I had a debate tonight with a friend of mine who is into magic. He was talking about a new book he'd gotten which was set up in a class format. Apparently it was originally presented as a college class, then a mail order course, and finally a book. And of course it became more sophisticated along it's evolutionary journey because it could "include information they couldn't include in a college setting or in the mail order course". (I'm paraphrasing my friend's words here) This all seems a bit dubious to me. I doubt any serious college might have included this as a part of their curriculum, but I've not looked into it. Anyway, one part of the course includes astral projection. The idea is to practice 'astrally projecting' to a place you know, like the living room of your home, until you are good at naming the general things about that room such as the general placement and color of things. Then to have someone rearrange the room, and try to accurately see how things have been rearranged. I proposed a test to leave the room as it were, and to change only one aspect of that room for which the test subject is already confident they can project to, and one to which they are also intimately familiar. I proposed that once he reached a stage after he had become confident with both the procedures suggested in the book, that we then without altering the usual configuration of the room, add a blanket thrown over the back of the couch. Assuming color was something he had proven to be able to ascertain in his astral projection of the room, the blanket would be a bright red, or green, or blue, or purple, or yellow, etc. Then with proper controls set up, you could have him project himself on multiple occasion to that room with which he is most intimately familiar and try to ascertain this one variable which is presumably easy to identify. If he manages to get this right significantly more often than chance would predict, it would be worth further investigation. Further more I suspect that if he were able to guess 100 times in a row with 100% accuracy, it would be considered legitimate evidence of astral projection. And that if such an experiment were to lead to proof of astral projection it would almost definitely win them a Nobel Prize as it would redefine how we look at reality. His response was largely that some things in magic may not be repeatable, and are not necessarily testable. How would you argue this point? And are there any books, websites, or other resources where I can learn more about these types of subjects so that I can be better informed for future discussions? Thanks.
His response was largely that some things in magic may not be repeatably, and are not necessarily testable.
This is his defense shield going up. He clearly knows this is most likely bullshit but he wants to continue to believe regardless of the evidence or lackthereof.
Once I left religion, I spent my early teen years dabbling in everything from lucid dreaming and astral projection to self-hypnosis and past life regression. I set up the exact sort of "tests" for myself as you suggested to your friend and accepted the conclusions that astral projection and past life regression are bullshit. Lucid dreaming and self-hypnosis however, are effin awesome.
Perhaps you need to ask your friend if he cares whether or not his beliefs are true, or if he simply enjoys believing in them. If he doesn't care if they're true, there's no point in discussing it with him.
I do think he wants to believe, and he has actually admitted as much, though in different words. I may ask him that. It's one question I don't think I've thought to ask. Though even if I cannot convince him it's all bullshit, I still enjoy discussing these things and trying to understand the thought processes behind them. Even though I don't feel like I'll ever quite understand.
His response was largely that some things in magic may not be repeatably, and are not necessarily testable. How would you argue this point?
My response would be to ask, then, how would you ever confirm that it works? I would ask him if someone countered to say "That phenomena you think is explained by X, that's actually little elves.", would he say "Well. It is true that you can't say test some things. Okay. Seems legit to me!"? And of course he wouldn't. He would demand evidence for the Little Elves Hypothesis. And until it was provided he'd consider the hypothesis to be nonsense. And if when he asked for evidence the LEH proponent said, "Well, some things just aren't testable..." he'd say "Sir. Have you been drinking?"
Sadly I have gone down this line of reasoning with him before. He does admit that his proposed explanation may not be exactly right, and that it could be something else. I don't think I've specifically said it was "little elves" though, lol. I've even gotten him to admit that it is possible that its all just psychological, but he still thinks it reasonable to assume it could be spirits, and this is where I don't understand the reasoning.
What exactly is your objective? To let him know why you don't buy into it? Or to convince your friend why believing in such a thing is irrational?
The first one is easy. You tell him that you cannot accept extraordinary claims without verification and what you proposed was a way of verifying a claim you find extraordinary.
The latter can be a little tricky. If your friend is a sceptic concerning such matters, you won't be in this situation and he wouldn't have made such claims of their untestability anyway. Often people want to believe such things exist and look for evidence that confirms them, rather than weigh all the evidence to verify if it is true. Instead of proposing an experiment which will verify for others whether such a phenomenon exists, encourage him to come out with a way of verifying for himself whether it exists. It might indeed turn out to be a variation of the scheme you proposed, but he will be more receptive to such an idea, because it looks like his own and it will show him that you are more concerned about his falling prey to charlatans and less about proving him wrong.
I suppose my objective is mainly to try and understand how people can but into these evidently unsupported supernatural explanations. Though I suppose I would like to be able to show him why these types of conclusions don't make sense. I have told him that I do not believe in the supernatural, and that in my mind anything which requires faith to believe is beyond belief as faith proves nothing. And I have tried asking if he would be open to testing the things he is practicing. Perhaps I will see if he would be willing to try testing some things himself.
Thank you all for your comments, and let me apologize that it's taken me so long to respond.