Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Other 14 Reasons

It's been a year and a month, or, as new mothers say, 13 months.

I created a new blog with a new topic a year ago after deciding that I was bored with The Polite Skeptic and bored with my alter-ego Calvin Booker. If there's one lesson that I can learn from having been myself for 31 years, though, it's that I don't stay bored with things. Another way of saying it is that I'm as bad as staying away from a project as I am at sticking with it.

So here I am again, hitting keys with The Polite Skeptic on my screen, this time under my birth name instead of a rather cool sounding made-up name. I just keep running into the same stimuli that inspired me to create the blog in the first place. Firstly, well-meaning people seeing things that could have 15 different explanations and saying they only have one, that it is a supernatural one, and that this is proof. PROOF. It's an icky word. Secondly, skeptics who have the knowledge to educate the public about the other 14 reasons something could have happened, but instead choosing to poke fun for the sake of their skeptic friends. In other words, people who have a chance to educate but choose instead to entertain.

So I'm Kevin R. Bridges now instead of Calvin Booker, and I'm someone who actually believes there is a chance that supernatural things could be real rather than someone who's been skeptical for most of his life. What does this change? Really, not anything. I'm still the same guy with the same ideas. Even if I believe that ghosts might be a thing, I'm still dedicated to the uncovering of those other 14 possibilities. I'm just as excited by the idea of a brain that can fool us so thoroughly and so constantly as by the idea that there are parallel dimensions where our dead continue to exist. And bigfoots. And alien abductions. And, the thing is, either these things don't exist and our brain is the ultimate trickster, or they DO exist  and our brain is STILL the ultimate trickster. The trickiness of our minds has been well established.

Do I feel shame for believing in these things that are often seen as being the domain of the ignorant? I honestly do. I'm a person of above average analytic intelligence (if below average social intelligence) and I do get an ego boost from, "hanging with the smart kids." Well, the smart kids know this stuff is bunk, yet I cling to the possibility of the mystical.

Either way, I'll continue The Polite Skeptic, on the rare occasion when I'm inspired to do so, probably with year-long breaks between posts. There are enough posts on this blog that I still average a dozen unique visitors a day, thanks to my starting enthusiasm which had me writing a post every morning for a while.

And I'll also continue The Personal Proof Project, under similar conditions, governed by my moment-to-moment whims.

Thanks for sticking with me, any of you that have. As always, if you think any of the material on this site is worthwhile, drop your friends a link. I do like the attention.

Until next time,

-Kevin

Monday, May 7, 2012

BLOG HAS MOVED

The title of this post isn't really true. Here's the deal.

Firstly, my name isn't Calvin Booker. It's Kevin Bridges. I've never claimed that Calvin Booker was anything but a pseudonym. Now you know the name behind the mask. Knowing is half the battle, I hear.

I've also never hidden that I, even as a skeptic, have an interest in the out-of-body experience, and a belief that, while the experience may be a dream, it's definitely not an ordinary dream. I have my reasons for believing this, which I may detail in the future, but not here.

There is a larger deception here, though, and it roots from the fact that I used "Calvin Booker" not so much as a pseudonym, but as a character. I, Kevin Bridges, have a lot in common with Calvin Booker, including our hometowns and Pentecostal upbringing. That being said, there are some very striking differences.

Calvin Booker is a skeptic. That's his bit. He's been a skeptic and atheist since he was a teenager. I, Kevin, have always leaned the other way. In fact, when I started the Polite Skeptic blog, I, for better or for worse, had a list of beliefs that would embarrass Miss Cleo.

I created the blog to fill what I saw as a void in skeptical writing. Simply put, it was a skeptical blog that didn't call people kooks. If you need more explanation than that, either you're not familiar with skeptical writing, or you're not going to hear my explanation anyway.

For all of my beliefs, I've never been an idiot. I knew all of the reasons that the things I believed in were wrong. I knew about cognitive dissonance, and the malleability of memory, and the filtering process that events go through on the road from reality to perception. I educated readers of my blog about these things in terms that I hoped were simple and intuitive. I don't know if I ever convinced anyone besides myself to convert to skepticism.

Yes, as I got on the computer to write a blog post every day after dropping the kids off at school, and then every week, and then every once and a while, my words shaped me, made me doubt, made me see the world through different glasses. A world that can exist without the shaping hands of a deity or the constant ebb and flow of chi. It was a slow process, like losing weight, and, like a person losing weight, I didn't see the change in myself at first. But here I stand, a changed man, by nobody's hand but my own.

Yet, there's still a tug. Still the small voice in the back of my mind that asks, "What if you're turning your back on something that's real?"

The blog hasn't moved. The Polite Skeptic, as far as I can predict the future of my own actions, is at an end. It still gets moderate traffic, and I'm glad for that. I've made some posts that I really love (1, 2) and I'm glad for that as well. There is a new blog, though. The Personal Proof Project, by Kevin R. Bridges is a tumblr, signed in my own name, in which I plan to detail my efforts in deciding what is true. Not through reading books, picking apart scientific papers, or endless debating. I'm just going to experiment.

I'm not going to do double-blind repeatable tests in a controlled environment. I'm not going to measure things with precise instruments. I'm not going to try to make it your proof.  I'm going to have as many so-called out-of-body experiences as I can. I'm going to scope out the neighbor's house, and I'm going to try to find out what's in sealed boxes, and I'm going to try to do things that will show me, just me, that this is real.

And, failing that, I will be forced to let go of this magical thinking, and come back down to the ground, where things are rational and largely explained by the discoveries of existing science.

The tumblr is not an extension or a continuation in any way of The Polite Skeptic, though I expect that there will be some overlap in the material I discuss. If you appreciate my writing, and would like to see more of it, The Personal Proof Project is the place to be.

Thanks for reading.
___

Go to The Personal Proof Project.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wooly mammoth spotted in... video

I just ran into an article in The Sun about a land surveyor who spotted a woolly mammoth while on the job. Not only that, he took a video of it. Let's take a look at that.


Some people are saying it's a bear with a fish in its mouth. Since the resolution of most eyes is better than that of this video, that would mean that our vidographer is a liar, which is a possibility. I don't think it's a bear at all. In the zoomed-in (cropped and enlarged) you can see the suggestion of tusks. Not only that, if you look at the non-trunk part as a bear... well it doesn't look like a bear. It doesn't move like a bear. 

My first thought was, "Why is it dragging its trunk in the water?" Elephants breathe through their trunks, I thought, so it should be holding it up. It turned out I was wrong.


Still, though, I don't believe that the first video is an actual mammoth. Is it because I'm a Polite Skeptic? Maybe. Is it because I don't think sightings of mammoths in Siberia are genuine? Well, they've only been dead 10,000 years, and stranger things have happened. There are two things, though, make me disbelieve the mammoth video.

1. Seems fake. This doesn't hold much weight in court, but it just seems fake. Its movements remind me more of bad animation than a breathing flesh-and-bone animal.

2. The vidographer's disinterest. It's the attitude of, "Whoa! Is that a mammoth! I will take a ten second video of it from a distance." I've taken longer videos of my kids blowing out their birthday candles. And he knows his camera isn't high quality, but he decided to record from the other side of the country. 

All this, to me, seems like someone grabbed some nice footage of a creek, threw in a cgi mammoth, and then hit blur a few times.

If I wanted to fake a mammoth from a distance, I would throw together a costume not so different than Snuffy from Sesame Street. I'd get one guy for the back legs, and one for the front legs and head. Then, even from a distance, it could look pretty convincing, and have very natural movement that did, after all, come from an animal (the guy in front).

If it is a fake, it's a somewhat good one, and I'm sure this guy got his Reddit.com upvotes he was looking for. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

My thoughts on irreducible complexity -or- What good is half an eye?


Sometimes I go to church with my dad. Not because I love church, but because I love my dad, and we don't have a lot of things in common. He's very religious, and it means a lot for him to have me there. I'm fine with it.

A few nights ago, he invited me to a seminar that the people of his church were attending. I had joined him for something like that last year, and my night was free, so I accepted.

On the way in, I was required to get a barcode card that I would use to check in. I would later learn that if you attend for so many nights, you'd get a free family Bible. The signup for the card asked my address and other contact information, which I gave slightly altered versions of, pretty sure that the host would ever need to contact me at my home. We got seated, and I watched a woman play organ music on a keyboard, wondering about the business plan of the speaker, and if he would end up selling the contact info he was gathering. I realized how much more cynical I had become over the years.

Before the speaker came out, an image of Charles Darwin popped up on the twin projector screens, and I tensed. I could listen to a man preach about sin, or hell, or the ways to please God, but evolution is a subject that I'm fascinated by. It excites me to think about it. I did not want to hear a man talk about how evolution was wrong for an hour.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I'm here for the free heroin

I'm not one to make public apologies for my lapses, but I would like to take this time to not make an apology again.

I have not been posting much, to the point that you may wonder if I've died, converted to Mormonism, or maybe sold my computer. I have done few to none of these things. I've just been doing other things. Most notably, I've been absent-mindedly avoiding my blog.

Whether this is wise or not... well it's not. Whenever I have a period of time where I'm updating this blog regularly, my readership increases steadily, at a respectable pace. I blush a little to think that so many people regularly return to the site, to read what I write. Perhaps someday they would even begin clicking on ads. (don't tell Google I said that. I'm supposed to act like they're not there.)

I enjoy this, though. The medium-sized rectangular text field, with an orange button and two blue buttons beneath it, is comforting to me. For some time, I sat here and did a blog every morning, without fail. The moment I decided to do it twice a week, instead of seven times, though, my brain said, "Oh, zero times a week? Sounds good." I'm glad for that initial burst, though, because it left me a thick history of posts that new readers can peruse.

I'm just typing this to let my readers know that, no, I'm neither dead nor Mormon, and that, even though I have actually decided to quit this blog maybe three or four times, it never sticks. Just like heroin, it's hard to stay away for long. And unlike heroin, it's free!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Seat of the Soul, first two pages review

Today's post is a cheap one. I'm going to point out an easy target, and pick it apart like it's an important thing to do. I guess you could call this post a book review, but I'm only reviewing the first two pages. Let's get on with it.

Gary Zukav is a popular new-age author. I became familiar with the name a couple of years ago, when a friend of mine reccommended to me the book Dancing Wu Li Masters. She said it was amazing. You may know, by the title of this blog, that a book called "Dancing Wu Li Masters" is not really my cup of tea, unless maybe, it was in the fiction section. But probably still no. I was at the used bookstore one day, a place I really appreciate, and I glanced through the five-foot-wide New Age section, and I saw Seat of the Soul. It was "The New, Innovative and Thought-Provoking work by the Author of Dancing Wu Li Masters." I gave it a try.

I'm going to admit something. I did not read this whole book. I actually got as far as the top of the second page, I think. How can I tell anything from a book after one and a half pages? "Not much," I would have told you before starting this book. Afterwards? "Enough."

I'm not a mystical guy, but I truly don't belive that my discarding of this book had much to do with me not being a mystical guy. If I read a skeptical book that said something very ridiculous, I would send it right back to the bookstore. Likewise, if I read a mystical-themed book where the author seemed to have a grasp on simple scientific ideas, I might read the whole thing.

Excerpt from page 1:A fish is more complex, and, therefore, more evolved than a sponge; a horse is more complex, and, therefore, more evolved than a snake; a monkey is more complex, and, therefore, more evolved than a horse.

My immediate thoughts: This was right out of the gate, the fifth line down on the first page. Mr. Zukav sets up evolution like a linear journey. To read this, you might expect that one main species has been evolving throughout the millenia, from a sponge, to a fish, to a snake, to a horse, to a monkey, leaving behind species, frozen in progress, every step of the way. Of course, this doesn't happen.

Is a monkey really more evolved than a horse? It's more intelligent, but it's a common mistake that, over time, species are developing to become more intelligent, and more human-like. What if you valued speed and size, instead? The horse would be more evolved. What if you valued poison, and the ability to eat no more than once a month? The snake is now our most evolved animal, leaving even humans in their dust. Humans have big brains, but we're largely feeble in every other way.

In reality, none of these creatures is more evolved than the others. Evolution doesn't just stop for a species, whether it's a sponge, or a snake, or a monkey. And if we're all descended from a common ancestor, then we've all had the same amount of time to evolve. Some of us evolved into sponges, some into snakes, some into people. Snakes aren't waiting for the cosmic force of evolution to turn it into a monkey. Being a snake works great for snakes. That's why they're snakes. And they're perfectly as complex as horses.

Page 2, near the top: This definition is an expression of the idea that the organism that is best able to control both its environment and all of the other organisms in its environment is the most evolved.

Wow. This paragraph following the other one was like a one-two punch. The kind of thing that can make me choke on my own spit. The kind of thing that can make me exclaim out loud in the library.

The more a species controls (not effects, controls) its environment, the more evolved it is. That makes things simple. Humans are most evolved. Beavers are second most evolved. Everything else comes in third.

In general, animals don't go out of their way to control their environment. Woodpeckers peck holes, which are surprisingly big inside, but I'd hardly call that trying to control their environment. Horses poop all over the place, which... is... pretty irrelevant.

Nonsense. A trend of nonsense.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. This is how I can, must, for better or worse, discard a book after two pages.

I don't want to be a dick to Gary Zuckov. He's a successful author. But I can't honestly not call his explanation of evolution garbage (ooh! A double-negative). A garbage understanding of evolution is, of course, only to be expected in today's environment of garbage-science in films and television, and our population who go to work and go to sleep and make the kids dinner and do just fine without any deeper understanding of the world. But it should not make it into a non-fiction book, and, it should not make it through the editorial process, the fact checking process, and past all of the people that a book has to pass before it ends up in print.

If I read a paper, or a book, by, say, Dean Radin, I might not agree with his conclusions, I might take issue with his experimental setup, but at least I know that he's very intelligent, and he does know what he's talking about. When I pick up a book like Seat of the Soul, though, and I feel like the author is counting on me to be ignorant in order to make his point, I get sad that this is landing in front of thousands (millions?) of people, some of whom haven't given the subject of evolution enough thought to notice the incongruancies in the writing.

If you don't understand the science, don't write it as if you do. And if you do, don't make it fake in order to screw a few people out of a few dollars.

I should read the rest of that book sometime.