Just last week, a friend and loyal reader of Skeptophilia wrote, "I don't know how you continue to write this stuff day after day after day and still maintain your sanity in the process. Of course, I'm assuming that you still have a modicum of sanity left. Maybe my answer lies in the fact that you've gone batshit crazy long ago... I certainly would have."
I don't know about the last part. My family and friends probably have decided opinions on that count, and maybe I'm better off not knowing how they'd respond. But just yesterday, I was sent a link to a site that I think illustrates the two reasons why I've kept going with this (now for over three years).
The site is called "Super Human Abilities Confirmed by NASA." The title should put you on notice immediately, and indeed, the content lives up to its promise. The contention?
Staring at the sun will give you superpowers.
No, I'm not making this up, but if the question, "How the hell could this possibly work?" came to your mind, rest assured that the same thing occurred to me. But they explain it thusly:
Sun gazing (also known as sun-eating) is a strict practice of gradually introducing sunlight into your eyes at the lowest ultraviolet-index times of day – sunrise and sunset. Those who teach the practice say there are several rules to the practice. First, it must be done within the hour after sunrise or before sunset to avoid damaging the eyes. Second, you must be barefoot, in contact with the actual earth – sand, dirt or mud; and finally, you must begin with only 10 seconds the first day, increasing by 10 second intervals each day you practice. Following these rules make the practice safe, says sources... During your first 3 months of practice, the suns energy is moving through the eyes and charging the hypothalamus tract, says those who have studied this technique and used it. The hypothalamus tract is the pathway to the rear of the retina which leads to the brain. The brain then, over time, becomes activated by the energy supply being received by the sun.No, actually, what will happen is that your retina will fry like a bug under a magnifying glass, and you will lose your eyesight. Funny how they never mention that possibility. Maybe with a "charged hypothalamus tract" you can get by without seeing, I dunno.
But if you think the nonsense ends there, you're wrong. The author goes on to say:
By seven and a half months of gazing, now at 35 minutes, need and desire for food is dwindling. According to sun gazing experts, food is not actually needed to maintain the body, only energy – and ‘sun-eating’ provides that energy. By 9 months, all taste for food, including aroma, all hunger pains and cravings disappear. Those who make it this far say that they report a noticeable ’change’ in the way their brain feels – like it’s “charged up.” After 9 months of sun-gazing – reaching a maximum of 44 minutes – it is advised that you give up sun-gazing and redirect your attention now to the Earth.Well, that makes sense. I stubbed my amygdala on the table leg last week, and it hurt like a sonofagun. Maybe if I'd just stared into the sun enough, I'd have had a magnetic field that would have been strong enough to repel the table. (Okay, I admit, the table is made of wood, which is known for being unresponsive to magnetic fields. Just play along, all right?)
For 6 days straight, one is to walk barefoot on the earth, 45 minutes per day. During this barefoot walking, the pineal gland is said to become activated. Professional sun gazers and those researching the science say that each toe is connected to a specific gland, and by walking barefoot on the Earth, you activate these glands. The big toe is thought to be aligned with the pineal gland, the second toe with the pituitary, then the hypothalamus, thalamus and finally the pinky toe correlates to the amygdala. Walking barefoot, with the sun now falling on the top of your head, practitioners claim to create a sort of magnetic field in and around your body that recharges you and your brain.
Oh, and one other thing: NASA has never weighed in on sun-gazing. My guess is that if someone called up NASA, they'd respond, "Of course you shouldn't stare into the sun. Are you morons? Or what?"
Now, how does this site illustrate why I keep writing Skeptophilia, other than the fact that there seems to be an endless stream of bullshit out there to write about? The reason is that the "Sun Gazing" website had, according to the hit tracker at the bottom, been Facebook-shared over a thousand times, and the comments section was evenly split between people who called the author out on her ridiculous claims, and people who said that sun-gazing was the best thing ever, and recommended that everyone should do it.
So that's reason one that I write this blog. I firmly believe that the best way to combat nonsense is to shine some light on it. (Don't stare right into it, though.) And the fact that even a claim this idiotic has support indicates to me that we need a lot of dedicated light-shiners.
Reason two, though, is that the individual who sent me the link is a former student of mine. The fact that I have former students who, years after graduation, are still enthusiastically ferreting out absurd claims is about as encouraging to me as anything could be.
So anyway, there you are. Sun-gazing as an incentive to combat loony wingnuttery. And if, as my friend suggested, I eventually go completely batshit crazy doing this, I hope I'll still say (from my room in the asylum) that all in all, it's been worth it.