Neuro-cognitive factors & paranormal beliefs dissertation

#1
Hi,

I'm new in this forum although I have been aware of Skeptiko for a number of years. It is great that Skeptiko is alive and well.

A Finnish dissertation on neuro-cognitive factors and paranormal beliefs will be defended this Friday. One can freely download the summary part of the dissertation which is based on six (!) peer-reviewed publications:
https://helda.helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/136509/neurocog.pdf?sequence=1

You can get the main point in the abstract (the following is an excerpt):
"The present thesis consists of six studies that investigate different cognitive factors that contribute to believing and unbelieving in paranormal, superstitious, magical, and supernatural (commonly referred to as paranormal beliefs)....One explanation that takes into account the difference between paranormal beliefs and other beliefs is that paranormal beliefs stem from core knowledge confusions about the ontological properties of mental, physical, and biological phenomena. ....The results [based on brain imagining] suggest that core knowledge confusions are based on intuitive world knowledge and that this intuitive world knowledge is less categorized among paranormal believers than among skeptics. Cognitive inhibition was also found to contribute to paranormal beliefs: strong cognitive inhibition downplays paranormal beliefs. Social information processing was connected to paranormal beliefs in several ways...Finally, we found out that paranormal believers were more prone to illusory face perception than skeptics were. The results underline that if one seeks to understand believing and especially unbelieving, which both are complex phenomena, individual differences in cognitive processing must be taken into account."

It is not such a great surprise that there are differences in a believer's and skeptic's brains :). As you can see, there are quite prominent skeptics in Finland as well.

Regards,

Dr. Savant
Finland
 
#2
One explanation that takes into account the difference between paranormal beliefs and other beliefs is that paranormal beliefs stem from core knowledge confusions about the ontological properties of mental, physical, and biological phenomena.​

Allow me to put part of it differently:

Paranormal beliefs sometimes stem from core knowledge confusions scepticism concerning indoctrinated opinions about the ontological properties of mental, physical, and biological phenomena.​

From the thesis:

Core ontological properties refers to fundamental attributes of evolutionary important phenomena that children learn universally and easily such as independent existence and force for physical phenomena and living for biological phenomena (Hirschfeld & Gelman, 1994; Inagi & Hatano, 2004; Spelke & Kinzler, 2007; Wellman & Gelman, 1998). Another example of fundamental attributes that children learn to understand is that intentional acts are functions of animate beings and that physical events happen because of unintentional force. In addition, at the crux regarding ontological properties important for paranormal beliefs is the understanding that people have minds and inner mental states in forms of beliefs, desires, and intentions.

Leaving aside the grammatically suspect English (perhaps not surprising if the author [Tapani Riekki] isn't a native English speaker--but it makes some of the meaning opaque), is it accurate to say that children learn these things? Or rather, are they taught these things, explicitly or implicitly? In other words, are we talking about the cultural transmission of views that are considered to be correct and not confused?

Of course, if one has a conviction that certain views are correct, anyone who differs from that view is going to be regarded as confused. In centuries gone by, they burned heretics who begged to differ from consensus. These days, we are more likely to think of them as infantile or psychologically imbalanced and perhaps in need of re-orientation. This is happening increasingly: so-called scientific papers pathologising those who refuse to uncritically accept "official" assertions; most notably, perhaps, concerning AGW catastrophism.

That those locked inside the prison of enculturated certainties are unable to peek outside and experience for themselves the nature of genuine scepticism is disturbing. Sure, there are gullible types who are ready to believe all manner of nonsense, but amongst those sympathetic to the possibility of the paranormal are some of the most truly sceptical minds one is likely to find. You only have to note how many sympathisers here have been critical of Diane Powell's preliminary experiments with telepathy in autistic children. She hasn't had an easy ride, has she?

One wonders if the author has examined the large body of experimental work in the area of the paranormal, and if he hasn't, why not? If he hasn't, then can he be confident about what is correct or incorrect, and about what constitutes confusion and what doesn't? Then again, if he hasn't, and is merely dismissing it, one could argue that he's reinforcing the walls of his prison. He could be in no better a position than the ecclesiastics of old who knew that the earth was the centre of the universe. Well, of course, if you know that, no point taking seriously the opinions of nutcases like Copernicus.

Not everyone evincing an unconventional viewpoint is correct, but progress in science depends on unconventional viewpoints being allowed to be freely aired and not dismissed out of hand. There are certainly a number of serious scientists (including a Nobel Laureate or two), in the hard discipline of physics who are actually quite open to the possibility of the paranormal. If anything, physicists tend to be rather more open-minded than the practitioners of softer sciences like biologists and behavioural scientists. I sometimes wonder if it's a kind of over-compensation for the increasing wooliness of thinking and paucity of evidence as one progresses up the food chain.
 
#3
I enjoyed reading that dissertation. It seems to reinforce the idea that a healthy society needs a diverse mixture of different ways of processing information, if it is to remain on the straight and narrow during times of stability, but remain flexible and adaptable during times of stress or change.

It's obviously an extremely complex mixture of unknown variables which are at work, rather than just a simple belief vs non-belief. But one wonders which general types of Jewery survived the holocaust, and which didn't? Which general types of the population left Ireland for the new world (America), and which stayed behind? Etc.

I also seemed to notice during my reading, what I would describe as a tendency for believers to process information more temporally/emotionally, where as non-believers seemed to have a tendency to process more spatially/materially.
 
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#4
Considering all the errors, assumptions and authorial confusion in this paragraph (a key one seemingly), I did not consider the paper particularly worth reading.

P.17

"In paranormal, supernatural, superstitious, magical, and religious beliefs these core
ontological properties are often confused. For example, belief in psychokinesis means
that a person can directly manipulate physical entities with mental thoughts. This would
mean that a mental thought would have a physical property of mechanical force.
Similarly, in out-of-body experiences the mental thoughts and consciousness would
have a physical property of independent existence and ability to move in space. In
addition, a similar belief in an immortal soul would mean that a mental process of
consciousness would have in itself a biological quality of living and a physical quality
of independent existence and an ability to move in time and space. In other words,
mental phenomena would not be interdependent on any physical or biological processes."
 
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#6
That's a waste of time for me. Instead investigating the kind of people who tend to hold paranormal beliefs, they would have to investigate whether these beliefs are true, because they seem to assume that all paranormal beliefs are false, when really there are rational evidence for some of them and probably some of them are true.
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#7
One thing it does suggest is that segments of the immaterialist community should put more effort into educating itself if it wants to make consideration of the paranormal a part of academic life.

Talking about the Age of Aquarius is all well and good, but some foundational understanding in science/anthropology/philosophy would be very useful. Some hucksters like Chopra might be left by the wayside, and some things regarded as reality may have to be relegated to fiction, but in the long run I think this will make the advocacy of research into Psi/NDEs/etc much stronger.
 
#8
This thing looks to me to be just another mainstream psychology study trying to explain paranormal beliefs as a manifestation of secondary psychological causes traceable to neurology, based on the underlying smug certainty that of course the paranormal is not real and there is no real evidence. This is the agenda of almost all mainstream psychological "research" into parapsychology. Generating such junk is necessary if a PhD candidate wants to launch a promising career in psychology while even mentioning the paranormal.
 
#9
Regarding what nbtruthman wrote: I certainly agree with it. However, I found the dissertation interesting as it is based on empirical data. Of course, the study design serves the materialistic agenda at the same time.
 
#10
This thing looks to me to be just another mainstream psychology study trying to explain paranormal beliefs as a manifestation of secondary psychological causes traceable to neurology, based on the underlying smug certainty that of course the paranormal is not real and there is no real evidence. This is the agenda of almost all mainstream psychological "research" into parapsychology. Generating such junk is necessary if a PhD candidate wants to launch a promising career in psychology while even mentioning the paranormal.
I'm actually getting tired of the mainstream saying that the paranormal stuff is just something that gets us out of bed in the morning, just a comforting story, ect.
 
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