Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More discussion.

More response to Dikkii. This argument's petering out, I think. Anyone else want to chime in?


...you’re going to have to make some calls that you won’t like.

This includes acceptance of more mundane explanations for anything other than repeatable sightings.


I do that all the time. I’m not at all interested in orb sightings, and those rods had been demonstrated to be insects before I even found out about them. You assume I’m starting from the premise that every investigation is a real haunting. I am not. I start looking for alternative explanations from the moment I hear the first report. Flickering lights? Check the wiring in the switch first. That’s very common among older UK houses. You can ‘exorcise’ that one with a screwdriver.


In other words, you are, for example, going to have to explain how you are 100% convinced that someone wasn’t, for example, hallucinating when they saw something.

I can’t be convinced about that. Ever. Someone else’s sighting might lead me to look into the matter, but there needs to be more than one sighting, and by different people. One thing I have in common with Randi, I suppose – you won’t convince me 100% unless I see it for myself. Except I’m not offering a million dollars.


Explaining why you are 100% convinced that there was no hoaxes perpetrated.

That takes a looong time. Example: nowadays I’m not much interested in those hotel haunts unless it’s really spectacular. Haunts are good for business, and in a hotel there are too many rooms and cupboards for someone to hide in and tap the walls, or moan through the vents. That doesn’t mean all their ghosts are fakes, of course, but it means it’s extremely hard to be certain there’s no fakery going on. Almost impossible to reach 100% certainty, I’d say. With no chance of reaching certainty, there's no point investigating. Hotels will need a full apparition, seen by multiple people, before I'll pay for a room.


Optical illusions, corneal imperfections, lights, mirrors, carbon monoxide poisoning etc. You have to explain away each of these possibilities explicitly. Even then, you won’t catch all of them.

Optical illusions are extremely common. Lens flare, film imperfections, a leaky camera (red lines on film, usually), reflections from dust, breath, mirrors, and any other polished surface, floaters in the eye (I have these so I recognize the symptoms), too slow shutter speed so moving lights form streaks… the list grows by the day. Digital cameras have caused a flood of new artifacts. Doesn’t make life easy.


You should immediately dismiss anything that is not regularly repeated.

Your comments suggest that you think I, and anyone else interested in the subject, is a gullible idiot. I’ve covered all these points and more on the blog. I’ve even documented a couple of my own ‘failures’, although they weren’t failures from a scientific point of view. I found an explanation, there was a conclusion, it just wasn’t paranormal.


You also have to accept that you are prone to error and that you can be affected personally by, for example, the four H's - hysteria, hypnogogia, hoax and hallucination. I personally get the odd hypnogogic hallucination from time to time, but I only have myself to blame for that.

Me? Prone to error? Seriously, I’ve never had an hysterical reaction to anything, but I’ve seen many. There’s also the common mistake that I made myself in my early days – going out for a night’s investigation after a full and active day. Very, very bad idea. By dawn, everything looks alive. Hypnogogia occurs as you fall asleep or wake up, but fatigue can cause hallucinations, and worse, it can make you very open to suggestions. I’ll post about that – it happens a lot. Hoax, I think I’ve made my position clear on that one.


We all hear so much about haunted houses. I lived in one for 5 years. Didn’t hear so much as a bump in the night. But the previous occupants swear blind that ghostly apparitions regularly appeared on an almost weekly basis. You have to accept that people can and do make exaggerated claims.

Well, of course I accept that. I’ve already said as much. Every story gets embellished because, let’s face it, a set of footsteps doesn’t sound too impressive. Easily explained by cooling structures in any building. So you get ‘it touched me’, which often you can replicate by simple and definitely non-paranormal means. Okay, it doesn’t prove the subject wasn’t touched, but it does show that they could have mistaken something simple for a touch. Ever sat in front of your computer and felt a touch to your head? A lock of hair shifting will do that. I will admit to a certain malicious delight in pretending to call up the ghost, and asking for a repeat touch on the subject (who has their eyes closed). I always admit it afterwards, naturally.

I’m not going to ask where the house is because from what you say, it’s not going to be interesting. If I found it while the previous occupants were in place, I’d have to find out a lot about them. Do they drink? Take drugs? Have they placed heavy furniture against a non-supporting wall? When did they last bleed the radiators? Many, many questions before I settle in for a night. I actually have a radiator bleed key in my equipment case, because I’m amazed at how many people don’t realize you need to do that.



All of this is mandatory before you can even begin to consider your classic (or even non-standard) ghost story. And when you do, it has to be repeatable.

I think we’ve come full circle. You’re not saying anything I haven’t already answered.


Even then, only a demonstration in front of skeptical bunch of onlookers will convince anyone.

Exactly true. I started out debunking fake mediums. It was easy work, daytime, in warm places. I could have carried on, there are plenty left and now they’re even on the TV. Then I experienced just such a ‘demonstration’.

I’ve experienced more since. No point going into details because just like photos or videos, relating a singlet observation proves nothing. It’s bad science. All it would do is let you label me ‘credulous woo-merchant’, and that would be a reasonable thing to do in those circumstances.

My position is currently this. I know there’s something that science hasn’t documented that’s capable of producing inexplicable events. It’s capable of producing an image of a human, and of interacting with people. My working hypothesis, based on my own observation, is that these are dead people. I can’t produce proof of any of the above so am wide open to anyone who wants to have a little chortle behind their fingers. Can’t be helped.

It’s a phenomenon. I’ve experienced it. I’m a scientist, have been for a long time. I can’t just let it go. Sure, I might go to my grave without finding proof, although then I’ll know for certain but it’ll be too late to tell anyone. Perhaps my funeral will be surrounded by chortlers. Perhaps my headstone will read ‘Here lies Romulus Crowe. He was nuts.’ Too bad. I’ve observed something unusual and I’m not going to just drop it.

If you haven’t observed anything like it yourself, then sure, go ahead and call me a gullible moron. Why not? I used the term an awful lot myself in the past, on an awful lot of people. Turns out one or two weren’t quite as gullible as I thought. Most still are.

The problem is, even if I could arrange a demonstration to a bunch of skeptical onlookers, I would only convince those present. If you weren’t present, you wouldn’t believe them, no matter who they were. If I did this, and Randi was present, and convinced, what do you think the skeptics would say?

‘Romulus Crowe, the man who finally Proved IT’, or

‘Romulus Crowe, the man who managed to fool James Randi’.

Be honest. Which would you say?

I could go that route. I could set myself up as some kind of evangelist skeptic-convincer and drag you all out on investigations, one by one, until you see something. That could take a long, long time, and what would be the point? You might be convinced, but who’s going to believe you? Showing people one at a time is a daft way to proceed.

Slow and steady accumulation of data. Filtering out the definite crap, of which there is an extraordinary amount. Both eyes always open in case of hoax, because some are very, very good. Every day brings a new possibility of mistaken identity or misunderstanding. The list of ‘wrong’ grows, and eventually I’ll have it whittled down to the remaining ‘very likely’ instances.

That’s when the real work will start.

5 comments:

Dikkii said...

Well I don't really know what to say. I can say that I don't agree that I consider you to be gullible, or even credulous.

Let alone a moron.

So far, I have the impression that you know what needs to be considered, and that you know under what circumstances you can start to possibly accept a ghost-like hypothesis as being even under consideration.

If anything, I get the impression that you want to believe, but this is OK. The fact that you believe that you've "experienced it", though, would have most skeptics saying "Experienced what?"

I've had extremely vivid dreams where I was convinced that I was in the head of other people and thinking their thoughts.

Some who've had this experience are convinced that they've "experienced it", however I am not going to accept any hypotheses other than "dream" without extraordinary evidence.

For me, to do anything else would require, not just a leap of faith, but also a variety of conditions to be met.

‘Romulus Crowe, the man who finally Proved IT’, or

‘Romulus Crowe, the man who managed to fool James Randi’.


I think that there is a third option. "More research is required."

This is the most likely outcome. Sadly, it would be after your lifetime before you became known as "the father of spectral studies."

And yeah. Some skeptics will question whether you just fooled the judges. But that's where repeatability backs you up. If it can be repeated, then you are in the clear on this.

I wish you good luck, but I have to say that I would rather go to the beach.

Romulus Crowe said...

The fact that you believe that you've "experienced it", though, would have most skeptics saying "Experienced what?"

The first thought in a skeptic's head is 'No, you didn't'. The first thought in anyone who believes in, or has seen a ghost is 'Oh, yes, that's right'. It doesn't really matter what you say after the first line, the decision is made. That's why anecdotal evidence is worthless. Everyone hearing 'I've experienced...' has already made up their minds. I can say for sure I wasn't asleep, drugged, overtired or hysterical.


Some who've had this experience are convinced that they've "experienced it", however I am not going to accept any hypotheses other than "dream" without extraordinary evidence.

No, you shouldn't. Nobody should. As I don't accept the existence of UFO's unless I see one.

If I told those stories, many people would stick me in the 'crank' folder, but many others would simply believe them. I'd eventually develop a following of acolytes, convinced that I'm some great New Age Icon. Weirdie beardies in sandals would chant my name through candle smoke. Nobody else would ever take me seriously - I'd be 'the guy those loonies follow'.

I hate those people.

If everyone believed me, you know what would happen? I'd stop trying. It's inevitable. Why try, when everyone's convinced? Might as well don a kaftan and light up the ganja pipe.

Science needs skeptics. Hardcore, unmovable skeptics who will question every little detail of everything they hear. Otherwise, the whole process will grind to a halt.

On the other hand, the skeptics have to play fair too. There must be a point at which they say 'Well, okay, that's proven'.

It's okay to then go on to say 'But what about...'

Science works best under constant pressure, I think.

Southern Writer said...

I think Dikkii is someone who visits a writer's forum I go to, under a different name. There are three or four people there who claim to be scientists, and they have the same attitude. But what gives him away is the way he keeps beating a dead horse. You're right, it becomes a circular argument. He just can't let it go. He'll still be here a month from now, a year from now, ten years from now, arguing the same points over and over unless you block him (ignoring him is not enough; he's so self-important, and loves to hear himself talk). A good debate is one thing, but when a person cannot concede a single point (he claims in several places to know what you're thinking or intending), he becomes an insufferable bore. I'm glad Tom confessed to sending this guy to your blog, otherwise, I'd be afraid I might have cursed you with this plague.

Romulus Crowe said...

I won't block anyone - but I do need to be cautious about those 'anonymous' comments.

Dikkii, at least, completed the discussion without once resorting to abuse. For that, he has my respect. I don't think he'll ever be convinced unless he comes face to face with a ghost. Well, can't argue with that. Perhaps it'll happen. Many ghost reports come from people who previously either didn't believe in ghosts or who had never thought about the subject. So you never know.

The thing is, all these skeptics ever see or hear about are the TV shows and sensationalist reports. There are many, many scientists out there working on subjects I've never heard of, and there are scientists working on the paranormal that the skeptics don't know about. The skeptics never hear about those scientists because they're not in the news. There's a lot happening behind the scenes. It won't make news because the scientific way of doing things is, essentially, very slow, repetetive and dull. Plus, in the current climate, it doesn't do a scientific career any good to be openly associated with the paranormal.

These skeptics won't see any of this until the respective scientists have solid data to present. Until then, they can scoff at the TV shows all they want. I've scoffed at those shows too.

Southern Writer said...

You're right. I should apologize to Dikkii. Sorry, Dikkii. I suppose I'm taking out some of my frustration with other people on you.

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