From Abracadabra to Zombies
reader comments: psychic
8 Jun 2000
Do you know of any groups that truly believe in ESP and do not choose to make a profit off of it, but use their talents to help those in need, or do you just think that all people/animals with ESP are basically nuts?
reply: I don't
know of any ESP benevolent groups, but I've heard from many
individuals over the years who claim to be psychic and tell me
that they give away their services to family and friends.
I don't think that there are many more nuts among people who think they're psychic than in the general population. Most people who think they are psychic seem to be sincere. They just don't understand subjective validation, confirmation bias, and cold reading. Of course, there are many frauds who take advantage of the gullibility and vulnerability of people. Some of these frauds are quite popular on television shows like Oprah, Larry King, and Montel Williams.
Finally, I've never met a psychic non-human, nuts or otherwise.
One important fact about having intuition or some knowledge about an event that hasn't occurred yet, is that, at least for myself, I cannot, by my own will, automatically tune into everything, everywhere, at any time (I would be GOD) that is going on in our world or even my own life. Instead, pictures of events flash through my mind at their own will, completely unasked for and sometimes unwanted. I can then draw pictures of the images that I see in my mind, which often match exactly and document events that are going to occur within 4 to 5 days from the vision. From my perspective then, there is no real psychic test that can measure psychic ability, because our minds discriminate when, which events, and which information.
reply: From my perspective, there can't be a real test of your psychic ability because you have a nearly unlimited number of events to match your drawing to and the criteria for identifying a "hit" are developed on the fly.
I don't doubt that pictures flash through your mind without your trying to have a vision, but I don't see any reason to accept your belief that the pictures in your mind are a window into what "is going on in our world." From my perspective, what you are doing is similar to what scientists did in the Maimonides dream telepathy experiments and in many remote viewing experiments. These experiments were done in such a way that ambiguous data could be retrofitted to support the telepathy or clairvoyance hypothesis. (In your case, it would be the precognition hypothesis.) Some scientists think the experiments demonstrated psychic ability (Radin 1997: 70-71). I think the experiments demonstrated the retrofitting talents of the experimenters.
As with any profession in the United States, there are most certainly fraudulent proclaimed psychics.
I believe that all people have this intuition to some extent. Any mother of a child can understand the psychic intuition. It is very real. Mothers have that "sixth sense" about their own children. They know when their children have been good or bad or are in danger. They know just because they know. Do they know everything about their children? Of course not; they are not GOD. And, haven't you ever just knew the telephone was going to ring? and maybe even who was calling?
reply: I would distinguish intuition (hypersensory perception) from psychic ability. The former involves being observant, perceptive, and quick to make connections between ideas; the latter involves subjective validation and the ability to find meaning, sense, significance, or purpose in unrelated experiences or events. Humans rarely have difficulty finding meaning or confirming our biases. Our main concern has to be to avoid self-deception, one of the major cognitive biases that hinders our ability to be fair and accurate when evaluating personal experience. Science has methods for teasing out the truth and separating it from self-deception, including self-deception about the so-called "mommy instinct."
Ultimately, though, I want to say that our world is not just one big science project. Look around. See the beauty of the heavens, the earth, and the oceans. Is beauty science? Feel the breezes blowing and the change of seasons. Feel the love of a family member or even love from a dog. Is feeling love science? How can anyone think that Science was the sole originator or entire explanation for our incredible universe. And, think about this. What we consider to be a basic form of life--a fish--communicates telepathically. Visit a pet store with fish. You'll see.
reply: Until you got to the telepathic fish, I was hopeful we might have a conversation.
We haven't begun to uncover our mind's capabilities; so, it would be inaccurate to discount the idea that our minds have abilities that we don't know about, can't prove, or don't understand.
reply: Agreed, but I draw the line at telepathic fish and parrots.
27 January 2009
Thank you for your response. I do understand and appreciate your beliefs as well, but I'm not convinced.
Your first paragraph would be true except for the fact that I can pinpoint names of cities, streets signs, time of day, and specific views of property and people. I can see places in the world without ever having been there before or knowing anything about them. I don't believe that this is hit or miss as it is not generic, but instead specific.
Additionally, I sometimes will see front pages of newspapers, with all of the writing and headlines, days before that newspaper is news ; and am usually alerted by a friend that "No. That didn't happen today. Where did you hear that?" But sure enough, what I thought already happened, hadn't happened yet . . until 4 or 5 days later when the headlines read exactly what I had said did happen.
Although valid psychic tests don't seem possible, that doesn't mean that proof of having ability isn't available. I sketch out places and events when my mind sees them, days before they occur. These are true documentations and proof that somehow, sometimes, I do know about events in the immediate future.
I also believe that electricity, including lightning, play a part in having visions. When there is lightning weather in the air, my skin feels pricks all over. My feet feel lightning striking the ground, sometimes painfully, well before I see the flash of light or hear the bang. Visions come to me much more often in this type of weather. I believe that lightning serves purposes in our world that we haven't realized as of yet, and every time I start to feel prickling skin, I am more assured of this belief.
reply: If, as you say, some of your visions are very specific and spot on with headlines and news stories, then it is possible to test your psychic ability. I don't think we can test the "prickly feeling" hypothesis, however, as that is too subjective, but we might agree to test you during a lightning storm, to give your abilities their best shot. I suggest you contact the James Randi Educational Foundation about their offer to give one million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate a psychic ability. Randi might not agree to test you because you are not famous, but there are others who are offering cash prizes to anyone who can do what you say you do.
I'd be pleased to announce on my site any visions of headlines you might have, so we can both check out your accuracy. As long as you keep your "true documentations and proof" to yourself, I don't see how we can share your gift with the world or validate it to any degree. I would love to be the first skeptic to be shown by a psychic that she is neither deluded nor a fraud, but the genuine article.
Natalie replies again
It is not a surprise to me that no psychic has earned monies associated with controlled testing; if it was an ability that could be controlled, it could be taught as a subject in school and then tested upon, but it is not. If someone were to actually win these controlled contests, it would be due to chance, a hit or miss situation, because visions come at their own will. Personally, I wish that science could calculate the precise time when coincidences added up are no longer coincidences?
reply: Even if psychic visions are spontaneous and unpredictable, as you say, we could still test them for accuracy if they are precise enough. Many people think they're psychic if they envision a plane crash or an earthquake and then within a few days somewhere in the world there is plane crash or an earthquake. Some people might overhear or read about scientists being on the brink of a new discovery in the treatment of AIDS; later they have a vision or dream of a major scientific announcement regarding AIDS. If a breakthrough is announced, they think their psychic vision has been validated.
We ought to be able to keep track, in a public forum, of all your visions for a fixed length of time, say a year. We would then have a public record of your accuracy. If your visions are specific enough, I'd be willing to say that if you're right 25% of the time, you're not just guessing and your accuracy would not be due to chance.
As I said before, it isn't by my own will that I see things, hear things, or know things. I may not see images for many weeks, or I may see many in one week; I have no control over this or the subject matter; therefore, I conclude, as I said before, that controlled tests are not valid means to measure abilities that can't be controlled. Observation and documentation over a period of time could provide proof of psychic abilities, and, actually, TV has documented a number of psychic persons, who have provided proof of their abilities already. There really should be no question that some people do have some kind of ability that, at least at this time, cannot be measured as a controlled experiment, but instead observed and documented.
reply: As you say, observation and documentation over a period of time could provide proof. So, why don't you provide me with a description of your visions as they occur, whenever they occur, over the next year. I'll post them, and we and my readers can track your work.
Television is not the best medium for testing scientific hypotheses. It is too easy to edit material to distort the record.
My objective in writing you was merely to give you an opinion from first-hand experience. I do not wish to enter the "wide world of psychics," nor do I support the idea that people are making money as psychics, real or not.
reply: Okay. So, I won't pay you anything if you're successful! How about it? What have you got to lose?
I've posted other letters from people who testify to their psychic abilities. I've made the same offer to several of them privately but none have accepted. The last offer I made privately was to a fellow named Ray Whitehead, who prefers to post his own material on his website where he can have total control over the content. In several e-mails, Ray challenged me to explain his predictions. He would not agree to send me his predictions so I could post them. I wanted a public record of when he made the predictions and in his exact words. He says he has tape recordings of his predictions and that they are very specific, but we have only his word for it. He wrote to me (July 30, 2008):
What you seem to be saying is you weren't there; you did not witness these events, so therefore they are anecdotal and cannot be verified or trusted. That is sad. In this day and age, we need fresh ideas and a change in thinking. Look at the evidence first, then decide.
I was unable to get Ray to see that what he was doing was unacceptable. He can't be the only one in charge of the evidence, since he's the one we're testing. Nobody in his right mind would allow a person claiming to be psychic to control the conditions of the test. The history of human cheating and deception is too long and too well known for anyone with any sense to allow such a test. I can only conclude that Ray would not provide me with his predictions as they occurred because he couldn't control which ones were revealed, which ones were concealed, and which ones were revised. All I want to do is look at the evidence and then decide. Ray wanted to tell me what the evidence was and then have me try to explain it and show that it wasn't psychic.
I wrote to Ray (July 30, 2008):
I will explain why I do not want to try to explain your past feats and prefer to start fresh, with you giving me specific predictions, which I will post and comment on. You will be free to add your own comments to anything I post.
You are in the middle of the process, and like all of us see and remember selectively. Likewise with those who are emotionally affected by your readings. I have not been privy to all the details of these past occurrences and thus there is much that I would like to know but can't because the events are over. All that remains are a few accounts, none of which can be said to be truly unbiased and complete.
I want to be able to say that Ray predicted such and such on a particular day—a clear prediction with specific enough details so that we will know before the event happens what is supposed to happen. I want to eliminate the chance that you have been unconsciously influenced by anyone or anything (and of course that you aren't cheating, but you don't sound like a cheater to me) and that we aren't in a position where an infinite number of possible events could be retrofitted to your prediction.
I hope you understand why I don't want to try to provide an explanation for events that I have only partial information about.
You claim to have information for the FBI regarding a response to President Obama's policy on Iran and I am intrigued and want to know more. By the way, you won't get any credit for being psychic by correctly predicting that Obama will be our next president. The media has already selected him, I think.
Anyway, I'm still waiting for a psychic who is willing to provide me with his or her predictions or visions over a significant period of time.
Thank you for your time and conversation.
Keep an open mind.
reply: You too.
7 Dec 2000
Hello, I have recently learned that my 50 year old sister has been taken in by Sylvia Browne, hook line and sinker. Isn't there some way that, under current consumer protection laws, that Sylvia can be charged with false advertising? There must be a way that we can stop her kind from taking advantage of people's gullibility. If there isn't, there should be. Just because her victims don't complain, doesn't make it any less a travesty. What can I do to help expose the people for what they are?
reply: According to an online article, 17 states have laws against fortune telling. Maybe yours is one of them. Another article reveals that psychics are sometimes charged with crimes. But, most psychics seem to be able to get away with their capers unless their clients complain to the police. Many who have been ripped off by a psychic feel too stupid to file a formal complaint. But there are so many satisfied customers, one is likely to find the citizen brigade storming the skeptic's camp rather than rallying around the fighter of fraud.
03 Dec 1999
In studying the strange behaviour of subatomic particles like photons in quantum experiments Einstein coined "spooky action at a distance" to describe the apparent ability of photons, etc. to know what's going on elsewhere and behave accordingly. The Copenhagen interpretation of these bizarre results posits that photons, electrons and even entire atoms in their 2 slits experiments have no concrete existence but exist as probability waves until an observation of the experimental result collapses the probability function and causes a determinate result. Nobody has ever said how this mental causation is transmitted or how it works, but the Copenhagen interpretation is taught in all the physics departments.
In his book, Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality, John Gribben presents John Cramer's alternate explanation for the 2 slits experiments, the "transactional interpretation". Cramer thinks that energetic entities (electrons, photons) constantly emit "information waves" , and that before the entity can actually DO anything there has to be an "offer wave", a "confirmation wave", and an information "handshake" with whatever the entity will interact with. The information waves and transactions occur in an "atemporal" space (and Einstein, again, showed that the subjective perception--the frame of reference--of something approaching the speed of light is that time slows, and time stops at light speed, so if the information travels at lightspeed it would happen in 'no time' as Cramer requires). This is how the entities in 2 slits experiments seems to know beforehand how they should behave in the experiments.
Cramer apparently claims there are mechanisms in place that prevent "leakage" of the atemporal information into our temporal space, but his interpretation requires that the information waves travel backwards and forward in time without taking any time to do so. A logical consequence of this is that, ultimately, all of the "information" about everything that has ever happened or ever will happen coexists simultaneously in this atemporal space. Gribben doesn't say what kind of waves the information travels on, but all waves are vibrations at whatever frequency, so if people somehow become attuned to a frequency on which some of Cramer's advanced waves (traveling backwards in time, if viewed, from our frame of spacetime reference; as contrasted with "retarded waves" traveling forward to our 'now' from our past) exist then they'll be receiving information about some future event (precognition), and if somebody happens to latch onto the frequency of some dead or distant person's experiences (assuming that consciousness is electromagnetic and thus works like other e/m entities like photons and electrons so that the overall e/m structure of an experience behaves like an e/m unit--sending and receiving information waves) they will experience "past lives" or "distant viewing".
reply: I knew there was a point to this somewhere.
The anecdotal evidence that people actually experience such things is quite compelling, and Cramer's lucid interpretation of quantum strangenesses [?] offers the means of explaining these "paranormal" phenomena quantum mechanically. Considering that practically the entire subject matter of science is "phenomenal"--our awareness of reality begins with visual and other sensory experiences of "phenomena"--I don't think paranormal phenomena reported by people should be off-handedly skeptically dismissed merely because science does not yet possess the intellectual tools to explain them. With William James I say experience should be held as prior to conceptual systems in our ranking the credibility of "realities", so if even a very good conceptual system like modern science cannot explain widely experienced phenomena then that shows a shortcoming in the conception, NOT in the perception (I'm familiar with Willard Quine's "core/periphery" view of our neural net, so I'm not simplistically assuming that conception does not affect perception and vice versa). But I think Cramer has given science the tools to begin understanding temporal oddities like precognition, etc., so that this area, at least, of "paranormal" perceptions can be 'normalized'.
Quantum physics has shown us that the reality underlying our
everyday perceptions of a clockwork Newtonian universe is far stranger
than appearances would lead us to believe, though philosophy and
intellectual culture in general have failed to embrace this decades old
development and are still stuck in the 19th century scientific paradigm
where everything is ultimately predictable--in principle if 'not yet' in
practice. The probability equations of modern physics do not preclude the
possibility that the improbable might occur, and I think the improbable in
fact does occur with surprising frequency. No "laws" are broken
when the improbable occurs because the laws of classical physics are
merely laws of 'averages', and the very term "average" presumes
a whole range of actual cases occurring away from the center. So to
presume that human experiences that fall outside the range of "normal
human experience" are suspect simply because of their relative rarity
constitutes a material fallacy: the "conceptualist fallacy" of
an entrenched Newtonian.
reply: Obviously, we disagree. I think explanations for psychic phenomena are to be found in the brain (by neuroscientists), in misinterpretation of perception, and in fraud rather than in some bizarre application of quantum physics. I recommend Victor Stenger's Physics and Psychics: the Search for a World Beyond the Senses (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1990).