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Metaphysics & Psychology

James Randi: debunking the king of the debunkers

By Will Storr

James Randi, star sceptic and subject of the documentary An Honest Liar, is dedicated to exposing magicians and spoonbenders. Is he guilty of a little sleight of hand himself?

There are few public figures who’ve had decades of an almost perfectly positive press, as James Randi has. The 87-year-old debunker of the paranormal was Richard Dawkins before God invented Richard Dawkins – angry, verbally aggressive, a hero to the kinds of people who don’t believe in Big Foot and are rational enough to become sleepless with fury at the brainlessness of the idiots who do.

Author and thinker Isaac Asimov once claimed Randi’s “qualifications as a rational human being are unparalleled”, whilst the New York Times has called him our “most celebrated living debunker”. More recently he’s been the star of an award winning documentary film telling his incredible story.

Originally a magician and escapologist known as The Amazing Randi he graduated, as a young man, to the more serious business of exposing con-men and the self-deluded who claim supernatural powers. His long life and career has been devoted to the pursuit of truth above all else. The film An Honest Liar dramatically recounts his brilliant exposés of celebrity spoon-benders and faith healers. Along the way we’re told Randi is on a “crusade to try to change the world” and that he is “in love with the truth.”

The man himself explains “magicians are the most honest people in the world. They tell you they’re going to fool you and they do it.” But there’s another side to the legend that will be rather less apparent to the average viewer. James Randi, the honest liar, has been caught being anything but.

This became apparent to me over the course of a few months as I researched his life for a book about irrational beliefs. Having spent time with creationists, homeopaths and people who swore that wig wearing aliens could be found playing the roulette wheel in Las Vegas casinos, I began to notice there also were plenty of people in the sceptical-atheist movement who seemed to suffer from the same biases and accidents of reasoning as the eccentrics.

I decided to take the story of the movement’s pioneer as a kind of case study. Could it be true that the icon of the truth-fetishising sceptic movement was, himself, a liar?

Randi has certainly been a controversial figurehead. I’d heard rumours he’d once declared himself doubtful of the science behind climate change, which seemed to me a sceptical step too far. And then there were his startlingly intolerant comments about drug users. Writing on his blog, Randi announced himself to be pro-legalisation, because “the principle of Survival of the Fittest would draconically prove itself.” Those who decided to use them, he wrote, “would simply do so and die” and “any weeping and wailing over the Poor Little Kids who would perish” were “crocodile tears, in my opinion.”

But the first thing I discovered about The Amazing Randi is that he certainly has been amazing. Born in Toronto in 1928, Randall James Hamilton Zwinge’s life changed aged 12 when he saw a magician named Harry Blackstone Snr. He was electrified. But it was Harry Houdini that really lit his competitive fire.

As an escapologist Randi escaped from a straight-jacket dangling over Niagara Falls, phoned his mother from inside a coffin in Halifax harbour and, in 1974, won a Guinness World Record for lying naked in a slab of ice for 43 minutes and eight seconds. As his celebrity grew, he toured with Alice Cooper and made a guest appearance with The Fonz on Happy Days.

Randi’s guest appearance on Happy Days (screen shot taken from An Honest Liar)

But his true fame came, not as the talented magician he undoubtedly was, but as a debunker. His involvement with Uri Geller’s 1973 appearance on The Tonite Show Starring Johnny Carson was typical in its brutal effectiveness. Geller was perhaps the most famous magician in the world, at that time, known for bending spoons and fixing watches with the powers of his mind which he repeatedly insisted were real. Randi was invited to advise programme’s staff in advance of Geller’s stunt, which involved moving his hand over an array of seven metal canisters and sensing which one contained water.

Randi told the team they should supply their own props and guard them absolutely from Geller and his people. Gellar began his trick as Carson leaned over his desk, fascinated. Nothing happened. “I’m having a hard time with you,” said Geller. He continued trying. A dark look fell across his face. “Let me rest a minute.” He leaned his chin in his hands and glowered at the canisters. They cut to an ad break. When they returned, in front of millions of viewers, Geller had given up.

As I read deeper into Randi’s vast cuttings file I began to discover one or two oddnesses. Take, for example, his early life. Randi claims to have been born with an IQ of 168 which would comfortably make him a genius, the generally accepted lower limit being 125. He reckons he was so intelligent that, as a young boy, he was given a special pass by the authorities that said he wasn’t required to attend school. Instead, he educated himself in the Toronto Public Library and the Royal Ontario Museum.

Over the course of many interviews, Randi told journalists that, by the age of 12, he’d taught himself geography, history, astronomy, calculus, psychology, science, mathematics and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

I also uncovered a history of complaints of dishonesty by people that Randi, as head of the James Randi Educational Foundation [JREF], had battled with over the years. They included homeopaths, psychic investigators, university professors and an audiophile who was convinced he could tell the difference between some speaker cables that cost $16,000 and a standard set.

Some accused him of making up quotes by them in his best-selling books, some of aggressively mischaracterising them, others of straightforward lying.

One better known complainant was Dr Rupert Sheldrake, the Cambridge biologist whose controversial idea of morphic resonance allows for the theoretical existence of ESP. To test his notion, Sheldrake ran a number of studies on a dog that seemed to know when its owner was coming home.

Following a burst of publicity for Sheldrake, Randi told a journalist, “We at JREF have tested these claims. They fail.” But when I met Sheldrake, at his Hampstead home, he made a serious charge. “Randi’s a liar and a cheat,” he said. “When I asked him for the data, he had to admit he hadn’t done any tests.”

The Amazing Randi performing ‘magic’ in 1974 (The LIFE Images Collection/Getty)

According to Sheldrake, his direct requests for data were twice ignored. After appealing to others at the JREF, Randi eventually wrote back, explaining that he couldn’t supply the data because it got washed away in a flood and that the dogs he tested are now in Mexico and their owner was “tragically killed last year in a dreadful accident.”

Unusually for Randi, he was polite. “I over-stated my case for doubting the reality of dog ESP based on the small amount of data I obtained,” he wrote. “It was rash and improper of me to do so. I apologise sincerely.”

But, publicly, Randi then attacked Sheldrake. Of his own failure to provide the data he wrote, “A search of our site would have supplied [Sheldrake] with all the details he could possibly wish. Alternately, I could have supplied them, if only he had issued a request. That’s what we do at the JREF.”

In 2011, I travelled to Las Vegas to Randi’s annual fan convention, The Amaz!ng Meeting, to ask him about several of these claims of dishonesty. He countered most either with denials or appeals to the fact that the events happened a long time ago. When it came to Sheldrake he said, “What specific experiments are you referring to?”

“The ones you told Dog World magazine you’d done,” I said. “In New York. The owner was killed, the dogs are in Mexico and you lost the files in a flood.”

“That was one of the hurricane floods,” he nodded

So what prompted these tests?

“I must admit to you that I don’t recall having said that these tests were even done. But I’m willing to see the evidence for it.”

I handed him the emails Sheldrake provided.

“Oh,” he said.

Pressed about his treatment of Sheldrake, he insisted he didn’t lie because when he made the offer to send the data it hadn’t yet been destroyed by Hurricane Wilma. It was only after our meeting I realised Wilma took place four years before he stated that the data was available. But before we parted, I told him my research painted a picture of a clever man who is often right, but who has a certain element to his personality which leads him to overstate.

“Oh I agree,” he said.

“And sometimes lie. Get carried away.”

“Oh I agree. No question of that. I don’t know whether the lies are conscious lies all the time,” he said. “But there can be untruths.”

It was a brave and surprising moment. Even more surprising, though, was what Randi had to say when challenged about his wish to see survival of the fittest being allowed ‘draconically prove itself’ on drug users. It sounded a lot like Social Darwinism. “The survival of the fittest, yes,” he said. “The strong survive… I think people with mental aberrations who have family histories of inherited diseases and such, that something should be done seriously to educate them to prevent them from procreating. I think they should be gathered together in a suitable place and have it demonstrated for them what their procreation would mean for the human race. It would be very harmful.”

More recently I’ve begun to wonder about his educational foundation, the JREF, which claims tax exempt status in the US and is partly dependant on public donations. I wondered what actual educative work the organisation – which between 2011 and 2013 had an average revenue of $1.2 million per year – did. Financial documents reveal just $5,100, on average, being spent on grants.

There are some e-books, videos and lesson plans on subjects such as fairies on their website. They organise an annual fan convention. James Randi, over that period, has been paid an average annual salary of $195,000. My requests for details of the educational foundation’s educational activities, over the last 12 months, were dodged and then ignored.

Nothing of this or of Randi’s extreme views is evident in the movie, An Honest Liar. Whilst his dishonest lying is hinted at, the film also colludes in some of his sleights of hand. One such episode is his “Carlos Hoax”. In 1988, in an effort to expose the gullible the media, Randi persuaded his now-partner Deyvi Pena to pretend he was a medium who could channel a 2,000 year old spirit before promoting him to journalists in Australia. For decades, Randi has claimed the stunt a success, saying it “proved that the media can be willingly seduced so long as they’re convinced that surrender to bunk will increase ratings.”

The documentary, too, presents the hoax as a win for Randi. And yet contemporary accounts have it that, on the contrary, journalists were actually widely sceptical of Carlos. A reporter for The Skeptic said, “None of the media coverage was credulous; all disbelieved that [Pena] was genuine.”

Writing in The Daily Grail, Greg Taylor recounts how when a researcher rang Randi for his opinion on Carlos, he wriggled out of answering. “So when a media channel actually checked with the world’s most prominent skeptic on this topic, he basically scammed them himself – and yet went on to bemoan how the Australian media didn’t include skeptics’ opinions on the matter.”

The film’s director, Justin Weinstein, says he’s aware of this very different perspective on the Carlos Hoax. But, he says, his documentary is not strictly a work of journalism. Rather, like Randi, he’s a storyteller. “Sometimes there are greater truths you can reach when you don’t adhere to the facts.”

When I tell Weinstein that my own research lead me to believe Randi was someone who couldn’t be justly described as “an honest liar” he says, “There’s no doubt he’s made misstatements. Sometimes in order to get to a truth you bend the truth. And in Randi’s case sometimes he bends it too far. The irony is he’s leading a sceptical movement that’s calling it out when other people are lying.”

But for Weinstein, and for Randi’s many thousands of his disciples, the ends justify the means. “Regardless of the facts that may have been bent in the course of Randi’s life,” he says, “the achievements he’s made in terms of changing peoples lives for the better is undeniable.”

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Man is able to induce controlled hallucinations without psychotropic substances

The human brain is so cunningly designed that accidental damage or malfunctions in the neural network can generate large-scale effects that do not harm a person, but, on the contrary, deliver a lot of new sensations. 

We are talking about hallucinations, influences on the sensory system, which stem from the inside of the brain itself. Modern technologies make it possible to purposefully launch such reactions without harm to humans.

The technique of guided hallucinations is based on the Ganzfeld effect, which states that when the brain receives a powerful stimulating signal in only one area, it automatically begins to “think out” signals in other areas. 

For example, if you peer into the darkness and listen to white noise, the brain draws an imaginary picture, although the eyes do not receive a single photon of light. And if you run noise on the screen in absolute silence, the brain will complement them with sound hallucinations.

Hallucinations

One interesting experiment with guided hallucinations was conducted by TV host and inventor Derek Müller, who locked himself in an anechoic and completely darkened chamber for 45 minutes to conduct a sensory deprivation experiment. 

His brain, which at once lost 90% of the signals from the outside world, remained fully functional, and Derek did not go crazy. Moreover, in the absence of external stimuli, he began to feel the subtlest vibrations of his heart and the flow of blood through the veins. 

It was not a hallucination, it was just that the brain switched to processing the signals that remained at its disposal, amplifying them and presenting them in the form of sensations understandable to the mind.

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Angels showed the End of the World to a child from Indonesia?

In early October, on many eschatological and conspiracy sites (The End Times Forecaster , 444prophecynews.com), a video was posted by a girl named Jacqueline, who lives in South Africa. The video tells that on September 16, in some altered state of consciousness, similar to a lucid dream, Jacqueline was given a warning: on October 10, 2020, there will be some kind of nightmarish geological catastrophe – either a volcanic eruption, or an earthquake. 

Jacqueline does not specify where the catastrophe will occur, but immediately after the volcanic eruption, she saw President Trump in Washington and the destruction of the Washington Monument with fiery stones falling from the sky. The full text of Jacqueline’s video was posted on the forum and can be viewed at the link, but her revelation itself is not very informative. It is only clear that on October 10 something may bang, and very strongly. Another thing is much more interesting. 

Since Jacqueline was shown truly creepy things, she, like anyone in her place, doubted that all this was true. However, she noticed that in her dream, before the horror broadcast began, she was shown a calendar on which she read the KIMIKO inscription.

“Kimiko” is a popular Japanese female name that literally means “wonderful unusual child”, so Jacqueline decided: if she got it right, then she needed to look for a girl from somewhere in Japan who would kind of hint at her deciphering what was shown in her dream. 

Kimiko was never found, but another girl named Catherine was found. She lives in Indonesia, is in 4th grade and is 9 years old. Jacqueline had her dream on September 16, and on September 18 some angels took this Catherine to heaven in a dream and showed her what would be on Earth in the very near future. 

According to Catherine, everything will begin on October 10, 2020, when some kind of catastrophe occurs – a catastrophe, most likely of a geological nature. Buildings will collapse and coastal cities will suffer from terrible tsunamis. At the same time, a terrible rain will pour, which in some regions will flood buildings up to the fourth floor. Thunder will thunder in the sky, which is 10 or even 20 times stronger than ordinary thunder, and after the thunder, hail will fall the size of a car windshield. But besides the hail, all the planes located there fall from the sky. 

However, the End of the World will not happen as life goes on and Trump wins the US election. After that, Israel will begin to restore the Temple, but they will not have time, since a war will start around. At this moment, the Earth will face unprecedented catastrophes.

A huge new planet will appear in the sky and the atmosphere will take on a reddish tint. It will get hotter. H achnut erupting volcanoes, and terrifying winds will become commonplace. And further, in the region of the Bermuda Triangle, a hole is formed in the lithosphere, and armada of some strange flying machines will appear from there. On TV they will say that these are good aliens. 

In parallel , a total vaccination will take place on Earth, after which people who have received the vaccine will be endowed with some unthinkable ability to communicate with their gadgets – phones will show them everything at the click of a finger and connect to subscribers with the power of thought. But happiness will not last long, because then the skin of the vaccinated will begin to turn green and many will be covered with ulcers. Further, these people mutate into a kind of zombie who will engage in cannibalism and those who have not taken the vaccine will become their preferred food. And for those who will not be eaten by mutants, aliens will chase in their flying cars, kidnap, throw bombs at them and burn them with rays. 

Finally, to top it all off, mutations will affect flora and fauna. So, insects will become gigantic, and algae will begin to crawl ashore and whoever gets into their nets will be devoured. Mutations will affect birds, jellyfish, and the rest of the fauna. Dinosaurs and real fire-breathing dragons will appear, which will fly everywhere and pour fire on everything. 

In general, the girl tells something that is impossible to believe – no reality can stand that. However, the probability that reality is real, according to estimates of the theory of probability, is no more than 50%. That is, we live in the Matrix with a probability of 1/2, although nothing can be proved / disproved somehow. But if we take into account various strange quantum effects and other miracles, then the probability of the Matrix is ​​already seventy percent and 30% remain for a flat / round Earth, for the rest of “natural science”. Therefore, maybe we are now on the eve of the reboot of the Matrix, during which we will begin to load characters from other entertaining games. 

It is possible, of course, that all these stories were invented by her mother, but similar stories are told by other children, and even adults, who were thrown either somewhere into the astral plane, or into the next world, or generally into the deepest warp. Different, unrelated people cannot tell the same tale. Therefore, most likely this is not a fairy tale and there is something in all this. But what – here we do not know, so we just have to wait and see. 

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Clinical death helped the inveterate egoist to change his attitude towards life. He is grateful for this experience

William F. did not live the most righteous life. His selfish, authoritarian behavior caused a lot of suffering to the people around him, especially his wife. And it is not known how his marriage would have ended if one day William had not had an accident.

On that fateful day, November 6, 2019, a man was riding a motorcycle and crashed into a truck as it changed lanes. William tried unsuccessfully to get out from under the heavy truck, as his helmet got stuck under the front axle of the car.

A policeman was the first to come to help, then an ambulance arrived. The motorcyclist was evacuated by helicopter to the hospital. The man in the helicopter told William not to sleep, but he collapsed into unconsciousness.

What William saw in oblivion made a strong impression on him and changed his future life.

xusenru / pixabay.com / Pixabay License

William’s near-death experiences

The next thing I remember happened on a large field. There was a fence about 100 meters away from me. There was a black hole in the fence on the other side of the gate.

I was drawn to the gate. The closer I got, the more love and warmth I felt, the more selfishness and bad feelings went away.

When the gate was about five steps away, and I was about to open it, someone’s hand stopped me, grabbing my forearm. Looking at this man, I noticed a few more.

– You need to stop. I watched you for a long time, son, you made a lot of mistakes. Do you know where you are? The man asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said, looking around.
“You are dead,” he said.

I panicked.

“You’re scared,” he remarked.
– No.
“Then [during your life] you were always afraid of it for no reason,” he said softly. I nodded in agreement, and our dialogue continued.
– Do you feel that everything is under your control?
“I don’t know… no.
– You have never controlled anything in your life. It’s an illusion …
– Yes, you’re right, – I nodded again.
– You are given a choice that many do not have. God gives you a choice: come back and correct your mistakes, or you can go through the gate. If you enter this gate, all the regrets of life will torment your soul until you are given another chance. It will feel like eternity.

I still have regrets about my past life, ”he added after a pause. – If you come back and do not start working on yourself to become better, if you do not find happiness in the righteous way, you will always remember and crave the feeling that you are experiencing in this place now, but you will not get here again.
When you return, recover, heart and mind will be restored. You are given something great … But you understand that God already knows your choice.

Then he looked at me and asked:

– What are you going to do?
“I’ll be back,” I replied.

At that moment, the feelings that gripped me were gone, and I let go of the gate.

“See you again very soon,” he said at last.

Then I woke up and saw my mother. I told her that I was back for good and that I would not go anywhere. She had a tired face.

“You’ve been in a lot of pain,” she said.

I said that everything would be all right with me, and told that I saw Him. She clarified who exactly. I replied that I did not know for sure, but they gave me a second chance. Mom laughed and said that probably my grandfather kicked me in the ass to bring me back here.

William’s life has changed

William underwent several operations, but the doctors said that physically he would not be the same. Among other things, the man had to learn to walk again.

About a month after the accident, thoughts of the pain inflicted on his loved ones and loved ones flooded into William, so he focused on correcting the mistakes of the past and changing his future.

Five months later, William was walking without limping. Now she runs for several kilometers, and the only evidence of an accident is scars.

The biggest proof of the reality of what he saw during clinical death is a complete change in himself, says William.

haomao57 / pixabay.com / Pixabay License

“I saw mistakes, especially in my relationship with my wife, and I understand things that I didn’t understand before. It is strange to think that someone was watching my life from a distance and knew about my actions. If I had not changed, I would have yearned for death. “

“I used to have sociopathic tendencies and no empathy. I have never felt guilt or remorse. Now I am selfless and empathetic, I feel the emotions of others, and it is overwhelming. I know how people feel just by looking at them. This is a kind of intuition.

Remorse and guilt help me re-evaluate the past. I also notice that when I do something instinctively, in the old way, I realize it and I can stop. “

“People believe when I share my experience because they see a big change in me.”

Source: NDERF

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