James Randi is a magician. He knows the tricks. What's different about Randi is that he openly exposes the magic game, as I read in a recent AP story about him.
He gave up performing as The Amazing Randi years ago, but his words to the audience at the end of each show foreshadowed his next act.
''Everything you have seen here is tricks,'' he would say. ''There is nothing supernatural involved here.''
Randi now dedicates himself to exposing frauds. His web site features a million dollar paranormal challenge to anyone who can demonstrate "super" powers in a controlled setting.
So far nobody has come close to winning the money. No one has even passed the preliminary tests. Not surprising. In the metaphysical arena, talk triumphs over action.
When you say, "show me the proof" (of God, miracles, higher dimensions of reality, whatever) there's no response. Just more talk about why there can't be a response (such as, "I'm not allowed to show my powers to unworthy or skeptical eyes").
Reading the story about Randi got me to thinking about how the more you know about something, the better able you are to see the flaws in it – and to burst the unquestioning belief bubble of the mildly well-informed.
After about nine years of studying traditional Shotokan karate I got disenchanted with this martial art. Some essays by Rob Redmond that I found online helped me make the break to a style that was better suited for me. He said:
If you can't find fault with Shotokan, then you haven't given it much thought. In fact, to me, it is axiomatic that if someone is a true expert at something, they will have many complaints and criticisms of the way things are in their field of expertise.
The more I learn about Shotokan, the less I like it. Every year that passes helps me to find new things that I am disappointed in. The more I progress, the more limitations of Shotokan become apparent to me. If you cannot see the inherent weaknesses and holes in whatever you are studying, you don't know much about it.
After more than thirty years of practicing the meditation, dietary, worship, and other disciplines of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, I was highly knowledgeable about this mystic philosophy.
Heck, I'd even written a "holy book" that was published by RSSB. And written another than was distributed by the organization. Plus, I was on the edge of having still another published by RSSB before they and I parted writing ways.
So I understand how a believer turns into a skeptic. It's almost a given, as Redmond says, if you keep your eyes open to what you've being exposed to, rather than turning a blind eye to anomalies.
Perfection only exists when you don't look too closely at something or someone. Once the details are seen for what they are, flaws become evident. That's reality. We live in an imperfect world. "Perfect" is just a word, a concept, an ideal divorced from the real.
Don't worry if you've been a true believer and are now starting to have doubts.
This is a sign of progress, not of backsliding. It shows that you know enough to understand what your belief system doesn't know. Or at least, can't prove that it knows (which, really, is the same thing – unless you value gullibility).
I was actually surprised for you to write about James Randi as if he were some cultural, intellectual person to be admired. James Randi is just a variant of P.T. Barnum - a self-admitted publicity stuntman.
If you delve a little deeper into Randi's million dollar challenge, you will find that there are skeptics who are skeptical about Randi's challenge and his openness to look at rigorous scientific investigation with the eye of a sincere skeptic. Don't forget that Randi also claims that homeopathic medicine, acupuncture acupressure, and other non-traditional forms of medicine are also frauds.
The man is a zealot who despises anything he disagrees with.
Take a look what has been written on this...
"For many years this "prize" has been Randi's stock-in-trade as a media skeptic, but even some other skeptics are skeptical about its value as anything but a publicity stunt. For example, CSICOP founding member Dennis Rawlins pointed out that not only does Randi act as "policeman, judge and jury" but quoted him as saying "I always have an out"! (Fate, October 1981). A leading Fellow of CSICOP, Ray Hyman, has pointed out, this "prize" cannot be taken seriously from a scientific point of view: "Scientists don't settle issues with a single test, so even if someone does win a big cash prize in a demonstration, this isn't going to convince anyone. Proof in science happens through replication, not through single experiments."
Randi's fellow showman Loyd Auerbach, President of the Psychic Entertainers Association, is likewise sceptical about this "prize" and sees it as of no scientific value.
See Randi’s Challenge and "Why Randi may have to pay up."
Recent comment on Randi's prize can be found at the following blogs:
Michael Prestcott's Blog and
Prove Randi wrong
Beware Pseudo-Skepticism - the Randi
If you are seriously considering taking the James Randi $1 Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge...read what Sean of PsiPog found out. Then think again!
Also, a new article from Paranormal "Review Sceptic Changes the Rules."
Posted by: Marcel Cairo | July 14, 2007 at 09:43 PM
Marcel, it never hurts to be skeptical about skepticism also. But we shouldn't stop there. I'm also skeptical about those who express skepticism about Randi's skepticism.
Browsing through the Wikipedia article on this subject, I'd say that Randi has more science on his side than his opponents do. See:
At least he's trying to elicit proof of paranormal or supernatural abilities. It's possible to quibble about the rules for demonstrating that proof. But I strongly support his preference for open-eyed science over blind belief.
Scientific American, to which I subscribe and enjoy reading every month, also has a long history of supporting skeptical inquiry, as reflected in this piece:
So its a matter of who to believe the most: those who are dedicated to an open unbiased demonstration of truth vs. falsity, or those who say "believe me without any proof." I'm not into dogmatism, so I'll side with Randi and Scientific American.
Posted by: Brian | July 15, 2007 at 09:56 AM
If you don't mind me asking, what did you find wrong with or lacking in Shotokan karate?
Posted by: Ashwin | July 15, 2007 at 01:00 PM
Yes... I completely agree with you on this.
And its not an either/or type of thing either.. Just because you can see some flaws doesn't mean that Everything about it is flawed.
The sooner we can get over the 'All or nothing' type of mindset the quicker we can be open to new insights and understanding.
I have heard people tell me.. 'If one thing is wrong in the Bible then All of it is'....which just drove me nuts because its easy to find 'Many' wrong things if you just look.
This prompts me to ask the question.. 'What would an actual 'science' of the mystical look like?
Would there be sacred cows we couldn't question? I don't think so.
Seems to me a real 'science' of the 'spirit' would be open to any and all possibilities..
everything would be subject to examination and re-examination.
And just like in science....whatever truths we find or discover would be treated as 'relative' truths....subject to change, growth or rejection in light of new information.
Posted by: Wesley | July 15, 2007 at 09:06 PM
Ashwin, you asked what I found lacking in Shotokan karate. I was going to reply via a comment, but realized this subject deserved an entire post. So I wrote one tonight on my other blog. See:
This isn't the entire answer. But it points to the main reasons I grew disenchanted with Shotokan (and Shotokan with me).
Posted by: Brian | July 15, 2007 at 10:16 PM
Thanks for answering the question with an extended post! The comments for that one were amazing as well. Thanks again.
Posted by: Ashwin | July 16, 2007 at 08:37 PM
Hate to double post, but the comment about Randi's early life struck me.
Harry Houdini was a magician all his life who also spent much of it debunking spiritual, mystical powers and claims.
Posted by: Ashwin | July 16, 2007 at 08:39 PM
"So far nobody has come close to winning the money. No one has even passed the preliminary tests. Not surprising."
Anyone that cannot see the fallacy of Randi's challenge has some serious handicaps to overcome.
But to his credit it was genius as a publicity stunt and got him lots of airtime.
I can’t believe that skeptics or anyone takes that challenge seriously. Read the fine print.
He does do a service to society, as fraud is rampant when it comes to the paranormal.
But on the other side of the coin he does a tremendous disservice to society, as his level of honestly and his ability to have anything that resembles an open mind is suspect, very suspect.
Ashwin: do your research Houdini was caught sneaking in props to discredit Margery a medium and was thrown off the team investigating Margery. What is it about skeptics that they never do their research?
The same can be said for religious people as they seldom read outside their existing beliefs. There does not appear to be a dime’s worth of difference between most religious folks and most skeptics when it comes to analyzing date outside their cherished beliefs.
Posted by: researcherseeker | July 27, 2007 at 02:39 AM
[portion of comment deleted because it wasn't in English]
All the idiot people who donot belive in radhasoami is verrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy much unlucky.i love radhasoami sents.my family has seen so many miracle of radhasoami sant shrigovindnarayan maharajji. radhasoami is the only god in the whole universe.
Posted by: puja | November 09, 2009 at 06:06 AM
puja can you email me at manishfantastic(at)gmail.com
i have few things to discuss with you.
Posted by: Account Deleted | November 09, 2009 at 09:13 AM