was no way the girls could have got as many right answers as they did just by guessing. The scientists also said they were sure the girls weren’t cheating. The scientists agreed that the girls were reading each other’s minds. The scientists were right about one thing. The girls couldn’t have gotten as many right answers as they did just by guessing. But the scientists were wrong about the cheating. The girls—the Creery sisters and their servant Jane Dean—admitted they cheated by using secret signals. This wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time, that children would fool scientists.

In 1848 two sisters, Kate Fox (age 12) and Margaretta Fox (15), said they heard strange rapping noises in their bedroom. They got people to believe that they were getting messages from spirits. Soon they went on tour with their big sister Leah who was in her mid-30s. They did séances, which became the rage in both the U.S. and Europe. In 1871, the Fox sisters fooled Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), an important scientist who attended a Fox-girls séance in London. Sir William said he tested the girls “in every way that I could devise” and was sure they were not producing the rapping noises “by trickery or mechanical means.” In 1888 the sisters confessed that they made the raps by cracking their toe-joints. They made bumping noises by fastening an apple to a string under their petticoats and bouncing it off the floor.

q461-2From 1979-1983, two teenagers tricked scientist Peter Phillips into thinking they were able to move and bend objects by their thoughts, a power known as psychokinesis. (Psychokinesis comes from two Greek words meaning mind or spirit and movement. Psychokinesis, when it involves moving an object with mental power alone, is called telekinesis, literally distant-movement.) Steve Shaw (18) and Mike Edwards (17) fooled the scientist for four years through more than 160 hours of tests. One of their favorite tricks was to pretend to bend a spoon or fork with thoughts, a trick made popular by Uri Geller. Geller, however, claimed that he had psychokinetic powers. At one time, he claimed he got his powers from the planet “Hoova” in another star system and a UFO called “IS” or “Intelligence in the Sky.”

Skeptics don’t think there is good evidence that anyone has moved even a pencil across a table using only the power of thought. Psychokinesis nearly always involves trickery, though we might occasionally think we caused something to happen when it happens right after we thought about it happening. If you point to the sky during a rain storm and say “let there be lightning” and then a lightning bolt shoots across the sky, you might think you caused it. You’d probably be wrong.

MORE . . .


James Alan Hydrick claimed to be able to perform acts of telekinesis, such as his trademark trick involving the movement of a pencil resting at the edge of a table.

Here he is exposed as a fraud by none other than James Randi:

It was soon after this appearance on That’s My Line Hydrick confessed the fraud to an investigative reporter.


Uri Geller’s Tonight Show failure (courtesy of James Randi):


Also see: Top 10 Psychic Debunkings

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