Because it’s almost Hallowe’en, I thought I’d take a bit of a side-trip from my usual topics and talk about some good old-fashioned non-religious superstitious nonsense.
Yep, I’m talking about ghosts:
Many of you probably don’t know Derren Brown. I say this because up until a couple months ago I’d never heard of him either. Maybe you’ve all heard of him and I’m just a nincompoop. Whatever the story, Derren is a British skeptic who has taken up the mantle of James Randi and who shows how so-called “supernatural” phenomena are actually (and without exception) easily explained as either cons, tricks, or other misinterpretation of natural phenomena. In this particular episode, he’s following around self-proclaimed “ghost busters” who claim to be able to detect and communicate with dead people.
Of course, the idea of ghosts presupposes that there is a soul that is distinct from the body, that this soul can take on semi-corporeal form after the body dies, and that this semi-corporeal form sticks around to move around pots and pans and fuck with recording devices. Throw some religious mumbo-jumbo into the mix and you’ve got a party. The “exorcist” priest in part 3 spells it right out:
“Sometimes he has people who can really do with a good psychiatrist; and then he’s got the people who have got the explainable happening inside their homes, and that’s when he calls me.”
Yep, when something happens that you can’t explain, don’t bother looking for evidence. Call a priest! He’ll give you all the “explanations” you could ever want. Pretty weird how Christian people are always possessed by Christian demons. Just once I want to see a Muslim demon, or a voodoo demon, or even a deist secular humanist demon. Oddly though, they all seem to be susceptible to prayers from the belief system of the “possessed” person. Also kind of weird that God just sits on his ass and doesn’t do anything to help the “possessed” until some chubby guy with a dubious relic and a bunch of rituals comes into the picture, then all of a sudden he’s your best pal, driving out all the demons.
The larger point to be drawn here is the same one I brought up yesterday, which is that when we let our imaginations run wild, and use arguments from ignorance to explain real-life phenomena we don’t fully understand, we end up believing absolutely absurd shit, like ghosts. Of course when we throw religion into the mix, we get people believing in ghosts and demons and evil spirits. It’s really not that challenging to explain, as long as we’re willing to set aside kid’s stories and look for evidence.
None of the people in these videos are particularly stupid, I’m sure, at least not relatively to the general population. However, when we adopt an attitude of “well maybe it’s true” rather than “well maybe it’s false”, we end up giving license to the most ridiculous ideas our brains can come up with. It is for this reason that it’s a good idea to be skeptical.
Then again, if we’re too skeptical, we might miss out on meeting Gozer:
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