Monthly Archives: January 2010
Hey, guys. Many years ago when I was of a less skeptical mind, I used an argument in support of the probable existence of psychic powers that I now consider to be a classic textbook example of a logical fallacy, several in fact, and have ever since then rejected its use.
A friend of mine (he shall remain unnamed) still uses the argument in our conversations on the subject of psi, and it goes something like this –
The real psychics are the ones no one knows about.
There are several problems with this argument… and I count at least four fallacies in it — a logical inconsistency, an argument from conspiracy, circular reasoning, and an ad hoc hypothesis…
First, the way it’s phrased, it assumes as a given that real psychics do indeed exist, which could only be a demonstrable fact if someone knew it to be true and could show it, and then quickly contradicts itself by saying that no one knows this, nor can they show it. Hence the inconsistency and circular reasoning.
I’ll give some reasons for this…
I try to go by the maxim “If you can’t show it, you don’t know it,” and one cannot know that something is true, to assume the positive conclusion that something exists, when that is exactly what one should be proving, and not know it at the same time: You either know it, or you don’t. After all, if nobody knows about the so-called real psychics, how does the one making the argument know enough to make a positive statement about them?
My friend has elaborated on something implied in the argument and suggested the possibility of a ‘covert project’ to locate and sequester ‘genuine’ psychics for study under a highly classified research program, that ‘real’ psychics would never reveal their true nature in public for fear of abduction by government agents or somesuch. Hence the argument from conspiracy and simultaneous ad hoc hypothesis, ad hoc, because there is no evidence for this conspiracy, and no way to possibly falsify the claim. Any evidence against the conspiracy becomes part of the conspiracy.
To me, considering that the U.S. government wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on a useless remote-viewing project, and the celebrity status that some alleged psychic mediums enjoy, many of whom have followers that fervently believe in the authenticity of their powers, it makes no real difference whether one’s powers are genuine or not, as long as people believe they are. After all, elements within the U.S. military believed in them. Clearly there are those within our own government who cannot tell fakery from the real thing, should it actually exist.
This says nothing about the power of belief in and of itself, since belief alone can’t make anything real, though it can make it seem to be to those who believe. My point is that those whose powers are believed real, by however few or many, do not really make a great deal of effort to hide themselves, in fact going out of their way to get publicity, and this is true of any self-styled psychic celebrity. This alone reasonably should serve falsify any ‘psychic exploitation conspiracy’ hypothesis.
I suspect my friend is thinking too much along the lines of X-Men comics, where those with weird mutant powers really are hunted. Sorry, but my experience has been that many real-world psychics will frequently try to gain as much in the way of fame, and often wealth, from readings, seminars, and performances, as possible, like That Israeli Psychic™ did during the 1970s.
Any theory that truly psychically gifted people go into hiding for fear of possible abduction and exploitation by shadowy agencies, while cool in fiction, is not borne out by what is evident of big-name media psychics here in the real world, as opposed to comicbooks and paperback novels, who obviously have a great many people convinced of their authenticity and oddly enough make no efforts at all to conceal their nature from the public, much less the CIA or MIB.
This is actually kind of neat, the first example I’ve heard of of an animal that shares plant traits, namely the ability to use photosynthesis, in this article by Susan Milius. It’s a species of algae-eating sea-slug that can incorporate the genes for making chloroplasts, the organelles that green plants use for making sugars from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight.
Anyhoo, the Science News article had this to say…
Shaped like a leaf itself, the slug Elysia chlorotica already has a reputation for kidnapping the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Now it turns out that the slug has acquired enough stolen goods to make an entire plant chemical-making pathway work inside an animal body, says Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa.
The slugs can manufacture the most common form of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that captures energy from sunlight, Pierce reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.
This kind of reminds me of the green woman with the pixie wings from the Dominion Tank Police anime series, at least in terms of the possibilities of engineering something with a human-like metabolism to use photosynthesis, though admittedly I’m inclined to agree with this article by Catherine Brahic on New Scientist.
Aside from the points raised there, as a layman I would speculate at the most feasibly that any bioengineered photosynthetic human retaining a warm-blooded metabolism would have to spend the entire daylight period absorbing sunlight and could only be active at night, which would make for a very different world. We humans, with the possible exception of couch potatoes, use up an awful lot of calories in our daily routine, probably more than photosynthesis alone can practically provide.
Hmmm, nocturnal humans — might be interesting in a world where everyone is afraid of the daytime — after all, that’s when monsters come out to eat you while you’re sleeping/sunbathing, and can’t run away! Sounds like the plot of a science-fiction novel I may have read…
One of the statements from the first article linked to echos my sentiments well…
“This could be a fusion of a plant and an animal — that’s just cool,” said invertebrate zoologist John Zardus of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.
Zardus, who says that he tries to maintain healthy skepticism as a matter of principle, would like to hear more about how the team controlled for algal contamination.
…as does another from the same…
“Bizarre,” said Gary Martin, a crustacean biologist at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “Steps in evolution can be more creative than I ever imagined.”
After over a week, there’s been an awful lot of rather…lively discussion in the scientific community, and if this finding holds up under the peer-review process, it will be very interesting to know something about the possibility of finding more ‘plantimals’ like this, and the practical applications of the cross-over of genetic traits, between multicellular organisms. Fnord.