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The Skeptical Thread


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#1 of 56 OFFLINE   BrianW

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Posted December 11 2010 - 01:42 PM

I almost never start new threads.  And I'm sure I'll soon regret starting this one.  But that's another matter.  I'd like to dedicate this thread to the skeptics among us who have felt misunderstood, downtrodden, and wedgied.


I'd like first to define some characteristics of skeptics, just to set the record straight:

  • Skeptics are not close-minded.  The world seems to think that we are closed-minded, unwilling to consider alternatives, unable to embrace new ideas, or unwilling to change our beliefs.  But the truth is, a skeptic is willing to believe absolutely anything if presented with sufficient evidence.
  • Skeptics don't think they are never wrong.  On the contrary, a skeptic is always willing to be convinced he is wrong.  Again, all it takes is sufficient evidence.  This is, after all, the very heart of the Scientific Method.
  • To a skeptic, claims and anecdotes to not rise to the level of evidence, or even data.  This does not mean, however, that skeptics believe claims are not worth investigating.  Only through investigation of claims can proper data arise and be evaluated.
It's not necessarily easy maintaining a rigorous method of incorporating new beliefs.  To some of you, that may translate as, "It's not easy being a jerk."  That's okay.  If you want to tell us off, or if you want to debate our methods, then that sounds fun, too.


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#2 of 56 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted December 11 2010 - 02:08 PM

I like that you started this thread, Brian.  A skeptic is really only saying "show me".  It's a source of fascination that some people seem to dislike it so much whenever skeptics aren't immediately credulous about various claims.



#3 of 56 ONLINE   TravisR

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Posted December 11 2010 - 02:24 PM

I don't really care what people believe or don't believe but I hate the people who have the "Gawd, you believe in [fill in the blank]? What are you stupid?!" attitude. They just come off as the kid in fifth grade that would tell kindergarteners that there was no Santa Claus. As if someone else believing in ghosts or aliens or the Easter bunny or any other silly thing has an effect on them and they must stop immediately or face intellectual ridicule.



#4 of 56 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted December 12 2010 - 03:43 AM



Originally Posted by TravisR 

They just come off as the kid in fifth grade that would tell kindergarteners that there was no Santa Claus.


Actually, it's more equivalent to asking other fifth graders (or adults, for that matter) why they still believe in Santa Claus when they should know better, and not continue to behave like kindergarterners.



#5 of 56 ONLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 12 2010 - 05:11 AM

I'm going to be a bit annoying for a moment and ask, "Skeptical about what?"

You're using a pretty generic term in a way that implies a high-context meaning: if you know what a "skeptic" is then you don't need the definitions needed because you already know what it is. And if you're not in the "club", then the definitions only dancing around the core issue(s) of what "skeptics" are "skeptical" about.


Or is it that broad?

"Nice day we're having!"

"I don't know. I'm remaining skeptical until the day's over and I've polled a scientifically valid sample of the population to determine that's true, independent of location, race, and income."


:)



#6 of 56 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted December 12 2010 - 05:49 AM

If your head is in an oven while you're having your feet in a frozen ice-tub, a statistician may point out that your average temperature is comfortable.



OK, after the excellent starting post by Brian, here's a first skeptical remark.


People who try to prove that a specific occurrence in violation of the laws of physics took place, fail miserably as far as logic is concerned. All they can claim is that a local violation of laws of physics seem to have been present, but there's no proof which one(s).


Example: producing a photo of a heavy object that's floating in the presence of a gravitation field without being supported, not being in motion and without being attached to strings or forces of any other kind, the so-called levitation, is no proof that it happened. Accepting the proof would imply the acceptance of the optical (+ chemical or electrical) laws leading to a proper photograph being intact there, and why would they?


Likewise: "I saw a ghost with my own eyes" is absurd, because you cannot be sure the representation of images in your brain is normal while what those images seem to mean to you is, or looks like it is, abnormal. The skeptical question should be: "the end-product (your interpretation of what you see) is not according to the physical laws, so where exactly is (or are) the flaw(s)?

(Excuses for the weak rhyme.)



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#7 of 56 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted December 12 2010 - 06:17 AM



Originally Posted by DaveF 

I'm going to be a bit annoying for a moment and ask, "Skeptical about what?"



One of the chief skeptical organizations is the  Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP)


Note that there's nothing paranormal about a nice day.  I'd like to add something to the points Brian made.  I've read a lot of science fiction and seen a lot of SF movies.  I would find it exciting if there was convincing evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence (quite the opposite  of hostility to the idea).  However, my desire to see such evidence has no effect on the fact that such evidence must be of an extraordinary nature (as opposed to the typical UFO reports).



#8 of 56 ONLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 12 2010 - 08:09 AM

So "The Skeptical Thread" could be renamed "The Thread for Those Who Don't Believe in the Paranormal"?



#9 of 56 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted December 12 2010 - 08:15 AM

No.


"Skeptical" is a generally accepted term with a well-known meaning. Why change it?


Furthermore, your title isn't correct. It should rather read something like "... who don't believe beforehand in abnormal ("para-normal") claims and are eager to see convincing proof".



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#10 of 56 ONLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 12 2010 - 08:35 AM

"Skeptical" is a basic vocabulary word that means "inclined to doubt." "Skeptic" is "a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual" (all taken from dictionary.com).



I suspect that "skeptic", as used here, implies a specific subset of disbeliefs. That is, if I say "I'm a 'believer'", we generally know that really means I'm a Christian of some stripe", and not generally one who simply believes things. I think, but am not sure, that "skeptic" is similarly such a general word that actually carries substantial cultural meaning giving it much more limited meaning than its basic definition.


But maybe not. Maybe this is a wholly general thread about doubting things that are purported to be true, including but not limited to: Anthropogenic Global Warming, Keynesian Economics, Whether people can actually judge the quality of wines, observable differences in lossless audio, etc. :)



#11 of 56 ONLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 12 2010 - 08:37 AM



Originally Posted by Cees Alons 

Furthermore, your title isn't correct. It should rather read something like "... who don't believe beforehand in abnormal ("para-normal") claims and are eager to see convincing proof".



Cees


And no, from the basic definition of "skeptical", I think my proposed title is correct as written. A skeptic is one who doubts. Nothing is said about awaiting (eagerly or not) or looking for evidence otherwise. (but maybe I need a better dictionary)


:)



#12 of 56 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted December 12 2010 - 08:56 AM



Originally Posted by DaveF 



Quote:
Originally Posted by Cees Alons 

Furthermore, your title isn't correct. It should rather read something like "... who don't believe beforehand in abnormal ("para-normal") claims and are eager to see convincing proof".



Cees


And no, from the basic definition of "skeptical", I think my proposed title is correct as written. A skeptic is one who doubts. Nothing is said about awaiting (eagerly or not) or looking for evidence otherwise. (but maybe I need a better dictionary)


:)


Given that Brian likely started this thread in response to the "Ghost Post", I think your definition is overly broad.  He is referring to the type of skeptics referenced in my link (ie, investigators of claims of the paranormal).  He is not, for example, referring to someone who doubts that the Chicago Cubs will ever win the World Series.



#13 of 56 OFFLINE   SWFF

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Posted December 12 2010 - 09:09 AM

I had no idea my GHOST POST thread was going to be so threatening to the skeptics on this forum. Ah, my plan is coming together nicely. (Cue evil laughter).


I can't help believing what I believe. I wonder if what you believe is hardwired into your genes before birth, or is it conditioning of what and who you encounter in you formative years. Maybe, it's a combination of both. But, I can't apologize for my beliefs, and you guys shouldn't either. I tolerate any belief system as long as it doesn't lead to the death and or harming, physical or psychological, of other people.


Okay, guys, I'm ready, let me tense up my gut, go ahead and let the believer have it. I can take it.


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#14 of 56 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted December 12 2010 - 09:12 AM

Here's some text from an article on csicop.org about a test for X-Ray vision.  Readers are invited to decide for themselves if the test conditions were unfair, prejudged, or unduly hostile to the claimant:



At CICAP, the Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, every year we receive a few dozen requests from people claiming to possess some kind of psychic power. Many disappear after we ask for more details. Of those who remain, we almost always find that they are sincere and honest people who really believe they possess the powers they claim. Very rarely does someone try to deceive or cheat us.

Some time ago, we received a letter from a woman, R.G., who claimed she can peer inside sealed boxes with some sort of X-ray vision and describe what is inside with a 60 to 70 percent rate of success. She wanted us to test and verify her powers. In letters and phone calls she explained that we could use any kind of box and any object we liked.

We gladly accepted her proposal and invited her to the University of Pavia, where, with the help of colleagues such as chemist Luigi Garlaschelli and physicist Adalberto Piazzoli, we have often tested psychics.

Once in Pavia, she agreed that the testing situation was ideal, that the people there were not hostile, and that she was confident she would succeed. It is very important to establish this beforehand to prevent excuses if the test fails. She read the protocol for the experiment that we had prepared in advance according to her claims, and she signed it.

No ‘Fitting’ Allowed

We had previously selected twelve objects, each one different from the others in shape, color, and material. These objects were taken to a different room from the one where the test was taking place and randomly numbered from 1 to 12. An experimenter then chose a random number, picked up the corresponding object, wrapped it in paper in order to avoid any clues from sound (the psychic confirmed beforehand that paper didn’t block her visions), put it in a wooden box kept firm by two rubber bands, and finally brought the box within view of R.G. (The experimenter who placed the objects inside the box had to stay away from R.G. in order to avoid any involuntary nonverbal communication.) This procedure took place for each object, and each object was chosen only once.

When R.G. saw the box for the first time, she asked us to remove the rubber bands around it because they could confuse her images. We agreed on the condition that nobody could touch or get close to the box after it was placed on a table.

We then gave R.G. a list of the twelve objects in order to help her decide. She had to concentrate on the box and then indicate on the list the object that best matched her visions. This was done to av­oid “fitting” a general description to more than one object; her vision could match one, and only one, object on the list. If she wished, she could switch one guess for another before the end of the test.

The correct answers would be given only at the end of the session. As usual, we videotaped the whole test.

‘I See Something Square....’

Sitting six feet away from the box with her husband beside her, R.G. concentrated for a few seconds and then described her perceptions: “I see something square... a bit thick... something dark... straight...” She then pointed to the rubber stamp on the list.

The test went on until she reached the last object: “It’s something rigid,” she said. “Straight but... not a cube. It has only one color... looks like a pen, a tube... could be the key.”

At the end of the test, we compared R.G.’s guesses to a list of the objects in the order in which they were presented. Out of twelve objects, she got only one match—exactly what one would expect by chance.

R.G. tried to justify her unsuccessful performance by saying that the conditions (to which she had previously agreed) were not the ones she was accustomed to. She then tried to accommodate her descriptions to the objects actually presented. For example, the object that she had indicated was a key turned out to be a mirror. “Well, I was right after all,” she said. “It was something straight, not a cube and only had one color.” The lady seemed to have forgotten that she also had said the object looked “like a pen, a tube.”

There’s No Place Like Home

We had designed our protocol on the basis of what R.G. said she could do (and in conditions under which she said she could succeed). We had tried to accommodate her needs. However, the failure bothered her, and she insisted that this was not the procedure she used at home. Usually, she said, she needed two series of objects: one for the test, the other to be kept in front of her so that she could compare her visions with a replica of the actual object and not with a word on a list. This was the first time she said something of the kind to us.

So, even though the official test was over, we agreed to perform an informal trial. We looked for twelve double objects in the laboratory and proceeded as before. Again, the result was quite clear: one hit in twelve trials.

Still, R.G. was unconvinced and repeated that, at home, she would usually get six or seven objects out of ten and proceeded to indicate two more differences with our test. At home, her husband could use the same object more than once, and this gave her more freedom of choice. Furthermore, she needed some encouragement; she needed to know if she was right or wrong immediately after her guess.

Some of us were against the idea of performing a new test and changing the protocol again. However, after clearly stating on camera that the test was not to be considered a proper, scientific test and that it was done only as another informal trial, in view of future tests, we decided to try.

Since this demonstration proved to be very quick to prepare, we did twenty-eight trials with a choice of the same seven objects for each trial. R.G. was right on six cases. Even this demonstration was not considered significant (in order to have a minimum of significance, p=0.02, with seven objects and twenty-eight trials, nine to ten hits are re­quired).

At the end of our meeting, we suggested that R.G. repeat the test as we had performed it that day at home. This way, we thought, maybe she would realize that once the possibility of adapting one’s “visions” to the correct object in the box is ruled out, the results can be only random (unless she really possessed psychic powers, obviously). We said that we would invite her back if, following this procedure, she could still obtain a 60 to 70 percent success rate.

A few years have passed now, but we have never heard from her again.

     





#15 of 56 ONLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 12 2010 - 09:58 AM


Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertR 

Given that Brian likely started this thread in response to the "Ghost Post", I think your definition is overly broad.  He is referring to the type of skeptics referenced in my link (ie, investigators of claims of the paranormal).  He is not, for example, referring to someone who doubts that the Chicago Cubs will ever win the World Series.



I thought that might be so. But Cees seems to flatly disagree, saying that "skeptic" is not so limited in meaning.


I'm becoming skeptical that "skeptic" has a well understood meaning Posted Image



#16 of 56 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted December 12 2010 - 10:13 AM



Originally Posted by DaveF 
  I thought that might be so. But Cees seems to flatly disagree, saying that "skeptic" is not so limited in meaning.


I'm becoming skeptical that "skeptic" has a well understood meaning Posted Image


???


All I said was that it has a general accepted meaning (in this context: roughly since the eighties, I believe).


If you're not aware of that, you're not thread-farting, but again: this general term (as defined in the dictionary) has been given a more specific meaning in the context of discussing abnormal, paranormal and extranormal subjects.



 I had no idea my GHOST POST thread was going to be so threatening to the skeptics on this forum.



How threatening? I think it was a nice gesture of Brian to start a separate thread and not try to "ruin" your own (SWFF) thread.

No need to mock him now for that, IMO.



Cees



#17 of 56 OFFLINE   SWFF

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Posted December 12 2010 - 10:39 AM

My God, man, why the hell would you think I'm mocking him?! What in that sentence cries mocking? I was stating something that I thought was the case, which it obviously isn't. No harm intended.



#18 of 56 OFFLINE   mattCR

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Posted December 12 2010 - 05:20 PM

I am skeptical that every day is a figment of my imagination, and all of you people are nothing but the Matrix out to trick me, and I just haven't figured out how yet.



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#19 of 56 OFFLINE   BrianW

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Posted December 13 2010 - 12:15 AM



Originally Posted by SWFF 

Ah, my plan is coming together nicely. (Cue evil laughter).



Your plan?  No, MY plan is coming together!  At least it would be if the Eskimos weren't running late.  AGAIN!



-Brian
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#20 of 56 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted December 13 2010 - 12:36 AM



Originally Posted by mattCR 

I am skeptical that every day is a figment of my imagination, and all of you people are nothing but the Matrix out to trick me, and I just haven't figured out how yet.



I'm skeptical of your skepticism.







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