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Demon-Haunted Brain

If the brain mediates all experience, then paranormal phenomena are nothing more than neuronal events
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Five centuries ago demons haunted our world, with incubi and succubi tormenting victims as they lay asleep. Two centuries ago spirits haunted our world, with ghosts and ghouls harassing sufferers during all hours of the night. This past century aliens haunted our world, with grays and greens abducting captives and whisking them away for probing and prodding. Nowadays people are reporting out-of-body experiences, floating above their beds. What is going on here? Are these elusive creatures and mysterious phenomena in our world or in our minds? New evidence adds weight to the notion that they are, in fact, products of the brain. Neuroscientist Michael Persinger, in his laboratory at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, for example, can induce all these perceptions in subjects by subjecting their temporal lobes to patterns of magnetic fields. (I tried it myself and had a mild out-of-body experience.) (continue reading…)

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Psychic Drift

Why most scientists do not believe in ESP and psi phenomena
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In the first half of the 19th century the theory of evolution was mired in conjecture until Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace compiled a body of evidence and posited a mechanism — natural selection — for powering the evolutionary machine.

The theory of continental drift, proposed in 1915 by Alfred Wegener, was not accepted by most scientists until the 1960s, with the discovery of midoceanic ridges, geomagnetic patterns corresponding to continental plate movement, and plate tectonics as the driving motor.

Data and theory. Evidence and mechanism. These are the twin pillars of sound science. Without data and evidence, there is nothing for a theory or mechanism to explain. Without a theory and mechanism, data and evidence drift aimlessly on a boundless sea. (continue reading…)

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Deconstructing the Dead

“Crossing over” to expose the tricks of popular spirit mediums
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Like all other animals, we humans evolved to connect the dots between events so as to discern patterns meaningful for our survival. Like no other animals, we tell stories about the patterns we find. Sometimes the patterns are real; sometimes they are illusions. A well-known illusion of a meaningful pattern is the alleged ability of mediums to talk to the dead. The hottest medium today is former ballroom-dance instructor John Edward, star of the cable television series Crossing Over and author of the New York Times best-selling book One Last Time. His show is so popular that he is about to be syndicated nationally on many broadcast stations.

How does Edward appear to talk to the dead? What he does seems indistinguishable from tricks practiced by magicians. (continue reading…)

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Spoonbending

Ever since the 1970s, spoonbending (and the bending of other cutlery, metal bars, and the like) has been held up as physical evidence for telekinesis, a form of PSI in which thoughts alone can allegedly be employed to alter the physical environment. In this episode, Michael Shermer attends a seminar on spoonbending and discovers the power of group think to actually bend metal!

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