Skeptics – The Shoe on the Other Foot

Author Michael Prescott – one of the most insightful and eloquent bloggers out there on paranormal/supernatural topics – has posted an interesting series of blog entries which take a (real) skeptical look at…skeptical reports. Michael focuses on one particular article from Skeptical Inquirer, an analysis of the NDE case of ‘Maria’, who is alleged to have seen a tennis shoe on a ledge outside a hospital while ‘out of body’. You can read through the five parts of Michael’s piece, “Who Will Watch the Watchers” via the following links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

It’s worthwhile reading through some of the comments to each entry as well, as there’s some additional material worth considering (supporting both positive and negative views of the case, and the skeptical report). Also, in a similar vein, check out my article from a few years ago which challenged the trustworthiness of a Skeptical Inquirer cover story on death-bed visions: “Blinded by the Light“.

  1. thanks Greg
    haven’t read them all yet but am enjoying it so far.
    For most parts, I am a skeptic, but will always try to look at all with open mind and from all angles.

    But I am not making a living out of being a skeptic……

    “Life can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you do what your told.”

    1. NDEs
      Hi Greg,
      First of all let me state my absolute impartiality between the excellent work done by parapsychologists … and septics.
      Okay, that’s clear.
      I don’t know whether the NDE is a valid experience, in that real intuition of ‘after death’ or information in the world is appreciated. But I do think it is a vital area of research.
      I say this for the following reason. Research has shown that deep faints can produce phenomena similar to the tunnel, light and supernatural inquisition – usually based on the cultural interpretation of the experiencer. My own essays on the paranormal mind – linked to on TDG – offer hints of a wider, communal mind, which could validate extra-sensory appreciations. But all this is irrelevant to the main point I want to raise.
      My own theorising points to the possibility that early hysterical tribal ritual induced the deep faint in the shaman-like adepts of the time. When they came round, it seems that they thought they had died and been reborn.
      I’m convinced that these early tribal experiences formed the template for religion, with death/rebirth being the vital element of most religious mythology. Hence, the state experienced today in the NDE could well be the route to understanding the most vital impulse of world history – the creation of religion.
      Septics are clearly as ‘biased’ as the naive believer in paranormal experience – the above essays highlight this clearly. But can we place the same reasoning behind the ‘absoluteness’ of their stance? The beleiver believes because he wants the paranormal to be true. Does the septic hold his ‘beliefs’ in their non-existence because of fear of it being true?
      If nothing else such experiences as the NDE have a vital cultural input that shaped, for good or bad, human culture. The septics need to be held to account for trying to deny us this vital anthropological research.

      I’m fanatical about moderation

      Anthony North

      1. attempt #3
        I tried to post this yesterday, didnt work. So here is a shorter version.

        Conscious thought, NDEs, dreams are probably manifestations of associative memory.

        Some shamanist cultures believe that “real life” is just an unusual kind of dream.

        I say that “real life” is an interpretation, by our brains/minds of the physical world, which does exist, and we are in it. But the interpretation is a manifestation of memory. There is no active little guy in our brain, directing our thoughts and actions. There is no globally active big guy, or big collective, directing our thoughts and actions either.

        All there is is associative memory.

        meetings, n.:
        Where minutes are kept, and hours are lost.

        1. I’m 5ft 4in tall
          Hi Earthling,
          You’ve just read the title of this post. Tell me, for a moment, did you think, that’s not tall, it’s small?
          Well, yes, I am. It’s a reality. But what does being ‘small’ mean? Over centuries, stereotypical images have grown around the small man, and people’s reactions are based, in the main, on those stereotypical reactions. Even small people are affected, often playing to the stereotype.
          These stereotypes are presumptions ABOVE the simple reality that I’m small. They are the product of cultural conditioning over the centuries, perhaps millenia. And in being cultural, they are above the individual – they are ‘collective.’ And the same can be said for just about everything we think or do.

          ‘There is no globally active big guy, or big collective, directing our thoughts and actions either.’

          Maybe not a big guy. Maybe not a God. But I beg to differ.

          I’m certain of only one thing. Nothing is certain.

          Anthony North

          1. I’m average
            I’m an average guy for where I come from. About 6ft 1in, quite ordinary for the neighborhood. Which has nothing to do with your post or mine. Not does your physical size.

            Actually my post was entirely technical, about the best way to make a model of human and animal intelligence. That’s all. It is not really philosophical, and by no means religious.

            Of course I am aware that making statements like mine, about how the mind works, will be picked up by political types within minutes. I can’t help that. I am talking about individual minds.

            Also I am definetely not saying that people don’t think, and think independently. Of course they do, that is quite evident. And of course they influence each other, and act and think collectively. That is also plainly obvious.

            What my theory is about is how an individual conscious works. And my best educated guess is that it’s based on layers of memory, which have strange consequences. I repeat, this is entirely technical. It doesn’t matter if people believe my theory (it’s not just mine), it is either correct or it is not. We can’t vote on that.

            meetings, n.:
            Where minutes are kept, and hours are lost.

          2. Individual minds?
            ‘… picked up by political types within minutes …’

            Hope you weren’t refering to me. Actually, my politics come out of my understanding of the paranormal, not vice versa.
            I’m not sure your argument is valid. This is mainly because you speak of ‘how an individual conscious works.’ I’d say there is no such thing. To me, individuality is an amalgam of collective ideas and thoughts over the millenia. What we class as the ‘individual’ is the pattern of thise influences within the mind.
            You’re maybe right about layers of memory, but could those memories be communal too?
            You indicate you are talking technically, not entering philosophical or religious spheres. Maybe ‘mind’ cannot be understood without doing so.

            Reality, like time, is relative to the observer

            Anthony North

          3. evidence
            Or course I realize that my theory is hard to prove. I could try to construct an artificial intelligence based entirely on layers of associative memory. That’s not easy, I don’t think we have the technology not to make even a single layer of this. Associative memory in the computer world is not the same, we don’t know how to make fuzzy pattern matching.

            How if works physically is of little interest to me, whether it is neuron connections and hormones and things like that.

            But as for a communal mind, I just don’t see any indications that this happens without explicit communication between individuals. Explicit not in words or written language. Guestures, facial expressions, food smells and such are explicit communication as well. They are not direct mind-to-mind communication. So I am reasonably convinced that there is such a thing as an independent individual mind.

            meetings, n.:
            Where minutes are kept, and hours are lost.

          4. Communality
            There are several ways of indicating a possible communal mind. You mention various aspects such as language, facial expressions, etc. These may play a part. Bu think of culture itself – something that could include all of these things and more – and consider it as an ‘entity’ above individuality. After all, it directs much of our action, language, ideas, etc.
            In other words, could all the identifyable means of communication add up to something more than themselves. At some level, do they form into something higher than the sum of their parts?
            It sounds esoteric, but take any word in this post in itself and try to work out the meaning of the whole post from that one word. It would be impossible. What they are, collectively, is something above the individual parts, and unavailable to scientific study.
            This post has a ‘culture’ to it that is not measurable other than our collective understand of how to interpret it.
            Other ideas go even more out of your probable mind-set. For instance, to what degree does our body ‘interact’ with the cells, etc, that make it up? Some form of co-ordination must be there. Yet, aren’t individual cells independent of each other? So how do they form the body?
            Below our cellular construction, we have a subatomic fuzz. Is this in any way related to us? If not, we are disconnected from the fundamental reality of the universe. So how does it connect? And if it does, can the properties of this reality have any bearing upon the body, the mind?
            What form of reality do we have here, with action at a distance, an information universe, etc?
            Maybe we haven’t even begun to understand what ‘mind’, consciousness or the universe is yet. We have a long way to go, and I don’t think reductionism can even begin to grasp it.

            Nite, nite.

            Anthony North

          5. indeed
            Indeed, what you describe does take place. It is called “emergent behaviour”. Behaviour of a collection of things, animals, cells etc that is not present in the members of the collection individually. Emergent behaviour arises out of the interactions. How the “individuals” interact comes from their individual properties, but the group behaviour comes from the interactions.

            I don’t know what my thesis has to do with reductionism. I am simply looking at how the inside of an individual works. That’s not reductionism.

            But I agree, people who pretend to understand how the universe works with all the consciousness in it are being wildly optimistic.

            meetings, n.:
            Where minutes are kept, and hours are lost.

          6. Emergence
            Good morning everyone,
            Earthling, optimism is always a good stance to take, as long as you moderate it, of course.
            Yes, science has a concept of ’emergent behaviour’ … or does it? Where are the scientific papers on it? Which professors are working hard to grasp it? Apart from Ecology and Chaos Theory, you could be excused for thinking science is ignoring it.
            It seems, to me, to be a catch all term, like ‘instinct’ and ‘coincidence’ that science uses to label, and then file away, any action or behaviour that does not seem to fit the paradigm.
            Strange how all these ‘labels’ concern behaviour above the individual, isn’t it?
            And there lies my reason for labelling your ideas of the individual mind reductionist.
            To reduce something to simpler elements for understanding is a valid practice – I don’t knock it. But alongside it must be a wider way of tackling these subjects – a way that looks not in terms of individual or specialist, but communal and holistic.

            I’m fanatical about moderation

            Anthony North

          7. emergence
            I don’t have a survey of who is working on emergence, and to me it doesn’t matter. Also I’m not trying to advance the philosophy of science, just to advance Cognitive Sience. My approach will either work or it won’t. If it ends up working, then it is a worthwhile thing to do even if it’s not holistic.

            There is something missing in the current understanding of intelligence. The analogies to computers don’t work, since they use some procedural algorithmic part or the simulated mind. We can’t find that in humans. Some of the paranormal approaches seem to move that algorithmic part into another real of existence, essentially saying a guiding force of an individual mind, comes from this other realm. The realm is extremely hard to find with any means of “normal” science.

            I’m simply proposing that the algorithmic part, or the guiding force, is so hard to find because it is not there.

            Some people say that the brain is not the seat of consciousness, merely a sort of antenna into another realm. There, in that other realm, is the real consciousness. To me that looks like a bit of a cop-out when trying to explain consciousness. It still has a seat somewhere else, where we can’t see it. So there is no explanation of what consciousness afer all.

            meetings, n.:
            Where minutes are kept, and hours are lost.

          8. Consciousness
            Hi Earthling,
            I’m certainly not trying to rubbish your approach; simply putting an alternative idea that maybe searching for an ‘individual’ mind may not provide the answer, or not complete, anyway.
            If I thought, for a minute, that a wider consciousness was a cop-out for some other realm that could never be understood, I wouldn’t go there. That’s called religion.
            The problem is, no scientists are looking because they don’t accept the premise. Even though they understand the idea of the possibility of consciousness in the universe, they ignore it. Even though a connection must exist with this problematic subatomic ‘reality’ and the rest of reality, they skirt the issue.
            To me, that’s not very scientific at all. The word that comes to mind is denial.

            Reality, like time, is relative to the observer

            Anthony North

          9. multi-path
            I’m not saying that the human mind is all the consciousness there is in the universe, I very much doubt that it could be. Also I am aware that what I propose to investigate could well show that I’m wrong. My model is quite vague at this point. So it could be that the details I need to fill will break the model. That happens. I spent about 1 year chasing down an approach (to something completely unrelated) in grad school, at the end I have a proof of why it would not work. 10 years later, I had an idea of how to extend that approach so that maybe it works. But I won’t persue it at this point. In other engineering work, it is daily business to check out an approach to a problem, knowing that it can fail. Can’t let that stop us.

            Evidently there is consciousness in the universe. I am conscious, and it would be silly to believe that I am an isolated case. I’m not that good.

            But I know that is not quite what you mean by “consciousness in the universe”. There may be such an innate consciousness. That would not stop humans from having an individual consciousness, separately.

            So I don’t have an issue with what you are looking for. And I understand you point that serious people should take this more seriously. I often felt the same way, albeit about smaller issues.

            These discussions are quite useful for me, even if it just looks like presentations of different views. It helps to focus one’s thoughts.

            meetings, n.:
            Where minutes are kept, and hours are lost.

          10. Debate
            Good morning everyone,
            Earthling, I think we’re bonding!
            No, seriously, I couldn’t agree with you more. Any ideas need testing in debate. Not just for the ideas themselves, but to keep the theoriser grounded.
            And as you say, it helps to focus one’s thoughts. Indeed, new avenues can often come into view from such debate.
            Let us lock horns regularly.

            Reality, like time, is relative to the observer

            Anthony North

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