Archive for May 2010
I have just finished watching another excellent episode of Derren Brown investigates that focussed upon a chap called Lou Gentile and his beliefs in ghosts, possesions and demons.
He worked with exorcists and referred to himself and a demonologist and truly believed he had proof that ghosts existed in the form of filmed posessions (more likely to have been pseudoseizures known to be brought on by stress), Electronic voice recordings (more likely to be recognisable as answers or words due to audio pareidolia and a will to believe), and ghost photography that to me appeared to consist of lots of illusions.
It made him seem silly, and it made me want to laugh and a year ago I would have and I would have said he was stupid. However I wouldn’t say such a thing now because in the last year my involvement with the Righteous Indignation podcast has taught me one very important lesson that I will take to the grave with me, and that is that nobody is safe from fallacial thinking and leaps of logic. Nobody.
I came away from watching the episode with three pages of notes I had made that proved to me that in the last five years as a researcher I have developed my ability to think rationally about what I am presented with.
I called the autogain circuit, the pseudoseizures, the priming before it was even mentioned on the show because I’ve allowed myself to open my mind up to the bigger picture of what is actually happening around me, rather than what I would like to be happening around me.
However, in 2005, Hayley Stevens was a very different person who would have taken Lou’s side against Derren. It’s incredible how we, as people, can learn and adapt if we put our minds to it.
It’s difficult though when you have so much invested in your beliefs being right, to just drop them. Which is why when I hear of a pseudoscientific paranormal researcher making really outlandish claims I think about how easy it is for anyone to make leaps of logic because they’re desperate for their beliefs to be validated and I usually don’t mock them (unless they’ve proven themselves to be ignorant.)
Perhaps Lou Gentile was ignorant despite having the facts placed in front of him. Perhaps he was just misguided and hopeful.
I’ve been pretty disgusted to see some comments posted by people I respected as paranormal researchers that are extremely disrespectful of Lou’s position and beliefs.
If we were to take away the fact it was Lou they were talking about and were to place their comments with anyone out there who believes EVP are ghost voices, or that posessions really are demons it crosses the line from being an ethical, respectful investigator to being someone who comes across as having a “holier than thou” attitude.
That’s not an attractive attitude for a skeptic to have. It’s not proactive in any sense and achieves nothing.
Sure, I know I regularly make sarcastic comments on Righteous Indignation about people and the claims that they make, but I’m always willing to see things from their perspective because I’ve been the believer who had nonsense ideas.
We interview some people on the show whose theories and ideas are completely out there but we never mock them for it unless they prove themselves to be truly ignorant because we know that anyone can mess up with their way of thinking rationally at any moment.
We wouldn’t like to be mocked, in fact we’d probably become instantly defensive of the illogical position we took and wouldn’t listen to a word that people who were skeptical of our beliefs said.
So for people I respected as researchers to openly mock Lou for his beliefs despite the fact that at the end of the show it comments that he sadly passed away between filming and broadcasting the show has really made me lose my respect.
Sorry, but if you call yourself skeptical and yet your actions lose you the chance to explain your stance to people who aren’t as rational then you’re doing more damage than good.
Yesterday I was in the town of Trowbridge for an appointment and had an hour between the appointment ending and my mum finishing work.
I decided to hang around for an hour so I could meet her from work and travel home with her and so I decided to go into the towns Waterstones to have a look at the science section.
Somehow I ended up at the spirituality section and and found some of David Icke’s books. I read a few passages and giggling away to myself I recieved some off looks from other customers so I put the book back and carried on browsing.
Naturally I was curious. What answers could it hold? What questions did it answer? What would it’s pages reveal to me?
I snatched it off of the shelf, all wide eyed at the prospect of discovering the meaning to life or the ultimate question or something equally as great. Only… actually, it was nothing of the sort. It was actually just the book form of a Magic 8 ball and the pages each had a phrase on it such as “There will be many obstacles” or “It will be costly”.
It confused me so I had a look at the back and I found the instructions which suprised me because I’ve never had a book before that had instructions on the back. It would be a bit bland, wouldn’t it.
“Start at the other end, open the cover, read.”
Anyway, these are the instructions from the back of the BOOK OF ANSWERS:
“It’s simple to use: just hold it closed in your hands and concentrate on your question for a few seconds. While visualizing or speaking your question, place one palm down on the book’s front and stroke the edge of the pages back to front. When you sense the time is right, open to the page your fingers landed on and there is your answer!”
Naturally I had to give this a try. I thought about what question I could ask it, and then I realised that was a question itself.
So I asked “What question should I ask you?”
I placed my hand on the cover, asked the question, thumbed the pages… My answer was “It will be costly.”
The book was being difficult. ‘Perhaps’ I thought ‘it knows I’m skeptical, or perhaps it’s trying to be like other psychics by fleecing money out of me for information I already knew?’
It will be costly indeed…
I thought back to the job interview I’d had the previous day that I didn’t think had gone very well.
“Will I be successful with the job interview I had yesterday?” I asked it, it responded with “it will be great.”
Which I take to mean yes. So I’m holding the book to that. I’ll hear about the job by the end of next week regardless of whether I have it or not, so we shall see…
Finally, being mindful of the time I had wasted in the bookshop and the fact I had to go and meet my mum at some stage I asked it “What time is it” and it responded “13:30”
No, I’m joking. It didn’t, it actually said “Ask your mother” which was really stupid because she wasn’t there, and I had to go and meet her. I thought perhaps it was being sarcastic and that I was late so I legged it over to where my mum works and I still had half an hour to go.
All messing aside though, I found it rather scary that people might consult a book like this for actual life advice regardless of whether they thought it was psychic or not. If you are that unsure of what decision you are going to make in your life, then it’s best to weigh up the pros and cons, talk to people you know and then make the decision rather than relying on a vague statement in the book that may or may not relate to the question you are looking to answer.
Or, if you really want to rely on vague statements that you can make fit around your question then just buy a cheap magic 8 ball from your local toy shop rather than this book that costs £15. Seriously.
In the end I popped into ASDA to look at their books, and I found Richard Wiseman’s ‘:59 seconds’ for £3.98 and it makes more sense that THE BOOK OF ANSWERS ever could.
For somebody who is unemployed and a bit of a slob things have really begun to get busy lately. What’s with that?!
Firstly, somehow I have helped to revive the ‘Bath skeptical society’ and I have organised the first event for the group which is a ‘Ladies who do skepticism (& coffee!)’ event in the centre of Bath on June 5th. For details check out the Bath Skeptics website.
I spend the whole day yesterday walking around Bath looking at all the lovely, pretty coffee shops that most definitely wouldn’t accommodate a group of skeptics. However I have found a great venue and it’s listen on the website and it’s really cheap (which was at the top of my list of importance, being poor and all…)
So, that’s on the go and myself and the Bath skeptics team are looking to maybe organise a social gathering so watch this space! How fun!
I’ve always been jealous of other people when they talk about going to their skeptics in the pub events because, although I have Bristol which isn’t that far away from me, I can rarely get there because I’m either broke, busy or having an anxiety attack or something. So to suddenly be organising something in Bath, and to have complete strangers telling me they’d be interested is really pleasing.
On June 5th after LWDS I am off to a forest in Wiltshire to be shown how to track big-cats. It’s something I’ve always been fascinated with because as a young child I had a ‘big-cat’ or ‘ABC’ experience in the village I grew up in that effected me for years afterwards.
On June 6th I’m taking part in the Race for life at Bath uni at 11am to raise cash for Cancer Research UK. I’m doing to course on my own this year so if there’s anyone out there who wants somebody to jog with…
Then, on June 8th I will be hopping onto a train (literally hopping) to Nottingham so that I can talk at Nottingham skeptics in the pub.
My talk is called “I’m a ghost hunter; get me out of here’ and it will be my first ever skeptics in the pub talk. I cannot actually wait. The talk is still being edited but it made my mum giggle so it must be good.
My second talk is in Bristol on June 30th which I’m equally looking forwards to because I am friends online with a lot of the Bristol skeptics, a lot of my paranormal friends say they’re going along (no, not ghosts… living people) and if the rumors are true then some of the woo-woo people my talk touches upon may also be in attendance. Scandal!
I’ve also been asked to speak in Newcastle in September, but that had to be confirmed and isn’t for a while so I can relax about that for now.
It’s going to be a busy month, and somewhere in the middle of it I’ll be turning 23. Yikes.
People have been speculating of late that John Travolta and his wife, Kelly, believe that the baby that they are expecting is the reincarnation of their recently deceased teenage son, Jett.
Whilst many find this silly and point out how stupid the couple are being I cannot help but find it extremely sad. It’s an example of the damage that a mind washed completely with a ‘religion’ can do to the way you view the world around you, and life itself.
Jett was taken off of his anti-seizure drugs because scientology doesn’t believe in mental illness. They believe it is psychosomatic and can be cured with long spells in a sauna and high doses of Vitamin B and vegetable oils which, the sect claims, can dislodge toxins trapped in the body’s fatty tissues.
Many of us will see this for the dangerous pseudoscience that it is and we saw the outcome of this belief when Jett tragically dieafter a seizure whilst his family were on holiday.
We should remember that Hubbard, the founder of scientology was a science-fiction writer, not a doctor.
Scientologists believe t human bodies are simply empty vessels for the wandering souls of aliens, called Thetans.
Scientologists theorise that a dearly missed child can be reincarnated in the form of your next offspring. According to some news sources, this is precisely what Preston in particular believes.
Obviously there is no proof that reincarnation happens, or even that the human soul exists, or that the body is a vessel for alien spirits. All of it is specualtion (some weirder and wilder that the rest!)
However, it’s not the psuedoscience that made me want to blog about this, it’s the tragic undertone here that I think some people miss. I don’t find it annoying or silly or hilarious or stupid. I find it extremely sad, and I feel fortunate that I don’t have a religion overriding the way I view and control my life and the lives of people around me.
Recently I helped to co-ordinate an event at the reputedly haunted Llandoger Trow public house in Bristol as part of ‘Weird events.’
We had guests with us at the location and one of them had a digital dictaphone recording the evening. He send me this file on which he claims there is a voice saying “Hello Hayley” after I say “Hello Max, is it you?”
Max is supposedly the name of the ghost and I was asking out on the off chance that something would happen after some of the group claimed to hear an odd noise.
Now, personally I don’t believe this to be paranormal in nature. When the guy in question handed me the disc he had put the audio onto he instantly said “something says hello Hayley in response to you” and that was instantly in my mind when I listened to the audio when got home later that day.
It does indeed sound as though something is responding to me. However, if I were to suggest to you that “it” was saying “maybe” rather than Hayley I expect that would fit too. What do you think?
So it’s ‘everybody draw Mohammed day’ and people are drawing the Prophet Mohammed to protest for people who have been silenced for doing so in the past – including of course, the creators of South park who in the end had to put him inside a bear costume. Not to mention the countless other artists and cartoonists who have been attacked or threatened because they have drawn Mohammed.
It is oppressing everyones freedom of expression which is a bad thing that I in no way support. However, after initially accepting the invite to take part in the event on facebook I had second thoughts on the matter.
See, I have friends who are muslim and who don’t oppose my freedom of expression and therefor my free choice has been to not draw the prophet mohammed. Not because I condone the oppresion of peoples free choice or support religious intolerance of others. I don’t.
However, I don’t want to run the risk of offending and upsetting people I care for. I’m sure that they wouldn’t confront me about it and they’d keep it to themselves because that’s how nice they are which was the driving force behind my decision.
However, I had to get involved with the fun somehow and so below is my contribution. Enjoy.
However, I will just point out that if you want to see a picture of the Prothet then all you need to do is a quick google search in google images and there are loads of paintings and pictures of him.
I logged onto facebook this morning to find several of my friends has this little gem as their status:
POLICE R GOING AROUND PUBS & CLUBS SAYINGTHAT WE CANT WEAR OUR ENGLAND TOPS 4 THE FOOTIE & GOTTA TAKE THEFLAGS DOWN AS IT IS UPSETTING THE PPL THAT DONT COME FROM HERE!! NOW IM NOT RACIST, BUT THIS IS TAKING THE PISS! THIS IS OUR COUNTRY & WE NEED 2 MAKE A STAND IF U/THEY DONT LIKE IT GO AWAY! WOULD U REMOVE UR TURBAN & BURKHA BECAUSE IT UPSETS ME, IF U AGREE POST THIS AS UR STATUS
How can you tell when you might be about to say something racist? When you start your sentence with “I’m not racist, but…”
I didn’t accidentally hit caps lock, and I’m not making this up and it’s not the first I have heard of this ban on showing support for England during the upcoming world cup because late last week my brother came home from college and mentioned how he had been told about this. I called it bullshit when he told me and explained how it could simply be someone, somewhere trying to stir up racial tensions.
I was pretty surprised though to see some of my friends demanding that if they have to remove their England shirts and flags then Muslims everywhere should remove their turbans and burkha too. I can’t help but wonder if these people have thought about what they are saying and suggesting and I’m pretty shocked and dismayed that people I call my friends feel it is okay to respond to possible racism in the form of “no flags, no shirts” with their own racism.
My mum taught me from an early age that ‘two wrongs don’t don’t make a right’ and it’s one of those cheesy little sayings that I have carried with me throughout my entire life and always will because it is so glaringly obviously right.
Upon hearing of this ban I wondered if it could be true, and if it was why I hadn’t heard about it through the media. Being English I will be supporting England with everyone else when the World cup starts. I even recently helped find out the St Georges cross flags that we hang up for the world cup each time it comes around.
However, I had my doubts about this supposed ban due to offended immigrants and so I did a bit of digging on this story that shirts and flags are going to be banned because they offend immigrants to the UK and all I could find was this:
LONDON – England shirts could be banned at pubs screening live World Cup matches.
Killjoy British cops have urged landlords to bar anyone wearing a Three Lions top, as they want to avoid a repeat of the violence that has marred previous events, particularly if England lose, The Sun reports.
“We often hear of a loss of pride in Britain, now cops want to ban the England shirt. It’s like saying anyone who wears one is a yob,” said a fan.
The advice comes in a letter from the Metropolitan Police to pubs in Croydon, South London. Among World Cup guidance, it suggests “dress code restrictions – example no football shirts”. It also urges using plastic glasses and door staff.
Pubs are not obliged to follow the advice, but it warns: “Police will not hesitate to use powers under the Licensing Act should we find you are not actively supporting the prevention of crime.” (ANI)
This was from ‘The Sun’ and somehow, from being about violence that we KNOW is a problem this whole story had been twisted to be about cultural differences. Again.
I get sick and tired of people demanding people conform to “the Brisitsh way” because I am 100% British and I certainly don’t live by that principle because I like this diverse country.
To demand that turbans and burkha be removed is actually just childish and bit biggoted. Especially when you consider that not all immigrants wear turbans and burkhas. What an ignorant stance to take on immigration. A person only wears a turban or burkha when their religion demands it (which is terribly oppressive and something I don’t like) or if they choose to do so and it really annoys me that people have just jumped on the racism bandwaggon with this rather than taking two minutes to do a bit of digging.
What a shame.