Sunday, December 02, 2007

Responding to Skepticism: 4.

I note towards the end of your post you agree that skepticism is vital and that you support it. This is good. But I will remind you that the opposite of skepticism is credulous gullibility. Don't fall into the trap of believing everything you read or hear.

I believe nothing. I’m always looking for alternative explanations. There might be an absolutely perfect ghost photo or video out there somewhere, among all those pictures of camera straps, breath and dust. I’ll look at them all but always with that ‘What else could it be?’ thought. Most times there is an answer. Once in a while there isn’t an obvious answer. That might be paranormal, or it might be something I haven’t thought of. I haven’t found a ‘Yes!’, but I’ve found quite a few ‘Maybe’.

Like the Valentown ghost footage. I couldn’t immediately see how it could have been faked, but commenters pointed out how it could be done. Looking into it, there are other ways it could have been done. That does not mean it was faked, but it does mean it could have been. It’s a ‘maybe’. It’s not proof because, even if it’s genuine, there are ways to reproduce it using technology. Proof will only be proof when there is no way to fake it. The trouble is, as video technology progresses, it’s getting easier to fake images and therefore harder to use images as proof. Levitating objects appear in movies all the time. I can’t see the strings, and I’m looking for them. Making things float around, making men appear to fly – easy. So faking a film of an outline of a man is no effort at all, which means a genuine film won’t stand up as proof.

Why not look for bosons and gravitons? At least we can see worthwhile applications.

I’m not a physicist. I’m interested in the subject but I have no training in that field. They’re not likely to let me near a cyclotron. What are the applications for bosons and gravitons, anyway? If they’re ever found, they’re already doing what they do. They’ll give particles mass and stick them together whether we find them or not. I had the impression that the search for these particles was a matter of making equations balance. Nothing wrong with that, it’s what science should be doing in my view, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to an application.

Ghosts - well no one has even managed to define one for research purposes, yet. Let alone find usefulness for them.

That’s the catch-22. We can’t define what a ghost is made of until we study one. We can’t study their nature until we have a machine that can detect them. We can’t make the machine until we know what to detect—what they’re made of. It’s not an unusual situation. Most of the things science studies start out that way. We pick at it and pick at it until we get hold of a loose thread, then we start unravelling.

Unfortunately, most of the first threads just come away in our fingers. Ectoplasm, it turns out, is a load of crap. Invented by fake mediums in the nineteenth century. A dead end (excuse pun) and not the only one. There is still no substance we can analyse to work out what we're investigating. I hope there will be, in my lifetime and hell yes - I hope I'm the one to find it. That's not going to happen if I stop, if I retrain in physics and join the boson hunt. Would that be any improvement anyway? Perhaps the boson won't be found in my lifetime either.

Usefulness? I'm not looking for a use. I'm looking because I want to know, and because I want to prove. If that leads to some sort of application, well and good, but it's not my aim.


Dikkii said...

That was a great post, Rom. 4 stars.

I should respond to a couple of things, though.

Firstly, I'm not a physicist, either. Yet even with my scant knowledge of particle physics (nil) even I know that an elementary knowledge of this stuff has enormous applications outside of egg-head world. Wikipedia is good for this sort of sciency stuff.

Secondly, you wrote this:

That’s the catch-22. We can’t define what a ghost is made of until we study one. We can’t study their nature until we have a machine that can detect them. We can’t make the machine until we know what to detect—what they’re made of.

While I think I know what you mean by a "ghost", and I think you know what I mean by "ghost", the whole thing breaks down on the finer detail. I suspect that we, along with everyone else, have wildly different definitions. This is relevant.

The normal way to get full agreement on this kind of thing is to arbitrarily assign your new hypothesis as to the cause of a particular phenomenon a name. This could be "ghost", but I would suggest that you use something different. I'll call it a "Qwoj".

I propose that you call it something different to "ghost" because future disambiguation from what we currently know as a ghost (at a high level) may be necessary. And this sort of thing is always messy.

Now the next step is to further research the qwoj so that you can assign some lower level characteristics to it. No ectoplasm? Yeah. Write that down.

By this point, you may be looking at something that may not even resemble what you currently know as a "ghost".

But then, is that a problem?

Once again, a good post.

Romulus Crowe said...

Ghost, spectre, phantom, spirit, wraith - all interchangeable these days. I don't think assigning the name is too important, myself.

I agree it might turn out to be something other than what I think it is, but that's not a problem. When presenting the work for publication, I'd most likely use the term 'ghost' because that's something people can understand. It covers a whole range of different phenomena, some of which have no intelligent being involved for sure, others which might have, and some that certainly seem to.

If I succeed in defining one of these phenomena, then I get to name it. Until then, I'll leave it as 'ghost', because there's already far too much jargon in science.

You've also set me wondering whether the detectors for those particles will ever be portable. You never know...

Southern Writer said...

Bravo to you, Rom, for a level-headed debate. Personally, I have NO patience with people like Dikkii. My second husband was a sophist, capable of making any argument appear to be the stronger one, then he could turn around and argue the other side and do the same. After a while, that crap just gets old. Sometimes I only want to be, to let life, or experience, or phenomena flow over me and appreciate the moment. I know; not scientific. Although what someone believes carries no weight in science, I do believe that St. Augustine had it right: Trying to fathom the mysteries of the universe is like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. Keep fighting the good fight. I hope when I die I can contribute to that Nobel Prize for you.

Romulus Crowe said...

St. Augustine was right. We are trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. Sometimes we get lucky and a whole bucketful comes loose at once, but mostly information comes a little at a time.

There's an enormous amount left in that ocean. I have to admit to impatience with scientists ho think their personal teaspoonful is all there is to know.

I had a discussion once with another scientist - senior to me at the time - on the possibility of extra dimensions of space. No dice. He had three dimensions of space and one of time in his head, and that was that. He wasn't a physicist, fortunately for him, or he'd be way behind the rest of them by now. Even so, he was closed to all subjects but his own.

Some skeptics, including some who are scientists, aren't real skeptics. A real skeptic asks difficult questions and won't be fobbed off with half-answers. They are useful: they keep science from getting complacent. However, a real skeptic will, when faced with a convincing argument (in the absence of absolute proof), at least accept the possibility they might be wrong.

A fundamentalist skeptic enters the argument with the conviction that he is right and you are wrong. You might as well argue about God with the Southern Baptist Church. It's futile.

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