The Debunkers Quest

Discussion in 'Reincarnation Questions' started by Deborah, May 6, 2006.

  1. stardis

    stardis Senior Registered

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    Just my opinion:

    Actually, I have come to realize that, generally speaking, absolutely everyone is "damaged on some level" and that those who don't realize that are "people with a precarious hold onto and shutting out reality". People who are "perfectly" normal and well-adjusted don't exist.


    When it comes to sharing a personal belief in reincarnation, I try to remind myself of the Biblical verses:

    and,

    I firmly believe that our journeys of inner discovery are best kept to ourselves and only shared with like-minded individuals who have announced their readiness to learn about who they are by asking the appropriate questions at an appropriate time. I might be wrong, but I can never foresee the general public giving more than a moment of fuzzy thought to whether reincarnation is a reality. Not being negative, just realistic.


    Discretion is wise and discernment is a virtue when it comes to sharing one's beliefs.
     
  2. dlorde

    dlorde Senior Registered

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    Perhaps if I outline my view of how scepticism works in this kind of situation, it may help explain the sceptical point of view...


    There are all different kinds of sceptics - they are just people, and they vary in their approach and opinions. What they have in common is that they have decided they will apply the criteria of scientific method to phenomena that are not already clearly part of known science - i.e. that have not already been validated by the criteria of science (btw validation or proof in science is always provisional).


    In evaluating a claim, quality of evidence is crucial - the quantity of information only tells you there is a lot of something going on, not what it may be. Only good quality evidence can tell you what is going on, and without a well controlled experiment, good quality evidence is extremely rare.


    Unfortunately, unless they are running a scientific experiment themselves, they are trying to evaluate information provided by a third party, usually anecdotal, which has not been obtained under controlled conditions. As we know, anecdotal information can be extremely unreliable, and the more we discover about how the brain perceives the world, how memory works, and how anecdotes are communicated, the more we understand why this is so. As the great physicist Richard Feynman said, "Science is about not fooling yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool".


    So it is necessary to be extremely careful when evaluating such information, and to try to gather as much first-hand detail and corroboration for it as possible. This insistence on detail and corroboration can be annoying to the provider, but is necessary - as in medicine, you want as much good information as possible before making a diagnosis.


    Science is the study of the natural world, and the question that is asked is 'Given what we already know about the natural world (i.e. current scientific knowledge), what is the most plausible explanation for the this information or evidence?' At this point, the sceptic must try to assemble possible explanations and evaluate them.


    Now plausibility is subjective, it's a judgement call, but there are guidelines and rules-of-thumb to help with the judgement. Chief of these is that an explanation should not contradict established scientific laws - for example, a claim of a true perpetual motion machine would contradict the First Law of Thermodynamics, which is a foundation stone of physics and has never yet been found to be wrong - so almost any other reasonable explanation will be more plausible. Other guidelines include questioning whether there is a plausible mechanism - i.e. do we know of something that could produce such an effect in those circumstances? Also, Occam's Razor - prefer the simplest explanation, and, of course, experience - i.e. is the information sufficiently similar to that encountered in other evaluations that we can use what we learned previously.


    So where the information is detailed enough to make a judgement, and an explanation doesn't apparently contradict basic physical laws, has a plausible scientific mechanism, matches previous experience, and, all else being roughly equal, is simpler than other explanations - this explanation will take priority. The fewer of those criteria an explanation satisfies, relative to other explanations, the lower its priority.


    Strictly speaking, even the highest priority explanation is just 'plausible' until a properly controlled experiment can further confirm it.


    Many interesting phenomena can be produced by known means (e.g. magicians, illusionists, mentalists, etc.), so where a phenomenon is similar to what can be done by these means, and alternative explanations fail one or more of the criteria above, the known means generally becomes the preferred explanation (e.g. Uri Geller's spoon bending).


    A major problem with evaluation of claims is that it requires a good knowledge of theoretical and applied science, scientific method, psychology, deception, illusion, etc. Very few people are more than superficially competent in all these fields, so evaluation really needs to be a collaborative effort.


    In general, when looking at unusual phenomena, the quality of evidence is extremely poor in scientific terms, so that it often isn't possible to do more than a superficial analysis. As Carl Sagan said, 'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence', which is basically 'the crazier an idea sounds, the more it will take to convince me it's true'. In the absence of high quality evidence, a sceptic will look for plausible mundane explanations, because experience and the history of scientific experiment on these phenomena typically shows mundane explanations to be the most plausible.


    None of this means that extraordinary phenomena are not happening, or that all necessarily have mundane explanations. It simply means that given the quality of evidence available in most cases, the mundane explanations are, by default, the most plausible; and until there is good quality evidence otherwise, it is reasonable to pick a known mundane explanation over an insufficiently evidenced 'exotic' explanation.


    We must also acknowledge that as human beings, sceptics are not always rational, logical, emotionless creatures of science, so they will become frustrated by repeated claims without good quality evidence to evaluate, or that contradict physical laws, or by unscientific or 'magical' thinking, or by ignorance of or refusal to accept the unreliability of human perceptions, memory, and anecdotes. This can make them likely to dismiss claims without sufficient consideration, or mock the proposer for their lack of knowledge.


    That's how I see the sceptical approach. Please excuse the verbosity.
     
  3. stardis

    stardis Senior Registered

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    Since it seems that you may have some insight into the character of a skeptic, I wonder if you could answer a question for me. Why do people become skeptics and pursue a career of intruding into the thoughts and conversations of other people and seemingly make sport to "mock the proposer for their lack of knowledge". Do you really think they suffer from some sort of personality disorder? Why do they seem to have no life of their own?


    Please, a short and concise answer would be just fine.
     
  4. dlorde

    dlorde Senior Registered

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    That's a whole bunch of questions, and I don't think there's one simple, concise answer... but:


    People become sceptics for many reasons. Some grow up with strongly science-based education, and science is inherently sceptical, so they are, by default, sceptical. Some have been believers in the paranormal who discovered that what they believed turned out to be not what they thought it was. Some have friends or relatives who they felt had been taken advantage of by unscrupulous or fraudulent practitioners. Some have been convinced by debunkers or illusionists, magicians, mind-readers, etc., who emulate paranormal phenomena. Etc., etc.


    In my experience, most sceptics are retiring and don't pursue a career of intruding into the thoughts and conversations of other people, any more than most believers do, but will give their opinion when such things are discussed. There are a few who feel that there is an increasing anti-science, anti-rational, anti-enlightenment movement that they wish to counter, so become more forthright in expressing their views. An obvious example is the creationist attempt to adopt a scientific facade with Intelligent Design, triggering a vociferous reaction from certain members of the popular science community (Dawkins et al).


    I think I already explained why some sceptics may "mock the proposer for their lack of knowledge" - frustration and exasperation. By all means present some interesting evidence and ask questions about it, but in order to interpret evidence of a phenomenon in a scientific way, you need to know about the scientific method and to understand at least the basics of the science that you are attempting to use. All too often, people clearly fail to understand the scientific method and how to apply it, and fail to understand even the basics of the science they want to use. This leads them into fundamental errors. These topics are well-documented and not difficult to discover or understand, but there is often no apparent effort made to learn about them; and often, when the errors are explained and pointers given to the necessary information, they will ignore it and/or persist with the same errors. Eventually, some sceptics will run out of patience, and being human, may express their exasperation in tactless ways.


    Bear in mind that the persistent use of pseudo-science and misunderstanding or misapplication of basic science can be as disturbing and upsetting to people who see science as the best tool available for investigating the natural world, as the direct questioning and denigration of their belief can be to believers.
     
  5. Deborah

    Deborah Executive Director Staff Member

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    Hi dlorde,


    Since you quoted Carl Sagan with regard to scientific evidence and inquiries, in an article by Carter Phillips he is quoted to have said:

    headbang.gifheadbang.gif
     
  6. stardis

    stardis Senior Registered

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    LOL :laugh: Oh, I like you. You are so funny! I would hate to see you not being concise! (Really, do you call three questions "a whole bunch"? This is just a rhetorical question, so please don't answer!)

    I think that I am beginning to have a different experience than you are having. ;)

    Just thought that I would point out that the description of the Past Life Forum reads: Community Reflections on Past Lives and Reincarnation. I had to read that again myself to make sure that it didn't say something like: Scientific Research on Past Lives and Reincarnation (so that skeptics can sleep well at night).


    Surely, as obviously you are fairly intelligent, you must admit that scientific evidence that would satisfy people who have apocalyptic fits when the "existing evidence" doesn't fit their criteria, just isn't going to be found. We are talking about a philosophy that spans lifetimes and is subject to the interpretation of absolutely everyone on the planet since reincarnation does affect absolutely everyone on the planet.


    I can imagine a skeptic who, upon seeing a documentary about Australian Aboriginals talking about their beliefs, would become so incensed that they would purchase a ticket and go to Australia to confront those bushmen (since they are not on the internet) and demand a retraction since their beliefs don't conform to the world view of the skeptics. In fact, like the conservative religious people, the skeptic would attempt to "re-educate" the ignorant bushmen by teaching them how screwy their beliefs are since they do not use the "approved" scientific method to validate those beliefs.


    If you want to debate quantum entanglement on different scales, you would have find somebody a whole lot smarter than me. ;)


    But if you want to talk about reincarnation and people's philosophy about life than just about anybody on any street corner would be your (or my) equal. There is no expert on the subject and absolutely no one is qualified to give a definitive answer to any part of this subject.
     
  7. dlorde

    dlorde Senior Registered

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    Perhaps that is because the sort of sceptics that go online to sceptic forums or to be sceptical in other forums are more forthright and committed to promulgating the sceptical view.

    Well I would hope that 'community reflections' does not exclude reflections of a scientific nature...

    'Apocalyptic fits'? Sounds like hyperbole. Evidence can be good quality and bad quality. If the quality of evidence is insufficient to satisfactorily decide between the proposed explanations, science must say "we don't yet know, there is insufficient evidence". There's nothing wrong with admitting we don't know, but it is a mistake to draw conclusions on insufficient evidence. In practice, if the choice is between mundane explanations and exotic explanations, the mundane is preferred pending further evidence. That's the way science generally works in practice.

    Perhaps, although neither I nor anyone I know seems to have any direct experience of it.

    Why would a sceptic become incensed by the beliefs of an indigenous Australian? Skepticism is a personal viewpoint, an approach to accepting, rejecting, or suspending judgment on new information that requires the new information to be well supported by evidence. If a sceptic was asked their opinion, they might say that without supporting evidence it is unscientific nonsense (I'd hope they'd be more tactful, but some can be blunt), but a well informed sceptic would be aware of the role those beliefs play in the culture, and that they have important social and cultural meanings outside their purely scientific validity. The same applies to many or most belief systems - they can't all be literally true in reality, but they have important sociocultural value.


    Things generally only get heated when people encroach uninvited on each other's territory - when a sceptic or an atheist jumps in with their opinions, uninvited, on believers, or conversely, when a believer attempts to establish the scientific veracity of their beliefs with pseudo-science or misapplication of science. We are territorial creatures. Heated exchanges are also bound to happen in public debate, and most internet forums involve public debate. But it's worth remembering that the vociferous ones, on whichever side, are in the minority, and just as in a product support forum, you tend to see an unrepresentative number of complainants online.

    It's not really about being smart, it's about being interested enough to find out - but don't worry, there are physics forums for that kind of thing :D

    Well I don't really know much about it - I've only heard of a couple of claimed cases of child reincarnation, which didn't sound very convincing at the time, and, of course, the tulkus of Tibetan Buddhism and the search for the yangsi. This forum caught my eye, so I thought I might investigate.
     
  8. dlorde

    dlorde Senior Registered

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    Indeed, although to put it in context, he qualified this by saying:

    A truly honest and open-minded scientist, but nobody's fool ;)


    Unfortunately I couldn't find any further comment from him on those matters, but many in the scientific and sceptical community could benefit from the examples of people like him and Feynman (who never took the word of authority, but insisted on learning the maths and working things out for himself).
     
  9. stardis

    stardis Senior Registered

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    Our experience is different.

    I am sorry if I made you angry, that wasn't my intention. I thought that we were having a little fun and perhaps I didn't realize how serious you take yourself.
     
  10. Deborah

    Deborah Executive Director Staff Member

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    Please provide a link to this...I do not see where he qualified it in the article I referenced which is here... Your source is?

     
  11. dlorde

    dlorde Senior Registered

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    :confused: Don't apologise, you didn't make me angry at all - I was just explaining why I think the heated exchanges between people with different beliefs occur. I think it's important to try to understand what happens when 'cultures clash', and why. I try to remain relatively impartial in these things. I have a sceptical predilection, but I've been taught to try and see things from the other person's point of view. It's surprised me how often there has been a complete lack of understanding or misunderstanding of viewpoints on both sides.


    I try not to take myself too seriously these days - it tends to lead to embarrassment or humiliation :rolleyes:
     
  12. ChrisR

    ChrisR Administrator Staff Member Super Moderator

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    Science is advancing all the time. Remember it wasn't that long ago that it was a scientific "fact" that the Earth was flat and the Sun was the centre of the universe, anybody who thought otherwise were given the label of 'heretic'. If we were all skeptical to the point that we were unwilling to deviate a fraction of an inch off the beaten track, throwing unexplained phenomena such as reincarnation out with the garbage, then how would science, or anything for that matter, ever advance? I think it's imperative that we have to approach things that we don't understand at least with a small degree of open-mindedness, otherwise we would still be in dark ages, treading water. Are we really that arrogant as a species to believe that everything inside our tiny bubble in this universe is all that there is? and that everything else that cannot be gauged against "science" (a lot of which one could argue is also just a perception) must be utter nonsense? We haven't even scratched the surface!


    Don't get me wrong, I am all for questioning the phenomena that most of us here believe is reincarnation, I do have an open mind and if anyone can prove to me that my experiences can be explained away through scientific experimentation or theories, then I will willingly dismiss any thoughts that I have lived before, or will live again, but it can't be disproved any more than it can be proved. Reincarnation is a question that has been with us for thousands of years, so far, nobody has come up with a satisfactory explanation, so until that time arrives, here I am in this forum, sharing my experiences with others like myself, and that is what we are here for. Nobody is preaching reincarnation as a fact, we are all individuals with individual experiences, sharing with, and supporting each other. ;)
     
  13. dlorde

    dlorde Senior Registered

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    His book, of course - there's nothing like reading the original source ;)


    See The Demon-Haunted World, page 302. There's also an interesting section on reincarnation on page 203.
     
  14. dlorde

    dlorde Senior Registered

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    Well, it was quite a long time ago - ancient Greece, Bronze Age & Iron Age Near East, except for China (17th cent) and New World (15th cent), but point taken ;)

    Absolutely! As someone said (Oppenheimer? Sagan? Oberg?) "Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out."
     
  15. Tinkerman

    Tinkerman Administrator Staff Member Super Moderator

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    I've been following along with the visiting skeptics and reading their thoughtful replies in several forum threads. Such debate is good and healthy, it forces us to think. It is a collision of sorts, between what we "know" and critical thinking. To place into words, the concepts we've come to understand, is difficult within the parameters of skeptical discernment. As I personally evolved into my beliefs, the journey was deeply personal. I cannot begin to describe for any one what it was like. How do I convey to someone the idea that I can see through eyes of my Great grandfather living 100 years ago? The memories....smells, visions, emotions. I was my own worst critic and skeptic. But again this was a personal journey. No one else needs to validate it for me.


    Last night while reading Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh I came across the following statement that speaks perfectly to the issue at hand. Hahn is Vietnamese, a Buddhist monk, an incredible scholar, holyman and beloved teacher. His wisdom circles the world. He wrote:

    I am somewhat intolerant of those who are skeptical simply for recreation, the process seems so negative and destructive, it's "sport" eludes me. And I suppose that's what prompted my "relishing in the stupor" quote that has been proudly bannered on another forum. I regret that comment simply because my intent was negative, and it was not constructive to either view point. I tip my hat to Garrett and dlorde for their demeanor here. Your presence, mixed with your understanding and tolerance of our beliefs, are welcome here.


    Nightrain, Chris and Sunniva each of you made some excellent posts above, I agree...kudos.


    Tinkerman
     
  16. Aqualung

    Aqualung Locomotive Breath

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    I know that these were directed at dlorde, but I'll give it a shot anyway.

    Very few people actually do this.


    I know, from your perspective it seems like every skeptic (or the vast majority of them, anyway) does that. But this is because you are, for want of a better term, a believer.


    In this context, "believer" means that you believe things that aren't necessarily supported by scientific evidence. Please don't take that as an insult. You may think that your beliefs are entirely justified, but, as I am personally a skeptic, I'm just trying to explain how it looks to me. Skeptics see believers as those who hold irrational beliefs (beliefs that aren't evidentially backed).


    Most of the time, skeptics are content to simply ignore believers, to accept that people are going to believe weird things no matter what happens. You probably actually meet about fifty skeptics a day.


    But here's the kicker: you don't know that they're skeptics unless they start questioning your beliefs.


    That's the thing! What you are doing is committing the no true Scotsman fallacy. I have no doubt that you are doing so unintentionally, so don't take it personally. The no true Scotsman fallacy is one of the trickier ones to catch.


    When you meet a skeptic, you probably just chat about normal things - what happened in the football game last night, how crappy today's music is, how bad or good the movie last night was, and so on. Because of this, you never learn that they are a skeptic.


    The only skeptics that you actually know are skeptics are the ones like myself, Gao, Garrette and dlorde. We're the ones who take the time to visit forums like this. Our reasons vary - I read forums like this because I find the subject interesting even though I don't believe in it - but the plain fact is that we are the only skeptics that you see and label as skeptics. You only see those of us that are "in your face".


    As for the last bit, the one about mocking, the only explanation that I can offer is that skeptics are people too. There are as many jerk skeptics as there are jerks in any other group.


    Another thing that might enter into it is simple sensitivity on your part. Again, please don't think that I'm trying to insult you, but it's a natural reaction among humans to become defensive when our beliefs are questioned. For this reason, you might be perceiving perfectly polite and honest inquiry and questioning as attacks when no such attack is, in fact, occurring.


    If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.
     
  17. dlorde

    dlorde Senior Registered

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    Thanks Tinkerman, I appreciate the sentiment.


    - beautiful quote from Hanh, btw :cool
     
  18. stardis

    stardis Senior Registered

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    Well, actually you don't really know my perspective.

    An unwarranted supposition on your part.

    Not a question but an apology. I didn't realize that you took yourself so seriously and I didn't mean to insult you or make you angry. I thought we were just having a bit of fun. (Someone once said "Life is too mysterious to take serious". Wait! Don't analyze that to death.)
     
  19. ChrisR

    ChrisR Administrator Staff Member Super Moderator

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    If I had a pound for every time I read the words "scientific evidence" in the last 48 hours, I'd be a rich man! :laugh:


    Aqualung, you speak to us as if we just picked up a book on reincarnation, read it, put it down, and now claim reincarnation to be true, we haven't!


    I can't speak for everyone here, but I have had my own experiences, very deep personal experiences that I don't personally believe requires "scientific evidence" to tell me that I had those experiences. Just for the record, I have zero imagination, ask me to write a simple story and I'll still be sitting here doodling on the paper and scratching my head in a week's time. So where are these "memories" coming from? Not my imagination that's for sure. So if they're not memories then what are they? I'm not defying you, I'm genuinely interested in your opinion. One thing I can assure you, it is not my imagination, and I am quite sane thank you : angel. The reason I joined this forum was to share my experiences and hear what other people's opinion is, so what is yours? Putting lack of 'scientific evidence' aside, what do you personally believe I'm experiencing if not a past life memory?


    With all respect, there's been enough of everyone here pulling each other's comments to pieces, nobody is going to 'win' and ultimately we will all agree to disagree, we haven't actually heard a skeptics personal opinion yet. You've told us what science says, now tell us what your heart says : angel
     
  20. Aqualung

    Aqualung Locomotive Breath

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    I thought that most people on this board were believers, and as the question was being asked about skeptics, I felt that it was a reasonable conclusion. I'm sorry if I went wrong.

    Insulted? Angry? :laugh:


    No, you didn't. As I've said before, I'm not here to get angry or anything. I don't take myself very seriously, and I certainly don't take internet discussions personally. None of my post was meant to be angry or sound affronted.


    Maybe it's the lack of smilies that makes it look that way... I dunno...

    I don't mean to. I'm simply answering a question. I don't see where you got that impression.

    I believe you. But... well...


    You think that your experiences constitute proof of reincarnation. I don't. I've actually had experiences like many described by believers like you before. I simply didn't draw the same conclusion, because my way of thinking about such things is fundamentally different from yours.


    I don't trust memory or perception. Memory is malleable, more so than you would believe. Perception is easily fooled. And both are even more so when you want to believe something.


    So no, I don't think that your experiences are proof. That was the point of my post. I didn't mean to say that I didn't believe that you had had experiences like the ones you mentioned. I meant to say that I believed that you had those experiences, but I do not draw the same conclusion from them.

    I can't describe the exact process, but this is the gist of it.


    You had an experience. It was a weird one. I can't tell you exactly what it was, but it was something outside the ordinary.


    So you have a memory of something outside the ordinary. You don't know what it was, but you also don't know for sure that it was paranormal. However, bit by bit, your memory changes to meet your expectations of it rather than what it actually was.


    Try Googling "malleability of memory" for more information.

    Whether or not you have an imagination, or are insane, is entirely irrelevant to whether or not your memory is reliable. It's a fact of life: human memory sucks, no matter who you are.

    Personally, I think you do have an imagination, and that this has combined with your belief in reincarnation.

    Most of the time, my heart matches the science.
     

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