Re: virus: Sham(an) again

David McFadzean (
Sat, 13 Sep 1997 13:04:58 -0600

Thanks to Eva-Lise, Prof. Tim and KMO for the criticisms. Allow me to
revise my argument....

At 01:46 PM 9/12/97 -0700, Eva-Lise Carlstrom wrote:

>David, you do have a point, and it's a good one. I, for one, am willing to
>stick my neck out and say that Psychic Friends Network and similar
>services are selling, labeled as supernatural insight, a combination of
>guesses, feedback, and simulated friendship. I think such services are a
>total waste of money, but obviously some people don't, or they wouldn't be
>in business (in some cases, it's possible that consulting the service may

True enough. I didn't mean to imply that people don't find psychics useful
or valuable, obviously some people do. I also don't mean to imply that
psychics are necessarily insincere. I'm sure many (if not all) believe they
really have supernatural powers. By calling them shams I meant that they are
in fact not selling what they say they are selling.

>even result in a net improvement to someone's life, for whatever natural
>reasons). But I don't think the existence of such con games is sufficient
>evidence to establish that all people labelled as shamans are selling
>similar hot air. Which seemed to be the claim in question. Those of us
>arguing against this blanket dismissal were saying such things as:
>"People we call shamans may be doing valuable practical things that are
>simply not understood (such as using functional medicines)",
>"People we call shamans may be doing things that are valuable for memetic
>reasons (such as changing someone's attitudes and perceptions to help them
>reach a goal)",

I don't think anyone said that.

>"People who would be called shamans in one culture may be called something
>else in another culture, depending on how what they do is understood".

Our culture's psychics for instance.

>The existence of shams neither proves nor disproves the existence of
>useful shamanism, although it certainly disproves any claim that *all*
>shamanism is useful.

That's true, but my argument is meant to be an argument from likelihood.
Consider this:

1. Groups in our culture selling supernatural services are shams. They
might be useful, they might be valuable, but they misrepresent their
2. There is no reason to believe our culture is unique in that respect.
3. What are the chances that other culture's supernatural service people
use *real* magic or mystical powers? I'm not talking beliefs, or herbs
or memetics here, I'm talking about genuine psychic or mystical powers.

If anyone says that other cultures' shamans are *real* magicians, then that
is an extraordinary claim and the responsibility is their's to provide
some proof, not mine to disprove it.

> One of the stories concerned a man who, for some reason I can't
>now recall, had to undergo an ordeal in which he was to spend all night
>alone on top of a mountain without cover or fire, and was generally
>expected to freeze to death. He feared for his life, but an old man took
>him aside and told him he would help him live. The old man would climb a
>nearby mountain and keep a bonfire burning all night in the first man's
>line of sight, and if the the man being tested would watch this fire
>unfailingly all night, it would keep him warm and he would survive the
>night. He did as the old man said, watching the distant fire intently all
>night, and he survived and attained his goal (being acquitted of a crime,
>or marrying a princess, or something).
>Before I continue, relating my own and the grade-schoolers'
>interpretations of this story, I ask the reader, and particularly David:
>Did the fire help the man survive the night? If so, how?

Is this supposed to be a true story? Is there a good reason to believe
the man would not have survived without the fire?

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Kumo Software Corp.