Friday, March 17, 2006

Doggerel #1: "Supernatural"

I was hoping my brother would be able to contribute, but he wasn't able to come over for spring break. Oh well. Welcome to "Doggerel," a series I'll be running dealing with words that are overused, misused, or just plain meaningless. Tonight, I'll be talking about the word "supernatural." I've only come across one coherent definition of "supernatural." Don't hold your breath, but here it is:

Supernatural abilities are magical and go away in an antimagic field but are not subject to spell resistance. Supernatural abilities cannot be dispelled. Using a supernatural ability is a standard action unless noted otherwise. Supernatural abilities may have a use limit or be useable at will, just like spell-like abilities. However, supernatural abilities do not provoke attacks of opportunity and never require Concentration checks. Unless otherwise noted, a supernatural ability has an effective caster level equal to the creature's Hit Dice.
The saving throw (if any) against a supernatural ability is 10 + 1/2 the creature's HD + the creature's ability modifier (usually Charisma).
That's from the D&D Monster Manual 3.5. Not terribly impressive, is it? Doesn't really apply to the real world, though it is handy for the game, especially since the Rockstar team up there can teleport without provoking attacks of opportunity.

The problem with real world definitions is that methodical naturalism doesn't really leave room for the supernatural: Anything that has an observable effect falls under methodical naturalism and is subject to the scientific method. The only way something could be supernatural is if it has no observable effects. "Unobservable effects" strikes me as a contradiction, since I would think such effects would either build up to an observable level, or useless, since they might as well be in another, completely separate universe. If something doesn't have effects observable or otherwise, it might as well not exist at all.

The common use definition might have its uses for determining if something is eligible for the Randi Challenge, but if anything passes through that, it'll be considered natural afterwards (and no, Randi can't use that to get out of paying: If you do what you claim to do, he's already under a legally binding contract to pay).


Doggerel Index


Anonymous said...

Thank you.

It's become a pet peeve of mine when people say that science doesn't examine the supernatural, for all the reasons you just said.

RobertGoulding said...

Complaining that science cannot access the supernatural, is like wishing a thermometer could measure wind-speed.

Narc said...

An unobservable effect like what you've described sounds a great deal like transsubstantiation During Mass, bread is transformed into the flesh of Jesus at a deep, fundamental level ... with no perceptable effect.

What some people will fall for. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

Suggestion for future episodes: spirituality or spiritual. Man, it really annoys me when someone describes themselves as a 'spiritual' person. What the hell does that even mean?

Anonymous said...

Well, I refer to myself as a spiritual person, as opposed to a religious person.
Spiritual= trying to access the non-scientific and inexplicable.

Religious= I found my explanation. I'll show it to you. It explains everything.

Spiritual people are looking, religious people have found or were given their answers. Thus, they are irritating.

Anonymous said...

Science cannot detect the supernatural.

But maybe, some scientific tests can be applied to those who invoke supernaturalism.

Thus: propostion#1.
"no "god" is detectable - even if that "god" exists.

Result - if no detection - people will stop believing in this idiocy, in the same way as they stopped believeing in the "luminferous aether" after uncle Albert said that it wasn't detectable in special relativity.

Prayer has no effect on 3rd parties - people who are not present, and do not know about the prayer being engaded in.
This is easily testable.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree that "supernatural" is a meaningless word, when you think it through. If something has effects, then it is part of our universe, if it does not, it might as well not exist.
Conversely, if something exists in our natural universe, it will have effects, if something exists outside, above, beyond, etc., our universe, then it cannot possibly have effects, because that would make it ... part of the universe.
So far for transcendence...

Anonymous said...

"God", at least the Stoic Logos sort, falls under the same definition. 'Omnipotence' is indistinguishable from having no defined properties, 'omniscient' is indistinguishable from being mindless, and 'omnipresence' is indistinguishable from non-existence.
All of the pseudo-philosophy devoted to rationalizing magic just makes it LESS believable. At least a super-powered guy that lives in the sky and shoots lightning is conceptually coherent, a transcendent 'God' in a non-space/non-chronological 'heaven' is pure bullshit.