Before you dig your heels in and attack this post, I’ll refer to this one. I think it’ll give you some necessary background; some perspective on Dr. Dossey so you can see where I’m coming from.
In the aforementioned post, there was an interview with Dr. Dossey in which he discussed his book, The Power of Premonitions: How Knowing the Future Can Shape Our Lives. I’d only talked briefly about that interview because there were other things to discuss. But, this entry is dedicated entirely to that interview. (I’d recommend keeping another window with this interview opened so you can switch back and forth.)
Seeing how this is the introduction, I’ll introduce you to what you’re about to read. Now, Dr. Larry Dossey is an actual doctor. But, from his methods of reasoning, you’d be surprised. For anyone familiar with the Scientific Method, you’ll find yourself baffled, stunned, and quite flummoxed.
Dr. Dossey relies heavily on anecdotal evidence (stories) for proof of his claims. Anyone involved in science, especially in a professional sense, knows that anecdotes are not in any way reliable proof of anything. It’s hearsay.
Essentially, what you’re about to find out is that what Dr. Dossey refers to as “Premonition Science” is really just faulty reasoning and bad logic.
Dr. Dossey’s Premonitions
Basically, what Dr. Dossey refers to as “premonitions” are instinctual reactions, or anticipation of an unpleasant event sprinkled with a dash of Supernaturalism and New Age philosophy.
Consider the first 3 questions of that interview and it’ll give you a good idea of what Dossey means by a premonition. In a word, Dossey’s premonition is a hunch. An idea that something might happen. Let’s look at the following question for an example of this.
4. Why are premonitions about unpleasant things? Why don’t we have
premonitions about winning the lottery, the right stocks to pick, or when to bail out of the stock market?
He responds by saying that premonitions are “trying to do us a favor.” In this context Dossey’s premonitions are really just manifestations of the fight or flight response. We’ve evolved to anticipate the “unpleasant.” That’s how we’ve survived and made it to the top of the food chain. If we were slow to respond when a tiger was in the bushes, we’d be long gone by now.
Now that we live in a relatively “controlled” environment, these instincts are now free to be applied to other things. We worry. We anticipate pain, discomfort and other “unpleasant” things. These instincts are how we protect ourselves from harm. There’s no need to insert the supernatural when the natural perfectly explains everything.
Dossey says he wrote this book because the time was right, that…
…science has come onto the premonitions scene. There are now hundreds of experiments that confirm premonitions, which have been replicated by researchers all over the world.
Really? Wouldn’t it make sense that these “researchers all over the world” would manage to get published in at least ONE peer reviewed, scientific journal? A PubMed search reveals 0 (ZERO) studies involving the search term “premonitions” in the context which Dr. Dossey is talking about. Maybe saying “researchers all over the world” is slightly exaggerated. Maybe it was one study he did at his house?
6. If people can see the future, why don’t they get rich playing the stock market?
Dossey claims that they do, and that this success is proved with studies of CEO’s predicting random series of numbers.
Researchers have tested CEOs of successful corporations for their ability to see the future, such as predicting a string of numbers they will be shown later. The CEOs who are good at this are usually those who are also highly successful in running their corporations.
What was the range of numbers? 1 – 10? 1 – 1,000,000? How were these tests conducted? What is the correlation between guessing numbers and determining the most successful corporate balance sheets? In the corporate culture, being able to determine the “most successful balance sheets” is a requirement. So, they all had better score well on that test.
What this seems like is cherry-picking evidence.
Interestingly, these CEOs were shy about owning their premonition sense. They didn’t call their abilities premonitions, but good “business sense.”
Dr. Dossey, maybe you should listen to them… because they’re right! That’s all it is. Good business sense.
9. You talk about “evidence” for premonitions. But isn’t the evidence just
anecdotes and people’s stories?
I would ask the same thing.
This field used to be only about stories, but that’s changed. There’s now a
science of premonitions. For the first time in history, we can now use
“premonition” and “science” in the same sentence.
Strange. I’d refer you back to that PubMed search which reveals ZERO results for “premonitions” in the scientific literature.
I think a great deal of what Dr. Dossey calls “premonitions” can be placed in the confirmation bias category. People remember when their “premonition” is fulfilled. But, what about all of the other countless “premonitions” that never panned out? Those are quickly forgotten, and all of the emphasis is placed upon the predictions that came true.
I would venture to guess that people who worry a lot are also disproportionately more likely to believe they’ve had premonitions. They spend a great deal more time worrying and “predicting” bad things that might happen. This also means they have a greater chance of “predicting” when something bad will happen, simply because of the sheer number of predictions that they make during the course of the day. The odds are that they’ll get a hit more often than those who don’t worry as much.
There have been claims that people on the Titanic had premonitions about the ship going down. That might seem astonishing at first. But, I submit that there is not a single ship, car, train, or bicycle in existence in which someone hasn’t worried about it breaking, crashing or sinking. You wouldn’t find one. Because people worry, there will always be premonitions like this. There is nothing supernatural about it.
Think about it this way. How many times during the course of a single day do people get nervous and decide not to fly, take a train or a boat – all over the globe? The only reason it was paid attention to in the case of the Titanic was because of how famous the event was.
Premonitions As Science?
Tell me if you think this sounds like scientific thinking…
But the premise of my book is that these events are not rare at all, but very common.
Most skeptics are poorly informed. They simply ignore the experiments showing that people can sense the future, because these studies create huge holes in their arguments.
Many skeptics will not be persuaded that premonitions are real, no matter how compelling the evidence is.
Personal experience is probably the best argument against the skeptics of
Cases like this suggest that the best evidence for premonitions is not argument or even experimental evidence, but personal experience.
This is a trained scientists talking? I’ve searched the web and was unable to find ONE reliable journal willing to publish anything about these experiments. Not only this, but when he says that “the best evidence for premonitions is not argument or even experimental evidence, but personal experience,” I cringe because this is exactly what science teaches us is not the kind of thing we can rely on. No controls, the fallibility of human memory, no reliable documentation by independent sources, etc.
Dossey then goes on to say that…
Scientists don’t really know what time is. We assume it flows in one direction, which prohibits premonitions. But no experiment in the history of science has ever shown that time flows in one direction, or that it flows at all. Alternative views of time are downright cordial to premonitions.
While there is a bit of truth to this statement, we do know that we can’t simply travel through time with our minds. Michio Kaku explains this here.
Dr. Dossey wants us to believe that we can somehow use this mysterious, New Age “energy” in our mind to travel through time and perceive the future. Not quite. The power of an exploding star is required. Not only this, but that incomprehensible amount of power has to be directed in such a specific way so as to bend the Universe into the shape of a pretzel.
And then this guy has the nerve to bring up “Remote Viewing.” Are you serious? And Radin’s “presentiment” experiments. These have long been debunked. There was no “precognition.” The effects have been conclusively shown to be the result of expectation, and not “premonition.”
In fact, Wikipedia says this to say…
Remote viewing was popularized in the 1990s, following the declassification of documents related to the Stargate Project, a 20 million dollar research program sponsored by the U.S. Federal Government to determine any potential military application of psychic phenomena. The program was terminated in 1995, citing a lack of documented evidence that the program had any value to the intelligence community.
Yes, that’s right. The program was terminated because of “a lack of documented evidence that the program had any value to the intelligence community.”
The evidence just doesn’t stack up. Everything that Dossey claims can be explained by perfectly natural means, and these premonitions actually fit better in a natural setting. Inserting supernatural explanations only complicates matters.
Like a lot of proponents of pseudoscience, I think Dr. Dossey uses his status as a doctor to promote ideas which are not supported by scientific research. The argument from authority. He’s a doctor, so we must believe him by virtue of that fact alone. But, I suppose that’s all he’s got, since the science doesn’t agree with what he’s claiming.
Even from a very basic scientific standpoint, Dr. Dossey hasn’t even provided a mechanism for how these premonitions might work. How do premonitions function? What part of the brain do they stem from? What energy source do they draw upon for their predictions? Is it part of the electromagnetic spectrum? Is it potential or kinetic energy? Where is this source of information about the future from which our minds can draw from? There are so many unanswered questions, and yet Dr. Dossey claims that there is science to support his claims.
What I can say is that it does seem to make sense when we take a look at premonitions under a more practical, logical, skeptical light. They seem to be the result of instinct, anticipation, worry, and anxiety all wrapped up in chance and statistics.
One person worrying about something, only to have it happen just the way they predicted would be an astonishing thing. There’s no doubt about that. But, when we take into account all of the worriers across the globe, and we span all of their worries over the span of 365 days, the chances of ONE of those worries from ONE of those billions of people coming true, we get a statistical certainty that these premonitions will come to pass. And not just once, but hundreds, if not thousands of times over the course of a year.
It’s really not all that astonishing or baffling when you take a skeptical look at this phenomena.
And that’s all I’ve got.
Read a book. It’s good for you.
I’d never heard of Dr. Larry Dossey before Steve Gibson of the Truth-Driven Thinking podcast Tweeted about him, wondering if there were any skeptical viewpoints on his work. But a quick perusing of Dr. Dossey’s site provided enough woo for a week and a half, at least. Here’s just a little taste of what I’m talking about…
An education steeped in traditional Western medicine did not prepare Dr. Dossey for patients who were blessed with “miracle cures,” remissions that clinical medicine could not explain. “Almost all physicians possess a lavish list of strange happenings unexplainable by normal science,” says Dr. Dossey. A tally of these events would demonstrate, I am convinced, that medical science not only has not had the last word, it has hardly had the first word on how the world works, especially when the mind is involved.”
I could dive right in and point out logical fallacies, such as assuming that a remission which “clinical medicine could not explain” has to be the result of something “supernatural.” This is a classic example of the argument from ignorance. We don’t know the cause of something, therefore it must be supernatural.
But that point aside, I’ve found that there really aren’t any skeptical points of view offered countering Dr. Dossey’s arguments. So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to take this subject on.
Who Is Dr. Larry Dossey?
For a little more info on Dossey’s work with “premonitions,” here’s an interview with him about his book, “The Power of Premonitions: How Knowing the Future Can Shape Our Lives.” (Expect a blog entry on this interview. It’s too good to pass up.)
Here is an excerpt from the aforementioned interview…
Why did you write this book?
I actually tried not to write it. I largely ignored this stuff for years, but this didn’t work very well. My own experiences of premonitions grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
During my first year in medical practice as an internist, I had a dream premonition that shook me up and made me realize the world worked differently than I had been taught.
This doesn’t exactly line up with his history. In a New York Times article about him, it says…
Dr. Dossey’s own relationship with religion is a complicated one. He had a fervent fundamentalist childhood in a farming community near Waco, Texas. As a teen-ager he played gospel piano in the one-room church, toured with a fiery revival preacher and planned to enter the ministry.
He was obviously very steeped in religion, and this way that “the world worked” is exactly what he was taught as a young man, and it seems that these religious views have had a tremendous impact on his scientific mode of thinking.
You could say it tainted his perception or implementation of the scientific method. Let’s explore further.
Before we get into specifics of Dr. Dossey’s claims, let’s take a look at his scientific credibility. Essentially, what one looks for in a credentialed scientist are publications in peer reviewed journals. Journals highly respected in the scientific community for their rigor and high standards of proof. It is also important that data being presented by the author of a study be replicable by anyone interested in furthering research in the field of study.
The first thing to note about these two journals is that they are entirely dedicated to Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). And what’s the harm in that? None of these so-called “alternative” therapies have been shown to work! These journals are not scientifically based. They have a low standard of proof. Essentially, if what you write agrees with their worldview, you get published.
Not only this, but take a look at some of the titles of Dr. Dossey’s articles published in these journals (no abstracts available for these):
- Listerine’s Long Shadow: Disease Mongering And The Selling Of Sickness
- Transplants, Cellular Memory, And Reincarnation
These seem to be either (a) conspiracy theories, or (b) religious or supernatural in nature. There doesn’t seem to be anything based on science, medicine or evidence here. And so it seems with all of his articles. But it would be hard to say for certain, as there are no abstracts available.
Let’s go on to a further, reinforcing point in this regard. If you visit Dr. Dossey’s “Biography” page and you scroll down a little bit, you find that he is the current Executive Editor of the very same Explore journal that he is published in. Not only that, but he was also the Executive Editor of the very same Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine journal from 1995-2003.
There seems to be a conflict of interest here. How convenient that he’s published many times over in journals that he is, or was, the Executive Editor of. Not only that, but these are the only journals he is published in. No publications in Nature, The New England Journal Of Medicine, no publications in The Journal Of The American Medical Association (JAMA)? You know, those reputable journals that actually employ peer review?
This is a major red flag. Only being published in journals that you’re responsible for editing. Not good.
Premonitions, Or Statistical Certainties?
Let us get to Dr. Dossey’s claims.
The first premonition he speaks about in his interview is a young woman having a dream in which a chandelier above her child’s crib falls and crushes the baby at 4:35am, during a thunderstorm.
He claims that the woman wakes up from this dream (premonition) and takes the child out of the room for fear of what she dreamt about. Soon after, she’s awakened again by the sound of the chandelier crashing into the crib, and the clock reads 4:35am.
With this story, Dr. Dossey reasons that this is absolute proof of what he refers to as a “premonition.” But, let’s be honest. There’s hardly enough evidence here to say anything for certain.
Essentially, what is at work here is the Law Of Large Numbers (LLN). Dr. Dossey is looking at this “premonition” from a short-sighted frame of mind. A vista, if you will, lined with superstitions, bad logic and faulty reasoning.
Yes, if we were to simply look at this one story of a woman awakened in the night by a dream, only to have the very same thing happen only a short time later, this would seem remarkable. But Dr. Dossey has, intentionally or not, ignored the number of people sleeping on that particular night, as night proceeded across the entire planet over that 24 hour period. Billions of people.
From this perspective, the probability that someone would dream about something that eventually happens, even if it were 1 in 1,000,000, would happen hundreds of times over the course of that one night, to people all over the globe!! It’s a statistical certainty! This is not even taking into account the 365 nights of the year that those possible billions of people could have something like this happen.
For all of the stress that Dr. Dossey puts on the importance of these “premonitions;” for all the emphasis on these seemingly remarkable, astounding occurrences, I think he fails to take into account an even more remarkable possibility – namely that something like this would never happen!
Consider the billions of people all over the world. For one of them to think of something, and have it happen at a later time. It really isn’t that remarkable. In fact, it is guaranteed to happen. It would be a miracle if it didn’t happen!
And, to Dr. Dossey’s dismay, it doesn’t require any supernatural force to make it happen. That’s just the way the ball bounces. It’s statistics. Take this example from the aforementioned About.com article…
…For example, if we flipped five coins at once, the probability of getting five heads is 1/32, or about .03. But if we repeated the flipping of five coins ten times, the probability of getting five heads somewhere in the ten tests is about .27. If we ran 100 tests, the probability of five heads rises to .96, which is highly probable indeed. [a probability of 1.0 is a certainty] But if we stopped anywhere in these 100 tests and asked what the probability would be of getting five heads on the very next trial, we are back to the starting probability of .03 because we have switched from a long-run question to a short-run question.
So yes, the odds of something like this happening to one particular person are astronomically small. BUT, we aren’t considering one person. We have to consider everyone on the planet. And that’s how we go from astronomically small odds to absolute certainty that these “premonitions” (coincidences) will happen.
And that’s why I entitled this post “An Exercise In Statistical Ignorance.” Dr. Dossey is simply ignorant of how statistics work. But, we all are. It’s part of being human. We don’t understand everything. We have weaknesses.
It is of utmost importance for us to try to understand those weaknesses, and to try to overcome them. It’s what being a Skeptic is all about. Now, what’s happened here is that in the face of these weaknesses, Dr. Dossey has ascribed supernatural causes to what are merely statistical certainties.
I hope this post was informative and helpful.
Dear Google, Inc.,
I’ll start this letter off by saying that, overall, I am greatly satisfied with the services and products that you offer. Gmail offers fantastic spam filtering. There are apps for pretty much anything you could ask for. I’m really looking forward to Google Wave.
I just have one bone to pick with you. For a long time I was a Blackberry guy. Had both of my Gmail accounts linked to my Curve. Push email was a given. You could say I took it for granted. I figured it was just a standard feature with Smartphones. When I got an email in my Gmail inbox, it was immediately delivered to my handheld.
I got an iPhone 3Gs last week, and what to my surprise… I’m having to set my handheld to “fetch” my email every 15 minutes. Are you serious? Google? Are you there? What’s going on here? The iPhone has a friggin’ compass on it, for Christ’s sake! And you’re telling me that it’s up to my phone to keep checking my Gmail server for new mail? (Battery life??)
And it’s not like you’re unaware of the situation. You offer Calendar and Contact syncing via the Exchange Server. Gmail was intentionally left out? That’s the impression we’re left with. You couldn’t have spent the extra couple hours putting that code in with the rest of it?
To say the least, I’m greatly disappointed. This has FAIL written all over it.
In conclusion, I would only suggest that you get someone over there at the Googleplex to finish up what you started and implement Push email for the iPhone. Shouldn’t take more than a couple hours, right? You’ve probably got the code already written. Just push “compile” and release the update.
David Garrett (Disappointed Gmail User)
Feel free to email me about this issue: firstname.lastname@example.org (Warning: May take up to 15 minutes for delivery.)
A Temporary Alternative
I’ve found that MSGPush.com works very well for now, until this issue gets resolved. It involves a short setup process, but it does the trick. You have to set up a new Exchange Server account on your iPhone, but everything gets routed through your Gmail account.
This solution isn’t without its drawbacks. Because you have to set this up as an Exchange Server account, you’ll not be able to sync your contacts and calendars with Google. You can only run one Exchange Server account on your iPhone at a time.
Google, do you see what you’ve done? We’re stuck having to patch these things together ourselves. Please fix this.
Shortly following my posting of this entry, through the insight of those who left comments on my original entry, as well as from those sending me email comments, I’ve come to realize that I may have been hasty to place the entire blame of this “Error 4450” solely on Apple.
Here is what I originally wrote…
To Whom It May Concern At Apple, Inc.,
On my blog, I write mainly about philosophy, religion, skepticism, science and the like. But, by far, the most popular post on my entire blog is the post in which I discuss an error that occurs in iTunes – the dreaded “Error 4450.” In fact, my post is the first post to come up on Google when searching for “Error 4450.”
This error pops up when burning CD’s in iTunes. At different (seemingly random) times during the burning process, the disc will eject and a message will pop up saying that the burn process has failed, relating that the cause is “Error 4450.”
The “Comments” section of my post is filled with frustrated users searching for answers. People have tried everything from registry scanners, to different brands of CD-R’s, to disc drive lens cleaners. Nothing works.
On the Apple Support website, there is no official response to this problem. Then we go to the Support Forum portion of the site and we find countless users experiencing this same problem, with not a single bit of help offered from you, Apple!
In fact, Apple, you’ve been completely silent on this “Error 4450” issue. The name implies that it bears some type of significance. Your programmers must know something about this. And yet, as I’ve said, you remain silent on the entire issue. Do you intend on ignoring this issue indefinitely? Until we get frustrated enough to go out and find another media player that works better than iTunes?
Overall, I am happy with iTunes. But, to the degree that people have complained about this issue and, to their dismay, there having been nothing done about it whatsoever, I’m beginning to wonder if you (Apple, Inc.) aren’t taking your customers for granted. Have you become comfortable in your position?
It seems to me that it wouldn’t take much to solve this issue. Just a little attention and some debugging skills.
With that being said, I’m speaking for everyone who’s had this problem. Please, Apple, fix Error 4450, or at least let us know what’s going on with this problem and offer some type of help for those who are experiencing this problem.
Please, don’t give us something ignorant like “uninstall and reinstall” because we all know this is a cop-out and does not fix the problem. We’ve all done this countless times before.
For those of you who are experiencing this error, I would recommend filing a bug report, even if you’ve already done so. You can do this in iTunes by going to this link. From this site you can provide Apple with useful information about your situation and the circumstances surrounding the occurrence of “Error 4450.” Under “Feedback Type” select “Bug Report.”
As I’ve said before on this blog, my main purpose for writing is to contribute to the wealth of information on the internet, to help make the internet a place where useful information can be found. I also think that, as one who values truth and intellectual honesty, it would only be right for me to acknowledge that I was wrong about my original post.
So, to conclude, thanks to everyone who brought my attention to where my arguments were flawed.
“Windows cannot open this program because it has been prevented by a software restriction policy.” If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely intimately familiar with this message popping up on your screen. I’m also willing to bet that you’re pretty frustrated with trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Well, help has arrived.
I think what surprised me the most about this issue is how simple the fix is. I’d done a lot of searching on the internet, and every solution involved setting up group security policies, using a program called gpupdate.exe, and a slew of other options; none of which resolved the issue.
Now on to the simple solution (I’m assuming you’re using Windows Vista Home Premium). In the Start Menu, click “Default Programs.” Next, click “Set Program Access and Computer Defaults.”
Now, scroll down to the “custom” box and check that. It will drop down a menu, giving a list of programs. Look for the heading “Choose a default media player:.” To the right of these programs, you’ll see a list of boxes saying, “Enable access to this program.”
All you have to do is locate Windows Media Center, or whatever program is giving you the headache, and click “Enable access to this program.” That’s it. You now have access!
I hope this helps!
Read a book. It’s good for you.
The Annoying Introduction
If you’ve found this entry from a search engine, you’re probably at your wits end with trying to solve this issue. You’re trying to play a video file on your XBox 360, but it won’t let you watch it unless you’re signed on to XBox Live.
You attempt to play the video, but unless you’re signed on to XBox Live, you get a message saying you need to download an update in order for the video to play; an update that you’ve already (countless times) downloaded. Well, that’s not exactly the problem. In fact, that’s not the problem at all.
This all has to do with Microsoft’s annoying DRM (Digital Rights Management) practices. I’ll give you my story, and I’m willing to bet yours is similar. I got my first XBox 360 about 4 years ago. It finally died on me a couple months ago. Obviously, a 4 year-old XBox is not under warrantee any longer. So, I went out and bought another one. Kept my hard drive and stuck it on my new XBox.
Now, Microsoft’s sneaky little trick is that they only allow your videos to be played on the original XBox that you set your gamertag up on. Let’s call my original XBox that I purchased 4 years ago “XBox A,” and my new XBox will be called “XBox B.” Each XBox has a unique “Console ID” number. A long string of numbers uniquely identifying your particular XBox.
Because I initially set up my gamertag on XBox A, when I attempted to play videos on XBox B, Microsoft realized that I was playing videos on an “Unauthorized” XBox that I had not originally set my gamertag up on. So, obviously they had to weasel their way into my life and keep me from watching videos in a convenient manner – meaning I had to be signed in to XBox Live in order to watch anything.
That’s not to say there isn’t a fix, because there is. And here’s how to do it…
Microsoft has a site where you can “Transfer Content Licenses to a New Console.” It’d be nice if something like this was mentioned on the XBox error message. It could possibly save a lot of anger and frustration.
From this site, you get all the instructions on how to transfer your “license” to watch your own videos on your own XBox! So much for “Digital Rights.” More like Digital TYRANNY! No wonder torrent sites are so popular. All of the content with none of the restrictions.
Anyway, that’s the fix. You have to go to that site and transfer your license to your new XBox.
Hope this helps!
So, last night I was trying to watch an AVI video file from a USB flash drive on my XBox 360. For some reason, no matter what I did with the audio settings (on the XBox or the television), I couldn’t get any audio. The video worked fine.
Another strange thing I noticed was that the audio portion of the intro that plays when the XBox is turned on was no longer playing. I still had sound effects on the Dashboard, and games behaved normally. A real puzzler.
I should mention that my XBox is connected to my TV via HDMI. And this brings me to the solution of this issue.
After spending about a half-hour fiddling with the audio settings, I finally determined that it’s got to be something with the HDMI cable. Something to do with audio compatibility. So, I went downstairs and grabbed my HD cables that come with the XBox and hooked it up. Voila! Fully functional sound!
I’m not sure on the details of this, but it probably has something to do with the audio codec configuration and sound compatibility with HDMI. When using the standard HD cables that came with the XBox, the sound works normally.
That’s what I’ve been able to conclude. If you have additional information, leave it in the “Comments” section.
Update as of 7/19/2009
I’ve discovered that actually turning the television off and back on resolves the issue. So, it appears this could be a television issue and not an XBox issue.