Tuesday, August 31, 2010
I've always been a proponent of a hands-on approach. Whether you're talking about The Oregon Vortex or cow-tipping, I'm more likely to trust someone who's been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. Matthew Smith is taking this to what is, as far as I know, an unprecedented place, at least as far as the skeptical community is concerned.
His new project doesn't involve talking to psychics, or measuring statistics. He's decided that, to really get to the bottom of this psychic business, he's going to have to see it from the inside. He's going to try to become a psychic. This may bring a few questions to mind, and it definitely did for me, so a couple of weeks ago I emailed Matthew for an interview. His reply was quick, jovial and affirmative. The interview follows.
The Polite Skeptic: How should one go about becoming psychic? Could you give a general description of the methods involved, and how they've changed your day-to-day life?
Matthew Smith: This is a good question. At the moment I am trying a whole range of methods to see what, if anything, seems to work. Remember, I'm quite sceptical about much that is written about psychic development, so I need convincing that there is anything to any of this. At a general level, it seems to involve allowing yourself to be open to viewing the world in a very different way. This can include noticing coincidences when they happen, paying attention to 'gut' feelings, that kind of thing. Also, I'm trying to be more open to ideas that my rational, sceptical, mind wants to question or dismiss out of hand. More specifically, meditation seems to be important but again I am finding it hard make it a priority... to me it feels like I am just sitting there doing nothing! I am also attending a regular development 'circle', attending workshops, talking to psychics and mediums about their experiences, and reading their books.
At the moment it doesn't feel that it has changed my day-to-day life too much (apart from the fact that I have left a full-time academic post to do this!), which may mean it's time to step things up a gear!
How much does a suspension of disbelief play a role in your project? Do you ever get a bit of information from a book or a mentor, and then get the feeling of, "Oh, I've got to accept this, too?"
Monday, August 30, 2010
I went to church as a child, and I still occasionally go with my dad, just to spend time with him. Some skeptics retain religion, just like some vegetarians eat fish, but I'm not one of them. My earliest doubts regarded the story of Noah's Ark, and they continued to stack up on that foundation until I was walking around with a constant tension in my mind. To believe something, without believing it fully, is a burden, and it's a burden I eventually had to get rid of. .
So, what is it like? To give in to skepticism? To look around, and know that nobody is watching you, nobody is judging you, or recording your actions*? To understand that your life isn't pre-determined, and that, if your'e not hurting anyone or breaking the law, you can do what you want, can be very empowering indeed. To give up the idea that your opinions have to match those of an authority figure, whether they be a preacher, a rabbi, or God itself, is a breath of fresh air.
But it's not all peaches and cream. That spot in your mind, that spot where you held God, or the conscious universe, that is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, isn't ever going to be properly filled, except for by the laws of physics, which are neither forgiving nor loving. To get rid of that last vestige of parental authority can be a lot like running away from home. Feeling cut off from something protective, and comfortable.
But, to those that do sit in church, carrying a stack of doubts on their back, and who decide that maybe they don't believe like they once did, you should realize that a life without religion is not a meaningless life. You still have love, but it's from the people around you. You still have responsibility, but it's to the people around you. You can be a good person without feeling like you're being watched.
So maybe it is time to move out of Dad's house, and see for yourself just how well you can do on your own. If you're ready to trust your own moral compass, I think you'll find that it's worth it.
Thanks for reading.
*Unless you're on the internet. Then you're SOL.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
That statement is that, obviously, humans could not make crop circles. That, yeah maybe people could make some of the smaller, simpler ones, but that the very large, very elaborate crop circles are outside of the range of human ability.
Really? Really-really? Are you sure that's an argument you want to make? You're talking about the cleverest animal on this ball. You're talking about the animal that achieves the impossible so often that it's starting to get boring. We don't drop our jaws in wonder when a four-hundred fifty ton 747 is able to support itself on thin air, it's only of passing interest when the guy on the corner is juggling torches, and most of us don't care when a figure-skater pulls off a triple-axel, which none of us could ever hope to do. But the moment it looks like something might be communicating with us from another planet (in a hopelessly obscure way, I might add) it's way outside of the realm of reason that a group of friends could flatten crops in a fancy shape.
Say what you want, about what you want, and I'll try to listen with an open mind. When you start to put limits on human ingenuity, you will lose ground with me very quickly.
Friday, August 27, 2010
I think the main thing that made me a skeptic isn't any lack of experiences, but actually the opposite. On a couple of occasions, I've had experiences that were a little too frightening for me to accept.
I was probably eighteen or nineteen, because I wasn't long out of high school. There was a house (it's no longer there) on Yelm Highway that people simply called, "That old haunted house," and I used to drive by it on the way to Burger King, where I worked. I was always curious about that house. We had a party at my apartment one night, and my friend (call him Chad) had brought his Ouija board, and he was playing with that in the bedroom with some people, and I was playing Xbox in the living room, drinking way too much Miller High Life. It was probably the board that got it into my head, but I found myself trying to talk everyone into an outing, to the haunted house on Yelm Highway.
Nobody went for it, except for Chad, his sister, and this other guy. Now, I don't endorse drunk driving, and I have no remorse for a drunk driver. This doesn't change the fact that, that night, I was driving drunk, and we somehow safely made it to the broken down old house. There wasn't any good place to park (the original driveway actually had small trees growing in it!) but I eased the car over a shallow ditch and parked it behind a tree, where the car would be hidden.
The house felt cold, and not just cold on your skin. Just being near it felt like there was literally a chilly hand inside of your stomach. This was pretty much what everyone said. It probably took us a half hour to get the balls to go from the car to the house.
To make a long story short, we were using the Ouija board inside of the house, and it wasn't giving us anything. I was writing down the letters as they came up, and it was all a jumble. I was about to have my second bright idea of the evening (getting out of there) when I saw that, as I'd been recording the letters, the board had spelled out the word GOOD. The word ended up being GOODBYE. I wanted to tell the others, but I saw that Chad was gone.
He was just gone. Nobody saw him leave, and he'd been one of the three with their hands on the planchette. There was just no way he could have gotten up and left. I remember we didn't look for him, or call his name. It was eery, but I think we were just trying to keep ourselves from freaking out, so we just got up, and walked out the front door, single-file, to the car, and drove off. Another thing that's a little weird is that I remember seeing the three of us getting in the car, from the perspective of looking down from about ten feet up. It's just an image I remember, but I don't know why.
We didn't make a pact of silence, or anything like that, but none of us said anything, ever, and I think the choosing to forget happened pretty soon after the event. I remember hearing that the night Chad disappeared, his whole bedroom was ransacked the next morning, and it was full of ants. I thought, when I heard that, that he must have went through his stuff to pack and run away, because I had already stopped thinking about the house on Yelm Highway. I also remember that I ended up moving, because I didn't like driving down that road any more, and had started going miles out of my way to avoid it. I never saw him again after that.
I don't know what I think I'm going to accomplish by sharing the story, but it is what it is.
Please read: http://bit.ly/bmmXlX
Thursday, August 26, 2010
What I'm saying is, I could do it. I am capable. Freelance writing is grueling work, and competitive, and dollars run short a little too often. Imagine the money I could make being a fraud! It sounds like a joke, but if you look at your own life, and your own troubles, you realize it's no joke. Life just might be a little better, for me, my girlfriend, and her children, if I put my scruples aside and decided to take advantage of the natural gullibility of the human.
How would I do it? My natural talent is writing, so I would write a book. It would be a long, inspirational Fabrication Friday, as convincing as anything I've ever written. The book would include:
- Visitation from an angel.
- A message centered on the importance of peace.
- A number of fabricated accounts of miracles, backed up by the written accounts of fictitious people, written by me.
- At some point, I would meet God personally. He would appear as an unimaginably bright light, giving off love and caring.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I don't think that out-of-body experiences can be explained by simple dreaming, and I think that the dismissal of these experiences may be causing us to miss out on a mysterious aspect of psychology.
The anecdotal evidence tells us that
- The OBE is supposed to be as vivid as waking life.
- The OBE involves the feeling exiting one's body, and existing as a discarnate spirit.
- The wild abstraction that's found in the average dream is absent in the OBE.
- The OBE includes the apparent ability to effectively wake oneself up.
- The OBE includes a "vibrations" sensation, where it seems one's body is vibrating.
- Upon waking, it's commonly believed that the the preceding experience was not a dream.
And we skeptics may be able to have some fun of our own, without all of the spiritual baggage.
Monday, August 23, 2010
I was on myspace, back when I used the site, and the front page had a little spot where it would show three new profiles. I looked at the names, and then I looked at them again, and then I looked at them a third time, and almost fell off of my chair.
The first profile was of a young black man, all decked out in whatever urban gear was popular at the time. His name was listed as Go Getta. The second profile was some girl named Joan. The third profile was of some guy. His name was Marshall.
Printed out, as clear as day, on the front page of myspace, was Go Getta Joan Marshall!
This sort of thing is called a synchronicity. A synchronicity is like a coincidence, only it's implied that there's some kind of higher power behind it. Synchronicity is one of the key players in the Law of Attraction.
I think synchronicity is a great example of why many of us humans believe in the paranormal. Like Jung's Beetle, or my myspace front page (which I think is much more impressive) there is obviously something going on here.
But, how do you define a synchronicity? What does it have to include, in order to earn the title? Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any kind of defined parameters. It could happen anywhere, in regards to anything, and it could take as long or as short as it takes.
We know that the odds of me sitting down and seeing that composite sentence are very low, because there are thousands of different first names that could have landed in those spots. But you could change the incident in any number of fundamental ways, without removing its supposed significance. I could have seen the words spelled out between the loose pages of a magazine. The website could have said something personal about my neighbor, instead of my love life. The first profile could have been, Take a Look instead of Go Getta. Now, what are the odds of all of the possibilities put together? I'd say still pretty low, because that sort of thing doesn't happen very often. If it had been any of those variations, though, I would still be using it as an example in today's blog.
So, I guess the real question is, what are the odds that something in my wide experience will somehow seem to relate to anything else at all in my wide experience, which includes things I've seen, heard and thought? The odds are high. This is something that would necessarily happen in a supernatural world and a skeptic's world alike.
If you roll a handful of twenty-sided dice, the odds of you getting an extremely unlikely result are 100%.
That's all I'm trying to say.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Newton’s second law of motion, force equals mass multiplied by acceleration, shows that the high acceleration necessary to tip the cow would require a higher force. “Biology also complicates the issue here because the faster the [human] muscles have to contract, the lower the force they can produce. But I suspect that even if a dynamic physics model suggests cow tipping is possible, the biology ultimately gets in the way: a cow is simply not a rigid, unresponding body.”
Saturday, August 21, 2010
In my August 16 post, Why we don't let pigeons gamble, I discussed the idea of luck. There were some things I wanted to include in that post, but when it was over, they were still absent.
I think, though, that we can look at beliefs about luck, and try to put together a system that could result in it.
To start with, luck is clearly a substance. It's something we can gain or lose. Some items and areas give off luck. Lucky socks, for instance, or a lucky parking spot. Others, like the underside of a ladder, or mirror shards, can suck up your luck, and shrink your reserves.
But of what practical use is luck? How can it help us meet with favorable events? Perhaps it has the power to influence our decisions, and help us make the right ones. Choose the right lottery numbers, or send the manuscript to the right literary agent. It would do this by suggesting decisions to us, at a subconscious level.
But how does luck know what decision to make in the first place? Is it intelligent? Is luck a being? We still don't know what causes some things to give off luck, or how it interacts with our physical brain.
The only point I'm trying to make is that we need to look at our beliefs more closely. It can't be enough that something is so, there has to be a reason why it is so. Every occurrence in the universe has a cause. We can't have a roof without a house, and we can't have a baseball hit a window unless it has traveled there from somewhere else.
If your belief can't exist as a result of the current laws of physics, then you're going to need new physical laws, that not only fit with your beliefs, but also fit with all of the existing physical laws, and daily experience. That's a big responsibility.
Because, after all, you don't get your own universe.
Friday, August 20, 2010
This was only a couple of weeks ago. It was actually on the same day that I started this blog, but I don't know if that's significant.
I used to sleepwalk when I was a kid. I would wake up standing in the living room, or, more frightening, walking down the road. I don't know what eventually stopped it, but I was about fifteen when I noticed that it hadn't happened it about a year. I'm twenty-eight now, but this is what I thought must have been going on when I woke up. I knew that I was uncomfortable, and I woke up slowly, and when I finally opened my eyes I didn't know where I was for a second. I was off-balance, lying on a slant, and I was outside. That was the first thing I noticed. It was the middle of the night, but it was somewhat bright, and a few moments later I realized that I was on the roof.
I carefully inched around the edge of the roof, more afraid of being caught on my neighbor's roof in my boxers than falling off. I saw a plum tree than overhanged the roof a bit, and thought that was probably how I got up. I approached, and saw a woodpecker there, and when I got closer it didn't get frightened. I spoke the way people absently speak to animals. I said, "Hey, you going to stay there?"
And the woodpecker actually answered, to my astonishment. "I'm resting."
So, a talking woodpecker. It's insane, and I'm just going to report it the way I remember it. What else can I do?
I talked with the woodpecker a little bit. I wasn't as shocked as I would have thought I'd be. I asked her the kinds of questions you might ask an animal that you can suddenly communicate with. I asked what her favorite thing to do, and she said, "Taking care of my babies." I found out that she was, in fact, one of the woodpeckers that had hatched in our backyard last year. I asked what she thought of our house and she said it was beautiful. Her general feeling was that things humans made looked beautiful and smelled terrible.
So, as we were talking, I reached for a tree branch, ready to climb down, and it felt like an electric shock. The moment I touched it, I woke up in bed, disoriented. And what's weird is that the last image I had, waking up, was of myself being channeled, like electricity, through the tree branch, trunk, root, and that one roots of the tree actually reached three houses down, and touched the foundation of my house. I knew, deep inside, that that was exactly how I had ended up on the roof of the other house. I also had a feeling, and this is crazier than talking to a woodpecker, that the tree had actually grown that way intentionally for this purpose. I can't explain exactly what happened, maybe I never will be able to, but I know that my view of the way the world works is forever changed.
Thanks for humoring me by reading this far, even if you don't actually believe me. I'm just glad I could get my story out, so that other people that have experienced this might feel comfortable doing the same thing.
Please read: http://bit.ly/bmmXlX
Thursday, August 19, 2010
We see this everywhere. Everything from climate change to the health benefits of cigarettes has plenty of scientific evidence to back up both sides of the argument. Or even worse, a word that should be struck from the dictionary, they have definitive "proof."
So, what do we do? We know that someone is, at best mistaken, or at worst lying. If you ask most people surrounding an emotionally charged controversy, all you'll get is more bogged down by second, third and fourth-hand studies of things that should have been figured out by now.
Don't go around asking people what the studies said. A person recalling what they heard someone else tell them about the study is bound to sound like, "Well, they had the subjects... I guess people off of the street... they had 'em put on a... something that blocked out light and sound. And then they had them guess about... Anyway, it was a very significant result. Seventy percent. Or something." What you're doing is playing a game of telephone, and you're the fifth person down the line. This is useless, as far as learning goes. It's tiny bits of truth buried in a lot of noise, like listening to a radio frequency that falls just outside of a music station.
Read the studies yourself! You're a human, the most intelligent animal on this planet, so click a link or two, and find the raw material. Don't be intimidated by the way scientists word things. Scientists, like lawyers, want to be very specific in their speech, and it doesn't sound natural, but if you wade through all of that intimidating text, you'll come out the other side with a better understanding of the study than most people have.
And, while you're reading, keep in mind that scientists are people, too. Some of their conclusions are premature. For instance: showing that two things happen together (violence and video games, for instance) does not tell you that one caused the other. This is logic, and all of us have easy access to it. More than once, I've read a peer-reviewed scholarly paper, and realized that there was something they never accounted for, or that the results relied too heavily on human perception.
Skeptics: Don't rely on James Randi to tell you that something has been debunked since 1980, so that you can parrot that onward. See exactly how it was debunked, and your arguments will be stronger for it.
Believers: Don't rely on Charles Tart to tell you that something has been proven since 2003, so that you can argue with the skeptic in the previous paragraph. Go see the proof yourself, get to the root of it, and see exactly how the conclusion was made.
Because anything else is just lazy.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I don't really keep up on JREF news, and I wasn't aware of this speech until yesterday. Plait tells a very important message, one that I hope I'm shown to believe in this blog. You are not going to change anybody's mind by getting in their face, and being rude. If you actually want to get a message across, treat the person like they are an intelligent human being..
Summed up: Don't be a dick.
Phil Plait - Don't Be A Dick from JREF on Vimeo.
Now let's hear some physics from someone else who is not a physicist. His name is Bob Proctor, and he was on the film, The Secret. This quote is from that film.
That is actually not true. I don't necessarily think that Proctor is lying in this statement, he just doesn't fully understand what he's saying. Yes, it is true, from what I understand, that all the matter around us is, at a very very basic level, just energy. Einstein's most famous equation, E=mc2, is a way of saying that a little tiny bit of matter is made up of enormous, unimaginable amounts of energy.
So, what was wrong with what Bob Proctor said? Well, the problem is that there is no microscope you can look into that's going to show you the energy basis of mass. It's not something we can see directly. No scientist, at any point, looked into a microscope and said, "Holy crap it's energy! Get Bob Proctor on the phone!"
So why am I nit-picking? I'm not. There are so many paranormal books out there, and articles, that shove physics in your face, but it's often not physics. It's an impostor. Little slip-ups like the one quoted above simply go to show a lack of familiarity with the subject. Physics is very complex, and often counter-intuitive. There's a lot to know, and this is why people get degrees in the subject. You should be very very cautious about listening to people that never got this degree. This includes myself.
Like I said, I am not a physicist, and very few of these authors are physicists. Do not treat them as if they are.
Modern physics, especially quantum physics, has a few things that, when partially understood, may remind someone of ESP. If two entangled particles can "communicate" at a distance, maybe that means Jamie and I can, too. Well, before your start telling everyone your idea, keep in mind, you aren't a physicist, either*. I am willing to leave science to the scientists, leave belief to the believers, and I'll sit at the computer and make my observations, for anyone who's willing to listen.
All I'm saying is, I know my place.
*This excludes physicists that may be reading this blog
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
I hope we can have some fun with this. The ultimate fun would be if someone actually guessed correctly, and I had to give up the green. This is not likely to happen by chance. Even if there were only 100 nouns in the English language, there would be a 1 in 10,000,000,000 (ten billion) chance of guessing it right. And we all know that there are more that 100 nouns even in a small pamphlet, much less a dictionary, so I don't expect anyone to get this by rolling dice.
So feel free to guess, and invite your friends to do the same. I expect to never have to mail that money order, but will anybody step up to prove me wrong?
Monday, August 16, 2010
To be completely honest, I did enjoy myself most of the time. Bright lights, bells, alcohol. It's preferable to literally dropping your money into a toilet bowl.
superstitions this person had developed around the building. She got upset when she couldn't park in her lucky spot (where she'd parked the day she won 1,500 dollars). She religiously stopped the slot machines' rollers one second after they started rolling. She always ordered a single Miller the moment she walked in, and that's all she would drink. I actually once heard her blame a bad day at the casino on the fact that she hadn't been able to order her Miller early enough.
All these things sound crazy, except that I was somewhat susceptible, too. I came to think of one side of the building as the "lucky" side, for instance. Whenever I caught myself indulging in such things, I would make a reality check. "You're becoming a superstitious pigeon," I would think.
Some of you know what I'm talking about, and some of you just think I just have cute ways of insulting myself. Let me explain.
In the forties, a psychologist named B.F. Skinner did an experiment on some pigeons. I'll give it to you in brief, and his paper on the subject is linked below. Skinner would take a hungry pigeon, and then, for a few minutes a day, put it inside of a special cage where a container of food would automatically be given to the pigeon for five seconds at a time, at regular intervals. The result was, one pigeon ended up thrusting his head into the corners of the cage, one of them kept lifting its head abruptly, as if throwing something off of itself, one of them was pecking toward the floor.
It makes sense. Trust me.
What happened was, the pigeon would be hungry, in the cage, and while sitting there unhappy it would do something. Say it smoothed out its wing feathers. Immediately, the food comes in, the pigeon eats, and the food leaves. Now, when you're a pigeon, this is no different from having food arrive when you press a button. The pigeon realizes that smoothing its wing feathers had made the food come in. It does this action a few more times, and lo! More food. Now the pigeon's suspicion is confirmed, and it continues to be confirmed, and researchers from the next room walk in to wonder exactly what drug Skinner had fed this pigeon.
The casino is like this. A friend of mine once likened a slot machine to a toilet that you drop quarters in until it backs up, spits out quarters, and you feel like you've won. Casinos are so popular because you do "win" every once in a while. Our minds naturally link cause and effect (which is natural) and when we're faced with things that are random, these causal links can give us false beliefs. Not to mention that the games are designed to give us just enough control to hide the fact that we have none.
So don't wear your lucky shoes to the casino. Don't park in your lucky spot, don't eat a lucky corn dog. Or, when someone walks in and sees you, they're going to wonder exactly what drug you've been fed.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I woke up with the notion that I would give my take on the "reptilians." From what I've read, the idea is that many of our media personalities and politicians are actually lizard-type aliens that have holographic projectors that make them look human, but sometimes, on television, their projectors mess up and reveal their slit eyes, forked tongues and scaly skin. Somewhat fun to believe, I tried to do some cursory research on the subject this morning, but became bogged down by the mind-boggling list of conspiracy theories at the David Icke website. Did you know it was actually a metal ball that hit the second tower on 9/11. I sure didn't.
Here is the link.
Measured by a word count, it's a long article. Measured in mental energy units used to read it, it's a tome. As a skeptic, I feel well-read when it comes to fringe beliefs, and reading something like this just goes to show me how little I know. Every couple of paragraphs, this article (it is an article, not a blog or a "truth pillar" like Time Cube) punched me in the brain. A person sitting on the couch nearby asked me why I kept saying, "What?"
It's the story of our human bases on Mars, and the people that are employed to work there. There is a lot of information there, and I don't expect most people to read the entire thing. I'm going to paste some of my "what" moments, so that you can at least get the feel for what I went through reading this.
"Mr. Basiago, 48... was a child participant in the DARPA time travel program Project Pegasus (1968-72) and later teleported to a U.S. base on Mars twice in 1981"
"...called for a Congressional investigation of the U.S. presence on Mars, with its emphasis on military occupation rather than diplomatic engagement of the indigenous human society living in underground cities beneath the surface of Mars."
"...he walked on the surface of the Martian terrain after teleporting there from a CIA facility in El Segundo, California."
"...the abuse of quantum access technologies and other covert methods to identify potential colonists..."
"Arthur Neumann, who has stated publicly that he has teleported to the secret Mars colony for project meetings."
"In 1996 (Mars time), Mr. Relfe was time-traveled via teleportation and age-regressed 20 years, landing back at a U.S. military base in 1976 (Earth time)."
"Michael Relfe: Yes, some are stationed there. I remember the Grays as doctors or technicians. I believe the Reptilians stay camouflaged (cloaked) most of the time." [note: Hey, I ended up posting something about reptilians, anyway!]
"Mr. Basiago states that he was first teleported to Mars in July 1981 from a CIA facility in El Segundo, California. He went via “jump room”..."
"...as to intelligent Martian life both on and under the surface of Mars, it seems to me, is highly credible."
"...recruiting her because of her social identity as an Eisenhower and spiritual identity as a divine feminine “Sophia.”"
"Agent X’s associates may have used time travel or looking glass technology to pre-identify Ms. Eisenhower as a target for recruitment..."
"To me the most telling song beyond what my 'Patrons' have told me is that the Looking Glass Project has never ever been able to look into the future beyond 2012.""
So, there it is. A belief system that includes a cornucopia of paranormal things, including things that I didn't know anyone believed in. Teleportation, for example.
So, assuming that this is not true (this is my assumption) I wonder how such a complex set of beliefs can arise. When it comes to belief, there are levels. You can't believe in aliens implanting people unless you believe in aliens. You can't believe in automatic transmission unless you believe in automobiles. Sometimes we're confronted with beliefs that are many many levels deep, beneath something that we don't believe in to begin with. Often, the deeper you go through the layers, the less public the belief, and the smaller the group of people that discuss it. Most of us have heard of out-of-body experience, but not as many of us have heard of the silver cord. Even fewer have heard of the mental body (as opposed to the ethereal body, I think). I'm not an expert, myself.
Now, it's a fallacy that something is false just because it is outrageous. The distance between our experience and the truth can be very great. But, at the same time, if you believe in something that isn't backed by evidence or experience, then there's nothing to say that your belief looks anything like objective reality. Even if it is incomplete, there's only one physics, and it doesn't change from person to person. With all of the contradictory beliefs, some of them, of course, have to be false.
I would like to hear a debate between the people that think humans can teleport to Mars, and the people that think we've never been to the moon. I may bring popcorn.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
So, while The Secret was a very inspirational film, when I really sit and think of what it implies, I prefer to believe that my day is a series of dice rolls, and that I have the free will to react to things as they come, and to use my actions to create my own luck.
Friday, August 13, 2010
But what about the rest of it? What about acupuncture, and faith healing, and reflexology? Why in the world would anyone want to use alternative medicine?
The question may be more easily answered if it were slightly altered. Why in the world would anyone want an alternative to medicine?
As skeptical as I naturally am of techniques like acupuncture, I'm also growing increasingly skeptical of modern healthcare, especially here in my homeland of the United States. A few of the factors that contribute to this skepticism are as follows:
- The eerie experience of watching an ad for medication. Loved ones laugh and play together while an indifferent voice reads off a list of horrible side-effects that the medication may cause. Some of these pills seem like an illness in themselves. If you watch television, I'm sure you don't need any examples.
- The fact that simply remaining alive can sometimes cost as much as a very nice house. I don't care how anyone justifies it, it's wrong, and is effectively evil. I understand that the price of healthcare (at least in the US--I've never lived abroad) is the product of a system, not necessarily the decision of any one person, but something more needs to be done.
- The fact that, when I'm at the doctor's office, it too often feels like the docs are just making a wild guess, and ignoring half of what I tell them. I don't know what causes this, but I know that I go to the doctor's office less often than I used to.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Also, I have a canister full of dry pinto beans in the cupboard that says "Froot Loops" on the side. Eventually I'm going to have to buy a new canister.
"Hey, buddy. Not a good idea. If you're organisms can't change when their environment changes, they're going to die. All of them. Give it a million years, and you're planet will be a giant barren desert."
But he doesn't listen, and now we have Mars.
All kidding aside, though, I'm discouraged by the tendency of some to ignore or avoid the idea of natural selection because of their religious beliefs. I don't even see where the debate of creation vs. evolution came from. I'm no Bible scholar, but I'm pretty sure that when God decided his creation was good, he didn't say, "And now it will all stay the same forever." That statement is more recent.
So, if the argument isn't based on the Bible, what is it based on? I think it may have more to do with observation than religion. Science has its fair share of intangible specters; things that are so small, so far away, or take so long that we never have any real experience of them. Natural selection is one of those things.
I guess the way I look at it is, how could you avoid a process like natural selection? The most basic premise of it is that :
- Siblings* are born different from each-other. Besides some twins, nobody is identical to his/her brother or sister.
- Some creatures/plants have a better chance at surviving than their siblings. If a squirrel can run faster than his brother, it's not absurd to think he will live longer.
- Surviving longer means having more babies. More mating seasons, more mates, more little selves running around.
- Children inherit tendencies from their parents. So not only did one sibling have more offspring, those offspring are, on average, living longer than the other sibling's offspring... and having more offspring themselves. You see where this is going.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
out-of-body experience. When I woke up the next morning, I wasn't so sure.
It was just a matter of which direction you approached the experience from. I eventually decided that I didn't see why that had to be the explanation. As far as the evidence concerned, it was a toss-up between an OBE and a vivid waking dream. So, why choose OBE? I couldn't think of a single reason to.
A few years later, I read the autobiographical Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman for the first time. In a later chapter of the book physicist Richard Feynman gains access to a sensory deprivation chamber, where he experiences what I'm sure some would describe as out-of-body experiences, and it filled me with respect that he consistently referred to the experiences as hallucinations.
Let me tell you why.
We humans have a big problem, that leaves us making the wrong conclusions a little too often. While many of us don't believe it until we see it, most of us do, when we see it, believe it. We trust our senses, and we trust our memories, but like keeping friends who are drug addicts, we are misplacing our trust.
Something that you'll read in a lot of books on extra-sensory perception applies here. What we humans see is not necessarily what's there. Not just because of the narrow frequency band our eyes pick up, but because of how our brain handles these photons. All of us, as humans, notice things selectively, based on what's been important in the past. Three people can look at the exact same scene, and come away with three different descriptions, based on their past experiences, current mood, and beliefs about life. I'm not going to bog you down with examples, because I'm sure you've been in at least one argument with someone about what seemed, to the both of you, to be the most obvious thing.
So that's why I respect someone who's able to doubt their own senses. There is, of course, a threshold where such a practice becomes unreasonable, but it is necessary if you're interested in getting to the bottom of something, rather than just being led around by what you expected to see in the first place.
So, did I dream it? The conclusion that I came to was entirely a choice of my own, and isn't evidence of anything but my own beliefs, which aren't a mystery in the first place.
Thanks for reading.