Saturday, 9 April 2011

Very Large Numbers

Robert Mcluhan reports having been a guest on a Radio 4 program discussing crisis apparitions.
One of the other guests was Richard Wiseman, a high-profile member of Team New Atheist.
Crisis apparitions occur when a dying or dead person appears to a living one. I've had a crisis apparition myself, seeing a strange vision of my father on the day that he died.

Well, anyway, Wiseman, when asked for his opinion on these surprisingly common occurances, replied that it was all down to the law of very large numbers. You know - something happens often, but only when it coincides with a meaningful event in our lives do we remember it. This theory seeks to explain why quite a large number of people report sightings of dead relatives or friends coincidental with the time of their passing. It happens often, you see, but we only mark it as spectacular when  the person we've had the vision of turns out to have died, around that time.

Oh but hang on - that would only work if we all went around having apparitions often enough to apply the theory of very large numbers, wouldn't it?
I don't know about you, but I'm not particularly given to having an apparition a day. Or even a week, or a month. If I have one in a year it's noteworthy.Very.

And so once again we are treated to the spectacle of a New Atheist team member making an absolute jackass of himself. I can't say I have much sympathy - even though, or maybe because, I was once wearing those atheist-materialist threads myself. There's a huge pressure going on in those ranks - I've felt it myself - to come up with a rational explanation for everything we can't explain scientifically. Somewhat like the "need to believe" soi-disant skeptics are always accusing the rest of the population of feeling. Funny, isn't it?