Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saturday shorts

Here at Worldwide Wacko Watch, we're following a few breaking stories that you might be interested in.

First, the BBC reports (here) that the government of Sweden has recognized a new religion.  It is called "the Church of Kopimism," and was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student Isak Gerson.  Its central tenet is that the holiest of holy rituals is...

... file sharing.

Yup.  They believe that ctrl-C and ctrl-V are sacred symbols, and using them is akin to a religious ritual. 

"For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament," Gerson said in a statement.  "Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members.  Being recognised by the state of Sweden is a large step for all of Kopimi.  Hopefully this is one step towards the day when we can live out our faith without fear of persecution."

Um, okay.  Like we can't see where this one is going:

Investigator:  "You're under arrest for illegally making and selling ten thousand pirated copies of Skyrim, netting $200,000 in the process."

Suspect:  "But, sir, I'm a card-carrying member of the Church of Kopimism."

Investigator:  (in a disappointed voice)  "Oh.  Okay, then.  Have a nice day."

Of course, given how rich some of the head honchos of other religions have become from their nutty beliefs, it's hard to see what the actual difference is.

Next, the show Finding Bigfoot has once again given us skeptics a chance for a good belly laugh with this clip, in which we see three apparently entirely serious people attempting to imitate what Bigfoot sounds like.  We have a guy imitating the "high-pitched scream" that Sasquatches make, which in his version sounds like he was goosed in the ass with a pointy stick.  Then a guy who appears to be wearing a raccoon cap does a few of what he calls "Squatch grunts" and a siren call.

But the funniest moment is when the first guy does an imitation of what Sasquatch language sounds like.  I can't possibly reproduce this in print, but all I can say is, if you can watch this bit of the clip without wetting your pants, you've got a Bladder of Steel.  Especially given that afterwards, Raccoon Cap Guy says, in complete seriousness, "Naw.  It sounds better than that."

Speaking of unintelligible communications, next we have a story about scientists at UC-Berkeley who are trying to decipher some radio signals that might be of alien provenance. 

Apparently, some signals picked up by a radio telescope being used by SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Life) made astronomers' ears perk up.  "These signals look similar to what we think might be produced from an extraterrestrial technology," researchers wrote on the project's website Friday.  "They are narrow in frequency, much narrower than would be produced by any known astrophysical phenomena, and they drift in frequency with time, as we would expect because of the Doppler effect imposed by the relative motion of the transmitter and the receiving radio telescope."

Of course, this doesn't mean that they are extraterrestrial in origin, and fortunately, they're all being very careful to make sure that the public understands that.  Seth Shostak, an astronomer who has been associated for years with SETI, responded to the announcement with his typical caution, stating that it is all too likely that the signal is a transmission that originated on Earth.  "They're definitely picking up an intelligent species, but one that's likely well known to us -- ourselves," Shostak told reporters.  "This is very common. It would require quite a bit of follow-up to determine whether it's E.T. or just AT&T."

Last, we have news in from scientists at Central European University in Hungary that in terms of cognition, dogs are about as smart as your average six-month-old.  In particular, their ability to understand "intent to communicate" was about as highly developed as an infant's.  This was determined by an experiment in which a researcher took sixteen dogs, and tried to get them to look at a container that had food in it.  In the first trial, she said, "Hi, dog," in a low voice, without making eye contact, and then looked at the food container.  In the second, she said, "Hi, dog!" in a high-pitched voice, made eye contact, and then looked at the food container.  The result, she said, was that in the second trial, the dogs spent more time looking at the food container, as if they understood that she was trying to communicate something -- while in the first, they didn't get it because there seemed to be no "intent to communicate."

I'm doubtful, frankly.  If they'd used my dogs, I can tell you that they would have spent the entire time looking at the food container no matter what the researcher did.  My dogs spend a lot of time staring at containers of food, because they are apparently convinced that if they just look at it long enough, it will magically pop open and spill food all over the floor.  They also attempt this kind of canine telekinesis at dinner time, when they seem to be trying to will my t-bone steak to slide off the plate and into their waiting jaws.  Why they keep trying this, when it never works, is beyond me.  But at least it keeps them occupied.

So, that's our news for today.  The Church of File-Sharing, Bigfoot noises, alien radio signals, and communicating with your dog.  We tirelessly scour the world's news for the latest oddball developments, so you can have these stories delivered to your doorstep.  No thanks are necessary, but if you have an extra copy of Skyrim handy, just pop it in the mail, because we'd really like to give it a try.

1 comment:

  1. As far as dogs are concerned, they have a trait which is unique among all other animals. Dogs have evolved to be the one animal on this planet that not only wants to look into a human's face, but can also tell by our expressions what emotion we are conveying. They are also one of the only animals that understands what we're doing when we point at something or gesture. The next time your dog sits and stares at you and you make a facial gesture (raising your eyebrows, smiling, etc) watch their reaction.
    Our descendants, the ever-intelligent primate, has no interest in making eye contact with humans, isn't interested in our facial expressions, and has even less interest or understanding in our gestures.
    Dogs are man's best friend because they have evolved to be just that. Symbiosis.
    My dog looks at me and I look at her, then I motion to the right with my eyes and she goes where I was looking. We take for granted just how much of an evolved interaction that is.

    Also, scientists have essentially proven that dog "tameness" is a product of nature, not nurture. The Russians have been doing a selective breeding program for decades now, where they pick only the most docile %1 of silver foxes and breed them, and after a few generations of this, they are pet-ready. The other 99% of these foxes would rather eat your face than be pet by you.

    DNA is such an interesting thing. It is essentially responsible for not only their mental disposition, but also their desire and ability to interact with us.
    I can only fathom, with how dynamic dog DNA is, how much they will evolve, in line with our own rapid evolution. I don't find it absurd to think that 1,000 years from now, you'll be able to have something akin to a simple conversation with your dog.