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.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Cosmic Glass Pyramids of Doom

In yet another example of a fact-free, zero-evidence claim spinning its way around the internet, we now have a story about giant glass pyramids being discovered on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.  (Source)

These "strange underwater structures... 200 meters high, made of a crystal-like substance" were allegedly discovered from sonar surveying done by a "Dr. Verlag Meyer."  This sent up a red flag immediately, because "Verlag" isn't a first name, it's a German word meaning "publishing house."  But sometimes people have weird names, so I decided to do a quick look, and I could find no scientist named "Verlag Meyer," much less one with any credible links to oceanographic research.  "Dr. Verlag Meyer" seems to be as unreal as the glass pyramids he allegedly discovered.

That hasn't stopped the claim from circulating, of course.  What I find most annoying, however, is the way the sources on this topic pretend that there is all sorts of buzz going on in scientific circles about this non-story:
There are several Western scholars who argue that the pyramid on the seabed may have been initially made on the mainland, after which a devastating earthquake struck and changed the landscape completely. Other scientists argue that a few hundred years ago the waters of the Bermuda Triangle area may have as one of the cornerstone activities of the people of Atlantis, and Pyramids on the sea floor may be a supply warehouse for them. Perhaps it is related to the underwater race of humanoids discovered in Washington State in 2004 - the so called "aquatic ape" beings?
Oh, yeah, all the scientists I know spend their time researching Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, and "aquatic ape beings."

And a complete lack of evidence never seems to bother these people.  They're content to blather on as if what they were talking about actually made sense:
There is also a suspicion that the Bermuda triangle and the area where this pyramid was supposedly located may be some sort of "holy grounds" that is being protected by the fabled Atlanteans - that whatever crosses over the location is considered an offering... Others hypothesize that the pyramid can attract and collect cosmic rays, from the so called "energy field" or "quantum vacuum"  and that this may have been used as an Atlantean power plant (or whoever was around at the time). With the mystery still surrounding the Egyptian pyramids and the fact that the pyramidal structures seems to be found in almost all ancient cultures - its going to be hard to tell for certain the origin of this structure or if it truly exists (we haven't been down there yet so...).
Reading this made me shout at my computer, "Do you even understand what a cosmic ray is, you nimrod?"  My computer didn't answer, which I'm taking as a "no."  They have no more understanding of cosmic rays than did the writers of the amazingly abysmal 1960s science fiction show Lost In Space, who appended the word "cosmic" to things to make them seem, well, cosmic.  Like when the wind would blow, knocking over styrofoam rocks and spray-painted cardboard models of scientific apparatus, and Will and Dr. Smith and The Robot would run around waving their arms wildly and yelling, "It's a cosmic storm!  We have to take cover!"  But it never worked, because in the midst of the cosmic storm there would be a cosmic noise ("bwooooyoyoyoyoyoy") and an alien would always appear out of nowhere.  These aliens included a pirate with an electronic parrot, a motorcycle gang, some space hillbillies, a group of alien teenage hippies, and in one extremely memorable episode, Brunhilde (complete with a horned helmet and a cosmic horse).

But I digress.

The pièce de resistance of the glass pyramids article, of course, has to be the illustrations, such as the following:


  Nowhere does it say that these illustrations are "artist's renditions," so a less-than-careful reader might be led to the conclusion that this was an actual underwater photograph of a crystal pyramid.  Of course, a later illustration might give a critical clue to unwary readers that they weren't looking at photographs:


I rather like this one, although the inevitable question of "where is the water going?" does come to mind.  But given that another woo-woo claim is that the Earth is hollow, I'd guess they'd have a ready answer for that one, too.

So, that's our dip in the deep end of the pool for today.  And just to reiterate: there is no credible evidence whatsoever that there are pyramids of any kind, much less glass ones, on the floor of the Atlantic.  Pyramids don't concentrate Cosmic Quantum Vacuum Vibration Frequencies, either, despite what you might have read from such luminaries of the scientific world as Richard C. Hoagland, who also (as you may remember) thinks there are crop circles on Saturn.  I'd like to think that this will put an end to the discussion, and also to people forwarding this around the Internet, although that might be a forlorn hope given that the source article I looked at had been linked, forwarded, and Facebook-liked a total of close to 10,000 times as of the point I found it.  So my feeble efforts are probably going to be as ineffectual as if the cruise ship captain in the above Scientific Photograph shouted "Reverse Engines!"

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Greetings from the Galactic Federation

While rooting around for a topic for today's post, I checked out one of my favorite woo-woo sites, AboveTopSecret.  One of the headline posts said, "Is the Galactic Federation Real?"  I clicked the link, and it turned out not to be an article, as I'd hoped, but to be a post from a member of the site, and simply reiterated the question in the title of the post.

So I went to the "responses" section.  The first two responses were, and I quote:

"Short answer: No."

"Long answer:  NOOOOOOOOOOO."

So I thought: "Wow, this topic is too wacky even for the readers of AboveTopSecret.  This has got to be good."  So first, I continued to scroll down the responses, and I found that most of them were scornful, and a few said that because this topic had been discussed ad nauseam before, the thread would likely be removed by moderators.  Then someone said, "Of course it will  be removed.  They don't want you to know the truth."  *cue sinister laughter*

At that point, I decided I had to check this out.  So I found the site Galactic Federation of Light.  (Please be forewarned that this site is very slow to load, and in fact resulted in my having to restart my browser twice -- perhaps because the Galactic Federation Overlords were aware that I was accessing their site in order to poke fun at them.)  Be that as it may, this site explains everything you might want to know about the Galactic Federation.

Okay, that's only a true statement if by "explain" you mean "make stuff up."  The site is largely composed of a series of dated posts, each stating who said it and some including which Galactic Federation Master (s)he was channeling at the time.  Here is a sampling:
Your planet is literally surrounded with craft from all corners of the universe as all beings vie for ringside seats to the greatest show in the galaxy. Your world has long been highly regarded as one of the finest spiritual schools in the universe and entry into this University has been highly sought after. Now, you are on the precipice of a school-wide graduation, and you are center stage for the family that has come from all parts of the universe to attend the graduation ceremonies.  (Galactic Federation through Wanderer From The Skies, July 14, 2011)
All I can say is, I hope the speeches are better than the ones at most of the graduation ceremonies I've been to.  And if someone decides to read the names of all seven billion graduates, I'm leaving.
The next three or four months are destined to be eye opening, and you will know for sure that the big changes are on the way. After all the year speeds by and before you know it, it will be the magical year of 2012. So get ready to button up your safety belts and enjoy the ride. It can be seen as good or bad as you want it to be, so see the goal that is being aimed for and not the manner in which it is to be reached. All you need know is that it results in all you have been promised. It will be an unbelievable time with one surprise after another, and celebrations will be taking place.

I am SaLuSa from Sirius, and tell you that our ships are gathering for the grand announcement that will allow us to land on your Earth by invitation.  (SaLuSa / through Mike Quinsey, 20th July 2011)
Well, given that this was posted last summer, and I don't remember Autumn 2011 as being all that eye-opening, I guess SaLuSa from Sirius might have gotten his wires crossed somehow.

Since the posts were in chronological order, I decided that like the Brothers of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, I needed to skip a bit, so I scrolled down to more current posts.  From April of 2012 I found the following:
Dratzo! We return! The great shift that your world is undergoing was first predicted by the Ancients over 13,000 years ago. It is part of what they called 'the great galactic year.' Heaven is to honor this time by establishing a great Light, which will wash away the dark and all its minions. We were asked, over 20 of your years ago, to come here and be ready at an appointed time to carry out a mass landing of our personnel on your precious shores. And so we came, and then saw that Heaven's dates for this undertaking were somewhat unclear. So we adapted, and proceeded to use these moments to get to know you better. Since our arrival here, we have become part of a sacred movement to prepare Gaia's surface humans for the requirements of the divine decrees for this planet. One of them specifies the need to resolve the issue of the dark minions' labyrinth of control on your planet through sacred cleansing. In the main this will start with a formal, immense change in the way your societies operate and in the way you perceive the nature of your reality.  (Washta, Sirius Star-Nation, Galactic Federation of Light & Ascended Masters, 17th April 2012)
"Dratzo?"  Is this some kind of greeting from Sirius, or something?  I think we should all begin to greet each other in this fashion from now on, so that "Washta" and his buddies feel at home when they arrive.

"Washta" had a further missive that he delivered last Tuesday:

Dratzo! We return! We have been informed that several major banks worldwide are nearly ready to transfer ownership and management. This is part of the massive shift of financial power out of the hands of the dark into those of the Light, and is the result of recent maneuvers by the Ascended Masters.

Furthermore, the time has come to consolidate the funds that were first posited by Saint Germaine in the early 18th century, and by Quan Yin in the 7th century. These large reserves of gold and silver are the basis for shifting wealth on your world away from a select few over to those who are fully committed to the creation of universal prosperity for the planet. Accompanying this transfer is the new banking system which will be completely transparent in its varied transactions. The new banking is rooted in the unprecedented injunction that banks be the divine instruments of the Light. They are to be used to manage various corporations (special partnerships) charged with specific and temporary mandates: to distribute technologies and related services to benefit the health and well being of your global populations.  (Washta, Sirius Star-Nation, Galactic Federation of Light & Ascended Masters, 24th April 2012)
Well, that sounds hopeful enough.  I wouldn't mind it if the banks started being more concerned with the health and well-being of global populations, not to mention getting my share of the universal property.  But at this point, I stopped reading, because I was afraid my browser would crash again, and also because my prefrontal cortex was beginning to make alarming little whimpering noises.

What strikes me about this is that the people who believe this stuff (and there seem to be quite a few, judging from the posts and the comments that followed) go way beyond wishful thinking into that more rarefied air of delusion.  I mean, it'd be nice if there were some Galactic Good Guys who were ready to Storm The Beaches and reorganize world governments so that they Played Nice, but there's just this teensy little problem, which is that there's no evidence whatsoever that any of it is true.  And this brings up a troubling question, to wit:  what is it that makes someone swallow something like this?  I mean, beyond the rather sad answer that the person in question is mentally ill.  And I just can't believe that mental illness accounts for all of the believers in conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, cults, superstitions... and Galactic Federations.

I actually know people who are seemingly quite rational, who hold down jobs and raise families and interact socially, and yet who have some pretty bizarre beliefs on a single topic -- astrology, homeopathy, HAARP, the Illuminati, psychic contact with animals.  What in the human brain can become so unhinged, in an otherwise intact mind, that a person loses the ability in that instance (and that instance only) to decide if something is real, has supporting evidence, makes sense?

I don't know the answer, but I do think the whole thing is a little scary.  So I'll end on that note.  Well, I do have one more thing to say:  Dratzo!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Walking on sunshine

At what point, when someone believes something that is counterfactual, unscientific, and (to put not too fine a point on it) ridiculous, does it become the person's fault for not knowing better?

We live in a culture which, to a large extent, has an expectation that people should be protected from the effects of their own stupidity.  This extends to the availability of insurance, and claims for government aid, when people build their houses in areas that are known to be targets for natural disasters.  When a five million dollar house is built onto a canyon wall in earthquake-prone, mudslide-prone, wildfire-prone California, and it (to borrow a phrase) burns down, falls over, and sinks into the swamp, and the owner acts all mystified that it happened, how sympathetic should we be?

This question isn't just relevant to matters of property loss; it also is appropriate to ask in a great many issues of personal safety.  Take motorcycle helmet laws.  Take smoking cigarettes.  Who, at this point, doesn't know the dangers of these behaviors?  At some point, it is not the government's responsibility to prevent us from doing stupid stuff; it is ours.

The matter becomes a little fuzzier with medical issues, because (1) people are trained from birth to listen to white-coat-wearing individuals with stethoscopes, (2) there's a huge profit motive to the whole quack-cures industry, inducing charlatans to spend a lot more time and effort pushing their claims, and (3) human physiology is a great deal more complicated than "if you ride a motorcycle without a helmet, and get in an accident, you will be turned into a giant splat mark on the asphalt."  Still, I can't help but think that there is a point at which it is the consumer's personal responsibility to be well enough informed that (s)he won't do anything egregiously idiotic, such as trying to treat an illness by taking pills that have had every last potentially useful molecule removed by serial dilution.

But homeopathy isn't my topic today; the genesis of this post is something even stupider.  Something that makes homeopaths seem worthy of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.  Something so monumentally idiotic that I felt obliged to dig around and see if it could possibly be a hoax.

Tragically, it is not.  It really seems to be true that a Swiss woman died last year -- after a guru convinced her that she could live on sunlight alone.  (Source)

Apparently the woman, whose name was not released by the press but who was a resident of the town of Wolfhalden, had had some health problems, and after being unsatisfied with the medical care she was receiving from actual doctors, she decided to ask a guru's advice.  The guru said he was 70 years old and was still in prime health, and had done it by giving up food and water entirely decades ago.  He said all you had to do was to sit in the sun with large sectors of your skin exposed, absorbing the sun's "life-giving rays," and that if you had reached a high enough plane of spiritual consciousness, that'd be all you'd need not only to survive, but to thrive.

The article didn't say, but I'd bet hard cold cash that the guru also used the words "resonance," "frequency," and "vibration."

Anyhow, the woman didn't do what I'd like to think most of us would do in that situation, which is to burst into guffaws and say, "What the hell?  Do I look like a house plant to you?"  And walk away.  No, she apparently said, "Wow!  I never thought of that!" and proceeded to stop eating and drinking.  She spent a great deal of time sitting, scantily-clad, in the sun.  And amazingly enough, she succeeded not in curing her illnesses -- but in starving to death.

An unanswered question I had is how on earth her friends and relatives let this happen.  If I saw some nimrod I knew stop eating anything and spending large quantities of time sitting outside naked, I think I would probably question whether he'd lost his marbles, and try to intervene.  But either she didn't have enough close friends, or hid it from them well enough, that by the time she was admitted to medical care, it was too late to save her.

This, of course, has elicited calls to prosecute the guru.  My general thought is that this is probably justified, because victimizing stupid people is a pretty terrible thing to do, but there's a part of me that can't get all that worked up about this.  Shouldn't we have an expectation, as a presumably educated society, that people will at least understand biology to the extent that they know that humans cannot conduct photosynthesis?  If there really is someone who is that dumb, or that gullible, should the authorities step in to protect them from the consequences of their foolishness?

I think that at some point, personal responsibility has to kick in.  If we fail to educate ourselves on issues of vital importance to our health and happiness, and then become victims of natural disasters, preventable accidents, hucksters, and frauds, it is no one's fault but our own.  And as far as the Swiss woman who thought she was a plant; this, to me, is just a case of natural selection in action, improving the gene pool for the rest of us.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Prophecy pages and prayer rugs

Apparently a new strategy amongst the severely religious is to send out broadside literature through the mail.  I know this because a friend of mine got one.  However, given that (1) my friend didn't request the letter, and (2) it was warmly and personally addressed to "Occupant," you have to wonder how successful this strategy is going to be.

It's not like junk mail is as lucrative a business as it used to be, given that you can send out ten thousand emails for less than the cost of a single snail-mail letter.  But evidently this hasn't dissuaded some of these folks from trying the old fashioned way.

Anyway, how this all came up is that a couple of days ago, my friend came up to me, grinning, with some papers in his hand, and said, "When I got this, I immediately thought that you should have it."  I've found that since I'm mostly known for my interest in woo-woo crackpots, this is seldom a good sign.  And sure enough, this letter was way off to the "Wingnut" end of the spectrum.

The first thing I opened was a large, garishly-colored piece of textured paper that has a pattern around it in magenta and gold that looks a little like a Persian rug.  After unfolding it, I said, and I quote, "Aaaaugh!"  Because facing me was a nearly life-sized image of Jesus' face, eyes closed, wearing a crown of thorns.  One disconcerting thing is that the face looks to my eyes more like Willie Nelson than it does like my concept of The Lord And Savior, but that may just be me.  Be that as it may, the instructions on the bottom read:
Look into Jesus' eyes you will see they are closed.  But as you continue to look you will see His eyes opening and looking back into your eyes.  Then go and be alone and kneel on this Rug of Faith or touch it to both knees.  Then please check your needs on our letter to you.  Please return this Prayer Rug.  Do not keep it.
My first thought was that if I was staring at this picture and its eyes opened, I would probably want to be alone for an entirely different reason, namely that I would think that I'd lost my marbles.  But then I thought: maybe there's some reason why people see this happen.  I know that staring fixedly at something does mess around with your visual integrative system, creating afterimages and all sorts of odd effects.  So I looked closely at the drawing, and I noticed that in the center of each eye was a faint dot, with a lighter spot up and to the left -- like a ghostly image of a pupil and a point of light reflected from the surface of a human eye.  Stare at the picture long enough, I'd guess, and those features might make the eyes begin to look as if they were open.

So, I folded up and put away the "Prayer Rug," because that picture is freakin' creepy, and picked up the next one, which said, "Please don't open this prophecy until after you have placed your prayer page (page two of our letter to you) and the Prayer Rug back in the mail before sunset tomorrow or the next day.  God will help you to do this.  You will see."

Now, you have to wonder why anyone would need god's help to put something in the mail, but I may be reading this wrong.  In any case, I threw caution to the wind and opened the secret prophecy.  The prophecy turned out to be a page of fine print, and I frankly do not feel like copying the entire thing, but the gist of it is that god knows I'm not happy with my life, and that in fact he has the impression that I'm kind of a sorry so-and-so.  (I paraphrase slightly.)  But in order to have ENDLESS JOY all I have to do is allow god's spirit to work through me by praying a lot and sending a donation to the church that sent this letter.

The remaining pieces of paper were the checklist of what I'd like them to pray for on my behalf (after I saw Jesus' eyes open on the "Prayer Rug"), and some testimonials from folks about what they'd gotten.  Some of these included:
  • strength
  • spiritual blessing
  • a money blessing
  • happy family life
  • miracle healing
  • a good loving companion
  • a secure future
  • protection from evil
  • salvation
  • true love
All of which sound pretty awesome, but honestly, I think I'll spare them the trouble.  Given my rampant atheism, I think god (if he actually exists) would not have a particularly strong motivation to shower me with gifts even if these people prayed for me because I'd sent them a checklist and returned their "Prayer Rug."

Honestly, how do the groups who send this stuff out think this could possibly work?  I guess that since they seem pretty sincere about wanting to do good stuff for total strangers, I can't argue with their motives.  There was none of the "Oh, and if you don't believe what we're saying, you will BURN IN AGONY FOR ALL ETERNITY HA HA HA HA" business you usually see with missives of this sort.  So, as these things go, it was pretty friendly, as long as you discount the scary drawing of Jesus.

But I still must ask the question -- if they think that god knows everything and has a plan for everyone, and will always make sure everything works out for the best (for all of which there was ample evidence on the "prophecy page"), isn't it contradictory to believe that they could change someone's destiny by praying, using the person's wish list of stuff (s)he'd like to have?  Do they think that god is sort of like Santa Claus, reading a kid's Christmas list and going, "I didn't know little Billy wanted a Lego set!  Well, we'll just have to have the elves make him one!  Ho ho ho!"  If there is a god, I somehow can't imagine that he works that way.

So, the open question is what to do with the letter, "Prayer Rug," and the lot.  I think I'm going to give it back to my friend.  After all, it was addressed to him ("Occupant"), so if anyone should get all of the bad luck from not returning the "Prayer Rug" to the church, I think it's only fair that it should be him.  Okay, I opened the Prophecy before I was supposed to, but if I seal it back up with a little piece of scotch tape, maybe god won't notice.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Burning down the house

I try to be kind, I really do.  I listened patiently to the student in my Critical Thinking class who told me with great enthusiasm how well astrology worked, and how it has "recently become much more scientific" in the way astrologers construct their charts and predictions.  I refrained from guffawing in the face of the woman who, while visiting my home, informed me that my dad's rock collection had "very powerful crystal energies."  I didn't even give so much as a snort when an acquaintance told me she had been in psychic communication with her pets.

I know that if I'm working toward my stated goal -- to foster skepticism and rationalism -- then from a methodological standpoint, it works better to argue from a logical, scientific perspective than it does simply to bellow laughter at one's opponent.

Still, it's hard sometimes.  Take the case of the naked Wiccan arsonists.  (Source)

Aftab Mughal, of Nottingham, England, had been feeling as if his life was becoming increasingly negative -- he was under stress, and things just "weren't going right" for him.  So he went to visit his friend, Terence Williams, to ask for advice.  Williams, a Wiccan, said that Mughal needed to participate in a ceremony to cleanse him of "negative vibrations," so they set up the ritual in Williams' apartment.

First, they walked around burning white sage sticks.  But this didn't seem to do enough to remove the negativity, in Williams' opinion.  So the two took the obvious next step, which was to set fire first to some pieces of paper, and then to a wooden broom.  Amazingly enough, this also had no effect on Mughal's mood, so Williams came up with an innovative solution: both men needed to strip naked and burn their clothes.

Have I mentioned that all of this was taking place inside Williams' apartment?

Firefighters were summoned by neighbors when they saw smoke billowing out of Williams' window, and one fireman banged on the window to get the two men's attention, because they seemed not to care that the apartment was basically on fire and the room they were in was filling up with smoke.  Firefighters broke in the door and tried to get Williams and Mughal to leave, but the two nude Wiccans ran upstairs to get away.  The firemen followed them, and finally forcibly removed both men from the burning apartment.

Once outside, the firefighters tried to get Mughal and Williams to cover up with blankets, but they threw the blankets on the ground and basically capered about in the all-together, apparently not caring about the negative vibrations they were inducing in passersby.

The end result was that the pair was charged with arson, and the case went to court last week.

The prosecuting attorney, Siward James-Moore, said, "Aftab Mughal, as far as he was concerned, he didn't think the ritual was one that made him fear for his safety and he was bemused when the fire brigade arrived." James-Moore himself seemed more than a little bemused by the whole thing, and added that when a fireman tried to get the two Wiccans to leave the apartment, "The flames were licking around Mr. Williams' ankles at that stage.  He was staring right through him."

Ultimately, Mughal and Williams pleaded guilty to arson, but because the judge considered that the fire was caused by "stupidity, not by malice," they received no jail time, and were sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid community service.

Okay, now while I was reading this, I tried to maintain my sense of decorum, I really did.  I attempted to hold firm to the attitude that these men were only acting out of their seriously-held religious beliefs, and as such, I should be tolerant and understanding.  But when I got to the part about the firemen attempting to get them to cover themselves up, and their tossing the blankets to the ground and running around outside naked while the firemen chased them, I have to admit that my reaction was, and I quote:  BA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA *falls off chair*

I mean, really.  You can argue the benefits of religious beliefs from a number of angles -- that religion has incited people to perform acts of great altruism, that it has inspired beautiful art and transcendent music, that it has given people hope in the face of desperate times.  Unfortunately, though, religion has also fostered some pretty bizarre behavior.  And I maintain: whatever your criticisms of the scientific view of the world, rationalism has never incited anyone to dance around naked in his apartment while it was on fire.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

News from Loch Ness

Fans of the claim that a plesiosaur left over from the Cretaceous Period lives in Scotland's Loch Ness just got a shot in the arm from recent sonar images.

Tour boat skipper Marcus Atkinson was out in Loch Ness' Urquhart Bay when he saw a sensor blip show up on his sonar fish finder.  The object, which was five feet wide and about thirty feet long, was down at a depth of about 75 feet, and seemed to be following the boat.  Here's the image in question:




"I was dropping customers at Urquhart Castle and then got my boat out of the way of the other tour companies," Atkinson told reporters.  "I moved out into the water and looked at the sonar and saw this image had appeared.  The device takes a reading of the depth and what is below the boat every quarter of a second and gradually builds up a picture, so it covered a time of about five minutes.  The object got bigger and bigger and I thought 'bloody hell' and took a picture with my mobile phone.  There is nothing that big in the Loch. I was in shock as it looked like a big serpent, it’s amazing. You can’t fake a sonar image.  I have never seen anything returned like this on the fish finder.  It is a bizarre shape to me. I have shown it to other experienced skippers and none of us know what it was.  I have seen a lot of pictures in 21 years of being here but this is the clearest image yet. Undoubtedly, there is something in the loch."

The image was the winner of the Best Nessie Sighting of the Year Award.

Okay, now what's a skeptic to think about this?

First, I've always put Nessie down a bit on the plausibility list -- below, for example, Sasquatch -- because there's a good scientific argument against its existence, to wit: the claim that a plesiosaur survived in Scotland for the last 65 million years ignores the fact that between then and now, Scotland has more than once been underneath a great big glacier.  The last one receded only 10,000 years ago, and is thought to be the origin of the lake itself.  If you think that an enormous aquatic dinosaur made it through the various Ice Ages, you have to be able to explain how it either (1) somehow escaped being turned into a Plesiosaur Popsicle despite being buried under hundreds of feet of ice, or (2) got into Loch Ness after the ice receded, at a time when the sea level was a great deal lower than it is now and it was an even longer trip over land from the nearest large body of water.  Additionally, Loch Ness is what is called an oligotrophic lake -- it is very low in dissolved nutrients, and therefore is largely devoid of life.  There are simply not enough fish in Loch Ness to support a breeding population of thirty-foot-long aquatic dinosaurs.  None of these objections is usually addressed by Nessie aficionados.

But presupposing that there is some explanation for all of this that I'm missing, what did Marcus Atkinson see on his fish finder?  I have to admit that if I'd been in his shoes, "bloody hell" would probably have been only the first, and mildest, exclamation I would have said, and I would have gotten my boat out of the water so fast that it probably would still be embedded in the nearest beach.  Be that as it may, the image does deserve an explanation.

The unfortunate thing, of course, is that Atkinson was alone on his boat when it happened.  I'm trying to be open-minded here and refrain from commenting on (1) the fact that this is pretty convenient, given the controversial nature of his claim, not to mention (2) the fact that the fame he's now getting for having taken this image are now significantly higher than he could have expected to get as a humble tour boat operator, and (3) the fact that it's the beginning of tourist season in the Scottish Highlands, and (4) the fact that there's a new tourist attraction opening this year called "Cruise Loch Ness," designed as monster-hunting trips, run by... none other than Marcus Atkinson.

Okay, so maybe I didn't try all that hard to refrain from commenting upon those things.

And, of course, there's the problem that there's another plausible explanation of the image.  Dr. Simon Boxall, of the National Oceanographic Centre at Southampton, told reporters that it is incorrect to think of sonar images as analogous to a standard photograph:  "The picture is built up slowly as the boat moves," Boxall explained.  "So it’s not a snapshot, and thus the image is not an image of a single object unless it is very still."

So is Atkinson's image a fake?  No, Boxall says, but it also isn't a plesiosaur.

"The image shows a bloom of algae and zooplankton that would exist on what would be a thermocline.  Zooplankton live off this algae and reflect sound signals from echo sounders and fish finders very well.  They will appear as a linear 'blob' on the screen, just like this.  This is a monster made of millions of tiny animals and plants and represents the bulk of life in the Loch."

So sorry, Nessie fans, but it looks like if this is the Best Nessie Sighting of the Year, it's pretty lame.

Now, understand that if it did turn out that there was a plesiosaur in Scotland, I would be thrilled.  I was one of those kids who loved prehistoric animals, and I've never really gotten over it.  But I just think that the evidence, sadly, is mostly in the "nope" column.  Too bad, because even if you're a microbiologist, you have to admit that it is a proven scientific fact that dinosaurs are cooler than zooplankton.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wonder of wonders

Nine-year-old Preston Stevens of Boston claims he's alive because of a miracle.  (Source)

Last Tuesday afternoon, Stevens and his mother, Sharon Jackson, heard some popping noises, and Preston felt a "push."  He was narrowly missed by a bullet that had come right through the wall - in fact, it left a smoking hole in the Boston Celtics jersey he was wearing.  Preston was quoted as saying that "it was like God pushed me."

Well, first and foremost I want to express my happiness that Preston is safe and sound, and nothing I'm about to say should be construed as diminishing that.  The fundamental thing here is that a child could have been injured or killed, and any amount of philosophical meandering should take back seat to that consideration.

That said, however, the whole thing does bring up a troubling question; how could you tell the difference between a miracle and simple good luck?

I have had times when I've had near misses from disaster -- like the time that my car hit a patch of black ice, went into a spin, and I slid right off the road -- onto a twenty-by-twenty patch of flat gravel that is the only place along that road that I could have landed without flipping my car, slamming into a tree, or landing in a creek.  After a moment to restart my heart, I slowly pulled back out onto the road, and drove the rest of the way to work without incident, and without so much as a scratch or dent on my car.

But was it a miracle?  Even if I believed in a deity, I think I'd be distinctly uneasy calling it that, because that implies that something different happened in that circumstance (there was direct intervention by god) than if it had just been dumb luck.  Does the fact that I saw no giant translucent hand shoving me in the direction of the gravel patch mean that I was simply fortunate?  (I have to admit that if god does exist, he missed a good opportunity to get rid of me that day -- and given how much time I've spent disbelieving in his existence, I couldn't have argued with his motives.)

I think the whole thing hinges on an unknowable; something is classifiable as a miracle only if it would have happened otherwise without direct intervention by a higher power.  And how could we possibly know that?  C. S. Lewis makes as strong a case for the occurrence of the miraculous as any I've ever read (in his book, appropriately titled Miracles).   He claims that the "naturalist" position is self-contradictory:
What the Naturalist believes is the ultimate Fact, the thing you can't go behind, is a vast process in space and time which is going on of its own accord. Inside that total system every particular event (such as your sitting reading this book) happens because some other event has happened. All things and events are so completely interlocked that no one of them can claim can claim the slightest independence from 'the whole show.'
He goes on to state that since a "naturalist" claims that we are all created, and driven, by random motions of molecules and so on, that there's no reason to believe that the conclusions reached by our brains are correct; how, he argues, could a brain made of randomly-moving particles ever be more than a generator of random statements, which may or may not be true?  If there is no external truth (i.e. god), we have no touchstone by which to determine the truth of naturalism itself, and the whole thing swallows its own tail.

I don't intend to analyze Lewis' whole argument -- perhaps that is the topic for another post -- but I think part of what Lewis misses is that supernaturalism has its own fundamental self-contradiction, which is in its claim that there are events that are "super-natural" -- that would not have happened, or would have happened differently, without a divine hand driving the action.  Lewis himself has Aslan say (in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), "My child, no one is ever told what might have been."  So the declaration of an event as being a miracle presupposes a knowledge of what would have happened without the divine intervention occurring -- something that even Lewis says is impossible!

Of course, that's not the only problem with the assumption of the miraculous.  It also brings up the far more troubling question of why some people deserve miracles and others don't -- if god intervened to save Preston Stevens' life (I'm assuming that we're accepting that a miracle was unlikely in the case of my near-miss automobile accident), why doesn't he intervene to save the lives of the thousands of other children who die tragically every day?  To me, stating that it was "god's plan" that Preston survived leads you into the distinctly awkward suggestion that it was also god's plan that other children (and other adults) die, sometimes in agony, many because of senseless violence.  I suppose that if you believe in an afterlife you could quibble that the victims of such tragedies got their rewards after death -- but considering that the majority of the world (and therefore the majority of these unfortunate individuals) are not Christian, this isn't a very satisfying answer, either.

Of course, since I don't believe in a deity, my answer is that bad stuff happens, people die, sometimes people escape unscathed in amazing ways, and that's just the way of things.  But I have to admit to some curiosity about how the religious deal with this issue, because it seems to me on the one hand presumptuous ("we know the intentions of god"), or on the other hand to open up more questions than it answers.

In any case, I'll end by reiterating that I'm glad that Preston Stevens was unhurt, be it a miracle or not.  And I have to note, in the interest of honesty, that despite the fact that his mother fully supports Preston's claims that his survival was a miracle, she did move his bed to the other side of the room.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

You're my type

A few days ago I posted an article about a claim that Rh negative individuals are descended from aliens, or possibly Jesus, and this allows them to have a variety of superpowers.  The outcome of writing this is that my blog has been bombarded by a slew of advertisements revolving around blood types (not to mention aliens and Jesus),and this included one that claimed that before dating, you should always check your potential romantic interest's blood type.

Intrigued, I clicked the link, and after about a half-hour's rooting around online (during which thousands of innocent cells in my prefrontal cortex were subjected to unmentionable agony) I found this site, which seems to have the most detail about the whole thing.  It turns out that for some years now, woo-woos in Japan have claimed that your blood type (just the A/B/O group, not the Rh group; almost no one in Japan is Rh negative) influences your personality.  And of course, there's no way that Americans are going to read about any damnfool unscientific idea without a significant number of them going, "Wow, I never thought of that!"  Especially if the idea originated in Japan, which always seems to add a nice cachet of credibility.  So this has led to a whole new branch of personality-analysis pseudoscience, as if astrology wasn't enough.

According to Natalie Josef, the writer on the above website, not only does your blood type tell you your personality and who you should try to hook up with, it also predicts what career you should pursue:
Type O
You are the social butterflies. Often popular and self-confident, you are very creative and always seem to be the center of attention. You make a good impression on people and you’re often quite attractive. Organized and determined, your stubbornness will help you reach your goals. You make good leaders. Lovewise, O is most compatible with O and AB. Common career choices: banker, politician, gambler, minister, investment broker, and pro athlete.
Type A
Type As may seem calm on the outside, but inside, you’re filled with anxiety and worry. You’re perfectionists and often shy and sensitive. Usually introverted, you’re stable and thoughtful. You make good listeners and are sensitive to color and your surroundings. You like to be fashionable and are up on the latest trends, but never flashy or gaudy. You like romantic settings and often shun reality for fantasy worlds. A is most compatible with A and AB in the love department. Common career choices: accountant, librarian, economist, writer, computer programmer, and gossip columnist.
Type B
You can be very goal-oriented and often complete the ambitious tasks set before you. Outgoing and very charming, you’re good at reading people and providing support. Though critical of appearance (but not your own), you aren’t picky and are unlikely to dwell over the little things. Type Bs are impulsive individualists who often create their own path in life. You are very strong and optimistic. B is most compatible with B and AB lovers. Common career choices: cook, hairdresser, military leader, talk show host, and journalist.
Type AB
Not surprisingly, ABs can be quite dualistic, possessing both A and B traits. You may be shy and outgoing, and hesitant and confident. You often stand out from others, don’t like labels, and are nice and easy going. You are logical and determined to do things correctly. Usually trustworthy, you like to help others. You often speak in a serious manner. Your patience, concentration, and intelligence are admirable. AB can find a soul mate with any other blood type. Common career choices: bartender, lawyer, teacher, sales representative, and social worker.
Well, I'm a type A, and I have to admit that I am a bit of a border collie, personality-wise; but as far as being "fashionable," all I can say is that usually I go to work looking like I've been put through a dryer without "Cling-Free."  I probably own an iron, but I have no idea where it is, and my idea of color matching usually revolves around the concept of "everything goes well with khaki."  And in the career department, "writer" is an obvious hit, but the other ones ("Gossip columnist?" "Accountant?" What the hell?) are, shall we say, not very accurate.

What strikes me about all of this is the usual dart-thrower's bias phenomenon; we tend to notice the hits and ignore the misses.  But really, come on.  Are you really claiming that there are only four basic personality types?  Even the astrologers divide all of humanity twelve ways; the best you can do is four?

Then, after reading the article, I made the mistake of scrolling down to the comments.  This is, as I have mentioned before, usually a mistake.  My favorite one was the second comment, which revolved around the fact that the article had made a point that in Japan, believers in the whole blood-type-is-destiny don't like ABs very much.  This reader was upset by that:
Kudos on your article Natalie. I love learning something new all the time. I'm an AB+ as well, plus Asian astrology sign of Fire Horse. Not only did they abort as many unborn fire horses back in 1966 as they were able, (fire was considered an undesirable element with horse sign) but now I find out they also wouldn't want me due to my blood type! However, I have to say I love Asian food!
Okay.  Sure.  "Fire horses."  "Fire horse" + AB = "really bad."  But at least I like shrimp fried rice!  Yay!

I have to admit to deep mystification as to why an obviously absurd idea could possibly convince anyone, and I'm forced to the conclusion that the main problem is that a large fraction of humanity has no real understanding of the principles of scientific induction.  We are so immersed in a world of advertising claims, political sound-bites, and media glitz that "well, that sounds right!" has become the gold standard for belief.  Remarkably few people, upon reading a claim, seem even to take the next step, which is to ask the question, "how do I know that claim is true?", much less go on to asking, "if it is true, how could that possibly work?"  All in all, it makes me realize that as a science teacher, I have my work cut out for me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A book to howl about

If you're looking to add to your collection of books about weird creatures that probably don't exist, now is the time to preorder Linda Godfrey's latest, Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America.  (Here's the link to her book's page on Amazon.)

I have to admit that I've always been fascinated by werewolves.  For the record, my fascination predates, and in fact has nothing to do with, a certain Movie That Shall Not Be Named, in which being a werewolf seemed mostly an excuse to run around with no shirt on.  Note that I have nothing against being shirtless, but I do find it amusing that said Unnamed Movie is set in the Pacific Northwest.  Now, I lived in the Pacific Northwest for ten years, and I can say from personal experience that for about nine months of the year, running around without a shirt in Washington State is a good way to develop hypothermia, if not a bad case of Dreaded Skin Mildew.  Maybe why that's why this particular character always seemed to look so sullen.  I don't know.

But I digress.

The werewolf myth goes back a long way, and a great many cultures have a tradition of people who are able to change into animal form -- some deliberately, some involuntarily (or under certain conditions, or at certain times).  The Skinwalker tradition of the Navajo is one of the scariest; not only can the werewolf rip you to shreds, he can take over your body simply by locking eyes on you.  Some traditions from the Native Americans of the Northeast include the Wendigo, a shapeshifting demon that some anthropologists believe might have been a myth borrowed from contact with 11th century Vikings -- because the werewolf legends of Scandinavia are amongst the most elaborate in the world.  You have your berserkers, who are warriors who in battle-rage transform into bears; but King Harald I Fairhair was supposed to have a special army of úlfhednar, men who wore wolf-pelts and who could at will transform into wolves.  Animal transformation was not limited to men, however.  In Finland, the ihmissusi were all female, and in fact were usually thought to be elderly -- nasty-tempered old ladies with poisonous claws who would turn into wolves and kill your cattle if you pissed them off.

The connection with the full moon seems to have been popularized by the 13th century lawyer and writer Gervase of Tilbury in his book Liber de Mirabilibus Mundi (Book of Wonders of the World), but he certainly picked it up from English folk legend.  So the whole idea that when the moon is full, you should Keep To The Road And Stay Off The Moors has been around for a while.

Myself, I've always wondered why you're limited to wolves and bears and so on.  Could you be a were-mouse?  Or a were-possum?  Or a were-slug?  I mean, it might be kind of anticlimactic to go through all that trouble and then turn into something unimpressive, but you have to wonder.  (Actually, I wrote a short story that riffed on this idea -- it's the title story in my collection Once Bitten, which is available for Kindle here.  And if I can indulge in a moment of immodesty, this bunch of short stories rocks and you should all buy it right now.)

So, anyway, Godfrey's new book promises to be interesting, and the press release announcing its publication certainly howls its praises:
What’s hiding in the woods? Here is the definitive account of today’s nationwide sightings of upright, canine creatures – which resemble traditional werewolves – and a thorough exploration of the nature and possible origins of the mysterious beast.

The U.S. has been invaded – if many dozens of eyewitnesses are to be believed – by upright, canine creatures that look like traditional werewolves and act as if they own our woods, fields, and highways. Sightings from coast to coast dating back to the 1930s compel us to ask exactly what these beasts are, and what they want.

Researcher, author and newspaper reporter Linda S. Godfrey has been tracking the manwolf since the early 1990. In Real Wolfmen she presents the only large-scale cataloging and investigation of reports of modern sightings of anomalous, upright canids. First-person accounts from Godfrey’s witnesses – who have encountered these creatures everywhere from outside their car windows to face-to-face on a late night stroll – describe the same human-sized canines: They are able to walk upright and hold food in their paws, interact fearlessly with humans, and suddenly and mysteriously disappear.

Godfrey explores the most compelling cases from the modern history of such sightings, along with the latest reports, and undertakes a thorough exploration of the nature and possible origins of the creature.
My initial reaction is that possibly both Godfrey and her publicist need a refresher on the definition of the word "myth," but maybe I'm being narrow-minded.

Be that as it may, I will certainly be reading Godfrey's book.  And with that, I'll wrap this up, because all of this typing is making my paws tired.  Um, hands.  That's what I meant.  Hands.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Vampires, Yoda, and a butt-pinching ghost

Here at Worldwide Wacko Watch your alert research team (made up of myself and my two highly alert dogs) are keeping an eye on three developing stories.

First, we have reports out of India that politicians have placed a $2,000 bounty on vampires.  (Source)

Government officials in Dharampuri (Tamil Nadu state) have reacted with concern to claims by villagers that vampires are stalking the streets, and not with the kind of concern I would have shown, which would be to guffaw directly in the villagers' faces.  They have offered a reward of $2,000 (a considerable amount of money in those parts) to anyone who brings in a dead vampire.

Apparently, the whole thing started because some folks in the area reported that their cattle were being killed and drained of blood by vampires.  My reaction was that such acts are almost always caused not by vampires, but by another creature that doesn't exist, namely El Chupacabra.  Be that as it may, villagers reacted with panic, painting "holy signs" on their doors and leaving notes pleading with the vampires (known as "Ratha Kaatteri") to spare their lives, because everyone knows how a vampire will refrain from biting your neck if you just ask him nicely.

I'm happy to say that not all of the politicians have joined Team Ratha Kaatteri, however; one local leader, O. Jayaraman, said, "It is a big hoax.  Anti-socials whose illegal night activities such as bootlegging and liquor brewing have been disturbed are spreading rumors and killing cattle."

If they're as antisocial as all that, you have to wonder if they might not just kill some poor innocent person and fix the corpse up to look like a vampire to collect the reward.  Opportunities like this always seem to appeal to people's worst instincts.


Speaking of tempting fate, a man in Georgia has posted a broadside request asking all and sundry if they've ever seen an alien being that looks like Yoda.  (Source)

In his post, which strangely hilarious is, the man (who calls himself "Jax") recounts an experience he had twenty years ago:
I know it sounds silly but about 20 years ago my friend and I decided to drive out to an area (Highway 27, Hamilton Rd from Columbus, GA towards Hamilton) we were two dumb teenagers at the time who heard a rumor there were Satan worshipers out in the woods...as teenagers do, we decided to investigate it for laughs and have fun scaring ourselves.

We turned down a dirt road and followed it for a while until we wound up driving into a large open grass field. It was very dark out that night and quiet. While we did not see any "Satan worshipers", I decided to to try and scare my friend sitting in the passenger seat by placing my car in park in the big open field and I turned off my head lights for only about 10 or 15 seconds which put us in complete darkness. We could not even see each other let alone anything outside the car around us.

I then turned my headlights back on (the car was still running the whole time) and when we looked forward, there standing in front of my car, almost touching the front bumper was a creature to this day we cannot explain.

The creature was about 6 feet tall, had two legs but not human legs. They were bent like an animals hind-legs. From the waste up he literally looked like yoda. Grayish light green in color. Strange long ears. Somewhat flat but scrunched up face. Big round eyes which looked us both in the eyes. The eyes were on the front of the face (not on the side). It was definitely NOT a deer or any other normal animal of the woods. I don't remember seeing arms but it appeared to have two little short skinny arms in the front but I can't be certain. It only stood there for about 5 seconds then turned around and quickly went away into the night.

It didn't have a distinct run or walk or jump...it was somewhere in the middle of run, jump, hop, glide kind of movement when it hurried away. Even that was not a normal movement of any animal or person.

Naturally my friend and I screamed and I threw my car in reverse and raced out of there as fast as I could. We never went back to search for another sighting as one time was good enough for us but I am interested to know if anyone else has experienced the same?  
The owner of Phantoms and Monsters, the website on which this appears, ends by saying that Jax is interested only in "serious responses," which pretty much eliminates everything I was thinking of saying.

I keep trying to come up with some kind of appropriate commentary, but words fail me.  I guess there is no try, after all.


Lastly, we have a report out of Birmingham, England about a ghost that is haunting a pub, and is expressing himself by pinching waitresses' asses.  (Source)

The ghost, who has been nicknamed "Grasper," was first reported by assistant manager of The Queen's Arms, Paula Wharton.

"One night three of us were talking and I mentioned that I’d felt this pinch on my bum, and everyone else said that it had happened to them too.  It can’t have been a customer as I’ve never had my bum pinched when I’ve been stood behind the bar.  It’s happened to all of us on a few occasions, it can happen at any time, night or day."

Customers have been groped, too.  Frequent pub crawler Ashley Boland states, "I was standing at the bar enjoying a glass of wine when I suddenly felt a sharp pinch to my bum.  My instant reaction was that it might have been a sleazy bloke trying his luck, but when I spun around ready to give him a piece of my mind there was no one there.  I was really confused until the staff explained that there was a ghost running around the place pinching people on the bottom.  It was a little scary, but I suppose there are worse things that a ghost could do to you."

You have to wonder how the staff will handle this.  I mean, it's not like you can fire a spirit for sexual harassment.  Will they post signs?  "Caution, This Pub Is Haunted By An Ass-Groping Ghost: Bend Over At Your Own Risk."  That's probably what I would do, if I owned the pub -- but I'd also keep a careful eye on my male customers and employees, because chances are, one of them is in fact the "sleazy bloke" of Boland's account.  I have a feeling that Grasper the Over-Friendly Ghost will turn out to be all too human.

But who knows?  Maybe there is a ghost there, and maybe Yoda down to Georgia went, too.  But I'm not buying the Indian vampire story, sorry.  There's such a thing a straining credulity.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Accentuate the negative

I just found out why I (1) love astronomy, (2) have a fascination for UFOs, and (3) like Star Trek: The Next Generation:  My mother had Rh negative blood.

At least, that's the claim of an online book called The Rh Negative Factor, by Roberta Hill.  (You can read it in its entirety here.)

Hill's conjecture, which she claims to analyze in an "unbias" [sic] way, is that people with Rh negative blood have some pretty odd characteristics.  These include:

1. predominance of green or hazel eyes that change color like a chameleon, but also blue eyes.
2. true red or reddish hair
3. low pulse rate
4. low blood pressure and/or high blood pressure
5. keen sight or hearing
6. ESP
7. extra rib or vertebrae
8. UFO connections
9. love of space and science
10. a sense of not belonging to the human race
11. piercing eyes
12. para-normal occurrences
13. physic [sic] dreams
14. truth seekers
15. desire for higher wisdom
16. empathetic illnesses
17. deep compassion for fate of mankind
18. a sense of a 'mission' in life
19. physic [sic again] abilities
20. unexplained scars on body
21. capability to disrupt electrical appliances
22. alien contacts

Well.  My mom certainly was Rh negative; so are a good many people who have ancestry in southwestern France and northeastern Spain (and thus are likely to have Basque ancestry, amongst whom the allele for Rh negative blood is 65-70%).  It is responsible for Rh incompatibility syndrome, which killed my older sister and would have killed me but for the wonders of modern medicine and the RhoGAM shot, which suppresses an Rh negative mother's immune reaction against her Rh positive fetus.  My understanding was that the gene responsible for the condition was the result of a mutation that occurred amongst the ancestors of the Basques, probably something like 15,000 years ago.  But other than that, Rh negative doesn't seem to do much; people with two copies of the allele (like my mom) just don't have the Rh antigenic protein, and I thought that was pretty much that.

Little I know.

It turns out that besides all of the abilities and characteristics listed above, being Rh negative means that we are  descended from some combination of: (1) the Merovingian kings; (2) fallen angels; (3) the Nephilim; (4) aliens; or (5) Jesus.

According to Hill, there's all sorts of evidence for this.  For example, let's look at my favorite paragraph from her book:
I can only offer theories as to how this gene deletion could benefit mankind. Perhaps this particular protein that the RHD gene encodes for is a problem somehow and prevents people from receiving hyperdimensional information from the spiritual realm, and that could be why people are saying that RH negatives (& RH negative recessive people +/-) are more psychic. The RHD gene could have been a mutation or could have been put there by the fallen angels (aliens) to control us and keep us from accessing information from God and the spiritual realm. As we know, Jesus proclaimed that he was the new temple, and his body was acting like the Ark of the Covenant and therefore his Pineal gland was acting as a receiver and transmitter of hyperdimensional communication. It has been proven that the Pineal gland has tiny microcrystals that could act much like a radio receiver, or just like a crystal radio. Jesus Christ bloodline could represent a race of people that can act as messengers for God or as beacons of the light, therefore a new race of shepherds to guide souls back to Eden. Perhaps this bloodline could be Magdalene towers of the flock, and thus they emit a higher frequency which actually helps to raise all energy forms into a higher dimension. This would work with the scientific principle of resonance, as towers set the higher frequency tone for the rest of the people, then everyone would start to resonate with higher frequencies. Eventually as more people with the RH negative blood type are born, then they could help to raise the frequencies. This would create the effect of a net that people would start getting caught up within for the harvest or the ascension of the human race. That would explain the mysterious fish story in John 21, because we would be the net that the apostles, under Jesus direction, throw into the cosmic sea to catch fish. That would also explain the Basque marker of R-M153, which is the number of fish that they caught in the story. The number 153 actually is representative of the net, rather than how many fish/people will be caught for the harvest of the souls.
Oh.  Okay.  I mean, my only question would be, "What?"  After reading this (and this is, unfortunately, only one of many passages in this book that left my eyes spinning), I found myself wondering whether she can possibly be serious.  "Catching fish in the cosmic sea?"  "Crystals in Jesus' pineal gland resonating to higher frequencies and allowing hyperdimensional communication?"  The whole thing makes me want to take Ockham's Razor and slit my wrists with it.

I always find it simultaneously maddening and amusing when people with (apparently) a slim understanding of science try to use scientific information to explain their favorite slice of the woo-woo pie.  (Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics is a good example, although I have to admit in Capra's defense that his understanding of quantum physics seems to be a good bit better than Hill's understanding of biology; I disagree with his conclusions, however, which are that quantum physics shows that the Zen Buddhists are right.)  Here, we have someone who has bought into the whole weird quasi-biblical Nephilim/aliens thing, and has latched onto a piece of biological research, and used it to support her conjecture that she's a descendent of superpowerful angelic beings.  (Because of course Hill herself is Rh negative; did I even need to tell you that?)

Anyhow, that's today's journey into the deep end of the pool.  I really recommend that you read Hill's book -- it's available free, online, at the site I linked above.  For the record, it reads much better after a liberal consumption of whatever your favorite libation is.  I found that after three pints of beer, it actually was beginning to make sense, which is one of the strongest arguments against consuming alcohol that I can think of.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Caveat rentor

Yesterday we considered the question of whether stating your disbelief in a religious "miracle" (despite evidence that it is a purely natural phenomenon) is blasphemy; today we consider the question of whether a supernatural belief (with no hard evidence at all) engenders any sort of financial responsibility on the part of others.

The whole thing comes up because of a story out of New Jersey (source) in which a couple, Michele Callan and the rather unfortunately named Josue Chinchilla, are claiming that they are entitled to break their lease and receive a refund of their security deposit because their rental home is haunted.

According to Callan and Chinchilla, they knew something was wrong almost from the first day they moved into the house they'd rented in Tom's River, on March 1.  The couple, and also Callan's children, began to experience taps on the shoulder, which (this is a direct quote from the article), "they chalked up to the adjustment period of moving into a new home."

You have to wonder about this a little.  I mean, I've moved a bunch of times, and had to adjust to a variety of things, from leaky plumbing to noisy neighbors to (I'm not making this up) an apartment that had an oven with a door that expanded and stuck shut when it heated up.  In all of those moves, one thing I have never had the need to adjust to was spectral taps on the shoulder.  This is fortunate, because if I got tapped on the shoulder when no one was around, I would scream like a little girl and then run out of the house.  I'm just that brave.

In any case, Callan and Chinchilla (will you please stop snickering every time I write the guy's name?) were in for worse.  Doors opened and closed on their own, clothes flew out of closets, and there were menacing voices including one that said, "Let it burn."  After 13 days they could take no more and moved into a hotel room, where they have been ever since.  They demanded to be released from the lease and filed suit to have their $2,250 security deposit back.  Understandably, their landlord, Richard Lopez, said no, and has filed a countersuit, alleging that the couple changed their mind about the lease for financial reasons, and is trying to concoct a story so that they can be released from the agreement they signed.

The problem is, of course, no one except the couple (and possibly their children) has heard the voices, seen the flying clothes and self-opening doors and all.  They apparently have zero hard evidence that their story is true.  I suppose it could be; as befits a skeptic, I'm not going to dismiss it out of hand, being that I also have no evidence that they're lying.  My inclination is that it is more likely that they're trying to weasel their way out of the lease, being that despite all of the thousands of claims for hauntings I've read about or heard described, I've never seen a single one that generated evidence that met my minimum standard for scientific validity.

But who knows?  Maybe this is the real deal.  I certainly wouldn't want to be the judge in this case.  How do you evaluate a case that hinges on a claim of the supernatural without your own beliefs being the determining factor?  I suspect that the case will ultimately be decided on the written terms of the lease -- most leases have a list of conditions under which the contract can be considered null and void, and the majority of them end with something like, "And no other reason will be considered valid."  As far as I've ever seen, none of them include, "This contract is considered invalid in cases of haunting that result in creepy voices and clothes being flung about."  So that will be that, and Callan and Chinchilla will be out on their ears without their $2,250.  Caveat rentor.

Of course, I've been wrong before.  With a sympathetic judge, it might go the other way -- which would certainly set an interesting precedent, and one that would be distinctly unfavorable for landlords.  In the end, it could become far easier for renters who discovered things they didn't like to get out of leases.  I might have even had a case regarding the oven door, which resulted in a perfectly nice batch of biscuits being turned into little disc-shaped charcoal briquets.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Blasphemy, leaky plumbing, and the Weeping Cross of India

It is an interesting distinction, and one many people seem to be unable to recognize -- that there is a difference between being victimized and simply being told that you're demonstrably wrong.

I remember, for example, a former student of mine, a young African American woman who had a chip on her shoulder so big she could have used a visit to a chiropractor, who was in one of my math classes.  She routinely failed exams -- whether from lack of effort or from lack of ability was hard to tell -- but her low grades finally resulted in a parent conference.  During the conference, her mother said that her low grades in math were due to one thing: the fact that I was a racist.  I was giving her daughter low grades, she said, because I was prejudiced against African Americans, and considered them "less intelligent."

I tried (unsuccessfully) to point out that my attitudes toward people of other races had little relevance, especially given that this was a math class -- the girl was seemingly incapable of solving algebra problems correctly.  My marking a problem wrong had nothing to do with her race; anyone who had tried to solve the problem that way would have been marked wrong.

Of course, it made no difference.  People who make a career out of being victims have remarkably little respect for facts and logic.  Whether she thought that her daughter's wrong answers would have magically become right if her math teacher had had darker skin is a matter of conjecture, but that's certainly what it sounded like.

Which brings us to the case of the Weeping Cross of India.  (Source)

In the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni, in Mumbai, there is a cross that began to drip water one day, resulting in a steady trickle that collected at the feet of the figure of Jesus.  Devout Catholics pronounced it a miracle, and began to show up by the hundreds to collect the "tears" in vials, stating that it was "holy water" and could heal people who were anointed with it.  Local church leaders jumped right on the bandwagon, circulating photographs of the miraculous statue, and encouraging everyone to come and witness the phenomenon.

One of the people who did is Sanal Edamaruku, president of Rationalist International.  He came to Mumbai on March 10, and after a brief investigation he discovered what was happening; a water pipe in an adjoining washroom had sprung a leak, saturating the wall behind the crucifix.  The water was being wicked up through the porous material of the cross, eventually seeping out and dripping onto Jesus' feet.

You'd think that the Catholic leaders would have a good laugh at themselves, and then hired a plumber, wouldn't you?  You'd be wrong.  Five church leaders, including Father Augustine Palett, the pastor of the church that houses the crucifix, were interviewed by a local news program and demanded that Edamaruku apologize for his "hostility."  He refused, and held his own news conference in which he explained his position, and described how the phenomenon had a purely natural explanation.  The priests responded by demanding that local law enforcement officials arrest Edamaruku for blasphemy, under a clause of Indian penal code that one may not "hurt the sentiments of a particular religious community."  As of this writing, the police are trying to locate and arrest Edamaruku, so far without success, so I'm uncertain as to how this story will end.

What occurs to me is, can these people really not see that there's a difference between being harassed and simply being wrong?  Edamaruku didn't say that the Catholics were bad people, or that they should be discriminated against; he simply said that they had made a mistake.  This is no more blasphemy than my marking my long-ago student's algebra problems wrong was racism.

And as far as India's anti-blasphemy law, under which Edamaruku may well soon be arrested; is it really reasonable that anyone should be able to claim anything, without challenge, simply by the expedient of adding, "and that's my religious belief?"  A statement that is factual in nature can presumably be verified, and its correctness determined by some means that is the same for everyone.  (This is called science, by the way.)  The water in the crucifix either is appearing by miraculous means, or it is not.  Edamaruku determined that it was not.  You do not suddenly turn the claim of its being a miracle into a factual statement by saying, "Oh, but it is my religious belief that the water isn't coming from a leaky pipe!" -- any more than 2 + 2 = 5 as long as you aren't a racist.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spring break

My dear Skeptophiliacs,

This coming week I will be taking a few days of R & R, and resting my poor fevered brain from the stress of battling the world of woo-woo.  I will, however, take that time to continue my research, and when I resume posting on Monday, April 16, I hope to have a variety of new weird and irrational beliefs to tell you about.

Of course, "hope" may be the wrong word.  What I'd really like is if, all of a sudden, the entire human race woke up and said, "Wow!  We see the error of our ways!  Logic, science, and rationalism really makes sense after all!  Gordon was right the whole time!"  And I would be forced to stop writing Skeptophilia for lack of material.  But frankly, I'm not that hopeful.

Be that as it may, Skeptophilia will be on hiatus for a few days.  If you've not read some of my older posts, this is a chance to go back through the archives (links are on the right side of the page).  Also, here are a few wonderful skeptical blogs that you should check out in my absence:

Science, Reason, and Critical Thinking
James Randi Educational Foundation
Pharyngula
SkepChick
The Skeptic's Dictionary
The Call of Troythulu
The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason
Friendly Atheist
Quackwatch
Bad Archaeology
Bad Astronomy

There, that should give you more than enough reading material for the week.  But if that's still not enough to whet your thirst, now is as good a time as ever to announce that in late May or early June, I will be e-publishing a collection of the best of Skeptophilia.  You can have all of the most outrageous assaults against human rationality in one place, right on your Kindle or Nook.  Wouldn't that be nice?  Plus, the cover illustration will, according to informed sources, feature me wearing a kick-ass wizard's hat.  That alone should be worth the price, don't you think?

Anyway, I will sign off for a week, and will look forward to being refreshed and ready to engage battle when I return on April 16.  If in the meantime any good stories from the world of woo-woo come up, leave a comment (and a link to the source) on this post, and I'll have a whole new pile of potential posts to sift through when I come back.  Until then, keep hoisting the banner of logic!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Buddhism, anagrams, and amino acids

In today's news, we have a new revelation from noted wingnut Dan Green.  Dan Green, you might recall, is the one who smooshed together biblical prophecies, the Templars, the World Cup, and Lincoln Cathedral and found that if you looked at the resulting mash-up just right you found out that Britain was going to experience a devastating earthquake.

There was only one teensy problem with this theory, and that was that the earthquake never happened.  But such a lack of results never discourages people like Green.  "I will come up with something even more abstruse and ridiculous next time!" they always say.  "And this time, it will be right!  You'll see!"

So even if the earthquake refused to show up on schedule, Green has, coming out with this new outpouring of nonsense, which uses accidental similarities between various scientific words (such as the names of the amino acids) and words from ordinary English and words from the Buddhist tradition to claim that science is actually Buddhism in disguise.  Or vice versa.  Who the hell can tell?  Most of Green's claims are so outlandish that at first it is tempting to believe that he's joking; but he delivers it all with such ponderous gravity that I am very much afraid he's serious, that he thinks he's really on to something, here.  Here are a couple of examples:
This cosmic neurological connection continues. The original and enforcedly relinquished seat of power in the Tibetan hierarchy was held by the now exiled Dalai Lama, an actual throne at his now abandoned and empty exquisite Pothala Palace, also known as Summer Palace, in the capital city of Lhasa. Summer Palace is also called Norbulinka, and our code reveals it as an anagram containing 'Brain link'. We will find the Pothala hiding in the word 'Hypothalamus' - 'hy POTHALA mus', a tiny cluster of cells in the brain and an essential link between the brain and the pituitary gland, which is sometimes called the 'Master Gland', as in the Masters of both Tibetan and Indian Buddhism. 'Hypothalamus' also locates 'Summer Palace' - 'Hypothal AMUS .......''Amus' reversed as 'SUMA'.....'Hy P ot HAL am US'...'PHALUS' = phonetic 'Palace'. Furthermore we find more significance in this crucial word, the very origin of the High Lamas of Tibet.....again, 'Hypothalamus' - 'HY potha LAMUS' = phonetic 'High Lamas'.
Well, first of all, "palace" was not what I thought of when I saw "PHALUS."  But maybe I just have a dirty mind.  And further on:
The Four Noble Truths and the 8-Fold Path, in concise form are as follows;

Truth number one - Individualized existence is suffering,
Truth number two - The three poisons; ignorance, attachment and hatred are the cause of suffering,
Truth number three - Suffering ceases when desire ceases,
Truth number four - release can be reached by the 8-Fold Path :

1. Right Seeing
2. Right Thought
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Contemplation.

1. Isoleucine = Right seeing
IS o LEUCINE to read as phonetic 'Eyes looking'

2. Leusine = Right thought
LEUS ine to read as phonetic 'Loose' i.e. lacking a sense of restraint or responsibility : also licentious, unchaste, immoral

3. Lysine = Right speech
LYS ine to be read as phonetic 'Lies', false statements or pieces of information deliberately presented as being true.

4. Methionine = Right action.
To conceal phonetics 'Me', 'Thee' (Thi) and 'Thine' (Thion). Concern for all, regarding our actions.

5. Phenylalanine = Right livelihood.
To be read as phonetic 'Penny' (Pheny) a line (L an INE). A penny, in UK currency, was a coin originally silver, later copper, bronze from 1860, formerly worth 1/240 of £1, now equal to a hundredth part of £1. There is also the term 'bread line', meaning to be living at subsistence level, a modern day epithet to describe the original state of Buddhist living. People living in the UK will be reminded of the weekly 'football pool coupon', a mainstay of British national existence primarily before the advent of the National Lottery, whereby nominal stakes to attempt to win a fortune were staked at a 'penny a line'.

6. Threonine = Right effort.
To be read as phonetic 'Thrown in' (THREON ine = Throne). To put quickly into use or place, the colloquialism to 'throw in' as in colloquialism 'throw in the towel', to accept personal defeat, to give in, to oppose selfish, incorrect effort.

7. Tryptophan = Right mindfulness.
Concealing phonetic 'tripped' (TRYPT), colloquialism to 'trip up', meaning a mistake, slip up or blunder, to go wrong.

8. Valine = Right contemplation.
From vulgar Latin 'Valiente' (VALIEN te), to be strong, to possess, act with or show valour.

These then, are the revealed references, the eight amino acids for healthy growth and their relationship with approved Buddhist thought, until now phonetically veiled in the 8-Fold Path by Prince Siddhartha....SIDDHA rtha

SIDDHA = AHSIDDS = phonetic 'acids'
Really, I'm torn between laughing and crying, here.  "AHSIDDS?"  And when he went on to say that a healthy diet was 2,500 calories because the Buddha was born in 2,500 B.C.E., and that if you took the last part of "carbohydrate" and rearranged it you got "bodhy trae," which sounds like "bodhi tree," the place where the Buddha obtained enlightenment, I gave up.

However, it crosses my mind that two can play at that game.  So, with a little help from the Internet Anagram Server, I came up with the following.

If you rearrange "Daniel Green," you get "eagle dinner."  The eagle is the national symbol of the United States, along with the Stars and Stripes.  The middle of "StarS AND STRIPes" says "sand strip," which is another name for a beach, such as the beach at Normandy where the Allied troops swarmed ashore during World War II, a move that proved to be the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler, whose name can be rearranged to spell "Harlot Field."  The Harlot is another name for the Scarlet Woman of Babylon in the prophesies of the Book of Revelation, and if you take letters from the phrase "sCARlet woMAN of BABYLon," you get "Car Man Babyl (babble)," a clear reference to Click and Clack, the guys on Car Talk.  Click and Clack are actually Tom and Ray Magliozzi, and if you rearrange "Tom and Ray Magliozzi" you get "dizzying amoral atom," which obviously is referring to nuclear weapons.  Therefore you'd better take Dan Green's prophecies seriously, because otherwise someone's gonna get nuked.

I could keep doing this all day, but I'd better not, because I'm afraid I'd start believing it.  That's the problem with this sort of thing, isn't it?  As the cynical book editors discovered in my all-time favorite novel, Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, there are seeming correspondences everywhere, and if you know enough you can make anything plausibly link to anything.  Well, "plausibly" if you're willing to suspend disbelief indefinitely -- cherry-picking your examples, and ignoring any data that doesn't fit.  And, of course, if you start from the belief that there is no such thing as meaningless coincidence.  With that as your foundation, you can fashion the world into whatever you please.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Whist, muslin, and bumble-puppy

It's been a while since I've posted on anything of a linguistic nature, which is kind of a shame.  I'm a bit of a fanatic for words, especially odd words with curious origins.  This has the result that a trip to a dictionary or encyclopedia is never quick for me.  I go to look something up, get distracted by another entry, and then that reminds me of something else to look up, and I'm off on a two-hour birdwalk when I had intended to spend five minutes looking up a definition.  Ah, the pain of being a language nerd.

A couple of days ago, I referred to an individual as being a "muckety-muck," and I was asked by one of my students whether I made that up, or if not, where did it come from.  I didn't know -- I've heard the expression "high muckety-muck" since I was a kid, it was one of my mom's pet expressions for someone who was in charge and whose assumption of the mantle of responsibility had turned him/her into a puffed up, arrogant twit. As far as I knew, my mom made it up.  So I went to the Linguists' Bible -- the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology -- and lo and behold, she didn't.

The term apparently comes from the trade language Chinook, which was a composite pidgin used by members of various tribes in the Pacific Northwest to communicate, since their home languages were mutually unintelligible.  The Chinook phrase "hiu mukamuk," meaning "a man with plenty to eat," got brought into English as "high muckety-muck" with the overtones of someone using his affluence or influence for self-aggrandizement.

I've always found such things fascinating, and so I have become something of a collector for obscure word origins.  I still haven't lived down with my family members the fact that I knew that "juggernaut" came from the name of a god in Hindi (Jaganath), and therefore is not a half-cognate to "astronaut" (which comes from Latin words meaning "star sailor").   The fact that "ignorant" and "agnostic" are cognates always makes me smile a little, and probably would bring an outright laugh from any religious folks -- "i" and "a" both mean "not," and "gnosis" means "knowledge."  To fire a salvo in the other direction, however, remember that the stock phrase of the stage magician, "hocus pocus" (originally "hocus pocus dominocus"), comes from the Latin phrase hoc est corpus domini -- "this is the body of the lord," the words used during the Catholic mass before communion.  Ha.  Take that.

My tendency to lose focus as soon as I open up the ODEE means, however, that looking up a word origin never proceeds in a straight line.  During my recent zigzag path through the Oxford, for example, I discovered another type of cloth that comes from a Middle Eastern city name. I knew that "gauze" comes from Gaza, and "damask" comes from Damascus, but who knew that "muslin" came from Mosul?  Not me, or not until this week.

And then, there's my favorite new word, which I will find a way to work into a conversation soon.  "Ingurgitate."  Meaning "to swallow greedily."  From the Latin gurges, meaning "whirlpool."  That one also makes me strangely happy.

I also stumbled upon "bumble-puppy."  This charming word doesn't refer to a particularly clumsy dog, but (and I quote), "an unscientific game of whist."  This then necessitated looking up what "whist" was, and I gather from the definition of that word that it's a kind of card game (whose name, apparently, comes from Old Norse).  Card games generally make as much sense to me as integral calculus does to a second grader, so I doubt I'd be able to tell a scientific from an unscientific game of whist in any case.  ("Bumble-puppy" itself, I hasten to add, was marked "origin unknown.")

Then I found that "coracle" -- a little round boat -- wasn't a Latin word, as I expected from the "-acle" ending -- it's from the Welsh cwrwgl, meaning, of all things, "a little round boat."  I guess when the Welsh were out in their cwrwgls, there was a storm, and all of their vowels washed overboard.  Pity, that.

And last -- the first recorded use of the word "meringue" was in an English manuscript in 1706.  Sounds French, doesn't it?  I'd have thought so.  I guess not.  The ODEE puts it in with "bumble-puppy" as "origin unknown."

Honestly, none of this information is of the slightest use, but it's amusing and curious, and that's enough for me any day.  Can't be deathly serious all the time, or even most of the time.  Remember that next time you're playing a fast-moving game of bumble-puppy while ingurgitating meringue.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Twinkle, twinkle, little Starseed

Regular readers of Skeptophilia may remember that a few months ago, I posted about the phenomenon wherein various people with a fairly tenuous grasp on reality become convinced that they are aliens.  (See my post here.)  They prefer the term "Starseed," however, so that they will not be confused with the more prosaic kind of illegal aliens, which could result in their being arrested by INS and deported to Alpha Centauri or something.

One of my criticisms of the whole Starseed thing was that it relied entirely on "feeling;" you determined that you were a Starseed because you "felt like you were," and even what star system you were from was ascertained from looking at a star map and seeing which one "felt right."  My conclusion was that the entire thing seemed predicated on a lot of wishful thinking.

Well, I'm happy to say that I now have come across research (even if I am twitching a little just from calling it that) that approaches the issue a little more analytically.  (Source)  However, if you are understandably reluctant to read the article itself, for fear that your brain will turn to Armour Potted Meat Food Product, I will summarize its main points for you below.

In its opening paragraphs, the article makes a good point, an objection that I wish I had thought of in my first post; if Starseeds are really superpowerful aliens in human form, sent here on a mission to improve humanity and heal the Earth, why don't they just go ahead and do it?  It's not like we see humanity showing much sign of improvement most days, such as might be evidenced by a drop in the ratings for Jersey Shore.  And as far as healing the Earth, I don't think I have a whole lot of confidence that's happening either, however you might define the word "healing."  And you'd think that the author might conclude from this that the people who claim to be Starseeds are actually just regular humans who might profit from some antipsychotic meds.

But no:  the actual answer, he says, is that Starseeds are alien losers:
I personally think that all Starseeds are actually outcasts are social rejects, prisoners are whatever part of their society they wanted to remove. The idea is that aliens vastly outlive us and they know the soul is immortal, so to punish or remove someone they find unpleasant to say the least, they must erase their memories and trick them into thinking they are on a mission to save Earth. Even when a Starseed remembers who they are, the aliens they last were, will return to contact that person and tell them they have a mission to keep them from wanting to return home. When a Starseed like myself doesn't do this mission and completely reject the idea and finds out what actually happened, the aliens will go as far as to threaten violence to keep them trapped on Earth.
Oh!  That makes perfect sense to me now.  Earth is actually like an intergalactic prison colony, and aliens are sent here for punishment.  I suppose there's some logic to this, especially if you've spent much time in Newark.

But by far the best part of the article is when the author quotes some facts and figures from Brad Steiger's highly scientific book, The Star People, which allows you to figure out the likelihood of your being a Starseed in a more statistically sound fashion than just closing your eyes and pointing to a random place in a star atlas.  According to Steiger, you may be a Starseed if you:
  • Have compelling eyes.
  • Have lower than normal body temperature.
  • Were an unexpected child.
  • Have chronic sinusitis.
  • Have hypersensitivity to electricity or electromagnetic force fields.
  • Experience buzzing or audio tone prior to a psychic-spiritual event or warning of danger.
  • Have "flying" dreams.
  • Feel that children and animals are attracted to you, and form strong attachments to pets.
  • Felt Earth mother/father not real parents.
Well, personally, I think that I have drop-dead sexy eyes, although I will admit that I might be a little biased in that regard.  I am very sensitive to the cold, I was definitely an unexpected child, and I have pretty frequent sinus problems.  The next two are "nos," but I did have flying dreams as a child, and dogs and cats both seem to be magnetically attracted to me.  As far as my parents not really being my parents, I look exactly like my dad, so I think it's a big no on that one.  So all in all, my own results are a little equivocal.  But Streiger goes on to quote some statistics, obtained heaven-alone-knows-how:
  • 88-92% have lower body temperature than the norm
  • 92% feel a tremendous sense of urgency to fulfill their missions
  • 65% are female: 35% are male
  • 90% have experienced a sense of oneness with the universe
  • 83-94% have chronic sinusitis
  • 32-34% have extra or transitional vertebra
  • 97% have hypersensitivity to sound, light, odors
  • 70-87% have swollen or painful joints
  • 93% have pain in the back of the neck
  • 84% adversely affected by high humidity
  • 71% have difficulty dealing with/or expressing emotions
  • 74% report out of body experiences
  • 57% perceive auras
  • 63% have experienced a white light during meditation
  • 50% believe that they receive some form of communication from a higher source
  • 50% have accomplished dramatic healings on themselves and others
  • 38% practice automatic writing
  • 60% have perceived spirit guides
  • 75% have experienced clairvoyance, clairaudience
  • 57% have made prophetic statements or experienced prophetic dreams or visions that have come to pass
  • 38% have been visited by an angel
  • 37% reveal the manifestation of a Light Being
  • 35% feel that they have been blessed by the appearance of a holy figure
  • 50% are convinced that they have a spirit guide or angel
  • 40% admit to having had an invisible playmate as a child
  • 20% once spotted an elf or "wee person"
  • 34% are certain that they have encountered alien entities of an extraterrestrial or multidimensional level
  • 55% report an intense religious experience
  • 72% claim an illumination experience
  • 90% have experienced telepathic communication with another entity, physical or non-physical from another realm.
  • 48% have seen a ghost
  • 42% have connected with a deceased loved one
  • 76% believe in reincarnation and have past life memories
  • 37% have survived a life-threatening illness
  • 34% have been involved in a severe accident or trauma
  • 55% have had near death experiences
  • 78% believe that have lived on another planet and can tell you about it
  • Some are aware of parallel existence at this time in other worlds
  • 86% believe in miracles
  • Most believe in a God or creator energy source
  • All believe in life on other planets
The majority of these seem to me to be ample qualifications for being fitted out for a jacket with extra-long sleeves, in my opinion, although a few of them are just weird.  Especially, what's the thing with the arthritis, sinus problems, and dislike of high humidity?  Are Starseeds actually elderly retired aliens from Planet Scottsdale, or something?  Of course, I didn't see any mention of golf, driving Buicks, or wearing plaid shorts with loafers and knee socks, so maybe that isn't right, either.

Be that as it may, there's our handy checklist to see if you're from another planet.  Given the author's surmise that Starseeds are alien convicts, if you are one, it's probably best if you don't tell me about it.  If you did, and the Intergalactic Police showed up at my door and threatened to vaporize my pets if I didn't tell them everything I know, I probably would rat you out rather than let that happen.  No offense, but I Form Very Strong Attachments To Pets, if you get my drift.  Wink wink nudge nudge.