MetaCognitions 2015.05.05

I love the paranormal in fiction and in games, and in a rich fantasy life of occasional mind-wandering, but I’m not a believer in it.

I think that whatever things we find in the world, and beyond our own if we discover other universes, consist of the natural, the normal, and those many, many things we’ve yet to figure out if and when we ever do. Might there be unexplainable things? I don’t know. We’ll have to look first.

Mind you, I’ve experienced some weird things — just nothing that passes muster as being genuinely paranormal, now that I know what to look out for in my mistakes of thinking and perceptions. I’m less inclined to see ghosts when it’s really just my cats in the dark of my bedroom closet.

Does the paranormal evaporate in a puff of smoke when looked at too closely? Is it shy, or shatter to pieces in the mere presence of doubt?

If skepticism has that kind of power over the forces and entities of the paranormal, then it seems to me that their usefulness is limited indeed.

Bending keys with mind power? Talking to dead people? Reading minds using techniques any decent stage magician can perform? Aliens that travel billions of light years to Earth, expending enormous amounts of energy to do so, only to infuriate farmers by vandalizing their wheat fields and dissecting their cows?

How ordinary!

I’ve looked at discussions of the best evidence for psi, from psychologists Ray Hyman, Susan Blackmore, and Richard Wiseman, to name only a few.

From these analyses, and reading the arguments of proponents as well as critics of psi, I’ve come to think that psi-research has failed to convincingly make its case. But let it keep trying. We still might learn something anyway.

Might there be psi? If there is, then it would become known as part of the natural, as part of the normal — either it can be examined by science or it can’t. If it can’t, then paranormal research so far appears fruitless.

You cannot have it both ways. You don’t get to have the confection-frosted pastry and eat it too. You don’t get to claim the credentials of science while rejecting it in principle and value as well.

Science has limits. This much is obvious. But that does not validate credulity in mysterious forces and beings believed outside its reach.

Science is not just empirical; it is rationally empirical, reason and experience working as a whole. This is needed, for data without reason is nonsensical, and reason without data is empty.

Science is a set of methods, methods needed to sidestep our inherent flaws and biases to get a little bit closer to the truth than before. It’s far from perfect, but nothing we have works any better or even quite as well. Or global civilization depends on it to sustain itself, to feed and support the teeming billions it does.

When convincing evidence of something makes itself known — and it doesn’t have to be concrete, absolute, or necessarily physical in the ordinary sense — then I’ll be convinced.

As someone who was once a creationist, a paranormal believer, and even in doubt about climate change for a time, I can tell you now it’s happened before. It’ll with little doubt happen again.

O, RLLY?? Not Using the “A” Word Means You’re Lying??

In a recent special on CNN, American Atheists president David Silverman made the statement that religious nonbelievers are “the most hated group in this country.”


It may be true that there’s active and ongoing discrimination in many parts of the world against religious nonbelievers, but no more so than religions against rival religions. We nonbelievers are not special, we are not enlightened, and we are not especially persecuted, more than some other minorities; to play the victim card like the Religious Right here in the States all too often does, and to exaggerate the facts in that manner strikes me as a little, oh, I don’t know… silly?

Hyperbole much?

There’s also his claim that religious nonbelievers who do not self-identify as atheists are lying. That’s just on-its-face foolishness.

I identify as a skeptic, not as an atheist, because the former best fits my methods and views.

I’m a skeptic to all sorts of claims, the only restriction being that they must be logically and empirically testable. “Atheist” just doesn’t cover as much ground, offer the mileage I need to make it work, doesn’t carry the freight it needs to. “Atheist” is too limited. It pertains and entails only skepticism to one sort of thing — the existence of a God or gods, so I rarely use it.

News flash — Not all skeptics are atheists — nor vice versa.

Two words to illustrate that would be useful here — Martin Gardner — he was a good skeptic and a self-described theist.

That’s the problem with labels. Skeptic, agnostic, atheist, humanist, nullifidian, freethinker, rationalist, infidel, heretic, etc…none of these words are synonyms, none of them say the same thing, none of them carry the same cargo, and using one or more of any of them does not make you a liar for not using any one or more of the others.

It’s simply absurd, though perhaps intended to rhetorically. Rallying people whose only shared trait, if even that, is not believing in someone’s god is a lot like herding cats. Good luck on that.

No one ought to call people liars for not using a particular label, to cajole people to flock to their banner like good little peas in a pod. It is a good way to discredit one’s own movement, though, and if that’s the goal, it succeeds wonderfully.

Mr. Eccles Presents: Eve Siebert – And That’s Why They’re Going to Hell

This will anger some, and not just believers, but nonbelievers as well, though I suspect for different reasons. In this talk, Ms. Siebert discusses a religious fundamentalist curriculum designed to systematically destroy the ability of students to think critically, to indoctrinate them into depending on authority for their knowledge.

It exposes the blatant cynicism of ‘educators’ intent on imposing their sectarian religious doctrines on a captive audience – American students, who are being cheated of a real education, and thus the ability to fully participate as members of a functioning society in the 21st century.

This is ironic, given the fundamentalist “teach the controversy” nonsense about teaching creationist doctrine in public schools. It’s ironic in that they advocate “show both sides (as though there were only two) and let the kids figure it out themselves,” while simultaneously robbing them of the ability to do so.