|Re: HP-65 and the Paranormal (Warning: Long, OT Ramble)|
Message #10 Posted by Howard Owen on 25 Jan 2007, 10:15 p.m.,
in response to message #5 by Steve Borowsky
Really? Shouldn't the attitude of scientists be to have an open and curious mind, without predjudice?
That's more a case of "postjudice" than "prejudice." Every time abilities of the type claimed by Mr. Geller come under careful scientific scrutiny, they magically disappear. This has happened time after time after time. (See, for example, here.) Combine that with no visible means of support in the rest of our knowledge of the physical world for these claimed phenomena, and you have the basis for the reluctance of many working scientists to waste their time with the stuff.
That doesn't mean that scientists don't ignore real phenomena from time to time, with all the vigor (or lack thereof) they show toward claims of the paranormal. The classic example of science denying a real though unexplained phenomenon is the case of "ball lighting" (Wikipedia Article.) In the 19th Century, this phenomenon, which had been observed for millennia, was declared by Lord Kelvin and the British Royal Society to be an optical illusion. Ball lighting is an exceedingly rare phenomenon; it has never been observed under controlled conditions "in the wild." It's properties as reported by eye witnesses are inconsistent and difficult to account for. In short, it is a hard phenomenon to study scientifically. To this day there is no widely accepted theory of what ball lighting really is, though there are several plausible candidates. (An interesting outline of how skepticism can work against scientific acceptance of real phenomena, including ball lighting, can be found here.)
But it's widely conceded that ball lightning exists, because of the widespread and persistent reports by all sorts of people, far more than ever say they've seen UFOs. The outcast phenomenon finally did make it in to the mathematical model of the universe, albeit in a tentative fashion.
This tendency in science to ignore phenomena outside of existing models flows directly from Logical Positivism, in my opinion. Logical Positivism (to brutally summarize that philosophy, no doubt trivializing it in the process,) states that anything that doesn't exist in the mathematical model of the universe doesn't exist. This can seem odd when you first hear it stated. I was shooting the breeze with a Physics gradual student at UCSB in the 1980s when I was first exposed to the idea. (I was running the computers for the Physics department, so I had lots of opportunity to BS with the scientists.) For some reason, I asked him "what if there were an object so distant that it didn't interact with us gravitationally?" He answered "then it wouldn't exist!" What he meant was, such an object couldn't fit into the then (and probably now) current model of the universe. As a practical matter, you can't study something that doesn't interact with any part of the universe you can observe, so saying it doesn't exist is a useful shortcut, at least. But I've recently heard it pointed out that the Logical Positivism puts mathematical theory in place of god in the unstated ontology of science. That is, inclusion in the theory is the ground of existence! Quite a metaphysical statement that. And problematic, given the Incompleteness theorem.
Not that ignoring ball lightning was a correct application of Logical Positivism. But with that sort of basis for your view of existence, excesses like Lord Kelvin's are more understandable.