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God with a bad haircut

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  • Steve Stubbs
    ... Hi, Hoku: Thanks. Some people would question whether thinking clearly, or thinking at all, is the point of this list, but at least you and I agree. I
    Message 1 of 6 , Dec 22, 2001
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      --- hokusai67 <wauxhail@...> wrote:
      > I would just like to thank Steve Stubbs for making
      > me think, and this
      > is, after all, the point of any discussion, is it
      > not?
      >
      Hi, Hoku:

      Thanks. Some people would question whether thinking
      clearly, or thinking at all, is the point of this
      list, but at least you and I agree. I just recently
      encountered a couple of resources which can assist
      list members in developing their critical thinking
      skills if they are interested.

      The first is web page which discusses materializations
      and contains a canon of clear thought:

      http://www.indian-skeptic.org/html/is_v01/1-3-4.htm

      The purpose of the page is summarized by the following
      statement:

      "During three field trips to India to study claims
      suggestive of psi-phenomena the investigators were
      able to observe at close range some unexplained
      occurrences which took place in the presence of Sri
      Sathya Sai Baba."

      Now notice this comment:

      "Although no conclusions can be reached on the
      phenomena observed and described in this account
      because they occurred under informal conditions, it
      seemed worth while to report the events because of the
      challenge they offer to carry out further studies of
      this well-known Indian religious leader under
      well-controlled experimental conditions."

      Note that the researchers said "no conclusions can be
      reached on the phenomena observed and described in
      this account because they occurred under informal
      conditions."

      They were not discounting the possibility of unusual
      phenomena, but merely said that they and not Sai Baba
      had to control the conditions before the stories would
      have scientific validity. That standard can also be
      applied to other reputed miracle stories, such as
      those of Blavatsky. If the stories indicate that the
      conditions were poorly controlled, the miracles may be
      real, but the stories do not constitute scientific
      evidence. The Hartmann story is clearly in this
      category. So is the Ootan Liatto story. This is not
      aggressive skepticism, as has been charged, nor is it
      an effort to "bother" fundamentalists with
      uncomfortable truths or to "explain away" something
      someone else might wish to believe in. It is simply a
      canon of scientific and historical criticism which
      does not imply any judgement on the events being
      recorded.

      The page has some interesting stories which will amuse
      lovers of the marvellous.

      Now consider this page, also on Sai Baba:

      http://psg.com/~ted/bcskeptics/sbmir/db-book.html

      This page announces itself as an "abridgement" of
      claims which "will be useful for assessing the claims
      made about Sai Baba's psychic powers." Now notice
      this statement, which contains an important message:

      "It will be helpful to have these writings [containing
      paranormal claims] detached from the theology. If the
      theology is sound, it will stand on its own. But the
      psychic claims also stand on their own, in the sense
      that we can raise the question whether these miracles
      ever occurred independently of discussing what they
      illustrate about Sai Baba's theology."

      Hear, hear. This criterion also applies to those who
      say that Blavatsky's miracles or the identity of the
      mahatmas and so forth are somehow inextricably tied to
      the validity or non validity of her philosophical
      theories. The truth is, both can be considered
      separately. That is just one of the illogical
      statements in David Pratt's paper. Pratt's paper is
      well worth reading as an exercise in learning to spot
      illogic.

      Those who have followed the career of The Amazing
      Kreskin for any time know he does not claim mysterious
      abilities but is a performer. Some time ago one of
      his performances was video taped and examined by
      professional magicians, who were unable to figure out
      how he did the trick, despite their special skills.
      After playing the tape again and again they were
      finally reduced to studying it frame by frame. Then
      they caught him. That they had to go to such lengths
      is a testimonial to this performer's amazing degree of
      skill. It is also a testimonial to the ability of
      video tape to unmask a trick, however skillfully it is
      performed.

      Unfortunately, it also says we should keep the issue
      open, no matter how carefully we observe something
      which appears to be paranormal.

      Magician Doug Henning claims he can reproduce every
      one of Sai Baba's miracles by non miraculous means.
      Apparently he is right. Like Kreskin before him, Sai
      Baba has been unmasked using video tape. The
      difference is that Kreskin is an honest trickster.

      Did Blavatsky materialize objects out of thin air? I
      am quite convinced she believed, based on what she
      came to believe during her spiritualistic years, that
      it was possible in theory. Nobody would have written
      an entire book on it, disguised as a cosmological
      theory, who did not believe it was possible.

      I am furthermore convinced that she was sincere when
      she said demos of materialization were demonstrations
      of the validity of her theories.

      I am also convinced that she was familiar with certain
      yoga practices which are almost unknown in the west,
      and which are described in certain Indian texts, which
      relate to this. Some of the comments she made
      indicate clearly that this is true. How diligent she
      was in practicing it or whether she practiced at all
      is unclear. She seems to have spent all her time
      entertaining or writing and not meditating.

      What is not clear, except to True Believers, is
      whether she had any success at it or if she did
      whether she succeeded consistently enough that she did
      not have to supplement her real phenomena with sleight
      of hand. True Believers will say we must believe
      whatever they believe. More objective observers will
      refer back to the quote at the beginning of this post:

      "No conclusions can be reached on the phenomena
      observed and described ... because they occurred under
      informal conditions."

      If herbs were burning in the room, as they were during
      the Ootan Liatto incident, and there is clear evidence
      of drug influence, it is not reasonable to steadfastly
      conclude that things were being materialized in the
      room.

      The only way to know for sure if Blavatsky could
      materialize dishes is to materialize your own dishes,
      either in your cupboard or buried in your front yard.
      When you can do that, then you will know that it is
      possible. Unfortunately, going to see Sai Baba is not
      enough.

      As for ne, I am going to go naterialize a salad. I am
      hungry.

      Steve


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    • danielhcaldwell
      ... Steve, much of what you say above merits thoughtful consideration and I agree with the thrust of what you say. I certainly agree that we should have a
      Message 2 of 6 , Dec 22, 2001
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        Steve, you wrote:

        > Note that the researchers said "no conclusions can be
        > reached on the phenomena observed and described in
        > this account because they occurred under informal
        > conditions."
        >
        > They were not discounting the possibility of unusual
        > phenomena, but merely said that they and not Sai Baba
        > had to control the conditions before the stories would
        > have scientific validity. That standard can also be
        > applied to other reputed miracle stories, such as
        > those of Blavatsky. If the stories indicate that the
        > conditions were poorly controlled, the miracles may be
        > real, but the stories do not constitute scientific
        > evidence. The Hartmann story is clearly in this
        > category. So is the Ootan Liatto story. This is not
        > aggressive skepticism, as has been charged, nor is it
        > an effort to "bother" fundamentalists with
        > uncomfortable truths or to "explain away" something
        > someone else might wish to believe in. It is simply a
        > canon of scientific and historical criticism which
        > does not imply any judgement on the events being
        > recorded.

        Steve, much of what you say above merits thoughtful consideration and
        I agree with the thrust of what you say.

        I certainly agree that we should have a positive skepticism toward
        various claims, etc. But I believe we should realize that there is a
        brand of skepticism, whether one calls it "agressive" or not, that
        can "explain away" any paranormal experience or for that matter any
        claim in science.. For good examples of this, I refer you to the
        extensive literature produced by many members of CSICOP and published
        by Prometheus Press. Read for example C.E.M Hansel's
        book "debunking" the paranormal.

        This type of "debunking" and "skepticism" can explain away even the 2
        paranormal cases (HPB) that you mention in one of your previous posts.

        I repeat again below what I wrote earlier regarding the type of
        argument and method employed in this type of skepticism.
        ----------------------------------------------

        Steve, you wrote:

        ". . . . if chicanery is a plausible explanation, then the story
        is not evidence of anything."

        Steve, here is a statement that clearly shows me that you do NOT
        fully understand the vital difference between possible/plausible and
        probable. You can take ANY experience of the paranormal and ANY
        experiment in parapsychology and think up plausible and/or possible
        natural explanations for the experiences or experiments.

        C.E.M Hansel in his skeptical books on parapsychology is a master of
        looking for plausible or possible counterexplanations for the most
        famous experiments in parapsychology.

        Here is an example from another writer.

        In the current web version of his book THE UNKNOWING SAGE, David
        Christopher Lane wrote:

        ". . .I have yet to unearth an airtight, empirical case for genuine
        psychic powers. There are always some uninspected loopholes which
        reveal that natural (versus supernatural) processes were
        involved. . . . "

        David's words sound quite similar to remarks made by the Amazing
        James Randi, who is a member of CSICOP.

        Notice that David Lane says that he has not discovered one AIRTIGHT
        case for genuine psychic powers; and that in all such
        cases "uninspected" [I assume this is a typo for "unsuspected"?]
        loopholes ....reveal that natural processes were involved."

        Exactly how does Lane define "airtight"?

        One dictionary defines "airtight" as follows:

        "having no noticeable weakness, flaw or loophole."

        But the crucial question to ask is: Are those "unsuspected"
        loopholes "real" or only possibilities or plausibilities.

        Also, as far as I know, nothing is 100% airtight, or flawless.

        James MClenon has written about the skeptical strategy of "unpacking"
        any successful parpsychological experiment.

        "The goal of the critic using this strategy is to 'unpack' and
        examine in detail any experiment, and to demonstrate how
        methodological flaws *could* have entered into the experimental
        process, thereby producing an invalid results.. . .The
        critic ...thinks of some...methodological flaw that *could* have
        occurred. . . .His or her 'unpacking' of methodological assumptions
        tends to render the experiment into an anecdotal form. . . .This
        unpacking strategy makes the 'perfect' ESP experiment an
        impossbility. Sooner or later, the critic will ask for information
        that is no longer available, or for a degree of experimental control
        and exactitude that is desirable in principle but impossible in
        practice. . . .[Another] rhetorical ploy is to demand total
        perfection. It is always possible for critics to think of more rigid
        methodological procedures after an experiment has been conducted...
        The a priori arguments of the critics mean it is highly logical to
        assume that, within *all* experiments which successfully 'prove' the
        existence of psi, there must be an 'error some place'."

        This unpacking method can ALSO be used on paranormal experiences.

        Ray Hyman, a psychologist and also a skeptic of the paranormal, has
        agreed that in using such A METHOD OF ARGUMENT, "it is ALWAYS
        possible to 'imagine' SOME scenario in which [for example] cheating
        [or lying], no matter how implausible, COULD HAVE occurred."

        Using such a METHOD is "illegitimate" [as Marcello Truzzi, a
        sociologist and another skeptic of the parnormal points out] because
        by its use, "one can 'hypothetically' explain away ANY result [even]
        in science."

        Turning from paranormal experiments, consider "suspected" flaws in
        regular scientific experiments. Pray tell, is there even one
        experiment in science that has no "possible" or "plausible" flaws?

        In effect, this TYPE OF ARGUMENT and the process of UNPACKING an
        experiment or a testimonial account becomes a game in which the
        skeptic cannot lose!

        Turning to the realm of NORMAL historical inquiry, the historians
        Barzun and Graff point out:

        "If you receive a letter from a relative that [1] bears what looks
        like her signature, that [2] refers to family matters you and she
        commonly discuss, and that [3] was postmarked in the city where she
        lives, the probability is very great that she wrote it."

        "The contrary hypothesis would need at least as many opposing signs
        [of evidence] in order to take root in your mind---though the
        possibility of forgery. . .is always there."

        Please note that the hypothesis that the letter is really written by
        your relative is supported by three positive signs of evidence. But
        as Barzun and Graff point out, even in spite of all that, the
        POSSIBILITY or PLAUSIBILITY of forgery is ALWAYS there! An
        critic using the UNPACKING method could take the ball at this step
        and try to "explain away" the three pieces of evidence.

        For example, the skeptic could "reason":

        "Isn't it possible or plausible that [1] the relative's signature was
        forged, and, isn't it possible or plausible that [2] some "forger"
        was somehow privy to family matters, and, furthermore, isn't it
        possible or plausible that [3] the forger could have mailed the
        letter in the city where your relative lives to throw you off the
        track?"

        And if you (the level-headed researcher) objected to such speculation
        by your resident skeptic, he might quip:

        "Prove to me that the three statements, I just listed, aren't
        possible or plausible! Didn't Barzun and Graff admit that THE
        POSSIBILITY OF FORGERY ...IS ALWAYS THERE?"

        But the perceptive researcher should point out to his skeptical friend
        that POSSIBILITIES and PLAUSIBILITIES are not to be confused with
        PROBABLITIES. Barzun and Graffe clearly enunciate an important
        dictum for the researcher:

        "The rule of 'Give Evidence' is not be be violated. . . .No matter how
        possible or plausible the author's conjecture it cannot be accepted
        as truth if he has only his hunch [which is not evidence] to support
        it. Truth rests not on possibility or plausibility but on
        probability. Probability means the balance of chances that, GIVEN
        SUCH AND SUCH EVIDENCE, the event it records happened in a certain
        way; or, in other cases, that a supposed event did not in fact take
        place."

        Unfortunately, far too many skeptics of the parnormal become fixated
        on "possibilities" AND "plausibilities" and never progress beyond to
        considering "probabilities." Such skeptics---after pointing out that
        if two or more explanations are possible or plausible, none are
        proved---SEEM TO BE UNINTERESTED in the question of where the
        WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE lies. Many of these skeptics fixate and
        speculate (almost ad infinitum and ad nauseam) on various
        possibilities and plausibilities ---hoping that careless readers will
        ASSUME that 'something' has been proven or disproven by such
        rhetoric."

        So when David Lane writes: "I have yet to unearth an airtight,
        empirical case for genuine psychic powers. There are always some
        uninspected loopholes which reveal that natural (versus supernatural)
        processes were involved," is he referring to "possible"
        or "plausible" loopholes that he has conjured up in his imagination
        or is he talking about loopholes that can be documented with
        evidence?

        Furthermore, if by "airtight" David Lane wants to convey the meaning
        of perfect, flawless, 100% confirmed, then I would say he is living
        in a "fairytale" world. What is completely flawless? For example, is
        there a medical test in the world that will give accurate results
        anytime, anywhere, under any and every condition?

        One of my major criticisms of K. Paul Johnson's books was his
        excessive speculations about what might be plausible or possible
        without ever going to THE NEXT STEP and trying to determine what is
        most PROBABLE in light of all the known evidence, both pro, con and
        neutral.

        Steve, your statement: ". . . . if chicanery is a plausible
        explanation, then the story is not evidence of anything." shows me
        that you also do not fully understand the vital difference between
        possible/plausible and probable.

        IN SUMMARY, there is no historical account and no scientific
        experiment where there are not plausible or possible
        counterexplanations. Therefore as Truzzi says: "one
        can 'hypothetically' explain away ANY result [even] in science" by
        using plausible/possible arguments.

        Steve, in closing, I give again the Hartmann account below which I
        think you multilated in your UNPACKING method.

        Daniel H. Caldwell
        BLAVATSKY ARCHIVES
        http://hpb.cc

        HARTMANN'S ACCOUNT:

        This morning at half-past eleven I went upstairs to Madame
        Blavatsky's room and had a conversation with her in regard to
        society
        matters. After this conversation the thought came in my mind to ask
        her opinion in regard to a certain subject of which I had been
        thinking. Madame Blavatsky advised me to apply to the Master
        himself, to ask him mentally, and that the Master himself would
        surely answer my question. A few minutes later she said she felt his
        presence, and that she saw him writing. I must say that I too felt
        his influence and seemed to see his face, but of course this
        circumstance will carry conviction to no one but myself.

        Just then another lady came in, to my great annoyance, and expressed
        her wish to have a pair of pincers, which she needed for some
        purpose, and remembering that I had such a pair of pincers in the
        drawer of my writing desk, I went downstairs into my room to get
        them. I opened the drawer, saw the pincers and a few other things in
        there, but no vestige of any letter, as I had removed my papers the
        day before to another place. I took the pincers and was about to
        close the drawer, when --- there lay in the drawer a great envelope,
        addressed to me in the well-known handwriting of the Master and
        sealed with the seal bearing his initials in Tibetan characters. On
        opening it, I found a long, very kind and somewhat complimentary
        letter, treating of the identical questions, about which I had just
        been talking with Madame Blavatsky, besides giving a detailed and
        satisfactory answer to the very question which had so perplexed my
        mind, and a satisfactory explanation of certain matters, which for
        some time had been foremost in my mind, but of which I had said
        nothing at all.

        Moreover, there was in the same envelope a photograph, cabinet-size,
        of the Master's face, with a dedication to me at the back. This
        picture will henceforth be considered as the greatest treasure in my
        possession.

        Now, if I know anything at all, I know that my drawer contained no
        such letter, when I opened it, and that there was nobody visible in
        my room at that time. The letter, giving a detailed answer to my
        question, must have been written, sealed and put into the drawer in
        less than four minutes, while it took exactly forty minutes to copy
        it the next day; and finally, it treated a very difficult problem in
        such an elaborate and yet concise manner, that only an intelligence
        of the highest order could have done the same.
      • danielhcaldwell
        Truth rests not on possibility or plausibility but on probability. ... The possibility/plausibility method of argument is a very useful tool in unpacking
        Message 3 of 6 , Dec 22, 2001
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          "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
          event/experience/experiment.

          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
          authors' conclusions.

          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
          BLAVATSKY ARCHIVES
          http://hpb.cc
        • Steve Stubbs
          ... 7 argument from THE ... CSICOP exists for the purpose of pleading a case decided before the fact, just as theosophical fundamentalism does. What I am
          Message 4 of 6 , Dec 23, 2001
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            --- danielhcaldwell <danielhcaldwell@...> wrote:
            > I give below an excellent example of this method of
            7> argument from THE
            > TRANSCENDENTAL TEMPTATION by Paul Kurtz, a founding
            > member of
            > CSICOP.

            CSICOP exists for the purpose of pleading a case
            decided before the fact, just as theosophical
            fundamentalism does. What I am saying is that the
            question remains open until solid evidence is
            produced. There is an important difference there.

            > 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.

            The questions should be dealt with by replicating the
            experiment with improved test conditions.

            As we have seen with Sai Baba, some people are so good
            at sleight of hand and some witneses ae so dishonest
            that even seeing is not believing. The only way to
            prove that dishes can be materialized out of thin air
            is to do it yourself. That was you can absolutely
            rule out sleight of hand and every sort of other
            nonsense. Once you prove it possible, then you prove
            the plausibility of claims made in the past.

            > 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."

            That's not quite fair. I open the regrigerator and
            pull out an orange. You can say it materialized out
            of thin air a moment before. I say I put it there
            when I got home from the store last Friday. Neither
            theory can be proved to a True Believer in the other.
            But which one makes more sense?

            > By using this "possibility/plausibility" method of
            > argument, "one
            > can 'HYPOTHETICALLY' explain away ANY result [even]
            > in science [or
            > history or the paranormal]."

            Not true. I place a pot of water over a fire. The
            water boils. The experiment can be replicated. How
            would you explain that away?

            Bear in mind the question here is not of urging people
            to believe or disbelieve what fundamentalists believe.
            The question is one of how to think clearly and
            evaluate evidence.

            Steve


            __________________________________________________
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          • Daniel H. Caldwell
            The possibility/plausibility method of argument: An example Truth rests not on possibility or plausibility but on probability. ... The
            Message 5 of 6 , Jul 13, 2005
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              The "possibility/plausibility" method of argument: An example

              "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
              event/experience/experiment.

              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
              authors' conclusions.

              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 .

              Daniel H. Caldwell
              BLAVATSKY ARCHIVES
              http://hpb.cc
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