Thursday, September 30, 2010

The evolution of psychic ability

The idea of psychic abilities is an exciting one, and I'd love to believe in it.  Even being able to read someone's mind, or tell the future, 1/100 of the time would make me feel like one of the X-men, or at least a student in Xavier's School for (somewhat) Gifted Youngsters.

One way to examine a belief is to pretend, every once in a while, that it is real, and implications of the belief will often reveal themselves to you like images on an old Polaroid picture.  When I assume that psychic abilities are real, I suddenly have a million questions.  For instance, where does natural selection play a part in the development of these senses?  How, exactly, do they interact with our existing senses, and the functions of the body?

A big red question mark that appears in my mind is, why would an ability or sense that would be very handy in survival be restricted to so few people, and hidden so deep as to be nearly inaccessible to the rest of us?  There are no other senses that do this.  Sight isn't something that's restricted to a small percentage of the population, and then disbelieved by the rest of us.  Hearing isn't an exclusive club.  So, why would extra sensory perception, which would make important decisions so much easier, alert us when someone/something means to harm us, and perhaps even let us know which mate would make the best offspring (yes, we are animals, get over it), be so poorly developed after so many millions of years of evolution?  I would expect something so handy to be prominent enough in our perception that nobody would have the luxury to disbelieve in it.

I'm suddenly curious if anyone has tried to breed animals for psychic ability.  Perhaps mice.  If the mouse pushes on the card with a triangle, he gets a treat, and if he pushes the card with three wavy lines, then audio of a cat yowling is played.  Which would be unpleasant for a mouse, of course.  Perhaps we could coax the effect out.  I'm going to comment in Dean Radin's blog about this.

Maybe I'm looking at it the wrong way.  Maybe psychic ability doesn't have a strong selection pressure.  Maybe knowing the future makes people worry, and then become ill.  Maybe knowing what other people are thinking about someone will make them want to kill themselves.

We have to wonder why nature would keep such secrets, and what good it could have done us throughout the development of our species.  And we also, as always, have to consider that this effect may not exist in the first place, in which case all of this would make a lot more sense.  And, at the end of the day, all I really want is for the world to make sense.

Yeah, I know.  Good luck, Cal.  Thanks.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Believing in lucid dreams

I was shopping at Fred Meyer one time with my daughter, when I had the most peculiar realization. I realized that I was not at Fred Meyer with my daughter. I realized that my daughter was at home, in bed. More importantly, so was I.

I was lucid dreaming. A lucid dream is a dream in which you know the state you're in. You realize that everything around you is just dream scenery, and as far as restrictions, and consequences, you're pretty much off the radar. I've been lucid dreaming occasionally since I was a kid. Back then, my highest priority during these moments was trying to shoot fireballs out of my hands. At twenty-eight years old, I'm now past the fireball stage.

A lot of people have never had this experience, or perhaps they've had it once, and then never again. Some people have never had it, but they've got a half-dozen books about how to induce it. It is a great experience, and is not a waste of time, which is spent sleeping, either way.

Before the 1970s, lucid dreams were not recognized by science, because they could not be induced, and then tested, in a laboratory setting. A couple of people had a couple of clever ideas, though, and it turned out that they could be tested.

If I had been born before that time, though, I would have, as a lucid dreamer, been placed in the category of UFO abductees, telephone psychics, and seance mediums. I would have been either a liar, or ignorant, and people like James Randi would have been calling me the equivalent of a woo-woo. The lucid dream is an example of a fringe belief that was eventually accepted by science.

We have to wonder what fringe beliefs of today are the scientific realities of tomorrow. I know that if it's ever proven that people can communicate between minds, (and, for whatever reason, this ability was evolutionarily made very obscure and difficult to harness) it would be the beginning of a scientific revolution.

Unfortunately for the future of parapsychology, it seems that most of these hidden abilities also happen to be things (like shadow people, synchronicity, and dowsing) that would seem to happen even in a ghost-free God-free world. It could be that, while our minds are set up to be fooled into believing these things, these things are also, coincidentally, sometimes real. Or, it could be that our minds are set up to be fooled, and they just keep getting fooled.

If life after death, though, or the interconnectedness of minds, is ever proven, even if it's only proven to me, I am ready and willing (hopefully able) to jump over the fence and shove the truth down everyone's throat, with vigor and enthusiasm. Because these sorts of abilities, if they really were real, would have sweeping implications in all parts of life. In short, it would be a big deal.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My experience with shadow people

I think we've all seen a shadow person or two. These are beings of controversial origin that look pretty much how you would guess, like living, standing shadows. You have the best chance of seeing them out of the corner or your eye.

I don't know if there's a name for this, but I have a white shadow person. When I do dishes at night, and I'm tired, I can see him (or her?) standing right by the fridge. If I turn my head at the correct angle, this person appears between the edge of the white refrigerator door, and the very edge of my periphery. I don't know why this person is so interested in my dish-doing, but I try to put on a good show.

Of course, I'm being silly. If I trusted everything I saw out of the corner of my eye, I would be a very nervous person at night, when the sunlight goes away, and I'm dead tired in spite of a video game that needs to be played. I see so many little shadow dogs sitting on the floor, and shadow people sitting on the couch, and shadow creeps hiding in the laundry room, that, if I believed they were all sentient beings, I would be calling the Catholic church for an exorcism.  

Our brain makes people, whether or not people are there. It's so sensitive to people, faces in particular, that it can make people out of just about anything. Without trying too hard, we can see a face on the front of a car, or a mailman in the thick needles of a fir tree, or a man riding a horse in the drywall. Not only do we see faces, we see faces with expressions. My entertainment center looks mighty surprised right now. But if I got a wider TV it might look like it was smiling.

In our peripheral vision, which is probably less detailed than you think, our brain's person-finding software is working hard to see if anyone is there, and if there is the faintest possibility that what it's seeing could be a person, it's going to show you a person. If that person is all dark and smudgy, you get a shadow person. If that person is made out of the door of a fridge, and a water cooler a few feet away, you'll get a reverse-shadow person.  

This is another instance where it can be unwise to believe your own eyes. Especially the corners of your eyes, which are always a bad witness. You'd never identify a mugger by standing at a right-angle to the lineup, after all. You would never try to catch a baseball by looking to the side.  

Our poor brains try their hardest to do what they can with what they have. They're the most advanced computers on the planet, but they're handling such a gargantuan heap of data every second that things do get filed into the wrong categories, and the wrong emotions get triggered, and we end up with an anomalous experience that, in the end, may have never existed outside of our own experience.

Because, in the end, everything we see, hear, feel, taste and smell depends entirely upon our brain's passive, running-in-the-background interpretation of what's going on around us. These are based on light waves, vibrating air, particles floating near our faces, and electrical signals from the skin. The closest that any of us will get to directly experiencing something is just reading the reports that our senses write out for us.  

When the sense of sight tells you something, you have to take it with a grain of salt, because not only is sight a bit superstitious, but it's also perfectly confident of what it's saying. And that's always a bad combination.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Not a post about reincarnation

No blog today.  Wrote a long post about reincarnation, but did some fact-checking and found out that my main theme (that there are more people now than ever in history) seems to be incorrect.

So here's a video called "UFO Base in Brazil."  



Very believable, the way he's saying it.  I'm impressed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Placebo Effect is my favorite effect

These days, trust is something many of us have left behind.  People don't leave their bicycles unlocked, most of us look for fine print before we sign even the most benign contracts, and we take the claims printed on product packaging with a grain of salt, always.  This is because we are lied to, all the time, and we are used to it.  Dishonesty has a thousand different faces, and we've seen these faces on our newscasters, salespeople, politicians, spokespeople, mascots, CEOs, and Milla Jovovich.  Our guard stays up, because when there is money to be made, people say whatever it is they need to say to get some of that money.

Over time, as we've learned more about the way the human body works, this distrust has even spread to our medications and our folk remedies.  Even treatments that work like a charm are questioned.  Maybe they're not really working.  Maybe it's just the placebo effect.  

The placebo effect, if you don't know, is when there's some condition in the body, a treatment is given, and the body heals simply because of the belief that the treatment will help, even when the treatment is just a sugar pill, or a saline injection.  Pharmaceutical companies deal with the placebo effect regularly in their drug trials, where they'll only release some drugs if test subjects given the medicine actually get better than test subjects given only a sugar pill.

You'll hear the placebo effect mentioned once or twice when a form of alternative medicine is being debunked.  "Well, of course shaking a snake over your abdomen fixed your ulcer, but did it do better than the sugar pill?"  

Yes, the placebo effect is very handy when you're debunking bunk, and it's very handy when you're testing drugs, but I sometimes feel like I'm in the vast minority in thinking that we should take a closer look at it.

I mean, Asprin's great, and Amoxicillin is oh-so-delicious in its liquid form, but I could have swore that it's generally accepted (and backed by great body of evidence) that certain bodies, in certain instances, can heal themselves without medicine.  And not just drink-plenty-of-fluids healing, but quick, dramatic, medicine-style healing. 

Drugs often fool our bodies into doing things.  Make more of this hormone, create more of this neuropeptide, shut off these nerves real quick.  Well, it turns out that, some of the time, our bodies can be fooled the same way, just by what we believe.  Our brain is in charge of all of this, it can naturally do many of the things that the medicines can artificially do.  

So, why are we not using this?

Yeah, we don't want doctors handing out sugar pills to ill patients, but there has got to be a way to harness this facility.  We're a clever species, after all, and, just like we were told as children, we can do anything we put our minds to.  If I were to choose between filling my body with expensive and unpredictable chemicals to treat something and... well, not doing that, then I'd go with the second choice every time.

But modern medicine is not rushing to fund studies on this.  At least, not as quickly as it's rushing to fund the nice medicines that will be on the class-action lawsuit commercials a year from now, "If you've taken Yaz...." 

I guess this is why I'm not so ferociously against alternative medicines.  If people aren't going broke over it, and aren't making their conditions worse because of it (two things that do happen), then it seems that alternative medicine is a great way to employ the placebo effect.  I say this not with derision, but with cautious optimism.

As I've said before, I'm not a truth-purist, and when it comes to truth vs. practicality, the second one, in my mind, is sometimes more important.  

So, if your friend's homeopathic acid-reflux medication seems to work wonders, leave him/her to it.  The only thing is, you can't tell them the secret behind their remedy, because that will make it stop working.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why The Fourth Kind left me feeling sad

I was recently lied to by someone that I care for.

I'm not an entertainment blogger, by any means.  I don't keep up on movies or TV, and have a hard time watching anything that annoys me even a little bit.  Not only that, my opinion of what's good, as far as media is concerned, often varies wildly from what I hear other people say is good.  I really enjoyed The Last Airbender, for instance.  All of this is fine with me.  I waste enough of my time without wasting it trying to keep up on the new releases.

With this in mind, you'll forgive the tardiness of my post.  I understand that The Fourth Kind was released on DVD some months ago.  I've seen movie posters, and thought, "Oh, some alien movie."  Then my significant other bought it for me, a few days ago, and I was a little more intrigued.  This is supposed to be like a documentary.  I enjoy watching documentaries about the paranormal the same way I enjoy watching stage magic, trying to figure out exactly where I might be getting misled.

So, at night, in a dark room, by myself, I watch it.  The first scene is Milla Jovovoich, as herself, basically emphasizing that what I'm about to see is real, and here's the real archival footage, and all that.  I know how it works, I've watched documentaries before.

The movie is pretty creepy, and the footage (which runs alongside dramatizations of the footage) is pretty remarkable.  However, I have to mention something.  When you're watching youtube, and you sometimes make the realization, "That's what it really looks like when someone falls down the stairs!" or " That's what it really looks like when someone drives a truck into a living room!" we can feel that what we're looking at is what actually happened.  There's a certain quality that real footage has that movie scenes do not.  A bit of randomness, a lack of grace, unflattering camera angles.  It's the flavor of reality.  The archival footage on The Fourth Kind did have a bit of this flavor, but it was not strong.

The movie ends with Milla talking as herself again, urging me to make my own decision about what to believe.  Of course, I immediately jumped on the internet to help me decide.  It turns out that the fakeness of the footage is old news.  I'm not one to take any debunker's statements without questioning them, but everything I read made sense, Google Maps showed me that the real town looks very very different that the town in the "archival footage."  In short, it was a movie.

I think one of the reasons I'm a skeptic is to balance out my natural naivity.  Naivity that would have me think that a documentary is a documentary, and that a movie would not go so far out of its way to convince me that it is real, when everyone involved knows that it is not.  I guess my belief was that if a documentary comes out that is not factual, it is because the creators are actually fooling themselves, not because they are trying to fool the audience.  My thinking was incorrect.

But I think the thing that hurts most is that Milla Jovovich, whose career I've watched blossom since I was fifteen years old, would break through the fourth wall, go out of her way to talk to me as herself, and then lie to my face (or a camera that represents my face, at least).  This is not what I would expect out of the loveable Leeloo in her masking tape outfit.  This is not what I would hope for from the dangerous (but honest?) Alice, firing guns with both of her hands.  This is not alright.

Should you watch the movie, if you haven't already?  I can't tell you.  I'm not a movie critic, and I don't like movie critics.  If you really want to watch a documentary, though, I'd say check out The Cove, or Outfoxed, or The King of Kong.  Good ones, and they don't need a beautiful woman to convince you that they're real.  But I'm pretty sure they are.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Montauk Monster eats my cat food

Today's story comes from the field of cryptozoology. In 2008, a strange beast, about the size of a cat, allegedly washed up dead on the shores of Montauk, which lies on the eastern tip of New York. It was photographed from many different angles, and became a relatively big news story, drawing the attention of many, including skeptics.

People sat at their desks all around the world, ready to debunk the so-called Montauk Monster (Click the link to see the creature. I didn't want to ugly-up my blog with it). All manner of animal species were thrown at the corpse, with hopes that one would stick. Some called it a raccoon. Some said that it was a sea turtle sans shell. Some called it a large water rat, a dog, a sheep, a sloth, or even a biological experiment. William Wise, director of Stony Brook University's Living Marine Resources Institute, has a wonderfully credible name, and he said that it was simply a fabrication. The body was never studied in-person by scientists, so any guess is as good as any other, right?

Well, no. Just like not all evidence is created equal, not all speculation is created equal. For instance, even a modestly educated man like myself can tell that the beast was never a sea turtle. Firstly, the turtle's spine is actually a part of its shell, secondly... well I hope you'd have to hit someone over the head pretty hard before they thought that thing was a sea turtle, is all I'm sayin'. If it's not obvious to you, then I probably don't have the power to convince you.

It wasn't a rodent. It has some rodent-y features about it, for sure, the teeth are wrong. Those are not the kind of teeth that chew holes through our drywall and plastic cereal canisters. A rodent's mouth is pretty distinct.

As for a latex fabrication, it's not a bad guess, but I personally don't agree. Some things have a certain realness that you can see, and while this sense is not so hard to fool, it tells me that this nasty thing was actually a living creature once.

After doing some of this modern internet version of research, it seems likely that this poor thing is actually a drowned raccoon. It's not obvious, but taking a look at a raccoon skeleton casts some light on the subject. I'm not 100% sure that's the case, but it sure seems to be.

I think two things are interesting about the story of the Montauk Monster:

1. How quickly we latch on to something mysterious, just because it's mysterious. Without this kind of reaction, science would have never been founded. But, then again, neither would have religion. I imagine that, when we were still a new species, we ran into the mysterious so often that we probably spent most of our time giving things labels and explanations that would later become mythology.

2. How quickly many of my fellow skeptics, when confronted with something that is mysterious, will scramble to debunk it, worried less about the truth, and more about getting that blemish off of their worldview. This is whack-a-mole debunking, and when the average person reads that kind of nonsense, they may come away thinking that they live in a world where something that's obviously not a turtle may be a turtle. After all, science is counter-intuitive often enough that some people just believe everything a professional skeptic says.

To those of us that do write for the public, let's think twice before becoming too hasty with explanations. Whether you like it or not, there are people out there who hang on your every word, and will be bringing up your conclusion in discussion boards for years to come. "That was debunked back in 2008!"

So let's tread a little more carefully, and not make a fool of these people by jumping to foolish conclusions. Sometimes your worldview has to be a little blemished. Mine is pock-marked and scarred beyond recognition. The trick to it is to know that you don't know it all.

Get that one down, and you'll be fine.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A note on Fabrication Friday #2

I'm not doing Fab Friday just on Fridays any more.  It should still be about once a week, though.  FYI

Fabrication Post - Sep 18, 2010

The following is not true.

Just out of high school, I worked for a construction company, Collins Construction, for about six months. It turned out that it was the same construction company that my fifth grade teacher's (Mrs. Collins) husband owned, and it was a strange reunion seeing that teacher again after about a decade.

Anyway, I was a heavy guy at the time, and it took me about a month of nine hour days to get really used to the level of physical labor at that job. It was always obvious how dangerous it was, and there was a really serious injury about once a month on any given job site. We kept a lot of hydrogen peroxide around, just because it gets blood out of fabric.

About five months in, I finally decided that it wasn't what I wanted to be doing my whole life, and I'd saved up enough for a down payment on an apartment, and a couple months rent. The accident happened the day before I was scheduled for an interview at the courthouse on the West Side.

I didn't see what exactly happened, but from what I understand Emanuel was driving the backhoe, scooping up rocks and gravel out of the bottom of this swimming pool in a backyard that had ended up being bedrock about five feet down. He wasn't being careful, and I guess a fairly large sharp chunk of granite slid off of his scoop, slid across the top of a shed (I don't remember hearing this) and then hit me straight on. From what people told me, a sharp edge of the rock cut through my arm pretty cleanly, breaking the table, and the flat part of it hit my head. I woke up in the hospital two days later, and the arm was just gone. I was angry, because I thought they had to ask before they took a limb. I was in shock.

Long story short, they sent me home one week later, telling me to keep the stump elevated, and to clean the gashes on my face and shoulder daily. I didn't care about the gashes, I just wanted my arm back.

I had been reading about the Law of Attraction before the accident, and I had a lot of faith in that, and I wondered if I could actually grow an arm back using it. Of course, I had nothing to lose.

I didn't tell anyone about my project, because they would just talk me down, and that wasn't what I needed. Every night, though, I would do a really simple visualization of my arm just growing back, like a newt's arm. I would see it over and over until I fell asleep, and then I would usually dream about it. I never lost interest, because my missing arm had become the focal point of my life. I didn't want to learn how to do things one-handed, I wanted two.

After doing this for about three months, my stump, which had been feeling fine, suddenly flared up with pain, and I went back to the hospital. They did an x-ray, but didn't tell me what was wrong. They sent me home with pain meds.

It was another three months before my mom (yeah, moving out had been put on the back burner) noticed me re-tying off my left sleeve. I hadn't even thought about it, only knowing that my stump was feeling tight in the sleeve. I told her, and we looked at it. It still looked the same way that it had, but we compared it to photos from after the surgery, and it was definitely longer.

And that's what happened, over the next two and a half years. I would keep visualizing, and then there would be a horrible pain in my arm, and it would regenerate itself about a half inch. It's been a decade now, and I'm typing this with two hands. I could show you the photos, and I could have my doctor write a testimonial, but there's no such thing as proof in the age of photoshop. You're either going to believe me or you're not. I just want to give the message that nothing is impossible, when you use the power of your mind.

PLEASE READ

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Oliver's Castle video

There are a lot of people who will tell you, with great conviction, that crop circles are created by balls of light. I've heard people say that they give off microwave radiation, that makes the crops wilt in certain chosen spots, creating the formations we see in aerial photos, on the news and on the internet.

In this day and age, the age of nearly ubiquitous video cameras, one might wonder where the video evidence is of this process. It doesn't take long on Google, though, to find that such a video does exist, and it's from a slightly earlier day and age. Simply called the Oliver's Castle video, it's low-quality footage of a field that, after some low-flying balls-of-light visit it, is suddenly marked with a telltale crop circle. The footage is pretty remarkable to see. Please take a look if you haven't seen it before.

Well, the man who took the footage (look at timestamp 3:40), John Wabe, confessed a couple of years later that he did, in fact, create the footage himself, on a computer, in a television studio. Case closed, right?

No, when it comes to belief, it's never case closed. The Oliver's Castle footage was so important to the balls-of-light create crop circle groups, that even a videotaped confession has not wiped out the following of that video. A man told me online, the other day, that the actual man who'd taken the footage has disappeared, and the man who made the confession was an impostor. I can't disprove that, so I just shrugged. This website states that the video withstands closest analyses. That's a very powerful statement. I'm going to show you, though, that the video does not withstand a slightly more distant analysis.

Watching a documentary on the subject (the one linked above), I saw what has to be the best piece of evidence for the video being a fabrication. In my mind, the best evidence is always the evidence that you can see for yourself, without any experts or celebrity middle-men muddying the waters.

If you look at the first couple seconds of the video, there are balls of light flying around the field. Now, this might be because Hollywood has us expecting the camera to be where to action is, but most of us don't immediately notice that, during those first couple of seconds, the cameraman is not following the balls of light. Why not? As it turns out, his camera is actually framing the spot where a crop circle is about to form.

As in, he was aiming the lens at nothing interesting, yet.

Then, suddenly, out of this nothing interesting, a crop circle appears. He doesn't even catch the edge of it, and then focus. He's immediately staring straight down into it, and then it develops like a Polaroid nearly dead-center in his camera's eye.

One trick many of us have picked up in the age of digital trickery is to ask, "Why was he filming this?" If a video depicts a newspaper boy being attacked by a chupacabra, you have to ask why someone was even filming a newspaper boy in the first place. So, in the Oliver's Castle video, you have to ask why he chose to film a section of perfectly normal field when there were mysterious balls of light bobbing around the place.

If you look at John Wabe's confession (or impostor John Wabe, whatever the case may be) this fits perfectly with that. If you look at the people telling us that the debunking of this video was a hoax itself, this does not fit with that. And, unlike the government paying this man to make up a phony story, this is something you can actually see with your own two eyes.

So, why was he filming that spot in the middle of the field? Well, because there was a crop circle there, and he wanted to have a bit of fun. Why else?

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why we hoax

People hoax things sometimes. We can all agree on this. But, when we get to attached to an idea (whether it's Eastern religion, spirit channeling or the Shamwow) we get blinded to the hoaxter possibility. "Well, this and that may be wrong, but at least I can tell that he/she is being honest."

While I call into question anyone's ability to tell whether someone's being honest, that's a different matter for a different day. Much of the time, an individual has a very clear reason to be dishonest, which may look like dollars in the US, or pounds sterling in the UK, perhaps yen in Japan, but it all amounts to the same thing. Money has been a great power in the campaign to turn otherwise good people into scam artists since its invention. As the saying goes (and I'm not entirely sure it's true) Everyone has their price.

But then that leaves all of these other things. Things where something happens, and there is no clear motive for someone to have lied, or faked evidence. They're not making tourist money, book money, talk show money or movie rights money. Sometimes the hoaxter, if there actually was a hoax involved, has hidden from public view. In these cases, those of us that are rather attached to the idea of something being real may argue that it was not a hoax, because obviously the perpetrator would have nothing to gain, in the measure of dollars, pounds, or yen.

When it comes to fooling people, though, there's always a motive. Even if the trickster is losing money in the exercise, there is always a motive. That motive is fun.

It's fun to fool people. Whether you want to throw on a bigfoot costume, video-edit balls of light making a crop circle, or just give a moving testimonial on the internet on how ipecac helped your ulcers. I don't know if you're like me, but I think there's something very thrilling about telling a tall tale, and having people hang on every word.

It is fun to fool people. I don't know if I'm special, or if this is just a quirk of the animal we call Humanity. Untold millions of practical jokes have happened, and very few people ever gained a dollar off of them. Youtube is crowded with things like cell-phone radiation popping popcorn, a giant Lego-ball rolling down a street, not to mention the ridiculous chain-emails that get sent my way, giving me the most absurd advice I may have ever gotten.

I recently read an article in WIRED magazine (yes, I'm a few months behind) about this very subject. It's called Cognitive Surplus: The Great Spare-Time Revolution. It's a very good read, and is basically a discussion of something that we all already know, but doesn't really seem to be fully integrated into many of our worldviews. Besides biological imperatives (eat, drink, watch Beyonce music videos), and reward-punishment type motivations, there is a third drive, which amounts to just doing something because it interests you. This is why Wikipedia exists, it's why Youtube exists. Hell, it's why half of the modern internet exists, including this blog. Don't let the ads fool you, my fortune cookies do not mention money.

So, the next time you hear a knocking on your window, and nobody is there when you look, keep in mind that someone might be having a great time at your expense. The next time you see gigantic footprints when you're out camping in the Pacific Northwest, don't discount the possibility that there is someone with a big rubber foot watching the newspapers, waiting for photographs of his handiwork. And next time you get a convincing email telling you that hugging your kid causes Ebola, don't let the kid suffer for someone else's jollies.

I think we're all tricksters, at some level. And I'm sure we were that way long before the invention of money.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Polite Skeptic Interview: Matthew Williams, circlemaker

Matthew Williams is a circlemaker.

After a strange experience earlier in life, Matthew took to investigating the paranormal. His investigation into crop circles showed him a world that he didn't expect. One thing lead to another, and he found himself out in the fields, with a stomper-board, some surveyor's tape, and a group of good friends, making his own contribution to the UFO mythology. Everything went fine until, wanting to prove a point, Matthew sent a diagram of an upcoming crop circle to Author and UFO researcher Whitley Strieber, and then wound up with police at his front door.

Matthew's arrest was something of a blessing in disguise, suddenly allowing him to become more public about the art of crop circle making, and to speak out against circle researchers who, in his view, often skewed evidence, not to mention, from time to time, flat-out lying about their findings.

Matthew Williams explains on his Youtube Channel that crop circle makers are not hoaxters, but artists, and that the wonder that the circles inspire in the public give them joy. Another message is that, even though it's humans that make the circles, the circles themselves are still surrounded by mysteries that even the men with the boards can't begin to explain.

Matthew gives us a look into a secretive world of the circlemaker, a world that very few know about, and even fewer have firsthand experience with. It's fascinating, and evidence that both the images of the grinning prankster, and the artistic UFOs, are both very simplistic when compared to the reality of the situation.

The Polite Skeptic: It would be commonly expected that someone with your experience would be skeptical of paranormal things. Why is it that you aren't, and could you give a rough estimate of what percentage of crop circle makers are skeptical?

Matthew Williams: I started off as a skeptical child, reading books about the paranormal but seeing them as just wide tales, and treating what I was reading as fiction turned into fact, perhaps in the same way that I viewed religious books. Then, my cynical mind took a powerful bashing when I experienced something odd whilst driving over a mountain road one night. I saw a triangular light, with a placement that would have made it hundreds of feet in size. It was standing vertically in front of a mountainside, behind a tree line. I lost sight of the object after, and to this day am no nearer to knowing what it was, although parts of my investigation led me to ask even more questions about our faculties for perception and our recall of strange events. This was my trigger moment, if you like.

After this point, I was in a position where I had to state that I could not understand my experience, and I felt pity and empathy for those who, like me, might be retelling their genuine experiences and having no way to fully understand what it was they saw. My interest in the paranormal became rekindled, and I dug out my old books and read the pages with a new vigor, to learn what I had perhaps missed previously. Now the words on the page had a meaning to me, and a gravitas, that they had not had before. I started to meet people who were interested in the paranormal, and through talking about interests, and eventually interviewing people about their strange experiences, it became clear I was starting to become an investigator of sorts.

If we skip forward a long way to me now being a circlemaker, and believing that the circles we create are a paranormal trigger for not only the circlemakers, but for the people who visit the circles afterwards, I am still interested in investigating and relaying strange experiences to others as truthfully as I can.

To answer your question, nearly all circlemakers I know have claimed to have had odd experiences whilst out at night. Whereas many circlemakers try their hardest to work out what these experiences were, they are left scratching their heads. Up until this year, all bar one major circlemaker had told me of their own strange experiences. This year though, out of the blue, I was told that this major circlemaker had recently seen a silent, black, triangular object fly over him, and his team members had seen this as well. I would like to be able to do an interview to record his experience, but this circlemaker is a bit like Banksy, and a bit shy of being known by face or name. So the interview, if it does take place, will have to be anonymous.

So that just about wraps up all the circlemakers as having strange experiences, and being far more open-minded towards their place in circlemaking and their ability to connect with strange stuff by being out in the fields. Even if they do one day manage to convince themselves of rational explanations for their experiences, they certainly do not have any rational explanations at the moment.

Would you recommend circle making for someone who's interested in studying supernatural things?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Experts vs. Authority Figures

Have you ever spoken to someone about their beliefs, and partway in to the conversation you realize that they're not relaying their own beliefs, but instead preaching somebody else's doctrine?

You don't have to drink the Kool-Aid
I'm not talking about religion, not specifically.  Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.

"Well, David Icke was saying, in his book, that Greece, and Troy, were actually ruled by human-alien hybrids.  Actually, most of our world leaders today are hybrids.  It was actually these people... I don't know if they were all hybrids of aliens... but they made up Christianity, from scratch.  And these people... they were reptilian-people, David Icke says that their family tree goes through all these different countries, but like I was saying, David Icke..."

If you ever hear someone describing their beliefs to you, and they can't move through their explanation without frequently quoting someone (perhaps a popular author, or philosopher) then there is something wrong.  If you find yourself doing that, then you're not talking about your belief.  You're describing someone else's belief, and then you're explaining how you believe everything this person says.

I've heard somewhere (can't quickly find it on Google) that, in science, there are no authorities, only experts.  When you think about it, it's true.

-An authority figure's job is to decide how it is, and then tell you what they decided.

-An experts job is to notice how it is, and then to help you notice as well.

When you're quoting someone four times in the course of a conversation, you're not treating them like an expert, but an authority figure.  You're showing off the fact that you have no direct knowledge or understanding of the subject, and you're just rehashing what you read in a book, and then took on faith.  If you tell someone that six divided by two is three, because Mr. Collins said so, then you're not likely to know what eight divided by two, until Mr. Collins tells you.

When someone has knowledge, whether it's about government conspiracy, the afterlife, or just simple division, it's their job not to give facts, but to give an understanding that will allow you to get more facts yourself.  You need to be able to relate the information with other things you experience, come to your own conclusions, and then state them confidently as your own ideas.  Because, when you really understand what you're talking about, you will have your own ideas.  Not only that, but you'll be able to talk about them with conviction, without having to lean on the authority of someone who decided what you are supposed to believe.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Proof that 2012 will happen!

Do you ever wonder why people are still planning things for 2013? Movie releases, scientific projects, urban renovations, all with a deadline after the end of the world. Why even bother?

A gorgeous crop version of the Mayan calendar.
There are a lot of people with a lot of theories on what's going to happen during the holiday season, year 2012. Some people are pretty sure that our mother Earth is going to slam into another planet. Some think that we'll be hit by a solar flare. Some expect global warming to deal its killing stroke while we're still procrastinating on buying Christmas presents. I personally predict that bottled water sales will spike, along with flashlights and canned food. And Paper Jamz Guitars, just in case.

This may be insensitive of me, but I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of a global cataclysm. If you weigh the likelihood of:

1. Humanity becoming less detrimental because we reverse our progress, start consuming less, and start treating the environment like we are a part of it (instead of it being our simultaneous supply closet and garbage can). 

and then compare that to the likelihood of 

2. Humanity becoming less detrimental because of a global cataclysm which wipes humanity out.

The second possibility seems much more likely. The first one almost seems like trying to get more than six billion heroin addicts clean all at once. That's the way it looks from where I'm standing.

But I don't think that anything particularly special is going to happen in 2012, other than a really fancy-looking Mayan calendar becoming obsolete (remind me to buy a new one). I may have that feeling because my life has, thus far, been fairly mundane, and it's hard to imagine that trend would end a couple of years from now.

But what if it does? What good exactly does it do us to know it ahead of time? Does it give us time to buy space blankets, or to make sure that our final prayer is really really sincere? Perhaps you want to finish that novel, so that it can start the long, drawn-out publication process, and then be released after Earth has already slammed into Nibiru.

This is my prediction: There will be a lot of murmurings about the end of the world, but most people will act as usual, wrapping gifts and fishing out DVDs of It's a Wonderful Life. There will be a small minority (probably magnified through news coverage) that will stand on hilltops and wait for ships to take them away, or suicide cults drinking cyanide-laced Power Ade. And then we'll all celebrate the new year at the start of 2013, all of us a little disappointed that the Mayans didn't keep their promise, a little disappointed that we never got to participate in a survival-type scenario like in Independence Day, a little disappointed that 2013 looks pretty much like 2012, but with a better iPhone.

People will make excuses why their predictions didn't pan out, some of us will buy those excuses, and it will be business as usual until the next world-terminating event appears on the horizon. Some will remember Y2K, and 2012, and others will say, "No, this is different." And humans will be humans.

And, eventually, when a meteor does hit the earth, or an unprecedented earthquake wipes out all coastal populations, or some thing that we never thought of hits the whole of humanity like a baseball bat in the head, nobody will see it coming.

Thanks for reading.


  

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What are dreams? -or- The Truth Purist

Dreams are big in parapsychology.  Some people say they see the future in dreams, some people say they've been visited by a dead loved one, or been given a vision from an angel.  It's a tough subject for a skeptic such as myself, because what can you say?  It was just a dream?  Well, nobody's disagreeing on that point.  The real disagreement is on whether dreams are spiritually significant, or just a mechanism of the mind.

The only thing I really have to say about the significance of dreams is that you can't believe in it without having to take on some piggybacking beliefs that might not seem so plausible.

For instance, if a deceased loved one, or any kind of spirit, is able to visit you in a dream, that means that the dream environment actually has to be a place.  For you to meet someone there, there has to be a "there" in the first place, where you are at, and where they can go.  So the assumption is that, every night, during REM sleep, we have some kind of out-of-body experience, and we travel to another environment, and then wake up to remember that as a dream.

If you are someone who remembers a moderate amount of your dreams, this may be hard to swallow.  Let me give you an example from my own experience.

I was in my bedroom, but it actually looked like no room that I recognized during waking.  There was something trying to get in through the doors, and the windows.  At the same time, though, I was in a town in the game Black and White 2, and the spots where my door and window were in my bedroom were the gates to my town, and there were boulders rolling down hills, trying to break through the gates.  These two points of view, seemingly interchangeable, switched back and forth throughout the course of the dream, me being in my room one minute, and being a giant presence in the middle of my town the next.

And, for me to believe that another consciousness could visit me in the middle of all that mess, I have to believe that it was really happening.  And this dream is a mild example.  Some dreams are so abstract, and make so little sense to the waking mind, that it is very hard to believe that somewhere, these images were actually formed out of some kind of material.

And we can't stop there.  If dreams are real things, happening in real places, then what of hypnagogic imagery?  The limitlessly bizarre things that we see in our eyelids as we drift off at night?  I've made a game of describing these to my significant other.  "Looks like... the inside of a throat, with a thousand dice spinning around it, and a tunnel in the middle..."

And if it seems obvious to anyone that hypnagogic imagery is just a product of the mind, it seems obvious to me that dreams are, as well as lucid dreams, and dissociative experiences.  I also don't think it's farfetched that we could dream about meeting someone that we miss very much.  I've had plenty of dreams about people who are still alive, not all of them flattering.

It might just be a matter of what's comfortable compared to what's true, and I don't have the authority to tell you which is more important.  I'm not a truth purist, it's just an interest of mine.  It's not my place to take away anyone's significant experience.

But if you are interested in the truth, then you have to accept that dreams being contained within the skull is definitely a likely possibility.  As I see it, that's an explanation that isn't broke, and I have no interest in fixing it.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fabrication Friday - Sep 10, 2010

The following is not true.

The most frightening thing of my life happened to me last night.

My life used to be more normal than it is now.  The difference between my life before I was about twenty-five and afterward is very distinct.  For instance, I'm in the habit of sleeping with a pillow over my head, just because strange voices and sounds are just a part of my nighttime routine now.  Not that they scare me any more, but they're distracting, and can keep me up for hours.

I can't trace the change back to any one thing, but looking at entries in my old personal blog I notice that around that time was when I went to hypnosis.  It was three sessions, to deal with my procrastination, which may not sound like much, but it was a bad enough problem that I spend hundreds of dollars on hypnotherapy.  I got benefit from it, but it was early the next year that things started happening.  So maybe there was no relation, but it's the only thing I can think of.

I see lights in the sky fairly regularly, bobbing around, and it's not unusual to see what looks like a standing shadow walking down the street, or sitting on the couch in my living room.  Sometimes I find flies flying in a formation in my living room, like a tight little ball of insects, the size of a softball, spinning around.  I've never heard of that anywhere.  I've tried to catch them in a bag a couple of times, but they scattered.

I'm just letting you know that this is pretty much what my day-to-day life looks like, so for something to have freaked me out so bad last night is saying something.  I was watching Mythbusters in the living room, on Netflix, and I was noticing that whenever I got a glass of water, the water would disappear after I'd only taken a little sip.  Like I said, this kind of stuff is pretty normal for me, so just kept refilling my water glass.  At some point, I heard someone walk up behind me, and I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I knew those weren't my girlfriend's footsteps, and I didn't actually see a hand in the corner of my eye, so it had to be a spirit.  I asked, "What do you want?" and the hand came off my shoulder and popped me on the jaw.  I got a little pissed, and looked, but nobody was there, of course.  I was a little worried, because the things that pass through my house don't usually get so physical.

Nothing much else happened, and I went to bed.  I was laying on my back, and I had a notion that I should pull the pillow off my head and open my eyes, and I saw the guy who must have been the hand in the living room.  It was a tall guy, in a fairly fancy looking suit, dark hair, combed backward, standing next to my bed.  His expression was grim, and a little angry.  I was going to ask him to go away, I was trying to sleep, when he lunged at me, and shoved a knife into me, upwards, under my ribs.

Now, this was no illusion.  It hurt exquisitely, as real as anything I had ever felt, and I even felt the tip of the knife up against my heart, and getting bumped when my heart beat.  It felt like my lung was filling up with liquid, and this guy keeps just shoving the knife in.  And laying there in my bed I actually accepted death.  It took about two seconds.  The last thing I remember is the feeling of his kneecap pinching the skin of my inner thigh where he jumped on me.

And I woke up this morning, completely confused to be still alive.  I have no cut, no bruise on my leg, and I've just been in a daze all morning, feeling like I should be dead.  I looked at the spot where the guy stabbed me, and there's a dark mole there.  It's brand new.  I have no idea what happened, but I do know that I've never been so scared in my life.

Please Read

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What ear candles can teach us

Ear candles, for the uninitiated, are long, hollow cones of waxy cloth with a small hole on the pointed end. To use an ear candle, an individual has to lie on his or her side, put the small end of it in the ear, and then have someone light the top, wider end, which is open. The candle slowly burns down, and the theory is that the air inside the lit opening is heated, causing it to rise, and this creates suction inside of the tube, so that the small end sucks the wax out of your ear. When the procedure is finished, you're left with a small cone full of nasty brown wax.

I first heard about ear candles when I was fairly young. They were featured on the news, and my family and I watched, bemused, as the lady laid there, with the burning candle sticking out of her hear. When they opened it up, the newscasters weren't willing to show the gunk inside on camera. My how the decency standards of television have changed in the last fifteen years.

It seemed like a nice idea (using fire to cleanse, I think, has a deep root in our psychology) and I was interested in trying it. It never quite sat right in my brain, though, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the ear is a dead-end. It's not like the nose, that has a big sinus cavity behind it, with a tunnel leading all the way down to the lungs. The ear canal goes in an inch or so, and then terminates at the eardrum. Where are we keeping the copious amounts of wax?

Another reason it felt off was because it seemed like cartoon physics. You can't dust the inside of a cabinet by sticking a vacuum-cleaner hose inside, and then leaving it in place, waiting for all of the dust to come to you. Whatever you're vacuuming needs close personal contact with that hose. So how could the small bit of convection generated by the candle draw all of the wax out of your ear, like the pied piper drawing rats out of a town?

Well, let me tell you the twist ending.  Ear candles don't work. I'm sorry if you've put a lot of stock in that, but they don't. The world we live in is one where ear candles don't do anything good for the ear.

There have been lots of different studies, with ear wax measured, the suction measured, and debunking it this way and that way. According to Wikipedia, "Several studies have shown that ear candles produce the same residue when burnt without ear insertion and that the residue is simply candle wax and soot."

Now, I agree with all of their conclusions, but I think so much work is unnecessary. We don't need research dollars spent on these things, we don't need to measure the suction, or look at the before/after of wax in someone's ear. When someone is trying to make an argument, it's actually problematic to have a longer list of evidence. The folks who made the film Loose Change could benefit from this lesson.  If you give someone ten reasons why something must be true, they will argue against the weakest five, and ignore the rest.  Then you're left elaborating on your least compelling evidence.

Take your strongest argument.  The argument that you've always seen the other side avoid.  The argument that knocks it right out of the park.  Focus on only that argument.  If people start responding to arguments that you never made, then redirect them to the one argument that you did make.  Make people think.

With ear candles, the single, simple, thing that needs to be communicated, to bring this whole business to an end, is this:  Go buy one.  Stand it up in a cup of dry beans, and light the thing.  Follow the directions carefully (or not carefully, it doesn't matter).  Now is there loads of earwax in the thing?  Of course there is.  Because the stuff is from the candle, which is made of wax.  Don't wait for a scientist to do it, and then read his results, do it yourself!  They're five dollars for four!  That's cheaper than Gatorade.

That's simple science, right there.  If it does it in this condition (in the ear) but still does it without this condition (out of the ear) then that condition wasn't necessary in the first place.

Believe it or not, even such a simple alternative treatment is going to break a lot of hearts when people realize that they've been fooled.  That's what beliefs do, great or small.  They dig in claws, and when they're removed they take flesh with them.  What bothers me is that I'm sure that every company that sells these things knows as well as I do that they're actually more harm than good, and they just keep doling out the snake oil.  We're lied to by businesses so often, that we're almost fine with it.  But maybe we shouldn't be.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Polite Skeptic Interview: Dean Radin

Dean Radin is a big name in parapsychology.  He's been Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences for almost a decade, where subjects ranging from physics to meditation to subtle energy are studied.  

Originally following his ambitions into being a concert violinist, he later placed his focus on science, earning a BSEE in electrical engineering, a master's degree in electrical engineering, and a doctorate degree in educational psychology.  To read a his scholarly papers, check out Google Scholar

Radin has also written two books for lay audiences: The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena, and Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality, with 4.3 and 4.2 out of 5 stars at Amazon.com, respectively.

If you're looking for an educated, intelligent and experienced voice on the side of paranormal belief, look no further. I emailed him a couple of weeks ago, requesting an interview.  His reply was so brief, and so simple, I didn't immediately realize he had said anything at all.

"Ok."

----
The Polite Skeptic: As I understand, you believe that the mainstream scientific acceptance of certain paranormal abilities/systems is  inevitable.  What's your estimation of how long we would have to wait for that, and how much progress have you seen?
Dean Radin: Between 10 and 50 years. In the 30 or so years I've been involved in the field I've seen the state of the art in scientific terms steadily (and slowly) increasing, but the state of skepticism is essentially static.  In addition, we now have some skeptics admitting that if this were any other area of research, the phenomena would have already been accepted. (see this link). This is a major shift because past "professional" skeptics were loath to admit any progress at all.

What do you think such a mainstreaming would look like?  How do you think it would affect, for example, schools, jobs, or technology, in the short term, and in the long term?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Who made the pyramids? -or- Giving credit where credit is due

Carpentry is a little beyond me.  The thought of tearing down a wall, replacing a window, or adding a room make me feel nervous.  I know it's possible, and it's all be done millions of times, but it's so far beyond my skill set that it might as well be magic.

Back in the day, thousands of years before we had circular saws or drills, they were doing even crazier things with stone.  The pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge, Pumapunku.  There are a lot of very old structures made of very large blocks that, according to our understanding of archaeology, should not have been possible to create by the people of that time.  Some of them should not be possible to create by people of our time.  How do you explain such a mystery?

Well, if you've read this blog for as long as I have (ha ha) you already know my answer.  You don't.  There's no need to explain away every mystery before you have all the facts.  This is a sin that skeptics and believers alike, who are just looking for the punchline, commit as often as envy, or gluttony.

So, if you must have an explanation now, because mysteries are like little stones sitting on the mind, then there's always aliens.  The hypothesis of "ancient astronauts" is a wide-ranging idea that reaches into the history of human evolution, religion, astronomy, technology, archaeology, and a number of other things.  I may go into it in more detail in the future, but suffice it to say for now that it's how many people explain how such buildings were made.  Alien technology.

This is crop circles all over again.  And my sentiment is basically the same.  Who are you to say what human beings are or aren't capable of?  We tend to think that humans of ancient civilizations as being less intelligent than us, but keep in mind that they were the exact same clever reasoning animals that we are.  The didn't have iPads, but they probably knew more about stone than the masons of today.  That was their high-technology.  If they wanted a pyramid made, or a stonehenge, or a Pumapunku, and a few people put their heads together, I think they could find a way to do it.  That's really all there is to it, as far as I'm concerned.

"But Cal," someone says, "Even with our high technology, we could not make these structures today."  That may be true, but you have to keep in mind that higher technology doesn't always mean a better product.  There are classic video games that will always surpass the modern graphical wonders.  There are many novels that are much more engaging than today's special-effects blockbusters.  And those are just ink on paper.

The more powerful the tools are, the less powerful the mind behind them has to be.  A great mind with great tools is a force to be reckoned with, but so is a great mind with a chisel and mallet.  So let's not project our self-imposed limitations onto the ancient past, and cheapen the achievements of people who may very well have been our intellectual superiors.

Thanks for reading.

Who am I? Where do I come from?

Alright, I've had about enough of adsense.  I looked at the blog today to find it trying to convert me to Scientology.  I'm not rich!  I can barely afford to be an atheist!

I'm fooling with filters and such, but selling out can only go so far, and if I keep getting shockers like this I'm just going to have to forget about adsense.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What The Cottingley Fairies can teach us -or- 50,000,000 Elvis fans CAN be wrong

I slept in, and woke up feeling fine. I didn't know what I was going to blog about, but I knew it would come to me without too much effort. When I found my subject, I did a little research, and ended up getting sidetracked by people trying to convince me that mermaids are real. Just like the day I wrote the blog Mars time, I came away feeling drained and punch drunk. It's amazing how much a few pieces of media can pull out of you.

The Cottingley Fairies. It has to be one of the best examples not only of the psychology of deception, but the psychology of self-deception (without which, very little deception would take place).

A brief history: In 1917, two girls, cousins, ten and twelve, tell their mothers that they see fairies out by the stream (or beck, as they were in the UK). They borrow a camera and take two photographs that apparently depict fairies. The mother of one of the girls thinks this is something neat, and makes them public. The photos are approached as being serious business.

Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series, is very impressed by the photographs, and outspoken. In 1920, Edward Gardener, member of the Theosophical Society, gives the girls a camera to take more pictures. They took three more pictures of apparent fairies. Mixed reception. People gradually forget.

About 40 years later, the girls are all grown up, and one of them says, in an interview, that she may have been photographing her own thought forms. The media loves this, and as a result (or as a cause) the public does as well. Randi and associates say the pics are fakes, and strings are visible.

In 1983, sixty-six years after the first photograph was taken, and one year after my own birth, the girls admit that it had all been a fake. One of them drew the fairies, they cut them out and stood them up with pins. They disagree about whether the fifth photograph was a fake. One girl persists that it is real, until her death, soon after.

(story paraphrased from Wikipedia, which is always accurate)

See all five photos here.

This whole story has always been remarkable to me. It's a great illustration of some of the elements that can come together to make even the hardest-to-swallow stories believable. There is popularity, media coverage, celebrity interest, arguing experts, and trustworthy-looking witnesses.

I could say that the plum tree in my yard was a real life womping willow, even when it was heavy with plums, and if it happened to have: popularity, media coverage, celebrity interest, arguing experts, and if I was a trustworthy looking witness, then my "real life womping willow" Facebook page would have followers in the millions.

A person may think that I would have to have some kind of evidence to gain a few of those things, but that is exactly why these things fool people. If you make something ridiculous very popular, then the media will be inclined to cover it. Celebrities are as fallible as any of us, and some of them will be duped. The media will choose, or create, experts to argue over this celebrity-backed story. And then I just have to be good at lying, which many people are. Then, even if the average person sees that it is clearly a hoax, it will be hard to believe that all of those prominent people would be arguing over something so silly, so the obvious conclusion is, "I must be missing something."

Well, you're not missing anything. Your own powers of perception are greater than the collective perception of the media. If you noticed that the fairies (even in the fifth photo) seemed to have paper edges, and seemed to be highlighted uniformly, like a flat piece of paper, then you solved the mystery, even as the media picked up more speed. If you saw the "Surgeon's Photograph" of the Lock Ness monster, and it looked like it was about eight inches tall at first glance, it wouldn't have done you any good to listen to experts argue and muddle your brain. If you noticed that we seemed to be sending forces into Iraq in response to an attack from someone completely different, then you were already way ahead of the game.

I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but only a capitalist. There is a big market in you not trusting your own eyes, and if you let the media treat you like you are stupider than you actually are, then even the most obvious truths will always be just out of reach.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Facebook is serious business, part 2

God, the internet can be a headache.

So, with the continuing theme of Facebook being serious business, I created a The Polite Skeptic page, which can be found here.

In addition, I added a Facebook box to the side of the blog.  Like many widgets and things on the internet, I have no idea what the benefit of it is, or its exact function, but these things will become clear over time.  One thing I do know, it's supposed to have a Like! button embedded into it, but I don't see one.

One frustrating thing, after conning some twenty-six people into liking the site, today I made a brand new Like button, which is specifically for the Facebook page that links to this site.  The benefits of this elude me at the moment, but I convinced myself to create it, so I have to trust that it's there for a reason.  So, that means that I've started over from zero (actually three already, but anyway...).

I increasingly get the feeling that the internet is becoming Facebook's bitch.

Another look at Hell, a good place to live, but not to visit

Christian Hell.  It's the epitome of a bad situation.  Every bad thing that's ever happened to you, every bad thing you can think of, and every bad thing that you could never think of, but you can probably find online, cannot compare.  And the worst part of it?  It's eternal.

There was an example of eternity that I once heard that was pretty overwhelming.  I think I actually heard it on a sitcom.  This is paraphrased.  Imagine a brass ball the size of the earth floating in space.  Every thousand years, a dove flies by, and a tip of one of the dove's feathers brushes lightly against the brass ball.  By the time that the brass ball is ground down to nothing, eternity will have barely begun.

I was discussing religion in a popular imageboard the other day, and I realized something.  The idea of Hell being eternal actually takes a bit of the sting off of it.  Humans are very very adaptable, and those of us in the worst situations can still find some happiness, just like those of us in the best situations can find despair.

But Hell?  There's no adapting to that, right?

Let's say that one of the features of Hell is the opportunity of being gutted by a scimitar, and being allowed to lie on the ground with your entrails spread in front of you, perhaps with dogs chewing on them.  The first time this happens, it's a harrowing experience.  The tenth time this happens, you know what to expect.  The hundredth time this happens, you flip the guy off before his guts you.  The thousandth time, you're used to the pain, and you're scratching the dogs behind their ears.  The millionth time?  "Here, give me the sword, let me show you how it's done.  Damned amateurs."

Over time, you lose fear.  The primary animal fear is one of death, but in the afterlife there is no death, and when you're in Hell the idea of death wouldn't be that scary, anyway.

Let's say you've been in Hell for thirty million years.  You don't even remember any other kind of existence, pain means very little, and loss is just par for the course.  You're more skilled than any living person at finding ways to entertain yourself.  You've been through a lot, and you're able to appreciate the little things, and sweating the small stuff (or even the big stuff) is just a part of the forgotten and unimaginable past.  You're probably a very likeable person.

And what if we apply the idea of eternity to Heaven?  A place that is always happy, and without sin?  A place with no obstacles to overcome, no pain to make you stronger, and no bad times to make the good times sweeter?

If the ideas of Heaven and Hell are, as I suspect, constructs of the human mind, it's only natural that they would include very obvious positive/negative rewards and punishments for your  behavior in life.  But joy and pain don't exist outside of our own minds, and when we're faced with a different level of comfort, our standards naturally change over time, until we reach our own, personal equilibrium.  So Mary, who seems to complain no matter what's going on, probably would have the same attitude in the afterlife.  But Joan, who is generally happy, and accepts life as it comes without making a big stink every time the computer freezes up or she accidentally breaks an egg yolk, will probably do just fine, even if she's not a good Christian.

I can imagine people that would disagree, perhaps thinking of ways that Hell could stay bad, even after a trillion years, but unless someone has been there, and done that, it's just a guess.

And if you're really curious what Hell is like, I'll try to drop you a line after I die.  Because, if it's a real place, they've probably already embroidered my name on the sheets.