Science of Scams: Derren Brown and Kat the Scientist debunk the paranormal industry

Discuss

105 Responses to “Science of Scams: Derren Brown and Kat the Scientist debunk the paranormal industry”

  1. sf says:

    *yawn* Darren Brown is getting old and boring now like David Blaine and Paul Mckenna did. He has done this debunking stuff in part previously, smacks of a modern day Harry Houdini copy cat.

  2. Maximillian says:

    Penn & Teller do a whole bit on this in their stage show. They’ve also tackled it on ‘Bullshit!’ but it’s nice to see other people bringing awareness to those scumbags who pray on people who are hurting.

  3. Jonners says:

    @lumpi: It would only be ironic if anyone really believed that Mr Brown really did predict the lottery by using the wisdom of crowds.

    He’s always been a debunker, at the same time as he’s always freely used traditional magicians’ hokum explanations. He’s just the latest in a loooong list of magician-debunkers. It’s what they do.

  4. misterfricative says:

    The convection thing is straightforward enough — but I still don’t see what causes it to spin.

    The system seems to be essentially symmetrical, so how come there’s a net rotational force in only one direction? If it’s due to the slight irregularities/asymmetries in the folding of that little piece of paper, then I think they could at least have made that clear. As opposed to not even mentioning it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’ve rather lost faith in Derren Brown since the lottery show. Brown’s genius is that he found a way to make stage magic and especially mentalism fascinating and spooky again, simply by disclaiming any sort of supernatural powers. We’re supposed to think he’s trained himself to do things like read people’s thoughts from tiny physical cues, or influence them with subliminal messages in his patter; whereas it’s entirely possible a lot of his effects are achieved through more traditional means like sleight of hand. He’s absolutely up-front about that – although when he takes the audience through some of his methods he only ever mentions the psychological trickery. And that’s what his success is about; for cynical 21st century people it’s much easier to create a sense of wonder in the magical power of psychology than in the magical power of, well, magic.
    So I loved pretty much everything he did up until the lottery show, in which I felt he insulted everyone’s intelligence with his bullshit crowdsourcing deep maths explanation. More plausible was his (also most likely bullshit) backup story, in which he was supposed to have Jedi mastered his way to rigging the lottery machine, but I don’t believe that either. I think it was some sort of common-or-garden Paul Daniels illusionism that he pulled there and that’s not really why I tune in to see Derren Brown.
    Still, this is a worthy project; his show MESSIAH was along the same lines and lots of fun.

  6. misterfricative says:

    Sethum, thanks for that explanation. I had a feeling it should be something like that, and your water going down a plughole analogy makes it very plausible and clear. Nice one! (And the plughole phenomenon is nothing to do with coriolis forces of course, it’s just the result of positive feedback of the very tiny asymmetries in the system.)

    But I sure wish DB had taken the time to spell that out in his video. I guess he thought that if he got too technical, the piece would lose focus — and lose audience. But as it is, he leaves science looking as mysterious and magical as the magic he’s debunking.

  7. lumpi says:

    @Jonners: Hmm, that always confused me. I know he did debunking before, but then again he performs the biggest uri geller nonsense, actively encouraging his audience to believe his BS explanations. I would be surprised if there wasn’t a huge number of “believers” who actually think his “psychic powers” are proof for the real paranormal abilities. People who fall for that are the same people who he is talking to when he’s debunking “fortune-telling, telekinesis and other assorted woo woo”.

    Is it just some kinda schizophrenic remorse? “Wow, I fooled a lot of people there, I better make sure they don’t actually believe this… then I’ll fool a lot of people again!” I don’t get it.

  8. Cory Doctorow says:

    Brown’s performances are *fiction*. Just as characters in novels say, “This is a true story,” Brown’s character says, “This is real supernatural phenomena.”

    But Brown has gone on record on several occasions — even in an excellent book — saying that none of this is supernatural. It is a conjuring trick, not sorcery.

    I write stories in which I pretend that made up things are true. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to fool you.

  9. benher says:

    The debunker’s reputation aside, I’m beginning to wonder not if the paranormal is worthy of debunking (it most certainly is) but how better to do it.

    These videos (almost frustratingly so) end up becoming more choir-preaching since most people who are prone to believing in mystical froo-froo are not likely to abide by logic or reason in the first place. You can take any young earth creationist, birther, teabagger, psuedo-scientist or anti-vaxxer and the root of the problem is always the same.

    Before you even start with the easy-to-understand step-by-step debunking videos how does one first go about opening the ears, hearts, and minds of those folks in the first place.

    Without answering that question, I fear such efforts will probably never amount to much more than self-congratulatory back patting for the non-belief crowd.

  10. Ambiguity says:

    pedant, pendant, whatever….

  11. Tynam says:

    @benher: True, but that doesn’t mean the exercise is worthless. The goal is not to convert the choir (not necessary) or the far-gone pseudoscientists (basically unreachable). The goal is to encourage healthy scepticism on the part of the large number (majority?) of people who are willing to go along with this nonsense when they’re told it by some earnest fool, but don’t actually have the deep-seated need for it that makes the quacks impossible to teach.

    Failing that, I’ll settle for some backslapping. Channel 4 is welcome to stroke my ego all it wants.

  12. Anonymous says:

    @lumpi: “I would be surprised if there wasn’t a huge number of “believers” who actually think his “psychic powers” are proof for the real paranormal abilities.” Have you ever actually seen any of his shows? He tells you about five times a minute that he’s not a psychic. He did a whole show about how he’s not a psychic. The worst you could accuse him of is making people believe in something like NLP, not Gellerism.

  13. Ted8305 says:

    What is up with ghost investigation TV shows these days? A bunch of people drive a van to a likely venue and whip out digital voice recorders and EMF meters, while yucking it up with the locals about how the place is “haunted”. No scientific method. No control. No double blind. Nada.

    Then, they spend hours poring through their recordings trying to find the auditory equivalent of Jesus in the tortilla. This “evidence” is presented to the residents or employees of the haunted site, and everyone ooohs and aaaahs.

    I have a better idea: a reality show where Penn, Teller, the Mythbusters, Phil Plait, James Randi, etc bust in on a team of “ghost hunters” unexpectedly and proceed to tell it like it is.

  14. WalterBillington says:

    Yep, DB is a performance. It’s not real. It’s a sweet irony that people are taken in by this meta-superstition. That, my friends, is wonderful Derren segmenting his audience – separating the wheat from the chaff. A little schooling in Cognitive Dissonance, a little learning about hypnosis, and you’re there.

    It’s not fakery – it’s taking advantage of the human mind’s natural tendencies. The show you see isn’t necessarily what DB does – editing aside – because like all the greatest magicians, he’s not going to reveal what he’s doing. Although often, he does – just enough to convince you it’s easy to understand what he’s up to. Then, of course, to keep you fixated, he throws a curve ball.

    When I studied hypnosis (and you all know I did – look how tired you get when you read my posts – very, very tired) I learned one vital trick. You may say anything at all to achieve your hypnotic goals. Lies, deceipt, trickery – they’re actually all legitimate when considering the honest goal of diminishing the multiplicity of foci of attention to one.

    So there we go. As you’ve been reading this, as these words filter through to the upper areas of your mind, you may have noticed a gentle release of tension somewhere in the middle of your skull, and you know, that everything happening around you now, is all part of the process of relaxation, a simple flow that assists you in feeling better about this confusing topic, a reminder that the sensations you felt were all your own, something to remember, words to read, and that you can continue to breathe a little more slowly, a little more gently, until you feel calmer and more assured that everything you have understood is well formed and handled by your mind, in the most sophisticated and elegant manner possible, because that is what it is, the human mind, and all there is to think about.

    Just remember, when you think of Derren Brown, to remember that he rocks.

  15. kiddr01 says:

    i lost all interest in brown after his lottery stunt – using a cheap camera trick & actors like that.

    He’ll stoop to any level of fakery which takes all of the intrigue out of his performances

  16. raw bacon says:

    The main problem here is that you think you’re important, special, unique.
    You’re not, neither am I. It’s a hard fact, an uncomfortable fact, but a fact none the less.

  17. WalterBillington says:

    Oh that’s what I meant to say! With DB, being a “non-believer” is like being my old uncle and declaring you’re an atheist, whilst all the time issuing phrases like “God bless you”, “Good God”, “Thank God for that”, “Jesus Christ!” etc etc.

    Believer / Non-Believer isn’t the crux – and isn’t really relevant. You’re simply subject to the process of a master. The two labels are simply the creation of two different brands of the same result. A little market differentiation.

    • Jerril says:

      Little tip: The way one swears has very little to do with personal beliefs and more to do with how you’ve heard people around you swear. The province of Quebec, in Canada, has a history of Catholicism, but is now one of the most secular provinces in the country. Quebecois however swear using religious terms. “Sacre bleu!” “Sacrement!” “Tabernac” – sacred blu, sacrament, tabernacle, the list goes on and on.

      Much like saying “Holy Shit” doesn’t imply that the person cursing things that excrement is sacred, or “Mother Fucker” doesn’t imply that you think your car actually fornicates with your mother, its mother, or anyone else’s mother.

      In most people, swearing is controlled by the part of the brain that also controls screaming, whimpering, moaning, whining, hooting, and all those other other human-animal noises. That’s why organic disorders, like tourettes and like regular old brain damage, can leave people swearing reflexively, or unable to swear, or able to swear but not to speak.

      • Snig says:

        And importantly, a recent study has shown that swearing is helpful in managing pain(NeuroReport:
        5 August 2009 – Volume 20 – Issue 12 – pp 1056-1060), so all power to holy shit.

  18. WalterBillington says:

    kiddr01 – I haven’t seen the outcome, although I did laugh at the show. Has he been shown to be using a cheap camera trick? The point was getting people to believe the impossible. I decided that there were mini-printers in the stands holding the pingpong balls. Seems simple actually.

  19. M says:

    We need a new term for this type of bad-logic debunking, where the implication is similiar to if I were to claim that because there have been people who could make copies of famous painters, the painters themselves do not exist. How about, instead of “debunking fakes” we call it “fake debunking”?

  20. M says:

    In case no one got my drift in the previous post, the “logic” of this TV program is exactly the same that the crackpots who say man never landed on the moon use to make their case.

  21. Anonymous says:

    @Cory. When you write fiction everyone involved knows that what you are writing is not true. With his recent Channel 4 show ‘The Events’ Derren Brown presented ‘factual’ explanations of the shows which relied on non scientific ideas such as ‘energies’ and ‘automatic writing’. I think Derren Brown abuses his public reputation as a ‘Debunker’ when he performs tricks in this manner. For him to participate in this project now is just remakably bold and saddening.

    Oh and for any who are unaware of Brown’s behaviour in ‘The Events’ these blogs offer a comprehensive view: http://tiny.cc/VX9ZM

  22. 2k says:

    why do ppl hate on String (and I guess; M) Theory so much?

    …again with the falling for ‘confusing the map with the territory’. A symptom of all closed minds, with no exception anywhere!

  23. Grozbat says:

    I’m sorry, but doing fake paranormal stunts does not debunk the paranormal any more than doing fake science stunts debunks science.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE hearing about successful partnerships. No trickery there!

  25. monstrinho_do_biscoito says:

    better than my explanation of “she’s blowing it!”

  26. mgfarrelly says:

    A good friend of mine lost a parent and got really fixated on John Edwards (the “psychic”, not the politician) and his cold-reading malarky.

    I’d lost my parents young and tried my best to talk my friend out of this. But they bought more books, and dvds, and tried to arrange private readings, or get on his show, all in the pursuit of reaching a parent with him they had unfinished business. Eventually it ended with thousands of dollars spent and a lot of pain and suffering on behalf of an already grieving family.

    I’ve always been of the mind that it is of little consequence to me and mine what you believe (aliens, psi powers, voodoo) as long as you aren’t exploiting people in the process. Seeing how these scams and hucksters prey on people at vulnerable moments is just nauseating.

  27. Sethum says:

    @misterfricative
    Why does the paper tent spin? Yes, the system is “essentially” symmetrical, but it is not perfectly so. The situation actually begins in an unstable equilibrium, where the vertical transfer of hot air into the surrounding cooler air must remain perfectly balanced if the dynamic was to continue without any spin. Due to the innumerable forces that interfere with the hot air system, it is practically impossible for the perfect motion to continue without perturbation. It just so happens that a spinning effect is not only the natural result of deviated motion, but it also provides the stability that was missing from the original linear motion system. It’s the same situation that causes water to typically drain in a whirlpool fashion.

  28. HerkyDerky says:

    I saw “Paranormal Activity” yesterday. (In the theater.) At the end, one of the other patrons was trying to figure out if it was real or not, and said “We still don’t know if the Blair Witch was true.”

    As an entertainer, I was glad this guy was carried away. As a person, I was a bit bummed that he didn’t know the truth.

  29. nomoredoubt says:

    I used to be a big fan of the Amazing Randi until he went from skeptic to rabid disbeliever. Lately, many self-described skeptics are not in fact “skeptics”, but *disbelievers*.

    They pride themselves on being the polar opposite of the religious fanatic, but they are no less gullible. They’ve closed their minds rather than *god forbid* admitting that they simply don’t know for certain.

    The paranormal will likely never be proven in a scientific setting—it is a much more personal thing. When it happened to me, as a former skeptic, I found myself in a unique position and I now had to deal with a reality I doubted existed.

    Not all psychics are fake. The ones that are usually mix their “psychic” powers with obvious magic tricks, like spoon bending. Also, if you hadn’t noticed, these “debunkers” are now raking in more dough than the average psychic. Remember, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

    • Ambiguity says:

      I used to be a big fan of the Amazing Randi until he went from skeptic to rabid disbeliever. Lately, many self-described skeptics are not in fact “skeptics”, but *disbelievers*.

      I kind-of feel the same way. I’ve subscribed to the Skeptical Inquirer since the 1980′s (and still do), but it’s actually wearing a little thin. There is a fine line between positive promoter of reason and cranky-ass pendant, and I’m afraid the modern-day “skeptic” crosses that line with amazing alacrity.

      I think the best example of the “good kind of skeptic” is Martin Gardner. His Why’s of a Philosophical Scribner is a great example of true skepticism in action, sans the rabid fanaticism.

    • Talia says:

      “Not all psychics are fake. ” good luck proving that one, m’dear.

      I’ve never seen one that wasn’t pretty clearly either a fraud or severely deluded.

  30. BillSmithBooks says:

    Why yes, most “paranormal” material is indeed woo-woo, whether it’s mundane phenomena misunderstood by well-meaning but unknowledgable observers or simply hoaxsters and people making up tall-tales for fun.

    However, having personally experienced events that are normally labeled “ghosts” (for lack of a better term), I can say that there is indeed *something* unusual that can and does occur upon occasion. I don’t pretend to know exactly what the phenomena *is*, I just know that it is real. Science simply says, “That didn’t happen.” The eyes and ears and noses of myself and sometimes up to a dozen witnesses would beg to differ.

    Bill Smith

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Bill,

      Your URL can go on your profile page, thanks.

      • BillSmithBooks says:

        Yeah, sorry, my bad, saw that instruction on your guidelines about 10 seconds after I posted. Was looking for the edit button when you fixed it for me. :) Won’t happen again.

  31. PaulR says:

    PeaceLove, the important line is the one just above the one you quoted:
    “According to James Randi, controlled tests by several other researchers, eliminating several sources of cuing and extraneous evidence present in the original tests, produced negative results. Students were also able to solve Puthoff and Targ’s locations from the clues that had inadvertently been included in the transcripts>.” This is why experiments have to be reworked and redone, by different people, to winnow out the biases – some of which the researchers may not be aware of.

    Including the whole Daily Mail (yeah, THERE’s a reliable source of information – may as well use Faux News as a reliable source) quote from Wiseman would have been helpful in the Wiki article: “If I said that there is a red car outside my house, you would probably believe me. But if I said that a UFO had just landed, you’d probably want a lot more evidence.”

    Is that really such an unreasonable, closed-minded position? Can you say “Trying to make Wiseman look like an asshole”? I knew you could.

    I’ve downloaded some of the original papers, the papers published by the UK MoD, the back-and-forth between Wiseman and Utts and Hyman (yes ‘between’ is the correct preposition here), even a paper called “String Theory, Universal Mind, and the Paranormal” by B D Josephson. It’ll take me a few days/weeks to digest them – though I’m sure this topic will have scrolled off the surface of the earth on BB by then. If there was proof, I’d be very curious to see it. I hope you’ll also be doing the same, PeaceLove…

    “Lies” was probably the wrong word to use for some cases, though I really think that for the vast majority, if not all of TV/’1-900′/classifieds psychics/tarots/etc, it is the correct word to use. I find them as vile as I find tele-evangelists. “Innocent self-delusions” would be more apt for the rest of them. Sorry if you feel targeted, but life is too short to spend too much of it barking up the wrong trees.

  32. danlalan says:

    What spawned “everything”? What is the thing that started it all? If you answer “the Big Bang”, then what spawned the Big Bang? If we follow the existence of the universe backwards, we discover only two possibilities: One is that God exists or Two, that existence never had a beginning, it has existed forever. Nothing, no object nor any living thing, in our experience exists forever. Every object and every living thing had a birth, a beginning. Except for “something” and this ‘something’ had to have existed forever in order for anything to exist at all.

    You are making a classic ontological argument. This has been refuted numerous by times people a lot smarter than me. Please read Emmanuel Kant’s most elegant thoughts on the subject:
    http://ghc.ctc.edu/HUMANITIES/DLARSON/kanto.htm

    The problem with trying to use pure reason to reach ultimate conclusions is always that at some point it relies on the assumptions that are logically suspect, such as the assumption that causality continues to exist prior to the big bang. Even though our very limited experience of the universe suggests causality, the idea that it or anything else we take for granted in this universe predate its existence requires more proof than your assertions.

    The fact is that we don’t know enough to make any reasonable assertions about ultimate causes, or even to make the assertion that there are ultimate causes. Conclusions based on things other than empirical evidence are all equal, and equally useless. It is no more than an exercise in fiction to construct possibilities unsupported by empirical evidence.

  33. greengestalt says:

    Q. Why don’t they, especially as Atheists, de-bunk Religion?

    A. ‘Cause they might be beheaded.

    I liked Houdini, but frankly Houdini hated that others stole his acts without making up any new, good acts HE could steal back!!!

    Militant paranormal de-bunking operations are IMHO the “Burning Times De-Bunkers”. Pathetic intellectual snits who’s only pleasure is hurting another and that’s all they put their rather tiny and stupid minds to. Some start out as “Holocaust Deniers” but get scared sh-tless how the Jews rabidly defend their sacred territory. So they went “Denying the Burning times” to harass “Wiccans and NeoPagans”. But these guys are no more beneficial to society than “Trekkies” bashing “Furries” because at least there’s someone lower than themselves.

    These guys are just chick-chick-chickens. NewsFlash: Martial arts makes NO paranormal claims. Well, a few martial arts are “Paranormal” but they don’t advertise. Breaking bricks is a form of meditation and devotion, a show like this WILL get some people to break their hands trying to emulate this. And I do know some lifetime martial artists who could likely do the “Middle Brick” trick without using either fake bricks or the cheapest corporate hardware store materials. And a lifetime of martial arts classes is beneficial and usually creates someone very unlikely to pick a fight, but most likely to stop or fizzle or finish one. (for fear of his instructor he usually idolizes!)

    Like I said, Houdini de-bunked the worst abuses of the Parnormal because they’d been fooling (and $ taking) him. He went against public opinion and his own fellow magicians doing this. I think his voice created a “Rationalist” outlook that helped keep the USA with a level head in WWII while Hitler was consulting the Zodiac, but that’s a loose hypothesis. But these guys do nothing new, they help nobody, and probably hurt ‘paranormal’ research by helping heap slime and skepticism on it.

    Let’s see, tho-

    Perhaps these people could go against some of the more “Disreputable” Gypsy fortune tellers and Voodoo priestesses…? The ones who, if unchecked, can befriend and strip bare a lonely old woman in a matter of months or set a family up to be cleaned out in a robbery? Really, one lady had a ‘service’ where she’d strip money of it’s “Negative Energy” and quickly disappeared when her “Spiritual Bank” got a few hundred thousand… But, oh, wait, those ladies are usually owned (literally sometimes) or in charge of (the voodoo ones more often!) criminal gangs and if their powers “Fizzle” and the “Turn to a Toad/Zombie” thing don’t work right then, well they got a ‘posse ready to come packin’!

  34. dustbuster7000 says:

    nomoredoubt, a skeptic *is* a disbeliever, that’s actually a pretty good definition of the word skeptic. And the problem with saying that ‘not all psychics are fakes’ is that all of the ones who are tested are fakes. How are you supposed to tell which ones are the reals ones and which ones are the fake ones if you don’t applying some kind of rigorous assessment of them? Clearly the fakes lie about their abilities.

  35. Ian70 says:

    So much of ‘paranormal experience’ leaves people feeling somehow more important than they were before the experience. A ghost talked TO ME, a source of energy passed THROUGH ME, a fortune-teller looked into the future OF ME.
    “How very important of you that you experienced these things”, one could say, “You must be a remarkably important individual if you were involved.” Alternately one could also say, “How sad that it takes some cheap trickery to make you feel important in this way.”

  36. sterling says:

    One thing I’ve thought about recently in regards to the paranormal is the complete unwillingness of people to even consider it. Now, the stuff shown here and the whole “industry” of the paranormal, that’s all BS. Sure, there are people out there taking advantage of naive people. What about those amateurs who are trying to do “ghost hunting” and the like? That’s where all science starts don’t you think? Sure, if you ever watch those TV shows, much of it is a load of crap. There are real people actually trying though.

    Now, take “respectable” science though. Like alot of theoretical physics. Some physicist comes up with some crazy idea, he’s able to write a number of equally crazy equations to make it look good, and BOOM! String Theory.

    My point is, you could really call anything the work of charlatans. Be skeptical of things, but people like Derren Brown and this paranormal stuff, and Richard Dawkins and religion have completely closed themselves off to the possibility of being wrong. What’s going to happen is those two guys go to dinner and the ghost of Jesus shows up! :-P

  37. stevecopley says:

    @nomoredoubt…

    Your assertion that disbelievers are some how just as gullible / closed-minded as believers is exactly the same ‘argument’ directed by religious fanatics at atheists. And it’s equally ridiculous:

    Person A: “I have faith, I believe that X exists”

    Person B: “I see no evidence for X, so I don’t believe it exists”

    Person A: “Well you can’t actually disprove X exists, so your disbelief is a matter of faith too – Ha!”

    This is a stupid argument. Person B does not have faith in anything, they simply have no reason (due to lack of evidence) to believe. Non-belief is not some sort of entity in the way that belief is, it’s the non-existance of belief.

    I will never believe in the paranormal unless I see irrefutable evidence. I’m totally open-minded to any and all *real* evidence (and by that I mean controlled and tested) that you can present to me. If I was to see such evidence I would then believe. This would not be some sort of conversion of faith, just an acceptance of what was now evident.

    But I guess I’ll never see any good evidence since “The paranormal will likely never be proven in a scientific setting – it is a much more personal thing”, whatever that means.

  38. nomoredoubt says:

    Dustbuster, my point is that a true skeptic is one who is on the fence – one who neither believes nor disbelieves, but awaits complete proof one way or the other.

    To say that one is skeptical a God exists is not the same as saying God doesn’t exist. The former is open to the possibility, the latter has closed his/her mind.

    Rigorous testing is all well and good, but as I said, psychic ability is not likely to be proven in a lab (though with advances in quantum physics, maybe one day).

    IMHO a disbeliever is no different than a believer. Both “believe” they know the truth, when neither truly “knows”. In effect, disbelieving, atheism, etc., these are just as much a “religion” as anything else.

    • Modusoperandi says:

      nomoredoubt “Dustbuster, my point is that a true skeptic is one who is on the fence – one who neither believes nor disbelieves, but awaits complete proof one way or the other.”
      No. The default state is disbelief. There’s no such thing as “complete proof” of the absence of something which, for your definition of skeptic would mean that they would end up terminally agnostic about everything. Besides, proofs are for math. The remainder rests on a continuum of probability. Disbelief in the devastatingly improbable is justified, particularly if a simple stage trick easily duplicates the effect or the effect disappears when you’re paying attention.

      “Rigorous testing is all well and good, but as I said, psychic ability is not likely to be proven in a lab.”
      If psychic powers fail when people look too closely, what are they really? Did you know that I’m a psychic? I can bend spoons with my mind…but only when you’re not looking.

    • Moriarty says:

      No, that’s not what a skeptic does. That’s equivalent to saying there is a 50% chance the sun will explode tomorrow, because either it will or it won’t! The fact is that there are literally an infinite number of potential propositions for which there is zero evidence. You don’t have to be “on the fence” about everything to be open minded. You’re allowed to say “that’s not true, unless you can convince me otherwise.” In fact, you pretty much have to for extraordinary claims.

      And as for this paranormal stuff, it goes quite a bit further than “zero evidence,” as there is quite a bit of evidence against, in that anything that has ever been rigorously tested has demonstrated fakery. Absence of evidence CAN be evidence of absence, if there is reason to believe evidence would be expectected if it were true.

  39. Jonathan Badger says:

    @cory
    I don’t know if fiction is really a good analogy. Readers expect statements like “This really happened” in stories to not be true, but not so much in live performances outside plays. It sounds like the psychic performance Brown is a bit like Colbert — presenting a public persona contrary to himself that people “in the know” can find ironic and funny. Of course the danger of this is that people can and do take both Brown and Colbert seriously at face value.

  40. Camp Freddie says:

    To be perfectly honest, I prefer psychic scammers to science scammers like Derren. I prefer the Pen & Teller approach of “I’m a massive bullshitter so I can show you how this is bullshit” to Derren’s approach of “I’m a real science-based trickster and not anything like this bullshit”.

    Debunking psychic ‘proofs’ is easy and you have to be pretty stupid to fall for their claims. As others have mentioned, you can’t proove that their aren’t ‘real psychics’ out there – you just have to use common sense. The way to debunk any paranormal claim is easy, just ask yourself, “If this was true, would the paranormal person be making videos on Youtube, advertising in the small-ads in the local paper, or sat in a secret volcano hideout surrounded by gold and attractive members of the relevant sex/sexuality while pondering their next move in global domination?”

    When someone like Derren starts scamming people that he’s using science, neurology, psychiatry and probability – then he gives a bad name to real scientists. Because some people really do think it’s real science, ‘indistinguishable from magic’ to quote AC Clarke.

    What I particularly dislike about Derren is that his shows feature a disclaimer explicitly saying that he isn’t using stooges or camera tricks – when in fact he is. Most of his tricks are based around us thinking, “No one would be so cheap as to just put a stooge in the audience”. Surprise! He is that pathetic!

  41. billstewart says:

    There are also some things that work by mixtures of science and woo-woo. Take firewalking – yes, it’s mostly safe because of the physics, but the woo-woo seminar about getting beyond your fears is what makes you actually willing to STEP ON A FRACKING FIRE…
    On the other hand, there’s tea-leaf reading. The physics are pretty much limited to keeping you talking to the olde gypsy woman until you’ve finished your tea. By then, she knows pretty much whether you want to hear about that tall dark stranger or whether your boyfriend is cheating or (in some cases) whether she can scam money out of you.

    • Modusoperandi says:

      billstewart “There are also some things that work by mixtures of science and woo-woo. Take firewalking – yes, it’s mostly safe because of the physics, but the woo-woo seminar about getting beyond your fears is what makes you actually willing to STEP ON A FRACKING FIRE…”
      It’s not science and woo, it’s physics and technique.

  42. Raj77 says:

    @ nomoredoubt; I am sorry, but a true sceptic does not “await true proof” in this area. A true sceptic knows that absolute proof of anything is vanishingly rare, and that the huge number of experiments proving the complete absence of psychic and paranormal phenomena present a tremendous body of evidence.

  43. WalterBillington says:

    Jerril, noted, but we’ve mostly forgotten the power of incantation. That’s why your olden aunt with the big nose stares and says “don’t say that!”, or reinforces the notion that you shouldn’t “take the Lord’s name in vain” – she knows.

    It’s all semiotics.

    By the mere mention of the word “holy” you instantly light up in your listener’s brain the network of associated concepts and words. So the brain processes the concept in real time even though it’s something you’re trying to avoid. Like if I say “don’t think of a pink elephant” – you can’t help but visualise it, so that your brain knows what it’s trying to negate.

    It’s subtle and constantly self-reinforcing – meme theory really – so it can grow and contract in any given community.

    What’s fascinating about the level of offence people have expressed to DB (no, I’m not his agent or associate, nor do I have any interest at all in promoting his cause! Previously, you’ve all thought I was working for the Home Office. Holy fucking shit ) – what’s fascinating is that he hasn’t taken anything from you! What precisely have you lost?!

    Really what’s annoying is that he defeats the capability to doubt what he’s doing. He knows we truly can’t figure it out, and that we’ll attempt merely to bullishly say “it’s not possible, it can’t be”, which is a weak and despondent position.

    He wins, simple. What we lose, not that simple. Pride maybe. Inch allah, that’s all.

  44. nomoredoubt says:

    There have been several replies to my comments, so the following is a general reply to all:

    IMHO, the fatal flaw for most people is that they need to BELIEVE in *something*. Whether it be a God or nothing at all—many, if not most, have a desperate need to *believe* in one thing or another. They cannot be satisfied with the idea that they simply do not know.

    It should be obvious to most that there is a great mystery—the “paranormal” being just one aspect of this mystery; one that cannot be solved to the satisfaction of others except themselves. This mystery can be expressed in a simple question:

    “Why does anything exist at all?”

    If there was no meaning to our existence, it stands to reason that nothing should exist in the first place. And yet, we exist nonetheless.

    To the skeptics I say this: don’t bother yourself with what others believe, their beliefs don’t matter. Another’s beliefs cannot be proven one way or the other.

    What matters is what you prove to yourself. The only pitfall that I can see is the desperate desire to *BELIEVE*. This desire is humanity’s greatest weakness.

    One must stop ‘believing’ and start KNOWING. This is of course easier said than done. Nevertheless, this is the only path to genuine knowledge. Knowledge that goes far beyond the reaches of science.

    The idea of “seeking” is an idea that has been taught for thousands of years by the world’s greatest teachers and their message continues to have meaning:

    “the mind engaged in practical search for truth is the surest means of emancipation.”
    —Tripura Rahasya Chp VIII.5

    http://goldenagetoday.com/11-seeking

    • danlalan says:

      If there was no meaning to our existence, it stands to reason that nothing should exist in the first place.

      Why?

      There is no particular reason why the existence of the universe requires our existence to have meaning. There is no particular reason why the universe requires meaning in any form for its own existence. It may well exist for no other reason that that it does.

      I think you state a common fear, and make a common mistake in your reasoning.

      One must stop ‘believing’ and start KNOWING. This is of course easier said than done. Nevertheless, this is the only path to genuine knowledge. Knowledge that goes far beyond the reaches of science.

      IMO, this statement is a fine example of what is commonly known as “bullshit”. I could be wrong, I freely admit, so I call on you to provide just one example of knowledge that “goes far beyond the reaches of science” that is more than just words, and has some existence outside of the skulls of the possessors of that knowledge.

      • nomoredoubt says:

        From your POV, you’re correct. I cannot really prove beyond doubt that assertion through logic alone. It’s only obvious when one crosses the threshold of not-knowing and knowing.

        Maybe this argument will help a skeptic see that there *might* be more to the universe than meets the eye (I say “might” because no logical argument will ever be complete proof) :

        In our experience, everything has a beginning and end. Nothing exists forever. This seems fairly obvious. Everything is born and everything will eventually die. Including the Sun and our universe. So my argument goes like this:

        What spawned “everything”? What is the thing that started it all? If you answer “the Big Bang”, then what spawned the Big Bang? If we follow the existence of the universe backwards, we discover only two possibilities: One is that God exists or Two, that existence never had a beginning, it has existed forever.

        Both of these ideas are outside of our frame of reference, outside of our experience and our “reality”.

        Nothing, no object nor any living thing, in our experience exists forever. Every object and every living thing had a birth, a beginning. Except for “something” and this ‘something’ had to have existed forever in order for anything to exist at all.

        The mystics have an answer for what that “something” is: Consciousness. In fact, they tell us that our entire existence is nothing but a a dream.

        The cycle of births and deaths is from time immemorial caused by ignorance which displays itself as pleasure and pain and yet is only a dream and unreal.
        —Tripura Rahasya XVII 24-26

        Don’t believe you’re living a dream? This article just might convince even a skeptic that it’s possible:

        http://goldenagetoday.com/departments/golden-age-articles/36-article-page/323-are-we-living-a-dream

        • djn says:

          If we follow the existence of the universe backwards, we discover only two possibilities: One is that God exists or Two, that existence never had a beginning, it has existed forever.

          I’ve seen that argument before, and one part of it has never made sense to me. Maybe you could explain it?

          If we accept that the universe hasn’t been around forever, then yes – it had a beginning. Why would that have to be god? Invoking a deity seems like a rather large and unneccesary complication…

          • nomoredoubt says:

            The idea here is that you cannot get something from nothing. You cannot have absolutely nothing, no light, no darkness, no space, no vacuum, no anything and then suddenly *poof*, something appears without a progenitor.

            Calling this “something” God is just a word, like “Creator”. You can use any word you want—but the ancients decided to call this force “God”.

            My point is that no matter what you want to call it, it is still a supernatural “something”.

            If however one prefers to reject the idea of a Creator, which is fine, then still it means that the universe, or “life” has always existed. That it had no beginning is still beyond our experience and is indeed supernatural.

          • danlalan says:

            The idea here is that you cannot get something from nothing. You cannot have absolutely nothing, no light, no darkness, no space, no vacuum, no anything and then suddenly *poof*, something appears without a progenitor.

            This is only true if causality existed before the universe did. There is no evidence that this is true.

          • nomoredoubt says:

            danlalan wrote:

            This is only true if causality existed before the universe did. There is no evidence that this is true.

            True, but it is still beyond our everyday, *natural* experience of causality—therefore it would be, by definition, supernatural.

          • mdh says:

            The idea here is that you cannot get something from nothing. You cannot have absolutely nothing, no light, no darkness, no space, no vacuum, no anything and then suddenly *poof*, something appears without a progenitor.

            Your wrongness on this point is epic.

  45. zyodei says:

    I am surprised that no one has pointed out the most obvious fact here – just because he can prove that a number of different “paranormal” seeming phenomena are caused by science has no substantive value, positive or negative, on the existence of paranormal phenomena per se.

    It might do something to discredit these specific examples, and show something about human gullibility, but to say they “debunk the paranormal industry” is as misleading a headline as the last one concerning the paranormal (about the newspaper article about psychics).

    I have had experiences in my life that I could not explain through any of Western Science, that no one set up, that no one profited from. Just because some guy made a series of YouTube videos debunking his own scenarios, has no applicability whatsoever on my own belief or lack there of in the paranormal.

    They are, on the other hand, interesting “Mr. Wizard” style stuff, and valuable in that context. But relevant to paranormal, they are not.

    @dustbuster: I think what nomoredoubt is saying is that Randi et al claim impartiality, but have let their own prejudices skew their judgement, and now see the world through a “disbeliever” lens, rather than simple neutrality. I mean, if any type of paranormal phenomena did exist, Mr. Randi’s whole life and life work would turn out to have been a big waste of time – it would take a very humble ego to be able to accept something like readily.

    • Modusoperandi says:

      zyodei “I mean, if any type of paranormal phenomena did exist, Mr. Randi’s whole life and life work would turn out to have been a big waste of time…”
      No. Finding a black goose in no way invalidates all the white geese you’ve seen that insisted they were black geese.

    • Brainspore says:

      …just because he can prove that a number of different “paranormal” seeming phenomena are caused by science has no substantive value, positive or negative, on the existence of paranormal phenomena per se.

      It’s almost impossible to prove a negative, but demonstrations like this show that there are much more rational, non-paranormal explanations for phenomena that people believe “can’t be explained by science.”

      Let’s say there’s a stage performer who claims that he gets information about people across the room via psychic powers, then you learn that he actually has a tiny receiver in his ear and an assistant on the other side of the room with a tiny transmitter. This doesn’t PROVE that the performer didn’t get his information through psychic powers, but you’d have to be a gullible ass if you still chose to accept that explanation.

      You stated “I have had experiences in my life that I could not explain through any of Western Science…”. Shows like this exist to provide explanations to other people who are thinking exactly the same thing.

      • Modusoperandi says:

        Brainspore “This doesn’t PROVE that the performer didn’t get his information through psychic powers, but you’d have to be a gullible ass if you still chose to accept that explanation.”
        Did you know that Peter Popoff is still plying his trade?

        • Brainspore says:

          Modusoperand: I’d heard that. I actually used to work with Popoff’s son (in a decidedly non-psychic setting) for a short time in the years between the father’s public humiliation and more recent revival. The son seemed like a nice enough guy even if his dad was a lowlife scam artist.

          • Modusoperandi says:

            Brainspore “Modusoperand: I’d heard that. I actually used to work with Popoff’s son…”
            Li’l Popoff? The rapper?

  46. zyodei says:

    This article is similar to an article that might purport to disprove psychics by teaching some basic tricks of behavior mind reading – body posture, patterns of speech, etc. It’s fascinating and useful stuff, but neither proves nor disproves psychic phenomena.

    • danlalan says:

      It’s fascinating and useful stuff, but neither proves nor disproves psychic phenomena.

      Very rarely does one particular piece of evidence prove or disprove any idea. But when this kind of thing is combined with the myriad other pieces of evidence that have been produced, the effect is much more telling.

      When the complete absence of efficacy of “psychic powers” under controlled conditions is combined with evidence that effects purported to be psychic or magical in origin can be produced by rational, non-psychic means most of us would consider that sufficient evidence to harbor grave doubts about the truth of the proposition.

      Being metaphysically certain of anything outside of our own existence is impossible, but if you keep barking your shins on the coffee table, it is then a reasonable assumption that one might be wise to step around it.

  47. M says:

    echolocate, I can point you to two things which should interest you but probably will just send you off on an orgy of fault-finding:
    http://www.arlingtoninstitute.org/tai-presents-dr-harold-hal-puthoff
    http://publicparapsychology.blogspot.com/2007/11/brain-response-to-future-event.html

  48. Angstrom says:

    on the point of ‘proof’, there is a difference between negative results and ‘proof’.

    I think the following is a misrepresentation

    “the huge number of experiments proving the complete absence of psychic and paranormal phenomena

    rather, more accurately:
    The results of the huge amount of experiments carried out so far indicate that nothing ‘psychic’ has been found.
    That does not rule out something ever being found, even if the possibility is vanishingly small.

    I could run a scientific test for uranium in my bedroom with a microscope. My results would be repeatedly negative, but those results are not conclusive ‘proof’ that heavy elements do not exist.

    The odds are stacked heavily against psychic phenomena, but that doesn’t rule them out. The odds of winning the lottery are also massive, but not impossible.

  49. overunger says:

    I second that of comment #2. I would love to hear a conversation with a old martial arts master in the Himalayas about whether or not chi exists.

    And to Cory- have you even READ R.A.W. or Grant Morrison? Alan Moore’s Promethea? I agree there are a lot of charlatans and people should be skeptical -but c’mon, you must live in a bigger universe than this!

  50. dustbuster7000 says:

    So the arguement your offering is, “Hey I know some of these psychics are fakes, but I know some of them are real.” That seems…unconvincing. And scientists live with the possibility that a lifetime of work will be invalidated by a single discovery. It has been very disheartening for many scientists, Einstein’s Cosmological Constant is an excellent example of that.

  51. HatOfEdshu says:

    Never mind that, where can I get a set of those dark magic coffee mugs???

  52. PeaceLove says:

    Evidence for psi produced in multiple labs over many years is in fact quite robust. I would recommend Dean Radin’s book, The Conscious Universe, as a good place to start, but I am aware that most “skeptics” are in fact closed-minded on the subject and will dismiss any evidence as flawed or worthless — even when it has been replicated over and over. Charlie Tart calls this phenomenon “fundamaterialism,” fundamentalist materialism.

    I dropped my Skeptical Inquirer subscription almost twenty years ago after it became clear that CSICOP is not an open minded organization but rather a closed-minded debunking group. Don’t forget that founding member Marcello Truzzi dropped out in disgust and formed the Center for Scientific Anomalies Research at Eastern Michigan University. From his Wikipedia page:

    Truzzi was skeptical of investigators and debunkers who determined the validity of a claim prior to investigation. He accused CSICOP of increasingly unscientific behavior, for which he coined the term “pseudoskepticism.” Truzzi stated,
    “They tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion. Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them. [...] When an experiment of the paranormal meets their requirements, then they move the goal posts. Then, if the experiment is reputable, they say it’s a mere anomaly.”

    I myself know a number of professional parapsychologists who have done lab-controlled experiments and gotten statistically significant (and occasionally astonishing) results. These researchers are trained in the scientific method, and the controls they put in place are far more rigorous than those of most other types of research. The U.S. Army funded remote viewing experiments at SRI for over twenty years, and you’d have to be pretty naive to think they would continue for that long without any positive outcomes (read: useful intel).

    Derren Brown’s a genius, and the greatest mentalist of his time, but his “skepticsm” should not be assumed to be the default viewpoint of his peers. To my knowledge, a substantial proportion (majority?) of professional mentalists believe that if they were only a bit better at this, they could dispense with the trickery altogether. I once sat in a lecture at the Magic Castle in Hollywood and listened to three of the top mentalists in the country (Max Maven, TA Waters and Frances Willard) argue with a pseudoskeptical lecturer for the existence of psi.

    Professional mentalist are experts in deception, and are thus in a rare position to be able to judge the validity of their own personal experiences. Certainly, they are more qualified than most of the dogmatic debunkers out there.

    • Modusoperandi says:

      PeaceLove “Evidence for psi produced in multiple labs over many years is in fact quite robust. I would recommend Dean Radin’s book, The Conscious Universe, as a good place to start, but I am aware that most “skeptics” are in fact closed-minded on the subject and will dismiss any evidence as flawed or worthless — even when it has been replicated over and over.”

      The Conscious Universe, a critique

      “Charlie Tart calls this phenomenon ‘fundamaterialism,’ fundamentalist materialism.”
      I prefer “naturalism”.

      “He accused CSICOP of increasingly unscientific behavior, for which he coined the term “pseudoskepticism.””
      Ah, “pseudoskeptic”, the rallying accusation of someone whose psi-experiment failed.

      “I myself know a number of professional parapsychologists who have done lab-controlled experiments and gotten statistically significant (and occasionally astonishing) results.”
      And yet the analyses don’t hold up. If they did, and I can’t stress this enough, everybody would be doing it. Do you think Exxon would turn down a way to make more money?

  53. vytautasmalesh says:

    There’s this sort of fall-back argument that I hear a lot of “believers” offer in defense of scientific presentation, and that is that science surely can’t explain everything. This often sounds like “well, your test shows I can’t bend a key with my mind, but I bent a spoon, so where’s your explanation for that?” Ian70 got the matter exactly right: believes in psychic phenomena aren’t interested in supporting the supernatural generally, but specifically.

    “Sure, you proved that those people using a Ouija board were faking it, but I really talked to my dead grandma!” or “Okay, so the psi-wheel spins because of convection currents, but I parted those clouds with my mind.”

    Same faith-based claims, different context.

  54. PeaceLove says:

    Note to Cory: As a huge fan of both you and Derren Brown, I have to add my opinion that your marriage clearly does kick ass — for both you and your wife!

  55. cinemajay says:

    There’s a paranormal “industry”?

  56. PaulR says:

    1) I can’t let this one go unchallenged:
    Jerril @? (What happened to the comment numbering?) I lived in Québec for about thirty years. And my mother tongue is French. I’ve never heard anyone say “sacré bleu” – except for actors playing a role and non-french-speaking tourist whose only contact with the French is via American movies…

    The more common swear words are: crisse, câlisse, tabarnak, ciboire, (o)stie, sacrament, sapristie, calvaire, batêche, viarge, and ‘torieu’ (no, I have no idea either). Yes, the religious terminology pervades. Don’t try to outswear a french canadian, their quiver is too well stocked.

    But yes, Québec is definitely the most secular jurisdisction in North America. And most astoudingly, the importance of religion in Québec society went from ‘hero’ to ‘zero’ in just a few years – in the ’70s. You can blame Charlebois, I guess. It’s really an interesting phenomenon.

    2) And this cannot be emphasized enough: It’s not up to the skeptics to prove religion, ESP, or Cold/FX doesn’t work, it’s up to the people who push these lies to prove them.

    As so far, not one reproducible study (NOT ONE SINGLE) has proven that any of this crap exists. PeaceLove, as far as the remote viewing experiments at the SRI, you’all should read the ‘Scientific Debate’ section of the Wiki Entry here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remote_viewing#Scientific_debate

    Using the fact that the US military sank a lot of money, time, and effort in woo-woo experiments as some sort of a proof/validation…look at the military’s and the CIA’s (those guys are all Harvard grads, no?) reliance on the use of torture to extract ‘information’ from bearded swarthy types. Yeah, torture works really well…

    3) James Randi (Didja know he had a bicycle accident, just like Cory?) (Randi’s was way worse):
    Well, he’s been fighting the good fight for some thirty-seven years now, usually alone. And as he’s approaching the end of his life, I guess he’s less apt to pussyfoot around and has decided to call a spade a bloody shovel.

    I say, good for him. He’s done far more to advance human civilization than any Blanche Dubois, John Edwards, Uri Geller, or Bill O’Reilly (while I’m at it).

  57. arkizzle / Moderator says:

    Camp Freddie,

    ..got a source for the fact DB uses stooges?

    • Modusoperandi says:

      arkizzle “…got a source for the fact DB uses stooges?”
      Listen to the audio. Those “Nyuk, nyuk nyuk” and “Woop-WOOP, woop woop” sounds certainly aren’t coming from nowhere.

  58. arkizzle / Moderator says:

    DB detractors,

    I am often dishonest in my techniques, but always honest about my dishonesty. As I say in each show, ‘I mix magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship’. I happily admit cheating, as it’s all part of the game. I hope some of the fun for the viewer comes from not knowing what’s real and what isn’t. I am an entertainer first and foremost, and I am careful not to cross any moral line that would take me into manipulating people’s real-life decisions or belief systems.

    Now what?

  59. Anonymous says:

    For anyone interested here are a couple of websites with debates on the other point of view.

    http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/
    http://www.debunkingskeptics.com/

  60. arkizzle / Moderator says:

    Cory,

    Props to Alice! :)

  61. danlalan says:

    True, but it is still beyond our everyday, *natural* experience of causality—therefore it would be, by definition, supernatural.

    Tau-neutrinos are beyond our everyday *natural* experience and are certainly not supernatural. It seems that your argument has become a semantic one, rather than a substantive one.

  62. Anonymous says:

    woo woo? There are colleges out there who have conducted scientific studies into phenomenon like telekinesis…with results showing that it does exist. There are always scam artists, but that is not proof that these sorts of happenings do not exist.

    • echolocate chocolate says:

      I would love to see some of these supposed studies with “results showing that it does exist”. Please, show me a single study with conclusive evidence that one can perform telekinesis, or have telepathic powers. It could have a profound impact on science.

      Also it would be awesome.

    • mausium says:

      “woo woo? There are colleges out there who have conducted scientific studies into phenomenon like telekinesis…with results showing that it does exist. There are always scam artists, but that is not proof that these sorts of happenings do not exist.”

      Gosh, and their results are absolutely unverifiable, not reproduceable, and the entire parascience divisions of the colleges have nothing to show for the entire run of their research, until their endowments are used up.

      Parapsych findings are bunk. I honestly would be very excited and happy to hear otherwise, but if any of these discoveries were real, they would be reproduced on EVERY college campus and would be harnessed by private industry already.

  63. mdh says:

    That may have been unclear. You’re presupposing that a ‘nothing’ point that would then *poof* into something else is a possibility.

    the idea of nothing negates the verb “be”.

  64. djn says:

    I think I can see three possible variations:
    1) The universe always existed, though the matter we see appeared from the vacuum some billions of years ago.
    2) Something else entirely always existed, the universe sprang from that due to some law of nature that doesn’t neccesarily exist here
    3) The universe always existed, with zero energy, zero size, but the current stuff and dimensions still sprung from that for an unknown/unknowable reason.
    3.1) Absolutely nothing existed, the universe appeared. I’m not sure how different 3 and 3.1 are.
    4) Some separate entity always existed, decided to poof the universe into existence.

    There’s a definite overlap between 2), 3) and 4), but the formulation that doesn’t suggest an active and intentional creator seems to require less complexity for the same result.

    In summary, though: Yes, we don’t, and possibly can’t, know how the universe got started. This material universe bubbled into existence at the big bang, and I don’t think it’ll ever be possible to peek “outside” and get any hint about what got it going. Annoying, really – but luckily, we’re not stuck in here without a good set of distractions, such as trying to figure out just how everything works. :)

    (Problem is, most people I’ve seen going down this and similar routes of discussion use it to discredit science they disagree with, or to prove the neccessity of god. Would you believe that a creationist tried to use “what if time doesn’t exist” as an argument against evolution when talking to me a week ago? It got slightly surreal, though entertaining, from that point on.)

  65. mdh says:

    existence or non-existence are attributes of an implied object, as is age.

    to say ‘before the universe existed’ is moot, entirely.

    • danlalan says:

      to say ‘before the universe existed’ is moot, entirely.

      Can you expand on this a bit?

      I’m thinking of some of the wilder aspects of brane theory that postulate “extra-universal” dimensions that gave rise to our universe, and the idea that some of the strangeness of gravity is due to it having an extra-universal component. These ideas certainly postulate an existence of something prior to the existence of our universe.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        Time, space, energy and matter each exist only as referenced by the other three. You can’t speak of before or after in the context of an absence of space, energy or matter, because time wouldn’t exist.

        • danlalan says:

          Ah, thanks. Very true. Ideas like brane theory only include spacetime in more dimensions than the 4 observable ones in our little corner of reality. (If I understand what I read on the subject, which is questionable.)

        • mdh says:

          What antinous said.

  66. Thomas Wincek says:

    Derren Brown is a charlatan, PLEASE read / respond to this Cory, as this guy’s act has gone on for too long.

    Derren Brown has bothered me for years, ever since I saw the “trick of the mind” episode where he pretends to “implant” suggestions in ad men, and then pretends to know exactly what they’re going to sketch based on those suggestions, complete with a camera trick “reveal” at the end. It was clear to me when I watched it that it was a classic Billet Reading trick, but with a fake explanation that exploits people’s unfounded belief in non-existent “subliminal advertising.” That to me is the problem. He never lets on that his reveal is phony, and there-by reenforces the “subliminal advertising” superstition. And he does this on BBC’s “documentary” time. To me, that lumps him in with the Uri Gellers of the world. He’s using misdirection by exploiting people’s superstitions in order to make money. He’s a charlatan through and through.

    I also honestly believe that his “skepticism” is part of his con-act. They are one in the same. There is no “good derren brown” and “bad derren brown”, and the fact that he’s actually suckered people like Randi and Dawkins is proof at his skill as a con-man. Just look at that “Science of Scams” thing. “Oh he’s promoting skepticism among kids, that’s a great thing” you may say. But watch the whole thing and notice what he says at the end. “Extraordinary things require extraordinary evidence.” An intentional bastardization of Occam’s razor. By introducing the term “extraordinary”, he implies that explanations must be fantastic (like in his mentalist shows), when in reality the explanations are VERY ordinary, and of course, simple. Again, he’s setting people up for his “NLP” mentalist crap, by POSING as a skeptic! Amazing trick, but terribly manipulative (especially when targeted towards kids).

    The guy needs to be very publicly called out and ostracized by REAL skeptics.

    • Thomas Wincek says:

      And before part of what I say gets blown out of proportion (I just reread it. Preview button next tim), I realize that “Extraordinary things require extraordinary evidence.” is a Carl Sagan quote, but it’s not really applicable here. Sagan used it to mean “show me evidence of god”, not “I can disprove metaphysics with very simple science”. Again, I think it’s intentional, as Occam’s Razor would be MUCH more applicable, and saying “the most likely solution is the simplest” is actually what is on display here, not anything “extraordinary”…

      • HerkyDerky says:

        You’ve missed something crucial here.

        He is saying that “people who claim to have telekinetic powers (extraordinary claim) need to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt (extraordinary proof).”

        He IS using Occam’s Razor, by using mundane proof.

  67. alisong76 says:

    This sounds a bit like Penn and Teller’s Bullshit!, which means I’ll be obtaining it (illegally downloading? Moi?) as soon as I can ;-))

  68. PeaceLove says:

    PaulR said:

    It’s not up to the skeptics to prove religion, ESP, or Cold/FX doesn’t work, it’s up to the people who push these lies to prove them.

    I agree that extreme skepticism is warranted, especially for those making specific claims (and charging money). However, calling ESP “lies” demonstrates the pseudoskeptical viewpoint quite well and shows that you are not open-minded.

    As so far, not one reproducible study (NOT ONE SINGLE) has proven that any of this crap exists.

    This is a false claim routinely thrown about by pseudoskeptics, who parrot this line despite decades of research from university parapsychology labs around the world.

    PaulR recommends the Wikipedia entry on Remote Viewing, which contains this gem:

    Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) has said that he agrees remote viewing has been proven using the normal standards of science, but that the bar of evidence needs to be much higher for outlandish claims that will revolutionize the world, and thus he remains unconvinced:

    “I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do. (…)”

    In other words, “The evidence is strong but I reject its conclusions.” What sort of “higher standards of evidence” will a professional skeptic like Richard accept? Has he ever said, “If I can see x result, then I’ll accept the validity of remote viewing (or any other type of psi)?”

    The entry also cites psychologist and CSICOP Fellow Ray Hyman to the effect that even well-designed experiments that yield a positive result don’t count because researchers lack a proper theoretical model to explain them. Hyman had worked with Chuck Honorton to tighten the controls on his Ganzfeld (remote viewing) research and was no doubt nonplussed when Honorton continued getting positive results. Moving the goalposts, anyone?

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2320/is_n2_v57/ai_14890627/

    The problem with CSICOP type skeptics is that no evidence will suffice. I’m not claiming that the thousands of studies with positive results “prove” the existence of psi, necessarily. Just that the anti-psi viewpoint, that it’s all bunk (“lies” and “crap,” in PaulR’s words), is unscientific and reactionary.

  69. Anonymous says:

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence is not a bastardization, it’s a totally common paraphrase of Hume’s “Of Miracles.”

    A piece, by the by, that a whole crap ton of commenters on this piece really ought to read.

    Everybody should remain on the fence about everything until it’s definite! What?! This sort of everything’s-just-an-opinion-and-opinions-are-equally-valid nonsense constitutes a major threat to the future of Western thought.

    Paranormal phenomena fly, by defintion, in the face of the laws we know to normally preside of the universe. Therefore, we must ask ourselves at any even that appears miraculous whether it is more likely the heavens should have ceased in their regular movement or that a person could be deceived, mistaken or a liar.

    As people–including ourselves, jackasses that think their personal anecdotes are of value–are well known to be wrong, deluded, mistaken and deceitful, the evidence FOR the miraculous must be very, very fucking great to outweigh that explanation.

  70. Anonymous says:

    you really need to hang in india for a year or two, meet some saints, experience a less institutionalized life for awhile … some things, when you “debunk” them, actually makes you look rather silly ..

  71. lumpi says:

    Derren Brown? The guy who just “won the lottery using group conscience”? Debunking bullshit fortune telling?

    Oh, the irony…

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