Thursday, December 20, 2007

(231) To speak freely about one´s beliefs, or to black more?

In the last days of October 2006 I altered the Wikipedia entry on Susan Blackmore http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Blackmore

My codicil suggested that what she said and what she believed were not the same thing.
A few days later I saw that it had been removed.
So I added it again. An hour or so later it had gone.
So I added it again.
This cat and mouse continued for a while until her page achieved "protected" status.
I asked why and was informed by administrator, Andrew Norman, that what I had posted was potentially libellous.
I challenged that. Blackmore has laid out her stall with unequivocal clarity.

On the cited Channel 4 AFTER DARK programme of 1989 she said
"There´s no god. There´s no meaning. There´s no purpose. There´s just one moment of perception, and then another moment, and then another."
Couldn´t be clearer, could she? So we have here your classical reductionist, mechanist mainstream scientist.
Then I added that when a guy challenged her on TV that she was actually a believer, she did not deny it.
And also I added the anecdote re lights going out at her lecture recounted here in Entry 91.
NOTHING could more clearly have betrayed her sympathies towards a supernatural reality than that incident. Susan Blackmore is not what she says.

">Your last line says it all - you really don't see how accusing someone of being a fake could be potentially libellous? Especially an academic (albeit a freelance one)? --ajn (talk) 08:52, 25 October 2006 (UTC)

The risk seems to me no greater than that faced by the guy who so challenged her on... TV. Does it to you? My exposure to litigation seems no greater than it would have been after I so wrote of her in my cited book, a copy of which she possesses...Do you really think she´s going to do anything? Of course she isn´t!

Around this time I also was trying to add comments to Blogs at The Guardian, starting with the one written by Jon Ronson after he had read my essay defending The Millionaire Three http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/jon_ronson/2006/07/could_the_who_wants_to_be_a_mi.html
Incidentally, I had sent Ronson an e mail drawing attention to the essay over a year before that, but he did not seem to receive it.

My technophobia, combined with an apparent restriction on adding comments to Blogs three days after they appeared, meant I could post nothing, neither to his blog nor to ones I noted from Susan Blackmore.

Finally I got a new e mail address and handle, and noted a blog she posted on visiting China which ended with her saying that in her next contribution she would be looking at religious freedoms in that land.
On November 3rd 2006 this appeared http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/sue_blackmore/2006/11/religion_in_china.html
It begins -
"I'm still in China, and it's so refreshing to be in an atheist country. Or is it really? That's certainly the official line and I've been wondering just how true it is."

Indeed. Rupert Sheldrake commented on the official line in contemporary biology that it was "Rather like working in Stalinist Russia".
He meant that biologists were forced to peddle the official line in their labs, but when they went home they did not treat their families as if they were mere machines.

Comments began beneath her Blog. I added mine -

... Ms Blackmore´s last blog was Freedom Filtering Through..? .... Hmmm... She then tells us that she is going to investigate what official restrictions there are to religious expression in China. There is a body of opinion that her own public stance of "Rentasceptic" may also exhibit some censorship.
She began her career as an enthusiastic investigator of the paranormal and ESP, but... she switched and claimed that "there´s nothing there." ...
When detailing her failures in a 1988 BBC science programme she concluded by sneering into the camera " But PSI will NEVER be proved." Not, note, "PSI does not exist."
The following year she related on TV ... how she had been part of a coven of witches but had abandoned magic it as "It didn?t work!"
Then she added "Oh, except once! Once it worked. We cast a spell asking for a light to go out, and it did! And I spent ages crawling around trying to find a fault in the electrical system." (I then added the story mentioned here in Entry 91 of the lights going out at her lecture.) ... ...
And during a TV appearance of the 1990s... she was directly challenged. "You ARE a believer!"....
She just smiled...
One sees therefore why some people believe that her true philosophy might be summarised as: "If you can´t beat them, pretend to join them." ... ... Susan... ought perhaps to write more about some people´s self-imposed censorship concerning spiritual matters.

On November 2nd 2006 I saw a truck in our road accidentally bring down some overhead cables causing our neighbour to temporarily lose his electricity supply. Engineers arrived to fix it. That night we experienced torrential rain and next morning suffered two short power cuts, the first we had experienced in eight months ownership.

That afternoon I posted my above comment. Just after that I found myself thinking again on her persona and wondered again if the debate on the paranormal might be like an ongoing gag in the famous 1960s American TV sit-com Bewitched in which a witch was a housewife in a suburban street. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bewitched
See also the end of Entry 211.
Her neighbour was always seeing fantastical happenings, but every time she summoned her sceptical and increasingly lugubrious husband to the window to view them, all of the marvels had vanished.
Shortly after I heard my wife saying something to our son that Bewitched would soon be on TV. But she made an error; it was actually a not dissimilar programme called Charmed which was about to show.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charmed

Charmed, my son informed me, was an American programme about three benign girl witches who are sometimes allied with other powers termed White Lights, and who combat demons and other forces of darkness.

As I was writing up a draft of the details of this example, at 10:10 p.m. on Nov 4th 2006, we experienced another brief power cut.

This http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article1959048.ece speaks of the biggest pan-European blackout in thirty years that very weekend, which may indeed have been responsible for what happened to us.

A few days later I noted that on April 7th 2006, Birkbeck Professor of Philosophy, A.J. Grayling, had begun a Guardian blog On truth and betrayal which savaged religion, with an excised quote at its heading -
A simple test of the relative merits of science and religion is to compare lighting your house at night by prayer or electricity

On June 8th 2007 another Blog of Blackmore´s went up entitled We of little faith. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/sue_blackmore/2007/06/we_of_little_faith.html
In it she said that the Prime Minister was wrong to have stated that religious faith was incompatible with reason.
Her Blog spawned almost 500 responses.
Towards the end came mine -

JamesPlaskett Comment No. 629600 June 10 18:13ESP

Please keep these facts in mind:-

1) She began as an enthusiastic investigator of the paranormal, but after obtaining negative results, switched and claimed, "there´s nothing there."
When detailing her failures in a 1988 BBC science programme she concluded by sneering into the camera "But PSI will
NEVER be proved."
Not, note, "PSI does not exist."


2) In 1989 she related on TV (whilst seated next to James Randi) how she had been part of a witches coven but had abandoned magic it as "It didn´t work!"
Then she added "Oh, except once! Once it worked. We cast a spell asking for a light to go out, and it did! And I spent ages crawling around trying to find a fault in the electrical system."


3) Prof. A.C.Grayling´s Truth or Betrayals? blog here began with the challenge - " A simple test of the relative merits of science and religion is to compare lighting your house at night by prayer or electricity. "
You will observe that the CSICOP fellow and acceptor of their 1991 Distinguished Sceptic Award testified on live TV, whilst seated next to CSICOP Sceptic of the Century, that she did indeed affect lighting IN PRECISELY THAT MANNER.

4) In 1991 she was Rentaskeptic on a Randi show where he challenged a map dowser to use his powers to locate in which of 24 squares on a map an important landmark was located.
He did.
Sue commented that the guy had indeed passed the test and she would be interested to see follow up studies. Of course, none were made.


5) In 1992 when I heard her lecture in London on The Near Death Experience: Visions of The Dying Brain.
Her theory is that people who think they are going down a tunnel towards another reality are in fact experiencing an effect produced by oxygen starvation of the brain.
At the start the lights flickered, went out and came back on.
I am a Theist, dualist, and vitalist. I thought nothing of it.
SHE cast uneasy glances upwards and remarked on odd things happening when one addresses a Society for Psychical Research gathering.
No true sceptic, e.g. Randi, Paul Kurtz, Stephen Fry or Wendy Grossman would ever have behaved so.


6) During a TV appearance of the 1990s she was directly challenged: "You ARE a believer!". She just smiled back.

7) Freedom is precious. But science is a consensus activity. If you want recognition you must tow the line. Freedom of belief works BOTH ways. People speak of Dawkins as the defender of rationality and of freedom and scientific evidence. If you want an insight into how Richard and his Thought Police truly operate, check this out -
http://web.archive.org/web/20020601165954/www.alternativescience.com/thes.htm

On her blog about stopping flying, she speaks of the prestige, the cosy hotels, the status...
You just don´t get these if you say certain things.

8) The 20th Century was called that of half-belief.
I find Sue a marvellous exemplar!
But, I am honestly not having a go. I have met the lady and found her very pleasant.

She posts that she is not going to waste any more of her time looking for things which almost certainly do not exist.
Fair enough.
But there are two other good reasons for abandoning attempts to prove the supernatural:


a) That it may be real but, for some unearthly reason, unprovable. She herself titled a piece logging her inability to confirm PSI "Confessions of a PSI-Inhibitory Experimenter."
I also have written that it seems to me that any person professing belief in the paranormal would have also to add " ... and I accept that, for some reason, it is impossible to prove it."

(See Part Two: The Narrative, Epilogues and Appendices , which is to be found following Entry 22 here.)

b) IF it exists; would we want it PROVEN? I doubt it. Better the ambivalent data, the glimpses, the anecdotes, the coincidences, and all the unproveable testimony..?
Maybe...
Those throughout history who sought anything usually harboured the genuine desire to find it.

Sue posts on her Seduced By Science blog -
I wanted to find out the truth and did twenty five years of research in parapsychology ...
But in 1986 (the same year in which she wrote in PSICOP?s journal The Sceptical Enquirer that we may one day have a spiritual science)
( See my Explanation Entry at this Blog´s beginning )
Dr B. admitted that any unchallengeable manifestation of the paranormal would terrify her.
Probably not only you, Sue... (and why then, one is moved to ask, were you looking for it?)

Re Grayling´s disparaging of faith in his Truth or Betrayals blog, nothing could betray truth more clearly than the reactions to those separate sets of lights going out.

Perhaps there is a niche and NEED in a nominally PostModernist society for onesuch!?

A part desperately seeking a player, and finding the answering call in the guise of the one woman whose history and very name perfectly fit.

She has found her veiled vocation.

Let her play it out.


That posted at about my sixth attempt, and only after substantial amendments en route that got it into this final form, which I now regard as one of my best ever posts.
Then it posted.

By the way, that very week there were articles in the papers about newly devleoped technology which would allow plugless electrical supply in, e.g. the home.

Note that the Channel 4 programme of 1989 during which she told of her successful turn-out-the-light spell was called AFTER DARK.

Also, on March 5th 2006 I was in my room of the Paragon Hotel in Birmingham and was thinking of a scientist condemning the idea of magical causality, re those who attack Darwinism.
In the background my TV was playing and something was then said about Science and Magic not being allowed to mix.
It may have been a cartoon.

For more on a dissonance between a person´s public pronouncements on what they really believe about lfe, see Entry 128.

N.B.
At 8:35 p.m. on March 23rd 2003 I had been thinking about presenting a TV programme pointing out the lack of evidence for Darwinism (see e.g. Entries 127, 128, 138, 139, 142, 146, 240) and giving an exposition of my own philosophical development.
I actually found myself saying out loud that I had “... looked at the oddest things and had then been pointed to Darwinism as the simple rational truth of the matter.
Admittedly, it is not a very romantic truth, for there is no God, no meaning, no purpose...”
This last listing was taken from Dr Blackmore’s performance as a guest on a Channel Four After Dark discussion programme in 1989. But I did not believe she meant it.

As I said these words she appeared on the TV. I had just turned it on and gone to BBC2. I intended to record a programme on that station at 10:p.m.
Dr Blackmore was speaking on a programme about Zen Buddhism and she said that it was superior to, e.g. all kinds of New Age stuff where people stuck crystals under pillows.

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