What follows is a distillation of a Facebook conversation that followed a high school friend of mine (who does “paranormal investigations”) posting the above picture with the caption, “Think it can’t happen to you? I’ll probably get to meet you as a client soon.” For brevity, I have cut out some material, which I felt didn’t pertain to the thrust of the conversation I was trying to have. I have not edited the spelling, composition or grammar of the posts (except to mask their identities); theirs or mine. In the interest of simplicity, I have collapsed the individuals participating from the “science can’t speak to this” side of the discussion to “THEM”, and since I was the only dissenter, dissenting comments come from “ME”
ME: “Possibility of summoning a demon” ? Really?
THEM: yes, really
ME: Like real actual demons? Are they alive? From where are they summoned? By what means?
What reason do we have to believe this is any more dangerous than any other screen-printed hunk of hardboard?
THEM: If you are being so sarcastic and skeptical I wont waste my time..GOOGLE IT
ME: The evidence points to the reported movement of the planchette being due to ideomotor response.
THEM: what evidence? Scientific? When it comes to the occult, science plays no part. They dont have to summons a demon, but they are asking to speak to the dead. Human spirits (family etc) do not communicate like that. Low life dark entities do because they can, and they pretend to be loved ones which draws the people into it, so they play it more and more. Ive never ever heard of a happy story from anyone who messed with a Ouija
ME: But how do you know spirits and “low life dark entities” are real? Like objectively real…. Like gravity, and chemistry, and electromagnetism, and so on. Those are phenomena we can all observe, measure and confirm. In that context, I know of no phenomena or evidence for phenomena which has stood up to measurement and scrupulous and dispassionate confirmation.
THEM: Paul, I realize you don’t believe, and that’s ok. Your my friend and I love ya, knowing this, I know that any explication I give to you will not make a difference. As you are entitled to your non belief, I am entitled to my belief.
ME: But, see, that’s the thing. I want to understand what is so compelling about this that you believe it. It’s not that i don’t want to believe… Or that i do want to believe… It’s that i reserve the right to withhold acceptance of a claim until there is sufficient evidence to support the claim, and no evidence falsifying it. I’m not trying to take away anyone’s belief, I’m trying to understand why they hold it.
THEM: Things of a spiritual nature are just that. There is no science behind it. Sure we can use scientific equipment to detect emf, voice recorders to hear different frequencies. But, faith is different. If I hold an apple in my hand, it has weight, mass, smell, ect. I can prove it is there. I can’t do that with God, or spirits. If I could prove scientifically God and spirits exist, I wouldn’t have to have faith they exist. There is no science in faith.
ME: But you said you can measure real-world effects.
THEM: Scientists in recent history didn’t always know what light was or how to measure it. They could observe it’s behavior and measure changes and conduct experiments. They could see it feel it touch it and manipulate it. But they supposed that light was made of particles and tried to measure it as such - yet came up with inconclusive results. Because they weren’t able to measure it, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist, it just means that they didn’t fully understand it. The spiritual realm may be similar.
ME: Yes, but if you look at the history of the scientific understanding if light, it’s a cycle of measurement, statistical analysis, hypothesized predictions based on the analysis, testing the hypothesis through measurement, analyzing the results, lathering, rinsing, and repeating. By following the evidence where it leads, rather than leading the evidence to a foregone conclusion, scientists have arrived at a description of light which permits detailed and accurate predictions as to its behavior.
ME: I don’t assume there is a spiritual realm. I don’t have access to any reliable evidence that such a thing exists. If i was to make an outrageous claim that flew in the face of good sense, and everything you understand about the universe (such as, “rainbows are caused by unicorn farts”) you would be perfectly justified in at least being skeptical… calling me a loon would not be unwarranted. Further, “rainbows are caused by unicorn farts” smuggles in the idea of unicorns, on which the claim is contingent, and which is completely unsupported by the available evidence.
THEM: Seeing is still not believing. I just didn’t want to believe it. It’s largely a culture thing, too. We aren’t brought up to think like that, and we ridicule people who do. I felt like a crazy person, experiencing the oddities without traditional explanation and yet being terrorized by something I didn’t believe in. Serious cognitive dissonance there. I don’t wish that mess on anybody.
ME: …but that cognitive dissonance is exactly what I’m talking about. If science is generally unreliable, then why would you use a computer, drive a car, eat cultivated crops, or seek the assistance of a medical professional? If you say science works in these areas, but not in those, how do you make that distinction? …based on what justification?
THEM: Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort a person feels when reality doesn’t line up with their beliefs. So in my case, I didn’t believe in an afterlife or spiritual realm, which made things very disconcerting when reality presented otherwise. Anyone can experience cognitive dissonance over any of their beliefs, political, ideological, etc. This does not prove nor disprove science. The other thing is about science itself. The method of inquiry that we use to keep science from becoming unreliable also imposes limitations. First, it is limited by the fact that science only sets out to disprove theories, not prove them. Even thought experiments, such as Maxwells Demon or Shrodingers Cat set out to disprove theories on entropy and quantum physics. Scientific laws aren’t even immune - they became law because they stood the test of time, but as time and technology and our ability to perceive evolves, scientific laws become mutable. Second, science is limited by our ability to perceive, measure and imagine. If we cannot do at least two of those, it is outside the realm of science.
ME: One can also experience cognitive dissonance when one tries to maintain two incompatible ideas in their head at the same time. When that occurs, both ideas should be tested against objective reality. The idea which comports best with the objectively verifiable facts is the one which should be granted provisional acceptance.
THEM: It is not always that easy. [My paranormal investigator friend] might remember and may explain to you what I experienced in my home, things that defy explanation and scientific inquiry. Actually, heck, I’m sure [he] has stories to make your skin crawl… Yet you don’t believe him?
ME: Stephen King has stories that might make my skin crawl… Maybe… My skin is pretty sedentary… But i don’t believe them.
ME: …and getting back to ouija boards… What is it about a ouija board that makes it operational? It it the board? The printing? The planchette? The choice of materials? I understand, at least on a block level, how a cellular phone works. I have a background in electronics, specializing in RF communications and computers, and at least a hobbyist-level grasp on a variety of other sciencey topics. If the ouija board is actually involved in sending messages, it seems to me there should be a way of interfering with it sending messages. if one could reliably summon spirits witha ouija board, on should then be able to methodically alter the board and the technique, step by step, to see what improves or degrades the success of contact.
ME: … you could call it a “ha ha board”. Would that make a difference? If you printed Cyrillic characters on there, would you only get spirits who spoke Russian when they were alive? What if you took the “Yes” and “No” off the board, and asked a spirit a “yes or no” question? Would they be able to spell out their answer? What if the spirit you contact is a politician? you ask a simple yes or no question and get back a 25 minute answer that includes references to the founding fathers and the need for a strong military and low taxes on “job creators”? If that did happen, could you cut them off? These are all real world scientific tests you could do. You could blindfold “experienced” ouija board operators and do things like flip the board around so it’s oriented backward from what they expect, or face down, or just plain blank, or the letters and numbers arranged differently, and see what happens. Log the results. Try again. Log the results. Analyze the results, and see if anything more compelling that chance outcomes are apparent. Change the conditions and do it again. I don’t know if ouija boards “work”, but I strongly suspect that they don’t, in large part because there is no demonstrated mechanism of action, there is no demonstrated evidence that human consciousness survives biological death, and …think about it… if a disembodied spirit did exist, and could manipulate the ordinary matter of a ouija board planchette, what would prevent it prevent it from manipulating the ordinary matter of a piece of chalk or a dry erase marker or a chainsaw?
A few hours after I posted the last comment, it appears the original post and all comments were deleted. Fortunately, I was able to capture the conversation before that happened. In reviewing the conversation, I realize I missed a lot of opportunities to question a lot of other things the other participants in the conversation said. I guess we all have regrets