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#811 Open Thread: “Crazy Beliefs” (Or, what paranormal powers did you believe you had?)

Yesterday’s program with Matt and Tracie (me), featured a brief reading of a thread where people posted nutty beliefs they used to hold about paranormal abilities or experiences. Other items mentioned included the importance of supporting groups like “Black Nonbelievers” (blacknonbelievers.org), who face unique issues based on their demographics, which may not be addressed by mainstream atheist groups.

I do want to point out one big logic boo-boo I made during one of the calls. I believe I made a statement to the effect that a Solipsistic worldview would make “everything” immaterial (or possibly immaterial), not just “mind”–as the caller was aiming at. I was wrong to say this. A Solipsistic worldview would mean that nothing could be known about the nature of reality, except that mind exists. Although I recognized my error shortly after the show, someone else pointed out to me that the better statement would have been: that to the Solipsist, “mind is mind.”

The term “possible” gets conflated sometimes, and I conflated it. The term is used in one of two ways, generally. One is useful, the other (the one I used) not so much. The best example of people who abuse the term comes with people who argue for “infinite universes” necessitating things like “gods.” The argument goes that “gods are possible,” therefore in a situation where infinite possibilities will be expressed, in infinite universes, at least one of those universes would contain a god. I often reply to this by saying “how do you know gods are possible?” And the person generally really is suggesting that gods cannot be ruled out. But they fail to differentiate between (1) cannot be ruled out, because we know that is a realistic result that could occur, but might not, or (2) fail to be ruled out because we have insufficient information about whether it’s impossible. In the second case, it is “possible,” that the result could actually be impossible, but we just don’t know it yet.

Examples:

1. I have two standard six-sided dice, and I ask if it’s possible I could roll a 12 with them.

2. I have an undetermined number of standard six-sided dice in an opaque bag, and ask YOU if it’s possible I could roll a 12 with them.

In the first example, the answer would be “yes.” We know that each die has a side “six,” and that they can both come up, which would result in a 12. It is something that *could possibly* happen, we are sure, because it has happened in the past and the factors are still present to make it a result that could occur again. Whether it will happen in the future or not, we don’t know. But we know it’s not “impossible” to roll a 12.

In the second example, however, I will now share a secret: I have only one die in my bag–but you don’t know it. So, when you answer to say “It’s possible you could roll a 12,” I know you’re absolutely, without doubt, wrong in that assessment. There is no way, even with infinite rolls, I will ever come up with a 12, with just the one die. The number of opportunities would not impact that result. And what you have assessed as possible, is actually impossible.

With solipsism then, acknowledging I have no way to know what is in the bag, an accurate response would have been that I don’t have anyway to assess what is possible in such a situation. Any statement of what is “possible” in that situation would include results that may actually be impossible–I have no way to know. And so the word “possible” becomes irrelevant and meaningless–meaning those results that are both possible and impossible. And when “possible” can be defined as that which is impossible, what information does “possible” give us, beyond “I don’t have any real clue about this?” If the statement, “it’s possible mind could be immaterial,” includes scenarios in which it also could be impossible, but I’m simply ignorant of that fact at the time I make the statement, what good is that declaration in informing is? It just means “I’m too ignorant to know if it’s possible or impossible.” But I feel the caller was interpreting such a statement as being more aligned with Example 1, where it is actually a realistic possibility. That, however, is a reach we could not logically make, if we adopted a solipsistic position. We could not make any meaningful declarations of what is possible or impossible for the nature of mind (regarding whether it is material or immaterial), only that, “mind is mind”–whatever it is.

And since, without going back and listening again, I’m pretty sure I got that wrong, I wanted to correct it here, publicly.

Comments

    • says

      Actually, all this caller had to say was something like “Do you agree that if hard solipsism is correct, our assessment of material reality would not be reliable?” I would have agreed to that without all the build up and time wasted. In fact, I’ve agreed to that ever since I was presented with the solipsistic position.

      • Muz says

        If I vaguely recall this guy’s overall thrust, over a year or whatever it is, it really seems like a lengthy route to showing that the mind even being able to conceive of god can be rounded into god necessarily existing (or being good evidence for such. Conception and existence being two sides of the same coin. or something).
        It’s a lot like arguing with a presuppositionalist in some ways (Johanen is generally less painfully smug and arrogant at least). You’ve got no basis for logic, matter, consciousness etc so the only option is to plunk for an absolute authority.
        Tracie points out that an unknown does not imply possibility in itself, so you have to insert empiricism to get past that. I wager his next target was science and knowledge itself had the call continued.

    • Houndentenor says

      I find it baffling that someone would waste that much time stringing together possibilities as if that can ever lead to a proof of anything. All sorts of things are possible and plenty of others are internal consistent. That doesn’t mean they are true. I’m not sure what part of that he doesn’t get. Or maybe I just haven’t smoked enough week for that sort of pointless exercise to be interesting.

  1. Marin Ganev says

    I had no superpowers but I believed that if I leave my broken toy in my draw for toys and manage to forget this toy – when I remember it in the future it will be fixed. It worked.

  2. Claire says

    One crazy, yet charming belief I had as a child, that was 4 generations old by the time it was passed onto me, was floating mussel shells on the water for the little people to use as boats. My Irish great-great-great-grandmother, if she found an empty mussel shell next to a lake, would wade out with the shell so it could float away.

    Eventually, a little person (I don’t know if she meant leprechauns) would find the shell, and would hop in, steering their new-found boat with a twig. Supposedly, good fortune would come to you as a reward for your consideration, because the little people were unable to drag the shell from the shore on their own. I spent a lot of fishing trips with my dad looking for shells, then wading out into the lake to launch them.

  3. mond says

    Since we are discussing things Tracie got wrong. ;-)
    How about when you mentioned the belief that someone had about being able to echo locate.
    From what I understand there are a few blind people who have learned this ability.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_echolocation

    But to be fair to Tracie, I don’t think the person making the claim was one of these people and recognised themself that they did not have this ability.

    The only reason I mentioned it is that it was the one “crazy” belief that maybe based on something in reality.

    Okay, so Tracie wasn’t actually wrong on this occasion.

    • says

      I actually replied to him on the thread telling him to check into blind drivers. Like you, I don’t think this is what he was describing, but I was aware there was some info available regarding people who can negotiate spaces using sound. I just don’t know that much about it.

    • says

      Also, the guy who said he can interfere with radio waves might not be that crazy. I recall when I was a kid, positioning someone around the television or radio in different areas did seem to screw up reception or make it more clear. It’s another thing I don’t know much about, but recall from my youth that I would not be surprised by a real world explanation for. He’s written back to me a few times to say he really did/can do that–and on the face of it, I think that’s potentially some sort of actual interference.

      • John Kruger says

        The human body can act as a crude antenna, especially if one actually touches the radio wave antenna of a device. I could imagine concentrating on reception and not realizing I was making subtle motions that would actually effect the reception, giving special significance to the “hits” like humans do.

        I too, however, do not want to get too far out of my depth. I am by no means a radio wave reception expert.

      • erik333 says

        You can easily inhibit radio reception by standing at certain locations at my work place, just thinking about it isn’t enough though. Similarly, physically touching the antenna can help the reception… all highly situational though. The optimal length and position of antennas etc depend on lots of factors. Ideally where the signal is coming from and wavelength, but reality is never that simple.

      • Thorne says

        I used to have a problem with watches! Battery operated watches would invariably lose 5 to 10 minutes over the course of a week when I wore them. But if I left them on my dresser for a week they would maintain the time perfectly. Didn’t matter whether they were analog or digital, either. I always claimed it was my magnetic personality, but even my mother would laugh about that one! And of course, as a secret super power it was pretty lame. It would have been better if I’d actually been going back in time, even just 5 minutes. At least that could have been useful, maybe.

        Anyway, it stopped happening after a lot of years, and I don’t wear a watch anymore anyway.

        • erik333 says

          Was it a mechanical watch or a digital watch? Moving and shaking a mechanical watch around might change how it runs, though some vague recollection I have suggests it might run faster rather than slower.

          Time Dilation Man aint so bad tho is it?

          • Thorne says

            It happened with both kinds, mechanical and digital. Funny thing is, I once had a “self-winding” watch, which used the movements of my arm throughout the day to keep itself wound, and that kept relatively perfect time!

            Time Dilation Man aint so bad tho is it?

            No, it’s great, actually. By my calculations I’ve already gained a good three weeks of extra life, assuming a constant rate of dilation. At that rate I’ll only have to live another twenty years to get a full month extra!

            Unless I screwed up the signs.

  4. grumpyoldfart says

    In 1948, Bertrand Russell wrote: “I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise surprised me.”

  5. John Kruger says

    Solipsism is always going to be a circular road to nowhere. If it is part of someone’s argument, they are invariably using it as a set up for an argument from ignorance or proving a negative to support a preconceived notion.

    Our observations are always going to fallible to some degree, and we will always have to rely on observations to make claims about reality. We need not require an absolute certainty before beginning in any endeavor, or we will be forever forbidden from beginning anything. There is no functional way of distinguishing between a “non-material, concept only” reality from an objective reality that we can only observe mentally, so the distinction is useless. Hard solipsism is little more than mental finger cuffs.

    That caller also seemed to be struggling with the idea that a consistent idea gets special consideration. If an idea does not contradict itself, it is only coherent. It cannot make any claims to reality on its own. With mathematics we can trivially consider an infinite line with no thickness, but the ability to imagine such a thing in no way makes that thing exist, except perhaps as a concept. Just because you can consider yourself as a brain in a vat and not contradict yourself, it does not give the theory any merit at all, aside from not being defeated at the outset.

    • says

      Oh, and regarding your comment on how internal consistency does not equal true. I don’t know if it was clear, but I replied to him with something like “Dune is internally consistent, but it’s not true.” That should be an obvious problem for anyone to recognize. Lord of the Rings may be internally consistent, but it’s pure fantasy.

      • Houndentenor says

        Exactly. And such presentations of things that are possible and also internally consistent can make for excellent (and also painfully dull) fiction. But it doesn’t have anything to do with determining what is true.

    • davecampbell says

      at 36:40, Matt perfectly summed-up my feelings about Solipsism in general and this caller in particular:

      “Sure…So what?”

    • erik333 says

      Like all metaphysics, it’s basically useless except as entertainment and philosophy excercices. However, to determine that it is just metaphysics you have to properly examine the implications (if possible), which is a useful thing to do (hopefully string theory will stop being metaphysics and become real physics at some point). Having done this without finding any potentially falsifiable implications, we can then proceed and conclude the topic is useless and stop caring.

  6. says

    When I was 12, I believed I could literally move mountains if I just truly believed that they would move… because my mother told me that. Of course, I tried it out.

    I believed it for about 3 minutes.

  7. says

    >Solipsism is always going to be a circular road to nowhere. If it is part of someone’s argument, they are invariably using it as a set up for an argument from ignorance or proving a negative to support a preconceived notion.

    Yeah, I’m not sure where it would go that would be relevant. It’s not as though Matt nor I have ever thought of Solipsism or considered the implications. In that framework, nothing can be said. Nothing can be known. Mind exists. Period. Nature of such a mind: Unknown. Environment surrounding such a mind: Unknown. Comments that can be made about possibilities/probabilities with any validity: None. Pragmatic applications to my life: None. While I’m trapped in the only reality I *can* know, this is what I have to work with, by necessity—illusory in nature or not, perceptions reliable or not. That means that when we address “reality,” we are necessarily talking about the one that is perceived. Are there slight differences in perception that can be demonstrated between people? Sure. But outside of some extreme fringe individuals, for the most part, that perception is strikingly similar, based on the unified things we achieve as social animals. Additionally, science is able to minimize and even eliminate perceptual bias in many cases—demonstrating a nonsubjective metric that confirms our subjective perceptions as reliable/not reliable in different circumstances. This would be, for example, how we differentiate color blind people, or demonstrate that dogs can hear things in a range people can’t.

    I have no problem acknowledging that in solipsism nothing is demonstrated by mind. But we’re not in that situation, and so we should be addressing the situation we are in—the one that, illusory or not, we can speak in some informed way about. What about this reality—illusory or not—that we are trapped in? What about this thing—illusory or not—that is the actual thing we mean when we say “reality”? Does a god exist in here that can be demonstrated? I often think of it as a simulated video game. Just because it’s not a “real” reality—does not mean anything is possible in the game. It still has parameters and metrics and constraints. If we found ourselves trapped within it, unable to escape, and subject to pleasure and pain driven existence in there—we’d be working to figure out how to understand it very quickly and very hard, and it would very soon become the only “reality” that matters. The “true nature” of it, would be quite irrelevant to anything practical or consequential to us.

    >Our observations are always going to fallible to some degree, and we will always have to rely on observations to make claims about reality. We need not require an absolute certainty before beginning in any endeavor, or we will be forever forbidden from beginning anything. There is no functional way of distinguishing between a “non-material, concept only” reality from an objective reality that we can only observe mentally, so the distinction is useless. Hard solipsism is little more than mental finger cuffs.

    Agreed.

    >That caller also seemed to be struggling with the idea that a consistent idea gets special consideration. If an idea does not contradict itself, it is only coherent. It cannot make any claims to reality on its own. With mathematics we can trivially consider an infinite line with no thickness, but the ability to imagine such a thing in no way makes that thing exist, except perhaps as a concept. Just because you can consider yourself as a brain in a vat and not contradict yourself, it does not give the theory any merit at all, aside from not being defeated at the outset.

    Yes, but note that the caller did not seem to be going for the “what about solipsism?” challenge. I think that was at least one issue that kept throwing me off. From one minute to the next, he seemed to keep swapping from “OK, now we’re looking at this from solipsism…” to “No, no, we’re no longer considering it from solipsism.” So, I would find myself agreeing/not agreeing/not sure what he was saying, because I never knew what perspective hat I was supposed to be wearing from one topic to the next or one question to the next. I had a seriously difficult time following that, which made me considerably unsure whether my answers to him were valid as responses based on a clear grasp of what he was actually asking. I’m still not sure, in other words, WHAT his point was regarding solipsism and how it might even apply to anything that was discussed. It was a hot mess of confusion from where I was sitting. I continually had to just drop my objections in order to let him proceed… “OK, still not sure I’m following you here or agree, but do go on…”

    Sometimes Matt is accused of being pedantic early in people’s arguments—of not allowing them to get enough out before issuing challenges. But my experience yesterday is a clear demonstration of the reason such challenges ARE necessary. I’m sitting here now, with no idea what I talked about, and not entirely sure what I agreed to / did not agree to was what I’d have submitted as responses if I’d fully understood what the caller was saying.

    • says

      I was half tempted to re-listen to the conversation, and try to map out what his argument actually was. Maybe the argument, whatever it is, will be the next best thing after TAG.

      The guy certainly is persistent.

    • Peter Horsepucky says

      From what he said, I think his argument is along these lines:

      1. Matter must be material
      2,3,4... a lot of steps involving turning solipsism on and off...
      10. Nothing is material

      I’m guessing after that it probably leads on to a TAG-like “immaterial possible things can be real too” angle. Of course the problem is you can’t switch contexts and definitions in the middle of proving something.

  8. says

    I’m sitting here now, with no idea what I talked about, and not entirely sure what I agreed to / did not agree to was what I’d have submitted as responses if I’d fully understood what the caller was saying.

    And after several phone calls, still none of us know what his final destination was. I really think it comes in the end to the old conflation of conceptual vs. substantive reality. Somehow, they think if they can conceive of something, that makes it possible for it to exist in the real world. We can imagine a time-travelling alien with a ship that looks like a police box on the outside though is infinite on the inside, but sadly, that doesn’t mean the Doctor is out there somewhere in his TARDIS. Not even possibly.

    • Thorne says

      You might want to try reading Heinlein’s “Number of the Beast”, a universe that literally DOES contain everything that anyone can conceive of, from Dorothy’s Oz to John Carter’s Mars and, if extended farther into the future, I’m sure you could definitely find the TARDIS as well.

      Just try not to take any of it seriously.

  9. robertwilson says

    I hope the caller does e-mail you guys. I want to see his argument fail spectacularly which I suspect it will regardless of whether our assumptions about it are right or not. But when he called in yesterday I wondered why he hadn’t e-mailed after his last call, I get the distinct impression he wants to “win” on air.

  10. says

    haven’t seen the show yet but will do so soon after I post my comment :-). Saw the question and was bemused and wanted to answer. Having mixed Cherokee Indian heritage, I always felt “at one” with nature, so I used to think I could get “answers” from the elements around me, Trees in particualr. As “old guardians” I often would wonder if they spoke to me through the rustling of leaves or what not–hey–don’t judge me–LOL! Now, I understand that , as I had done with religion, I was seeking supernatural means to calm feelings of of isolation that I believe all humans suffer from from time to time.

  11. John Kruger says

    Matt fairly astutely tried to ask where the argument was going towards the beginning, and essentially got blown off. I too am not sure where the caller was going, but after going on and on about solipsism I am pretty sure he was on a collision course with an argument from ignorance. Moreover he seemed to want to get to “everything is non-material”, which is a position that requires a lot more than just hard solipsism. I think both you hosts did about as well as could be done with such a meandering and destination-less discussion. I did not catch the Dune comparison, but it is exactly what I am talking about.

    All and all it was a pretty painful call to listen too, if only because he went to such great lengths to establish things that either of the hosts would have been glad to concede. I am one of those somewhat masochistic people who like to go through complex philosophical arguments carefully and methodically, but a call-in format does not really lend itself to that kind of discussion.

    He really ought to e-mail his whole argument in, and then everybody could pick it apart in a blog post.

  12. says

    I was really into psychic stuff as a teenager and even attended a con for fortune tellers/magic-users/witches/other sorts of woo. But I think that it was more of an interest than a practice. As in, I don’t recall actually believing it– I just wanted to learn as much as possible about why other people believed in it, and I liked all of the trappings and such. Tarot cards can be really very artistic, incense smells nice, crystals are pretty, and so on. Lots of candles. And robes. As with mainstream Christianity, you can look pretty badass in a robe.

    Unfortunately I think once you get totems they have to be treated as (or will inevitably be treated as) sacred, and the same with garments, or else I’d suggest that atheism needs its own version of some of this stuff. :-)

    • says

      Me too Gretchen–I think I retained a healthy skepticism though–just loved the fun hoo doo voodoo aspects, but then, I am a Scorpio ;-) lol

  13. says

    I feel pretty comfortable dismissing solipsistic arguments like Johanen’s out of hand for one simple reason: the person proposing the argument doesn’t really believe it. It’s a game, not a real argument. The only reason anyone ever uses a solipsistic worldview as a part of their argument is that its inclusion creates some clever-sounding logical loophole that they feel they can exploit in the absence of any real evidence for their position.

    Johanen doesn’t believe that he lives in a solipsistic universe, but the fact that we can understand the concept allows him to do some logical prestidigitation which makes him feel as if he’s made a rational argument. No one who actually has evidence of their position ever makes an “it’s logically self-consistent” argument. Matt was right to dismiss the whole chain of reasoning as masturbatory (a particularly apt word to use for solipsistic logic-wanking).

    • erik333 says

      It seems to me that in order to use solipsism in as part of an argument for the existence of anything but the mind, they also don’t understand solipsism.

      • says

        Yeah, that’s kind of my point. Solipsism is almost always used as intellectual scaffolding for an unwieldy argument that can’t logically stand on its own. A solipsistic worldview is never part of the finished product at the end of the chain of reasoning, so it’s almost a red herring in the first place.

        Then of course there’s the elephant in the room with solipsistic arguments: if you’re a solipsist, why do you feel the need to call a TV show and convince OTHER PEOPLE of anything? If you’re not a solipsist, why are you arguing for solipsism? Answer: well…something about logical consistency, babble babble, obfuscation, QED.

    • says

      >It’s a game, not a real argument.

      A-fucking-MEN to that. I have another post at this blog addressing the idea of hinging your beliefs on “it just makes sense to me,” with no regard for confirmation or verification or validation:

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2013/01/21/the-argument-from-it-just-makes-sense-to-me/

      If all you have is a hypothesis…that makes sense to you…you need to figure out your plan to test it. Very often, very informed people raise reasonable, informed, educated hypotheses, then test them, only to get surprised by results that don’t correspond to what an expert would reasonably predict. This then launches entirely new directions in research and study to figure out “why the surprise???” The idea that “reasonable” is the *end* of the “proof,” and not the *beginning*–is faulty.

      • Curt Cameron says

        Is “onanistic” an otherwise recognized word? Because the story of Onan from the Bible had nothing at all to do with masturbation.

    • erik333 says

      Yes, Tracie is awsome in that she always seems to seems to be able to remove all the fluff from arguments, and give great analogous examples demonstrating how they (don’t) work.

    • says

      Well, thank you, Andrew! It should be no surprise then that The Non Prophets was one of the models I used when I started the podcast. I wanted to create a podcast dealing with Canadian religious and skeptic issues.

  14. says

    Okay, I totally teared up a bit at the beginning of the show with the open armed welcome and love TAE showed towards AA’s like myself–thank you guys–thank you so very much. I don’t think I can ever express how much that meant to me. I think atheists of all stripes experience problems coming out, but there are specific issues that a minority may face. Not to mitigate any one else’s issues of course, it’s just wonderful when the ones you face very specifically are addressed and understood. I feel heard, something I NEVER got in a church. I may want to snag one of them thar t-shirts Tracie was sporting. :-) Also, I was intrigued a bit by the person who found out his particular “crazy belief” was based in something real. I had a similar experience with something that appeared supernatural but had a natural cause: Sleep Paralysis. Anyone heard of that? Essentially, you feel as if someone is sitting on your chest holding you down as you try to wake up…you can experience astral projection, floating feelings, terror, and/or an evil presense in the room with you that speaks to you. I kept that to myself for years feeling follks would think I was nuts. I later learned that others had experienced the same symptoms as well. SP is a sleep disorder casued when a paralysis hormone does not entirely disspate upon awaking. The hormone temproarily paralyses us during slumber to keep us form acting out dreams. The terrified mind, unable to process why the body cannot move though “awake” freaks, for lack of a better word…I only suffer from what I call “old hag dreams” from time to time, but some sufferers have it far worse than I ever did.

    • says

      Hi Alicia:

      People like you are the reason we do what we do on TAE. Thanks for letting us know you found something useful out of it.

      Here is the blog for Black Nonbelievers, feel free to contact them for info on a t-shirt purchase:
      http://blacknonbelievers.wordpress.com/

      Regarding Sleep Paralysis, I have it. I was lucky that my mom, from whom I apparently inherited it, always referred to her episodes as “one of those dreams.” So, I always just interpreted it as “a dream,” and never was under the impression that it was anything magical. I’ve heard others express that they thought they were actually having out-of-body experiences or astral projecting (or even abducted/assaulted by demons, spirits, aliens). The condition itself is really not that uncommon, with many people having a few episodes in their lifetimes, but others having it chronically. I’d say I’ve had it a few dozen times in my life, and room temperature appeared to have something to do with it. Often when I would wake from these situations, I felt over-warm. I don’t have the pressure sensations or visual hallucinations. I have a lot of auditory stuff, and feelings of floating, and of course, the classic inability to move. If you call “seeing the room” a visual hallucination (my mom, whom I was able to observe having these episodes, always had her eyes shut—so I assume the visual view of the surroundings is dreamed and not that my own eyes are actually open, since she saw her own room as well, but her eyes were always shut; and it does seem quite “real” when you’re looking around the room).

      • says

        Thank you for all you guys do :-)! Yeah, I found I had hag dreams after extreme physical or mental stress (i.e. one occurred after the death of a friend–another, after giving birth to my first child–it was not an easy delivery)…read somewhere that sleeping on your stomach actually stops them. Interesting observation: Iove watching paranormal shows like Celebrity Ghost stories and I can count how many times a celebrity actually had a Sleep Paralysis incident. I don’t have any numbers but I’d say, from the shows I have seen, roughly 15 percent of them were probably hag phenomenon (SP). Most tales were darkly amusing, but the one I felt was a bit sad if not frightening in implication, was one obvious SP incident ( she was asleep, she awoke, felt held down, evil presence, floating in the room…etc., etc,) where the victim blamed a goth girl she was once aquainted with because the girl had reached out to her on Facebook. I suddenly understood how villages would target certain people for “persecution.”

  15. Ross Balmer says

    I can’t believe you missed at least three opportunities to teach the concept of confirmation bias! You listed three examples that I noticed, the looking behind the sofa, the rifling through someone’s stuff, and the James Randi story. You explained what the problem was, but you never used the words “confirmation bias”. For a start, people remember ideas like that much better if you put a name to them. Secondly, I guarantee a lot of people won’t understand that these are three examples of the same problem because you didn’t make it clear. Thirdly, you’re both completely familiar with the concept, and since you are an educational program the fact that you didn’t mention it is verging on the shameful.

    Naughty! Bad Matt and Tracie! :)

    • says

      I’m not sure those are very good examples of confirmation bias, actually. In all those cases, the people “amazed” aren’t aware of the data that challenges their conclusions, and I additionally have no reason to believe they already held beliefs that the person making the claim had magical powers. Confirmation bias is when you actually exercise bias to aim yourself toward data that will confirm a pre-existing belief/assumption, and ignore/avoid information that would challenge your assumed conclusions. Or when you interpret data you do have, in favor of a pre-existing/prejudicial belief. I do get they are interpreting the data incorrectly, but in all cases, I have no evidence they had a pre-existing belief in the person’s capacity to do paranormal things, that they were then using the data to support. Merely being misdirected or fooled is not, alone, evidence of confirmation bias.

  16. Glen says

    I used to believe I could fly, although it took great effort, just with thought alone. Even today I still at times feel like I used to be able to fly when I was young but have forgotten how to. It starts by just lying down above the ground (ie floating) and then slowly fly around. Once I got started I could build up some speed.
    I also believed I could talk to the weather and influence it, such as when it threatened to rain, I could delay the rain until I got home. It sometimes worked!

    There is also one memory I have that is still vivid in my mind, where I was running with giant strides of about 10 meters each stride. I linked to my ability to fly.

    • Claire says

      I have a clear memory, when I was 5, of wearing my Superman cape (a small red flannel blanket) and flying (more like floating) across the bathroom. As a rational adult, I know I couldn’t have flown/floated across the bathroom, but it FEELS like a real memory. How easy it is to fool ourselves!

    • Lord Narf says

      I have lots of dreams like that. I even have a vague memory of what it feels like to fly like that, according to the dream experience. Sucks, since it doesn’t work as well, in real life, as it does in the dream.

  17. VeNoo says

    Can anyone clarify for me what the heck words “matter” and “immaterial” means?=) Actually it would be great to hear solipsist-argument-guy how he understands it.

  18. says

    I’m just reminded of the first time I saw solipsism mentioned on TAE. Matt was hosting and a caller was yim-yammerin’ away being, as my friend’s late father would say, “a gigantic two-fisted wanker” until something clicked in Matt’s head and he said “Wait … you’re a SOLIPSIST?” **CLICK** Cue: incredulous laughter.

    That exchange pretty much sums up my own opinion of solipsism – an empty wank that should be (a) summarily dismissed if actually believed by anyone, or (b) just avoided entirely if not because it’s, well, a pointless two-fisted wank that gets noone anywhere and adds nothing to anyone’s understanding of anything (except perhaps some peoples’ ability to latch onto pointless wankery and confer upon it Great Importance). Tracie should be commended for taking on the bulk of the onslaught of ridiculous second-year Philosophy bollocks (even though, just as an aside, I think she and Matt were far too generous to the caller – I would love to have heard at some point “OK, Johanan – WHAT do you believe and WHY?”).

    Johanan took what felt like half the show (including maybe ten whole minutes to “recap” his last stultifyingly boring phone call) to not actually make a point or advance a frakking argument. Further, not a thing he said appeared to going in any particular direction, whether toward or away from atheism. Because of this I really hope Johanan emails in because, uninterested as I am in his wankery, I’d really like (a) to know how any of his yammering relates in any way to atheism and (b) to see a response from Tracie.

    • says

      Re: tyleroverman’s video above. Did Johanan actually mention God at all? If he did I must’ve missed it completely – I can’t actually remember him mentioning his bollocky argument was intended to justify theism.

      Seriously, if you can’t get a supporting argument for your beliefs across in thirty entire minutes of Very Large Words, either your argumentation sucks or your beliefs aren’t worth discussing.

      • says

        I don’t think he said it in this call. But his has been a caller that I’ve seen before, I’m not sure how many times he has actually called in though. Anyways, in previous times he’s called I remember him mentioning being a theist and arguing for a theist world view (if not specifically a biblical view of creation).

    • Lord Narf says

      And here’s an even better one, with a lot of his bullshit leading up to that point. Matt’s reactions are beautiful.

      This is something like 20 minutes into the call. You really have to watch the whole show, to see the beauty of his mental masturbation and see why Matt is trying in vain to pull out his hair.

  19. EnlightenmentLiberal - formerly codemonkey says

    That Idealism guy.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idealism
    It’s really rather simple – he wants to draw “real” conclusions about “real” reality that are entirely untestable. He wants to distinguish between the possibility that we’re sacks of meat in a material world, and the possibility that we’re minds in a shared mental reality like The Matrix or What Dreams May Come.

    I take Hawkings position of model dependent realism. I don’t say there is a “real material reality”. I say that the models of material reality work really well. The problem is this guy’s idealism is indistinguishable from “real material reality”. So, he’s doing philosophical masturbation and word games to conclude something about “reality” which is entirely divorced from observable testable reality, and at that point I have to side with the logical positivists and say that I stopped caring a while ago.

    Wasn’t this the same guy who was trying to argue that quantum mechanics showed that the entire universe, the entire wave equation of the local big bang or some such, must be a mind, because (insert quantum mumbo jumbo)? Just more untestable drivel.

  20. EnlightenmentLiberal - formerly codemonkey says

    I think everyone is not properly understanding the guy. There’s a difference between solipsism and idealism. He just wants to posit that our shared reality may be “more like” the afterlife in What Dreams May Come and less like “material reality”. As I explained in the post above, it’s untestable, and thus irrelevant. But I’m pretty sure he’s not advocating solipsism, just using it as part of his weird obscure argument.

    I’m really curious how he plans to get from “reality is like What Dreams May Come” to “god exists”. Maybe he plans to say that the big mind of the whole universe is god? That’s a lot of wasted time just to show there’s a non-interfering pantheistic god.

  21. shabadu15 says

    I kept listening to Johanen, hoping and hoping that he would eventually get to some kind of point relating to atheism or religion or skepticism or epistemology or any topic that someone who tunes into the show might actually be interested in. Instead, we get an excruciating 15 minutes of philosophical masturbation (as Matt so accurately put it). No one wants to listen to a 100-part philosophical treatise that begins with a brain in a jar and ends with a god necessarily existing because of brains in jars (I know that’s a complete bastardization of his argument but that’s what he gets for never getting to the goddamn point. if you don’t provide a conclusion to your argument while you ramble on and prevent more interesting callers from getting through then I’m going to provide one for you). And I wouldn’t say this if he had had anything worthwhile to say but Johanen’s voice sounds like an uncharismatic Kermit the Frog and it made listening to him even more torturous.

  22. Green Jelly says

    The way to deal with a Solipsist: “Yes, I am a figment of your imagination, and a figment of your own imagination thinks that you are full of shit. Go figure that out.”

  23. Saulora says

    My favourite belief I had as a child that I definitely don’t believe now was that I had an aptitude for X-Ray vision, and if I practiced enough or someone taught me how to hone my skills, I would be able to see through anything. I believed this because I was too young to have figured out yet that my eyes see things from slightly different angles, and so I thought that when I looked past things that were very close to my face (usually my finger) and could see what was behind them as well as the outline of the objects I was looking past, I was seeing through that object.

  24. Daniel Butt says

    In a solipsistic universe, you would have more power than you do. You might be able to have experiences through “other people”, you might be able to feel sensations outside of your body, and I suspect you would be able to manipulate at least some “objects” in your conscious awareness mentally. You don’t have to achieve lucid dreaming, though it helps, to recall the powers you did seem to have in your dreams.

    What sensations feel like, what emotions feel like, and what the meaning of symbols “is”, cannot be identified in an inspection of the physical process. The only way is direct experience of the process. The mind is immaterial, but has a biological cause. I’m quibbling because it doesn’t mean there’s an afterlife, it means there isn’t one.

  25. Saffiyya says

    I often have the problem of waking up believing things that aren’t true. One time I woke up after a particularly vivid dream about cleaning up my grandmother’s house after she died (the house I was in, I later realized, was not actually familiar to me, although in the dream it felt familiar to me). I didn’t know who I was or anything. I found a cell phone by the side of the bed and was able to identify it as relating to a job I had at the time, so I went to that job, and no one seemed to be surprised by my being there so I surmised that I was not in fact the person in my dream. It took a few hours for me to remember details of my real life, like my facebook login information, but once I was able to remember that I was able to go through my facebook and trigger identity memories. As you can probably imagine, it was extremely distressing, but thankfully within about 8 hours I had fully recovered. Now I take prescription sleep medications that frequently caused vivid dreams when I was first put on it, but thankfully they seem to be going away. But quite often I don’t realize a memory I have is from a dream until I interact with the item I was dreaming about and realize that the dream was completely bizarre. Like for example the other night I dreamed that I made garlic bread in the toaster (I don’t know why, I have a little george foreman grill that works just fine for making a slice or two of garlic bread if I don’t want to heat up the oven) and it somewhat predictably caught fire. It wasn’t until I saw the toaster that I realized that that had been a dream.

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