Posts Tagged ‘new age’

REPOST: Epistemology

September 15, 2010

Orac at Respectful Insolence had a great post a month or so ago which really nailed some basic problems with accepting pseudoscience. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

Of course, even within New Age, skepticism seems to be without a basis. After all, if you accept astrology and fairies, really, on what possible basis can you reject channeling the dead?… Unfortunately, this is a completely predictable result. When one leaves science, rationality, and reason behind, there is no reliable way to differentiate one woo from another, one pseudoscience from another, one faith-based belief from another. When anything goes, nothing goes, and nothing can be included or excluded based on evidence. Everything is fair game.

This is something that inevitably comes up pretty much every time I try to talk to one of these believer people. It just seems obvious to them that their own beliefs – say, that homeopathy works – are somehow beyond testing and experimentation, or that there’s a massive conspiracy to cover up all the successful tests, or some other lame excuse. But when others use the exact same arguments to support beliefs which are even crazier – like that reptilian aliens have infiltrated human society up to the highest levels of government – somehow to them it is just as obvious that they are suddenly the crazy ones. But that’s hypocritical since they’ve already abandoned the idea of ruling out beliefs altogether in order to support their own.

It reminds me a lot of how some fundamentalist Christians will say that it’s crazy for Muslims to believe that Mohammed flew up into the sky on a horse, but it’s perfectly reasonable for them to assume that Jesus rose from the dead, hung out for 40 days, and then flew up into the sky without a horse. Or you can reverse that if you like, it’s all the same absurd double standard.

And whenever I talk to these people, I always think that if I can only show them how they can rule out pseudoscientific ideas which are just a little bit too crazy for them, they will have some “A-ha!” moment and realize how skeptics come to reject their ideas and the attempted justifications. And that they in fact use the pretty much the same methodology we are using when they dismiss ideas that seem too crazy, even to them. But that rarely happens.

People who are into woo generally just don’t like the idea of having some kind of epistemological foundation for belief, and they like even less that it is science that has proven to get us closer to the truth than any other proposed foundation so far. It would be pretty amazing if we as a civilization had reduced disease, extended life expectancy and increased quality of life by proposing that ideas be tested on the basis of whoever simply says “That’s what I believe,” but strangely enough that didn’t happen. And it probably won’t work in the future, either.

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Fetus’ negative energy terrorizes weird CEO

July 1, 2010

This is all based on a pending lawsuit, so it might all be bullshit.

Well, it’s definitely bullshit either way – either because the claims made by the plaintiff are true or because they aren’t.

Anyway, this woman is suing the CEO of the largest homebuilding company in Omaha, NE for forcing a spiritualist religious agenda on its workers. The lawsuit was filed after she was fired, allegedly because her unborn child carried “negative energy.” From the Omaha World-Herald‘s description of the allegations of the lawsuit:

[Former HearthStone Homes employee Jammie D.] Harms was asked to take part in a conference call with an Arizona-based psychic to determine “whether or not negative energy was being created with the pregnant plaintiff because she had a male boss versus a female boss.”
[CEO John J.] Smith consulted with a chiropractor and “self-described energy worker” who told Smith he shared a former life with Harms’ unborn child and suggested that he “partner” with the baby. Smith declined, saying the baby’s energy was hostile toward him.

There’s this popular misconception about new age woo where it’s supposed to be all warm and fuzzy – something for hippies and spaced-out retirees to get into. Under that misconception, you might not expect it to be prevalent in the business world. They’re supposed to be practical and pragmatic and religiously devoted only to their bottom line.

But there’s another side to new age woo other than the insence and the crystal healing and the horrible music. Take reincarnation. It’s all comforting for those of us who are well off to think that we are that way because we were so awesome in previous lives and are now being rewarded. But at the same time, reincarnation beliefs demand that no sympathy at all be given to the sick or the poor. A terrible disease in a newborn isn’t a tragedy to overcome; it’s a just punishment from the gods for behavior in a “past life.” The disadvantaged brought all their hardships on themselves, in other words. Actually, we can just use the words of the proponents of these beliefs themselves:

I think those individuals who are open-minded should reflect on the belief in reincarnation as it gives an explanation as to why there are so many injustices in this world. Why are babies born deformed? Why do good people suffer tremendous losses? How come so many things seem so unfair? One person is rich, another is so poor. One person is born into a wealthy family, another into a ghetto. Why so much inequality? The theology of reincarnation explains that there is a balance to life and that everyone “reaps what they sow”.

Instead of rolling up their sleeves and working to fix problems like the huge gap between rich and poor, these people work on trying to justify those circumstances. And that kind of theology is a perfect ideological match for the business world. All of your successes are a testament to your greatness, and the failures of others proves that they just generally suck.

So maybe Smith is guilty, maybe not. We’ll have to wait to see the evidence. But it would be silly to lean in his favor just because he’s not wearing a tie-dye T-shirt in court.

Prince Charles is being a douchebag again

February 22, 2010

Prince Charles on the Enlightenment:

“It might be time to think again and review it and question whether it is really effective in today’s conditions, faced as we are with huge challenges all over the world. It must be apparent to people deep down that we have to do something about it.
We cannot go on like this, just imagining that the principles of the Enlightenment still apply now.”

Do you see what he did there? He just went from needing to re-think Enlightenment ideas straight to Enlightenment ideas not working and that we can’t go on with it because WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE. Usually people need to make a case to go from a premise to a conclusion like that, but I guess when you don’t have to work for a living like everyone else you might feel entitled to just draw conclusions out of nowhere.

But since Charlie has a problem with the Enlightenment because it’s outdated, he must have a much newer framework with which to see the world and solve all our problems. Haha! Just kidding. It’s just more of the same old ancient theology he’s been spouting for years:

“I believe it is of crucial importance to work with, in harmony with nature, to rediscover how it is necessary to work with the grain of nature, as it is necessary to work with the grain of our humanity,” he said. “What is the point of all this clever technology if at the end of the day we lose our souls, and the soul of nature of which we are a part?”

I’m not sure what exactly he means by our souls or the “soul of nature” and how they are being lost, but to answer his question the point of a lot of this clever technology is to reduce the amount of preventable suffering. Take GM crops for instance – which Charles is also against. The point of that would be to provide cheap food for areas lacking an agricultural infrastructure. Feeding hungry people, in other words. That’s the point. Apparently that’s not high-minded enough for this clown.

And that last bit about him claiming to believe we’re a part of nature really bothers me. If that’s the case (and I would agree with him on that point) then our technology would be analogous to birds building their nests and beavers building their dams. After all, they’re just doing that for the sake of their own survival, not for any “spiritual” reasons. We and all the other animals are just doing our thing as parts of nature, trying to get by.

That’s not what Charles wants though. He wants us to be distinct from the rest of nature – special, even. That way he can get away with holding the contradictory positions of glorifying nature and needing to take care of it at the same time. He’s condescending, paternalistic, and worshipful towards nature all at once. It’s a common problem with the New Agey types. And here is a great example of that, with some inbred babbling mixed in:

The Prince also made an impassioned call for houses to be built so that birds, such as swallows and swifts, could make their nests there. “It is immoral not to consider those other species that share this planet with us,” he said. “If the swallows and swifts stop coming here and nesting on the buildings that I love, then there is no point to life. Literally. It is symbolic, like the albatross. If that becomes extinct then I think we deserve nothing but reprobation.”

There’s no point to life if birds don’t nest in buildings he loves? Maybe someone should explain to him that most species (including most birds!) have gone extinct. And the vast majority of the time it has nothing at all to do with human actions either. I’m not saying we should actively encourage Charles to commit suicide over this, but he doesn’t seem to be aware of this. And if telling him happens to result in his suicide, well, that’s just the way things go. It’s “literally symbolic,” whatever that means.

Similar:

Prince Charles urges EU medical deregulation

December 3, 2009

England’s most famous welfare queen – besides the actual queen – is meeting with the UK’s health secretary to get him to cancel proposed EU medical regulations which would “crack down” (words of the Telegraph) on people who practice medicine without being registered to do so.

Imagine that! It’s like the EU wants to enter the 20th century already in this regard.

Prince Charles has been outspoken in his advocacy of certain antiscientific positions. For example, he’s opposed to so-called genetically modified crops because to do otherwise would be to take us into “realms that belong to God and God alone.” Apparently he doesn’t understand that crops have been genetically modified by humans ever since there were such things as crops, during the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago.

Likewise, he doesn’t seem to understand the importance of regulating medicine, which is funny for what’s supposed to be the “nanny state” of the UK where regulation is taken a bit too far. He sees the deregulation of medical practices as protecting the “alternative medicine” industry, of which he has long been a strong supporter from promoting coffee “cures” for cancer to homeopathy and herbal remedies which has angered actual doctors who understand medicine. Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst even dedicate a chunk of their book to countering Charlie’s claims about such “medicine.”

It’s often said that there’s this word for “alternative medicine” that’s been proven to work: It’s “medicine.” So alternative medicine by definition either has yet to have been shown to work, or has been shown not to work. If you want your remedies and magic potions to be considered medicine, why not test them and have them join the rest of medicine? After all, it’s not like this is a foreign concept. Lots of medicine was once in the same category as herbal remedies, but then it was tested and shown to work. If it can’t pass those tests, then there are good reasons to regulate them and point out clearly that the results of such testing are consistent with them not working at all.

That’s what Charles would be doing if he actually cared about showing that his quackery works. But he doesn’t. He just wants more money poured into the multi-billion dollar industries he favors for his own personal, ideological reasons.

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The Men Who Stare At Goats

November 12, 2009

Here is my review:

OK, the thing with making a journalistic book into a movie is that usually you need to construct some kind of narrative around it that was never in the original story. Plus, it doesn’t really work well in film to have 50 different character appearances to impart information to the journalist. All these stories that go into the larger picture in the book form need to be collapsed so that you have one actor representing things said or done or referred to by several different actual people.

But the added narrative, even if it’s invented, should have some kind of vague thematic connection with the original work. In this movie, it doesn’t. I would think that even people unfamiliar with Ronson’s book would find the whole journalist’s-wife-leaving-him-for-his-editor-so-he-tries-to-prove-himself-by-going-to-a-war-zone thing contrived.

Same goes for the ending as well, which just seemed like a last minute dog-ate-my-homework addition in order to inject some conflict and tension into the storyline, such as it existed. But really, these kinds of books which are largely just exposes, huge extensions of a feature story for a magazine, don’t translate into film very well. So maybe this was just a bad idea and doomed from the start.

Movies

September 7, 2009

From the Onion: Next Tarantino Movie An Homage to Beloved Tarantino Movies of Director’s Youth

“If nothing else, I hope Jack Rabbit Slim makes moviegoers want to go back and explore the complete filmography of this great, great American artist,” Tarantino said. “I really can’t think of another living director who has made as large a contribution to the evolution of world cinema, and I feel it is my duty as a filmmaker to remind people of that.”

Added Tarantino, “God, I love Quentin Tarantino.”

There are a few good movies coming out soon, too. This one is about Hypatia of Alexandria. Here is one account of her death, so this might be a bit of a spoiler:

On a fatal day, in the holy season of Lent, Hypatia was torn from her chariot, stripped naked, dragged to the church, and inhumanly butchered by the hands of Peter the Reader and a troop of savage and merciless fanatics: her flesh was scraped from her bones with sharp oyster-shells and her quivering limbs were delivered to the flames.

And here is the trailer:

Out December 18.

And this one‘s based on a journalistic book by Jon Ronson about some kind of military project dealing with New Age hippy magic stuff.


Out November 6.

Kook of the Week

September 5, 2009

Japan’s new first lady is a little strange a maverick batfuck insane:

“I eat the sun,” Miyuki says, raising her arms as if to tear pieces off an imaginary sun. “Like this: yum, yum, yum. It gives me enormous energy. My husband has recently started doing that too.”

OH MY GOD RUN FOR YOUR LIVES SHE’S EATING THE SUN HOLY SHIT!11

Crazy first lady is crazy.

Crazy first lady is crazy.

Oh, there’s more:

“While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus,” she wrote, adding: “It was a very beautiful place, and it was very green.”

LOLWUT

  1. Venus is not green.
  2. When you’re asleep and you think you’re going somewhere, we call that A DREAM. you idiot.

And speaking of her dreams:

“I have a dream that I still believe will come true, which is to make a film in Hollywood,” she said. “The lead actor is Tom Cruise, of course.”

Of course. But why?

“Why? Because he was Japanese in a previous life.”

The crazy is giving me a headache. Commentary at this point would be superfluous anyway.

Epistemology

September 1, 2009

Orac at Respectful Insolence had a great post a month or so ago which really nailed some basic problems with accepting pseudoscience. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

Of course, even within New Age, skepticism seems to be without a basis. After all, if you accept astrology and fairies, really, on what possible basis can you reject channeling the dead?… Unfortunately, this is a completely predictable result. When one leaves science, rationality, and reason behind, there is no reliable way to differentiate one woo from another, one pseudoscience from another, one faith-based belief from another. When anything goes, nothing goes, and nothing can be included or excluded based on evidence. Everything is fair game.

This is something that inevitably comes up pretty much every time I try to talk to one of these believer people. It just seems obvious to them that their own beliefs – say, that homeopathy works – are somehow beyond testing and experimentation, or that there’s a massive conspiracy to cover up all the successful tests, or some other lame excuse. But when others use the exact same arguments to support beliefs which are even crazier – like that reptilian aliens have infiltrated human society up to the highest levels of government – somehow to them it is just as obvious that they are suddenly the crazy ones. But that’s hypocritical since they’ve already abandoned the idea of ruling out beliefs altogether in order to support their own.

It reminds me a lot of how some fundamentalist Christians will say that it’s crazy for Muslims to believe that Mohammed flew up into the sky on a horse, but it’s perfectly reasonable for them to assume that Jesus rose from the dead, hung out for 40 days, and then flew up into the sky without a horse. Or you can reverse that if you like, it’s all the same absurd double standard.

And whenever I talk to these people, I always think that if I can only show them how they can rule out pseudoscientific ideas which are just a little bit too crazy for them, they will have some “A-ha!” moment and realize how skeptics come to reject their ideas and the attempted justifications. And that they in fact use the pretty much the same methodology we are using when they dismiss ideas that seem too crazy, even to them. But that rarely happens.

People who are into woo generally just don’t like the idea of having some kind of epistemological foundation for belief, and they like even less that it is science that has proven to get us closer to the truth than any other proposed foundation so far. It would be pretty amazing if we as a civilization had reduced disease, extended life expectancy and increased quality of life by proposing that ideas be tested on the basis of whoever simply says “That’s what I believe,” but strangely enough that didn’t happen. And it probably won’t work in the future, either.