I sort of enjoyed Derren Brown last night. On the one hand I was pleased to see rationality prevail, on the other hand I was sad not to see anything genuinely spooky. On the other hand (we calculate new hand indices through addition modulo 2) I was a little relieved not to, because I’m pretty sure most people, sceptical or not, don’t REALLY want to see a ghost.
It followed Lou Gentile, who before his recent death (we can only assume he died battling the forces of evil), was a demonologist. We start off by seeing him on an investigation into a woman’s home which she believes is possessed by spirits. They have set up a camera which is activated by movement. The camera turns on and records NOTHING INTERESTING. ZOMG THE CAMERA MOVED all on its own, there MUST BE GHOSTS. Oh wait the owner of the house keeps cats. How many do you have? 6? But they weren’t near the camera, we’re assured. Hmm. Oh and also she’s a 40 year old woman who has dyed black hair, tattoos, a lip piercing, 3 rings in her ears, black nails. She’s not, as far as we can tell, on her way to an Addams family convention, she dresses like this all the time. I would say she WANTS to be haunted.
It sort of went on in much the same way. There was footage of a man being possessed, which was rather disturbing, except a professor at a university watched it and said “yep, that’s a psychogenic non-epileptic seizure” (some kind of stress induced fit) thereby reducing the mysticism factor quite a bit.
We also had some other stuff but nothing which was not easily explained by sleep paralysis or apophenia. He was big on electronic voice phenomenon (EVP), which is when you turn the gain up on a low quality audio recorder so it picks up and amplifies and distorts electronic noise, then say it’s a ghost speaking to you. Not really convincing evidence for the existence of ghosts because it starts with the premise that ghosts exist.
The interesting outcome of the programme was that Lou didn’t charge any money for his services because he thought it was immoral to charge people for exorcising demons. So he either did it just for fun (highly unlikely) or because he genuinely believed in all of it. And his clientele clearly believed he was helping them. So what’s the harm? Nothing, leave him alone.
All in all the series was a bit rubbish because Derren never managed to come up with anything inexplicable. I would have preferred it if he had found something interesting. But he didn’t.
the problem with life after death…
…is that it’s so incredbly human to want to know that you or your relatives don’t REALLY die. It’s such a huge personal bias that people want to believe in it without being objective. It probably made sense hundreds of years ago when human consciousness was a total black box mystery but now we have a better idea how the brain works, and we also have computers attempting to mimic intelligence. Okay this hasn’t got very far yet but I don’t believe there is any technical limitation to a conscious computer program and once that happens it will mostly disprove the notion that human consciousness requires something mystical, which can live on past physical death.
It might turn out that brain simulation goes a slightly less obvious route first though. We might figure out a way to essentially clone the brain into software without necessarily understanding its conceptual high-ish level workings (i.e. that area between chemistry and psychology), in which case we shall be able to clone consciousness which gives us instant artifical intelligence.
Plus let’s not forget that WE OURSELVES might be artifical intelligence living inside a computer simulation. Although personally I don’t buy into this because (assuming we would be the product of a species which evolved in similar circumstances to ours):
1) The necessary traits we have seen to become the dominant species on a planet seem to be at odds with long term existence past a certain point. Sooner or later someone’s going to bomb you to smithereens because if they didn’t have that instinct ingrained pretty strongly, they would have been eaten by wild badgers 10 million years ago.
2) Assuming a less self centred, more hive-like individual existence (like super-bees), it seems grossly unlikely that such a civilization would reach an advanced level of science research. Our achievement is driven by personal wonder, ambition, obsession and occasionally autism and lack of friends, I can’t see a hive of beings motivated more by instinct than thought ever achieving the same things. It’s not an evolutionary necessity or likelihood for such a species to gain a technology advantage, it’s more likely that, if threatened, the shortest path to evolutionary survival would be something much less elegant (like brute force).
So what I am saying is that any civilization would either destroy itself before reaching, or simply fail to reach, the necessary advancement to run such a simulation. But I am rather extrapolating on the nature of other civilizations from a pretty small sample set.
Although there’s an interesting paper on the simulation idea here: http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html
oh yes, I have gone off topic. Ghosts indeed. Wooooooooooo
UPDATE: ZOMG GUYS I had sleep paralysis this morning (I think). I always kind of dreaded waking up one day to find myself paralysed, but that’s not what happened because it was in a lucid dream! I tried to move and couldn’t, and I thought “hmmm, am I dreaming”. Then two men came in and explained to me that I was paralysed and needed looking after, and I said “No it’s okay, I’m pretty sure I’m dreaming” and the one standing to the right of the bed said “no I’m sorry but you’re not” and I said “no I still think I am”. GUESS WHO WAS RIGHT. Had I been more alert I would have noticed that my bed is to the wall and there is no way he could stand on the right of it. hmm. I’m not sure if it was sleep paralysis or if I was just dreaming I was paralysed. HMM.