Because last week’s reblogging of Robert Anton Wilson’s rather harsh critique of Carl Sagan resulted in a rather spirited dialogue on my Facebook page (friend me), I did something weird. I decided to take some of my fans advice and actually read a bit of Sagan’s work, which I admitted in the post that I’d never truly done. Sadly, since I spend half my life working a soulless day job, I don’t normally have much time to commit to researching things I intentionally avoid for impromptu rants. But I quite quickly found a PDF of the Demon Haunted World, which is the book several people over the years have told me I absolutely need to read, because it WILL convince me I’m not psychic or something. Ugh, I don’t know what to tell you. I got through eight chapters or so and found myself utterly perplexed and a bit disgusted.… Read the rest
Tag Archives | Skepticism
Anew article in the Guardian highlights a study conducted by the University of Melbourne (Click Here for the article) looking at people’s ability to cognate observations that occur below their threshold of immediate awareness. More interesting than the results, however, are how they are being framed as a way to discredit psychical research:
… Read the rest
“Howe said he started the research after one his students told him that she possessed a sixth sense.
“She said she had the ability to tell if something bad had happened to someone just by looking at them,” he said.
“She said she knew an acquaintance had been in a car accident even though he had no visual markings or injuries. I told her that she may not have been able to verbally label the markings, but she picked up on them and wasn’t consciously aware of them.
“We receive a lot of information we don’t or can’t verbalise.
William Saletan suggests that conspiracy theorists aren’t really skeptics, at Slate:
… Read the rest
To believe that the U.S. government planned or deliberately allowed the 9/11 attacks, you’d have to posit that President Bush intentionally sacrificed 3,000 Americans. To believe that explosives, not planes, brought down the buildings, you’d have to imagine an operation large enough to plant the devices without anyone getting caught. To insist that the truth remains hidden, you’d have to assume that everyone who has reviewed the attacks and the events leading up to them—the CIA, the Justice Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, scientific organizations, peer-reviewed journals, news organizations, the airlines, and local law enforcement agencies in three states—was incompetent, deceived, or part of the cover-up.
-Robert Anton Wilson
“No amount of belief makes something a fact.”
-The Amazing James Randi
“Faith” should be a four-letter word. I propose a change in spelling. “Fath,” maybe.
Those “I’m always right” types absolutely need faith, or else those vicious doubts start creeping in. Not only will you find faith in the religious mind, calling God a fact, you’ll also find it lurking in the atheist, saying He isn’t. Come to think of it, anyone who uses the word “fact” so easily must be pretty faithful, at least when it comes to their own nonsense.
One of my favorite “always right” groups to hate is the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), a self-proclaimed “skeptical” organization founded by professional debunker and ex-stage magician, the Amazing Randi. According to their website, the Foundation “was founded in 1996 to help people defend themselves from paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.” If you look at this statement closely, you’ll see that little demon, “faith,” wearing a lab coat and a clipboard, trying to look casual in the corner. It presupposes that “paranormal and pseudoscientific claims” are something to be defended against, and presupposition is the very antithesis of skepticism. It goes against the very spirit of skepticism: a “questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts.”
Although I’m sure most supporters of the JREF are scoffing right now at the idea that their beliefs are grounded in faith, there’s almost certainly one thing they never question: their own senses.… Read the rest
After a recent investigation into the public presentation of anomalistic science, it’s fairly clear to me (as if it wasn’t already) that much of the information being fed into the popular consciousness is nothing more than hyped up fantasy fixed and formatted for mass mediated consumption. With Dean Radin’s new book, Supernormal, reaching the top if it’s sales categories on Amazon, and ranking high in the Nielsen ratings, there is an obvious desire for more detailed investigations of these areas that go beyond the paranormalist freak show and the skeptical sub-culture’s deflated debunking.
The binary argument of real vs. fake, of truth vs. fraud, or any such division, is merely a set up to market to one side or the other, and both proponents and defamers alike rely on each other to stoke the fires of contention so that an audience lulled by the rhythms of the work place will feel called to seek some solace in the untenable possibilities of the unknown, or the thin empowerment of a pseudo-scientific righteousness found in the knowledge that all their dreams and fears from childhood have been firmly put to bed by the cold light of rational, technological progress.… Read the rest
Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait offers this suggestion to attendees of the James Randi Educational Foundation’s The Amazing Meeting hoping to win people over to their cause: “Don’t be a dick!”
Talk about pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Oh wait – I think I’m being a dick, oops.
This is a fascinating excerpt from Chapter 9 – Are Psychic Phenomena Illusory?, of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s new book Science Set Free. Reproduced here with permission.
… Read the rest
How an open-minded scientist opened my mind
Telepathy literally means “distant feeling”, from the Greek tele, distant, as in telephone and television, and pathe, feeling, as in sympathy and empathy.
In the course of my scientific education at school and university, I was converted to the materialist worldview, and absorbed the standard attitude towards telepathy and other psychic phenomena. I dismissed them. I did not study the evidence because I assumed there was none worth reading. But when I was a graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University, in a conversation in the laboratory tearoom, someone mentioned telepathy. I dismissed it out of hand. But sitting nearby was one of the doyens of British biochemistry, Sir Rudolph Peters, formerly Professor of Biochemistry in Oxford, who after retirement continued his research in our laboratory in Cambridge. He was kindly, his eyes twinkled, and had more curiosity than most people half his age. He asked if any of us had ever looked at the evidence. We had not.
Skeptics, believers. Lay down your shotguns and knives. Take a moment to bandage and reload, and I will explain to you why an incorporeal garage dragon means that you should not be fighting. As much.
This strange beast, and its fantastical properties, are described in The Demon Haunted World, by Carl Sagan.
“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage,” he begins, “…Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself.”
You do, but you can’t. The dragon is invisible. You could spread flour on the floor to capture its footprints, but, alas, it also floats. You offer to fetch your infrared camera, but, sadly, its fire is heatless. Perhaps a can of spray paint, then, to make the dragon visible? Oh, right. Incorporeal.
You see where he’s going: “Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless,” he writes, “the only sensible approach is to tentatively reject the dragon hypothesis, [but] to be open to future data…”
The garage dragon is a straightforward parable about the scientific value of a non-falsifiable hypothesis, but it contains an important nuance.… Read the rest
Writer Stephen Bond’s eloquent rejection of the skeptic movement is sure to ruffle a few feathers here. Is he overstating his case and condemning a large group of well-meaning people for the actions of a poorly behaved few? (I’m particularly intrigued by his own dismissive and somewhat patronizing generalization of people who hold minority beliefs as only doing so because they’re powerless and marginalized and need to reject whatever authority has dictated to be an acceptable belief system.)
What about his suggestion that many of his former colleagues prefer to spend their time reaching for low-hanging fruit instead of taking a swipe at thornier issues? It is important to emphasize that he isn’t rejecting the idea of skepticism, per se, and certainly not reason and science. His fight is what he perceives as dogma rather than the message itself.
Our political system, education and culture leave a lot of people marginalised, lost, impotent, irrelevant, and made to feel so daily.… Read the rest
If you’ve ever scoffed when someone told you that JFK’s second gunman destroyed the World Trade Center with assistance from reptilian extraterrestrials as part of a plan hatched at Bohemian Grove to corner the gold market before the return of Planet X, you’ve probably found yourself subject to a bevy of indicting catch phrases machine gunned at you so fast your head spun.
To help decode the buzzwords that form the conspiracy theorist lexicon, the Skeptic Project developed a handy glossary. Here are some highlights:
… Read the rest
Awake: the opposite of “asleep.” Essentially, the condition of believing in conspiracy theories and not believing (supposedly) any government or “mainstream media” source. CT’ers employ numerous variations on the “asleep”/”awake” concept, such as “I woke up,” “You’re asleep,” “Why did you go back to sleep?”, “When I was asleep I believed…”, “We’re trying to wake people up!”, “A lot of people are waking up,” etc., etc.