Saturday, December 27, 2008

DRUNKEN DOWSING


Well, I found myself at yet another party, with too much wine in me. There I was with five others arguing about the paranormal. As is generally the case, I alone was defending Science and Skepticism against assaults from all sides. I wasn’t doing very well. My losses were completely due to the amount of alcohol that I had consumed and in no way related to my position, which I assure you was rock solid. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Although the next morning I woke up with a terrible headache and my socks were missing.
Sensing vulnerability, one of my friends decided to attack on another front by reminding me that he is an accomplished dowser. They all know exactly where my buttons are and have no qualms in pushing them liberally.
The long and short of it is I have a challenge. I must come up with an experiment to test my friend’s abilities. I will try to document this experiment and keep you posted as to how it is progressing. The following is the first email exchange:

(ME)So I’ve been thinking about our dowsing experiment. I need to ask you some questions to help me come up with a protocol we can both agree on. Can I email you? This is going to be fun. I’m going to make believe I’m a scientist. Maybe I’ll buy a lab coat.

(DOWSER – LETS CALL HIM TOM)
Any time, any place, dude! Email me, or call. You can dress like a scientist, I'll dress like a guinea pig!

To be continued.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

MESSAGES FROM WATER


Last week at a party a friend of mine started talking about the experiments of Masaru Emoto. The following is an entry from Wikipedia:

Masaru Emoto , is a Japanese author known for his controversial claim that if human speech or thoughts are directed at water droplets before they are frozen, images of the resulting water crystals will be beautiful or ugly depending upon whether the words or thoughts were positive or negative. Emoto claims this can be achieved through prayer, music or by attaching written words to a container of water.

Two things came to mind when I heard this claim. Don’t you think it is an amazing coincidence that nice thoughts produced white orderly crystals, while angry thoughts produced black splotchy disorderly crystals? I understand that the bad guys are supposed to wear black hats and the good guys are supposed to wear white, but, come on. What are the chances that a chemical reaction would somehow correlate to old Hollywood western stereotypes? Couldn’t it have been just as likely for the crystals in the nice water to be disorderly or green in color, or shaped like ovals or spikes? Why were the angry water crystals black? Why not silver or gold? Why weren’t the bad water crystals blue diamonds, or yellow stars or green clovers? The mathematical chances that these results would correlate with some preconceived notions of what is “beautiful” has to be astronomical.
The second thing about memory water that bothered me is its implications outside of science. I am one of those strange combinations - skeptic and artist. If this “research” is correct, it would not only turn the world of physics on its head, it would do the same for the world of aesthetics.
I understand that the next statement is an argument from consequence but I’ll proceed anyway. There has always been a question in the art community as to whether beauty was really in the eye of the beholder. Is it truly all a matter of taste or lack thereof? Or do particular works of art possess an inherent beauty completely independent of the person viewing them? It seems Dr. Emoto has cleared this up for us. Since crystals that are black, uneven and misshapen are connected to “ugly thoughts” and white orderly crystals are the result of “Nice thoughts” then the implication is clear. Nature itself has made up its mind as to what constitutes good art and what constitutes bad art. If you take this idea to its logical conclusion (twisted uneven black things are connected to “bad” and straight orderly white things are connected to “good”) then beautiful paintings are the ones with the most order and the most white pigment. So I say out with all those Salvador Dali paintings, with their twisted images and dark landscapes. We should throw away all our Norman Rockwell’s with their splotchy, oddly proportioned teenagers and children with dirty faces. And don’t get me started on Jackson Pollock. Give me a painting of a white puppy dog, (purebred only of course), on a white background, facing forward and positioned evenly in the exact center of the canvas. Now that’s “nice” art.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Laissez-faire Pigs


Recently I heard a political pundit on the radio comparing George Bush to Harry Truman. He was saying that although Bush’s ratings are low (as were Truman’s when he left office) history will show what a great president he was. It made me think of something I wrote a while back. This is old but I thought I would post it anyway just in case there are still one or two of you out there who still support George W. The first section is an email that was floating around in 2007. The second half is my response.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
email-
One day while the class was in the lab the Prof noticed one young man (exchange student) who kept rubbing his back And stretching as if his back hurt.
The professor asked the young man what was the matter. The student told him he had a bullet lodged in his back. He had been shot while fighting communists in his native country who were trying to overthrow his country's government and install a new communist government. In the midst of his story he looked at the professor and asked a strange question. He asked,'Do you know how to catch wild pigs?' The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line. The young man said this was no joke. 'You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come everyday to eat the free corn. When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place where they are used to coming. When they get used to the fence, they begin to eat the corn again and you put up another side of the fence. They get used to that and start to eat again. You continue until you have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in the last side. The pigs, who are used to the free corn, start to come through the gate to eat, you slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd. Suddenly, the wild pigs have lost their freedom. They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught. Soon they go back to eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how to forage in the woods for themselves, so they accept their captivity. The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening to America. The government keeps pushing us toward Communism/Socialism and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of programs such as supplemental income, tax credit for unearned income, subsidies, payments not to plant crops (CRP), welfare, medicine, drugs, etc. while we continually lose our freedoms- just a little at a time. One should always remember 'There is no such thing as a free Lunch!' Also, 'You can never hire someone to provide a service for you cheaper than you can do it yourself. Also, if you see that all of this wonderful government 'help' is a problem confronting the future of democracy in America, you might want to send this on to your friends. If you think the free ride is essential to your way of life then you will probably delete this email, but God help you when the gate slams shut!
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

my responce-
That’s a nice story but people are not pigs. Whether truly needy or merely lazy, the truth is while there will always be people feeding off the trough of public assistance it is also true that there will always be people who strive for much more, and will stay clear of any fences.

Believe me I get it. Laissez-faire capitalism in its purist form is the only hope for the world. We’ve all read “Animal Farm.” Even one single socially progressive policy is sure to doom all of humanity to universal enslavement for all of eternity. Since we’re talking in absolutes, with no room for compromise of ideas, why don’t we dust off our old copies of “1984,” and thumb through those for a minute.

While this guy wastes his time writing about something that “might” happen to some imaginary pigs in an imaginary land Human rights are being taken away for real right now.

In January of this year in a signing statement attached to a postal reform bill, Bush asserted his power to read Americans mail without a warrant.

The president has admitted to the existence of secret CIA prisons around the world. Through a process called “rendition,” The CIA has taken to kidnapping Canadians and Germans from their own countries and flying them to places with lax rules on torture such as Jordan and Syria for “interrogation.”

This year Internal FBI documents disclose 113 cases in which the agency violated federal law during investigations from 2002 to 2004 including extending investigations for months without approval and gaining banking record illegally.
For the last few years a republican congress allowed the National Security Administration to secretly wiretap phones and emails of Americans, and to compile records of which web sites ordinary people visited, all without court orders.
Last year that same Republican congress passed a law, doing away with habeas corpus (the right of trial) for foreigners detained by the United States as suspected terrorists. Just this week when the democrats tried to repeal that same law the republicans in congress blocked it from even coming up for a vote.
Less you feel it’s OK to take that right away from foreigners as long as they are not Americans, may I remind you that our founding fathers said “all men …are endowed with certain inalienable Rights. ” not just some men.
But I don’t hear you freaking out about any of that… and that’s real.
The fact that we put up with this kind of policy is a direct product of the type of fear mongering that “absolutes” create - whether it’s on the right or the left. The world is not going to collapse just because we give a single mother, who just got laid off, a few bucks until she find another job.
Ideals are great and we all hate the commies but don’t use that as an excuse to close your eyes to what’s really going on today. This guy has to wake up from the 1950’s.

WE NEED A GOOD BUMPER STICKER


Orlando, Florida has a lot of traffic. I know, I sit in it every day. The other evening during my drive home I found myself sitting in a bunch of it when a car jumped in front of mine causing me to slam on my breaks. Having gotten a good look at the rear of this particular vehicle, I couldn’t help but notice it had a little metal emblem on it that was shaped like a fish, kind of. Now living in the South I see a lot of little fishes. They’re swimming everywhere: On cars of course, but also on billboards for attorneys, on the bill from my dentist, and even scribbled on walls, in the restroom stall of my favorite bar. I guess you can be struck in the spirit anywhere. I usually don't think any more about these symbols and their owners other then, “Well, there goes another one to the dark side.” This time though the sight of the little fish disturbed me greatly, because, this little fish had little feet growing out of its belly. In addition, it had the word "Darwin" written in its center.
Normally seeing the “Darwin fish” would cheer me up. You don't see a lot of that particular species in the South. But, this time it didn’t help my mood one bit. There I was stewing in traffic with at least another forty minutes of staring at the back of the car that cut me off. And that little, chrome plated fish was starting to really piss me off.
You see I’m a designer for the entertainment industry, and as is my habit I began to look at that little "Darwin" plaque in terms of design. Not in terms of the ideas it represented but as a graphic logo to sell a brand. In those terms, I have to tell you, it’s got problems. First, it’s clumsy. It has none of the elegance of the Christian fish. Think about it for a second. The Christian fish is two simple overlapping curves. It has no writing, like the Catholic Cross, or the Star of David. None is needed. Everyone knows what it symbolizes. The Darwin thing, on the other hand, you have to write the word Darwin to let everyone know where you stand. And still that doesn’t help. What is that shape? It's not a fish - obviously. It has feet. Is it a silhouette of Darwin? Was he a short fat guy with big lips? Is it a mud hopper? Is it an African lungfish? That sounds even worse.
I can see it now at the Annual Meeting for Atheist World Domination. "Does anyone have any ideas for a mascot? Something everyone can identify with? Something cuddly…"
"How 'bout a mud hopper! "
Yeah, that’ll get a lot of recruits.
If I were to order one of those fish things over the phone, would I say "Could you send me a metallic fleck Darwin in a lungfish, please?" Frankly, when it arrived, I would be scared to look in the box.
But, boy is that Christian fish slick. You can see it gliding through the water, whipping past logic, reason not able to pin it down. When you think you got him caught with some argument about evil, the silver fish would just say something like “it’s a mystery,” and wiggle out of your hands.
You can imagine the Darwin fish on the other hand shuffling along like it's wearing galoshes (it has to in order to get through all that thick mud), speaking in a low sad voice like Eor from the Whinny the Pooh cartoons. "Hello children I'm lunggy the mud hopper, here to teach you about evolution." Talk about the universal symbol for uncool.
I like to think that Humanists are not into symbols. We are into ideas. Symbols just get in the way. It's like those people who want a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. They are more interested in protecting the symbol for freedom of speech rather then the actual freedom itself. I like to think humanists are a little smarter then that. Unfortunately it's probably more like no humanist has ponied up enough money to pay a slick advertising agency to come up with something cool.
It's the same with bumper stickers. You always see the ones that say "BORN AGAIN." I personally like the bumper stickers that are the response to that, "BORN RIGHT THE FIRST TIME"
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, "WHAT IF THEY’RE RIGHT?" It refers to the wager posed by Blause Pascal in the 17th century. The idea is that you should look at your faith in terms of a simple wager, like being in Vegas. If you believe in God and are wrong you loss nothing. On the other hand if you deny the existence of God and are wrong you lose your soul and are damned too Hell for all eternity. So, since it doesn’t cost you anything, the smart thing to do, according to Pascal is to put your chips down on God.
Now, there are many responses to this gambling argument. Would God let me into heaven when he finds out that the only reason that I believed in him was to escape punishment, not because I thought it was “the truth” but merely to hedge my bet? Which “God” should I believe in, anyway? Should I bet on the Hebrew God, Islam’s Muhammad, Hindu’s Sheeba? What if I bet on the wrong one? Can I believe in more then one God, or is that like splitting Aces. Can I double down? And if faith is like Vegas, when I go to church do I get free drinks?
The retorts to Pascal’s bumper stick wager are many. The one I am particularly fond of goes like this: WHAT IF THEY’RE WRONG? What if there is no afterlife? What if this is all we get, one life time, roughly eighty years. Then doesn't that constitute our eternity? So then, what if we are right. Are you willing to gamble your eternity, all you get (a mere 80 years which makes it all the more precious and valuable), in a sense, throw away that eternity - by giving your time and money to unworthy preachers. Waste your entire eternity waiting around for a god that will never come to maybe give you a better life. Instead, why not take matters into your own hands and fulfill your own destiny. Spend your eternity (as brief as it is) wisely, by being the best person you can, by learning, by teaching, by helping others and by doing the things you want to do. Aren't religious people gambling their eternity as much as we are. At least I’m gambling on something I know exists, now. It’s like a bird, I have, in my hand, right at this moment. That can’t even be considered gabling, can it? That’s like going into the convenience store for a newspaper and not dropping twenty bucks on lottery tickets. Are you telling me that by not buying the lottery ticket, I’m gambling? Because, I have a miniscule chance of winning a million bucks but chose instead to invest my money in government secure bonds, I’m a reckless gambler? Well then I guess you can say I drink too much, too. Oh waited. I do drink too much, but that’s a different subject.
The point is, try to put that big long rant on a bumper sticker. It would cover the whole back of your car. The writing would be to small and people would have to follow you around the entire day trying to read it. The most I could shorten the above paragraph to is this: "ETERNITY SHMERNITY." It doesn’t roll of the lips, does it? You see, you can't do it in two or three words.
And maybe that's the point. Maybe that’s the beauty of Humanist ideas. They aren't simple. Maybe the fact that they can't be summed up in a witty bumper sticker or slick symbol is a good thing. It means we can't just say them. We can't just blurt out our ideas as an automatic response to any challenge. We have to understand what we're saying. We have to think about what we’re saying, even if it is just a little more then most people. Still, we have to think. And isn’t that what’s truly beautiful?
So sitting in my car that’s what I was doing, thinking about all of that, (did I mention I have a long commute) until finally my exit appeared. Maybe the guy in front of me thinks about all that stuff a little more then most people also. That's good. Couldn't tell by the way he drives. Even so, my anger subsided a little. Then taking my attention off of the horrible Darwin fish thingy I noticed for the first time, the bumper sticker right next to it. “The driver in front of me can't be all bad” I thought to myself. The bumper stick was that of a cartoon character called “Mister Natural” mid step in his familiar laid back walk. If only we Humanists had a symbol like R Crumb’s " Keep On Trucking" guy. Now that's Cool!