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Supernatural


Justin_Case001

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I regularly find it utterly bewildering, dismaying, and depressing that the majority of the world seems to believe in ghosts, spirits, and anything else that would fall under the umbrella of the "supernatural" or "paranormal".  I certainly do not, because I don't believe in anything on insufficient evidence, and neither should you.  Incidentally, this goes for things like astrology and psychics as well.  I was tempted to write a separate piece on this, but I don't think there's enough material there to warrant it, so I'll throw it in here.  Astrology, psychics, healing crystals, and anything else of that nature is completely false, unsupported by evidence, and one would be wise to be extremely skeptical of any such thing that is clearly a business designed to make money.

My mind is, in principle, open, but there's simply no reason to believe in the so-called "supernatural".  My beliefs would adjust accordingly if there was substantial evidence of ghosts that occupied a respectable place in our academic discourse.  Instead, ghosts are exiled to the same place as UFO encounters and alien abduction.  Every ghost encounter is either fake, uncorroborated hearsay, a misinterpretation of explainable, rational events, or a hallucination.  It's worth noting that experiencing a hallucination is fairly common, and does not mean that a person is crazy.  It can happen for all sorts of reasons.  The brain is powerful enough to make us see or hear anything that isn't there, and vice versa: it can prevent us from seeing or hearing what is there.  For most part, our brains show us what is really there, and only what is really there, because that's what they've evolved to do.  It's their job, and they are pretty good at it, most of the time.  They won't falter in their job for no reason.  But the brain's ability to show us an accurate reality can become surprisingly tenuous more often than you might think.

Incidentally, it's worth noting that our brains our often much less reliable than we think.  Our perceptions and memories are faulty, and most of what we experience is a reconstruction based on what we expect reality to be.  For instance, visual information that we take in passes through our memories, and our memories actually change what we see based on our expectations.  If we see a tiger, for example, the image will pass through our memories and essentially be cross-referenced with what we know about tigers.  Our brain will then decide what a tiger is supposed to look like based on our memories, and the image we see will actually be reconstructed and altered by our brains to fit.  For more on this, check out Steven Novella's Your Deceptive Mind.

The unreliable nature of our minds readily explains why so many people think they experience confirmation of the so-called "supernatural".  People often see what they want to see, or what they expect to see.  If one believes in ghosts, and they see some wisp of fog, their brain may actually alter the image to show them a ghost based on what they think a ghost looks like.  The same type of thing goes for hearing as well.  This is not the same thing as a hallucination, either.  This is trickery of our brains as they piece together what they perceive in an attempt to show us what is real, a process which doesn't always work perfectly.  Rampant confirmation bias, wishful thinking, and sensory deception keep humanity stuck in a loop of gullibility and superstition.  Consider this: if you think you saw or experienced the presence of a ghost, which is more likely--that you had a close encounter with something for which there is absolutely no solid evidence, or that you were mistaken?

People don't like to hear this, but humans are basically masters of self-delusion and self-deception, and our perceptions, memories, and what we think we know and experience is extremely fickle and easy to fool in many ways, which is why people's personal experiences are wildly unreliable.  Arguments like "I know what I saw," or "I know what I heard," are often fairly useless.  Nobody wants to believe that they can be mistaken about what feel like vivid experience, but we can be.  That's why we need the scientific method.  We need repeated experimentation, reliably duplicated results, and hard evidence.  One of the first rules of good science is not to trust your eyes, your feelings, or your intuitions, but trust the tools, the measurements, and the calculations.  I believe that if ghosts or things of that nature were real, we would have much better evidence at this point that occupies a respectable place in our scientific discourse.  Instead, all we have are essentially people's personal testimonials, of which I remain extremely skeptical.

My biggest question regarding something like ghosts is this:  if they did exist, then why would they intentionally keep themselves exiled to that spooky, mythical, pseudo-science corner of our world?  What would they have to gain by doing this?  Why would their only means of interacting with us be creepy haunting tactics?  If ghosts did exist, it seems more likely to me that they would be like Obi-Wan in Return of the Jedi.  Answers such as "they don't have enough energy or strength to fully appear in broad daylight" seem a complete cop-out.  The real answer is much simpler and more reasonable: people like ghost stories.  They're fun.  Spooky stuff is fun.  Halloween is fun.  Unexplained phenomena are interesting.  People want to live in a world full of mystery, and feel it gives life more meaning.  My answer to this is exactly the same as those I've provided in the many criticisms of religion that I've written: we need not believe anything on insufficient evidence to lead fulfilling lives full of romance, mystery, awe, wonder, profundity, and even spirituality.  The greatest, most wonderful, and most terrifying mysteries of all time are all around us, and have nothing to do with pseudo-science or grainy, low-rez, shaky cam videos of spooky eyes and disembodied figures lurking in the catacombs of the ancient world.

But I believe that the more important, and more interesting question is what we actually mean by "supernatural".  The word literally just means "beyond natural", as indicated by the prefix "super" which means of the highest degree.  I submit that the so-called "supernatural" cannot exist because the very concept is impossible, flawed, and oxymoronic.  No matter what exists, it would be a part of nature, because nature encompasses everything that is, and therefore nothing would be beyond it.  People tend to have this idea in their heads in that the natural world denotes plants, animals, and rocks, and anything else is either unnatural or supernatural.  However, nature simple refers to anything that exists outside of human activities or intervention.  It's the opposite of artificial.  This encompasses everything in the cosmos that we didn't create.  Therefore, anything that exists independently of us would do so naturally, and would simply be a part of nature.

Let's suppose that, for argument's sake, every spooky thing that has ever been believed by humans is literally real.  Ghosts, gods, demons, heaven, and hell.  All of it.  There's no evidence of any of it, of course, but just go with me on this.  If these things existed, then they would simply exist as a part of all of existence, making them a part of nature.  Many people like to say that supernatural or divine things exist "outside of space and time".  This cute explanation is devoid of any meaning or substance, and does nothing to counter my argument.  Alright--say it is outside of what we perceive as "our space", or even our timeline.  So what?  Why would that mean that that "otherworldly" place isn't still a part of nature?  The natural world wouldn't just encompass our planet or even our universe.  It would encompass anything that exists independently of us.  This means it would encompass the entire multiverse, if there is such a thing, complete with any dimensions that may exist.  There's no reason to say that any of it is "beyond nature".

We usually ascribe the moniker of "supernatural" or "paranormal" to things that we can't explain, but a current lack of an explanation obviously doesn't mean there isn't one.  It just means we haven't found it yet.  If "paranormal" simply means the unexplained, then I certainly believe in the paranormal.  Of course I believe that there are things we can't explain, but that doesn't mean that there isn't an explanation, whether we will ever get it in hand or not.  (It might be useful for me to mention that I believe in UFOs in the same way; i.e. I believe that there have been many flying objects that were unidentified, but I just don't think that there's any good reason to believe that any are aliens.)   Many things we understand today, such as electromagnetic waves, would have been thought to be supernatural magic not that long ago.  Let's take the example of ghosts.  There's no good evidence of them, but let's suppose that there was.  If ghosts were real, then they would simply exist as a part of nature that we can't yet explain or understand.  Perhaps they are made of pure energy, or plasma, or some kind of matter that we don't yet know about that passes through solid matter.  Whatever the case, and regardless of whether they exist inside of us, or are the embodiment of a deceased person, once the explanation was found, a ghost would simply be regarded as yet another naturally occurring phenomenon, like electromagnetic waves, black holes, or any number of other incredible phenomena.  They would simply be--they would exist as anything else in nature exists.  If they could travel between dimensions, then that would simply be another aspect to their existence--something else that we can't yet explain.  Whatever the explanation, whether we ever found it or not, there's simply justification for calling it "supernatural".  The term "supernatural" often seems to describe things that we think shouldn't, don't, or can't exist, but seem to anyway.  This is just lazy thinking.  If something exists, then it obviously can and does, which means it's not impossible, which means there's no reason to file it into this category of impossibility.  Something being unexplained doesn't render it magical or spooky.

Making a detour into religion, this same logic applies to the concept of divinity or holiness as well.  What does it mean for something to be "divine" or "holy"?  Insofar as I understand it, these terms mean that something either pertains to a god, or was touched by a god, or something of that fashion.  Why would that make something "holy", though?  What does "holy" even mean, really?  I would argue that if a god or gods did exist, they too would simply exist as anything else in the natural world does.  They too would simply be a part of nature--a part of the cosmos that we can't yet explain, and wouldn't warrant the label of "supernatural" or "divine".  If there was a god, what reason would there be to think that he/she/it wouldn't simply be a being like any other, just one of greater power and/or intelligence, and one who's existence we cannot yet explain?  What reason would there be to assume that that being, and anything it touched, would inherently be holy?  The entire concept of holiness seems to me to be an empty and meaningless one.

Likewise, the concept of "supernatural" is also hollow.  There's simply no need for it.  Anything that exists simply exists, whatever and however that may be.  I find it curious that many people seem to want to live in a world where spooky things that are "not of this world" exist.  I believe that this way of thinking about the so-called "supernatural" isn't useful.  There are so many things that would have been thought of a supernatural at one time, but as we explained them, now they're just natural, and there's nothing spooky about them.  I think that as each phenomenon is discovered and explained, they just come to be thought of as part of the natural world, one by one, and the realm of the supernatural continues to shrink.  There are only two categories of things in all of existence: those we can and have explained, and those we haven't.  The category for things that exist outside of nature serves no purpose.

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More armchair research. You mention UFO once, so it's not the focus of the essay.  But I would point to Stanton Friedman's work, just to name one, of the undeniable evidence of the existance of UFOs. Anyone who denies it has not done one shred of research.

As for ghosts, there are so many interesting accounts that cannot be explained. To simply state that people are hallucinating or lying is insufficient. 

Painting all these topics with the same brush is not useful. I don't believe in all of tne subjects you mentioned. It is more productive to address each topic separately.

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I'm not impressed by your semantic argument about "super natural" being an oxymoron. By that reasoning, one can simply say, fine, ghosts exist and they are natural. You are not making an argument again anything, it is just semantics. We have a pretty good idea of what people mean by supernatural and I don't see any reason to argue over words.

Edited by 2nd Amendment Brony
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The stories that fascinate me are the ones where someone is minding their own buniness and they experience something. And it is not a mere shadow or wisp of smoke. There are countless stories throughout history, ranging from mundane to truly bizzare. Perhaps they are not all true, but there comes a point when you have to say not everyone is hallucinating, lying, or crazy. Some of the best stories come from police officers and the military. People trained to observe.

I think the ghost hunting shows are non sense. They do not represent what people actually experience. A ghost hunting show is paranormal research in the same way Myth Busters is science. Which is to say, it isn't.

The topic has become popular and people make money from it, which means there is fraud and hoaxes. But that is true with "sciencey" things too.

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3 hours ago, 2nd Amendment Brony said:

You mention UFO once, so it's not the focus of the essay.  But I would point to Stanton Friedman's work, just to name one, of the undeniable evidence of the existance of UFOs. Anyone who denies it has not done one shred of research.

It might have been useful for me to mention that I believe in UFOs in the same way that I said I believe in the paranormal.  I.e. I believe that there have been many flying objects that were unidentified, but I just don't think there's any good reason to believe that any are aliens.

50 minutes ago, 2nd Amendment Brony said:

I'm not impressed by your semantic argument about "super natural" being an oxymoron. By that reasoning, one can simply say, fine, ghosts exist and they are natural. You are not making an argument again anything, it is just semantics. We have a pretty good idea of what people mean by supernatural and I don't see any reason to argue over words.

Well, that's fair.  The second half of my essay wasn't meant to debunk the supernatural.  I just think it's interesting philosophy.  I find it curious that most people seem to want to live in a world where spooky things that are "not of this world" exist.  I just believe that this way of thinking about the so-called "supernatural" isn't useful.  There are so many things that would have been thought of a supernatural at one time, but as we explained them, now they're just natural, and there's nothing spooky about them.  I think that as each phenomenon is discovered/explained, they just come to be thought of as part of the natural world, one by one, and the realm of the supernatural keeps shrinking.  I just find that interesting.  That's it.

45 minutes ago, 2nd Amendment Brony said:

I think the ghost hunting shows are non sense. They do not represent what people actually experience. A ghost hunting show is paranormal research in the same way Myth Busters is science. Which is to say, it isn't.

The topic has become popular and people make money from it, which means there is fraud and hoaxes. But that is true with "sciencey" things too.

Well, that's all reasonable.  Can't deny that.

46 minutes ago, 2nd Amendment Brony said:

The stories that fascinate me are the ones where someone is minding their own buniness and they experience something. And it is not a mere shadow or wisp of smoke. There are countless stories throughout history, ranging from mundane to truly bizzare. Perhaps they are not all true, but there comes a point when you have to say not everyone is hallucinating, lying, or crazy. Some of the best stories come from police officers and the military. People trained to observe.

Well, people don't like to hear this, but humans are basically masters of self-delusions and self-deception, and our perceptions, memories, and what we think we know and experience is extremely fickle and easy to fool in many ways, and that doesn't always mean it's a hallucination.  That's why relying on people's personal experiences is wildly unreliable.  Arguments like "I know what I saw," or "I know what I heard," are often fairly useless.  Nobody wants to believe that they can be mistaken about what feel like vivid experience, but we can be.  That's why we need the scientific method.  We need repeated experimentation, reliably duplicated results, hard evidence, things of that's nature.  One of the first rules of good science is not to trust your eyes, your feelings, or your intuitions, but trust the tools, the measurements, and the calculations.  And I just believe that if ghosts or things of that nature were real, we would have much better evidence at this point that occupies a respectable place in our academic discourse.  Instead, all we have are basically people's personal testimonials, of which I remain extremely skeptical.

I think I will add some of what I said here into the main essay.  I think it would improve it.  Thanks for your comments.

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Dismissing human observations is a very convenient explanation. How much of what we know about the world comes from simple human observation? Observation and memory are not 100% reliable, but they are not 0% either. If someone told you that 20 years ago they witnessed a plane crash, you would have no problem believing them. But change plane crash to flying disc, then you can simply dismiss it as faulty memory?

I think you are biased. There is, for whatever reason, a debunking mentality (as opposed to a helathy skeptic mentality). I think you already made up your mind that certain things are true, and use the faulty memory argument, rather than using an argument pertinent to the subject. 

True, these phenomena are not scientific. But neither is history. There is no way you can prove scietifically that the Roman Empire existed. It is not a repeatable phenomenon. What do you have, some stone ruins? So what, anyone could have built that. Pretty much everything we know about history before photographs we know from human observation.

It is flawed and dogmatic to think that we can't take credible data unless it can be repeated in a lab. 

There is some of this that can be tested, and there is pseodoscience out there. I don't believe in psychics because that is a claim that can be tested, and it has failed every time. But going to 1000 houses and not experiencing poltergeist doesn't mean that the person who hears footsteps in his house is crazy. There is something aspect of this that doesn't make sense, and I am not satisfied by the debunkers' claims.

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Okay.  Fair points.  I think we've about reached bedrock, and will have to agree to disagree.

[redacted]

I'm certainly not saying that we should dismiss human observation, but simply that we need to be aware of how flawed it can be.  And I'm simply not prepared to accept the existence of ghosts, aliens, or the supernatural when all we seem to have are personal testimonials that cannot be corroborated.

Edited by Justin_Case001
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There are a lot of cases that are corroborated with multiple witnesses. Two famous cases that I have read are Barney and Betty Hill, and Travis Walton. There were 6 witnesses to Walton being hit with a light from a UFO. He disappeared for 5 days. I'm not going to go over the whole case here. But I want to point out something I discovered from his book. He addresses several claims that debunkers make against him. He explained why those explanations don't make sense. 

I looked up his case on a skeptic site and they claimed that he and the people with him lied in order to get out of a contract. This claim made no sense in view of the facts. But someone who didn't know anything about the case would read that and think that was it, case solved. I have come to be as skeptical of the "skeptics" as I am of the actual claim.

Edited by 2nd Amendment Brony
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Hmm.  *Takes deep breath, leans back in chair, interlocks fingers behind head, sighs*  Well, I will definitely say that I am far more open to extra terrestrials than ghosts or things of that nature, for the simple reason that nothing about aliens would defy physical reality.  I mean, we exist, so it's perfectly plausible that other life exists.  If we traveled somewhere else, then we'd be the aliens, and that certainly wouldn't make us spooky or supernatural.  It seems much more unlikely that we would be the only sentient life in the universe.  I mean, that to me just seems like a fantastic, extraordinarily improbable claim.  As a matter of fact, I tend to lean towards the belief in infinite multiverse, in which all things that are possible are in fact real somewhere, which means that there's an infinite amount of life out there.  However, at this particular juncture, I don't see a good enough reason to think that any of that life has come into contact with ours in the form of abductions.  Perhaps I am a little biased, but I'm willing to live with that.

Perhaps this is a flawed way of thinking, and I'll grant that it's just a guess, but I've always believed that if aliens came to Earth, it would either be like Star Trek First Contact, or Halo, or Man of Steel, or the like.  Whether good or bad, I think that it would happen out in the open, with the whole world watching, instead of being like The Fourth Kind.  It just makes so little sense to me for aliens to poke around in the shadows, abduct random people here and there, experiment on them, and then toss them back.  I think about it from the reverse point of view--what if we one day develop interstellar travel and find a civilization on another world?  How would we proceed?  We would almost assuredly develop some kind of Prime Directive to prohibit contact with underdeveloped species.  If we determined that it was acceptable to make contact, then we would probably just extend our hand and say, "How do you do?"  I imagine that we would either make contact in full and introduce ourselves, or just stay away completely.  Perhaps I'm being naive, but I cannot imagine that we would ever abduct people to study them, and I think that, in all likelihood, any space-fairing race would be enlightened enough to do the same.  The Star Trek or Halo scenarios just seem so much more likely to me.  I simply see no reason for alien contact to come in the form of creepy ghost stories, apart from the fact that people like creepy ghost stories.  But, y'know, I won't say that it's impossible.

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