Monday, 8 August 2022

ESP Debate: Is Belief in ESP Irrational?

I read the first part of the below linked article where Steve Pinker attempts to explain why belief in ESP or psi is irrational:

ESP Debate: Is Belief in ESP Irrational?

First of all, as of yet, I haven't read Brian D. Josephson's response. Nor indeed, have I ever read anything that Brian D. Josephson has said on this topic or indeed any other topic. So my own thoughts will not have been influenced by what he said.

My own position is that belief in ESP or psi is not irrational. If people like Pinker maintain that it is, then they need to address my reasoning that I lay out in a post in my main blog. In there I endeavour to rebut the contention that psi could not possibly exist that was made in a Skeptical Inquirer article. Here are a couple of questions I would like to ask Pinker. What do I say in my post that could be deemed to be irrational? Where do I go astray in my reasoning?

Although Pinker's arguments are already largely addressed in that blog post of mine (these arguments by skeptics all tend to be extremely similar), let's briefly look at a couple of things he says.

Pinker says:
In the case of ESP, the empirical case would have to be stupendous to outweigh the overwhelming prior odds against ESP existing. All of our experience, and all of our understanding of the physical universe, speak against both the possibility of the future affecting the past, and against an ability to sense the state of the world without the transmission of information by physical energy.
Clearly, not all of our experiences since that would amount to no one ever reporting experiences of ESP. However, in fact, it’s been reported across virtually all cultures and throughout recorded history.
If ESP really existed, not only would the laws of physics have to be overturned.
I address in detail in my aforementioned blog post both the contention that physical energy is needed for ESP, and that the laws of physics would need to be overturned if it existed. But briefly, our understanding of the physical Universe as revealed by physics wholly leaves out consciousness in its description of reality. Hence, the laws of physics as we currently understand them cannot possibly be entirely correct. Further, if we have no mechanism or explanation for the very existence of consciousness, then, of course, a fortiori, we could not expect to be able to discern any mechanism for any possible abilities of consciousness. Such abilities not only include ESP, but also the ability to move our own bodies in accordance with our intentions.
The knowledge afforded by telepathy or precognition could easily be exploited to bankrupt casinos
I also address this is my aforementioned blog post. But, to repeat, I doubt it. Even if we grant psi is continually operating (something I would reject), why can't the effects be very slight? Or why can't various psychokinetic effects from differing people cancel each other out? If I'm in a casino, mightn't any very marginal psychokinetic effect from me wanting a certain outcome be cancelled by other people wanting other outcomes?

But, in any case, it’s not clear to me that psi can just be turned on at will. It seems likely that one has to be in a certain emotional psychological state, which a casino is unlikely to elicit.
If our prior belief [in psi] is very low, say, 00000000000000000001
My prior belief in psi isn’t low at all. A prior belief that psi has a very low probability of existing is a consequence of the modern western world-view, especially the notion that the mechanistic philosophy is largely correct and that some flavour of materialism is highly likely to be the correct depiction of reality. But I think reductive materialism is incompatible with the very existence of consciousness. And any looser definition of materialism, aka some type of non-reductive materialism, is contradicted by the direct experience of our own causal agency.
Though many phenomena at extreme scales of space and energy—near the Big Bang or a black hole, at the size of a photon or of a galaxy—are incompletely understood, this cannot be said about the physics of everyday life. As Sean Carroll shows in The Big Picture, on these scales, from nanotech to moon rockets, the laws of physics are completely understood. We aren’t in need of strange new forces or fields to explain how a bicycle works, or why eclipses happen.
I've addressed this argument of Sean Carroll's in my Sean Carroll and the philosophy of mind and science, although that focusses on the causal efficacy of consciousness rather than ESP. But the exact same rebuttal applies. In brief, of course we don't need new physics to explain how bicycles work and ellipses happen (and I just said that in an exasperated voice). But we do need new physics to accommodate the casual efficacy of consciousness, and indeed psi or ESP too. Again, since physical laws leave out consciousness, and a fortiori abilities of consciousness such as its causal efficacy and ESP, then current laws do not describe reality in their entirety. They need to be modified to allow for the existence of consciousness. One can describe these laws as being “overturned” if one chooses, but the history of science teaches us that laws are continually “overturned” e.g. quantum mechanics overturned classical mechanics. And Einstein’s general theory of relativity “overturned” Newton’s theory of gravitation.
To begin with, we’re talking about a phenomenon that, if it existed, would be tiny in magnitude, on the order of one tenth of a standard deviation.
I have no idea what a “standard deviation” means (I wish my A level maths had included probability!) But dreaming of the future that actually transpires, or perceiving an apparition of someone who has just died etc, wouldn't appropriately be described as tiny in magnitude. Of course, doubtless he’s referring to parapsychological research. But it’s not due to such research that people believe in psi. Rather, it’s due to their own direct experiences, the experience of people they know, and the collective experience of humankind.
They are a miscellaneous collection of oddities and anomalies rather than a systematic phenomenon whose conditions and outcomes are identified a priori.
That’s not true. We’re talking about characteristic phenomena of a very similar nature that is universal across space and time e.g. telepathy, remote viewing, crisis apparitions etc.
Also, the classic claims for ESP in controlled experiments cited by Horowitz, such as those of J. B. Rhine and his intellectual descendants, have been exposed as artifacts of investigator bias, leakage of information, selective reporting, overinterpretation of coincidence, questionable research practices (such as post hoc data exclusion), and outright fraud.
Even if, for the sake of argument, we grant that the research is fatally flawed, this could not overturn people's direct experiences of ESP. So flawed research couldn't make people's belief in ESP irrational since most people's belief in ESP is independent of such research. My belief in ESP certainly is.

But we also need to bear in mind that those whose prior expectation is that ESP is overwhelmingly unlikely, are scarcely likely to be impartial in any assessment of any research that suggests its existence. We would need to look at their arguments, but then, before making up our minds, also look at the responses of those who disagree with such an assessment.

Saturday, 30 July 2022

Back to 1869

Imagine you suddenly slipped through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and found yourself back in the year 1869.  If you could convince someone that you came from 2022, would we also be able to convince them of what 2022 is like, especially in terms of technology?

I don't think so, since a lot of it would be unbelievable to their ideas about what is possible.  Yes, motorcars would be believable to them since they had trains, although I assume they wouldn't envisage the complete ubiquity of cars on our roads.

What about the believability of the existence of small hand held devices that can enable you to instantaneously communicate with anyone on the planet who has a similar device? And that you can use to find the answer to any question that human beings know the answer to?  That can play chess, take photos, even use as a torch?  I would think they would think I'm barmy!

What if I approached a physicist and tried to explain quantum mechanics to them?  Not that I know much about QM.  I would have to say reality isn't continuous, but rather discontinuous.  And that reality exhibits differently, apparently changing its very nature, depending on our experimental apparatus.  That electrons exist both as particles and waves.. oh wait.. he'll ask what is an electron! OK, photons then (and would he know what "OK" means??).

Would I in fact change history?  Well yes, due to the butterfly effect.  But they wouldn't be able to use my knowledge of developments in physics even if, miraculously, I was taken seriously for one second!  

Mind you... if I had my smartphone on me...

Friday, 29 July 2022

Don't put central heating on this winter and save yourself ~ £600 to £1,000

My energy bills (electricity and gas combined) for last winter:

Oct-21 £84.48
Nov-21 £101.40
Dec-21 £100.32
Jan-22 £113.33
Feb-22 £98.31
Mar-22 £97.81

A total sum of £595.65

I'm trying to work out how much more I'll pay this winter. It would be vastly simpler if they simply specified kwhs used for both elect and gas. But, it is what it is, so...

First of all, this applies to the UK.  OK, price caps were and will be:

Oct-21 £1,277
Apr-22 £1,971
Oct-22 ~£3,420
Jan-23 ~£3,850

For the upcoming 6-month winter period, we need to take an average of the Oct 22 and Jan 23 price caps. Average of £3,420 and £3,850 is £3,635.

So bills in the forthcoming 6-month period from 1/10/22 to 1/4/23 will be £3,635 divided by £1,277 multiplied by one's 6 monthly bill from 1st Oct 21 to 1st April 22.

Hence, in my own case, this is 3635 divided by 1277 multiplied by 595.65 = £1,695.53. This is an extra cost of £1,099.88 for me (£1,695.53 - £595.65 = £1,099.88
) compared to last year.

However, most of us received £150 from the Government, and we're all getting £400 (I think?), and other additional help for the poorest too. That's a total of £550 for most of us. So, for most of us, we need to find an extra £500 to £600 or so (but might vary a lot).

Of course, in practice, we'll be putting our central heating on less frequently. This is where it would be useful to know the price per kwh hour for both elect and gas.

But, anyway, Of that £565.65 cost last year I spent on energy, £264.49 of it went on gas.  That's 47% of my energy bill for the 6 winter months.  

So, if hypothetically, I don't use my gas at all, my energy bill for the forthcoming winter would be just 53% of my calculated £1,695.53, which is £902.72.  However, I'll need to get showers and wash the dishes.  Also, I bought myself a heating blanket in April that I will use this coming winter, which will marginally increase my electricity bill. But, maybe I could limit my total energy cost for those 6-months to, say, £1,100, a saving of ~£600? 
I should also point out that I only ever had my central heating on in the lounge, and not on all the time. Hence, others may save more than £600, possibly as much as a £1,000?

Since most of us are getting, or have got, £550 from the Government, that means, in terms of energy price inflation, many people, providing they never put on their central heating this winter, won't be any worse off than last winter! (of course there's food price increases, and all the rest, so don't get too relieved).

There is, of course, next April (2023).  But no one knows what the price cap will be then, nor what any Government help might be.  So let's just kick that worry-can down the road.  

Are companies permitted to lie about the terms of a contract over the phone or by webchat?

Back in May (2022) I agreed to subscribe to a 24-month broadband contract with Vodafone for £20 a month.  Crucially, I only agreed to this as I was assured the price would stay at £20.  Given the inflation rate, that made it reasonable value.  Here is a screenshot of that assurance (I've covered up her name).

It's not very clear, so I reproduce below:

Vodafone: you can get up to 70.5 Mbps download speed,

Download speed 38 Mbps to 70.5 Mbps Minimum guaranteed 35 Mbps 

Upload speed 10 Mbps to 18.4 Mbps
Vodafone: 24 month contract :)
Me: 24 months! Can you not make it 12 months? Also is the £20 price guaranteed, or might it go up during those 24 months? 

Me: Just grabbing a coffee, be 1 min 

Vodafone: we dont do 12 month contracts for broad band, only 24 months and no the price will stay £20 through out the 24 months, there will be no price increase at all :) 

Also, when I received the confirmation email, it said:

So that satisfies me since it implies that it will not increase before that 24-month period has elapsed, not even to keep up with inflation.

However, I've just read a telegraph article.  It refers to BT broadband bills increasing by somewhat more than inflation.  It says:

It puts BT at risk of a clash with the industry watchdog Ofcom, which is preparing to take action on misleading small-print charges.

At that point, I became concerned and did a search for Vodafone's small-print terms and conditions.  I found the following.

So, if I'm interpreting this correctly, the £20 charge will be increasing by inflation plus an additional 3.9% charge!  So this directly contradicts what I was told via webchat.  And clearly, I would never have agreed to the contract if I had been aware that I had been misinformed.

Are companies permitted to lie to people about the price they will pay?  Surely not?  Or is the law even more of an ass than I originally thought?

Thursday, 28 July 2022

What in God's name is going to happen this winter with eyewatering energy prices?

Energy price cap will rise to £3,420, then £3,850 in January (2023)

I wonder what the hell will happen come October.  I think it's likely there will be  mass non-payment of energy bills. Not merely because of the effectiveness of any concerted action to withhold payment, but simply because many people simply won't have enough money. So by necessity they won't pay.  People have to be able to feed themselves.  It wouldn't surprise me if they were riots if the Government don't take sufficient action.

I'm hearing very little indeed from the Government.  We (the UK) are going to get Liz Truss as our PM.  Her solution is to cut taxes.  But if you have a sum of money to help people, then it's a colossally stupid idea to give the lion's share of that cash to wealthier people, since these are the very people that don't require help to make ends meet.  And, of course, many of those on Universal Credit and other benefits, and many pensioners, don't pay income tax.  And come January energy prices alone will be close to £3000 extra compared to 18 months previous to that.  Something somewhat more than tax cuts is required.

I first talked about energy price increases and the calamitous consequences almost a year ago. And this in March.

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Going back in time and inhabiting my 15 year old body

I'm just wondering what I would do if, say tomorrow, when I woke up I bizarrely found myself in my 15-year-old body back where I used to live in Wolviston Court Estate, Billingham. But I have all my present memories, my present intelligence etc.

After getting over the complete shock, what the heck would I do? I couldn't tell anyone, at least not at first. It's absolutely, completely unbelievable. And is it temporary? Or permanent? Do I go to school (Northfield Comprehensive)?? I can't even remember what time school starts! Either 9am or 9.15am. I remember where to go, though — the registration class. Would my friend at the time, Gary Dix, think I am being a bit weird and strangely intelligent when I start talking? At that age I was starting to talk about all the things I do now -- the Universe, God, life after death etc. But my thoughts have somewhat developed since then!

Do I go to lessons? First thought is obviously not, I nick off and explore this world of 1977! On the other hand, it might be fun to attend school for at least a day and give the teachers a piece of my mind. I could explain to Mr Lonsdale, my physics "O level" teacher, that he is naively pre-supposing our physical theories depict a literal state of affairs and it is difficult to reconcile this supposition with the underdetermination of theories by evidence i.e for any macroscopic state of affairs a unlimited number of theories can be dreamt up employing wildly differing entities to explain that state of affairs. Yep, see how long the condescension by teachers towards me lasts!

Then I'll nick off the next day and forevermore after that (assuming this is a permanent state of affairs, and I'll continue to exist in my 15-year-old body). I should be able to use some of my knowledge of the future to make money. But how would I affect the future? There's the Butterfly effect.

Oh yes, and I would go over to Andrea Stark and tell her that I'm not gay! 😂
 (I found out a few years ago that she thought I was gay at the time).

Friday, 22 July 2022

The increase in the price of food from July 2021 to July 2022

I thought I would calculate how much food prices have increased in the past year. These are some of the food products I bought from either Morrisons or Sainsburys. I've only included those products that are identical. I haven't deliberately chosen the one's that have increased the most, I've just included those foods I could actually find. In all cases, for those products that continually cycle up and down in price, I've always bought at the low end of the price cycle, i.e., so-called "offers". 

So, as an average, the price I pay for food at supermarkets appears to have roughly increased by 15% in the past year. I do not know how that compares to the official figures. Obviously, it might be the case that the food I've included increased disproportionately compared to average food price increases. But I doubt it will be wildly inaccurate. So, for instance, I doubt claims that food has only risen by about 10% in the past year that I've heard bandied around (although that might have been around a month ago, and prices are relentlessly sharply increasing).

ESP Debate: Is Belief in ESP Irrational?

I read the first part of the below linked article where Steve Pinker attempts to explain why belief in ESP or psi is irrational: ESP Debate:...