Monday, December 27, 2010

Dubunk Quackery Using Another Quackery

A long time ago, when I found Warren Siegel's "Are You A Quack" webpage, I had quite a chuckle when I came across this piece of information.

Note: Long ago a professor of mine told me that he got letters from 2 quacks, so he forwarded each's letter to the other. He got back an angry letter from one saying, "Why did you introduce me to this quack?"

This is not an isolated incidence. In my encounter on the web after so many years, I find that, often times, quacks can't stand other quacks, or at least, they don't want to make any effort in trying to argue with other quacks, which is understandable. After all, what VALUE is there in such discussion when a quack generally (i) doesn't understand physics and/or (ii) are set in their ways and won't want to learn why he/she is wrong.

So, in this very same spirit, I thought what would be better than using a pseudoscience to counter the argument or another pseudoscience. The pseudoscience that I want to argue against here is "ghosts" or other supernatural beings that go bump in the night. Y'know, the ones you see on either the Travel Channel where they seem to encounter some unknown "forces", "energy", or other beings almost every week, without even a bat of an eye that these things are not verified by science.

So how does one counter the validity of such ghosts? Well, we should pull out "The Secret" and apply the Law of Attraction. The fundamental idea of this Law of attraction is a bastardization of quantum mechanics. Here, it appears that you and your thoughts can somehow affect what goes on around you. Your thoughts can change your world and thus, you are in control of what is happening. This, of course, comes from the bastardization of the act of measurement in quantum mechanics, where these people are erroneously apply the fact that a measurement causes the "collapse" of a wavefunction, and how we measure things can affect the outcome.

So my argument against ghosts is that, when put in a "scary" situation, where you go into a building that you have been told to be haunted, or have supernatural occurrences, then you inevitably, according to The Law of Attraction, are "thinking of thoughts" about ghosts and other goblins. So essentially, your thoughts are the ones bringing these entities into your perception. They would not have been there if you didn't know any better, or didn't know about it. So these ghosts are not real. They are only your imagination, and they are shared by people who are there as well. I bet you, if you bring James Randi to one of these ghosts sightings, he will have a different take on what is going on.

So according to The Secret, you are the one who caused the ghosts that you experienced. How about them apples?



rob said...

i dreamt that you were going to write this post. and oprah was there!

Peter said...

Siegel's is a nice anti-quack page that I haven't previously seen, but surely when he tells us that we "might as well claim that [we] can prove 2+2=5", he really means to say that we might as well claim that infinity/infinity=whatever we like?

"Mathematically it's an elementary system, whose consistency is easy to check"? Perhaps true enough at the level of the measure theory associated with the finite-dimensional Hilbert spaces of elementary QM, but not quite as true at the level of non-constructively proving theorems about all interacting quantum field theories that satisfy some system of axioms. The prescriptions for doing renormalization are not quite as definite as the rather more unique prescription that 2+2=4. As Physicists are often keen to point out, QM is history; if you can't play gracefully with QFT, indeed if you can't play gracefully with QED, QCD, and the rest, you aren't really in the game.

Fair enough about ghosts, but if there are only pseudoscience arguments against them, what then?

ZapperZ said...

There are not only pseudoscience arguments against ghosts. I've already presented one example of an argument against ghosts a while back:

But c'mon, do you think these quacks would pay attention to such rational argument?


Anonymous said...

well I dont agree with you ZapperZ.Ofcourse out of the hundred times hese parapsychic phenomena are reported,ninety nine times its a hoax.But I believe there's atleast ONe percent truth in those reportings.Of course the arguments most parapsychic theorists use to explain these sightings (or ghosts)may be totally unscientific but to say that ghosts are nothing but figments of imagination is no right.Ghosts are something we cannot explain.And just because we cannot explain something doesnt prove its inexistence.biologists always thought that phosphorus is an important building block of life.Ask a biologist 10 years before and he would frown upon the idea that an organism can use arsenic instead of phosphorus as its cell components.But now we have found an organism like it.

ZapperZ said...

And here lies a SEVERE misunderstanding on what we accept as scientific evidence. Your claim is that we don't accept it because it only occurs in 1 out of 100 times. This is patently false.

In high energy physics, the occurrence of, say, the top quark detection is much, much lower than even you can imagine. Out of a gazillion collision, the occurrence of a clear signature of the top quark is probably less than a dozen. Yet, we accept the existence of the top quark.

So now THINK. It is clear that the acceptance of something HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT IT DOESN'T OCCUR ALL THE TIME!

But you are also missing the point here. This blog entry tries to debunk a pseudoscience with another pseudoscience. You certainly could did not come up with an argument to counter the fact that The Secret argues that ghosts are something that is a result of your own thoughts and feelings! Instead, you argue that we have to accept them because they can't be explained! Think of how many stupid stuff that we have to accept just because they can't be explained.

But I find it very interesting that you are using that biological example to support your argument, when in reality, if you look at it carefully, it actually destroys your argument. The FACT that when one discover a valid phenomenon, the phenomenon will go beyond just the discovery phase, to being more and more known! We will learn more about that phenomenon as time progresses and as we study it more.

Now apply that to ghosts. How many hundred of years have we known about ghosts? Yet, in all of that time, we STILL now are debating if they exists or not! It still cannot go beyond the "discovery" phase! Throughout the history of science, such phenomenon has never been shown to be valid! So in fact, your example has implicitly showed the difference between real, valid discovery, versus dubious claims such as ghosts.

Well done!


Anonymous said...

I agree with you .Your arguments are right and true and much more stronger than mine.Obviously you are more learned than I am(Iam just a college student).And I would like you point the weaklings in my argument here- But still I believe that the tools we are using to find the existence of ghosts are not the right ones .Suppose you want to study an amoeba ,you have got to use a microscope not a telescope .If you want to study the stars then we have to use telescopes and not microscopes.May be ghosts are made of stuff unknown to us.See ,my mobile phone can catch only FM radio stations but if try to use it for an AM radio station it would be a futile attempt.I feel that may be someday we would stumble upon things which would help us explain them.Discovery by chance is not uncommon in science.I am just saying that writing ghosts off and calling people who are trying to explain them as quacks wouldnt be a good idea.

ZapperZ said...

I hate to keep saying the same thing, but think about it for a bit.

It is OBVIOUS that ghosts were observed by humans. It means that they were detected using eyes, and that also means that somehow, they emit electromagnetic radiation within the visible spectrum. We have means to detect such things. In fact, I would say that our eyes are really poor detectors because it has such a narrow bandwidth in the EM spectrum.

So I am not sure how you could say that we don't have the "right tools" to make such study. If a poor detector (our eyes) can make such an observation, we certainly have detectors significantly better than that to detect such beings.