Teaser – Super Powers tested by Science

Super PowersWhat started me off with this discussion about Super Powers was an article I read which purportedly tested psychic abilities and returned a result that suggested they were real. I want to discuss the idea of using science to test for psychic ability and the history of doing so that goes from Harry Houdini to the Amazing Randi to Carl Sagan to Penn Jillette.

I’ll also talk about the evidence presented by the original article and new studies using the same methodology.

It’s an interesting story and you might find it a worthwhile read tomorrow to alleviate some of your sorrows about the Missouri basketball upset. Sigh.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Super Powers

Super Villians

Super VillianYesterday I spoke about the apparently natural human desire for Super Powers be they psychic, religious, or comic book. Today I’m going to talk about how our desire for Super Heroes inevitably leads to Super villains. We want people, or ourselves, to have super powers for use for good but those that claim such powers almost always end up using them for selfish purposes that take advantage of others.

It’s fairly easy to disprove someone who claims they can fly or turn invisible so outside of the realm of magicians there aren’t that many super villains of the comic book type littering history but even then there are some examples. Mostly it is people who insanely thought they had super powers and used that as an excuse to tyrannize other people. What comes immediately to mind here is the supposed practitioners of magic. Be they witches, voodoo priests, or African witch doctors. These people take money from desperate, hopeful people in order to fulfill their wish of love, vengeance, murder, etc.

The problem here is that desperate people are being used and abused in a fraudulent manner. practitioners of many alternative medicines are taking money from people with the promise of a cure when none is forthcoming. This is truly despicable. Today, in the United States, fake doctors inject their patients with cement with the promise of better looks. Awful, criminal, hideous. I’m not even talking about aromatherapy or a host of other alternative medicinal practices that have no evidence of efficacy.

The much more common super villain we see is associated with psychic powers. It is generally the same concept in that they purport to help someone but in actuality simply take their money and provide no useful service. Often times the lies told by the psychic do further damage because the victim believes the lies and acts accordingly. The police even believe the lies and arrest innocent people.

Finally, the most common super villain we find is the one who claims religious inspiration. I’m not talking about Jesus and Muhammad but people who use religion to defraud true believers. This problem is immense because when it comes to religion people have a tendency to use faith-based thinking instead of critical thinking. I’ve spoken of these subjects at length in the past but a quick recap never hurts.

A faith-based thinker believes something to be true without evidence whereas a critical thinker examines evidence to make a decision. Faith based thinking is particularly prone to religious fraud because they so desperately want something to be true.

The personal story I have is a woman who was getting a patent for her invention. I happen to know a patent attorney (when’s the next lake house party, Clyde?) and the general costs of such a process. When this woman told me what she was paying for her patent I immediately informed her that perhaps she should use a different patent company. She replied that they were “a good, Christian” company. I knew there was no hope of changing her mind at that point. She was defrauded for tens of thousands of dollars.

There is an important lesson to be learned here. In order for a Super Villain to take advantage of us we must be willing participants who have abandoned our critical thinking skills. No confidence game works without the participation of the victim.

When someone tells you they can do something “Super” then immediately be on alert. The odds are strong they want something from you. Your money, your job, your wife, or who knows what else.

Keep your critical thinking cap firmly in place and don’t let a Super Villain hurt you or anyone you know.

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Super Powers

Super Powers – Why the Fascination

PsychicI think most people in the world have a fascination with Super Powers be they comic book type like flying or becoming invisible,  religious like with turning water to wine or returning from the dead, or psychic like telekinesis or clairvoyance. I’m going to make this a multi-part post with today’s focus being why we are so enamored with the idea of super powers.

Interestingly enough I think there is a relationship between frustration, which I spoke about the other day, and the desire for, or the hope that, super powers are manifestly possible. Everyday things happen in our life beyond our control and there is an undeniable thirst to be in command of what happens to us. I think this starts as a very small child when we have power over almost nothing. This is a frustrating experience and although as we grow older we gain more control there will always be elements of our life that we cannot steer.

So, that is a common human experience. I think it is one of the main drivers of our belief in super powers be they religious, psychic, or comic book in nature.

I read an article yesterday in which some researchers used the scientific method to look at clairvoyance. Simply put, this is the ability to know things before they happen. I’m going to talk much more about that article in the coming days but today I’m focusing more on why we want to believe in Super Powers so much that, in fact, many of actually do believe.

The belief in astrology is quite popular all over the world as is general belief in psychic powers in one form or another. Certainly the belief that there is a magical father up in the sky watching over us is the prevalent view of the majority of people in the world. That agents of this power are capable of turning water into wine, walking on water, ascending (flying) directly into the sky, packing a boat full of animals that under no logical examination could fit inside.

So, I’ve blamed frustration for this belief and our childhood but that doesn’t seem to me to be enough to explain why grown men and women still believe in nonsense. I’m not just attacking religion here. Many religious people agree with me that the belief psychic powers is madness. So don’t feel too picked upon!

The other big reason I think we believe in Super Powers of one nature or another is our imperfect sensory input. By this I mean our eye, ears, nose, touch, and taste senses. They don’t work particularly well and fool us all the time. Optical illusions are everywhere and our other senses are easily fooled as well. So we have this constant stream of input coming in but much of it is false. To my way of thinking this leads us to the conclusion that there most be something “more” out there. Something hidden in the shadows just beyond our reach.

Well, there is something more out there, x-rays, ultraviolet light, high frequency sound, and thousands of other things that we can’t sense but that doesn’t make them magical. It just means we can’t sense them with or normal faculties. With devices we see and understand these things but it’s difficult to separate my personal view of the world as brought to me by my senses and the logical view of world brought to second-hand through instrumentation.

Finally, I think dreams play a large role in this belief in Super Powers. We dream but don’t remember them fully and they seem filled with strange imagery and prophetic power. I’ll just give one little story here and then wrap things up. I was having strange dreams quite a few years back and started to record them. I’d advise a pen that is capable of writing while being held upside down. After a few months of doing this I found my dreams were completely related to my work, my family, my personal life, and things going on everyday. It was just my brain reorganizing them. There was no mystery.

So, that’s it. Tell me, do you believe in Super Powers?

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Super Powers

PsychicI just read a fascinating article about a scientific experiment that seemed to validate psychic ability. The research was accepted for publication in 2010 and the methodology published for peer review to see if similar results could be obtained. Well, the first study using the methods is in and the results are predictable (see what I did there?) but nevertheless interesting.

I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow and I have a feeling it is going to turn into a multi-part session. I would say that the vast majority of people in the world believe in some sort of mental or physical power that defies scientific explanation. Why is that? What evidence is there? What’s it all about?

Tomorrow the journey begins!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist