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  • On anecdotes

    One of the most common things you see when skeptics try and "debunk" a phenomenon is that anything classed as anecdote gets dismissed with a wave of the hand as being inherently unworthy of any consideration whatsoever. In this way for instance most of Dr Raymond Moody's work is, in their eyes instantly invalidated.

    I just don't understand that. I am fully aware of the frailty and plasticity of human memory and the unreliability of witness evidence but still there comes a point in my mind at least were enough people are saying the same thing you just have to sit up and take notice.

    Now if one person says something I consider inherently extremely improbable like for instance that their pet cat began speaking to them in clear understandable English but for some reason every time an attempt was made to record this, the cat would revert to meowing , I'd put it down to a hallucination or an over active imagination. If 10 people said the same thing, without any further evidence I'd still think it was nonsense. If however 1000s of people around the world repeated the same claim, at around the same time and without knowing each other, well then I would at least start to consider how exactly cats might have started to speak. Even more so if it turns out that the cats are saying things which third parties confirm are accurate which would have been entirely outside the knowledge of their owners.

    Now clearly the above does not match psi /afterlife type reports exactly because there is always going to be a chance of some cultural contamination, where those reporting are aware of previous reports, nevertheless it seems on my understanding to be a relatively close fit to early nde reports.

    To use a more mundane example consider the following hypothetical murder trial. As mentioned above eyewitness testimony is no doubt questionable in isolation and has led to innocent people being convicted, however that is no reason to disregard it altogether. Let's say that one of the issues is whether the alleged victim was shot in the street, no body to be found, no bullets and no forensic evidence One witness steps forward and says he saw the shooting maybe there's still doubt, two witnesses and you might still not be sure but if 100 independent witnesses (some of whom were in different buildings and completely separate from each other) all claim to have seen the shooting and agree on the core narrative (but diverge on the details) you can be reasonably sure at least that a shooting took place.

    I suppose ultimately it comes down to trusting that subjective experience is representative of a reality, but we do this all the time, indeed if you never believed a word anybody told you, you'd probably have some difficulty in functioning in society. Certainly when someone claims something completely outside your everyday experience it is reasonable to be suspicious, but if enough people tell you the same thing (and you are sure they are not connected in some way) it must eventually be reasonable to trust that there is something in what they say.

    I hope I've not bored everyone here. I probably fell into the same trap as I sometimes do in my professional life of being too wordy. This constant dismissal - it's an anecdote therefore it is beneath me to even consider it - really starts to grate though..
    Last edited by Coroico; August 22nd, 2013, 02:00 PM.

  • #2
    Hey I agree with you about acendotes..

    It reminds me of the verdical OBE in the NDE, sure there are some good documented ones.. but their are so many verdical acendotes... Jan Holden did a paper on this.. There are dozens and dozens of these acendotes in the literature from both medical staff and patients from across the globe... It is difficult to deny its not a real pheanouma...

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Buggy713 View Post
      Hey I agree with you about acendotes..

      It reminds me of the verdical OBE in the NDE, sure there are some good documented ones.. but their are so many verdical acendotes... Jan Holden did a paper on this.. There are dozens and dozens of these acendotes in the literature from both medical staff and patients from across the globe... It is difficult to deny its not a real pheanouma...
      I have over 100 veridical OBEs in my dream journal alone. People like Ingo Swann probably have many more, and their records were kept (and generated) by scientists.

      AP

      Comment


      • #4
        I think annecdotes can play a very useful role in science but have to be considered within their limitations.

        To me, anecdotes are most useful in terms of hypothesis generation, brainstorming, identifying interesting areas to study further. They can be very useful in guiding research.

        But we must also recognise that anecdotes are unreliable. That doesn't mean that any particular anecdote is necessarily inaccurate, but rather that when dealing with anecdotes it is very difficult to be confident in its acuracy. To get to a high confidence position you need to go further than the anecdote.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Arouet View Post
          I think annecdotes can play a very useful role in science but have to be considered within their limitations.

          To me, anecdotes are most useful in terms of hypothesis generation, brainstorming, identifying interesting areas to study further. They can be very useful in guiding research.

          But we must also recognise that anecdotes are unreliable. That doesn't mean that any particular anecdote is necessarily inaccurate, but rather that when dealing with anecdotes it is very difficult to be confident in its acuracy. To get to a high confidence position you need to go further than the anecdote.
          Keep in mind that the word "anecdote" is not always defined the same way. As Alex has said, 10,000 NDE accounts are evidence, not anecdotes. In my own case, my record-keeping protocols for my dream journals make those into records, data, or evidence, but not anecdotes. Despite this, there are others who do describe them as anecdotes because, even when I have independent witnesses in some cases, somehow these are mere stories. I admit to not understanding how a skeptic can look at a contemporaneous dated record made by me about twenty years ago, paired with another related but independent contemporaneous document verifying the elements of the dream, and describe it as an "anecdote", but it happens.

          I am tempted to respond to such ridiculous assertions by saying "You are invisible and I can't hear you," but doing that isn't much different from misidentifying data as anecdotes. At a certain point though, an assertion is so ridiculous that it really doesn't deserve a response. I think that when skeptics describe certain types of data as "anecdotes", they have crossed this threshold.

          AP

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Arouet View Post
            I think annecdotes can play a very useful role in science but have to be considered within their limitations.

            To me, anecdotes are most useful in terms of hypothesis generation, brainstorming, identifying interesting areas to study further. They can be very useful in guiding research.

            But we must also recognise that anecdotes are unreliable. That doesn't mean that any particular anecdote is necessarily inaccurate, but rather that when dealing with anecdotes it is very difficult to be confident in its acuracy. To get to a high confidence position you need to go further than the anecdote.
            Yeah, I think there's a difference to be made about things one personal intuitively feels to be possible and what can be admitted into theories of scientific understanding.

            I'm actually sympathetic to the idea that Psi is incredible elusive given what little I've read of "Trickster and the Paranormal", but I still think this leaves us with questions about a standard of proof high enough to accept paranormal phemonenon.

            Comment


            • #7
              There is no threshold past which a group anecdote should suddenly be taken as strong evidence. This is not to say, of course, that the anecdote is necessarily false. A large enough group of people claiming the same thing certainly suggests it's worth looking into.

              ~~ Paul
              Last edited by Paul C. Anagnostopoulos; August 22nd, 2013, 02:30 PM.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by paqart View Post
                Keep in mind that the word "anecdote" is not always defined the same way. As Alex has said, 10,000 NDE accounts are evidence, not anecdotes. In my own case, my record-keeping protocols for my dream journals make those into records, data, or evidence, but not anecdotes. Despite this, there are others who do describe them as anecdotes because, even when I have independent witnesses in some cases, somehow these are mere stories. I admit to not understanding how a skeptic can look at a contemporaneous dated record made by me about twenty years ago, paired with another related but independent contemporaneous document verifying the elements of the dream, and describe it as an "anecdote", but it happens.

                I am tempted to respond to such ridiculous assertions by saying "You are invisible and I can't hear you," but doing that isn't much different from misidentifying data as anecdotes. At a certain point though, an assertion is so ridiculous that it really doesn't deserve a response. I think that when skeptics describe certain types of data as "anecdotes", they have crossed this threshold.

                AP
                We've got to take everything in the proper context. For example, 10,000 people reporting NDEs is pretty good evidence that people have those kinds of experiences. It is not necessarily good evidence that they have correctly interpreted those experiences, or what caused those experiences.

                It's a good example of what I meant by the anecdotes are a good starting point for research. NDE's certainly are a ripe topic for investigation. And indeed people are doing just that.

                Perhaps dream journaling could also be the subject of more indpeth study. The trick is coming up with a good protocol.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Arouet View Post
                  We've got to take everything in the proper context. For example, 10,000 people reporting NDEs is pretty good evidence that people have those kinds of experiences. It is not necessarily good evidence that they have correctly interpreted those experiences, or what caused those experiences.

                  It's a good example of what I meant by the anecdotes are a good starting point for research. NDE's certainly are a ripe topic for investigation. And indeed people are doing just
                  Now that I agree with -- no complaints at all with that sort of approach, providing we allow for the possibility ( i would go as far as to say the probability, but respect that ithers might not go so far) that they have correctly interpreted those experience and that each phenomenon is not studied in a vacuum.

                  What I object to is just the broad brush dismissal, but that is not very evident in this forum even among the skeptics here, but seems very common elsewhere.
                  Last edited by Coroico; August 22nd, 2013, 02:35 PM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Arouet View Post
                    Perhaps dream journaling could also be the subject of more indpeth study. The trick is coming up with a good protocol.
                    One approach - The content analysis of dreams - Calvin Springer Hall, Robert L. Van de Castle - Google Books

                    another
                    Dream Telepathy: Scientific Experiments in Nocturnal Extrasensory Perception - Montague Ullman, Stanley Krippner - Google Books

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      thread

                      There was an earlier thread on anecdotes http://forum.mind-energy.net/skeptik...-anecdote.html

                      If one takes a simple look at it an individual anecdote may be true or false or a mixture of true and false elements.

                      The dismissal of anecdotes across the board is irrational.

                      Really the issue is about credability and prior belief systems.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by paqart View Post
                        I have over 100 veridical OBEs in my dream journal alone. People like Ingo Swann probably have many more, and their records were kept (and generated) by scientists.

                        AP
                        Paqart,

                        Do you astral travel frequently?

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Buggy713 View Post
                          Paqart,

                          Do you astral travel frequently?
                          PAQART recorded his dreams/OBEs here:

                          Amazon.com: Dreamer: 20 years of psychic dreams and how they changed my life (9781846945021): Andy Paquette: Books

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Thanks Blavatsky. As far as the question is concerned, I don't describe it as "astral travel" in my book or even in conversation, but that is just because I prefer the term "out of body experience." As far as I am concerned, our spirits are non-physical in nature, despite their ability to interact with physical things. They are permanently "astral" in the sense that they aren't physical, and thus are always in a state of "astral travel" of some kind. Of course, that implies space and movement in an astral universe, though if it is all created by thought, there may not be space as we think of it.

                            AP

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Coroico View Post
                              One of the most common things you see when skeptics try and "debunk" a phenomenon is that anything classed as anecdote gets dismissed with a wave of the hand as being inherently unworthy of any consideration whatsoever. In this way for instance most of Dr Raymond Moody's work is, in their eyes instantly invalidated.

                              I just don't understand that. I am fully aware of the frailty and plasticity of human memory and the unreliability of witness evidence but still there comes a point in my mind at least were enough people are saying the same thing you just have to sit up and take notice.

                              Now if one person says something I consider inherently extremely improbable like for instance that their pet cat began speaking to them in clear understandable English but for some reason every time an attempt was made to record this, the cat would revert to meowing , I'd put it down to a hallucination or an over active imagination. If 10 people said the same thing, without any further evidence I'd still think it was nonsense. If however 1000s of people around the world repeated the same claim, at around the same time and without knowing each other, well then I would at least start to consider how exactly cats might have started to speak. Even more so if it turns out that the cats are saying things which third parties confirm are accurate which would have been entirely outside the knowledge of their owners.

                              Now clearly the above does not match psi /afterlife type reports exactly because there is always going to be a chance of some cultural contamination, where those reporting are aware of previous reports, nevertheless it seems on my understanding to be a relatively close fit to early nde reports.

                              To use a more mundane example consider the following hypothetical murder trial. As mentioned above eyewitness testimony is no doubt questionable in isolation and has led to innocent people being convicted, however that is no reason to disregard it altogether. Let's say that one of the issues is whether the alleged victim was shot in the street, no body to be found, no bullets and no forensic evidence One witness steps forward and says he saw the shooting maybe there's still doubt, two witnesses and you might still not be sure but if 100 independent witnesses (some of whom were in different buildings and completely separate from each other) all claim to have seen the shooting and agree on the core narrative (but diverge on the details) you can be reasonably sure at least that a shooting took place.

                              I suppose ultimately it comes down to trusting that subjective experience is representative of a reality, but we do this all the time, indeed if you never believed a word anybody told you, you'd probably have some difficulty in functioning in society. Certainly when someone claims something completely outside your everyday experience it is reasonable to be suspicious, but if enough people tell you the same thing (and you are sure they are not connected in some way) it must eventually be reasonable to trust that there is something in what they say.

                              I hope I've not bored everyone here. I probably fell into the same trap as I sometimes do in my professional life of being too wordy. This constant dismissal - it's an anecdote therefore it is beneath me to even consider it - really starts to grate though..
                              Everything you say is absolutely spot on. I think skeptics ought to say that anecdotes -- no matter how many -- are insufficient to be incorporated into what we know scientifically.

                              However in my experience they all say that anecdotes should have no influence whatsoever in their personal belief in the existence of said phenomenon. This is of course plain daft in the extreme.

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