Saturday, March 29, 2014

A DAY WITH THE CULTURAL COMPETITION: IMPRESSIONS OF EXPLORING THE EXTRAORDINARY 6


The location of the Con at one fine institution of learning. 
The location of the Con at one fine institution of learning. 
Originally posted March 22, 2014

I was lucky enough to attend the first day of the three day Exploring the Extraordinary 6 Conferencewhich is being held March 21-23, 2014 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on the campus of Gettysburg College.  I have never attended such a Con before either from the Skeptical view or in this case the cultural competition’s view.  Therefore, I am not delving too deeply into evaluating the conference since I have nothing to compare it against and I only have attended a third of it.  I am sure others at the conference will be able to give a more educated and nuanced view of it.  I would just like to share a few brief thoughts after having slept on it overnight. 
The conference overall was a bit smaller in attendance than I anticipated.  I was not expecting a TAM-sized crowd by any means, but it was all held in the boardroom area of a 2,600 student college.  There were about dozen or so tables that sat four or five people each.  I sat at the unofficial skeptics’ table.  Everyone else at the conference to one extent or the other was a “believer.”  
My overall impression of the attendees is that they were just plain folks.  I was not expecting anyone to show up wearing a Merlin robe with pointy cap, but all the attendees seemed quite pleasant.  I don’t think anyone at the conference would stick out in public.  While I would not say all of the 9 speakers I saw were of equal oratory, they all seemed reasonably prepared.  I don’t anything anyone was talking just off the cuff.  
A few things that struck me during the conference that others have pointed out before was that the attendees of the conference and the skeptics are interested in the same things.  I enjoyed talks on ghost hunting, alternative energy medicine, EVPs, communication with the dead, and the existence of intelligences beyond our own.  Both the attendees at the conference and skeptics talk of using science to support their world views.  A number of speakers noted that they were “scientific” or used the “scientific process.”  At the same time, there was a frustration that what they considered science was not good enough for the skeptics.  Therefore, there seemed to be a concurrent thread throughout the day that new methods outside of the science box or being a bit more liberal in what is considered science must be used to show the world that the paranormal exists.  
Granted for a scientific skeptic, the scientific process is the scientific process, and if the evidence is not well controlled and repeatable, then the evidence for a given paranormal idea remains unconvincing.  Yet, for the people in the room it seemed to me for example that they knew energy healing was possible, but they were frustrated that the science just did not bear it out. (I don't deny that the proponents that something appears to be occurring to them, but the evidence that there is a phenomenon beyond our own mental bias is less than compelling at this time.)
The other thing that struck me is that while ‘science’ and its validation was welcomed, ‘skeptics’ were not liked at all.  Not always, but one or two times a speaker would say the word ‘skeptic’ in the same manner as people used to say the word ‘communist’ during the cold war, or how New York Yankee fans say “Red Sox.”  The keynote speakerDr. Julie Beischel kept referring to ‘deniers and skeptics’ lumped together as one entity in the same way many skeptics use the term denier for those who question The Holocaust or Global Climate change.   
I did enjoy the day.  I must admit at the end of it, I was mentally tired.  There was a lot I disagreed with as the speakers talked.  However, the topics I found compelling, and absorbing how the attendees came to their conclusions very interesting.  The people seemed genuine and genuinely nice for the most part.  When the opportunity arises to attend a similar event I would do it.  All in all, there was nothing that occurred that shocked me, but attending was worth it just to remember that those on ‘other side’ are not stupid, mean, or shysters.  I did find it interesting that the people at this conference generally did not advertise that they were paranormal researchers or ghost hunters, and the like and they felt like outsiders to society in general. I have similar thoughts about being a skeptic.  The folks at this conference are people with similar interests who view the same evidence in a vastly different manner.  
-Oh yes.  The conference is based out of Britain, so there were a lot of wonderful British accents.  It was a bonus.

-edit- grammar 

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