That one spooky thing (wrap-up) October 14, 2014Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
Tags: atheism, Cognitive Biases, critical thinking, evidence, JREF, Skepticism, supernatural
OK, time to wrap the series up.
When you’ve deconverted from religion and superstition, and decided to live a life based in reality, what do you think about that one strange thing that might have once happened to you? That thing that keeps you convinced that there’s a supernatural realm out there somewhere?
Before you can decide that it’s actually “supernatural”, you really need to consider the following alternate possibilities, which I’ve discussed in earlier posts:
- It’s a natural occurrence that’s rare or unfamiliar to you (Part 1)
- It’s technological (also Part 1)
- It’s somebody deliberately tricking you (Part 2)
- It’s a problem of faulty perception and/or faulty memory, perhaps combined with some of the above (Part 3, 3.1 and 3.2)
- It’s “supernatural”
So, when you are thinking of that thing you once saw, before you conclude it was an actual “impossible thing”, first you need to run through a serious thought process about it. Could you have mis-perceived it initially? Or filled in mental gaps based on what you expected to see? Did someone have something to gain by tricking you? And have you embellished your memory over time, to the point where what you remember now really might not be what you saw initially?
Suppose that you have run through all those possibilities, and still have not come up with a plausible explanation. Then you are left with two possibilities that I can think of. Either it actually fell under one of the above categories but you couldn’t figure it out, or it was ‘supernatural”. (Remember probability, which of those is most likely?)
So, finally, if you have still come to the conclusion that the thing you saw might actually be supernatural”, we have the problem of defining that term. Like “spirituality”, it’s a word that people throw around all the time, but when asked for a straightforward definition, they either can’t define it, or define it in terms of other vague undefined concepts, which isn’t helpful. Here’s my working definition of “supernatural”: We live in a four dimensional space-time universe of matter and energy, governed by predictable physical forces. That’s the “natural world”. “Supernatural” would be something that is not that, either wholly or in part.
For us to detect something “supernatural”, it would have to have the ability to interact with our physical world in some way. Even if that’s just deflecting some photons, or causing an EM disruption, or just planting a thought in somebody’s brain, all of those things are interactions with our physical world. Any being that is completely unable to interact with our world would be totally undetectable and therefore irrelevant.
To be sure that something is really supernatural, you’d have to examine it in a way that eliminates all of the other possibilities we have already discussed. Since the real world is so messy, the best way we can be sure is to do carefully controlled examinations, where we reduce the variables down to just the thing we are examining and eliminate cheating. Of course, a fleeting “ghostly vision” isn’t going to be easy to catch in a lab experiment! Lots of investigators have worked to pin down something “supernatural”, to where we could get a look at it, and actually say something coherent about it. Alas, the better the controls are on your experiment, the more the “supernatural” aspect goes away. The JREF has had a standing ONE MILLION DOLLAR prize to anyone who can demonstrate something supernatural under conditions controlled to eliminate cheating and wishful thinking. So far no one has even passed the first round of tests. Does this mean there isn’t any such thing? Well, no, but given the results so far, I’m not holding my breath.