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An Examination of the Philosophy of C. J. Ducasse

For example, Ducasse rejected the view of Rhine and others that controlled experiments are necessary to establish the reality of psi phenomena, and that reports of phenomena outside the lab can do no more than to suggest what the relevant experiments might be. Furthermore, many critics of spontaneous cases charge that witnesses of ostensibly paranormal phenomena are disposed to see the miraculous or to see what they want, and thus they are prone to misperceive, deceive themselves, and perhaps even lie or exaggerate possibly unconsciously to protect their preconceptions.

Therefore, the critics often conclude, it is more reasonable to suppose that some process of motivated misperception, self-deception, or dishonesty is at work than to treat such eyewitness testimony as serious evidence for the paranormal. In fact, in some of the best cases—such as the Naples sittings with Palladino—the experimenters were clearly biased from the start against Eusapia and the reality of PK, and only grudgingly concluded that her phenomena were genuine. Ducasse was also quick to note that the appeal to human bias is double-edged, cutting against reports by the credulous and the incredulous.

If our biases may lead us to make perceptual errors, misremember, or lie, then we should be as suspicious of testimony from nonbelievers as from believers. If based on their favorable dispositions we distrust reports by the apparently credulous or sympathetic that certain odd phenomena occurred, we should by parity of reasoning be equally wary of reports by the incredulous or unsympathetic that the alleged phenomena did not occur or that cheating occurred instead.

Ducasse wrote,.

The emotional motivation for irresponsible disbelief is, in fact, probably even stronger—especially in scientifically educated persons whose pride of knowledge is at stake—than is in other persons the motivation for irresponsible belief. The fact is that, like the latter, the majority of scientists think rationally only when there is for them no strong emotional temptation to do otherwise. In fact, the history of parapsychology chronicles an impressive record of blindness, intellectual cowardice, and mendacity on the part of skeptics and ardent nonbelievers, some of them prominent scientists.

Not surprisingly, Ducasse was well-acquainted with the usual skeptical strategies for dismissing the evidence for psi generally not just spontaneous cases , and he rebutted them in many of his publications. For example, he attacked the familiar allegation that paranormal phenomena—for example, human levitation—are impossible and violate laws of Nature. He noted,. But it is on the contrary possible and easy if one uses a telephone wire, or radio waves. Two hundred years ago, the then impossibility of transatlantic conversation would widely have been termed absolute; yet the only statement that would have been warranted is that it was impossible by any means known at the time.

And, in fact, he does not know it but, when he asserts it, he is only dogmatizing even if unawares. The history of science is strewn with the corpses of absolute impossibilities rashly proclaimed at various times. Ducasse also had a response to those who dismiss psi phenomena on the grounds that they are antecedently improbable.

Ducasse, Curt John (–) |

For example, the antecedent improbability of the things an expert conjurer does on stage is extremely high if one takes as antecedent evidence what merely an ordinary person, under ordinary instead of staged conditions can do. The same is true of what geniuses, or so-called arithmetical prodigies, can do as compared with what ordinary men can do.

And that a man is a genius or a calculating prodigy is shown by what he does do, not the reality of what he does by his being a genius or prodigy. This holds equally as regards a medium and his levitations or other paranormal phenomena.

The Problem of Perception

For example, it would be foolish to maintain that the unprecedented mnemonic abilities reported by Luria 19 are unlikely to be genuine, due to their antecedent improbability based on the population of normal human beings. With reasoning such as that, we could forever avoid acknowledging the existence of exceptional human abilities. Moreover, Ducasse recognized that some critics of psi research had a particular prejudice against testimony collected more than a century beforehand, such as that in favor of the levitations of St Joseph of Copertino.

Ducasse also offered some interesting comments on the proper way to study mediums—in particular, how to proceed so as not to intimidate or otherwise alienate them. In an unpublished paper presented at a conference on spontaneous cases organized by the SPR, Ducasse noted. One could plausibly argue that it is precisely in this respect that the Cambridge investigations of Eusapia Palladino failed and the Naples sitting succeeded. For only such a pre-existing negative faith could cause one thus to rule out of consideration a priori the possibility that, for example, darkness or dim light may be as objectively propitious to the occurrence of paranormal physical phenomena as it is necessary to the successful developing of photographic plates.

For after all, the medium is human, and the exercise of certain kinds of capacity by a human being who possesses them does depend to some extent on the attitudes of others towards him at the time. The scientific attitude, as scientists and philosophers alike rightly proclaim, is characterized by unswerving and painstaking dedication to the discovery of truth; it is open-minded in the sense of free alike from adverse and from favorable prejudices; and it welcomes facts as such, no matter whether they confirm or invalidate the assumptions or theories on which they have bearing. In short, disinterested curiosity—the passion to know the truth—is the one scientific passion.

It is a stern censor, which rules out of scientific judgments factors such as emotion, dogmatism, hopes or fears, and wishful belief or disbelief—factors which so generally vitiate the judgments of ordinary men. Inside the door, of course, they either live up to the demands of the scientific attitude, or they achieve nothing.

But, outside, they are as prone as other men to pride of profession or of office; and the prestige with which the name, Scientist, endows them in the public eye easily provides for them an irresistible temptation to pontificate concerning all sorts of questions which fall outside their professional competence, but about which naive outsiders nevertheless respectfully ask them to speak because they are known as Scientists, and Scientists, by definition, are persons who know!

The oracular role which this flattering deference invites them to play, of course caters to the vanity of which they are no more free than other men, and which then almost fatally leads them to assume that—except when speaking to a fellow scientist on scientific matters—their utterances have high authority. For the idea which a person harbors of himself is largely determined by the picture of him which other persons hold out to him. Now, that pleasing though mainly subconscious picture of himself as an oracle is what is outraged when outsiders venture to call to the attention of a scientist certain facts, such as those psychical research investigates, which seem to clash with some of the principle of his science, but which he ignores.

It is on such occasions that the admirable scientific attitude I have described easily deserts him. On such occasions,…the outraged scientist is prone to become unscientifically emotional, obscurantistic, inaccurate, illogical, evasive, dogmatic, and even personally abusive. Ducasse shared the concern voiced by his contemporary CD Broad about the notion of precognition—namely, that it was not clearly intelligible to say that a future event, something that does not yet exist at the time of a precognitive experience, could have any causal consequences at all.

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At the time of the precognition, one could reasonably say that the future event, at best, is simply an unrealized possibility. Clearly, this objection applies only to the retrocausal analysis of precognition—not the active analysis in terms of inferences from ESP of contemporary states of affairs, or else telepathic influence or PK. That is, one can say of a physical event E so considered, that it is future to or temporally after or beyond a certain other one D from a certain third C ; but not simply that it is future ….

This state of affairs entails that the serial time order of physical events in themselves has no intrinsic direction …[T]he relation 'temporally between', which determines the serial order of physical events, does not determine one rather than the other of two theoretically possible directions within that order. In terms of entropy, all that could be said would be that, in one of the two directions, entropy never decreases; whereas in the other direction it never increases, and this does not, in itself , i.

So for Ducasse, there are two time series—the physical and the psychological. The reader should consult the source before deciding whether the theory is viable or even intelligible. Metaphysicians want to know what it is for one individual to be the same person as another, or the same person from one moment to the next.

Epistemologists want to know how to decide if an individual is the same person as someone else, or from one moment to the next. Now a familiar issue in the philosophical literature on personal identity is whether—from a metaphysical point of view--persons can be identified and reidentified by psychological criteria alone, or whether the persistence of psychological states must be anchored in something physical—such as a persisting body. The relevance of that debate to the topic of postmortem survival is obvious, and Ducasse believed that a surviving self could be intelligibly understood to be nothing more than a persisting set of mental capacities.

To that extent, Broad and Ducasse were in agreement. However, Broad insisted that dispositional properties must be grounded in some categorical that is, non-dispositional fact s. Often, the categorical states in question are assumed to be physical or bodily—for example, states of the brain. And he proposed that this psychic factor can persist, not as an ordinary physical object, but rather more like a broadcast of an orchestral performance that is not yet picked up by any suitably tuned receiver, and which exists still in the form of signals in the air.

By contrast, Ducasse proposed that a dispositional analysis would be sufficient, and that no appeal to underlying categorical states is required.

On the Importance of Spontaneous Cases

Hence, ultimately categorical grounds, such as Broad suggests, are impossible. On the other hand, that dispositions do not need categorical carriers of that kind becomes evident if one considers first the dispositions which together constitute the nature of a physical substance; for example, lead. Dispositions, simply as such, do not exist but only subsist , i. They exist , actually as distinguished from potentially, only where and when they are being exercised. In order that an account of what would constitute existence of a discarnate personality be possible similarly in terms of exercise of one or more of the dispositions which define the particular nature of that personality, it is necessary that there should be a psychical analogue of the physical place at which, in the example of lead, some of its dispositions were being exercised.

If some lead exists only dispositionally or potentially, in what sense can it be said that some lead exists to be acted upon? More specifically, how or in what sense can a mere potentiality act upon—or be acted upon by—another mere potentiality? In fact, how can a mere potentiality have weight?

It seems quite unpromising to say, as Ducasse claims in the passage quoted above, that some lead subsists only in the sense of being conceivable. Similarly for my ability to fly like Superman. So why do some conceivable things subsist and others not? One obvious answer seems ruled out by Ducasse—namely, that the conceivable things which subsist are those that are grounded already in some categorical states of affairs, with the rest existing only conceptually.

At any rate, in his book Nature, Mind, and Death , Ducasse explains what he has in mind when he speaks of a psychical analogue to physical space.

  • Curt John Ducasse - Wikipedia.
  • Causing, Perceiving and Believing.
  • Scientific Rationality and the Ethics of Belief.

Ducasse writes,. Psychical contact as so defined seems to be what occurs in instances of telepathy between minds whose bodies are at physical distance from each other.

Finally, in a criticism of a paper by another philosopher, FC Donmeyer, 38 Ducasse took a stand on the survival vs living-agent-psi debate, arguing in favor of the former. In particular, he wanted to rebut the suggestion that the best evidence for survival could be accommodated in terms of. What would be needed in addition would be something different from ESP in kind , not simply in degree. Then, as an example of a case resisting a living-agent-psi interpretation, he cites the ostensible possession of Lurancy Vennum reported in the so-called Watseka Wonder case.

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