Tag: Paranormal

The Dentith Files – Reductionism and the Skeptics of Hamilton

Between 2008 and 2010, Matthew Dentith first joined 95bFM’s Simon Pound, then José Barbosa, on Sunday mornings to talk about conspiracy theories. Listen, as they say, again!

This week’s Dentith Files is a pre-record and, I should point out, not altogether serious whilst being very serious indeed. I’m giving a talk at the Skeptics Conference down in Waikato next weekend and what we presented today is a less serious (but still mostly ((Some points may have been ‘lost in comedic translation.’)) accurate) version of my paper ‘Saving the Paranormal from the Laws of Science,’ which was recently published as ‘The Curious Case of Freeman Dyson and the Paranormal’ in Skeptic Magazine ((Interestingly enough, both the published version and the comedic version are the same length (although the broadcast version, now that I’ve heard it, is now considerably shorter; apparently the file didn’t save properly and this wasn’t apparent until it was being broadcast), word-wise, which goes to show something, although the gods know what that might be.)). I think it’s quite funny, but some people who have heard it aren’t convinced; you are so warned.

Next time: A review of the Skeptics Conference.


Well, the galleys have arrived for my forthcoming Skeptic article and it’s a mighty four pages of the magazine (although half of one of those pages seems to have space set aside for an ad; I wonder what I shall be unwittingly endorsing?). I also have an illustration, apparently. Gods know what that will end up being. Hopefully something nice, like a pony, or a flower.

I’m one step closer to publication proper and, I must admit, it feels a bit weird.

The Curious Case of Freeman Dyson and the Paranormal

That is now the title of my paper forthcoming in ‘The Skeptic’ (Volume 14, Number 2, I believe). It is not a title I chose, but I suspect Dr. Michael Shermer (who does ‘works’ now) felt that ‘Saving the Paranormal from the Laws of Science’ was a bit wanky. Which, admittedly, it is, but philosophers love those titles. Big, swanky and filled with hubris.

I found out about the new moniker on Wednesday, when Shermer sent through his edit upon the paper. Originally I wrote a three and an half thousand word monstrocity; he wanted it edited down to three thousand. When I committed the third edit in September I got it down to a paltry two thousand eight hundred. Shermer’s latest edit gets it down to two and an half thousand words, with fifty on the side. It’s actually quite pacey now (almost hip). However (and there is always one of those) he achieved this with some slight rewording, some of which actually introduce new and exciting issues (not of my making) into the paper. I’ve advised him of these irksome sentences and so, hopefully, they will be fixed. Then I have to await the galleys (nautical jokes on standby).

Publication imminent. It’s only been three years…

Finally, it will see the light…

Several thousand years ago (or so it seems) I wrote a paper defending an epistemological position regarding the possible existence of things called ‘paranormal,’ which was submitted to The Skeptic which was accepted for publication and then… Well, nothing happened. About a year ago I started to chase up Dr. Michael Shermer and his promise to publish and now, with some slight revision, the paper has been formally approved for publication in the forthcoming issue (which goes on newstands… Well, I don’t know. Sometime in the next three months; more news as it comes to hand). This is, of course, a very good thing. Publication is king in my world and this is a publication with an interesting readership that I think philosophers should be communicating with, the skeptical community which is often science-literate but not necessarily epistemologically savvy.

An abstract follows. This one is deliberately a little obtuse; it was written as an example of overly technical writing for one of the courses I teach, but it’ll suffice for the time being. I’ll draw attention to the article closer to publication with a better abstract.

‘Saving the Paranormal from the Laws of Science.’


One reason to believe the conclusion that paranormal phenomena should not be taken as be counter-rational is one based upon the reduction of fundamental predicates from observed instances. It is all well and good to be epistemic reductionists and take a Humean worldview but we should not think that this necessitates the controversial thesis that the predicates of epistemic reductionism are indicative of ontological reductionism. Such a move would require some bridging principle which would show that epistemic statements, based upon limited instances of supposed regularities, can generate genuine ontological knowledge.

Annoucement of non-forthcoming publication

Michael Shermer, editor of ‘The Skeptic’ wrote the other day to tell me that he shan’t be publishing the article he accepted for publication back in 2005. The magazine is backlogged with material and whilst he likes the piece he doesn’t know when it would go into print, so he’s ‘released’ it.

A shame really, since I did all that work on the extensive rewrite he asked for[1].

Still, now it means I can either seek a new home for the article or sling it online here. It also gives me a chance to do another rewrite; I’m fairly sure I can make the article slightly breezier.

The piece is a defense of a certain account of the Paranormal. I suppose it would be better to describe it as a critique of a certain fundamentalist strain of scepticism, the kind that denies that we could ever have evidence of paranormal phenomena. As we know, even idiots and idealogues can be sceptics (as I’ve said in the past, some of the most irrational people I have ever met were atheists and rationalists (the two don’t have to go together, but they often do…)). I run through three reasons why we should be open to the possibility that paranormal phenomena does occur, based upon what we can plausibly say about the methodology of Western Scientific practice.

In other news, someone wants to interview me in re getting the JREF Scholarship.

1. This will also come as a bit of a blow to all those people I used as editors whilst writing the first few drafts. Sorry guys.

Being an Entertaining Idiot in the Land of the Skeptics

A while back I told the ‘Brainstab’ audience of my soon-to-be triumph in the world of Skepticism; to whit, my forthcoming publication on the possible rationality of so-called paranormal phenomena. Some searching souls asked after the piece, wanting to know when it was likely to come out and whether they could have an advanced look at it. My answers were, variously, soon and ‘That’s an ecumenical matter!’

Today I reveal more, but I do it unconventionally. For that is the Brother Morthos way (which is usually loud, brash and features exploding nuns and ninjas jumping out of windows (Jamaica style).

For the last three years the University of Auckland, under the guise of PGSA (the ‘Black Council of the University of Auckland,’ purporting to be the Postgraduate Student Association) has run a graduate fair called ‘Exposure;’ its purpose to provide a forum where graduates can display their research peacefully. It’s a port of call, a home away from home… Sorry, gratuitous Babylon 5 reference there. ‘Exposure’ is designed to show off graduate research in three ways, those being the visual, the multimedia and the oral presentation.

As a trained public speaker oral presentations suit me just dandy. As a trained public speaker who learnt his trade through Drama training I am also not the perfect candidate for a serious academic seminar. Modern academic teaching focuses on substance rather than style, and style really is treated as nasty infection one should be without. I learnt this last year when I gave an oral presentation at Exposure04 on the North Head Tunnel Conspiracy and How It Relates to Critical Thinking Teaching. Whilst I wowed the crowd the judges went for the very mundane but academically standard presentation and left me only with a USB Flash Drive rather than a replacement iBook.

Woe was I. Flash forward with me now to July of this year, nine months later, where my eventual triumph in academic circles was first realised, vis a vis the Paranormal paper’s acceptance into a magazine of some standing.< Once I had submitted my paper to Dr. Michael Shermer I rather closed the book on that the article. Until such time it was published I really couldn’t do anything with it. As an article under contract I could give it to colleagues to look over but I couldn’t post it on the Internet. I could discuss the contents of the article in classes but I couldn’t really give out the piece to students without the proper attributions, which would only become known when the ‘The Skeptic’ went to press. That part of my life would be, for the time being, over. Exposure05 was about to change that. The article, I wager, is the most normal academic treatise I have ever written; it is earnest, coherent and eminently sensible, as befitting its audience. Thus it seemed obvious that if I wanted to re-present it to the world I would have to go all the other way. Make it funny, make it silly and, overall, make it almost non-academic. Think ‘Hard Copy’ rather than ‘Nature;’ ‘Sixty Minutes’ rather than ‘A Brief History of Time.’< Thus the Exposure05 oral presentation was born. I would present the Paranormal paper but do so in a guise that made it an entirely new and original work, yet do it in such a way that it all looked superfluous to requirements when really it would still be, at its core, a piece of fine Philosophy Pundits will tell you that educational pedagogical comedy is one of the hardest genres to write. Comedy is not naturally instructive; indeed, there is an article waiting to be written on just how fallacious arguments are persuasive whilst good arguments are not in the context of sitcoms. Educational works are not naturally comedic; whilst some writers can come up with funny illustrative analogies often they precede or are preceded by serious exposition. To turn a serious, originally six thousand word treatise into fifteen minutes of fun, would just be the icing on the cake. The resulting artefact does not succeed on all levels. It has moments of humour and moments where things should be funny when they are not. I am please to say that the content, the philosophical substance, lurks there, only vaguely emasculated. Some of the argumentation has been replaced by suggestive analogies and much of the terminology has been simplified so that it almost represents what philosophers think but does it in a slightly more intuitive (and thus more prone to error) way. As a piece of Philosophy it is more successful than it is as a piece of Comedy, whilst as a piece of Comedy it likely obstructs the Philosophy from shining through. Fine and good, you say. But, as you are also wont to proclaim, what does this mean to us, the readers? Well, gentle view, one who has gone this far, you too can enjoy the presentation I gave. Whilst you were unable to be with me the day it was given you can experience it now as a smallish (32 meg) download. In the course of building up the presentation and practicing the dialogue I ended up producing a narrated version of my slides so that I work out the relevant timings of my transitions and where to place vocal emphasis. The following file is somewhat representative of the presentation I gave, and I present it as a delightful prelude to the publication of its bigger brother in ‘The Skeptic’ either late this year or early next. Science vs. The Paranormal – A Narrated Video (I recommend ‘Save As’ rather than just clicking the link)

(The editors of ‘Brainstab’ would like to point out, at this juncture, that this might well be the longest case of ‘Here is an amusing video to watch’ that they have had the displeasure to see written on their weblog in many a month. They would like to apologise, but don’t really know how and, frankly, do not really care all that much about your feelings after all. Piss off.)