4423The "possibility/plausibility" method of argument: An example
- Dec 22, 2001"Truth rests not on possibility or plausibility but on probability."
--- Barzun and Graffe, THE MODERN RESEARCHER
The "possibility/plausibility" method of argument is a very useful
tool in unpacking and throwing doubt on ANY normal or paranormal
I give below an excellent example of this method of argument from THE
TRANSCENDENTAL TEMPTATION by Paul Kurtz, a founding member of
CSICOP. Notice how Kurtz focuses on POSSIBILITIES/PLAUSIBILITIES. I
put certain words in CAPS to show his technique.
"Many psychic investigators were apparently impressed by the Fielding
report on Eusapia Palladino [the famous Italian medium]. . . .Were
some of the medium's manifestations genuine? . . . Or MAY WE SURMISE
that Eusapia was more clever than Feilding and his associates? DID
EUSAPIA HAVE accomplices --- PERHAPS Italians, scientists, and
friends who had attended several seances, or even Carrington? DID
SHE USE every trick in the book, changing them to suit her purposes?
Since she was a voluptuous woman, WERE HER MALE SITTERS taken in by
her erotic charms and DID THEY FAIL to take the proper precautions?
Eusapia was OBVIOUSLY a master illusionist, well-versed in her craft;
and those who sat with her, through skilled in their specialties, MAY
PERHAPS have been outsmarted by her. The Feilding report denies the
POSSIBILITY of accomplices or prearrangments in the hotel. But
should we accept the denial?"
MAY WE SURMISE....PERHAPS...MAY PERHAPS.
"Where's the beef?" Kurtz offers only POSSIBILITIES &
PLAUSIBILITES. But Kurtz does NOT offer any evidence to his readers
to help them answer his questions. Some readers might falsely assume
that "something" has been proven or disproven by Kurtz's use of this
method of argument.
It should be pointed out that in contrast to Kurtz's "perhaps", the
Feilding Report offers various kinds of EVIDENCE in support of the
That is not to say that the questions entertained by Kurtz are not
worthy of consideration. But such questions should lead to further
research on the subject and to the accumulation of evidence.
In fact, the Feilding Report contains EVIDENCE that would actually
answer many of Kurtz's questions.
The above example illustrates Ray Hyman's statement that "it is
ALWAYS possible to 'imagine' SOME scenario in which cheating no
matter how implausible, COULD HAVE occurred."
By using this "possibility/plausibility" method of argument, "one
can 'HYPOTHETICALLY' explain away ANY result [even] in science [or
history or the paranormal]."
My notebooks are full of hundreds of such examples from the skeptical
literature on the paranormal.
Daniel H. Caldwell
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