Testing paranormal claims ? The last word
My little discussion with the Two Percent Company continues with this latest salvo of theirs. Now this is turning into a rather ornate argument, so I'll try to keep this as short as I can. Also, this is the last I'll write about it, unless Two Percent Company can fulfill my two little challenges to prove their premises... which I know they can't anyway, so the point is rather moot. I honestly don't want to sanction them any more than I already have - to say that I think they are not good people is about as nice as I can be on this.
I argued in my previous entry that Two Percent Company is wrong in stating that the paranormal/supernatural is a possibility, and that whatever they think it means cannot be anything more than an inter-subjective belief with no connection to reality. It seems their main reply is to argue that I'm playing word games. This seems to me like a pretty fundamental issue to be called a word game.
First, let me point out some areas which I think illustrate some problems. The first misunderstanding I note is the following :
We aren't saying that because we can imagine the paranormal, it might be real.
I never thought that was what they were saying. I mentioned the imagination part as the most common argument, but I understand that Two Percent Company is saying specifically that it is their ability to conceive of the paranormal that makes it possible, not their ability to imagine of it. Since both claims are equally absurd, I don't see the point of dwelling on it anyway.
The fact that any paranormal claim is meaningless is an assertion based solely on his underlying belief that it cannot exist.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. They are taking this ass-backwards. I know it cannot exist because it is meaningless, not the reverse. Let me put it this way : if Two Percent Company can explain to me the meaning of any paranormal of supernatural claim, and show how it is compatible with the facts of reality, then I will concede its possibility. Let's start with... say, ghosts. Can you do it ?
This is really a relatively simple task. All they would need to do is give us the meaning of "ghost", and show that it is compatible with, say, the idea of a "ghost" floating in mid-air at night scaring people off. This is a pretty trivial task to complete for any material concept.
Frankly, we agree that the "paranormal" or "supernatural" doesn't exist
And yet, on their first post :
"Further, the "possibility" always remains to prove the existence of the supernatural, inasmuch as anything is theoretically conceivable."
So which is it ? If it doesn't exist, then it's not possible to prove its existence.
Francois seems to hold that belief due to semantic arguments: supernatural ergo not natural ergo not real ergo meaningless; or, in plain English, if it's called "supernatural" then it can't be part of the natural world and hence it can't exist, period.
As soon as something is scientifically verified to exist, it ceases to be "supernatural" and becomes "natural."
This is an insulting straw man, but never mind that. It's more interesting to note that their position seems to be based on the idea that "supernatural" actually means something (instead of being the empty negative term that it really is), that something "supernatural" can magically turn into something "natural". I would very much like an explanation from Two Percent Company on how something supernatural can magically become natural - especially since, by definition, it cannot be changed through natural laws ! The closest I can think of is the belief in a divine incarnation like "Jesus" - but given their stance against religion, that doesn't seem like a way out for them.
Ultimately, it seems that the people playing word games here is Two Percent Company - if they expect us to believe that words don't mean what they mean !
As we've said more times than we can count, sure: it's "possible" that mediums are real. It's also possible that small gnomes live in our asses.
I'm tired of these nonsensical assertions of probability. Prove that the possibility actually exists, or stop making such absurd claims. As I apparently failed to explain properly in my previous entry, possibility has nothing to do with conceivability or imagination. Possibility is a claim about reality. You would have to be able to describe the physicality of such gnomes and whether they could fit in an ass or not - but there is no point in doing this since you obviously pulled this out of your ass, appropriately enough.
As I said earlier, if Two Percent Company can explain to me the meaning of any paranormal of supernatural claim, and show how it is compatible with the facts of reality, then I will concede its possibility. Until then, they would be well-advised to lay off the "possibility" talk.
Not only do skeptics "have an idea" of what it means to test claims of the paranormal, such tests are actually constructed and carried out all the time.
I deny that such "tests" are more than inter-subjective games. They have no relation to reality. Once again, you cannot test something that has no meaning ! What is so hard to understand about this ? Can you test the existence of "zorglubs" ? Gods ? Ghosts ? Impossible.
What are being conducted are games for the amusement of skeptics, who should know better than to think they are doing something meaningful with their time.
However, if someone offers a claim that clearly suggests a material, physical observation or experiment that could confirm or refute the claim, why should we not test it?
I am aghast to have to point out something so painfully obvious, but if it was measurable, then such a claim would be NATURAL ! You could not have a causal connection from those claimed existents or processes to your sensory organs if the former were not natural to begin with. I hope I don't have to explain to them how the eyes or the ears work ?
As demonstrated clearly in that earlier post, we agree that it is not possible to disprove the paranormal (for the reasons stated therein). However, it is absolutely possible to test and disprove (or prove) specific paranormal claims.
How can you dissociate "the paranormal" from "paranormal claims" ? If you prove a paranormal claim, you also prove that the paranormal exists, if only within that one claim. We're not talking about another universe or dimension or realm of existence here : just of absurd, extraordinary claims and how we classify them (paranormal, supernatural, pseudo-science, religious, etc).
So, how could something be a brilliant and educational move, and yet still be a quixotic waste of time?
I never claimed that the Million Dollar Prize was inherently skeptical (in fact I claimed the opposite !), so I fail to see the logical connection here. It seems to me like they are looking for nits that simply aren't there.
Then they go on and on to discuss the so-called educational value of skepticism, which I simply don't agree with at all. This has nothing to do with the main thrust of my argument anyway, although I have to concede that my objections to skepticism are as much moral as they are epistemic. The fact that skepticism is a force against prudent predators is a moral negative to me, although skeptics also sometimes go against imprudent predators. But I think it would only embroil us more to start a new discussion on the moral issue when we're already embroiled in the epistemic issue.
So what is the gist of the Two Percent Company's argument against my anti-skeptic position ? As far as I can see, it is the delusion that they (the skeptics) are doing something meaningful when they are "testing a paranormal claim". This seems to me to have no more merit than the delusion that Catholics are eating the body of Christ when they munch on a little piece of stale bread. Both rely on inter-subjective agreements which are meaningless to a rational observer.
I'm not saying that inter-subjective agreement is always a bad thing. For example, two people may decide to play a variant of FIDE chess (say, one where pawns capture forward) instead of FIDE chess. This is perfectly valid, and they can have a great time doing so. But they cannot then turn around and claim they were playing FIDE chess all this time ! The problem comes when people cannot grasp the difference between their agreements and reality. To me, skeptics have also lost this ability when they claim to be able to test paranormal claims. It is a game, nothing more.
Let me make my position clear. I am obviously not saying that you cannot test such a claim as "being able to diagnose an illness at a distance". While the claim in itself may be rather wonky (although in some cases rather trivial), there is no paranormal or supernatural term in such a claim. In that case, yes, the skeptic is doing something meaningful when he is testing it, although it seems to me to be more of a medical claim than anything else. If the skeptic, however, thinks that he is testing something paranormal by doing so, or even "spirit communication", then he is out of his mind.
But let me go ahead for a moment and take their epistemic claim at face value. Their position is that, while paranormal claims are not possible in theory, they can still test them. Fine, guys. Tell us what it means to test "spirit communication". And to do such a thing you necessarily first need to explain what "spirit" means. Let's see you once and for all support their position. Can you do that ?
I'm looking forward to seeing you accomplish the impossible. In short, "put up or shut up".