“Feeling board” (Ouija)

ouija

Many persons consider the Ouija Board to be harmless fun, but I disagree. It’s really not much fun.

In my youth, I never really got the thrill of sitting around asking questions of something that couldn’t answer. At least the Magic 8-ball offered a response. I was screwing around with the board once, which showed I had some naivete that it might work. But then I figured if a spirit really knew the answers it could move the planchette by itself. And if it were unable to move a light object a few inches, it wasn’t a very powerful entity.

Ouija sessions can be solo, but are usually done in groups, with everyone placing their hands gingerly on the teardrop-shaped planchette, which itself rests on a board. Imprinted on the board is the alphabet, along with  “yes,” “no” and “goodbye,” presumably so the spirit can tell us when he’s tired of fielding candlelit queries about deceased aunts and the cute new boy in algebra class.

The board was originally a fraudulent spiritualist tool in the 19th Century, then enjoyed a 1960s and 1970s heyday as a bonding experience for sleepover tweens. But among those for whom everything is either sacred or sinister, the boards helped summon demons or angry ghosts.

There is indeed an invisible force behind the gliding planchette and it’s an unconscious, involuntary movement called the ideomotor effect. In motor behavior, there are two parts of brain activity. The first drives motor activity, while the second is the conscious registration of that activity. The ideomotor effect occurs when this registration is skipped, and while neurologists are uncertain of the mechanisms behind it, we know it exists for reasons we’ll address shortly. Instances of the effect were occurring as early as the Fourth Century when messages were divined in held pendulums, and the effect is also the force behind dowsing and facilitated communication.

In a Vox article, Aja Romano wrote, “Paradoxically, the less control you think you have, the more control your subconscious mind is actually exerting. The planchette makes it easier to subconsciously control your muscle movements, because it focuses and directs them even while you believe you aren’t in control of them. The appeal of the ideomotor effect is that you actually may be communicating with something you can’t typically access — your own subconscious — and that the experience can feel like communicating with something paranormal.”

Whenever participants are blindfolded, they are no longer able to produce discernible answers. This means that they were either in charge of the planchette all along or that the spirit is now speaking in its unknown language. In either case, the board is useless for deducing a message from another realm. In some of the experiments, the board is stealthily reversed when the subjects are blindfolded and the planchette is in invariably moved to where the letters had previously been.

Ouija boards were derived from Talking Boards, which assumed a variety of forms and were sold by those preying on the grieving following the Civil War. The boards were touted as a device to communicate with dead relatives and friends, and the various incarnations were consolidated into the Ouija Board and planchette, which were patented in 1890.

In a rare early 20th Century collaboration between Catholics and evangelicals, both condemned the device as demonic, and that reputation still largely holds in these communities.

Then there are those who believe in the board, but who think it’s excellent, not evil. For these types, ad hoc reasoning is used to dismiss the evidence that participants are providing the planchette power. When 1960s studies suggested that the ideomotor effect was behind it all, believers insisted the effect was a manifestation of ESP. And I found one guy online who explained the blindfolded problem by suggesting that the spirit must be able to see through the eyes of its conduits. These seem shaky rationalizations at best, but wanted to consult my go-to source on such matters and was told, “Reply hazy, try again.”

“Billy goat’s bluff” (Cubs curse)

cub-loss

The Chicago Cubs had Major League Baseball’s best record this season and are in position to win the pennant and World Series for the first time in 71 and 108 years, respectively. The last time the Cubs won the pennant, World War II had ended the month prior, while their last World Championship came midway between the Spanish-American War and World War I. Newspapers announcing that Cubs victory cost one cent.  

Two years prior to that, the Cubs won 116 games, the MLB record. When that team lost the World Series, there was no talk of any other cause than pitching, hitting, fielding, and base running. If such a monumental post-season letdown were to happen today, it would be considered a further vindication of the Curse of the Billy Goat.

The story has multiple versions, but the gist is that an enraged tavern owner declared in 1945 that the Cubs would never win the World Series again. After being a Wrigley Field regular all season, the goat was given the boot during the Fall Classic. Even today, the owner’s words have held true. Countering the idea of a curse is that when it was uttered, there were already 37 non-goat related championship-free seasons and the Cubs had lost their last seven World Series.

Belief in curses is a form of magical thinking, where two events are tied together and one said to cause the other, without considering other factors. Before going further, I want to stipulate that Cubs fans who cite the billy goat are different from believers in Tarot Cards or Ouija boards. There are people who genuinely believe in the power of those things, whereas few persons actually think a sports curse is real. A devotee of the sports page is going to have much less concern over a billy goat than a fervent Gemini will have over an ominous horoscope. Baseball fans spend the season analyzing possible trades, batting order changes, and middle relief shortcomings, with curses only being discussed late in contending seasons. Meanwhile, the horoscope enthusiast plans the totality of their lives around its words.

To further demonstrate the difference, consider how the two types react when prophecies are negated. When Boston’s Curse of the Bambino was reversed in 2004, Red Sox fans were euphoric. By contrast, astrology believers react with hostility when it’s pointed out horoscopes don’t work, that they merely contain general terms that would apply to most people and also mostly tell readers what they want to hear. If anyone believes in the billy goat curse, it is likely someone who believes in curses in general and not an octogenarian Cubbies fan fretting that it’s going to happen again.

So the point of this post is not to argue against the reality of sports curses, it’s to analyze why rational persons can become captivated by something they don’t believe in.

For this phenomenon to occur, the first requirement is that an alleged incident be highlighted as the starting point. This will allow the mass delusion and feeling of tormented community to take hold. If the billy goat had been allowed into Wrigley Field, maybe no curse would have ever been associated with the team. But once it got affixed, it was highlighted during Cub collapses in 1969, 1984, and 2003.

This leads to the second necessity, which is that at least some of the failures have to happen in spectacular fashion. Fans are by nature a nervous bunch and they can get caught up in the idea of a curse when their team repeatedly falls short despite getting close. The Red Sox were said to be under a curse for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees and they found incredible ways to lose late in the season at least a half dozen times. However, the championship drought endured by the Chicago White Sox began before Boston’s did and ended after it, yet the Pale Hose were not usually said to be under a curse. This was because they appeared in just one World Series from 1920 to 2005, they seldom had a division lead to blow, and they pretty much just sucked. A series of fifth-place finishes has none of the pizazz that comes with ground balls between the leg and base running blunders in late October.

A third factor is the human desire for explanations and an aversion to randomness. Evoking a curse can take care of these both. It is reassuring and satisfying for one play to serve as a microcosm for a gut-wrenching failure and latest curse manifestation. In Boston’s most infamous loss, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Jim Rice was thrown out at home by 20 feet after a horrible third-base coaching decision. Yet almost no one remembers that play and even Bob Stanley’s wild pitch, uncorked with a runner on third and Boston one out away from winning the Series, isn’t shown once for every 100 times that Bill Buckner’s error is broadcast.

The idea of external powers coming into play only applies when losing. When the Red Sox finally won the World Series, no one credited this to Ted Williams’ ghost. Rather, the resiliency of a team that rallied from down three games to none in the ALCS to win eight straight times was credited. There is no satisfaction in attributing a thrilling championship run to the cosmos, but it can be reassuring to blame invisible sinister forces when things unravel.

Of course, the idea of a Cubs curse is silly. It’s really the Indians that are afflicted.

“Off the record” (Akashic readings)

blank-book

Akashic Records are said to contain data on everything that has ever happened, is  happening, or ever will happen. I had always called that the NSA.

But the Record goes even further that what domestic spies can do. They contain a complete compilation of every emotion, thought, and biological process of every creature at every point in time. If needing to know the third-to-last thing the final dodo ate or how many second cousins the MVP of Super Bowl 800 will have, these Records are for you.

Proponents claim the concept dates to before the advent of time. If appealing to antiquity, might as well go all the way. But a more accurate timescale pegs 19th Century Theosophy as the starting point. This religion/philosophy sought to determine the nature of divinity and the origin and purpose of the universe. It believed hidden ancient knowledge would reveal the way to enlightenment and immortality. The Akashic Records were said to be where this sacred information resided.

Believers say the records were accessed by ancient cultures, though only the cool ones: Babylonians, Druids, Egyptians, Greeks, Mayans, Persians, and Tibetans. Contradicting these claims are a complete lack of reference to the Akashic records in any writings or archeological remains of these peoples.

It would be easy to test someone who claims to be accessing a repository of infinite knowledge. Researchers could isolate the subject, then gather verifiable information that few would know, such as the name of the Belgian foreign minister in 1930. Ask 10 such questions and a perfect score from anyone other than Ken Jennings would be evidence that the record is being accessed.

As it is, however, those claiming to be looking through this cosmic microfilm give contradictory information. Psychics Edgar Cayce, Alice Bailey, Charles Leadbeater, Levi Downing, and Rudolf Steiner all cited this infallible source but gave different conclusions as to what they were seeing. Some of the more distinctive claims were Leadbetter’s insistence that he saw the history of Atlantis and the above-water continents through the 29th Century. And Dowling was given insight into the life of a teenage Jesus, which would make for a great program on Fox.

Those persons are all deceased now and presumably busy dropping by séances and haunted houses. But there are many modern proponents left, including those at the Center for Akashic Studies. Its website tells us, “The Akashic Record is a dimension of consciousness that contains a vibrational record of every soul and its journey. It is completely available everywhere. Individual minds do not need to direct this light. Infinite wisdom of light goes where it is needed and received to fulfill its function.” Cost is $500, which seems rather steep for Records described as easily accessible and ubiquitous.

There are different ways of accessing one’s Akashic Record. Depending on the source, the portal may be any one of these: The pineal gland, Osiris, the Orion Nebula, yoga, astral projection, prayer, vibrations, trances, or removing fluoride from your water. The common thread is that the second part of these techniques is paying someone who insists their product is easy for anyone to access. They take credit cards, but ask for the number instead of getting it from the Akashic Record.

Someone calling herself Akemi G wrote, “Accessing Akashic Records is not difficult. It is not a privilege allowed only to a handful of people. And there are many ways to access.” But the best, Akemi assures us, is through her book. As I’m behind on my reading and not yet halfway through Anna Karenina, I pursued another option.

So I moved onto akashictransformations.net. Here I learned, “Everyone can access information from the Akashic Records at any time, and indeed we do! The flashes of intuition and knowing hunches that occur every day are glimpses into the divine wisdom contained in the Akashic Records.”

So we access them inadvertently. But let’s say one is hoping to do it advertently. There’s a word you don’t see it its positive form very often. I suppose it was evitable that I would do that. At any rate, let’s see if I can delve into the Records and have it reveal that Belgian foreign minister’s name. The options for opening the Records to my consciousness include yoga, prayer, and meditation.

The first choice is out. I was never terribly limber, and my aging body would have trouble assuming any yogic position, and almost certainly would be unable of getting out of it.

For prayer, I tried some homages to Thor. But all I could envision was thunder, hammers, and the Chris Hemsworth movie that’s been in my DVR for 10 weeks because I can never wrestle the TV from my kids long enough to watch it. Thinking about that got me all riled, which was surely being noted in my Record, but was getting me no closer to finding that name.  

Next up was meditation. This is probably the last technique I would have tried because I like my water fluoridated. After omming and humming for a while, the name Terrance Schmidt came to me.

That was a whiff. Turned out it was Emile Vandervelde, which I learned from a Google search. Think I’ll stick with that source. It’s quicker than the Akashic record, more accurate, and isn’t $500 per session.

“Remote impossibility” (Remote viewing)

remoteviewing

The telescope is one of the great achievements of science, enabling astronomers to see objects in clear detail from millions of miles away. Meanwhile, pseudoscience has also given us the ability to see objects far away through remote viewing. Even better, no equipment is required. The tradeoff is that the clear detail is replaced with vagueness and inaccuracy.

Remote viewing is usually done by having an associate go to the sight, with a third, independent party selecting the site and providing transportation. The viewer then draws what he or she “sees,” sometimes offering commentary as well.

The CIA spent 20 million tax dollars trying to pin down this ability in Operation Stargate. The test subject most associated with this enterprise is Joseph McMoneagle, who later attempted to demonstrate his ability on a Houston TV program. For the experiment, a second person went to four locations in Houston, specifically a giant treehouse, a waterslide, a river dock, and a cement fountain.

He did score a hit on “seeing” a pedestrian bridge and something tall that was not a building. But his most specific statements, about seeing a platform with a stripe and the subject standing on an incline, matched no location. There were other misses and most of his descriptions were so vague they could apply almost anywhere. For instance, he said there was a river or something like it nearby. Houston has a river, “nearby” is subjective, and “like a river” could be a winding street, lake, or something else depending on the extent of one’s imagination.

Another “vision” revealed perpendicular lines. It would have been quite impressive if he had said there were no perpendicular lines and this bore out, since any place will feature them in some form. He reported hearing a metallic noise, which didn’t seem to match anywhere, though the sympathetic reporters shoehorned in the water slide since it was partly made of metal.  

Looking at his list, everything except that striped platform (which he missed) could apply to where I work, and that wasn’t a location he was trying to remote view. Most importantly, he never said specifically what he was seeing. Throwing out vague ideas, such as something large and round, or things that are common like grocery stores and road construction, will probably be accurate, albeit unimpressive.

Brian Dunning at Skeptoid had this to say about remote viewing: “The abilities claimed  are well within the magician’s bag of parlor tricks. Either that, or they are accomplishing a feat of true paranormal abilities, which has never been demonstrated under controlled conditions, cannot be duplicated by anyone else, and has no proposed mechanism by which it might be possible.”

One attempt at testing was done at Washington University in Missouri, buoyed by a $500,000 grant to investigate psychic abilities, with remote viewing one of the ideas investigated. James Randi recruited two teenagers who knew the tricks Dunning spoke of. From 300 applicants claiming to have psychic abilities, only the teens – Steve Shaw and Mike Edwards – passed the preliminary exam and were tested extensively. For four years, they wowed researchers by demonstrating their abilities – not as psychics, but as skeptics and illusionists. After Randi revealed this in Discover, the research stopped.

Skeptic author Michael Shermer has noted that most remote viewing drawings are not, say, of a farmhouse on a hill, but of meandering lines and curves. Claimed successes are the result of generously interpreting very vague drawings and scribbles. For instance, Stargate produced a supposed success in which the associate viewed a park’s merry-go-round, and the viewer drew a round object covered with n-shapes that could be interpreted as bars. However, other than the shape and possible bars, everything else was off. The drawing included a lightning rod and a dome, neither of which were accurate. The number of segments in the merry-go-round was wrong, as was its color, materials, background, and the bars’ direction. Despite these many misses, it was touted as one of Stargate’s great victories. The only persons who would be shown the drawing and conclude it was of a merry-go-round would be remote viewing believers, and only then when they were told it was just such an object.

 

 

 

“Dust in the lens” (Soul photo)

ghostcycle

The photo above is from a fatal motorcycle crash last week and features a white, vaguely humanoid figure rising above the site. Some are claiming this image is of the man’s soul or of an angel. I even encountered one person speculating it was the demon who caused the wreck.

The idea of it being a soul escaping his dying body is contradicted by the fact that the victim died in the hospital, not on the highway. Some of the more creatively credulous have speculated that perhaps God lets spirits in such cases go to Heaven a little early so the person no longer suffers, and it only appears they are writhing, moaning, or crying. This, of course, is based on no evidence whatsoever, and is using an unprovable notion to justify another unprovable one.

Even if we go the angel or demon route, we have the sizable obstacle of none of the emergency workers or other witnesses on the scene reporting having seen this supernatural entity. It is only visible in the viral photo. The idea that spirts can be captured in an in-between world of video and photography dates to almost the advent of film. But if this really happened, we would be seeing regular instances of it. Yet no souls are seen leaving the body in videos of the Sept. 11 attacks. The extensive coverage of World War II battles features no departing spirits. The macabre compilations of suicides and other deaths on YouTube and other sites are likewise spirit-free.

Souls were once presented in Christian folklore as naked children, symbolizing an innocence that came with leaving a sinful body and world. Ghosts later became clothed adults, with chains for added effect. Today, they are most often detected in orb form since photo defects make the white circles more ubiquitous in photographs. This is especially true when the photo is taken at night or features a high contrast. The motorcycle victim, however, is a retro ghost since it somewhat resembles a body, though lacking extremities and facial features.

Proving either way whether the milky image is a soul is nearly impossible, so we will consider potential earthbound explanations. One suggestion is that the image is indeed the remnant of the deceased, as it is an out-of-focus bug that splattered on the windshield of the photo taker. However, that man, Saul Vazquez, said he took the photo out a side window, which he rolled down before snapping it. Indeed, for Vazquez to have taken the photo through his windshield, he would had to have been parked sideways on the shoulder. Besides, there’s no reason to disbelieve him when he says he rolled down the window.

So with a fauna explication not forthcoming, let’s consider a flora one. The image shows foliage emerging from the shade of trees in the area, so we may be seeing a tree trunk or light-colored branch. It could also be sunlight coming between the space between two trees.

But the most likely explanation is camera-related. Specifically, the image may be a dust spot that has affixed itself to the camera’s lens or internal sensor. This could cause a white or gray fuzzy appearance, such as what we see in the photo.

Also, the photographer had a large depth of field and the lens is stopped down to a smaller aperture. Investigating the picture, Snopes noted, “When the lens is stopped down and the aperture is significantly smaller, light rays coming from the lens diaphragm are perpendicular to the sensor filter. Because the angle is more or less straight, dust specks also cast direct and defined shadows on the sensor. That’s why dust shows up in images much smaller, darker, and with more defined edges at small apertures.”

Mix that with the photo being taken at a fatal crash site, then add a pinch of pareidolia, and the speck of dust takes on human spirit form. I’m anticipating a counterargument that this confirms Genesis 2:7: “Then God formed a man from the dust of the ground.”

“The Black Eyed Puh-lease” (Black-eyed children)

blackeyes

Traditionally, the nature of urban legends has precluded them from having traceable origins. Thieved kidneys and DUI victims implanted into a car’s grill were tales passed from person to person for decades, with corroboration impossible.

While the Internet has allowed the proliferation of such tales, it has in some cases made it possible to track down where relatively recent urban legends have come from. A prominent example centers on black-eyed children stopping by for a chilling visit. It’s more than the irises being raven-colored. The eyes seem to have no sclera or pupil, but are just large black orbs between the eyelids. Despite this distinctive feature, these tales usually involve the witness failing to notice it until a few minutes into the encounters.

The genesis of these stories is a first-hand account published by Brian Bethel in a Usenet newsgroup in the summer of 1997. As he told it, two boys wanted to get into his car. Their large black eyes and emotionless voices were unsettling, but they made it clear to Bethel that he would have to invite them into his car, they would not force their way in. Bethel sped away, then looked in the mirror and they were gone in less time that the laws of physics would seem to allow. Tales began streaming in from other anonymous eyewitnesses. This mirrors the sudden rush of stories involving flying saucers that began when pilot Kenneth Arnold reported he had seen a UFO in 1947. Arnold had described the object’s action as akin to a saucer skipping over water. But listeners misunderstood, and thought he was describing the object’s shape, and the flying saucer phenomenon was born.

In subsequent black-eyed children tales, the wanderers are usually homeless or hitchhikers, but the key is, they want in. Like their kindred spirit vampires, they can only come in if invited. They knock at night when the witness is alone because showing up during a birthday party doesn’t make for a spooky story. They usually work in pairs or threes, which means the witness is outnumbered and suggests nefarious plotting. The witness is also hit with a sense of dread. In most recitations, the person is terrified by the monotone delivery, freaky eyes, and repeated requests for entry. So they close the front door or speed off, at which point the duo or trio disappears into the ether. Even with most of the tales taking place since the advent of camera phones, there are no pictures or videos of the unannounced visitors.

There have been a couple of attempts at rational explanations. Some have suggested that juvenile hoaxers with full-sclera contact lenses have had some fun by knocking on doors at night and asking to come in. There’s a good chance someone has tried this, especially in Cannock Chase, England, where there were a spate of reports. But this would fail to explain all of the encounters and does not include the portion of the tale where the knockers seem to disappear. Someone trying to regularly pull this stunt would trip up, get caught, or be photographed before very long.

Others have pointed to mydriasis, or dilation of the pupils, as the cause. This is even less likely than teen pranksters because while it might cause black eyes, it would leave unexplained mysterious raps on stranger doors and repeated requests for admission.

The tales became more frequent in 2013 when MSN ran an article on the phenomenon. The next year, the Birmingham Mail reported that a black-eyed child had appeared in Cannock Chase in 1983. Not coincidentally, a swarm of youngsters with brunette peepers were reported to have then converged on the hamlet. In this British version, the witness is usually alarmed by a screaming child, which ends up being one of the black-eyed tykes. The method of introduction and tone of voice is different from the U. S. tales, but the rest is consistent, including the stories coming from an uncle’s neighbor’s boss or similarly unverifiable source.

With no way to track down these accounts, there is nothing to try and confirm or dispel. There’s no way to tell if the person is telling the story for fun if they believe it. If they do think it authentic, it is likely the result of priming or constructed memories.

Priming is when suggestion is placed in one’s mind and awaits a stimulus to make the connection. Really, really wanting it to happen is another factor. That’s why a large ripple or floating log in Loch Ness becomes a plesiosaur. Those hearing about nearby black-eyed children are expecting them, and are only to happy to see something that confirms this. We can see this power of suggestion in other forms. A garbled unintelligible sound can become “Satan on the throne,” if told to listen for this message in a back-masked song. The same recording can be interpreted as “leave my home” if told it came from a haunted house.

In most U.S. cases, constructed memories are the likely culprit. People hear about pale skin, massive raven eyes, and monotone speakers, then think, ‘Hey, I saw someone like that in my neighborhood eight years ago,’ when it might well have actually been from a TV program featuring aggressive Girl Scout cookie peddlers. The mind can fill in the significant blanks, which can be exacerbated by wanting to believe and communal reinforcement. The tales speak to the notion of corrupted innocence, which most people can relate to in some way. Being children, the perpetrators are seemingly vulnerable, but in fact they are the danger, a theme seen in The Bad Seed, Village of the Damned, and The Omen.

 The stories are terse and without resolution, so many questions are left unanswered, making for an appealing mystery. Where are they from, why are they here, why are their eyes black, why must they be asked to come in? Imagine it were revealed they were from Dubuque, they were here for a school convention, they suffered from mydriasis, and they were being polite. With the mystery solved, no one would be looking for them or caring if they did show up, so reports would likely stop. I mean, now that we know who Deep Throat was, who cares who Deep Throat was? Whether the Chicago Cubs will win the 2016 World Series is making for an intriguing storyline. But if they do, whether the Cubs will win the 2017 World Series will be of exponentially less interest for most of us.

“Summers school” (Worldwide Community of People of the New Message from God)

angelaliens

While there are reasons to question the accuracy of Marshall Summers’ writings, there’s no doubting his drive and determination in cranking them out. For nearly three dozen years, Summers has been busy relaying messages from angelic beings, and filled almost 10,000 pages with visions of doom and a possible escape hatch. Not since Joseph Smith’s heyday has someone been so voluminous in transcribing voices in their heads.

Summers writes of an impending vast darkness, which is contradicted by his having warned about this since 1982. His vague visions of unprecedented calamity are similar to missives from Nostradamus and in Revelation. It also resembles the conspiracy theories which tell of an ultimate disaster which takes place in an Eternal Tomorrow that is always on the cusp of happening yet never quite arrives. The central theme of Summers’ writings is that extreme negative change is imminent, owing to an outside threat, and humans need to prepare for it. After all, it won’t do much good for Summers to print books, press CDs, and make website advertising space available if no one is left to buy them.

For tax purposes, Summers operates under the banner of the Worldwide Community of People of the New Message from God. Summers seems to be alluding to the Biblical deity, using language like angels and creator, but he keeps it generic enough that adherents of other religions or an unspecified spirituality can buy into it as well. Extraterrestrial beings figure prominently in the writings and these beings work with governments, so he’s got the alien and conspiracy crowds covered as well.

In a typical message, Summers relates that we are “at a time of great change, conflict and upheaval,” which describes every period in history. Despite mirroring terrifying prophecies from other religions, Summers claims his is a new and improved doomsday since it includes aliens. He clarifies that only he receives these messages, so ignore any voices in your head you might be hearing.

An interviewer asked Summers how he knew the messages were genuine. He said his certainty of their legitimacy was the proof, a ridiculous non-answer. He offers an equally weak explanation for how others will know he’s revealing the truth, saying they need only to open themselves to the message and it will be revealed. When asked what it’s like receiving these messages, he could only feebly offer, “It can’t be described.” Likewise, when pressed for evidence of his claims, he said, “The evidence is all around us.”

He insinuates that no explanation will suffice for those who are doubtful, which is rubbish. If a satisfactory explication were made using sound science and it met the demands we ask of any other unsubstantiated claim; if he got his angelic presence on speed dial to help him with the James Randi Challenge; if he made a public series of specific predictions that consistently came true, he would win millions of new converts, including members of the skeptic community.

Instead, Summers expects his readers to unquestionably accept notions such as a species of advanced, enlightened aliens who wish to do us harm. Not ray-gun zapping or kidnapping for slave labor, but by being superficially cordial in hopes of gaining our allegiance for unspecified future plans that will increase their power.

Summers commits perhaps the most comically literal circular reasoning I’ve ever seen. Consider this example from an interview :

“What is Wisdom?”

“Being able to live with knowledge.”

“What is knowledge?”

“Living with Wisdom.”

He has a more direct answer about what people can do to prepare for the alien invasion: Buy his stuff.

 

“The tooth comes out” (Tooth Fairy Science)

tooth

When my children put teeth under their pillow, they wake up with substantially more money than I did at their age.

If attempting to ascertain why, I could examine various factors, such as whether the amount the Tooth Fairy leaves has kept up with inflation, if the Fairy values incisors more than molars, and if the time in between lost choppers impacts the amount left. I could query 1,000 children, analyze results for socio-economic trends and determine if there is a correlation between the frequency of Tooth Fairy visits and the sell of home security systems. I may even endeavor to conclude once and for all if the Fairy is male, female, or androgynous. The findings could be put in a snazzy hardcover book with impressive graphics and detailed footnotes. Yet none of this would establish that a stealthy, mobile spirit is replacing extracted calcified objects with cash.

Tooth Fairy Science refers to doing research on an unverified phenomenon to determine what its effects are, rather than to ascertain if it exists. It is post hoc reasoning in research form. The phrase was coined by Dr. Harriet Hall.

This shoddy science is a regular feature of studies into ghosts, cryptozoology, reincarnation, alien visitors, alternative medicine, parapsychology, and creationism.

I have three co-workers who believe our office is haunted. Curiously, this spirit only manifests itself when the workers are by themselves at night. Perhaps he is nocturnal and dislikes crowds. We have ample video and audio equipment in the office, and we could set these up and record what times bumps most occur, detect any unexplained shadows, and note any high-pitched whistles. This data could by analyzed and a conclusion reached about the ghost’s characteristics. But this would not take into account wind, pipes, electromagnetic interference, or a worker on floor above coming in at 11 p.m. We would have to assume the ghost’s existence and attribute these factors to it.

Similarly, cryptozoologists will shoot sonar into Loch Ness or look for disturbed vegetation in Bigfoot’s supposed stomping grounds, then attribute any findings they consider consistent with their monster to be proof the animal was there. As such, they do not consider other explanations, such as the sonar detecting a bloom of algae and zooplankton, or a warthog beating Sasquatch to the trap.

That’s because when Fairy Tale scientists uncover data that is consistent with their hypothesis, they assume the data confirms it. For example, psychiatrist Ian Stevenson spent years collecting stories from people who claimed to be reincarnated. He used these anecdotes to support his belief in reincarnation, and he used reincarnation to explain the stories, a textbook case of circular reasoning.

Moving onto alien abduction, John Mack talked with persons who claimed to have been taken by extraterrestrial beings. He assumed the stories to be real instead of considering that he might have implanted the ideas by asking leading questions, such as, “Was the alien about four feet tall,” as opposed to “How tall was the alien?” The mental state and susceptibility of the subject was not considered, nor were explanations like fraud, attention-seeking, or sleep paralysis. 

Alien abductees aren’t the only subjects that spend time on a Tooth Fairy scientist’s couch. So do alternative medicine patients. Chi, meridians, and blockages are assumed to exist in “energy” medicines such as craniosacral therapy, iridology, therapueitic touch, reflexology, chiropractic, Reiki, Ayuvedic, and more. I have addressed the rest of these in previous posts, so we’ll address Therapeutic Touch here.

First, Therapeutic Touch is neither. The practitioner’s hands are close to the patient, but are never on them. As to the therapy part, practitioners claim to be able to sense a patient’s “human energy field” with their hands, then manipulate the field by moving their hands near a patient’s skin to improve their health. Scientists have detected and measured minute energies down to the subatomic level, but have never found a human energy field. Nine-year-old Emily Rosa designed a controlled test of the practice which Therapeutic Touchers failed spectacularly. Any seeming success is because of the fluctuating nature of many illnesses, the placebo effect, confirmation bias, and nonspecific effects. The latter is a common error and refers to confusing the effects of practitioner-patient interaction with the supposed effect of the treatment.

In a test that proponents claimed proved Therapeutic Touch’s validity, researchers gauged the effects of the technique on reducing nausea and vomiting in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. All patients were on the same chemotherapy regimen and they were randomly divided into three groups of 36 patients. The first group received usual Therapeutic Test treatment, the second group got a similar treatment except the practitioners’ hands were farther from the patients, and the third group received no treatment. A single practitioner performed all the treatments, which was fatal to conducting a proper study because he should not have known which patients were receiving which treatment.

Since there is no evidence the energy field exists, there can be no evidence that how far the practitioner’s hands are from the patient would make a difference. The alleged energy can’t be measured, so there’s no reason to believe any energy was transferred to, or benefited, any patient. While the authors claimed the study showed Therapeutic Touch worked, they had failed to establish that the central feature of the practice even existed.

Likewise, parapsychologists are quick to point to rare instances of a subject performing better than chance as proof that various forms of ESP are legitimate. Unsatisfactory results are considered as the power being unable to be accessed due to cosmic interference, negative energy from a skeptical observer, or some other ad hoc reason. They look to justify the failure as owing to a particular cause rather than the cause being that the power doesn’t exist.

Then we have the creationists. The Institute for Creation Research website informs us, “The very dependability of each day’s processes are a wonderful testimony to the design, purposes, and faithfulness of the Creator. The universe is very stable. The sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. Earth turns on its axis and always cycles through its day at the same speed every time.”

All of these phenomenon are explicable through known laws of physics and astronomy, and the ICR has affirmed the consequent by saying if there is order in the universe, there has to be a god controlling it, and since we see that order, a god exists. They attribute any majesty to this deity without bothering to prove his existence first. It’s one thing to do this as faith in one’s religion. It’s quite another to claim this as science while bypassing the entire Scientific Method.

I’m going to have to wrap this up. My daughter lost another tooth so I’ve got more research to conduct. 

“Time slips, away” (Accidental time travel)

airplane horse

Time slips are the notion that persons and objects can be involuntarily whisked away to another era for an anachronistic holiday. It is distinct from time travel, which a person intentionally seeks.

This would explain why time slippers end up in lame locations and events, as opposed to ancient Greece, colonial Philadelphia, or 1871 Dodge City. Take this fellow, for instance, casually dressed as opposed to the gentlemen in fedoras and ties who surround him. This image was taken in 1941 at the re-opening of the South Fork Bridge in British Columbia. The subject in question is sporting shades and casual clothing more suited to the 1990s, and for excited believers, this is evidence of time slippage.

However, when an article of clothing or an accoutrement is introduced can be separate from when it is popular. In the case of the sunglasses, this style first appeared in the 1920s. As to his shirt, the claim is that it is relatively modern. But it is probably a sweater with a sewn-on emblem, which was common for sports teams at the times. Indeed, the logo on his shirt appears to be the one belonging to the Montreal Maroons hockey team in the 1940s.

This picture is genuine and the website humansarefree.com argues that time slips have always occurred and that the advent of photography allows the slipper to be accidentally documented. However, the era of computer manipulation makes it easy to plant a person or object from one time into another. For instance, the website offered this photo of a 1960s sports car in the days of Model Ts and horse-drawn trolleys. However, this was merely a manipulation of this photo, to which the car was added.

Time slips are among the least-discussed supernatural topics among both skeptics and believers. For the latter, I think that’s because there’s really nothing they can try and do with them. Unlike Chupacabra tracks or alien wreckage, there’s nothing to look for. Unlike Reiki or applied kinesiology, there’s no power to try and harness. Unlike a séance or telepathic communication with middle Earth inhabitants, time slips aren’t presented as a means of intentionally contacting someone.

As to the skeptics, there’s really not much to respond to. Other than pointing out PhotoShop or noting that time slips would violate the known laws of physics, there’s not much to say.

The most well-known assertion of a time slip was the YouTube phenomenon that featured a woman outside a Charlie Chaplin film who seemed to be talking on a cell phone. Beyond the extraordinary nature of the claim, there is also the obstacle of how someone with a cell phone would have anyone to speak with unless a cell phone tower also slipped through the time warp.

Since the video has the typical grainy look of those from the era, it’s hard to get a clear picture of what she’s holding, although the most likely answer is that it’s a portable hearing aid. A competing claim from humansarefree.com holds that the object is indeed a cell phone and that this time slip occurred because “our souls are connected to our bodies from another dimension.”

Before this  bi-level spirit travel, the most well-known time slip claim was from the turn of the 20th Century. It centered on friends Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, who toured the Palace of Versailles and came across a chateau that had been used by Marie Antoinette. They got lost on the massive grounds and ran into persons wearing the garb associated with 18th Century aristocracy. They later reported they had seen Antoinette sketching.

The pair were respected educators so there story was given more credibility, an instance of appealing to authority. This is where extra weight is given to a claim because of who is saying it rather than what evidence is supporting it. It is an ad hominem in reverse. One example of this was what happened when Linus Pauling asserted that vitamin deficiencies were responsible for all sickness and disease, and he recommended massive doses of Vitamin C for everyone. Pauling was a great chemist who won the Nobel Prize for his research into the nature of the chemical bond, but his orange juice overload suggestion was not backed by research. His assertions about the cause of disease could not be validated by other scientists. Since no evidence backed up what Pauling said, alternative medicine practitioners relied on his unrelated Nobel Prize for substantiation.

Similarly, because of their prominent positions, pilots and astronauts are put forth as reputable sources if they claim to have seen a flying saucer. Even persons far less accomplished than Nobel Prize winners and moon travelers can be given extra consideration due to their sincerity and honesty. It can take the form of, “My grandmother is an upright person, and if she says she saw Bigfoot, she did.” However, a person’s honesty and credentials are unrelated to their brain’s role in taking in perceptions, filtering through distortions, filling in blanks, and putting together a conclusion. A person can be distinguished, genuine, and mistaken. People may be well-meaning and still have fallible memories.

When the Moberly-Jordain story was first reported, it was examined by England’s Society for Psychical Research. Despite the name, it took a (relatively) skeptical look at fantastic claims and concluded this case was explicable through ordinary means. Most likely, they had stumbled upon a historical reenactment and no more saw French Revolution victims than persons today see Stonewall Jackson at a Civil War recreation. There is also reason to believe this experience became a shared delusion that was woven in retellings. For starters, it took 100 days for the two to initially compare notes, and it was only after much discussion, story swapping, and historical research that Moberly and Jourdain came up with a year of 1789 and assigned identities to the characters they saw, including Antoinette as the sketch artist.

This tale was added to, deleted from, rearranged, and embellished by subsequent storytellers until it became established in lore as a time slip. But unless you’re reading this prior to 2016, there’s no reason to think there is such a thing.

“Skull-duggery” (Crystal craniums)

CSKULL
There are many crystal skulls out there, the overwhelming majority of which both skeptics and believers think were made in the last 200 years. The dispute centers on how many ancient, magic skulls there are, with believers saying 13 and skeptics saying zero.

The origins of these 13 enchanted quartz craniums have variously been described as Mayan, Aztec, or Cherokee. Bolder claims have them coming from down below (Atlantis) or up above (an exoplanet). There have been numerous persons asserting to be in possession of ancient crystal skulls, but all claims have withered under scientific scrutiny, and no such skulls have ever been found during an archeological dig.

The busiest time and place for these frauds was 19th Century England. Interest in ancient culture artifacts was high and dating techniques weren’t what they are now, so the fraudsters got away with it for a while, selling bogus pieces to museums and universities.

Faux archeologists have given way to New Age entrepreneurs as the main peddlers of crystal skulls. Powers attributed to them include healing, cancer eradication, gravity suppression, expanded psychic awareness, and providing holographic images of the holder’s past events.

The skulls also serve as a townhouse for souls of ancient Mayans. They entered the skulls in order to wait for someone with the ability to unlock their prophetic knowledge to happen along. The key, however, is to get all 13 skulls together and juxtapose them is such a way that will usher in an era of bliss, enlightenment, and twice-weekly taco days.

One of the more enthusiastic promoters is crystalskulls.com, a website so loose with the facts that it describes the Great Flood as “scientifically verified.” If anonymous testimonials are your passion, you’ll want to stop by. Here’s one: “I’ve always found your skulls to have a much higher vibration and love quotient than other skulls.” And another: “When I meditated with my new skull it gave me the name of A-Ma-Ru, meaning doorway or portal to higher consciousness.” You can bulk up your Good Vibrations and spirit travel for $298. Shipping is extra, as the website delivers through FedEx, not the higher consciousness portal.

An Ancient Aliens episode declared every tested crystal skull to be of comparatively recent origin and void of supernatural power. This seeming anomaly for the program is understandable once one realizes they were profiling Anna Mitchell-Hedges, who was in possession of a crystal skull found in 1924 that hadn’t been proven fake. However, this was because she had rejected all requests for testing from scientists and their annoying dating technology. She said the skull had given her a premonition of the JFK assassination, not bothering to explain why she made no attempt to stop it.

After her death, the skull was examined by the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which tested it and determined it to be recent. Ancient Aliens stands by its story. Smithsonian vs. Ancient Aliens, you decide the winner. The program noted that another 12 skulls need to come together to usher in the grand new epoch, which should buy them another dozen episodes.