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reader comments: psi

09 May 2000 
I don't know if it has yet been broadcast in the States, but we in Australia have had the privilege to view a fascinating TV program featuring Dr Robert Winston on the subject of Twins.

It has long been alleged that twins possess the power of telepathy, can transmit messages to one another and even detect - long distance - when the other is in strife or pain.

Robert and team selected a pair of twins for an experiment which involved separating them into soundproofed rooms, with a one-way mirror. Twin A was then given a number of sets of cards, each set containing 4 picture postcards. Twin A selected one card from each set and proceeded to telepathically 'transmit' a description of the picture card to her twin. Twin B then picked a card from a duplicate set of cards, based on what she thought her twin was 'transmitting' to her. Bingo! instead of the expected 25%, her success rate was around 50%!

But then . . .

The experiment was repeated, but this time, one of the research staff selected the card, which twin A had to once again describe and 'transmit'. The result? You guessed it - back down to 25%!

Robert Winston proposed a possible explanation. Being genetically, identical, each twin was likely to possess the same tastes, therefore they were likely to be attracted to the same picture card.
Ian Pavey
Perth, Western Australia

2 Oct 2000 
Let me ask you something, since you don't believe in the haunting of houses through the supernatural, demons, spirits or whatever, explain if you can the rocking chair that rocks for no apparent reason?

reply: Sure. It rocks. And for no apparent reason. It could be one of those conscious chairs you can get at New Age shops or there might be some shifting of the earth nearby, which could be caused by earthquakes, subways, trucks, mining, etc., or there could be a faulty house foundation or even a draft.

I truly believe that there are Spiritual Beings that inhabit homes, etc.. I have a girlfriend that had just bought a house and the commode needed replaced. Her husband not being a strong man could not accomplish this. She told me, one night she sat on the couch and actually watched the new commode that they had bought be lifted and put into place, she told me she thinks it was her deceased father that did it to help her.

reply: I have a theory about your girlfriend's story. It was actually her boyfriend who fixed the commode, but of course she couldn't tell her husband the truth so she concocted the story about the ghost who does plumbing. If it really was her father's ghost, you'd think that he'd say hello while putting in the new toilet, wouldn't you?

I know of a home, that I myself use to live in that was "haunted" by the woman's mother-in-law that died in that house. I experienced this myself. And it did scare the living crap out of me. Before I saw anything I felt this very coldness is the room. How can you doubt things like this? 

reply: Easy. I ask myself what is more likely, that this story is true or that it is fraudulent, an error or a misinterpretation?

What do you say to the person that has a piece of jewelry always being moved or something to that effect?

reply: I say be more careful and mindful of your jewelry.

There is such strong evidence of these things are happening. How can they have no truth to them? Please give me some insight to how these things could happen if there aren't actual Spiritual Beings in existence?????????? Thanks for your time and your input.

reply: Irene, these stories don't seem like very strong proof of anything except gullibility and superstition.

Irene replies:

Boyfriend?? I think not. She has never cheated on her husband , ever. And you Have a lot to learn , you will be visited by three ghosts! Lol, no seriously Though, people like yourself have to have their own experiences before they'll "believe". And as a skeptic, sir, do you think we revolved from apes Or do you believe in god? Angels?? Once at the time my second daughter was Two years old, she was holding my hand and let go all of a sudden and ran Across the street. I saw her, literally, be pushed to the side of the road. Was that all in my mind? I don't understand how you can be so skeptical of so Many truths!?

reply: Actually, I was kidding about the boyfriend. The truth lies elsewhere, but not with ghosts. I'd guess that she didn't want to embarrass her commode-challenged husband by telling him she fixed it herself or had had it repaired by a competent commode person. Or, perhaps, her husband is the jealous type, and might get suspicious if she'd had the pot fixed by a man when he wasn't around.

I take it you think an angel or a ghost pushed your daughter to the side of the road. Was it a devil who tore her hand from yours and took over her legs, making her run into the street? Life must get complicated with all these spirits interfering in your life.

I find it as easy to be skeptical as you do to be gullible about the spirit world.

And, no, I don't think we revolved from apes.

30 Sep 2000 
I must first say thank you - since self-deception is sadly easy since it is so comfortable to believe in wondrous things, and skepticism shows us, mayhaps [?] painfully, what REALLY is, and what we really have to work with in this "cold, uncaring" world.

The only point I have is precognition - I have been having precognitive dreams since 9. I have a dream about a pretty commonplace situation, like watching a TV, in a restaurant, or some such, as if I am seeing it in real life through my eyes and hearing, feeling, smelling everything - it is as vivid and lifelike as... well... real life. It lasts from 3-8 seconds. When I wake up, I remember it, remark on it, and just forget about it, it doesn't stay in the long-term memory.

And then - from about a month to a year later, I will get a rather strange feeling, the clichéd "Deja Vu", and the memory of the dream will become painfully vivid, and I will know what is going to happen in the next 3-8 seconds. Of course, if this was merely me sitting down reading a book, I would dismiss it as rubbish - I am often sitting down reading a book.

However - what usually happens is something of at least some small importance and rarity - someone spilling a drink onto their newly-pressed trousers, walking hilariously into a door, or a specific advert coming onto the TV, a car turning round the corner of a specific colour (once I knew the number-plate of the car before it arrived.)

I am aware these are unprovable, since they happen randomly and only about 3 times a year. I realise they are useless phenomenon - I have never dreamt about watching the lottery on the TV and used the winning number for my own advantage. The memory hits so hard I am unable to act for a moment, so I have only once "changed the outcome of history" (stopped someone from dropping their ice-cream, banally enough).

But, to me, they hint to the existence of something "more", which to me is quite ludicrous - and preys on my desire for their to be something "more" to life.

Can you provide any insight onto this?

reply: probably not, but my guess is that you are an example of the self-fulfilling prophecy rather than clairvoyance. I doubt that it is true that you forget these dreams and that they don't stay in long-term memory. The fact that you note them and remember them after having them belies this fact. As you note, the dreams are of unspectacular, rather ordinary kinds of things, and seem within the range of reasonable probability of occurring, especially if you allow the event to occur either in real life or on television, etc. The only example that seems slightly puzzling is the one about knowing the license plate number before seeing it. The only realistic explanation here is that you were familiar with the car, perhaps had an implicit memory of it but no recollection of having seen the car before. I would believe that before positing that you somehow mystically tapped into some other dimension or realm where license plate numbers are kept.

1 Dec 1999
I wanted to share an experience that I had when I was in 5th grade (don't fret, you'll not be reading about anything paranormal here). About 11 years ago(5th grade, and that would make me 21), my teacher told the class to try a little experiment. We were, upon the ending of recess, to all stare at a spot between the branches of a tree and exclaim "There's a ball of light hovering in there" loud enough for all to hear (can you imagine 30 or so ten year old kids yelling this in a playground?). This being done, and the subsequent deception of the entire school (even the teachers saw something) has kept me of the mind that 5 billion people CAN be wrong, and "eyewitness testimony" should always be backed by hard evidence. That teacher has always been my favorite.

Chris Neill

23 Oct 1999
I am a scientist, with a degree in chemistry. I am also a critical thinker. I have had experiences that could have only been described as paranormal. I know what happened to me, and it made logical sense, but relied on acquisition of knowledge that I could not have known. Therefore, I think you should heed the advice on your web page which states

"~The only thing infinite is our capacity for self-deception.~ "

Think about it, the sword indeed cuts both ways. The truly critical thinker doesn't limit his beliefs to current paradigms. I am personally sick of seeing so-called skeptics, who would be better labeled as "true believers" in so-called modern science, make fun of, and ridicule people that have paranormal experiences. It is shameful to behave in such a manner.

reply: What is shameful is to hear a chemist speak of science as "so-called modern science." It's also shameful to suggest that by believing in the paranormal you are a true critical thinker. Anyone can extend his or her beliefs to the wildest paradigms imaginable, but that only means they have a wild imagination. It does not imply they are thinking critically. 

Just because you can't or won't come up with an explanation for whatever happened to you, doesn't mean it was paranormal. When you say your experience could only be described as paranormal, you're begging the question. If we're clever enough we could probably come up with half a dozen different paradigms to put your experience into. Admit it, you choose to believe you have experienced something paranormal. You don't want to admit that it might be something else. That something else could be frightening. Perhaps you have a medical problem, something neurological or neurochemical. On the other hand, perhaps you've just overestimated the odds of what happened to you being a matter of chance. What makes me sick is so many people claiming they're psychic when they are just ordinary schmucks who can't see things in a rational way or who won't see a physician or take their medicine.

Furthermore, don't disqualify me because I am not a magician, as one of your slanderous ilk, The Amazing Randi loves to do. Things do indeed happen to people that are not part of the current scientific paradigm, and I wish true objectivity would replace what you and your kind call skepticism.

Phillip E. Sanders

reply: Well, you can wish from now until you go to heaven on a spaceship, but it's not going to happen for you because your idea of "objectivity" is obviously twisted. If we're skeptical, we're not objective. If we don't take your word for it, we're not objective. If we don't have faith in you, we're not objective. If we doubt you, we're not objective. If we question you, we're not objective. If we offer alternative explanations, we're not objective. If we produce counterevidence, we're not objective. If we argue in any way, we're not objective. We can't win with people like you.

15 months later, Phil replies: 12 Jan 2002

Quite by accident I discovered your reply to my letters on your skepdic.com website. Needless to say I am appalled by your off the cuff personal attacks on my personal credibility. I wrongly assumed you might respond to some form of reasoning, but it is quite evident you are a very bitter, closed-minded man. Your brand of scientific reductionism is quite disturbing. I would offer one bit of constructive criticism, try to be nice.

Phil Sanders
P.S. Nice try trying to hide your email address

reply: Nice to hear from you again, Phil.

04 Jul 1999
I have had a few "abnormal"(paranormal?) incidents in my life. Let me share one that just came true. I am 26 years old right now and when I was 15 years old I got a palm reading done from this palmist in India. I am Indian and at that time I was going to high school in India. The palm-reader was absolutely new to our family and did not know anything about me as a person. The palmist told me that I was going to be living in a foreign land, go across the seas, away from my motherland and family. He also told me that I was going to have a surgery at 25. Sure enough, just after my graduation, I got an offer to come to the USA (and the interesting thing is I was not even trying to go to the USA). Also when I entered the 25th year of my life, I developed some health problems and I had to undergo a surgery. I myself would like to think that both these things are pure coincidental, simply because I don't like to think that all my life has already been planned out and that I am just carrying out the plan. But my logical mind says that this is a hell of a coincidence that someone could predict my future ten years in advance. Could it be that we humans have not discovered something important yet?

I would like to hear your comment on this. Please feel free to make these assumptions:-):

a) I have not made this up. b) I have a good memory and can remember exactly what the palmist told me ten years ago. c) I have been in good mental health till now.

reply: Good palm readers are experts at cold reading. What about the other things the palmist told you? How many things were predicted that did not occur as prophesized? It seems you are engaging in a bit of selective thinking.

The prediction that you would emigrate is a safe one. The palmist no doubt recognized that many people from your social class emigrate. Your family is probably not poor and the palmist recognized that if you were to need surgery, your family would be able to afford it. The prediction that you would have a surgery in your 25th year seems very specific and therefore does not seem coincidental. The prediction was that you would have surgery when you were 25, which would be during the 26th year of your life. Even so, what's one year between palmists? However, many people have surgeries. Was the prediction more specific? Was the reason for the surgery mentioned?

There is little I can say about the prediction of your surgery. It could be coincidental. It may be a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You obviously thought about this and took it very seriously for many years. 

Archana replies:

At 11:21 AM 8/2/99 -0700, you wrote "What about the other things the palmist told you? How many things were predicted that did not occur as prophesized? It seems you are engaging in a bit of selective thinking.

Well, I can safely say that all the things that he told me have come true. But let's assume for a second that I was doing "selective thinking", and only two important things that he told me were right, but even then scientificall is not it unusual that some one could pinpoint two important events in a person's life ten years in advance?..He did not say these things to the rest of my family members, and these events did not happen in their lives.so if we assume that he was saying things randomly, then how do explain the fact that he said these things to me and not to the rest of my family? By mathematical probability, it is easy to see that in such a random sample, the probability of him telling me these things should be 1/15 in a family of size 15.

reply: I am sure he did not make random predictions. A good palmist is an expert at cold reading and knows that if he makes predictions for 15 people, he's bound to be deemed right on the money for at least one of them.

The prediction that you would emigrate is a safe one. The palmist no doubt recognized that many people from your social class emigrate.

False. In my family (for that matter extended family also) I am the first and the only one who has come to the US. and that is because I am a computer engineer and came to the US because of the sudden need for computer engineers in the US and this "need" was not there ten years ago. In fact I was not even studying computer science then.

reply: The prediction that you would go to a foreign country is still one that would be true for many people, not just you.

Was the prediction more specific? Was the reason for the surgery mentioned? There is little I can say about the prediction of your surgery. It could be coincidental. It may be a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You obviously thought about this and took it very seriously for many years.

This is the only thing I find hard to digest while talking to skeptics. First you say you want proof that someone can foretell things. Once you are given such an event, you say that it is a "self -fulfilling prophecy". It sounds like "heads I win, tails you lose."

reply: You asked for an explanation. I assumed you did not want me to come up with one that supported the notion that the palmist is psychic and knows the future, that with his ability to see the future he still chooses to spend his days doing readings for ordinary people, that if he wanted he could claim Randi's million dollar paranormal challenge prize, but he doesn't want to debase his gift, etc.

I don't believe everything can be or needs to be explained, but if I must look for an explanation as to how a palmist correctly predicted things and I must choose between his either being psychic and tapped into the Akashic record or some such vehicle which allows him to know events undetectably connected to current affairs OR that there is a rational explanation such as fraud, reconstructive memory, coincidence, cold reading, etc., a reasonable person should always choose the latter. If, however, your palmist friend agrees to have his psychic abilities tested under controlled conditions and he demonstrates that he can predict the future at a significantly greater rate than we would expect by chance, then I will believe in psychic powers. Since nobody has passed such a test, it would be foolish to assume as a general rule that an apparent psychic ability should be explained by granting psychic powers. This rule of reasoning is not "heads I win, tails you lose" (confirmation bias) but is the only reasonable way to proceed. When two explanations are offered, one based on high probabilities from experience and the other a mere possibility and improbable based on experience, a reasonable person accepts the more probable as the more reasonable.

If it was as simple as a self fulfilling prophecy then how come I never win a " million dollars" at Las Vegas. I assure you that I want it very badly. Or why don't I develop long straight hair and greenish blue eyes that I have always wanted since childhood? Here we are talking about scientific explanation, so we need to remember that by mathematical induction what ever is true for "n" is always true for "n+1"...is it not ?

reply: No, it is not. For example, let n=2. 2 divided by 2 equals 1; 3 (i.e., n+1) divided by 2 does not equal 1. A self-fulfilling prophecy is not the same as wish fulfillment. Suggestions can be made to a person by others and those suggestions may plant a seed in a person's mind and may influence the person's behavior.

I can give you a suggestion. If you are really interested in finding out the truth, do this: do a proper reasearch (this is very important) and find out about a credible astrologer, someone whose predictions have been accurate. Meet him in person and get a reading done for yourself and then evaluate what he tells you, especially about your past. That way you can verify immediately whatever he has told you. From my observation so far, I think the only way to convince a skeptic is to have him experience such events for himself.

reply: There are no credible astrologers that I know of. Many have been tested and failed; many others claim they cannot be tested. The way to convince a skeptic would be to clearly define what the astrologer means by astrology; make specific predictions which can be empirically tested; demonstrate that the specific predictions come true;and, finally, show that no other method of explanation (i.e., no other theory) is better.

Many people who believe in astrology have done what you have suggested. They found a "credible" astrologer, had a reading done, and were so impressed by its accuracy that they became a believer. Contrary to what you think, this is not a good way to test astrology. Much of this is explained in the entry on the Forer effect. But read also the entries on ad hoc hypotheses, communal reinforcement, confirmation bias, control study, Occam's razor, the post hoc fallacy, selective thinking, self-deception, testimonials, and wishful thinking.

By the way, I did have an astrologer do a reading for me and I was disappointed. I thought it would be better than it was. It was so bad I couldn't understand how anyone could see the reading as anything more than a parlor game.

10 Aug 96
I have read some of your Skeptic's Dictionary. I am of the belief that skeptics are just as bad as those that believe without proof. I have studied ESP and the like for many years and have found that there is very little proof of its existence. BUT there are also events experienced by me and others to say that there is something going on.

reply: Yes, "there is something going on." I agree with that, but I wouldn't spin my worldview out of such flimsy cloth.

In reading on the changes in scientific beliefs through history what we know is that what is considered fact today may be proven wrong tomorrow, such as the earth being the center or the universe or there being only 4 elements: earth, wind, fire, and water; and most recently with the discovery of old life in a meteor.

reply: Yes, very true. Hardly very interesting but very true, nonetheless.

We are less than a speck in the realm of the universe and have existed for less than half a wink. And your type is there saying that it is impossible for something to exist. You must be a very wise man to say something does not exist without knowing what does.

reply: I like that stuff about being a speck in half a wink. It has a nice poetic ring to it and expresses my sentiments exactly. However, I never say that it is impossible for psychic phenomena to exist. It is neither logically nor empirically impossible for psi to exist. Which part of that statement is not clear? What I say, or imply, is that there is only insubstantial, incompetent, implausible and insufficient evidence to believe in psi.

Now, I'm going to share with you something that just happened. While typing the previous sentence, I made a typo and went back to correct it. I hit a key...I don't know which key, since I don't look at the keys while I type, but I was aiming for the backspace. Anyway, the word 'incompetent' disappeared from the screen. I hit another key...again I don't know which one and I can't remember which one I was aiming for, but the word 'incompetent' reappeared. Someone else might interpret this as a sign from the other world. Some spirit or force was trying to communicate with me by doing this, to let me know that psi exists and that I am incompetent. I, however, interpret this as having something to do with the way Eudora is programmed. Anyway, I haven't gotten any more "signs" while adding this note, so I'll stop commenting.

Don't get me wrong I would like to discus these things with you in the future and perhaps learn more about the universe through these discussions.

Goats do dream.

reply: That's an ambiguous claim, but I'll remember it the next time I encounter a goat.

22 Aug 1996
I was wondering if you personally think that there is a possibility that there is a non-physical component to life ?

reply: If by "life" you mean the world of sense perception and what gives rise to it, then "no." If you mean do I believe there is a possibility for a reality that is not part of the electromagnetic spectrum, then "yes."

I have read the highly biased remarks of many "skeptics" but have yet to see real objectivity.

reply: What do mean by "objectivity"? If you are looking for completely neutral view of things, then I think you are not going to find "objectivity."

I am a scientist (mass spectroscopist), fairly intelligent, and skeptical, but I have had a "paranormal" experience involving the acquisition of knowledge about distant events. I know it happened, have no real need to prove anything, but just wanted to raise the issue in the face of the many nay-sayers.

You say your experience was "paranormal." Are you sure you are being "objective"?

I know that there is a lot of crap out there, but I just have to say that true objective skepticism is a good thing and can lead to the truth, but the brand of name calling, innuendo ridden attempts by the popular so called skeptical organizations is wrong.
Phil Sanders

What is "true objective" skepticism? Are you talking about the need to test hypotheses before accepting empirical claims? Or are you talking about something more general, like admitting it is possible you are wrong about some empirical notion? Anyway, I hope you're not insinuating that I am a name-caller, for I would resent such innuendo.

17 Mar 1997
1. I read your comment on ESP. It is typical for a skeptic, that you mention fraud in the first lines of your comment. This is an insult to all researchers who took ESP seriously and who worked on it, published successes and results which showed no evidence for ESP. There are a lot of research results which prove the existence of ESP. You do not even mention them. Of course there has been fraud in ESP research but there has been fraud in other research areas too. Why don't you mention this? Because these areas are mainstream science?

reply: I am known for my insults, but in this case I don't see how legitimate researchers should be insulted by the fact that their field has been plowed by a great number of charlatans. That fact should impress upon them the need to be extremely scrupulous in their research techniques. I don't mention fraud by mainstream scientists because it is not relevant to the issue. The typical ESP researcher is incompetent or a fraud; this is not true of mainstream scientists, though they too have had their incompetents and frauds.

2. You only publish favorable comments and awards. Why does a skeptic, a person who should be critical and objective, not publish critical  comments too?

reply: You apparently only read what you want to read or you and I have a very different sense of the word "critical." Apparently, you have only read the ESP page. Yours happens to be the first letter I've received on this entry. Others have many comments, most of them critical of my way of thinking.

3. You do not mention either the new theories in ESP research, the observational theories. They try to unify ESP with physics and system theory. Why don't you mention them? Perhaps because you don't know them?

reply: I take it you are talking about the New Age theorists who like to use words like "energy" and "quantum." Maybe you know of some who are worth reading.

Consequence: Your kind of skepticism is not scientific, it is nonsense. Skepticism is good in ESP research because Skeptics show researchers where there are methodological weaknesses in their research. But your kind of skepticism is not adequate for that. You just think It cannot be what is not allowed to be.
With kindest regards,

Alexander Schestag

reply: I thank you for you kind comments. I agree that my skepticism is not scientific. I am not a scientist and I am not doing science. My skepticism is philosophical. And, if I understood your last comment I would reply to it, but I can't so I won't.

5 Dec 1999

Maybe I could clear up the mystery about the last comment.

Most probably Mr. Schestag's mother tongue is German (as his name already suggests). The sentence "You just think it cannot be what is not allowed to be" is certainly his translation of the sentence "Weil nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf", which comes from C. Morgenstern and is quite well known in the German-speaking area. It simply means that someone thinks that something CAN NOT possibly exist because he is of the opinion that it MUST NOT exist.

reply: Thanks for clearing that up. Now I can deny it with a clear conscience.

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