On The Demon Possessed Doll & Little Girl

You might have seen the video of the little girl playing near a doll, a doll which twitches its head without visible promoting. The video switches views and sees the same girl drawing on a table. Unbidden, papers fly about, things are pushed hither and yon, and even the table begins drifting.

The Mirror’s headline is “‘Demon possessed doll’ blinks and nods head before entire room shakes leaving young girl terrified: The ‘haunted doll’ is filmed twisting its head from side to side before objects fly across the room in the creepy [sic] vide.”

Many are saying the video was faked, with the strongest evidence being a supposed manipulation of the time markers. Others says it’s real and that similar things have happened to them or to loved ones. But we’re not here interested in whether this particular video was fraudulent or proof of demonic activity. What is more interesting was a comment to the Mirror’s piece from somebody calling himself Bill Jefferson:

James Randi settled this nonsense years ago, with Uri Geller and spoon bending. He said that any “miracle” or “paranormal event” that can be duplicated by a skilled magician using his regular conjuring tricks must be considered as such and ignored.

Let’s see something no magician could add to his act.

Below this was a rejoinder from “Rcxy”, who said, “I do think it’s fake. However, Randi’s statement is not conclusive, since many things can be faked.”

Regular, long-time readers will recall I know Randi and have had dealings with him in the past; he helped and critiqued an experiment I designed to test some claims from the founder of Dahn Yoga. I also wrote a skeptical (I do not say dismissive) book with the not-so-skeptical title So, You Think You’re Psychic (free PDF, book, wrote years before I finally figured probability out). Mathematician and magician Persi Diaconis, now of Stanford, was on my PhD committee when I was at Cornell because of a shared interest in examining extraordinary claims. I also have many books written by professional magicians, with a special focus on mental magic, and have practiced the same. I list these as a few of my bona fides in writing about the subject of faking mystical phenomena.

The gist is that Rcxy is correct and Jefferson and Randi (assuming these are a fair representation of his remarks) are wrong.

Proof that the video above was faked would be in the form of direct evidence, such as a confession by the video maker, the discovery of wires or strings that manipulated the objects, or an argument how the time stamp was forged, and the like. It could not possibly be that this video was proved fake because a magician (or some other person) could duplicate what was seen.

Thus it is not proof Uri Geller is a fraud because I, or even you, Dear Reader, with minimal training, can bend a fork using mundane means and pretend it was done via psychic vibrations (it’s always vibrations). We conclude (a decision, not a probability) Geller is a fake because he cannot produce his magic under controlled conditions, when he is watched with the eyes of a magician-hawk, when all (known!) ways of his using artifices have been removed, and because he has been caught cheating (though some disagree!). That parenthetical “known” is key, because, as my library of magical books attest, new ways to cheat are being discovered regularly. And Geller is (or was) clever.

We also can suggest that Geller is a fraud based on arguments like, Why would human beings come equipped with a bizarre power to mentally manipulate kitchen cutlery only in the presence of television cameras? And so on.

Rcxy was right to suggest Randi’s, and David Hume’s, from where such ideas were given to the modern world, criterion is too harsh. It is possible to fake the moon landing (see the movie Capricorn One, with excellent cameo by Telly Savalas), therefore the moon landing was faked. It is possible to fake the death of a man, therefore Elvis hasn’t really left the building. It is possible to fake human skin and voice using sophisticated makeup and technology, therefore Hillary Clinton really is a lizard alien come to conquer the human race.

No. That any event can be said to have more than one cause is not, is never, and can never be, proof that the suggested cause isn’t the real cause. This means all the criticisms of miracles which only offer alternate explanations, without ever proving the alternate explanations, like in the video critiques above, have done nothing, because why? Because it is possible to posit endless causes for anything.

Proof is not so simple as wish, which is all Randi’s criterion (if we may call it that) is.

21 Comments

  1. “Samhain Baucogna” has a channel on YouTube. There’s a dozen or more similar videos though none of them are tarted up to look like security camera footage. Many have the identical logo to the one put out by the Mail. (The Mail fremmsake!)

    Also, when events occur without obvious agency why invoke ‘demon possession’? That’s a cumbersome hypothesis.

  2. Years ago, when good computer photo manipulation first became possible, I worked for a newspaper and went to a seminar about it. At that time it was expensive and difficult, but the presenter said that from now on one could not be certain that a photo proved anything. Given that at the beginning of photography’s widespread use people were not as sophisticated in evaluating a fake (hence “ghost” and “fairy” photographs being widely accepted as real, though to us they are obviously very BAD fakes), it wasn’t quite true to say that NOW that statement was correct. But it is correct that a photograph doesn’t any longer — if it ever did — prove something per se. However, it didn’t mean the end of photographs as evidence. The fact that something can be faked means that one has to be more careful in accepting it as proof, not that it must be ruled out as a proof. After all, many people can imitate other people’s voice, some so well that they can make al living doing it entertainment. The fact that some people can sound like others doesn’t mean you can NEVER believe that you recognize a voice you know. It would be crazy to say so.

  3. Proof is not so simple as wish,
    So it’s as well not to bandy the word about when dealing with matters of metaphysics and theology. Pure mathematics is the only place where proof is considered the correct use of the word. Evidence is supporting information and can be compelling to the point where it is considered demonstrated or to have satisfied curiosity or enquiry. It is always contingent is it not? Evidence? On the next piece of evidence, if you construct outlandish evidence to be stronger than the current or if you actually have more evidence.
    So when Thomas handlers speak of proof they are speaking out of turn, deliberately and this is known by all careful readers.

    “to have more than one cause is not, is never, and can never be, proof that the suggested cause isn’t the real cause.” For the reasons above.

    So in the case of the cocky claims about animal capacity and human intellect, the case is not proven. Since animals have been shown to demonstrate powers of reasoning and abstraction in order to solve problems then the claim that they cannot do this is false. In logic a thing can be true or false. If a thing is false it is no proven.

    What is actually happening in reality may be quite a different thing since what each observer claims about what animals can do is not the same. Nobody knows!

    Even a blind squirrel and all that is sign of someone in denial.

  4. Proof is not so simple as wish,
    So it’s as well not to bandy the word about when dealing with matters of metaphysics and theology. Pure mathematics is the only place where proof is considered the correct use of the word. Evidence is supporting information and can be compelling to the point where it is considered demonstrated or to have satisfied curiosity or enquiry. It is always contingent is it not? Evidence? On the next piece of evidence, if you construct outlandish evidence to be stronger than the current or if you actually have more evidence.
    So when Thomas handlers speak of proof they are speaking out of turn, deliberately and this is known by all careful readers.

    “to have more than one cause is not, is never, and can never be, proof that the suggested cause isn’t the real cause.” For the reasons above.

    So in the case of the claim non human non intellect versus human intellect, the case is not proven. Since animals have been shown to demonstrate powers of reasoning and abstraction in order to solve problems then the claim that they cannot do this is false. In logic a thing can be true or false. If a thing is false it is no proven.

    Reality might not be captured in the statements of logical argument deliberately, by accident or due ignorance.
    Nobody knows! We can be sure as makes no odds! Which is my position but I can’t say what about.

    Even a blind squirrel and all that is sign of someone in denial.

  5. For anyone with OCDC, I correct my typos. least someone should feel the need to use ‘sic’ which is the pretentious way of saying
    “Thtt’s not my mistake, tut tut, it’s his!”

    Proof is not so simple as wish,
    So it’s as well not to bandy the word about when dealing with matters of metaphysics and theology. Pure mathematics is the only place where proof is considered the correct use of the word. Evidence is supporting information and can be compelling to the point where it is considered demonstrated or to have satisfied curiosity or enquiry. It is always contingent is it not? Evidence? On the next piece of evidence, if you construct outlandish evidence to be stronger than the current or if you actually have more evidence.
    So when Thomas handlers speak of proof they are speaking out of turn, deliberately and this is known by all careful readers.

    “to have more than one cause is not, is never, and can never be, proof that the suggested cause isn’t the real cause.” For the reasons above.

    So in the case of the claim non human non intellect versus human intellect, the case is not proven. Since animals have been shown to demonstrate powers of reasoning and abstraction in order to solve problems then the claim that they cannot do this is false. In logic a thing can be true or false. If a thing is false it is not proven.

    Reality might not be captured in the statements of logical argument deliberately, by accident or due to ignorance.
    Nobody knows! We can be sure as makes no odds! Which is my position but I can’t say what about.

    “Even a blind squirrel…”and all that is a sign of someone in denial.

  6. It’s easy to spot the error in thinking:

    1. Events of type A can be faked
    2. An event of type A occurred (call it X)
    3. Therefore, X was faked

    On the other hand, if you go through seeing a bunch of ‘A’ being faked you start to build up distrust. That’s quite reasonable to do.

  7. RE: “That any event can be said to have more than one cause is not, is never, and can never be, proof that the suggested cause isn’t the real cause.”

    BRAVO! — AN explanation, even one that is reproducible, is not necessarily THE ACTUAL explanation for a particular observation. ‘If it doesn’t fit, must we acquit?’ [paraphrasing an infamous line from one of the last century’s “trials of the century’ — there were several of those]

    continuing:

    “This means all the criticisms of miracles which only offer alternate explanations, without ever proving the alternate explanations … have done nothing, because why? Because it is possible to posit endless causes for anything.”

    The actual point made, if not clearly/literally, was to the effect:

    If a seemingly supernatural event is explainable via routine trickery, or lies/misunderstanding by observers, etc., the event is almost certainly trickery or otherwise natural. (aka, a version of “Occam’s Razor”…to get that comparison out of the way)

    On a statistician’s blog it just seems appropriate to note that when multiple possibilities exist, the most likely is usually the actual.

    That is what Randi encountered -EVERY case examined objectively was either fraud or cases where the observer was mistaken (e.g. the latter of dowsing — where no matter where one drilled, eventually an aquifer was encountered … but who could not, better than chance, actually encounter an underground stream, pipe, etc.).

    Here, we started with an alleged manifestation of demonic activity, side-stepping most-likely explanation, trickery, and drifted off to “criticisms of miracles” — why alternate explanations, non-miraculous explanations, ultimately don’t matter.

    Think about that — by such a standard (if one can call it that) one should, for example, be equally open to accepting Jesus’ ascension as Mohammed’s … and so on.

    But people aren’t so accepting, quite the contrary, with identically unsupported/unsupportable non-evidence [ancient assertions] people consistently demonstrate they are highly selective and discriminatory on which miracles they will and will not accept … and that is itself interesting …

    Here, we started with an alleged manifestation of demonic activity, side-stepping most-likely explanation, trickery, and drifted off to “criticisms of miracles” — why alternate explanations, non-miraculous explanations, ultimately don’t matter … why, on a blog dedicated to logic and analysis, one in the particular arena of miracles ought not apply logic or analysis.

  8. “Proof” means “to test” or “to probe.” The latter word is actually the same word, with the ‘b’ standing in for the ‘v’ of “prove.” Examples include “Aberdeen Proving Grounds,” “proof of distilled spirits,” “the proof of the pudding [is in the eating],” “proofreading,” “proof strike” in coinage, “waterproof,” and the “proofing room” in bakeries in which a leavened dough rises [or not]. Wills must be “proven” in court.

    The modern usage as something established as true no doubt extends from usages similar to “waterproof.” It’s not simply that the fabric has been tested against water penetration, but that it has tested successfully.

    The mathematical sense of “proof” as the demonstration that a conclusion is mathematically true is a series of valid deductions from axioms to the conclusion. Hence, the abbreviation QED, meaning “that which was to have been demonstrated.”

    Metaphysical proofs lead to determinations rather than demonstrations. As in math, the reasoning is deductive, but the antecedents are typically sense impressions as in natural science, and so not known with the certainty of mathematics.

  9. As to the video, my position on demons is similar to my position on a lot of [bad] science fiction: if demons (or Goa’uld ships) existed and manifested on Earth, I’d expect a lot of other things to happen that don’t happen.

    (Terry Pratchett had an essay on fantasy, where he said “if pigs fly, then you expect some adaptations, like everyone carrying sturdy umbrellas everywhere.” Something so far off of daily experience will have visible impact on many other things.)

    As for Randi (and the “skeptics” and “atheists” who populate JREF, RDEF, and other “look at me I’m so smart” forums), I’ve expressed my opinion in my blog (link above since the comment keeps being rejected with a link here).

    JCS

  10. The question surely is not whether Hillary Clinton really is a lizard alien, but rather, if there were lizard aliens (come to conquer the human race), would Hillary Clinton be one?

  11. Ooh! Ooh! Pick me! Pick me!
    After the recent death of William Peter Blatty (of Exorcist fame), I found the following interesting quote from Isegoria.net
    “Oh, I almost forgot, the original true story that the novel was based on wasn’t quite true.”
    And he had a link. So I went down the rabbit hole:
    Part 1 of 5
    There’s a link to Part 2 at the bottom of Part 1, etc.
    TL;DR —

    Personally, I do not believe Rob Doe was possessed. There is simply too much evidence that indicates that as a boy he had serious emotional problems stemming from his home life. There is not one shred of hard evidence to support the notion of demonic possession. The facts show that he was a spoiled and disturbed only child with a very overprotective mother and a non-responsive father. To me his behavior was indicative of an outcast youth who desperately wanted out of Bladensburg Junior High School at any cost. He wanted attention and he wanted to leave the area and go to St. Louis. Throwing tantrums was the answer. He began to play his concocted game. For his efforts he got a collection of priests (who had no previous exorcism experience) who doted over him as he lay strapped to a bed. His response was that of any normal child-he reacted with rage, he wanted out.”

  12. Trust ‘And’ Verify is a maxim to be used.
    In the days of photography with wooden cabinet cameras and cut film ,which was used for publications because of the distorting effect of rolled film in hand cameras, we students were shown that all sorts of jiggery pokery was possible in the darkroom. It was the same with film used for moving pictures. A lot of, shall we call it , misrepresentation could and did happen in those days before computers . We weren’t innocents.
    After all, this kind of thing was used during World War II propaganda, I have read.
    It is better to be scientifically sceptical of pictures showing actions which cannot be reproduced and cannot be verified by other means.

    Devilry of a different sort may be at work.

  13. “Proof” is misplaced in arguments where there is so much uncertainty. It is rhetorical. Which was the point. When it is used in pure maths there’s no argument.

    Mathematical axioms are rather more acceptable to all minds than those of metaphysics or politics or studies that “Demonstrate” (show). Why is it so hard to be honest about this?

    What is expected by “proof” is as open as the user wishes it to be when pinned down about it!
    however it is clear what is really intended. At least barristers claim the proviso of reasonable doubt. Judges are careful to make juries aware of evidence and it’s nature. That a true verdict must be given according to the evidence, Not “according to the proof”!

    Some use the word proof and evidence interchangeably.
    “As has been argued” would be a fairer phrase than “as has been proved” or “as we have proved.”

    We are not living in classical or even medieval times.
    So when accusing others of being ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ it’s as well that everybody is simply honest about what they mean for honest clarity. If the meanings are accepted beforehand or known after explanation then the argument can still be examined with that new information but rarely ever is.
    That must be the Humpty Dumpty fallacy.

    The truth, that is the really real, doesn’t alter whatever language is used to convey it. The important thing is that the language is spoken by both parties making the argument without resort to personal attack, or the slightly subtler version of the cowardly innuendo.

    So, even with the weaker watered down “shown to be” sense of the word “proven” nothing changes.

    A conjecture is false if there is even one example which disproved the case. That is, the case is no longer water tight. How’s that? That won’t do because each argument is taken on it’s own merit.

    The cases of interest are those where someone’s claiming certainty, such as the case of the man about the soul and the other men about the dog. In those cases certainty is claimed. To which I say,
    “you can’t be certain, I am certain!”
    It’s not even good enough to say it’s internally consistent because the ‘internal’ is so uncertain as I’ve discovered, by all the shenanigans.

    As to what each person uses as evidence to be convinced of an argument that’s another thing entirely. We can know something for ourselves but it’s at the point where that is shown to others where all the trouble starts. When an argument needs ad hominem tactics it’s a sign (not proof) of a weak argument or a bad premise.

  14. Lest we forget, in Mathematics and academic Statistics there is a cottage industry in finding alternative proofs for various theorems, as well as proving the same result for various sets of premises. Just wander into the university stacks and look through the archived dissertations. So even in Math a result can have multiple paths.

  15. To me, the most disturbing aspect of this event lies, not in the (extremely high) probability of fraud, not in the terrifying fact of the existence of demons, not even in faulty arguments against the recognition of miracles, but of the widespread confusion of language exemplified in the Mirror piece.

    Surely this would be, were it real, a case of demonic obsession rather than possession?

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