Saturday, August 13, 2016

Paranormal and Skepticism

In his book “Pseudoscience and Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal: A Critical Thinker's Toolkit,” Jonathan Smith describes as paranormal and extraordinary the claims of "astrology, psychics, spiritualism, parapsychology, dream telepathy, mind-over-matter, prayer, life after death, creationism, and more.” I find absolutely nothing extraordinary about these claims. Most people around the world believe in one or more of these things; and stories from every culture around the world have all sorts of accounts of the paranormal.

I suppose the reason that many people in the West and in places like China and Japan get away with thinking such things extraordinary or pseudo-scientific is that they live in cultures that practice religions that have outlawed most forms of overt spiritual activity. Shamanism, magick, clairvoyance, spiritism and similar pursuits have been labeled as works of Satan by Bible-believing Christians and Jews, and Buddhism has likewise discouraged similar activities. This has destroyed the evidence for such things. It has also destroyed the evidence for God. So now there are all these materialist fundamentalists, calling themselves skeptics, running around saying that religion is for morons and spirituality is for lunatics, and that both the mainstream priests and the people who teach and practice alternative spirituality are conmen.

I started out as an atheist – a militant atheist. I have a university degree, I held down responsible jobs, and I am not into drugs. Nor do I make any money from talking about these kinds of things. But I have had all sorts of spiritual experiences. I mean experiences with less than one in a billionth chance of happening; and not just one but many of them.

And I know any number of highly intelligent people, including distinguished scientists, who also speak of having had such experiences.

There was one time when my girlfriend woke up in the middle of the night complaining that her ex-husband was talking to her in her head. In the morning she decided to test this, so she said in her head, “OK Todd, if you have been talking to me in spirit then call me.” 30 seconds later Todd calls her and tells her that he has been talking to her in spirit.

In 1995, I had a beautiful romantic relationship with a woman named Michelle, who had finished an Ivy League university in three years, and who was a poet. In 2000 I wanted to have this re-capitulated, so what happens but that I start corresponding with a woman named Michele, who had finished an Ivy League university in three years, who was a poet, and who in 1995 had had a similar kind of relationshi with a man from Bulgaria whose last name was similar to my middle name.

Once I saw in my meditation an outpouring of sorrow in Argentina. I picked up the newspaper and found out that someone famous in Argentina died, and that there was a huge outpouring of sorrow for him.

A gypsy lady was able to tell me that I was corresponding with a man in California who was a chauvinist; that I had been in a fight with my father the previous day; and precisely identify the character of people about whom the only thing she knew were their names.

And that is only the start. Yes, call it anecdotal if you want; but it would not be anecdotal if it happened to you.

There was a significant interest in such things in 1960s and 1970s, that has been blamed on drug use and a supposed generational “narcissism.” While drug use may make available some parts of the brain that are not normally in conscious use, these parts of the brain are there drug use or no drug use, which means that there is a reality to them that is independent of how they are stimulated. A person practicing Buddhist meditation or shamanic practice can access these parts of the brain as well as can any acidhead. And then there is that little question of, Well why are these parts of the brain there? What are they for? And why is it that when they are stimulated – drug use or no drug use – they produce such results?

As for the claims of “narcissism,” they are simply ridiculous. Were Native American shamans, Buddhist and Christian monks, Hindu swamis and Renaissance-era witches narcissists as well? Most of these people are far more humble than the materialist fundamentalists, who are arrogant enough to think that they are sane and that everyone else is a kook. Narcissism belongs much more to these vicious, abusive, bullying intellectual fascists. As can be told by, say, any number of women who've partnered with men who have had such convictions.

Are claims referred to in that book extraordinary? No. Are they pseudo-scientific? Some are, and some aren't. There are any number of con artists out there, and I have not seen a greater presence of them among those claiming paranormal powers than among politicians or stockbrokers. It is wrong to encourage skepticism of the paranormal while opposing skepticism of economic and political practices. And while it is reasonable to want a person going into such exploration to do so with a brain, it is in no way reasonable to claim that it is against intelligence to have had paranormal experiences or to have beliefs in the paranormal.


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