bookmark_borderTrying To View The Paranormal Though The Lens Of Science.

This video talks about the failure to turn reports of the paranormal regarding Skinwalker ranch into actually documented evidence of the paranormal. Keith Augustine points out it gets particularly interesting about 15 minutes in (i.e., the AAWSAP directive to “tell Mr. Bigelow what he wants to hear” and an underling weaving tales while drinking vodka to meet this directive in faxed reports from Skinwalker Ranch to Bigelow): see

The evidence for the dinosaur beaver is particularly compelling, lol.

bookmark_border(Part 2) Keith Augustine’s How Not to Do Survival Research: Reflections on the Bigelow Institute Essay Competition

Augustine raises the issue of the fallacy of how survivalist’s conclude from the difficulties in describing how consciousness arises from the body that therefore it doesn’t:

  • Ruickbie’s use converts Noë’s actual meaning into an argument from ignorance: we don’t know how brain activity gives rise to consciousness, therefore it must not give rise to consciousness. If the argument were that we don’t know how migrating birds navigate, therefore they must not navigate, it would not impress. Nor should it here...It does not follow from the inability to explain how consciousness arises from matter that it does not so arise, and in fact its ubiquitousness throughout the biosphere positively suggests that it does (though see McGinn, 1999, pp. 89-95 and Nahm, 2021*, p. 64 for ways to get around this). And the distinctively individual consciousnesses necessary for personal survival almost certainly so arise.

One fruitful approach would be to say the mind is instantiated in the brain, and so wouldn’t exist apart from it:

  • Moreover, computationalists and other functionalists would never say that you are your brain; at most, they would say that you are instantiated in a human brain, but you could’ve been instantiated in something else—like a silicon network, an extraterrestrial brain, or even an astral body or nonphysical substance (it’s just that, as a contingent matter of fact, a brain is what happens to instantiate your mind).

There is an interesting short discussion about morality and God, and certainly we should conclude it far more noble to act morally with no external rewards as opposed to one who does so because they think God will reward them.

There is an interesting discussion trying to pin down the nature of consciousness, and brings up the issue of philosophy and idealism. Augustine concludes:

  • Since idealism is pure metaphysics, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that its picture of reality will be empirically indistinguishable from that of its antithesis, realism. Our daily lives would be like living in a Matrix in which there are never any glitches to reveal the true underlying reality. Idealism is a rather abstract thought experiment, akin to the notion that you might really just be a brain in a vat and mistakenly think that you have a body, or be a victim of René Descartes’ evil demon. But it’s also a picture that we have no positive reason to affirm. Sure, it could theoretically be true, but if the world appeared and functioned in exactly the same way as it would if it were false, what would it matter?

Plato, in the Sophist, called the idea that the objecthood of the object was encountered like brownness and hardness “the most laughable, katagelastotata (252b8),” because it denied that something was to be understood by appealing to something beyond the thing itself, while such proponents (Antisthenes for Plato) tacitly adopted a whole slew of ontological structures even in mere naming that go beyond the mere entity at hand, such as einai, Being, choris, separate from, ton allown, the others, and kath auto, in itself.  Thus, to be a being for Plato means something is what it is in its specificity (eg a bachelor), and not what it isn’t (a tree), and not nothing at all. The table is encountered as “not me,” for instance. This is the birth of metaphysics: ta meta ta physica, beings understood in their Being.  So, for Plato man must always have Being in view by the mind’s eye.

For Kant this evolved into transcendental idealism, the really real is what allows us to have the experience of the world that we do. We could not have the experience of beings that we do unless we had in view such things as variation/equality by the mind’s eye in order to encounter various things; a view of sameness/contrariety to encounter ourselves as self-same in each case; a view of symmetry and harmoniousness allow us to arrange and construct things; etc.

It is also specifically understood by the scolastics from the point of view of a being’s “what being (the table as hard),” and its “how-being (the table as badly positioned),” this second sense of Being referring both to how the observer encounters the being (it looks badly positioned) and the context of the being. In this second sense, a table is (i) at-hand if we need to resolve a dispute about its colour, and (ii) badly positioned in the corner of the lecture hall during a lecture vs well positioned in the corner of the stadium when the game is going on.

What this shows us is that while the objectivity of objects is ideal, Kant says beings are nonetheless empirically real because we could not even dream unless the senses had been furnished something that the imaginative sleeping unconscious could then combine, multiply, stretch, etc. to produce dreams.

THANKS FOR FOLLOWING ALONG WITH MY POSTS ABOUT KEITH’S JOURNAL EXCHANGES.

Bonus Reading:

Etienne LeBel Keith Augustine Adam Rock’s “Beyond the BICS Essays: Envisioning a More Rigorous Preregistered Survival Study” see https://journalofscientificexploration.org/index.php/jse/issue/view/85

bookmark_border(Part 1) Keith Augustine’s How Not to Do Survival Research: Reflections on the Bigelow Institute Essay Competition

See Augustine’s essay here: https://journalofscientificexploration.org/index.php/jse/issue/view/85


This is a large essay so I’m breaking reporting of it into 2 parts.

Augustine points to the difficulties in using eye witness testimony as evidence for the mind surviving death:

  • Nahm later writes that impartial judges “would take eyewitness testimonies just as seriously as they would do in other contexts” (2021*, p. 66). While Elizabeth Loftus’ (1979) seminal research into the reliability of eyewitness testimony provides all sorts of reasons to hesitate to rely upon it so heavily (as survival research typically does), what DRW say about it in their prize-winning essay is more than sufficient: “eyewitness testimony would not convince those who also take into consideration the relevant literature from the neurosciences, clinical, cognitive, and perceptual psychology, and court cases. Research in those disciplines has shown that eyewitness testimony is not as reliable as one might hope because perceptions and memories are easily distorted” (2021*, p. 3).So, although Nahm concludes that “the available evidence for survival of human consciousness after permanent bodily death clearly matches the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt” (2021*, p. 66), survival agnostics might well note that there’s an abundance of eyewitness reports for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, too, that they find just as unconvincing. For all the talk about courtroom standards of evidence, empirical survivalists have habitually engaged in a hitherto-unacknowledged evidential sleight of hand by demanding that the “defense” (survival skeptics) produce their own counterevidence to offset the “prosecution’s” (survival proponents’) weaker testimonial evidence for personal survival, all the while seeking to rule as inadmissible the defense’s much stronger “DNA evidence”—the chiefly neuroscientific evidence that our mental lives cannot be sustained absent a functioning brain.

Decades of research into mediumship have failed to produce desired results for paranormal investigators. Moreover, there have been many survival researcher who have set up tests to demonstrate their continued existence after they died, but none have panned out:

  • This raises an obvious question: if communication with the dead occurs, as the vast majority of empirical survivalists evidently believe, then why have we heard nothing from any of these deceased psychical researchers, many of whom were dedicated to providing “proof” of discarnate personal survival during life? Why can’t a single one of them “authenticate” their continuation (or come as close to that as possible) by providing their “passwords” to a medium (or as an ostensibly reincarnated child—à la Berger, 1991—or via EVP/ITC, for that matter)?In her prize-winning BICS essay, Beischel does not mention such tests directly, but does seem to try to preempt questions about them, writing:
  • During any research reading, we need to ensure that we only ask the mediums to report the types of information they usually report. Since this does not include winning lottery numbers, combinations to locks, or what color shirt the sitter should wear tomorrow, I didn’t ask for any of those things in my experiments. Additionally, although in your physical life you are regularly known by your personally-identifiable information (PII), like your name, date of birth, social security number, address, and phone number, these are not the types of information mediums are regularly observed reporting, so I didn’t ask for those during research. (Beischel, 2021*, p. 23)

Of course, this is exactly the kind of evidence we should be asking for and would validate the claim. Augustine continues:

  • Their failure gives the scientific community good reason to doubt the existence of extrasensory perception (ESP) of any sort akin to why many scientists doubt the existence of psychokinesis (PK): if it’s real, why can’t anyone demonstrably move an object for any distance behind sealed glass? If seers can provide accurate specifics about future events that defy chance, then why have premonition registries (Ruickbie, 2021*, pp. 48-51), which securely document precognitive claims before prophesied events, produced hits less than 1% of the time (Shadowitz & Walsh, 1976, pp. 116-117), if at all? (West, 1948a, p. 268).

The type of evidence we get is exactly what would be expected on the brain dependent mind thesis, such as the Covid virus causing brain fog, and peculiar on the mind independent thesis. Augustine comments:

  • Here philosopher of mind Colin McGinn poses a fair question: “Why does brain damage obliterate mental faculties if minds do not owe their existence to brains?” (1999, p. 27). For a less direct, but no less relevant kind of evidence, consider my paraphrase of philosopher Mathew Iredale’s upshot: “The greatly enhanced mental powers of human beings, compared to those of our primate cousins, are a clear result of the enlarged brains that we possess but that they do not. But then how could human minds retain their impressive mental faculties in the complete absence of brain functioning after death?” (Augustine & Fishman, 2015, p. 232).

Moreover, events like supposed NDE’s are culturally specific:

  • For example, on cross-cultural comparisons of NDE reports, which Nahm concedes are characterized by more differences than similarities (2021*, p. 18), Satwant Pasricha and Stevenson wrote of reports of encounters with others in NDEs: “For Americans this is usually a deceased relative or friend; for Indians it is usually the messengers (Yamdoots) of the god of death. The variations in the persons of the ‘next world’ do not weigh against (or for) their reality” (1986, p. 169).

Survival research seems a lot like what we see with Young Earth Creationists who pick a few pieces of data that do not disagree with their model and disregard everything else. And, why could psychics not just post their predictions for the future online to be vetted?

We know that the brain makes experience possible, so it would take a discarnate mind to have something like brain assistance for NDEs to be experienced at all. Specifically, we know from general anesthesia that the medicine causes the brain to shut off the experience of time, and so the patient goes under and re-awakens a dreamless hour later in what feels like an instant. Without the brain supplying this internal stretching of time there is nothing in which experiences can appear.

We know mass hallucinations are unusual but perfectly natural events (like the claim of Jesus appearing to the 500 or the so called Fatima sky miracle), so:

  • The remaining three sources—apparitional experiences, induced experiences, and ADCs—received DRW’s lowest assigned grade, C. On apparitions, DRW conclude that “despite a few cases with multiple witnesses, the rest of the available evidence is anecdotal and there are numerous potentially mundane explanations,” such as that (in addition some witnesses priming others) “the perceived [collective] apparition may be explained by group exposure to environmental factors that correlate not only with feelings of anxiety and/or disorientation but in extreme cases with hallucinations” (2021*, p. 22).

I’LL BE FINISHING UP POSTING ON THIS ESSAY NEXT TIME

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for the Divinity of Jesus – Part 19: Premise (24) of the Feeling-Superior Argument

WHERE WE ARE

For a brief summary of what has been covered in Part 3 through Part 15 of this series, see the “WHERE WE ARE” section at the beginning of Part 16 of this series.

In Part 16 of this series, I argued that Kreeft and Tacelli’s first argument against Jesus being a lunatic FAILED because both premises of the argument are too UNCLEAR to be rationally evaluated and because Kreeft and Tacelli offer ZERO factual evidence in support of the SCIENTIFIC CLAIMS and HISTORICAL CLAIMS that are asserted in those premises.

In Part 17 of this series, I argued that there was another serious problem with the first argument against Jesus being a lunatic: the available historical evidence is insufficient to draw any firm conclusions about Jesus having a high degree of practical wisdom. Then I moved on to analyze and clarify Kreeft and Tacelli’s second point against Jesus being a lunatic. Their second point actually includes two very similar arguments against Jesus being a lunatic.

In Part 18 of this series, I argued that premise (21) of Kreeft and Tacelli’s Feeling-Superior argument for (5B) is too UNCLEAR to be rationally evaluated. Also, Kreeft and Tacelli offered ZERO facts or evidence to support the SCIENTIFIC GENERALIZATION that they are asserting in premise (21). This premise appears to be either FALSE or DUBIOUS on some interpretations, depending on the strength of the QUANTIFICATIONS that were intended.

I also pointed out that premise (24) of the Feeling-Superior argument, like premise (21) has a significant degree of VAGUENESS of QUANTIFICATION, and that Kreeft and Tacelli provide ZERO historical facts or evidence to support this HISTORICAL CLAIM about Jesus. I review ten examples of Jesus meeting people from Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark and conclude that four of those examples FAIL to provide support for premise (24) and that six of the examples provide some evidence against premise (24).

PREMISE (24) AND CHAPTER 5 OF MARK

In their second point against Jesus being a lunatic, Kreeft and Tacelli offer two similar arguments. I call the first argument the Feeling-Superior argument:

21. When a mentally healthy person meets an insane person (a lunatic), they feel uncomfortable, and they feel that way because they feel superior to the insane person.

24. When mentally healthy persons met Jesus, they felt uncomfortable and this was NOT because they felt superior to Jesus.

THEREFORE:

5B. Jesus was not a lunatic.

I have already determined that the Feeling-Superior argument FAILS because there are serious problems with premise (21). However, I am continuing to critically examine this argument in order to evaluate premise (24). In Part 18 of this series, I pointed out two serious problems with premise (24): (a) it suffers from VAGUENESS of QUANTIFICATION, and (b) Kreeft and Tacelli provide ZERO historical evidence in support of this HISTORICAL CLAIM.

At the end of Part 18 of this series, I randomly selected one chapter from the early chapters of Mark, one chapter from the middle chapters of Mark, and one chapter from the ending chapters of Mark. This will give me a random sample of three chapters from the Gospel of Mark, which I will review for examples of where people or groups of people meet Jesus.

Those examples will now be examined to determine whether they are relevant to an evaluation of premise (24), and whether they provide evidence for or against premise (24). Chapter 5 was the chapter of Mark that I randomly selected from the early chapters of Mark.

There are five examples of groups that meet Jesus and eight examples of individuals that meet Jesus in Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Mark. The first example is where an allegedly demon-possessed man comes into contact with Jesus:

1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the region of the Gerasenes.
2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.
3 He lived among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain,
4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces, and no one had the strength to subdue him.
5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.

Mark 5:1-5, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

Based on the description of this man’s behavior, it is pretty clear that he was NOT a mentally healthy person, so this example of a person meeting Jesus is IRRELEVANT to an evaluation of premise (24).

The story about the demon-possessed man continues, and it portrays Jesus as casting the demons out of that man and into a large heard of swine:

12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.”
13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, stampeded down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.
14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. …

Mark 5:12-14, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

There were a number of swineherds present who saw this take place, and they then “ran off and told it” to people in the surrounding area. The swineherds do NOT say that they felt “uncomfortable” upon meeting Jesus, or in seeing Jesus allegedly cast demons into their herds of swine. The fact that they “ran off” to tell others what had happened doesn’t indicate whether they felt “uncomfortable” around Jesus or not. This example neither confirms nor disconfirms premise (24).

The next example concerns another group of people, namely the people who heard that Jesus was in the area, probably from the efforts of the swineherds:

14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened.
15 They came to Jesus and saw the man possessed by demons sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion, and they became frightened.
16 Those who had seen what had happened to the man possessed by demons and to the swine reported it.
17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.

Mark 5:14-17, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

This group of people “became frightened” and “they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.” So, it is reasonable to say that these people felt “uncomfortable” about Jesus staying near them. Why did these people become frightened? What about Jesus made them feel afraid and beg him to leave? They don’t say, or at least the story doesn’t indicate that they gave any explanation for WHY they became frightened. It seems a bit odd, since if they believed that demons could possess people and make people act “insane”, why wouldn’t they want someone like Jesus to STAY in their area to protect them and their loved ones from demonic possession?

Perhaps they believed that demons were powerful and that any human who could have control over demons must be even more powerful. In that case, they believed that Jesus was a person who had great supernatural power, which is a kind of belief in the superiority of Jesus over other typical people, like themselves. On this interpretation, the fear of Jesus (their uncomfortableness with Jesus) was NOT based upon the belief that they were superior to Jesus, but was based upon the belief that Jesus was superior (in supernatural power) to them. So, this example could be interpreted in a way that it provides some support for premise (24).

Jesus then gets into a boat and crosses to the other side of the sea of Galilee. On the other side, a crowd gathers around him, and a leader from a local synagogue meets Jesus:

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him, and he was by the sea.
22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue, named Jairus, came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet
23 and pleaded with him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”
24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

Mark 5:21-24, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

Nobody in the crowd says that they feel “uncomfortable” upon meeting Jesus. Jairus, who asks Jesus to heal his sick daughter, also does not say that he feels “uncomfortable” with Jesus. Jairus is presumably very concerned about his daughter and doesn’t care much about whether Jesus makes him feel comfortable or not. There is no evidence here that Jairus or the crowd feel “uncomfortable” upon meeting Jesus. There is not enough information in this passage to assess how people in the crowd felt about Jesus or how Jairus felt about Jesus. So, these examples neither confirm nor disconfirm premise (24).

In the next example a woman seeks to be healed by Jesus, and believes she will be healed if she can just touch his cloak:

25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for twelve years.
26 She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had, and she was no better but rather grew worse.
27 She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,
28 for she said, “If I but touch his cloak, I will be made well.”
29 Immediately her flow of blood stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my cloak?”
31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 He looked all around to see who had done it.
33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.
34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Mark 5:25-34, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

The woman does NOT say that she felt “uncomfortable” upon meeting Jesus. She believes that Jesus has the power to heal her, so she has a kind of admiration for Jesus. She views Jesus as superior to herself and many others, at least in terms of the power to heal diseases. The writer of this passage states that when Jesus asks the crowd “Who touched my cloak?” the woman “came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.” Fear and trembling indicate feelings that are uncomfortable.

But the fear this woman felt, might well be attributable to Jesus knowing that someone had touched his cloak. She may well have inferred that Jesus was angry with her for obtaining healing without first making a public request for Jesus to heal her, thus denying him of an opportunity to publically demonstrate his powers of healing. In this case, it is not really Jesus who made the woman feel afraid. Jesus reassures her with kind words, and thus shows that her fear was misplaced. Jesus is not the sort of petty person who would become angry just because he missed an opportunity to show off his healing powers. At least that seems to be the view of the author of this passage in Mark.

Although this is a case of someone meeting Jesus and feeling uncomfortable during that meeting, the feeling is the result of a mistaken assumption about Jesus (“He is angry because I have deprived him of an opportunity to show off his supernatural healing powers.”). It is not Jesus’ actions or behavior that are causing her feelings of fear towards Jesus. So, this is not a relevant example that can be compared to how a mentally healthy person feels upon meeting an insane person. The uncomfortable feelings that a mentally healthy person feels upon meeting an insane person (in cases where this occurs) are based upon the actions and behavior of the insane person. Thus, this example does not provide confirmation of premise (24).

In the next passage from Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Mark, we have another group of people who meet Jesus, and we have three disciples who are with Jesus when he heals the daughter of Jairus:

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the synagogue leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”
36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the synagogue leader, “Do not be afraid; only believe.”
37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

Mark 5:25-34, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

The people who arrive from Jairus’ house seem to want to be polite and not waste Jesus’ time. But this doesn’t tell us whether they felt uncomfortable upon meeting Jesus or not. They do NOT say that they feel uncomfortable with Jesus. There is not enough information about this group of people to determine how they felt about Jesus, so this example neither confirms nor disconfirms premise (24).

What about the disciples who tag along with Jesus? Peter, James, and John have already met Jesus and have become disciples or followers of Jesus. This raises a question about the MEANING of “meeting Jesus”. Can someone “meet Jesus” only one time? Or can a person “meet Jesus” on several different occasions?

My inclination is to say that “meeting Jesus” can only happen once, although that initial meeting could extend for a number of hours in some cases. Otherwise, if a person can repeatedly meet Jesus, then clearly the claim that people will ALWAYS feel uncomfortable when meeting Jesus, and that this will NEVER be because one feels superior to Jesus becomes an even stronger and more difficult claim to prove. So, to be fair to Kreeft and Tacelli, we should assume the weaker claim is being made, and that when they talk about someone “meeting Jesus”, they are talking about an initial meeting of Jesus, not about every repeated instance where a person comes into contact with Jesus.

Because the three disciples already knew Jesus by this point in time, the examples of them going with Jesus to Jairus’ house are irrelevant to an evaluation of premise (24).

The next passage from Chapter 5 of Mark talks about a group of people who are at Jairus’ house. Jesus takes Jairus and his wife into the room where their dying (or dead) child was:

38 When they came to the synagogue leader’s house, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.
39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”
40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.

Mark 5:38-40, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

The group of people who were gathered at Jairus’ house were “weeping and wailing loudly” so they were probably sad and upset about the (apparent) death of Jairus’ daughter. You could say they felt “uncomfortable”, but this was obviously NOT because of meeting Jesus. Nobody in the group says they felt uncomfortable because of meeting Jesus.

The fact that they laughed at Jesus’ claim that the girl was “sleeping” indicates that they felt superior to Jesus (looking down on him as a fool). If Jesus had made them feel uncomfortable, then this example would disconfirm premise (24). But there is no indication that meeting Jesus made these people feel uncomfortable. So, if this group did NOT feel uncomfortable upon meeting Jesus, then this example would disconfirm premise (24), but if this group DID feel uncomfortable upon meeting Jesus, then this example would still disconfirm premise (24), because they felt superior to Jesus. Either way, this example provides some disconfirming evidence against premise (24).

What about Jairus and his wife? Presumably, they too were upset about the apparent death of their daughter, but neither of them say that meeting Jesus made them feel uncomfortable, and there isn’t enough information in this passage to draw any conclusions about how either of them felt about Jesus at that point. The example of these two people meeting Jesus neither confirms nor disconfirms premise (24), at least not based on this passage.

In the final passage from Chapter 5 of Mark, we have the meeting of the dying (or previously dead) twelve-year-old girl and Jesus, and the reaction of her parents to Jesus healing her (or raising her from the dead):

41 Taking her by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”
42 And immediately the girl stood up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.
43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:41-43, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

The young girl does NOT say that she felt uncomfortable upon meeting Jesus. She doesn’t say anything at all, or at least the writer of Mark does not mention her saying anything. Jairus and his wife were “overcome with amazement” upon seeing their daughter suddenly revived. That doesn’t indicate that they felt uncomfortable with Jesus, nor that they felt comfortable with Jesus. There is not enough information here to determine whether or not the girl, Jairus, or the wife of Jairus felt uncomfortable because of meeting Jesus. So, these examples neither confirm nor disconfirm premise (24).

CONCLUSIONS FROM REVIEW OF CHAPTER 5 OF MARK

Of the thirteen examples of groups or individuals meeting (or contacting) Jesus in Chapter 5, here is how they relate to premise (24):

  • One example was irrelevant because the person in question was NOT a mentally healthy person (the demon-possessed man).
  • Three examples were irrelevant to premise (24) because the persons in question already knew Jesus (the disciples who went with Jesus to Jairus’ house).
  • Four examples of individuals meeting Jesus neither confirm nor disconfirm premise (24).
  • Three examples of groups of people meeting Jesus neither confirm nor disconfirm premise (24).
  • One example of a group of people meeting Jesus provides some disconfirmation of premise (24).
  • One example of a group of people meeting Jesus, on one plausible interpretation of a passage, provides some confirmation of premise (24).

Out of thirteen different examples, four are irrelevant to an evaluation of premise (24), and of the relevant examples, seven examples neither confirm nor disconfirm premise (24), one example provides some disconfirmation of premise (24), and only one example provides some confirmation of premise (24).

This is VERY WEAK support for premise (24) from thirteen examples of groups or individuals having contact with Jesus in Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Mark. If the review of examples from other Chapters of Mark produces similar results, then we can reasonably conclude that the available evidence FAILS to show that premise (24) is true, and that this premise is DUBIOUS.

bookmark_borderReview of *Not* So Fast: A Response to Augustine’s Critique of the BICS Contest: Stephen E. Braude, Imants Baruss , Arnaud Delorme, Dean Radin, Helané Wahbeh

see the article here: https://journalofscientificexploration.org/index.php/jse/issue/view/85

At times Braude et al’s response to Augustine reads like a long lottery fallacy, the idea that since it’s mathematically absurd that I should win a major lottery, if I do win a miracle has taken place.  Against this, while it’s preposterous for me to think I should win when buying the ticket, given the probability cast in the light of the number of entrants it is certainly reasonable that “someone” should win.  Similarly, while it is highly unlikely that my health recovery should baffle medical knowledge, this doesn’t imply a miracle since in a planet of many billions of people unexplainable recovery, though ridiculously rare, are to be expected.

One major flaw is the god of the gaps fallacy whereby an apparent gap in the scientific knowledge of the physiology of memory opens the door to something supernatural that has access to past lives:

  • With regard to point (2) above, there are serious reasons for relaxing our commitments to standard interpretations of the neurophysiological data and entertaining possibly radical alternatives.  Some famous experiments in the 1920s by psychologist Karl Lashley illustrate this clearly. Lashley thought he knew where memories would be stored in a rat’s brain. But he found that no matter how much of a rat’s brain he surgically removed, trained rats continued to run their maze. And when Lashley reached the point in his surgical marathon where the poor critters were unable to run a maze, they were unable to do anything. (See Lashley, 1929) So some—but not Lashley—concluded that a rats’ memory is not localized at a specific place in the rat’s brain Rather, memories are diffusely localized, much as information is diffusely distributed in holograms.
  • This proposal catapulted Karl Pribram to the status of a pundit.[1] However, to someone not antecedently committed to the received wisdom about mind-brain relations, Lashley’s experiments take on a different sort of significance. They suggest that memories aren’t located anywhere or in any form in the brain. More generally, they suggest that the container metaphor (that memories and mental states generally are in the brain or in something else) was wrong from the start, because memories (and mental states generally) aren’t things or objects with distinct spatiotemporal coordinates.

  • [1] Granted, most neuroscientists are unfamiliar with the logical and conceptual errors in positing memory traces. Like Pribram, when confronted with challenges to their views on memory, their first impulse is to simply modify the nature of the trace (say, as a dense neural network) and ignore the reasons for regarding trace theory as deep (or disguised) nonsense. Moreover, the arguments for the vacuousness of trace theory are hardware-independent. No matter how they’re configured, it’s relatively easy to show that memory traces are impossible objects. For more details, see Braude, 2014, “Memory without a Trace.”

The writers take paranormal research right out the realm of science by saying replicability isn’t an issue, but a single instance, even if a mathematical anomaly, is the gold being dug for:

  • In any case, not all parapsychological tests (including survival investigations) have failed. For example, although Mrs. Piper’s results are often ambiguous and messy, the investigation of her mediumship counts as a failure only on an indefensibly strict standard of success, one which we reject in many domains. That’s why a baseball player who gets a hit 1 out of 3 times is considered excellent.We also know that the ability to demonstrate ESP or PK reliably seems to be quite rare, even if psychic experiences can occur to virtually anyone under the right conditions. But then we must exercise caution in interpreting a parapsychology experiment’s negative results. Augustine presumably knows this, but he nevertheless fails to consider what kind of ability is under investigation. He doesn’t even entertain the counter-proposal that when OBErs and NDErs fail to identify remote targets in formal tests, perhaps they’re simply not particularly good at it—or good at it in formal tests or under mental or physical duress. After all, there’s no evidence that people generally, or randomly selected people, are good at remote viewing, or as good as the small number of outstanding RVers. But then we can say, plausibly, that the ability to Remote View is genuine (as RV superstars demonstrate) but like many normal abilities it’s not widely or evenly distributed, and it’s also situationally fragile. That’s what the data, both negative and positive, tell us. Augustine apparently considers encrypted messages and combination-lock tests to be the gold standard for testing mediums. But he claims repeatedly that all such tests have failed. He writes, “While some mediums were asked to describe the contents of sealed envelopes or provide auditory information, most direct tests of survival involve asking living persons to posthumously reveal to a medium key words, phrases, or mnemonic devices, ostensibly unknown to any living person, that would decipher encrypted messages or open user-set combination locks.” Then a few sentences later, “After 121 years of such simple tests, only undeniably fraudulent mediums (Spraggett & Rauscher, 1973) or cryptologists (Bean, 2020; Gillogly & Harnisch, 1996) have ever been able to solve them.” Predictably, Augustine doesn’t consider the option that the tests were psi-inhibitory. He also doesn’t indicate what his position would be if the tests were successful. Would he concede that the positive results count as evidence of survival? That would help clarify how open-minded he is about evidence for the paranormal….However, Augustine’s assessment of encrypted message and combination-lock tests seems viable only when we regard both experimenters and subjects as psychological stick figures, unburdened by self-defeating character traits and untroubled by the concerns, fears, hopes, and other frailties that plague most of humanity. The issues here coincide with some of those discussed in connection with the replicability problem in parapsychology (see Braude, 2018).

The author’s seem to like to argue from the “it’s not impossible” premise, that just because everything we know about the mind suggests physical dependence, this doesn’t logically exclude something immaterial that we have no access to:

  • McTaggart’s view is insightful. Strictly speaking, the evidence for mind-brain correlations doesn’t show that selfhood or consciousness is exclusively linked to bodily processes, much less the processes of any particular physical body. We noted earlier that survival-unfriendly interpretations of the neurophysiological data may seem initially compelling because their presuppositions are widespread and deeply rooted. And if so, it may be a useful intellectual exercise to try to divest ourselves of those presuppositions and then take a fresh look at the data. We might find, then, that McTaggart’s (or some other survivalist) interpretation seems more immediately appealing. It’s therefore regrettable that Augustine doesn’t rise to the challenge.       

The authors offer a helpful summary of Augustine’s arguments against survivalism:

  1. Minds mature as brains mature
  2. Childhood mental development halts when childhood brain development halts
  3. Minds degenerate when brains degenerate (due to old age or traumatic brain injury)
  4. Creatures with simple brains have simple minds
  5. Creatures with complex brains have complex minds
  6. Sickening/injuring the brain sickens/injures the mind
  7. Mental dispositions can be inherited from one’s parents
  8. Mental desires can be induced or eliminated by brain stimulation
  9. Mental disorders can be cured by altering brain chemistry with drugs
  10. Mental disorders can be brought on by altering brain chemistry with drugs

One critique they offer is

  • Regarding number 7 above
  • Mental dispositions can be inherited from one’s parents may not state a fact at all. We wonder: Why not say “learned/absorbed” rather than “inherited”? Although some genetic data suggest that certain personality traits and talents are inherited through DNA, Augustine can’t simply assume that this alleged regularity is an example of nature and not nurture. After all, many (perhaps most) families don’t exhibit this generational continuity. In fact, children often have attitudes, dispositions, and preferences that conflict with those of their parents. Are we really to believe that Augustine doesn’t know this?

This is absurd. We know extreme cases such as schizophrenia, bipolar type 1 and 2, OCD, etc have an obvious biological component and definitely have a hereditary component, often dormant and skipping between generations there was no contact with like one’s great grandparents. And it’s not simply mental. As far back as the Greeks greatness in the creative arts was often associated with melancholy because boredom and dissatisfaction inspired creating.

In the end, this was a poor response to Augustine that was neither well reasoned or argued.

bookmark_borderWhen Will Survival Researchers Move Past Defending the Indefensible? (Part 3)

So, this is my last post on Augustine’s “Defending the Indefensible” Essay I particularly liked Augustine’s distinction between analogies that illustrate and analogies that argue, since we are all familiar with debates that are just opposite sides throwing illustrations at one another as though they are arguments (eg pro life vs pro choice; conservative vs liberal).

It is a general point that there is a reason hospitals don’t have faith healer teams on staff, or that psychics don’t repeatedly predict and win the lottery. Augustine comments:

  • Until survival researchers produce evidence of the sort that replicable positive results from properly controlled tests of survival would have provided, the rest of the world is quite justified in responding: “Call me when a medium gets even one hit out of dozens of vetted attempts to get an afterlife code, or when an out-of-body NDEr has actually identified a visual target in the latest installment of the AWARE study. Then I’ll be keen for replications. Until then, tend to your own garden.”

It’s not of importance that scientific data doesn’t render survivalism impossible, since “impossibility” is a ridiculously high standard:

  • Braude et al. (2022) think that I believe that the chiefly neuroscientific evidence “puts survivalists in an awkward position empirically, because they can’t explain away a large and respectable body of neuroscientific data suggesting that survival is impossible.” First of all, I’ve always characterized this evidence as rendering discarnate personal survival highly unlikely, not impossible, since that’s the most that any evidence can do for any hypothesis.[1] Second, the issue is not that empirical survivalists cannot reinterpret away such evidence—it’s that, if they wish to proceed scientifically (rather than pseudoscientifically), they ought not reinterpret it away

  • [1] Discarnate personal survival may well be nomically or even metaphysically impossible, of course, given the true nature of consciousness (whatever that turns out to be). But the issue here is what we can know, in the same sense that we can be said to know things about other scientific matters, about the relationship between our individual mental lives and our brain functioning in light of the total relevant evidence. Here we can only speak in probabilities, as with all scientific hypotheses. As far as we can ascertain, personal survival does not seem possible, given the evidence, without technological or miraculous intervention. But that conclusion is highly probable, not certain.

There is a growing body of evidence in favor of naturalism when it comes to mind/brain dependence, so it really a question of academic honesty of letting the evidence point the way instead of explaining the evidence away:

  • Early on it might be reasonable to try to save one’s pet theories [1] from unfavorable evidence in order to avoid their falsification (or at least a reduction in their overall probability). The data themselves might have been bad, for example. But as more unfavorable evidence accumulates—and from a variety of independent, reliable sources—at some point it becomes unreasonable to continue to cling to one’s theories in the face of the evidence. All that I ask is that psychical researchers adhere to the same standards that other scientists do.

  • [1] The term ‘theory’ should be understood as a synonym for ‘hypothesis’ throughout—as Braude et al. (2022) also use these terms—following the conventions of philosophers of science.

The self is too shaped by the brain to survive in any meaningful sense after death:

  • Whenever empirical survivalists get more specific about their theories on the mind’s relation to functioning brains, they are forced by the facts to concede that the functioning brain changes our mental functioning through and through. Thus it is as if we are never really ourselves when we are incarnate. The corollary of this implication is that who we are now in a substantial or ‘thick’ sense will not survive death even if some mere part of us becomes discarnate. Some abstract impersonal part (not all that different from our bones) might ‘survive’ biological death—perhaps with the mind of a paramecium—once the brain activity that sustains human consciousness during life drops away. But that is not personal survival... [W]hat the independence thesis predicts we will find contradicts what ‘neuroscience-plus’ has in fact uncovered, whereas what the dependence thesis predicts matches it. We thus have pretty compelling evidence that having a functioning brain almost certainly is necessary for human mental processes to exist/occur.

We can see analogs to survivalist approaches with Young Earth Creationism:

  • It’s no less logically possible, after all, that fossils of simpler organisms are found in older geological strata than those of complex ones because God created the fossils that way all at once 10,000 years ago (rather than due to biological evolution). Just as no evolutionary biologist takes such “alternative accounts of the data” seriously, no neuroscientist should take a ‘dependence-looking independence thesis’ seriously, either. If all signs from reliable sources of evidence point to existential or functional dependence, then we should tentatively take such evidence to indicate exactly what it seems to indicate (barring forthcoming, comparably reliable bodies of evidence that suggest otherwise—but we are here talking about available evidence).

That concludes my 3 defending the indefensible posts. Check out Augustine’s journal exchange here: https://journalofscientificexploration.org/index.php/jse/issue/view/85 . Next time I will be blogging about further issue related to this exchange.

bookmark_borderWhen Will Survival Researchers Move Past Defending the Indefensible? (Part 2)

Augustine feels the interaction brought out many things that needed to be said, particularly a more accurate representation of the best that the skeptical eye could bring to the table. Reber and Alcock had argued in Skeptical Inquirer in 2019 as to why physics makes psi impossible. Under Braude’s final year as JSE Editor-in-Chief, either the whole issue or a significant portion of the JSE was devoted to refuting Reber and Alcock’s arguments.

Refuting arguments that “psi is impossible” is antecedently easy to do, since anyone claiming that a thing is impossible puts a large burden on oneself to show that. Saying that the evidence makes it highly improbable, or that science needs to reject psi as a working hypothesis in order to investigate things empirically at all, is a more nuanced and defensible position. It’s also one that the echo chamber of JSE readers have likely not heard before (which is why lead author Braude’s reply to Augustine missed the mark on so much–it seems like he’s never even thought about the best skeptical arguments that could be made, just the easy-to-refute caricatures, judging by how much space in that earlier JSE issue was devoted to refuting Reber & Alcock, 2019).

Augustine is just giving voice to what non-fringe scientists have actually argued in an echo chamber that would otherwise never hear it, but only their caricatures of “materialists” or whatever. There are popularizers saying the same things Augustine’s said. He already quoted Sean Carroll on UAP/UFOs and Sam Harris on neuroscience. Consider Neil deGrasse Tyson:

  1. On NDEs and testimonial evidence, at the start (the hypercube/tesseract discussion comes later): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r43Mdq2MWjk

2. On an afterlife being scientifically unlikely (esp. at 2:25 about strokes destroying mental capacities): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwncyLyTXQ4

bookmark_borderWhen Will Survival Researchers Move Past Defending the Indefensible? (Part 1)

When Will Survival Researchers Move Past Defending the
Indefensible?
Keith Augustine

The exchange between our Secular Web/Internet Infidels director Keith Augustine and noted “soul survivalist ” proponents was published yesterday. I’ll be blogging about it, but check out the exchange: https://journalofscientificexploration.org/index.php/jse/issue/view/85

HIGHLIGHTS
The survivalists’ response to the author’s skeptical review did not
confront the novel criticisms and arguments made against the BICS essay
evidence. Such a candid and deep engagement with fundamental issues is
needed to advance the question of ‘life after death.’

ABSTRACT
The failure of five psychical researchers to confront my critique of
Bigelow Institute contest-winning essays with counterpoints or
concessions responsive to its novel criticisms is disappointing. Their
defensive and scattershot reply lost sight of whether the critiqued
essays met their directive to provide “hard evidence ‘beyond a
reasonable doubt’” of the survival of human consciousness. Those who
claim that science should expand its metaphysically conservative picture
to include things otherwise not known to exist assume the burden of
showing what they claim. My interlocutors’ almost exclusively
testimonial evidence does not adhere to the long-standing scientific
principles required by the scientific community. For the kind of
evidence that could be publicly confirmed is simply not the kind that
survival researchers have been able to provide, just as we would expect
of a hodgepodge of deception, embellishment, malobservation,
misreporting, self-deception, and so on; but which could be surprising
on the hypothesis that discarnate personal survival occurs. The survival
evidence does not even survive elementary scrutiny, let alone outweigh
our everyday experience of the biological fragility of our own minds.
The *totality* of the evidence renders discarnate personal survival
highly unlikely. Attempts to reinterpret this evidence away through
various analogies fail because a hypothesis that makes false
predictions, like that of the independence of individual consciousness
from a functioning brain, will continue to make them no matter what
analogy one uses to illustrate it.

Analysis:

Augustine points out the evidence for discarnate survival parallels to the poor evidence for the existence of God in the face of the problem of suffering:

  • It’s also perfectly reasonable to step back and take a look at the big picture. One can reasonably argue along the following lines. None of the arguments in favor of the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God are very compelling even by theistic philosophers’ standards. On the other hand, such philosophers struggle with how to reconcile the existence of such a being with a world that has long been steeped in suffering. The parallels here should be obvious. None of the variable-quality ostensible evidence for discarnate personal survival is very compelling even by parapsychological standards (cf. Delorme et al., 2021*), and those psychical researchers who acknowledge that contrary evidence should count for something struggle with how to reconcile discarnate personal survival with independent, well-vetted evidence from cognitive neuroscience (and elsewhere) (Stokes, 1993; cf. Stairs & Bernard, 2007, p. 301). When two sources of evidence appear to conflict, is it not more reasonable (absent further evidence) to give greater weight to the more reliable of the two? (cf. Rowe, 2007, pp. 159-160).

Survivalist research is akin to negative theology which characterizes God in terms of what God is not:

  • It’s worth adding that to the extent that the existence of conjectural forces or entities is not scientifically established, paranormal explanations don’t really explain anything at all. They are just an umbrella catchall of the negation of the conventional/normal explanations that researchers have thought of (maybe they didn’t think of everything) and that don’t fit. To have a real scientific explanation, we need to know something about the positive characteristics of the ‘explaining’ hypothesized force or entity—what it is—not simply what it is not (Augustine, 2015, p. 34). Until then, the label psi is just a placeholder or promissory note for an explanation. That’s why it’s solely by convention that we don’t include unknown lights in the sky, unidentified living creatures, or other Forteana under the umbrella of psi. (If conventionally inexplicable, are ghost lights ostensible spirits, ostensible extraterrestrial probes, ostensible plasma-based cryptids, or something else entirely? No one will ever be able to say without some verifiable positive characterization of what they are.)

It’s a real problem for survivalist research that evidence is largely anecdotal and cannot be re-produced in a controlled scientific setting:

  • The specifics of how Home accomplished Victorian-era feats that have no contemporary parallels—much like Mrs. Piper’s mental mediumship[1]—seem rather moot if neither Nahm, Braude, nor any other investigator can capture comparable demonstrations today using modern tools that are more than capable of clearly documenting events through high-resolution closed-circuit, livestreamed, or otherwise unalterable video recording from multiple angles. When simply informed of the general character of this evidence, most people (survival skeptics or not) would be compelled to ask: where have all the bona fide physical mediums gone?An endless debate over the strength of inherently weaker testimonial and other poorly controlled sources of evidence could be avoided altogether, of course, if only Braude et al. had more rigorous experimental evidence to offer. But one cannot produce evidence akin to an Earth-bound extraterrestrial artifact, a Bigfoot skeleton, or a working SoulPhone if the hypothesized entities never existed in the first place.

  • [1] Cf. Robert Almeder (1992, p. 249) and Nahm on the much lower “investigability of the most compelling aspects of mental mediumship” (2021*, p. 13) today since survival researchers cannot produce contemporary mediums willing or able to pull off comparably impressive performances.

It is a real problem for paranormal research, like alien research, that the evidence is always ambiguous and could be understood in other ways:

  • That is, we should hesitate to interpret UAP as evidence for the extraterrestrial visitation hypothesis not so much because crossing the vast distances of interstellar space is potentially insuperable, but because as a matter of fact, we simply do not find the sorts of evidence that we would expect to find were extraterrestrial visitation occurring. If extraterrestrials were regularly visiting Earth, why would evidence of their presence always fall within the narrow range of possibilities that we might call the perpetually ambiguous range? There is wide continuum of conceivable evidence consistent with extraterrestrial visitation, ranging from no evidence at all to undeniable evidence (indigenous peoples did not eternally debate the presence of European colonists, for example)... Similarly, near-death researchers claim that NDErs are already able to provide veridical visual information inaccessible to the normal senses during their experiences—again, just not (so far) under controlled conditions (e.g., Holden, 2009). So what’s at issue here is a historical question: have survival researchers been able to provide evidence for putative discarnate personal survival that meets the standards of scientific rigor required in, say, pharmaceutical research—or not? My concern is not with “how a parapsychological test or experiment will turn out” (future tense), but rather with how such tests have in fact turned out (past tense).

Next time I will be commenting on the second half of Augustine’s essay.