This one is a little off the usual track. Normally, one of my alter egos would have dealt with it but that one has been dormant for so long he might not have any readers left. If only there were more hours in a day, or if I could just shake off this ‘sleep’ addiction I have acquired. A sleep every single day is far too much. If only someone would make up some guidelines. Well, they probably have, and I’ve already ignored them.
It’s relevant though, in that it shows the junkiness of modern science in all its glory.
‘Science’ sometimes sets out to debunk all things paranormal. It does this by starting with a definite conclusion (to prove it is not real, not to investigate it and draw conclusions from the results like real science should). However, it is impossible to prove that anything paranormal isn’t real if you start from the premise that it does not exist. If it does not exist, then there is nothing to measure – and if there is nothing to measure there can be no results to analyse. Therefore there is no study to perform.
Most mainstream scientists stay well away from this stuff for exactly that reason. It’s the same reason they stay clear of trying to prove or disprove the existence of God. With no solid quantifiable evidence to start with, there is not even the beginning of a theory that could produce a device capable of making any meaningful measurements. With no way of making any measurements, again, you end up with nothing to analyse. Those who try, fail, and often spectacularly. Not because God poked his fingers in their eyes so they couldn’t see (well, pure science cannot totally discount that possibility) but because there isn’t even a starting point for such a study.
The sale of ghosthunting equipment often induces a shake of the head in me. The EMF meter measures electromagnetic field changes but in order to correctly measure EMF, you need to take readings in three dimensions – on x, y and z axes with a precise measurement of each point in space where you took the readings – or you’re wasting your time. You might be wasting your time anyway because the idea that ghosts affect EMF is supposition. There’s no proof that a flicker of the needle indicates anything more than a mains spike when the fridge turned on. As for the expensive tri-field meter, that is a very sensitive piece of kit that belongs in a physics lab. It can register the effect on local fields caused by your pocket-change moving around. It is no use for anything at all in untrained hands. Most of the gadgetry is there not to help you find a ghost, but to help you lighten your wallet.
There are those scientists who try to study paranormal events properly and seriously and many publish in the Journal of Scientific Exploration – which is no place for tinfoil hatters. They will publish ‘oh no it isn’t’ papers as well as ‘oh yes it is’ ones, and both have to pass critical review. None of these ever appear in the newspapers. They don’t do press releases and don’t shout about their existence because the funding for the work is narrow to nonexistent. Most do it in their own time.
And then there are those scientists who have a stab at proving it’s all hokum. That cannot be done. James Randi is convinced he has done it, but he hasn’t. He can reproduce many of the effects shown by those claiming psychic abilities using sleight of hand. That proves…that he can reproduce the effects using sleight of hand. It does not prove that the original effect was done that way, merely suggests that it could have been. The distinction will be clear to anyone with an analytical and non-prejudgemental mind. It is, at the same time, not evidence that the original observation was real but the distinction is nonetheless a very important one. The original observation is not disproved by reproduction of the effect using another method. It merely raises the possibility that the other method could have been used.
There are the illusionists who reproduce the stage-psychic tricks using cold reading – taking cues from the sap you’re talking to and relying on the almost-universal human failing whereby the sap will remember the ten percent you got right, while forgetting the ninety percent that was wildly wrong guesswork. Cold reading works. I’ve played around with it myself. It’s fun to scare a drone once in a while.
For the record, I don’t believe that anyone can bend spoons by rubbing them. If I was to be gifted with a superpower and found that my new power was ‘cutlery vandal’, I would be sorely disappointed and would not be bragging about it to anyone.
Also, I am certain that every single TV psychic is a fake. Aside from cold reading, they use stooges mingling with the audience before the show to chat to punters and get all the info they need, they will Google people coming for one-on-one sittings, and a dozen more tricks. The corner-shop psychics have even more tricks. They’re fake too. Why am I, who claims an open mind, so certain?
It cannot be possible to make a living as a psychic. Look at the TV shows. They get exactly the right number of ghosts for the show every time and every single one is there to get a message to someone in the audience. There is never a show where no ghosts show up, never a show where too many show up, never a show where every ghost that shows is trying to contact someone in the audience next door, never a ghost for the cameraman or the producer or anyone on the crew. If any of them are real, they are not psychics, they are necromancers.
Those corner-shop psychics never say ‘Sorry, nobody has tried to contact you today, here’s your money back’. They could get a hell of a boost to their credibility if they did that say, ten percent of the time. Hmmm. There is a corner shop available for rent in town… no, no, even I couldn’t be that cruel. It would be almost as bad as selling extended warranties.
Then there are those who claim to be psychic by phone or internet. Get stuffed. If Old Uncle Thomas-Henry tried to contact me he’d be shouting at my shoulder right now. Not shouting at someone in an Indian call centre. If he did, they’d phone me. They would, really. He was a very big man of very little patience. If those phone psychics were real, they would phone you and tell you they had a message from someone you knew.
If you’re thinking if phoning and pretending to have a message from Uncle Thomas-Henry, forget it. He spoke Welsh all the time, not because he couldn’t speak English but because it used to piss off the nurses in the home they put him into. Well, when he was brought home by the police for fighting while drunk (again), the family finally said ‘Look, you’re eighty-four, that’s enough now’. In those days, they still let him smoke indoors, unlike the modern vicious regime I see often on the way home from work. Aged pensioners in care homes huddled outside in the cold, indulging in one of the very few pleasures left to them in their end times and which, thanks to hate and spite, the only drivers of the antismoking movement, they can barely afford. If I ever get forced into one of those places I will learn to speak Cherokee and will utter no other language from that day forward. And I will run banjo and bodhran classes between the hours of 2 am and 4 am. Even though I can’t play either very well. Perhaps, especially because… Well hey, it’s hereditary. I can’t help it and there is no Awkward Old Sods charity to give me money and a free car with spikes on the front so what can I do?
Whoops, it seems this bottle of Lochlan causes digression. There is no suitable warning on the label. Start a campaign!
Back to roughly the point. Today, the Mail crows that the entirety of the paranormal has been debunked by a bunch of white-coated dicks pretending to be scientists. Here is the basis of their test:
In the study, participants were given pairs of colour photographs, both of the same woman.
In some cases her appearance, for example her hairstyle, would be different in the two photographs.
Each photo was shown for 1.5 seconds with a one second break between each.
After the second picture, the observer was asked whether a change had occurred and was asked to choose it from a list of nine possible changes ranging from earrings, necklace, glasses, hat, lipstick, eye shadow, eyeliner, clothing, and hair worn.
This is a test of observation and memory. That is all. Nothing more. It does not test any claimed psychic ability of any kind and therefore cannot disprove that which it does not test.
Some people noticed there was a change but could not pin down what it was. We have all experienced that. When one of the pretty girls at work has her hair done, I notice she is prettier but it can take a long time to work out why. When one of them had a dramatic hairdo, I noticed at once. It was, indeed, most impressive. We notice subtle changes subconsciously but cannot always articulate the details of the change. That is not paranormal. That is normal.
Nothing in this report debunks anything at all and yet it is now a newspaper article claiming ‘proof’. This is junk science of the tobacco template kind and whether you have any interest in the worlds beyond or not, you cannot, in all conscience, accept this report as anything more than an utter waste of money, time, print and pixels.
This next statement is going to annoy the pseudoscientists and the fanatically religious all at once. Real scientists, real open minds on both sides, will laugh.
Science? God help you.