[ExI] Fwd: psi yet again

Rafal Smigrodzki rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com
Wed Jun 30 19:59:47 UTC 2010

accidentally posted off-list

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rafal Smigrodzki <rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com>
Date: Wed, Jun 30, 2010 at 12:33 PM
Subject: Re: psi yet again
To: Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com>

On Mon, Jun 28, 2010 at 6:38 PM, Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com> wrote:

> Rafal, you invoke Bayes--but how does Bayes accommodate the experience of
> those Victorian scientists who went pretty much in one enormous, grudging
> jump from unquestioned Divine Creation of each individual and unchanging
> species to Darwinian evolution? Huxley famously commented something like, "I
> couldn't believe I'd been stupid enough not to see this myself." I suppose
> in Kuhnian terms it was a paradigm transition, but how does Bayes account
> for a jump from priors set at 99.999999% for God, then in a flash switch to,
> say, 86% for evolution?
> I'm not claiming that "conversion" to the psi hypothesis is anything like
> that--the evidence is impressive when you take the trouble to look, but
> usually not *that* overwhelming. I'm just querying the universal
> applicability of Bayes. But I don't know enough about that to judge the
> issue. Do please inform me.

### I think that a rational thinker does not need to be aware of the
theory of evolution to start questioning religion. There are intrinsic
problems with religions (viz. being risible bullshit) which usually
prevent the vast majority of non-believers from developing a belief
after merely perusing e.g. a Mormon a Hare Krishna booklet. Hardly any
adults convert to new religions and most humans will deride the droll
stories of other people's gods. The vulnerability to religions
afflicts mostly children who under considerable social pressure
acquire habits of thought that prevent them from clearly thinking
about whatever their parents funneled in early. Still, a rational
thinker, starting from a position of disbelief in Allah, Yahwe, Flying
Spaghetti and others, should fail to acquire a belief in any of them.
Knowing about evolution merely ties a few loose ends with your own
story of the world, and for the non-believer does not reinforce

While it's hard for me to theorize about the innermost convictions of
Victorian scientists, I would doubt that any of them had a switch from
99.999% for god to 86% against god and for evolution. I would guess
that those who were secret non-believers or agnostics felt empowered
to talk about creation after hearing about evolution. It is easier to
smack down opponents if you actually have a predictive theory that
makes intrinsic sense. Those scientists who truly believe in god even
now find ways of either rejecting evolutionary theory or somehow
cramming both in their minds (like Francis Collins).

This is not to say that radical reinterpretations of data leading the
wannabe Bayesian to dramatic flip-flopping on a belief system cannot
be triggered by relatively small bits of evidence - however, usually
there is a long build-up of tension in the system with large amounts
of data forcing more and more arcane adjustments of the system to fit,
until one last piece of information triggers a collapse of the system
and replacement with a new paradigm. You need that build-up of
contradictory data and the need to introduce implausible modifications
to orthodoxy for this paradigm shift to occur.

So far I haven't had to make up implausible stories to explain away
reports of psi. Either, the reports are spectacular but come from
tainted sources (professional psychics making money on it, internet
stories about Russian secret research programs) or else they come from
presumably honest and rigorous researchers but are underwhelming. The
former have essentially no Bayesian weight at all, and the latter are
weak signals, just barely pinging my belief-gauge up.

BTW, I don't buy into the Lotto argument against psi: if psi is a
faculty dependent on complex features of the brain to work (like
intelligence), then its absence in most people is not suprising even
if does give replicative advantage. If you need a 100 genes for it to
work but the increase in fitness is small, then the overall selection
for it will be weak. A capability manifesting in 2 out 100,000 guesses
just won't manifest in the noisy world of casinos and lotteries - why,
it's hard to detect even under ideal conditions in the lab.


Rafal Smigrodzki, MD-PhD
Chief Clinical Officer,
Gencia Corporation
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