Friday, January 30, 2009

On Skepticism

A few times, I have spooked myself.

In the car, I will have the CD player on "Shuffle", and as a song plays I might think, "I'd like to here track 5!"... and then the next track was number 5!!!!

In an elevator once, as I reached for the button, the light turned on before I could press it.

When I was filling my water bottle once, I thought to myself that I should have closed the fridge door since it would take me a while to fill the bottle, and the door just shut by itself.

ZOMG!!! I must be psychic.

Err. No. That's a problem with being a skeptic. I'm not a psychic because I have no reason to believe such abilities exist. Is there a simpler explanation than being a psychic?

Yes.

The shuffle mechanism on a CD player might not be 'random', since it rarely if ever plays the same song twice in a row: so since that is the case, it is more likely to be some resorted list. Perhaps the song numbers have some factor added to each, and then the list is resorted. My car CD player (which I add is pretty crappy, you can't play burnt CDs in it very well) can't go in "reverse" order -- you can only use the forward button to go to the next song. On my MP3 player, you can go backward to the last couple of songs played, and then the next "backward" takes you to a random song. For my MP3 player, this probably means it keeps a memory of the last couple of songs it played. For the car, it doesn't. Since it isn't a strictly "random" process, it may be that every time it plays a sequence, it is likely to always play that sequence again. Perhaps if it had played songs 4, 7, 3 in the past it is always followed by song 5. Maybe the reason I "knew" song 5 was coming up is because it always came next.

Another reason could be simple luck. I've also wanted to here a particular song many, many times in the past and had it not be the next track. Usually this means I stick with the song (or impatiently I hit the "next" button a few times until it does come up). I remember the times when it did work simply because it seems so unusual, whereas with say eleven tracks on the CD, I'm likely to guess the next one correctly at least one time in ten.

With the elevator button, I'm not so sure. Seems very weird, but although thinking "ZOMG, I has Telekinesis!!!" I admit was my first thought (and spent some of the day trying to move things around without any luck), what is more likely is that my observation was wrong. After all, I did push the button, however what I believe I saw was the light come on before pushing the button occurred. It's much more likely that my observation was incorrect, especially since this "light before pushing" event has only occurred a couple of times ever -- could it be somehow I registered the light turning on before the sensation of pushing the button occurred? And somehow that was conflated in my mind as being a much earlier than the button pushing? Or I was distracted at the time, and so I only thought I saw the light on first? Possibly I even got into an elevator with the light already on, went to push it and only then noticed it was on? Actually, that is much more likely than me being able to register a time difference between the nerve impulse and the light registering.

The fridge door? Well, if it is most of the way open, it pretty much stays open. But just a little bit less open and the weight of the door swings it back, at first slowly and then it kind of speeds up and closes. Plus, plenty of times I have left the door open and it stayed that way -- which is why I love my new fridge with the door alarm. Although it can be annoying to my wife when she's putting away the groceries. Apparently I don't put them away properly, go figure.

I'd LOVE to have telekinesis or clairvoyance, but if I did I'd have easily won the lotto by now.

edit: welcome to those who came from The 105th Skeptic's Circle

1 comment:

Nick Burns said...

One other possibility:

You're just weird. ;-)