RE: MR Evidence

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Fri Aug 24 2001 - 12:07:38 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: MR Evidence
    Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001 12:07:38 +0100
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            <Sheldrake does not rely on anecdotal evidence, and he doesn't
    attack people.>

            Yes he does, on both accounts. He bases his experiments on
    anecdotal cases (e.g. the psychic dog experiment), and he quite clearly
    attacks his attackers on his website. I don't mean by 'attack' some kind of
    emotional outburst, I meant to focus on the way he critiques his critics
    which smacks of people in glass houses (i.e they only test for what they
    want to find, which is exactly what he does).

            <But he's not afraid to point out that the anecdotal stuff does
    > overwhelmingly support him. When he conducted a controlled experiment
    > demonstrating that crossword puzzles are easier to solve after large
    > numbers
    > of people have already solved them, he received loads of mail from people
    > attesting to the fact that it's long been common knowledge among puzzle
    > enthusiasts that the puzzles are harder when you try to solve them as soon
    > as they've been published. Wait till the evening or the next day, and
    > it's
    > much easier. No one ever had an explanation for this.>
            You are joking right? If you wait until the next to do a newspaper
    crossword puzzle, it'll be profoundly more easy. Why? Because the solution
    to the previous day's crossword will be in that day's paper! Anyone control
    for that in their "experiments"?

            What about being easier later that night? Difficult to see how this
    could genuinely have been demonstrated without 10s of thousands of
    participants, otherwise findings are as valid as coin-tossing tests of
    psychic powers (when 10 heads in a row are seen as proof of psi). Now,
    let's give the study the benefit of the doubt and say that they used enough
    people and the findings were statistically significant- what external
    factors did the experimenters include in their calculations? Crosswords
    often have clues that trigger memories in people (e.g. historical figures,
    literary tales), trigger uses of words, or trigger people's frustration and
    curiosity, that makes them communicate to others based on that crossword
    (from the obvious request for help in completing them, to less obvious
    discussions triggered by solutions). Sometimes, these interactions sprial
    away to many many other people (e.g. radio DJs talking about things
    triggered by a crossword, or by an interaction with someone else triggered
    by that person's interaction with a crossword etc. etc.). Now, for all
    those people touched directly or indirectly by a crossword contents, by the
    end of the day would it actually be so suprising to find people- unwittingly
    indeed- able to complete a crossword faster than those initial people.
    Moreover, how would account for such potential influences on the
    differential kinds of information people may have at the beginning of the
    day relative to the end of the day? Another feature that occurs to me is
    what if events of the day help people complete clues (e.g. a clue 'former
    president of Russia (5,7)' is easily answered after the evening news reports
    that Boris Yeltsin is dead'). Since crosswords routinely use everyday
    objects, famous people etc., there is the definitely possibility that this
    kind of influence may affect success rates.

            All of these things, and probably lots of others, offer perfectly
    plausible, real world factors that could affect the outcome, whereas the
    conclusion that such results are due to MR is unscientific as it goes way
    beyond what the evidence shows.

            <If morphic resonance is real, then once a certain explanation for
    > unexplained event is taken up by enough people, others are likely to take
    > up
    > that explanation as well. For centuries, when people saw mysterious
    > lights
    > in the sky, they chalked it up to supernatural influences. But with the
    > rise of modern, techno-oriented civilization, a new explanation, based on
    > space ships, began to appear. Once this new explanation picked up enough
    > momentum, then people became more likely to tune into it than the
    > traditional explanation. This is similar to Waddington's notion that
    > evolution works according to the replacement of one developmental pathway
    > with another. Due to external influences, the ball rolling down the
    > hillside is pushed over a wall into a different path. Pretty soon, the
    > wall
    > has been smoothed over at that spot, and the new "chreode" becomes the
    > dominant pathway.>
            But you don't need MR to explain the spread of UFO sightings, the
    features of cultural/technological change you refer to do not require in any
    way weirdy woo-woo fields. They simply require prefectly normal forms of
    communication and interaction between people.

    >> Besides which since MR denies, like any good faith,
    >> that it can be detected directly, it is unfalsifiable, and
    >> unscientific.

            <Virtually nothing in physics these days can be detected directly.
    > magnetic fields can't be detected without throwing metal filings into them
    > and watching them line up according to the lines of force produced by the
    > field. All you can directly observe is the metal filings, not the field
    > itself. Morphic resonance can be falsified by demonstrating the absence
    > of
    > cumulative benefits from previous generations of organisms engaged in a
    > specific task.>
            I'm no physicist, but I believe magnetic fields can be detected in
    other ways than through metal filings. The point is none of the studies you
    mention are free from any other explanation that therefore requires MR to
    exist. For a start there are methodological problems with the studies
    mentioned, there are other possible explanations for the results, and indeed
    those other explanations are more plausible as they are more consonant with
    current levels of experimentally supported paradigms.

            <It's for these reasons that Sheldrake doesn't offer this sort of
    > as conclusive evidence for MR. It should be noted, however, that the
    > trainers and ranchers who wrote to him usually stated that they just
    > didn't
    > see how any factors outside the animals themselves could explain their
    > amazing improvements.>
            That's the argument from ignorance again. You see it in Ufology
    too, when pilots see weird lights that they say was not like any plane
    they've ever seen, as though their field of experience and knowledge is
    complete enough. That's not evidence of anything except something we're all
    subject to, and that is incomplete knowledge.

    > >> What's Sheldrake's, or an MR enthusiast's view on Horse Whispering?
    > For
    > >> generations people have been 'breaking' horses, and it doesn't appear
    > to
    > >> have ever got any easier, with horses somehow knowing with successive
    > >> generations to behave. Horse Whispering, OTOH, involves utilising body
    > >> language that horses respond to, that doesn't trigger their strongly
    > >> in-built flight responses, and has become more popular in recent years.
    > >> These tactics work on horses bred from generations of domesticated
    > horses
    > >> (and didn't the guy who started it succeed with a mustang? I'd like to
    >>seehim try a Zebra...), and yet appealing to their natural
    movement patterns
    >>is more effective than breaking them.

            <Who says the horses we have now aren't easier to domesticate than
    the first
    > ones? As you imply, they're certainly easier than zebras, who've never
    > been
    > domesticated. But there's a limit to how easy it can be to domesticate
    > horses (at least through traditional methods) and that limit was
    > presumably
    > reached a couple thousand years ago.>
            Why's there a limit? As I suggest, how come the horses, unlike their
    psychic dogs compadres who are so well tuned they know when their owners are
    coming home, don't learn from their ancestors not resist the breaking
    process (which is very traumatic for them, and dangerous for the person
    doing it). Again, you can't have your cake and eat it- what regulates which
    features are subject to change in the course of a day (crossword puzzle
    solving), whereas others have been unchanged for generations (breaking


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