What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Thursday, October 05, 2006
Or just plain wrong

As readers of this blog might gather - my September 29, 2006 comments being a prime example - I don’t have much faith in beliefs that are based on blind faith. I’m much more comfortable with scientific evidence and in what is indicated by the lack of scientific evidence.

Nonetheless, I have always viewed the views of the Amazing Randi with a jaundiced eye. Randi is a professional magician who is also a self-appointed "debunker" of claims of the paranormal. He has an existing "million dollar challenge" to anyone who, subject to a set of conditions that he imposes - can prove that he or she has some paranormal power. Since he sets the rules, I guess he’ll never give away the million dollars - unless there’s a second coming of Jesus in need of a fast buck.

Probably his most famous "debunking" case was that of duplicating the spoon bending feat of Uri Geller. Geller claimed he could bend spoons through the power of mind only - I guess what you might call a paranormal power. Randi bent spoons using a simple magic trick. Well good for Randi. But did his trick debunk Geller’s claims?

I remember hearing Randi guest on a local radio talk show in Chicago and waiting for the program host to ask the obvious question. Does the fact that you can duplicate an effect that someone claims is paranormal - such as Geller’s spoon bending - prove that it is not? In other words, just because you can make water boil - or create the illusion of water boiling - through some elaborately created and performed magic trick - does that disprove anyone’s claim who does the same "trick" - that they do it through the power of their mind?

Randi and his efforts to remove all sense of mystery from our lives comes to mind because of a newspaper item I read the other day - headline - Out-of-body experiences traced to brain zaps. To me, nothing is more intriguing or mysterious than the concept of being able to "leave" ones body - thus offering some measure of proof that ones "self" can exist as a separate entity from ones body. This of course is a concept that is essential to those who believe in a "life" after death.

Now we have a bunch of party pooper scientists saying hey - it’s just some zapping going on in your brain that makes you think you’re out of your body. They’re following in the tradition of other party pooping scientists who say that people who have near death experiences - the white light and all the other trappings - are just having a spring shower going on in their brain.

I’m all for the advance of scientific knowledge and I think it’s great that doctors can zap someone’s brain and make them think that they’ve left their body - maybe floating up near the ceiling and looking down on themselves. What I think would be an even greater achievement would be if they could ask the person they’re zapping if he or she could go down to the men’s room and then come back and tell them who was there and what conversation, if any, was going on. I haven’t heard about that kind of experiment but I am aware that there are countless anecdotal stories of people having out of body experiences without the benefit of being zapped - and being able to report on happenings beyond the range of the senses of their physical bodies. Of course those are occurrences that can’t be examined by conducting double blind studies. They’re anecdotal. But that doesn’t mean they’re not true.

So I do not consider that any balloons have been burst by the findings of medical brain zappers. Like The Amazing Randi, they may have been able to duplicate a version of what humans have been experiencing and reporting anecdotally for centuries, but that doesn’t mean that the anecdotally reported experiences are not real or cannot occur without the aid of brain zapping.

While I’m not one who believes in a deity who is responsible for all that is and all that happens, I am one who believes that the totality of our knowledge about anything could perhaps fill a postage stamp size page in a set of cosmic encyclopedias - and that the number of volumes that would be required to list our ignorance cannot be expressed in understandable mathematical terms.

This year, the Nobel Prize in physics was shared by two scientists "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation". Apparently, their "discovery" boosted understanding of and belief in the "Big Bang" theory of the origin of the cosmos.

And whenever I read of such leaps of scientific understanding, I smile, click on this link that I keep in a handy spot on my desk top, sit back, close my eyes and give thanks that in this age of party pooping medical brain zappers trying to use science to do away with the beauty of mystery, we have Eric Idle to remind us of just how wrong they most probably are.