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

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The selfie from hell

"Selfies" are all the rage these days. Heaven knows why, because they're usually poorly composed and not in focus.   They also tend to be taken at inadvisable times, such as when the subject-and-photographer has had one too many strawberry daiquiris, which is almost certainly what resulted in the invention of the truly unfortunate cultural phenomenon of "duck lips."

I won't say that I haven't succumbed to the temptation myself once or twice, although I hasten to add that it was sans daiquiris and "duck lips."  Here's one I took a few weeks ago to document my progress toward having completely unmanageable hair, given that all the barbershops are closed because of the pandemic:

So they don't all turn out terrible or embarrassing, although it still bears keeping in mind that the camera can still only do so much with the material it's given.  At least this one isn't the kind of thing I'll look at later and say, "How the hell did this end up on my phone?"

Which was apparently the question that was asked by one Gina Mihai, 34, of an unnamed village in Romania, according to a story in The Daily Mirror sent to me by a loyal reader of Skeptophilia.  Mihai says she was looking through the photographs on her phone one day recently, and found the following rather horrifying image:

Pretty scary.  Mihai was understandably creeped out, but she had an explanation ready at hand.  She told reporters, "When I switched the phone on I was horrified to see my dead grandmother’s face.  She had what looked like a snake around her neck, and the whole image looked as if it had been taken through a hole, like it was shot through a tear in the fabric that separates the living from the dead."

In other words, poor grandma ended up in hell, and for some reason decided to send her granddaughter what amounts to an infernal selfie.  For comparison purposes, here's grandma in real life, just before she died:

I don't really see a lot of resemblance, myself.  But maybe that's because being in hell, not to mention having a snake around your neck, would kind of have a tendency to change your facial expression.

Mihai followed up the experience with a visit to a fortune-teller, because of course that's who you'd want to see if you wanted a touchstone of reality.  And the fortune-teller said that Mihai was right, granny was in hell, and the snake around her neck was because she was "being punished for certain sins."

The trouble is, the article also had a photograph of Mihai herself, which I include below:

And what strikes me is that the "selfie from hell" looks more like Mihai than it does like her grandmother.  My contention is that Mihai digitally altered a photograph of herself, an easy enough thing to do with any ordinary image modification software, and now is getting her fifteen minutes of fame by disparaging her poor grandma.

But even if her contention is correct, and grandma is in hell, I thought that once you were there, it amounted to solitary confinement in the Lake of Fire?  It's hard to imagine Satan allowing texting:
Grandma:  Excuse me, Your Infernal Evilness, can you hang on a minute?  I just need to send a message to my granddaughter.  *takes pic of herself with her phone*

Satan:  Well, okay, I'll let it go this time.  Just so long as you don't do "duck lips."  That earns you five more years in the red-hot lava pit.
Grandma:  How about the snake around my neck?  I can show my granddaughter that, right? 
Satan: Sure.
So the whole thing seems pretty improbable to me, just as improbable as claims of Jesus or various saints showing up on slices of toast.  You'd think that being powerful supernatural beings, they'd pick more direct ways of speaking to us, wouldn't you?  Like gigantic burning bushes or pillars of fire or hosts of heavenly and/or demonic entities rushing about.  But you never see any of that stuff, despite what you hear in all the folklore.

I wonder why that is.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is about a phenomenal achievement; the breathtaking mission New Horizons that gave us our first close-up views of the distant, frozen world of Pluto.

In Alan Stern and David Grinspoon's Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto, you follow the lives of the men and women who made this achievement possible, flying nearly five billion kilometers to something that can only be called pinpoint accuracy, then zinging by its target at fifty thousand kilometers per hour while sending back 6.25 gigabytes of data and images to NASA.

The spacecraft still isn't done -- it's currently soaring outward into the Oort Cloud, the vast, diffuse cloud of comets and asteroids that surrounds our Solar System.  What it will see out there and send back to us here on Earth can only be imagined.

The story of how this was accomplished makes for fascinating reading.   If you are interested in astronomy, it's a must-read.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

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