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  • Coroico
    started a topic On anecdotes

    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.

  • Nightspace
    replied
    Originally posted by fls
    Writing down a story isn't what makes it "documented" - it's recordings made at the time of the events or at least made before anyone has had a chance to add information to the account after the fact.

    Linda
    Yes, I agree. But only by today's standards of research methodology. I don't think you can apply this criterion to all 'documented accounts'; otherwise, any qualitative research conducted before the advent of electronic recording becomes inadmissible. I would agree that the epistemological status of such material is much weaker, but I think it is still of interest and it has value.

    Leave a comment:


  • paqart
    replied
    Originally posted by fls
    Writing down a story isn't what makes it "documented" - it's recordings made at the time of the events or at least made before anyone has had a chance to add information to the account after the fact.

    Linda
    I'll agree with Linda on this. As I wrote in my JSE article on some of the veridical OBEs from my journals, it is very difficult to find contemporaneous records of OBEs prior to attempts at verification. I have over a hundred such records related to OBEs, and over 200 more that have other paranormal characteristics. However, the literature is not heavily populated with this kind of data. Having said that, even my 100+ OBE records aren't in the literature, just the four or so that are described in the article. There are probably many others not mentioned in the literature, but which exist in the collections of people like Puthoff, Targ, Radin, etc.

    AP

    Leave a comment:


  • Nightspace
    replied
    Originally posted by fls
    I wouldn't call those anecdotes. Anecdotes are characterized by being undocumented (or at least, that is one of the major characteristics which makes them unreliable).
    Then we should be describing the kind of material that Moody has collected as 'documented accounts' rather than a series of anecdotes.

    Documented accounts do comprise a 'body of evidence', and a great deal of research is based on such evidence, but because the material cannot be independently verified (observed/tested/replicated) it is not considered scientific. Independent verification by others a fundamental characteristic of scientific knowledge.

    Leave a comment:


  • nbtruthman
    replied
    In his book The Limits of Influence, Psychokinesis and the Philosophy of Science, philosopher and parapsychological investigator Stephen Braude makes an excellent case for the validity of anecdotal evidence in large-scale psychokinesis. He starts out in Chapter 1 by remarking: "Of more central concern is the piece of received wisdom that condemns both the semi-experimental and anecdotal evidence for psi. ......I now believe that the non-experimental evidence of parapsychology has been unjustly maligned. I now consider it to be an extremely valuable source of information concerning the nature and limits, and even the reality, of psi functioning. Even more important, I now believe that such (anecdotal) material is as least as valuable and reliable as the evidence gathered from laboratory experiments, and probably more so."

    He proceeds to demolish in detail the leading skeptic materialist arguments against the reliability of eyewitness testimony in parapsychology. He discusses and dismisses the notion that the best case reports and eyewitness accounts are due to (either individually or collectively): "motivated perception, self-deception, exaggeration, naivete, outright misperception or dishonesty, and fraud and conspiracy".

    Braude also goes into this in his Skeptico interview at 111. Parapsychology Researcher Dr. Stephen Braude Battles Against ?Sleazy Arguments? | Skeptiko - Science at the Tipping Point .

    Leave a comment:


  • Outrejoe
    replied
    I recall....actually I recall very little of it....an article some years back that mounted a defence of anecdotal evidence as it relates to science. It brought up historical instances where anecdotal evidence was key to certain scientific advances, like for instance, developing vaccines and the like. It went on to describe how anecdotal evidence is still used to great advantage in science and related fields. Sorry, I have zero recollection of the details.

    It bothers me that anecdotal evidence - that is, people's solemn word on things - gets kicked around like an old shoe by the science-minded media. There seems to be an underlying message there. Yes - of course - I agree with all the requisite cautions emplaced concerning its weakness as an element in establishing proof. Nevertheless, my sense is that the flip side of anecdotal evidence - that being its scientific strengths -is being ignored. I suspect there is a rich story waiting to be told here.

    Joe

    Leave a comment:


  • edragone
    replied
    He didn't use the word "anecdote," but Robert Rhines, amateur Loch Ness enthusiast and professional lawyer, once argued from his own experience that eyewitness testimony was worth being treated as evidence in at least some scientific endeavours, though not as foolproof and singular evidence.

    Leave a comment:


  • Obiwan
    replied
    Each anecdote is in itself a piece of evidence. It is, in effect, testimony when received first-hand. Reports of someone else's testimony are perhaps heresay.

    None of this of course means that the information being communicated is necessarily untrue, it's just difficult to determine how much weight to give it.

    What gives testimony weight then?

    Well here's my stab at a few things:

    1 Corroboration - as mentioned in the OP - either by other witness and/or replication;
    2 The character of the person giving the testimony;
    3 The level of detail;
    4 How common reports of similar events are;
    5 The likelihood of an error in observation;
    6 The motivation driving the testimony - both positive and negative


    There are probably lots of other factors too but as the OP said, we make these judgements every day. How to determine precisely what weight to assign these factors though is a personal judgement - maybe that's why two people can hear the same anecdote and reach different conclusions.

    Leave a comment:


  • Interesting Ian
    replied
    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.
    Nothing wrong with this Arouet. But don't think you're contradicting the OP.

    Leave a comment:


  • Interesting Ian
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • paqart
    replied
    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

    Leave a comment:


  • blavatsky
    replied
    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

    Leave a comment:


  • Buggy713
    replied
    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?

    Leave a comment:


  • North
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • North
    replied
    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

    Leave a comment:

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