you’ve see perfectly reasonable people on television
or at a show doing completely stupid things because they’ve
been hypnotised. You’ve heard about others who have had
surgical operations without experiencing any pain. Still more
have recalled forgotten memories of abuse suffered as children
and even people who have remembered past lives. With all this
going on you’re thinking there has to be something in it.
But is there?
Taylor is a hypnotist who does an act where no-one ever
gets ‘hypnotised’. They do all the stupid, and it
has to be said, amusing stuff that you see with ‘real hypnotists’ but – no
hypnosis. Pain is a very subjective thing and people can tolerate
different levels of pain. Why don’t we all do away in anaesthetic?
Answer, because hypnosis only apparently works for a few people.
Can anyone recall things more accurately because they are hypnotised?
Not that I know of.
are two main theories about hypnosis the ‘altered
state’ theory and the ‘social compliance’ theory.
No one can demonstrate that there is any such thing as an 'altered
state' but we know people will do things due to peer pressure
etc. When a stage hypnotist gets volunteers from the audience
he (or she) gets them to do a series of increasingly odd things
until she (or he) is left with a core of willing volunteers.
want to stop smoking or cure your fear of Michael Howard then
don’t rely on hypnosis to help you out. However the
more you believe it will work the more likely you’ll get
Dr Graham Wagstaff: http://www.i-psy.com/people/people_wagstaff.php
you’ve seen a ghost or someone you know has seen one.
Fair enough, what was it you actually saw? I’m not asking
for a description such as a man in an Elizabethan costume carrying
his head under his arm but I want to know what do you mean when
you say you’ve seen a ‘ghost’? There are a
few possibilities. The spirit of a dead person or perhaps some
sort of recording of a past event which is replayed under certain
conditions. The again perhaps it was just something you misinterpreted.
Pretty much everyone finds the last possibility very disappointing
so let’s start with the other two. A dead spirit eh? Was
this spirit dressed? Do clothes have an afterlife? How about
ghost ships? Do you think of a ghost as being ‘non-physical’?
If so how did you see it? Light waves must have been reflected
from its surface so that your eye could register it and send
signals down your optic nerves to your brain. Did the ghost communicate
in any way? If so how did you hear it without sound waves? How
can something be ‘non-physical’ and yet said to exist?
is of course no known mechanism by which events can be recorded
in old brickwork (for example). Yes I realise video and DVDs
can do it but there’s a whole bundle of technology
going on there from camera to DVD player, it’s an analogy
but not an explanation. Perhaps we’ll discover it you say,
after all science doesn’t know everything. Well that discovery
will be Nobel Prize material but as far as I’m aware no
one is even considering it as even a remote possibility so it
may be quite a wait.
do know that people see things that aren’t there. We
also know that many sightings happen a night under conditions
of poor visibility and when the ‘atmosphere’ is such
that we are filled with a certain amount of expectation. To say
you’ve seen a ghost is really not providing much information.
You may well have seen something but not necessarily dead people.
See: Ghost hunting for beginners
I’m grateful that I can keep my thoughts to
myself. Imagine a world where the government could tap into your
thoughts and not just your phone. So how could it work? Two possibilities
spring to mind. Either it’s something physical and there
is some physical transmission from one brain to another or it’s
non-physical. If the first is true why can’t we detect
any means of transmission? As Vic
Stenger points out, scientists
can detect the tiniest of things such as neutrinos. Neutrinos
can pass right through you, me and the entire planet but we can
detect them. Amazing and yet we can’t find any mechanism
from one brain to another. Another curiosity is that this ‘energy’ is
not hampered by such things as the inverse square law, i.e. the
further you are away from the source of energy the weaker it
gets. Can the brain generate enough power to transmit long distances?
the other hand it could be more supernatural in origin and
physical at all. At this point we wave science a fond farewell
and move into philosophy. Rene Decartes of “I
think therefore I am” fame, thought there were two types
of substance; physical and non-physical. The problem with the
latter is that it’s a pretty odd concept. How can something
be non-physical and yet be said to exist? Beats me, but there’s
another problem. How can something physical interact with something
non-physical. Think about it! No answer seems to present itself
and good old Rene, along with every philosopher since, couldn’t
come up with an answer either.
for the sake of argument let's assume that a mechanism for
telepathy could exist but we just haven't worked it out yet.
Current testing for telepathy isn't trying to find the mechanism,
it's trying to see if there is an effect at all and as far
as I can tell, other than anecdotal evidence, there is no more
reason to believe in telepathy than mentally being able to
change lead into gold. Experiments using the Ganzfield techinque
are being carried out at Edinburgh
University but no breakthrough
can appear to be real through trickery or sometimes through
popular demonstration of telepathy is when a performer reproduces
a drawing done by someone else. This is a trick pure and simple. You’re thinking of someone and they
phone you within the next two minutes. It can happen – and
we don’t need to rewrite the science books when it does.
to the dead. Mediums are all over the place these days. The
likes of Derek Acorah, Colin Fry, Shirley Ghostman turn up
on our TV screens and have become national heroes, at least
to some (yes I realise ‘Shirley’ is a spoof – do
you realise the others are as well?) Spiritualism is great at
reinventing itself. It began with rapping noises and moved on
to table tipping and other curiosities. Soon there were full
physical manifestations of dead spirits followed by the scientific
sounding ectoplasm. Alas no more, at least not in public. All
we get now are the likes of Derek Acorah asking, “Who’s
survive bodily death? I doubt it. We evolved from simpler life
forms and to think that somewhere along the journey, from single
cell organism to human being, a benevolent god (I use this
ill-defined word with caution) gave us ‘souls’ makes
no sense at all. What does make sense is that we do not want
to accept the fact that we will cease to exist when we finally
die. Mediums live off this fear but in fairness that isn’t
the same as saying they are deliberately conning us. The method
they use is (usually) cold reading. This isn’t just a question
of making obvious statements it is a sometimes complex mix of
different tactics and strategies that enable a medium (or astrologer,
graphologist, tarot reader, palm reader, etc…) to appear
to be privy to information from an unearthly source. Much has
been written about this technique and yet it is surprisingly
still misunderstood. It is so good that the medium themselves
can genuinely believe they have ‘the gift’. The method
falls down when you start asking the medium to answer specific
questions. My favourite being, “What was my maternal
nickname?” However if the medium manages to obtain personal
information about you, either deliberately or by chance then
this doesn’t necessarily apply. One thing that you might
like to consider is that most mediums will not allow themselves
to be tested: the exception being when the ‘scientist’ in
question is a believer.
reach this planet alien spacecraft have to travel massive distances
that are truly mind numbing to think about. Their craft is
often reported as not being constrained by the laws of physics
as we understand them. So what do they do when they arrive? Well
they like using farmer’s crops to make interesting patterns.
If this gets boring they occasionally abduct people and stick
things up their noses. They often show considerable interest
in our genitalia. Sometimes they just buzz around with no particular
purpose in mind. They seem to take steps to avoid our radar but
don’t mind being spotted by a lonesome truck driver.
the huge number of sightings reported there is not one tiny
shred of evidence the might give us some cause to consider
that there may be something to this after all. Do you know
how good the police are at collecting forensic evidence? DNA
can be collected from your breath on a window (or so I’ve been
told by the police). But in all these years of sightings, abductions
and supposed government cover ups we don’t have so much
as an alien crisp packet.
you what, when you have some hard evidence give me a call.
Meanwhile talk to the Gray ‘cause the Earthling ain’t
this is really easy. All crop circles can be made by people.
Yes they are very clever and pretty but they bugger up farmer’s
crops so stop it – or pay the farmer. There is no rhyme
nor reason for aliens to waste their time doing this. If you
think they are you’re beyond help.
surprising number of people think this works. Yes the twig,
pendulum or whatever moves but it moves due to the ideomotor
effect and not because it can detect water, oil, gold, missing
persons or dead bodies. Sometimes people will get lucky, in
fact because of the water table here in the UK there’s
a damn good chance you’ll find water almost anywhere – if
you dig deep enough. What would prove this once and for all is
for dowsers to show repeated success at properly conducted tests.
Unfortunately what they show is repeated failure followed by
repeated excuses. My suggestion is to buy the video from the
Australian Skeptics and witness test after test followed by amazingly
consistent results i.e. abject failure.
Since Francis of Asisi this phenomenon has caused the bewilderment
There are three popular theories;
God/Jesus or whoever causes this to happen by supernatural
The subject causes the injuries (whether real or fake) themselves.
Caused by the subconscious mind affecting the victim's body.
Referred to as 'psychogenic purpura'.
own view (applying Billy Ockham's theory)
is that b) is the most likely candidate. For all I know c)
remains a possibility but as this is controversial I'm sticking
never get to see the actual marks appearing by themselves,
i.e. a camera fixed on the subject's hand and the gradual appearance
the sort of thing I mean. Still photos of the various stages;
you click each image you can see them in close up.
stigmatic in this case did not wish to be identified. Okay it's
my hand if you must know but this is strictly between you and me!
called ‘psychokinesis’, both words referring
to the ability to physically move objects with the power of the
mind. Grainy monochrome footage of Russian psychics moving things
around aren’t particularly convincing – even if you
can’t see the thread. Neither is making a compass needle
twitch. Here’s a question. What, apart from a psychic with
powers that defy scientific explanation, can make a compass needle
- a carrot
- a magnet
- a picture of Prince Charles
Calls cost a minimum of 25p.
spoons comes under this heading. Just how the mind might do
this is unclear. Via a spaceship from the planet ‘Hoova’ is
one possibility, using sleight of hand is another.
Watching a magician make a spoon bend before your eyes can be
both mystifying and entertaining. When you see one do it you
should be generous with your applause as you may be witnessing
great skill. If you want to know how it’s done then that’s
easy - buy a DVD or book from your local magic supplier. Then
again just save your money and let me assure you, as someone
who has bought the books and DVDs, I have never seen a psychic
bend anything that could not also be accomplished by trickery.
is a catch all term that purports to explain how such things
as astrology, graphology, fortune telling, tarot reading and
apparent communication with the dead. Having successfully posed
as a tarot reader and an astrologer on
television I can vouch that it does actually work. Typical
techniques include talking about general aspects of people’s
lives that sound specific to them but in fact apply to most
of us at one time or another.
see a celebration coming up soon, or perhaps one’s just
are a pretty common occurrence and there’s a
reasonable chance this will be happening. There’s also
house warmings, weddings and wedding anniversaries, and christenings.
"There’s a legal matter that you’re concerned with.
Could be a relative is up for armed robbery or maybe you’re
There might be frequent questioning although they might be in
“Who’s George?” Or, “I’m getting
the name… George…<pause>”
written more fully about this technique in Psychic Sophistry and Before You See a Psychic.
number of magician’s who specialise in producing psychic
effects have accused me of exposing tricks by discussing cold
reading to the point where some have refused to sell me certain
items of a ‘magicky’ nature. They seem to think that
this technique is their sole property and anyway so what if a
few people get ripped off along the way? Needless to say I don’t
agree with this view and neither do many magicians. This technique
goes back way before any psychic entertainer got hold of the
idea and there are more important issues at stake than what is
probably a tiny part of their act. Of course if they set themselves
up as psychics then as far as I’m concerned they are just
perpetrating a fraud. I confess I have used cold reading techniques
myself on occasion (as part of a trick) and even though I have
explained it many times no one seems to spot it.
See also: James
Randi's, "The Art of Cold Reading" and The
This pretty much stands as a crowning glory to irrational
thought. Despite all evidence to the contrary homeopathy has
established itself as one of the most popular alternative therapies.
you think it might work? Well we all know the story that some
medications (e.g. aspirin) began life as herbal medicine. So
you’re not going to rush to dismiss
herbs, etc. out of hand are you? You may well view homeopathy
as being something quite similar to herbal medicine.
may also have heard that one characteristic of the treatment
is to dilute the substance to very small quantities. Well isn’t
that a similar way to how vaccines work? You take a very small
amount of the substance which triggers an immune response in
your body or something like that.
no that’s not what homeopathy is at
are two main principles in homeopathy both of which are decidedly
flaky. The first is that ‘Like Cures Like’.
So if you feel all cold and shivery with a runny nose and a
headache the stuff you take would, if administered normally,
bring about similar symptoms. Think about this for a moment.
Even though a virus may have brought this illness on, taking
something that makes you feel just as bad supposedly helps
alleviate it. Really?
One website I found (http://www.practicalhealing.co.uk/)
lists some of the things that homeopathy can be used to treat,
in mind our ‘like cures like’ hypothesis
what could we use for poor sleep? Presumably caffeine fits the
bill. How about hair loss? I mean who decides what works? What
trials were done to arrive at these treatments?
we’re only just starting. Here’s the really
weird bit. Homeopaths believe that the more you dilute something
the stronger it gets, or at least the better its curative effect.
That’s daft enough but it gets worse. The base substance
(usually water) is diluted so much that the original treatment
is completely missing. That’s right, all that’s left
is water. You simply add a small drop to sugar tablets and
swallow – hook, line and sinker!
theory is that water somehow has a ‘memory’.
2002 the BBC programme Horizon (link below) tested this theory
and James Randi stepped forward offering the JREF $1 million
prize. Homeopathy failed dismally, much as you would expect
but the most powerful point made by the programme (IMHO) was
just what this diluted dosage means.
Take your substance
say caffeine) and mix it with 99 parts water. Bash it around
a bit (called percussion) and you have a solution rated as ‘1C’ -
then mix it some more.
it repeatedly this way eventually gets you to ‘6C’ which
means we have the equivalent of 1 drop of caffeine in 20 swimming
pools full of water. Mix it some more and you’ll get to
12C which equates to 1 drop in a body of water the size of the
Atlantic Ocean. Move up to 30C, which is a common dose, and you
have any of the original substance left. However that won’t
matter because you’ve been bashing it about between each
dilution thus helping the water ‘remember’ what was
probably not an effective cure in the first place.
Skeptics attempt suicide
UK Skeptics on homeopathy
to subjects follow.....