Sunday, July 3, 2011

Old Wive's Tales and Double-Blind Tests

This post is a follow-up to my post on Hyper-Rationalism and Segulos. In the comments thread, a number of questions and challenges were raised about my categorizing Rashba as non-rationalist in his approach to these topics. In order to explain this further, it is useful to discuss the general idea of empirical testing.

How do we know if a remedy works? There is a broad spectrum of possibilities.

1. The most basic stage is to accept that it works based on one person's say-so. As far as some are concerned - and this approach was prevalent in antiquity - if that one person is an authority figure, or dead, then his/her words carry much greater weight. (See Shabbos 66b for Abaye's description of remedies that he learned from his nursemaid. This is literally an "old wife's tale" - the word "wife" in that aphorism is from the Old English wif and refers to any woman, rather than specifically to a married woman. The aphorism refers to unverified welfare-related beliefs, often superstitious in nature, that are passed down from the women of an older generation to a younger generation. However, the aphorism today has derogatory overtones, especially with those who lack an appreciation for how epistemologies change over time. Needless to say, not all old wive's tales are false!)

2. The next stage up is to require more than one person's attestation. The Gemara rates an amulet as being effective if it has worked on three occasions.

3. The next stage is to require a much larger number of attestations - ten, a hundred, a thousand.

4. The next stage is to realize that one also needs to assess if all the people who recovered would have done so anyway - and so one needs to also look at those people with the same condition who did not use the remedy.

5. The next stage is to realize that the placebo effect is very powerful, and to counteract it by having a control group - a group who is receiving something that looks exactly like the remedy, but has inactive ingredients.

6. The final stage is to realize that those administering the remedy/ test may themselves be consciously or subconsciously influencing the results. It is thus necessary to have double-blind testing - where neither the subject nor the experimenter knows which is the remedy and which is the placebo, until the survey is complete.

Now, there is also another spectrum of people, ranging from those who strongly believe in all kinds of supernatural events, to those who are methodological naturalists (denying any kind of supernatural event). There is a strong, although not absolute, correlation between the people on this spectrum, and the people on the first spectrum that we discussed. Generally, those who freely believe in supernatural phenomena have lower standards for accepting that a given remedy works.

Rashba was towards the non-rationalist end of the spectrum. He did not see the lack of a naturalistic explanation as being any reason to doubt the validity of a remedy, since he believed that supernatural processes are just as common. And he had low requirements for accepting the efficacy of a remedy - a claim of it working a few times was sufficient empirical confirmation for him.

Rambam, on the other hand, was towards the other end of the spectrum. He was extremely reluctant to accept the existence of supernatural phenomena. And he was skeptical of remedies based on supernatural explanations, even if there were a few claims of their having worked. The reason for this skepticism is that he was well aware of the power of the placebo effect (see Hilchos Avodah Zarah 11:11).

Rashba writes that he is puzzled by Rambam's stance. On the one hand, Rambam says that all allegedly paranormal phenomena are false and therefore forbidden. But on the other hand, Rambam permits one to go out on Shabbos carrying a nail from a gallows, and a fox's tooth, because they are believed to have proven beneficial as remedial items!

The explanation of Rambam, put forth by Dr. Marc Shapiro in Studies in Maimonides and his Interpreters, is that Rambam believed these items to be beneficial as placebos. He did not think that they could genuinely work, since there is no naturalistic explanation for them, and he did not consider the "thrice tested" standard to be sufficient. In Rambam's view, one may carry these items on Shabbos because they are believed to be therapeutic.

44 comments:

  1. "Generally, those who freely believe in supernatural phenomena have lower standards for accepting that a given remedy works. "

    And yet, and yet...

    Massimo Pigliucci writes:
    "I used to teach a course on science and pseudoscience which was offered to
    honors students, which are most definitely not a random subset of the student
    population at the university. These were among the best and brightest
    students on campus. They also came from disparate backgrounds with fewer
    than half of those I interviewed pursuing a science major. I asked them to
    respond to questions aimed at evaluating their general knowledge of science
    as it is assessed among aspiring high school teachers. These were questions
    about matters of fact, not principles of science or critical thinking. Not
    surprisingly, science majors knew (slightly) more science than non-science
    majors did. I then asked them to rate their belief in a series of paranormal
    phenomena, from voodoo to astrology, from water dowsing to haunted houses,
    and so on. The results indicate no significant difference between
    genders, but, astoundingly and contrary to expectations, the science majors
    held more strongly to paranormal beliefs than the non-science students!
    "
    http://mje.mcgill.ca/article/view/2224/1694

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  2. Your post does not address the points made by "Unbiased..." (he should have spelled his name correctly! :-) over here: http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=6906205856510467947&postID=1536440603106058932.

    The Rashba consistently requires verification for validity of a claim. The fact that he allows for a system of special "teva" that is distinct from what human beings called (and call) regular nature is not relevant. He says that there is indeed a *system* that operates by laws, which govern the segulot. The fact that we cannot explain what's behind the system is not relevant as a cause to dismiss the Rashba's rationality. His model of magnets as a prime example of segulot exemplifies this point.

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  3. Please read my post carefully.

    EVERYONE requires SOME sort of verification. But the relevant point is, what kind of verification is needed? For some people, an old wive's tale suffices.

    The Rashba has a very low bar. This, in combination with his freely positing the existence of paranormal phenomena, is what sets him apart from Rambam as a non-rationalist.

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  4. The Rambam in his commentary to the Mishna in Chulin about the mud mouse seems to imply that enough people testifying about its existence was sufficient basis to for the Rambam believe it might exist even though scientifically it was impossible.

    So where do you see that he differs from the Rashba about the reality of segulos? Do you have a source? Or is Marc Shapiro's dochek the best you've got?

    פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת חולין פרק ט

    והתהוות העכבר דוקא מן העפר עד שימצא מקצתו בשר ומקצתו טיט והוא מתנועע כולו הוא ספור מפורסם מאד ואין מספר לרבים אשר אמרו לי שראו אותו, ומציאות בעל חי כזה הוא דבר מפליא שאין לדעת לו הסבר כלל.

    From here:
    http://www.aish.com/ci/s/48907302.html

    Among Maimonides' important works is his commentary on the Mishna, the foundation of the Talmud. According to Jewish law, the carcasses of some dead animals confer a certain form of ritual contamination, and the Mishna addresses whether contact with the still unformed soil-part of such a spontaneously generated rodent would impart such defilement. Consider Maimonides' words regarding the reference to the creature in question:

    "...the existence of [such a creature] is something well-known; countless people have told me that they have seen it, even though the existence of such a living creature is incomprehensible and cannot be explained in any way." [Commentary to the Mishna, Chullin, chapter 9]

    The difference between the reactions of the two scientists, each confronted with a claim that flew in the face of conventional wisdom, is subtle but profound.

    Both are compelled to state that the reports before them defy scientific explanation. But whereas Mangin counsels a final rejection of the possibility that the report he received might have merit, Maimonides -- even as he notes the inadequacy of scientific knowledge to explain what he has heard - takes pains to allow for the incomprehensible.

    The Talmudic creature could well have been intended as a theoretical construct. There are other references in the Talmud -- like another one in the realm of ritual defilement, to a "building that flies through the air" -- that are clearly intended as thought-experiments (although, ironically, the airplane would become entirely real a couple of thousand years later). And Maimonides, famed for his rationalist approach to things, could well have so characterized the rodent case. But, an open-minded thinker first and foremost, he chose instead to simply express the inadequacy of science to explain the claim, but to allow for the possibility that the popular lore might nevertheless somehow be accurate.

    That, in fact, is what a true scientist does when an observation or report doesn't "seem to fit." In most cases a simple resolution soon presents itself -- an experiment clears up the matter, or the testimony is conclusively revealed to be flawed. In some, a new mechanism is postulated and demonstrated. And in others still, a question mark remains, sometimes until a revolutionary breakthrough - like the discovery of DNA or the idea of relativity or of quantum mechanics - turns yesterday's "science" on its head. And sometimes indefinitely.

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  5. Rav Kapach - who read the Commentary in the Arabic, and was thus sensitive to nuance - read Rambam as expressing skepticism as to the existence of the mud-mouse:

    "Our master there avoids admitting its existence and it seems from his words that he thinks it is a fictional creature."

    Also, Rambam explicitly denies the efficacy of various segulos, even though there were those who attested to them. See, for example, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 11:11.

    If you think that Marc Shapiro's answer is a dochek, do you have a better answer?

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  6. Rav Kapach obviously had a pro-rationalist bias and cannot be accorded too much credibility for his "nuanced reading" which will keep Maimonides to his liking.

    The Rashba presented a clear understanding that the Rambam accepted the reality of segulos based on empirical confirmation from reliable sources.
    The only area of puzzlement was to why he forbade similar practices coming from pagan cult sources if they had similar empirical confirmation.
    His tentative resolution seems to be that these pagan segulos are inherently suspect and assumed false since they were the devices used by the pagan priests to verify their false beliefs. Since their pagan beliefs were certainly false, the phenomena used to support their pagan beliefs must also be false.
    The reports of pagans could not be trusted.

    But Marc Shapiro's dochek does not resolve this inconsistency at all. If the permitted segulos were considered "true" and therefore permissible because of their real placebo effect on people, by the same token, the pagan segulos should be similarly permitted because they too have the "true" effect on people.

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  7. Clearly the Rambam didn’t believe in the healing power of amulets as he makes abundantly clear numerous times in MT. In Hil. Shabbos, the Rambam refers to the permissibility of carrying the amulet on Shabbos. My explanation is that once the efficacy of the amulet has been demonstrated 3 times, the amulet is considered to be a “malbush” or “tachshit.” Otherwise, it’s considered a “carried object,” since its significance is limited to the wearer. Consider the evidence required to ascertain the amulet’s efficacy. Do we require 2 witnesses who testify that this amulet has worked, or is it sufficient to have hearsay evidence that it has been effective 3 times? I strongly suspect the latter. Even if it’s the former, a “chazaka” is not even remotely scientific evidence. It’s merely a precedent to establish a basis for future jurisprudence. Therefore, the fact that Rambam permits one to carry such an amulet on Shabbos in no way proves that he believed in the amulet’s power.

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  8. רמב"ם פירוש המשניות - מסכת יומא פרק ח משנה ו
    ואין הלכה כרבי מתיא בן חרש בזה שהוא מתיר להאכיל לאדם הכבד של כלב שוטה כשנשך, כי זה אינו מועיל אלא בדרך סגולה. וחכמים סוברים כי אין עוברין על המצות אלא ברפואה בלבד, ר"ל בדברים המרפאין בטבע והוא דבר אמיתי הוציאו הדעת והנסיון הקרוב לאמת. אבל להתרפאות בדברים שהם מרפאים בסגולתן אסור, כי כחם חלוש אינו מצד הדעת ונסיונו רחוק והיא טענה חלושה מן הטועה, וזה העיקר דעהו וזכרהו כי הוא עיקר גדול.

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  9. Akivah, you are ignorant of what the Rambam says in Moreh III 37 which is the source the Rashba is discussing.

    Interesting, the word verification for my comment was "maral"

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  10. רמב"ם יד החזקה - הלכות עבודת כוכבים פרק יא
    (טז) ודברים האלו כולן דברי שקר וכזב הן והם שהטעו בהן עובדי כוכבים הקדמונים לגויי הארצות כדי שינהגו אחריהן ואין ראוי לישראל שהם חכמים מחוכמים להמשך בהבלים אלו ולא להעלות על לב שיש תועלת בהן שנאמר כי לא נחש ביעקב ולא קסם בישראל ונאמר כי הגוים האלה אשר אתה יורש אותם אל מעוננים ואל קוסמים ישמעו ואתה לא כן וגו' כל המאמין בדברים האלו וכיוצא בהן ומחשב בלבו שהן אמת ודבר חכמה אבל התורה אסרתן אינן אלא מן הסכלים ומחסרי הדעת ובכלל הנשים והקטנים שאין דעתן שלימה אבל בעלי החכמה ותמימי הדעת ידעו בראיות ברורות שכל אלו הדברים שאסרה תורה אינם דברי חכמה אלא תהו והבל שנמשכו בהן חסרי הדעת ונטשו כל דרכי האמת בגללן ומפני זה אמרה תורה כשהזהירה על כל אלו ההבלים תמים תהיה עם ה' אלהיך:

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  11. I'll see your Pirush Hamishnayos and raise you a Moreh Nevichim.

    ואל יקשה עליך מה שהתירו מהם במסמר הצלוב ושן השועל, כי הדברים ההם בזמן ההוא היו חושבים בהן שהוציא אותם הנסיון והיו משום רפואה, והולכין על דרך תלות העשב שקורין בערבי פאבינ"ה ובלע"ז פיאוניא"ה על הכנפה, ונתינת צואת הכלב למורסות הנרון, והעישון בחומץ ומרקשי"ט למורסות המכות הקשות, כי כל מה שנתאמת נסיונו באלו אע"פ שלא יגזרהו ההיקש הוא מותר לעשותו, מפני שהוא רפואה ונוהג מנהג שלשול הסמנין המשלשלים, והעלה בידך אלו הנפלאות ממאמרי זה אתה המעיין ושמרם כי לוית חן הם לראשך וגו'.

    My word verification wasn't too thrilling this time...

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  12. You emboldened the wrong words!
    Rambam's point in Moreh 3:37 is not that these things have actually been empirically demonstrated to be effective. Instead, it is that Chazal (mistakenly) thought that they were empirically demonstrated to be effective.

    Here is the relevant part of the quote:

    ואל יקשה עליך מה שהתירו מהם במסמר הצלוב ושן השועל, כי הדברים ההם בזמן ההוא היו חושבים בהן שהוציא אותם הנסיון והיו משום רפואה,

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  13. A few points:

    1) Regarding the rambam's beliefs in placebo effect. I could easily be wrong but I think either he or one of the nose keilim say this about being lochesh on a maka. It's not Shapiro's invention.

    2) I see no reason to think that a believer in the supernatural should, of necessity, require a lower threshold of evidence. One might require double-blind placebo controlled verification of amulet power. As a practical matter the two probably do correlate because we all know that:

    3) The evidence never does confirm the efficacy or even existence of supernatural events. So it would be logical to say that those who require strong proof in general would not believe in the supernatural. But how far are we all willing to take that??

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  14. It is hard for me to understand what you are saying. You wrote that

    "Rambam's point in Moreh 3:37 is not that these things have actually been empirically demonstrated to be effective.

    Instead, it is that Chazal (mistakenly) thought that they were empirically demonstrated to be effective.

    Here is the relevant part of the quote:

    ואל יקשה עליך מה שהתירו מהם במסמר הצלוב ושן השועל, כי הדברים ההם בזמן ההוא היו חושבים בהן שהוציא אותם הנסיון והיו משום רפואה,"

    The Rambam explicitly states that Chazal thought that the subject in question was shown empirically to be true. Yes, they didn't test it themselves - they relied on the testimony of numerous others. The Rashba operated with the same principle with regard to magnets, and all other valid segulot that he was talking about. He used magnets as his prime example. He clearly said that these segulot have met the bar of empirical evidence. What in your opinion takes him out of the world of the rational??

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  15. "He clearly said that these segulot have met the bar of empirical evidence. What in your opinion takes him out of the world of the rational??"

    1. That his bar was very low.

    2. That a lack of naturalistic explanation was no reason for skepticism.

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  16. I like your six stages of verification. But even at the sixth stage some people may not realize the extent that knowledge of the process can influence the results of an otherwise well-constructed test.

    Below is a link to the article that discusses the need for a well-constructed double blind study. The Rosenthal Effect is particularly startling but the whole article is well worth reading

    Why Does This Database Depend on Double-blind Studies

    http://www.aurorahealthcare.org/yourhealth/healthgate/getcontent.asp?URLhealthgate=%2238405.html

    Avi’s point “3) The evidence never does confirm the efficacy or even existence of supernatural events. So it would be logical to say that those who require strong proof in general would not believe in the supernatural. But how far are we all willing to take that?? ” is worthy of a separate post. I do generally require strong proof but I am willing to accept clear mesorah of a belief in a supernatural G-d.

    Avraham

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  17. The Rambam was on the more rational side of segulos.

    He understood that a segulo is nothing more than a placebo.

    Anything that triggers your mind into believing, like any placebo will do, is a segulo.

    So, the only true segulo anyone really needs, is in your head.
    o

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  18. 1. That his bar was very low.

    2. That a lack of naturalistic explanation was no reason for skepticism.



    1. How do you know that? Just by the fact that he accepted more things than the Rambam? Maybe the Rambam's bar was very high?

    2. Maybe he lacked that skepticism because he appreciated that there was a parallel supernaturalistsic explanation which follows its own logical, rigid laws of causation.

    If mystics adhere to a strict, coordinated nexus of causation, plus they have empirical confirmation, I don't see why they are considered non-rational.

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  19. Phil, your citation from a Massimo Pigliucci proves nothing. While the article is well written and argued, his population is not from a highly ranked university (Univ. of Tenn.). In addition, the course that he taught would normally be considered a "gut course" by serious science majors. Moreover, the bulk of the non-science students surveyed were philosophy and psychology majors. Hence the very limited and possibly skewed student population whose survey he reports is not a valid basis for drawing statistical inferences - nor does the author make such a claim. One measure of the quality of the science majors in his class is the report that they fared little better than the non-science majors in their general science knowledge. In general, it is not surprising that the science majors - particularly in the Bible belt, appeared to be more prone to accepting supernatural phenomena than the philosophy and psychology majors.

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  20. >1. That his bar was very low.

    1. How do you know that? Just by the fact that he accepted more things than the Rambam? Maybe the Rambam's bar was very high?


    It's all relative. Rambam's bar was lower than that of scientists today (hence his reluctant acceptance of the mud-mouse). But it was way higher than that of Rashba.

    2. Maybe he lacked that skepticism because he appreciated that there was a parallel supernaturalistsic explanation which follows its own logical, rigid laws of causation.

    First of all, even if there is such a system, it still needs verification. Second, the very acceptance of such a system indicates that he was less of a rationalist.

    If mystics adhere to a strict, coordinated nexus of causation, plus they have empirical confirmation, I don't see why they are considered non-rational.

    FIrst of all, you are confusing "rational" with "rationalist." Second, they DON'T have empirical confirmation!

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  21. Y Aharon writes: "In general, it is not surprising that the science majors - particularly in the Bible belt, appeared to be more prone to accepting supernatural phenomena than the philosophy and psychology majors."

    But the non-science majors were also from the Bible belt.
    Also, the ranking of the university is irrelevant. Since R' Slifkin said the word "generally", that means we should compare average students, not elite ones. Despite your claims about the quality of the students, I still find his finding surprising.

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  22. While we cannot access how Rambam truly thought, I would like to add something, as my view differs from Dr. Shapiro's

    On your ladder in direction to scientific method, in my opinion, you forget two big things.

    1 - Some other necessaries next steps (probably even before the double-blind): a)The conditions around the people should be equal. Same food intake, same exposition to stress, same exposition to light and darkness, etc and b)people should be as equal as possible...same age, same sex, same ethnic, same previous diseases, and same body-functions. (With rats we grow up twins and make them live a virtual equal life)

    2 - We accept as scientifically good p<0.01 for chemical stuff, p<0.05 for physiological stuff and p<0.1 for psychological. Thus, the scientific method is what we can call: Our best and honest way to eliminate the most of the errors. But, even so we have them.

    The whole scientific method UP TILL TODAY is basically applied Aristotle's dialetics which inside his own 4 discourse categories (poetic, rethoric, dialetical and logical). Rambam seemed to comprehend this well and when confronted to the fact that certain people says X works and even though, based on the scientific knowledge he has, it PROBABLY is not true, there's a small chance that indeed it could be true. So, his primary grounds for the psak would be because he acknowledged the possibility of error of his own data and he aknowledged the probability (even though small) of the "it's believed to have an effect".

    In other words, when crossing a strong probability with a weak one, in case of remedies, you could rely on the week one to do it.

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  23. "But the non-science majors were also from the Bible belt. "

    I think his point is fair. If one compares the science majors from Ner Yisroel in Baltimore with the occasionally previously existent philosophy/psychology (chas vesholom) majors, the latter would be the less fundamentalist.

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  24. 2. That a lack of naturalistic explanation was no reason for skepticism.

    Would it not be correct to state that scientists who subscribe to quantum mechanics do so without a naturalistic explanation? Would you say that their lack of skepticism is evidence of irrationality? Thanks so much for your time.

    -Barry

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  25. I guess allowing people to carry non-essential objects for the sake of their placebo effect is similar to the istinis's heterim.

    Despite the tendency toward black-and-white oversimplified thinking among individuals across the board, Judaism somehow manages to combine very high expectations of mesirus nefesh with some unexpected "feel good" heterim.

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  26. Would it not be correct to state that scientists who subscribe to quantum mechanics do so without a naturalistic explanation? Would you say that their lack of skepticism is evidence of irrationality? Thanks so much for your time.

    No, of course not.

    Perhaps I don't understand your use of the term "naturalistic explanation." Could you please clarify its meaning and application here? Thanks again.

    -Barry

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  27. It's not a sign of irrationality because quantum physics is an observed phenomenon! We might not understand why it's happening, but we SEE the results!

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  28. It's not a sign of irrationality because quantum physics is an observed phenomenon! We might not understand why it's happening, but we SEE the results!

    With all due respect, Rabbi Slifkin, if that is what you meant, then your Point #2 does not add anything beyond your Point #1:

    1. That his bar was very low.

    Thanks,
    Barry

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  29. Rabbi Slifkin what precisely is the purpose of you dividing up the Rishonim and Acharonim into two neat taxonomies of rationalist and nonrationalist? The official classification system is rationalists insist on the human mind being the basic source of knowledge and the nonrationalists said otherwise. No one individual belief is inherently putting one in one school as opposed to another. If one says the supernatural rules can be found using the human mind that would still allow one in the rationalist camp.

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  30. I'd be very curious what evidence Marc Shapiro has that the notion of a placebo was even known in the time of Rambam. That interferes with his claim just a bit.

    Moreover, it doesn't seem to have been anti-rationalist to accept the remedies that Rambam accepts. The general knowledge level of the world was much lower at the time. So it is completely reasonable that something might seem to given what we know about the world to seem extremely unlikely and have no plausible mechanism (and in these cases we'd likely say something about the human tendency to believe in sympathetic magic and the general evidence that sympathetic ideas never work) but it doesn't seem to substantially reduce Rambam's rationality to not have the information to reach that conclusion.

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  31. "It's not a sign of irrationality because quantum physics is an observed phenomenon! We might not understand why it's happening, but we SEE the results!"

    And the same thing with segulot according to the Rashba - which is why his model for the issue of segulot is the magnet.

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  32. With all due respect, Rabbi Slifkin, if that is what you meant, then your Point #2 does not add anything beyond your Point #1:

    1. That his bar was very low.


    Sure it does.

    If someone's bar for accepting a phenomenon as happening is very high, then there is no deficiency in their rationalism for accepting it even without naturalistic explanation.

    But if it is very low, then the fact that they ALSO freely believe in non-naturalistic phenomena compounds their non-rationalism.

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  33. I'd be very curious what evidence Marc Shapiro has that the notion of a placebo was even known in the time of Rambam

    Rambam states it explicitly, regarding reciting charms on a snakebite.

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  34. It's not a sign of irrationality because quantum physics is an observed phenomenon! We might not understand why it's happening, but we SEE the results!"

    And the same thing with segulot according to the Rashba - which is why his model for the issue of segulot is the magnet.


    No. Rashba does NOT require the same level of evidence that scientists required for quantum physics!

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  35. "No. Rashba does NOT require the same level of evidence that scientists required for quantum physics!"

    What is your basis in the Rashba for saying this? And when answering, please have in mind the distinction between tools and methods available today that were not available to the Rashba. By that I mean that if you say that today's scientists demand a reliability factor in statistics beyond "X" whereas the Rashba didn't - that is irrelevant to the claim that the Rashba was not rational in the way that scientists are, or that his "bar" is lower - statistics as a mathematical field was unknown to the Rashba. My point is that the Rashba demanded consistent evidence that a segula worked in order to count it as valid. That can be seen in his description of segulot and the model he uses of magnets. You claim that his bar is lower and he is not operating rationally the way that scientists do. I am asking for you to back up your claim with a quote from the Rashba.

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  36. Rashba is fine with Chazal's standards. Chazal were fine with old wyf's tales and triple-tests.

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  37. But the Rashba openly states that the validity of a segula depends upon verified "nisayon." Where does he say openly that he is content to assign validity to something based on old wive's tales?

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  38. Because he says that there is no reason not accept all those remedies mentioned in the Gemara!

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  39. Huh. I had no idea that the notion of a placebo was that old. Where does Rambam say that? That's really fascinating.

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  40. It's in the post! I wish people would read the posts properly!

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  41. 'Realization' of the 'Final Stage' of Truth?
    >>The final stage is to realize that those administering the remedy/ test may themselves be consciously or subconsciously influencing the results. It is thus necessary to have double-blind testing - where neither the subject nor the experimenter knows which is the remedy and which is the placebo, until the survey is complete.

    Double-blind tests are nice, but don't put them on too high a pedestal. They also find ways to let bias creep in, and frequently are shown to be faulty later. In fact, one study suggested that over half of studies are later shown to be false!

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  42. "FIrst of all, you are confusing "rational" with "rationalist." "

    I am trying to understand your terminology, does "rationalist"="naturalist"?

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  43. "It's in the post! I wish people would read the posts properly!"

    Not sure if you received my comment on this yesterday. Basically what I pointed out was that nowhere did the Rashba state explicitly that he would accept old wives' tales as a basis for segulot. He *did* say explicitly that segulot need verification from "nisayon." It seems to me that you are inferring that he would accept old wives' tales because he accepted the gemara, and the gemara accepted old wives' tales. But this inference doesn't necessarily follow. How do you know that that which the Rashba accepted from the gemara wasn't because he held that those things had "nisayon" behind them, even if the original source behind them was old wives. That makes perfect sense, since he demanded "nisayon" to begin with. That being the case, he says that we should accept something that is "tried and true" (even when it was originally presented by old wives). How is this different from what a rational person would suggest? I think your conclusion here is not founded.

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