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Shades of Grey

Organised Skepticism can be a double edged sword, a powerful tool if used correctly, but use it arbitrarily, or without understanding, and it can give you a nasty cut with the backswing. Such belief-based own goals were, for a long time, the preserve of the credulous believers and pseudo-scientific charlatans, people exploiting the easily led and deluded, yet the current rise of ultra-hardcore Skepticism at the fringes of what we do, with it’s seemingly arbitrary blanket judgements about how every believer in the unproven and unfounded is automatically either suffering from some form of undiagnosed mental aberration or knowingly exploiting the uneducated in an effort to turn a fast buck denies a fundamental rule of our collective experience of reality – the fact that our world is rarely black and white, but actually very many shades of grey.

As anyone who has stopped by my blog and read my fortnightly Woo Watch knows, I like to point the finger and laugh just as much as the next Skeptic, take a humorous snipe at those who make a career from believing the impossible or those who should in general know better, and for that very reason I never thought I’d become an advocate for a conscience within the Skeptical movement. But even I draw the line at the sort of black and white thinking that I have witnessed in numerous places recently, especially online, and the horrible thought that Skepticism itself might be falling into the same dogmatic patterns that we accuse others of. I didn’t come here to stand in the light of reason to watch my new island of truth sink into the same closed-minded belief based nonsense that I abhorred back when I was forced to attend a Church of England primary school in my distant youth, and I won’t watch it start down that slippery slope without voicing my concern.

For example, what do you think of when I say Psychic? Can there even be such a thing? Not according to our current understanding the world, no. I know that, you know that, and we all have a good laugh when we see one trying, and inevitably failing, Randi’s million dollar challenge. But not everyone is a Derek Accorah or Sylvia Browne. Some of these people actually believe in what they are doing, and they hold nothing but the desire to help others with what they erroneously perceive as their oh-so-special gifts. They are most likely not suffering from a mental illness, despite the frankly asinine statements I have heard recently, and while it could be argued that they are deluded, the most likely explanation is that they are uneducated and unable to understand exactly what is going on inside their own heads. They are seeking meaning in a world without a definite personal narrative, and just like the less hardcore Conspiracy believers, teen Witches and disinterested but loyal Religious adherents they make the best of the shreds of data that they have, never wondering if it is the right answer because they lack the vocabulary to even ask the question in the first place.

The bottom line is, we are the good guys in all this, helping to steer those who would know no better towards those very answers, as defined by the scientific method and critical thinking, and away from making the sorts of uninformed errors that result in them selling grandma to pay for just one more reading with Mystic Bob or donating the last of their wages to the slick preacher on cable TV. We should champion critical thinking, true, but that’s where the criticality should stop. While some of those out there in Woo Woo land are guilty of knowingly deceiving others, just as many are sadly convinced of their ability to defy the laws of our consensus reality, and through education, not humiliation, will we reach them. We are Skeptics, not cynics, and what use is our movement, our desire for change, if all we do is become that what we despise and see the world through the same black and white perceptual blinkers that leads inevitably to fundamentalism, in the process playing right into the hands of those who would accuse us all of adhering to a religion based upon science while seemingly pretending otherwise?

Danger! Danger! Biased investigation!

As somebody who used to fully believe in life after death and the existence of ghosts I can understand how easy it is to accidently introduce these beliefs into a paranormal investigation without realising you are doing so.

There seems to be some general confusion about how involving your personal beliefs into a paranormal investigation an be a problem, people often question ‘What’s the harm?’ and don’t understand were I am coming from with my thoughts on this.

Basically, I think people need to step back and asses what it is that we are dealing with; ghosts – something for which there is no proof. Sure! Many people have witnesses things that convince them personally that ghosts are real and it’s their right to be convinced in this manner. However there is a difference between you believing what you do because you have been convinced and entering a location as a paranormal investigator to study the supposed haunting at that location.

I’m not claiming that those who believe in ghosts shouldn’t investigate but what I am saying is that people who hold a belief in ghosts, spirituality, an afterlife or whatever is it that they choose to believe should not allow this belief to have an effect on the investigation.

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Science of scams: Ouija board

I thought it was worth sharing this interesting video from the Science of scams team regarding the science behind why the glass moves during an ouija board session.

The same can be said for the glass used during a glass divination session, and the ideomotor response is the cause behind such tools of divination as dowsing rods and crystals too.

A typical response that I often come across from people who believe that ouija boards, or even glass divination or the other methods I mentioned work is that some times the movement or the glass/rods/crystals can be explained through the ideomotor response – but other times it cannot.

However, we have to look at this claim logically.

Anybody who is taking their research seriously and anyone thinking rationally will be using occams razor as a way to sum up the information they are presented with.

The idea that some cases of a glass moving can be explained by the ideomotor response but some cannot is a flawed way of thinking and could be classed as confirmation bias of that persons beliefs about the ouija board.

What we know for a fact is that involutary muscular movement causes the glass used in an ouija board session to move. Therefore, when trying to explain why the glass moved in a ouija board session we cannot rule this possibility out and, as it a more likely explination that say – a ghost moved the glass for which there is no proof, it is the one we have to go with. Simples.

Make sure you check out other videos from the Science of Scams team via their Youtube Channel. They rock.

Ghost stereotypes?

ghouulIt’s quite evident when one reads some books aimed at those with an interest in the paranormal – or even if you visit websites about the paranormal/ghost phenomena that there appears to be a trend to stereotype the kinds of ghosts that haunt our homes and buildings.

If you ever read a paranormal book/website you’ll probably be provided with a lot of information about the different types of ghosts, their characteristics and behavours.

‘Doppleganger’, ‘Poltergeist’, ‘Shadow ghost’, ‘grey lady’ – These are just some of the ‘types’ of ghosts, apparently

These classification seem to be just more information that is copied down in a parrot fashion by ghost hunting teams who cannot be bothered to conduct any proper research for themselves – it almost appears as though people who display such information about ghost stereotypes just read it, take it as a fact without even looking into the information for validity, and then copy and paste it into their website.

The truth is that no ghost/spirit – call it what you will, has ever been documented in a controlled condition. There is no documented evidence that suggests that ghosts exist. So ask yourself, if there is no documented evidence that ghosts do exist – how can these ghost hunters class ghosts into different types?

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