0808: "The Economic Argument"

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WingedWolfPsion
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby WingedWolfPsion » Wed Oct 27, 2010 12:10 pm UTC

So, what you're saying is, anyone sane ignores small probabilities and draws a firm conclusion about things which are not entirely proven? I disagree, sorry, lol.

It's one thing to assume gravity exists, due to overwhelming evidence that it does--it's another thing to claim that it is 100% proven and we should therefore have absolute faith in it, and anyone who doesn't must be nuts. I would say, the opposite is true. The latter conclusion requires a faith-based mentality which ignores reality. Do you sincerely believe that being able to entertain the idea that what we know of gravity MIGHT still be incorrect makes a person insane? Even though it's true?

Yeah, that is worse than the newage folks who believe absolutely in metaphysics--at least they are being honest.

There have been tests of dowsing, and many other things, which yielded results that were significantly different from random chance. Averaging all of these different tests would be horribly bad science, since they were not structured in the same ways, did not test the same individuals, and did not contain the same numbers of people. You must understand, one of the biggest flaws in many of these experiments is the assumption that if one person can do something like that, everyone can. That isn't true of anything else in life, so it can't be assumed true for this, either. But skepticultists ignore this...they even engage in the worst possible error, that of averaging results from tests that yield positive results above statistical norm with negative results below statistical norm. Good researchers realize that both are significant. Good researchers also realize that the people involved in the tests matter, that the way the test affects psychology matters, and that for the most part, sample sizes have been abysmally small for most of these tests.

The more people you add to the test, the closer to chance the results get...which is also exactly what you would expect if only a few individuals were showing aberrant results. It's been bad science all along. Bad science whether it yields positive OR negative results. That's why it remains inconclusive. Average enough people's medical records, and symptoms of most rare diseases disappear, too. Statistics can be misused.

There is no clear evidence of dowsing. There is also no clear evidence against dowsing, which was my point. You can't claim the tests that show some positive results are flawed, so should be ignored, and then turn around and say that equally flawed tests that show no better successes than chance are valid evidence. They are not. Until this is TRULY properly tested, with common sense variables accounted for, and a LARGE sample of people who have shown positive results in the past (yes, they do exist), you have no idea whether or not there's anything to it. If you can't get anything significant after 100 tries over the course of a couple years with the best possible sample group (containing at least 1000 people selected from previous tests due to aberrant results), then you can put it to rest, but that has not been done. Not even close. If it takes less than that to satisfy you, you're too easy to please. If less than that is enough to cause you to have faith in the nonexistence of such phenomena, then you are a skepticultist...you're following the religion of disbelief. Belief, disbelief--it's all the same thing, when it's absolute.

It's amazing how upset people get when you tell them that they don't know something...much less when you tell them that they don't know anything. But, that's reality--all we have are probabilities, and not a SINGLE absolute anywhere. Every time we think we know how reality works, science throws another wrench in the gears, and makes us let go of some dearly held law or theory, and replace it with something else. To believe that cannot happen with THIS...well, that requires a LOT of faith (and a lot of ignoring the past).

Believing that it could happen is not the same as believing that it will happen...some folks seem to have trouble with that concept, too.

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uncivlengr
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby uncivlengr » Wed Oct 27, 2010 12:23 pm UTC

WingedWolfPsion wrote:It's one thing to assume gravity exists, due to overwhelming evidence that it does--it's another thing to claim that it is 100% proven and we should therefore have absolute faith in it, and anyone who doesn't must be nuts. I would say, the opposite is true. The latter conclusion requires a faith-based mentality which ignores reality. Do you sincerely believe that being able to entertain the idea that what we know of gravity MIGHT still be incorrect makes a person insane? Even though it's true?

You're conflating certainty in models and understanding of a particular phenomenon, and the existence of the actual phenomenon.

We know the phenomenon we call gravity exists as much as we know the universe exists. That we don't have a model that we can be certain represents the behaviour of gravity is another matter entirely. The way you confuse the two is like saying because I don't know who dinged the door of my car, I can't really be sure that the dent exists.

...and no, I don't think your ridiculous notions make you insane, I think they point to other intellectual challenges, though. Of that I'm 110% certain. Foe'd.
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HungryHobo
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby HungryHobo » Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:50 pm UTC

uncivlengr wrote:...and no, I don't think your ridiculous notions make you insane, I think they point to other intellectual challenges, though. Of that I'm 110% certain. Foe'd.


I'm gonna go with the foe option too.
this guy is just too much of a troll and has failed to produce any data whatsoever supporting any of his claims of magic but just repeats that tripe about "never 100% certain" as if he thinks it's some kind of new idea or automatically wins him an argument rather than something everyone has to deal with all of the time in every field.
It's funny how the things he believes in are obviously true (no matter that nothing can ever be 100% provern ) but everything he disagrees with can never be certain.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby lewikee » Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:41 pm UTC

I think a good study of dowsing would have to be one that conducts a large number of tests for each claimant, and would make sure not to merge results between claimants. Since I think people on both sides of the issue can agree that there exist many claimed dowsers who (for various reasons) are not true dowsers, to in any way merge their results would make the true dowsers' successes be lost in the sea of fake dowsers' failures.

What I find odd is that we have yet to find a single person who consistently performs above random chance. Remember that all we need is one single person, and science will be forced to admit there exists a phenomenon there that is not understood.

Let's put aside Randi's tests, who many say (perhaps wrongly) is so skeptical, that he biases his tests in his favor. Putting that aside, imagine what a fantastic contribution to science it would be to find a single person who has an obvious dowsing ability.

One could claim that the dowser might not want to be famous or be interested in contributing to science (or want a chance at $1,000,000). But if this dowsing phenomenon were true, why wouldn't there have at least been a single fame-loving person to step forward and demonstrate their ability to be consistently performing above random chance?

Or does the ability to dowse automatically come with the desire for anonymity?

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:29 pm UTC

Just to chime in with the same epistemological point I keep making in every thread that gets to this point:

WingedWolfPoison et al (hereafter "the believers") have a bit of a point in the "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" / "the burden of proof lies in the middle" direction. Just because something hasn't been shown to happen doesn't per se show that it does not happen, unless you (the skeptics) can show otherwise that it cannot happen. This means that, in the strictest epistemological sense, the believers are permissively justified (i.e. not epistemically wrong) in believing in whatever paranormal or controversial phenomenon we're talking about here.

However, that does not mean that the believers have any kind of argument that others (e.g. the skeptics) should believe in these phenomena. In the absence of proof either direction, all both sides are justified in saying is "your argument is unpersuasive, and I am justified in maintaining my current beliefs", and both sides are correct in doing so, even though their beliefs conflict.

However however, there are shades of certainty, of epistemic probability; there's not just "certainly this way" and "completely unknown". In this case, we have models of reality which we have reason to believe are probably close to correct, and those models say that certain kinds of phenomena do not occur. Those models, like all models, are of course tentative, and if the phenomena in question were conclusively shown to occur, then we would have to revise those models to account for those phenomena. But, as it stands, weighing the evidence of whether these phenomena occur at all, most of us who have not personally experienced the phenomenon should rationally start at a default position of "maybe it occurs, I don't know", and quickly move to "but it probably doesn't, because that's inconsistent with our best model of reality so far". But even that doesn't make it epistemically wrong to believe in it: you can rationally hold a belief you know to be epistemically improbable, so long as it is not epistemically impossible. It just means you are holding a belief which has a good chance of being wrong; but almost every substantial belief has some chance of being wrong, so believing more improbable things is a difference if degree, not of kind.

As for those who have personally experienced the phenomena, they of course have a different set of evidence to go off of, and might rightly conclude that the phenomenon does occur; but unless you (believers) can share that evidence with the skeptics, then they are justified in retaining their "maybe, but probably not" position, even if you (believers) really do know better first-hand. And finally, the skeptics have a lot of good points to make about why you believers perhaps should not rationally interpret your personal experiences in the way you have: not discounting your experience itself, but discounting the evidential significance you have assigned to that experience. (Compare the sports star with a superstition about his lucky left sock. He has a certain experience of wins and losses when wearing or not wearing that sock; but the true evidential significance of that experience is usually not enough to rationally justify the superstition he has developed around it).
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby uncivlengr » Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:57 pm UTC

The thing is, we don't just rely on theoretical models to decide whether or not dowsing works - we can observe the fact that it doesn't work quite easily. To use my previoius analogy, I don't need to know who might have dinged my car door to observe whether or not a scratch exists.

Furthermore, if I'm standing in the parking lot and say, "look at this scratch on my door, it must have been Harry!", and everyone that looks at the door doesn't see any scratch at all, the discussion of whether it was Harry, Bill, or a falling tree branch is irrelevent. I should reconsider why it would be that nobody else is seeing what I see.

If a dowser is the subject of a controlled experiment and finds that the phenomenon they claim to have observe apparently doesn't work the way they believe, and on top of that, an established phenomenon is provided that does explain their experiences (the ideomotor effect), then that person has no logical grounds to continue to believe in dowsing. There are circumstances when one should question their interpretation of their personal experiences.

edit: to use an example, consider optical illusions. We recognize in those instances that our experiences are being deceived - nobody is justified in saying that because they observed the lines in a picture curving, they can deny the explanations of others that show that the lines are straight, and demonstrate how our eyes are deceived by the image. Even though I can't look at the optical illusion and not see the lines as curved, I can still accept the notion that my experience is flawed.

Dowsing, rather than being an optical illusion, could be considered a tactical illusion - the experience is that some unknown force guides the stick/coat hanger, and it's very, very compelling, but the reality is that it's an ideomotor effect.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Oct 27, 2010 8:17 pm UTC

(Disclaimer: I don't believe in dowsing or any of the other pseudoscientific phenomena under discussion here, nor am I trying to convince anyone else that they should "give it a chance" or whatever. I'm just talking espistemology abstractly: I think the paranormal believers here raise a few valid epistemological points but then try to use them to support more than they can bear).

uncivlengr wrote:The thing is, we don't just rely on theoretical models to decide whether or not dowsing works - we can observe the fact that it doesn't work quite easily.

No, we simply don't observe dowsing working, which is different from observing it not working. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

To use my previoius analogy, I don't need to know who might have dinged my car door to observe whether or not a scratch exists.

I like your analogy, but it doesn't quite fit here, because with dowsing you are not-observing something (which doesn't prove that it is not there), whereas with the ding in your door you are observing something (which does prove it is there). A better analogy, similar to what you said after this, would be "I haven't seen any dings in my door, so I see no reason to explain who put them there". Doesn't mean there are no dings in your car; maybe there are some you haven't noticed. Meanwhile someone else is saying "there definitely is one there, I've seen it!", and you say "ok then show it to me"... and then they get all squirrely, or point at things which are clearly not dings. And you have very thoroughly looked over your car and seen no sign of dings anywhere. So you can say there there are very, very probably no dings in your car; it is practically certain that there are none. But there is still a technical possibility that you missed one.

If a dowser is the subject of a controlled experiment and finds that the phenomenon they claim to have observe apparently doesn't work the way they believe, and on top of that, an established phenomenon is provided that does explain their experiences (the ideomotor effect), then that person has no logical grounds to continue to believe in dowsing.

They have practically no grounds to continue to believe in dowsing. In any empirical question there is always some possibility that you have missed something, some relevant factor that was not controlled for, some imprecision or inaccuracy in your measurements, etc. The best you can ever do is bring that possibility down to a negligible probability. Which I agree is the case with dowsing, etc: they very, very probably do not work. But there is still an ever-so-slight possibility that they do.

And more to the point, until the believers have been through all the rigorous examination of their beliefs and seen just how slight that possibility is, they are not so unjustified in holding their beliefs in these phenomena, even if we know how very likely is is that those beliefs are incorrect.

There are circumstances when one should question their interpretation of their personal experiences

Agreed entirely; that was the whole final point of my last post.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Wed Oct 27, 2010 8:26 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
uncivlengr wrote:The thing is, we don't just rely on theoretical models to decide whether or not dowsing works - we can observe the fact that it doesn't work quite easily.

No, we simply don't observe dowsing working, which is different from observing it not working. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Unless you're suggesting that dowsing can work without us noticing, this kind of distinction simply doesn't work. To mimic your analogy: the water bottle on my desk is empty; there is no evidence of water's presence. Because water is plainly evident when it is present, absence of its evidence is evidence of its absence; I can reasonably conclude that water is absent from the bottle.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby uncivlengr » Wed Oct 27, 2010 8:37 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote: I'm just talking espistemology abstractly
But nobody is arguing against that - this was what I was referring to before. We don't caveat every single statement we make with an disclaimer on the limitations of human knowledge, along with recoginition that human observations may be subject to errors, because we'd all just go around arguing espistemology and brains in vats instead of actually doing anything.

When someone says they know something, it doesn't necessarily mean they believe that it's been proven with absolute certainty, that they believe any facts can be proven with absolute certainty, or that they cannot be swayed from that belief in any way. It's implied that they have some confidence in whatever statement they're making, based on their limited and flawed brain's interpretation of the limited and flawed experience they've had in their limited and flawed lifetime.

...and yeah, as far as I know, dowsing is supposed to work. If it doesn't work, then when is it supposed to work? When nobody is looking?
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby WingedWolfPsion » Wed Oct 27, 2010 9:38 pm UTC

Here's some info--plenty of references to real research are included in this paper.
http://www.tricksterbook.com/ArticlesOnline/Dowsing.htm

By the way, HOW dowsing works (if it does) is irrelevant. A large part of the problem here is the claim that no positive existence for dowsing exists--but, of course, it does. It's ignored by skepticultists because it does not fit in with their world view. It's more convenient to ignore it.

I also want to briefly mention another point--if these abilities exist, then the majority of people who have them stand to gain nothing by proving the fact publicly. In fact, doing so would be detrimental to their well-being, and would no doubt lead to attempts to pass laws regarding their use, and would certainly spawn homocidal 'witch-hunters' among religious groups. (It doesn't take much to set off the religious right). This just might make it a bit difficult to find people with ability who are willing to take part in these experiments. Test groups will not be random. The more public an experiment, the more open it would be to tampering by those who desire to prevent positive evidence from being collected. Only a fool would want the whole world to know that they have an advantage over other people which those people cannot defend against, and which can only be detected by another person with similar ability. That just wouldn't be good for anyone. Common sense. I'll grant you many people don't have it, but then, many people have a better sense of self-preservation than it might at first seem.

That, on top of the lack of funding and poor design of most experiments (including those with negative results), and I do not believe anyone who has a sound grasp of the scientific method could actually draw a firm conclusion about such things.

I'm a non-believer...I don't believe wholeheartedly in ANYTHING. Most of the folks responding here seem to be disbelievers--they actively disbelieve all paranormal phenomena, and consider those who don't to be 'believers'. The world doesn't work that way, of course...it's a faith-based view to see things in black and white that way. What's amusing is that I'm being called a troll for pointing out that absolute certainty is faith, and that skeptics and skepticultists aren't the same thing and shouldn't be confused with one another. I'm not here to bait anyone, I'm here to encourage people to use logic and think. Initially, I just dropped in to point out that the comic was inaccurate in the information it presented, that's all.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby Eebster the Great » Thu Oct 28, 2010 3:37 am UTC

I am intentionally not reading most of these posts because they are so full of useless banter, but I did notice there was a link posted.

I'll look at that a little but I would like to note that anything from "The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research" is already pretty suspect.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby Faranya » Thu Oct 28, 2010 3:53 am UTC

WingedWolfPsion wrote:I'm not here to bait anyone, I'm here to encourage people to use logic and think.


Except you are not encouraging thought. You are doing exactly the opposite. You are encouraging some bizarre rationalizing to the idea of 'anything is possible' based on some infinite regression in probability. You treat vanishingly small probabilities as equally weighted to overwhelmingly probable scenarios.

It is not 'thinking' about the situation to say 'oh, it might work, but it might not'. There is no thought in that statement. You have basically allowed the world to degenerate to the flip of a coin on any conflicting theories, at least in your own mind.

It's one thing to assume gravity exists, due to overwhelming evidence that it does--it's another thing to claim that it is 100% proven and we should therefore have absolute faith in it, and anyone who doesn't must be nuts. I would say, the opposite is true. The latter conclusion requires a faith-based mentality which ignores reality. Do you sincerely believe that being able to entertain the idea that what we know of gravity MIGHT still be incorrect makes a person insane? Even though it's true?


This is what I'm talking about. Our understanding of gravity might be incorrect, in that it is incomplete. It is unfathomably unlikely to the point of absurdity that everything we know about gravity is wrong, and everything that we have observed throughout human history is wrong. That makes it impossible, merely by the definition of the word. It is absurd, based on everything we know and everything we have done, to suggest that our understanding of gravity is FUNDAMENTALLY wrong. But you have taken an infinitely small probability and given it credence, by dismissing reality as a "faith based" ideal. I do not have faith in gravity. Gravity just is. I do not have faith in the existence of the universe. It simply exists, and yes I am going to hold that a position founding on an infinitely small probability is insane, at the worst, and foolish at best.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu Oct 28, 2010 4:08 am UTC

uncivlengr wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote: I'm just talking espistemology abstractly
But nobody is arguing against that

If that's the case then I guess I just wasted a few paragraphs, but it sounded to me like people were disputing the epistemological principles put forth (however loosely) by Winged et al, rather than simply disputing that those principles alone support their position. That was the purpose of my posts: to defend the epistemological principle that "the burden of proof lies in the middle" (though I would not put it quite like that), while emphasizing that even so, when the tower of evidence stacked up there in the middle is teetering precariously over toward one side, the true believers will need to stack up some equally impressive evidence leaning the other direction in order for it to be a good bet that the evidence will fall on their side, rather than the first.

(And to push this already-strained metaphor to its breaking point, all that evidence in both directions needs to be lashed together, because the stack of evidence can't fall in two directions at once - i.e. reality has to be consistent, when the evidence falls into place, it's got to fall on one side or the other. And also, the stack of evidence never really finishes falling into place, i.e. our knowledge of reality is never complete, so all we're ever really doing is betting on which side the stack of evidence "will" eventually fall on "when" it eventually finishes doing so, even though that time will never actually come, we'll just keep getting arbitrarily closer to it).
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby WingedWolfPsion » Thu Oct 28, 2010 5:33 am UTC

See, now folks are actually accusing me of something I expressly stated I didn't feel was accurate. Read a bit more carefully, and such errors are less likely to happen.

Everything is about probabilities. This is the exact opposite of giving everything equal weight simply because it's possible. It's not an absolute--everything is possible, but not equally probable.

However, it's not exactly wise to completely discount something which is possible simply because it is improbable. Sherlock Holmes at least knew that much. ;)

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby JoalHeagney » Thu Oct 28, 2010 6:19 am UTC

I tried dowsing when I was a teenager, trying to find a buried pipe. I got two 'signals' but the pipe wasn't under either of them, but rather in between. At the time I thought, "Well, that pretty much proves that dowsing doesn't work." Then I did some research and found out that traditional rod dowsing, you were supposed to get two signals, and the distance between them indicated depth.

So now I had a dilemma - I had tested something, and reproduced the "correct" effects despite thinking that the "correct" effect was "wrong". This suggested to me that there was something to it, but the suggested theories sounded a bit too wacky to believe.
Then I read about Randi's tests http://www.randi.org/library/dowsing/. They seemed to be well designed, and very conclusive - dowsing didn't give humans extra sensory abilities.

So what was happening? Then a couple of years later, I read (can't remember the source) the most reasonable scientific explanation for how dowsing might work that I've ever heard. (What follows is a paraphrased quote).
The rod or wand in the dowser's hand forms an unstable, extended lever. As the dowser walks over disturbed ground, the sudden rise or dip will be amplified into the wand. At that point, the dowser's expectation will cause slight muscle movements to continue the small motion, getting the traditional dowser responses.


Being raised on a dairy farm and having seen my father move a fully loaded carry-all http://www.google.com.au/images?hl=en&q=tractor+carryall&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&biw=1233&bih=621 on the back of a tractor, over a field at high speed, even a small bump or hollow will cause a large resonant vibration on an extended lever. It also explains the 'double ping' around a buried pipe. The first 'ping' is a result of entering the disturbed ground, while the second is a result of leaving the disturbed ground.
Finally, it explains why Randi got negative results. His tests were conducted over a false wooden floor, exactly designed to remove any chance of the dowser picking up hints from ground disturbance.

So my personal conclusion? Dowsing works, but through purely mechanical methods, and only where what you are looking for will result in ground disturbance. So trying to use dowsing to find a lost item - probably not going to work. As for the military using dowsing to locate mines and bombs - potentially possible, but since the proposed explanation involves stepping onto the area the bomb is buried underneath, probably not of much practical value. :D

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby HungryHobo » Thu Oct 28, 2010 9:03 am UTC

JoalHeagney wrote:So my personal conclusion? Dowsing works, but through purely mechanical methods, and only where what you are looking for will result in ground disturbance. So trying to use dowsing to find a lost item - probably not going to work. As for the military using dowsing to locate mines and bombs - potentially possible, but since the proposed explanation involves stepping onto the area the bomb is buried underneath, probably not of much practical value. :D


An interesting and feasible explanation which would be ignored if we just accepted it as mysterious unexplainable magic and left it there.

Anyone know any double blind trials which have tested this hypothesis?
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby WingedWolfPsion » Thu Oct 28, 2010 1:36 pm UTC

See, this is the type of experimentation that actually leads to answers--not 'dowsing doesn't work', but 'why does dowsing appear to work in some circumstances, but not in others?" The differences between the situations where dowsing shows positive results, and those where it doesn't, can help in understanding HOW it is working. That's something that wouldn't be revealed if you simply dismissed the entire idea due to a preconception that it has to be supernatural, and took any negative test to mean it's disproven. Skepticult mentalities can seriously impede science and real understanding, and all too often, they DO.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Oct 28, 2010 2:13 pm UTC

Yes, but how something works still begs the question of whether it works at all in the first place. Even if some explanation exists for how dowsing might work if it does work, that still doesn't mean there's actually a phenomenon there that needs explaining (beyond the ideomotor effect, of course).
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby MadScientistWorkinig » Thu Oct 28, 2010 4:41 pm UTC

Finally, it explains why Randi got negative results. His tests were conducted over a false wooden floor, exactly designed to remove any chance of the dowser picking up hints from ground disturbance.

No. There is a fair more simpler reason that has been tested for a long time that is actually far more rational than your explanation. You moved the stick. For every single bit of mumbo jumbo stuff about resonance and other technobable that you can come up with scientists are two hundred years ahead of you. Also, what you are doing is a common logical fallacy called special pleading.
WingedWolfPsion wrote:See, this is the type of experimentation that actually leads to answers--not 'dowsing doesn't work', but 'why does dowsing appear to work in some circumstances, but not in others?" The differences between the situations where dowsing shows positive results, and those where it doesn't, can help in understanding HOW it is working. That's something that wouldn't be revealed if you simply dismissed the entire idea due to a preconception that it has to be supernatural, and took any negative test to mean it's disproven. Skepticult mentalities can seriously impede science and real understanding, and all too often, they DO.

Dude. You are two hunred years late. Scientists all ready asked what is going on with dowsing. We are talking about heavy hitters that everyone here should know like Michael Faraday. The issue is that what he discovered doesn't fit in with your fantasy view of the world. You are so dead set on trying to justify that dowsing works that you can't even except the oooo so common event that occurs in science. X doesn't work and the few times that it looks like its working something else is going on.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby uncivlengr » Thu Oct 28, 2010 5:27 pm UTC

MadScientistWorkinig wrote:
Finally, it explains why Randi got negative results. His tests were conducted over a false wooden floor, exactly designed to remove any chance of the dowser picking up hints from ground disturbance.

No. There is a fair more simpler reason that has been tested for a long time that is actually far more rational than your explanation. You moved the stick. For every single bit of mumbo jumbo stuff about resonance and other technobable that you can come up with scientists are two hundred years ahead of you. Also, what you are doing is a common logical fallacy called special pleading.
I think the point he's making is that your body reacts to the slight dip in ground level, even though you're not conscious of it. The dowsing rod acts like an amplifier for that subtle change in topology, not to anything to do with what has caused the change.

Granted, that's only a hypothesis - the major flaw I see in that is that people don't have a perfectly smooth gait whether or not the ground is smooth. The fact that the distance between the two readings was claimed to correspond to the distance below ground level makes sense, since the deeper you want to bury a pipe, the wider a trench you'd have dug.

I seem to recall that the Australian test that Randi performed consisted of burying a number of pipes and letting water flow through only one of them, so the ground disturbance effect would have been removed from the equation.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Oct 28, 2010 5:31 pm UTC

MadScientistWorkinig wrote:The issue is that what he discovered doesn't fit in with your fantasy view of the world. You are so dead set on trying to justify that dowsing works
And yes, WWP, we know you're oh so "balanced" and you're not saying it works just that it's possible and we can't be certain it doesn't work and blah blah blah.

The point is, you still have the fantasy view that dowsing is remotely likely to work. You may not think it definitely works, but it's irrational to think there's any more than about a 1% chance of anything real behind it. So you can't hide behind your "I'm just saying it's inconclusive" excuse forever: we see right through it to the wacky fantasy world you live in.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby WingedWolfPsion » Thu Oct 28, 2010 5:41 pm UTC

I hope you realize that even most people who believe in the paranormal believe that dowsing works via the ideomotor effect. The question is how a person can subconsciously know where water is, not why the stick moves in their hand. In some cases, the control exercised over the experiment will remove the cues the person might have been using to be accurate, and that's why putting things indoors under tight control can actually yield false negative results. It makes assumptions about how the ability works, without addressing it in its 'natural environment'.

This is why so many of these experiments are trash (and certainly anything set up by Randi is). The assumptions people make are leading to negative results in a lab setting when positive results can still be found in the field. This doesn't mean 'dowsing doesn't work', it means 'dowsing doesn't work the way you think it does', or even the way the person who's doing it thinks it does. Randi was never interested in learning whether dowsing works, he only wanted to prove that dowsing wasn't supernatural, and didn't care about the rest.

Preconceptions and a negative (OR positive) bias make for terrible science.

Apparently, I live in a whacky fantasy world where there are still things to be discovered, and errors to be corrected, rather than a whacky fantasy world in which everything is already known, and everything believed by scientists currently is accurate. I do not, however, live in a whacky fantasy world where everything is true, simply because it happens to be possible.

I want to know more about what's happening in the world and peoples' minds, and people like you are preventing research from being done properly. People with skepticult attitudes are responsible for so little funding being put into research of this type, due to a bias against it. It's shameful that a scientist studying dowsing would be looked down on by peers for researching something considered supernatural.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby MadScientistWorkinig » Thu Oct 28, 2010 7:10 pm UTC

WingedWolfPsion wrote:I hope you realize that even most people who believe in the paranormal believe that dowsing works via the ideomotor effect. The question is how a person can subconsciously know where water is, not why the stick moves in their hand. In some cases, the control exercised over the experiment will remove the cues the person might have been using to be accurate, and that's why putting things indoors under tight control can actually yield false negative results. It makes assumptions about how the ability works, without addressing it in its 'natural environment'.

This is why so many of these experiments are trash (and certainly anything set up by Randi is). The assumptions people make are leading to negative results in a lab setting when positive results can still be found in the field. This doesn't mean 'dowsing doesn't work', it means 'dowsing doesn't work the way you think it does', or even the way the person who's doing it thinks it does. Randi was never interested in learning whether dowsing works, he only wanted to prove that dowsing wasn't supernatural, and didn't care about the rest.

So what you are saying is that you can't actually tightly control the experiments to the point where it would be entirely pointless to test it because you probably would just end up with false positives.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby WingedWolfPsion » Thu Oct 28, 2010 7:39 pm UTC

I'm saying that when a phenomenon is observed operating in the world, you don't give up when a tightly controlled test in an environment completely different from the one the phenomenon was observed in produces negative results. It's impossible to eliminate all variables in ANY experiment. If you fail to observe the phenomenon in such a strict environment, but it's still being reported 'in the field', then it's time to take your experiments into a different environment, and try eliminating variables one at a time, instead of trying to eliminate all of them at once.

If you don't understand what you're testing, you can't create an experiment to test it in a valid fashion. You have to start experimenting first to try to figure out what you're testing. You can't do that in a laboratory when it is a phenomenon observed in the field. The field itself may be crucial to the phenomenon's functioning (such as with the disturbed ground hypothesis).

To make things even more complicated, you're dealing with the human mind as well. Psychology plays a role in this, and failing to acknowledge that also means an experiment doomed to failure whether or not the phenomenon exists.

Lastly, there may be more than one thing which can produce the same results. A specific phenomenon does not always have just a single cause. Science tries to corral what is a very messy reality, but it doesn't always corral the right bits, and that's when things get missed. This inherent imprecision is part of the reason why old theories and even laws have had to be discarded and replaced as we learn more over time.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby HungryHobo » Thu Oct 28, 2010 10:25 pm UTC

This is why so many of these experiments are trash (and certainly anything set up by Randi is). The assumptions people make are leading to negative results in a lab setting when positive results can still be found in the field. This doesn't mean 'dowsing doesn't work', it means 'dowsing doesn't work the way you think it does', or even the way the person who's doing it thinks it does. Randi was never interested in learning whether dowsing works, he only wanted to prove that dowsing wasn't supernatural, and didn't care about the rest.


actually Randi tends to set up quite thorough experiments.
They don't even begin until the person claiming supernatural powers is happy and thinks their powers will work just fine under the given conditions.

If you don't control for all the non-supernatural boring old things like stuff that would let someone make an educated guess then you're not testing dowsing any more, you're simply testing someone's ability to make an educated guess given quite a lot of information.

We know guessing works better than chance when you give people plenty of information.

it's trivial and boring unless people can demonstrate any kind of supernatural ability.
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Companies ARE using homeopathy to reduce healthcare costs

Postby webgiant » Fri Oct 29, 2010 4:26 am UTC

It still doesn't work, but they're still using it to reduce healthcare costs, so there's a slight flaw in the comic argument.

Here's the argument: most health care is obtained unnecessarily. Parents take their kids in for antibiotics when they have the flu, or take them to a doctor for a cold. A simple pain which is nothing 99% of the time gets an E.R. visit most of the time. No one learns basic first aid or how to self-diagnose, so off to the doctor with simple cuts, bruises, sprains, and heartburn.

So a large part of reducing health care costs is convincing stupid people not to go to the doctor for stupid reasons.

Homeopathy, being naturally attractive to stupid people, causes them to pay for plain water and/or lactose sugar pills, and avoid going to the doctor. Since they're taking placebos, the homeopathic preparations aren't causing harm themselves, preventing additional health expenses from the homeopathic alternative to stupid people getting unnecessary health care.

Thus companies are making huge amounts of money off homeopathy by (even if only indirectly) causing stupid people to stop getting unnecessary health care, thereby reducing healthcare costs overall.

Generally agree with the rest of the comic, just thought the part about homeopathy not reducing health care costs was completely wrong, even though the part about it not working was completely right.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby WingedWolfPsion » Fri Oct 29, 2010 5:35 am UTC

The problem with Randi's experiments is that A) he assumes that these abilities are supernatural, and B) Only a total dupe would ever sign up to participate in one of his experiments, because they require the participant to hand over the rights to their life (pretty much). Not something likely to attract anyone who knows what they are doing, if such folks exist.
Again, he isn't testing these abilities--he's only testing to see if they are supernatural.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Oct 29, 2010 11:54 am UTC

Well that's why it's a paranormal challenge. He's testing people who believe that whatever they're doing is paranormal.

WingedWolfPsion wrote:I hope you realize that even most people who believe in the paranormal believe that dowsing works via the ideomotor effect.
[citation needed], first of all.

And yeah, if dowsing only works by (possibly subconscious) educated guessing, then sure it works, but trivially, because there's nothing to it. The thing is, many people do think there's something else going on there, and that's what gets controlled for in experiments. (And I don't think anyone designing such experiments would ever say, "dowsing never gets positive results". They're just testing for, and concluding, whether dowsing gets statistically significant positive results through some non-ordinary means.)
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby uncivlengr » Fri Oct 29, 2010 12:18 pm UTC

According to this ridiculous, "if it doesn't hurt, it works" philosophy, I can hang a bunch of grapes above my doorway, and every day that I don't get robbed I can claim that hanging a bunch of grapes from my doorway prevents robberies. Can't argue with results from the field, right? Then on the day I do get robbed, I just claim that the circumstances weren't right at that time for the bunch of grapes to perform correctly, and we can't fully understand the power of the grapes to determine what those circumstances are.

The criticial point isn't whether I got robbed while the bunch of grapes was hanging there; it's whether I can demonstrate that the grapes actually did something more than nothing. This kind of supposedly "skeptical" philosophy makes folklore, superstition and ritual indistinguishable from reality.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby Ephemeron » Fri Oct 29, 2010 12:58 pm UTC


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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby WingedWolfPsion » Fri Oct 29, 2010 2:03 pm UTC

That was sort of my point. Dowsing produces positive results in some studies, but the people who get them aren't really educated enough to make good guesses, so how are they getting them? No one is curious if it turns out not to be 'paranormal' in nature? What happened to investigating a phenomenon, rather than peoples' assumptions about a phenomenon?

If something 'other than normal' (though really, it would be normal, if that's what's happening) IS going on in dowsing, why are so many assumptions made about how THAT works? Based on what...the claims of people who do dowsing, but are just guessing at how they're doing it? People create these experiments based on the claims of the practitioners, and that's stupid science. What the people who do these things claim is irrelevant, if you want the truth, you need to test the phenomena without preconceptions like that.

Asking for a citation for 'most folks who believe in the paranormal feel dowsing works via the ideomotor effect' ....why? Do you disbelieve this? Do you have some reason to think it's not true? I have an interest in these things, so I've spent considerable time there, and I've never heard anyone claim it isn't due to the ideomotor effect. People who believe otherwise are either rare, or awfully quiet. Conducting a poll is not necessary to conclude this, lol. Those who believe in the paranormal also largely believe that pendulums are controlled via the ideomotor effect. They simply believe the subconscious is influenced by paranormal senses, and that leads to the muscle movements.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Oct 29, 2010 2:26 pm UTC

WingedWolfPsion wrote:They simply believe the subconscious is influenced by paranormal senses, and that leads to the muscle movements.
Okay, fine, so dowsing works by ESP.

Which has still never been shown to exist in any form, ever.

So fine, they believe in the ideomotor effect, but they *also* believe in some wacky paranormal woo, and there have never been any reliable studies to find a significant positive result when testing for any form of ESP.

And when results go away upon the removal of external clues, it shows that there isn't any such external cause. The fact that individual dowsers may be unconvinced the motions originate solely within themselves is irrelevant, as people misattribute causes of things all the damn time.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby uncivlengr » Fri Oct 29, 2010 3:02 pm UTC

So, how exactly do you distinguish a spooky interference with a dowsing rod, from a spooky interference with a persons' brain that causes an unconscious movement of a dowsing rod? What does it matter whether someone believes in one or the other; they're both dumb.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Oct 29, 2010 5:42 pm UTC

I have an anecdote which seems like it might somehow be relevant here, but I'm not sure exactly how.

I used to have a frighteningly accurate ability to call coin tosses. Someone could flip a coin high up in the air, catch it and smack it on their arm, covered by their hand, like people do when they do coin tosses like that, and ask me to call it; and I almost always called it accurately. (I'm tempted to say "always", but this was many years ago and I know my memory might be skewed). I halfway believed in magic back in those days, and whenever someone would ask me how I pulled off some particularly impressive thing which just came easily or naturally to me, including the coin toss thing, I would half-jokingly explain "magic".

One day someone pressed me "no seriously, how the hell are you doing that?" and I admitted I don't really know, I just "see" in my mind's eye what side of the coin is up under his hand, the same way I can "see" in my memory what's in the room next door. I speculated that maybe I'm somehow subconsciously seeing the sides of the coin as it flips through the air and accurately tracking what orientation the coin would be when it lands, and after he flips it. (I certainly wasn't consciously noticing the orientation of the coin as it flew).

He decided to test this hypothesis, and had me close my eyes, or stand around a corner, or by other means not observe the actual coin flip, then call it, and open my eyes or come back into the room to watch him reveal it: and I was consistently wrong during those times. We tried a dozen or so trials (not statistically significant, I know), half with me observing and half with me not, and every time I observed the actual toss, I got it right, seeming to confirm our hypothesis that I was subconsciously tracking the coin's orientation with my sight, and not with any magic ESP.

But still, when you let me watch a coin toss I could call it accurately every time, and that's still a crazy unusual ability, no?
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby SocialSceneRepairman » Fri Oct 29, 2010 5:52 pm UTC

MadScientistWorkinig wrote:
Finally, it explains why Randi got negative results. His tests were conducted over a false wooden floor, exactly designed to remove any chance of the dowser picking up hints from ground disturbance.

No. There is a fair more simpler reason that has been tested for a long time that is actually far more rational than your explanation. You moved the stick. For every single bit of mumbo jumbo stuff about resonance and other technobable that you can come up with scientists are two hundred years ahead of you. Also, what you are doing is a common logical fallacy called special pleading.


Cool it. I don't know if you read his post, but he got a result he wasn't expecting, and only later found he should have expected it. For this, the explanation he gives is more rational than yours.

You remind me of the guy who quoted a poster saying that "some parts of the world will get cooler" and accused him of being a global warming denialist.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby WingedWolfPsion » Fri Oct 29, 2010 5:55 pm UTC

See, that's the point--if you had given up when it became clear you couldn't do it when you didn't see the coin toss, you couldn't learn anything about the brain's ability to process visual information so quickly. That's something that really could benefit from further study.

There are no reliable tests that show positive evidence for ESP. There are no reliable tests that show negative evidence for ESP, either, which is the problem. It's plain stupid to dismiss something so widely reported when there's no valid reason to do so. It's a sign of pure faith to accept the bad tests that show negative results and dismiss the ones that show positive results. It's bad science.

A scientific and logical mind means NOT having an irrational vendetta against anything that is labeled 'paranormal' by some people. Just because it has that label, doesn't mean it is supernatural. We need to find out what's really happening...not simply prove it doesn't work the way people who use it think it does, and call that good enough.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby uncivlengr » Fri Oct 29, 2010 6:32 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:But still, when you let me watch a coin toss I could call it accurately every time, and that's still a crazy unusual ability, no?
The ability to see a coin when you're looking at it, and not when you aren't looking at it? You must be some kind of mutant!

Seriously, though, that's a bit different from what we're talking about - if you find that you have an elevated aptitude to do something, that's a far cry from discovering a new aptitude that wasn't believed to exist. It's also worthy of pointing out that once you recognized a simple explanation for the effect, you didn't continue to entertain the notion of some more complex and mysterious phenomenon.
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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby lewikee » Fri Oct 29, 2010 7:08 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:But still, when you let me watch a coin toss I could call it accurately every time, and that's still a crazy unusual ability, no?


It would depend on the method the flipper is using, the speed at which he covers the coin after it lands on his hand, how fast your observational abilities are etc...It's possible you are just very good at observing short-lasting images. We could do experiments to see at which speed of flipping/covering of the coin your ability breaks down. This could sort of establish what your "observational frame rate" is. But at this point we've stopped looking for paranormal abilities and started doing something I think is more interesting and fruitful: better understanding existing phenomena.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby doomvox » Fri Oct 29, 2010 10:27 pm UTC

And there's no point in public funding for technical research,
because if there were any value in it large corporations would be
doing it already.

And there's no point in starting any new businesses, because if
it were worth doing it would've been done already.

And Britney Spears must be a great musician, because she's made
so much money at it.

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Re: 0808: "The Economic Argument"

Postby waltwhitmanheadedbat » Sat Oct 30, 2010 4:18 am UTC

Not to be confused with 'making money selling this stuff to OTHER people who think it works', which corporate accountants and actuaries have zero problems with.


I happen to know an actuary who reads xkcd who would probably be opposed to selling people snake oil. Working in finance does not automatically make you a bad person or an opportunistic asshole. They're also also an interesting set of people to direct this comment at, given that they're probably not the people that are going to be driving the policy decisions that lead to companies being dishonest.

While we're at it, I think we can expand that little insult to also include auditors, a variety of corporate accountants who are paid to look for accounting errors and embezzlement in businesses. Shady motherfuckers, those guys.


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