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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Deconstructing pseudoscience

Can magicians (illusionists) really levitate themselves and others or bend spoons using only the power of their mind? No. Emphatically no. But they surely make it seem as if they can.

Enjoy being fooled? Then you’ll love watching really good magic shows that allow people the opportunity to suspend their disbelief momentarily. But don’t let this suspension become permanent.

Here’s a sampling of illusions about reality that fool many people:

  • Unidentified flying objects (UFOs) are alien spaceships piloted by extraterrestrials (ETs). These alien beings have kidnapped humans, taken them aboard their flying saucers, and, in some cases, subjected them to painful medical examinations before setting them free.
  • A ghost is the soul or specter of a dead person. Ghosts inhabit another world from which they are capable of returning to the world of the living. They are able to haunt certain locations, where they appear, displace objects, emit sounds such as laughter and screaming, ring bells, slam doors, and even cause instruments to play. (Who you gonna call?)
  • The position and movements of particular celestial bodies at the moment of a human being’s birth predetermine that individual’s personality and other characteristics and influence day-to-day events during their lifetime. This is called astrology. Ideas about people based in their sun signs show up in many newspapers, web sites, and sometimes in casual conversation. The question “What sign were you born under?” is often asked. My typical response, “hospital” often inspires eye rolls.
Spoon by Filipe Ramos from Porto. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Spoon by Filipe Ramos from Porto. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  • The universe was created in all its complexity by the command of God in six days of 24 hours each, no more than 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. All the species that exist or have existed were created at the same time. Noah’s flood, 4,500 years ago, was world-wide and accounts for the deposition of rock strata and fossils found on earth. Humanity was dispersed into many races and tongues at the Tower of Babel.
  • Extrasensory perception (ESP, also called second sight, intuition, and the Sixth Sense – perception not using the normal senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) and psychokinesis (PK, also called telekinesis – the production of motion in physical objects by the exercise of mental powers) can be manifested by psychics (people said to possess these powers). Psychics operate from storefronts, hold public or private sessions, operate telephone links, or maintain extensive websites.
  • A unique “life-energy field” undetectable by scientific instruments and known as qi or chi, ka, prana, or HEF (human energy field) exists. It courses through our bodies in pathways or channels called meridians that branch off to all major organs in our body. Imbalance or interruption of these energies is directly related to health or emotional problems. Adjustment of these energies by practitioners can restore health and well-being.

Interesting ideas, yes. But do any of them correspond to reality?

No. Emphatically no.

Just like stage magic, they are all illusions. In spite of the efforts of many investigators, evidence for these phenomena fail to meet the standards of science. So, regardless of their numbers, charts, or graphs, they must be regarded as pseudoscience. Suspension of disbelief for these illusions might lead to a bit of entertainment, but reality is not amused.

So, what’s the problem here? As long as you don’t take these ideas too seriously, it’s all in fun. No harm, no foul, right?

Wrong, emphatically wrong. There is harm, on several counts.

First of all, there is a money problem. Astrological charts and calls to 900 number psychic hot lines aren’t cheap. In times of tight money, we must all manage our resources carefully.

Further, the time spent giving serious consideration to such bogus activities could be far more profitably invested in almost anything else, such as understanding economics, knitting, or even reading accurate blogs. Scientific studies would be our recommendation, but almost any analysis of reality would seem preferable to pseudoscience.

Perhaps the most harm comes from the dulling of critical thinking skills. Pseudoscientific ideas are generally personal or anecdotal as opposed to scientific concepts that require abundant replicated physical evidence for support. The internet provides a great example of the blurring of the distinction between science and pseudoscience. Search engines spew out mountains of articles, blogs, links, and videos in fractions of a second and list them as if they are all of equal validity. If you apply critical thinking, you must weigh these sources and evidence carefully, but be alert not to suspend your skepticism; pseudoscientific illusions can be very attractively and persuasively presented.

Bending your mind for a better understanding of reality is vastly preferable to buying into the illusion of bending spoons.

Featured image: Ball by FeeLoona. Public domain via Pixabay.

Recent Comments

  1. Sandy Holland

    Despite your emphatic denials, you are not actually able to definitively disprove any more than believers are able to offer proof.

  2. Paul Faigl

    Your article seems to erect almost a last wall against all that what you consider “pseudoscience”. Good on you.
    A Chinese paper wall?
    I will be relieved to know what – according to you – is then a “science”, if not from “sciro”. You have read (rather only skimming) apparently only Popper but Kuhn is most likely no-no for you. Nevertheless I shall bookmark this “magnum opus” of yours and will return to it later at an appropriate time. But please do a little bit more homework in the meantime! Good luck!

  3. Matt Cardin

    I note the interesting fact that you equate “real” with “subject to empirical scientific investigation.” On what basis do you make that assumption?

  4. Charles Nyiha

    How is this a deconstruction of pseudoscience?

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