Fallacies About Skeptics
Fallacies About Evidence
Fallacies About Consciousness
Fallacies About Mediumship
Fallacies About Spiritual Healing
Fallacies About Research
Evidence for the afterlife is unacceptable because the research took place too long ago.
Near Death Experiences can be explained by biological phenomena such as lack of oxygen or a "dying brain".
More articles on skepticism at "Life in B Flat"
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
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
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
"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
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"
Often skeptics will state that there is no evidence for the afterlife, or psychic phenomena, or God.
However, there is plenty of evidence for the
There is also evidence of
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
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
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
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.
result, there are many unproven skeptical claims published, many with
seemingly convincing evidence which if properly rebutted would be
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
It is equally unfortunate that there have also been
charlatans making skeptical claims.
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
scientific revolution deposed religion as the ultimate source of
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
have a lot of cultural baggage that
from accepting that some paranormal phenomena are
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
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.
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.
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
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,
because some religion condemns their
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.
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
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
suspend their critical thinking
in order to embrace the
because it allows them to hold on to their
world view in the face of
that demonstrate genuine psychic phenomena. People resist
changing their world view because it requires admitting they were wrong
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
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
evolutionary and biological reasons
that might predispose
people to believe in religions and to be superstitious. Humans tend to
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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
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:
Edward Feser: Popper contra computationalism
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
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.
Why Darwinist Materialism is Wrong BY ALVIN PLANTINGA
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.
Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him? By ANDREW FERGUSON
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.
one of the most important founders of
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 Lennox Explains why Atheism is a Delusion Incompatible with Science.
Rationalization in the Debate over Evolution
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.)
Promissory materialism isn't even plausible, it is contradicted by the history of science.
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.
John Lennox Explains Some of the Scientific Evidence for God.
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.
A Summary of Evidence
has more details.
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
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.
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.
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:
Induced After-Death Communication
by Michael Tymn and
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
For more information on past life regression therapy see the
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."
More articles about
can be found in the chapter
News Stories About Spirits.
A number of businesses hire psychics as consultants to help
In the June 30, 2008 issue of
"The $10,000-a-Month Psychic",
discusses intuitionist Laura Day who works for several
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.
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.
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
(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
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
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.
A Summary of Evidence
has a link to a skeptic's
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
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.
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
If communicators knew
only what the medium knew, the spirit hypothesis would be falsified.
If the communicators did not demonstrate personal knowledge and
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
could falsify it and therefore belief in the afterlife is
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
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
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
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.
Alfred Russel Wallace can be found in the chapter
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
However, this reasoning doesn't hold up when you consider that many
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
and other eminent scientists like
Alfred Russel Wallace,
Oliver Lodge and
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.
One of the common reasons skeptics give for belief in
(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
Physicalism offers no explanation for consciousness
and there is a huge amount of empirical evidence for psychic phenomena
that is impossible under physicalism but is consistent with dualism or
idealism. Rather than ignore empirical observations, which would be
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
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
it explains why some objects float in water and other objects sink in
There is no doubt that the brain and the conscious mind interact.
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
explain how the brain could produce consciousness, it is just a fancy of
saying materialism can't explain it.
Back To Section Start
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.
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
Back To Section Start
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.
Back To Section Start
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Back To Section Start
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
- 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.
Back To Section Start
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
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.
Back To Section Start
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 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
However the transmission model makes at least two predictions that
can be tested:
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.
- Consciousness can exist independently of the brain.
- The brain does not produce consciousness.
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
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
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.
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
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
(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
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
The Wikipedia article on
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
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
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).
The Brain is not a Conscious Computer
Edward Feser, in his blog post, Popper contra computationalism,
explains a flaw in any argument that the brain is a conscious computer
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.
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
contains many examples of situations where skeptics have made deceptive
the gross unreliability of skeptical claims, including
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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:
(More information about Helen Duncan can be found in the chapter
in the section
Helen Duncan, framed by the British government.)
The following quote is from "Magicians Who Endorsed Psychic Phenomena" By George P. Hansen
Chapter 8 Scole Experiment proves the afterlife
of A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife by Victor Zammit, during the
"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):"
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
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
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
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
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.
Other types of paranormal abilities have also been endorsed by
magicians. "The Geller Papers" edited by Charles Panati:
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.
includes articles by magicians who endorsed Uri Geller's psychic
The "Official Report: Society Of American Magicians, Assembly 30,
Atlanta Chapter" by Artur Zorka, Chairman of The Occult Investigations
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.
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
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
More information can be found on the web page on
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 (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
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
If afterlife research was valid, mainstream science would accept it.).
eminent researchers including
Nobel Prize winning scientists who have investigated afterlife
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,
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 chapter on
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
high standards of proof for claims of fraud by skeptics as you
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
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
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
http://survivalebooks.org/#Thirty Years of Psychical Research
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
... 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.
There are many laboratory studies that prove the paranormal. Here
are just a few:
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.
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
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
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
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 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
The following is list of a the criticism of anecdotal
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." (
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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
Web Guide to the PSPR.
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.
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.
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.
Debunking the NDE Debunkers
- Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander: Heaven is real and consciousness is not produced by the brain.
- An interview with Caroline Watt at skeptiko.com exposes her paper that incorrectly states near-death experiences are not paranormal.
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.