Table of Contents:
  1. Sentient Cutlery
  2. Quebec Falls for a Scam
  3. Remote Pet Healing
  4. Another End to this World
  5. Miracle Prayer Endorsed
  6. License Lost
  7. Another New Fan
  8. My Ignorance Is Showing
  9. More Limbo
  10. In Conclusion



SENTIENT CUTLERY

Last week we discussed the statements of Peter B. Lloyd (see www.peterblloyd.org) one of the Coppens/Lloyd/Osborn/Pilkington/Sarfatti group who so adore magician Uri Geller and eagerly embrace strange and magical philosophical notions. They occasionally remind me of these lapses of reason. In the message forwarded to me last week, under the heading “Re Spoon-bending/Telekinesis,” Peter B. Lloyd – these are excerpts – wrote:

Although my colleague Susan Waitt advised me to bring a spoon along to the meeting [with Uri Geller] I felt at the time that that would be rather passé. After all, a lot of spoons have been bent psychically over the years, and the spoon-bending has passed as a cliché into the background culture (vide the scene in The Matrix where Neo is told "There is no spoon" by the spoon-bending protegé). So I expected that Uri would be bored sick of bending spoons, and would not wish to bend any more. I was surprised when Uri volunteered to bend one. I had never seen one being bent close-up before. In fact probably the last time I saw the phenomenon was on television in the 1970s…

Lloyd really seems surprised that Geller, the one-trick pony, offered to bend a spoon! I’d have been astonished if he hadn’t bent one. That’s his basic act; he has little else to offer. Lloyd continued, wondering about where the “foundation of a science of psi phenomena” could be found:

…even [Jack Sarfatti’s] theory addresses only one part of the problem. If I may use an analogy from computer science, there must be are at [sic] least two layers involved in psi. A “physical layer” that actually enables a signal to get from the conscious mind of the agent to the target (or vice versa), and an “application layer” that defines the semantics of that signal. In the demonstration that we all saw in Uri's house, (a) a signal of some sort was passed from Uri's mind to the spoon – that is the work of the “physical layer”; and (b) the spoon interpreted that signal by bending at a uniform rate to an angle of 90 degrees – that is the work of the “application layer.”

Note, please, “the spoon interpreted that signal by bending…” These folks have been watching far too many special-effects movies. Now they have spoons possessing a thinking process and free will. However, if you actually believe that diabolical forces in Hollywood created The Matrix either to inform or to confound – choose one – then spoons can also dance and write poetry. Just what are these folks smoking? Mr. Lloyd continued:

An analogy can be made with the internet. From the user's point of view, it is [sic] works automagically: you type in an email, hit “SEND,” and the message appears on the computer screen of the recipient. But, behind the scenes, there is a physical layer of cables, and perhaps wireless connections, maybe satellite hops, which gets the email from A to B. At the top, there is an “application layer,” which is the email client that displays and stores the email. (In the internet, there are also five other layers: data link, network, transport, session, and presentation. Whether those intermediate layers have any analogues in psi processes, I don't know yet.)…

Well, Jack as a physicist is interested primarily in the physical layer of psi. But, as a software developer, I am intrigued by what I am calling the “application layer” of psi.

In other words, even when the signal gets from Uri's mind to the spoon (via Jack's signal non-locality, or whatever), how the heck does the spoon know what to do with the signal?

Mr. Lloyd, though I admit I’m substantially ignorant of how the Internet works, I have never – even for a fleeting moment! – had to entertain an idea that it had anything to do with magic. Yes, Sir Arthur C. Clarke once said – and with wisdom – “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” However, that implies that the observer is unable to accept and/or admit that he simply does not understand the technology, that he’s ignorant of facts, or systems, or tools, that could bring about the results he observes. An assumption that the unidentified technology actually is magic, does not necessarily follow.

We must ask whether anyone in the group that met for Mr. Geller’s “demonstration” had any expertise in conjuring techniques? No, I’m not asking if they know how to perform any cool card tricks, I’m asking if they have a good knowledge of the physical and psychological means whereby conjurors – I prefer the term over “magicians” – are able to apply their “sufficiently advanced technology.” I would ask them to sit with me through a performance of Penn & Teller, and make notes, then explain to me how those apparent wonders were accomplished. In fact, I now ask them to tell me – without scurrying about to their local magic shops to discover the secret – how Jacob Spinney performs as shown on this video www.randi.org/images/081304-ForkBend.mpg. I invite them to offer me their considered – scientific – opinions.

These people have presumed either that (1) it is not possible for them to be fooled by an accomplished conjuror, or that (2) Uri Geller, during their meeting, did not fool them with conjuring tricks. Either or both presumptions may be true, but they have decided that at least one is not true. And that is a personal, uninformed decision, only, since they have no expertise in such matters. So, what they saw at Geller’s demonstration was, to them, in their ignorance, “indistinguishable from magic.”

And here, again, in Mr. Lloyd’s last question in the excerpt above, is the assertion that spoons have consciousness and free will, and can act according to what they’ve been told…! To return to his spaced-out ruminations:

I was very interested by Uri's statement that (a) the spoon keeps on bending after he has initiated the action – which we all saw, (b) the spoon always bends to 90 degrees, (c) it seems to bend at always the same uniform angular rate – it doesn't oscillate, or twist. It is as if there is a preprogrammed “package” of action that is executed by the spoon, which is triggered by the signal from Uri's mind. As far as I could tell from Uri's comments, he has no control over the details of this process. He seemed to be as puzzled as anyone that it always bends to 90 degrees. This suggests that the specifications of the process are not contained in the message transmitted by Uri's conscious mind, but may be already pre-defined in the spoon…

These people actually accept and believe what Geller’s told them! They don’t question it in any way, even though it defies everything they know about the real world, and they state that they sympathize with his seeming puzzlement over these formidable powers. Can you imagine the peals of laughter that ring through the Geller household after these “marks” have left? It must be quite a show. But back to Mr. Lloyd, asking sillier questions than we might have imagined possible from a man who apparently can do simple arithmetic and tie his own shoes:

But why would a brute physical spoon possess the kind of intelligence necessary to know that it has to bend at a uniform rate to 90 degrees on receipt of the relevant signal? To have any chance of answering that question, I believe we need a different fundamental theory from the conventional one…

Yes, Peter, I agree that you do. That old conventional theory says that spoons are dumb metal objects that don’t think for themselves, and that magicians can actually fool naïve scientists by simple sleight-of-hand. But you’d say that it’s time to shuck this reality nonsense, join hands, and skip down the Yellow Brick Road, right? And pay no attention to that Man Behind the Curtain, please…

At this point in his strange discourse, Mr. Lloyd speculates that the world may be “essentially a virtual reality, rather like The Matrix.” He compares it to the “Vedantic picture of the world that was advanced by Shankara in the 8th Century.” This shows how current his concept of reality is. He continues:

We should in principle be able to reverse-engineer this simulation, and discover the architecture of the software that we are all immersed in. A plausible starting point would be an assumption that this global VR [virtual reality à la The Matrix] is an object-oriented system. Each material object that we see around us – each table, chair, or spoon – corresponds to a software “object.” That is, an encapsulated structure of data and methods. Such “objects” communicate with each other by well-defined “messages.” A message will nominate a particular “method,” and the receiving object will contain the necessary semantic intelligence to know what to do in order to “execute” any given method that it receives. In the case of Uri's spoon, the spoon already knows how to bend through ninety degrees – it is a built-in method – and the simple signal from Uri's mind needs only to be a message to trigger that method.

Okay. Now we have “intelligent” tables, chairs, and spoons communicating with one another, folks. I’m getting woo-wooed out, at this point. We can only imagine what these people go through in their daily lives, always carefully avoiding notice of that Man Behind the Curtain…

This way of viewing psi also provides a framework for theorizing remote viewing. For example, when viewing a remote object, say a table in an adjacent room, you “see” an image as if you were seeing an optical image at the target location. But there is no optical lens at the target: so there is no optical image there to be remote-viewed. Nor is there a detector with the spectral characteristics of a human retina. So, something at the target location is able to construct an image as if there were an eye there. What is that “something”? Well, if the world around us is a virtual reality like The Matrix, then what we see as a table is really a software object running a physics simulation of a table. And that object will contain a predefined method for rendering an image of how the object would be seen by an observer from any particular angle.

Mr. Lloyd, your entire theory-spinning is predicated on the assumption that “remote viewing” actually takes place. Otherwise, you’d be sniffing fairy-dust, right? I suggest that you might want to do some “remote viewing” for the JREF and take away that million dollars we’ve been waving about for so many years now! Or, get anyone to do it, maybe Mr. Geller? Oh, it appears that I’ve disturbed the Man Behind the Curtain… Shhh!

Friends, I’ll just leave you to read the last few hundred words of this scary Sarfatti farce, on your own. When you finish, wash your face and get back to the real world by hugging a baby or a puppy. It works, every time, and you and the huggees are still there when you’re done. Lloyd and company will be frothing on about their Matrix world long after you’ve left their weird delusions far behind you…

I did briefly raise this question of the mechanisms of spoon-bending with Uri at our meeting, but basically his view was that of a “user” of psi rather than that of a scientist seeking to understand psi. He just forms the intention of the spoon bending, and somehow it happens. So, it appears that his conscious mind is not directly involved in the details of the underlying process.

I also asked him why he needs to rub the spoon, and why it worked better near the sculpture by Salvador Dali. My understanding of his answer is that the rubbing and the standing near the sculpture are basically a ritual that facilitates the psychological action of transmitting the message to the spoon.

One thing I discussed with Jack in Paris but forgot to ask Uri is about the procedure for acquiring telekinetic powers. There is an analogous problem in how a newborn baby learns how to use its body. The baby starts off as a brain locked inside a dark skull, communicating with the outside world only by means of incoming and outgoing nerve fibers. At first it has no idea what each nerve fiber does, so it has no control over its limbs. The baby waves its arms and legs around at random. Gradually, it discovers that certain nerve fibers are wired into the hand, and that a certain pattern of signals causes the hand to clench, another to open.

The same process must happen with telekinesis. The mind has to learn by feedback that sending out certain signals can cause a spoon to bend. An interesting question is how the mind initially gets to transmit telekinetic signals, and why it has such limited success at acquiring mastery of this technique.

Sheeesh!




QUEBEC FALLS FOR A SCAM

Reader Rose Anne Mussar, of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, informs us that Econoco Inc., a company based in Prevost, Quebec, near Montreal, has been ordered to stop selling a bogus “fuel-saver” that falsely promises to cut car energy consumption. That’s what we call, a move forward. However, this only happened after a federal agency spent thousands outfitting a fleet of vehicles with the device – at $750 a pop – and boasted it was contributing to a federal plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Econopro promoters marketed their scam as a gadget that when attached to a car, generated fuel savings of “at least 10 per cent,” eliminating emissions and even improving engine performance. These very common claims, in themselves, should have alerted any agency to the fraudulent nature of such a device, particularly because there are literally hundreds of such devices being offered to the naïve, all over the world.

But Econoco's marketing promotion was enough to convince the Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions to outfit its fleet of vehicles with the device, despite the fact that there was no evidence whatsoever to support the claims. Obviously, authorities were desperately looking for ways to reduce gasoline emissions and potentially reduce fuel consumption, and they chose to accept Econoco’s wild assertions. What makes this all the more embarrassing to the Canada Economic Development agency, is that in a 2004 Environment Canada newsletter it had been lauded for helping to reduce fuel consumption by investing in this bogus device! Even worse, agency employees are still using eight cars with the "fuel-saver" installed! What will it take to get these guys smart?

A majority of the 1,900 Econopro devices sold in Canada, were sold in Quebec. Econoco now must take out newspaper ads to inform their consumers that the product is a sham, and pay a $15,000 penalty. Wow! That’s punishment, I’m sure you’ll agree! Let’s see: we’ll sell a few million dollars worth of these gimmicks, then we’ll agree to go out of business, and we’ll pay about ½ of a percent fine, and then retire. Sounds fair to me!




REMOTE PET HEALING

Reader Jeff Salzmann of Lancaster, New York, tells us:

Maybe I've got it wrong. Maybe I shouldn't have studied hard sciences and entirely too much math. Maybe I should have taken up curing pets over the phone, or, later, the Internet. This thread got me wondering... See http://tinyurl.com/nrn8e

On Friday we took our dog Sushi to a holistic vet about 30 miles from us. He has a liver problem [the dog, not the vet!] and has been started on potassium bromide for epilepsy. My mother came along for the ride, and let me tell you we went for a ride. I was thinking this was going to be a visit about alternative medicine and nutrition. NOPE! Not the case at all. The vet first did a muscle test, which I've seen before and was not all that put off and talked about the depletion of vitamins in our food. This was the reason behind the dog’s sickness. At the end he came up with all the organs that had viruses, and which nutrients the dog needed to get well again.

We had three choices on how we wanted to administer these vitamins:

1) Capsule form.

2) Send Sushi an email and he listens to it for 30 minutes. He receives his care through the Internet. Not kidding.

3) They pull ten hairs from the dog, take a snapshot, and transmit it through the Internet to whereever Sushi is. YEP!

My partner freaked and left with the dog. My mother and I stayed as I debated with him on how this works. Where is the logic? He compared this to color TV. So looking at the website of this (cough) vet...there are various oddities excerpted here:

THE CACHE CREEK VETERINARY SERVICE

NOTE: Even if you live far away from Woodland, CA, we can probably still help your animal with telephone testing techniques we have developed over the years. If this might be of interest to you and you want to learn more about telephone testing, just click on the telephone (which is linked below): www.yolodirect.com/ccv/page15.html

Yes, we know it sounds strange. Nevertheless, we have been successfully performing telephone analysis for nutritional needs, and determining and eliminating "allergies" for several years – over the telephone!

The lesson we learned was that the CRA [Contact Reflex Analysis] testing depends on a kind of energy which seems to be conducted by metal.  A friend of ours with lots of letters after his name (Ph.D. in physiology and M.S. in nutrition), after lots of coaxing, finally convinced us that we should try to test him by telephone. "It should work," he said! Our friend was right. Since that time we have been testing patients at great distance from our Woodland, California, home and office.  While most are right here in California, we now have clients in Canada, all over the United States, in Europe and as far away as Israel.  We can save clients and their animals the trouble of driving to us.  Does this sound strange to you?  We hope so!!  (Otherwise we might have to doubt your rational ability.)  It certainly is not anything we ever thought we would be doing. [By this, I assume they mean scamming clients] Be that as it may, what we started out doing to benefit our clients who live twenty miles away from us has brought us new clients living thousands of miles away!

On the day of the appointment, have your small animal inside an all metal cage (or in a plastic crate with aluminum foil on the floor and running out the front under the door).  After providing your credit card information, we begin the exam.  You will place the telephone on the metal cage or the aluminum foil in front of the crate, and we do the rest.

Portable (wireless) Telephones may be attached directly to halters of horses, etc.

Thanks for the fantastic website and the commentaries. Keep up the great work!




ANOTHER END TO THIS WORLD

You may have become aware of a panic among catastrophe-fans that’s based on what they call the “2012 cycle change.” You see, since the current Mayan calendar cycle covers the period 3113 BC to 2012 AD, the calamatists have decided that in that year, a “total collapse of time” will occur, and our species will enter “post history.” (Folks, I just report these matters; I don’t explain them.)

An author named Patrick Geryl gets down to specifics of what will happen in 2012:

Immense earthquakes and kilometers-high tidal waves will torment the surface of the earth. At the same time a pole shift will occur. In just a couple of hours the earth's crust will shift thousands of kilometers. In this short period the United States and Europe will be completely destroyed.

Billions of casualties will occur worldwide; only a few human beings will have a chance to survive. These are the horrible facts. But how do you survive this "Armageddon", this ultimate "End of Times" scenario?

Need I add that Patrick tells his readers just what to do? Can you say, “Noah”? Hey, it worked before, didn’t it? I read it in another book…

Since these nut-cases also claim that “all of the predictions” of the Mayan calendar have been accurate – whatever that refers to – and that planet Earth will “come into synchronization with the Universe by 2012 AD,” we’re not at all surprised to see that Amazon.com (how appropriate!) shows more than 100 books on the subject, with titles like "Doomsday 2012" and "2012: You Have a Choice!" All over this doomed Earth, “spirituality conferences” are convening. In New Mexico, as we’d expect, the nutters will gather for a "2012 Ascension Symposium" which promises to "offer humanity global reassurance and change the consciousness of the world.” Woo-woo author Geoff Stray is giving a series of lectures on 2012 throughout 2006 and 2007, including one at a UFO Conference in Nevada in February, and a "Healing Conference" in Jericho, West Bank, Israel, in May. We assume that Geoff will hurry to spend his lecture money, which will be of no use after a few years.

Now, it’s true that we’re facing an unusual astronomical alignment, one so rare that it occurs only once every 870 years. That’s when the Sun will make its annual crossing of the galactic equator on the same day as the Winter Solstice, and these folks are in a frenzy over this fact. Duh. Though there are literally thousands of other equally rare astronomical events occurring, regularly, one Belgian “researcher” says that this occurrence will trigger

…a reversal in the magnetic fields of the Sun, causing it to get 10 or 20 times hotter, which will reverse the Earth's rotation on its axis and flood its inhabitants.

Friends, I’m really not expecting this newest calamity to occur, just as I’ve been quite relaxed as each of the hundreds of other promised disasters has been offered by doom-sayers. I’m far more concerned about the upcoming USA elections than I am about the ideas of the long-dead Mayans – even though their mathematical and astronomical accomplishments command our attention and admiration. 




MIRACLE PRAYER ENDORSED

No question about it. “Spiritual healing” is by far the most widely-practiced “alternative remedy.” The evidence for its efficacy is just not there, however.

Really? But professor Harald Walach, a psychologist from the University of Northampton, UK, now says:

We should take this phenomenon [spiritual healing] seriously even if we don't understand it. To ignore it would be unscientific. Our work shows that there is a significant effect.

So Walach believes he can show that prayer and spiritual healing are not just quackery, after all. He claims that real scientists and real doctors have simply assumed that these notions don't work. No, professor, they observed that they don’t work; there was no assumption at all. Extensive tests of prayer to determine if it affects illness, have failed grandly.

Professor Peter Fenwick, a consultant neuro-psychiatrist at King's College London, chimed in and offered four possibilities he could see for reportedly positive results of prayer working:

1. Fraud is taking place.

2. The researchers are wrong.

3. Reports disproving healing remain unpublished.

4. The effect is real.

Fenwick proclaimed the first three scenarios to be “unlikely.” I disagree. Taken in order:

1. “Fraud is taking place.” Fraud not only is highly likely, it has been shown to be present in some of the most widely lauded and publicized cases. Why would it be present? Because there is a very strong motive for experimenters to obtain positive results. Academics thrive on publication and the kind of high profile they thus achieve. Only positive results will get prominently published; news editors jump on any woo-woo reports, especially if there are academics behind them.

2. “The researchers are wrong.” Fenwick, in his observations, shows his bias. He refers to these people as, “large numbers of able and gifted researchers,” thus insulating them from criticism and/or censure. Consider the fuss that researchers Russell Targ and Hal Puthoff raised over a magician who they accepted as real, back in the ‘70s. These were certainly “able and gifted,” but they got out of their depth – and their field of expertise – when confronted with the psychological manipulation and charm of a professional performer. Now, they no longer advertise their former declarations. Scientists can, and do, make mistakes; they’re human beings just like other folks.

3. “Reports disproving healing remain unpublished.” Media editors and publishers, confronted with reports of negative results of experiments generally expected to have been positive, tend to relegate those reports to limbo. Their consumers/readers want positive reports, not failures. And, you have to consider the plight of the researchers who come up with negative results; their easiest route by far is to simply file away the results. The funding specter is also ever-present, in that funding for further possibly negative results is not easily come by.

4. “The effect is real.” Here’s where the JREF comes in. If this is indeed true, then of course Walach and/or Fenwick need merely apply for the JREF prize, and we’ll get the ball rolling. The rub here is that Walach came to his decision by the increasingly-popular technique of examining all available data and drawng a conclusion from that.  Sorry, that doesn't work.  As I've said many times before, a great deal of questionable data doesn't prove anything; one good set of data obtained by an adequate experiment, subsequently replicated independently, can prove the case.

We await that experiment...




LICENSE LOST

Reader Catherine Neelon of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is back. You saw an item here from Catherine last week. At http://www.randi.org/jr/2006-04/041406schwartz.html#i9, we discussed a very weird – even for these pages – chiropractor named James Burda, who claimed he possessed the power to heal clients via techniques he dubbed "Bahlaqeem Vina" and "Bahlaqeem Jaqem," terms he invented to describe his “ability to go back in time to the date of an injury and realign bones and joints using telekinetic vibration.” Sure.

Well, says Ms. Neelon, it appears that the real world has caught up with Burda:

I wanted to draw your attention to a fairly recent news story that I thought might be of interest. As woo-woo as chiropractic medicine seems to be, apparently this guy was too woo-woo even for his fellow practitioners! Read it at http://tinyurl.com/yahkc4

Burda was accused of medical malpractice for charging his patients $60 an hour to heal their pain “telepathically,” and had to forfeit his license to practice. Why it took 15 years to investigate his racket, was not explained. The Ohio State Chiropractic Board found him to be “a long-distance quack,” and said that a psychological exam determined that he was mentally ill and suffered from "delusional disorder, grandiose type." It takes a chiropractor to discover this?

Burda’s website even included a "testimonial" from a 10-year-old basset hound. I rest my case.



ANOTHER NEW FAN

There are two major points about which the TAM conferences can be very proud.  First, we attract quite a number of young people.  Most skeptical organizations – and there are many around the world – hold conferences that have been described in the press, and certainly by the opponents of a skeptical attitude, as "a collection of old men."  We have to admit that that's essentially true, unfortunately.  But the TAM get-togethers have shown that young folks appreciate and benefit from meeting the people that we are able to present to them every year, and that's very encouraging.  Second, even a glance at a TAM audience will show a far larger proportion of females than have in the past been expected at such meetings.  That, too, is encouraging.

A refreshing and welcome letter has been received from a reader identified only as, Geetha. She is an Indian woman who reads our commentary regularly, and here are her observations:

I am from India. I chanced upon your website recently and find it to be extremely interesting. Happy to have found a like-minded community. I have been a skeptic for years but generally keep my ideas to myself except in front of a close circle of friends so as not to shock or offend people (radical views from a woman are considered even more shocking). However Richard Dawkins has inspired me to have the courage to give offence when called for (www.randi.org/jr/040805how.html#8). Here in India superstitions abound and there exist multitudes of god men (so-called) to cash in on the innocents who enjoy wallowing in their stupidity. Most of them when confronted with questions take the stance that “fate” explains everything – a sort of defense mechanism, I suppose.

People don't realize the sense of freedom one feels when one is not bound by superstitions and when one realizes that being simple, good and honest has nothing to do with being religious. Very often I have heard people refer to someone has a very good person just because he is “god fearing” and is seen to visit temples regularly. I am now busy going through your Commentary archives and am surprised by the amount of cheating going on all around the world.

I am doing my best to popularize your site among my friends. I am planning to make a list of superstitions followed in India and also to write to you about Nadi josiyam – that claims there are ancient palm leaf scripts about every individual in the world which can be accessed based on one's thumb impression. How gullible people can be; it amazes me! Please consider using that in your commentary so that many people are made aware of it.

A quote from your October 6, 2006, Commentary:

It's not very often that solutions to such seemingly strange phenomena present themselves so easily. Perhaps I'm just lucky in that respect.

I am surprised. In what context do you use the word “lucky”? You mean, mere chance, I hope. But the word luck has many doubtful connotations, so that I feel we could avoid using that word and I prefer the much simpler “chance.” What do you think?

Greetings and best wishes from your new Indian supporter. Keep up your good work. Of course, there is much to be done. Would be glad to be of help in some way.

I’m reminded of the poem by Robert Frost:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.

I of course responded to Geetha, after assuring her that I’d used the word “lucky” sardonically:

To answer your three questions:

1. Are there any characteristics common to scientists that make them susceptible to trickery? 

Yes.  They think logically, from a cause-and-effect paradigm.  A trickster supplies all the misdirection, the elements expected by logical inference, the necessary aspects that identify a situation as normal – then he uses a different approach, a set of actions, a scenario that leads the dupe to accept that the expected situation is being fulfilled – but it’s not.  The scientist’s conclusion is that nature – which he/she knows does not change the rules to deceive – has been abrogated in some way. In other words, it’s magic.

The conjuror or con man is a very good provider of information.  He supplies lots of data, by inference or direct statement, but it’s false data.  Scientists aren’t used to that scenario. An electron or a galaxy is not capricious, nor deceptive; but a human can be either or both.

2. To a magician, do scientists seem easier to fool, or less easy to fool, than other people?

Far easier, because they think as scientists – see above – and because they assume that someone not thinking logically, cannot deceive them because he’s not their intellectual equal.  They think they’re smarter than the con man, not recognizing that such deception is the strength of the con man, his only profession. 

An example: On a lecture visit to Fermi Labs outside Chicago some years ago, I developed a minor toothache. Though I was surrounded by PhDs and Nobel laureates in physics, I didn’t ask any of them to treat me in that respect, nor to offer suggestions. It wasn’t their subject of expertise.  When I returned home I promptly visited my dentist; she fixed the problem right away.  But I did not ask her anything about quantum physics or photons…

3. If one were seeking to fool scientists, how would one go about it?  How can scientists guard against being tricked?

Just operate regularly, but give them opportunities to butt in. When doing a bending-spoon trick, for example, state that the ordinary spoon is an ordinary spoon; they will tend to doubt that, and will either examine it carefully, or substitute another spoon, when that fact – that it really is an “ordinary spoon” – may be of no import at all.  They will relax, confident that they have done what they can – as scientists – to insure the security of the demonstration.  Then, when the spoon is subsequently shown to be bent, they will conclude that “magic” was the only modus. 

Sir Arthur Clarke once said, [as I quoted him, above in this week’s lead article] “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” However, that implies that the observer is unable to accept and/or admit that he simply does not understand the technology, that he’s ignorant of facts, or systems, or tools, that could bring about the results he observes. A scientist does not have a good knowledge of the physical and psychological means whereby magicians – I prefer the term “conjurors” – are able to apply their “sufficiently advanced technology.” They presume either that (1) it is not possible for them to be fooled by an accomplished conjuror, or that (2) any given conjuror, during a demonstration, did not fool them with conjuring tricks. Either or both presumptions may be true, but they decide that at least one is not true. And that is a decision, only, since they have no expertise in such matters. What they see at a conjuror’s demonstration is, to them, in their ignorance, “indistinguishable from magic.”

To be better armed, they should call in a qualified conjuror as an advisor.

Please excuse my use of the Clarke quotation twice in one commentary. I refer to it frequently.




MY IGNORANCE IS SHOWING

Last week, we had an item about Limbo being cancelled. See www.randi.org/jr/2006-10/100613who.html#i3. It seems I need guidance in these matters. From something called the Baltimore Catechism, reader Judy Wyatt has summed up pertinent rules that sound – to me – like Dungeons & Dragons directions…

The souls of the “just” who were waiting in Limbo for the redemption of Christ, ascended when he did.

Ah, then my picture of so many ancient pre-1 A.D. loose souls piled up, was wrong. That’s a relief. Returning to the Catechism:

Baptism is necessary to salvation, because without it a soul cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven. Persons, such as infants, who have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism, cannot enter Heaven; but it is the common belief they will go to some place similar to Limbo, where they will be free from suffering, though deprived of the happiness of heaven.

Wait a moment. There’s a way! For a fee, you can purchase an “Indulgence” on behalf of the kid – I mean, on behalf of its shade – and then it gets in. Hey, there’s always a way, when a checkbook’s available! Ms. Wyatt comments:

I don’t think you need to concern yourself about the poor souls being evicted from Purgatory. It gets much more ink coverage in the Baltimore Catechism, and it is apparent from the reading that the Church is much more sure of Purgatory's existence than they are of Limbo's.

Well, that’s not saying much… But since the living can pay for one of those “Indulgences” – to ease the burdens of Purgatory, that place is a money-maker: Limbo isn’t. It’s wiser to plump up Purgatory…  Back to the Catechism: 

Purgatory is the state in which those suffer – for a time – who die guilty of venial [pardonable] sins, or without having satisfied for the punishment due to their sins. This state is called Purgatory because in it the souls are purged or purified from all their stains; and it is not, therefore, a permanent or lasting state for the soul.

Whew! What a relief! Had me concerned for a moment there… 

The faithful on earth can help the souls in Purgatory by their prayers, fasts, alms, deeds; by indulgences, and by having Masses said for them.

I see. You get a price list, and if Indulgence is a bit steep, you look at the going scale of Alms, until you find something within your budget. Sounds practical.

Though God loves the souls in Purgatory, He punishes them because His holiness requires that nothing defiled may enter heaven and His justice requires that everyone be punished or rewarded according to what he deserves.

Okay. Limited love, right? Rules are rules, and after all, this is an angry, jealous, vengeful, capricious, deity, isn’t it?  I get the picture. And I reject it, angels, demons, ghosts, banshees, Heaven and Hell, sin, harps, and miracles.
 
As correspondent Wyatt wrote:

I can only read short bits of the Baltimore Catechism, because it gives me the willies.

Willies? Now, that’s a different matter altogether. In the ballet, when Giselle dies she joins the Willies, dead women who were betrayed by the one they loved. But that’s a different book, I believe…




MORE LIMBO

Reader Will Bratby of Kettering, England, writes, on the same subject:

I’ve been an avid and regular reader of your newsletter, and a poster on your web forum, for years now, and I can tell you with as much certainty as a sceptic can muster, that despite the terrible feeling many of us share that we are in fact still living in the Dark Ages, the world would be a very different place – for the worse, of course – without you and your efforts.

I just wanted to comment on your piece in this week’s SWIFT regarding Pope Benny’s recent demolition of Limbo, in which you opine, “And just where’s Purgatory in this new map of Never-Never-Land? That’s another massive waiting-room whose inhabitants might just be dumped out if Gregory gets busy on developing the neighbourhood!”

The absurdity of the notion of Limbo, Purgatory, Heaven, Hell or any of the other “castles in the sky” of RC doctrine aside, I’m fairly certain I can assure you that Benny will delete Heaven from the Celestial Blueprints before he rids his flock of the idea of Purgatory; for if the Catholics admitted there was no Purgatory after all, how to explain all the Indulgences which were sold between the 12th and 16th centuries, and the money thereby generated both personally by Catholic clergy and by the Church as a whole, with the promise of removing one’s self or one’s loved ones from Purgatory early?

Chaucer, in one of his Canterbury Tales, has a Pardoner (seller of Indulgences) tell us of his profession:

(Randi comments: this is my own compression and re-stating of the Chaucer extract, a somewhat clearer rendering of the Middle English language, I believe…)

…whoever discovers himself guilty will come and make an offering in God’s name, and I absolve him by the authority granted me by edict.

By this trick I have earned annually a hundred marks, since I was a Pardoner. I stand like a clerk in my pulpit, and when the ignorant people are seated, I preach as you have heard before, and tell them a hundred lies more.

Then I stretch forth my neck, and east and west the people I beseech, as does a dove sitting on a barn. My hands and my tongue go so briskly, that it is a joy to see my business. All my preaching is about avarice and such wickedness, to make them free to give their pennies, especially to me. For my intent is only to win, and not for correction of sin.

‘Twas ever thus.

So my prediction concerning this particular “theological hypothesis” is that Purgatory stays, because, well, as Mr. Bratby points out, we wouldn’t want the Catholic Church to have to pay any money to the poor in recompense for these Medieval sales under false pretences now, would we?




IN CONCLUSION…

In light of the present appalling war going on in Iraq, I couldn’t resist dropping in this quotation:

"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities." – Voltaire.

To those of you concerned about the JREF’s Linda, be reassured. We hauled her off to the hospital when she collapsed in the office, and real doctors there pronounced that appendicitis had felled her. She's now back home less an appendix. Yes, if it’s not one thing, it’s another – and I’m sure that Sylvia Browne saw this coming, of course. Dear Linda is recovering, and will be back in the saddle very soon. No magnets, homeopathy, vibrations…

You'll have to wait another week for the challenge update...we're waiting for someone to review the materials.

Next week, friend Scot Morris will strain your brains, and we’ll hear about the Toftness Box! I’ll bet you can’t wait!