“No Thing Coal” (Fire walking)

Fire walking could more accurately be referred to as coal brisk-pacing. It refers to traipsing barefoot across hot coals, rocks, or cinders without suffering harm. It is often employed in religious rituals or in New Age mind-over-matter seminars.

However, there is nothing mystical about it. It is merely conductivity and physics in action. While the objects themselves are hot, they conduct heat poorly. Therefore, someone spending just a few seconds crossing the pit will usually escape unscathed. By way of comparison, imagine an oven set at 350 degrees for baking macadamia nut cookies. Mmmmmm, cookies. After a few minutes, both the air inside the oven and the pan that houses the cookies will be at the same temperature. But while one could safely put one’s hand in the oven, touching the pan would be extremely painful and potentially harmful. That’s because air has a low heat capacity and little ability in the thermal conductivity department. Metal, by contrast, being much denser than air, is an efficient conductor of heat and would burn any idiot who touches it.

Bob Nixon of Australian Skeptics explains, “The difference comes from the ability of various substances to conduct or transfer heat. Air is a very poor conductor of heat, (whereas) metal conducts heat with great efficiency, even though the temperate of the oven air and the container are the same.”

As this relates to fire-walking spectacles, 1,100-degree coals will not usually burn a person’s feet, provided the participant performs more of a jaunt than a leisurely stroll. This is because coals have a low heat capacity and they serve as good thermal insulators. In addition, ash remnants from the burnt charcoal is likewise a poor heat conductor. Also, firewalkers often wet their feet beforehand, which makes burns even less likely.

Combine the poor heat conductivity with the scant time spent crossing the pit and one ends up with a seemingly miraculous movement over burning coals.

“The average human foot will happily be in contact with a glowing wood coal for about a second before sufficient heat is transferred to burn the flesh,” Nixon said. “The average step takes about half a second so for most people, so it is possible to take two steps with each foot before a dangerous amount of heat has built up.”

Burns can still occur under specific circumstances, i.e. a person with thin soles taking too much time to cross on coals that are hotter than usual. But this confluence seldom occurs since those running the show take steps to avoid it and they give explicit instructions to the walkers on how to cross.

“Wrong number” (Human Design)

Human Design is a form of numerology made up by Alan Krakower, who heard a voice telling him how it works, with the voice apparently encouraging him to charge others for access to the information.

Consumers input their name, precise minute of birth, and time zone born in. In return, they receive a hodgepodge of numbers, symbols, and shapes, along with a nine-item list that allegedly describes the person. The items are vague personality attributes, not testable claims or specific facts. They contain no precise details, such as dates and locations of education or employment, which would give the graph credibility.

Still, some people embrace Human Design and its promise of easy life answers sprinkled with eastern mysticism verbiage. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that while those who embrace such notions have an affinity for the Appeal to Antiquity fallacy, it is not absolute. He wrote, “Compare two concepts of the human body: First, the four bodily humors, which nobody believes in today; and second, qi, which is widely believed today.”

The difference, Dunning continued, is that one is physical, the other metaphysical. The latter is more vague, while the former could be searched for physically, not found, and therefore be disproven.

Therefore, physical claims are dismissed and metaphysical claims embraced, especially when they purport to provide a blueprint for success without any accompanying effort.

“Sleeping chills” (Nocturnal assaults)

There have been reports of sleeping persons being attacked in their slumber by hideous beasts for centuries. We are referring here not to jackals or bears or wolves but of demons, shape-shifters, aliens, and alluring women whose beauty masks an intent most evil.

The tales vary by culture, but as Brian Dunning noted in a Skeptoid podcast, the stories within a culture are largely uniform.

In Europe, especially in and around Shakespeare’s time, the attackers were sometimes thought to be incubus and succubus, demons who raped their victims. This was consistent with a time that blamed every misfortune on the devil. More frequently, the creeping creature took the form of a Macbeth-worthy witch. This could play on the aversion and distrust of old maids, who were chastised for shirking their societal responsibility to have and raise children.  

In the East, the female fiend is the physical opposite of an old hag, and is portrayed as a stunningly beautiful. But the intent remains the same, with the nocturnal interloper using charm and guile, rather than force and revulsion, to overtake her victim.

Again, this plays on society’s prejudices, treating women as temptresses leading individuals and civilization to ruin. 

One culture that bypasses the prejudices are the Slavs, whose nighttime attackers were described in a Brian Dunning Skeptoid podcast as “an elf-like gypsy man with wild glowing eyes who sits on your chest, riding you like a horse.” Meanwhile in Japan and China, these apparitions have traditionally taken the form of ghosts.

Consistent with the notion of attackers adapting to the times, the nightmarish visions turned to alien visitors with the advent of the Space Age. Witches’ cackles were replaced with silent telepathic communication and clubs were transformed into probing implements.

While there have been many varieties of nighttime attackers, a common thread is that these are likely the result of sleep paralysis. That would explain most of what happens, with cultural expectations being responsible for some specific details. 

During sleep paralysis, the victim is unable to move or speak and often feels as if their chest is being crushed. This may be accompanied by hallucinations. Dunning noted that paralysis only happens during REM sleep and this makes sense, as frightful characters would manifest in dreams.

Sleep paralysis occurs because of a disconnection between the brain and the rest of the body when drifting into or out of sleep. And since REM represents the deepest stage of sleep, this is when the disconnection is at its most pronounced.

Sleep paralysis is a reasonable explanation for persons thinking they’ve been assaulted by witches, sirens, elves, and aliens. The presence victims feel would be consistent with hallucinations, a sleep paralysis hallmark.

“This is your captain shrieking” (Ghost plane)


On Dec. 29, 1972, Eastern Air Lines flight 401 went down in the Florida swamps, killing 101 of the 176 people on board. The crash itself was indistinguishable from similar tragedies, but the legend that grew from it was most unusual.

Lore holds that plane parts from the ill-fated craft were installed in other airliners, which were seen carrying apparitions of the deceased pilots and passengers. Most often it was the ghosts of pilot Bob Loft, copilot Bert Stockstill, and flight engineer Don Repo who were said to be observed on these ghostly rides. The airline parts were seen as akin to organ donations, still living on as part of another.

While most ghost stories have various incarnations and a murky genesis, this one is known to have stemmed exclusively John Fuller’s book The Ghost of Flight 401. At the time of publication, this work claimed there had been sightings of these apparitions for four years, starting when an Eastern Air Lines 1011 – the type of plane that crashed in the Everglades – made its way to Mexico City.

Three flight personnel onboard saw the face of Repo, who warned the trio about a fire that would break out on the flight. A post-landing inspection indeed revealed that a fire had damaged an engine, and the next time the aircraft went airborne, another engine fire necessitated an emergency landing.

Fuller claimed that Repo’s voice talked the crew through all this. The cockpit voice recorder, however was nowhere to be found, which would seem to put a hole in this extraordinary claim. But according to Fuller, this is instead evidence that it was whisked away by the airline to cover up the story. In usual conspiracy theory think, the lack of evidence was not seen as lack of evidence but as evidence of a hush up.  

In the years that followed, pilots and flight attendants made frequent sightings of Repo and Loft, with the pair offering pointers on how to maintain the craft. According to the legend, the ghosts always appeared on aircraft that contained equipment salvaged from Flight 401.

Fuller claimed Eastern tried to repress any evidence of spirit encounters, going so far as to destroy any plane logbooks that made reference to them. He also wrote of an unnamed mechanic who discovered workable plane parts that had been removed from planes once it was learned they had been on the flight that crashed.

Assigning no name to what would be a key witness matches Fuller’s modus operandi. He litters the book with anonymous sources and claims that cannot be examined. An Eastern representative told author Robert Serling, “We spent weeks trying to locate anyone who claimed to have seen a ghost and couldn’t find one person.” Serling also learned that not one part was salvaged from the wreckage to be used on another airplane, irrespective of whether the craft was carrying animated deceased spirits.

Unlike Fuller, Serling wrote an entirely credible book about Eastern Air Lines history and in so doing, tacked down the crew from the fabled Mexico City emergency landing, and found no corroboration of a Casper appearing to warn and guide them. Serling learned that the entire story stemmed from a comment the pilot on this flight made when asked how he managed the landing with just one engine. He joked that Repo’s ghost may have been of assistance. Fuller ran with that one line and rather than turning it into a halfway decent movie, penned a collection of libelous tripe.

“Bum luck Egypt” (King Tut curse)


In 1922, a team led by Howard Carter found and opened King Tut’s tomb, turning a long-forgotten ruler into perhaps the most well-known Egyptian pharaoh. Far from being grateful, Tut’s spirit responded with a fatal vengeance, the legend goes. 
In this tale, a clay tablet prominently displayed at the entrance promised death to whoever disturbed Tutankhamen’s blissful eternal rest. 

The story further goes that Lord Carnarvon was the first to succumb, being felled by disease brought by a mosquito. Many others followed, of unknown or suspicious causes. While Carter lived to an old age, the explanation is that his curse was to watch those he had led into the crypt perish.

This reeks of ad hoc reasoning, which is when a lame retort is cobbled together to deflect discomfiting information. Proponents of the curse notion would have never attributed an early Carter death to him being blessedly relieved of seeing his associates die because of his vanity. Trying to pass his reasonable life span as curse-related is obviously folly to all but the most fervent believers.

The idea of a curse arose during one of yellow journalism’s heydays and articles from the period were long on spooks and speculation and short on  investigation, confirmation, and corroboration. That’s why reports of the putative’s first victim’s death failed to mention Carnarvon’s fragile health or the frequency of succumbing to mosquito-related ailments in that place and time. Nor is there any photo of the curse-laden clay tablet, nor any mention of it in notes from those on the expedition.

Like all alleged curses, Tut’s is unprovable either way, and supporting the notion rests on post hoc and ad hoc hypotheses. But an attempt at a scientific explanation was made by Dr. Caroline Stenger-Phillip, who wondered if ancient mold in the tomb could have caused potentially fatal allergic reactions. 

Fruits, vegetables, and other organic items were buried in tombs, and since the tombs were hermetically sealed, mold spores could have existed and remained viable many centuries later. There were also two molds that attach themselves on mummies and can be harmful to persons with weakened immune systems. 

But these tomb toxins fail to explain the deaths. If members of the expedition party received a lethal amount, death would have come quick, not months and years later. Egyptologists never suffer this fate nor do the unending string of tourists that visit tombs daily. 

Another study reached the conclusion that not only was there no causation between a curse and early deaths, there wasn’t even a correlation. The life spans of those involved matched what would be expected from those in any other field. 

The study’s lead author, Dr. Mark Nelson considered only westerners in Carter’s party, since there was a difference in life expectancy between them and Egyptians.

Of 44 Westerners present, 25 were exposed to the curse. Those 25 lived to an average age of 70, while those not exposed lived to 75. Skeptoid‘s Brian Dunning deduced that the p-value of this difference was .87, so there’s an 87 percent chance that this difference was merely due to chance. Average survival after the date of exposure was 20.8 years for the exposed group, and 28.9 years for the unexposed group. Here, the p-value was .95, meaning there’s a 95 percent chance that there would be such a difference because of random variation. In summary, the curse is as dead as the boy pharaoh it is attached to. 

“Head trip” (Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Fair)


On this year’s trip to the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Fair, I concentrated on merchants hawking Supplementary, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine (SCAM). These are all oxymoronic terms. There is no supplementary medicine, complementary medicine, alternative medicine, Eastern medicine, and so on.

Products and treatments repeatedly proven effective in double blind, controlled studies are medicine, with no qualifier needed. If they lack these evidentiary distinctions, they are not medicine.

What proponents and detractors alike label “alternative medicine” are purported remedies that usually have no recommended dosage and carry no possibility of overdosing. This is because the product has no active ingredient and is therefore without medicinal value. I heard many a tale of success at the fair, but no references to double blind studies. And as James Randi noted, “The plural of anecdote is not data.”

Further, I have found that even the most rudimentary probing of the alternative medicine field will leave proponents flummoxed. They are used to being asked, “What can this do for my headache,” not, “Explain the mechanism behind how this will help my headache.”

By way of comparison, chemotherapeutic drugs work by inhibiting mitosis and targeting fast-dividing cells. That is a terse, rudimentary explanation, but that’s the gist of it and an oncologist could go into further detail, all of which would be backed by thousands of studies, peer-reviewed articles, and decades of research. But when I asked for the mechanism behind what was being sold at the fair, my ears were overloaded with fabricated terminology, pseudoscience, and anecdotes.

One reason alt med sometimes seems to work is that it usually tried after other methods have failed. Combined with the cyclical nature of many ailments and illnesses, the treatment or product might then seem effective, when in truth, it has just run its natural course.

My first stop was to a Shamanic healer, whom I asked about my headaches. She pronounced, “There’s more to you than just your physical, mental, and emotional bodies. There’s you energy body and that’s what we work with.”

That leaves me with three more bodies than I thought I had, but let’s see what she can do with the energy one.

She used what she called an energy bundle and what I called a red blanket. With this piece of vermilion fabric, she can “check your energy fields. When we do that, we get information about where there are imprints, maybe things you’re still struggling with.” Yeah, like those headaches, let’s get back to that.

“We would have to look at what’s effecting you.” Um, I said headaches were effecting me.

She continued, “Maybe some ancestral things that are effecting you.” You mean like genetics, maybe we’re getting somewhere. Instead she went down a different pathological path.

“We have a close relationship with our guides and mountain spirits, with powers, and we open up to the divine. We use stones that have connections to power places.”

By the time our conversation wound down, she had clued me on power stones and I had let her know what a double blind study was. A win for both of us.

At my second stop, the lady asked me, “Did you come last year?” It appears I’ve stumbled onto the Reverse Clairvoyance booth. As to why she was there either time, it was “to do all kind of modalities: Reiki, craniosacral, Shamanic healing, and reflexology.”

She explained it thusly: “You lay down (I’m liking that part) and there are different holds around the whole body, and the idea is to sort of calm your chakras so your body can do what it already knows how to do.” If it already knows how, why would I pay someone to do it?

She suggested craniosacral therapy and its “gentle holds” for my headaches. When I fired my standard question about the mechanism behind how it works, she told me,   “Um, gentle holds.” So, gentle holds works via gentle holds. Hard to argue with that.

She continued, “The weight you would use to hold a nickel is all the weight you would use. It can get pretty energyish.”

I love first-time experiences and while I’ve heard scores of references to energy during my annual pilgrimage to the fair, this is the first time some has uttered “energyish.”

Next up was a holistic healing table. There were the usual references to auras, chakras, clearings, blockages, and energy. And the usual dearth of evidence for auras and chakras, no clarifying of what type of energy is in play, or any explanation for why blockages would be harmful and clearings beneficial.

He blamed unspecified imbalances for causing shocks when touching a doorknob or for a light bulb blowing when you turn it on. In truth, the shocks are due to the build- up of static electricity, which cause electrons to flow from a person to a metal object. As to light bulbs being blown when turned on, that can be caused by cheap bulbs, loose connections, mechanical vibrations, or high voltages. No imbalance of a colorful yet somehow invisible energy field is needed.

He further offered that his chakra assessments may reveal that a person needs more vegetables and to carry a blue topaz. Of course, one is going to feel better eating more peppers and carrots regardless of one’s crystal accoutrements.

As to my headache question, he attributed that to my crown chakra and Third Eye. Criminy, my astigmatism makes it hard enough for me to handle two eyes, now I’ve got another one to worry about?

His cohort, who seemed lifted straight from 1967, said my ailment (and everyone else’s) could be caused by WiFi and cell phones. Since the sicknesses also occurred prior to the advent of wireless technology, this seems unlikely. She suggested keeping my energy field balanced and free of other peoples’ frequencies, offering no evidence for any of these things existing or being capable of manipulation.

I asked about the mechanism responsible and was told it was akin to cleaning the top of a swimming pool. That might be relevant if my issue was pruned hands, but I’m here for a throbbin’ noggin.

I moved on to the chiropractic booth, where a woman told me she uses “the alignment of your nerves and your muscles on your spine to align your spine.” Rather redundant. It would be like describing dentistry as caring for your teeth to ensure your teeth are cared for.

When I asked about my head pain, she had me sit next to an ersatz electronics machine. She rolled an implement on my neck, and this resulted in a readout of my back, neck, and skull that showed two red areas. There was no explanation for what this measured or revealed, or how spine adjustment would fix it, or even if it needs fixing. But red in general means bad, so the point was subtly made, or at least would be to someone less skeptical.

Next I came upon another chakra healing merchant. She reiterated earlier claims about needing to ensure my chakras are lined up and needing to see if there are any blockages. There is no way to measure this and it’s hard to imagine anyone being given a clean bill of health and told that neither they nor their money needs to come back.

She assured me that if my crown chakra is blocked, that could cause it, and that she can see each of my chakras. There have been tests of such claims, where a curtain is placed in front of the chakra reader. They are then asked to see what chakra is emanating from the person behind the curtain, or if there is even anyone there. No one has ever performed better that chance at guessing whether anyone and their accompanying chakra was behind the curtain. As I had come to the fair without any interior design merchandise, I had to settle for trusting the previous experiments and not conducting my own.

When I inquired into the mechanism, she answered, “We’re all energetic beings. Chakras are energy vortexes. When we have emotional garbage, the chakras push it out so the universe can take care of it and it also pulls in the good, clean energy.”

I asked, “What kind of energy is it, thermal, kinetic, nuclear?” She answered, “Divine energy and Reiki energy.” Hmm, don’t remember those from school. Then again, I didn’t take a lot of science.

Then I found another shaman who told me he “works with spirituality. I don’t heal you, the body heals itself. It’s a conduit for healing energies that are imparted to you. A good shaman is nothing more than a good plumber.” Interesting analogy. I’ve never heard anyone who was unplugging my bathtub refer to themselves as a right fine witch doctor.

As to the mechanism behind it, he said, “It’s just sending healing energy to that person. It’s also very connected to the spirit world. It is common for us to use drums and rattles to transmit the energy.” If that’s the case, I should just listen to R. Carlos Nakai.

Finally, I paid a visit to a sound healer and his many ringing metal bowls. He suggested I try exposure to various frequencies until I find one I resonate with. This type of approach leads to post hoc reasoning, where the subject keeps trying frequencies and when the pain goes away, they attribute it to that frequency. Yet the headache may have gone away on its own by then. With no plausible mechanism or explanation for how this works, it is mistaken to attribute it to the sound made from rubbing the rim of a copper bowl, no matter how pleasing the result is to the auditory sense.

When I asked the mechanism, he gave me the day’s most honest response, saying he didn’t know and suggested I Google it. I would choose another physician if mine recommended doing a web search to figure out why I have a back rash, so I’m going to move on from this sound healer. And I gotta tell you, a day of having these conversations wasn’t real good for my headache.

“Psi sigh” (Parapsychology)


Psychology professor Etzel Cardeña wrote an article last year for American Psychologist that purports to show evidence for parapsychological phenomena. To bolster his case, Cardeña referenced quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity, and the block universe hypothesis, a model in which past, present, and future exist simultaneously.

As a counter to Cardeña’s claims, psychologists Arthur Reber and James Alcock penned an essay for Skeptical Inquirer, in which they opined that Cardena’s effort was the latest in a 150-year failed attempt to legitimize parapsychology. There reasons for these failures, they assert, is that every claim made by psi researchers violates fundamental principles of science.

Reber and Alcock did not examine Cardeña’s data since they considered it irrelevant.  As a comparison, they noted that pigs cannot fly, so any data that points to swine being independently airborne would be the result of “flawed methodology, weak controls, inappropriate data analysis, or fraud.” They focused not so much on Cardeña’s claims but on parapsychology’s in general.

One reason they did so is because, as they noted, parapsychology is a faux field that hasn’t progressed since its inception in the 1880s. Then, as today, the overarching theme is that there is an unidentified, untraceable “more” to our universe beyond atoms, molecules, senses, people, and planets. This grandiose claim comes with zero testable or empirical evidence.

One scientific law that would need to be violated for parapsychological claims to be true is causality. Effects have causes and, with psi, there are no causal mechanisms, and none have been hypothesized. More relevant, there is no consideration of if the supposed psi effects have one causal mechanism or many. There is also the issue of inconsistency. The skeptical duo ask, “If psychokinesis affects the roll of dice in a psi lab, why not at craps tables? If telepathy exists, why are our brains not constantly abuzz with the thoughts of those around us? For allegedly existing now, the future only shows up in parapsychology lab tests.”

Then there are violations of Time’s Arrow. Parapsychology asserts an ability to warp time, most glaringly when involving precognition. Psi researchers regularly love to drop the term “Quantum Mechanics” and they often do so when referencing the entanglement effect. This in an example of pseudoscience, where scientific terms are used, albeit incorrectly, to try and lend credence to a position. Now, it’s true that two spinning particles separated in space are entangled since the state of one is simultaneously aligned with the other. But this does not equate to a reversal of time; there are merely concurrent effects.

“The notion that the strangeness of the quantum world harbors an explanation of the strangeness of parapsychology is a false equivalency,” Reber and Alcock write. Indeed, this is the secular version of “I don’t know, therefore a god did it,” with quantum mechanics replacing the instigating deity.

Quantum mechanics is hellaciously complex and probably less than one percent of people fully comprehend it. That leaves ample room for confusion and in this large area is where pseudoscientists like Cardeña operate. But there’s nothing in quantum mechanics that would validate or necessitate paranormal occurrences.

Yet another law that would need to be violated for parapsychological claims to be valid relates to thermodynamics. Again, consider precognition. For the future to impact the present, this would necessitate violating the principle that energy cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system. The act of choosing a playing card, a common technique in psi research, involves neurological processes that involves measurable biomechanical energy. The choice is presumed to be caused by a future that, having no existential reality, lacks energy.

Finally, we have an Inverse Square Law violation. In supposed telepathy, the distance between the two involved persons never seems to be a factor. This is inconsistent with the principle that signal strength falls off with the square of the distance traveled. Psi researchers again employ the entanglement effect as a possible explanation, but within quantum mechanics, there is no transmission of energy between the separated particles, they are merely entangled.

In conclusion, if psi effects were genuine, they would have already landed fatal blows to vast blocks of scientific knowledge.

“Preying cards” (Tarot deck)


When I started blogging five years ago, I hit the skeptic basics: Ghosts, Bigfoot, aliens, Ouija boards, astrology, dowsing, Nostradamus, Reiki, moon landing deniers, and so on. Yet I realized this week that, incredibly, I have written well over 500 posts without ever addressing Tarot cards. Today, we rectify that deficiency.

The deck is among the few targets of skepticism that I’ve ever owned. The Medieval imagery and artwork is appealing, shuffling cards carries aesthetic value, and seeing which ones are laid down is fun if not taken seriously. The cards are neither a predictor of the future, an analysis of one’s current state, nor a portal to Lucifer’s lair. They are inanimate objects whose only meaning is whatever the reader and the customer project onto them.

The deck has gone through many iterations and cultural variations, but we in the modern West know the version that has 22 major arcana cards and 56 minor ones. Those in the major category feature personified characters like the Fool, Devil, Hermit, Strength, Death, and Lovers. The minor arcana, with their numbers and suits, resemble playing cards. The primary difference between Tarot and playing cards is the addition of a fourth-tier figure, the Page, who rests one spot below the Knight, which is the Tarot equivalent of a Jack.

Readings are usually given by a self-described fortune-teller, though dark smoky rooms have largely given way to strip malls and market festival crowds. For all the direction, mystic insight, and clairvoyance Tarot readers claim to have exhibited, there has yet to be one explanation for why anyone’s fate would be outlined in the cards. Nor is it explained how the cards always manage to be shuffled and dealt in the precise way that gives accurate portrayal of the subject.

In truth, most Tarot card readers are of the cold variety, and they feel out their subject and base their direction on what the customer tells them. In other words, the reading is going to be about the same regardless of what cards the fortune teller turns over.

Also, they make sure to keep the predictions, reassurances, and analyses vague enough that they will apply to most persons. This technique is especially effectively on those who want to believe, which describes most persons seeking a Tarot reader. Subjects are likely already determined to square his or her current existence with whatever is divined.

This happens even if the reader throws out contradictory notions such as, “These two cards side-by-side mean that you have some job satisfaction and usually appreciate your bosses, but sometimes wonder if you are being fully appreciated and think maybe your untapped potential could be used elsewhere.”

The customer can then take which part of that makes the most sense or has the most appeal when deciding on their employment future. This is a manifestation of the Forer Effect, where someone puts stock in broad ideas if they have a personal impact.

Furthermore, the 78 cards each contain a variety of distinctions and personality types, which the reader plenty of leeway for broad interpretation. Selective memory also plays a role. A professional fortune teller will speak in broad enough terms and be a skilled enough cold reader that they will seemingly score a hit 75 percent of the time. Owing to confirmation bias, those wanting to believe will remember that the fortune teller was right about the client’s feud with his siblings and forget that she was wrong about the client having worked in construction.

The one genuine value Tarot cards may have is therapeutic. If the subject starts to draw forth from themselves, talks about what’s going on in their life, and tries to find a way forward, working through all that can be beneficial. But a person can take control of where their life is going without relying on cards. Just like one can play Blackjack without ruminating on how it impacts the future.

“Will powered” (Will o’ the Wisp)


The Will o’ the Wisp a natural phenomenon seen by nighttime pedestrians near bogs, swamps, or marshes. They have been described in folk tales as atmospheric ghost lights, with their specifics being tailored to the culture the legends are presented in. The lights are generally portrayed as being wielded by a malevolent entity or prankster intent on misleading travelers with a wayward lantern or torch.

The term “wisp” refers to a bundle of sticks or a paper used as a torch. Will is the male moniker given to the protagonist, who is often said to be sentenced to roam a swamp or marsh to atone for transgressions.

The Will o’ the Wisp has been seen less frequently since the advent of artificial lighting and because many wetlands have been drained and converted to farm acreage.

Indeed, there is a clear scientific reason for Will-o’-the-Wisp sightings. They occur when phosphine, diphosphane, and methane all oxidize as they produce photon emissions. Once phosphine and diphosphane mixtures ignite oxygen and methane, the results produce ghostly images. Furthermore, phosphine produces phosphorus pentoxide, which in turn forms phosphoric acid upon contact with water vapor. This causes the viscous moisture described by witnesses.

Additionally, the apparent retreat of the Will o’ the Wisp when approached can be explained by the disturbing of the air by nearby moving objects, which causes gasses to disperse. This was observed in 1832 by Major Louis Blesson, who noticed that water was covered by iridescent film and, that during the day, bubbles were observed rising from the wetlands. That night, Blesson observed bluish-purple flames in the same areas and concluded that it was connected to rising gas.

There is also a school of thought that some Will o’ the Wisp occurrences may be geologic in origin, as they might be piezoelectrically-generated under tectonic strain. The hypothesis holds that strains which move cracks in Earth’s crust could also heat up rocks, vaporizing the water contained within. Rock or soil containing quartz, silicon, or arsenic, could likewise produce electricity, which would then rise to the surface, resulting in the haunting image. If true, this could explain why the lights often seem electric or erratic.

Further, the phenomenon may result from the bioluminescence of forest dwelling microbes, insects, and larger animals. The eerie glow emitted from some fungal species during chemical reactions form white rot and this could also be interpreted as atmospheric ghost lights.


“Punku rock” (Puma Punku)


I went to Zambia without going to Victoria Falls, to Cambodia without going to Angor Wat, and to Monaco without going to Monte Carlo. In one sense, this means that I am an independent traveler who brazenly goes where other dare not. In another more accurate sense, it means I travel as cheap as possible. Get me the lowest airfare and closest hostel to the airport and I’m good. My favorite part of being to in any foreign country is being there.

My oxymoronic habit of traveling to far-flung places, then venturing as little as possible when I get there, also took place during my lone trip to South America. While others may go out of state for a long weekend, I went off the continent and landed in Lima, Peru. The hostel manager expressed surprise that I would not be going onto Machu Picchu, which is where most of his guests end up.

I was content to stay within a two square miles of the hostel, venturing only far enough to visit a supermarket, soccer fields, and roadside stands. There was one exception, when I made my way to an ancient site once populated by Limans, an ancient people that predated the more well-known Macchu Pichuu folks. Another site I failed to visit was an ancient Andean structure called Puma Punku, a temple complex which comprises a series of monolithic stone structures near Tiwanaku on the Peru/Bolivian border.

While popular, the area is more beloved by paranormal enthusiasts then tourists. The Puma Punku expanse is known for its massive stones that, despite their size, are cut and placed with such preciseness that a sheet of paper cannot be wedged in between. Some attribute this construction ability to ancient aliens, vacationing Atlanteans, or some group more interesting and supernatural then Pre-Columbian folks.

Those favoring this view sometimes claim Puma Punku stones weigh up to 440 tons. In truth, the largest weighs 144 tons, the second heaviest is 85 tons, and the third heaviest is much less than that. The vast majority of Puma Punku consists of relatively small and easily handled stones.

Still, there are a few stones which leave archeologists unsure how they were cut, moved, and assembled. But it is appealing to ignorance to claim that since we don’t know how they did, ancient aliens were responsible. Sketoid’s Brian Dunning noted that even-older works of the ancient Greeks and Persians rivaled what long-ago residents of Tiwanaku managed and no one is claiming mystical means were responsible for the Parthenon or the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. And even if such an assertion were made, it is accompanied by no evidence bolstering the ancient alien angle. The same is true any otherworldly hypothesis for Puma Punku.

Dunning explained why we have trouble figuring out how they did it. “Most people don’t know how to intricately cut stones because those are skills we haven’t needed for a long time,” he wrote. “But this argument from ignorance — that just because we don’t know how to do it, nobody else could have figured it out either — is an insufficient explanation and deprives the creators of their credit.”

The Tiwanaku civilization and their use of these structures peaked around 1,100 years ago, so this leads to another Puma Punku feature that supposedly has archaeologists baffled. At the site, there are carved figures purported to be of a Cuvieronius, an extinct elephant-like beast, and a toxodon, a likewise-doomed hoofed mammal. As both critters last lived in the region around 15,000 years ago, some deduce Puma Punku is at least that old, and so, voilà, bygone extraterrestrials done did it.

However, the carving is actually of two Andean Condors facing each other. Their necks and crests could, especially if one wanted them to, resemble tusks and oversized Dumbo ears. Humans prefer pattern over randomness and when combined with a desire to bolster a pet cause, this can lead to seeing helicopters in Hieroglyphics, a Face of Mars, or Peruvian pachyderms.

One cannot prove it wasn’t ancient aliens, but the burden is on those making the claims, and so far no evidence has been presented. If ancient aliens did it, I admire their architecture and I am jealous of their extensive travel. As for me, I’m left with planning my no-Leaning-Tower trip to Pisa.