About Skeptical Thinking
This chapter is intended to help you understand how skeptics may use flawed reasoning to try to dissuade you from believing in the afterlife. Skeptics may give explanations which sound very rational from their point of view, but when examined closely are found to be insufficient to invalidate the evidence for the afterlife or to discredit belief in it. You also might find yourself trying to justify your beliefs and find it helpful to understand skeptical thinking in order to explain to a skeptic why you do not accept their reasoning. However, be aware this may not allow you to actually convince a skeptic of your point of view.
Skeptics often know very little about the evidence for the afterlife. They have little interest in learning about it because they they don't believe in it. Therefore it would seem that simply providing information to educate them would result in a meeting of minds. While an educated believer can point out the skeptic's ignorance and mistaken assumptions, this does not guarantee a meeting of minds because the skeptic and the believer often have very different mind sets.
Evidence Will not Convince a Pseudo-skeptic
There is a fundamental difficulty in convincing people to change their minds by presenting them with evidence. The difficulty is that the level of proof people require for giving up a strongly held belief is much more rigorous than the level of proof they require for holding on to a pre-existing belief. In order for someone to change their mind about a strongly held belief, they require absolute, 100%, ironclad proof and sometimes even that is not sufficient because in order to maintain a strongly held belief in the face of contradictory evidence, people only require a tenuous hypothesis to explain away the evidence. This is human nature. It is the real meaning behind the phrase "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof". That phrase is not about the scientific method, it is about human psychology. This is why, for a pseudo-skeptic, it is so easy to fall back on the last bastions of skepticism, claiming the researchers are committing fraud, they are incompetent, or they are victims of deception in order to explain the researcher's observations of paranormal phenomena.
The skeptic often feels that in order for him to accept a new belief, there must be proof of it. If he can hypothesize a possible flaw in the evidence, he will not consider the evidence proof even if there is no evidence that flaw has a real effect. In this case, an untested hypothetical explanation of why belief based on that evidence might not be justified is sufficient for the skeptic to remain disbelieving. However, you should realize that an untested hypothetical explanation is not necessarily sufficient to prove a belief is wrong. The skeptic often has difficulty seeing this. Sometimes this causes the skeptic to be accused of circular reasoning - it seems like he doesn't accept evidence because he knows the phenomena is not possible. However, if one considers the many scientific controversies of the past, one will see that whether or not a possible though untested flaw in the evidence is sufficient to dismiss a conclusion based on the evidence is very often a matter of opinion.
A believer, on the other hand, would like a skeptic to offer proof the belief is incorrect. Often the skeptic will decry "It can't be disproved" or "You can't prove a negative". For example, you cannot prove spirits don't exist because spirits might exist in some place which we are not able to interact with or have any knowledge of. Making this complaint is a mistake and is usually due to ignorance of the evidence. It applies only when belief is based on faith alone. It does not apply when belief is based on an analysis of evidence such as the large body of evidence supporting belief in the afterlife. It is ironic that the skeptic who is ignorant of the evidence of the afterlife bases his disbelief not on an analysis of the evidence, but upon his own faith that the afterlife does not exist.
It is not necessary for the skeptic to do the impossible and disprove the existence of the afterlife. It is sufficient to show that the evidence for belief is invalid, or show that a hypothetical flaw in the evidence has a real effect. For example, if a skeptic can show a medium was using cold reading techniques by analyzing a transcript of a reading and showing how the principles of cold reading were applied, that would invalidate the evidence attributed to that reading. However, a skeptic would be unlikely to agree to undertake such an effort. Since he doesn't believe in the afterlife, it would seem to him to be a waste of time to try to disprove it. He would expect the believer to provide proof cold reading did not occur. Again, considering the many scientific controversies of the past, one can see that what is a reasonable conclusion to draw from evidence can also be a matter of opinion. Often the believer is accused of being to credulous or not sufficiently analytical.
When a skeptic and a believer try to discuss the subject, an argument in which both sides demand proof and criticize the other side's reasoning can result. The skeptic doesn't feel obligated to prove anything since if he is going to change his belief it is incumbent on the believer to provide iron clad proof. The believer makes what is in his mind a reasonable conclusion from the evidence and expects the skeptic to prove the evidence is flawed or that another explanation is true.
Often it is hard to tell who is the believer and who is the skeptic. There is a certain symmetry where a believer acts like a skeptic of the opposite belief, and the skeptic acts like a believer in the opposite belief. The skeptic demands the believer provide better proof, the believer demands the skeptic prove his concerns have real consequences.
Occam's razor doesn't help because it can be a matter of opinion as to what entities are unreasonable and therefore extraneous.
What works much better than evidence is personal experience. This is why scientists like Charles Richet, and Pierre Curie and many, many others were skeptics before they began their investigations but were convinced by their own observations (yet convinced few of their peers with their reports).
Because of this difference in the level of proof needed to change a person's mind compared to the level of proof needed to allow them to maintain a strongly held belief, it is unlikely you will convince many pseudo-skeptics by explaining the evidence.
Why skeptics say, "There is no evidence"
There is also evidence of God. This evidence comes from mediums and people who have had Near Death Experiences, including veridical near death experiences, who obtain information that they could not have obtained with their normal senses. Some of this information is often verifiable and proves accurate. Therefore, the information they obtain that is not easily verified, such as information about the existence of God, may also be accurate. This is particularly true when many sources agree, and many such sources do agree that God exists.
When a skeptic who first denies there is any evidence is confronted with this evidence, the skeptic will say that he meant he is not convinced by that evidence. However, if a skeptic is going to say there is no convincing evidence for something when there is evidence that is widely considered to support it, rather than deny any evidence exists, he should explain why that evidence is not valid. In some cases the skeptic may be referring to a purely philosophical argument, for example a philosophical argument that God exists. But if a skeptic is going to dismiss a philosophical argument, he should also know what the argument is and be able to explain what part of the argument he disagrees with and why. Most of the attacks on philosophical arguments for the existence of God misstate those arguments.
The argument that "there is no evidence" or "it doesn't convince me", is actually a rhetorical device and not appropriate in a supposedly rational debate. If a skeptic can't explain why the evidence doesn't convince him, if he can't explain what is wrong with the evidence, then he probably doesn't really know what the evidence is, or he is not really trying to understand the evidence, or he has no valid argument against the evidence.
Why do skeptics insist on denying the evidence exists? Because if they actually discuss the evidence it becomes much harder to maintain that their belief in materialism is true. It is so much easier for the skeptic to deny the existence of evidence. It is easier for him to mislead than to explain why he believes in materialism when there is so much evidence against it.
Moving The Goal Post
When trying to provide evidence to convince pseudo-skeptics, believers in paranormal phenomena often observe that the skeptics keep moving the goal post. For example, after a parapsychologist improves an experimental design and repeats an experiment in response to a criticism of a skeptic, the skeptic always seems to come up with a new objection. This can be easily understood if one considers why skeptics raise objections to evidence. When skeptics raise objections to evidence, it is not because they would actually believe the evidence if you satisfied their objection. Skeptics raise objections because they don't want the phenomenon to be proven. They raise objections to maintain their disbelief. That is why if you satisfy their objections, they will not change their minds and give up their disbelief, they will just come up with another objection to allow them to maintain their disbelief.
This is why it can be pointless to discuss the evidence with a pseudo-skeptic or to let a pseudo-skeptic dictate what evidence you should obtain. They are not sincerely interested in evidence, they are interested in maintaining their prejudice and they will invent as many new hypothetical problems with the evidence as necessary. Any hypothesis that supports his world view no matter how tenuous will be preferable to a to a pseudo-skeptic than any non materialist explanation no matter how much evidence there is supporting it. Repeated observations and repeatable experiments haven't convinced skeptics. Statements by Nobel prize winning scientists who were convinced by evidence hasn't convinced skeptics. When pushed to the limit, the skeptic always has recourse to the last bastions of skepticism: accusations of fraud, incompetence, and self-delusion.
When discussing the afterlife with a skeptic, what should you do? It depends. Are you trying to educate the skeptic about the evidence? Are you trying to convince the skeptic that the belief is correct? Are you trying to explain why it is reasonable to believe? Are you trying to explain why his arguments against belief are not convincing? Which of these you attempt depends on the person involved and the situation. Whatever your intention, you should be clear in your own mind what you are trying to do.
In general, it is wise to ignore and refrain from personal attacks and stick to a polite discussion of facts. Try to refrain from acrimony since making someone angry will decrease the likelihood that they will adopt your beliefs. Sometimes if you keep a neutral or friendly tone and ignore the negativity in a skeptic's approach and stick to facts he will see that you are serious in conducting a reasoned discussion and drop the attitude and continue the discussion in a less hostile manner. Keep in mind that two people can have the exact same experience and because of their personal bias' believe different things. For example, two bird watchers might be out in the countryside and see an unusual bird that is not native to the area. One person, an amateur meteorologist, might think it was blown off course by a recent hurricane, and another, a pet store owner, might think it is a pet escaped from a home destroyed in the hurricane. Who is right?
If you find yourself in a debate with someone denies there is any evidence, who is not interested in learning about the evidence, who is clinging to tenuous hypotheses to satisfy their prejudice in the face of the evidence, someone who keeps moving the goal post, you are arguing with a pseudo-skeptic and will never convince him by discussing the evidence. Forcing him to repeatedly defend his prejudice will only make it harder for him to admit he was wrong. Debating a pseudo-skeptic might help to inform open minded observers who might be reading or listening to the debate, but it will never convince the pseudo-skeptic.
Not all skeptics are honest truth seekers and their claims cannot always be relied upon for accuracy.
A well known skeptic once admitted, "I'm a charlatan, a liar, a thief, and a fake altogether. There is no question of it." (This is reported to have been said on PM Magazine, on July 1st, 1982.)
Many skeptics believe in materialism as if it were a religion and they often refuse to consider evidence that contradicts their beliefs. Unfortunately, like with religions, the intolerant attitude of the fundamentalists and the power grabbing leaders tends to bleed over to the more moderate believers. Skepticism is good when it exposes fraud and foolishness, but too many skeptics care more about spreading their materialistic beliefs than about uncovering the whole truth.
When a skeptic claims that a paranormal phenomena is really due to fraud, self-delusion, or mistaking an ordinary phenomena for a paranormal one, you must evaluate whether the skeptic's claim is valid. The skeptic may be incorrect or even deliberately deceptive.
The chapter on Skeptical Misdirection contains many examples of situations where skeptics have made deceptive statements. Because of the gross unreliability of skeptical claims, including payment for both false confessions and false accusations of fraud, one must have a skeptical attitude towards all skeptical claims. One must demand equally high standards of proof for claims by skeptics as one does for claims of paranormal phenomena. For example, an accusation by someone who claims to have inside information that a medium was a fraud is not proof of fraud any more than an unsupported claim of a paranormal phenomena is proof of that phenomena. There must be evidence to support the skeptic's claim, it must be corroborated by independent investigators, and the claims must be made by persons of reliable character. All the requirements that are demanded for proof of a paranormal claim are also required for proof of a skeptical claim.
Very few writers take the time to investigate skeptical claims in order to verify them. Even fewer take the time to find out what the other side of the issue says in rebuttal to the skeptic's claims. As a result, there are many unproven skeptical claims published, many with seemingly convincing evidence which if properly rebutted would be seen to be fallacious or inapplicable. Unfortunately, these unproven and invalid claims then get repeated as fact.
Unless you have investigated both sides of the controversy, you do not have enough information to decide whether any skeptical claim is valid and you should withhold judgment until you have learned what the other side has to say about those claims.
Unfortunately, there have been cases of charlatans making paranormal claims. It is equally unfortunate that there have also been cases of charlatans making skeptical claims. This skeptical misdirection has not helped to clarify matters it only makes it harder to determine the truth.
Skeptics do not Base their Beliefs on Evidence
Why are skeptics so set against belief in psychic phenomena and the afterlife? There are a number of reasons and they have very little to do with evidence.
Genuine psychic phenomena have been experienced by ordinary people throughout the history of humankind. However, these phenomena were rejected by science for "political" reasons, not empirical reasons, when the scientific revolution deposed religion as the ultimate source of knowledge. Philosophical naturalism, the belief that paranormal phenomena do not exist, has been integrated into the scientific world view and students of science are indoctrinated in that philosophy during their education.
Besides being seen as allied with religion, psychic phenomena are also a threat to science's place as the best means of obtaining information about the universe. Why would you need scientists if you could ask a psychic or a spirit? Many scientists also have a psychological attachment to the status quo scientific world view because it is the source of their status and livelihood. Recognizing the reality of psychic phenomena would force scientists to admit that science has for centuries failed to recognize huge gaps in its world view. Because of all of this, many modern scientists have a lot of cultural baggage that prevents them from accepting that some paranormal phenomena are real.
Furthermore, doctrinal discipline is maintained among scientists by ostracizing anyone who espouses different views. A prime example of this is the Nobel prize winner in physics Brian Josephson who was banned from a scientific conference due to his interest in parapsychology. Because scientists are influential in society, they control allocation of funds for research, and are respected for the technological advancements of modern civilization, they have a great influence on the rest of society. Their skepticism of paranormal phenomena lends moral authority to anyone else who advocates that view.
Research has shown that people who think analytically rather than intuitively tend to be atheists. People who analyze problems using logic, because of their education, career, or innate characteristics, may become habituated to reductionist analysis. Reductionism is the belief that something complex can be understood by the interaction of simpler components. This way of thinking works well in many branches of science. Psychology can be explained in terms of biology, which can be explained in terms of chemistry, which can be explained in terms of physics. However, some scientists, engineers, philosophers, and other intellectuals, may become so habituated to reductionist thinking that they are unable to conceive that some phenomena cannot be explained in terms of simpler phenomena. For example, the subjective experience of consciousness, what pain feels like, or what red looks like, cannot be understood through reductionism. Psychic phenomena that cannot be explained by current scientific theories, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, and precognition cannot be understood through reductionism. This is why some people who are habituated to reductionist thinking simply cannot conceive that psychic phenomena could be real or consciousness might be nonphysical and survive bodily death. Reductionists suggest consciousness is an epiphenomenon even though that is a poor explanation of consciousness because it is the best they can conceive of within their reductionist prison.
Some religious leaders reject psychic phenomena (see the comment at the top of the link) because those phenomena threaten the dogmatic teachings of their religion. It undermines their authority as the source of information on the afterlife, God, and other spiritual subjects. In some cases it also subverts their role as an intermediary between the individual and supernatural entities.
Some people hold a grudge against religion because they have been harmed psychologically by overly dogmatic upbringing, or because some religion condemns their lifestyle choices. They may choose to vilify anything that relates to the supernatural, including psychic phenomena. Often this type of skeptic is a victim of Christianity who has been brainwashed by church logic who has substituted the extreme dogmatism of Christianity with the extreme dogmatism of the religion of materialism.
Sometimes materialism is just wishful thinking. It makes some people (who may be suffering from depression) feel better to believe all pain and suffering will end with the extinction of consciousness at death.
When some people experience a personal loss, or experience extreme hardship, or feel concern about the extreme hardships of others, they may be unable to understand how God could allow such suffering to occur. As a result, they may feel angry at God or be unable to believe in God. This may cause them adopt materialism and express hostility toward anything that relates to God such as belief in the afterlife or anything that contradicts materialism such as evidence for psychic phenomena.
Certain government agencies have spread disinformation about the reality of psychic phenomena to discourage other countries from developing psychic means for spying and sabotage, and to protect the secrecy of their own government's programs to develop those capabilities.
Some debunkers make a living disputing every paranormal claim and sometimes misrepresent the empirical evidence because real paranormal phenomena jeopardize their career and life's work. Their livelihood is based on media exposure to sell books, raise money, and generate more media exposure, and as a result their influence is far greater than their qualifications in the field should warrant.
Many people who, because of their education, accept the authority of scientists, suspend their critical thinking in order to embrace the debunkers' deceptive "logic" because it allows them to hold on to their world view in the face of empirical evidence, including scientific research, that demonstrate genuine psychic phenomena. People resist changing their world view because it requires admitting they were wrong or misled.
In children, the brain is very flexible. To young children, everything is new, and they are able to absorb new information easily. However, in adults the brain is less flexible, it runs on automatic most of the time. It has difficulty perceiving and conceiving of things that it has not experienced before. If an adult hears of something that is not consistent with previous experiences or existing beliefs, the brain will most likely filter it out as "impossible".
Some people may have a psychological disorder, such as a phobia, that causes them to be horrified that consciousness might end at death. Just like learning how an airplane works doesn't help people who are afraid of flying, learning about the evidence for the afterlife doesn't change their fear of death. Because they fear that consciousness ends at death and knowledge about the evidence for the afterlife doesn't help them, they feel that they don't believe in the afterlife.
It should also be pointed out that we all incarnate for different reasons. Some people are meant to be atheist materialists because there are lessons that are best that way. Skeptics are not necessarily bad people however activist pseudo-skepticism is harmful to society for many reasons and at many levels.
Many of these reasons show that some skeptics have psychological, financial, or ego based conflicts with the existence of paranormal phenomena. This may be the reason for an observation about skeptics made by the well known skeptic and sometime government consultant Ray Hyman:
As a whole, parapsychologists are nice, honest people, while the critics are cynical, nasty people.
Materialism is not a Rational Philosophy
Materialism is not a rational philosophy. According to materialists, materialism is better than other worldviews because there are supposedly evolutionary and biological reasons that might predispose people to believe in religions and to be superstitious. Humans tend to be irrational.
So the argument goes, people should reject non-materialist beliefs such as belief in the afterlife. Materialism is better because it is based on reason.
But all those factors that make people irrational apply to materialists. So how can they trust materialism if it is supposedly based on reason or appeals to reason for it's validity when according to materialism, because of evolution, humans tend to be irrational?
In fact, psychologists have shown that people do not use logic and reason to form their beliefs and make decisions. We form our beliefs and make decisions based on non-rational factors such as emotion and instinctive behaviors. What we do use reason for is to justify our beliefs and decisions. People can be persuaded. But they are not persuaded by logic. Materialists who claim to form their beliefs based on reason are on very shaky ground. I have explained this in more detail in my blog article, Your logical mind is an illusion :
Therefore, materialism is self defeating and materialists are not rational in their belief in it. Particularly since there can be no evidence for materialism, only lack of evidence for alternatives, belief in materialism is based on faith not reason. But there is very good evidence for the afterlife and ESP that falsify materialism.
Below I outline other ways materialism is self-defeating. These self-defeating flaws, as Edward Feser writes, show that materialism is incoherent and constitute examples of reducto ad absurdum and therefore demonstrate that materialism is false.
Materialists often make a logical mistake by saying people believe in religion and spirituality because they provide comfort. This is supposed to be a convincing argument that those beliefs are false. However providing comfort doesn't make a belief false. You have to determine truth or falsity based on evidence. Belief in materialism provides comfort to those who would be afraid of punishment in the afterlife or who look forward to an end to suffering from extinction at death. But this is not why materialism is false. Materialism can be shown to be false by empirical evidence and logical arguments.
It is perfectly reasonable to criticize a belief that you think is false. But you have to do it based on the evidence for the belief. For example, if someone wanted to criticize Christianity they could try to criticize the historical documentary evidence from witnesses who saw Jesus lived, died, was buried, and was resurrected. But any criticism of any particular belief on general grounds that human logic is faulty is incoherent because such a criticism is itself a logical assertion subject to the same fallibility it asserts.
A common mistake many materialist make is to say that atheism is better than belief in God because history is full of religious wars. Unfortunately, it is true that human history is filled with atrocities. But if you look at which philosophies put the greatest restraint on the problem, it turns out that atheism comes in last. Atheist regimes are responsible for vastly more deaths than can be attributed to religion. In the 20th century, approximately one hundred million people were killed under communist atheist governments, some estimates go as high as 250 million. Additionally, not all religions or denominations within a religion are the same and sometimes religions change over time. It is a logical error to ignore these facts.
Furthermore, materialists, because of their belief in evolution by natural selection (survival of the fittest), should consider religion superior to atheism because materialists are reproducing at the slowest rate, while religious believers are reproducing at the fastest rates. People who hope to see the end of religion are going to disappear long before religion ever does, not just because the worst mass murders have occurred under atheistic regimes but because atheists are failing to reproduce.
Another reason to doubt that all materialists are rational is the fact that, 21% of American atheists believe in God.
It is sometimes said by materialists that consciousness cannot be non-physical because it would be a violation of the law of conservation of energy for non-physical consciousness to influence the brain. But which is a bigger violation of the law of conservation of energy: non-physical consciousness influencing the brain or the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (in which a new universe is created to reflect every quantum probability) or the multiverse theory (in which there are an infinite number of universes)? Both of those theories have been proposed to preserve materialism. The many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics was proposed as an alternative to the original interpretation of quantum mechanics where a conscious observer is needed to collapse a wave function. Under that interpretation, it is impossible for matter to produce consciousness. Consciousness has to exist first before matter can take form. The multiverse theory is needed by materialists to explain how the universe can be so fine-tuned to support life without an intelligence to do the fine-tuning. If there are an infinite number of universes then some may have the right parameters to support life by chance.
There are also many absurdities associated with the multiverse theory, such as an infinite number of universes in which you exist, and an infinite number in which you have two heads. The multiverse theory undermines science because according to the theory, anything can be explained by chance rather than by natural law. This eliminates any reason for believing in materialism because belief in materialism is founded upon the belief that natural law can explain all phenomena.
Under the multiverse theory, it is more likely that the vast age and size of our universe is an illusion and our universe is really 6000 years old and consists only of our solar system than it is a vast 14 billion year old universe that has the fine tuning, age and size that it seems to have. I don't agree with young earth creationist who believe the earth is only 6000 years old as it would be if the Bible was literally true. However that view is more rational than materialism.
Materialists also believe that over time the progress of science provides provide greater and greater support for the materialist point of view. However the actual history of science does not support this view.
There are several more ways that materialism is self refuting. In the excerpts below, Edward Feser explains that according to materialism, the brain is a machine that operates only on physical principles not any inherent meaning in thoughts so one thought cannot be a rational justification for another. Therefore beliefs, such as belief in materialism itself, cannot be rationally justified. Alvin Platigna explains that according to materialism, metaphysical beliefs are not very likely to be correct. Since materialism is a metaphysical belief, it is not likely to be correct. And Andrew Ferguson explains that according to materialism, reason, intuition, and emotion are all the result of natural selection and therefore they must be useful to the organism. However materialists insist we accept materialism because it conforms to our reason even if it conflicts with out intuition or emotions.
See the links below for the full arguments:
1. Materialism says that thinking is ultimately a mechanical process. Like a computer running a program, thought is a transition from one physical state to another caused by known laws of physics.
2. Such a transition occurs due to physical laws not due to any inherent meaning in the physical states.
3. But a "thought can serve as a rational justification for another only by virtue of" it's "meaning"....
4. So if materialism is true, then there is nothing about our thought processes that can make one thought a rational justification of another; for their physical and causal relations alone, and not their semantic and logical relations, determine which thought follows which.
5. So if materialism is true, none of our thoughts ever is rationally justified.
6. But this includes the thoughts of materialists themselves.
7. So if materialism is true, then it cannot be rationally justified; the theory undermines itself.
Given materialist naturalism, the probability that my cognitive faculties are reliable with respect to metaphysical beliefs would be low. So take any metaphysical belief I have: the probability that it is true, given materialist naturalism, cannot be much above .5. But of course materialist naturalism is itself a metaphysical belief. So the materialistic naturalist should think the probability of materialist naturalism is about .5. But that means that she cannot sensibly believe her own doctrine. If she believes it, she shouldn’t believe it. In this way materialist naturalism is self-defeating.
Neo-Darwinism tells us that we have the power of reason because reason was adaptive; it must have helped us survive, back in the day. Yet reason often conflicts with our intuition or our emotion—capacities that must also have been adaptive and essential for survival. Why should we “privilege” one capacity over another when reason and intuition conflict? On its own terms, the scheme of neo-Darwinism gives us no standard by which we should choose one adaptive capacity over the other. And yet neo-Darwinists insist we embrace neo-Darwinism because it conforms to our reason, even though it runs against our intuition. Their defense of reason is unreasonable.
Charles Darwin, one of the most important founders of scientific materialism agreed that you could not trust human reason if it arose through natural selection. In 1881 he wrote in a letter to William Grahm:
...with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?
If you can't trust human reason, it is irrational to believe the truth of anything, including materialism.
More reasons materialism undermines itself:
John Gray (an atheist)
Modern humanism is the faith that through science humankind can know the truth - and so be free. But if Darwin's theory of natural selection is true this is impossible. The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. To think otherwise is to resurrect the pre-Darwinian error that humans are different from all other animals.
You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.
If Crick's thesis is true we could never know it. For, not only does it relegate our experiences of beauty, moral obligation, and religious encounter to the epiphenomenal scrap-heap. It also destroys rationality. Thought is replaced by electro-chemical neural events. Two such events cannot confront each other in rational discourse. They are neither right nor wrong. The simply happen ... The very assertions of the reductionist himself are nothing but blips in the neural network of his brain. The world of rational discourse dissolves into the absurd chatter of firing synapses. Quite frankly, that cannot be right and none of us believes it to be so. "
Michael Shermer thought he had an explanation which helped pacify those in the audience who were worried that some smart people believe in God:
At the end of my book "Why People Believe Weird Things," the last chapter is called "Why Smart People Believe Weird Things" which is the harder question to answer. And the short answer to that is because they're better at rationalizing beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.
Does Shermer apply this to himself? Is he smart enough? (For it to apply, and if so to apply it.)
Why Evolutionary Theory Cannot Survive Itself by Nancy Pearcey
To make the dilemma even more puzzling, evolutionists tell us that natural selection has produced all sorts of false concepts in the human mind. Many evolutionary materialists maintain that free will is an illusion, consciousness is an illusion, even our sense of self is an illusion -- and that all these false ideas were selected for their survival value.
So how can we know whether the theory of evolution itself is one of those false ideas? The theory undercuts itself.
By their own account, materialists cannot have adopted their materialist belief system by rational choice—their brains make them believe it. And they cannot persuade others to believe it by science and reason—they can only pass on an infection.
J. B. S. Haldane
It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.
Indeed, only if we assume a God who is morally our like can “truth” and the search for truth be at all something meaningful and promising of success. This God left aside, the question is permitted whether being deceived is not one of the conditions of life.
There is extraordinary evidence of spirits or the afterlife.
There is a huge amount of empirical evidence collected by researchers from interviewing experiencers and from controlled experiments including experiments conducted in laboratories. The chapter A Summary of Evidence has more details.
Intelligent people believe in the afterlife
People who have more education are more likely to believe in the afterlife.
Contrary to researchers' expectations, a poll of 439 college students found seniors and grad students were more likely than freshmen to believe in haunted houses, psychics, telepathy, channeling and a host of other questionable ideas.
Most doctors believe in the afterlife.
In the survey of 1,044 doctors nationwide, 76 percent said they believe in God, 59 percent said they believe in some sort of afterlife, and 55 percent said their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine.
Afterlife research is valid but mainstream science does not accept it.
The conventional belief in a society can become distorted by what is called an informational cascade. This occurs when people go along with the conventional wisdom because they assume other people must be right and because they are afraid of the social consequences of being different. A case where this has been shown to have happened to scientists who study nutrition is written about in the New York Times article "Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus". The article explains the phenomena in more detail.
If the second person isn't sure of the answer, he’s liable to go along with the first person’s guess. By then, even if the third person suspects another answer is right, she’s more liable to go along just because she assumes the first two together know more than she does. Thus begins an “informational cascade” as one person after another assumes that the rest can’t all be wrong.
And so the informational cascade morphed into what the economist Timur Kuran calls a reputational cascade, in which it becomes a career risk for dissidents to question the popular wisdom.
"Senator McGovern, I recognize the disadvantage of being in the minority," Dr. Ahrens replied. Then he pointed out that most of the doctors in the survey were relying on secondhand knowledge because they didn't work in this field themselves.
If paranormal phenomena were real we would see signs of it in society.
There are practical uses of the paranormal phenomena, as well as practical consequences of paranormal research in society. Energy healing, mediumship, induced after-death communication, past life regression, remote viewing, dowsing, psychic detectives, and the use of psychics in the commercial sector are all examples of this.
There are professionals who practice energy healing and mediumship both of which have been validated by scientific experiments. In some hospitals nurses are allowed to practice therapeutic touch because research has demonstrated its effectiveness.
Scientific research has demonstrated the effectiveness of mediumship. An example of such research is: "Anomalous Information Reception by Research Mediums Demonstrated Using a Novel Triple-Blind Protocol" Julie Beischel, Gary E. Schwartz Explore (New York, N.Y.) 1 January 2007 (volume 3 issue 1 Pages 23-27 DOI: 10.1016/j.explore.2006.10.004)
Scientific research has also demonstrated the effectiveness of energy healing. An example of such research is: "The Effect of the "Laying On of Hands" on Transplanted Breast Cancer in Mice" William F. Bengston, David Krinsley Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 353-364, 2000
Induced after death communication (IADC) is a therapy developed by a Veteran's Administration psychologist that helps patients with post traumatic stress syndrome. The therapy allows the patient to communicate with the spirits of those who's death was involved in the traumatic experience of the patient. For more information see:
Similarly, past life hypnotic regression therapy has had great healing effects on patients with emotional and physical problems. The evidence is clear that it has helped patients and therefore is beneficial to society. For more information on past life regression therapy see the Reincarnation section in the Short Topics chapter.
Remote viewing is another application of psychic abilities that we see in our society. There are a number of commercial enterprises that provide remote viewing services and offer classes in remote viewing. To learn more about remote viewing read "Remote Viewing - the Real Story" by Ingo Swann:
Dowsing services are also available commercially. In "The Geller Effect" by Guy Lyon Playfair and Uri Geller, Playfair writes in chapter 17 "Whatever It Is" that many business leaders believe in ESP because they use it themselves. In chapter 9 of this book, Uri Geller describes some of the work he was hired to do by companies that paid him very large fees to use his psychic powers to locate oil and minerals. The book can be found on-line at:
Police departments use psychics to help solve criminal investigations, as this article on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation web site explains:
"Police in Nelson, B.C., have found the body of a young woman who disappeared last March, and they credit a local psychic for pointing them in the right direction."
A number of businesses hire psychics as consultants to help with their business planning. In the June 30, 2008 issue of Newsweek the article "The $10,000-a-Month Psychic", discusses intuitionist Laura Day who works for several corporations.
Equating an untested hypothetical explanation with empirical data.
If it is to be convincing, skeptical debunking must be backed up with facts and evidence and the same rigorous analysis of the data that skeptics demand from believers. When a debunker offers a reason to dismiss empirical evidence they must offer evidence of their own. If a skeptic accuses a medium of cold reading, they must provide a transcript of a reading and show how the medium is applying the techniques of cold reading to give the impression he is communicating with spirits. If they accuse an investigator of being duped by a medium they must describe the methods the investigator used, propose how a medium could commit fraud under those conditions, and demonstrate that it is actually possible to produce fraud under those conditions.
This is the most common fallacy - to equate an untested and hypothetical explanation with a theory based on empirical data.
This logical mistake can be hard for skeptics to admit. Some people believe in the religion of Materialism. Their belief is based on faith. Often such believers don't investigate the evidence for the afterlife because it contradicts their religious beliefs. They often try to discredit the empirical evidence for the afterlife by making up stories about why that evidence might be wrong without really investigating the evidence or by backing up their stories with facts. They don't even realize their stories are contradicted by facts because they never investigated the evidence in the first place.
Extraordinary claims do not require extraordinary proof.
The fallacy that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof is often used by skeptics to reject scientific evidence of paranormal phenomena. The skeptic insists that even though a phenomena has been demonstrated to the normal standards of scientific proof, paranormal phenomena require a higher level of proof. The chapter Skeptical Misdirection has a section on The Double Standard which gives an example of how this fallacy is used by a well known skeptic as a rationale for rejecting the results of parapsychology even though he admits they meet the normal standards of scientific proof.
The notion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof was first phrased in those words by Marcello Truzzi. He later came to believe that...
The central problem however lies in the fact that "extraordinary" must be relative to some things "ordinary." and as our theories change, what was once extraordinary may become ordinary (best seen in now accepted quantum effects that earlier were viewed as "impossible"). Many now extraordinary claims may become more acceptable not when they are replicated but when theoretical contexts change to make them more welcome.
(Source: On Some Unfair Practices towards Claims of the Paranormal by Marcello Truzzi at skepticalinvestigations.org)
This suggests that what constitutes an "extraordinary" claim is subjective.
What is an extraordinary claim? An extraordinary claim is a claim that contradicts strongly held beliefs. What any one person considers an extraordinary claim is therefore subjective. Science cannot objectively determine whether or not a claim is extraordinary.
What is extraordinary proof? Extraordinary proof is evidence that disproves strongly held beliefs. Again, this is subjective. If a person with strongly held beliefs chooses to maintain disbelief in the face of contradicting evidence, then by the fact of that continuing disbelief, the proof is not extraordinary. Science cannot objectively determine whether or not proof is extraordinary.
The notion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof is not a principle of the scientific method. It is actually a statement about psychology masquerading as scientific philosophy.
There is no correspondence whatsoever between how strongly a person believes something and the method by which a contradicting claim can be proven. Each scientific question requires its own unique proof. The type of evidence required for that proof has nothing to do with whether or not someone has strong beliefs against it. The proof depends solely on the particulars of the problem in question. Some problems can be proven mathematically, some can be proven logically for example by deduction or induction. Some problems can be proven through observation in the field, others can be proven by experiments in the laboratory. Some things are easy to prove, some are hard.
Due to the subjective nature of identifying extraordinary claims and extraordinary proof, all this notion really means is that if someone has strongly held beliefs, they will resist giving up those beliefs. It is an observation about human nature not a requirement determined by the nature of scientific inquiry. In fact, it is an observation about a characteristic of human nature which interferes with scientific progress. For example, a committee of scientists reviewing a scientific paper should judge that paper on it's own merits. They would be wrong to reject its conclusions if their only reason was because those conclusions contradicted the strongly held beliefs of some outside scientist. However that committee might reject the conclusions if those conclusions contradicted their own beliefs. Therefore this notion of extraordinary claims and proof cannot be considered part of the scientific method. It is only possible to consider it a statement of how bias interferes with objectivity. When skeptics assert this notion, if they are not cynically trying to misdirect the discussion away from evidence they don't want to consider, and if they are being sincere, then they are actually demonstrating that they are refusing to consider the evidence objectively.
A corrected version of this notion would then read:
An analysis of the history of science shows that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof when people are unwilling to objectively assess evidence that contradicts their strongly held beliefs, and this has been an persistent obstacle to progress.
The chapter A Summary of Evidence has a link to a skeptic's definition of scientific proof. At the time of this writing, that definition makes no mention of special requirements for extraordinary claims. What is interesting about that chapter is that the evidence for the afterlife which it outlines is, in fact, extraordinary. The evidence which proves the afterlife includes evidence from both observations in the field and experiments. Anyone who doubts this proof should look at that chapter and follow the links and read the references that give a full account of the evidence.
Belief in the Afterlife is Falsifiable and is Scientific
This fallacy is often stated in this way but what it really means is that belief in the afterlife is not supported by evidence.
The philosopher Karl Popper wrote that for a theory to be scientific it must be supportable by empirical evidence. Empirical evidence is evidence from either observation or experiment. Popper stated that a theory that is supported by empirical evidence is not just consistent with the evidence but must pass a test which if it failed would demonstrate the theory is false. The theory must be falsifiable.
In short, for a theory to be scientific it must be supportable by evidence. For a theory to be supported by evidence it must pass a test that could demonstrate the theory is false.
An essay written by Karl Popper explaining this philosophy can be found at:
Science, Pseudo-Science, and Falsifiability by Karl Popper
The theory of the afterlife has passed tests that could falsify it, and therefore it is supported by empirical evidence, which is to say, belief in the afterlife is scientific.
Several tests of the theory of the afterlife come from Richard Hodgson's investigation into the mediumship of Mrs. Piper. This research is described in:
A Further Record of Observations of Certain Phenomena of Trance by Richard Hodgson L.L.D. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research Vol. XIII. 1898, p 284 - 582:
In his investigation, Hodgson observed "communicators" that would communicate through Mrs. Piper while she was in a trance. There were different hypotheses proposed to explain them. They included deliberate fraud, alternate personalities, telepathy, and spirits.
Tests for the hypothesis that the communicators were spirits included:
Communicators should have knowledge that is unknown to the medium and the sitters.
Communicators should have knowledge that the person they claimed to be had while living.
Communicators should demonstrate mannerisms and patterns of speech of the person they claimed to be.
Characteristics of the communication should vary with the communicator independently of who the sitters are.
Failure at any of these these test would rule out the spirit hypothesis as an explanation Mrs. Piper's mediumship.
In fact, the mediumship of Mrs. Piper passed all of these tests.
The details of the investigation are in the Proceedings. Hodgson found that the communicators were not a result of fraud, and that they had knowledge unknown to the medium and the sitters. The communicators exhibited gestures, patterns of speech, and personal knowledge of the person they claimed to be. ( Communicators also showed an interest in living friends and relatives, and demonstrated that they maintained current knowledge about them.) Characteristics of the communication varied with the communicator not with the sitters. Spirits communicating shortly after death had difficult communicating. Spirits that suffered a long illness or mental turmoil before death had more difficulty communicating. Spirits who were communicating for the first time had difficulty coming through but learned after a few attempts and could be assisted by other spirits. Some spirits were never very good at communicating. Other spirits were particularly good at communicating names. These variations in characteristics of the communicators were unaffected by who the sitters were.
Based on this evidence, Hodgson believed the communicators were spirits.
If communicators knew only what the medium knew, the spirit hypothesis would be falsified. If the communicators did not demonstrate personal knowledge and characteristics of the person they claimed to be, the spirit hypothesis would be falsified. If characteristics of the communication were found to vary with the sitters, for example if some sitters always brought through strong communicators and other sitters always brought through weak communicators, then the theory that the communicators were independent entities would be falsified.
Based on this empirical evidence one can see that belief in the afterlife is supported by empirical evidence, it has passed several tests that could falsify it and therefore belief in the afterlife is scientific.
You can prove a negative.
Some skeptics use this fallacy to avoid the burden of justifying their opinions. However, the proposition that you can't prove a negative can be disproved under the formal rules of logic. This is discussed in the article:
You Can Prove A Negative by Steven D. Hales
This article also explains why giving adequate reasons for rejecting the evidence said to prove something exists is equivalent to proving the thing doesn't exist. Therefore, a skeptic can disprove the existence of spirits and the afterlife by giving adequate reasons for rejecting the evidence said to demonstrate their existence.
This shouldn't be a problem. Most skeptics claim to believe only what is proved. It is implicit in this claim that they will not believe what is not proved. If they don't believe in spirits and the afterlife, then they should be able to explain why they reject the evidence that is said to demonstrate their existence. In fact, most skeptics have no reluctance to explain why they reject the evidence for spirits and the afterlife. Many of their arguments are discussed right here in this chapter on skeptical fallacies.
Memories of past lives recovered during past life regression therapy are not false memories caused by suggestions or leading questions by the hypnotist.
In past life regression therapy, memories of past lives are recovered without leading questions or suggestions by the hypnotist. Many psychologists have discovered past life regression therapy independently and accidentally when doing ordinary regression therapy. They ask the patient to "go back to the source of their problem" and the patient spontaneously remembers a past life. This procedure never generates false memories of the present life but often recovers memories of past lives. For more information on past life regression therapy see the Reincarnation section in the Short Topics chapter.
The theory of natural selection explains the origin of life and humankind but that does not mean there is no reason to believe in supernatural entities.
Alfred Russel Wallace discovered the theory of natural selection at the same time Charles Darwin did. Wallace began as a skeptic but his great powers of observation, the same ones which led him to formulate the theory of natural selection, also forced him to accept that mediumistic phenomena proved the existence of supernatural intelligences. More on Alfred Russel Wallace can be found in the chapter on Eminent Researchers.
Evidence for paranormal phenomena is reliable because many investigators began as skeptics and their personal bias went against belief in the paranormal.
Some skeptics will argue that the average person is not a good observer and that if they have a belief in paranormal phenomena, their bias will influence their perceptions and they may be susceptible to fraud or misidentifying ordinary phenomena as paranormal. For these reasons, some skeptics may argue that reports of paranormal phenomena are unreliable and should not be taken seriously.
However, this reasoning doesn't hold up when you consider that many eminent scientists of the past including Nobel Prize winners who were trained observers and initially skeptics became convinced, by their observations, that certain paranormal phenomena are genuine.
Before the development of modern electronics, observation was a much more important part of scientific education than it is today. Without radio telescopes, electron microscopes, analog to digital converters, and other instruments that make measurements beyond the range of human perception, scientists had to use their own senses to do their work and developing powers of observation was a significant part of their education.
Therefore, when Nobel prize winning scientists of that era such as Charles Richet, Marie Curie, Pierre Curie, and other eminent scientists like Robert Boyle, Alfred Russel Wallace, Oliver Lodge and William Crookes describe their observations, especially during controlled experiments, those observations have to be taken seriously. Particularly because most of them began as skeptics until their observations convinced them otherwise. A trained scientist, especially of those past times, was an objective and skilled observer and because of their skepticism cannot be considered analogous to a "true believer" who's bias might influence their perceptions.
All those arguments that call into doubt the ability of ordinary persons who believe in the paranormal to make reliable observations actually reinforce the compelling nature of the conclusions of these eminent researchers. For the most part, they began as skeptics so their bias would work against perceiving paranormal phenomena. The evidence must have been extraordinary to compel them to change their minds against their preexisting bias. As trained observers and skeptics their conclusions that paranormal phenomena are real must be considered reliable and compelling.
A related fallacy, that scientists were fooled by trickery, is refuted in the section: Afterlife researchers were fooled by charlatans.
Materialism and physicalism are not valid even though there is no theoretical model to explain psychic phenomena, the afterlife, or how consciousness might not be produced by the brain.
One of the common reasons skeptics give for belief in physicalism (or materialism) is that there is no theoretical model to explain psychic phenomena, the afterlife, or how consciousness might not be produced by the brain. This is not sound logic. This is no reason to prefer physicalism over dualism or idealism. Physicalism offers no explanation for consciousness and there is a huge amount of empirical evidence for psychic phenomena and the afterlife that is impossible under physicalism but is consistent with dualism or idealism. Rather than ignore empirical observations, which would be unscientific, most people recognize that dualism or idealism is a better model than physicalism.
Consciousness is not Produced by the Brain
Everyone knows that consciousness is influenced by the brain. For example, a brain injury can cause amnesia. However, this correlation between neurological states and mental states does not prove the brain produces consciousness (the production model of the brain). The same correlation would occur if the brain is a filter of non-physical consciousness (the filter model of the brain). In the filter model, the brain is said to filter some aspects of consciousness the way a colored glass can filter out some wavelengths of light. What passes through the brain filter is a restricted set of conscious faculties that we have while in the physical body. The production and filter models can both explain how brain injuries might cause loss of function like amnesia. However, the filter model can also explain how brain injuries can result in new mental capabilities that the production model cannot explain. This is because a filter can break in two ways: it can be clogged, or it can be punctured. According to the filter model of consciousness, when brain damage causes loss of function like amnesia, that is like a clog in the filter. When brain damage produces new mental capabilities, such as ESP or in Acquired Savant Syndrome (see below) that is like a hole in the filter. Furthermore, if you release the conscious mind from the brain as happens during a near death experience you should have expanded, unfiltered, consciousness. This is exactly what happens during a near death experience (see below). The production model cannot explain how injuries to the brain could produce new functions like ESP or Acquired Savant Syndrome, or how expanded consciousness could occur during a near death experience, therefore the filter model is a better explanation of how the brain functions. A skeptic may incorrectly say that the filter model is not a scientific theory because it is not falsifiable, since the filter model can explain any change in brain function, loss of function, or gain of function, there is no way to test it. This is a misunderstanding of falsifiability, it is like saying that the theory of buoyancy is unscientific because it explains why some objects float in water and other objects sink in water.
There is no doubt that the brain and the conscious mind interact. Brain damage can cause loss of some functions of consciousness. Amnesia after a head injury or poor memory due to aging are two examples. Brain tumors, injuries to the brain, mental illnesses, other diseases like rabies, and even puberty all influence behavior. Neurological activity can be measured and shown to be associated with mental activity. Nerve impulses from sensory organs result in brain activity, and the conscious mind has awareness of the sensations perceived. When the mind generates the impulse to move, nerve impulses are carried from the brain to the muscles to cause movement. Consciousness is affected by brain activity and it is able to influence brain activity. However this is only a correlation, it is not proof that neurological activity causes consciousness.
In fact, there is no good reason to believe that consciousness is produced by the brain. The brain is a physical system. It is made of atoms that behave according to the known laws of physics. The brain is no more than a mechanical machine or an electronic computer. The reason such devices are not capable of being conscious is explained in more detail below. But consider a simple machine or a simple computer. No one would say such a device is conscious. However, because the brain is a very complicated system, some materialists will state that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. This is a fallacy and is also dealt with in more detail below. Calling consciousness an emergent property doesn't really explain how the brain could produce consciousness, it is just a fancy of saying materialism can't explain it.
The Filter Model
The correlation between consciousness and brain activity should also exist if the brain is an interface between a nonphysical mind and the physical body. One way to think of this is that the brain is like a filter of consciousness. This is called the filter model of the brain. In the filter model, consciousness is a nonphysical phenomena and the brain filters consciousness while we are incarnated in our physical bodies. The brain could filter some aspects of consciousness the way a colored glass can filter out some wavelengths of light. What passes through the brain filter is a restricted set of conscious faculties that we have while in the physical body.
The filter model is superior to the hypothesis that the brain produces consciousness because the filter model explains more evidence. You can damage a filter in two ways. You can clog it or you can punch a hole in it. When brain damage causes loss of function like amnesia, that is like a clog in the filter. When brain injury results in increased function, that is like a hole punched in the filter. Examples of increased function include Acquired Savant Syndrome and when people have increased psychic abilities after a brain injury.
In the filter model one of the functions of the brain is to restrict consciousness. In that case, if you release the conscious mind from the brain as happens during a near death experience you should have expanded, unfiltered, consciousness. This is exactly what happens during a near death experience. People who have NDE's are able to perceive more than they do when in the body. They report seeing in 360 degrees and seeing colors that they do not see when in the body. Blind people report seeing during NDE's. Some near death experiencers report being able to communicate telepathically with other beings. Some report understanding that time is just an illusion or that they seem to have access to all the knowledge in the universe.
Restricting consciousness probably has some survival value. If a person had access to all the information in the universe about any time in the past, present or future, it might be difficult to concentrate on surviving here and now.
One of the early descriptions of the filter model of consciousness can be found in the introduction to of "Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death" volume I by Frederic William Henry Myers. Myers compares consciousness to light, likening the conscious mind to the visible spectrum and the unconscious mind to parts of the spectrum that are not visible. The brain may filter faculties from any part of the spectrum conscious or unconscious and those faculties that are passed through the filter are those faculties that are available while we are in the body.
In the sun's spectrum, and in stellar spectra, are many dark lines or bands, due to the absorption of certain rays by certain vapours in the atmosphere of sun or stars or earth. And similarly in the range of spectrum of our own sensation and faculty there are many inequalities permanent and temporary of brightness and definition. Our mental atmosphere is clouded by vapours and illumined by fires, and is clouded and illumined differently at different times. The psychologist who observes, say, how his reaction-times are modified by alcohol is like the physicist who observes what lines are darkened by the interposition of a special gas. Our knowledge of our conscious spectrum is thus becoming continually more accurate and detailed.
But turning back once more to the physical side of our simile, we observe that our knowledge of the visible solar spectrum, however minute, is but an introduction to the knowledge which we hope ultimately to attain of the sun's rays. The limits of our spectrum do not inhere in the sun that shines, but in the eye that marks his shining. Beyond each end of that prismatic ribbon are ether-waves of which our retina takes no cognisance. Beyond the red end come waves whose potency we still recognise, but as heat and not as light. Beyond the violet end are waves still more mysterious, whose very existence man for ages never suspected, and whose intimate potencies are still but obscurely known. Even thus, I venture to affirm, beyond each end of our conscious spectrum extends a range of faculty and perception, exceeding the known range, but as yet indistinctly guessed. The artifices of the modern physicist have extended far in each direction the visible spectrum known to Newton. It is for the modern psychologist to discover artifices which may extend in each direction the conscious spectrum as known to Plato or to Kant. The phenomena cited in this work carry us, one may say, as far onwards as fluorescence carries us beyond the violet end. The X rays of the psychical spectrum remain for a later age to discover.
It is known that brain damage can also effect memory, reasoning, language and other mental functions. If the brain filters consciousness and what passes through the filter is a restricted set of faculties of consciousness that we have while in the physical body, then if the brain is damaged in certain ways, it might filter out more faculties or fail to transmit certain faculties clearly.
This theory is sometimes called the transmission theory. It is discussed in detail in:
"Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine" by William James
In this lecture James agrees that thought is a function of the brain.
Every one knows that arrests of brain development occasion imbecility, that blows on the head abolish memory or consciousness, and the brain-stimulants and poisons change the quality of our ideas. The anatomists, physiologists, and pathologists have only shown this generally admitted fact of a dependence to be detailed and minute. What the laboratories and hospitals have lately been teaching us is not only that thought in general is one of the brain's functions, but that the various special forms of thinking are functions of special portions of the brain. When we are thinking of things seen, it is our occipital convolutions that are active; when of things heard, it is a certain portion of our temporal lobes; when of things to be spoken, it is one of our frontal convolutions.
When the physiologist who thinks that his science cuts off all hope of immortality pronounces the phrase, ``Thought is a function of the brain,'' he thinks of the matter just as he thinks when he says, ``Steam is a function of the tea-kettle,'' ``Light is a function of the electric circuit,'' ``Power is a function of the moving waterfall.'' In these latter cases the several material objects have the function of inwardly creating or engendering their effects, and their function must be called productive function.
However he points out that there are different types of functional dependence. Besides thought being produced by the brain it might be released by the brain or transmitted by the brain.
But in the world of physical nature productive function of this sort is not the only kind of function with which we are familiar. We have also releasing or permissive function; and we have transmissive function.
The trigger of a crossbow has a releasing function: it removes the obstacle that holds the string, and lets the bow fly back to its natural shape. So when the hammer falls upon a detonating compound. By knocking out the inner molecular obstructions, it lets the constituent gases resume their normal bulk, and so permits the explosion to take place.
In the case of a colored glass, a prism, or a refracting lens, we have transmissive function. The energy of light, no matter how produced, is by the glass sifted and limited in color, and by the lens or prism determined to a certain path and shape. Similarly, the keys of an organ have only a transmissive function. They open successively the various pipes and let the wind in the air-chest escape in various ways. The voices of the various pipes are constituted by the columns of air trembling as they emerge. But the air is not engendered in the organ. The organ proper, as distinguished from its air-chest, is only an apparatus for letting portions of it loose upon the world in these peculiarly limited shapes.
James goes on to suggest that the functional dependency of thought on the brain might in actuality be a transmissive function.
Suppose, for example, that the whole universe of material things--the furniture of earth and choir of heaven--should turn out to be a mere surface-veil of phenomena, hiding and keeping back the world of genuine realities. Such a supposition is foreign neither to common sense nor to philosophy. Common sense believes in realities behind the veil even too superstitiously; and idealistic philosophy declares the whole world of natural experience, as we get it, to be but a time-mask, shattering or refracting the one infinite Thought which is the sole reality into those millions of finite streams of consciousness known to us as our private selves.
Suppose, now, that this were really so, and suppose, moreover, that the dome, opaque enough at all times to the full super-solar blaze, could at certain times places grow less so, and let certain beams pierce through into this sublunary world. These beams would be so many finite rays, so to speak, of consciousness, and they would vary in quantity and quality as the opacity varied in degree. Only at particular times and places would it seem that, as a matter of fact, the veil of nature can grow thin and rupturable enough for such effects to occur. But in those places gleams, however finite and unsatisfying, of the absolute life of the universe, are from time to time vouchsafed. Glows of feeling, glimpses of insight, and streams of knowledge and perception float into our finite world.
Admit now that our brains are such thin and half-transparent places in the veil. What will happen? Why, as the white radiance comes through the dome, with all sorts of staining and distortion imprinted on it by the glass, or as the air now comes through my glottis determined and limited in its force and quality of its vibrations by the peculiarities of those vocal chords which form its gate of egress and shape it into my personal voice, even so the genuine matter of reality, the life of souls as it is in its fullness, will break through our several brains into this world in all sorts of restricted forms, and with all the imperfections and queernesses that characterize our finite individualities here below.
According to the state in which the brain finds itself, the barrier of its obstructiveness may also be supposed to rise or fall. It sinks so low, when the brain is in full activity, that a comparative flood of spiritual energy pours over. At other times, only such occasional waves of thought as heavy sleep permits get by. And when finally a brain stops acting altogether, or decays, that special stream of consciousness which it subverted will vanish entirely from this natural world. But the sphere of being that supplied the consciousness would still be intact; and in that more real world with which, even whilst here, it was continuous, the consciousness might, in ways unknown to us, continue still.
He points out that there is no more evidence to suggest thought is produced by the brain than there is evidence that it is transmitted by the brain.
Is it not more rigorously scientific to treat the brain's function as a function of production?
The theory of production is therefore not a jot more simple or credible in itself than any other conceivable theory. It is only a little more popular. All that one need do, therefore, if the ordinary materialist should challenge one to explain how the brain can be an organ for limiting and determining to a certain form a consciousness elsewhere produced, is to retort with a tu quoque, asking him in turn to explain how it can be an organ for producing consciousness out of whole cloth. For polemic purposes, the theories are thus exactly on a par.
In the Preface to the Second Edition of "The Will to Believe and Other Essays", where this lecture is reprinted, James addresses the question: If the personality is a result of consciousness transmitted through the brain, how does that translate into immortality? If the brain dies, then the individuality dies. His answer is that the source of the transmitted consciousness is an individualized consciousness and what happens in the brain may be registered back in the consciousness that is the source of the transmission - the transmission is a two way transmission.
If our finite personality here below, the objectors say, be due to the transmission through the brain of portions of a pre-existing larger consciousness, all that can remain after the brain expires is the larger consciousness itself as such, with which we should thenceforth be perforce reconfounded, the only means of our existence in finite personal form having ceased.
The plain truth is that one may conceive the mental world behind the veil in as individualistic a form as one pleases, without any detriment to the general scheme by which the brain is represented as a transmissive organ.
And in transmitting it - to keep to our extremely mechanical metaphor, which confessedly throws no light on the actual modus operandi - one's brain would also leave effects upon the part remaining behind the veil...
Evidence Explained by Both the Production and Filter Models
In summary, the brain may filter consciousness rather than produce consciousness. Only those faculties of consciousness which are transmitted through the filter are the faculties we have while in the body. This explanation of the relationship between the mind and the brain explains the same phenomena that are explained by the theory that the brain produces consciousness:
If the filter is damaged, it might not transmit some faculties clearly and there could be loss of some mental functions as happens after a stroke or a head injury.
During sleep, or anesthesia, or coma, it may be that nothing passes through the filter and there is no consciousness ie. unconsciousness.
Evidence Explained by the Filter Model but not the Production Model
The filter model of consciousness also explains many additional phenomena that are not explained by the theory that the brain produces consciousness.
Survival After Death: If consciousness is not produced by the brain but exists separately from the brain, then it can be possible for consciousness to survive the death of the physical body. This can explain the many types of evidence for the afterlife.
Near Death Experiences: If the mind is released from the filter, there should be unfiltered consciousness. This is exactly what happens during a near death experience. People who have NDE's are able to perceive more than they do when in the body. They report seeing in 360 degrees and seeing colors that they do not see when in the body. Blind people report seeing during NDE's. Some near death experiencers report being able to communicate telepathically with other beings. Some report understanding that time is just an illusion or that they seem to have access to all the knowledge in the universe.
Extra-Sensory Perception: If consciousness exists separately from the brain then it must have some means of perceiving its environment and communicating with other consciousnesses when not incarnated. This suggests that consciousness should have the ability to perceive the environment without using the physical senses. This explains extra-sensory perception, telepathy and clairvoyance, which may be the normal mode of communication and perception by consciousness when it is existing apart from the brain.
Psychokinesis: If consciousness is distinct from the brain there must be some means by which the consciousness can influence the physical brain in order to control the body. This predicts the existence of psychokinesis - the ability of mind to influence matter.
Quantum Mechanics: If consciousness is distinct from the brain there must be some means by which the consciousness can influence the physical brain in order to control the body. This is consistent with the observation from quantum mechanics that consciousness has ability to influence matter by collapsing the wave function of particles.
Mystical Experiences: In deep meditation that reduces brain activity, filtering may be reduced and more faculties of consciousness may be passed through. This could explain mystical experiences of oneness and unlimited knowledge reported by practitioners of Zen Buddhism, Yoga, and other eastern traditions.
Enhanced Psychic Perceptions During Dreams and the Hypnogogic State: Reduced brain activity during sleep, and during the hypnogogic state may result in reduced filtering. This could allow more faculties of consciousness to pass through the filter and result in increased psychic abilities such as clairvoyance, precognition, and spirit communication which have been reported to occur in those states. This is discussed in more detail in the chapter on A Natural Method for Learning to Communicating with Spirits.
ESP Under Hypnosis: Similarly, hypnosis has been used to enhance psychic perception. The hypnotic state may also reduce the filtering of consciousness by the brain. In addition, subjects under hypnosis can remember in much greater detail than they can under normal consciousness. Hypnosis may modify the filter so that a greater faculty of recollection can pass through the filter.
Acquired Savant Syndrome occurs when exceptional talents arise after a brain injury. There was an article in the dailymail.co.uk on June 1, 2009, of a man who suffered a stroke and as a result gained artistic talents:
For most, stroke and brain surgery can be devastating but for Alan Brown it sparked a previously unseen talent... as an artist.
When Alan, 49, emerged from a gruelling 16-hour operation following his stroke, he found he had become a reborn 'Michelangelo' and was able to paint and draw with incredible detail.
This is strong evidence that the brain does not produce consciousness but restricts it. It is extremely unlikely that a brain injury could cause the same changes in the brain that learning a skill would produce. If an injury to the brain can give a person a new talent, that suggests that the talent originally existed in the non-physical consciousness but the brain was restricting that talent from expressing itself in the physical organism. The stroke may have damaged the part of the brain that restricted the talent from emerging. This might then allow the patient to become more fully conscious of his innate abilities.
Some individuals might have natural differences in the filtering ability of the brain and some individuals might be able to learn to control that filtering ability. This might explain why some people are naturally more psychic than other and why some people are able to develop their psychic abilities.
Certain types of damage to the filter might let some faculties that are normally restricted, pass through. This could explain why increased psychic abilities sometimes occur after head injuries.
The theory that the brain filters consciousness is superior to the theory that the brain produces consciousness because the filter theory explains everything the production theory explains and it also explains many more phenomena that the production model cannot explain.
The Filter Model of The Brain is Falsifiable and Scientific
A skeptic might say that the filter model of the brain is not scientific because it cannot be falsified. Any change in mental function can be explained by it. If conscious faculties are increased, as occurs during an NDE, it is explained by less filtering, if conscious faculties are decreased, as may occur after a stroke or during sleep, it may be explained by increased filtering. The theory accounts for any possibility and therefore it can't be falsified.
This is a misrepresentation of falsifiability, it is like saying that the theory of buoyancy is unscientific because it explains why some objects float in water and other objects sink in water.
For a theory to be scientific it must be supported by evidence. For a theory to be supported by evidence it must pass a test that could demonstrate the theory is false.
If a theory makes predictions and you can design an experiment or make observations to test the correctness of those predictions empirically, then you can test the theory. If the experiments or observations show that the predictions are incorrect, then you have falsified the theory. This is the meaning of falsifiability. If the experiments or observations show that the predictions are correct then the theory has passed the test and can be considered to be supported by evidence and is therefore scientific.
The filter model of the brain makes three correct predictions:
The brain might be damaged in a way that is like a clog in the filter which should cause loss of some conscious capability.
The brain might be damaged in a way that is like a hole punctured in the filter which should result in new or improved capabilities of consciousness.
If the filter is removed from consciousness, then there should be unfiltered, expanded consciousness.
The way to test the first two predictions is to observe the effects of brain damage. If you can find cases where damage to the brain causes loss of function and other cases where damage to the brain causes increased function, then those observations prove the first two predictions are correct. There are some forms of brain damage that do cause loss of function, for example, amnesia or senility in the aged. There are also cases of brain damage where there new or improved capabilities of consciousness are produced, such as ESP or in acquired savant syndrome. The third prediction is proved to be correct by near death experiences where people who come close to death experience leaving their body and experience unfiltered expanded consciousness. The evidence for the second and third predictions is detailed in the previous section.
For a theory to be falsifiable, the theory must make specific predictions that can be tested with empirical observations. The filter model makes specific predictions about what types of effects on consciousness can be produced and those effects can be empirically measured. Brain damage can be detected by various methods such as MRI. Changes in functions of consciousness can be observed. Paralysis from a stroke, or new talents in the case of acquired savant syndrome are easy to observe. The reports of people who have veridical near death experiences are empirical observations made by the experiencers.
The confusion over what an unfalsifiable theory is, is best understood by looking at this excerpt from Science, Pseudo-Science, and Falsifiability by Karl Popper, 1962, which explaines how an unfalsifiable theories is always confirmed:
I may illustrate this by two very different examples of human behaviour: that of a man who pushes a child into the water with the intention of drowning him; and that of a man who sacrifices his life in an attempt to save the child. Each of these two cases can be explained with equal ease in Freudian and Adlerian terms. According to Freud the first man suffered from repression (say, of some component of his Oedipus complex), while the second man had achieved sublimation. According to Adler the first man suffered from feelings of inferiority (producing perhaps the need to prove to himself that he dared to commit some crime), and so did the second man (whose need was to prove to himself that he dared to rescue the child). I could not think of any human behaviour which could not be interpreted in terms of either theory. It was precisely this fact -- that they always fitted, that they were always confirmed -- which in the eyes of their admirers constituted the strongest argument in favour of these theories. It began to dawn on me that this apparent strength was in fact their weakness.
The difference between the filter model of the brain and the psychoanalytic theories in the above excerpt is that the filter model of the brain makes specific predictions about brain damage and its effects that can be empirically observed. In the above excerpt, the description of the Adlerian theory does not involve testing predictions empirically. Drowning and saving are both predicted by feelings of inferiority and there is no mention of any empirical measurement of inferiority, the need to prove oneself or that this need caused the behavior. If one accepts the theory without empirical tests, then any behavior could be explained by inferiority. In the example of the Freudian explanation of the behavior, empirical measurements of the sublimation and repression are not mentioned either. Sublimation and repression are simply assumed as necessary to explain any behavior. However, if there were empirical measurements taken of repression, and sublimation, in real occurrences of behavior, then the Freudian theory could be tested.
The Transmission Model of The Brain is Falsifiable and is Scientific
The section on the fallacy: Belief in the Afterlife is not Falsifiable and Therefore is not Scientific explains the significance of falsifiability to a scientific theory.
In short, for a theory to be scientific it must be supported by evidence. For a theory to be supported by evidence it must pass a test that could demonstrate the theory is false.
Someone might question whether the transmission model of the brain can be falsified. However the transmission model makes at least two predictions that can be tested:
Consciousness can exist independently of the brain.
The brain does not produce consciousness.
The first of these tests has already been passed. The chapter on Evidence for the Afterlife describes the evidence demonstrating that consciousness survives the death of the physical body.
The other way to falsify the transmission model is to study the brain and determine if it produces consciousness or not. Proving the brain produces consciousness will falsify the transmission model.
An electronics engineer can examine a radio receiver and determine that it does not generate the signal it receives and converts to sound. A scientist should be able to examine the brain and determine how it works in the same way. The research that is currently being conducted by neuroscientists to prove the brain produces consciousness may eventually reach a blank wall like an engineer tracing the signal all the way back to the antenna of a radio and then not being able to go any further and concluding that the radio is a receiver.
The electronics engineer doesn't have to know anything about radio waves nor should the scientist have to know anything about non-physical consciousness. The engineer only needs an amplifier and and oscilloscope and he can trace the signal. Similarly the scientist only needs to understand the physical mechanism of the brain.
The same electronics engineer can analyze a computer and show that all the behavior of the circuits are determined by the physical elements of the computer. If the brain produces consciousness, the scientist should be able to do the same thing for the brain. If you properly understand the brain you will know how, for example, an impulse to move your arm originates. If you can't explain how that impulse originates by the mechanism of the brain then you have to look for something outside the brain to explain it.
If someone says a computer is a receiver for radio waves you can falsify it by demonstrating the behavior of the computer is explained by the properties of the physical elements comprising it. If someone says a brain is a receiver for consciousness you can falsify it by demonstrating the behavior of the brain is explained by the properties of the biological elements comprising it. Neuroscience will eventually resolve this question.
How might the transmission model be proven? Perhaps some extremely improbable quantum phenomena will be found to occur in the brain on a regular basis. If nothing known to science can explain it, scientists will have to look for some new phenomena which may lead to the "discovery" of consciousness.
Humans are more than biological machines that operate strictly according to physical laws.
(Note: this section used to contain information that has since been moved to the section Consciousness is not the Result of Natural Selection)
According to materialism, humans are biological machines and everything about us can be explained by the physical descriptions of the atoms that make up our body and brain. If that were true, we would not be conscious because all the functions of a machine are determined by its physical structure. A machine is not conscious.
A materialist might say consciousness is an epiphenomenon or an illusion or an emergent property of the brain. However these beliefs are also fallacies which are explained in the two following sections.
If materialism were true, you would not be conscious. Since you are aware of reading these words, you know you are conscious and therefore materialism is not correct. Humans are more than just biological machines.
Consciousness cannot be Explained as an Emergent Property of the Brain
Some skeptics, when asked to explain how consciousness is produced by the brain will say it is an emergent property. They may say the complexity of the brain somehow causes consciousness to emerge. This is not an actual explanation, it is just a scientific sounding way to say that they cannot explain it. It creates the impression of an explanation without offering any actual explanation.
An emergent property is a property that is not necessarily caused by the individual parts of a system but emerges when they are arranged in a certain fashion. For example, a wheel rolls. This is not necessarily a property of matter. Matter might be formed into a solid cube which does not roll. But when matter is arranged in a wheel, it will roll.
However, merely stating something is an emergent property is not an explanation. Saying consciousness is an emergent property of the brain does not explain consciousness. When you examine a wheel you can understand why it will roll. The laws of physics explain how the ability to roll is caused by a particular arrangement of matter. When you examine a brain you cannot tell how it produces the subjective experiences of consciousness. Physics cannot explain how the subjective experiences of consciousness, what it is like to feel happy, or what it is like to see blue, or what it is like to feel pain, will arise from a particular arrangements of neurons in the brain.
When skeptics say consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, that is not an explanation of consciousness. It is a rhetorical trick used because they cannot explain how consciousness is produced by the brain. They are only applying a scientific sounding name to fool people, including themselves, into thinking it is an explanation.
(A further discussion of emergence and why consciousness cannot be an emergent property of the brain can be found on my blog at Consciousness Cannot be an Emergent Property of the Brain.)
Consciousness is not an Illusion or an Epiphenomenon
Skeptics will sometimes say that consciousness is an illusion or that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain. An epiphenomenon is a phenomenon cannot affect the phenomenon that causes it.
Saying that consciousness is an illusion or an epiphenomenon does not really explain consciousness. See the section Consciousness cannot be Explained as an Emergent Property of the Brain for an explanation of why giving a scientific name to a phenomenon is not the same as explaining it.
Furthermore, the suggestion that consciousness is an illusion is blatantly preposterous. The idea that consciousness is an illusion is refuted by Rene Descartes' formulation, Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am. The reality of consciousness is self-evident. To understand how foolish it is to suggest that consciousness could be an illusion, consider what type of entity can be fooled by an illusion into believing it is conscious. Can your car be fooled by an illusion into believing it is conscious? No. Can your computer be fooled by an illusion into believing it is conscious? No. The only type of entity that can be fooled by an illusion into believing it is conscious has to be conscious in the first place because only a conscious entity can have the subjective experience of belief. The brain is a physical machine and is no more capable of being fooled into believing it is conscious than your computer is. Consciousness cannot be an illusion.
The Wikipedia article on Epiphenomenon says,
An epiphenomenon can be an effect of primary phenomena, but cannot affect a primary phenomenon. In philosophy of mind, epiphenomenalism is the view that mental phenomena are epiphenomena in that they can be caused by physical phenomena, but cannot cause physical phenomena.
The Wikipedia article of Ephphenomenalism says:
Epiphenomenalism is the theory in philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are caused by physical processes in the brain or that both are effects of a common cause, as opposed to mental phenomena driving the physical mechanics of the brain. The impression that thoughts, feelings or sensations cause physical effects, is therefore to be understood as illusory to some extent. For example, it is not the feeling of fear that produces an increase in heart beat, both are symptomatic of a common physiological origin, possibly in response to a legitimate external threat.
Neither an illusion nor an epiphenomenon could influence the brain. However, there is empirical evidence that consciousness can influence the brain.
One form of evidence that consciousness can influence the brain comes from the placebo effect. In certain situations, if a patient is given an inactive substance but is told that he is being given a drug, the patient will experience the effects that the drug is said to cause. One example of this occurs when a patient is given a sugar pill but told it is a pain killer. In this situation, patients report that pain is reduced and in fact studies have indicated that this effect is caused by the production of naturally occurring opioids in the brain.
The Wikipedia article on the Placebo Effect says,
The phenomenon of an inert substance's resulting in a patient's medical improvement is called the placebo effect. The phenomenon is related to the perception and expectation that the patient has; if the substance is viewed as helpful, it can heal, but, if it is viewed as harmful, it can cause negative effects, which is known as the nocebo effect. The basic mechanisms of placebo effects have been investigated since 1978, when it was found that the opioid antagonist naloxone could block placebo painkillers, suggesting that endogenous opioids are involved.
What is significant about the placebo effect is that it requires the patient to believe they are being given a drug. With a real drug like a pain killer, the patient will experience the effects even if they don't know they are being treated with it. However, for the placebo effect to occur, the patient must be conscious of the fact that they are being treated. This shows that conscious awareness of a medical treatment can cause the brain to produce opioids. It shows that consciousness can affect the brain.
Another form of evidence that consciousness can affect the brain comes from the phenomenon of self-directed neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of neurons in the brain to change their organization or grow. This can occur when someone learns a skill or recovers from an injury. Self-directed neuroplasticity occurs when neurons in the brain change their organization or grow in response to self observation of mental states.
One situation where self-directed neuroplasticity occurs is meditation. During meditation, a person will observe, (ie. be conscious of) their inner state: their mental activity and the sensations in their body. This conscious attention has been found to cause changes in the brain.
The article Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: A 21st-Century View of Meditation by Rick Hanson, PhD discusses this:
One of the enduring changes in the brain of those who routinely meditate is that the brain becomes thicker. In other words, those who routinely meditate build synapses, synaptic networks, and layers of capillaries (the tiny blood vessels that bring metabolic supplies such as glucose or oxygen to busy regions), which an MRI shows is measurably thicker in two major regions of the brain. One is in the pre-frontal cortex, located right behind the forehead. It’s involved in the executive control of attention – of deliberately paying attention to something. This change makes sense because that’s what you're doing when you meditate or engage in a contemplative activity. The second brain area that gets bigger is a very important part called the insula. The insula tracks both the interior state of the body and the feelings of other people, which is fundamental to empathy. So, people who routinely tune into their own bodies – through some kind of mindfulness practice – make their insula thicker, which helps them become more self-aware and empathic. This is a good illustration of neuroplasticity, which is the idea that as the mind changes, the brain changes, or as Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb put it, neurons that fire together wire together.
The article Mind does really matter: evidence from neuroimaging studies of emotional self-regulation, psychotherapy, and placebo effect. (Beauregard M. Prog Neurobiol. 2007 Mar;81(4):218-36. Epub 2007 Feb 9) says,
The results of these investigations demonstrate that beliefs and expectations can markedly modulate neurophysiological and neurochemical activity in brain regions involved in perception, movement, pain, and various aspects of emotion processing. Collectively, the findings of the neuroimaging studies reviewed here strongly support the view that the subjective nature and the intentional content (what they are "about" from a first-person perspective) of mental processes (e.g., thoughts, feelings, beliefs, volition) significantly influence the various levels of brain functioning (e.g., molecular, cellular, neural circuit) and brain plasticity. Furthermore, these findings indicate that mentalistic variables have to be seriously taken into account to reach a correct understanding of the neural bases of behavior in humans.
The scientific evidence from the placebo effect and from self-directed neuroplasticity shows that consciousness cannot be an illusion or an epiphenomenon produced by the brain because consciousness can affect the brain.
Consciousness is not the Result of Natural Selection
According to materialism, humans are biological machines and everything about us can be explained by the physical descriptions of the atoms that make up our body and brain. If that were true, there would be no need for consciousness because all the functions of a machine are determined by its physical structure. A machine does not need to be conscious to function. Therefore, according to materialism, consciousness should not have evolved because there is no need for it.
A materialist might say consciousness is an epiphenomenon or an illusion. But if that were true, evolution could still not produce consciousness because an epiphenomenon or an illusion could not influence the behavior of an organism and it would not effect natural selection. (An epiphenomenon is a phenomenon that cannot influence the process that causes it). A materialist might also say consciousness is an emergent property of the brain but this says nothing. It is just a fancy of saying "materialism can't explain consciousness" (see above).
Furthermore, natural selection cannot account for the higher intellectual abilities of humans. Since humans all over the world have the capacity for art, higher mathematics, and abstract thought, those capacity must have existed in the earliest human ancestor. But what survival value could the ability to appreciate a symphony or higher mathematics have had to early humans?
From the video Biology of the Baroque
Human language is so complex and nuanced that it has become impossible to simulate perfectly in even the most advanced intelligent machines as any simple conversation with Siri will show. Human language is varied and textured, adapted to both concrete and abstract conversation across every people group and culture. What makes human language so intriguing is not just a great variety of different languages but their underling similarities. Despite superficial differences, human languages share deep structural similarities. This is why an Australian aborigine can learn German despite the many differences between German and the languages of the Australian Aborigines. The fact that humans, no matter what part of the world they're from, share both language and equivalent higher intellectual faculties means that these abilities must have arisen in the earliest human ancestor and that poses a problem. The capability to compose a symphony understand advanced mathematics or discuss abstract ideas would not have been of any survival value for early man. His needs were shelter and food. The idea primitive man needed our current linguistic or other higher intellectual abilities to survive is untenable. Nevertheless early man must have had this capability because it was passed down to every human in every part of the world. Even today things like art literature or music are understood to be valuable not for survival or reproduction but for their own sake. Such capacities reach far beyond the algorithm of natural selection. They're excessive, superfluous, even a gift. Their very existence is completely incomprehensible if humans are solely the result of Darwinian forces. The case that human language developed step by step through natural selection is further weakened by the fact that no single language gene has ever been discovered. That is the needed complexities seem to have arisen spontaneously in a self organizing emergent fashion.
The Brain is not a Conscious Computer
The human mind is capable of doing something that a computer cannot do. Human mathematicians can identify truths that cannot be proven by a computer program. This is known as the Lucas-Penrose argument.
From The Atheism of the Gaps by Stephen M. Barr, Associate Professor of Physics at the Bartol Research Institute, University of Delaware:
... Given sufficient time to study the structure of that program, a human mathematician (or group of mathematicians) could construct a "Godel proposition" for it, namely a proposition that could not be proven by the program but that was nevertheless true, and-here is the crux of the matter-which could be seen to be true by the human mathematician using a form of reasoning not allowed for in the program. But this is a contradiction, since this hypothetical program was suppused to be able to do anything that the human mind can do.
What follows from all this is that our minds are not just computer programs. The Lucas-Penrose argument is much more involved than the bare outline I have just given would suggest, and many people have raised a variety of objections to it. But Lucas and Penrose have had little difficulty in showing the insubstantiality of these objections, and I think it is fair to say that their argument has not been dented.
Edward Feser, in his blog post, Popper contra computationalism, explains a flaw in any argument that the brain is a conscious computer operating according to the laws of materialism. First he shows that a purely physical system operating according to the laws of materialism, such as a computer, cannot explain rational thought. Then he points out that since materialism cannot explain rational thought, any argument asserting materialism is true cannot be considered rational. Therefore, the materialist's assertion that the mind is a purely physical system such as a computer is irrational. In other words, there can be no justification to believe in materialism or that the mind is a computer.
Feser shows that materialism cannot explain our ability to reason:
Materialism says that thinking is ultimately a mechanical process. Like a computer running a program, thought is a transition from one physical state to another caused by known laws of physics.
Such a transition occurs due to physical laws not due to any inherent meaning in the physical states.
But a "thought can serve as a rational justification for another only by virtue of" it's "meaning"....
"If materialism is true, ... there is nothing about our thought processes that can make one thought a rational justification for another".
"If materialism is true none of our thoughts is ever rationally justified."
"This includes the thoughts of materialists themselves."
"If materialism is true it cannot be rationally justified", materialism "undermines itself".
If you believe the brain is a conscious computer, it is irrational of you to believe anything. If you believe anything, you must believe materialism is false, the brain is not a conscious computer, and that the mind is not produced by the brain.
A skeptic may say also may cite the paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence by Alan Turing to argue that the brain is a conscious computer. This paper is about a test for computer intelligence that has come to be called the Turing test. The Turing test involves two people and a computer. One person communicates remotely with both the computer and the other person. If he can't tell which is the person and which is the computer, then the computer passes the Turing test.
Turing argued that if you can't distinguish a computer from a person and if you doubt a computer is conscious, you must also doubt other people are conscious. Since we accept that people are conscious, if a computer passes the Turing test, the computer should be considered conscious too.
However, there are several reason it is incorrect to use this paper as evidence that the brain is a conscious computer.
Turing believed in the evidence for ESP and he felt a computer couldn't reproduce it.
(9) The Argument from Extrasensory Perception
I assume that the reader is familiar with the idea of extrasensory perception, and the meaning of the four items of it, viz., telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psychokinesis. These disturbing phenomena seem to deny all our usual scientific ideas. How we should like to discredit them! Unfortunately the statistical evidence, at least for telepathy, is overwhelming. It is very difficult to rearrange one's ideas so as to fit these new facts in. Once one has accepted them it does not seem a very big step to believe in ghosts and bogies. The idea that our bodies move simply according to the known laws of physics, together with some others not yet discovered but somewhat similar, would be one of the first to go.
If telepathy is admitted it will be necessary to tighten our test up. The situation could be regarded as analogous to that which would occur if the interrogator were talking to himself and one of the competitors was listening with his ear to the wall. To put the competitors into a "telepathy-proof room" would satisfy all requirements."
Turing wrote that the proof of his belief that a computer could pass the Turing test would only occur when a computer actually passed the Turing test. He incorrectly believed this would happen by the end of the twentieth century. However, it is already the second decade of the twenty first century and no computer has ever passed the Turing test. So there is no actual evidence that a computer can pass the Turing test.
The only really satisfactory support that can be given for the view expressed at the beginning of §6, will be that provided by waiting for the end of the century and then doing the experiment described.
I believe that in about fifty years' time it will be possible, to programme computers, with a storage capacity of about 109 [10^9], to make them play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning. The original question, "Can machines think?" I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.
Clearly this prediction has not come to pass.
Even if a computer could pass the Turing test, that would not prove human consciousness is produced by the brain. There is a large amount of evidence that human consciousness survives the death of the body. A computer cannot imitate this. Any theory to explain human consciousness has to account for that evidence. You can't ignore empirical evidence because it contradicts a theory. A theory must be consistent with the empirical evidence, otherwise the theory is wrong.
Also see: Kripka Contra Computationalism
Consciousness may be Non-Physical and Still be Able to Interact with Matter.
One of the criticisms of belief in the soul (dualism) is that if consciousness was non-physical, there would be no way for it to interact with the physical world (the physical universe is causally closed) and consciousness would not be able to influence the body. This is a paradox caused by a semantic disconnect. "Physical" means something different in the context of "non-physical consciousness" than it does in the context of "physical universe".
Mind is said to be non-physical because, for example, you can't explain qualia, ie. what red looks like, through a physical explanation. In this case physical means "produced by matter".
The physical universe is said to be causally closed because if something is going to interact with matter, it must have physical properties. Here physical means "interacts with matter".
However the fact that you can't explain qualia with a physical explanation doesn't mean mind doesn't have physical properties. Something that cannot be produced by matter might still be able to interact with matter.
Here's an analogy: a photon doesn't have mass but it can exert a kinetic force because it has momentum. A photon is not made of matter but it can interact with matter electrically and kinetically. Just because mind cannot be explained by (known) physics, does not necessarily mean that it cannot interact with matter.
A medium accused of fraud may be falsely accused.
When a skeptic claims that a medium was exposed as a fraud, you have to consider whether the skeptic is the one who is committing the fraud. The chapter on Skeptical Misdirection contains many examples of situations where skeptics have made deceptive statements. Because of the gross unreliability of skeptical claims, including payment for false confessions and false accusations, one must have a skeptical attitude towards such claims. One must demand equally high standards of proof for claims of fraud by skeptics as one does for claims of paranormal phenomena. For example, an accusation by someone who claims to have inside information that a medium was a fraud is not proof of fraud any more than an unsupported claim of a paranormal phenomena is proof of that phenomena. There must be evidence, it must be corroborated by independent investigators, and the claims must be made by persons of reliable character. All the requirements that are made for proof of a paranormal phenomena must also be required to prove fraud.
Very few writers take the time to investigate claims of fraud in order to verify them. Even fewer take the time to find out what the accused or their defenders have to say in defense of claims of fraud. As a result, there are many unproven accusations published, many with seemingly damning evidence which if properly rebutted would be seen to be fallacious. Unfortunately, these unproven and invalid claims then get repeated as fact.
Unless you have investigated both sides of the controversy, you do not have enough information to decide whether any claim of fraud is valid and you should withhold judgment until you have learned what the defenders have to say about those claims.
(Also see the related fallacy Afterlife researchers were fooled by charlatans.)
Unfortunately, there have been cases of charlatans pretending to be genuine mediums. It is equally unfortunate that there have also been cases of charlatans pretending to be skeptics. This skeptical misdirection has not helped to clarify matters it only makes it harder to determine the truth.
Genuine mediums do not use information gathered about their sitters before giving them a reading.
Some charlatans pretend to be mediums and do collect information about people and use it to give fake readings. However if a skeptic is going to accuse a particular medium of doing this, they should have some evidence otherwise they are simply guessing. Evidence could include testimony by people who inadvertently provided information or who were probed for information by the medium. Some charlatans routinely request personal information about sitters before allowing them into a seance. Such a fact, if verified, would also provide evidence. Also such charlatans usually keep records on people and share them with other charlatans (see The Psychic Mafia in the chapter on Book Reviews ). Evidence of the existence of records can also provide evidence that they are dishonest.
One should also be careful with terminology. A medium is someone who facilitates communication with spirits. Someone who pretends to do this is not a medium just as a con-artist who pretends to be a doctor is not a doctor.
Furthermore, just because charlatans exist, that does not prove there are no true mediums. Gary Schwartz has published numerous research reports demonstrating the accuracy of mediums in scientific experiments including a triple-blind experiment in which the medium has no contact with the person getting the reading. This eliminates cold reading or the use of previous knowledge as an explanation for mental mediumship.
Anomalous Information Reception By Research Mediums Demonstrated Using A Novel Triple -Blind Protocol
Genuine mediums do not use cold reading techniques to seem like they are getting information from spirits.
Cold reading is when a medium makes general statements or uses body language or statements made by the sitter to make it seem like they are getting information from spirits. If someone thinks a medium is cold reading, they can examine a transcript of a reading and show how he does it. Either they can show how the information is provided by the sitter or how he makes general statements or how he changes his story based on what the sitter says.
Cold reading cannot replicate what mediums do. Psychical researcher Montague Keen was on a TV show with a prominent stage magician in 2003. He described the magician's attempts at cold reading:
The edited version [of the TV show] omitted his first futile but extended attempts at cold reading which was so unsuccessful that the embarrassed floor manager had to announce a technical fault and stop the show.
Magicians cannot reproduce the phenomena of physical mediumship and other paranormal abilities under conditions that psychics produce those phenomena.
A number of the best magicians have said that magicians are not able to reproduce spiritual phenomena in the same conditions in which mediums demonstrate such phenomena. Magicians have also express belief in the paranormal and the belief that some mediums they have observed are genuine.
The following quote is from "Is There an Afterlife" by David Fontana
Will Goldston, one of Europe's leading professional magicians, author of 40 works on sleight of hand, and founder of the Magicians' Club of London, testified in a national newspaper (the Daily Sketch) that 'I am convinced that what I saw [at a Rudi Schneider séance organized by Harry Price] was not trickery. No group of my fellow- magicians could have produced those effects under such conditions.' Goldston also spoke up for independent voice medium Hazel Ridley and for Helen Duncan (who may have been another who used mixed mediumship) and was sufficiently impressed by physical phenomena actually to become a spiritualist. Both David Abbott and Howard Thurston, contemporaries of Houdini and two of America's best-known magicians, confessed their conviction in the genuineness of physical phenomena (like Goldston, Thurston also became a spiritualist).
More information about Will Goldston's investigation and validation of Helen Duncan's mediumship can be found in "Helen Duncan Confounds the Magicians" by Will Goldston at survivalafterdeath.org.uk:
The following quote is from "Magicians Who Endorsed Psychic Phenomena" By George P. Hansen
Samuel Bellachini was the Court Conjuror for Emperor William I at Berlin. Bellachini investigated the controversial American medium Henry Slade. The sittings were not only held in darkness, but some were in full daylight. Bellachini was convinced that the results were not due to trickery.
The famous historical medium, Eusapia Palladino, readily admitted herself that she used trickery when she could. Skeptics have often thus dismissed positive reports of her phenomena. But no less than Howard Thurston [a well known magician] believed in some of her results and said so in the New York Times. Thurston was nevertheless well aware of her trickery.
According to Chapter 8 Scole Experiment proves the afterlife of A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife by Victor Zammit, during the Scole Experiments, "James Webster, a professional stage-magician, ... who has more than fifty years experience in psychic research ... [on] three occasions he attended sittings with the Scole group and published reports. His conclusion was clearly set out in a recent letter to the English newspaper, Psychic World (June 2001):"
I discovered no signs of trickery, and in my opinion such conjuring tricks were not possible, for the type of phenomena witnessed, under the conditions applied….
The following excerpt from the zerdinisworld.com article on the medium Elizabeth Blake states that "Two expert conjurers David P. Abbot and E. A. Parsons" validated the mediumship of Elizabeth Blake.
Two expert conjurers, David P. Abbott of the ASPR and E. A. Parsons, investigated Blake in 1906 and became convinced of the identity of the spirit communicators. Blake used a 2-foot long double trumpet; putting the small end to her ear and the larger one at that of the sitter, it appeared as if the voices came from her ear. If she covered the small end with her palm, the result was the same. The voices grew from whispers to such loudness that occasionally they were heard at a distance of 100 feet.
The zerdinisworld.com article on medium Alec Harris quotes from The Mediumship of Alec Harris By Isa Gray to show that magician A.G. Fletcher-Desborough was unable to explain Harris' phenomena by means of tricks.
A.G. Fletcher-Desborough described his “unique” experience in Liverpool Evening Express.
I examined the cabinet which he used. Having been on the stage as an illusionist and magician, I knew exactly where to look for such things as panel and floor escapes, and ceiling and wall slides.
I was satisfied nothing could make an exit or an entrance in any way. There was no chance for deception."
A short stout man materialised from the cabinet, walked straight to him and mumbled the sitter’s name, Bertie. “It was my father and, in his mumbling way of speaking, gave my family pet name used by my parents. No one but the family knew it.
Other types of paranormal abilities have also been endorsed by magicians. "The Geller Papers" edited by Charles Panati:
includes articles by magicians who endorsed Uri Geller's psychic abilities.
The "Official Report: Society Of American Magicians, Assembly 30, Atlanta Chapter" by Artur Zorka, Chairman of The Occult Investigations Committee says:
... it is the unanimous finding of this committee that although we, as magicians, can duplicate each of these test results using methods known by us, under the proper conditions . . . there is no way, based on our present collective knowledge, that any method of trickery could have been used to produce these effects under the conditions to which Uri Geller was subjected.
Leo Leslie, a Danish magician wrote in his book "Uri Geller":
The judgment of all of us who were present for what occurred was one of total endorsement of Geller's paranormal claims: both his ability to bend metal and his talent for receiving telepathic signals.
Also see the previous section: Genuine mediums do not use cold reading techniques to seem like they are getting information from spirits.
Genuine mediums do not take unfair advantage of people who are grieving or who are afraid of death. Skeptics do.
People who are afraid of death take comfort from the knowledge that they will continue on in the afterlife. People suffering from grief take comfort from the fact that their loved ones continue to exist, can communicate with them, and may be reunited with them in the afterlife. When people who have not investigated the empirical evidence for the afterlife deny it's existence or try to explain away the evidence by offering untested and unsupported hypotheses, they are also harming those suffering from grief.
All known methods of healing, including mainstream medicine and spiritual healing, have limits. They cannot always help every recipient of healing.
Two common fallacies about Spiritual healing are:
A well known spiritual healer died young so spiritual healing must not work.
A well known person wasn't helped by spiritual healing so spiritual healing must not work.
These fallacies are an example of a common trick skeptics use. Skeptics often make all sorts of unrealistic assumptions about a phenomenon they know nothing about and don't even believe exists. Then, they show their unrealistic assumptions are not true and assert that is evidence the phenomenon is not genuine. The fallacies here can be made obvious if you try to apply them to mainstream medicine. If a doctor dies young that doesn't mean modern medicine is a fraud. No one lives forever, even with mainstream medicine. People die in hospitals every day. That doesn't mean mainstream medicine is a fraud. Unfortunately, there are many people who are not helped by mainstream medicine. There are diseases for which there is no effective treatment, and not all treatments are effective for every patient. All known methods of healing, including mainstream medicine and spiritual healing, have limits. They cannot always help every recipient of healing.
More information can be found on the web page on Spritiual Healing.
Parapsychological research is published in peer reviewed scientific journals.
According to the Parapsychology Association Bibliography for 1998 the following journals are peer-reviewed and publish parapsychological research.
Journal of Parapsychology
Journal of Scientific Exploration
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
European Journal of Parapsychology
Japanese Journal of Parapsycholog
Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research
There is research demonstrating the afterlife although no one has won the Nobel prize for it.
There is research demonstrating the afterlife (see the section in this chapter on the fallacy: There is no evidence of spirits or the afterlife.). In fact there was evidence that should have brought afterlife research into the mainstream of science as early as 1922 (see the section Early Research in the chapter Summary of Evidence). Unfortunately it is human nature that when people encounter evidence that contradicts their beliefs they tend to either ignore it or attribute it to fraud or incompetence. An exception to this, that reinforces people's disbelief in evidence for the afterlife, is that people are also prone to accept the beliefs of the majority even if it contradicts their own beliefs (see the section in this chapter on the fallacy: If afterlife research was valid, mainstream science would accept it.).
Most afterlife researchers were not fooled by charlatans.
Many eminent researchers including Nobel Prize winning scientists who have investigated afterlife phenomena were concerned with the possibility of fraud. During their investigations, which were carried out over a period of years, they took exacting precautions against fraud. While it is quick and easy for a skeptic to make an off-hand remark that the researcher was probably duped by trickery, it is much more complex and time consuming to go to the original research reports and identify the experimental procedures and demonstrate that adequate precautions were taken.
When a skeptic claims that a researcher was fooled by fraud, you have to consider whether the skeptic is the one who is committing the fraud. The chapter on Skeptical Misdirection gives many examples of situations where skeptics have made deceptive statements. Because of the gross unreliability of skeptical claims, one must have a skeptical attitude towards them and demand equally high standards of proof for claims of fraud by skeptics as you do for claims of the paranormal. It is also wise not just to accept the statements of skeptics but to look for the rebuttal to the skeptics by the researchers they are criticizing.
(Also see the section A medium was exposed as a fraud.)
Most scientists have published books or research papers where they describe their materials, methods, observations, and steps taken to prevent fraud. If someone is going to prove the researchers were fooled, they must describe the experimental methods used, suggest how the research subjects committed fraud, and demonstrate that it is possible to commit fraud in that way under those conditions.
As an example, here is how one psychical researcher, Sir William Crookes described his experimental apparatus in "Researches into the Phenomena of Spiritualism".
In another part of the room an apparatus was fitted up for experimenting on the alterations in the weight of a body. It consisted of a mahogany board, 36 inches long by 9 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch thick. At each end a strip of mahogany 1 1/2 inches wide was screwed on, forming feet. One end of the board rested on a firm table, whilst the other end was supported by a spring balance hanging from a substantial tripod stand. The balance was fitted with a self-registering index, in such a manner that it would record the maximum weight indicated by the pointer. The apparatus was adjusted so that the mahogany board was horizontal, its foot resting flat on the support. In this position its weight was 3 lbs., as marked by the pointer of the balance.
In "Thirty Years of Psychical Research" by the Nobel Prize winning scientist Charles Richet, Richet writes:
We have read and re-read, studied and analyzed the works written on these subjects, and we declare it vastly improbable, and even impossible, that eminent and upright men such as Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, Reichenbach, A. Russel Wallace, Lombroso, William James, Schiaparelli, F. W. H. Myers, Zollner, A. de Rochas, Ochorowicz, Morselli, Sir William Barrett, Ed Gurney, C. Flammarion, and many others, in spite of their close attention and their scientific knowledge, should all have been duped over and over again a hundred times by tricksters or have been the victims of an astounding credulity. It is not possible that they should all and always have been so blind as not to perceive frauds necessarily gross; so incautious as to form conclusions where no conclusion was legitimately possible; and so unskilful as never to have made a single unexceptionable experiment. A Priori, their experiments deserve careful consideration and not to be contemptuously rejected.
Alfred Russel Wallace, who discovered the theory of natural selection at the same time as Charles Darwin, held similar sentiments to Charles Richet. In his book "Miracles and Modern Spiritualism" he urges his readers to...
... consider the long roll of men of ability who, commencing the inquiry as sceptics, left it as believers, and to give these men credit for not having overlooked, during years of patient inquiry, difficulties which at once occur to themselves.
In addition, the possibility of fraud does not prove fraud occurred, nor does one proven fraud imply there are no true psychics. There have been many cases of fraud in every profession but this does not mean that those professions are all populated by charlatans.
Paranormal phenomena do not disappear when scientists try to reproduce them in a laboratory.
There are many laboratory studies that prove the paranormal. Here are just a few:
1993: Observation Of A Psychokinetic Effect Under Highly Controlled Conditions
Toward Understanding the Placebo Effect: Investigating a Possible Retrocausal Factor
Effects of Intentionally Enhanced Chocolate on Mood
http://www.explorejournal.com (September 2007)
The Effect of the "Laying On of Hands" on Transplanted Breast Cancer in Mice
Full Text (PDF)
"On the Latest Study of ESP and OBEs" has several references.
Here are a few journals that publish psychic research:
The criticism that paranormal phenomena can't be reproduced in a laboratory, besides being false, is irrelevant. Much of science cannot be done in a laboratory. Many aspects of field biology, ecology, geology, anthropology, astronomy are studied by observing phenomena that occurs outside a laboratory. For example, certain animals will not reproduce in captivity. It also must be understood what a laboratory is. A laboratory doesn't have to have benches, stools, sinks, and glassware cabinets. A living room in an ordinary home with curtains that block all light from the windows and used to hold seances can also be a laboratory if phenomena are examined there in an unbiased, empirical, and open minded way. Scientists do not hold a monopoly on science. Science is when you try to understand a phenomena by making observations and testing hypotheses.
The results of psychical research are reliable even when they are not obtained from repeatable laboratory experiments.
This fallacy is easily exposed by comparing psychical research to research on evolution. The evidence for the theory of evolution by natural selection was not obtained through laboratory experiments. The evidence for natural selection was first observed by Charles Darwin in the wild on the Galapagous Islands. Later more evidence was found by other investigators burried in the ground as fossils. There is a huge amount of evidence for the theory of natural selection and virtually all scientists recognize it is reasonable to believe the theory based on that evidence.
There are also a huge number of observations of paranormal phenomena made by scientists and other reliable sources. It is reasonable to believe those phenomena are real because the phenomena of psychical research are repeatable. These same phenomena are observed, in many cases under controlled conditions, over and over by different observers. Psychics have produced the same phenomena for different investigators, and investigators have observed similar phenomena from different psychics.
Anecdotal evidence is reliable when used correctly.
It is not correct to assert that all research conclusions based on anecdotal evidence are invalid because there are reliable forms of anecdotes and valid uses of anecdotal evidence. Certain fields of psychical research are often incorrectly criticized because they are said to rely on anecdotal evidence. These fields include crisis apparitions, near death experiences, death bed visions, and past life memories.
While there are valid criticisms of anecdotal evidence and how anecdotes can be misused to reach incorrect conclusions, not every criticism of anecdotal evidence applies to every anecdote or every use of anecdotes. Many of the criticisms of anecdotal evidence do not apply to the way anecdotal evidence is used in psychical research.
The value of anecdotal evidence depends on the quality of the anecdotes and what they are used to demonstrate. For example, a high quality anecdote would involve first hand accounts by multiple identified witnesses of good character where each witness corroborates the others.
The way anecdotes are use in research also determines whether the conclusions drawn from them are valid. For example anecdotes are often criticized because they cannot prove a cause and effect relationships. However anecdotes in psychical research are often used merely to prove a phenomena occurs and are not used to demonstrate a cause and effect relationship.
The following is list of a the criticism of anecdotal evidence. The reasons they do not apply to the way anecdotes are used in psychical research is explained.
(The following criticisms of anecdotal evidence are discussed in the Wikipedia article on anecdotal evidence.)
Vivid emotionally charged anecdotes seem to be more plausible and are given greater weight. This is relevant when anecdotes are being used to argue that a decision be swayed in a certain direction. It is irrelevant when anecdotes are used in psychical research to demonstrate that a phenomena occurs.
You don't know how many people are not reporting such anecdotes. This is not relevant in psychical research where anecdotes are not used to demonstrate the frequency of a phenomena but are used only to demonstrate the phenomena sometimes occurs. Also see below Anecdotal evidence is not meaningful without a statistical basis for understanding it.
Anecdotes are easily misused to incorrectly assert cause and effect relationships. Anecdotes are not used to demonstrate cause and effect relationships in psychical research, they are used to demonstrate a phenomena occurs.
Anecdotes that refer to the exception rather than the rule are misleading. It is proper to use anecdotes to demonstrate that exceptions to a rule exist. This is appropriate in psychical research when one is trying to demonstrate a paranormal phenomena occurs.
Anecdotes cannot be used to demonstrate statistical facts. Anecdotes are not used to demonstrate statistical facts in psychical research, they are used to demonstrate a phenomena occurs. Also see below Anecdotal evidence is not meaningful without a statistical basis for understanding it.
Anecdotes do not carry the weight of authority. Authority is not required for a fact to be true.
Anecdotes are subject to cognitive bias and are unfalsifiable.
Cognitive bias occurs when a person's judgment is affected by their preconceived ideas, expectations, and opinions.
This criticism is often misapplied to psychical research due to a misunderstanding that the anecdotes are from individual subjective experiences, when, in fact, the anecdotes often involve multiple witnesses making objective observations. Anecdotes are verifiable when there are multiple identified witnesses who corroborate each other. There are cases of multiple corroborating witness for crisis apparitions, memories of past lives, and even some NDEs.
In many cases, the paranormality of an NDE is demonstrated not by the subjective nature of the experience but by verifiable information brought back by the experiencer which could not have been perceived even if the experiencer had been conscious. These are called veridical NDE's
For examples see:
"People See Verified Events While Out-Of-Body"
The NDE and Out-of-Body Kevin Williams' research conclusions
Individual NDE Experiences
(Search the page for "veridical" to find these types of cases)
Anecdotes are subject to subjective validation
Subjective validation "occurs when two unrelated or even random events are perceived to be related because a belief, expectancy, or hypothesis demands a relationship. Thus people seek a correspondence between their perception of their personality and the contents of a horoscope." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forer_effect)
This is one of the biggest criticism of psychical research, but it is irrelevant unless the anecdote is being used to demonstrate a correspondence between events. It doesn't apply when objective, verifiable observations are reported. For example, as often occurs with crisis apparitions, if several people saw an apparition of someone but they didn't know the person's life was in danger, there would be no cause for subjective validation.
(See "Phantasms of the Living" by Edmund Gurney
In the case of death bed visions, there are a number of cases where visions were seen of people who were thought to be living but in actuality had died.
(See "Death Bed Visions" by William Barrett chapter 2
This is exactly the opposite of what you would expect if subjective validation were occurring.
Rejecting conclusions of psychical research that uses anecdotal evidence is inappropriate because there are reliable forms of anecdotes and reliable uses of anecdotal evidence. If someone asserts that psychical research is flawed because it relies on anecdotal evidence, they must prove that assertion by identifying the conclusions of that research and demonstrate which specific criticisms of anecdotal evidence apply to the anecdotes used to reach those conclusions.
Anecdotal evidence is scientific and it is repeatable.
When a researcher interviews someone who has made an observation it is evidence. This type of evidence is not just scholarly, it is scientific. Collecting evidence from individuals is used in other fields of science such as anthropology and sociology.
There are many fields of science where research is not always done in a laboratory. Ecology, astronomy, field biology, botany, zoology are examples. Sometimes you have to go to where the phenomena are if you want to study them.
In the book "21 Days into the Afterlife" Piero Calvi-Parisetti, MD. gives a good explanation of how anecdotal evidence is used.
"Let's say, for example, that a biologist goes to Antarctica to study one particular aspect of the penguins’ behaviour. After five weeks of observation he comes back with a report saying that the penguins do this and that. Is that not science?
"Well, of course it is. But we expect that if another biologist went and observed the same penguins, he would report the same behaviour.
"Precisely. And this is precisely what happens with most of the anecdotal evidence I am talking about. People observe phenomena and report what they have seen. And then other people observe the same phenomena and report the same kind of things. Just swap the biologist with a psychic researcher and the penguins with mediums or other psychic phenomena."
Anecdotal evidence scientific and it can be disproved.
The section on the fallacy: Belief in the Afterlife is not Falsifiable and Therefore is not Scientific explains the significance of falsifiability to a scientific theory.
In short, for a theory to be scientific it must be supported by evidence. For a theory to be supported by evidence it must pass a test that could demonstrate the theory is false.
It is possible for anecdotal evidence to be used in a test that can falsify a theory. One case where this was done was an investigation on crisis apparitions.
When an apparition of a person is seen near the time of his death, it is called a crisis apparition. Evidence of crisis apparitions comes in the form of anecdotes because their occurrence is not predictable and can't be studied in a laboratory. The section on the fallacy: Anecdotal evidence is not meaningful without a statistical basis for understanding it. Anecdotes may be due to chance coincidence. describes an investigation that determined the frequency of apparitions and then taking into account the frequency of deaths, determined that seeing a apparition of someone near the time of his death occurred much more frequently than chance coincidence could explain.
This investigation demonstrated that crisis-apparitions are a paranormal phenomena and should be a high priority for scientific investigation because the known laws of science cannot explain the correlation between the death of an individual and the appearance of an apparition of them. However, if this investigation had shown that crisis-apparitions occurred at a frequency expected by chance coincidence, the paranormal hypothesis would have been falsified and crisis-apparitions would have no special priority for scientific investigation. This demonstrates that there are ways that anecdotal evidence can be used to confirm a theory and therefore anecdotal evidence can be scientific.
Furthermore, conclusions drawn from eyewitness accounts can also be disproved. For example, if someone says he saw a ghost on main street, you may be able prove he was somewhere else at that time. You may not be able cross-check every statement in an anecdote but if you can demonstrate a high frequency of inaccuracy in those statements that can be cross-checked within a study, then you can cast doubt on the conclusions of that study. It is hard to do this, but all you have to do is interview people. It would be much easier to investigate a first hand eye witness account than for example to try to disprove astronomical observations that require expensive telescopes or physics experiments that required huge particle accelerators and require expensive computer time to analyze. The case of cloning fraud in Korea is another example. I don't have the equipment to show that was a fraud but I do have a telephone and I could easily investigate anecdotes.
Additionally, if someone thinks anecdotal evidence is used to draw the wrong conclusions, they can try to reproduce the study. They can collect new anecdotes and investigate them more carefully. If they think the anecdotes are the result another phenomena they can design a study to test that hypothesis.
Anecdotal evidence is not always the result of people who are in emotional turmoil and it is reliable.
Anecdotes are not all about people under stress. Many occur when the observer is in perfectly good health, not aware anyone is ill or has any expectation of experiencing anything paranormal.
About fourteen years ago, about 3 o'clock one summer's afternoon, I was passing in front of Trinity Church, Upper King Street, Leicester, when I saw on the opposite side of the street a very old playmate, whom, having left the town to learn some business, I had for some time lost sight of. ... The next week I was informed of his somewhat sudden death at Burton-on-Trent, at about the time I felt certain he was passing in front of me.
Anecdotal evidence is meaningful with a statistical basis for understanding it. Anecdotes may be determined not to be due to chance coincidence.
Anecdotes can be understood in a statistical context if a survey is conducted to learn about the frequency of the type of event described by the anecdotes. This methodology may be used to rule out chance coincidence as an explanation of anecdotal evidence.
The psychical researchers of the late 19th century wanted to extend the methods of science so that personal experiences could be studied quantitatively and objectively.
One way they did this was to use a survey to help make sense of anecdotal information about crisis apparitions. The survey was called "the census of hallucinations". They tried to do a representative survey of the British population asking a simple question:
"Since January 1, 1874, have you when in good health, free from anxiety, and completely awake had a vivid impression of seeing or being touched by a human being, or of hearing a voice or sound which suggested a human presence, when no one was there ? Yes or no ?"
If a subject answered yes, they requested further information. If the event seemed to include veridical information, they sought corroborating testimony from other witnesses such as family members to whom the subject described the hallucination at the time it occurred.
This is described in "Phantasms of the Living" by Edmund Gurney, Volume 2 Chapter XIII "The Theory of Chance Coincidence"
Next, using sources of information on the frequency of deaths such as "Supplement to the 45th Annual Report of the Registrar-General", they calculated the expected probability of having a hallucination near the time of death of a relative or acquaintance. From this they were able to demonstrate that the frequency of crisis apparitions (seeing an apparition of someone near the time of their death) was much too high to be explained by chance coincidence.
The census of hallucinations is also described in The Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Many articles on the census can be read in the Proceedings on line at books.google.com. These articles can be easily found the Web Guide to the PSPR.
Evidence for the afterlife is acceptable even though some of the research took place long ago.
Some skeptics complain that some of the evidence for the afterlife was obtained too long ago in the last century. The absurdity of this complaint is apparent when considered against the fact that the geometry taught in our schools was codified by Euclid some time around 300 BC. Rational thought and intellectual competence is not a modern invention. A fact does not become false simply because it has been known for a certain period of time. Furthermore, at the time of this writing, the evidence of reincarnation research, ITC, IADC, and the Scole Experiments are only some of the many recent sources of evidence.
Near Death Experiences cannot be explained by biological phenomena such as lack of oxygen or a "dying brain".
When people are unconscious and near death, they sometimes experience leaving their body and when revived, bring back information that they could not have obtained with their normal senses and that information is later verified as correct. There have been several hypotheses advanced to explain NDE's by means of ordinary biological phenomena. None of these hypotheses account for this nor do they account for other observed phenomena that occur during NDE's.
The following on-line sources discuss how "scientific" theories of NDEs fail to explain all of the observed phenomena associated with NDEs. A list of the materialist hypotheses refuted by each of these sources can be found on my blog at Materialist explanations of NDEs fail to explain the phenomenon..
The hypotheses refuted by these sources include: lack of oxygen, dying brain, ketamine, DMT, other brain chemicals, hallucinations, retinal dysfunction producing an image of the tunnel, brain dysfunction such as temporal lobe stimulation, seizures, residual consciousness while the brain is inactive, cultural expectations, religious expectations, medicine, descriptions of procedures by medical personnel, partial anesthesia, hearing during resuscitation, REM intrusions, brain activity before or after the loss of consciousness, mental instability, defense against dying, evolutionary adaptation to dying. None of these phenomena can explain near-death experiences.
Chapter 2 in "Your Eternal Self by R. Craig Hogan, Ph.D. (Search for the header: "Purely Physiological Explanations for the NDE Accounts Have Been Shown to Be Insufficient to Account for Them.")
Michael Prescott discusses chapter 6 of the book "Irreducible Mind" by Edward F. Kelly, Emily Williams Kelly, et al.
Near-Death Experiences Between Science and Prejudice by Enrico Facco and Christian. (2012) Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 6:209. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00209
Near death, explained By Mario Beauregard at Salon.com, Saturday, Apr 21, 2012
Near-death, revisited By Mario Beauregard at Salon.com, Sunday, Apr 29, 2012
Cosmological Implications of Near-Death Experiences by Bruce Greyson, Journal of Cosmology, 2011, Vol. 14.
People See Verified Events While Out-Of-Body
Scientific Theories of the NDE
Michael Tymn discusses the section on NDE's in chapter 2 "Where Are You?" in the book "Your Eternal Self" by R. Craig Hogan, Ph.D.
The section on Shared and Veridical Near Death Experiences in the chapter "Evidence for the Afterlife" on this web site has more information on veridical and shared NDEs which cannot be explained as purely biological phenomena.