Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.


Friday, July 29, 2011

A Wild Ghost Chase

Following an exchange with occult author Donald Michael Kraig on his blog, I briefly corresponded with him via e-mail about some of the points I raised in my last post, particularly the point that his approach to evaluating magical claims was an example of confirmation bias and incapable of properly evaluating the claims. In his response, he continued to assert that his method was “true skepticism.”
This post will reproduce part of my answer to him – which gives a more thorough example of the way that confirmation bias works – and will follow this with an example of confirmation bias and a lack of critical thinking that I chanced across the other day: namely, a gullible Thelemite claiming in public that he has “objective proof” of the supernatural thanks to his brother’s handy “Ghost Radar” (a toy that can be bought for $0.99 on an i-Phone).
Read on for more.
In his e-mail, Kraig continued to assert that
If most of the times [when conducting a magical ritual, you] get result X, you have to look at the times when you obtained result Y and see what the variables are between the experiments that obtained different results. Doing X under the same conditions should always result in X. If not, there at least one variablethat has not been accounted for.
Part of my response follows:
Sure, when X is a well-defined and specific result, like rolling a 6 on a die, drawing the Queen of Wands from a tarot deck,  finding an object hidden in one box, observing metal glow a particular color, etc.
But when X is ridiculously broad and open to interpretation, like “I will perform a working to attract money to me,” you’re not doing “science,” and you have no way of reliably discerning that something you subjectively interpret as a “result” was really a “result” of your ritual. You’re just engaging in confirmation bias.
To use the money example, there are thousands of possible scenarios that could be considered “results” or “hits.” To name a few, one could find money in the street, have an investment turn out to be more lucrative than one thought, win a raffle at the local carnival, receive a raise or bonus at work, realize that the one has planned the budget incorrectly and thus discover that one has more money this month than one previously thought, get offered a scholarship or fellowship that one was not expecting, get loaned money from a friend, have a friend pay back a debt unexpectedly, win a certain amount at a casino, get lucky in a game of online poker, etc., etc., etc.
All of those things, while they don’t happen to one individual all the time, are relatively common and normal events and are all interpretable as “hits” for an operation to attract money. Several of the above scenarios have happened to me and those close to me in the recent months, and neither I nor any of them have done any "magical operations" for money.
Upon performing an operation to attract money, one’s mind is going to be on the lookout for anything that can be interpreted as a hit. And – since there are thousands of possible scenarios that could be considered “hits,” many of them relatively common – it’s pretty likely that an individual is going to find something that he can interpret as a hit. And in the event that he can’t, well, all he has to do is come up with some ad hoc explanation for why the magick failed this time. Then next time, he can change that one variable and then, presto changeo, he’ll hopefully be able to locate a hit. And if not, back to the drawing board.
In other words, there’s nothing that demonstrates that any “results” you obtain from such an operation were actually “results”*caused* by your operation, no matter how many variables you jot down in your magical diary.
You can’t “prove” anything at all under such a model. In order to “prove” anything, your magick would have to cause something very specific and even then, you’d have to be able to reliably replicate it (or, rather, something extremely similar to it and just as specific). And if you could do that, then you could demonstrate it to any impartial observer.
And again, if your response is going to be, “Oh, magick doesn’t work that way. We can’t always predict its results so specifically, etc, etc.,” then you’re admitting that this “magick” is totally indistinguishable from nothing at all and that there is no basis – not even “to you” – for saying that it “works” or that it’s real.
[Here ends the first selection from my e-mail]
In addition to the above selection from my e-mail, a portion of my response later is particularly relevant because it indicates the importance of this point, so I reproduce it below:
A lot of people come to the study of Thelema thinking that there’s something to this supernatural stuff, and they start out believing all kinds of false things about the universe: they think reincarnation, demons, and magic spells are real. These are, essentially, fantasies that the Khu develops and holds into shape through a misapplication of reason. It does this because these fantasies are pleasing to the mind. As I noted, the mind tends to perceive the universe as working in ways that it expects and wants, and it reinforces these views through logical fallacies and a misapplication of reason.
What students of this subject need isn’t a lesson in how to conduct confirmation bias. They need a lesson in ruthlessly attacking their convictions and *especially* being skeptical of claims that seem to them“self-evident” or things that they mistakenly think they’ve proven “to themselves.”
[This is the end of the selection from my e-mail that I will publish here.]
As if to demonstrate my point – gee, maybe the Universe is sending me messages, eh? – I chanced across a post on a site called The Omaha Community of Thelema in which a poster calling himself Frater Aequilibritas claimed to have “objective proof” of the supernatural (click here to see the thread, if you must).
On a side note, I have no idea what the Omaha Community of Thelema is. From what I can gather, it’s not an OTO body:  it appears to be a rather casual association of Thelemites. At any rate, what follows isn’t meant to be a comment on all of its members. I will merely select and critique a handful of posts on a single topic, since they illustrate exactly what’s wrong with conducting all of your magical “experiments” via confirmation bias.
On one blog post, Frater Aequilibritas claims to have obtained this “objective proof” by means of his brother’s use of a “Ghost Radar.” What’s a Ghost Radar, you ask? Is it some intricate and advanced piece of equipment designed to pick up frequencies and energies largely unknown to most people and even to most practicing scientists?
No. It’s a cheap toy for your i-Phone.
Seriously. “Ghost Radar” is just an app for the i-Phone that sells for less than a dollar. It’s a goofy program that’s clearly supposed to be for laughs. According to the website of its creator, the highly scientific-sounding group “Spud Pickles”:
Ghost Radar employs a proprietary algorithm to analyze the quantum flux. This application does NOT detect EMF nor gravity. Readings for various sensors are analyzed to detect QUANTUM Fluctuations. Interpretations of the sensor readings are displayed graphically as blips on the radar along with numeric and textual readouts on the VOX. Use your Ghost Radar to hunt for odd changes in the flux. Hunters of all types may find anomalous areas of their environment where readings simply can't be explained. You be the judge. Are the results of your hunting evidence of paranormal activity?
Those versed in skepticism should already be hearing the bells of their woo-alarm going off upon reading this kind of silliness.
As this article from a site called paranormal people online points out:
the I-phone fails as a ghost hunting device, just from a look at its hardware; but what really does this software do? Is it anything more than a glorified random output generator? All indications are that the answer is ‘no’, it is nothing more than a cleverly programmed cell phone application that generates seemingly non-random display results.
Further, the web page goes on to point out that if such a device could actually analyze quantum fluctuations and detect the supposed energy responsible for them (which current quantum physics apparently suggests is unlikely to exist), it would be an achievement worthy of a Nobel Prize:
If such an energy exists, it remains laughable that the makers of the Ghost Radar I-phone app gained some miraculous understanding of a purely theoretical and fantastic idea of universal connectivity, there-by allowing them to program the application to measure this energy. An energy that no one can prove even exists. But for arguments sake, if we take for granted the idea that they did achieve this feat of physics mastery, are we supposed to now believe they found that the best way to proceed with this ground breaking research and knowledge was to make it into an i-phone app?
I suppose the Nobel Prize is much overrated these days.
I’ll suggest now, that if you don’t see the flaw in this situation, then you deserve to get caught in their scam and lose your hard earned money.
And then, of course, there’s the fact that the app is available under the “entertainment” category and that its website says, "results from this application cannot be verified scientifically and therefore should be used for entertainment purposes."
Honestly, going through the trouble of demonstrating that a toy can’t really detect ghosts is starting to hurt my head. So enough about this stupid app. Here’s what Frater Aequilibritas says about it:
[My brother] got a new, very hi-tech phone recently, and for a lark, downloaded the "Ghost Radar" app for it. It uses the already present components in the phone to detect various phenomena that are typically associated with ghosts (electromagnetic, temperature, etc.) to detect the approximate area and location of various "ghostly" presences. It takes a few days to adjust for background noise, wiring in the walls, and such, but it eventually determined there were around 6 "presences" in the top floor of their new apartment. This appeared equally on both of their phones. [It is unclear who “their” refers to in this sentence]
Courtney, an Asatruar, decided she wanted to help them "pass on" and prepared a ritual, the details of which I am uncertain at the moment, to facilitate this. Yesterday evening, they performed this ritual, and then took a test walk several times slowly through the house. Not a single presence appeared on the Radar.
Now whether or not these "presences" were actually ghosts or not is immaterial. What this does objectively prove (at least to my mind) is that the ritual was effective. It was designed to remove whatever was causing these "presences" from the house. It has effectively done just that, through simple application of focused will. It may not hold up in a laboratory test, and does not pass technical scientific rigour, but I think to deny its clear proof is misguided.

So, first of all, we’re not given enough information to say for sure what’s going on here. We’re told that two Ghost Radars reported six “presences” in the apartment, and then we’re told that after some kind of unknown ritual to remove the presences, the Ghost Radars both reported no presences in this space.
Even if this story is being reported totally accurately – and isn’t it interesting that “objective proof” of the supernatural always seems to consist of second-hand anecdotes? – it should be overwhelmingly obvious that this doesn’t rise to the level of “proof” of anything, especially since it’s not entirely clear what this toy is actually doing. There’s no way to tell in this situation that it was the ritual that caused those blips on the radar to disappear.
Anyway, the comments on the post are what really drew my attention to this bit of silliness. One commenter writes:
test every now and then pref. every few days, see if "they" "it" whatever, stays gone. if still gone after a month, then, wow. i've done a share of "ghostbustiNg" and thats' pretty good, just that things may tend to come back if really attached. none of it will tell us exactly what "it" "they" are tho. did anyone get voice messages or the like?

Astute readers will have noticed the confirmation bias present here. If the device continues to say that there are no entities, then it confirms the claim. But if the device reports more entities showing up, then, it demonstrates how persistent those entities really are, so it still confirms the claim.
Comments like this start from the assumption that the claim is already true. Something that is subjectively interpreted as a “hit” confirms the claim, and anything that is not perceived as a hit is just explained away or ignored.
This is not a path to truth of any kind.
Perhaps the saddest comment of them all is one made by Fr. Perseverabo. He writes:
Thats the kind of documentation that's needed. What the things were is not really important, nor where they went, it was the will of 'moving' them. It seems to have worked would agree. Sure it's not a laboratory test and reason and why will punch wholes in the theory, but remember what 'why' does... it stops progress.
And there we have it. Playing around with a toy provides “objective proof” of the supernatural, and those mean old rationalists with their “why” and their insistence on actually figuring out what’s really going on instead of twisting random data into confirmation of what they want to be true are going to stop “progress”…where “progress” means using a cheap i-Phone app to give yourself thrills and chills thinking that your apartment is swarming with spooks that you can ghostbust with your super-duper magical powers.
Seriously, now, imagine how a comments like the above look to a person who just heard about Thelema and wants to investigate the kinds of things that Thelemites think. These are grown people who are not only uncritically taking a very silly toy at face value, but claiming to validate kooky beliefs on the basis of said toy and actively disputing that trying to figure out what’s really going on can be useful or can represent “progress” of any kind.
Anyone with half a brain is going to run – not walk – in the opposite direction of any group that allows ignorance like that to go unchecked. For indeed, in any normal forum, someone making spurious claims like this would be called out on how stupid the whole thing is.
And this leads me right back to my point in this post: if leaders in the magical community teach confirmation bias as a kind of “proof” of supernatural magick – and refuse to teach students how to vigorously attack their own convictions – this is the kind of result we can expect: a group of slack-jawed yokels ooh-ing and ahh-ing over a cell phone toy as if it provides some kind of “objective proof” of anything other than their gullibility.
Now, despite everything I’ve just said, I’m not actually trying to pick on these hapless folks I’ve selected to illustrate this point. They honestly don’t know any better, and one of the reasons that they don’t is that all the “magical authorities” tell them that this is how it’s done. There are no role models for skeptical inquiry in the magical community because the magical community – unsurprisingly – isn’t interested in subjecting their claims to skeptical inquiry.
And more to the point, attitudes like those seen above -- eager to ignorantly employ logical fallacies and utterly contemptuous of attempts to understand what's actually going on -- are absolute obstacles to any attempt to intelligently know and do one's true will.

29 comments:

  1. Hitting the nail on the head again Los.

    Just two comments. First, the proper spelling of the name of Apple's phone is "iPhone".

    The second is a bit trickier. I quite enjoy your writing and your well-reasoned arguments. However, I do find one flaw which detracts from their strength & clarity. This is the name-calling directed at those who 'disagree' with you. As your logical arguments demolish their fallacious assumptions, it is no surprise that they struggle desperately to retain their treasured beliefs. This is as natural a behaviour as confirmation bias. While it may be frustrating to engage in these sorts of discussions with the credulous, in the end, resorting to name-calling just makes you seem mean - like one who throws stones at the wild animals caged at the zoo.

    greetings from Berlin!

    ReplyDelete
  2. "First, the proper spelling of the name of Apple's phone is "iPhone"."

    Oops. I guess you can tell that I don't own one. Perhaps I'll edit this when I have time.

    "However, I do find one flaw which detracts from their strength & clarity. This is the name-calling directed at those who 'disagree' with you."

    There's actually something of a schism in the skeptical community over whether or not it's useful to be insulting. A while back, Phil Plait gave a talk at a skeptics conference entitled "Don't Be a Dick," where he argued just that. As you can imagine, it was a polarizing talk, and skeptics have been split on their opinion of the best tone to take.

    For me, my tone is a stylistic choice that is meant to be entertaining, both to me and to my readers. I really don't care whether or not I offend the believers since I'm pretty sure that no one has ever had their mind changed by reading a single blog entry (changes of mind do happen, but they tend to occur long periods of time).

    But more to the point, I don't even think I'm being that insulting to anyone. Naturally, this is a subjective judgment, but when I label ideas and attitudes "dumb" or "gullible," I'm talking about ideas and attitudes -- not people.

    It takes a fairly intelligent person to talk themselves into believing such dumb things, at least some times.

    As a matter of fact, in the above blog, the only comment that is actually insulting is the "slack-jawed yokels" comment toward the end, and that is a Simpsons' reference that, for me anyway, carries a kind of light-hearted connotation.

    Thanks for the comments! As per my note on the side of the blog, I'll be away for a few weeks. Check back in the middle of August for more updates.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Los,

    I've really enjoyed catching up on your writings here, as they remind me of Erwin Hessle's. It's good to see someone stepping into the Thelemic community and pointing all of this out.

    However, I am always curious as to why you do it. I mean, by definition, the 'magical' community is typically interested in nothing more than attempting some form of action at a distance, be it via spooky entities or by hidden forces of nature. So in about any way, the magical community is no different than the fringe religious groups.

    Thelema obviously speaks to you outside of this context, as I don't see why you'd spend your time on it otherwise. Do you mind helping me understand?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Michael,

    You write: “However, I am always curious as to why you do it.”

    Primarily, I do it because I enjoy writing these posts. It doesn’t really matter to me whether I’m “reaching” anyone or whether I’m “convincing” anyone.

    Now, of course, it would be nice to reach some of the sane people who are attracted to Thelema – and it would also be nice to spread the skepticism meme a bit further, merely by increasing the amount of written material on it that’s available. But none of those things are goals for me in any real sense.

    At the end of the day, I enjoy writing these posts, and so I do it. There’s no master plan at work here.

    You write: “I mean, by definition, the 'magical' community is typically interested in nothing more than attempting some form of action at a distance […] Thelema obviously speaks to you outside of this context”

    Not just “speaks to [me] outside of this context” – is entirely separate from this context.

    This is an idea you’ve probably encountered in Erwin’s work: Thelema and the occult are two entirely separate subjects, just like Thelema and mountain climbing or like Thelema and chess. Crowley wrote about all of those subjects, but the occult is no more a part of Thelema than chess is. Sure, you can talk about mountain climbing, chess, or the occult in terms of Thelema -- and sure, you can use occult practices in service to Thelema, just like you can use mountain climbing in service to Thelema -- but Thelema is distinguishable from each of those subjects.

    Part of my point here is not merely that Thelema *can* work without occultism but that Thelema is *not* occultism. And in fact, as I consistently argue, holding on to the supernatural *beliefs* that accompany most occult practice is an impediment to any serious attempt to practice Thelema properly. [As opposed to the practices themselves, which can be done without the supernatural theories that accompany them]

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the reply, Los. All of that makes plenty of sense to me.

    I've always found that even mentioning the word 'Thelema' or the name 'Crowley' led to expending a great amount of effort saying "yeah, but you don't need to care at all about that action-at-a-distance stuff".

    So, thanks again for writing this. Glad you enjoy it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "the method of Thelema" bearly makes any mention of occultism and the supernatural.

    I like to think of the rituals and all that as poetry, they are ways of expressing poetic relations to social and natural events. Also they can give us different ways of thinking about things. For example zen koans invite us to look at information and ideas in different ways rather than out conditioned patterns of cognition. Over time such practices can lead to a developed skill in different ways of thinking. Likewise Kabbalah sets up an interesting way relating different symbols together, and astral working provide a sort of lucid drea ing state where one can practice these types of symbolic relations. And these inform or color in semantic shades parallel to the linnear logic of causal thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sorry for the deleted posts, I had to consolidate.

    Perhaps I might be able to clarify what's going on here sense I am brought up in this article (Perseverabo).

    In a circumstance where we start with statements that are assumed as 'a toy shows what it recognizes as an entity here' We deal with the instant skepticism regarding that it is a toy, how does it work, why is it deciding to say something is here etc... Nobody in the circumstance believes in the claim that the toy picked up anything because it is (lets face it) a toy. If one reads the story that is shown, you see that a person unrelated to the figures brought up in this article did some kind of solitary ritual directed towards making that (unidentified and possibly fake thing) go away.

    Everyone of sound mind knows this so far. A toy has encountered something it identifies as a ghost. One person decides to try to make that thing identified by the toy go away. Sounds reasonable so far.

    What ever this person did either affected the toy in a sense that whatever the toy picked up was no longer identified, It affected the environment that the toy was 'reading' so whatever the toy picked up was no longer identified, or the toy simply malfunctioned or stopped picking up whatever the toy identified unrelated to the work. The conclusion can be nothing more than inductive. I think we all understand that. Inductive reasoning is all the post was about. Too many variables are left to know anything with certainty.

    As for my comment about 'why' stopping progress, there is more to that line that thelemites familiar with Liber Al may be aware of. See the new and old comment of II, 13 in The Law is For All commentary of Liber Al vel Legis for further insight to this. Found here: http://www.rahoorkhuit.net/library/libers/lib_0220a.html

    We at the community are very sound in mind and do not jump to inductive reasoning as fact. Granted the conclusion you draw above inevitably lacks the personal knowledge and belief of the individuals brought up, so I cannot argue on behalf of any other comments or beliefs other than my own.

    I would love to continue this discussion if you'd like.
    --Perseverabo

    ReplyDelete
  10. I would like to present a small defense of myself, as I am the Frater Aequilibritas mentioned in the above article.

    While I do appreciate the sentiment expressed in the above article; trying to present Thelema in a pleasant, rational, reasonable light, I think that the article is somewhat misdirected. I understand that there are a lot of groups out there that believe anything and everything. You would like to avoid seeing Thelemites engaging in this behavior and displaying Thelema in a bad light. I have been around several groups like this, and no longer am a part of them for that very reason (not with Thelema specifically, but other groups).

    I believe a majority of the arguments I would have used have been presented previously by my brother, Preseverabo. Therefore, I will not go over them again except to highlight. I was not claiming any proof by the "Ghost Radar" itself. It is, as far as I can tell, a simple toy. However, it clearly detects something, whether it be minor fluctuations in some kind of ordinary frequency, it doesn't matter what. I don't believe that what it picks up is any remnant of consciousness or energy or whatever you might define a ghost as. It might be, but I have no evidence to believe it is, so I leave that be.

    What matters is that something specific was happening, a ritual was done to stop it, it stopped. It's a basic logic train "I want X to happen. I perform action Y, to cause X to happen. X happens." It is not perfect evidence, and I don't think that it would totally convince any rational, thinking person. It is, however, an interesting piece of evidence, nonetheless.

    Perhaps my choice of words, "objective proof", was less than ideal. I was addressing a group of friends, not presenting a thesis to a science paper. I figured I could be a bit informal, besides my tendency towards verbal hyperbole. This post was merely meant as an interesting, thought provoking bit of information.

    I know that science is not aware of every part of our world, so I like to look at everything, and analyze all of it, even the weird, probably not true bits. Even if it's not true, I might learn something from it anyway. To quote Crowley, "A Magus uses truth and falsehood indiscriminately", and though I am nowhere near that level of understanding, I think that the reasoning in it works. Just because a book is fiction doesn't mean it doesn't have something for you to learn in it.

    I would write more, but my first post got deleted by my failure to login properly, so if you have any more questions, just ask. I'll be happy to clarify more. Just avoid the ad hominem attacks and keep it civil.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yes, a magus "uses" truth and lies not that he himself does not know the difference, but he uses what ever works to get his way among superiors and subordinates, because in a more current technical language the magus is a sociopath, concerned only with his own agenda.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Perseverabo,

    I will quote and address what I feel is your central claim about the Ghost Radar incident, one echoed by Aequilibritas:

    "What ever this person did either affected the toy in a sense that whatever the toy picked up was no longer identified, It affected the environment that the toy was 'reading' so whatever the toy picked up was no longer identified, or the toy simply malfunctioned or stopped picking up whatever the toy identified."

    I have two objections to the way you've framed this:

    First, several of the options you advance make the assumption that this toy actually does "pick up" something in the environment, which I think we have reason to doubt. The toy might just be a random output generator, as the paranormalpeople article suggests, which would mean that if the "ghosts" vanished after some ritual, it would indeed be a simple matter of coincidence that the mind -- in typical, confirmation bias fashion -- interprets as a "hit." It would be no different than doing a rain dance and having it rain immediately afterward and falsely thinking, without any further investigation, that there is a causal link between the dance and the event.

    Second, even if this device does "pick up" something in the environment -- i.e. if it reacts to sounds or heat or the presence of electronic equipment or something -- it seems far more likely that the device is "reacting" to some mundane element of the ritual (like people bellowing loudly or moving rapidly and other daft things people do as parts of rituals) than that a spell to lay the dead to rest somehow caused the device to malfunction for some unspecified reason.

    To sum up and repeat my point: you continue to suggest that there could be causality at work in this case (that the ritual could have caused something to happen in a supernatural manner). I am pointing out that the evidence isn't anywhere sufficient to support that rather extraordinary claim. There's plenty of room in this case for a completely natural explanation, and even the unlikeliest of natural explanations is somewhere in the ballpark of a million times more likely than a supernatural explanation, for the simple reason that we know natural things exist but don't have a single confirmable example of anything supernatural at all.

    Sure, it's *possible* that something supernatural is going on -- in the sense that any option is theoretically possible -- but it's so improbable that it doesn't warrant consideration at all.

    You further write: "The conclusion can be nothing more than inductive. I think we all understand that. Inductive reasoning is all the post was about. Too many variables are left to know anything with certainty."

    Well, I agree with you that we can't know, with certainty, exactly what happened in this particular instance (since none of us were there). I disagree, however, with the implication -- and forgive me if you do not mean to imply this -- that there is even remotely a good chance that the ritual caused anything to happen.

    Just because there are a number of options in no way means that all of the options are equally probable, or even close in probability, not by a long shot. In this situation, the likelihood that this ritual actually caused something to happen is so ridiculously low that no one has any good reason to take it seriously.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Aequilibritas,

    You write: “It is, as far as I can tell, a simple toy. However, it clearly detects something,”

    As I said above, I think this is highly questionable, and I wouldn’t start by assuming it.

    You write: “What matters is that something specific was happening, a ritual was done to stop it, it stopped. It's a basic logic train "I want X to happen. I perform action Y, to cause X to happen. X happens." It is not perfect evidence”

    This goes right back to the point I was making with Kraig in my e-mail to him: one event following immediately after another event – by itself, considered in isolation – in no way implies that there is a causal connection between them.

    For example, if I do a rain dance and it starts to rain immediately after I finish, does that demonstrate that my rain dance “worked”? Does it demonstrate that it caused a change in the environment?

    The answer is no, it doesn’t come anywhere close to demonstrating anything like that. And if I actually take the time to investigate the claim, it will immediately become obvious that there’s no connection between my doing a dance and weather patterns.

    It’s the same in this case: a cute coincidence can make you think something is happening, but if you bother investigating it, you’ll learn that there’s no connection.

    You write: “I know that science is not aware of every part of our world, so I like to look at everything, and analyze all of it, even the weird, probably not true bits. Even if it's not true, I might learn something from it anyway. To quote Crowley, "A Magus uses truth and falsehood indiscriminately", and though I am nowhere near that level of understanding, I think that the reasoning in it works. Just because a book is fiction doesn't mean it doesn't have something for you to learn in it.”

    You’re kind of all over the place here. Certainly, a Magus – and, in fact, anyone – can *use* truth and falsehood, in the sense of accepting false ideas to give himself trippy visions or of lying to others to get his way. But when the subject we’re discussing is whether a claim is true or not (and whether or not we have “objective proof” of something), then no, the person making the inquiry cannot use truth and falsehood “indiscriminately,” at least not if he wants to be right.

    Now, I agree that people can learn from fiction – obviously, that’s true – but I don’t think that spurious supernatural claims are comparable to works of art. Can you name one tangible, practical benefit that you can derive from believing that magic can chase away ghosts (or, alternatively, can alter your electronic devices)?

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Los, I think you misunderstood what I was saying.

    "What ever this person did either affected the toy in a sense that whatever the toy picked up was no longer identified, It affected the environment that the toy was 'reading' so whatever the toy picked up was no longer identified, or the toy simply malfunctioned or stopped picking up whatever the toy identified."

    *Note: You left off the last part of my quote which reads ", [not period] or the toy simply malfunctioned or stopped picking up whatever the toy identified unrelated to the work."

    You replied: "several of the options you advance make the assumption that this toy actually does "pick up" something in the environment"

    I would argue that it does not assume that it does 'pick up' something [especially with the last bit left off my quote], but it does assume that it 'possibly' could. And at any rate, what that something is, could be anything really (and if it does, probably some mundane thing). None the less it is not assuming it picks up a ghost but rather it (the toy) identifies it as a ghost. Why any rational person would think that it's picking up a ghost would be beyond me. In my opinion there is as much evidence of that as there is evidence of a God (beyond an archetypal understanding).

    At any rate, the three options I've listed in my quote are simply inductive conclusions that could be formed based on the lack of knowledge provided. There are reasonable conclusions each with a verity of logical probability of different intensities. 90% of people are right handed, you are a person, so you are 'probably' right handed, but in the end you could be left handed or ambidextrous. I simply don't know beyond probability without further evidence.
    --Perseverabo

    ReplyDelete
  16. The point here isn’t *possibility*, but *probability.*

    Theoretically speaking, anything is possible. If I do a rain dance and it rains shortly thereafter, it is theoretically *possible* that my dance caused the rain (in the most theoretical sense of “possible”), but it’s so unbelievably improbable that no one in his right mind would spend any time considering it. But if someone, for some unfathomable reason, wanted to actually investigate it, it would become immediately obvious that there is no causal connection between a dance and the rain.

    Similarly, it is theoretically possible that the ritual in this case caused something to happen (again, in the most theoretical sense of the word “possible”), but it’s so unbelievably improbable that no one has reason to spend any time considering it. But if you really must consider it, then you can investigate it by running a series of controlled tests and confirm that there’s no causal link between performing a ritual and the output on the toy.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Your last paragraph I agree with. But simply because something does not seem probable does not qualify it for immediate dismissal (in my opinion). I'm sure you can understand how the mere consideration of improbable things ties into the esoteric and hermetic systems. Granted discernment is a tool that I think one would need to be armed with when taking that route which is why there are so many lunatics within the occult.

    "But if you really must consider it, then you can investigate it by running a series of controlled tests and confirm that there’s no causal link between performing a ritual and the output on the toy."

    This I agree with and is honestly in my mind the only reasonable direction to take in order to produce evidence to confirm any probability. This was the mindset that I was quoted in your original article "Thats the kind of documentation that's needed." A small number of tests is in no way a qualification of evidence, which I'm assuming this was never tested further because nobody really took it serious. Regardless, the documentation and records of the type of controlled tests you suggested is what I was referring to.

    *On a side note, I hope that by our responses you can at least see that the blatant portrayal of those involved in your article being crazy was assumed despite if you agree with the details of our stances or not. I'm not saying we're all completely sane, but I would say we are all rational. ;)
    -Perseverabo

    ReplyDelete
  18. You write: "But simply because something does not seem probable does not qualify it for immediate dismissal (in my opinion)."

    Obviously, that is correct, but we're not merely talking about something "improbable" here. The theories proposed in this little story (either "A person can influence a piece of technology with his mind" or "A person can ghostbust an apartment") are extraordinary and outlandish, with zero evidentiary support (aside from an andecdote brimming with confirmation bias), and fly in the face of everything we've ever discovered about the universe.

    In this particular case, yes, dismissing the claim immediately is precisely what is warranted, and that will remain true until some actual evidence can be produced.

    You write: "This I agree with [...]"

    Well, with all due respect, you and your friend have retreated so far from your initial position – as expressed on the Omaha Community site – that there’s almost no room for us to disagree at this point.

    On the original thread, Aequilibritas was claiming “objective proof” of something supernatural, and you said that you “agreed” that the magic “seems to have worked,” right after you affirmed that what was important was the “will of moving” whatever entities were involved. Further, you said that “reason will punch wholes [sic] in the theory” but you qualify this by claiming that “why […] stops progress” – the implication is that although reason will find fault in the story, that same reason “stops progress” and is perhaps ill-equipped to be judging such subjects at all (thus suggesting that there is something to ‘the theory’ that reason ‘punches wholes in’).

    These were strong claims you guys were making in your thread, and when I called you out on it, your response was to come here and claim that what you were talking about all along was a watered-down version of the above. According to your story now, all you were really saying, apparently, was something along the lines of “there’s some super-remote, incredibly slim chance that the ritual could have possibly worked, although not in the way that its practitioner claimed, and, in the long run, the whole story is probably part of the ‘not true bits’ of existence.” [See Aequilibritas’ post above for the “not true bits” line]

    Well, sheesh, if you had said that originally, I wouldn’t have raised any issue at all. The fact is, your initial banter on the subject, on the Omaha site, strongly suggested that you thought that this little story demonstrated something supernatural – just maybe not quite as much as a “laboratory experiment” would have demonstrated, but something supernatural nonetheless. I think any fair-minded reader would have come away from your thread with that impression.

    As I said earlier, I can’t see any benefit at all to even entertaining the idea that the power of your mind can make your gadgets malfunction or that you have the ability to ghostbust an apartment. In fact, I can only see harm in deliberately and willingly hoodwinking yourself like that.

    Again, I’m not trying to pick on you or be mean or anything. I brought your posts up only as an illustration of a broader point that I was trying to make: that oftentimes members of the Thelemic or “magical” community aren’t aware of how to properly analyze a claim. And I’m not even blaming you: the people who peddle books that encourage belief in this kind of gobbledygook have a vested interest in not teaching people how to properly analyze claims and in promoting misinterpretations of Liber AL that make it seem as if “reason” shouldn’t be used to gain a clear understanding of reality (which is, by the way, one of the primary functions of reason).

    And it’s obvious what happens when these supernatural claims come up against the cold light of reason: they shrink and shrink until they’re a fraction of what they initially were, until “objective proof” becomes “maybe sorta, but probably ‘not true bits’”

    ReplyDelete
  19. "Reason & Emotion these are the two enemies of the Ethic of Thelema. They are the traditional obstacles to success in Yoga as well as in Magick" -Crowley Magick Without Tears

    My position as originally posted is in accordance to this. My words you quoted above confirm this position. I am not suggesting that Reason and Emotion do not have their place, clearly they do.

    You see the issue between your stance and what we quoted is that you are searching for a why what happened took place, we were simply observing what happened took place, we did not even go into 'how' and the explanation of it, frankly it is irrelevant to the outcome. You can clearly see that we did not intend to discover how it took place, we just noted that it did.

    When the question of 'why' and 'how' is asked it gets treated as a totally different thing because it is. A glass falling off the counter and taking note of it is totally different than pondering how the glass fell off the counter.

    To lay it out clearly:
    I. A toy picked up what IT identified as a spirit.
    II. Someone did a ritual to clear whatever the toy identified as a spirit away.
    III. The toy no longer identified anything.

    simply an observation of what happened, no 'why', no 'how', just the way the circumstance unfolded and not debatable.

    You went on and called bull shit because you assumed the observation pointed to some kind of connotation that it was supernatural. Nobody is arguing with your logic, in fact I think we pretty much agree. But we we're not assuming anything in the circumstance beyond what took place and noting that the 'will' of the individuals action and the outcome worked out as desired.

    In the end result, the person got what he/she wanted. Magick: The Science and Art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.

    Just because we don't know how it happened doesn't mean it is supernatural, just that it is unexplained.

    ReplyDelete
  20. You write: “’Reason & Emotion these are the two enemies of the Ethic of Thelema. They are the traditional obstacles to success in Yoga as well as in Magick’ -Crowley Magick Without Tears”

    Yes, reason and emotion are enemies of the *ethic* of Thelema. Ethic. As in deciding how you should *behave.*

    However, reason is most definitely not the enemy of *evaluating claims.* In fact, reason is the only tool we have for evaluating claims. And evaluating claims includes, for example, the claim “my ritual worked.”

    If you read the letter that you’re quoting this sentence from, you’ll note that Crowley is discussing behavior, not the act of evaluating claims. Your position isn’t “in accordance” with Crowley’s quote at all because you’re talking about something outside of the scope of what Crowley is discussing in that passage.

    You write: “In the end result, the person got what he/she wanted. Magick: The Science and Art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.”

    Again, you are implying that the ritual “worked” and *caused* something to happen. This is the same claim that I refuted in the original post and that I refuted at least once more in these comments (cf. the example of doing magick for money and then finding money in the street or doing a rain dance and then watching it begin to rain). You and your friend have not responded to my refutations in the slightest – you merely continue to affirm your claim as if I haven’t said anything at all.

    What’s at issue here – to repeat myself yet again – is how one distinguishes between an act that *works* -- that causes a result – and an act that *seems to work* to one’s subjective impression (but in fact does not really work).

    You and your friend are arguing either that it is impossible to distinguish between the two or that it is not beneficial or important to distinguish between the two. You’re wrong on both counts.

    Until you can actually address a point like this, instead of just repeating the same thing over and over again, your posts carry no weight at all.

    I’m currently writing a post that should be up in a few days, if not sooner. It’s called “Misinterpreting The Book of the Law,” and it goes into detail about how people rip quotes out of context (such as the “reason is a lie” line) and misinterpret them to justify false positions that lead straight to delusion. I suggest you give it a read when it’s up, as you’ll probably find it quite enlightening.

    ReplyDelete
  21. First, allow me to state that I am playing Choronzon's advocate here.

    Los, are you not playing into a type of reverse confirmation bias yourself in regards to the central mechanism of this entire argument? What I mean here, without adding a comment about anything else discussed, is simply about your statements about the Ghost Radars authenticity.

    Regardless of whether or not it 'actually' picks up ghosts or anything else, the fact that you have never personally used or even observed this toy being used, nor do you even own a phone that can run that application, is amusing. In addition, you seek to invalidate the experiences and opinions of others who are using this device based upon second hand knowledge - a website that is evidently arguing against the toys validity in what it claims to do - and without knowing the specifics of their experiences nor of the specifics of the device itself. Despite this, you formulate a complete thesis and conclusion to defend and strengthen your own skeptical ideologies, which are clearly biased against any sort of supernatural, subjective or 'non-rational' experience (I read the Enchiridion of Thelema link) and biased against those who do include them (regardless of the probability of any of those things existing or occurring) in their personal reality.

    This reads like, when analyzed, a sophisticated and cleverly worded bashing session based upon a disgruntlement with certain peoples, elements and trends in your own history with Thelema, the occult and the A.A. - and that is a conclusion based upon a puffed up and strong argument with a very weak pattern of evidence to back it up, and also your use of negative and, dare I say, trendy and deflating terminology whenever you bring up many 'supernatural' things - Dumb Ideas, 'super duper magical powers', silly, nonsense, make-believe and other such biased assertions or unfounded mockery.

    So in my own conclusion, I merely ask an honest and relevant question in regards to your central argument and inclinations about rational evidence:

    How many documented experiments have you done specifically to calculate the ratio of Ritual, Spellcraft, or applied Will to the Occurrence of acceptable phenomenon that would be considered successful under a defined spectrum and within a defined timeframe? In other words, where is your evidence to the contrary, since your argument is skepticism? Do you have a record of these failings and staggering 'improbability', and since magic is commonly held to work according the subjective reality and structure of the magician, do you have the record of other magicians and their tests to compare your findings against?

    ReplyDelete
  22. You write: “Los, are you not playing into a type of reverse confirmation bias yourself in regards to the central mechanism of this entire argument?”

    No.

    To be clear, “confirmation bias” refers to a specific logical error in which one selectively examines evidence. That’s the polar opposite of what I strive to do, which is to take all evidence into account when I make my conclusions.

    “Bias” is something entirely different: bias just means “slant,” a set of attitudes and approaches that underlie (and “slant”) someone’s rhetoric in a particular direction.

    My blog is indeed “biased” (i.e. “slanted”) in favor of truth and against sham claims that cannot be supported by means of evidence. I make no apologies for being biased in favor of what’s true, as opposed to what’s comfortable or fun. [And, incidentally, every piece of writing is “biased,” even your comment to my blog post]

    You write: “Regardless of whether or not it 'actually' picks up ghosts or anything else, the fact that you have never personally used or even observed this toy being used, nor do you even own a phone that can run that application, is amusing.”

    I’ve also never personally undergone a Scientology “auditing” session to have the ghosts of dead aliens sucked out of my aura – does that mean that I can’t come to the conclusion that the whole thing is utter bullshit?

    I’ve also never personally spoken in “tongues” at a Pentecostal event: does that mean that I can’t come to the conclusion that the whole thing is utter bullshit?

    Your comment assumes that one needs to have personally experienced something before one can have a reasonably good idea that it’s bullshit – you are in error.

    A cursory examination of the process by which you yourself come to conclusions should reveal that a good deal of useful knowledge does not derive from personal experience. For example, the claim “Jumping off a mountain will likely kill a person” is extremely useful to know – but I’m quite willing to bet that you didn’t come to this knowledge through your “personal experience.”

    Further, I’ll bet that if someone proposed the claim, “Jumping off a mountain gives a person the sudden ability to fly,” you would have no problem figuring out that the claim is total bullshit, despite the fact that you haven’t personally “experimented” with the claim and don’t have “personal experience” trying it out.

    It’s quite simply false to say that one has to have “personal experience” of a claim to be able to properly evaluate it.

    In the case described in this entry, a person was trying to use an isolated coincidence as “evidence” of a claim that – if true – would fly in the face of what humans know about the universe. Isolated coincidence cannot be used to confirm a claim of such magnitude.

    You write: “where is your evidence to the contrary, since your argument is skepticism?”

    In the first place, from the perspective of skepticism, you’ve phrased this entirely back-asswards. It’s not “what evidence do you have *not* to believe in this outlandish claim that runs counter to everything humans have discovered about the world?” It’s “what evidence is there to accept that this outlandish claim is *true*?”

    As you note, the only “evidence” ever put forward for claims of this sort is the kind of “subjective reality” confirmation bias, which isn’t evidence at all. The complete and total lack of evidence, by itself, is sufficient grounds to dismiss the claims.

    But if you want evidence *against* these claims, there is a truly massive amount of it: out of everything that humans have ever discovered about the universe, absolutely none of it suggests even a hint that these sorts of powers might be real.

    Now, this doesn’t mean that these outlandish claims are absolutely false, but it *does* mean that no one should go around accepting them until there is some very compelling evidence in their favor – unless, of course, one wants to be completely gullible.

    ReplyDelete
  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Los,

    Have you ever heard of the video game, "The Talos Principle"? It just came out not long ago. You remind me of one of the characters, known as the "Serpent".

    The Serpent is essentially a bot, that has access to a seemingly infinite amount of data within an Archive. His role in the game, is that he basically refutes anything the Player says based off of logic.

    In fact, he even insults people like you do!

    Later on in the game, you have the opportunity to "press" the Serpent, and it essentially breaks down. But he's a Robot though.

    We're in the realm of Mind here, in all of these arguments which you appearingly base off of fact that apparently isn't subjective or based off belief.

    In another post you mentioned that Materialism (Or Naturalism, as you like to call it) isn't really a belief, but just cold hard facts that can be observable. You give the example of a Child that doesn't "believe" in his environment, he just goes about it, exploring. No need to believe or question it. But that's only because the Child is ignorant.

    You say the world of matter is the only thing of which can be verified and observed. But somehow this doesn't include subjective experience. Is that correct?

    Because that's ridiculous.

    If it exists as experience, even if it's with your inner world, than how is this not apart of Observable world? Are you not observing this experience? Sure, others can't observe it, and you'll never be able to prove it to them, unless you get them to believe it, because you're the only one experiencing it...But you're experience it. It's there, to you. It exists, doesn't it? It exists as much as anything else does.

    It makes you FEEL something. You can engage it with at least one sense. You can definitely think about it. It influences your life. It can make you happy, it can make you cry. It can lead you to do things.

    So you're basically saying that your inner world doesn't exist because you can't put it under a microscope.

    And this differentiation between "Inner world" and "Outer world" is just a mind phenomenon, I might add. The idea of Subjectivity and Objectivity, really only exists insofar as there is an Ego; a separation. Me and Them. It's a matter of perception.

    Ironically, your claims of Inner and Outer worlds, which you purport to exist as cold hard fact (but is really just an underlying belief), also arise out of your subjectivity. It's from your Ego. It just so happens, most of the world also is dominated by Ego.

    Now, as the mind develops, we use its capacity to discern. At least, that's what it's supposed to be used for. Most people just let it run their lives, with endless questioning and answering, and beliefs and counter-beliefs, and all of that. Most of which have little basis on absolute reality.

    But this is the same with so called Materialism.

    This is the limitation of the Mind. It can't really know anything. It only knows about things, like yourself. The mind only knows about you, it doesn't know you. It only knows ABOUT your environment, and about you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Los,

      Have you ever heard of the video game, "The Talos Principle"?


      Nope.

      You say the world of matter is the only thing of which can be verified and observed. But somehow this doesn't include subjective experience. Is that correct?

      If you're asking whether I think subjective experience can be verified and observed, of course it can be. You're observing your subjective experience right this second.

      I think you're confusing what I've said about naturalism. I've said that it's obvious that the physical world exists. The physical world includes your brain and the stuff that arises from your neural activity (like your subjective experience). If you think some *other* world exists -- like some kind of "spiritual" world -- then I'd be curious to hear what evidence you think there is for this spiritual world because, as far as I can tell, there isn't any, and no human beings have ever acquired sufficient evidence that supports the existence of some other world.

      I'm very open to having my mind changed.

      If it exists as experience, even if it's with your inner world, than how is this not apart of Observable world? Are you not observing this experience? Sure, others can't observe it, and you'll never be able to prove it to them, unless you get them to believe it, because you're the only one experiencing it...But you're experience it. It's there, to you. It exists, doesn't it? It exists as much as anything else does.

      Of course subjective experience exists. The fact that it can only be observed by a single person doesn't change the fact that it exists.

      For example, I was hungry earlier before I ate dinner. There was only one person in the entire universe who could have observed my hunger directly (i.e., me), but that doesn't change the fact that the hunger was real.

      So you're basically saying that your inner world doesn't exist because you can't put it under a microscope.

      As should be abundantly clear from my above answers, no, I'm not saying that. Where are you getting this from?

      Since you're wrong about my position, and since the rest of your post seems to be based on this misunderstanding, I'm not sure it would be terribly productive for me to go through the rest of your post and comment on it. Would you care to rephrase your comment now that you're aware of my actual opinion on the reality of subjective experience?

      Delete
  25. But then how I do purport to know what I am saying then if I just said the Mind doesn't know anything?

    That's the Paradox. You'll probably dismiss that as a cop-out. But really, sometimes it takes one idea to destroy another. No one can convey the Ultimate Truth, because in the end, it'll just end up an idea because we're using words, and our minds to understand them. The idea doesn't scratch the surface. It is a signpost at best.

    That's why the words of realized men are almost always misunderstood. They just get taken in as ideas. Mental observations. They never enter the realm of genuine, ground breaking experience.

    That's all ideas ever really are. Just signposts, leading to some other experience of which may be similar, but it is ultimately totally unique. The same experience and subjectivity which you claim to be ridiculous and not worth observing because it is not verifiable in the so called "Material" or "Natural" realm.

    The catch is, is why do we need to verify this Truth, as if we can't experience it for ourselves? If everyone abided in True Will, then this would be a silly conversation. Since we already KNOW the Truth as our being, and not in our heads.

    The only way to see this, is observe your Mind as it thinks and makes conclusions about the world. The act of observing the Mind, will create a unique phenomenon entirely, that will lead to a great discovery. But then that would Subjectivity, which seemingly, you're against, because you can't verify it in the material world.

    And then you will come to know, for yourself, that even your so called Axioms were also Subjectivity. But just because it's Subjective, doesn't mean it shouldn't be accounted for, and that it is suddenly a false claim.

    Ironically, with all your pretentious mutterings about Truth, it would seem you're actually not interested in it after all. Because you're never going to find it in your head or in the ridicule of others. Honestly, I think you just like making people look stupid.

    As a required reading in the A.'.A.'., one will find an excerpt from William James within the reading, "The Temple of Solomon". The excerpt was,

    "...it is absurd for science to say that the egotistic
    elements of experience should be suppressed. The axis of reality runs
    solely through the egotistic places --- they are strung upon it like
    so many beads. To describe the world with all the various feelings of
    the individual pinch of destiny, all the various spiritual attitudes,
    left out from the description --- they being as describable as
    anything else --- would be something like offering a printed bill of
    fare as the equivalent for a solid meal. Religion makes no such
    blunders. ... A bill of fare with one real raisin on it instead of the
    word 'raisin' and one real egg instead of the word 'egg' might be an
    inadequate meal, but it would at least be a commencement of reality.
    The contention of the survival-theory that we ought to stick to
    non-personal elements exclusively seems like saying that we ought to
    be satisfied forever with reading the naked bill of fare. ... It does
    not follow, because our ancestors made so many errors of fact and
    mixed them with their religion, that we should therefore leave off
    being religious at all. By being religious we establish ourselves in
    possession of ultimate reality at the only points at which reality is
    given us to guard. Our responsible concern is with our private destiny
    after all."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it's really unclear what you're trying to say here.

      Try to rephrase your point now that you know what I actually think on this subject.

      Delete
    2. While I'm at it, I found this post of mine that addresses the issue of "subjectivity" versus "objectivity": http://thelema-and-skepticism.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-problem-with-platitudes-ii-its-all.html

      You might want to give it a read to get some grounding in what I actually think.

      Delete
  26. Did you know you can create short links with AdFly and make money for every visitor to your short links.

    ReplyDelete