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1. Hume's Proof

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  • Roger Anderton
    Hume s Proof that Testimonies for the Extraordinary cannot be believed Andrew M Colman, in his book Facts, fallacies and frauds in psychology, reports on one
    Message 1 of 4 , Nov 6, 2001
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      Hume's Proof that Testimonies for the Extraordinary cannot be believed



      Andrew M Colman, in his book Facts, fallacies and frauds in psychology, reports on one of the problems with trying to prove ESP, as being Hume's Proof that testimonies from witnesses of paranormal events cannot be believed. Similar reasoning enables Hume's Proof to be applied to witnesses' statements of alien encounters, meaning they cannot be believed either. In effect Hume's Proof is a debunking of the UFO Subject.

      Andrew Colman says:

      "...... cases of spontaneous psi inevitably rest on the testimony of those who report them. [That is testimony of people that have experienced something unusual, that could be called paranormal.] More than two centuries ago the Scottish philosopher David Hume put forward an argument for rejecting all testimony of supernatural or paranormal events. 'I flatter myself,' he wrote, 'that I have discovered an argument ... which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures.' It is worth examining Hume's argument carefully, because contemporary philosophers consider it to be substantially correct." #

      "Hume pointed out that when we are confronted with testimony of a paranormal phenomenon, or of anything else, for that matter, there are three possibilities to be considered:" #

      1. the report is true,

      or 2. the report is false because the informant is mistaken,

      or 3 . the report is false because the informant is dishonest.

      "One of these explanations must be correct, but how should we decide between them?" #

      "According to Hume, we ought to weigh the likelihood of the informant's being deceived or a deceiver against the intrinsic likelihood of whatever the informant reports. If the informant reports something intrinsically unlikely, then the crucial question is whether it is more or less unlikely than the informant is mistaken or dishonest." #

      Does that seem reasonable? If you think it is reasonable then:

      "Now for the nub of the argument: if the informant reports a supernatural or paranormal event, it must be literally contrary to the laws of nature, which implies that it is as unlikely as anything could be. (If it is not contrary to the laws of nature, then the claim that it is supernatural or paranormal collapses.) It must therefore be more likely that the informant is mistaken or dishonest, because that would not be contrary to the laws of nature. Consequently, there are never any good grounds for believing the testimony. Perhaps surprisingly, Hume's arguments also applies to someone who experiences a paranormal event at first hand, because even the testimony of one's own senses can be mistaken without violating any law of nature." #

      Does that seem reasonable? IF it does seem reasonable then consider alien visits to Earth, in Mainstream Science Community 'they' would like to believe that such things are very unlikely. Thus by Hume's Proof : all reports from witnesses of aliens can be ignored as being false.

      Colman continues:

      "It is important to understand that Hume did not seek to prove that supernatural or paranormal events never occur, or that they never could occur. What he argued was simply that we never have good reasons for believing testimony of their occurrence. Many commentators have misunderstood this point." #

      In the case of Alien encounters reported by witnesses, it means that by Hume's Proof even though alien encounters might happen, we have no reason to believe these witnesses' reports, if we believe alien encounters unlikely.

      "John Beloff of the University of Edinburgh, a prominent parapsychologist, has tried to show that Hume's argument is 'fallacious' and 'obvious nonsense' because 'it presupposes, in fact, that every proposition has, if we could ascertain it, a certain definite probability of being true', whereas, in reality, 'the most we can ever hope to do is to give an honest opinion as to which of two alternatives we deem the more likely. But this is an act of personal judgement, not a statement of objective probabilities.'" #

      Does that seem like a reasonable disclaimer to Hume's argument? Actually, it is not as Colman points out:

      "But Hume's conclusion was precisely that we never have good reasons for believing, 'as an act of personal judgement', testimony of a supernatural event. When we are forced by this argument to conclude that such an event is intrinsically more unlikely than the alternative - that the informant is mistaken or dishonest - this conclusion is admittedly relative to a body of background information." #

      In other words, when applied to Alien Encounters, because the Science Establishment believes that alien encounters are unlikely based upon the body of data that its deems to believe in, then by Hume's argument there is no reason to believe witnesses reports of alien encounters.



      There we have it - no Aliens, no ESP, no other unusual phenomenon. All debunked by Hume, unless you can see a flaw in his reasoning?



      Reference

      # Facts, fallacies and frauds in psychology, Andrew M Colman, Hutchinson, UK 1987, p 168 - 170



      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Joe McGonagle
      There are at least two flaws. 1. It assumes a perfect understanding of nature by man. 2. It ignores cases which include supporting evidence, eg, multiple
      Message 2 of 4 , Nov 6, 2001
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        There are at least two flaws.

        1. It assumes a perfect understanding of nature by man.

        2. It ignores cases which include supporting evidence, eg, multiple
        independent witnesses.

        It looks to me like a cynical excercise to get a "proof" named after
        him!

        Joe
        --- In ufonet@y..., "Roger Anderton" <R.J.Anderton@b...> wrote:
      • richard.whitehead@att.net
        It seems to me that you have simply leapt to the incorrect conclusion that was even warned about within your own email. Hume s proof specifies that testimonies
        Message 3 of 4 , Nov 6, 2001
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          It seems to me that you have simply leapt to the
          incorrect conclusion that was even warned about within
          your own email.
          Hume's proof specifies that testimonies alone are not
          enough. Eyewitness accounts, no matter from whom, are
          not enough BY THEMSELVES to establish the existence of
          anything. This is not news, and would scarcely be worth
          mentioning if people didn't keep falling for it.
          Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence is a
          common yardstick. Hume's proof is actually weaker than
          that. There's nothing very extraordinary about an iota
          of physical evidence, and yet to date nobody's produced
          one for alien abductions, UFOs being alien spacecraft,
          or a whole bunch of other stuff. That doesn't mean that
          such ideas are proven false, or that all reports can be
          ignored as being false. It does mean that all the
          reports are probably false (in the sense of being either
          mistakes or hoaxes). Since even the devoutest Ufologist
          concedes that 95% plus of UFO sightings are identifiable
          as "regular" terrestrial phenomena (misidentified
          aircraft, etc), you can pick any UFO sighting at random
          and have a 95% plus chance of it being false in this
          sense. So Hume's proof stands vindicated, and it hasn't
          actually contributed anything terribly meaningful to any
          discussion.
          > Hume's Proof that Testimonies for the Extraordinary cannot be believed
          > <snip>
          >
          > > Does that seem reasonable? IF it does seem reasonable then consider alien visits
          > to Earth, in Mainstream Science Community 'they' would like to believe that such
          > things are very unlikely. Thus by Hume's Proof : all reports from witnesses of
          > aliens can be ignored as being false.
          >
          > Colman continues:
          >
          > "It is important to understand that Hume did not seek to prove that supernatural
          > or paranormal events never occur, or that they never could occur. What he argued
          > was simply that we never have good reasons for believing testimony of their
          > occurrence. Many commentators have misunderstood this point." #
          > <unsnip>
        • Roger Anderton
          Hi Joe ... It doesn t. It seems more like: He is making out that when one has a Belief of how the universe operates and witnesses say something that
          Message 4 of 4 , Nov 11, 2001
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            Hi Joe
            >>>>>>1. It assumes a perfect understanding of nature by man.

            It doesn't. It seems more like: He is making out that when one has a Belief
            of how the universe operates and witnesses say something that contradicts
            that Belief, then there is no reason to believe them.

            >>>>>>>2. It ignores cases which include supporting evidence, e.g., multiple
            independent witnesses.

            Multiple witnesses can be deceived, not just single witnesses.

            Your Point 1 is almost right. Hume would like to assume that he knows best,
            i.e. knows perfect understanding of nature. But what he has is a way of
            maintaining his own Belief system (whether it is perfect or erroneous in
            understanding nature) and preventing it from being amended by anything
            anomalous.

            It is ideas like Hume's that modern science has been built on. That is why
            I think modern science is a religion, and not a proper science. i.e.
            Scientists like to believe that they are building on truth, and so don't
            need to worry about any foundations laid long ago by other workers.
            Believing earlier work correct, they then seek to build on that , and
            believing 'they' know best, 'they' then debunk (or allow others to debunk)
            any criticism of their foundations.

            Roger



            ----- Original Message -----
            From: "Joe McGonagle" <joe@...>
            To: <ufonet@yahoogroups.com>
            Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2001 7:49 PM
            Subject: [UFOnet] Re: 1. Hume's Proof


            > There are at least two flaws.
            >
            > 1. It assumes a perfect understanding of nature by man.
            >
            > 2. It ignores cases which include supporting evidence, eg, multiple
            > independent witnesses.
            >
            > It looks to me like a cynical excercise to get a "proof" named after
            > him!
            >
            > Joe
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