Monday, July 2, 2007

Here's Another Case to Watch

Scientific Illuminists everywhere, here's a great research opportunity. In the African nation of Malawi traditional witchcraft is believed to be alive and well, and is taken seriously enough that practicing the magical arts is illegal. For a long time I have had a passing interest in African folk magick and have been curious how well it really works. Part of the problem with evaluating this is that even though legal trials and proceedings happen they are always after the fact and therefore scientifically meaningless. If a person happens to die mysteriously, there's nothing "paranormal" about speaking up and claiming that your magical powers were the cause - although you might wind up lynched by an angry mob.

One of the most basic concepts in science is the idea of falsifiability. For a hypothesis to be tested it is necessary to set up an experiment in which success and failure are possible and clearly defined. This makes any sort of evaluation of after-the-fact cases very difficult. What you really need is a case in which a magician claims that he or she will make something relatively unlikely happen, and then watch the future unfold to see if that event actually occurs. With most traditional systems of folk magick, such evaluation is difficult because the practice is fairly secretive and practitioners rarely explain what they are going to do ahead of time.

This story from last week is an exception, and as a result bears watching. A traditional witchcraft practitioner convicted for "pretending witchcraft" has claimed that he will use his magical powers to kill those who acted as witnesses in his trial, and that he will still be able to do this from prison.

Convicted Wizard Threatens to Kill Witnesses

So is it "pretending" if it really works? Anyone feeling like an enterprising paranormal researcher who has more free time than I do should take note of this case and keep track of the witnesses who helped convict this particular individual. If they die sooner than expected, that may mean that traditional African witchcraft is suitable for further study. Personally, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if this turned out to be for real. Magical practices are part of the human experience and are found everywhere, among all cultures and ethnic groups, and mere superstitious nonsense does not impart much of a survival advantage.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: