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Spooky Attraction

September 10, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

In New Zealand we have a “celebrity psychologist” known as Nigel Latta. In reality he is just a purveyor of pop-psychology advice and is probably popular more because he is entertaining and tells people the simple answers that they want to hear (such as “if you are having trouble with teenagers it’s because they’re not right in the head” which is partly true but surely a gross oversimplification) rather than having any deep insights or knowledge.

I found his programs on managing children (especially teenagers) interesting in parts but frustrating as well. He is a real clinical psychologist but seems to have made some sort of Faustian deal when he started making TV programs. That didn’t improve much with his next TV show which involved examining crimes, and his appearance on “Sensing Murder” was a real disaster (and the main subject of this blog post). Needless to say, I don’t hold out much hope for his next effort, a new TV program called “Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up”, being worth watching!

So on to his effort in Sensing Murder. First, this is a program made in New Zealand which uses psychics in an effort to solve crimes. Despite all the great claims and hyperbole involved in the program, and the fact that many people take it seriously, it has never solved a single crime or even achieved a single significant breakthrough in all the years it has been running.

I would have thought that if you investigate a few lucky guesses invented by people who claim no paranormal abilities you might make some progress through pure, stupid luck, but the “psychics” in this program don’t even seem to be able to do that! If you ever needed evidence that psychics are fake, this should provide it.

In fact there are two types of psychics: the liars and cheats who know they are fake and use their claimed abilities to gain fame and money, and those who are totally deluded even about their own experiences and genuinely think they have special powers. I’m not sure which type appear on Sensing Murder but I suspect it’s mainly the first type.

Apparently the producers of the show (surely total charlatans themselves) realised it was losing credibility so they decided they needed an “expert skeptic” to admit he couldn’t explain the extraordinary abilities of the psychics. But instead of asking a real skeptic like the relatively well known and skilled Vicki Hyde, they asked Nigel Latta instead. After all, he’s a clinical psychologist who does TV programs. That makes him credible, right?

Well no, I don’t know whether he is genuinely naive and ignorant or whether he just put on an act for the TV program, but he’s obviously no skeptic, nor is he a scientist, as became very obvious in the program.

Before I go any further I have to admit I only got this material second hand because I will not watch worthless nonsense like Sensing Murder. So maybe there was more on the original program very different from the parts I heard which made Latta look a lot better, but I really doubt it.

Anyway, let’s look at some quotes from the program and I will explain why they make Latta look like such an idiot (I’m not saying he is an idiot, although he probably is, just that he looked like one)…

In the program it was claimed that his appearance would result in the “filming process being laid bare”, and he was introduced as a “die-hard skeptic and clinical psychologist” and was asked to scrutinise a psychic reading.

He said “I can’t find a way to rationally explain what I saw today”. Well there are two possibilities there: 1, there really is something going on which cannot be explained by conventional means; or 2, Latta is totally unaware of the cheap magic tricks which psychics use and can easily be replicated by any competent magician and which any real skeptic would be very aware of. I wasn’t at the reading to know for sure but I would be prepared to suggest that any real paranormal investigator would have detected the second option pretty quickly.

But then poor old Nigel really got out of his depth. Here is part of his “explanation” for psychic powers: “there is no way for the information to get from this particle to that particle unless there’s some kind of telekinetic other communication between those two particles that we can’t explain. Einstein called this spooky attraction at a distance and it freaked him out, and freaked him out until his death bed.”

The TV commentary then added, just to emphasise the point that they didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about: “That same spooky attraction is what appears to connect the sensing murder psychics to those who have passed on.” Yeah, that will be it. What a brilliant application of modern physics!

In fact, quantum physics does have a phenomenon commonly referred to “spooky action (not attraction) at a distance” and it has been observed to be real although the exact explanation of the underlying process is unknown (as is the case in a lot of quantum physics). But that phenomenon involves subatomic particles and cannot be used to transmit information. Suggesting it as any sort of explanation for alleged psychic abilities is just pathetic.

I certainly hope Latta can get his facts a bit more accurate when he hosts the new program “Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up” which is purportedly aimed at “demystifying science”. With the brainless mumbo jumbo we got from him in Sensing Murder maybe the more likely outcome is “mystifying science”. Certainly anyone who thinks that psychics are real and that their abilities are explained by “spooky attraction at a distance” really doesn’t seem to be the right choice for a real science program.

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