Monday, May 7, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Go to The Personal Proof Project.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wooly mammoth spotted in... video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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