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The Church of James Randi, Scientist

Date: 18-Sep-2006/14:05+3:00


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One of the reasons I want to speak with someone in a dream and then contact them in real life would be to practice actual telepathy. If we could be asleep and still talk to each other, we could (for instance) set about claiming the Million Dollar James Randi Prize for demonstrated paranormal ability.
Then I stopped and thought: is that even what I would do?
If I felt motivated, I could make a million dollars in traditional business. For someone with a sharp mind, it's not so hard...that is, if you don't care a whole lot about the implications of your actions. All you need to do is notice some loophole or profit differential (e.g. how much plastic crap in China costs to make vs. how much someone in America will pay for plastic crap). If there's no law against it, you "win".
So why would anyone subject themselves to being a lab rat in order to prove an aspect of the paranormal? I suppose the paranormal talent may not be possible to exploit for profit, and you really want the money. But for me the motivation would be to try and get scientists to stop mistreating people who are often less educated, but who are having a different set of experiences and thus need broader theories to explain it.
But that's not what would happen.
Imagine a child who has a slight sense of hearing, born to deaf parents in an all-deaf world, who somehow manages to demonstrate their ability has value. They'd get prodded and poked and have brain scans and get electrodes stuck on them. Science would quickly start crowing about the real accomplishment--the discovery of sound waves. The idea of "being able to see when your back is turned" would be dismissed as a category error; no one ever saw with their back turned. Therefore, science was right all along! All the hearing people in the past--who may have been suffering from a din of noises they couldn't interpret--would be given no reparations. The process for evaluating the next claim would not be done in any more humane a way.
Science isn't the problem, of course--on the contrary, it is the process that has emerged for building consensus that should be the cornerstone of respect. The problem is treating people who have experiences different than you like crap...assuming a priori that they are idiots if they can't (or don't) translate their experiences into your model. There's been a tremendous budget behind several of science's "burden-of-proof" experiments...atom smashers and space rockets. But there's only a shoestring budget behind evaluating lucid dreaming and its implications. (In 1977 LD was "proven", by the way, to be real--and not a figment of the dreamer's imagination upon waking. Of course, it was already widely believed to be real among those who grant the likely legitimacy of large numbers of firsthand testimony; only the scientific community hadn't been sufficiently convinced.)
James Randi seems like a decent enough guy. He really believes that he's doing a service for the world by discrediting various fields of the paranormal. I think discrediting anyone who lies and cheats, whether their methods are scientific or unscientific, is totally great. Is he going to bust a professional physicist for lying to his neighbors? A "reputable" plastic surgeon for promoting unnecessary breast implants?
I don't want a million dollars. I want a better world. So James Randi needs explain how--if his challenge is won--he'd have a less polarizing and invalidating way of addressing the varied internal phenomenologies of the world's people that he does not--personally--experience. One might presume that he'd be humbled a bit by a kickass demonstration of some talent he'd never heard of, but all I see is an offer to pony up some cash. That's nice (and who wouldn't want it?) but this challenge should be about more than that.
If it isn't about more than that, then I don't see why anyone with the chops to actually take his challenge would want to do it. It's just a trap.
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The accounts written here are as true as I can manage. While the words are my own, they are not independent creative works of fiction —in any intentional way. Thus I do not consider the material to be protected by anything, other than that you'd have to be crazy to want to try and use it for genuine purposes (much less disingenuous ones!) But who's to say?