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Looking through a glass darkly – The paranormal, normal and bias

The Latin prefix para means beside or beyond. Like the word supernatural, paranormal refers to any phenomenon that eludes explanation through normal science or conventional wisdom.

Paranormal can be a misleading term because what is ‘normal’ is open to debate and subject to change.

At what precise point, for instance, does intuition or insight become as ESP or clairvoyance?

Funnily enough, the US courts still provide an option for placing the right hand on the Bible while taking oath—and the Bible is a book that invites believers to enjoy eternal rest in the paranormal realm of heaven.

Image: Wikipedia

Likewise, more recent versions of the American psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM-x) accept religious beliefs that include the paranormal, providing the religion is well established and actively practiced within a given culture. Individual beliefs, however, are far more suspect, which speaks volumes about the psychiatric worldview.

Traditional religious persons tend to be wary of the paranormal, saying that it deals with magic, evil spirits, the occult, divination and demonic realms. Heaven, on the other hand, is said to be a faith-based concept denoting God‘s realm. So traditionalists tend to use the word supernatural instead of paranormal, as if that resolves all ambiguity about what is good and not good in the uncharted world of the spirit.

Many who have had unusual experiences or who believe they have psi abilities probably do not report these for fear of repercussions. They would not want to be ridiculed, bullied, harassed, stigmatized, marginalized or perhaps, worse, rough-handled by a medical establishment that leans toward what C. G. Jung called “medical materialism.”¹

Vallisca Paranormal Journalism

Vallisca Paranormal
Journalism: billnwmsu / Will Murphy

We can only wonder just how many genuine paranormal encounters go unreported. But one thing seems pretty clear: The data is questionable.

Social credibility bias, misreporting and unreliable statistics compel us to ask whether ‘normal’ and ‘paranormal’ are relative instead of absolute categories. Just as postmoderns deconstruct the idea of the ‘natural,’² the difference between normal and paranormal is relative to cultures and subcultures.

Cultural biases can be subtle but also pervasive. Bias often goes unrecognized because we are blind to our prejudices, expectations and limitations. And despite what many will say on either side of the fence, this happens with both kinds of believers—believers in the paranormal and believers in the normal sciences.³

¹ Things may be slowly changing for the better. But Jung speaks clearly about mid-20th century biases. See p. 143.

² This approach was popular in the mid-1980s and 90s, just before widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

³ Some call for a new kind of relational science that could be applied to paranormal accounts. See, “Daniel Siegel in conversation with Paul Zak” on Vimeo and

† Re title:

Related » Atlantis, Clairaudience, Clairvoyance, Dreams, Empath, Guiley (Rosemary Ellen), Luke Skywalker, Randi (James), Remote ViewingScience journalism faces media changes, emerging discoveries, SeerTalbot (Michael), Tarot, Watts (Alan)


Ants in the Anthill – What’s Missing in the Multiverse?

Image via Wikipedia

Most of us have probably heard the term multiverse. But what is it?

Well, that might depend on who you are and how you look at things.

In the most general sense, the multiverse is a hypothesis that describes many possible universes that may or may not interpenetrate one another. But as we shall see, there are a few twists to its meaning.

A Little History

As early as 1923 H. G. Wells wrote the novel Men Like Gods, portraying a multiverse theory and a “paratime” machine.¹

In 1952, the Nobel physicist Erwin Schrödinger said his equations seemed to depict different histories that are “not alternatives, but all really happen simultaneously.”²

In the 1960s and 70s the idea of parallel universes hit the radar with paranormal writers like Jane Roberts and science fiction TV shows like Star Trek TOS. This cosmological innovation never went away.

Since then, more philosophers and scientists have championed and critiqued the notion that our universe exists with others.

Stephen Hawking may not believe in God but he believes in a multiverse. And in sci-fi and fantasy, the idea grows with a vengeance.³

Myth, Philosophy and Science

Depending on how one interprets the meaning of the word, the multiverse arguably crops up in Celtic myths about the otherworld. For instance, in Pagan Ireland the afterlife region of sidh closely resembles earthly life. And every November 1st, during the festival of Samhain, spirits from both worlds apparently mingle.4

Level 2 multiverse

Level 2 multiverse (Photo: Wikipedia)

In philosophy, Leibniz (1646-1716) argues that God conceived of many possible worlds but only created the best of all possible worlds.

In New Age literature Jane RobertsSeth Books advance the notion that parallel universes not only exist, but interact.

For Roberts, the soul observes a person’s experiences in many universes. So on a higher level, the oversoul learns from different lives in the multiverse.

Roberts also says we can be influenced by our other selves in parallel universes. For example, The EDM musician in universe A may connect with her other self as an astronaut in universe B, along with her vocation as a psychological time traveler in universe C. Her mind-expanding experiences as an astronaut (B) and time traveler (C) could influence her musical creativity in A.

The possibilities of a multiverse are enjoyable to think about. But we have no way to empirically demonstrate our beliefs and suppositions. This is one of the greatest critiques of multiverse theory. Fascinating speculation, yes. But the multiverse is not scientific because, detractors say, we cannot prove it.7

Image via Wikipedia

What’s Missing in Mainstream Theories?

My critique of mainstream multiverse theory – as we usually find it through places like Flipboard and Feedly – is that it rarely accounts for heavenly and hellish dimensions.

Heaven, hell and additional in-between realms, I would argue, play a huge role in our day-to-day lives and should figure prominently in multiverse theory.

We might call these oft overlooked aspects vertical instead of the more commonly described horizontal dimensions. After all, most spiritually aware people say that they feel heaven above and hell, below.

An Analogy

To help bring this back down to Earth, consider an analogy:

Some scientists, oblivious to genuine religious or spiritual experience, seem like ants trying to map out the world from the height of a few millimeters. The ant can’t see what the human being sees.

The ant may know about anthills, but it knows little about mountain peaks; river valleys; streams; oceans; the rich colors of the Earth’s topography; waves on water; blue skies, sun and cloud; moon and stars; Andromeda…

So an ant’s theory is pretty ant-like. Not at all like a human being would comprehend the world through the five senses.

Image via Wikipedia

From this analogy, we can say that those with genuine spiritual sensibilities take the observable universe as a bit of an anthill. There’s a lot more to consider. And that’s why so many current cosmologies fall short.

Hope Springs Eternal

There is hope, however. Recent trends like String and M-Theories seem to be heading in the right direction. These theories point to higher dimensions that interact with dimensions found in simpler multiverse theories.

So different interpretations for the word multiverse might someday coalesce. Instead of merely being the stuff of science geeks and sci-fi fans, the idea of the multiverse may soon reap practical benefits.8  

Related » Black Holes, Numinosity , Intercession


² I’m linking to my highlighting and notes at Diigo so more relevant info that didn’t make this entry is easily found.

³ Some feel that sci-fi and fantasy is nature’s way of acclimatizing us to new ideas and cosmologies that initially seem too far-fetched, especially with ETs and UFOs.  For examples in sci-fi, fantasy, TV and movies, see:

English: Level II Multiverse: every disk is a ...

Level II Multiverse: every disk is a bubble universe. Universe 1 to Universe 6 are different bubbles, with distinct physical constants that are different from our universe. Our universe is just one of the bubbles. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia outlines more examples of the multiverse in myth and religion, see But these examples interpret the meaning of multiverse differently than, say, a contemporary physicist would. The difference, without getting too complicated, is that a physicist’s definition is usually closer to the idea of parallel universes. The other interpretation is about layers of reality (or higher and lower dimensions) that saints and mystics can consciously experience in the here and now. See, for instance, the Hindu idea of lokas.

5 The satirist Voltaire (1694-1778) lampooned Leibniz’s view in Candide, with a witty critique of apathy and clerical hypocrisy.

6 (a) Some wonder if David Bowie really was The Man Who Fell To Earth. Could simultaneous experiences in other places have informed his work here?

(b) In the 1980s something strange happened with my Dual turntable, a popular brand of record players. It was a long time ago and, to be honest, I can’t remember exactly. But this is a true story: In one instant the machine was revolving at 33 rpm and the next instant the dial was at 45 rpm, without my touching it. It just instantly changed, as if a TV channel had been changed from universe A to universe B. There was no visible acceleration or audible change in sound. Just an immediate, uninterrupted speed change. Next, I looked at the Dual logo and, in my youthful open-mindedness, got the unnerving feeling that the universe was trying to teach me something.

Admittedly it sounds a bit far-fetched. But in an instant I interpreted these events as a kind of holistic teaching. Today, I’m not so sure. Possibly I changed the turntable speed with my hand and, for some reason, momentarily blanked out, forgetting that I had changed it. Then noticing the Dual logo, I might have put these events together into some kind of paranormal teaching about parallel universes. Maybe my brain misfired from fatigue or something else. That’s my skeptical side. But it’s more accurate to say that I don’t what happened. I remember feeling temorarily unsettled afterward, like the underpinnings of all that I believed in were pulled away. Luckily, it was a one-time experience! 🙂

Adherents of multiverse belief might note we can’t prove the idea of love, either. And it’s pretty hard to imagine a world without love.

8 From Wikipedia:

A multiverse of a somewhat different kind has been envisaged within string theory and its higher-dimensional extension, M-theory.

These theories require the presence of 10 or 11 spacetime dimensions respectively. The extra 6 or 7 dimensions may either be compactified on a very small scale, or our universe may simply be localized on a dynamical (3+1)-dimensional object, a D3-brane. This opens up the possibility that there are other branes which could support other universes. This is unlike the universes in the quantum multiverse, but both concepts can operate at the same time.

See also, note 4 (above).

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Willard Quine – My unapologetic simplification

Willard Quine (1908-2000) was an influential American mathematician and philosopher who rejected Kant’s analytic-synthetic distinction¹ and advocated a form of holism.

English: The OWNER of this passport picture of...

Passport picture of Willard Van Orman Quine (Photo: Wikipedia)

Quine argues that empiricism contains “two dogmas.” One dogma is the distinction made between intellectual constructs and facts.

The second dogma is reductionism—that is, the belief that naming and meaning are the same.

Quine’s thought has been variously championed and critiqued. It seems that whatever way we look at the issues Quine addresses, we encounter the same problem. Language (and arguably all symbols, to include numbers) has conceptual and descriptive limits. It can never be entirely precise nor complete.²

The relationship between symbols and reality is an age old debate with no definitive answer. The discussion can go along ‘horizontal,’ conceptual lines or veer off into deeper, ‘vertical’ lines (as with Carl Jung‘s view of the archetypal image).

The discussion can also exist in a kind of matrix. That is, one could argue – as I do – that all words carry a potential numinous power. Numinosity isn’t something restricted to religious or mythological symbols.

In sociology, Quine’s thought appears in discussions about reification and also about the relation between scientific truth claims on the one hand, and ideology, the profit motive and social power on the other hand.

Healthcare Costs by Images Money via Flickr

Admittedly this is the briefest of brief sketches about Quine. When it comes to Western philosophy, it seems everyone has their own take on what these complicated thinkers are trying to say.³ My interest in Quine is mostly in trying to get people to think critically about scientific truth claims.

Science is becoming a new kind or medieval-style religion. The initial assumptions, selectivity, biases, interpretations and extrapolations built in to science are so glossed over or taken for granted that the average person tends to see science as “truth” and doesn’t even want to discuss any further.

In other words, science has a pretty firm grip on the minds and actions of many people. Too see this in action, we don’t have to look any further than some of the facile placards in the recent “March for Science.”

Making a religion out of science is misguided, authoritarian and dangerous. I think humanity can do better. So that’s how I justify simplifying Quine. I’m taking a poststructural approach. Something that I think everyone does. Although not everyone might be aware of it (or admit it, if they are).

Image by Becker1999 via Flickr

Need I say more?

¹ Kant devised a distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. Analytic propositions are said to contain the predicate in the subject. Synthetic propositions do not contain the predicate in the subject. An example of an analytic proposition is, “All squares have four sides.” An example of a synthetic proposition is, “All men are athletic.”

² Along these lines the ancient Greek, Heraclitus, once wrote said that we cannot step into the same river twice. So what is a “river?”

³ Not to imply that Eastern philosophy is necessarily simpler or less open to interpretation. Just look at some of the Buddhist logic schools, for instance.

Related » Science, scientism

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Rona and other myths undercut our cosmological arrogance

In Oceanic mythology Rona is a fierce female cannibal who eats her beautiful daughter’s lover.¹

Another Oceanic myth tells of a male god, Rona, who fights the moon to rescue his abducted wife.² According to this story, when the moon tires from the battle with Rona, it wanes. When the moon regains its strength, it waxes.

This is a good example of what might be called alternative logic, lateral thinking or, for some, anthropomorphism. From his fieldwork, the depth psychiatrist Carl Jung observed that archaic myths are logical and meaningful to so-called primitives, just as scientific explanations appear logical and meaningful to many so-called advanced, thinking persons.

More recently, postmodern critiques of science tend to view theories as working myths or fictions instead of facts. This makes sense if one is willing to admit bias and the limits of human understanding.

English: Karl Popper in 1990.

Karl Popper in 1990 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Take Karl Popper, for instance. He points out that scientific theories are never really proved, per se, but only supported. Also, scientific theories are subject to falsification, modification or radical change through, as T. Kuhn suggests, a paradigm shift. We know that Newton’s Laws of Motion perform well for conventional problems. But Einstein’s work is required for areas that Newton couldn’t observe and probably didn’t imagine.³

Somewhat ahead of his time, Jung says he treated so-called primitives with respect and, when interviewing local elders and tribesmen, didn’t challenge their beliefs or try to convert them to a modern scientific or, for that matter, Protestant Christian perspective.4

A considerate move on Jung’s part. Imagine if advanced extraterrestrials publicly visited Earth. Let’s say the visitors could see beyond our common view of directional time and the (apparent) solidity of matter. These beliefs are important to the functioning and psychological security of 21st century mankind. So if ETs revealed too much knowledge too fast, they’d likely blow our minds as David Bowie put it in the song “Starman.”

Likewise, had Jung tried to convince indigenous peoples that the sun’s rising did not depend on contemplation and sacrifice but, rather, the Earth’s natural rotation, he might have upset their psychological wellness.5

This raises questions about our “developed” cosmological assumptions and how they tie in to the idea of progress. Clearly this topic can go in many directions. I touch on some of these in entries on numinosity, spirituality, mysticismscience, psychiatry and scientism, among others.

¹ See for the source of these and also for this Wikipedia retelling:

According to Māori legend, a Ngaio tree can be seen on the moon:

The man in the moon becomes, in Māori legend, a woman, one Rona by name. This lady, it seems, once had occasion to go by night for water to a stream. In her hand she carried an empty calabash. Stumbling in the dark over stones and the roots of trees she hurt her shoeless feet and began to abuse the moon, then hidden behind clouds, hurling at it some such epithet as “You old tattooed face, there!” But the moon-goddess heard, and reaching down caught up the insulting Rona, calabash and all, into the sky. In vain the frightened woman clutched, as she rose, the tops of a ngaio-tree. The roots gave way, and Rona with her calabash and her tree are placed in the front of the moon for ever, an awful warning to all who are tempted to mock at divinities in their haste.

English: Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung ...

Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung in USA, published in 1910 (Photo: Wikipedia)

² Ibid.

³ See Reddit – Ask Science.

My PhD thesis suggests that Jung thinks and behaves like a postmodern before the idea of postmodernism becomes fashionable. Jung’s father, Paul, was a Protestant minister who said Carl had to “believe.” Jung later writes that he doesn’t know how he is to find this belief. With access to his father’s theological library, the young Jung took to Latin and religious studies like a dove to water.

Jung interviewed a Hopi elder and other Native Americans who held these beliefs. See


James Randi – Skeptic, debunker of the paranormal

James Randi in 2008 by Napolean 70 via Flickr

James Randi in 2008 by Napolean 70 via Flickr

James Randi (1928-) is a Toronto born American citizen known for his skepticism and enthusiastic debunking of paranormal truth claims.

In the past, Randi has demanded scientific evidence of paranormal abilities using science as he defines it. This was evident in his “$1,000,000 Paranormal Challenge,” terminated in 2015, with the following exception:

…any established psychic may contact JREF via email to be tested directly (preferably with an independent, third party TV crew.) ¹

During his lenghty career Randi has exposed alleged psychics who couldn’t perform under his agreed upon conditions.

However, Randi tends to emphasize the naturalistic and public aspects of life, making the replication of an alleged effect within these realms the criteria for scientific proof. This is a prominent view in the 21st century. But life, thank God, is rarely that cut and dried. There are other ways of understanding science, its meaning and appropriate method.

James Randi in Sydney as a speaker at the TAMo...

James Randi in Sydney as a speaker at the TAMoZ conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For instance, some social thinkers and philosophers of science liken science to an agreed upon social construction, paradigm, myth or fiction. Some even say that science is like another religion. For these thinkers, the conceptual distinctions among science, myth and religion are not mutually exclusive. In fact, some theologians have called theology the “Queen of Sciences.”

Randi was a guest on the popular Johnny Carson show several times, which is not surprising. Randi’s approach arguably gained a measure of popularity not only because he was successful is debunking but also because his weltanschauung resonated with many skeptical and non-religious persons.

In his own words:

“I’ve said it before: there are two sorts of atheists. One sort claims that there is no deity, the other claims that there is no evidence that proves the existence of a deity; I belong to the latter group, because if I were to claim that no god exists, I would have to produce evidence to establish that claim, and I cannot. Religious persons have by far the easier position; they say they believe in a deity because that’s their preference, and they’ve read it in a book. That’s their right.”²

The meaning of the phrase “and they’ve read it in a book” is unclear in this sentence. If Randi is suggesting that reading about God in a book always conforms to or reinforces a belief in God, then I would disagree. Some people have ongoing spiritual experiences which lead them to believe in God in ways not necessarily outlined in a holy book. For these people, living spirituality is not just about choosing to believe and reading something in a book.

Moreover, for those concerned about getting it right in a true scientific sense, reason is applied to any unusual or unconventional experience which they may have. This is somewhat similar to the old medieval theological view that “reason follows revelation” but it differs in that reason is not used to forcibly make revelation conform to Biblical passages or orthodox teachings.³

James Randi Foundation offices, Fort Lauderdal...

James Randi Foundation offices, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the above quotation Randi also says he would have to “produce evidence” to say that no God exists. Essentially, he is applying the same criteria for atheism as he does for religious and paranormal belief.

However, for many a deep, possibly mystical relationship with God is a personal matter that may extend outward to others in subtle ways. It does not have to be publicly verifiable to be real.

By way of analogy, if person “X” has a secret relationship with another person “Y,” others not in that particular relationship, whom we’ll call group “Z,” may be unaware of the connection between “X” and “Y.” But that does not mean that the relationship between “X” and “Y” does not exist. Those who are in that relationship know very well that it exists. Furthermore, that secret relationship may have effects on “Z” without “Z” even knowing it.



³ In today’s world the idea of revelation does not necessarily fit with ancient scriptures or official religious teachings. Many have revelations that challenge traditional scripture and teachings. Also, revelation may be subtle and ongoing in the forms of grace, insight and intuition. But it seems that if one does not use reason to analyze any kind of revelation, great or small, they run the risk of making mistakes or, at the extreme, become insane persons. Evelyn Underhill recognized this as far back as 1911.

Related » Psychokinesis, Seer

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Carl Edward Sagan – An astronomer who had the right stuff

Carl Edward Sagan (1934-1996), best known as Carl Sagan, was an American astronomer and media figure.

Русский: Карл Саган у модели спускаемого аппар...

Carl Sagan with a model of the Viking lander (Photo: Wikipedia)

His interest in science began at a young age. Getting his first public library card at age 5, he spent considerable time asking the librarian questions and reading up on topics that his family and friends were not so enthusiastic about.

The young Carl got bored at public school because it wasn’t challenging enough. But his family didn’t have the means to send him to a private school for gifted kids.

Nevertheless, Sagan went on to do great things as an adult. He published hundreds of scientific articles, served as an advisor to NASA, and wrote books and hosted a TV series, Cosmos, that popularized science and particularly the idea that we are not alone in the universe.

Sagan differed from many UFO hunters in that he never abandoned his healthy skepticism. An advocate of SETI (The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), his method was couched in the science of his era. Some see that as a strength, others as a limitation.¹

He also made several accurate predictions about the nature of our solar system, contributed to robotic space missions and, slightly ahead of his time,

perceived global warming as a growing, man-made danger and likened it to the natural development of Venus into a hot, life-hostile planet through a kind of runaway greenhouse effect.²

Sagan taught a course on critical thinking at Cornell university and didn’t believe in an anthropomorphic God nor a God to which one would pray to. His vision of God was more in line with the supposed laws of the universe. For Sagan, it made no sense to pray, for instance, to the law of gravity. Gravity would behave the same way, prayed to or not.³

Traditional theologians would say that Sagan confused creator with creation, as so many do. But his popularity in America and abroad was phenomenal and he received many medals and awards. And entertainers like Johnny Carson regularly parodied his sound bytes and unique accent, especially with the phrase “billions and billions.”4

¹ For instance, people convinced that they can psychically connect with ETs will likely not find any kind of proof by looking through large telescopes or by listening to radio signals from outer space. The proof for them, if there is any “proof” at all, might come from situations working out in a positive way by virtue of an apparently helpful psychic ET connection. This, of course, could be further questioned from different angles. But this is beyond the scope of this entry.


³ “In reply to a question in 1996 about his religious beliefs, Sagan answered, ‘I’m agnostic.’ Sagan maintained that the idea of a creator God of the Universe was difficult to prove or disprove.” Ibid.


Related » Occam’s razor

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Skepticism – An old way of finding out new things

skepticism by Christina

Image – Christina B Castro via Flickr

In philosophy skepticism is the notion that we cannot know things beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Extreme skepticism contends that we cannot be certain about the truth of any belief, including the belief in skepticism.

Softer forms of skepticism point to specific branches of inquiry or to a method of doubt that attempts to clarify uncertainties, even if imperfectly so.

One can believe and still be a skeptic, as outlined in the following:

The true meaning of the word skepticism has nothing to do with doubt, disbelief, or negativity. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.

It’s thus inaccurate to say “Skeptics don’t believe in ghosts.” Some do. Many skeptics are deeply religious, and are satisfied with the reasoning process that led them there. Skeptics apply critical thinking to different aspects of their lives in their own individual way. Everyone is a skeptic to some degree.¹

The notion of skepticism is, perhaps, traceable to the apparent humility of Socrates (469–399 BCE),  as opposed to the use of Socrates as a literary character by Plato to advocate the theory of Forms. However scholars usually say that the first known skeptic is Pyrrho of Elis (365–275 BCE).

English: René Descartes, the French philosophe...

René Descartes, the French philosopher, by the French engraver Balthasar Moncornot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The influential Islamic philosopher and psychologist Al-Ghazali (1058-1111)  promoted a type of skepticism that some say may have influenced René Descartes method of doubt as found in his Discourse on the Method. Here, Descartes starts off as a skeptic, finds himself in intellectual hot water, so relies on his essentially theological beliefs about the goodness of God to bail himself out.²

Another type of skepticism is geared more toward corrective social practice—namely, professional skepticism. A professional skeptic would be hired to discover and help prosecute frauds, hostile infiltrators and unduly corrupt individuals hiding out under seemingly legitimate covers.³

¹ The reference to this quote also mentions the popular usage that to be a skeptic is to, more often than not, bash certain ideas:

² Descartes looks into the problem of solipsism, which I don’t think requires a belief in God to reject. The mere uncertainly should be enough. For what if the solipsist is wrong? Can he or she be a truly ethical person with no respect for the (possible) reality of others?


Related » Gorgias, Hellenistic, James Randi