The cult of skepticism
The debate around Didier Raoult
Even in medicine, where that one method is famous, it is still far from the only available one.
And now that I am editing this text, a spectacular illustration of this widespread institutionalized
yet ridiculous misunderstanding of the nature of science and its methods is making the headlines
of international news by its tragic consequences since a few weeks (March 2020) : Didier Raoult,
with much experience on virology
(though according to some information his
research activities also include very bad practices that inflated his expertscape ranking in
unfair ways), offers a treatment of Covid-19 which seemed to work (with many patients considering
that it worked). To draw
these conclusions (article copied
here), he involved tons of diverse methods, with an
extensive background of knowledge and past experience. Yet his many methods... still did
not include double-blind randomized testing. And for this only reason, a large part of the
official medical authorities, on the basis of their ignorance in virology as well as their ignorance
of any other method of medical investigation than double-blind randomized testing, dismissed
his work as "unscientific" and "unproven". Just like in the above metaphor of people who
could not make the difference, just by looking at the use of fingers, between people unable to
count by their fingers and those with the skill to correctly do math without using them. As he explains
in an interview:
Journalist: (...) If I sum up, you say that no rules should be followed in research and
that conviction must prevail over method (...)
But here is a remark I later inserted at this point of the page, letting the details of this
focus of dispute (the importance given to "the scientific method") to come below.
The remark I must insert is : how strange are so many people (including myself before
I considered to insert this remark) to focus the dispute on this aspect of the controversy,
as if it was the main point. Because let us remember what the main claim of D Raoult really was:
DR : It’s more complex than that. Among the great epistemologists of the 20th century,
the first of them, Karl Popper, says it is the new tools that give a new sight. Part of
my science is based on what I call the arms race. Since 1992, we have always been
the best equipped microbiology laboratory in the world. The second great epistemologist,
Thomas Kuhn, says that there is a period of instability between the moment when the
facts are established and that when the theories change. All scientific theories are
cultural. It is only time that validates the discoveries. Finally Edmund Husserl, who is a
very great philosopher, says this sentence in "The crisis of European sciences", book
which dates from the Thirties: "Models are the clothes of ideas, there is always a model
which can make believe that your idea is right. "
Journalist : If one applies your thinking to the current period, if only time says at the
end who was right, what do you validate as a study, among those that have been
launched, which could demonstrate the effectiveness of Hydroxychloroquine ?
DR : You will see. That’s my job, not yours.
The basics of the job of physicians is : diagnosis and treatment.
So the first thing he insists on is the importance of testing, to find out who is infected, in order
to give people the chance to better manage, as successfully done in South Korea, to
specifically isolate the infected people from their yet
non-infected relatives, while comparatively reducing the constraints on the people's moves that
the testing results indicate to be safe ; instead of following the current rule of blindly confining
everybody together with the risk that this lets the infection still somehow propagate in the framework
of families or other co-living groups. Meanwhile, for still a long time after this, the French
government keeps a ban on both tests and masks. Yes it denied laboratories any
authorization to practice wide scale testing. During all this time, skeptics are completely
missing this obvious and urgent point : the need to authorize the sale of masks and wide scale
testing to help reducing the propagation (and the constraints on safe moves). Instead of
this they remain obsessed about the perhaps less urgent dispute on the part of the claim which
looks unclear (the efficiency of the treatment he offers), desperately trying to compare the
small risk of side effects of the treatment with the dubious chances for his treatment to
save the little fraction of infected people who might die of the virus.
Actually it would not be exact to say that skeptics are not mentioning the obvious things
at all. But their amount of care for trivial emergencies can neither be described as null nor
as positive, therefore I can only describe this amount as strictly negative. It goes by the following
words I quote (translated) from my skeptic debater:
Should we try something when otherwise everything is screwed up? Yes of course
we have to! It is a fantasy to believe that the scientific community does not do this
and prefers to stay behind protocols (...) These are obviously accelerated study
procedures which will give conclusions within a few days [he wrote me this on April
7 ; we are still waiting 3 weeks later]. Obviously, we are NOT waiting for the results
of the studies so that, on a case-by-case basis, the doctors can prescribe as they
usually can. (...) and once again no, we do not wait for the outcome of the stupid
procedure if the risk benefit ratio is trivial. It is a usual strategy of the scarecrow
where one just attributes caricatural statements to the opposite side in order to
demonize it to make more comfortable the justifications of one's own side.
While in reality you have to see things in nuances but it is much more expensive.
(The same attitude was present in that video he
gave me as reference, which also commits the mistake of confusing
chloroquine with hydroxychloroquine) That makes me wonder if we are living on
the same planet, since all the
news I could get report the full occurrence of the absurdities he is denying. Also
as the skeptical movement is an objective ally of the French government and media
in their defamation campaign against Raoult and his treatment, let us bet that
skeptics will never denounce the manipulation
techniques also deployed against him.
Let us leave the small talk on the big issue, to come back to the big talk
on the small issue. Didier Raoult explained his rejection of the method of double-blind
randomized testing as follows:
"To those who say that we need thirty multi-center studies and a thousand patients
included, I answer that if we were to apply the rules of current methodologists, we would have to
redo a study on the interest of the parachute.
Take 100 people, half with parachutes and the
other half without, and count the dead at the end to see what is more effective"
While many people would dismiss this comparison as a ridiculous exaggeration (a slippery
slope fallacy), it can well be no exaggeration for him. Just like the way the usefulness of parachutes
looks obvious to the common man and any doubts would look ridiculous with no need of double-blind
randomized testing, so thanks to his extensive scientific background and medical observations,
the efficiency of the treatment he designed can well look just as obvious to him for tons of diverse
reasons, and any doubt look ridiculous, with no need of double-blind randomized testing.
Aside these purely epistemological issues, another aspect of the question that this comparison
illustrates, is the issue of human rights, as well as comparisons of costs and benefits, of
undertaking or not some randomized testing experiments and waiting for the results before
acting upon the conclusion. There is the cost of wastefully blocking the world
economy for many more weeks than could have happened, as the treatment could have
contributed to reduce the propagation of the virus earlier.
How legitimate is that for "experts" authorities to deny people the right to take their own
risks by trying this "unproven" medicine, to be possibly victims of their own stupidity rather
than be possible victims of the stupidity of others, even if these others are supposed to be
"experts" ? I mean of course it is legitimate to forbid people from taking actions that can
endanger the life of others, namely actions by which they might cause virus infections in
others. But the action of trying this supposedly "unproven" treatment is not in this category
(nobody claimed that it might increase the propagation of the virus, on the contrary it has
good chances to reduce it).
Now, in the name of their "uncertainty" (based on their personal ignorance of the actual
state of science in this field), so-called "experts" in position of administrative power
maintain the rule of prohibiting by law the use of this medicine. Yes, in the name
of their personal ignorance in virology these authorities dared using the force of law to
effectively condemn to death thousands of innocents, denying them any right to take
the responsibility of their own life by trying this "unproven" treatment at their own risks
if found appropriate by their doctors who care for diagnosis and counter-indications.
They deny doctors the right to order this medicine for compassionate use and/or any
independent testing initiative to see how it goes, away from the short list of testing
protocols decided by our totalitarian governing elites. Later, the rule was changed
however the authorization was reserved to patients in critical condition in hospital, that is
when it may be too late (some hospitals are only accepting people already in critical
conditions because they are full of them and have no remaining place for non-critically ill people).
Let it be clear : I am not claiming that D Raoult's working methods and treatment proposal
are necessarily the best. Some other treatment may be as good or even better, such as this
one offered by another doctor (Azithromycin + Singulair + Zinc + Heparin - English
version). The point is that at least he has some knowledge and common sense, which may
suffice for current needs, as opposed to the attitude of a class of powerful skeptics who
behave as the champions of absurdism by pushing in the name of "Science" some of the worst
possible decisions, that is a global ban on treatments outside clinical trials and critical cases
(and also for a while failed to call for multiplying testings).
They make a cult of a method that is supposedly the only possible method to
prove... answers to a mere shorthand of rather poorly informative questions, and only
after too long delays.
The absurdity of the current situation is well illustrated by the famous
When I first saw about this "problem" long ago I did not expect it to be very relevant to the
actual world's problems. At least it should not have been relevant... if only we were living in a
world were mental sanity was widespread and properly followed, where the ridiculous insanity
of taking the clearly wrong decisions pictured there was not affecting our ruling elites.
Unfortunately... the cult of the violent social
paralysis and that of skepticism unfortunately happen to be serious plagues in
the current world.
So we have the choice:
Bureaucrats want to dictate inaction in lack of (their own) absolute certainty. But this inaction
is clearly the most dangerous choice. And not only they decide inaction by fear of their
responsibility, they order to block the free will of people to try a wiser decision. Like if in the
trolley problem the driver of the trolley already decided to switch the direction towards the
least dangerous path but the general director of the trolley company took active measure
to block the switch, thus forcing the trolley to keep its most disastrous direction. And this
just by the fear to face his responsibilities.
- Either follow the current path of doing nothing (forbidding this treatment), which
means taking the highest probability of leading to death many thousands of people
which this treatment would have saved, plus extending the blocking of the economy
- Or change the path by trying this treatment (which has the biggest chance of
saving all this) which only has a very small risk that despite already made research
it would still be ineffective or would have some bad effect on the... relatively few people
taking this treatment at first before we end up one month later observing that failure
while having anyway (regardless the decision we took) 100 times more new victims.
But what is the fear, really ? In one
news article, the following explanation is given by the head of the infectious
diseases department of the Tours hospital:
In reply to "The announcement of a near-miracle treatment, hydroxychloroquine, by
Marseille doctor Didier Raoult, has been agitating public opinion since the end of March. How
do you, as a doctor, perceive this debate? "This looks like he is fearing the perspective of uncertainty as something much more
frightening than death... from this to assume that everybody should feel the same...
by the way, what solution does he have against this panic of uncertainty ? He explains it just then:
«Without a serious clinical study, it's like jumping
without a parachute... Faced with this, either we react head-on, saying that the other is wrong,...
...or we try to move things forward, with calm and methodology. Hence the importance of
doing a large clinical trial. »
Sure, large crowds of infected patients should enthusiastically come and sign the participation
to his clinical trials where it will remain unknown to them whether they are taking a treatment
or a placebo, thus letting this lottery decide their chances of survival, this would surely make
them feel much more calm and confident.
My skeptic debater defended this as follows
Simply on the mathematical level I find it hard to understand that you can
oppose the scientific methodological approach.
Yes, such are the terms of his question. The problem here is not only that he loves to
believe that we will have 500,000 patients and we should care to reach this point by
waiting for the result of the clinical trial in order to let the epidemic spread to that point
meanwhile instead of giving treatments that would help to slow it down; nor his ignorance
of the reasons for D Raoult's choice, some of these being very obvious, namely that
hydroxychloroquine is in practice the only available solution (known to be cheap,
available, efficient and safe with known counter-indications while competitors
considered in official trials are extremely expensive and not tested). But also that
he seems to see no way on Earth to approach the issue from any other viewpoint
than that of an absolute dictator : THE question he challenges me
to reply is the question how, if I was given the chance to serve as the absolute dictator over
the world (and a very stupid one, with no clue on medicine or any other kind of available
discernment criteria and existing arguments on the issue,
yet without either the option of referring to any expert in this field) having to write and sign a 1
paragraph decree to dictate to the rest of the world
the exact way everybody must follow on this issue without further question, I could write a
wiser one than what the one he considers. He did not seem to expect any possibility to produce
some useful scientific data under a different kind of political regime:
- You have 5 treatments.
- You know that for one of the 5, someone has good reason to believe that it
works, obtained 75% of healing, say on 20 trials with treatment A
- You must
treat 500,000 patients and maximize the expectation of the number of cures.
Are you really doing this: treat the 500,000 with treatment A.?
It is an obviousness (and a mathematical reality) that there is an optimal exploration
balance which is not at all that...
It is obvious that we must initially compare to
lose in the short term but win in the long term on the entirety...
I really don't
see how you could support a point of view which would say the opposite.
... if no contraindications were detected, treatment with hydroxychloroquine and
azithromycin was prescribed after consent from subjects.... Results: Of the 636 symptomatic
outpatients, 412 started treatment and 224 refused medications (control group).
news article explains
the skeptics view further :
«The National Council of the College of Physicians
(Conseil national de l’Ordre des médecins) reminds
doctors and researchers that science requires those who are involved to respect
the principle of the scientific method for claiming the interest and medical
consequences of the work they undertake.
Read this well : according to them there would be "nothing worse" than this for our
fellow citizens (that in fact can only apply to the "feeling of a disappointed hope" since
the availability issue is quick to solve by the acceleration of the production, which the
French producer Sanofi was ready for), are these people serious ? How dare they so decide
that the risk of a "feeling of disappointed hope" should be feared as the worst danger
for our fellow citizens... while totally denying these fellow citizen any right to figure
out and decide by themselves whether that risk is really the one they fear the most or not ?
Doctors must today act as the responsible professionals they are, and await
confirmation or refutation of the usefulness of the prescription of this
treatment. There would indeed be nothing worse for our fellow citizens than
the feeling of a disappointed hope, or to see a treatment whose first proofs
effectiveness would be confirmed, made unavailable for prescription or
dispensing by some non-mastered use »
Yes, the so-called "scientific" method of double-blind randomized testing, which is the idol of our
so-called scientific experts now ruling the world, remains clearly ineffective in either helping them
being not so dumb, nor in protecting the world from the dictatorship of that dumbness.
Or can it ? Let us try to figure out how it might.
Here it goes:
Take 100 inhabited planets diagnosed with an initial condition of having a
starting outbreak of an epidemic; randomly assign to half of them a ruling body of
"experts" attached to the ideology of double-blind randomized testing and in the name of
this making it illegal on their planet to try a treatment until so "proven" ; assign to the
other half of planets a different ruling system where people are granted a legal right
to try different curing propositions from any known virology experts or other doctors
outside such protocols ; and count the number of planets from each group where the
epidemic grows to the most tragic proportions, not forgetting to make polls at the end
to ask people how badly they were affected by "feelings of disappointed hope".
Yet even this could not work if the elites of skeptics to which
you would give the power to rule a given planet, for the same "reasons" as the
ones in the name of which they are here trying to apply their totalitarianism
to the whole planet or at least the largest possible scale (such as European
authorities), also requested to extend their ruling authority to the full range of all
planets involved in the trial...
Seriously : there is no method to cure our official "scientific experts" from this spectacular
dumbness of theirs now leading the world to such tragic consequences.
Especially, randomized testing is not an effective method to cure them from such a dumbness.
A much more effective and reasonable solution would be, without any further discussion
with them, to just simply eject them from this power, deny them their current power
of forbidding people from trying to follow their own guess about where the true scientific expertise
may come from. And please don't have the foolishness of condemning such ideas as a form
of extremism, because this really is nothing more than self-defense against the tyrants, the
necessity to stop tolerating intolerance, as the only practical way to free the world from
Indeed as another skeptic contact of mine was trying to spam me with articles calling "fake news"
and dismissing as "unscientific" and so on the reports of efficiency of hydroxychloroquine, I had
to block him in Facebook and he still wanted to keep spamming me on gmail, and as I told
him that I would not read him anyway because I already knew all about this debate, he wrote
me his conclusion as follows
"Now I am sure that people who believe in that drug are lost completely, should be
taken away from any influence on science and medicine and their followers should be
treated with antipsychotic drugs."
A possible libertarian solution to some controversies
So we have a general kind of problem when many people have nothing new to say but
just try to push forward their opinion to become a force of law about what they think is "proven" or
"not proven" (such as : is there already enough evidence or not about the efficiency of
hydroxychloroquine) according to their conception of what a proof is, that is, the problem of real or
imaginary "scientific controversies". The current process is about giving the deciding power to a
specific group of self-proclaimed "scientific experts", while their competence can remain
debatable and they may be either deliberate or naive puppets of lobbies.
Such political disputes can end up being vain noise which cannot be resolved by just any
kind of further debate on which evidence is valid, any pushing forward
the name of "Science", when all of the currently available data is already on the table.
I will describe a
proposal based on free market mechanisms, for the world to get a little bit of peace from such
noise, to make obsolete these disputes by obliging by the force of logic all the mad loud
speakers who "in the name of Science" are "sure of their uncertainty" but in fact only based on
their ignorance, to shut up. Of course they will keep the right to share their arguments to their
favorite audience or anyone interested, but lose any power over any opponents who would
consider themselves fed up with this.
Yet, I must add some disclaimers before describing this solution :
since I generally deny any uniqueness of the "right method" (as explained above), I do not claim
this one to be the absolute best method for everything either. By this I only aim to point out a
possibly useful method, which is not always applicable, and when it is, it still needs to be used
with caution (care to well design the needed details) and in complement with other methods to
reduce the risk of abuse (as I know that it
can be abused if applied in isolation without caution, especially by the risks of frauds and lack
of transparency of information, for which other pieces of solutions are needed).
It has especially one condition of
possibility: that full unquestionable evidence is going to be established in the future either way.
Here is the idea in short: to open official worldwide betting networks or organizations
to let everybody who has convictions invest their money over these. Then any decisions,
either political or individual, on controversial issues would be based on the ratios of chances
which emerge from these markets, which (in case of political decisions) would be officially
recognized as the best humanity's odds of the day. As for individual decisions (and hopefully
many decisions can remain individual), everyone will still be free to refer to it or not; yet
rigorously speaking, any conviction that these odds are wrong, is also a conviction that it
would be advantageous to participate putting one's own bet either way.
Eventually, any decider in charge of taking some action whose validity depends on the
answer to a given question, would have to take participation in the bets on this question,
not because they have any conviction, but as a requirement of ultimate neutrality :
as a required counterpart for the balance of the responsibility they take (precisely,
this can be phrased as "taking an insurance against
the risk of taking a wrong decision", by which the cost of that wrong decision, if it turns
out to be so, can be paid for). So anyone feeling "sure" of some conclusion would
logically have to invest their money betting on it, while anyone seeing "irrational" a popular
feeling of certainty on a given question would just have to bet against it as the right way to
be serious about one's own uncertainty (instead of stupidly wasting energy shouting it
loud...), a bet against it which would be advantageous in average just if one was actually
right to doubt, in the effective sense that those feeling sure were really wrong to feel so. In the
long term, this would make the wisest speculators richer, thus getting
more financial weight in their next bets, therefore giving the world more chances to be
guided by wise guesses.
I will not enter here the necessary details and explanations for this solution; I once wrote
a little bit more about a similar solution for a related kind of problem in another text.
Now just a few words about complementary solutions, to help for the issue of the
transparency of information which the bets need to rely on.
One big idea is to resolve the
long-standing problem of the selection bias, as, usually, any investigation is an investigation
about a limited sample of cases, and any search for scientific information is usually limited to
finding a limited number of investigation reports, so that the conclusion keeps depending on
which study you check, itself depending on which cases it includes.
As a solution to this, I dream of a world with
such an information network that essentially all the brute information relevant to any topic
would be shared, systematically classified and available for anyone to process:
a universal network into which each subject provides the data of his own case.
There would no more be such a high responsibility on the shoulders of local investigators to examine
and collect any local list of cases before deciding to report about them or not, as all data
would be systematically shared in such a way that any omission or inaccuracy in the reports
would be filled or commented/corrected by the subjects, making everything available for the
world to see (for cases of studies of medical treatments : even anyone getting sick and staying
at home without calling any doctor would report about his case too, so as to bypass the selection
bias of who is admitted in hospitals or calls a doctor). There would also be work for
investigators, but of a quite different kind : to propose one's own method
of processing and interpreting this big data which is there. So, from the huge brute data,
some investigators can propose some interpretations and conclusions, but being not the owners
of this data, many other investigators can easily check the calculations and propose as well
other ways to process and interpret the same data as possibly supporting different
I once described in another text some related ideas
for the general problem of collectively sharing and processing arguments to debate any
kind of thesis.
To conclude, instead of giving more needed details for practical implementation (which are
not the topic of this exposition), I will comment on the differences of paradigm between the
kinds of methodologies that skeptics put forward, and those which I advocate as sketched above.
One difference of paradigm, let me say humorously, is a metaphysical one: it is about
what kind of reality structure skeptics really believe in. So to say, the kind of reality that
skeptics are effectively focused on may be, after all, somewhat offset from the materialistic
one they otherwise officially believe in.
In a material kind of reality structure, there is no escape from events when decisions must
be taken anyway, regardless of whether there is or not at some given time and place any available
skeptic-validated evidence that some option is the best of available options. But skeptics
are behaving like they want the government to sign a decree to rule out of existence the regions of
space-time where no skeptic-validated evidence is available to justify the decisions which
need to be taken.
Actually in this case, decision must be taken anyway, no matter if it
might be a wrong one. For this, apart from the measures of benefits and drawbacks of each
decision according to each hypothesis, two more things are needed.
The main need is the ratio of probabilities for each hypothesis to be true. This is actually
the only thing of interest for anyone in need to take a decision whose validity depends on the
object of debate. All the rest : who knows best about the topic, is there any argument supporting
one hypothesis over another or are there several arguments which seem to contradict each other,
what kinds of arguments are these, how rational are they, are the probabilities coming more a priori
or more a posteriori.... all that is completely immaterial for the deciders in need to act as a result of
the conclusion. Only the resulting ratio of probabilities matters, and that is precisely something
which the method of opening an official betting system is likely to provide anyway. All details of
existing and non-existing arguments are interesting information indeed, but only for the use of
speculators to figure out what to bet, in a world ordered by a rational structure of responsibilities.
The other concrete need is to have available means to take an insurance against the risk
of taking a wrong decision. This is precisely the other thing which such a betting system
Another difference is that I am interested not about developing and discussing methods to be
applied by individuals trying to check the truth of questions (an interest which I would regard
as just inappropriate and offset with respect to the real needs of any genuine research, since
genuine research of any given question is much too serious a matter, too specific to each
question, for any abstract and general discussion about specific and explicit methods to be of
any relevance), but to discuss methods to be applied by populations to reach collective
conclusions by synthesizing the contributions of individuals, while at the same time fully recognizing
the individuals, with their diversity of methods which I am not interested to specify, as the real
and necessary source of discernment on the issues at stakes.
A related difference of paradigm, is about what it means for a view to be objective. For skeptics,
rationality is a possible attribute of the thought of individuals. In a sense that is right, however there
are limits to this. We do need individuals to try to figure out where the truth is (as in many cases
no automated system or any other way may do better than research and understanding done
by individuals), however
there are no such things as fixed "right methods", either methods for an individual to precisely think
in order to be rational, or a method to find out who the individuals are who actually succeed
at being rational. Ultimately, this can be an extrinsic quality (of fitting with external
facts which are out of control) rather than an intrinsic one. Namely, a method
A can have all the intrinsic features of rationality to support a conclusion X, but a method B can
somehow be "more rational" in the sense of encompassing the understanding of A to support the
opposite conclusion Y, and then a third method C can still be more encompassing than B to
dismiss its conclusion for finally supporting X. Finally it is just a matter of fact, thus somehow a matter
of chance, who is right. So, for individual thinkers to be judged in a truly objective way,
this should not be by any human judges (not even by expert judges, nor by majority votes,
nor by expert votes, nor through any kind of blindness procedure like the widespread exams
systems, due to the risk for all such judging, still done by humans with
some thinking format, to be inextricably biased anyway ; I am also not trying to specify that the
widespread exam systems are wrong, I only seek for the development of a new foundation of
individual freedom and a meaningful share of responsibility towards the question of the relevance of
these methods, away from their current hegemony status), but judged by the facts (how
facts happen to be from nature, not from the artifice of made-up exercises), in ways that are
neutral with respect to the choices of methods used by individual thinkers to form their own
guesses. Now, such an objectivity/neutrality requirement is
usually never even dreamed of by skeptics, who always cling to the expectation of some kind of
"visible" criteria of how someone should proceed to be rational or objective. Nevertheless here
it is: such a skeptically un-dreamable level of objectivity of judgement is actually conceivable,
and can even be concretely implemented for practical, efficient uses, as described above.
The last difference of paradigm, of course, is the political one : a solution to respect individual
freedom and make every individual genuinely accountable for their own choices, escaping the
needs of any kind of dictatorship of specific people in any position of ultimate judges, not even as
defined by any kind of majority votes : everyone is free and responsible for himself
for contributing or not to the collective decisions, while those who happen to guide others into the
wrong directions are also those going to pay for the resulting loss. This removes the possibility
for whatever ruling class, whether this may be a stupid majority, to in any way legitimize
(escape accountability for)
its possible mistakes, by presenting these as any kind of best rational guess relative to the given
appearances, which may be subject to any kind of delusion, from any naive thinking that
follows widely committed mistakes, towards any malicious strategy of disinformation propaganda.
Skeptics traditionally make a fuss about this formula which is among
the main methods they recognize to gain knowledge.
Let us introduce it here by a presentation different from usual (by
not the same list of variables) but meaning rigorously the same.
Consider two possible and mutually exclusive hypothesis A and B
about the world, without claim of exhaustivity.
Let pA and pB their respective a priori
probabilities of being true.
Consider a new observation producing a new data d. Let pd|A
the probability that d had to occur under hypothesis A, and pd|B
the one it had under hypothesis B.
Denoting p'A and p'B the a posteriori
probabilities of A and B after this observation, their ratio is
p'A / p'B = ( pA
/ pB ) . (pd|A / pd|B)
Someone may feel intelligent by understanding this formula ;
actually it is just a way of making explicit the obvious, a logical
articulation of understanding and considering evidence, which people
may properly follow (or not) by natural intuition while never having
seen it explicitly written.
Once written, some people may quickly go and conclude that it makes
it clear what it means to think rationally : it is just a matter of
complying to this formula.
If only it was as simple as that.
But even if it was, admitting for a moment this mere criterion for
rationality, how can one dare to qualify skeptics as rational people
in those terms ??? The opposite should be obvious for the following
Letting aside here all debates on a priori probabilities as mere
matter of opinions and searching for experiments which can be called
interesting experiments for science in the sense of being
news over a competition between hypothesis A and B, i.e. that
can be said to either support A against B by having (pd|A
/ pd|B) very large, or B against A by having it very
small - while the rest of experiments, where (pd|A
/ pd|B) is close to 1, can be called null experiments as
they are not bringing news to the debate between A and B.
In so many of their argumentative texts against the reality of the perceptions out
of the body in near death experiences, skeptics have put forward the observation that these
perceptions were "reproduced" by drugs or special stimulation of the brain, or the like. They
presented this as an evidence that out of body perceptions were hallucinations, by arguing that
the "natural" NDE were the same perceptions as these stimulated ones themselves labelled
Now what kind of argument is that supposed to be ??? They try to
qualify the stimulated out of body perception as a "model" for NDE. Would this mean...
something like an explanation ? Looking at this in more detail : how either hypothesis
"naturalism" or "supernaturalism" gives predictions of respective probabilities to
the following possible categories of effects in either natural near
death conditions of stimulated brain experiments:
Now naturalism suffers by its way of predicting 1. and 2. as much
more likely than 3. while observation shows 3. happening much more
often than 2. in near death circumstances, versus supernaturalism
which correctly presents 3. as likely.
- No memory
- Memory of some random hallucinating shit, or if it felt like
real perception of the world, still it is found incompatible with facts ;
- A coherent and fascinating story of travel of the soul outside
the body, whose this-world details are afterwards confirmed as coherent with real
But then, how do skeptics claim to have resolved their difficulty
for this case by pointing out that in the different experimental
case of brain stimulation, outcome 3 also turns out to be frequent ?
Trying to call the brain stimulation circumstance a "model" would
look as if they suddenly better understood the logical articulations
of their own views so as to revise the predicted probability of
outcome 3. in near death circumstances to a higher value. Seriously
where would be the rationality there ??? Observing that a specific
controllable cause (an artificial stimulation of the brain) is
likely to produce a certain effect, does not constitute an
explanation for why the effect is 3. rather than 2. in this or any
other case, any better than the observation that watering the earth
turns out to help plants grow can make it reasonable to count the
act of watering the earth as a "model" or an "explanation" for the
general ability of plants to grow.
Now in case we are meant to ignore this interpretation of the
argument, and focus on this brain stimulation experiment simply as a
separate experiment supposed to lead to a Bayesian inference for
naturalism in its own right. This also fails for the following
In order for the observation of "out of body sensations" under drugs
or specific brain stimulation, to be an argument against the "real
out of body" interpretation of NDEs, this would require this result
to have a probability close to zero under this hypothesis.
Strangely, when putting forward their experience, skeptics do not even seem to pay
attention to the question of whether or not this observed outcome can be at odds
with the real out of body hypothesis. Actually, under the "real out of body" interpretation
of NDE, there is absolutely no surprise that such experiments on the brain can really
drive the soul out of it and thus produce real out of body perceptions in this way. In
other words, the predicted probability of 3. under supernaturalism for artificial brain
stimulation is actually high (= not close to zero). Therefore it is at best a null experimental
result for naturalism. At best, it is raising the question of the possibility of hallucinatory
OBE — a question which did not need any experiment to be raised. For considering this
experiment to bring anything at all to the debate, would require that it brings a positive
case for the possibility of hallucinatory OBE; for this, to establish that (1) these feel
indeed similar to OBE; (2) the perceptions from there conflict with facts. Strangely, the
argument usually omits (2). Why ?
Conclusion: the only thing skeptics successfully demonstrate by such arguments, is
their own inability or unwillingness to dare thinking about the view they are claiming
to oppose, and/or their inability to comply to the Bayes formula when assessing the
weight of an argument they put forward in guise of experimental evidence on their side.
Beyond the Bayes formula
Now unfortunately, reality is much more complex than the issue of
complying or not to the Bayes formula.
First because when people discuss about an experiment and its
results, even if they try to be talking about the same experiment,
they may still not understand each other about what this experiment they
are talking about really is. Each person taking part in any experiment is likely
to have there sensorial perceptions which
would take megabytes of data in real size, and from this they may
try to extract some relevant information of much smaller size for
communication purposes. Readers, who were not part of the
experiment, may try to figure out what this experiment and its
results could have been, but the information which could reach
them is much poorer. Direct witnesses who report having perceived
something, however they may try to express how clear their
perception was, cannot fully explicitly account for it, so that
readers are left to form their own guess about how clear it could
have really been and how reliable the witnesses can be in their
self-assessment of this clarity. Any work of reporting or
assessing data is highly dependent on the particular nature of
every phenomenon, way of collecting data, and the intuition of the
Second because it does not give the rule how to give the correct
value to each of the parameters entering in this formula. This
question of how to give them proper values for a given experiment
can be an open problem, eventually an inextricable one depending
on how the probabilities of consequences of each possible outcome
from each possible hypothesis are "calculated", and how each
outcome is itself defined and deciphered out of the bulk of the
actual, much more complex perceptions.
Third, because any experiment is but one of a large number of ones which
are possible or have already been performed, and it leaves open the question
of how to orient oneself in the huge jungle of countless available reports of
experiments of different kinds. Different people not being newborns (and even
if they were), naturally have different backgrounds of how the world already
appeared to them, either according to their different prejudices, intuitions,
personal experiences or their different ways of orienting themselves in the
jungle of available information, leading to different overall impressions of how
the world looked like. Thus they can be carrying very different "a priori" probabilities
for each hypothesis about the world every time two of them meet and
discuss the outcome of a new experiment.
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence !"
This is just the particular case of Bayesian inference when approximations of
large numbers can apply. And it suffers the same flaws, because the above described
deficiencies and unknowns in the use of Bayesian inference can be huge as well.
Now this is the favorite slogan of skeptics to dismiss the existence of supernatural
phenomena, presenting it as highly unlikely. However by itself this slogan proves
nothing, since it is logically trivial, while, seemingly unnoticed by them, the actual sources
of disputes are over the other premises involved in the kind of syllogism leading to their
supposedly rational conclusion (by the way it reminds me that such a way of being
completely messed up with a particular syllogism, being obsessed about the acceptance
of a trivial premise while neglecting the questioning of others, is
also a basis of Christian faith).
These other required premises are
Actually, both of these premises are highly questionable: there is large room for
possible divergence over them, therefore leading to highly divergent conclusions
between people who are just as good Bayesians as each other. We shall discuss
premise 2 in details later. Let us now focus on premise 1.
- That the claim of existence of a supernatural phenomenon, would be an extraordinary
- That there is no available extraordinary evidence for such.
Now in my view like in that of many other people, the existence of the supernatural
is not anyhow a priori unlikely. On the contrary it comes as an obvious
logical necessity, while the opposite view (naturalism) is the one a priori not just
unlikely, but even completely, ridiculously absurd.
Now an interesting and perhaps surprising point which came up in the debate, is that
skeptics, at least this one (I wonder how general this is) plainly acknowledge this.
Here is his explanation, in reply to my mentioning the strong natural intuition at the
basis of supernaturalism, which the author of another web site pointed out, and that
I suggested to consider lacking in skeptics, as an explanation of the divergence of
I think that here you summarize well how there is misunderstanding,
because it is not that [skeptics] do not have this intuition. Even for the most
fervent of functionalists, consciousness is well felt as a very strong effect which is
almost impossible to imagine coming from a mechanical functioning. So what is
"objectionable" here in my opinion, is to assume that the supporters of
the other thesis have not grasped an "obviousness". It is in a way a lack of
"intellectual charity" I mean all the arguments that [the author of that site] advances
and that he imagines to be "revolutionary" are trivial for a functionalist, who precisely
is going to base his reflection on something very different, will evoke much
more complex mechanisms, the concept of emergence and can work well beyond
what his intuition dictates to him. Against what his intuition dictates,
there is no shortage of this same intuition, he can work beyond.
Let us admit the main points which are put forward in this explanation.
An example that I like is that of the solid table that is in front of me, all what my intuition,
my experience, my sensation of this table tells me, is that it is "solid", some "full", some
"matter", if someone came to tell me that "it is obvious that it cannot be composed of
vacuum and moving particles because otherwise we would go through" well he would
make 2 mistakes:
- a reasoning error (since in fact it is indeed the case therefore he is necessarily
mistaken in his arguments to arrive at a false thing) but I do not consider this error
- an error of intellectual charity based on the principle that what he regards as a
felt obviousness that we would not have understood is not one for us. When in fact,
yes for me too a table is full, solid matter and it is difficult to imagine and really grasp
how a cloud of moving particles and a majority of vacuum can yet be felt that way.
So in summary it is not that the functionalist lacks this "obviousness" which
allows him to see that consciousness is something else, it is that he too has the
same obviousness, but throughout a complex work (which one is totally allowed to
criticize, I am only presenting the thing) he concludes that this obviousness is a
deception, a false intuition which does not represent the characteristic of reality,
which is fooled by emergence, as in my table example.
Yet I think it raises more problems than it brings answers.
In particular I cannot follow him in calling "lack of intellectual charity" that
expectation (until the question is asked and answered) of supernaturalists who
imagine skeptics as lacking the said intuition. To his credit I must point out how
this qualification made sense in the precise context of the discussion, namely
to qualify the precise attitude of the author of that dualist website which
appeared to "...to think that in one page, one can close a scientific and
philosophical debate which is not summed up in 100 books. This is a very big
problem." Indeed the size of the debate strongly suggests that writing 1
page like that most likely won't work to close this debate for others.
Still this does not refute the possibility for such simple reasons to be a
legitimate basis for some people to consider the debate closed for
themselves. Because, well, not all people have the same skills, and the
possibilities for some people to grasp reliable evidence that cannot be well
grasped or verified by others can have its mysteries.
Now letting aside that precise case which motivated the above reply,
let me develop other remarks around these concepts.
Commonly, in any clash between 2
views, proponents of each side who figure out the general state of evidence as
supporting their own side, naturally attempt (except those too insane of course)
to practice "intellectual charity" by offering and seeing a priori plausible (until
questions are answered) what they can find as candidate "least error
explanations" for how could their opponents fail to acknowledge (understand,
be informed about...) that state of evidence.
Now with this definition of "intellectual charity", more complex and global
than the mere question of the gift to perceive or not perceive a single point, I
must say that I fail to see a lack of intellectual charity in trying to explain
skepticism as caused by a lack of those intuitions. Because, if those intuitions
are fully present, I fail to still figure out how to account for the skeptics view by
a no more awful amount of errors.
Indeed let us admit the point, and with it,
try to recapitulate the picture.Now here is the big question : if skeptics are altogether people who
So let us admit that skeptics
are people who were initially born with that supernaturalistic intuition telling
them loud that consciousness cannot be a fruit of material processes.
In other words, they were born with such natural perceptions and intuitions that
they felt the a priori plausibility of supernaturalism as extraordinarily greater than that
of naturalism. In other words, initially to them, naturalism was the extraordinary claim.
Then, somehow, they "grew up" in such way that they ended up seeing the plausibility
ratio between both views as overwhelmingly in the opposite side to what it initially was.
then in the name of which extraordinary evidence did they so switch ?
- seriously think that extraordinary claims require extraordinary
evidence, and take great care of putting this methodology into practice ;
- were initially by nature strongly supernaturalists, perceiving naturalism as an
extraordinary claim but then radically switched position to finally see the balance
of plausibilities strongly on the side opposite to their natural intuition
If the problem is that it requires a huge lot of study and knowledge which cannot
be summed up... well many supernaturalists can also have their own huge lot of
other study and knowledge that also cannot be summed up in clear support of
their opposite view, we shall comment this further in the next parts.
But if we focus on the above comparison with the example of the counter-intuitive
constitution of matter, as far as this example was supposed to be relevant to
explain the situation, I struggle to find from there a hint of such a justification :
all it can say is that generally speaking it might sometimes happen for intuition
to fool us, so that looking at the issue of consciousness from far away before
entering any details, it might happen for this particular intuition to fool us too.
Yet from the idea that it might be an illusion, to concluding that it is most likely
one, a huge gap remains to be filled. Comparison is not reason, and both
examples here compared have too many differences in my opinion. Namely :
So I miss candidate strong arguments for naturalism to discuss, and as linked above, the
range of those offered in academic philosophy appears quite poor.
- The main issue : what brought physicists to adopt the modern view of matter was that
now we do have extremely reliable knowledge (overwhelming evidence) of the structure of
matter from the overwhelming success of physics. This explains that any possible prior naive
guesses that matter might have been structured otherwise are now abandoned, however this
radical switch, insofar as such a switch happened, could only come as a result of the
coming evidence and would not have been justified without it. Now where can we find any
comparably strong evidence for naturalism ? The successes of physics and other sciences
are often mistaken by philosophers as such an
evidence, ignoring that looking at it more seriously, it clearly isn't.
- A less important issue : I do not find very clear reasons to qualify the modern
understanding of matter as really counter-intuitive. In particular the atomic hypothesis
(the existence of elementary constituents that cannot be further cut into pieces,
yet of course not with all the rich modern details) was already considered by
ancient Greeks, and I do not see modern physics as really describing matter as
almost made of void, but rather quite full of electrons which take much of the space
in terms of the Pauli exclusion principle. Generally I miss an example of really
counter-intuitive fact. Maybe that's just me with my intuition which may be more
reliable as I worked a lot to make it so. Maybe I just lost touch with how in old times
the Earth could seem to be flat at the center of the Universe. Many people see
Relativity theory as extremely counter-intuitive, which even leads many amateurs
to reject this theory as they prefer their intuition against scientific evidence, but I
only see this as the mistaken use of an inappropriate intuition in introductory
presentations, in need to be re-written
to use a completely different and more
faithful intuition instead. The same for quantum physics and its double-slit
experiment. Something similar with Godel's incompleteness theorem. Outside
physics there are facts which may seem counter-intuitive for
possibly lots of people, yet not for all people, such as the fact of the necessary failure of communist revolutions
to bring truly happy egalitarian societies, and the possibility for natural selection to
bring about great progress in species abilities in long enough time periods. I cannot
see any of this as standing comparison with the radical counter-intuitiveness
of the emergence of consciousness from complex material structures.
One frequent line of
argument goes by following the history of how scientific progress turned out to refute one
by one diverse supernaturalistic claims that were commonly held in pre-scientific times, and
to better account for how life goes than the kind of answers traditionally proposed by religions...
That appears as a kind of argument by induction, or extrapolation, just like from the
experience that the sun rose every morning we can infer that it is most likely to rise again
tomorrow : if science could regularly replace supernaturalistic explanations of stuff by
natural ones in the past then it is likely to keep doing so in the future.
Now fortunately, the
scientific prediction that the sun will keep rising again every day is not just empirically inferred
from the observation that it usually did (like empirical predictions that new dangerous
coronavirus epidemic outbreaks would stay away from Western countries just because
they usually did so in the past), but also from some very much richer understanding of
astrophysical causes that make it so.
On the other hand, the justifications
to extrapolate the advance of naturalistic explanations over supernaturalistic ones from
past to future are much less clear. And not only because the 20th century rather provided
regular advances by the progress of science in just the opposite direction : towards confirmations of quantum theory
and its "mystical" aspects, resisting all criticism from naturalistic expectations.
Aside the general weakness of the bare principle of empirical induction, to try arguing that
[from the observation that many items in a given list (supernatural claims from old
times) had a given fate (being either refuted or at least weakened
by the higher plausibility of a naturalistic explanation), it should be reasonable to expect
the same for the rest of items of the list], a minimal requirement should be to
justify classifying the remaining items as properly belonging to the same list as
the previous ones.
But aside the possibility to classify claims as defined by naturalism vs supernaturalism,
I see quite other possible ways of classifying them. Namely there is a possible classification
of claims by origin or inspiration. Perhaps, extrovert people
might overlook this distinction which I see as crucial : the distinction between
I see no surprise indeed why, independently of any matter of naturalism, views coming
from guesses formed and developed as doctrines in pre-scientific times and subsequently
propagated as authority teachings across wide populations in spite of their possible
counter-intuitiveness, turned out to fail in the face of scientific progress.
- views which are widespread because somehow "necessary" : obliged or supported by
our hard-wired intuitions eventually deepened by some necessary philosophical analysis, and
- views which only happened to be widespread as a matter of historical accident (which may
come from possibly honest research of a given time but its precise outcome was affected by
contingencies of ignorance and assumptions from that time), precisely, views that came from
"famous authors", either the philosophy of Aristotle or the Biblical and other Christian doctrines.
I must admit that not all observed facts are the most natural expectations of supernaturalism.
Some paradoxes exist, which we need to cope with. Yet, and while naturalistic science
forms a huge progress with a very rich understanding of facts (physics, astronomy, biology,
evolution theory), most of the supernaturalistic expectations which are so refuted by this
progress and other general facts about the world, come down to a very short list of a
couple of general points which can actually be negated in the general supernaturalistic
framework without much trouble. Namely, here is the core idea of this solution (in my own
words summing up ideas I found explicitly provided by diverse available non-traditional
To enhance our very rich (great, spiritualistic and joyful) individual histories,
we (a large range of individuals from a much wider diversity) found the need of a special
contrasting experience of challenges to metaphorically "cut
the umbilical cord", train and experiment our individuality and free will (our skills to manage
diverse responsibilities), still participating in a great collective adventure with its seemingly
but in effective adverse conditions of separation from God or from diverse spiritual resources.
Our physical universe was
created to serve as a suitable framework of illusions for us to play such a big adventurous
game : an effective (but not ultimate) reality structured by "natural laws" (instead of visibly spiritual
structures), with relatively light stakes which we undertook to mistake as
high (with its risks of apparent tragedies, in order to play that game seriously)
by forgetting the higher ones.
In this way I do not see supernaturalism more challenged by "naturalistic facts" than
naturalism was challenged by the discovery of the Big Bang (a discovery which waited to be
done by the Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre as it looked unnatural for naturalist
physicists), and the challenges from quantum physics to naturalism are even stronger.
- That some people having difficulties to adapt to this new state of separation,
mistakenly keep expecting more divine connection than there happens to be here;
- Many of the listed facts "in support of naturalism". These somehow work as illusions
of naturalism, but are not really as conspiratorial in this way as could be blamed by those
skeptics who terribly fall prey to them: not only the intuitions wired in our consciousness
somehow keep reminding us (more or less) of the ontological absurdity of naturalism,
but just probing these "natural laws" with physical sciences suffices to show the incompleteness
of their description of reality, not letting such laws be the ultimate ones.
As illustrated by another
most of the past items which science either refuted or weakened
were claims either taken from or inspired (conditioned) by the Christian doctrine.
Namely naturalism is presented there as opposed to "theism" itself largely defined by
Christian theology with its artificial specificities.
The observed diversity of religious doctrines may be used to argue against
supernaturalism in two ways :
Now the balance of facts to compare naturalism with supernaturalism,
may seem to support naturalism more than it really does, for the following reason.
Debates usually leave both sides be defended by active representatives, comparing between
- One way assumes a view of theism where God
wants people to follow the correct belief, and thus cares to do revelations giving
all people the correct religious doctrine. However this is only the option of religious
fundamentalism, which can be dropped as "a possibly interesting game to play but not
the truth". The opposite option inside supernaturalism, that God (or any angels if there
is no God) may be comfortable with religious diversity, is supported
by some testimonies (other reference),
and suffices to dismiss this version of the argument.
- The other is
based on expecting individual intuitions to be reliable and thus convergent. The
trouble is that the mistake of expecting God to require correctness of belief remains
widespread, which drives many cults to undertake to propagate their respective
orthodoxies in the name of God's requirement
to follow orthodox beliefs regardless of their possible counter-intuitiveness. This suffices
to explain a persistence of mutually inconsistent doctrines resulting from historical
and sociological causes, independently of what natural intuitions alone would have produced.
Indeed, remember where Christianity comes
from. It comes from a time when the likeliness of miracles was largely over-estimated. Their
existence was generally admitted, and thus not a question on which people's concern was
focused. Instead, their focus was on issues of spiritual leaders and doctrines, in search for
the best ones, to which they then attributed stories of miracles in the mere role of "witnesses"
of their divinity. In their eyes, miracles and stories of miracles were subordinate to the role of
supporting the aura of a given spiritual leader, or of a given doctrine. Rumors of miracles
coming to support stories of spiritual leaders looked much more interesting and meaningful
than any other miracle that might happen outside such a context. For many centuries after
this, all the people who might seem to be making miracles without being devout Christians
or giving a specifically Christian meaning to their miracles were called "sorcerers" and sent
to the flames by the Christian churches. In these conditions how can we still seriously let
Christians the honor of being those in charge of trying to prove that miracles exist ?
- the value of scientific facts discovered by modern science with its modern technological
tools in a context of government-funded research institutionally focused on the support of
naturalistic lines of research, and
- a supernaturalism defined by the apologists of old
religious orthodoxies, fruits of peoples guesses elaborated in pre-scientific times, in such
conditions that they depended much less on careful research for the most plausible hypothesis
from intuition and reliable information, than on historical accidents, and natural selection
of the strongest pressure to keep and propagate each given doctrine in God's name, committing
the mistake (among other mistakes) of viewing God as demanding to follow it.
The present times give much better chances to provide reasonable details and arguments
for supernatualism to stand in debate (by modern science, research in parapsychology and
the many online available revelation sources, especially NDE testimonies). It just needs a little
bit of care to do it right, it is such a pity to see this needed update missing under the spotlights.
Among the diversity of scientific methods, the skeptics methods have the following specificity.
Letting aside all purely theoretical works (deep math beyond simple statistical analysis) which
skeptics just ignore, they focus on experimental research, but of a special kind. Such research
normally has the following steps : setting up an experiment ; collecting data ; analyzing and
interpreting this data. There is a whole science, astronomy, where we cannot control the
objects of study (the stars), but only observe them; the experimental side of the work is
just all about building the very sophisticated measuring devices. The big remaining work after
this is to analyze and interpret the data.
But skeptics, being executives by nature,
cannot tolerate the idea to just accept reality as it is and
cope with its possible mess. Being naturally bad at interpreting data, they would be too
afraid of not doing it right just if it wasn't trivial. At the same time they cannot tolerate the
idea that anyone else might be better than them at this task, so they believe that this work
cannot be reliably done unless it is trivial. In the name of this, they put on the shoulders
of the experimentalist the requirement to put reality (the studied objects) under a
maximum of control, forcing it to follow the rules of their dictatorship, designed in such
ways to trivialize the needed interpretation work of the data that will be observed
out of it. This goes regardless of the burden of work so left on the shoulders of the
experimentalist to fulfill this requirement, which may skyrocket to infinity.
Such imbalance (budgetary mismanagement) in the share of work between
setting up experiments and interpreting the data, would "only" be odd if they took on
themselves this extra experimental burden. Now of course that is sometimes the case,
and we can respect that, but otherwise we are running into trouble: skeptics are becoming
unfair when they are not undertaking to pay themselves the price of their mismanagement,
that is the inflated experimental burden they believe to be needed, but put it all on the shoulders
of their opponents, and satisfy themselves to sit in position of judges, checking the data
and just sending it to the flames for the crime of not being as absolutely clear and
trivial to interpret as they wanted. And then they blame this on the experimenter who
they accuse of not having done proper science. Doing so, skeptics are not themselves behaving
scientifically (that is, in a skilled and competent manner), nor expressing respect for science,
as they are praising the stupid and their stupidity, that is the lazy judges who they see right
to practice intellectual laziness in their interpretation of data, and mocking the actual big work
done by experimentalists, who just did not design their work to fit the crazily hard standards
which skeptics require.
As I discussed with this skeptic diverse things including my experience with Boji and Tigers eyes stones,
he pointed out the importance of the placebo effect as well as strange ways for people
to be fooled, such as false memories, and diverse illusions (impressions of perceiving
things which are not actually there, such as a claimed sensitivity to electromagnetic waves
even when they are not there), which according to him were established by science:
Such phenomena seemed strange to me, so I expressed my impression that these
facts were relative to special conditions and details which are different enough to not be
of concern for the things I was discussing. In particular, that possibilities to be fooled
could be more likely to occur in the specially designed environment of scientific experiments
than spontaneously in nature. In particular, I did not notice such phenomena as
occurring in my life, so I guess they are uncommon, just like many skeptics did not notice
supernatural phenomena in their life because of how uncommon or unnoticed these
This is why I see no point to develop the style of paranoia towards risks of being fooled, which
skeptics are calling for.
- He appeared sure that the
placebo effect was such a real effect that it could explain my miraculous
healing as a real effect (obviously not an illusion of healing as you can see from
my testimony, and which he did not try to deny as he wrote it is "surely like 30% or
more of healings, and I happen to voluntarily sometimes to take stuff just for the effect
in question, avoiding to read the notice precisely to benefit from the context of hope"),
in contradiction with both wikipedia and another skeptic's claim "[the claim] “people receive inert substances, yet
believing they are authentic, their mind directs their body to repair itself”, is 100% speculation.
There’s no mechanism for that, and I don’t even know what “the mind directs the body to repair
itself” would mean in specific physiological terms. As best as we can tell, the majority of the
measured placebo response in the control groups of clinical trials consists of various biases,
statistical effects, and other artifacts from the research process itself."
- This reference of
a video showing how pain can come as a mere effect of suggestion.
So I asked him if he (or relatives) experienced any kind of spontaneous
illusions in his life, and he gave the following examples :
These illusions seemed to exhaust what he could remember in the category "sensations"
which I requested to select as something in common with my main reason to regard
as supernatural the effect of healing stones (that I have special sensations with them),
dismissing the placebo interpretation (as I guess the use of placebo effect for healing does
not come with illusory sensations). Still I see enough other differences to not consider this
as any serious challenge to my position. Namely, of course one specific sensation can be
an illusion, so that an attitude of trusting a single sensation, considered out of context,
to conclude in the reality of something, can be a mistake. But I did not commit this mistake,
as of course I keep seeing the data of perceptions in its context: what I consider is the
precise way in which these sensations happen to be correlated with circumstances,
namely how the sensations depend on the real presence of these stones
rather than on my attitude of being aware of them and expecting something from them.
- Feeling burned by a pan which was actually not hot
- Waking up by the pain from a nightmare which then persisted for several minutes
- Believing that 2 things taste different while they actually don't
When direct sensations are not correctly describing reality, the
"care" to correct the understanding by putting things in context, can also be done very
naturally by lots of people, with no need to be a skeptic, and quite often with no need
to specifically research about it. Namely in the above list of 3 examples, the first 2 are cases
where the data of the context, which refutes the validity of the direct sensation, just
comes spontaneously by the force of things with no need to care for it at all, so that
overall the risk of being fooled is non-existent and the skeptics methods are of no use.
Only the third example requires a favorite method of skeptics to elucidate.
These first 2 cases happen to be so simple that the directly stumbling data of the
context of a single occurrence of a perception, suffices to show that it is illusory. Now
of course we can expect things to not be always so simple. Namely, the immediate
context that stumbles with a single occurrence of a perception may not suffice, we
may need to include the broader context of its multiple occurrences across long periods of time.
Indeed when an illusory perception occurs multiple times then even if its
illusory character does not spontaneously show itself in many of these occurrences,
it can still have good chances to show itself in some of these perceptions, therefore
still naturally (spontaneously) forcing the person to notice this unreliability of perceptions
and to take account of this to question the rest of the cases which are not obvious.
There is still another way in which any possible phenomenon of illusory perception is
likely to spontaneously debunk itself by the multiplicity of its occurrences : by the
pattern of its occurrences. Indeed an illusory source of perceptions
is likely to produce a quite different pattern of occurrences of these perceptions, than
a reliable source. Some kind of conspiracy would be needed for an illusory source of
perceptions to produce the same pattern of occurrences as the pattern which a reliable
perception would produce (according to some hypothesis of real cause which would be
so reliably perceived).
Leaving aside the hypothesis of such a conspiracy (with the so tiny possibility for it
to take place just by chance), remains the question of the people's skills to manage
deciphering the given patterns of their perceptions, to correctly figure out which kind of
hypothesis (reality or illusion) best accounts for these patterns. Now this is precisely
where the explanations from previous sections apply : skeptics decide that they cannot
figure this out from the raw data of the perceptions which occur in natural conditions,
so they need to set up experimental frameworks to make it obvious. They need to use
their fingers for counting. Among the rest of people, not using their fingers, some can
happen to have the skills to correctly do the math anyway, others not. And skeptics
give themselves the right to complain loud about how they cannot make the difference
between both, as if it was the others fault, not ready to recognize this as their mere
personal failure which there is no reason for anybody else to care about.
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