February 16, 2008

Goertzel on psi

Much to the chagrin of his readers, AI theorist Ben Goertzel has dared to explore the topic of parapsychology on his blog (or just 'psi'). He argued that the scientific evidence for psi is stronger than we think.

When his readers complained in the comments section, Goertzel came back by saying,
These emails basically present arguments of two forms:

1. You're nuts, don't you know all the psi experiments are fraud and experimental error, everyone knows that...
2. Look, even if there's a tiny chance that some psi phenomena are real, you're a fool to damage your reputation by aligning yourself with the kooks who believe in it

What shocks me (though it shouldn't, as I've been around 41 years and seen a lot of human nature already) about arguments of the first form is the irrational degree of skepticism toward this subject, displayed by otherwise highly rational and reflective individuals...

...
What shocks me about arguments of the second form is how often they come from individuals who are publicly aligned with other extremely radical ideas. For instance a few Singularitarians have emailed me and warned me that me talking about psi is bad, because then people will think Singularitarians are kooks.
I'm with Ben on this one. We shouldn't rule anything out at this point or worry about damaging reputations. Science is about falsification. But before you can falsify something you have to throw the theory out there. And as Goertzel noted, there's a ton of research being done in this area with some rather bizarre observations being made.

I've written some articles along these lines in the past:
Does the brain tap into the future?
The Global Consciousness Project
Paul Smith: Reading the Enemy's Mind

4 comments:

Ilir said...

Wow - I am on the same wavelength George ! Have you read Colin Wilson's book "The occult" ?

Ilir

Anonymous said...

I like to think that there are some things out there that we don't understand. One of these being consciousness.

The problem with all of these experiments that show spooky actions, is experimental controls. It is easy for a skeptic to pick apart the experimental data or the analysis of said data. Whether they are right or not is up for debate, but their arguments are fairly strong.

I think that their arguments are biased however much they like to think themselves impartial skeptics. They tend to be materialists and they leave no room for anything that does not fit into that world view. They will even go so far as to say you were hallucinating if you saw a ghost, and you could have been. The same goes for out of body experiences.

I haven't decided yet if they are right or wrong on the subject. I like to believe that they are wrong, but there hasn't been any convincing evidence to suggest otherwise.

m. s. said...

I guess this post by Sean Carroll on "Cosmic Variance" may be of interest:

http://cosmicvariance.com/2008/02/18/telekinesis-and-quantum-field-theory/

Roko said...

"Science is about falsification. But before you can falsify something you have to throw the theory out there. And as Goertzel noted, there's a ton of research being done in this area with some rather bizarre observations being made."

I think that you - and ben - are mistaking good science with good Public Relations. Good science is based on logic, and logically speaking, you can never completely exclude the possibility of "psi", and so it makes sense to occasionally spend a little bit of time and money looking into it.

Public relations works in totally different ways. People aren't usually particularly rational in the decisions that they make, they will often judge whether or not something is of value by the associations it has. So, next time Ben starts trying to tell people about Novamente, some percentage of the people will simply stop listening to him because he has now associated himself with "paranormal" research.

By extension, he has associated everyone else who works on AGI with psychics and palm readers. That includes me - I'm trying to work on AGI, and now I am beginning to understand why I have to be so careful to not use the word "general intelligence" in any of my PhD applications, etc, and instead talk about "global representations" or "higher level algorithms". Thank you Ben.