Paranormal and lost objectivity. I’m not a “believer”

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Woo! There’s a shocker considering the name of my blog. But, I want to discuss the paranormal in terms of belief and I’d like to describe why I think I’m more open-minded than those who accept paranormal phenomena as real.

ghost.jpgCertain subjects, such as Bigfoot, UFOs, psychic powers, ghosts, Creationism, are thought of by everyday people in terms of black and white – one either believes or doesn’t.

“Do you believe in X?”, is the most frequent media take on these topics.

It’s a poor way to tackle such complex topic. One will understand the subject less when it is polarized with such a buzzword as “believe” and where it is simplified to the question of real or not. To discuss them in terms of believers and non-believers simply helps nothing. To examine such a subject strictly in terms of popular opinion is useless.

Previously, I blogged about what it would take for me to accept certain phenomena as genuine. I say “accept” not “believe” because belief is not what I can use to understand the world. If I want to know if a paranormal phenomenon (any one, I’ll generalize and call it ‘X’) genuinely exists, I can do the following: attempt to experience it for myself, listen to eyewitness stories, examine remnant traces that allegedly remain or visual representations that exist. There are scads of everyday happenings that proponents put forth as evidence.

Faith – firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

Trust – an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of something.

Do I believe the evidence? Do I have faith in it? Well, no. I might trust that the evidence is genuine and has not been manufactured, even misinterpreted. Or, I might find the evidence is faulty or of poor quality. (Ben Radford once analogized that you can’t make a strong cup of coffee by combining lots of weak cups. Same is true for poor evidence. You can’t make a strong case on volume alone – you must have high quality).

Belief can be based on faith or on trust. I’m not talking about belief, however, when I’m evaluating nature. I’m talking about evidence and an argument. If I accept the evidence as valid, I’m on my way to accepting or rejecting various explanations for it.

Most scientists have not seen valid evidence to support hypotheses such as:

  • UFOs are vehicles from alien worlds
  • An unknown primate, commonly called Bigfoot lives in North America
  • Ghosts are visitations from the dead or remnant manifestations from the past.
  • An all-powerful entity created all life in current (and past) forms at one point in time.

However, a scientist can tell you just what evidence would be required for him/her to accept ‘X’ as even potentially true and thus worth pursuing.

So, I can give (hopefully, reasonable) benchmarks for the ‘X’ proponents to meet. If they did so, I would (excitedly) shift my acceptance. Let’s pose the question to the other side.

What would make one discard his/her theory of ‘X’?

(waiting…)

I don’t know. I can’t imagine what would make a UFO proponent give up their interpretation. You can’t very well go back and prove all historical sightings were hoaxes or misidentification. You can’t prove anything if your doing real science. That’s the weird (and rather uncomfortable) beauty of it. Science can’t/won’t prove it doesn’t exist. (By the way, if someone says this in a quote, I immediately know this person knows nothing of science and logic.) There will always be the unexplained residuum.

Many ‘X’ flag bearers have been diligently at it for years. There have been those (like Rene Dahinden, for example) who, after lacking confirmation for their theory and exposing hoaxes, progressively lost hope in the reality (but not completely). But, many do not. They continue on, sometimes devising nonfalsifiable theories (like the supernatural Bigfoot or the idea that skeptics interfere with psychic powers) to sustain their hope.

There are very good alternative explanations, well-rooted in evidence, to consider. ‘X’-ers do not consider them or they discard them as unfeasible. Throughout life, we get reminded that no matter how much we wish something were true/untrue, it doesn’t make it so.

An obstacle to objectivity is when the ‘X’ belief is based in a personal experience. No matter what the explanation for the event is, we can appreciate how profound and life-altering an experience can be. What gets lost in a sudden jump from experience to belief is the full consideration of the alternative explanations. People hesitate to accept alternatives that cause them to question their senses, memory and perception. Their interpretation tells them this happened in this way. It has become personal. Frequently, they will stubbornly refuse to reconsider, the old “I know what I saw” dismissal.

Research has suggested that “nonbelievers” can assimilate information both for and against the concept in question. “Believers” will quickly dismiss the information that does not support their view. I can describe just what evidence would be suitable to reevaluate the reality of these claims. Can the believers do the same?

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9 thoughts on “Paranormal and lost objectivity. I’m not a “believer”

  1. Al

    I seem to have made some kind of mistake in my last post and I apologise for whatever it was.

    What you actually seem to be doing is a modified version of what Descartes did all those years ago – reduce everything to nothing but, “I think with scientific terms therefore…”
    I came to the conclusion long ago that there are no answers, just choices. But where do we go from here? – we have to live in this strange world.
    We can take this a stage further and question the validity of differing modes of thought. It seems to be fashionable to put science on a platform of it’s own, with every utterance as worthy of some kind of special consideration. However, if we do the unthinkable and test science with the tests it sets for the things it says don’t exist, we find that it too is debunkable. The fact that no one ever does this leads me to believe that science has become the new religion, supported by faith at all costs. The other mainstay of science has become a kind of negative scepticism that does nothing but exclude and disregard all that is outside of the remit of science.
    I find this a bit sad.

    You say: “Most scientists have not seen valid evidence to support hypotheses such as:
    UFOs are vehicles from alien worlds
    An unknown primate, commonly called Bigfoot lives in North America
    Ghosts are visitations from the dead or remnant manifestations from the past.
    An all-powerful entity created all life in current (and past) forms at one point in time. “
    There is and never will be any evidence of the kind required by science, but this doesn’t stop scientists from making all-encompassing statements about them, even though they are probably totally unqualified to do so. By unqualified I mean that they have not troubled themselves to look at the anecdotal evidence available. If UFO’s per se do not exist, there is a huge social problem to consider.
    The “old “I know what I saw” dismissal” is as valid as any that I know. I seem to recall that this very complaint was at one time applied to meteorites.

  2. doug L

    Very well stated. Thanks for that.
    I can see an evolutionary advantage for the ability to hold two objectively conflicting ideas as possibilities, thereby allowing otherwise unimagined solutions to appear as possibilities and those might be an advantage often enough for populations to survive, despite the misinterpretation. In other words; a drowning organism might mistake the back of a turtle for an island. The fact that it’s not an island doesn’t mean the turtle wouldn’t function as a place to rest for a while and as the organism regains its strength and survives while new realisations develope.

  3. Bruce Duensing

    You have penetrated the locus of this dynamic, which is belief which can only be subjective. Our model of conceptual reality from the moment of birth until our last breath is incomplete.Theories abound. The 500 pound elephant in the room is a very simple fact. If we are honest with ourselves, we do not know why we are here, what is the purpose of being here and what any of this means beyond what meaning we apply to it. What I find to be the chief feature of our race, is that, by necessity, we face every morning with a certain set of beliefs that in fact, we do know the answers to these questions, which is lying to ourselves. And so we lie to each other. Some are better liars than others to themselves and those around them. You would have to torture someone to say simply, “I don’t know the answer to this question.” All of our inner reality is subjective based on our sensate capability. I have lost count of the infinite amount of impressive towers built upon babble. All of these forms of lying are a form of self hypnosis. We are in a semi hypnotic state and anything repeated long enough that suggests to us that this is that and that is this, when in fact it might not be so. Then we trust our senses as though they are infallible when in fact we experience nothing directly. This sensate act of defining our experience through cliches and stereotypes, big filing cabinets we carry with us to catagorize life based on our own subjective predjudices, more often than not misfiles things, creates artificial seperations, barriers, traps, etc. So, I think, ultimately, all of us must choose for ourselves what is truth and what is deception. We cannot rely on anyone else as well intentioned or as ill intended as they may be. People pretend to be all kinds of characters in roles, which when you think about it is really silly. Often times experts don’t know anymore than the rest of us but they carrying around larger filing cabinets and make proclamations simply because they abhor and conceal not knowing what they are talking about. Language creates as many problems as it solves.Rather than looking at it for what it is, some people take language as a reality rather than a tool. What I call something isnt necssarily what it is. Most people cannot see the forest for the trees, you could call this dreaming with ones eyes open. Look at folks walking down the street and observe them. Most of the time they are not there. They are dreaming of a new coat, the remark someone made to them, or arguing, angry or what have you. After some time, you can almost sense what kind of inner day they are having, but they are not there. So…belief in the paranormal, I think is as only as reliable as the observer and you cannot seperate the observed from the observer. This is a key to paranormal events, there is a reality we do not recognize, we do not have a place to file it in, etc. Belief and disbelief may both be based on a democratic principle of ignorance masked as knowledge when ones state of being is not up to par. If I told you I had an experince with a ghost, which I did in a sense of the word, it sets up all sorts of associations, identifications etc. In fact, I had an experience that I cannot explain, and I don’t believe in the definition of ghost , I don’t know what it was or is.

  4. A Hawaiian shaman once told me, “Beliefs are habits, and I can change them for more effective ones.” When I hear authoritarian people basing their statements on their beliefs, especially “deeply held beliefs” I hear the resonant clang of the heavy metal door sealing off that person’s mind.

    Then I think, why is so difficult for some people to understand that phenomena, events and creatures which are beyond any scientific explanation are not necessarily lies or hoaxes or hallucinations. They may not have been proven but they haven’t been disproved either. Like Voltaire, “I love to know and I love to doubt,” but I also like to entertain the idea that certain impossible things may exist….somewhere.

  5. Where psychically-based phenomena are concerned (and I’m not saying they even exist), could ‘non-belief’ act as a barrier to experiencing them? I.e., like hearing Mr. Ed talk or the Indians on Northern Exposure seeing their ancestors, couldn’t the very lack of belief in such things prevent non-believers from seeing – or recording, or measuring – said phenomena?

    Just throwing that out there.

  6. ashley

    i think that this whole thing is just freaking scary!! i mean i love to learn abou ghost and sprits and all this good stuff but man this is just creepy!

  7. cookie davis

    I KNOW THAT WHAT I HAVE SEEN WILL SCARE YOU TO DEATH, BUT THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD THAT Believe THAT GHOST DON’T Exsist. but i don’t expect you to believe me so do as you must.

  8. Joseph G. Mitzen

    Sadly, it seems most respondents didn’t actually get the point of this article. And having (tried to) read many of Bruce Duensing’s posts on his own blog over the years, I’m still half convinced he’s really a random sentence generator.

    • idoubtit

      Joseph:
      I just realized I probably never read his whole comment. If I did, I was left with :-?

      I used to run the Anoma-list (a google discussion list). It turned out that only Jerry Clark and I really said anything on it. I finally closed it when The Anomalist web site started posting a majority of opinion piece blog posts instead of news stories. I mentioned that I didn’t really go for all the UFO speculation which dominated at the time. Bruce got mad and huffed off first thing. I didn’t even mention him by name (or even think it). No big loss.

      Thanks for visiting. I really liked your comment.

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