The Video Game Incident

It so happens that a single claim forms the entire foundation upon which nearly all varieties of theism must inevitably be built: the claim that consciousness can exist outside of a material body. Although the claim is a necessary component of nearly all religions, we should note that it is not necessarily theist, as there are atheists who accept the existence of metaphysical entities.

As far as traditional monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam or any derivative thereof) are concerned, we can safely say that if no spirits exist and consciousness cannot exist outside of a body, then their key claims are either false or severely distorted (Ephesians 6:12, Luke 3:22 & John 4:24, as examples).

Most skeptics and rationalists are familiar with the difficulty (note: not impossibility) of proving a negative. While it’s certainly difficult to prove the materialist’s claim that there is not a ghost in the machine, what’s less difficult and also theoretically possible is proving or at least supporting the claim that consciousness can and does exist outside physical bodies. Let’s refer to this claim as the immaterial consciousness hypothesis, or ICH for short [NOTE: the TMC introduced here envelopes the ICH. In other words, the ICH represents a deprecated term that has since been modified. I explain the reason for the change here, and I apologize for any confusion].

I recently had an experience that I think constitutes strong anecdotal evidence for the ICH, fortunately in the presence of two able-minded witnesses. I was at a friend’s house doing the usual Playstation 3 after dinner thing with him and his girlfriend, who we’ll refer to as A and L, respectively. In the northwest corner of their living room sits a large, big-screen television, about 5′ tall, which had a stack of four or five video games on top of it (I lean towards five). We had been playing for about an hour or so, and by that time of the night we’d had a few beers each, but were nowhere near hallucinatory drunk, which typically requires something like Tequila.

As it often does, our conversation had turned to things metaphysical, specifically A’s long-standing belief that some spiritual presence inhabits their home, when all of a sudden, the stack of video games literally flew from the top of the television to within a foot of the coffee table, roughly centered in the middle of the room. By flew I mean something like zapped from point A to point B, with no apparent impetus. If that weren’t odd enough, although they slid slightly resulting in a staggered position, the games remained stacked when they landed.

The distance from the games’ original position (see ‘A’ below) and it’s post-event position (see ‘B’ below) was about 4 or 5 feet, and the games traveled at roughly a 45-degree trajectory. The following diagram should put things into fuller perspective:

Honestly, what is a reasonable person to do with this data? To simply dismiss it is to skirt one’s obligation to reason.

We can’t call ourselves skeptics if we don’t think critically and examine all the options, so I quickly took to searching for a naturalistic or at least non-conscious explanation for what happened. The ICH needs a competing hypothesis, so consider the perpendicular hypothesis or PH, which states that unless propelled by lateral force, objects fall perpendicular to the ground. Is there a plausible non-conscious explanation for the strange trajectory at which the games fell? Thinking back, we were listening to music; is it possible that audio vibrations slowly rattled the stack of games closer and closer towards the edge of the TV until they finally fell?

We find a problem with this hypothesis almost immediately: if the games fell according to the established laws of physics, per the PH they would have followed a perpendicular trajectory, landing in the area marked C in the diagram, and they would have scattered upon impact, but this is not what happened. Even if we account for a significant “teetering” effect, stacked video games don’t fall at 45-degree angles across a room, then land still stacked. It’s no limb regeneration, but it directly contradicts known laws of science which clearly define the paths of falling objects.

Now, by no means could anyone claim this single data point conclusive, but what seems more reasonable here? The PH? Or something like the ICH? More importantly, why? If we say the event catalyst was non-conscious, what sort of strange phenomena must we posit instead, and is it arguably more complex than the ICH?

Whatever moved the games had the ability to move mass, presumably without detectable mass of its own. Masslessness is a feature philosophers, pyschologists and scientists commonly attribute to consciousness, as is the ability to understand verbal communication, and we should also note the context under which this event transpired: amidst sustained discussion about A’s longstanding belief his house was inhabited by some sort of spirit(s). Though certainly not proof that the event catalyst heard and responded to our conversation, the event sequence is concurrent with what we might reasonably expect if A’s belief – and the ICH – were correct.

This suggests that either consciousness can exist outside the body in the form of something like a spirit, or some hitherto undiscovered but seriously strange non-conscious phenomena is at work, or there’s some other option I’m overlooking, and I need your help in identifying it.


Related Posts:

My Response To ‘A Ghost In The Machine’ – Part III

False Argument #8: Science Has Proven The Soul

19 Comments

  1. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    If I may be so bold, could we not also posit that at least one person in the room (likely ‘A’) possesses some sort of psychic/telekinetic ability, and thus the belief in the supernatural (and likely the additional boost of alcohol) is the subconscious trigger which initiates spooky supernatural occurrences, which then reinforces the belief, creating a positive feedback loop.
    Now, I may be being a bit facetious here, but not entirely. I have no problem in believing in ‘action at a distance’ phenomenon, given that two of the fundamental forces of the universe happen to be such phenomenon (gravity and electromagnetism). I see no reason why those two should be the only ones.
    Check out:
    http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/currentresearch/index.htm

  2. nal says:

    The fact that the video games remained stacked is understandable. There’s friction between the games that tend to prevent separation. If the surfaces are smooth, there’s a suction force that would also tend to prevent separation.
    With regard to context, you state that the conversation often revolves around metaphysics and spiritual presences. This was just the first time that something unusual happened during one of those frequent conversations.
    The actual movement of the games is more difficult to explain. Perhaps the case, containing the game on the bottom of the stack, heated by the TV, changed it shape suddenly. (I have a cookie sheet that when place in the oven warps suddenly with a loud thunk. Another loud thunk happens when the sheet cools and returns to its original shape.) A sudden warping of the bottom case, pushing against the TV, might provide the force necessary to move the games.

  3. cl says:

    Dominic,

    If I may be so bold, could we not also posit that at least one person in the room (likely ‘A’) possesses some sort of psychic/telekinetic ability,

    Sure, but although it directly confronts modern scientific explanations of physics and neurology, most of the atheists I deal with would simply dismiss or deny that idea, too. For example, John Morales‘ attitude towards things “parapsychological” is that they’re “putative, thus accountable for as imaginary.”
    Still, at some point reasonable individuals would have to ask: how might we reliably test the difference between A’s hitherto undiscovered psychic abilities, and the ICH?
    nal,

    The fact that the video games remained stacked is understandable.

    To a certain extent, maybe, but in the context of what actually happened that night, I disagree. Replication of the event with PS3 and X-Box games might soften that disagreement, however.

    This was just the first time that something unusual happened during one of those frequent conversations.

    There are other incidents, of course, but even if it were the first time, do you think such would challenge the ICH? If so, how?

    A sudden warping of the bottom case, pushing against the TV, might provide the force necessary to move the games.

    Cookie sheets that warp are made of flimsy metal. PS3 and X-Box games are housed in plastic casing that would melt, not warp. Wouldn’t that seem to challenge the warping hypothesis?

  4. nal says:

    cl:
    PS3 and X-Box games are housed in plastic casing that would melt, not warp. Wouldn’t that seem to challenge the warping hypothesis?
    I guess it would depend on the properties of the plastic and the temperature of the heat. The game box warping hypothesis is weak, I agree. Maybe the top of the TV warped and caused the incident when it popped back.
    There are other incidents, of course, but even if it were the first time, do you think such would challenge the ICH? If so, how?
    If this were the first time, it would call into question that “the event catalyst heard and responded to our conversation.” Why this particular time and not all of the other times?

  5. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    If its a choice between psychic powers and a haunted universe, I’m sure the atheists you know would lean to the psychic phenomenon as the lesser of two implausibilities.

  6. cl says:

    nal,

    Maybe the top of the TV warped and caused the incident when it popped back.

    Maybe, but what happens when we run that against Occam’s? Wouldn’t we hear it? Wouldn’t the engineers have thought of that sort of thing? I’ve never heard of TV warping at all much less to the degree required to perform this event; if that sort of thing were possible, wouldn’t we have heard of it by now, at least as much as warping cookie sheets in convection ovens? Another thing I though of was the games were not sitting directly atop the TV, but atop another component that was itself atop the TV – which was also metallic and theoretically retains the same possibility, of course – but so far, non-conscious explanations just don’t cut it, IMO. Per Occam’s,

    Why this particular time and not all of the other times?

    I don’t know. Perhaps the subject matter was different. Perhaps this time, A’s sentiments were too spot-on to ignore. Perhaps the other times, whatever caused the event wasn’t there, or wasn’t interested. There could be many reasons why this time but not others, but is the fact that it occurred this time and not others constitute evidence against the “heard and responded” idea?
    Dominic,
    Let’s called the “undiscovered psychic abilities” hypothesis UPA. One piece of evidence that seems to support the UPA is that the games aligned with A, not myself or L. Still, we need a wringer to run this through: do you have any ideas how we might reasonably test for the ICH vs. the UPA?

    If its a choice between psychic powers and a haunted universe, I’m sure the atheists you know would lean to the psychic phenomenon as the lesser of two implausibilities.

    I agree, but why is that so? Each case and each atheist are unique. Some would lean towards the UPA for the simple reason that we begin with a “real” subject – the person purported to have the abilities. So be it. Yet, others would lean towards the UPA because it is the only acceptable conclusion besides the ICH, and entails the least amount of cognitive dissonance. I think the latter attitude compromises the search for truth.

  7. cl says:

    nal,

    Maybe the top of the TV warped and caused the incident when it popped back.

    Maybe, but what happens when we run that against Occam’s? Wouldn’t we hear it? Wouldn’t the engineers have thought of that sort of thing? I’ve never heard of TV warping at all much less to the degree required to perform this event; if that sort of thing were possible, wouldn’t we have heard of it by now, at least as much as warping cookie sheets in convection ovens? Another thing I though of was the games were not sitting directly atop the TV, but atop another component that was itself atop the TV – which was also metallic and theoretically retains the same possibility, of course – but so far, non-conscious explanations just don’t cut it, IMO. Per Occam’s,

    Why this particular time and not all of the other times?

    I don’t know. Perhaps the subject matter was different. Perhaps this time, A’s sentiments were too spot-on to ignore. Perhaps the other times, whatever caused the event wasn’t there, or wasn’t interested. There could be many reasons why this time but not others, but is the fact that it occurred this time and not others constitute evidence against the “heard and responded” idea?
    Dominic,
    Let’s called the “undiscovered psychic abilities” hypothesis UPA. One piece of evidence that seems to support the UPA is that the games aligned with A, not myself or L. Still, we need a wringer to run this through: do you have any ideas how we might reasonably test for the ICH vs. the UPA?

    If its a choice between psychic powers and a haunted universe, I’m sure the atheists you know would lean to the psychic phenomenon as the lesser of two implausibilities.

    I agree, but why is that so? Each case and each atheist are unique. Some would lean towards the UPA for the simple reason that we begin with a “real” subject – the person purported to have the abilities. So be it. Yet, others would lean towards the UPA because it is the only acceptable conclusion besides the ICH, and entails the least amount of cognitive dissonance. I think the latter attitude compromises the search for truth.

  8. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    Well, if the place is haunted by an intelligence that reacts to conversations on the metaphysical, then ‘A’ could leave the house, and unexplained phenomenon may still happen when the circumstances are reproduced with different people in the room. ‘A’ may feel a bit left out, but he can rest assured that he’ll be staying sober for science! Cycle the members in the room, but still manage to attract the attention of an intelligent agent who flings video games, and you can then reasonably rule out its a detectable person in the room who is exerting the force (I say reasonably, because there’s still the possibility that there’s something unique about the house itself that confers psychic abilities to individuals residing within it…and don’t forget about the alcohol catalyst, but this is a whole ‘nother hypothesis, and its getting a bit silly, especially given how far out I’m going with this little UPA/ICH mental exercise).
    On the other hand, if the phenomenon is reproducible only when ‘A’ (or any one specific individual) is around and talking about ghosts (and drinking), then I’d go with UPA.
    Unfortunately, there simply is no perfectly (or even substantially) rigorous test than can be done, because you can’t test the intent of a ghost if that is the actual source of the phenomenon. This also happens to be the most damning aspect of theology (discerning the existence and intent of invisible creatures that you can’t interact with). Because what would qualify as UPA under all circumstances could just be a ghost who has a thing for following ‘A’ around. It’d be impossible to tell the difference.
    Pardon the tangent here, but this really does cut to the heart (for me, at least), of what the real problem with religion is. It purports to be a different kind, or way, of knowing, that can discern the existence and intent of supernatural agents, something that science cannot do.
    But given the problems one runs into given the scenario you’ve described above, this soundly exposes claim that religion is a different way of knowing as fraudulent.
    I’ve seen it described by another with a boiling kettle analogy (I forget the man’s name…). If you go into a room and find a kettle of boiling water, science can tell you the composition of the water, its temperature, the exact placement of the kettle, etc, but it can’t tell you why the kettle was put there, and by whom. That’s where religion steps in. The problem with this being, though, there is absolutely no way to answer those questions (as illustrated above, when one is trying to discern between personal psychic powers or if one is simply being hounded by a ghost). Theologians who try and tell you that a man put the kettle to boil because he’s a swell chap who’s about to make you some tea are simply liars, plain and simple.
    Ok, end tangent.

  9. nal says:

    cl:

    Wouldn’t we hear it?

    I don’t know, you provide so little information about the incident, it’s impossible to draw a reasonable conclusion, based solely on the information you provided. And then that information changes. First the boxes were on the TV, then they’re on some component that is not described. It is certainly not reasonable for the reader to accept the ICH hypothesis based on the information herein.
    /Used blockquote. Will try “Preview.” “Preview” looks OK.

  10. cl says:

    Dominic,

    Unfortunately, there simply is no perfectly (or even substantially) rigorous test than can be done, because you can’t test the intent of a ghost if that is the actual source of the phenomenon.

    I pretty much agree with you as far as the impossibility of scientifically reproducible tests for spirits, but that doesn’t mean we can’t build strong cases for them, based on solid evidence, often times empirical evidence. This event must be accounted for, but that doesn’t mean we just get to make up whatever definitive explanation we choose. The way I see it, we now have four choices: my ‘music vibrations’ hypothesis, nal’s ‘warping’ hypothesis, your upa and my ich. While I can’t get my head around the music vibrations or warping hypothesis, that doesn’t mean one of the others wins by default. Whatever we choose to attribute the event to must certainly be justified by the evidence if our belief is to be justified. Problem is, as we’ve noted, the impossibility to tell the difference.
    And if I might go on a tangent of my own, guess what? That turns out to be a perfect example of something DD berated me for considering in our discussion over there. When I asked him what we’re to do when the evidence reasonably supports more than one hypothesis, he implied I brought it up just so I could skirt my rational responsibilities. Hmph.[/tangent]
    I think in this case, and literally thousands upon thousands of others even more bizarre than it, it is more rational to posit something like this upa or ich than that which traditional materialists are often committed to. Excluding A from the testing may not produce results if the spirit is familial; perhaps some relative of A’s that for whatever reason only connects with A. I hate to say it, but I think the naturalistic hypothesis requires the most faith of all.
    I don’t think the problems demonstrate religion’s “different way of knowing” angle as fraudulent. Don’t get me wrong. I know people peddle snake oil by the boatload, but I don’t think the theologians are necessarily liars. After all, they sincerely believe what they’re offering, but even with all that aside, I think a person can investigate whether a man put the kettle to boil for his own self, with no need to take risks on charlatans.
    nal,

    ..you provide so little information about the incident, it’s impossible to draw a reasonable conclusion, based solely on the information you provided. And then that information changes.

    Well, I don’t really think that’s the case. I provided a diagram, gave precise distances and locations and angles, considered an alternative hypothesis… I did a half-decent job, I thought. It’s not that I changed anything, it’s that your comment brought further details to mind. You know how lots of people keep the cable box atop their TV? That sort of thing. If I changed the information, I would have said something like, “Oh no, the games actually weren’t stacked when they landed,” right? You just made me recall a finer detail I probably never would have remembered were you not being a thorough cross-examiner. That’s a good thing.

    It is certainly not reasonable for the reader to accept the ICH hypothesis based on the information herein.

    While I’m not calling this event proof of anything, that’s what I think about the naturalistic hypothesis – that it’s not reasonable to accept in this case. So far, neither my original naturalistic hypothesis (the vibrations from the music) or your warping hypothesis seemed very promising.

  11. Gideon says:

    I didn’t have time to read through all of the comments, but any Christian worth his/her salt cannot dismiss the possibility that there is a supernatural influence on society.
    I, myself, have seen and experienced things that defy ‘rational’ explanation, and though I wasn’t there with you, your description seems to verify some form of supernatural presence.
    It is possible to draw these entities to yourself, which is why scripture warns us not to dwell on them and/or their power. Admittedly, there is a certain ‘thrill’ associated with talking about the supernatural, but it’s still not recommended. The deception is often tailored to the target, i.e. what might not work on me might work on you. Things like seances, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, attempts to contact the dead… any form of divination is a pipeline to fallen beings, and they use these things as a way to gain entrance into your mind.
    Alcohol does heighten one’s susceptibility to suggestion, even in small amounts, and even the presence of alcohol is an attractor. They don’t call it the “demon brew” for nothing! What kind of entertainment were you watching? Was it violent? Sexually explicit? All of the above? These are magnets for demons. Maybe there are other activities going on in your life or your friend’s like that is attracting these entities.
    Inanimate objects don’t fly around the room on their own. Barring any other cause, and given the setting and conversation, you probably had a visitation. And, any display is meant as an attention-getter, they’re not clumsy. What you need to do, now, is ascertain why you had that visitation and take steps to eradicate any other possible cause for it to occur again.
    You do NOT want these beings hanging around you, and WHATEVER you do, don’t try and converse with them! That is their primary “in”, and once in, they’re very difficult to get rid of.

  12. Gideon says:

    I didn’t have time to read through all of the comments, but any Christian worth his/her salt cannot dismiss the possibility that there is a supernatural influence on society.
    I, myself, have seen and experienced things that defy ‘rational’ explanation, and though I wasn’t there with you, your description seems to verify some form of supernatural presence.
    It is possible to draw these entities to yourself, which is why scripture warns us not to dwell on them and/or their power. Admittedly, there is a certain ‘thrill’ associated with talking about the supernatural, but it’s still not recommended. The deception is often tailored to the target, i.e. what might not work on me might work on you. Things like seances, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, attempts to contact the dead… any form of divination is a pipeline to fallen beings, and they use these things as a way to gain entrance into your mind.
    Alcohol does heighten one’s susceptibility to suggestion, even in small amounts, and even the presence of alcohol is an attractor. They don’t call it the “demon brew” for nothing! What kind of entertainment were you watching? Was it violent? Sexually explicit? All of the above? These are magnets for demons. Maybe there are other activities going on in your life or your friend’s like that is attracting these entities.
    Inanimate objects don’t fly around the room on their own. Barring any other cause, and given the setting and conversation, you probably had a visitation. And, any display is meant as an attention-getter, they’re not clumsy. What you need to do, now, is ascertain why you had that visitation and take steps to eradicate any other possible cause for it to occur again.
    You do NOT want these beings hanging around you, and WHATEVER you do, don’t try and converse with them! That is their primary “in”, and once in, they’re very difficult to get rid of.

  13. cl says:

    Hey Gideon! I’d like to pursue our “eternal hell” conversation if you’re ever interested. I’ve responded to your response.

    I didn’t have time to read through all of the comments, but any Christian worth his/her salt cannot dismiss the possibility that there is a supernatural influence on society.

    I agree. Did you get the impression that I was denying a possible supernatural influence in my friend’s house? If so, I wasn’t. The only thing I can say with certainty is that gravity *falls flat on its face as a proffered explanation (no pun intended).

    Inanimate objects don’t fly around the room on their own.

    I know, but don’t tell jim, SI, Evo or Philly. Stay tuned. I’m about to shift gears into, “Let’s share some anecdotes from cl’s involvement with the occult” years.

  14. im-skeptical says:

    I’ve been invited here by cl to offer my take on the incident. So, assuming that this is cl’s honest account of the events, I’ll give my best guess, given that I wasn’t there myself, and the information is rather sketchy. For example, it wasn’t clear from the account that you didn’t actually see it.

    My take: You were fooled. Either your eyes were closed for a moment when your friend moved the games, or they were actually moved a bit earlier and you simply didn’t notice. Then suddenly there was a noise, and your friends pointed out that the games were moved. After the discussion on metaphysics, they were having a bit of fun at your expense.

  15. cl says:

    Utterly ridiculous, as in, not even reasonable and not even worth being taken seriously. What you suggest is humanly impossible. In fact, what you suggest is more “miraculous” than the straightforward alternative. So, yeah… thanks for proving my point. Like most every other “skeptic” out there, when you say “show me something that violates the laws of physics and I’ll believe,” it’s just a facade.

  16. im-skeptical says:

    Sorry to have wasted your time.

  17. Crude says:

    I like how the investigation of cl’s claim doesn’t involve asking any questions, running through any possible scenarios, trying to find out any more detail. Just “nope I bet I can imagine what happened, you were wrong, the end”.

    That’s what skepticism is nowadays. It’s got little to do with evaluation, and a lot more to do with the conclusion you come to.

  18. cl says:

    That’s what skepticism is nowadays. It’s got little to do with evaluation, and a lot more to do with the conclusion you come to.

    Yeah, for many it’s just a schtick, an intellectual posturing. Oh well. From this, we can learn.

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