I’ll be out planet gazing tonight. I was able to snap some blurry (but still distinct enough) photos of Jupiter and her four largest moons last week, and I’ll have my camera out again tonight. We’ll see how it goes.
Besides cleaning the house and the doggie-do from the backyard, I put together the flyer for our 2nd Annual Reno Darwin Day. We’ve got a lot of activities and presentations on tap.
IN addition to that, I’m stressing about my first lighting class assignment which consists of photographing a white sphere, cube and cylinder against a white background with one source of light so that all planes show, nothing bleeds into anything else, etc. It’s not easy. Here are three of the dozens of photos I’ve taken trying to get it just right. And I still don’t think I’ve quite gotten it.
In reference to my post below . . .
In Chapter 7 of Richard Wiseman’s excellent book Paranormality: Why we see what isn’t there (2011), he discusses the how our minds work when it comes to interpreting our dreams and how we can fool ourselves into believing we actually saw the future. It’s called “association.”
A similar principle applies to your memory for dreams. In the same way that the associated words helped you remember words you couldn’t instantly recall from the original list, so an event that happens to you when you are awake can trigger the memory of a dream. To discover the relationship between this effect and the gift of prophesy, let’s imagine three nights of disturbed dreaming.
On day one you go to bed after a hard day at work. You shut your eyes and slowly lose consciousness. Throughout the night you drift through the various stages of sleep and experience several dreams. At ten past seven your brain once again bursts into action and presents you with another entirely fictitious episode. For the next 20 minutes you find yourself visiting an ice cream factory, falling into a huge vat of raspberry ripple, and attempting to eat your way out. Just when you can take no more, your alarm clock sounds and you wake up with fragments of the factory and raspberry ripple ice cream drifting through your mind.
On day two the same series of events unfold. You go to bed, drift to sleep and have several dreams. At two o’clock in the morning you are right in the middle of a rather sinister dream in which you are driving along a dark country lane. Eric Chuggers, your all-time favourite rock star is sitting in the passenger seat, and the two of you are chatting easily. Suddenly a giant purple frog jumps out in front of the car, you swerve to avoid the frog but go off the road and hit a tree. However, tonight your cat feels a tad peckish and decides to come and pester you for food. As she jumps onto the bed you wake up from the dream with a vague memory of Eric Chuggers, a giant purple frog, a tree and impending death.
On the third night you again fall asleep. At four o’clock in the morning you experience a rather traumatic dream. It is a surreal affair, with you being forced to audition for the part of an Oompa-Loompa in a new film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Although successful, you subsequently discover that the orange makeup and green hair dye used in the audition is permanent. You suddenly wake up feeling very stressed, remember the audition and spend the next 20 minutes trying to figure out the symbolic meaning of the dream. You then go back to sleep for the rest of the night.
In the morning you wake up, turn on the radio and are shocked to discover that Eric Chuggers was killed in a car accident during the night.
According to the news report, Chuggers was driving through the city, swerved to avoid another car that had drifted onto the wrong side of the road, and collided with a lamppost. Bingo. In the same way that the words ‘time’ and ‘gallop’ helped you remember the words ‘clock’ and ‘horse’, so the news report acts as a trigger, and the dream about the car accident jumps into your mind. You forget about consuming copious amounts of raspberry ripple ice cream, and the stressful Oompa-Loompa audition. Instead, you remember the one dream that appears to match events in the real world and so become convinced that you may well possess the power of prophesy.
And it doesn’t stop there. Soon after convincing yourself that you had a glimpse of the future while fast asleep, a ‘let’s make this experience as spooky as possible’ part of your mind gets to work. Because dreams tend to be somewhat surreal they have the potential to be twisted to match the events that actually transpired. In reality, Eric Chuggers was not driving along a country lane, did not hit a tree and the accident didn’t involve a giant purple frog. However, a country lane is similar to a city road, and a lamppost looks a bit like a tree. And what about the giant purple frog? Well, maybe that symbolized something unexpected, such as the car that drifted onto the wrong side of the road. Or maybe it turns out that Chuggers was on hallucinogenic drugs and so might have thought that the oncoming car was indeed a giant purple frog. Or maybe you see a photograph from the scene of the accident and discover that Chuggers’ car had a purple mascot on the dashboard. Or maybe an advertising billboard close to the accident contains an image of a giant frog. Or maybe Chuggers’ next album was going to have a frog on the cover. Or maybe Chuggers was wearing a purple shirt at the time of the collision. You get the point. Provided that you are creative and want to believe that you have a psychic link with the recently deceased Mr Chuggers, the possibilities for matches are limited only by your imagination.
[ . . . ]
In short, you have lots of dreams and encounter lots of events. Most of the time the dreams are unrelated to the events, and so you forget about them. However, once in a while one of the dreams will correspond to one of the events. Once this happens, it is suddenly easy to remember the dream and convince yourself that it has magically predicted the future. In reality, it is just the laws of probability at work.
This theory also helps explain a rather curious feature of precognitive dreaming. Most premonitions involve a great deal of doom and gloom, with people regularly foreseeing the assassination of world leaders, attending the funeral of close friends, seeing planes falling out of the sky, and watching as countries go to war. People rarely report getting a glimpse of the future and seeing someone deliriously happy on their wedding day or being given a promotion at work. Sleep scientists have discovered that around 80 per cent of dreams are far from sweet, and instead focus on negative events. Because of this, bad news is far more likely than good news to trigger the memory of a dream, explaining why so precognitive dreams involve foreseeing death and disaster.
[ . . . ]
Of course, those who believe in paranormal matters might argue that they are convinced by instances when people tell their friends and family about a dream, or describe it in a diary, and then discover that it matches future events. Do these instances constitute a miracle of the mind?
In a word, no. Dreams often reflect our anxieties, but even when we are not anxious, the odds for dreaming about a disaster are strikingly high. Wiseman continues:
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers associated with these seemingly supernatural experiences.
First, let’s select a random person from Britain and call him Brian. Next, let’s make a few assumptions about Brian. Let’s assume that Brian dreams each night of his life from age 15 to 75. There are 365 days in each year, so those 60 years of dreaming will ensure that Brian experiences 21,900 nights of dreams. Let’s also assume that an event like the Aberfan disaster will only happen once in each generation, and randomly assign it to any one day. Now, let’s assume that Brian will only remember dreaming about the type of terrible events associated with such tragedy once in his entire life. The chances of Brian having his ‘disaster’ dream the night before the actual tragedy is about a massive 22,000 to 1. Little wonder that Brian would be surprised if it happened to him.
However, here comes the sneaky bit. When Brian is thinking about the chances of the event happening to him he is being very self-centred. In the 1960s there were around 45 million people in Britain, and this same set of events could have happened to any of them. Given that we have already calculated that the chances of any one of them having the ‘disaster’ dream one night and the tragedy happening the following day is about 22,000 to 1, we would expect 1 person in every 22,000, or roughly 2,000 people, to have this amazing experience in each generation. To say that this group’s dreams are accurate is like shooting an arrow into a field, drawing a target around it after it has landed and saying, ‘wow, what are the chances of that!’
The principle is known as the ‘Law of Large Numbers’, and states that unusual events are likely to happen when there are lots of opportunities for that event. It is exactly the same with any national lottery. The chances of any one person hitting the jackpot is millions to one, but still it happens as regular as clockwork each week because such a large number of people buy tickets.
For genuine evidence of premonitions then, the situation is even worse than we have imagined. Our example only concerned people dreaming about the Aberfan tragedy. In reality, national and international bad fortune happens on an almost daily basis. Aeroplane crashes, tsunamis, assassinations, serial killers, earthquakes, kidnappings, acts of terrorism, and so on. Given that people dream about doom and gloom more often than not, the numbers quickly stack up and acts of apparent prophesy are inevitable.
I highly recommend Wiseman’s book (only available on Kindle in the U.S. – but you can download the Kindle app for your PC or iPhone for free).
Who is Richard Wiseman? Another one of those “science fundies.”
Psychologist and author Prof Richard Wiseman carries out research into luck, the science of self-help, perception, belief and deception. A passionate advocate for science, Richard’s best selling books have been translated into over 30 languages, and the Independent On Sunday recently named him as one of the top 100 people who make Britain a better place to live.
Explore the site to discover more about Richard’s work and visit his daily blog on quirky psychology.
Paranormality takes a skeptical look at the paranormal and examines how seemingly supernatural phenomena reveal a great deal about your brain, beliefs, and behaviour
Oooh….Susie had a premonition. And gosh, gee, how dare we ”science fundies” doubt her. Since it is unlikely that anyone else will see my comment at her post, I have posted it below.
I guess I’m what you would call one of those “science fundies” because I want to ask, if indeed your “premonition” was just that what good was it? Understand that I am asking this from a great deal of pain, as a quick visit to my blog will show. So, how could your premonition have helped? What good can it do? You say you saw a plane crash, but not where and when, right? So after the fact you say, hey, oh yeah, I “saw” it.
How will that help the wounded, the grieving, those who will suffer emotional trauma for this for years? What good does this post do except for you to tell us that you think you’re special?
The next time you have one of these dreams, be specific. Tell us when, where , who, and then maybe, just maybe, something can be done to prevent it. Otherwise, keep it to yourself.
Stephen Hawking unfolds his personal, compelling vision of the biggest question of all: Who or what created the universe in which we live? The groundbreaking series Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking combined cutting-edge CG with Hawking’s witty, distinctive and incisive worldview. Now, we take the journey a step further, as physics and cosmology become tools to answer questions that philosophers have struggled with for thousands of years.
The episode was amazing, with Hawking taking us back in time to when there was no time. Fascinating stuff. In the end, Hawking concludes that because time did not exist before the beginning of the universe, there would be no time in which a god could have started it all in motion. Further, the show ends on Hawking’s assertion that there likely isn’t an afterlife, so folks, enjoy your brief stay on this amazing little speck in the universe while you can.
Afterward, David Gregory led a panel (video snippet) featuring Sean Carroll, Paul Davies and John Haught (along with video appearances by other scientists – including Michio Kaku, who I think has seriously jumped the shark) to discuss Hawking’s “controversial” (Gregory’s word) claim.
For the most part, I found the panel interesting, with the bright spot of the panel being Sean Carroll. You can read his live blogging of Sunday night’s show here. As I suspected, the panel was heavily edited, and I would really like to see the full unedited version. Still, Sean wasn’t edited to look like a jerk, which is almost always the default position when a full-stop atheist is featured on these sorts of panels. Thank goodness for small favors.
Davies was there to provide the “middle ground” between Carroll and Haught, and while he came off okay, his quasi-warning to scientists to not appear “arrogant” made me grimace. Looking at his Wikipedia page, I see that Davies was the religious scientist on the panel, so given the tone of Gregory’s questions and the seeming 2-1 (believer to non) ratio of the panel, not to mention that the video appearances of scientists who appear to believe in some sort of divine creation, I’m happy Sean Carroll was there at all and came off so well!
I was quite frustrated with the theologian (Haught) who basically insisted that while science could inform his theology it had no ability (right?) to investigate the claims his religion makes (an intervening, creating god). In answer to Carroll’s direct question, “Would the universe operate just as it does if there were no god?’ Haught flippantly declared, “There would be no universe without god.” Well, then. I guess that’s settled. Haught has spoken!
What was exceedingly frustrating was while he absolutely accepted the science of the Big Bang and cosmology, he just could not give up on the god idea. Further, the theologian (albeit a “liberal” one), was of the belief (as nearly every religionist is), that without god humans have no hope and no basis for living a moral life.
I have to assume by “hope” he means the belief that someone will intervene and kiss all our boo-boos. So yes, it’s true, I have no hope. I have no hope that some sky-dude is going to rescue us all. None at all.
And, frankly, I don’t need to
hope pretend that there is. For that kind of thinking isn’t hope, it’s delusion.
I have hope, if by that word one means a looking forward with anticipation for something better. But I don’t mean hope for an afterlife, I mean I have hope here and now. I have hope for humanity and for tomorrow – if I didn’t, I’d slit my wrists. Every day above ground is good day. Another day to get it right, ya know?
It’s up to us. Here. Now. And the sooner we grok that there is no outside force that is going to save us from ourselves, the better.
Looks like it. This is so very, very cool. Be sure to watch the video.
In a paper published this week in the journal Science and announced at a press conference at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, mission scientists revealed the appearance of seasonal streaks at key points on the Martian surface, looking for all the world like the tracks of water rivulets running down-slope, collecting at the base of the incline and then evaporating back into the atmosphere.
Were it not for TAM, I would just as soon forget this month ever happened. Still, I’m not bereft. The sadness of the current time is tempered by my sense of how deeply I love and how deeply I am loved. And that’s a good thing.
Still, I can hardly stand the news, especially that of the antics in Washington.
So, I’m reading. And fiddling with my photography. And tending my garden. And laughing over margaritas with Sweetie. And teaching Nina to roll over. And reading.
Currently, it’s Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder. This snippet from the first chapter, The Anaesthetic of Familiarity sent me scrambling for my pen to mark it:
It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall and everything else are exactly right. If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that other kind of life that would have evolved here. But we as individuals are still hugely blessed. Privileged, and not just privileged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close forever.
Here it seems to me, lies the best answer to those petty-minded scrooges who are always asking what is the use of science. In one of those mythic remarks of uncertain authorship, Michael Faraday is alleged to have been asked what was the use of science. ‘Sir,’ Faraday replied. ‘Of what use is a new-born child?’ The obvious thing for Faraday (or Benjamin Franklin, or whoever it was) to have meant was that a baby might be no use for anything at present, but it has great potential for the future. I now like to think that he meant something else, too: What is the use of bringing a baby into the world if the only thing it does with its life is just work to go on living? If everything is judged by how ‘useful’ it is – useful for staying alive – we are left with a futile circularity. There must be some added value. At least part of life should be devoted to living that life, not just working to stop it ending. This is how we rightly justify spending taxpayers’ money on the arts. It is one of the justifications properly offered for conserving rare species and beautiful buildings. It is how we answer those barbarians who think wild elephants and historic houses should be preserved only if they ‘pay their way.’ And science is the same. Of course, science pays its way; of course its useful. But that is not all science is.
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes to a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked – and I am surprisingly often – why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?
Off to read some more.
I imagine that astrology believers snicker at the rapture ready crowd. One has to ask, Why?
Hey all, this is a short post via my iPhone. We’re on our pilgrimage to skeptical Mecca (The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas). Packed schedule is limiting my posting, but I’ll update you all if I can.
Peter Daou has an excellent post up about the climate change denialists, how they are predominantly rightwing, and how their denialism may very well kill this planet. I have no disagreement with him there.
He quotes Bill McKibben who points to the right’s distrust of government and scientific authority:
. . . But while oil and coal contributions track remarkably close to political alignment for many senators, they are not the only explanation. Money only exerts political influence if it can be connected to some ideological stance—even Inhofe won’t stand up and say, “I think global warming is a hoax because my campaign treasurer told me to.” In fact, some conservatives have begun to question endless fossil-fuel subsidies—since we’ve known how to burn coal for hundreds of years, it’s not clear why the industry needs government help.
No, something else is causing people to fly into a rage about climate. Read the comments on one of the representative websites: Global warming is a “fraud” or a “plot.” Scientists are liars out to line their pockets with government grants. Environmentalism is nothing but a money-spinning “scam.” These people aren’t reading the science and thinking, I have some questions about this. They’re convinced of a massive conspiracy.
I’ve got news for Bill, this isn’t a right-wing failing. We on the left have got our deniers too. I’ve just finished reading Michal Specter’s Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives in which he takes on the denialists of all stripes and concludes:
I neglected the first law of denialism. The truth is NOT going to get in the way of people who are moved by faith, greed, fear, or desire to deny what they see. I should have known that. I’ve been watching and writing about this kind of behavior for years. It would be nice to chalk it all up to right-wing nuts with parochial economic interests, but that wouldn’t be accurate.
And that brings me to the second truth of denialism: denialism transcends politics. Yes, opponents of evolution attack science, progress, and reality from the right. But the growing army of organic food fundamentalists, so eager to cast scientific data aside in their certainty that organic foods will save the world, hail from the other side of the political spectrum. The dietary supplement industry, propelled by the conviction that every American has the right to swallow any pill he or she can get his hands on, no matter how useless or damaging, represents the counter-cultural left and the libertarian right in equal measure. I wish I could argue that the most maddening denialists of all — those who see vaccines as threats to their children’s health rather than bulwarks agains terrible disease — were poorly educated. They are not. I’ve had more arguments with Ivy League graduates about whether measles shots can cause autism (no connection has ever been demonstrated) or whether multiple vaccines can overpower an infant’s immune system (they can’t) than I care to recall. Sadly, the vaccine activists so willing to deny reality are some of the best-educated, most caring, thoughtful, and misguided people I have ever known.
This is what my inbox tells me. It frustrates me to no end to see intelligent people on the left crowing about how stupid and science-denying the right is when it comes to things like evolution and climate change and then turn around and insist that the government, big pharma, the NIH, yada yada yada, are in cahoots to either “keep us all sick” or “kill us all.” That cell phones will give us all cancer. That apricots will cure cancer. (Does that mean I should be munching on an apricot while on my iPhone, just to balance things out?)
Sadly, I doubt that this blog post will do much, if anything, to change their minds. But I keep on trying.