Fighting Ignorance, SDMB style: Psychic stuff

Sir Isaac Newton: “So, as you see, gravity causes all objects to be attracted to one another, in accordance with the following formula…”

Open-minded observer “Does not! It’s just a coincidence!”

Isaac: “Coincidence? It’s one of the fundamental laws of nature! All matter attracts matter! That’s why everything falls down! See, here, I’ll drop this brick.”

:::Brick lands on observer’s foot:::

Observer “It’s just a coincidence! You rigged the bet, since you deliberately picked something heavy! Here, look, THIS doesn’t fall, so obviously you’re wrong!”

:::Helium balloon floats up to the ceiling:::

Isaac: :rolleyes: :wally:

The preceeding conversation probably never happened, but something similar may have. The point I hope to make by this example is that there have always been believers, and there have always been skeptics, and never the twain shall meet. Not without a lot of name-calling, at least.
I have to wonder what sort of demonstration would be needed, to convince those on this board that there actually was something beyond their experience worth investigating. Is it even possible?
Or is it more likely that the concept of ‘fighting ignorance’ actually does include vehemently denying any possibility of such things as ‘psychic phenomena’ without considering that we still don’t know everything there is to know about the universe.
Until Isaac came up with the theory of gravity, nobody could understand why bricks fell and birds didn’t (usually). This is because a very fundamental force of nature was completely unknown, and it took a great thinker to understand what was really happening.
By rejecting the common model and “Thinking outside the box” as it were, pretty much everybody on earth now believes in gravity.

Experiments were done. Some worked how we thought they would: Rocks fall down. Others didn’t: Balloons fall UP! What’s that about? But, rather than being proof gravity was a false idea, as one might initially deduce from such a result, this was additional evidence that the theory was correct. Balloons fall up because the air around them is falling down even harder. Gravity works.
I do not have a theory to explain the ‘psychic’ abilities and phenomenon which appear, over and over and over again, in the history of our little human race. But I am also equally unwilling to chalk EVERYTHING up to ‘coincidence’ and ‘wishful thinking’.
I believe that every story relating to psychic phenomena has a rational and scientific explanation.
I believe that, in most cases, this explanation involves such things as fraud, or mistaken or selective memories, or other ‘rational’ causes behind what appears to have happened.
For example, Yuri Gellar bending spoons ‘with his mind’. Well, yeah, he’s using his mind… to move his fingers… to bend the spoon. It’s really a simple trick, when you know how he does it (it takes some really subtle finger-motions, there’s no ‘magic’ involved at all.)
Or, a fictional example wheren someone suddenly gets the overwhelming urge to get up out of their seat and go into the kitchen, but can’t figure out why they did it. Then, two seconds later, a van crashes through the wall and runs over the chair they were sitting in. This could, possibly, be explained thusly: “The person subconsciously heard the sound of squealing tires and honking horns coming closer, so they instinctively got up and moved away.” This, too, could be psychic powers or it could be ‘rational scientific phenomena’.
Or, and this is the point I hope to make, it COULD be something else. We don’t really know.
To simply say “That’s fraud” or “That’s coincidence” or “That’s a trick” is NOT fighting ignorance, it’s spreading it!
My question is this: What level of impossibility is required for something to be “Inexplainable” but NOT automatically labeled “Coincidence”?

What would it take to, for once and for all, convince (You, your friends, the SDMB board, the scientific community in general) that there is in fact something going on that you do not understand? That, possibly, this is worthy of attention and investigation?

I would like to offer for your examination the following four events from my recent life, involving things that one would think I could not possibly have known. Two of these are currently documented on these boards. Two occured online through instant messages with friends, and should it be needed, I may be able to get them to post here and help confirm they did in fact happen.

To be continued:


In chronological order, as closely as I can remember.

  1. A friend of mine sent me an IM, saying that her truck had stopped running. For some reason, I had the urge to throw the I-ching (an ancient chinese fortune-telling book, using coin tosses) regarding this matter.

The I-ching contains short phrases which are translated for me into english from the ancient chinese, and therefore appear as some of the worst possible fortune-cookie drivel, little more than random phrases and bizarre images. To use this as an aid, I skim these sentences, find ones which might possibly in some way relate to the situation, and ‘meditate’ upon them. This gives me small insights, some of which I use to make my predictions. Anyway…

The passage my cointoss led me to was “Fire over Thunder”… I knew I was on to something right then. That’s a great description of an engine, isn’t it?

“Biting Through” was the first thing I saw… and the following phrases were also included: “Thunder and lightning combine into a pattern… even though it is not in charge… with restraints stopping you in your tracks… biting dried meat, coming to poison… biting dried bony meat, you find a gold arrow… biting dried meat, you find yellow gold…”

So, I spoke with my friend for a few minutes. “Hmm, sounds like an engine to me. Lots of biting references… maybe a belt is too tight? There’s poison inside something… maybe gasoline? Maybe the battery? Lots of gold, too. I’d check the connections and belts, look for something yellow on your alternator.”

She knew exactly what the problem was. She went down and fixed it, and came back a few minutes later with the following story:

“Well, my battery is a little loose in the engine compartment, and it kept sliding around, so I took some gold wire and wrapped it around the battery to hold it in place, and it shorted out. I cut the wire and got a jumpstart, and now the truck runs fine.”

  1. Someone posted here, offering a reward for anyone who could find his lost CD player. I threw the I-ching for this, and posted something along the lines of “You were looking up in the sky and dropped it in a field, but it’s gotten rained on since then” based on what I had read.

The CDplayer was found, as I remember, in the map-pocket of the passenger door of his car.

I was completely wrong.

  1. Someone posted a joke thread about “Guess how many ingredients are in my sandwich”.

I pulled a number out of my ass, and replied “87”.

There were 86 ingredients, I was soon informed.

  1. A friend I haven’t spoken with in a very long time IMs me one day. It seems that a mutual friend of ours, whom I have also not seen in a very long time, is missing. Her family is worried, and do I have any ideas where she might be? Not asking for my psychic abilities (if any) but just a general missing-person type question, checking with literally anybody who might possibly have any information at all.

I threw the I-ching.

“Fire over Water”… "unfinished’. The first paragraph: “The unfinished being carried out is a small fox almost finished making a crossing; if it gets its head wet, nothing is profited”. Further images of a fox crossing a stream are repeated, with warnings that it’s not profitable for the fox to get its head wet… and, finally, this: “to souse your head drinking wine means being immoderate.”

This, of course, worried us both. The ‘translation’ I came up with was that, unfortunately, our red-headed friend may well have gotten drunk and tried to swim in the nearby river. I fear she is dead, but hold hope that she will be found, alive and well.

A few days pass, and this worried friend IMs me again. “Wonderful news! Our friend has been found, alive and well…” and tells me what happened.

Our missing, red-headed, very foxy friend, had developed a gambling addiction, and had gotten in over her head on a riverboat casino, quickly finding herself in jail.

So, that’s my four most recent attempts at being ‘psychic’. One was completely wrong. One was off by 1, but pretty close. One was interpereted somewhat incorrectly, but ended up being fairly accurate in retrospect. One was spot-on.

How psychic am I? q;}

Of course it’s possible. It’s trivially easy to imagine a scenario that would convince me that there’s something really going on with claims of psychic powers.

For example: A psychic says he’s able to read minds. He sits in one room. A test subject sits in another room across town. The test subject draws from a deck of standard playing cards at random, and stares at each one for ten seconds. The psychic writes down the order of cards that he senses. Over a sequence of 20 cards, he gets more than half of them right.

If a research group could actually produce results like this with appropriate protocols in place to prevent cheating and accidental communication I’d start believing in psychic abilities in a heartbeat.

Intelligent people don’t reject paranormal claims out of hand because they can’t “think out of the box”. They reject them because such claims have been proved false over and over and over again. After a while, you just decide that there are better things to do with the limited amount of time we have on this earth than convincing yourself for the thousand and first time that mind-reading really doesn’t work.

If paranormal psychic phenomena were as repeatedly, observably, and definitively testable and predictable as gravity, I’d be satisfied.

Pochacco pretty much hit it on the head. The key difference is reproducability in any experiment. For instance, when I drop the rock the OP was talking about, it ALWAYS falls down. It doesn’t sometimes fall up. So, I can theorize on different things that might be CAUSING the rock to fall, then experiment to prove (or disprove) my theory). However, empirically, the rock always falls.

With ‘psychic stuff’, I’ve yet to see a reproduce-able, verify-able experiment showing anything greater than chance. And thats the key…being able to reproduce the results in OTHER labs under strict scientific conditions. Does you no good to do something once…you have to do it many times by many different groups, all adhering to the same methodology and all doing so in carefully controlled conditions. If you can’t or don’t do that, then you have essentially nothing from a scientific perspective. Thats fine if you just want people to ‘believe’. If you want to be taken seriously though, you have to do things using proper scientific method.

Like Pochacco, I can think of plausable scenerio’s where I could be convinced that ‘psychic stuff’ was real. Its not completely outside of the realm of possibility after all. However, I have yet to see anything close to convincing me that there is a real effect, and generally it only takes a cursory look at the claims and the methodology used to dismiss people claiming to have made some break through experiment in the various ‘psychic stuff’ fields.


Not very. The phrases in the I Ching are so general and vague that its possible to apply them to almost any situation with a little creative thought.

Here’s a real test of the I Ching: Hide your car keys. Pick the trigram that best describes their hiding place. (Or multiple ones if more than one applies. Or just pick all those that you’re sure absolutely don’t describe it.) Then call up a friend and ask her to throw the I Ching and ask it where your car keys are. See how well the actual results compare to your prediction. Repeat the test until the results are statistically significant.

You mean that unexplained psychic phenomena could, given time, be explained by science, right?

Those phenomena that science files in the ‘we don’t know why this happened but we do know it’s not fraud, coincidence or trick’ folder could well be explained by science one day. I’m afraid they’re few and far between, if any.

For example, none of the stories in your second post apply, as they are what are commonly dismissed as anecdotal evidence. You would need to take part in a controlled study to verify the successfullness of the I Ching predictions.

That’s not what happens. Science does not ‘simply say’. When it is concluded, through experimentation and observation, that the psychic claims are false, only then are they dismissed as coincidence and so on.

Psychic institutes are most welcome to conduct psychic experiments in a controlled environment. Those that have agreed - and I don’t know when they did, if ever - invariably failed to demonstrate psychic abilities.

It will always be automatically labelled coincidence - and rightly so IMO - unless that same level of impossibility can be repeated enough times to warrant a claim of ‘there’s something else at work’. I’m not aware of this having happened yet.

No, it isn’t, unless you’re a caveman.

I don’t find any of these items under the hood of my car, you must have one of those Uzbekistani models…

How EVER did you narrow it down to those possibilities?!?

See, when my car won’t run, I check the trunk hinge, the glove compartment and the seatbelt retractor, and I can NEVER get it working. This is a revelation!

So let me get this straight:

You listed pretty much everything that could keep a vehicle from running (engine, battery, alternator, belts, gasoline) and it turned out to be one of those? AMAZING! And when you suggested specifically to check the belts and the alternator, it turned out to be something completely different that she had done to the battery that she probably knew was a bad idea in the first place. TRULY ASTOUNDING!

Forgive me for not being more genuinely amazed, but frankly I find that entire example to be an insult to my intelligence. I could only describe this as psychic if I set the bar so low my brain wouldn’t even be functioning any more.

I hope you’re not saying this is a “hit.” You mentioned the engine, there was no problem with the engine. You mentioned gasoline, which had nothing to do with it. You said to check the connections and belts, which were of no consequence. You said to look for something yellow on the alternator, when something gold was on the battery.

Honestly, if your car doesn’t start, it’s a good bet it’s the engine, connections and belts, gasoline, battery, or alternator. What else COULD it be?

Or I’ve been whooshed.

As others have said, if there were anything other than anecdotal evidence, psychic phenomena would be more believable.

Your other three examples all illustrate other times when you were completely wrong, so I can’t even regard you as randomly psychic…

  1. You were wrong
  2. You were wrong by one.
  3. You were wrong. She didn’t drown in a drunken stupor, she was in debtor’s prison. You call this a hit?

This is the thing, though - “fairly accurate, in retrospect” means nothing. You had something that had something to do with being in trouble, and something to do with water. Being in trouble is obvious - she’s missing, right? Any scenario consistent with being missing is going to entail some sort of trouble. Strike one for psychic abilities. The second, something to do with water - well, sure - two thirds of our planet is covered in water. An equally appropriate post-hoc rationalisation would have been, say, she got arrested for making trouble on a overseas flight, or getting arrested for drunk-and-disorderly (fire-water, eh?), or even that she got in trouble in another state that happens to be across a major river, or any of a zillion combinations. You see what I mean? Any sort of explanation can be fitted to such a loose set of observations as “trouble” and “water”. Even if the latter observation were really tenuous, doubtless we would be told that you were 50% right.

Apart from which, I thought the point of such psychic ability is being able to read the cards “accurately” - you didn’t do any such thing. Just because you can explain, once you know what happened, how you could have made the right prediction isn’t psychic ability - that’s just, well, knowing stuff. The gold wire is an example of the same thing - that’s you fulfilling the prediction. Hardly the Outer Limits, I’m afraid.

Are your anecdotes evidence of psychic ability? No. Confirmation bias? Yes.

Heck, just let me sit down with the psychic, and ask him/her to read my mind, ten tries. If the psychic can even get one guess correctly, I’d be impressed.

(My last encounter with a “psychic” was with a palm reader in San Francisco, who claimed to be able to divine my past, present, and future from reading my palm. She was 100% incorrect in her prognostication, but I paid her the $5 for the experience of having an amusing anti-psychic anecdote. :slight_smile: )

I don’t trust myself to suppress my cold-reading “tells” well enough to believe the results of a face-to-face test.

But, yes, put us in adjacent rooms. Let me think of ten specific images of my own choosing. If the psychic could read even one of them correctly I’d be intrigued enough to allow that paranormal powers might exist … .

So you “ask” the I-ching, and then ignore all the stuff it says that doesn’t seem to you to be relevant??? Can’t you see how your experiment is already compromised?

Sounds like a better description of a bomb. Did you immediately warn your friend of this, or are you again ignoring stuff that doesn’t fit with your interpretation of the situation?

Sounds even more like a bomb. Or a bullet! Why haven’t you warned your friend? She is in great danger! You haven’t? So a third example of you selectively choosing what to interprete and how to interprete it.

And what of this conversation could you not have had without I-ching’s help? Sounds like a series of wild guesses any non-mechanic could dream up.

So, all this time your friend already had a fair idea what was wrong? And she interpreted selectively what you had already interpreted selectively from a whole string of what was otherwise nonsense?


Please tell me you didn’t pass this drivel onto the missing person’s family?

Either way, what I suspect you really came up with was a whole range of possible fates for your friend. You’ve just picked the one that best fitted what you later discovered to be the truth. It’s a common psychic trick; fire out screeds of prophesies, then match up what was the closest to the event after the fact. Anything that remains unmatched you just sweep under the carpet, or bring them out in 15 years time when a good match eventually occurs.

Personally, I think you’re showing signs of your amateur status here. A real psychic wouldn’t have taken this one at a stretch, but saved it for later. Someone, someplace soon is bound to get drunk and drown. You just forsaw the wrong person’s tragic end.

Not at all. But these were useful examples in how to be a “psychic”.

Weird. There is a bag in my bedroom which has been there for ages. Yesterday I decided to move it and underneath the bag I found my copy of the I Ching. I had been wondering where that had gone. Since I had now found it I made a mental note to give it a try since I’ve gotten some funny answers from the I Ching in the past (funny in both senses of the word - peculiar and amusing).

All this happened before I saw this thread.

So anyway I figured all this must be some kind of weird mojo going on and perhaps I was being lead to consult the Book. So I asked it a question:

Is Phnord Prephect pyschic?

I got number 48, Ching (a Well), but with 3 moving lines - 6 in the first place, 9 in the 2nd place and 9 in the 3rd place.

This gives me the idea of a town that may change as time goes on but it’s well always stays the same. The town may come and go but the water in the well stays the same never decreasing and never increasing.

However the water in this well is thought to be so muddy that men will not drink of it and birds will not come to it. Also some of the water is escaping and being drunk by shrimps and other small creatures nearby.

However, in fact, the well is not muddy and has been cleared. If people were only intelligent enough to realise this then they could use the well. Our hearts are sorry for this because the water could be used if only people were intelligent enough.

Transposing number 48, we get number 3, Chun - initial difficulty.

Great progress and success will come but only upon being firm and correct. The condition of the time is full of irregularity and obscurity. Chun represents a cloudy sky. Grey, and threatening rain. A superior man will see this as a time for change in governmental structures. Feudal princes may need to be established but even after this you should be alert. Do not feel secure. A superior man will adjust his measures of government as in sorting the threads of the warp and the woof.
So, all very interesting but I’m afraid that I, for one, am not really any the wiser as to whether you are psychic or not. I suppose the Well could be seen as something that is below our normal field of vision. It is always full of nourishing water and yet we never actually see it. We drop a bucket down into the dark unknown and up comes water.

The Well is free to all to use but most people don’t use it because they fear it contains muddy water. In actual fact it doesn’t but people still don’t use it.

Hmm…I suppose some parallels with the paranormal could be drawn there.