Sep 13 2011

Juicy Post-Hoc Reasoning

Last week I wrote a post about Billy Meier and his many decade claim for ongoing alien contact. To me it stands as one of the best examples of the human capacity for rationalization. Meier’s clumsy attempts to hoax cheesy flying saucers, photos of aliens, and other bits of evidence are pure gold for skeptical analysis. Demonstrating that his “evidence” is easily explained as hoaxes is fun for anyone interested in doing such investigation. For me the more interesting bit is the psychology of those who actually believe Meier’s claims.

Extreme cases like the Meier case provide very useful teaching moments. They are similar to a physician calling students into an examination room to witness an advanced stage of an illness – in the advanced state some signs and symptoms are likely to be more easily appreciated. They can then serve as a dramatic demonstration of the core features of the disease.

In response to my post last week, commenter Jamesm responded:

To respond to your first point stating that the beamship was probably attached to the tree, the “some reason” for this was as follows:If the Plejaren allowed Meier such close up photography of this craft without any possible means to reject it (such as a nearby trees or other objects) then it would make it UNDENIABLE in the mind of the common man and this would result in them directly and significantly interfering in the evolution of a developing pre-interstellar civilisation (that’s us). In fictitious Star Trek terms, that’s called violating the prime directive and is not permitted. The case is apparently the same with the real Plejaren Federation.

I had predicted that someone motivated to believe Meier could find some reason to explain why the UFO appears to be attached to a tree. James has now nicely accommodated my prediction with a perfect example.

The problem with James’ claim is not that it is incompatible with the evidence, but rather that it is an example of post-hoc reasoning (also referred to as special pleading). Humans are very good as seeing patterns, making connections, and coming up with explanations for phenomena. Almost anything can be explained in retrospect, and it only takes a couple of apparent connections to make such explanations seem compelling.

That is actually the fatal flaw of such post-hoc reasoning – it can be used to explain anything. Therefore, the fact that someone can invent a post-hoc justification is not predictive that the explanation is actually true.

In other words – we tend to be naively impressed with the fact that an explanation is available. We tend to assume that a phenomenon would not have an explanation, or alternative explanation, if that explanation were not true. We therefore find it satisfying, and therefore compelling, when such an explanation is available.

However, the human capacity for invention and pattern seeking is profound. We can find an explanation for anything – and so the availability of such an explanation should not be compelling at all. The ability of Star Trek fans to invent reasons to plug the gaping plot holes or technological anomalies that often crop up on the show is an example of human creativity in this direction – although this is done for fun.

James’ comment is a perfect example of when such reasoning is used seriously. What he is saying, in essence, is that the Billy Meier UFO phenomenon looks like a hoax because the aliens deliberately allow him only to have the sort of ambiguous evidence that is compatible with a hoax.

This rationalization is not unique to Meier. The UFO community has been using this one for a while – the aliens are revealing themselves in bits and pieces to prepare us psychologically for the time when they openly reveal themselves. They prevent anyone from obtaining smoking-gun proof – only glimpses and ambiguous evidence are allowed, so that plausible deniability can be maintained.

This way the evidence is there for those who are ready to see, but there is no unambiguous proof that would convince a skeptic.

This type of reasoning is insidious because the explanations that are invented post-hoc cannot be disproved with evidence. That is because they were invented after the evidence specifically to explain it, not based on any prior logic or plausibility. So of course it fits the evidence – that is the essence of post-hoc reasoning.

Post-hoc explanations fail for reasons other than the evidence. The first is that they are not validated by predictions. The ease with which we can retroactively explain evidence is exactly why science relies heavily on making predictions – which is a much more reliable test of the validity of a theory. For example, astrologers are very good at explaining why something happened based upon the astrological signs. They are completely unable, however, to use the same astrological signs to predict what is going to happen (better than informed guessing).

The second failure of post-hoc reasoning is Occam’s razor – the rule of thumb that when multiple theories are compatible with the evidence, the one that introduces the fewest new assumptions should be preferred. The reason for this is not that elegant solutions tend to be correct more often than complex one  – they may be,  but the world can also be a complex place. Rather – Occam’s razor is useful because complex explanations are often rigged with special pleading to invent specific explanations for specific pieces of the evidence.

It is that post-hoc rigging that we need to be very suspicious of.

Let’s bring this back to the Meier case. We can predict, based upon sound reasoning, that if Meier’s claims were true then over time compelling evidence would emerge to support his claims. If, however, Meier’s claims are false and he is perpetrating a hoax (or perhaps an elaborate hoax is being perpetrated on him) then we would expect all the evidence that Meier produces to be compatible with a hoax.

Over the years every bit of evidence that Meier has produced is compatible with a hoax (and a fairly childish one at that). He has been caught essentially red handed numerous times. Each time he invents a far-fetched special explanation for that one case. I recounted some of this in my previous post, and here they are with some more:

- The UFO base looks like a garbage can lid found in his house because of some crossed ESP signals
- Another UFO looks like a model dangling from a string because that’s just how their “beam ships” move
- The UFO is hugging a tree because the aliens want it to look like a hoax
- Men in black replaced the photos of the aliens with human look-a-likes, and Meier forgot that he was given this information years earlier and had to be reminded

Or (here is where Occam’s razor comes in) it’s all a hoax. Then we don’t have to introduce aliens, ESP, the Men in Black, time travel (Meier claims he was taken back in time but his picture of a Pteranodon was demonstrably taken from a book), and all the rest.

Such reasoning should always be a giant red flag – whenever someone argues that the circumstances have conspired to make it look as if a claim is false, when in fact the claim is true, they are likely special pleading. For example, the argument that God made life on earth to appear as if it evolved is special pleading. The argument that Bigfoot is psychic or can become invisible and that’s how he evades capture or unambiguous photos is special pleading. The notion that skeptics give off anti-ESP mojo is special pleading.

These are blatant examples, but they illustrate the basic principle. The trick is to be aware of the more subtle and reasonable-sounding examples of the same faulty reasoning that we use in our every day lives. We need to put a “special pleading filter” in place, to monitor our reasoning for convenient post-hoc explanations.

Our critical thinking skills would also benefit from metacognition that tells us not to be impressed with pattern recognition. When all the pieces seem to fit into place, we have to ask ourselves – could this all be a coincidence? Were the pieces chosen from a much larger set of facts, and were their significance chosen only after the correlation was detected? This can be very counterintuitive – we want to be impressed with the patterns we detect. But they are mostly illusions, albeit compelling ones.

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46 responses so far

46 Responses to “Juicy Post-Hoc Reasoning”

  1. nybgruson 13 Sep 2011 at 9:14 am

    I thought James was a Poe and so I ignored it. It was pretty funny though.

  2. Steven Novellaon 13 Sep 2011 at 9:58 am

    nybgrus – It’s possible – the fact that it’s difficult to tell is significant. And, as I wrote, this is essentially the same argument that has been put forward by Meier and other UFO enthusiasts before.

  3. locutusbrgon 13 Sep 2011 at 11:26 am

    I hate that post -hoc argument. Typical human egoism. Identified Flying Object believers have an implied premise that we are interesting, and the “Aliens” are interested in us. A species that can travel interstellar distance is so beyond our current knowledge or lifespan. I find it unlikely that they would give a damn about us even if they stumbled on us. What makes us so interesting? I know this is anthropomorphic argument as well. Still humans don’t hide the camera that we shove into the Leaf Cutter Ant’s nest. We don’t have an entomology prime directive. The mountains of special pleadings that result are frustrating. If you rescue a few rational thinkers from the orbit of these believers it is worth it.

  4. roadfoodon 13 Sep 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Not to hijack this discussion too much, but it’s long struck me that the Bible is a classic example of post-hoc reasoning. Pretty much everything in there is exactly what I would expect people a few thousand years ago to make up to explain what they observed. Why do we get embarrassed? Why do human females suffer pain during childbirth? Why are there different languages? etc.

  5. tmac57on 13 Sep 2011 at 12:47 pm

    The title of this article made me hungry. (At least,that’s what I told myself after I realized that I was craving lunch).

  6. TylerRon 13 Sep 2011 at 1:00 pm

    @tmac57: Juicy Pork-Hock w/Seasoning?

  7. cjablonskion 13 Sep 2011 at 1:18 pm

    I like the analogy of the physician and students in examining obviously ridiculous claims—there’s value in practicing critical thinking skills and applying them to all levels of pseudoscience.

    I don’t think my critical thinking skills are especially well developed, and it might do me some good to look at easier claims critically to help me in dealing with the harder claims.

  8. SARAon 13 Sep 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I went to read a bit about Post Hoc and I’m not sure that James’ conclusions are post hoc.
    Post hoc is (according to Wikipedia, so…)
    A occurred, then B occurred.
    Therefore, A caused B.

    But in this case A is entirely an assumption of the believer.
    He sees B occur (ufo in a tree) and he makes up a reason that has no evidence. (special pleading)

    Skeptic see B occur, we see circumstantial evidence (several “tree pics”, identifiable everyday items used to construct the UFO model, etc) and we assume A occurred.

    Both sides come in with basic hypothesis and then look for evidence to prove it. Skeptics assume there are no green men with laser ships, and believers assume that there are.
    Occam’s razor and a huge amount of evidence favors us in this instance.

    We like to assume that we don’t look at evidence with a preset hypothesis – because we are skeptics – but we are human and quite often we do. Not that we are wrong in this case – clearly this is a hoax. And I’m not sure that humans are capable of facing a situation that they have met before without assuming on some level that what they already learned is applicable.

    This comment got away from me – Mostly I wanted to say that post hoc seems to relate more to two actual events or facts, rather than a fact and a lot of imagination.

    If I’m wrong – please let me know.

  9. robmon 13 Sep 2011 at 3:05 pm

    SARA,

    Steve is referring to something more like post hoc analysis, not post hoc ergo proctor hoc. It’s an understandable mistake since both are called post hoc.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-hoc_analysis

    Essentially James looked at the evidence that debunked meier and concocted a story to explain the holes in Meier’s story, and would probably do so no matter what disconfirming evidence there was. Since the explanation is created after the fact it there is always an excuse.

  10. ccbowerson 13 Sep 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Sara:

    You are referring to a logical fallacy sometimes abbreviated to “post hoc” but really is “post hoc ergo propter hoc.” Steve is not referencing this logical fallacy.

    The Latin term “post hoc” simply means “after this” and is used whenever something is done after something else. So in this example the reasoning is being done after the event so of course it fits the situation, but that doesn’t make it correct.

  11. tmac57on 13 Sep 2011 at 4:35 pm

    TylerR- That’s just post-hoc, juicy pork-hock w/seasoning reasoning :)

  12. nybgruson 13 Sep 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Dr. Novella – it is quite telling indeed. I think the point of your post is still spot on – I just remember James’ post popping up and thinking “This guy has to be a Poe” and then deciding to just move on rather than engage.

  13. SARAon 13 Sep 2011 at 7:32 pm

    #robm and #cbowers
    Thanks for the clarifying!

  14. Plittleon 13 Sep 2011 at 10:34 pm

    I didn’t even take Jamesm’s post as a poe. I just thought he was trying to be a bit sarcastic. Curse you, Internet, for your ambiguity!

  15. Khym Chanuron 13 Sep 2011 at 10:38 pm

    The UFO community has been using this one for a while – the aliens are revealing themselves in bits and pieces to prepare us psychologically for the time when they openly reveal themselves.

    The problem with that is that these hypothetical aliens have long ago reached the point where more bits and pieces of evidence do nothing to further change humanity cultural/psychological readiness for first contact. They’d have to be slowly escalating to get further progress.

    Also, why would first contact need any sort of preparation? They could reveal themselves, say “Hi, we’re space aliens who mean you no harm. Now that you know we exist, we’ll go away for a decade or two to give you some time to calm down”. What damage is that going to do? There are a lot of religious conservatives, both in Christianity and Islam, who would think the aliens must be demons sent by Satan, but the aliens revealing themselves in bits and pieces isn’t going to do anything to make them change their minds.

  16. Plittleon 13 Sep 2011 at 10:39 pm

    OK, so I spoke out having only read the comment excerpt Steve quoted here. Having now gone back and read the full comment in context, I am not so sure of my opinion any more.

  17. elmer mccurdyon 13 Sep 2011 at 11:34 pm

    I just checked “Poe” in urban dictionary and didn’t see any indication of it being an acronym. Why the all caps?

  18. nybgruson 13 Sep 2011 at 11:42 pm

    elmer: all caps? I didn’t see all caps anywhere….

    I capitalized it because it is a person’s name – Nathan Poe in 2005 coined the notion, so it is named in his honor.

  19. ccbowerson 14 Sep 2011 at 12:05 am

    nybgrus:
    I followed that link and eventually found myself watching a Fred Phelps video. :-O

    Actually the reason why I followed the link is that sometimes Poe is used to describe a person doing a parody of an extremist/fundamentalist, and other times it is used to describe the extremist him/herself, and I wanted to see if there a correct convention that has been settled upon with regards to this.

  20. elmer mccurdyon 14 Sep 2011 at 12:09 am

    Huh, I thought I saw all caps. Weird. I must have been thinking of that Beatles song.

  21. nybgruson 14 Sep 2011 at 3:57 am

    hmmm, perhaps what happened is that I had written it in all caps in an alternate universe, where indeed it was an acronym for Post-hoc Oral Entgeigen since that is the commonly used form of post-hoc ergo propter hoc in that universe. This is due to the fact that in that universe, the Roman empire was cut short after Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and the Germanic tribes came in and wiped them out. Thus a fusion of Latin-German roots for common logical fallacies arose. Clearly, there was a small wormhole that opened up due to experiments with quantum computing opening up an EPR bridge and briefly merging the two alternate realities.

    Yes. I think that is most certainly it.

  22. Ted N.on 14 Sep 2011 at 6:36 am

    Jamesm is very serious, meant what he wrote and believes in this tale.
    His belief is actually so deep, that he dedicates his life to the compilation of the ‘works’ of Billy Meier.
    If you have some time to kill and are fond of eccentric fun (provided there is any pleasure in the delusion of others), you should then definitively zip by Jamesm’ s website:

    http://futureofmankind.co.uk/Billy_Meier/Gallery

    Warning: do not be too surprised by text like this one:
    “Semjase flying with her beamship around a wettertanne (weather pine) about 14 m. high (this tree was later eliminated by Semjase).”

    The point is, that investigators found no tree at the spot, where Meier ‘took’ some of his pictures, and the owner of the farm, where Meier and his aliens ran those photo sessions, had no memory of any tree standing there.
    So…

    Speaking of ‘plausible deniability’, some would be surprised to see how far Meier’s supporters go to make their case:

    http://www.tjresearch.info/denial.htm

  23. SteveAon 14 Sep 2011 at 9:17 am

    Khym Chanuron: “Hi, we’re space aliens who mean you no harm. Now that you know we exist, we’ll go away for a decade or two to give you some time to calm down”.

    I never really got the argument from UFO crowd that evidence of alien visitations was being kept secret because of the panic it would cause (not saying this is the line you’re taking Khym).

    What would I do if a flying saucer landed in a major city next week? Strip off, pull my underpants over my head and dash into the road to run around in circles?

    Well…perhaps.

    But I’d get tired of that within half-an-hour and spend the rest of the day glued to the TV, and do the same for a few days after that.

    A week later I’d still be really interested; two weeks later, not so much.

    A month later I’d be complaining if extended news coverage was interfering in re-runs of ‘The Big Bang Theory’.

    People get used to things pretty fast.

  24. banyanon 14 Sep 2011 at 9:37 am

    @SteveA: Yeah, the big evil conspiracy government has some strange notions of what will and will not cause a panic. Remember they’re the ones who did the 9/11 attacks, so apparently that’s fine. Aliens though, who knows what people would do?

    You’d think that the barium, aluminum salts, etc. being sprayed from airplanes to keep us docile would also prevent alien-panic. I don’t know, maybe those are just there to suppress our latent psychic abilities and the connection with nature that animals have that lets them know about tsunamis in advance.

    And just to be clear, this post is sarcastic. :P

  25. davidsmithon 14 Sep 2011 at 11:09 am

    “The notion that skeptics give off anti-ESP mojo is special pleading.”

    Actually, that’s a testable hypothesis that has some prospective empirical support.

  26. SteveAon 14 Sep 2011 at 11:48 am

    “http://futureofmankind.co.uk/Billy_Meier/Gallery”

    Set cameras to ‘fuzzy’.
    Check…

  27. ccbowerson 14 Sep 2011 at 12:35 pm

    “Actually, that’s a testable hypothesis that has some prospective empirical support.”

    Actually it is not testable because the person testing would be characterized as a skeptic, and a negative result would be spun into evidence that the anti ESP hypothesis is true. (Which raises the question of defining a skeptic for testing) Therefore, with such logic, positive or negative results can be used to support ESP

  28. ccbowerson 14 Sep 2011 at 12:38 pm

    … and the reason why it is special pleading is because only those who believe in ESP can detect it, and such a senario is ridiculously implausible. Only those who want to believe can see it…pretty convenient.

  29. davidsmithon 15 Sep 2011 at 4:15 am

    ccbowers,

    You seem to be arguing in terms of post-hoc reasoning. Granted, that was the topic of Steve’s original post but I do think this hypothesis is testable.

    For example, an experiment might involve giving out questionnaires on belief in ESP to either the participants or experimenters, or both, before the experiment begins. Then we could have two groups to compare – believers and sceptics. The hypothesis would predict that the believers’ ESP results would be in line with their belief (positive) and the sceptics’ results in line with theirs (null). If there is a difference between the results of these two groups, would you not have support for the hypothesis? As long as you define who your sceptics and believers are before you do the experiment, what’s the problem?

  30. tmac57on 15 Sep 2011 at 2:23 pm

    davidsmith-If the anti-ESP mojo theory could be proven correct,then a million dollar prize is theirs for the taking.I would not hold my breath on a positive outcome.

  31. ccbowerson 15 Sep 2011 at 2:37 pm

    “For example, an experiment might involve giving out questionnaires on belief in ESP to either the participants or experimenters, or both, before the experiment begins.”

    How can one begin an experiment (creating and handing out a questonnaire) before the experiment begins? I don’t think this resolves enough of the problem with the question (see below)

    “The hypothesis would predict that the believers’ ESP results would be in line with their belief (positive) and the sceptics’ results in line with theirs (null). ”

    The trouble is that this result is also compatible with the biases present in all experiments and/or fraud. In other words the result of your “experiment” is still best attributed to these two possibilities (primarily, normal biases in experiments) than some unknown force that causes ESP to go away with no known mechanism

  32. ccbowerson 15 Sep 2011 at 2:43 pm

    …more specifically, that study and result would demonstrate the effect of expermenter bias more than anything else

  33. davidsmithon 15 Sep 2011 at 3:26 pm

    “How can one begin an experiment (creating and handing out a questonnaire) before the experiment begins”

    Well ok, administer the questionnaire and identify the believers/sceptics before the ESP experiment begins. It doesn’t really matter as long as you make your predictions from the hypothesis before hand.

    “The trouble is that this result is also compatible with the biases present in all experiments and/or fraud. In other words the result of your “experiment” is still best attributed to these two possibilities (primarily, normal biases in experiments) than some unknown force that causes ESP to go away with no known mechanism.”

    In the case where we have two groups of experimenters, yes I agree. Here, a difference between the groups would indicate that *something* is making believer experimenters get positive results and sceptics null results. The design I suggested would not be able to distinguish whether that is down to normal psychological influences such as interacting with participants in a particular way, or whether it is down to a paranormal influence. But, from my experience, the usual claim that is made (apparently ‘post-hoc’) is simply that “these results came out null because the experimenter was a sceptic”, not “the results came out null because the experimenter was using their ESP powers to inhibit the effect”. However, attributing the positive results from the believer experimenter group to “bias” is, in effect, the same as claiming that the methodology of the experiment is not sound. In other words, no amount of positive psychological interaction between the experimenter and participants is going to directly produce positive results (in a sound methodology of course). You would need real ESP for that.

    In the case where we are testing ESP and measuring the belief of participants, I don’t see how you could attribute the difference between groups to bias. You would have to assume something is wrong with the experimental design. Let’s assume there isn’t. If both groups are doing the same thing, and all you are effectively manipulating is belief then the difference in ESP results must be down to participants’ belief. That would be much closer to a test of “anti-psi mojo”.

  34. nybgruson 15 Sep 2011 at 4:32 pm

    @davidsmith:

    I think the sticking point here is that ESP would first have to be established to be real (and James Randi would be out a cool million).

    So I would say that in a purely hypothetical situation, where ESP has been demonstrated then your experimental design could be used to determine if the ESP field collapses around skeptics.

    My guess is that ccbowers is going off the assumption that this experiment of yours would be used to simultaneously prove that ESP is real and disappears around skeptics. Is that right CC?

    In which case, it would end up failing, because you would get equivocal results until you do it enough that once, by chance alone, you could demonstrate a statistically significant difference between the two groups. This would then prove nothing except Type 1 error since we hadn’t yet established ESP to be a real thing.

  35. tmac57on 15 Sep 2011 at 4:53 pm

    One thing is probably true: For every study that found that ESP is definitely true,there were no skeptics in the vicinity.So draw your own conclusions from that.

  36. ccbowerson 15 Sep 2011 at 5:10 pm

    “My guess is that ccbowers is going off the assumption that this experiment of yours would be used to simultaneously prove that ESP is real and disappears around skeptics.”

    nybgrus – I was not thinking in those terms, but the way you state it is really another way to say the same thing. And Mr Smith is correct in that I was referring to senarios in which the experimenters are the variable: either the skeptics or not. In this senario/design, testing for the anti ESP effect is not possible because research bias alone would account for any effects before we started looking at effects that have not been established and have no known mechanism.

    If he wants to use a skeptic’s presence as a double blinded variable that is a different study altogether. My understanding is that the “anti ESP” effect has been used to explain why ESP is hard to detect or why posistive studies are not replicated by others. No matter how you slice it, with no mechanism it is special pleading

  37. davidsmithon 16 Sep 2011 at 6:59 am

    nybgrus,

    While I agree that the type of experiment I’m suggesting would need to be replicated numerous times, it still seems like a testable hypothesis. I don’t really get your reasoning behing having to prove ESP first, before doing this kind of experiment. You could quite easily state two hypotheses before you do the experiment. One would predict that only the believer group will get positive results, so you could treat that as an independent test of ESP, and the other hypothesis would predict a difference between your two groups.

    Also, if this kind of experiment consistently came up with a difference between the two groups, the absence of an effect in the “sceptic” group would not necessarily have to be interpreted in paranormal terms. For example, it could be down to psychological inhibition of response generation rather than “an ESP field that collapses around sceptics”.

  38. davidsmithon 16 Sep 2011 at 7:18 am

    ccbowers,

    “In this senario/design, testing for the anti ESP effect is not possible because research bias alone would account for any effects before we started looking at effects that have not been established and have no known mechanism. ”

    Well, that would depend on what your hypothesis is. If the hypothesis is simply “experimenters who identify themselves as sceptics tend to produce null results while believers produce positive results”, you could test that quite easily. In effect, the hypothesis is about experimenter bias, but we wouldn’t be able to tell with any great deal of specificity what kind of bias just from that design. Of course, we’re talking about a purely hypothetical design here with no details but, assuming the design is sound, we would obviously be able to rule out certain kinds of bias.

    “If he wants to use a skeptic’s presence as a double blinded variable that is a different study altogether. My understanding is that the “anti ESP” effect has been used to explain why ESP is hard to detect or why posistive studies are not replicated by others. No matter how you slice it, with no mechanism it is special pleading”

    Granted, the better way to test for “anti ESP” would be use the participant group design, but in either case, how could it be special pleading when we are conducting a prospective test? I understand your concern about this being an issue of special pleading when an “anti ESP” argument is used as a definitive post-hoc explanation for failed replications by sceptical investigators. But, as I think someone said earlier, science is in a better position when it can use unexpected data to generate testable hypotheses. If, at the moment, the hypothesis is simply “sceptical investigators tend to generate null results and believer experimenters tend to generate positive results” then that looks testable to me. It would certainly be interesting if true.

  39. jamesmon 16 Sep 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Hi again Steven,

    While I am in no doubt that you have studied the human mind in great detail, and I understand how my reasoning could be considered “special pleading” (but isn’t a very “special” phenomenon that appears to have occurred anyway), I don’t understand how such a well read person as yourself can be so certain that Meier is a hoaxer when there are so many variables at play here. Indulge me, please…

    Let’s assume Meier HAS been telling the truth all along and his spirit-form IS more than 60,000,000,000 years old; that his spirit-form was previously incarnated as half a dozen other prophets including Jmmanuel (Jesus) and Mohammed; and that some of the Plejaren’s ancestors who used to live on Earth WERE partly responsible for our current state of affairs; and that they DO have a prime directive but want to make amends for their ancestors misdeeds. Now everything else looks plausible doesn’t it?

    All this looks plausible:

    1) They contacted him because his spirit-form is the oldest on Earth (and he’s the only one who can withstand their vibrations etc).
    2) Many of his photos were stolen and manipulated, or replaced with forgeries, to discredit him by Earthly and un-Earthly forces who wish to prevent another human revolution and any change from the status-quo.
    3) The not-so-utterly-convincing material evidence was provided by the Plejaren because of the now valid reason of the non-interference “prime directive”.

    How can I determine truth here? Occam’s Razor cant help us here because there is so much that we as a human race still do not know about the universe. We therefore have to make many assumptions when dealing with this “ET” phenomenon (thus invalidating Occam’s Razor). I personally think the many forms of evidence on my website as a whole, provides logical proof that the Meier case is 99% probably true. For me it’s the 120 witnesses and their accounts that make the biggest difference to me, for others it might be high levels of Thulium found in some of the metal alloys and evidence of it having undergone some kind of cold fusion processing, but you might prefer something like this: http://www.futureofmankind.co.uk/Billy_Meier/Will_Humanity_Wake_Up%E2%80%A6In_Time%3F

    Thank you for the stimulating debate. It IS educational for me also and I hope I haven’t fallen into any known neuroscience traps again! (But please let me know if I have)

    James

  40. nybgruson 16 Sep 2011 at 7:43 pm

    @davidsmith:

    The way I see it, one would need to establish the existence of ESP prior to such an experiment for a number of reasons.

    I do see your point about having multiple replicates of a two-armed prospective trial that might elucidate some difference. If I am undertanding you correctly, the idea is the Cohort A would be the “ESP believer” group and Cohort B the “non-believer” or “skeptic” group. You would then do whatever tests for ESP and come up with a result. You then repeat this over and over again (once again we are assuming a hypotheical “best-case” scenario where all experimental controls and designs are in place optimally). So then, you would have 3 possible outcomes.

    1) There is no statistically significant difference between the two cohorts.
    2) Cohort B shows statistically significant “better” ESP outcomes.
    3) Cohort A shows statististically significant “better” ESP outcomes.

    For each of 2 & 3 the effect size can be anywhere from small to large (i.e. P-value is significant, but the ESP-ers got 52% right vs the 48% of the skeptic group, or ESP-ers got 90% right vs the 49% of the skeptics).

    So lets look at what each outcome would mean.

    1) The experiment is a wash, no ESP was demonstrated, no skeptic effect was demonstrated. In other words, exactly what we’d expect a priori.

    2 – [with a small effect size]) We would be forced to chalk it up to noise or Type 1 error, since it is inconsistent with our a priori hyptheses. Either that or we would have to conclude that the is some sort of enhancing effect on ESP from skeptics being around.

    2 – [with a large effect size]) We would be forced to say either our design was bad (most likely), that there is some other confounding factor which we haven’t been able to account for (2nd most likely), or that there is a strong ESP enchancing effect from skeptics being around (least likely).

    3 – [with small effect size]) We would conclude that it was due to noise (Type 1 error) since our Bayesian likelihood is quite low, a small effect size would simply not be sufficient evidence unless looked at from a strictly frequentist perspective (most likely), that our design was bad and/or there was a confounder for the same reason, or that we had sufficiently demonstrated both ESP and the skeptic negating field at the same time (least likely, but by definition possible to be the outcome by chance with no actual effect 5% of the time).

    3 – [with a large effect size]) This is essentially the exact same scenario as with a small effect size, except that we would have to make a serious Bayesian analysis. We are still subject to Type 1 error, noise in the signal, and bad study design. But the large effect size makes us question those and look to see if there isn’t something there. The problem is that now we have two Bayesian analyses to make – first that ESP exists and second that it is subjectable to “skeptic fields.” Lets, for argument’s sake, assume that the effect size was sufficient to satisfy a Bayesian analysis for one of those variables. It would not be for both unless the effect size is so large it would have been plainly obvious that ESP existed in the first place (i.e. the psychics got pretty much every single thing right now matter how intricate the prediction was and the skeptic group was right at pure chance levels).

    So basically, everything will either demonstrate what we expect with no ESP or skeptic fields, give us the standard equivocal Type 1 error scenarios that we would also reasonably expect, or it was have to be so plainly obvious ESP was real we wouldn’t be having the discussion about it in the first place. Otherwise, you are still left with only one reasonable conclusion – a confounder. Because your study design was looking at skeptic fields, not ESP, demonstrating what is a skeptic field means that you must have something to explain that effect. You either have to assume ESP or some other confounder. Since the Bayesian analysis of ESP has such low a priori probability, the only reasonable conclusion is a confounder. Thus, you must establish the existence of ESP before checking to see if “skeptic fields” can affect it.

    I wrote that mostly off the top of my head, so I am open to anyone critiquing it. And I also want to be clear that I am just discussing this academically to understand things myself, not to try and bash davidsmith. Nor do I think you actually believe ESP to be real… unless I am misreading you?

  41. nybgruson 16 Sep 2011 at 7:48 pm

    @James:

    Let’s assume Meier HAS been telling the truth all along and his spirit-form IS more than 60,000,000,000 years old;

    First off, the cognitive trap you have immediately fallen into is begging the question. You have assumed your conclusion before beginning, thus your analysis afterwards is just a post-hoc error.

    Furthermore, the universe is only roughly 13.6 billion years old, so his “spirit” cannot be 60 billion years old. Unless you wish to postulate some sort of spirit that can jump from universe to universe and is merely currently in ours – which would again be special pleading and post-hoc analysis.

    The rest of your points are merely re-hash of exactly that same error. The rest of the error stems from that fact that you have never been able to cite any other source of evidence outside of Meier himself. For things of such low a priori likelihood, converging lines of evidence from independently verified sources and different methodologies are needed. Otherwise you are telling “just-so” stories which are always very easy to do post-hoc.

  42. jamesmon 17 Sep 2011 at 2:57 am

    @nybgrus, we think the universe is 13.6 billion years old through our current understanding of it, however we could be wrong about that figure as we’ve been wrong about it before on many occasions in our history. That figure has been revised over and over again. There could a renewal process of energy, for instance, that last occurred 13.6 billion years ago approximately that led us to the latest figure. Is this post-hoc reasoning again or something else? As I said, we know very little about this universe and that’s just this universe, there could be many (as you yourself implied). Hence the many unknown variables. Therefore, if one dismisses Meier’s claims then aren’t they being arrogant, ignorant or even bigoted? At best one can only justifiably say that Meier is 50% probably false if you want to avoid being arrogant, ignorant or bigoted. I’m not trying to insult you or anyone. I’m just stating my true thoughts (rationalised and corrected thoughts).

    Would there have been so many inventions and improvements to our quality of life if we never had day dreams, contemplations, imaginations or explored the unknown? I don’t think we would have. Progress and evolution in consciousness is a direct result of all these things. “I have a dream” – to quote Martin Luther King for example.

    So being a progressive thinker and a dreamer will help us evolve, rather than cause stagnation. We as a human race could be so much wiser, our lives could be so much more satisfying, and not just for the minority, for everyone on planet Earth, if only we would be dreamers or just plain open-minded.

    Putting the validity of the material evidence aside for now (metal alloys, beamship sounds etc) I’d really like to hear your opinion, and Steven’s and anyone else’s who would care to write something, about the 120 witnesses, please. What significance do they bring to the “pro-Meier camp” or “anti-Meier camp” even? Or how can their witness-evidence be rationally dismissed? Here is some information about them: http://www.futureofmankind.co.uk/Billy_Meier/The_Witnesses

    Thanks.

  43. nybgruson 17 Sep 2011 at 4:32 am

    @james:

    Or how can their witness-evidence be rationally dismissed?

    To put it simply, I see your 120 eye witnesses, and raise you a few million more. In fact, Sathya Sai Baba has performed “miracles” which literally millions will swear eyewitness testimony to and is considered divine and holy by easily tens of millions of people.

    So forgive me if 120 eyewitness accounts don’t impress me terribly much.

    The rest is more special pleading and post-hoc rationalization.

    Would there have been so many inventions and improvements to our quality of life if we never had day dreams, contemplations, imaginations or explored the unknown?

    You forgot to finish the sentence – would there have been so many…. if the bad and wrong ideas hadn’t been rejected? The answer is no, my friend. So remember, just as important as dreaming up the next new idea is getting rid of the old bad one.

  44. Ted N.on 17 Sep 2011 at 6:10 am

    @jamesm, there is only dream (and probably belief) in your approach of this matter; rational and logical grounds are missing: you can’t account for and have no evidence of none of your claims.
    You just find at the end what you arbitrary put at the beginning.

    You made far-fetched assumptions built on premices defying logic and reason and magically extrapolated to yet another far-fetched conclusion, the validity of which could only be supported by the blind acceptation of your assumptions, with which incidentally all began – a kind of metaphysical sophism.

    1) Is there any evidence of the existence the ‘spirit-form’ – let alone the reincarnation of the same?
    2) Is there any evidence of the theft – let alone the ‘un-Earthly forces’?
    3) Is there any evidence of the existence of the ‘Plejaren’ – let alone the ‘non-interference “prime directive”‘?

    You would notice, that religions use the same approach to ‘demonstrate’ the existence of god: they assert his qualities (Attributes) and argue, that the same qualities ‘prove’ his existence.

    As for the witnesses, allow me to remind you, that there are more recorded witnesses of the miracles of Jesus, the apparition of the ‘Holy Mother’, ‘Fatima’; the sightings of Big Foot, … aliens and UFO’s!
    Besides, science is not a competition of witnesses.

  45. mahigitamon 17 Sep 2011 at 10:23 am

    Hi,

    Testimonies of witnesses to an event does not ‘prove’ an event has happened exactly the way it has happened. It could well be the witnesses are completely right about the event or could be completely wrong on some or on the entire incident. Witness testimony is permissible in the court of law only when it fits into totality of the circumstances, reliability of witnesses & many other factors.

    “In fact, Sathya Sai Baba has performed “miracles” which literally millions will swear eyewitness testimony to and is considered divine and holy by easily tens of millions of people.”

    Though the events witnessed by the people at some times in the Billy Meier case might be counted as non-terrestrial or miraculous in nature, the kind of witnesses, differ variedly with those of witnesses of religious events(Sathya Sai Baba miracles, fatima, ……). In religious events , the witnesses are generally believers of the phenomenon, hence they are biased & several other contributing factors that shape our judgements on the phenomenon.

    Even though in Billy Meier case, there are skeptics, investigators who witnessed ‘unexplained’ events, photoghraphed beamships at night and during daylight(in one instance 5 photographers were present, photographed the same aerial phenomenon with 5 cameras), reliable witnesses, …. Inspite of these all, from strict scientific perspective, these could be termed as “Interesting & need further physical evidence to test, until then the judgement is suspended”. The witnesses could all be right, but the scientific procedure does not allow it. Here science cant be much of a help.

    That being said, we can now move onto the ‘physical evidence’ that can be tested and reach conclusions.

  46. Ted N.on 17 Sep 2011 at 10:59 am

    @mahigitam: “That being said, we can now move onto the ‘physical evidence’ that can be tested and reach conclusions.”

    Well, let Billy Meier bring it on!

    It would not be difficult to have a panel of scientists examine that physical evidence and then submit their findings to peer-review.

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