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Český klub skeptiků SISYFOS

Skepticismus

Český klub skeptiků SISYFOS je součástí světového skeptického hnutí, které vzniklo v r.1976 v USA z iniciativy desítek vědců a filozofů, mezi nimi několika nositelů Nobelových cen jako reakce na vzestup iracionality ve společnosti. Vzniklá společnost, jejíž vůdčí osobností a ...

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27.05.2006 116769 hits
Czech Skeptical Club SISYFOS

Skepticism

The Czech Skeptics Club Sisyfos is a member of the international skeptical movement which has been initiated in U.S.A. in 1976 by scientists and philosophers who reacted against the rise of irrationality in the community. Among the founders of the newly established society ...

05.08.2006 / 00:07redakcehits 24398e-mailprintable version
DELIGHTFUL DELUSIONS; THE WISDOM OF FOLLY

Cornelis de Jager
Sonnenborgh Observatory
3512 NL Utrecht, The Netherlands
E-mail C.deJager@sron.nl

Nearly five centuries ago, in 1511, Desiderius Erasmus, of Rotterdam but truly Européen avant la lettre, published his book ‘Stultitiae Laus’, meaning: ‘The Wisdom of Folly’. Its contents are a severe criticism of the world of his days, with the central theme that folly reigns the world. The many interesting examples of his criticism, e.g. on the church of these days, make his book worth reading. In order to make his criticism acceptable by the rulers of his days, or stated otherwise: to pull the weapons offhand out of the hands of his potential enemies, his critical remarks are formulated as the sayings of an unwise woman, called folly. Such an attitude was typical for that time, at the end of the Middle Ages. Some medieval noble families had their private court jester. The role of the jester was to sow doubt in an environment where an absolutist form of truth reigned. The jester could be critical because he was considered – or treated as – a fool. Also the reformers of those days sometimes used that technique to formulate their criticism. Shakespeare speaks of ‘allowed fools’. Such fools were evidently only tolerated at courts of rulers that were strong enough to accept criticism. “The emperor needs the fool; the fool needs the emperor”.
Stated more generally, criticism is only tolerated in societies that are strong enough to accept it. Translated to present-days situations this means that only a developed democracy can be fully open to criticism.

Modern society too, has its ‘gods of our days’. The strength of the tabloid press, the influence of mediocre teaching, the all-penetrating influence of pseudo-scientific and paranormal ideas in society via the media, they all contribute to creating an anti-scientific attitude that is absorbed by large fractions of society. Stronger even: many seem to enjoy their delightful delusions. This is remarkable, since the products of a developed scientific technology dominate modern society and science is an integral part of society. Many hypotheses have been forwarded for explaining why anti-scientific attitudes can develop in such a society. One of them assumes that the recent rapid development of science cannot be absorbed by the masses and tends to create an attitude of fear of science, for a great deal based on suspicion about the application of its results, strengthened by bad information by the media.

With respect to these ‘gods of our days’ the role of skeptical organisations would be counter-effective if they simply placed their absolute truth against the other. The attitude could be more fruitful when it was that of the medieval fools: sowing doubt and thus creating a counter-pressure against misinformation. There are many ways to do so, one is by explaining the methods of scientific research and by demonstrating how ‘unnecessary it is to make fantasies when the truth is so fascinating’ (Kaler). Our forces are weak but they can present a barrier against the avalanche of misinformation.

Let our skeptical attitude be that of the modern skeptics (Kurtz). That attitude stands counter to the expression: “nothing is certain; not even this saying” (Multatuli). In stead, thanks to scientific research over the ages there is a vast nucleus of tested and verified knowledge. Uncertainty and research in progress circumscribe this core. The scientific attitude is to accept the core and to be skeptical in the periphery where the real work is being done. A skeptic attitude is identical to a scientific one.

One curious development of recent years deserves attention. In the last few decades we have witnessed, all over the western world, the growth of strong environmental pressure groups, supported by people that are rightly scared by damage of the environment due to the growing and increasingly industrialised world population. The large financial support received by such organisations from the community has transformed some of them into wealthy multinationals. These evidently want to maintain the inflow of financial support from the community. This makes such organisations vulnerable to exaggeration and sometimes even to misinformation of the public. Also to such tendencies a critical skeptical attitude is needed, for the sake of keeping the environmental movements on the right track.


PSEUDOSCIENCE IN RUSSIA YESTERDAY AND TODAY

E.P. Kruglyakov
Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics
Lavrentiev Prospekt 11, Novosibirsk, Russia
E-mail: e.kruglyakov@inp.nsk.su

The end of 20th century was marked by the blossom of the astrology, mystics, occultism, etc in many countries over the world. However, the USSR (in the last years of its existence) and Russia take quite a specific position, in this sense. The state of collapse, downfall of old ideals and the absence of new ones have led to that desperate people could hope only for miracle. Rather significant contribution was also made by Mass Media whose irresponsibility have led to that the antiscientific delirium have just over brimmed the pages of newspapers and magazines, radio, and TV. To some extent, the democratization of Mass Media, its freedom of the censorship resulted in its all-permissiveness. One of the reasons of the growing influence of the pseudoscience was the military opposition of two systems. It is known that in 1950s in the USA, there was an inventor of antigravitation, who has got quite a large amount of money from militaries and escaped to the South America. Similar «studies» were not started in the USSR only by this reason. As to telepathy, these «studies» have been carried out for many years secretly both in the USA and USSR. In recent years, the pseudoscience acquired rather arranged forms. So, the Maharishi University appeared in the USA and the International Institute of Terrestrial Antropoecology in Russia. The new and new «Academies» appear practically every day and many of them are of explicitly antiscientific essence. The pseudoscience acquires power. Alas, the bacchanalia of parascientific wanderings affects already the highest echelons of power. Astrologists, extrasenses, and newly appeared «scientists» of other «professions» more and more actively push through into the State Duma, power Ministries and even into the President’s circling. In the Ministry on Extreme Situations, the laboratory of extrasenses was arranged and in spite of the fact that up to now they did not yet received any results, the laboratory is supported and still exists. At the President Eltsyn Administration, there was the Guard deputy head, general G.Rogozin whose duty additional to its main responsibilities was to make astrological prognoses, occultism, etc. The extrasense, academician of the Russian Academy of Natural of Science, Mr. Grabovoy performed the mental check for the President’s airplane readiness for the flight. In the previous State Duma, a rather strange exhibition was arranged where the main subject was the sofa-extrasense, which cured nearly a hundred of diseases including the impotence and frigidity. The same Duma arranged debates on the problems of UFOlogical safety of Russian people. To the credit of the present day Duma, it does not afford anything like that.

An alternative medicine is dramatically developed attracting numerous unscrupulous swindlers robbing unhappy diseased people who cannot find help from the traditional medicine.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the ever-growing activity of the pseudoscience in attempts to get money in power structures avoiding the standard procedures of examination by experts. One can give many examples when pseudoscientists managed to get money from the state sources. The most known is the deception based on the so-called torsion fields. In addition, there are some «studies» on antigravitation, transmutation of elements with an attempt to obtain gold (of course, not assuming the known scheme of transmutation based on nuclear reactions but it is meant the modern version of alchemistry).
In such an atmosphere, at the end of 1998, the President of Russian Academy of Science Academician U.S.Osipov arranged the special Commission on the fight with the pseudoscience and falsification of scientific results. The Commission includes 12 well known scientists and among them two Vice-Presidents of the Academy: R.Petrov and V.Fortov. A half of the Commission members are physicists since a major part of antiscientific activity is related to the competence of physics.
One can say that the arrangement of the Commission and its work with Mass Media lead to the sanitation of the situation. Some allies appeared among journalists, astrological prognoses vanished from some newspapers and some scientific sections appeared. Besides, scientists became often to be guests of TV programs. However, these are only positive symptoms. To the victory over the pseudoscience is still too far.

In the paper, several examples of methods, used by pseudoscientists will be presented.


THE NEW PARANORMAL SITUATION IN BELARUS

Kutuzova Natalia
Institute of Philosophy, National Academy of Sciences
220072 Minsk, Belarus
E-mail: philos@bas-net.by

The last ten years for Belarus is the time of the consolidation of the sovereign state. But an effective model of national development is not elaborated so far.
The ideological vacuum and absence of clear economic perspectives formed perfect soil for renovation totalitarian outlook. The posttotalitarian syndrome was expressed in activation of archaic stereotypes of public mentality and behaviour. Researchers consider among them such as collectivism, egalitarism, search a charismatical leader, authoritarism as a legal outlook postulate.
Belarus is polyreligious and polynational country. This circumstance has determinated the consolidation of social and cultural groups not so much on political, as on religious and other outlook foundations.
As for our view, the most important factors governing the process of forming of social microgroups are the next:
* the atheistic tradition, which has taken its roots for the last five generations;
* political inertness of overwhelming majority of the population;
* the social marginality;
* the connection between the new state ideology construction and the revival of a Christianity (Orthodoxy is becoming the state religion).
The last circumstance in connection with economic stagnation explains the decrease of authority of traditional religions. Recently fifty percents of the registered religious organizations have mystical orientation. Among them there are western Krishnaism, Zoroastrism, occultism etc. Originally they have just become the organized bearers of the paranormal activity.
Modern non-traditional religious associations are characterized by their own social and cultural micromodels. Its fundamental features are a strict hierarchy, a charismatical leader - mystic, ascetism and totalitarian way of life, alternative position in relation to the society and aspire to get a political influence. In a number of cases the members of such groups refuse a medical care and education, giving reasons the behaviour "by the orders of occult forces". Per the last years the legislative acts limiting state registration of occult associations have taken effect. However the paranormal symptoms were already widely exhibited in various spheres of culture and have called to life a number of other phenomena.
An area of practical psychology is the most vulnerable for the paranormal influence. The priority problem of the Byelorussian psychologists has
become learning ways of manipulation by personal and public consciousness, development of methods of a suggestion and search of possibilities of maximum broad application of suggestive procedures — from policy and business up to the children's cultural programs. The psychologists frequently appear in a role of conductors of ideas of non-traditional mystical religiosity. They analyse "karma debts " and "perspective" of reincarnation of their clients, clear chacres and so on.
For the last ten years in Belarus the alternative medicine as official structure, practical and science research direction was folded also. Any medical centre offers services in integral medicine, including bioresonance diagnostics and therapeutic methods (homeopathy, colour- and sound puncture, metal- and mineraltherapy). In structure of the Ministry of Public Health there is functioning the department of non-traditional medicine. Some centres research effectiveness of alternative procedures, including experience of traditional healers.
The modern development of philosophy is characterized by holism, development of the methodological programs of a synergetics, dynamic models of interaction of the nature and society, morphology of resonances.
However ordinary public consciousness very primitive reacts to scientific achievements. Inevitably there is a lacuna between strict scientific knowledge and its popular interpretations. This blank space is actively filled with archaic magic and modern pagan rites. In the countryside it is possible to watch various manifestations of a cult of fertility and a phobia " of the devilish eye ". In cities it is marked sick interest to UFO, the magic divinations are very popular. It is obvious, that the modern pagan movement with the expressed national philosophy is on the stage of forming.
The followers of the modern occult trends actively reconstruct difficult terminological models, which informatively reflect phenomenological and ontological aspects of occultism. From our point of view, the learning of these nomenclatures is interesting as a linguistic problem. However and without its detail working out it is possible to point three essential characteristics of an occult terminology:
1) active usage of fundamental, undefined scientific concepts;
2) basic reducibility of a nomenclature and phraseology of various originally
mystical trends;
3) the complicated and abstract symbolized world image.
The marked characteristics establish some reasons for the destruction of original features of the occultism, that is for development inside mystique of various integrated forms.
Thus, mystique, non-traditional religiosity, magic, philosophical holism, cosmozoism, elementalism, alternative medicine are objective phenomena for modern Belarus, which determines the present paranormal state of social and cultural life.


CZECH PSI RESEARCH BEFORE AND AFTER 1989

Vojtěch Mornstein
Head of Department of Biophysics, Medical Faculty, Masaryk University
Joštova 10, 662 43 Brno, Czech Republic
E-mail: vmornst@med.muni.cz

The Czech paranormal community cannot be assessed without the understanding of social development and history of the Czech nation. Three main periods, before 1948, 1948 - 1989, and after 1989 can be distinguished. In this contribution, the biggest attention will be paid to the two last periods.
The Czech national culture was for centuries under strong influence of German philosophy. It means that also the mysticism and all branches of paranormality were imported from or through Germany or Austria. About one hundred years ago, Blavatsky's spiritism and theosophy, and Steiner's anthroposophy affected many spiritually oriented people. The Prague Jewish-German tradition (myths about Rabi Löw and his Golem), inspiring e.g. Gustav Meyrink's novels, presented another source of mystic thinking in our country.
During the so-called 1st Republic (1918-1938) or up to 1948, several paranormal "scientists" appeared and should be mentioned now. The most important three of them were probably spiritists and PSI researchers Břetislav Kafka (author of "New principles of experimental psychology", 1891 - 1967), František Bardon (also known as a clairvoyant, 1909 - 1958) and Květoslav Minařik (proponent of yoga and oriental teachings, 1908-1974). We should mention that media or universities at that time did not accept paranormal teachings. It was a phenomenon on the margins of common interest.
Starting from 1948, the cultural connection between the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia) and western countries was almost interrupted. The communist regime could not accept the philosophical basis of mysticism or parapsychology. The old Czech and foreign authors were inaccessible to most of readers. Therefore, the people interested in paranormal phenomena, spiritism, telepathy etc. tried to study their object of interest simulating materialistic or even Marxist attitudes. They used soviet scientists who sympathised with related topics or misinterpreted really existing phenomena as a protective shield (Kirlian patterns, Matest Argest archeastronomy etc.).
The communist rule was unable to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. That is why some „laboratories“ were allowed and financially supported. The most important leader of such research was professor František Kahuda (1911-1987), Czech physicist and university teacher. Prof. Kahuda was also the communist minister of education (1956-1963). After he retired, he led the Psychoenergetic laboratory at University of Chemical Engineering in Prague in 80’. He proposed particles of mental energy (mentions) and published in a Czech medical journal several articles about this hypothesis, which was consequently declined by physicists as well as biologists. Another important pseudoscientist of communist period was Dr. Zdeněk Rejdák, editor of a book on telepathy and clairvoyance (1970). Dr. Rejdák was very active in the international paranormal scene. The outstanding Czech science-fiction writer Ludvík Souček (1926-1978) can be assumed the Czech equivalent of Erich von Däniken. His books, together with Däniken’s „Chariots of the Gods“ were printed in hundreds of thousands of copies before 1989. They influenced, to a considerable extent, the belief in UFOs and related problems, including paranormal phenomena, in one whole generation.
We can conclude that all forms of paranormality, and indeed any dubious claims were allowed in communist era, if they seemed compatible with anti-religious and materialistic official ideology. Sporadic protests of critical scientists were ignored or even sometimes actively suppressed. It is well known that communist leaders were treated by alternative healers or supported the existence of above mentioned pseudoscientific laboratories. Dowsing rods and pendulums were seriously discussed at geologic scientific conferences. In encyclopaedic dictionaries the entries like „psychotronics“ (i.e. PSI investigation) were put on almost the same level of importance as quantum physics, for example.
After 1989, a huge explosion of all the forms of pseudoscience can be seen. The „old“ PSI researchers and proponents threw away quickly their materialistic cloaks. Their laboratories were closed (due to lack of money) but they promptly turned into big entrepreneurs in this field. The naďve journalists promoting indiscriminately previously forbidden fruits invited these proponents to radio discussions and TV talk shows. Thousands of articles were published in newspapers and magazines, hundreds of books were printed about paranormal phenomena, mental power, oriental knowledge and teachings, Tibetan monks’ wisdom, astrology, spiritual healing, telepathy, telekinesis etc.
Typically, many contemporary Czech authors claim persecution and incrimination before 1989. But this surely cannot be generalised. They could deal with these things but of course they could not earn money in this way (individual economic activity was not allowed). It was sufficient to state that the same problem is also being solved in the Soviet Union. It is also very typical that the sceptic critics are often accused of communist and anti-spiritual thinking by the pseudoscientists. They seem to know nothing about the fact that the same arguments are used throughout the whole, civilised world and that the pseudoscientific (also post-modern or antiscientific) way of thinking is often typical for the left-oriented humanistic thinkers. The last decade of development of PSI and related „research“ already levelled out main differences between the situation in the Czech Republic and the western European countries.


DEALING WITH PARANORMAL CLAIMS – 15 YEARS OF SKEPTICAL EXPERIENCE

Amardeo Sarma
GWUP / ECSO
Rossdorf, Germany
E-mail: sarma@gwup.org

It has now been 15 years since our contacts with CSICOP to establish skeptical groups in Europe. This is reason enough to reflect on what skeptical groups have done in the past 15 years, their accomplishments, their pitfalls and lessons for the future. The aim of this paper is to help other, upcoming groups and individuals interested in dealing with the paranormal to be more effective.
There a number of issues that could be at the centre of such a reflection, such as:

Identifying topics that skeptical groups should address
Stakeholders in the area of the paranormal, their arguments and skeptical criticism
Problems in running a skeptical group
Getting information and publications out to the public
Establishing core competencies, an information base and a network of experts
Dealing with religion and religious claims

Though all these areas merit discussion, this paper will specifically look at the stakeholders in the area of the paranormal both inside and outside skeptical groups, and how we deal with them. This also automatically touches on the question of running a skeptical group.
In particular, different approaches are required when dealing with the following categories of stakeholders:

Believers and naďve practitioners of the paranormal sincerely believe in paranormal claims. They readily agree to being tested and are astonished when results show that they fail. Sophisticated practitioners of the paranormal are more difficult, because they place all kinds of conditions on being tested, and may try to cheat their way to success.
Dealing with believers with scientific credentials is in my view the biggest challenge to skeptics. As shown in the case with Michel Gauquelin, parapsychologists and the German pro-dowsing scientists, proponents have developed sophisticated methods, have a large amount of data that cannot easily be dismissed and long experience in arguing their case. They easily trap naďve skeptics, as shown from experiences in Germany and elsewhere. This part also looks at premises and theories of this group, such as the German “Model of Pragmatic Information”.
Besides the above, there is a do-not-take-a--stand group, a group that we could also term "extreme skeptics". This group – if one may call it such – tends to be strongly focused on a single individual, such as Marcello Truzzi. I will argue that this group is a problematic factor only if they are part of a skeptics group.

In addition to the above, I will discuss some of the pitfalls of skeptical arguments, often made with good intentions that defeat the cause, as also shown by Ray Hyman in his article “Proper Criticism”. Making use of such experience by sceptics and sceptical groups will help new and growing groups to be more effective and avoid the pitfalls of debates on the paranormal.

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10th European Skeptics Congress - Paranormal Scene in Europe | Sisyfos - Czech Skeptics' Club
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