Sunday, 25 May 2014

When There is No "Proof", Are All Opinions Equally Valid?

So here's an easy one. Take a look at this image taken at Sudley House in Liverpool, England.

Here's a few people's opinions on what is circled image may be. Interesting to see the idea of suggestibility playing a part here. Abbie who see's nothing initially, changes her stance when  the weight of opinion is against her. That isn't really what we will focusing on here though, interesting though. 

 Now, when I saw the image I instantly thought that it was a chandelier. I checked other photos of Sudley House, and quickly discovered that this photo was taken in the drawing room. A look for alternative images revealed, that there is indeed a chandelier in that room facing the framed picture.

Now I thought this represented a pretty open and shut case. Here's what the person who took the photograph had to say.

First, I really resent the implication I went to a lot of effort, a quick Google search is hardly a Herculean  task is it! Secondly. No the lights in my picture aren't reflected in the picture in the same way. But isn't this what we would expect as the two pictures were taken at different angles and at very different distances? 

Louise Continues: 

"Proven fake by an expert..." well I don't exactly know what kind of "expert" Louise wants here? A ghost "expert" an expert in lighting fixtures perhaps? Secondly, I don't think this is "fake". I just don't think its a photo of a ghost!

Ignoring that Louise makes a point about proof. I don't have proof that is the reflection of a chandelier. But does this mean both of our hypothesises or opinions about this are equally valid?

There are a few things we have to consider:

Not all claims are created equally. If I tell you that I have a pet cat you will probably accept that at face value, or with a very low standard of evi
dence. Now if I tell you I have a dragon as a pet, you are going to expect a lot more verifiable evidence.

Put simply "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

There is also the principle of parsimony or Occam's Razor. This tells us when we have competing hypothesis on the table, we should consider the one with the fewest unverifiable assumptions, that requires the addition of less mechanisms,  to be the most likely.

Now let's take the case of this photograph. We have two hypothesis on the table:

A. The photo features some form of supernatural manifestation, the spirits of dead human beings.

1. Consciousness survives death.
2. This consciousness can manifest as an image.
3. Image appears human.
4 that image can reflect photons, thus meaning that photons can interact with it or it emits photons within the visible spectrum. 
5. As it was undetectable to those present, this means this is some form of unknown matter. 

B. The reflection of the chandelier in the glass of the picture is creating a difficult to identify image.

1. Photons reflect off objects. 
2. These reflections can be captured on film.
3. These reflections can often be difficult to interpret. 
4. The phenomena of pariedolia can result in images being interpreted as faces or figures.

Neither of these lists are exhaustive, just the assumptions that seem most relevant. 

Now while there isn't a particular quantitative difference between those assumptions, there is a most DEFINITE qualitative difference. This is that that assumptions made in list A are completely un-evidenced, they are simply assumptions. Some of them require the existence of mechanisms for which we simply have  no evidence of, and in fact violate many, well understood, well evidenced theories of science. While list B contains assumptions that not only conform to our everyday experience, but also are defined by current scientific understanding and established theories.

You can see why I would lean to hypothesis B.

On top of this, I initially suspected the image was that of a chandelier, and further investigation of the drawing room of Sudley House I found a chandelier which strongly resembles the image. 

Is this "proof", no? But the idea of proof is surely reaching the point where the rejection of an idea is less likely than its application. This probably the best rational explanation that can be offered without a site visit and an exact replication of the initial photograph.

That's how I generally approach these things.

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