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.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Easy fiction vs. hard science

One of my most common reactions to woo-woos is, "What, isn't the real world cool enough for you?"

I have a decent background (although definitely in the broad-but-shallow category) in a variety of scientific fields, and I think what impresses me about each of them is how endlessly fascinating it all is.  Take your pick -- chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, geology, climatology... you could choose any one of them, and spend the rest of your life with it, and never run out of new amazing things to discover about the field.

The downside is, it's hard work.  Reality is complex.  Also, virtually any scientific field will require some level of mathematical expertise; even back in the 17th century, Galileo recognized this when he said, "Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe."  And this can certainly be a stumbling block.  (It was for me; my career as a physics student came to a screeching halt when I was a junior in college, largely from difficulties with the math required.  Admittedly, a fondness for partying might also have had something to do with it.)

Woo-woos, on the other hand, want it easy.  What "feels right?"  The philosophy seems to be, "Let your heart guide you.  Rationality just gets in the way."  Understanding should "come naturally" -- i.e., no struggling with textbooks, no sweating over mastering abstruse equations and complicated theories.  Just become One With The Universe, and you'll know all you need to know.

So let's contrast the two views of the world, shall we?

Last weekend I stumbled on the site "Whale/Dolphin Reiki -- Celestial Pyramid Massage," which is about as good an example of the latter viewpoint as I've ever seen.  This website, which is primarily an alt-med site (therapeutic massage, Reiki, chakras, flower essences, "emotion code," etc. -- they've got it all), has a page dedicated to one of the practitioners who claims that his/her skill (the author of the page isn't named, as far as I saw) from channeling "whale and dolphin spirits" who are in touch with, um, the entire galaxy.  Or something.
In late 2010 I started getting information during meditations from Whales and Usui Sensei, the Father of Reiki, that I would be a conduit for a type of Reiki that would be coming from Whales and Dolphins from their Source within this galaxy.  The path this would take was through Sirius.  Nothing was very specific except that each session would be tailored to the individual through a meditation before the client arrived.  I personally had issue with this as I am the type of person that needs to know what specifically is happening and how this is to proceed.  This was a leap of faith on my part to release expectations and the ego part of needing control and complete knowledge.
So, let me get this straight: you "need to know what specifically is happening," and so you decide you're in touch with an alien whale?  The answer, apparently, is "yes:"
After more meditations I was told by Usui Sensei and the Whale Guardian who is an Orca Whale that I needed to start giving free sessions to get clients in and to familiarize myself with the energies coming through and how they, the Whale and Dolphin communities,  would work with me during these sessions.  Now after many clients, meditations and communications with the Whale Guardian and others I realize that many things seem to happen during the sessions and I have to allow the energy to move through me at the direction of the Whale Guardian or the Whale or Dolphin that comes in to assist the clients.  At times I am instructed as to what crystals if any to use and placement on or around the client. 
Okay.  The "Whale Guardian" told you to use crystals, for what, exactly?
Issues that seem to be concentrated on the most are grounding and balancing of the physical body with the earth mostly with the crystalline core of the earth.  I have also been told that neuro pathways within the brain are made that opens communications within the multi-dimensional layers of the body.  In some instances more work seems to concentrate on the pineal and pituitary glands clearing and cleaning debris that has built up around these glands by food additives and pollution.  These changes increase the client’s vibration and frequency which allows acceptance physically as the earth increases in vibration and frequency.

So, there you have it, then.  A whale that's in contact with the galaxy told these people to use Reiki to clean up the schmutz on your pituitary gland left there by consuming food additives.

Now, let's contrast this to some actual scientific research -- a project in Orca communication done by the Marine Mammal Research Consortium:
Killer whales extensively rely on sound for orientation, prey detection, and communication. Different types of sounds fulfill different functions for killer whales. Echolocation clicks, for example, are used for orientation and prey detection. Whistles are high-frequency sounds typically used by killer whales in social contexts, and pulsed calls are communicative sounds thought to play a role in the coordination of behaviours and maintenance of group cohesion.
Isn't that nice?  No vague, hand-waving "energies" and "vibrations;" just some real information about what whales are really doing:
Pulsed calls can be categorized into highly stereotyped call types. Different social groups within the same population have group-specific repertoires of different call types. As a result, resident killer whales in British Columbia and Alaska exhibit an intricate system of vocal dialects. The structure of these call types evolves slowly over time and is thought to be learned.
And, most importantly, it's all backed up by data -- sonograms, recordings, and behavioral observations collected over years of research.  I encourage you to peruse the site, and then come back and try to tell me that's not more interesting than the Alien Whale Crystal Massage thing.

It's not that I don't understand the temptation of easy answers.  I've found myself frustrated with how hard science can be.  I've struggled with comprehension, misunderstood things, gotten things wrong, had to go back and revise my mental model of how the world works.  More importantly, I've had to get used to admitting, "I don't know the answer to this."

Tolerating uncertainty, however, is uncomfortable for a lot of people.  For some, it's a happier solution just to embrace what "feels nice," to go along with the pleasant fiction of whale spirits communicating with aliens from Sirius, or whatever weird mythological view of the universe suits their fancy.  But I can't escape the conclusion that by doing so, they've cheated themselves of the joy that comes from catching a glimpse of the actual grandeur of what is around us -- that ecstatic moment when you say, "Yes, I understand!"

And there is no amount of comforting fiction that is worth taking in trade for that.


  1. Why is it always a "majestic" creature? Why not a chicken or a hamster?

    1. Because say "I'm channeling the Great Chicken Spirit" is not a good way to bilk money out of customers.

    2. Absolutely... but then that thought correlates to another. How many know, in their heart of hearts, that this is total nonsense?

      What I get stuck on is not the concept, but the actualizing of it. A person could spend 6 hours a day, 30 hours per week, 1,560 hours per year, engaging in made-up, flowery-language filled rhetoric and gestures, all the while being aware that it's just a charade.
      Employing empathy and trying to imagine what "walking a mile in their shoes" would be like... blows my mind.

      Penn Gillette has a great segment from the Youtube channel "BigThink" where he discusses "ego exhaustion." He was referring to his stint on "Celebrity Apprentice." He described observing himself and the other contestants starting to crack at the end of long days spent shooting the production. It was his opinion that composing oneself, such as a person does when bright lights and cameras are on them, takes a toll on the human psyche. There is stress involved will presenting oneself in a specific way, and after awhile, Penn noticed how the contestants started to become more irrational or short tempered as the day went on. It wasn't that they were physically or even emotionally tired. Their conscience was tired.

      When people are being observed, they alter the way they behave and have to think before they act. This take s a toll on people. Gordon, you must know this concept quite well!

      But to apply this to a psychic, for instance...
      Keeping up the pretenses, acting all mystical and woo-woo day in and day out.
      A client is in your waiting room and you're in front of the mirror, putting on your silly hat and preparing to part the beaded curtain and greet them. To have someone analyze you, what you're doing, saying... keeping the woo-woo babble convincing, etc.

      I'd rather shovel cow shit all day for minimum wage.
      People mystify me.