Deep Thought: Thinking Like a Real Scientist

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Deep Thought: Thinking Like a Real Scientist

Nikola Tesla.
Nikola Tesla had blinding visions that led to his discovery of alternating current.
So don't mock people who think differently.

Youtube's algorithm is often accused of sending you down a rabbit hole, but it knows what I like. Which is cute animal videos, rants by the Liberal Redneck (Trae Crowder, that kid has a wonderful accent), and old episodes of One Step Beyond, the 1960s black-and-white tv series that claimed to dramatise paranormal stories that were 'part of the human record.' Okay, some of them were urban legends, but the one where host John Newland partook of ayahuasca on camera set records.

The other day, Youtube threw up an episode called 'Emergency Only' which I particularly enjoyed. The plot was as follows.

Arthur Douglas of Chicago is in New York City on business. A friend invites him to one of those cocktail parties. The kind up-and-coming New York people used to have in the 50s and early 60s. The desirable kind where people 'networked'. The kind you only got repeat invitations to if you were really entertaining – could sing a song or tell a good story or had an unusual talent like Ellen Larrabee's. (Ellen Larrabee is played by Marlon Brando's sister Jocelyn. She's easier to look at and a better actor, in my opinion.)

Ellen's talent is clairvoyance, and everyone wants her to show it off. Everyone except Arthur, who makes mock and is a nuisance. Nonetheless, Ellen goes into a trance. She 'sees' Arthur on a train. Arthur meets a beautiful dark-haired woman with a snake ring. He's in compartment 102B. He's frightened, it's ominous…she screams.

Arthur says it proves what she knows. He's going home to Chicago by plane. Except he isn't: it's too foggy, planes are grounded. He ends up on a train. He starts feeling uneasy when the taxi driver fulfills one of Ellen's predictions. When they offer him sleeper compartment 102B, he protests loudly, but is stuck there. Then he meets the mysterious woman with the snake ring, who matches Ellen's description exactly.

Arthur, the skeptic, becomes more and more overwrought as each prediction comes true. Finally, in a blind panic, he pulls the emergency cord, stopping the train – which screeches to a halt 100 yards before it would have hit a stalled freight train and derailed. Arthur is bruised, but not too badly hurt. Particularly because the lady with the snake ring is a trained nurse.

I don't care whether that story ever happened or not. It illustrates a lesson I want to point out. Anybody who claims to be a 'skeptic' with a scientific approach to life and then panics that badly at the mere occurrence of an inexplicable event is in reality deeply, deeply superstitious. And you shouldn't take that person's word for anything at all. If they tell you it's raining, look out the window.

There are people who go through life trading one set of prepackaged notions for another. They join first one club and then another. Each time, they exhibit the fervour of 'true believers.' They adopt the party line, whatever it is. The problem is, approaches to reality that depend on a club's 'talking points' are no approach at all. They're just lists of prejudices.

Take people who tell you that they 'believe' in 'Science.' Science isn't a belief system. It's a way of formulating and testing hypotheses. As Einstein always said, a science requires an epistemology. But it can't be a closed system. You can never have all the answers – just more questions. If you think you know it all, your view isn't big enough.

Paranormal experiences, for example, suffer from subjectivity, this is true. They also constitute 'anecdotal evidence.' Collect enough anecdotal evidence and you might be able to formulate a hypothesis you could test. Maybe, maybe not. The jury's still out on that. But here's what you can't do: hold to the false dichotomy that says either, 'That can't happen because it doesn't happen' or, 'That happened, so my elaborate story about the aliens from Beta Reticuli MUST be true!'

Bosh and piffle. If something happened, it happened. The explanation may be very, very far off. Maybe precognition occurs because of an as-yet undefined neurological process leading to a form of subjective perception under conditions we have yet to define? Bet a hat, as we say, that has nothing to do with religion or transcendental meditation. Bet a hat it can happen to people regardless of their personal theories about the Infinite. Bet two hats anybody who has such an experience will interpret said experience to fit in with their own view of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

I do know one thing: panicking never helps. There is no reason to get the vapours over a random inexplicable event. That's bad for your health.

Science is a great thing. So is Google. Slavoj Zizek says you should enjoy your symptoms. I wouldn't go that far, but I would say Google them. That's what I did the first time I got a visual migraine. I was sitting in front of a laptop, and it was very reassuring to see the exact same thing on Youtube. If Hildegard of Bingen had had Youtube, the world might have been different.

And oh, yes, I double-checked with my ophthalmic surgeon at the next visit. He confirmed: alarming but not life-threatening. Nice when a Youtube and a higher degree from Duke University Medical School agree.

So remember, victims of possible paranormal experiences: Don't Panic! Also: be sure you can tell the difference online between the Mayo Clinic and ConspiraciesRUs.

Peace to you all.

Deep Thought Archive

Dmitri Gheorgheni

27.12.21 Front Page

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