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Stephen Hawking — Questioning the Universe

Monday’s Noontide Query: Double Standards

James Randi

James Randi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s something I’ve always been curious about — Actually, there’s far too much I’m curious about! — Most people are aware that stage-conjurors are doing tricks when they perform, and conjurors are generally up-front with this — honest liars who use the errors our brains make to fool us into witnessing the performance of faux miracles before our very eyes — as are their cousins, the mentalists, who fool us by feigning power over our minds and thoughts — successfully, I might add.

But self-styled paranormalists, so-called psychics and their supporters, who claim that their abilities are genuine, despite a lack of convincing evidence, with a suspicious unwillingness to provide it, are not held to the standards of reliability of conjurors and mentalists who tell us we’re being fooled…


Psychics and their supporters repeatedly say that they are “never 100%,” when a conjuror absolutely MUST be able to perform his tricks, to ply his trade and make his livelihood on stage, ALL of the time, or let’s face it, he’s not a very well-practiced trickster, is he?

Somehow, the paranormalists’ argument seems weak, or at least, uncompelling.

A magician whose tricks were only as reliable as those of people claiming genuine powers would quickly be out of a job.

At minimum, it only raises the question it is intended to rebut — Why should I accept that a power which works less often is more real than a more reliable effect — of the very same sort the psychic performs — especially when the former typically fails only in the known presence of trained magicians or other skeptical observers? — who just might recognize the alleged miracle for the trick it is by knowing or being able to figure out the technique it uses and thus expose the perpetrator.

So why the double standard? I’ve never heard an adequate justification for it, and arguments about the unreliability of mysterious mental phenomena don’t count — that’s just special pleading and assuming as proven what has yet to be demonstrated convincingly — bona fide paranormal mental abilities.

And magicians are people who have a considerable financial stake in consistency of performance, all the time, or at least all the time when on stage during a show.

It occurs to me that if alleged psychics say their powers are a reality, aren’t the stakes higher from a scientific viewpoint than the known tricks of conjurors?

There would be serious consequences to wrongly rejecting such a reality, were that the case, even though what they claim to do involves the very same efects used by people whom we know are tricking us, and who tell us so, and still do it anyway — 100%.


Should psychics be held to lower, equal, or higher standards than magicians, when performing the very same feats as those in the stage acts of known tricksters?


Does anything at all justify a double-standard for performance reliability given the alleged “fickleness” of claimed psi abilities and the general consistency of conjurors’ stage-illusions?

If so, what?

Monday’s Noontide Query is a question that I pose to you, my readers, and do feel free to comment…I’m not a baby-eating ogre, and I don’t bite…much. This installment is published on Monday at 12:00 PM.

MNQ | Monday’s Noontide Query: Double-Edged / Cutting-Edge

Science, a multifaceted gem, a two-edged sword that can be the instrument of our ascension as citizens of the Cosmos, or the cause of our ultimate destruction, depending on how we choose to use it.

Science is innately morally neutral, though human beings are not.

We do not always act in our own best interests as a species.

This is especially true concerning our occasional inability to mobilize to political will to counter the problems that our science, and the technology it drives, can and does cause when used foolishly and profligately for short-term gains.

Science can be used for good or ill, bountifully or dangerously, depending on our degree of wisdom at the time, and what ill we do with it will not be reversed by applying ignorance to the problem…

Science has been used to cure diseases, to feed the world’s teeming billions, to raise our standards of living, giving the middle class greater luxury than a Medieval king, though perhaps with less gold in the cellar.

It has also been misused by ruthless, amoral people in the commission of hideous crimes against humanity in unethical experimentation, and to create polluting industrial processes and horrid weapons of destruction.

Weapons and processes that may spell our extinction if we aren’t careful.

But as for goodness or badness in itself, science has neither, though our economy and a thriving democracy depends on a good literacy in it by our citizen electorate, a literacy sadly lacking in many of us who need it most, the voting public.

Which cutting-edge science and resultant technology do you think looks the most promising in long-term benefits vs dangers?

Which appears the most dangerous or alarming in potential hazards?

Why do you think so?

MNQ is a question that I pose to you, my readers, and do feel free to comment…I’m not a baby-eating ogre, and I don’t bite…very hard. MNQ is published on Monday of most weeks at 12:00 PM.

MNQ | Monday’s Noontide Query: Ancient Extinct Species


Image via Wikipedia

Dinosaurs, placoderms, brachipods, trilobites, ammonites, pterosaurs, and bizarre species dating back to the Cambrian period, many unrelated to anything living today… but especially dinosaurs…

…and ancient sea monsters that would make the most courageous seaman during the Age of Sail soil his breeches with fear, but now gone millions of years before the first human ancestors climbed down from the trees.

These are creatures that fuel the imaginations of science-minded young, those too young not to question, to wonder, and those still young at heart enough to continue wondering.

Why do prehistoric beings resonate so well with our love of the strange? One reason is that they are so unlike anything today, so unlike anything you can see in a zoo, safari, or pet shelter, and this combined with their separation from us in time make them seem alien, creatures from another world, despite the fact that they are not the creations of science fiction or fantasy, but at one time very real animals.

And their remains are fascinating too…so old that like the victims of a mythological gorgon, they’ve literally turned to stone, their death-throes frozen in place forever, to be dug up millions of years later by jumped-up plains apes with excavation tools to put them together and on display in museums around the world.

Even ancient mammals have an outstanding kewl factor, some of them vaguely reminiscent of modern species, many subtly disturbing, just different enough to pique our sense of the strange, and others, like glyptodonts, setting our weird sensors on red alert on seeing their fossilized skeletons.

Having recently finished Stephen Baxter’s book “Longtusk,” I think it would be awesome to have a pet Mammoth, though it may have comfort problems in a rapidly changing climate and get antsy around lots of little humans, which is understandable.


If you could keep any of one species of prehistoric life as a pet or companion, even sea life in a suitably-built aquarium or flying species in an aviary, what species would it be? Why?

MNQ is a question that I pose to you, my readers, and do feel free to comment…I’m not a baby-eating ogre, and I don’t bite…very hard. MNQ is published on Monday of most weeks at 12:00 PM.

MNQ | Monday’s Noontide Query: Pop Science

This last weekend, I spent some time at the new location of the gaming shop I’ve been going to for years, and while there I got into an interesting discussion with a friend of mine.

We were talking about the weirdness of quantum mechanics, and he brought up the misconception that quantum observation involves some mysterious mystical notion of consciousness, with myself countering that it’s the physical act of measuring the observed particle, dependent only on the physical properties of the measuring instrument, and not what goes on in anyone’s mind, that is involved in ‘observation.’

I plan on following up on that talk with my friend next weekend…

I need to read up on Dick Feynman’s ideas on how a single quantum particle can interfere with itself in a double-slit experiment so I can explain it more clearly…


What common misconceptions of scientific ideas, even outright pseudoscience, have you come across recently in a conversation with someone you know?

MNQ is a question that I pose to you, my readers, and do feel free to comment…I’m not a baby-eating ogre, and I don’t bite…very hard. MNQ is published on Monday of most weeks at 12:00 PM.


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