Respectful Insolence

It occurs to me that things have been perhaps overly serious here at the ol’ blog for the last couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong. I think I done good lately, if I do say so myself. However, the constant drumbeat of quackery and depressing stories takes its toll after a while. I need a break.

And our old buddy, Deepak Chopra, was kind enough to give it to me.

So what is it this time? Chopra’s been a frequent topic of this blog for a long time, albeit nos so much lately. Indeed, longtime readers know that I was the one who coined a termChoprawoo—for the pseudoprofound metaphysical mystical blather that Chopra lays down in such all-enveloping, neuron-neutralizing quantities, like a Gelatinous Cube enveloping you, except that instead of digesting everything Choprawoo only digests brains, leaving behind books and videos as waste. Oh, and articles like this one, The rise and fall of militant skepticism. (And, yes, of course the article is also found on that wretched hive of scum and quackery, The Huffington Post. For some reason, it’s also on SFGate.) Sure, Steve Novella might already have taken his shot at this tasty bit of Choprawoo, but there’s plenty there for everyone. Chopra is just that much of a bottomless font of woo. Sadly, it tends to be all the same. If it’s not metaphysical BS in which he proclaims a “universal consciousness” or denies genetic determinism, it’s attacks on skeptics:

Skepticism has gotten itself into a pickle – perhaps something a lot more serious than a pickle – that is undermining its good name. The credibility of Wikipedia may be at stake (see below). We live in a skeptical age, because the cornerstone of science, “Everything must be verified,” is a skeptical position. When a researcher claims to have accomplished something remarkable, such as cold fusion, his experiment must be replicated before it will be believed. The need to verify, to lay out credible facts, has become second nature, and not just for scientists.

Facts, data, information, research findings, statistics – these are woven into every aspect of our lives. Which means that skepticism is woven in, too. Hence its good name. Without accurate polls, politicians would be lost (consult Mitt Romney, who believed in skewed polls all the way to election night). But there is no reason for skepticism to become a militant crusade. Facts are facts, as the saying goes, and when a political ideology like Fascism identified Einstein as someone who conducted “Jewish science” (a term coined by the Nazis), such a label is not simply abhorrent – it misconstrues what science actually is, a universal enterprise that has no place for personal, religious, or political prejudice.

How hilarious. Chopra is representing himself, as he has so many times before, as the champion of True Science, the man who is really, truly The Real Skeptic (and you’re not) who understands that ideology has no place in science. Of course, Chopra has an ideology, a belief in a “universal consciousness” as well as mind-body dualism, that leads him to believe in pure pseudoscience, which further leads him to support all sorts of alternative medicine quackery. In any case, you know what’s coming when Chopra invokes the Nazis. If there’s one thing about Deepak Chopra, he ain’t subtle. Indeed, he seems even less subtle here than he usually is, and that’s saying something.

That leads him to complain about what he calls the “rise of militant skepticism,” whatever that is. It seems to mean to Chopra skepticism that attacks religion, although he’s gotten pretty upset in the past about skepticism that gores his favorite oxen, particularly the New Agey, airy fairy, mystical variety of alternative medicine that tells you you can meditate your way back to health, control your own genetic destiny with your mind, and that your consciousness is part of a “universal consciousness.” Inevitably, Chopra can’t seem to resist bringing Richard Dawkins into the picture. One rather suspects (actually I rather suspect) that Chopra holds a grudge against Dawkins for featuring him so prominently back in 2007 in his BBC television special The Enemies of Reason.

Cue the obligatory broadside against Richard Dawkins:

The rise of militant skepticism clouded the picture, however, beginning with its popular attack on religion. The aim of Richard Dawkins, as stated in his best seller, The God Delusion, was to subject “the God hypothesis” to scientific scrutiny, the way one would subject anti-matter or black holes to scrutiny. In fact he did no such thing with God, for the scientific method requires experiments that can be replicated and facts that can be verified. Dawkins offered no experiments to prove or disprove the existence of God. What he actually did was to subject religion to a barrage of scorn and ridicule, attacking it on the rational improbability – as he sees it – that a deity could possibly exist.

I must admit, I read The God Delusion. Well, I read most of it. I found it rather tedious going and never quite managed to finish the last couple of chapters. The book was wildly uneven, and some of Dawkins’ arguments, particularly his likening “accommodationist” evolutionists to Neville Chamberlain, were painful to read. Indeed, i’ve referred to that little tidbit as the “absolutely dumbest and brain-dead thing that Richard Dawkins has ever written.” After seven years, I still characterize it that way. Unfortunately, lately Dawkins seems to be trying to top that little bon mot from six years ago with even more tone-deaf statements.

In any case, as Steve Novella points out, Chopra’s engaging in some seriously stupid historical revisionism here, as the skeptical movement long predates The God Delusion and even Richard Dawkins. A lot of skeptics were not entirely comfortable with treating the “god hypothesis” as a strictly scientific question, although certainly it can be. However, it’s also an issue of dealing with belief in something that has no evidence to support it, which is exactly what Deepak Chopra wants us to believe in and how we as skeptics deal with that given that believers often don’t care if there’s evidence to support the existence of God. Certainly they don’t care as passionately as skeptics do about evidence. Novella is right to point out that atheism is not skepticism and vice-versa. It’s something so obvious but apparently not particularly obvious to Chopra.

While Richard Dawkins has been very important as a voice promoting evolution, opposing quackery, and speaking out for atheism, if he were to disappear off the face of the planet tomorrow, the skeptical movement and the atheist movement (the two are not the same, obviously, although Chopra doesn’t seem to realize that and is constantly conflating the two) it would not change anything. There would still be skeptics. There would still be atheists. And both would still find Deepak Chopra to be a BS-spewing New Age quack. Because Deepak Chopra is a BS-spewing New Age quack, and boy does he ever spew, accusing Dawkins of using rhetoric instead of evidence and making a statement so unintentionally hilarious that it says far more about Chopra than it says about Dawkins: “Science became yoked to the tools of rhetoric and demagoguery, going so far as to lose any trace of objectivity. These tools, once shunned by science, were useful to Dawkins, given that he had no actual scientific proof that God doesn’t exist.”

Says the master demagogue.

What seems to me to be the thing that is most burning Chopra is that the sort of mystical quackery that he so loves can’t get a break on Wikipedia anymore. For some reason, he seems to blame Richard Dawkins, even though Richard Dawkins has about as much to do with Wikipedia as Deepak Chopra has to do with science. Chopra claims accuses Dawkins of making it mandatory for “militant skepticism to practice forms of intellectual dishonesty that have only proliferated,” apparently to Wikipedia. In particular, Chopra is upset about the treatment of his friend Rupert Sheldrake, whom I just mentioned a few weeks ago. Chopra is very, very unhappy about the Wikipedia entry about Sheldrake:

Thanks to the Internet, skepticism can spread with the speed of light, carrying in its wake all forms of unfairness and bad faith. A distressing example has been occurring at Wikipedia, where a band of committed skeptics have focused their efforts to discredit anyone whom they judge an enemy. The problem has been slow to gain traction in the public arena, because Wikipedia has constructed an elaborate set of rules to minimize editorial bias. Ironically, the skeptics have turned these rules, which run to hundreds of pages, to their advantage. They have become so skilled at thwarting anyone who disagrees with their point of view that a small swarm of skeptical editors is capable of outnumbering, bullying, and even banning all those who oppose them.

You can see the results at the Wikipedia entry for Rupert Sheldrake, the British biologist who has served as a lightning rod for militant skeptics for several decades. Intelligent, highly trained, an impeccable thinker, and a true advocate for experimentation and validation, Sheldrake had the temerity to be skeptical about the everyday way that science is conducted. He made his first splash by questioning the accepted assumptions of Darwinian evolution, and most recently he published a cogent, well-received book about the hidden weaknesses in the scientific method, titled Science Set Free. His avowed aim is to expand science beyond its conventional boundaries in the hope that a new path to discovery can be opened up.

Actually, Chopra is simultaneously correct and oh-so-wrong. There is indeed a movement afoot to correct scientific misinformation and try to keep the entries in Wikipedia scientifically accurate. Chopra mentions that as though it were a bad thing, which to him it is, because it keeps entries that have anything to do with the sorts of quackery and pseudoscience he believes in from glorifying those selfsame forms of quackery and pseudoscience—or at least from presenting them as though they were true or even just as scientifically valid points of view. To Chopra, this is not a matter of scientific accuracy or skepticism. It’s a matter of vindictive “militant skeptics” settling scores, and, of course, keeping The Truth from the pages of Wikipedia. To Chopra, skeptics are basically a manifestation of The Man trying to keep him and his ilk down, leading to an entry on Sheldrake that he characterizes as “largely derogatory and even defamatory, thanks to a concerted attack by a stubborn band of militant skeptics,” citing some rather—shall we say?—fanciful posts by a man named Craig Weiler, like this one, in which he decides to take his marbles and go home. Hilariously, Weiler makes it sound as though he’s tried to edit Wikipedia entries and been blocked by those evil skeptics. Tim Farley reveals that Weiler has never actually edited a Wikipedia page other than the talk pages, as shown by his edit history.

Now I won’t pretend that I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia. At least, I wasn’t in the past. I used to derisively point out that, for vaccine-related pages for instance, antivaccinationists could edit pages just as easily as real experts in vaccines. Ditto for pages having anything to do with complex scientific or medical issues. Moreover, quacks have a lot more time and energy than most real experts. I’ve learned over the years that Wikipedia is trying to do better, hence the rather complex and arcane rules about which Chopra whines as only he can whine. In actuality, on Wikipedia, skeptics were at a distinct disadvantage until Susan Gerbic and the Guerilla Skeptics changed that. They learned the arcane rules. They did the work. They continue to work to make sure that entries on topics relevant to skepticism are scientifically accurate, and that drives Chopra absolutely crazy. He hates it and them.

He’s confident, though. He’s so confident that he can’t resist finishing his post by declaring impending victory:

Dawkins and the militant skeptics are symptoms of a deeper problem that turns out to have fascinating implications. Noisy as they are, these hostile crusaders have had no impact on the everyday activity of doing science or keeping faith. But that is about to change. The deep question of what is real is one that contemporary science can no longer avoid. How this is leading to the decline of skepticism makes for an intriguing mystery story, which will be discussed in the next post.

They thought me mad, mad, I tell you! But I’ll show them! I’ll show them all! In my next post, of course.

I can hardly wait. In the meantime, I don’t think I’ve ever done a post about Rupert Sheldrake.

Comments

  1. #1 HAL
    FL
    November 5, 2013

    ORAC
    Respectful- No Insolence – Yes
    Your maker was an angry SOB…. It can only be attributable to human error….

  2. #2 Janet
    In a state of wakefulness still
    November 5, 2013

    Wow. Weiler has a BS in Spanish and can’t understand why Wikipedia won’t let him edit skeptical, science-y stuff. And they were MEAN to him. And they let a CHILD overrule him (that must have smarted a bit.)
    I mean, what’s a BSIn Spanish good for if you can’t weigh in on woo?
    I must admit. I’m a tiny bit more charitable toward Wikipedia in the wee hours of this morning.

  3. #3 Jurjen S.
    King County, WA, USA
    November 5, 2013

    How is it possible that “a small swarm of skeptical editors is capable of outnumbering [...] all those who oppose them,” unless those who oppose them are even smaller in number? Which I doubt is what Chopra meant. I’ve come across this contradiction in other contexts, in which the proponents of a certain viewpoint want to employ an argumentum ad populum, while simultaneously trying to portray themselves as the plucky underdogs facing down superior numbers of opponents and/or overcoming mass apathy. Of course, you can’t have both, much as you would like to.

  4. #4 Adam
    November 5, 2013

    In defence of Dawkins, it was clear that his objection was not that his honey was confiscated but the irrational, inflexible, reactionary and downright dumb security rules that made it such a heinous crime in the first place. The TSA screeners know it’s not a bomb, Dawkins knows its not a bomb. But the rules are utterly incapable of any kind of discretion.

    In other words, it is security theatre. Security which costs a lot of money and is mainly for show, not for actual security.

    I think it’s also clear that Dawkins and Twitter are ill bed fellows though. The short length of texts means he often makes a terse point and expounds on it in follow ups. His detractors and others (e.g. racists) frequently ignore the underlying point or clarifications because it serves them to think something else.

  5. #5 tgobbi
    November 5, 2013

    Orac: ” … Chopra has an ideology, a belief in a ‘universal consciousness’ ”

    Is it just me, or do others see a direct link between Chopra’s “universal consciousness” and C.G. Jung’s “collective unconscious?” Mysticism and the occult are the “universal” and “collective” similarities here.

  6. #6 flip
    November 5, 2013

    Thanks to the dictionary, truth can spread with the speed of light, carrying in its wake all forms of unfairness and bad faith. A distressing example has been occurring at Cambridge Dictionary, where a band of committed linguists have focused their efforts to discredit any non-fact whom they judge an enemy.

    The above was all I could think of whilst reading this. He really does sound like he’s whinging that nobody takes his imaginary friends seriously.

  7. #7 qetzal
    November 5, 2013

    So let me get this straight. Chopra applauds skepticism for insisting that claims must be verified with credible facts and independent replication. Except when it comes to God, where the proper stance is “You can’t prove I’m wrong!”

    In other words, he has the reasoning powers of a three-year-old.

  8. #8 Chris Hickie
    November 5, 2013

    I remember reading some of Deeplypacked’s nonsense in the 90′s and thinking what a bunch of pseudo-quantum mechanical nonsense. I wasn’t a physician then, so I didn’t really think about how even worse it was that he actually treated patients with his quackery. It’s beautifully ironic that the quantum mechanical aspects of solid state electronics (aka actual science) are perceived by him as being part of some grand conspiracy to thwart his inner brilliance.

    It’s also funny that there is a web site called Woopidoo that lists a biography on him (http://www.woopidoo.com/biography/deepak-chopra/index.htm).

  9. #9 Dangerous Bacon
    November 5, 2013

    As always, profound Choprawisdom is only a click away, at the Chopra Random Quote Generator. The latest profundity:

    “Hidden meaning belongs to the light of life”

    http://www.wisdomofchopra.com/

  10. #10 oldmajenkins
    Wooville, FL
    November 5, 2013

    Well, Chopra pulls a Godwin’s Law! Chopra reminds me of the Sphinx from Mystery Men: “He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions.” “Do not go there, my son! When you doubt your powers, you give power to your doubts.” Chopra says a lot of words that don’t impart any new knowledge, or any knowledge for that matter.

  11. #11 Denice Walter
    November 5, 2013

    According to Gary Null, whenever he tried to change misinformation and lies about his crendentials and qualifications published on wiki, it *mysteriously* changed right back-
    which prompted him to sue for them 100 million USD in 2009: Legally, they are not liable for what users post. Next, he tried to have their “unsourced” links to Quackwatch removed – in 2011, they settled: he had to pay for wiki’s slight expenses – AND the article remains as it was ( from Quackwatch, new additions/ credential watch- contains links to rulings)

    Thus via his internet radio channel, PRN, he constantly rants and rails about wikipedia and how they are part of the sceptics’ web of evil and the ‘quackbusters’ ( QW, Orac, etc) who are of course paid off by Big Pharma, Big Farmer and Big Firmer ( exercise clubs) who are threatened by his revelations about the dangers of meds and most foods and the joys of running and walking *naturally* without benefit of membership in a gym or expensive running shoes.

  12. #12 StrangerInAStrangeLand
    November 5, 2013

    Regarding Mr. Chopra´s whining I think it is appropriate to cite the great Yoda:

    “Offended you are, a shit I don´t give.”

  13. #13 Denice Walter
    November 5, 2013

    re Rupert Sheldrake:

    He is frequently cited by MIke Adams as being one of his inspirations and has also been a respected guest on PRN-
    being so beloved by these three spiritualising, income-seeking drones tells me that he must be the bee’s knees of altie chic- perhaps even the harbinger of paradigm shift. So far I haven’t had the inclination to read his meanderings but maybe I should. After all I DO have a tolerance, why waste the gift?

    -btw- MIkey informs us today that in early January, he will make public earth shattering discoveries that will de-stabilise Science-As-We-Know-It and perhaps precipitate a massive re-shuffling of intercontinental tectonic plates… I’m joking about the second event. I think.

    HOWEVER because he is now doing the Serious Science necessary to produce this pyroclastic flow of idi… I mean *Transformative Research*, he will not be writing much for Natural News in the next several weeks. Christmas again arrives early for Orac and his minions.

  14. #14 Eric Lund
    November 5, 2013

    Chopra seems to take the position that Academician Prokhor Zakharov ridiculed in the game Alpha Centauri: “God has not been proven not to exist; therefore, He must exist.” Having more experience than Zakharov with that mindset, I am not so astounded as he claimed to be, but I agree with him that the conclusion is ridiculous. The existence (or not) of a deity is an unfalsifiable proposition.

  15. #15 Allen
    November 5, 2013

    Please note that the Guerrilla Skeptics played no role in Wikipedia’s Sheldrake article. http://skeptools.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/right-wrong-complaints-craigslist-sheldrake-wikipedia/

  16. #16 Allen
    November 5, 2013

    Please note that the Guerrilla Skeptics played no role in Wikipedia’s Sheldrake article. http://skeptools.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/right-wrong-complaints-craigslist-sheldrake-wikipedia/

  17. #17 Calli Arcale
    November 5, 2013

    Oh, Chopra. Why don’t you just admit that you just don’t like it when people point out that you’re wrong? That the only “good” skepticism to you is the kind that serves your ends? But that’s not skepticism.

    Of course, a pseudoscientist like him would never recognize the difference. He judges evidence based on whether it supports his conclusion, not the other way around. So of course anybody who criticizes him or edits a page to correct him is clearly just being mean.

  18. #18 Orac
    November 5, 2013

    I think it’s also clear that Dawkins and Twitter are ill bed fellows though. The short length of texts means he often makes a terse point and expounds on it in follow ups. His detractors and others (e.g. racists) frequently ignore the underlying point or clarifications because it serves them to think something else.

    Oh, Dawkins was quite capable of epically sticking his foot in his mouth before he ever discovered Twitter. Parts of The God Delusion, for instance, particularly the bit about “Neville Chamberlain evolutionists.”

  19. #19 Aunt Benjy
    November 5, 2013

    Richard Dawkins would probably hate us in NZ. We’d take his honey too, as it is a raw product that carries bee diseases…

  20. #20 Mcbart
    November 5, 2013

    And this blog post isn’t whining? Sardonicism isn’t an opaque veil over petty bitching. Get real.

  21. #21 AdamG
    November 5, 2013

    And this blog post isn’t whining?

    Perhaps you’d like to point out exactly which parts you’d consider “whining.”

  22. #22 jane
    November 5, 2013

    It would be interesting to consider how Sheldrake might be objectively dealt with on Wikipedia. Pretty much everything he proposes is unproven and much of it is quite unlikely, so there is no need to give it much credence, though namecalls would hopefully be avoided. However, some direct efforts to debunk him have been equally un-scientific [in the sense of science as process]. For example, he believes that animals including people have some ability to sense when they are being stared at. He produced a couple of simple studies that seemed to show such an effect, but were far from conclusive enough to change anyone’s mind. Still, one of CSICOP’s golden boys felt threatened enough to conduct his own counter-studies that were in fact conspicuously inferior to Sheldrake’s in both methodology and bias.

    Likewise, I recall it is Sheldrake who argues that pets may know when their humans are about to return home. Someone did an elaborate study of a dog who was reported to be good at this, and in fact there was a statistically significant trend in which the dog hung around at the window much more at times when the human had been (randomly) instructed to head for home. Some Skeptic re-examined the case and claimed that he had conclusively debunked it – but his methodology was abysmal, as he decreed that if the dog ever looked out the window for more than a minute or two when the human was not on the way home, without what he (the Skeptic) considered a good reason, the day’s trial was over and the dog deemed to have failed. I suppose he was one of those who imagines that animals don’t think or feel, hence cannot look out a window just to enjoy the view, and that the rest of us should share his belief without question. So at the moment, the “best available data”, limited as they are, actually favor Sheldrake, and a Wikipedia entry explaining how this opinion was certainly wrong would be preaching belief rather than describing science.

  23. #23 herr doktor bimler
    November 5, 2013

    Richard Dawkins would probably hate us in NZ. We’d take his honey too
    He was in Wellington a few years ago for the Writers’ Festival and gave an entertaining talk about “The Greatest Show on Earth”. Honey was not mentioned.

  24. #24 Eric Lund
    November 5, 2013

    Richard Dawkins would probably hate us in NZ. We’d take his honey too, as it is a raw product that carries bee diseases…

    My first instinct was that since there is an actual biological reason for NZ to not allow honey imports (whether in hand baggage or checked; you can still carry honey in checked luggage, at least for US domestic flights), Dawkins would probably be OK with that. (As opposed to the very arbitrary TSA rules–he’s right about their stupidity, but chose to deal with it in a way that seems calculated to make him as unsympathetic as possible.) After reading the Skepchick post that Orac linked to, however, I’m not so sure that he wouldn’t object.

  25. #25 herr doktor bimler
    November 5, 2013

    It would be interesting to consider how Sheldrake might be objectively dealt with on Wikipedia

    The current Wiki entry seems objective enough. It summarises his synchronicity-based paradigm, and lists favourable and unfavourable reviews of his books. There are links where one can read his supporters’ arguments and his detractors’. I don’t know if there is much there that Sheldrake would complain about.

  26. #26 Barnesm
    November 5, 2013

    “and most recently he (Rupert Shedrake) published a cogent, well-received book ”

    Really? Cogent and Rupert Sheldrake there’s two words I never thought I’d see in a sentence together. I almost hurt myself laughing when I read that.

  27. #27 Krebiozen
    November 5, 2013

    As I’ve said here before, I think Sheldrake had some sort of religious, Christian, mystical experience, and he has been trying to prove it literally true ever since. I suspect something similar of Chopra, though I also suspect he might be a cynical non-believer seeking seekers.

    I have had my share of mystical, religious experiences (I even had one in the sacred grotto at Lourdes – it’s a long story), not all by any means induced by mind-altering substances, and very nice they are too. I would never accept them as being literally true; that would be a serious category error.

  28. #28 JayK
    November 5, 2013

    I wonder how Chopra would respond to being educated about Russell’s Teapot?

  29. #29 Antaeus Feldspar
    November 5, 2013

    Someone did an elaborate study of a dog who was reported to be good at this, and in fact there was a statistically significant trend in which the dog hung around at the window much more at times when the human had been (randomly) instructed to head for home. Some Skeptic re-examined the case and claimed that he had conclusively debunked it – but his methodology was abysmal, as he decreed that if the dog ever looked out the window for more than a minute or two when the human was not on the way home, without what he (the Skeptic) considered a good reason, the day’s trial was over and the dog deemed to have failed.

    Citation needed, Jane. Your unsupported word that “the Skeptic”‘s study employed such a clearly flawed methodology is, unfortunately, worth nothing in light of your long history of misrepresenting the arguments of commenters here.

  30. #30 Old Rockin' Dave
    On the left hand of darkness...
    November 5, 2013

    In regard to Prof. Dawkin’s honey, Joe Swarcz, a professor of chemistry at McGill, takes a different view. Swarcz writes and broadcasts for Canadian media as Dr. Joe. In a column earlier this year, he wrote about how simple it was for him to whip up liquid explosives that would be hard to detect, and said that he was glad airport security was so concerned about it.

  31. #31 Narad
    November 6, 2013

    The deep question of what is real is one that contemporary science can no longer avoid.

    At least the straightforward question whether Chopra no longer can keep track of his own “philosophy” is settled, though.

  32. #32 palindrom
    November 6, 2013

    Chopra reminds of a line in Firesign Theater’s great, great record, “Everything You Know is Wrong”,

    There’s a seeker born every minute!

  33. #33 al kimeea
    www.quackademiology.com
    November 6, 2013

    @ Denice – u might want to start with JREF, they have a fair number of posts on Sheldrake

    an impeccable thinker, and a true advocate for experimentation and validation,

    Ah yes, I remember his definitive study on the psychic ability of dogs.

    I’m fairly certain his new scientific paradigm would confirm his fanciful fictions.

  34. #34 Denice Walter
    November 6, 2013

    @ al kimeea:

    Thanks but I’ve already read ABOUT him ( I might take a look anyway) and even have heard him speak: I want to read his dreck first hand, I imagine that it’s uh… inventive.

  35. #35 KurtVE
    November 6, 2013

    Rupert Sheldrake was on the NPR program To the Best of Our Knowledge this past Sunday, promoting his book. It was disconcerting to see NPR giving airtime and a sense of legitimacy to his nonsense.

  36. #36 Interrobang
    November 6, 2013

    My dad’s old dog used to be really good at telling us when Dad was going to be home within a few minutes, even though (being a commercial pilot) Dad worked irregular hours to say the least. Thing was, Dad drove a diesel Jetta at the time, and we figured the dog could hear the engine from even two or three miles away (given the lead time and normal driving speed to my parents’ house). Whoops, there I go ascribing perfectly mundane physical causes to what’s obviously a deep metaphysical experience again…

  37. #37 jane
    November 6, 2013

    Interrobang – Problem is, the effect can also be seen when a person is returning home on foot or in someone else’s car. I would not necessarily assume that if conscious entities do have any ability to sense one another’s intentions by mechanisms not yet scientifically understood, it’s therefore a “deep metaphysical experience”. It could be a perfectly ordinary part of the mundane mechanistic world that we just haven’t yet figured out.

    Sheldrake may well treat it as part of his religion that such an unknown effect does exist. Certain folks around here (like the well-known king of ad-homs above) equally treat it as part of their religion that it does not. For me, it’s not a tenet of faith one way or another. You can tell which side you’re on by asking yourself, if another few dozen studies were done that found such effects to occur, would you say “Wow, that’s neat! I wonder how it works?” or would you rage against the researchers, reviewers, editors and journalists involved?

  38. #38 Calli Arcale
    November 6, 2013

    I used to think my dog had spectacular hearing, since she seemed to sense pedestrians coming with eerie precision. You see, we live on a corner, in a neighborhood with a great many dogs and people who walk them. Our dog desperately wants to run out in the back yard and bark at them. We do not like her doing this, since it can alarm people to have a 50 pound jet-black poodle running full speed directly at them while barking, even with a fence to stop her. So we always have to check to see if there’s a pedestrian she’s trying to bark at. Seeing none, we let her out — and then the pedestrian appears! It’s amazing!

    We figured dog hearing must be even better than we thought, except . . . seriously, how could she possibly be hearing footfalls that far away when the house was full of noise? Is she Daredevil in canine form?

    A few months ago, I figured it out. If you are standing at the back door with your head at her level, you can actually easily see the feet of approaching pedestrians a good 500 yards away. :-D

  39. #39 Krebiozen
    November 6, 2013

    jane,

    You can tell which side you’re on by asking yourself, if another few dozen studies were done that found such effects to occur, would you say “Wow, that’s neat! I wonder how it works?” or would you rage against the researchers, reviewers, editors and journalists involved?

    Those mean skeptics keep finding serious problems with the studies that do kind evidence of the paranormal, so we’ll probably never find out.

    I’m not convinced that anything would convince you that skeptics are open-minded enough to accept good quality evidence of the paranormal.

  40. #40 magista
    November 6, 2013

    Heck, my cat can always tell when I’m coming home, and without even looking! He’ll start meowing behind the apartment door when I’m halfway down the building hallway. Of course, I’m pretty sure I’ve got a distinctive gait and jingle of keys, and oh wait, that’s not metaphysical at all, is it? Spoils all the fun…

  41. #41 Shay
    November 6, 2013

    Magista — you have a cat who gives a damn whether you’re there or not? Surely that has to have some kind of spiritual significance.

  42. #42 Politicalguineapig
    November 6, 2013

    I have a cat that will watch movies with me- with her eyes closed.

  43. #43 flip
    November 7, 2013

    You’re all forgetting something: a dog’s sense of smell.

  44. #44 Antaeus Feldspar
    November 7, 2013

    Certain folks around here (like the well-known king of ad-homs above) equally treat it as part of their religion that it does not.

    Haven’t lost your talent for straw men, Jane. Not to your credit, though.

  45. #45 al kimeea
    wondering if Doug Ford can still get good hash
    November 7, 2013

    @ Denice – I saw Sheldrake on @Discovery when he was promoting a precognition study of his as I remember. The interview came across as credulous to me. But then the media does a particularly poor job with this stuff.

    TEDx posted one of his chats on their website. When it was pointed out this violated their stated ideals re: science, they moved it to a less prominent place on the site. Oh the howls of censorship, when it’s just over there.

    Jane, it would depend on the quality, number of participants and the significance of the results, but sure, a few dozen studies or just three even. I don’t think there are three.

    Dogs are not stupid to varying degrees, Goofy and playful, sometimes mean, sure. They are like infants prior to speech in some ways.

    Our wee pup (a purebred G. Clooney’s fave word) was aboot 9 weeks old and we had her “penned in” using two blue boxes in a wide doorway. There was a small gap between the boxes we filled with an empty 12 pack box of cola.

    One day, after I had put the video camera down in another room, our smart Cookie starts sniffing at the “fence”. First one way then, the other. On the second pass, she stops in front of the empty cola case and stands up with her front paws on it. Cookie turns to my wife and grins as she pushes her way into the next room.

    Did you know dogs having evolved some better senses than people is evidence that some people are psychic? S’truth. A lawyer told me.

  46. #46 Denice Walter
    November 7, 2013

    @ al kimeea:

    Yes, I’ve been reading about the TED again – also the JREF material which I have seen before. I found him on Gary Null’s show @ progressiveradionetwork; mid April 2013; 25 minutes in. They discuss sceptics including Orac’s friend and his latest book, MIkey’s Bible, it seems.
    No wonder I have a headache today.
    What I do for scepticism.

    Re animals’reading’ us: aren’t they able to ‘read’ other animals – friend and foe- in the wild? So why not people who could be a threat or a food supplier as well.

    There’s been some research about dog cognition ( not anything ESP-y at all) and how they understand their owners. Also a book with dog MRI ( done humanely) of human-dog interaction.

  47. #47 Edith Prickly
    leaving soon for a city where the mayor doesn't smoke crack
    November 7, 2013

    @al kimeea – I’m pretty sure Doug’s keeping the good stuff for himself these days.

  48. #48 flip
    November 7, 2013

    This conversation reminded me of an article I read a while back. Never got around to following up the studies mentioned, but it was an interesting read:
    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/06/dog-bark-origins/

  49. #49 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    November 7, 2013

    I used to have a dog that would do tricks on command me just moving my lips or without me trying to speak at all. He was quite good at it, and he did the correct trick. I figured he had a good grasp of the body language I used when I gave him the command, which I did fairly consistently.

  50. #50 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    November 7, 2013

    But I suppose he might have been psychic, I never could prove he wasn’t.

  51. #51 al kimeea
    happily not in <i>one</i> of our mayor's drunken stupors
    November 9, 2013

    @Ms Prickly – lost none of your timing since SCTV I see ;)

    Exactly, dogs & kittehs have learned how to read our body language over the millenia we’ve been serving them

    We, OTOH, are usually not quite as adept

    A bud was hiking in Algonquin Park with a girl
    and they stumbled across a moose (no squirrel)

    Mr. Moose wasn’t pleased as my buddy recognised the behaviour of an impending charge while the girl walks towards the angry, fuzzy compact car

    buddy: stop, we have to leave
    girl: still advancing – why? it won’t harm us
    buddy: what? stop and get back here
    girl: still on approach – it will know I’m a vegan
    buddy (also vegan): STOP!! STOP RIGHT NOW!! – in an angry whisper-yell

    I’ve seen the odd show or read an article (Nat’l Geo, etc) on cognition in other species, quite fascinating. Some dogs are very clever as are some invertebrates, birds…

    Researchers were wondering how fish kept disappearing from a tank with no predatory fish in it. The camera revealed an octopus climbing down out of its tank, crossing the floor & up into the other tank, snacking and returning.

  52. #52 Shay
    babysitting a litter of kittens for the animal control officer this weekend
    November 9, 2013

    Exactly, dogs & kittehs have learned how to read our body language over the millenia we’ve been serving them

    Read it, yes. Pay any attention to it? Meh….

  53. #53 Denice Walter
    November 9, 2013

    SRSLY:
    I have a very large cat who can climb up, open a cabinet door and send multiple boxes of tea AND a container of his food within cascading to the floor where he then stands by and yeowls plaintively.**

    The entire procedure appears to have steps to achieve its goal.
    Ever read about Kohler’s apes?

    ** there was a great cartoon of a very large cat telling a visitor that his owner never fed him.

  54. #54 Vicki
    November 9, 2013

    Oh, they pay attention to our body language. That doesn’t mean they do what we want (though dogs often do, they’re bigger on human approval), it means that they have a fair idea of when we might be about to open the refrigerator, or the back door of the house.

  55. #55 Flip
    November 9, 2013

    @al kimeea

    girl: still on approach – it will know I’m a vegan

    facepalm

  56. #56 Krebiozen
    November 9, 2013

    it will know I’m a vegan

    That reminds me of that couple who were “friends” with grizzly bears, until they got eaten by one. It’s what they would have wanted.

  57. #57 al kimeea
    www.quackademiology.com
    November 11, 2013

    @Denice of the hot tub – I had not heard of this Kohler. Mrs. K once worked for the toilet people until they took their ball and went home to eat cheese.

    Ah, seems to be the 1st to see apes can have varying degrees of insight in solving problems. Quickly scanning Wiki, an interesting fellow.

    Took Psych 101 for a laff and read the section on abnormal psychology over the prior summer to learn more aboot meselfs.

    I respect what the field tries to do, not an easy task.

    There’s a viddy oot there of Grandma recording Grandpa as he goes to feed Boo-Boo. She screams, and keeps rolling tape, as Boo-Boo knocks Grandpa down with one swipe and eats his face. Something I don’t think I’ll ever un-see.

  58. #58 Denice Walter
    November 11, 2013

    @ al kimeea:

    Hot tub? Oh, it’s a company.

    *Wolfgang* Kohler’s apes acquired food that was out of reach by constructing assemblages out of boxes.
    WK was stranded on Tenerife during the first world war and needed a project to pass the time. ( book: The Mentality of Apes)

    Some of RI’s minions ( and friends of minions) be-friend semi-feral foxes who thrive in urban and suburban areas.
    Interestingly enough I just learned that the elderly gallery guy who set off my initial conversation (in response to Kreb’s avatar here), has- alas!- lost his little vixen. Another, at the park, believes that her fox has been scared off by construction vehicles and the third is happily feeding his large one very overpriced cat food AND simultaneously breaking a law about feeding wildlife.

    I don’t have one of my own. Yet.

  59. #59 Krebiozen
    November 11, 2013

    Denice,
    I have had reports of four dead foxes in my immediate locale recently. I suspect poisoning, but it’s hard to prove. There are plenty of others that move into vacated territory, so attempts to kill them off are futile, and often cruel. The life of a feral urban fox is a hard one.

  60. #60 herr doktor bimler
    November 11, 2013

    Among Kohler’s many discoveries: chimpanzees realise that an extra-long cue makes it easier to pot the black into the far left pocket.

  61. #61 herr doktor bimler
    November 11, 2013

    The life of a feral urban fox is a hard one.
    In partial consolation, it results in good opera.

  62. #62 Krebiozen
    November 11, 2013

    HDB,
    That sounds like it should be Gilbert and Sullivan, rather than Janáček:
    “An urban fox’s lot is not a happy one (happy one).”
    Not to be confused with Gilbert O’Sullivan:
    “You’re a bad fox baby, but I still want you around…”

  63. #63 Krebiozen
    November 11, 2013

    Among Kohler’s many discoveries: chimpanzees realise that an extra-long cue makes it easier to pot the black into the far left pocket.

    I swear that photo could have been taken in the back room of a pub in an East Anglian village I used to drink in, in the early 80s.

  64. #64 Denice Walter
    November 11, 2013

    And I thought it was the Very Reverend Battleaxe hisself , age 18.

  65. #65 WhiteGhost
    UK
    November 13, 2013

    More on “psychic healer” Craig Weiler here:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Craig_Weiler

  66. #66 al kimeea
    crack central
    November 16, 2013

    You can see foxes around here if you’re oot & aboot early enough. Saw a coyote once down the creek.

    A friend’s parents had a friendly fox that would come by their cottage on Georgian Bay at dusk . I have a pic of it somewhere but not the juvenile black bear that wandered down the driveway while we were playing chip and putt. It took off when the old man ran at it while yelling and waving his arms.

    Another cottager had a very tame raccoon that would put his hands on your knees and snuffle your face. It didn’t like getting in the car once the door closed though. It ran insanely around at dashboard level several times before someone rolled down a window and it tore off into the bush.

  67. #67 al kimeea
    quackademiology.com
    December 3, 2013

    Better pics of foxes than I have – and this week is fox week

  68. #68 Bronze Dog
    December 3, 2013

    On pets and human body language: From a show I watched, apparently it’s partly genetic. In an experiment, a very dog-experienced family tried raising wolf cubs the same way they raise puppies and it was hard to get any discipline from them. They eventually had to give up on domesticating them.

    The show also mentioned a theory that symbiosis with dogs affected our own evolution. Chimpanzees apparently don’t get the concept of pointing. Dogs and humans do because that’s how we direct each other’s attention, probably originally for hunting purposes.