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Smoking Camel
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The other day I heard the phrase: "for the advancement of scientific knowledge and humankind."

And was thinking. Why does science consider itself to be all good?
Why does it consider itself to be the saviour of humankind?

Now the obvious answer would be: science has helped us cure XYZ.

But at the same time it has done a great many bad things.

So my question is this: In relation to psychic phenomenon: why must it be boxed up, analysed and labeled?

Why does science need to have an explanation for such things?

Is it a good thing?

Of course the obvious argument here of course, well if psychic ability can by rationalised and quantified it would help people by stopping the scams. But I find this argument fallacious to the extreme since an understanding of unstable atoms has led to both power stations and nuclear bombs.

Disregarding all other matters: Do we really need to enquire into the mystical side of things?
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bitterman
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Man, I hope I never get that XYZ again. Thank you science!
If you are not cheating, you are only cheating yourself.

Dutchco is about to put out some new Ebook: DUTCHCO. Get 'em while you can.
Smoking Camel
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Quote:
On 2008-11-20 15:37, bitterman wrote:
Man, I hope I never get that XYZ again. Thank you science!


haha... knew you'ld chip in with something amusing!

Brother P-Touch labeling - awesome.
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Chris K
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During the med school application process, there is an essay section (or used to be at least). You are given a phrase, asked to explain it, argue why it is wrong, then make a new phrase that holds up against your arguments. The idea, of course, is that you have to think of something from all angles before making your arguments. There are many reasons why this is important in life, and as a physician but one of the main ones is to drill home the idea of not reaching conclusions too soon (something about 98% of the people at the Café need to learn).

During my prep class, I got an interesting one: "It's a sin not to tell"

Arguments for and against this should be easy but the interesting part is that the arguments parallel arguments for and against scientific inquiry. Now, the big mistake to make is to talk about specifics. Nuclear power and nuclear bombs, for example, have less to do with each other than people think (one has to do with the heat generated from radioactive materials and the other has to do with mass-energy conversion under critical mass conditions, none of which are used in generating nuclear power). Instead, you make arguments based on TRENDS, not specifics. Naming specifics like that will get you marked down because it doesn't follow logic. In any case, here is my brief answer to your question about this topic:

1.) Nobody in the science field considers science to be good OR bad. These are labels placed on it by people who only think they understand science. Science is simply observation and analysis: radiation can generate heat, UV light can kill microbes, DNA is what makes you look like your mother.

Now, the APPLICATION of science is a totally seperate matter and, for the record, is a social endeaver, NOT a scientific one. Here, let's give an example:

Quote:
The sky appears blue


No good, no bad, simple observation. Now if you decide to make fighter plans a similiar color in order to blend, that is application. Science can be used to determine the deceptiveness of the blend (how many people out of 100 still see it, etc.), but again, it is just an observation.

So, science is unbiased. Biased science (such as Intelligent Design) fails simply because it tries to impose biased beliefs a priori. Now, I used ID as an example, so let me explain. ID is a pseudo-scientific approach based on the biased thoughts of how life evolved. It ignores observations and replaces them with "facts" based on nothing but things guys wrote down thousands of years ago. ID may be right, it may be wrong, but it isn't real science.

2.) Usually at this point, people try to rephrase. They say that they didn't really mean science was good or bad, they meant that it's advancements can be used for good or bad and that must be taken into account. Again, this fails a basic test of logic. Simply put, can you know, a priori, if science will be used for good or bad? Of course not. Not only that, but since good and bad can be subjective, it's easy to make arguments either way. True example: Some people think penicillin (even all medicine) comes from the devil because it can be used to treat people who God wants to die (this is a simplistic view of Christian Scientists) or to treat people who have sinned (this is, historically, linked to the Southern Baptist movement in the US, correct or not).

Let's look at other ideas, such as the "evil" of figuring out that the earth was not the center of the universe. Or maybe the discovery of DNA which has helped solve crimes but also caused the break-up of marriages (when the guy can test and see the child isn't his, for example).

The argument for the good or bad of the applications of science is also logically flawed. It's not a bad thing, just a simple confusion of science and life's application of the science. DNA has also helped feed millions of people (through controlled breeding, drug production, etc.) that would be starving today.

Regarding psychic phenomenon, I fail to see the reasoning behind any of your arguments. Let's assume psychic powers are real, why would research into them be "bad"? Research into other senses (hearing, sight) have led to advancements allowing the deaf to hear (cochlear implants), the legally blind to see (retina transplants, eye surgery), etc. If I adhered to your logic, I'd argue that scientific research into psychic powers is good. It will help advance the powers that exist (just like olympic training based on science helps people run), it prevents the misuse of the power (maybe they find telepathy is real and can be blocked with foil hats), and helps people develop latent powers (back to the blind/deaf example).

The only "bad" downside I would see, applying your logic, would be if it continued to be disproved each time it was tested. However, even then, it would be the same as it is now, all validated scientific evidence points away from the powers existing. Oh, and for the record, I'm reading a book on the "metadata" behind esp and the author is whacked out of his mind, making all sorts of conclusions and leaps that the data doesn't support. Good ideas for presentations though, which is why I am reading it.

In any case, those my answers to your questions. Good ones, I guess, just not really appropriate to what science is, but appropriate to what laypeople think science is. Just so you know, I put that idea of "science" in the same place I put the idea that magic is just variations of the 21-card trick, understandable but born out of not knowing the topic at all.

Thanks for the post!
Lem
Drewmcadam
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There will always need to be scientific investigation into the paranormal because otherwise all these poor people working in the parapsychology labs wouldn't get spots on talk shows, cash for magazine articles, or - most importantly - their annual funding.
dmkraig
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I think your question is more appropriate to Stand the Test area. However, I do think real skeptical enquiry is a great thing! Unfortunately a group of people have usurped the term "skeptical" because it sounds more fair than what they really are: debunkers. For some reason, many debunkers don't like being identified as debunkers. So what's the difference between a true skeptic and a debunker?

A debunker has a predetermined mind-set as to the "way things are," and will lie, cheat, denounce and deny anyone and anything that even seems to disagree with their belief system. In a sense, the term "skeptic" has become the name of a religion and debunkers are the true believers. They are as much of the "true believers" they denounce, mock, and decry, but they simply believe in something different.

A true skeptic investigates anything without previously taking any preconceived "side" in what is being investigated. This skeptic has nothing to gain or lose with any side coming out as being the truth, and truth is the true skeptics only agenda.

I stand firmly on the side of the true skeptic. I stand firmly on the side of the scientific method. I stand on the side of investigation without agenda. So yes, I think that skeptical enquiry is of value and is important--if it is really a skeptical enquiry and not a simple debunking.

Some years ago I was editing a magazine that ran an article on a case of Spontaneous Human Combustion. The magazine presented the evidence but did NOT take any particular side. We received a somewhat puzzled letter from a well-known debunker who claimed that he and his partner had disproved the case in an article before I was the editor and asked why the article had not even been mentioned. Fair enough. I went back through the magazine's files and found the article. The research that he and his partner did--as reported in the article--consisted of their talking about the case over the phone. That was it. In the next issue we published the letter from the debunker and my repetition of what their article contained. He never communicated with us or wrote for us again. Debunkers hate it when you criticize their religion.

I have no doubt that the debunkers/skeptics will attack what I have written here. People with little faith in their religion always attack those who question their religion.
Smoking Camel
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Quote:
On 2008-11-20 16:05, Lemniscate wrote:

The argument for the good or bad of the applications of science is also logically flawed. It's not a bad thing, just a simple confusion of science and life's application of the science. DNA has also helped feed millions of people (through controlled breeding, drug production, etc.) that would be starving today.

Lem

Could elaborate on this point, I'm not quite sure I can see the argument your making here?

I stated was that science can be used for both good and bad. I drew no conclusion. as to whether it was good or bad. Only that using the following argument is not valid:

P1: Science has helped us develop a cure for cancer
P2: A cure for cancer is good
C: Therefore science must be good.

There is a gap in this reasoning and hence: "fallacious to the extreme"

You make some awesome points however, which I will be reading a few more times. I just thought I would highlight this point on the application of science. - Which until your post, I am ashamed to say, I blurred the distinction between investigation and the application.
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Smoking Camel
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Dmkraig, interesting experience. Let me rephrase the question:

Why is the truth important when it comes to psychic ability?
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Dan McLean
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Quote:
I have no doubt that the debunkers/skeptics will attack what I have written here. People with little faith in their religion always attack those who question their religion.

Dead on. Amusing how much debunkers and their targets have in common. It must be true that you should choose your enemies carefully as you will most certainly become like them.

But I'm left with more questions. Skepticism without agenda seems impossible. Is anyone truly objective? Can the observer not affect what is observed? Can an almost Buddha like dispassion be attained?

Doubt it. I've never met a true skeptic. Have you? I'd like to think I'm one but I know that's not true. Everyone seems to have an agenda if you look hard enough.

So in answer to your original question, Smoking Camel, if skeptical enquiry is a good thing, my answer is "no" since to me true skepticism doesn't exist.
Bill Hallahan
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Smoking Camel write:
Quote:
The other day I heard the phrase: "for the advancement of scientific knowledge and humankind."

And was thinking. Why does science consider itself to be all good?

I believe you meant, 'why do some people consider science to be all good?'

I believe it's because many people believe, myself included, that in general technology has improved lives more than it's caused harm. There is no question that greater longevity, and quality of life, exist for many people because of technological advancement. I certainly do believe it has resulted in harm too.

There's another more fundamental reason that some people consider 'science' to be 'good'. The aim of scientists is to find models that work, which is a form of truth, even if imperfect truth. Scientists can state with near certainty that under specified conditions, 'X' will occur. That's often useful if 'X' is a desired outcome.

Smoking Camel wrote:
Quote:
So my question is this: In relation to psychic phenomenon: why must it be boxed up, analysed and labeled?

Why does science need to have an explanation for such things?

Your question supposes that some form of psychic phenomenon exists. While some people believe in it, the overall scientific community agrees that it has not yet been demonstrated to exist, and so they are not seeking explanations at this time. A relatively few scientists do believe in psychic phenomenon, and these scientists are trying to collect data to prove it exists. So far, they have found nothing conclusive. I am not aware of any accepted paranormal explanations that are accepted by the scientific community.

Scientists have sometimes found explanations for some purported psychic phenomenon, however, these invariably have been non-paranormal explanations, i.e. a simple ordinary means of information acquisition or control.

In any event, the answer to why scientists would seek an explanation is the same answer for all scientific endeavors, i.e. because scientists believe that understanding our universe is worthwhile.

By the way, some people have suggested explanations for phenomenon that is not yet accepted, e.g. quantum mechanics, but while quantum mechanics is science, these explanations are not scientific, because no mechanism for information transfer, or control, is established in any of these explanations. Granted, we don't yet understand the mind, however, there are fairly widely held theories for how the mind encodes symbols, which is patterns of activity between neurons. No connection between quantum effects has been shown to be able to affect neurons in any coherent way that would transfer information. Is it possible that such a mechanism exists. Sure, many things are possible, but to suggest an explanation without any basis seems rather weird to me.

It would be very much like seeing someone come out of their house, and assuming without any a-priori knowledge that they were going to go to the store to purchase pomegranates! Sure, that could be true, but why would someone come up with that explanation for no apparent reason? The proposals for quantum mechanics explaining purported psychic ability are like this. (Only, to extend the analogy further, scientists have not yet observed anyone coming out of the house! They have seen things that look like that, but that have other very normal explanations that could produce the illusion of someone coming out, and they haven't been able to eliminate those explanations as the cause of their observation).

Smoking Camel wrote:
Quote:
Is it a good thing?

I expect that understanding our universe is a good thing. As was on the stone sign in front of Faber College (anyone get that reference?), "Knowledge is good." Smile

Smoking Camel wrote:
Quote:
Of course the obvious argument here of course, well if psychic ability can by rationalized and quantified it would help people by stopping the scams.

I don't think it would. There are those who fooled many people into believing they had extraordinary abilities, and then later they faked it. I expect such people will still be around after the mind is understood, and even if real psychic phenomenon is discovered.

Smoking Camel wrote:
Quote:
Disregarding all other matters: Do we really need to inquire into the mystical side of things?

Need to? You don't need to do that yourself.

The more important question is whether anyone else should be allowed to. In general, I think the answer is, "yes." I don't feel I have the right to stop someone else from doing that.

Smoking Camel wrote:
Quote:
Dmkraig interesting experience. let me rephrase the question:

Why is the truth important when it comes to psychic ability?

Again, the form of the question seems to presume that "psychic ability," whatever that means, actually exists.

However, accepting the premise that psychic ability of some form exists, then I can turn the question around, i.e. "Why not truth?"

It's not necessarily bad to question people's beliefs. It certainly can be in bad taste to do so in some circumstance, but I don't think those circumstance apply to most of the extraordinary claims of men, particularly in instances where it's possible to measure those claims.
Humans make life so interesting. Do you know that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to create boredom. Quite astonishing.
- The character of ‘Death’ in the movie "Hogswatch"
Davit Sicseek
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I don't have time to join this fun now, but I fully intend to tomorrow or tonight.

In the mean time, without reading most of the posts I'll chime in with:

I'm interested in truth.
Send me the truth: davitsicseek@gmail.com
Chris K
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Sorry, I think I miscommunicated again, just ignore my earlier post as I don't want to have to explain what I meant versus what it came out like (based on a couple of PMs and such).

Lem
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Many psychics themselves are most keen to half-invoke science's authorative-sounding explanatory power yet simultaneously are as keen to try to trash it. First to be hauled out is poor Jung, shortly followed by a reluctant cast of quantum physicists and then not forgetting split-brain researchers and so on.
Quote:
Why is the truth important when it comes to psychic ability?

The value in “truth” or a scientific method is due to the degree of self-deception or self-delusion we involve in our assessments of life. Just as audiences are not lacking in intelligence (usually) to be taken by our con, we equally are not necessarily lacking in intelligence or in integrity to have biases and natural propensities to completely mistake aspects of reality. We do this all the time, it’s a matter of degrees. Can science ever be perfect in it’s complete elimination of such self-deception or it’s full and accurate representation of reality? No. However, if we want strongly working models of reality, either for technology or sanity, it is vital to address these as much as possible.

Skepticism, however, is about not having dogmatic sacrosanct beliefs, beliefs not open to any possible question or doubt. A position of doubting whether we ourselves can ever be “objective” is itself the skeptical one. The alleged truth is relative and unknowable, and so the question is irrelevant whether it’s important or not, in skeptical philosophy.

It only compounds the error to be talking of a “healthy” version of skepticism, and so on, when the term is commonly, simply not correctly used. Skeptical position is one of joviality and humility.

For myself, as a huge generalization, the networks of the brain reflect different rational, reality-testing structures as well as those in-built intelligences which are not so (and many others including many not or poorly understood) and I aim to use, accept and develop my many aspects. Those purporting to be involved in raising the levels of intelligence and awareness would be wise to draw them to integration and without underestimating such a task that produces such abortions of pseudo-science and close-mindedness. So in answer to psychic phenomenon: why must it be boxed up, analysed and labeled? If this functioning is indeed different and at times antagonistic there may of course be value in temporarily shutting down one, for example see works of Erickson or the book ‘Drawing on the right side of the brain’ (how the supposedly artistically untalented can produce quite remarkable ability simply by getting the ‘left side’ out of the way), yet using both eyes is remarkable, especially without always poking myself in my one good sane one or alternatively my one good magickal one. Often certain psychics and scientists sound no less than cringe-worthy in their partiality. From my little perspective, one or the other aspect is the subject of an early rebellion or family or cultural bias or natural emphasis in many and is worth the time to closely examine where we may be mistaken or what part of us we are cutting out, demonizing or leaving underdeveloped. I don’t demonize debunkers either, there is much work to do and huge human damage being done under the dictates of psychic, magickal belief.

Do we need an enquiry into the mystical? Why not? Did it damage it? And if it did, did we not further our knowledge and application of it?

Mt.
mentalskeptic
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Good discussion. I think that skeptical inquiry is a good thing in that it is open-minded, and follows the evidence. Debunking is less desirable in my view because as opposed to skeptical inquiry, it begins with conclusions and doesn't allow for contrary evidence. Skeptical inquiry, when done right, is not the opposite of knowledge, but the beginning of knowledge -- it is the best way to find things out. It says "lets look at the evidence and go from there."

Some people think skepticism is the equivalent of Scrooge at Christmas, someone who only ever says "bah humbug!," or maybe that "there is no Santa Clause." Instead, I see the skeptical inquirer as someone who is open-minded and inquiring, someone who simply loves the big questions and is willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if it is contrary to previously held beliefs. The evidence may show that there is no such thing as a magical Santa Clause who travels the world every Christmas in his sled giving out toys, true, but it also shows there are many things more wonderful in this universe to believe in than Santa Clause.

I am good friends with a nationally prominent skeptic and colleague at CSICOP who admits that early in his career he was merely a debunker but has tried to repent: yes, over decades he has not found any evidence of psychic or paranormal claims, but still feels that the questions are worth asking, and the claims are worth exploring. The worst thing to him is the debunker who sit in his ivory towers making pronouncements about how ghosts or bigfoot or psychics cant possibly exist without ever having actually examined the question first-hand.
"Few have the courage of their convictions; fewer still, the courage for an attack on their convictions." — Nietzsche
dmkraig
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SC, I'll be glad to give my answer to your question as to why truth is important if you want it, however it is more of a spiritual answer than a practical one based on Eastern concepts of vidya and avidya and the five kleshas. If you really want to go there, just ask.
Philemon Vanderbeck
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The problem with the scientific method is that it is too repetitive for any decent entertainment value.
Professor Philemon Vanderbeck
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Steve_Mollett
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Never stop questioning.
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The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.
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gadfly3d
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One might think "When ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise".

Gil Scott
bitterman
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If one were Thomas Gray, yes one might think that...
If you are not cheating, you are only cheating yourself.

Dutchco is about to put out some new Ebook: DUTCHCO. Get 'em while you can.
StuartNolan
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I've just begun reading a book called Frames of Meaning: The Social Construction of Extraordinary Science by H.M. Collins & T.J. Pinch. This might be interesting to some of you involved in this discussion. I'll try to give the gist of the book (but I'm only half-way through it Smile)....

Since the sociologist of science Thomas Kuhn published his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions we have had the idea that science doesn't just change in a gradual way but changes by revolutions in thought when the old ideas are challenged and overthrown. Kuhn coined the term "paradigm shift" to describe this. When a paradigm shift begins we have groups of scientists who accept the new paradigm before everyone else and who are rejected by "mainstream" science. They eventually win the argument and they then form the new consensus.

The thing is, how do we tell the difference between these early adopters of the new paradigm and a group of scientists researching something that is equally rejected by the mainstream but which is never accepted and doesn't change the paradigm. Years later the first group look like historical geniuses and the second group like historical cranks.

What the book Frames of Meaning does is examine the interest in metal bending phenomena in the early 70s and the groups of scientists who variously defended and attacked the idea.

It is shaping up to be an interesting book if a little dry. In some ways I'm as interested in the battles between the different groups of scientists as I am in the phenomena they are researching. For the record, I'm a trained scientist myself (BSc in Cell Biology and experience in Cancer Research, genetic analysis).

I would humbly expand on Lemniscate's suggestion that "Science is simply observation and analysis." That is true, and from that point of view science is a tool and has no more of an agenda than a hammer. But when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. By that I mean that the scientific method itself can bring with it a way of seeing the world.
We might also make a distinction between "the scientific method", which would be the tools of experimentation, observation, analysis and logic that we use to do scientific research, and "the scientific community", which would be the people who do science but also the way science is funded, planned and disseminated. Because we are then talking about science as the activity of a group of people we can legitimately ask questions about ethics and morality within that group.

Lemniscate also draws a useful distinction between pure science and applied science. This distinction rests on the hope that science can have as much objectivity as possible. The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu writes well about this in Science of Science and Reflexivity. His concern is that science is losing its objectivity and is "in danger of becoming a handmaiden to biotechnology, medicine, genetic engineering, and military research—that it risks falling under the control of industrial corporations that seek to exploit it for monopolies and profit."

My personal answer to the question "is skeptical inquiry a good thing?"
Yes,skeptical inquiry that is as objective and disinterested as possible is good. But cynical inquiry with a pre-existing agenda isn't.

Philemon, I love your comment, "The problem with the scientific method is that it is too repetitive for any decent entertainment value." That's exactly why I stopped being a research scientist 14 years ago.
"One should always be a little improbable." - Oscar Wilde
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