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Aug 29, 2011

eight and a half years ago

I agree with most of what you say here, Justin, but we do have to be very careful about watching fakery. Yes, we indulge in fantasy and misdirection all the time, but unfortunately there are people who make very real and important decisions based off of some of this stuff.

There is an episode of the Penn & Teller: Bullshit! program where they show the mother of a very sick little girl going to one of these people. The 'psychic' assures her the daughter will be ok. Is that acceptable? Will the mother base decisions off of that assurance? Perhaps decide against some sort of treatment because she believes the child will be ok? Admittedly, it's a different scenario than a medium talking to the dead, but it could just as easily have been a medium relaying the same message from a dead relative.

A very gray moral area.

eight and a half years ago

Maybe this is my agnostic bias, but I personally think that anyone who doesn't have any doubts is a fool or intellectually lazy. I'm guilty myself -- I don't have any doubt that the government wants more power or that the sun is going to come up tomorrow. But neither is worthy of perfect faith, statistically overwhelming though they may be.

As for the existence of an afterlife, and the ability to talk to those who may or exist there... well, again, agnostic here, but I think it's foolish/lazy to have faith in something you can't prove. Take the jury approach if you like -- proven "beyond a reasonable doubt," i.e. sufficiently to conduct one's own personal affairs (as defined to me the last time I was on a jury). The afterlife or lack thereof really has no bearing on my life. I do good and try not to do evil based on my own sense of right and wrong, not based on some promised reward or punishment. Thus, its only significance in my life is as a thought experiment, entertainment. I love speculating on the mysteries of the universe and find it endlessly fascinating. I've never been to a psychic, medium, etc., but I would love to some day.

Of course there are charlatans. Just based on my own made up probability figures, I'd say most would have to be charlatans, since if there is an afterlife, and we're able to communicate with the dead, clearly not everyone is able to do so. However, anyone can bullshit. Thus, fakes are likely to be much more numerous than the real ones.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong about being a fake though. Humanity has a grand tradition of fiction. We tell each other lies to give comfort and entertain all the time, and we pay every day for the privilege of being lied to (movies, games, books, politicians, newspapers, etc.). Is having a medium claim to communicate with your dead relatives any worse than having a President claim he's going to fix all our problems?

At least the medium is entertaining!