(Pseudo-)Science Blog

Web log for PH 170: Philosophy of Science and Pseudoscience – – – – – – – – – – – Professor Peter Bokulich



The spectrum between delusions and cons

By Peter Bokulich

Consider the following video of a master of chi who can knock opponents over without even touching them.

When I see something like this I usually wonder just how much of it is intentional fakery and how much is self delusion. In this case, it seems that Ryuken really did think he had magic chi powers, and was willing to put them to the test against someone who wasn’t one of his students.

A test that magic failed rather painfully:

(Violence Warning: If you don’t want to see an old man get punched in the face, don’t click play.)

It’s not quite as clear whether Pandit Surender Sharma really thought he could kill Sanal Edamaruku with tantric rituals.

It seemed to me that he thought he could deliver the goods, but Edamaruku suggests that Sharma was caught in a bluff that he couldn’t find a way to back out of. I suppose that one often can’t draw the line between when someone knows that he is fooling others and when he’s genuinely deluded himself. Some cases so horrific that one hopes the “guru” is deluded:

a tantric who used to make his living with a dangerous stunt of rare brutality: he trampled on the bodies of little infants brought to him in hundreds by their illiterate parents to benefit from the godly powers of his feet.

I wonder where most psychics and astrologers fall on the self-delusion/con-man spectrum. It’s obvious to me that people like John Edward know full well that they’re just cold reading. And Randi has done a great job in revealing the deceptions of people like Popoff. (Throw Sai Baba into this camp as well; you can’t can’t be fooling people with cheap magic tricks and not know you’re deceiving them.)

On the other end of the spectrum, there are folks like practitioners of facilitated communication who have completely deluded themselves into thinking that they’re helping people with severe neurological damage communicate, when really they’re using a human as a Ouija board.

And finally, there are cases of genuine and simple ignorance:
The Daily Show on the Large Hadron Collider.

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