An Unquiet Mind Over Matter

Regular readers of my blog know that I am a die-hard rationalist. I am a great admirer of James Randi, and greatly appreciate the work being done by Maharashtra’s Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee for Eradication of Blind Faith).

Superstitions and magical tricks have always been used to manipulate the gullible, to gain power over them.

At GodrejSo, when I was invited to an ESP (Extra Sensory Perception) show by HDFC Private Banking in Pune, I thought it was ‘yet-another-magic-show’, and passed it off. However, my investment advisor called me up personally and convinced me to attend, so I and my wife went to see this ‘ESP Show’.

I must say, my rational mind is very unquiet after that. The show was conducted by Mr. Deepak Rao. He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page of his own (yet), but he is said to be India’s equivalent of Uri Geller.

So I waited impatiently to apply my rational mind to uncover his secrets in deluding the audience. During and after the show, I failed completely.

Background

Many people suspect that the performer has ‘stooges’ in the audience, who’re actually conniving with the performer. It was not true in this case, as anyone from the audience who raised their hands for a particular act were invited to participate. In fact, Deepak Rao had only one assistant during the entire show. Everyone else was an invitee of HDFC. I can personally attest to this.Telepathy

There were no objects, gizmos, or equipment brought in for the show. He used material supplied by the audience or by the hotel.

He doesn’t term his feats as “tricks”, rather he terms them as “experiments”. Further, he never guarantees that they will work, he always approaches each ‘experiment’ saying ‘let’s see if this works’.

ESP, Telepathy, & Telekinesis

Mr. Rao showed the following feats in front of our eyes.

1. He asked 3 ladies to come up to the stage and asked one of them to write her birth time on a piece of paper, such that the other two ladies could read it. He himself was turned away during the whole time. Then keeping his hand one by one on each lady’s forehead, while muttering “the birth time is…”, “the birth time is…”, and so on, he finally shook his head and turned away. He then took out his wrist-watch, adjusted it to some time, and then asked the ladies to say out the birth time aloud. He then showed that he had set the watch to that exact time. Note that the three ladies were selected at random from the audience.

2. Telepathy: He asked five random members of the audience to get Rs. 100 notes from their wallets. These notes were then folded and folded such that their serial numbers were permanently hidden, after which they were put in a bowl. A child was asked to pick up one of them randomly from that bowl, and separate random members of the audience were invited on stage to unfold that note privately among themselves. Mr. Rao then proceeded to touch the forehead or engage in a handshake with each of these, but didn’t say anything. Instead, he “transmitted” the alphanumeric characters via “telepathy” to his blindfolded assistant, who read the serial number aloud. It was perfect – E498DC80 – something.

3. He asked a randomly chosen couple on stage to write a name of someone they knew, with his/her corresponding birth date. He then held their hands, touched their foreheads, while muttering, “the name starts with PQRS/MNLP/etc., ” and then, after a few seconds, said, her name is “Sunita”. He then proceeded in the same fashion that declared, correctly, that her birth date was 10th June.

Bending Key4. He determined a randomly chosen lady’s last name (who’s husband and family were sitting in the audience) by holding her hand and touching her forehead. He then asked her to walk a bit and then accurately guessed her zodiac sign, and her birth date. Yes.

5. Telekinesis: He asked for a key from the audience. A strong key, tied to a key chain. He let us inspect the key. It was strong enough that no one could easily bend it, even using both hands. It was a strong, strong metallic key, and short enough not to be easily bended even using both hands. He then invited a lady to the stage. He kept the key on the lady’s outstretched palm. He asked her to cover it with both her palms. He kept one hand on her palms, one hand behind his back, and concentrated. His hand over the lady’s palms was steady, I watched his other hand behind his back, twisting and twisting something in the air, as he mentally concentrated.Bent Key

At one point, he gave up, shaking his head as if he as tired after a great mental effort. He said he’s trying, but didn’t know if he’ll succeed. The lady said she could feel something moving in her hand. He did it again for a few minutes. After which, he literally seemed exhausted and shook his head and removed all his hands. The lady uncovered her hands, and viola! The key was bent in an L-shape. It was returned to the owner who confirmed that it was the same key he had given, and now he couldn’t use it to enter his home!

6. He held an ordinary light bulb by the base, uttered sounds of varying frequencies, and shattered it. I can imagine a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, that the frequencies of the sound resonated with the inherent frequency-structure of the light bulb and hence it exploded. But it was ‘magical’ to see it, nonetheless.

Shattering Bulb7. He said that HDFC was going to be a producer for a Hindi Bollywood film. He placed an envelope on the stage. He then selected audience members to choose from each of the movie’s different aspects. Starting from the theme (murder mystery, comedy, musical, drama), hero (Amitabh Bachhan, Aamir Kan, Shahrukh Khan, Anil Kapoor, etc.), villain (Nana Patekar, etc. I’m sorry, I don’t remember all the names), Music Director (Ismail Darbar, A. R. Rahman, etc.), heroine (you know who), etc. He then selected (based on ‘mind vibrations’) members of the audience, and asked them to choose each of these different entities from among a list. After all the selections were done, an audience member opened the envelope to reveal those same exact choices that Mr. Deepak Rao had predicted the earlier day when he wrote that note.

Summary

These are points to note. Mr. Deepak Rao doesn’t seem to encourage superstition of any kind. There is no religious tone to his show. He says there is a scientific explanation to everything he does. It is a different matter altogether that the scientific explanation he talks about is over and above everything we’ve learnt in science!

Mr. Deepak Rao’s web site is here. You are free to draw your own conclusions. It seems he has created different blogger identities every time he needed to post. This is his blogger profile with only one post. This is his definitive post on a defamation attempt by the TOI. And this is his official web site, where you can find his latest thoughts and presentations, along with a lot of marketing collateral.

He doesn’t exploit gullible folks. His presentations are mostly targeted towards intelligent executives from corporate audiences. In fact, I don’t think his shows will work with a generic mediocre public. I don’t seem to have any rational answers to his feats, do you?

Photo Credits: Master Mind – Deepak Rao

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  • I have seen/heard of guys like this and I usually sort of like like you – shaking my head in wonderment at the end, still sort of could not believe it.

    This somehow got me into wondering why we think that there ought to be a rational explanation to what we view as paranormal stuff. Is it because we are rock-solid sure that the mind cannot do these things? Of course in many many cases where people have claimed such things, there have been rational explanations or their tricks have been exposed – so perhaps our thinking is guided in that direction?

    Even otherwise, I think many are still somehow sure of the negative (This just cannot be true!. But is that or can that be scientifically proven? Or is the best we have “based on what science knows today, we are reasonably sure this cannot be done and it cannot be proved scientifically” ? If that is the best, how “rationalistic” is this view really if it doesn’t recognize exceptions and simply dismisses every one of them is sort “guilty until proven otherwise”?

  • yes, this all seems very magical.. but without doubt they have scientific explanations. nothing paranormal or godly going on in these experiments or tricks or whatever it is called. parapsychology studies these. like all people cannot be hypnotized these skills cannot be mastered by all and are very rare. and like quantum physics it doesn’t go with commonsense.

    7. body language, touch, words and emphasis can create a mood in the unconscious mind. e.g., say silk, silk for 5 times continously.. now answer this question quickly, “what does cows drink?”… 98% of people will answer “milk”. read the book Blink for more. the explanation is that he manipulated ur sub-conscious with words & body-language to pick the ones he chose.

    5. ok, a key does not bend because at the microscopic level there are bonds between the atoms. even though these atoms move around breaking bonds & reforming continuously, at any given time the number of bonds in the matter is relatively constant giving the key its structure. like quantum physics puts it.. if u keep trying to walk into a wall, there is a probability of alignment of atoms & matter that will make you step into the wall, but you’ll have to be patiently trying for a million years. and one more thing.. the subatomic particles behave in a way that normal common sense prohibits.. they got particles that have to be turned twice or 3/4 th before they come to the same position it started before turning. and there are what are known as sister subatomic particles which always rotate in opposite directions. if one of the particle changes it rotation for any reason the other one, even if it is on the other side of the planet, will change it rotation instantaneously. how the information traveled between them is still unknown. my guess is his brain is somehow wired to harness these energies or informations and transfer them to the key to break atomic bonds.

    1, 2, 3 & 4 are all some kind of information transfer from matter to matter.. brain to brain. he apparently can pick up these information quantum coming out of the other person.

    recently i read somewhere which said.. since matter can bend space-time continum itself, time flowing(from past, present to future) through space causes ripples or distortions in time itself(like a rock on a river causing backflow of water). and if time is not perceived as a constant flow, our world would not make any sense. you have ESP.
    i might be completely wrong since i’m just taking an wild shot based on some wild theories.. but im sure science will come up with better explanations in the future.

  • hmm… Reminds me of David Blaine.

    PS: You know, “all girls named Sunita look the same”… lol 🙂 Don’t you meet someone and you know his name is going to be Dipen or Subramanian or Kelkar or something 🙂 In fact, few days back I saw a website which had pictures of guys in one column and names in another. Visitors were asked to ‘match the columns’. Almost 70% people got same matches!

    ANS is doing an amazing job in rural areas. Actually I was unaware of the superstitions until I read about ANS.

  • Very interesting, but at the same time I believe in telepathy and I believe that some humans do have esp. I feel that I have it too to a small extent…now don’t laugh!! But seriously sometimes, when someone is passing by, even 5 feet away I feel I can read that person’s mind…at times when a person has left a room and I enter it, I get a strong overpowering feeling of what that person felt!! Its unnerving, but ofcourse my feelings are mostly an ability to read feelings, rather than exactly names, numbers etc. But I won’t blame you if you are skeptical.

  • Interesting. I am a rationalist too, and I have met some people who make me downright uncomfortable. There is this person in Chennai, to whom you can ask a question about yourself (past, future etc), and he goes off into a trance like state where he speaks loudly in an unrecognizable language, and he comes out of his trance in about 40-60 seconds and gives you the answer. He has predicted everything from the name of my wife (before I got married), the address of the house I will buy etc etc. He does not charge money for this and he makes his living out of whatever people can give him.

    Sounds totally ridiculous right? Me and my brother even captured his trance and predictions on video. I have a good grasp of how commercial astrologers swindle people by more or less extracting the information they “predict” pretty much from the person consulting him, and then use banal generalities, but this man is totally unreal. In fact, the first thing he tells you before you speak to him, is the question you are about to ask.

    I have had several rounds of discussions about how something like this is even possible. Is there a communication channel that science is unaware of yet? Seems so unlikely, but that man is somehow privy to information that we are not.

  • I suggest readers click on the Uri Geller link. A very good read, and explains some of what Mahendra saw.

  • Arun: //This somehow got me into wondering why we think that there ought to be a rational explanation to what we view as paranormal stuff. Is it because we are rock-solid sure that the mind cannot do these things?//
    Yes, we do think that there ought to be a rational explanation for everything, not just paranormal stuff! Are we rock-solid sure that the mind cannot do these things? Well, we do not have a scientific explanation yet for how the mind can do these things. I wouldn’t say I’m rock solid sure that it cannot.

    I was sure of the negative until I saw this show.

    //If that is the best, how “rationalistic” is this view really if it doesn’t recognize exceptions and simply dismisses every one of them is sort “guilty until proven otherwise”?//
    Such a view is not rationalistic. A rational view doesn’t dismiss anything just because it cannot be proven scientifically. That is why this post!

    Your point is taken, and taken very well. We shouldn’t be skeptics to the extent that we do not acknowledge what we see. 🙂

    Smitha: #7: I was especially looking for such signs. Was he manipulating people using sublime advertising to choose what he wanted them to choose? But no, he wasn’t. He didn’t condition them at all. He was only selective of the people he chose to vote.

    #5: //how the information traveled between them is still unknown. my guess is his brain is somehow wired to harness these energies or informations and transfer them to the key to break atomic bonds.//
    Your theory of how subatomic particles may be being manipulated to achieve this effect is interesting. But from whatever quantum physics I’ve studied, the miraculous quantum mechanics phenomena work only at the atomic, microscopic level. They do not work over distances of a couple of feet. Hence, I tend not to agree when you say:

    //but without doubt they have scientific explanations. nothing paranormal or godly going on in these experiments or tricks or whatever it is called. parapsychology studies these.//
    When you say “they have scientific explanations”, whom are you referring to? If this is not paranormal, how is it normal?

    //1, 2, 3 & 4 are all some kind of information transfer from matter to matter.. brain to brain. he apparently can pick up these information quantum coming out of the other person.//
    Do we have a normal scientific explanation for this? If yes, please educate me, I would love to learn!

    //recently i read somewhere which said.. since matter can bend space-time continum itself, time flowing(from past, present to future) through space causes ripples or distortions in time itself(like a rock on a river causing backflow of water). and if time is not perceived as a constant flow, our world would not make any sense. you have ESP.//
    Yes, matter does bend the space-time continuum. But I’m sorry I did not understand how you have ESP.

    Priyank: I liked the humor, but ‘Sunita’ herself wasn’t even present in the room…:-)

  • Nita: Very, very, interesting! So can you tell me if the Sensex is going to hit 20,000 this year? 🙂 Just kidding.

    I envy you that you are able to believe in such stuff. I know you are a palmist too. We unfortunate folks are constrained by our limited, logical, rational, scientific brains, who need to find a rational explanation for everything. 🙂

    I knew that women have an uncanny ability to be able to ‘read’ feelings, but that was when the other person was present. After the person has left the room…wow! I would love to learn more about this uncanny ability of yours!

    Ashok: //Sounds totally ridiculous right?// Yes, it sure does!
    //Is there a communication channel that science is unaware of yet?//
    You said it. I am now involved in an excruciating struggle in my unquiet mind thinking of such a possibility.

  • Rambodoc: I have known about Uri Geller for about 15 years and have smirked at the way he has been manipulating his audiences. This experience was however, something entirely different. Thanks for reading the Uri Geller link. Let us try to study the parallels.

    //There are many ways in which a bent spoon can be presented to an audience as to give the appearance it was done with supernatural powers. One way is through one or several brief moments of distraction in which a magician can physically bend a spoon unseen by the audience.//
    This is the reason (and I was aware of such ‘tricks’) I was minutely observing him throughout the key bending experiment. There wasn’t even a single moment when the key was removed from the woman’s palms. Mr. Deepak Rao did not have any, I repeat, any physical access to the key. Mr. Deepak Rao only placed his hands over and below the woman’s palms. There wasn’t even a single moment that he even touched the key himself.

    //Another way, if a performer does not bend the spoon with force during the performance is by pre-bending them and thus reducing the amount of force later needed to be applied.//
    The key was taken at random from the audience. Nothing was pre-done.

    //…sometimes blaming his apparent lack of psychic power on some interference, exhaustion, or lack of cooperation by the subjects.//
    Yes, this sorts of resonates with what Deepak Rao was talking about. He did say that he needed “cooperation” from his participants. However, that doesn’t explain anything scientifically, it only goes to support his mind-reading and telepathic theories.

    I mean if someone proves telepathy given the condition of ‘cooperating’ participants, I will still be astonished, right?

    The only really valid concept from the Uri Geller article that applies to what I experienced is Cold Reading. That applies to #1, 2, 3, and 4 above. However, even in these cases, it doesn’t explain how he was able to “transmit” the information he had “cold read” to his blindfolded assistant.

    Summary: I do not understand how the Uri Geller Wikipedia article explains some of what I saw. To me, it doesn’t explain anything of what I saw.

  • Mahendra, I have no idea why I have this ability but it helps me a lot in my relationships. I guess that is why I am one of those lucky people who have
    very satisfying and deep friendships (lifelong) and also a good social circle. I avoid people with negative vibes, feelings of jealousy, unreasonable anger etc. not because I believe they are bad, but because I do not want to get hurt. I am actually an extraordinarily sensitive person, and this used to be one of my most negative qualities as I was growing up. I am extraoridnarily sensitive to sights, sounds and vibes!I have turned this to work for me…I think.
    Unfortunately this ability fails me on the internet!
    Also about palmistry. I practice scientific palmistry. Palmistry has a scientific basis, but it will take too long to explain here. Unfortunately, most palmists who make a living out of palmistry tend to use tricks…and that spoils the name of palmistry. It is not possible to tell the future by palmistry, but its possible to tell the past and the inner workings of the mind, which helps in moulding one’s future.
    I regularly read hands of people whom I have never ever met. My daughter sent me about 5-6 pics of hands of her colleagues in Bangalore (she was doing her training in a design studio for a few months) and I read each and one accurately. the only info she sent was the name, age and sex of the person. Ofcourse I took no money as these were her friends. Just recently a guy from the UK sent me his print…and I did not even know his age!

  • Nita: I can perfectly understand how it must be helping you in friendships and relationships. And also, how the Internet presents a different challenge altogether in this aspect!

    I do not know what is ‘scientific palmistry’. My only exposure has been reading Cheiro’s books, and trying out the stuff on myself and a few friends. But it didn’t convince me. Thanks for clarifying that you cannot read the future, but only the past and more about the person’s mind. That brings it significantly closer (but not within, to me) to the realm of the scientific! But I must say, I am amazed that you can read and understand about a person just by looking at the palm prints!

    I have dabbled in handwriting analysis. I was quite an expert at it, being able to successfully tell the person’s sex, and many critical aspects of the person’s character and personality. I do believe that handwriting analysis is indeed within the scientific realm. Just like you, I only did it as a hobby, of course, and not for earning any money. Once, I even did it of a famous person – Dr. Anand Nadkarni, one of the leading psychiatrists in Maharashtra, and he was quite flabbergasted by it! 🙂

  • Cheiro is mostly rubbish to my mind. I used to read him in school but only for fun. Benham is the author of the book on scientific palmistry.
    As for handwriting analysis, i do believe it has some basis, but the study cannot be learnt by simply reading a few books, as with palmistry. In fact my dad’s uncle was a serious handwriting analyst and used to work with the police department. Years ago.
    The benham palmistry is scientific because there is are scientific principles for every reading and they apply to everything…its nto like this sign means this and that sign means that…that is rubbish.

  • I have too much respect for the para and supernormal to rubbish them.

    Applying our still-developing critical faculties to matters beyond their reach is an exercise in futility.

    Critical reasoning, deconstruction and all the post modern efforts we indulge in are good to a point, however I take the view that some things were meant never to be questioned, just believed in.

    We’d probably need the scientific equivalent of a ‘Vishwaroopa’ to fully comprehend everything out there.

  • Mahendrap,

    Rational thinking functions not at the level of evaluating the “rational logic” of concretes but at the level of integrating the concretes in harmony with principles.

    1) No future discovery or knowledge can contradict existing facts and presently known truths (I’m using the concept “truth” in the specifically Objectivist sense of the word, which precludes uncertainties.)

    2) Ignorance of the truth is never an excuse for permitting or accepting any wildly claimed hypothesis.

    3) All knowledge is fundamentally acquired by the sensory apparatus of living beings; for humans, we have specific sense organs with specific identities. Our brain is not one of them, it is an organ of cognition and awareness.

    4) The onus of proof for a positive assertion of a hypothesis rests on the one positing the claim. Until such claim is reasonably validated or demonstratably proven, the hypothesis cannot even be entertained as a possibility. For example, to grant the legitimacy of possibility to the claim that there is a green rhino next to me right now is abdicate all methods by which rational cognition is conducted.

    Given the above, all forms of telepathy, ESP, extra-whatever-whatevers must be rejected ex cathedra as violating fundamental laws of reality, the compelling persuasion of such illusions to the contrary notwithstanding. The essential claim underlying ESP and telepathy is that the brain somehow “communicates” with other brains or objects without intermediary sense organs; that our brains “sense” or “receive” specific messages. This notion would have to violate 1 and 2–not to mention, contradict the current scientific understanding of man’s neuro-biology. The organ of the brain is characterized by the phenomena of consciousness and cognition; the brain may process the data provided by the senses, but it in itself–brain qua brain–cannot *sense* anything.

    Further, regardless of how compelling these illusions may appear, know that ignorance is never grounds on which to permit any hypothesis as equally valid.

  • Soundar: //I have too much respect for the para and supernormal to rubbish them.

    Applying our still-developing critical faculties to matters beyond their reach is an exercise in futility.

    Critical reasoning, deconstruction and all the post modern efforts we indulge in are good to a point, however I take the view that some things were meant never to be questioned, just believed in.//

    I am not rubbishing anything in my post. However, I do not think that applying our faculties to anything is an exercise in futility. I am not comfortable taking a view that some things were never meant to be questioned. I think whatever progress mankind has made is precisely because we have applied our faculties to the full, and always tried to understand everything around us.

  • Ergo: I am with you from your point 2) onwards, and thanks for reminding me of 4).

    Regarding accepting any hypothesis as valid: Yes, you are right. I am not out to accept any wild hypothesis. My stand on this is that: “I do not have a scientific explanation for what I saw”. Period. It is another matter altogether that it does get me thinking.

    I request you to throw more light on 1). I’m sure you must have encountered this question before, but what is the difference between a scientific truth and an Objectivist truth? My question comes from the background that there are several scientific truths that are later proven false by subsequent scientific study. Are all such scientific truths ‘uncertain’ in the Objectivist sense?

    If so, how does one differentiate between uncertain truths and truths?

  • Maybe I am misunderstanding some of the basic terminology here …

    @ergo: Given the above, all forms of telepathy, ESP, extra-whatever-whatevers must be rejected ex cathedra as violating fundamental laws of reality,

    (First, I am not saying telapathy/ESP etc. are true etc. …)

    1. What fundamental laws of reality? And how are/were they established? When? How?
    2. If they are so fundamental, then we needn’t necessarily put all burden of proof on the person making the assertions. Do we? One should be able disprove them fairly easily too. But again this would be valid only if #1 above is established. If not, it is like “Hey. I am very sure of my idea of reality and its bounds. Your claim is outside it and hence it does not fit. If you still think it is real, prove why it fits within the bounds I have defined”. It is simply your word against his.

    IMO, the burden of proof is indeed on both sides – but I agree that it definitely is more on the side making the assertion. For the objectivist’s own sake, some of it ought to be on his side, if the term is meant to imply he is rational and objective. Otherwise it just seems he is jaded and opinionated.

  • Mahendrap,

    “Truth” is a concept that refers to the epistemic grasp of a metaphysical fact. It is only the contents of a conceptual mind that can either be labeled with the concepts true or not true. For example, a burnt croissant that appears to have the mathematical equation 2 + 2 = 4 has not revealed a true statement, because “truth” is an epistemological concept and as such can reside only within the minds of humans.

    Since a truth is the epistemic equivalent of a metaphysical fact, a truth is true so long as a fact is a fact.
    Facts are immutable.
    Therefore, the epistemic grasp of a fact has to be immutable.
    Facts are existents that have relations with other existents within specific contexts. Therefore, all facts exist in harmony and cannot contradict any other fact.
    Truths are epistemic existents that correspondingly relate to other properly integrated truths. Therefore, all known truths–corresponding to facts–exist in harmony and cannot contradict or negate any prior truth.
    As such, truths are immutable and preclude uncertainties within their established contextual relationships.

    Arunk

    1) The laws of reality were never established by anyone at any point in time; therefore, the question of when and how does not arise. Laws of reality were apprehended and conceptualized by humans.

    2) The burden of proof principle is a principle of logic: one can never prove a negative unless it is proved in relation to a positive. One can never prove “nothingness” except in relation to demarcating and defining an existent (or the totality of existence). When you tell me that a green rhino is sitting next to me now, the onus of proof should properly lie upon you because the method of proof is to state a premise and give reasons in support of it. The reasons cannot be arbitrary because any statement can be regarded as “proved” by arbitrary reasonng. Thus, reasons should follow logic, which is non-contradictory identification. But if logic is the means to objectivity, then reasons should be derived from reality.

    Were I to embark on the task of proving a negative, it would result in a chain of arbitrary statements ad infinitum: if I have to prove that a green rhino is not next to me, then I’d have to also prove that a fairy is not next to me, and neither a unicorn, nor a gremlim, and so on till infinity (or to the extent of your imaginations). This is a fallacy in logic.

  • Ergo: //Since a truth is the epistemic equivalent of a metaphysical fact, a truth is true so long as a fact is a fact. Facts are immutable. Therefore, the epistemic grasp of a fact has to be immutable.//

    I thought that the epistemic grasp of a fact is dynamic, depending upon man’s level of conceptual development at that point in time. When man learns something new that apparently contradicts his prior truths, but is still consistent with facts, he revises and refines his truths so that they are consistent with all other truths as well as facts.

    Let me take an example. In ancient times, man held that the earth is stationary and sun goes round it. From whatever metaphysical facts he was aware of at that time, his truth was consistent with the facts. Later, when he encountered and became aware of new facts, he revised his truth. Same goes for the earlier uniformity and later relativity of time.

    Isn’t truth mutable then?

    I fully agree with you that truths exist in harmony, cannot contradict other truths, should integrate with all other truths. The only issue or doubt I have is regarding the word ‘immutable’. Don’t scientific discoveries create a complete revision of our truths as in the examples I cited above?

  • Mahendrap,

    The grasp of a fact is surely dependent upon the whole context, which as you pointed out includes the level of one’s conceptual development. However, so long as a particular truth is properly contextualized, i.e., it fits in harmony with existing truths, is acquired through a scrupulous process of cognition, and corresponds to facts in reality, the truth is objective (that is, absolute in certainty).

    When a man learns something new that apparently contradicts his prior truth, then it is impossible for either the prior truth or the newly discovered one to be consistent with the facts; he has made an epistemic error at some point. A contradiction cannot be resolved or refined; either one of the contradictory permises have to be rejected.

    Let’s examine your example: in ancient times when man held that the earth is stationary and the sun goes around it, it appears that he derived these beliefs from the facts that he was aware of at that time. However, remember that facts are mind-independent; therefore, the beliefs of a stationary earth and a revolving sun were not derived from the facts available to man at the time but from his own *error* of perception, including his scarce body of knowledge. In other words, the fact even at the time of ancient man was always that the earth was round and it revolved around the sun–this was/is immutable. The failure was in the correspondence of the content of the mind with the fact of reality. When this correspondence is a failure, you cannot properly label the content of the mind “true”. Therefore, the “revision” to this belief that came about later with better understanding and more true knowledge was not a revision of the “truth” but a correction of a failed correspondence, i.e., the correction of a falsehood, which then established a valid correspondence between the content of the mind and the fact of reality.

    Note this important point: the concept “truth” does not apply to a proposition such as “the earth is round”. This is a positivistic notion of the truth (from the tradition of Logical Positivism). According to this logic, a burnt croissant that appear to have vague marking resembling 2+2=4 is making a true statement. But Objectivism rejects such a notion of the “truth.” The truth is not an attribute of a statement or a proposition but an attribute of the *relationship* between the content of a conceptual mind and a particular fact of reality. Thus, without such a mind and a particular aspect of reality there can be no correspondence or relationship, which means there can be no truth.

    In this sense, no new knowledge can contradict existing truths. And which is why I stated that I use “truth” in the strict Objectivist sense of the word; it is the only sense that makes perfect sense!

  • Ergo: //Note this important point: the concept “truth” does not apply to a proposition such as “the earth is round”…The truth is not an attribute of a statement or a proposition but an attribute of the *relationship* between the content of a conceptual mind and a particular fact of reality.//

    Thanks for the clarification. Thought it did not affect how I think about this ESP-show, it clarified my conceptual understanding of Objectivist epistemology to a greater extent.

    My overall stand on this post topic is: “I do not have a scientific explanation for what I saw. The claims made by Deepak Rao contradict all known truths. Either Mr. Rao’s theories can be right, or most of man’s knowledge about the brain and man is right. However, these two are irreconciliable and contradictory. If Mr. Rao wishes to disprove almost all knowledge of man’s brain, he can choose to do that by working with scientists and researchers, rather than entertaining corporate executives. I thank him for an entertaining evening.” 🙂

  • Yea, emerging out of our technical discussion on epistemology, I’ll add that I enjoy all kinds of magic and “paranormal” performances! Have you ever seen Criss Angel perform? Now, That man is the messiah!–And a totally HOT one at that! 😉

  • I love magic performances, but this was the first paranormal one I saw…and nope – I haven’t seen Criss Angel – I’m even surprised you watch such stuff! Man, I do need to brush up on my paranormal awareness! 😉

  • (sorry mahendra – if this is too tangential and “abuse” of your blog).

    thanks ergo. Maybe I misunderstand, but certain points do not add up for me.

    When a man learns something new that apparently contradicts his prior truth, then it is impossible for either the prior truth or the newly discovered one to be consistent with the facts; he has made an epistemic error at some point. A contradiction cannot be resolved or refined; either one of the contradictory permises have to be rejected…In this sense, no new knowledge can contradict existing truths. And which is why I stated that I use “truth” in the strict Objectivist sense of the word; it is the only sense that makes perfect sense!
    This makes sense per the definition of truth you clarified. I think understand the definition and its import. If I am not mistaken, the point is the “real” truth (the objectivist’s truth) about something is static and permanent – now, before and later, for eternity. Whether we know it then, now, or later is what that changes and it never affects what the real truth is. I am rephrasing here – but I hope I got it right?

    However take this: Suppose at some point of time an objectivist asserts confidently “X is the truth”. Then at a later point in time learns new knowledge contradicts this prior truth, then which truth was he referring to when he says “X is the truth”? The strict one or the loose one? So given this does the objectivist always know when he is asserting about (every) X that “I knows all there is to know about X and thus X is the truth”? You say “”properly contextualized, i.e., it fits in harmony with existing truths, is acquired through a scrupulous process of cognition, and corresponds to facts in reality”. Agreed – but if it changed, then was the objectivist lying even if he relied on “properly contextalized ….”? In any case, my point is has to very careful NOT to overstep our idea of how things work here and IMO humans almost always overstep.

    For exampe, before Einstein, do you think there was any doubt about the “truth” then that time is absolute minds of humans? Was it “properly contextualized, i.e., it fits in harmony with existing truths, is acquired through a scrupulous process of cognition, and corresponds to facts in reality”? I think it was – but it certainly turned to be not true. So even the most fundamental things which we think we knew all there is to know, can change and has changed (but albeit not frequently).

    So when you say: The claims made by Deepak Rao contradict all known truths. Either Mr. Rao’s theories can be right, or most of man’s knowledge about the brain and man is right. If Mr. Rao wishes to disprove almost all knowledge of man’s brain, he can choose to do that by working with scientists and researchers
    I ask – are we really that sure about the workings of brain to claim he is “disproving” something? Really? Atleast as sure as we were when we asserted time is absolute? If we are not, then I claim it is bogus to put all the onus on Mr. Rao and his kind. How are we going to learn new knowledge if we always start by assuming someone is wrong in such cases? Bu that only indicates we assume that our vision of current truth is the real/objectivist truth, and hence reluctant to consider the possibility that it perhaps could be otherwise – does it not?

    Note that I am not saying we have to revise known truths immediately – but atleast don’t some in the scientific (or even objectivist if you will) community owe themselves to do some due diligence? Again it is okay to be skeptical but it is not okay to be dismissive without doiing due diligence in matters we are not rock-solid sure about. Making a default presumption about every exception case as “like a fairly tale” – is neither rational nor objective. It is sort of like “you are guilty – now prove you are innocent”.

    Placing our faith in what the scientific community has established to be the truths is a very safe bet most of the time, sometimes a sure bet. But we should never forget that it is still a bet. Presuming them to be the real/objectivist truths in every case is a dangerous.

  • Arun: this is very much the topic of this post, certainly not tangential! I appreciate your taking the time to express your thoughts.

    //So when you say:// I’ll respond to this part, since you’re actually quoting me, not Ergo. I’ll also explain why I’ve this overall stand on this topic.

    //are we really that sure about the workings of brain to claim he is “disproving” something? Really?//
    First, I didn’t refer to ‘workings of brain’, but I indeed understand the scientific principle that the brain is not capable of transmitting thoughts via space or bend physical inanimate matter.

    Second, neither is he nor am I claiming that he is disproving something. Note I said “If Mr. Rao wishes to disprove”. My point is, Mr. Rao doesn’t wish to either prove or disprove anything. He doesn’t wish to integrate his knowledge with what we consider scientific knowledge and is quite happy doing this show and leaving the audience to their own conclusions.

    When Einstein proved that time was relative to your frame of reference, he did not fail to reconcile Newtonian physics with his theories and show how the Newtonian physics worked well only in a limited frame of reference. When the heliocentric theory was proposed, it was not proposed in such a fashion that would leave everything else unexplained. My point is, whenever new theories are proposed that justify due diligence, the theories do not propose something in isolation such that they also violate and contradict the then-known truths (using ‘truths’ in a scientific sense).

    Lastly, there have been and continue to be several folks in the skeptic and scientific community who are always willing to do due diligence, if these performers allow it. I am not able to do due diligence in this situation by simply attending a show as part of an audience.

    I was initially willing to consider these paranormal feats as a hypothetical possibility, but no longer do so, because of reasons elucidated nicely by Ergo first in #4) and then in #2) of his comments above.

  • mahendra – thanks. I got confused by the posts.

    I think perhaps you misunderstand my point about Einstein. Before he showed up, we were absolutely sure about the absolute nature of time. I would argue that this was (and for many, it still is 🙂 ) a very fundamental concept. If an objectivist said “Time is absolute” then – there is no reason to doubt that it is the truth in the objectivist sense. But it was not the truth. So even in cases we are rock-solid sure, there have been corrections – or falsehoods if you look at it from the objectivist’s defn of truth and falsehood.

    So while the approach “based on what we know today this doesnt make sense” is indeed a very practical one, one that is bound to be true almost all the time, it nevertheless is not always the correct one. But from a real-world point of view, this is indeed the best approach. No doubt – only thing I sometimes don’t agree is the broad and sweeping nature of dismissals. There is (slight to deep) skepticism, and there is dismissal as poppyock. I would think the latter requires proof (?).

    Regarding #2 of ergo’s post, I can only refer to my point about “safe bets” and “sure bets”. At some times atleast, we should don’t forget it is a bet 😉

    Actually my take on this whole thing is: I am a skeptic – perhaps intrigued by the possibility. Even if it turns out be just a trick, the fact that it was “disguised” so well that one couldnt tell is perhaps the thing that would really impress me. Its like It doesn’t matter how he did it – miracle or ruse. Wow! That is cool!

  • Arun:

    //Before he showed up, we were absolutely sure about the absolute nature of time.//
    I think I’ll paraphrase and redirect you to what Ergo has just posted:
    “Given that all knowledge is contextual, the notion of absolute certainty, too, can only be meaningful within a specific context. There can be no absolutes that has no relation with any other bit of knowledge.”

    You yourself are on one hand terming my approach as practical and from a real-world point of view. That is what matters to me. I will again redirect you to Ergo’s post for an insight into the difference between empiricism/skepticism and Objectivism, as I can’t explain it as well as he has done. I must say that you are free to continue to be a skeptic, as your well-thought out comments clearly indicate you are! Me – I’ll take a skeptic over a believer any time! 😉

  • :).

    But let me offer one thought. Suppose Objectivism was around prior to Einstein, would the proponents have considered the “then current” ideas of the nature of time to be off absolute certainity – as in (from ergo’s latest post) is that once absolute certainty is achieved within a specific context, no future information pertaining to and arising within that context can contradict the prior certain knowledge..

    Obviously looking at it now post-Einstein it doesnt look so. But what about thinking prior to Einstein when no one had a clue that Einstein would come around and rearrange all the cards? In this matter to me this is the bigger factor here w.r.t objectivism – what was the thinking about existing knowledge prior to new knowledge. I may be harsh here, but it almost seems like objectivism is realisable in every case only “after the fact”?

    I guess I am a skeptic of objectivism also :). I am obviously not well versed in it, but based on the taste I have it so far – I am sorry I am not entirely impressed. There are very sensible parts but I find too many premature, damning conclusions of things that dont fit the bill. Using the nomenclature of “objectivism” for all that – now that seems ironic ;). In short I find parts of objectivism and its views to be jaded and highly opinionated. But, I also think I am being jaded and opinionated since it is a premature conclusion on my part and I guess it doesn’t hold enough attraction and interest for me to find out at this point 😉

  • Arun:

    Notice that in my comment #25 above, I am not referring to Objectivism at all. Because you referred to it in your next comment, I referred you to Ergo’s post.

    //Obviously looking at it now post-Einstein it doesnt look so. But what about thinking prior to Einstein when no one had a clue that Einstein would come around and rearrange all the cards?//
    I will try to reiterate what I said in #25 differently: the certainty we had prior to Einstein, in the context of relatively slower moving frames of reference such as on Earth, was nowwhere contradicted by Einstein when he proposed the theory of relativity. Theory of relativity told us that light can bend, time is relative, and so on, when there are speeds comparable to light and gravity many times what we knew of. It did not say – I will show you light bending here on Earth or time being relative at routine speeds.

    Thus, Einstein did not contradict the prior knowledge we had with absolute certainty, if you also consider the context of that knowledge – the perceptual reality of ordinary life on Earth – we lived in. If you apply the theory of relativity to that context again – ordinary life of Earth – it does not contradict our earlier knowledge. Light doesn’t bend and time is uniform and constant.

    (Again, I’m trying to explain my understanding and perspective without using any Objectivist terminology. If you’re interested in knowing about Objectivism, I would say that blog posts and comments are not the way to go about it. That is aside from this post and discussion.)

    Lastly, principles and laws regarding the burden of proof have originated elsewhere – for e.g. the famous Bertrand Russell’s teapot.

  • I’ve haven’t very carefully read all the latest comments here, so I apologize if I’m mistating a position.

    If prior to Einstein, time was indeed considered an absolute beyond any contexts (although I don’t believe this was the case), then yes, it was a false belief and Einstein properly contradicted the false premise. If, however, time was considered an absolute in a specified context–for example, any living human being on this planet will always experience time as passing, then no, Einstein’s discoveries in relativity did nothing to contradict this prior knowledge.

    Incidentally, Objectivism points out that time is a measurement of motion; as such, time is a type of relationship that exists within a context. For example, if you take the relationship of the Earth to the sun in the context that one Earth revolution around the sun is a unit of time, then when you say that you are 50 years old, you are saying that you have existed on this Earth over a period of 50 Earth movements around the sun.

    It will help to clarify that “not contradicting prior knowledge” does not mean that the prior knowledge will not be refined or modified. The point to grasp is this: a contradiction can never be salvaged; either one of the premises MUST be discarded. But new knowledge in a given context will never contradict prior true knowledge in that given context, which does not however mean that the prior knowledge will be not be synthesized or qualified or narrowed to a greater extent.

  • Ergo: thanks again. You have lucidly and clearly explained what I struggled to explain in my earlier comments!

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  • I am the eternal skeptic, who neither believes nor disbelieves. I liked your open-minded approach to the presentation. If one remains curious without judgement, a lot can be learned.

    I also agree with you that we need to be wary of husksters who want to take us for a ride. It’s so common to be fooled,even among the wary.

    A very interesting, entertaining report.

  • Mariacristina: Thanks for reading and sharing your views.