I was just wondering how someone should address supernatural/spiritual claims. I've had people tell me all sorts of crazy stuff. For example, I had one person (someone quite close to me actually) tell me they had a book which taught them how to get in peoples heads, and that by using the book they were able to get in someones head and see through their eyes and things like this. Supposedly the person they did this to said he was creeped out by it because apparently they knew things about him that they couldn't have known without getting in his head. I've also had people claim other sort of supernatural and spiritual things and I really don't know how to address them. I can pretty well take on people who claim to have personal relationships, but outside of those types of claims I have no idea. Of course I could ask for proof, but there is no way for them to prove it, essentially I'd have to have been there seen everything myself, but anyway, how could I go about addressing this stuff? I know there is an explanation for it, and I don't want to just flat out say the person is lying because often times I think people are genuine and things really did happen which aren't explainable to them so they attach supertnatural explanations since they know no other way of explaining it, and then they exaggerate things to make sound more remarkable than it actually is.
True, I wasn't thinking so much of discussing things with Christians, but with other kinds of paranormal claims. I don't know that I'd try to argue with them, the most I might be inclined to do is inquire closely about what DO they really believe. It seems people are embarassed by going into detail about their literal beliefs. And perhaps to suggest that wanting to believe something, that it feels good to them, doesn't seem an adequate argument for it. A lot of times the reason for people's belief seems to be only that it helps them with difficulties.
I actually dread being buttonholed by christians whispering "have you been saved?", one does indeed tend to hear a lot of what could be a tape recording, if one engages at all with them.
A young colleague once asked me to give a lecture in his philosophy course, which had the paranormal as its overall theme. He expected the topic would produce lively discussions pro and con—the reason he chose it in the first place—but the only students who signed up were those who firmly believed in the paranormal. They expected to have their beliefs confirmed and learn more about the paranormal, not call it into question. He was stunned at the students' willingness to believe. Several claimed to have had paranormal experiences.
Being a mathematician and skeptic, I spoke about statistical tests for ESP and how to design valid experiments and bored them silly. The only question I got was, "Do you believe in out-of-body experiences?" My answer was that I had not yet finished my research on out-of-clothes experiences.
Another time at lunch the wife of a wealthy donor to the university questioned me as to why, as Dean of Science, I had not created a department of paranormal psychology. Rather than dispute with her, I pointed out that the present department of psychology reported to another dean and that it would create enormous difficulties if I began to poach on his territory, but that she might very well put her question to him and that I was sure that with sufficient start-up support, he would probably be interested. I succeeded in boring her, which was far better than offending her. Fortunately her husband was not interested the the paranormal—probably due to her influence.
I am impressed with the number of people who enthusiastically subscribe to belief in the paranormal. It's not uncommon.
So I wonder what actually is effective in getting people to question paranormal beliefs? I don't know of any research that has been done on that. It would be a useful thing to research. But again, even if skeptical questioning "takes", if it makes an impression on the person, they would rarely change their mind on the spot.
Yes, to me now, anything paranormal is such an impressively radical claim about the nature of reality that it's the explanation of last resort.
But it wasn't always that way. Once talking about OBE's, a skeptic asked me "well what does a person see with when they're out of their body? Their ghost eyes???" That made an impression on me because I hadn't "gone there" mentally, and I realized that yes, any such experience would have to have a concrete explanation.
I didn't say at the time, "oh, you've convinced me it's well-nigh impossible". Nor was I a believer - only someone who'd seen accounts of NDE's and found them intriguing. I enjoyed entertaining the thought.
Sartre said "To think new thoughts you have to break the bones in your head", and other people's questioning can break bones in one's head. (although the "bones in the head" made by a successful religion like Christianity, are hard to break.)
I wonder if, instead of statistical design of parapsychology experiments, a course in skeptical thinking would be useful. The basic skeptical knowledge that Mike Shermer presents in The Believing Brain. Classroom experiments in debunking, placebo effect, the malleability of our perceptions ... Teaching people the good questions to ask of believers. Perhaps if one has a class of paranormal believers - what are their paranormal beliefs actually, how about running an experiment to test them?
I've wondered what's effective to counter anti-vaccination attitudes. That's an irrational belief that results in people dying, especially children and babies - so there has actually been some research on what is effective to promote vaccination, I think parents who were vaccine-hesitant said they would get their children vaccinated if they were afraid of the consequences of not vaccinating. The horrendous videos of babies with whooping cough, babies dead of vaccine-preventable diseases, stories of people's children who died when they didn't have to, seem likely effective.
Fear is a very powerful persuader and it gets people's attention. I feel strengthened and reassured when something spooky turns out to have a good everyday explanation. Perhaps this has an application to dissuading people from paranormal beliefs.
There may be biochemical aspects to being a paranormal believer. Mike Shermer mentioned some experiments done by - I think - Susan Blackmore - an ex-paranormal believer - that showed paranormal believers were more likely to see patterns, creatures in ambiguous images.
I got a lot less mystically-minded after I quit eating gluten and some other foods. I used to think a lot about God and souls, as a reification or poetic figure of speech.
But then I read about how most Americans believe in a personal God (at least claim to), and after initially thinking "isn't it nice to be for once in the majority?" I was disturbed and decided I didn't literally believe in God.
About quitting gluten, dairy and some other foods, I wrote "I had spent my life in dreams. My feelings and thoughts were very loud, calling me to pay more attention to them than to objective reality. My vision was ensouled - my abstract perceptions, my emotional thoughts were also visual perceptions. My feelings were alive in my vision, as small almost-hallucinations, as if my vision were permeated with something transparent that moved and sometimes formed shapes that were feelings. Out on walks, I had an unpleasant, compulsive fascination with graphics, posted announcements, art - as if there might be something very interesting, or it was something I needed to see - but I was annoyed to have to look, too."
That sounds interesting, and it was. But it also had VERY severe negative effects (described in the rest of the essay).
There are ideas that people with a "leaky gut" - high intestinal permeability, which celiac disease causes - can be psychologically affected by opioid peptides that are breakdown products of gluten. I don't know how much scientific support there is for those ideas. Also it seems that schizophrenia is sometimes caused/aggravated by gluten, and this might be the result of an immune reaction to gluten.
Anyway, one can see how someone whose brain has a lot of semi-autonomous activity, or somehow causes them to see patterns where others don't, would become a paranormal believer. The ghost-believer or ghost-interested person I mentioned earlier, is like that. He has a lot of highflown foggy ideas about math and physics without coming up with definite mathematical hypotheses or working out an actual physics theory. It's disconnected patternicity.
The point of teaching students about the proper design of experiments is precisely to enable them to distinguish genuine knowledge from statistical accident. It is the entire basis of experiment. One result is never enough, experiments must provide enough data for analysis.
This is what is going on with the reported discovery of the Higgs boson—events are so rare that it takes a long while to accumulate enough data to eliminate chance.
As long as we rely on anecdotal evidence, we have nothing reliable. There has been an argument going on in psychology whether psychoanalysis is a science. The problem comes down to the fact that each patient's case is unique in its very essence, which makes it impossible to establish general principles on a sound basis. Economics to some extent suffers from the same problem: when do you truly know something in economics?
If there is anything in the gluten question, it will be established by experiment, that is, collecting data from a large number of cases under controlled circumstances. There is no question that this can be done, but with psychoanalysis and economics the circumstances will not permit it.
The point of teaching students about the proper design of experiments is precisely to enable them to distinguish genuine knowledge from statistical accident. It is the entire basis of experiment.
Sure, but you said students just got bored when you taught them this, and it didn't seem to be persuading anyone out of paranormal beliefs.
So what does work, to train people to have a questioning rational attitude?
If there is anything in the gluten question, it will be established by experiment
Exploring immune reactions to food seems to be a very active area of research! If you type "gluten schizophrenia" into Medline, a great deal comes up. That research is finally being done. For many years, people have experienced psychological and physical effects from food sensitivities that aren't classical food allergies, without having the validation of science, but they're getting validation now in terms of psychiatric effects of gluten . Also food sensitivities in general can have a psychological effect, it seems ADHD in children is sometimes affected by specific foods.
I typed "gluten schizophrenia" into Medline because that's the closest thing to gluten effects on paranormal belief systems, that seems likely to get plenty of research attention. Paranormal beliefs, like believing in telepathy, various magic powers, being visited by aliens, are usually part of schizophrenic thinking, although schizophrenics invent their own paranormal belief system :) rather than adopting a paranormal belief from the many floating around them.
It would be VERY interesting to investigate whether people on average get more rational with a gluten/dairy free diet, since certainly irrationality is a huge problem in the world and may be the end of us. How one can even measure "rationality", I don't know. I don't know how much or how often gluten affects people psychologically, but it can.
I looked a little at research on paranormal believers. Apparently it's associated with having been abused as a child, also with stress - people's likelihood of having paranormal belief goes up after a very stressful event (like 9/11), and the author of the book I looked at snippets of, thought this is because paranormal beliefs gives people a sense of control. Also "UFO abductees" may be people who were abused as children, translating their experiences into something less threatening, as in "So far from being my parents who did those things to me, it was ALIENS".
I don't know why someone would feel a sense of control from a paranormal belief. Paranormal believers can actually find their beliefs to be distressful and threatening. For me, not adopting paranormal explanations to interpret my own experience, feels more like mastery.
Anyway, understanding what causes people to hold paranormal beliefs is crucial for knowing how to counteract them.
Sure, but you said students just got bored when you taught them this, and it didn't seem to be persuading anyone out of paranormal beliefs.
That's the way it seemed to me, but of course it's hard to tell. These days students grow up with television, electronic games, etc. and it is difficult to get them to concentrate on anything serious for longer than five minutes. However, the responsibility of the teacher is not to entertain, but to instruct.
Back in the eighties computer science was swarming with majors, students who thought that they would be spending their time playing computer games and having fun. When they found out they would have to learn mathematics for their computer courses, they began dropping like flies. For most students anymore, if it's not fun, they won't bother to learn.
Male students no longer dominate in scientific and engineering majors. In fact they constitute less than half of the total college population these days—they simply do not have the intellectual stamina for hard subjects. It's women and foreign students who are taking the lead.
In terms of neurochemistry of paranormal belief:
A researcher gave 20 paranormal believers and 20 skeptics L-dopa, which increases dopamine levels; on the L-dopa, the paranormal believers had more false positives, and the skeptics missed fewer scrambled images of faces.
Paranormal believers are more likely to see patterns and connections between events, so in a way the L-dopa made the subjects more paranormally inclined.
It would be interesting to find out if gluten increases dopamine levels for the people who have schizophrenic-type symptoms from gluten - hallucinations, ideas about telepathy, etc.
When I went to college the undergrads were only about 10% women. It felt very weird!
ps a lot of paranormal beliefs are more fragmented than an actual religion, so those people are more talkable-to. With a religion, someone has likely been indoctrinated since they were a little child; they have a whole social group built around it, their friends support it, it's tied in with their sense of belonging and morality, it tells them that unbelief is the bottomless pit of hell - it's like they have a mental spider in there, tying their mind up in silken spider ropes.
There is alot of delirium and excitability when it comes to the supernatural and the spiritual. It's easier to take the bull by the horns and deal with endarkenment and the astral body. There are tomes and tomes written on Light and Spirituality but virtually nothing on the astrale body.I don't like using a word like occult that seems laden with the same fear and obsequiouness as holy dignitaries. But endarkenment comes nearer to the supernatural as is well sensed. And it functions in moonlight,which is why it's not so easy to put the paranormal under bright light like in a lab. This paranormal/ supernatural stuff is a right brain/ intuitive mind function, seeing in the dark than the bright linear of the left brain. This right brain gets more deveoped by meditation and forms the asttrale body, wether that happens in the moonlight of bhuddist monastaries shielded from the glare of mundane life and all its ignorance and distractions, yogis " in caves" or by truly understanding and tuning into music wether as a collector or a player.Real artists have a deveoped astrale-subtle body. I'm paraphrasing so forgive the axioms. The big thing about the astrale mind/body is its hot wired to the collective unconscious. It depends wether you believe in Jung or not ( a devout man but with all that tunneling about in the dark unconscious maybe it was a lantern to keep his sanity) He claims we have a personal collective unconscious and.....boom....here's the supernatural part for me, a connection to the collective unconscious that can operate strange synchronicities. The collective unconscious can trick the mind with its hallucinations and projections.On the other hand,it could be possible to use intuition and personal and the general collective unconscious to "get inside someone's head".The ability to see in the dark or as the witch-doctor/ world traveller says in The Passenger film, being able to discrn why the questioner asks the question is more revealing than the answer: there is no externals to the supernatural, its all in the mind, wether in delusional form or by super-synchronicities.There is no objective God; we are God since we created Him. The supernatural is our own creation. What happens when a jazz band goes into a groove, improvisationally, and everything gellsmoment after moment? Or the soldiers who were walking through the jungle for days but they know when the indians were watching them even when they couldn't see them.I'm starting to ramble but odd things happen even if the left brain can't pin it down anymore than it can play an instrument by concentrating on every note , one by one, which doesn't flow......
This word supernatural is a massive axiom It depends what you mean by it in order to sift the wheat from the chaff regarding delusions and illusions from the strange real things that can occur.Though i'm no expert i'm not an atheist because i demand mathematical rational accountability always.
It really would be nice if atheists could or would swim around in as-ifness - think in a paranormal or religious way without actual belief. I had a dream recently where the Bible appeared and I thought "all that wonderful psychotic stuff" with some regret. (this is not about the actual book, which I've never read much of, but the book as a symbol of a kind of consciousness that I miss)
But actually we have people misusing that state of mind, religious states, to oppress people so much - and rationality is so lacking in the world, that one feels surrounded by a sea of irrationality - so defensively atheists lock out religious states of mind. Not necessarily all atheists of course, but it's the culture.
Certainly not necessary to have a religious or spiritual experience and then become religious. Or to see a ghost and then become a paranormal believer. That would be jumping to conclusions, and in a huge way.
I saw my astral body once, the first time I did TM - but never afterwards. I had the impression, thinking about it later, that it was real in the sense of being a potential vision for people - I mean, that other people under the right circumstances would see a very similar vision. It was attached to me by a thin glowing cord, but I didn't see where the cord was attached to me.
So how does one avoid being seduced by paranormal/religious thoughts? because some of those ways of thinking are very seductive? It would be very gratifying to have magic powers, be immortal etc. - so people do often just consent to believe in such things.
I think of the paranormal/ supernatural ( what iz the difference between those two words?) as seperate from the religious -fantastical- wishful thinking. There is plenty of paranormal reports, not linked to religion. I think of stigmatas in connection to religious-supernatural and things like seeing the Virgin or an angel manifesti g before fanatics. I suppose there is the whispering and manifesting by the departed from a heavenly spirit world. Loaves and fishes from The Book on faith and hearsay.Is there much more? Whilst the paranormal per se is a plethora of claims.
Sublimation is very seductive. God is entirely a wish to connect to a sublimated-self, one way or the other.Super-self needs the supernatural to verify its validity. It's funny to me that own Self is linked to Desire and devilry. .....Satan was a selfish angel because he turned away from God.From an atheist point of view, that is towards an unsublimated Self. It was made into a real anathema.; bad to turn inwards and do the real work on who/why and where of own Self. There is a whole aspect to the paranormal riddled with fear. Oooh be careful for what you wish for and all that crap.
Development of the astrale body- there is VERY little said about it.Definitely more solitary and even secret, than the all-embracing, God, or the deadly embrace of bad things happen cos God wills it and the seduction of conscensus and the inundation of guide books to spirituality.
There is an aspect of the astrale body that is confirmed by synchronicities.As if by getting closer to the pivot of inner being, it provokes them. Jung writes of this. It's wierd but confirming. I get it bumping into people it is very odd i should.Then.!!
I made a comment earlier in this thread, that religious belief involves more elements than paranormal belief, so it's often more pointless to discuss with religious believers than with paranormal believers.
God is entirely a wish to connect to a sublimated-self ... It's funny to me that own Self is linked to Desire and devilry. .....Satan was a selfish angel because he turned away from God.From an atheist point of view, that is towards an unsublimated Self.
But theists don't see it that way. That's why they say things like "I would rape and murder if I didn't believe in God". From their point of view, the "God" out there, the morality, the higher self, is NOT part of them. Everything good about them gets displaced out to "God".
When a theist says they'd be so terrible without God, atheists often think the theist is confessing to be a horrible person. But they don't realize that what the theist is effectively saying is that "without all that is good in me, I'd be doing terrible things". The theist doesn't realize that becoming an atheist is a process of integration with the "God" out there, not the loss of everything good.
There is an aspect of the astrale body that is confirmed by synchronicities.As if by getting closer to the pivot of inner being, it provokes them. Jung writes of this. It's wierd but confirming. I get it bumping into people it is very odd i should.
This reminds me of how, as an abuse survivor I sometimes seem to have a magical "radar" for abusers and an invisible target painted on me that abusive people can see ...
There is much more that people perceive about other people, than we explicitly know about. Very small things that we might not even notice consciously - like someone's quick eye movements - tell us things about them. So trusting one's intuition doesn't have to involve any paranormal beliefs.
As for one's mind influencing reality (to encounter certain people etc.) in some magical way, no good evidence for that. It's a common perception that some coincidences are happening more often than chance and naturalism will allow, but people have various biases that tend to cause that perception.