Michael Shermer has a Paranormal Experience

#1
Michael Shermer (who apparently got married), wrote about a paranormal experience he had recently in Scientific American: (Link)

Often I am asked if I have ever encountered something that I could not explain. What my interlocutors have in mind are not bewildering enigmas such as consciousness or U.S. foreign policy but anomalous and mystifying events that suggest the existence of the paranormal or supernatural. My answer is: yes, now I have.

The event took place on June 25, 2014. On that day I married Jennifer Graf, from Köln, Germany. She had been raised by her mom; her grandfather, Walter, was the closest father figure she had growing up, but he died when she was 16. In shipping her belongings to my home before the wedding, most of the boxes were damaged and several precious heirlooms lost, including her grandfather's binoculars. His 1978 Philips 070 transistor radio arrived safely, so I set out to bring it back to life after decades of muteness. I put in new batteries and opened it up to see if there were any loose connections to solder. I even tried “percussive maintenance,” said to work on such devices—smacking it sharply against a hard surface. Silence. We gave up and put it at the back of a desk drawer in our bedroom.


Three months later, after affixing the necessary signatures to our marriage license at the Beverly Hills courthouse, we returned home, and in the presence of my family said our vows and exchanged rings. Being 9,000 kilometers from family, friends and home, Jennifer was feeling amiss and lonely. She wished her grandfather were there to give her away. She whispered that she wanted to say something to me alone, so we excused ourselves to the back of the house where we could hear music playing in the bedroom. We don't have a music system there, so we searched for laptops and iPhones and even opened the back door to check if the neighbors were playing music. We followed the sound to the printer on the desk, wondering—absurdly—if this combined printer/scanner/fax machine also included a radio. Nope.

At that moment Jennifer shot me a look I haven't seen since the supernatural thrillerThe Exorcist startled audiences. “That can't be what I think it is, can it?” she said. She opened the desk drawer and pulled out her grandfather's transistor radio, out of which a romantic love song wafted. We sat in stunned silence for minutes. “My grandfather is here with us,” Jennifer said, tearfully. “I'm not alone.”


Shortly thereafter we returned to our guests with the radio playing as I recounted the backstory. My daughter, Devin, who came out of her bedroom just before the ceremony began, added, “I heard the music coming from your room just as you were about to start.” The odd thing is that we were there getting ready just minutes before that time, sans music.

Later that night we fell asleep to the sound of classical music emanating from Walter's radio. Fittingly, it stopped working the next day and has remained silent ever since.

What does this mean? Had it happened to someone else I might suggest a chance electrical anomaly and the law of large numbers as an explanation—with billions of people having billions of experiences every day, there's bound to be a handful of extremely unlikely events that stand out in their timing and meaning. In any case, such anecdotes do not constitute scientific evidence that the dead survive or that they can communicate with us via electronic equipment.

Jennifer is as skeptical as I am when it comes to paranormal and supernatural phenomena. Yet the eerie conjunction of these deeply evocative events gave her the distinct feeling that her grandfather was there and that the music was his gift of approval. I have to admit, it rocked me back on my heels and shook my skepticism to its core as well. I savored the experience more than the explanation.


The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.

So what do people think?
 
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#4
Hmm... I remember reading two threads on it. I thought it happened after the Forum Apocalypse but maybe those threads were a victim too.

Btw, was not being snarky. I remember two simultaneous threads on here about it.
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#7
I know it's come up before, but this thread might be worth stickying as it did seem like a big deal.
 
#8
Please try not to paste entire articles in a comment if you can help it, especially without the linkback present. Thanks.

This has been a super sexy socially responsible moment.


Pardon me. I see the link now. Forget all of this.
 
#9
Shermer's response for those who follow this:

UPDATE 2: Michael has written a clarification of his piece for me to put up, and here it is:
I read your commentary, Jerry, and as usual with your critiques in your blog I agree with all your points about my Scientific American column. To clarify matters please see this further explanation of my interpretation, which is that my experience in no way implies something paranormal or supernatural. As I’ve always said (and repeat here), there’s no such thing as the paranormal or supernatural; there is just the normal, the natural, and mysteries as yet unexplained by natural law and chance/contingency.
Much has been made of the subtitle of the original column (stating that my skepticism was shaken to the core), a variation of which was used for the Online title of the essay. As is common in all magazine and newspaper articles, essays, and opinion editorials, the editors write the title and subtitle in a way that will make the article seem more compelling to read, and that is the case here. My Scientific American editors give me much freedom in choosing my own titles and subtitles, but when they have done rewrites for previous columns I have always felt they were better than my original, and this one seemed good to me at the time. But now I see that many readers took it in a way I had not intended. My skepticism is in fine shape.
Hopefully this clarification in Slate will clear up matters. I guess if I had to sum it up even briefer it would be this: Weird things happen. We can’t explain everything. Enjoy the experience. But don’t abandon science or the natural worldview.
Michael
http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress...perience-admits-there-may-be-something-to-it/
 
#15
Shermer probably got so much flack from true believer pseudoskeptical materialists that he had to use a skeptic blog to cover himself mainly by blaming the editors at Scientific American. He clearly has such a powerful intellect that even if the paranormal came up and figuratively whacked him over the head with a two-by-four (by his having say a deep "realer than real" NDE), he would smugly ascribe it to a hallucination. In other words, it is possible to know that something doesn't exist so firmly that the attitude is "even if it is true I won't and can't believe it".
 
#17
I was struck by how much an emotional impact this particular coincidence (perhaps synchronicity) hit Michael Shermer, enough so he even blogged about it and raised the questions he did. From a purely evidentiary standpoint, for those of us familiar with the mountain of research in psi for over 100+ years now, I would say the event was about a richter scale of 1 or 2, would likely not even pass any kind of critical muster given some of the rigorous work well known in the psi field. These were my initial thoughts on listening to Shermer's account. He then a few days later fell into the usual Skeptic's litany of talking points: pretty much arguing psi consists of just "anecdotes" or "confirmation bias".

I think the use of the word "anecdote" is a clever but misleading word used often by Skeptics, that usually obfuscates evidentiary facts and corroborating data. For example, when holding a court case, and lawyers put people on the stand, do they use the word "anecdote" or do they use the word "testimony"? Notice the subtle difference between the two words, and that even though both do point to the same idea of essentially obtaining "first person accounts", the use of the word "anecdote" tends to imply that of a "made up" story, that really cannot be verified or corroborated, while testimony points to not only a "first person account" but also additional data that supports and buttresses a first person account, including additional testimony from other sources.

In Shermer's "anecdote" he had a corroborative witness present, his wife. He has his own credibility as a well-known Skeptic who would hardly lie about such an event. His wife probably could be considered an honest broker here as well which "testimony" could be taken. The evidence could be presented i.e. the radio in question. Other related data could be collected etc. And yet the blanket accusation we often here from Skeptics (and did here from Shermer days later) is it's all just an anecdotes! Including his own experience!! I agree entirely with his conclusion that in no way should his personal experience be considered of evidentiary value, but not on the argument that it is just another anecdote.
 
#18
For example, when holding a court case, and lawyers put people on the stand, do they use the word "anecdote" or do they use the word "testimony"? Notice the subtle difference between the two words, and that even though both do point to the same idea of essentially obtaining "first person accounts", the use of the word "anecdote" tends to imply that of a "made up" story, that really cannot be verified or corroborated, while testimony points to not only a "first person account" but also additional data that supports and buttresses a first person account, including additional testimony from other sources.
The unreliability of such first hand accounts is well understood in law and by judges, who will often comment about it in decisions and warn juries about them.
 
#19
The unreliability of such first hand accounts is well understood in law and by judges, who will often comment about it in decisions and warn juries about them.
Yes, and that is why corroborative testimony and corresponding evidential material is entered into court records. If testimony had no value at all, (which it appears Skeptics religiously would like to be true), there would obviously be no testimonies given in cases at all. This same criteria could also applied to scientific surveys, and repeatable observed behavior in psychology and social science studies. In fact a good deal of empirical dream research depends on reports by subjects. A good deal of social science studies depends on statistical analysis of scientific surveys and/or collected reports.
 
#20
I have some thoughts on this, feel free to correct me if I am wrong (because I probably am wrong):

1) If Mr. Shermer gets to stand behind the alibi of 'don't gang up on me, the title was my editor's idea, not mine,' then wouldn't it be logical to extend the same leniency to Dr. Eben Alexander, who had reported that the title for his book "Proof of Heaven" was not his idea but that of his editor's?

In fact, he said, “Proof of Heaven” was not his idea for a title. He preferred “An N of One,” a reference to medical trials in which there is only a single patient.
(source)

2) There are also these lines from Mr. Shermer's response "Slate" article which stood out to me:

We are all subject to the confirmation bias in which we look for and find confirming evidence and ignore disconfirming evidence.

[...] just because I can’t explain something doesn’t mean it is inexplicable by natural means. The argument from personal incredulity doesn’t hold water on the skeptical seas.

[...] I appreciated the close of [a reader's] letter in which he quoted the late physicist John Wheeler: “In any field, find the strangest thing and then explore it.”

[...] I have often [said] that there is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal. There is just the natural and the normal and mysteries we have yet to solve with natural and normal explanations.
(source)

Is there not an inherent hypocrisy in these statements (I admit here that by removing individual lines from the article I may have taken them out of context)? This translation of, 'even though there are things I cannot explain, and I am reminded by an actual scientist to look for things which are by definition not usual, not familiar, and unsettling- in any field- if we solve these mysteries I say they will have explanations which I already find usual, typical, and expected, because I have already declared there is no evidence for the supernatural or paranormal, and even if there was, my confirmation bias would provoke me to ignore it.'

3) Because of my own bias, the last two paragraphs struck me as patronizing to us who lean to belief in the paranormal, and in general a fluffy conclusion without lasting meaning. Enjoy the stories of unlikely events, he says. Appreciate the emotional significance, he says. But remember, these events are only emotionally significant because they're statistically rare, like ordering a Big Mac and getting three patties. There's nothing supernatural, no afterlife, no God, so the advice to enjoy anything is arbitrary and superfluous, because you're a speck of dust among the yawning void of an impersonal and uncaring universe, snuffed into nothingness before you have even a chance to cry out in despair. Now, revel in the mystery and drink in the unknown where science and wonder meet!
 
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