Monday, August 31, 2015

The Extraordinary Claims Of The Pseudo-Skeptics Are Held To Be Above Testing

Looking at that post at Dean Radin's blog that I linked to the other day,  I see it is a place I got into a tussle with someone over the alleged disqualification of the enormous number of card-guessing experiments that J. B. Rhine conducted due to "inadequate shuffling" of the cards.  This was an old one, what interested me in William Feller's 1940s era debunking of Rhine's research.  I doubt I'll have time to research it for a while but here is part of what I thought about it.

From what I can gather, there is supposed to be some "unconscious ability" to retain a phenomenally accurate memory of the orders of cards in a shuffled deck and, so, unless the next shuffling of a deck produces a quite mathematically improbable completely random ordering retaining no orders from the previous shuffle, that "unconscious ability" would invalidate any above chance results from a run of card-guesses.

The easiest answer is that if the subject of the test were never told the order of cards in any shuffle of a deck and never saw the cards, something which became a pretty standard part of such tests fairly early into the never ending process of researchers accommodating every reasonable and unreasonable objection, there would be no reasonable reason to believe such an ability would enter into it.   And, unless the subject is known to possess such an ability, bringing it up or believing it is relevant is also unreasonable.   Despite what you will read, J. B. Rhine was a very honest man, his reporting of his experiments is unusually revealing and above board.  His opponents, on the other hand, never hesitated to slander the man.  The idiots online who have never looked into it at all read the doctored "encyclopedia" entries and the well rehearsed lies and parrot those.

While the pseudo-skeptic will point to feats of stage mentalists and magicians as evidence of such a thing being real, the abilities of those people is not unconscious, it's the result of an enormous amount of practice and skill, practice and skill which I doubt one in a million people in the general population have ever tried or though of trying to master, never mind mastering it to the level of a professional stage magician who specializes in that kind of thing.  Not all of even skilled professional magicians have or probably could master that skill.  It is unreasonable to to think such a conscious ability which is the result of training exists as an "unconscious ability" in more than the rarest of persons who would probably be known.

The cards that Rhine used in most of the experiments I read about would tend to thwart any remembered order being an advantage because it used a 25 card deck of five suits of five identical cards with the same symbol on them, the famous "ESP cards".   Even if someone knew that, say, a square card was the card they were to have guessed, the likelihood would be that any retained order would have different cards after other square cards in the deck.  One square would be followed by a plus sign, another square would be followed by wavy lines, another would be followed by a circle.  The proposal that someone could successfully guess which of those orders was retained in an imperfect shuffling is absurd, not to mention which order retained would produce a correct guess of the next card.  If anything remembering a previous order would tend to drive up incorrect guesses as the likelihood of correctly guessing which order involving a square  is less than incorrectly guessing which order it was likely to be.  I would like to see the mathematical probability that the correct ordering in such a situation by chance is but I would think it would be less than plain chances of guessing five out of twenty five cards correctly.   I would, though, most like to see it experimentally confirmed to identify the ability that the pseudo-skeptics firmly believe in but which I find far fetched WITHIN THIS CONTEXT.

If the series of tests involved a number of shuffling of decks, the retention of the first order would, I imagine, also tend to drive up the number of incorrect guesses, though I'd think the chances under any circumstances would always favor the probability of chance being the result.   The mathematics of probability don't, as far as I'm aware of, take the human tendency to harbor incorrect beliefs into the mix.  I doubt that favors results being above chance, I would guess in something like this it would increase the likelihood of below chance results, if anything.   But that's a guess, I'd have to see it tested experimentally.

My opponent in the discussion brought up things like card counting at gambling tables which is an entirely different thing, there the guesses are based on extensive knowledge of cards that have already come up in a game and won't be somewhere in the cards which haven't been guessed.  And the ability to do that varies widely and is hardly a sure thing.  And, most of all, it is hardly an unconscious ability but, again, the result of conscious study and analysis in the context of the game.  It is not anything like the proposed ability in the context of Rhine's experiments.

I proposed a test to see how successful even a conscious and skilled mentalist or magician could do at that skill if 1. they didn't shuffle the cards or even handle them, 2. they didn't see the cards and 3. if they were not told anything about the order of cards in a previous ordering.   My guess is that they would not succeed in practicing their skill.  You could use reasonable though not theoretically perfect means of thwarting their getting information and, if reasonably well proctored, I'll bet all of their skill would not make the most skilled mentalist consistently guess above chance.

I also proposed a test in which an unspecified number of cards would be sorted in a way to not retain any orders from a previous shuffle, perhaps even one the magician knew and had memorized, and that those cards, arranged to retain not a single order from the previous shuffle be put at the top of the deck.  My guess is that such a thing would entirely thwart the mentalists abilities to correctly guess even an order they remembered, especially if the beginning of the previous order was selected as the cards to be reordered.

As it is, I doubt that any such a thing as the ability they cite exists, definitely; not in the context of the tests as they were conducted, certainly not after adequate isolation of the cards and the subject were taken.  I think it's just one of those things invented as extraordinary abilities by the pseudo-skeptics which they have never tested in the context they claim they can relevantly be used to discredit rigorously tested hypotheses.   As they were brought up, the pseudo-skeptics are making extraordinary claims which they don't ever expect to be asked to support with even ordinary proof.  It happens all the time in the materialist-atheist-pseudo-skepticism industry.

There are all kinds of ways to answer the objections of the professional debunkers, such easy things as never using the same deck of cards with the same subject twice would do that.  But when they don't have to prove that their invented flaws are real.  Which you would think would be as important in the methodology of debunkery as preventing information leakage is in experimental design.  The researchers have answered every rational objection of this kind and the effects have not gone away. Card-guessing is seldom used, today, from what I understand, as in all science experimental design evolves.   One of the reasons they may have given it up is that it is stultifying boring as compared to something that is more of a simulation of real life conditions.  I don't think I'd be able to stand doing it more than a handful of times.  But I think poker is pretty boring in a real game with real money on the table.   I never did see the attraction of it.  A game of checkers, that's another matter.  It's a game of skill and intelligence, not of chance.


  1. OT, but remember when Simels was bragging on being in a picture with Chrissie Hynde?

  2. I would first ask the skeptics "What is this 'unconscious' you speak of?" It's a Freudian term and therefore ill-defined according to the more rigorous thinkers in the field of psychology. Rather like "subliminal perception," which is a popular idea, but not so popular with experts in the field. And both rely on the same explanation: perceptions and thought processes not available to the "conscious" mind but used by the "unconscious" mind.

    Which is a dodge, really. If I can't explain is a "conscious" process, I call it "unconscious." Except even now nobody says that about, say, typing or playing the piano. Now we call that "muscle memory," because you can do it without being conscious of it (if I thought about where the keys were, I couldn't get this typed except with one finger), yet we no longer really think of having a "subconscious mind."

    So what is this "unconscious" ability to remember the order of the cards?