11 January 2012

An Exercise In Debunking Documentaries

A program called "5th Dimension" does an hour show on debunking reincarnation. It includes a case study of Shanti Devi, a girl born in India in 1926 who was tested by Gandhi and Ian Stevenson and became a media sensation in her time. Next is a segment with Stevenson's research, followed by a story from Pueblo, USA, of Bridey Murphy. It ends with a segment about the Dalai Lama.

Of course people like the head of the Indian (ir-)Rationalist Association Sanal Edamaruku like to say it's all fake (he actually does say that). He says that belief in reincarnation was created to explain the caste system, and, by extension, "takes away the sense of enterprise in people." Does it? Untouchable (Dalit) K. R. Narayana became President of India, and fellow untouchable K. G. Balakrishnan became Chief Justice of India. That's about as far from having their sense of enterprise taken away as you can get. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the highest level Brahmin, strove to destroy the caste system, as did Gandhi, another Brahmin. If the lowest of the low and the highest of the high can work together, both achieving great things, how is it that belief in reincarnation destroys their desire to strive and better their lives? In light of that it is safe to say that Edamaruku's criticism falls apart.

As a side note, the term "rationalist" means someone who believes true knowledge cannot be attained through the senses, only through the rational mind. This is in sharp contrast with people like Edamaruku who believes that the mind doesn't exist, that everything is dead matter, and that knowledge can only come from the senses. Fundamaterialist skep-dick debunkers like to hijack the word "rationalist" and "rational" to mean its opposite, just like they like to hijack the word "nothing" to mean "the quantum vacuum that has existed forever into the past".

There's also Prof. Phillip Sharp (or Shar or something, the narrator has a thick accent and no spelling is given and none of the people interviewed are acknowledged in the credits!), a white guy who uses a version of Bob Couttie's argument against Devi's case (see page 14 in my Forbidden Knowledge). Couttie said that just because a record of a chemical plant's bad safety existed somewhere several hours before the plant exploded (the report was filed on the same day it exploded) coupled with fear of chemical plants that a housewife some distance away having a premonition of the explosion can be explained away by cryptamnesia of her hearing about this report. Even though there's no evidence that the housewife or indeed anyone in the town in which she lived or anyone she knew had any knowledge of this report, and no evidence that even existence of this report got out before the accident, Couttie says that the mere existence of the report justifies the extreme likelihood of a Rube Goldberg nonpsychic explanation for how the housewife had the premonition. Similarly Prof. Sharp says that just because Devi's husband in a former life visited her neighborhood in Delhi to do business means that Devi likely overheard the man and that's how she got the idea of her past life, and correctly identified people she never met, and made a great deal of correct statements of a city she never went to. For skep-dicks as long as a non-psychic explanation is not impossible that means there is at least a 99.999% chance that the non-psychic explanation is the correct one. Actual scientists, on the other hand, like Ian Stevenson, conduct huge amounts of actual research to produce cases suggestive of reincarnation.

Archskep-dick Chris French chimes in, saying children with past life memories are all cultural dependent, which conveniently ignores children with past life memories who come from cultures that are neutral or hostile to belief in reincarnation. If pressed he would come up with some bullshit response.

Overall if a student gave me this to grade I would give it a D+, maybe a C- but only because of the stuff at the end with the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman. This should serve as an example of how NOT to do a documentary.