Episode 8: Extra Ordinary Claims

Episode 8: Extra Ordinary Claims

“See it in action … Conversation with Susan Blackmore (Part 1) … Can I believe it? … Conversation with Richard Wiseman … The phone always rings when I’m in the shower … Conversation with Susan Blackmore (Part 2) … Uncut conversations”
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Summaries

  • Episode 8 - Extraordinary Claims > See it in action > See it in action
  • Conversation with Susan Blackmore (Part 1)
  • Episode 8 - Extraordinary Claims > Can I believe it? > Can I believe it?
  • Episode 8 - Extraordinary Claims > Conversation with Richard Wiseman > Conversation with Richard Wiseman
  • Episode 8 - Extraordinary Claims > The phone always rings when I'm in the shower. > The phone always rings when I'm in the shower
  • Episode 8 - Extraordinary Claims > Conversation with Susan Blackmore (Part 2) > Conversation with Susan Blackmore (Part 2)
  • Episode 8 - Extraordinary Claims > Uncut conversations > Uncut conversations

Episode 8 – Extraordinary Claims > See it in action > See it in action

  • Until now in Think101, we’ve been correcting several myths about how people think the mind works.
  • Now in the last couple of episodes, we introduced a few tools that we’ve taken from science that can help us deal with complexity and ambiguity.
  • I think we’ve been laying the groundwork for what’s to come.
  • This week, we’re going to be talking about extraordinary claims, but everything that we’ve learnt until now, everything we’ve that been talking about is being applied to these very concrete examples, to these experiences that people have.
  • We’ve talked about the way that the mind works, intuition, system two thinking.

Conversation with Susan Blackmore (Part 1)

  • Now I’d become a competent, not brilliant, but a competent tarot reader, and people said things: “How did you know that? That’s amazing,” you know, all that stuff.
  • Trying all the time not to make it so artificial to try to make it more realistic.
  • I have, for a very, very long time in my house in Somerset-I used to have targets in my house.
  • He said, “If you put a five-digit number in your house, I will come and visit.” And he said, “I have out-of-the-body experiences spontaneously at night. I can’t say when they’re going to happen, but if you have that there all the time, when I have one, I will come and visit.” And he said, “Cook me an apple crumble every so often. That will bring me back. That’s my favorite thing,” so I would do that, too.
  • Every time I met someone else who had spontaneous out-of-the-body experiences, I would explain that to them and say, “Anytime you come…” In all those years when those targets were there, I had three people who wrote to me and said, “I’ve been to your house, and I’ve seen it,” and none of them got it right.
  • You see, when you have an out-of-body experience, it looks so vivid that you can’t help but believe that you’re actually seeing something physically there, but you’re not.

Episode 8 – Extraordinary Claims > Can I believe it? > Can I believe it?

  • In looking at these very claims, she’s the one that had this experience and changed her opinion about these experiences.
  • Imagine being in that sort of scenario: having this extremely vivid out-of-body experience, something that you couldn’t possibly explain using anything that you have available to you, and she did experiment after experiment after experiment, twenty-some experiments, as part of her degree to investigate these things, and all of them just kept coming up empty.
  • So she was able to set up an experiment that had scientific rigor and came up with things that you and I would never have imagined-the combination that the person had to guess and baking the apple crumble-really, really puts her in a unique position to test these claims.
  • There are actually former magicians, or magicians that spend a lot of their time revealing some of the tricks, the secrets, behind things like magic and parapsychology.
  • These guys are again in a unique position to test these claims because they live and breathe this stuff.

Episode 8 – Extraordinary Claims > Conversation with Richard Wiseman > Conversation with Richard Wiseman

  • There is some research suggesting that if people are having a tough time in their lives, if they’re facing uncertainty, or as a child they faced a lot of uncertainty and upset, then that tends to bias them towards believing in the paranormal, thinking there is a magical solution to their problems.
  • The people who are going along to a psychic or medium can be quite psychologically vulnerable.
  • Of course one of the issues here is whether going along to the psychic or medium helps, and whether they’d be better off in a more sort of mainstream counseling scenario.
  • Can you tell me about the nature of superstitious belief? Why do you suppose it is that we all believe some pretty strange things? Well, superstition is fascinating in part because it’s so widespread. Although only a third or half of people believe in the psychic or medium, almost 90, 95 percent of people would touch wood, cross their fingers, whatever it is.
  • If the idea was you have to do three or forward rows and a star jump every single time you say something like, “I hope that goes well,” then people wouldn’t be quite superstitious.
  • I would say, if you’re going along to a psychic or a medium, understand the tricks of the trade, be an informed client, and if you see them being used, get out of there.

Episode 8 – Extraordinary Claims > The phone always rings when I’m in the shower. > The phone always rings when I’m in the shower

  • People should be really careful when it comes to appeals to authority.
  • We wanted people to evaluate their claims and what they said based on what they said, not on who they are.
  • We want people to evaluate our claims based on their merits rather than our titles.
  • The way the western medical system is set up is looking at what happens when that’s already happened, rather than looking at going back and winding the clock back to when it started that depletion process because the nonlinear effect is when you actually start dealing with origins of the trauma that created the debt-that energy debt-it starts to actually prove the situation in the present time, which kind of makes no sense because you’ve already depleted the system.
  • I had a really difficult time tracking exactly what he was saying as well.
  • I think the vast majority of what he was saying was just, as you said, bafflegab.
  • I think another really nice example of a cognitive mechanism that’s operating in people’s belief in the paranormal is what’s called a one-sided event.
  • What’s not going to stand out in memory is you being in the shower, lathering up and thinking to yourself, “Hey, the phone isn’t ringing.” Or how many times the phone rings, and you’re not in the shower.
  • If you look at all the people in the world and how often we dream, there’s going to be a bunch of times when that happens just by pure chance.
  • Good luck trying to convince the individuals who’ve had those dreams or the people close to them that that was just one of this broad fabric of pattern of noise.
  • With a planet of several billion people, one in a million events happen one in a million times, which is a lot in a big population like that.
  • Even if you look at the small scale, if you take-if you’re at a party, say, with, say, 23 people at a party.
  • What are the chances that two of those 23 people are going to share the same birthday? It’s a lot more likely than you would think.
  • In a group of 23, the fact that two people are going to share the same birthday is 50/50, a 50 percent chance that two people are going to share the same birthday in a group of 23.
  • That’s a lot more likely than most people would think.
  • If you increase it, if you go from 23 to 30, you have 30 people in a room, the chance of two people sharing a birthday is 71 percent, which is pretty good.
  • What most people do in this sort of problem is what happens when you’re dealing with paranormal phenomena as well.
  • When you ask, “What’s the likelihood of two people sharing the same birthday,” they think, “What’s the likelihood of two people sharing my birthday?” What are the chances that it’s going to be on the 17th of January? And they’re looking at it through that lens, instead of through all of the lenses of the people at that party.
  • The chance of somebody in the room sharing your birthday, it would take 253 people to share the same birthday as you, which is a very different problem than anybody sharing the same birthday.
  • Now I hope people spend a bit of time on working through those general mechanisms because I think they’re really helpful.
  • It’s so easy to discount those people who believe.
  • These people at the MindBodySpirit Festival were lovely.
  • We’re teaching a course on everyday thinking and we study intuition.
  • There is no way that these people were deliberately trying to deceive people just to make money.
  • If these mechanisms aren’t occurring to you or I, as we walk around, why would we think that they occur to believers? Let’s give them a chance and try and work through why it is these people believe strange things.
  • These don’t exactly roll off the tongue, do they? People-they probably didn’t occur to most people who are watching this video, just like they wouldn’t occur to most people who are practicing the psychic arts or paranormal beliefs.
  • So why would we hold them to the same standard, in a sense? Why would we think that they’re guilty of these things necessarily? I don’t think it’s that easy.
  • I don’t think we can just attribute it to malice or thinking that they’re out to deceive us in some sense.
  • There may be, and there are some people out there who even know these things and try to frame them in such a way as to manipulate people, but I don’t think that that’s going to explain most people’s behavior.
  • If that’s the case, if most people who are taking this course and even people who are practicing these things have these opinions about the way that the world works, it’s not going to be easy to change their minds, to show them about all of these cognitive operations that are happening that lead them to believe in supernatural explanations.

Episode 8 – Extraordinary Claims > Conversation with Susan Blackmore (Part 2) > Conversation with Susan Blackmore (Part 2)

  • I think you should work on this time machine, and we’ll find out.
  • I think there would have been two things going on in my mind at once.
  • I think there even were during the experience those things going on, on the one hand would have been: “But I know. You don’t understand. You don’t understand how real it was. How could you possibly-this is so important to me, and it means so much to me,” and simultaneously would have been going on: “But there has to be an explanation. What’s going on?” I’ve always been a scientist in the broader sense since I was a kid.
  • I think if you’d approached me as perhaps one of the worst members of the skeptical community, would be like, “That’s rubbish,” then I would have been absolutely against it.
  • If you’d come along and said, “Well, could it be there’s something in the brain? Could it be…” I’d have been thinking, “Could be.” I might have been frightened because-the day after, I was so confused.
  • I think you’d have to come a week later when I’ve sort of calmed down a bit.
  • In a way, when people have these very dramatic experiences, and I’ve met lots and lots of people who have, you feel threatened if somebody tells you it’s not what you thought.
  • If you’re a sort of rigid, close-minded kind of thinker, and when you’ve had this extraordinary experience, you snap on to your own explanation, then it’s very, very, very hard.
  • ” But if you’re a more open-minded, if you’re good at thinking, if you’re good at asking questions, if you’re good at exploring possibilities, then I think it’s much easier.
  • How did it really feel, and then what happened,” and take an interest, then I think I would have responded quite well to you and been, “Hey, you might be my savior.
  • The paranormal stuff out there and the new age and the Age of Aquarius and all that stuff, the end of the ’60s was like a world apart, and that’s why it’s taken me a lifetime, I would say, to bring together extraordinary experiences and neuroscience.
  • Given what you know now about opinion change and changing your own opinion, what would be the best way to approach somebody and change their mind or at least get them to consider the alternatives that it might not be what they think? I’m glad you made that switch.
  • I don’t go at anyone who’s had an extraordinary experience, “I want to change their mind,” unless they are just so rigid, I’d despair and I don’t want to have anything to do with it.
  • For most of the people I’ve met, so many have had an experience they can’t understand, and they don’t know what to do with it.
  • Some people will be very rigid, particularly, I think, of near death experiences where it has so much of religious connotations.
  • What I first do is, “Okay, then what happened? Then what happened? Could you see anything else?” Get them to loosen up because if what they’ve done is had this extraordinary experience, typically in a near-death experience, if it’s a long one, they will typically start with a tunnel, like I did, and go into the light.
  • They’ll have an out-of-the-body experience, and they’ll watch what’s physically happening or seem to.
  • The point is I’m grounding it in what really happened because I want to know, because I’m always thinking what’s going on in their brain? Where is this relating to what’s happening in the temporal lobe? What’s happening in their visual cortex where we know the tunnels are generated? What kind of tunnel was it? What emotional state were they in when it started? Because very often, these experiences have a most wonderful profound sense of, “It’s all alright,” which is probably endorphin-based but it’s-saying that doesn’t put it down.
  • I sort of like to help people just to talk about their experiences.
  • I’d rather people use their experience as basis to go on and try to understand themselves and the world, than I would try to change their mind to the truth.
  • We know as much as we can know-that nothing leaves the body in these experiences, and that there is no spirit and no soul and so on-but so much more to find out.
  • I think it’s absolutely foundational to being a good thinker.
  • I’m just saying, suppose it did, what are the possible explanations? Now the good student, the one I’m going to admit, says, “I don’t think it’s true but, if it were, it could be because of their upbringing.
  • It also makes me think more about the kind of paranormal things that we’re thinking about and the strange experiences that people have.
  • The student I want, the student I will enjoy, would go, “Well, I think that this happened but, hang on a minute, okay, it’s emotionally difficult.
  • I’ve been training in Zen for 30 years, and that is also training in flexibility, letting go, openness to experience, openness to different explanations.
  • The goal of the course is to improve people’s everyday thinking.
  • Do you have any recommendations for how people in the course might improve their everyday thinking? Yes.
  • Feel those intuitions coming up, and question them, because some of your intuitions will be fine: “Yes, I think if I lean on here it’ll be fine,” but some of your other intuitions: “I’m in here looking out through my eyes.

Episode 8 – Extraordinary Claims > Uncut conversations > Uncut conversations

  • I had this out-of-body experience, mystical experience.
  • What is this? There you-you know, I can see you, but this is my experience.
  • Can you tell us a bit about that experience that you had back when-that kind of started you down that path? I can tell you a little about it.
  • You know, I’ve never heard of tunnel experiences.
  • The term near-death experience hadn’t been invented.
  • I tried to get bigger, so I got bigger and bigger and bigger, and that led me to the classic experience, mystical experience of oneness, where everything was me and not me.
  • Obviously, moving from that amazing out-of-body experience to studying paranormal psychology and ultimately becoming a skeptic didn’t happen overnight.
  • No. Can you give us a sense for how that path happened from moving to that experience to where you are, I suppose, now? Yes.
  • I believed in those, and I’d had this extraordinary experience.
  • There I was sat in a bath one day in my house in Guildford, and I thought, “What if none of it’s true?” It was awful to then have to go through all I knew over the next weeks, really, and think, “Is it possible that I was completely wrong?” That experience happened.
  • They could be a bit distorted and I’ve selected bits and so on, but I cannot deny the experience.
  • I met loads of other people who had extraordinary experiences, too.
  • Those experiences have to be valid, meaningful, life-changing experiences without there being telepathy, clairvoyance, other worlds, all of that stuff which after experiment after experiment, I’d found just isn’t there.
  • Now I’d become a competent, not brilliant, but a competent tarot reader, and people said things: “How did you know that? That’s amazing,” you know, all that stuff.
  • He said, “If you put a five-digit number in your house, I will come and visit.” And he said, “I have out-of-the-body experiences spontaneously at night. I can’t say when they’re going to happen, but if you have that there all the time, when I have one, I will come and visit.” And he said, “Cook me an apple crumble every so often. That will bring me back. That’s my favorite thing,” so I would do that, too.
  • Every time I met someone else who had spontaneous out-of-the-body experiences, I would explain that to them and say, “Anytime you come…” In all those years when those targets were there, I had three people who wrote to me and said, “I’ve been to your house, and I’ve seen it,” and none of them got it right.
  • You see, when you have an out-of-body experience, it looks so vivid that you can’t help but believe that you’re actually seeing something physically there, but you’re not.
  • We tried and we approached you and tried to convince you that this out-of-body experience could be explained using natural means.
  • I think there even were during the experience those things going on, on the one hand would have been: “But I know. You don’t understand. You don’t understand how real it was. How could you possibly-this is so important to me, and it means so much to me,” and simultaneously would have been going on: “But there has to be an explanation. What’s going on?” I’ve always been a scientist in the broader sense since I was a kid.
  • In a way, when people have these very dramatic experiences, and I’ve met lots and lots of people who have, you feel threatened if somebody tells you it’s not what you thought.
  • If you were a sort of rigid, close-minded kind of thinker, and when you’ve had this extraordinary experience, you snap on to your own explanation, then it’s very, very, very hard.
  • The paranormal stuff out there and the new age and the Age of Aquarius and all that stuff, the end of the ’60s was like a world apart, and that’s why it’s taken me a lifetime, I would say, to bring together extraordinary experiences and neuroscience.
  • A lot of people who are going to be watching these videos and taking this course would have had something similar, some vivid experience that they can’t really explain.
  • Given what you know now about opinion change and changing your own opinion, what would be the best way to approach somebody and change their mind or at least get them to consider the alternatives that it might not be what they think? I’m glad you made that switch.
  • I don’t go at anyone who’s had an extraordinary experience, “I want to change their mind,” unless they are just so rigid, I’d despair and I don’t want to have anything to do with it.
  • For most of the people I’ve met, so many have had an experience they can’t understand, and they don’t know what to do with it.
  • Some people will be very rigid, particularly, I think, of near death experiences where it has so much of religious connotations.
  • Could you see anything else?” Get them to loosen up because if what they’ve done is had this extraordinary experience, typically in a near-death experience, if it’s a long one, they will typically start with a tunnel, like I did, and go into the light.
  • They’ll have an out-of-the-body experience, and they’ll watch what’s physically happening or seem to.
  • So if they are a religious person, Muslim or Hindu or whatever it might be, or a Christian, they kind of know where they are and they’ve set their own experience in that box.
  • The point is I’m grounding it in what really happened because I want to know, because I’m always thinking what’s going on in their brain? Where is this relating to what’s happening in the temporal lobe? What’s happening in their visual cortex where we know the tunnels are generated? What kind of tunnel was it? What emotional state were they in when it started? Because very often, these experiences have a most wonderful profound sense of, “It’s all alright,” which is probably endorphin-based but it’s-saying that doesn’t put it down.
  • It’s got to have a physical basis somehow, but that can be quite an important thing also for people to know it possible as a human being on this earth without god’s spirits and everything else to know that it’s alright and you’re alright.
  • I sort of like to help people just to talk about their experiences.
  • I’d rather people use their experience as basis to go on and try to understand themselves and the world, than I would try to change their mind to the truth.
  • We know as much as we can know-that nothing leaves the body in these experiences, and that there is no spirit and no soul and so on-but so much more to find out.
  • It also makes me think more about the kind of paranormal things that we’re thinking about and the strange experiences that people have.
  • Now I’ve had a lot of experience in my life of that anguish.
  • I’ve been training in Zen for 30 years, and that is also training in flexibility, letting go, openness to experience, openness to different explanations.
  • I’m personally fascinated by the whole mystery of consciousness-how on earth can this brain be responsible for-I don’t even know the words-should I say give rise to? No, that’s wrong-is someway related to this experience.
  • I know it’s an old cliché, but the more we know, the more there is to know.

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