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Old 14th Oct 2004, 13:46   #1
Wavid
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Default Mediums, Spiritualism and other 'alternative' beliefs

Mediums, Spiritualism and other 'alternative' beliefs

This issue has been brought to my attention recently for a number of reasons: reading Francis Wheen's book on mumbo-jumbo; the BBC2 series which had its second part on last night; and apparently quite a few people I know seem to sympathise with these kind of beliefs. The TV show seems strangely one sided, there is virtually no opportunity for those who do not accept the mediums' claims to speak up, and indeed much of what goes on seems to be presented as fact.

My opinion is that it's a load of clap-trap, or indeed mumbo-jumbo. But that's a different thing to saying to people: it's a load of clap-trap, and here's why.

I've been doing a bit of googling, and one of the better sites is http://www.skepdic.com/ which helps explain quite a few things, and provides a fair amount of information on cold reading and whathaveyou. But is this the only technique they use - is it all down to body language, proababilities and clever questioning? Or are there other, perhaps 'psychological' (a la Derren Brown) mehods at play too?

Any thoughts, Palimpeople? Indeed, does anyone disagree with me and believe in this kind of spiritualism?
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Old 14th Oct 2004, 13:51   #2
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No disagreement from me. I believe in some parapsychological phenomena (place memories, for eg.) but medium-ism and spiritualism is fakery and psychological trickery.
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Old 14th Oct 2004, 14:00   #3
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I think some of this topic may have been touched on in the Derren Brown thread. I haven't seen the programme you refer to Wavid, but from the previews in the papers I got the opposite impression, that it was pretty mocking of the spiritualists. I suppose it is in the eye of the beholder.

As we know most mediums are expert practitioners in 'cold reading' and tend to get away with it because people who pay to use them want to believe in it and so they remember the 'accurate' stuff ("I'm getting the letter J..." "Oh, that must be my brother John...") while forgetting the desperate flails in the dark. Dara O Briain was very funny on the subject when I saw him live, as he had shared the sofa on a local chat show with a blind medium called Sharon Neill. She asked if there was anyone in the audience called Mary. "Jesus Christ love, you're in Ireland!" said O Briain (to us, later, not to her), "Why don't you ask for a Patrick next?" He recalled that afterwards in the green room she didn't recognise the voice of the show's presenter when he spoke to her: "She doesn't even recognise voices from the living! What kind of fucking medium is that!"

As far as I am concerned Derren Brown and James Randi have it sewn up. They show that everything spiritualists or paranormal practitioners do, can be done using normal illusionist's skills. As Randi says of Uri Geller: "I'm not saying that he isn't psychic. I'm just saying that if he's doing these things by psychic powers, he's doing them the hard way." In his long 'career', former underwear model Geller has sued numerous people over claims that he is a fraud and has never won a penny.
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Old 14th Oct 2004, 14:09   #4
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Re: the TV prog, I suppose it could be seent that the producers were giving the mediums etc enough rope, perhaps.

Is James Randi the chap who has offered a million dollars to anyone who can prove they are psychic, or is that someone else?
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Old 15th Oct 2004, 9:31   #5
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I'd be more inclined to listen to these people if they approached it with something even approaching a rational, quantitative mindset. Instead, you get tabloid thinking, which is wearing and ultimately infuriating. To, therefore, believe in mediums, means you've abandoned rational thought.

The finest example of that is the 'you don't know...science doesn't know everything' attitude. My response has always been 'right, well in that case this room is filled with invisible intangible elephants'.
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Old 15th Oct 2004, 9:37   #6
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It's linked, too, with the democratisation of opinion and belief, where anyone, it would appear, has the 'right' to hold and propogate their ghastly theories without criticism. Well, it's what I believe...

At the end of the day, there are objective scientific standards and there are real world explanations for the apparent ability of mediums to talk to the dead. But even presented with this, people still say, Whatever you say, I still believe.

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Old 15th Oct 2004, 10:33   #7
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Oh, by the way, yes, Randi is the guy who has put up the million dollars prize (well, the James Randi Educational Foundation, I should say):

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At JREF, we offer a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The prize is in the form of negotiable bonds held in a special investment account. The JREF does not involve itself in the testing procedure, other than helping to design the protocol and approving the conditions under which a test will take place. All tests are designed with the participation and approval of the applicant. In most cases, the applicant will be asked to perform a relatively simple preliminary test of the claim, which if successful, will be followed by the formal test. Preliminary tests are usually conducted by associates of the JREF at the site where the applicant lives. Upon success in the preliminary testing process, the "applicant" becomes a "claimant."

To date, no one has ever passed the preliminary tests.
Lots of amusing irrationalist-bating on there, including their annual prize-giving, the Pigasus Award. Here, for 'the government official who said or did the silliest thing related to pseudoscience or the occult in the year 2003', the prize goes to:

Quote:
South African Minister of Health Dr. Manto Tshabala-Msimang, who claimed, and continues to claim, that treatment with "garlic, herbs, and liver" is not only most efficacious in the treatment of HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, and other deadly diseases, but is far superior to Western medicine. She also believes, in agreement with Thabo Mbeki, President of the African National Congress and President of South Africa, that AIDS is not caused by the HIV virus. The death rate in South Africa has soared, with an estimated 5.3 million of its 45 million people (12%) now HIV-infected.
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Old 15th Oct 2004, 12:37   #8
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I think my posting record on here means that I really don't need to comment.
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Old 20th Oct 2004, 13:27   #9
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Bit of a change of tack, but having been surrounded for a long time by people who take homeopathic medicines/ flower remedies and the like, i have never really questioned my belief that they work, however, I was chatting to someone the other day, and the subject came up, and they said they thought it was a load of rubbish (especially homeopathy). What do you all think about 'alternative' medicine. (although its not really that alternative, most of it having been used for hundreds and probably thousands of years).... I feel that they work for me....
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Old 20th Oct 2004, 13:38   #10
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Homeopathy is total and utter garbage. The idea that you reduce the concentration of liquid x into water, until there is no trace of x left, but somehow the water remembers x anyway is bizaare, illogical and frankly hilarious. There's a good bit in the Francis Wheen book about this, I'll dig it out and type some in when I get home.
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