Skeptic resources

If you are new to being a skeptic or are interested in learning more about it, the links below will prove invaluable.

Most important to remember is that a skeptic is not (necessarily) a cynic. A cynic is essentially a nay-sayer. Someone who will take the most negative connotation or meaning from a situation or who always starts with a negative premise.

A skeptic is someone who requires evidence before they will accept assertions. The wilder the assertions – i.e. the more they contradict what is already known to the skeptic – the more evidence is required to justify that novel position.

Demon Haunted World: Science as a candle in the darkFor those interested in exercising their rational minds in the world we live in, I can think of no better book to start with than Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark”. This superbly written work is a must read for establishing, not only your skeptical toolkit, but why such a toolkit is needed in the first place. He discusses the actual harm that can come about by not challenging superstition and pseudo-science and does so in the engaging and grounded fashion that is such the hallmark of Dr. Sagan’s work.

Next stop is the podcast “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe” (SGU). I already detail my impressions about it in the linked-to blog entry so I won’t go on about it here.

Then there are a series of good websites, one of my favorites is Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy” blog. This started off as a website highlighting bad science (particularly astronomy, duh) in movies and other published venues. The moon hoax debunking is brilliant and well worth the rather extensive read. Phil has branched out somewhat and his daily blog covers topics ranging from interesting astronomical happenings through to foolish legislation based on poor understanding of science, to the invasion of “Intelligent Design” (aka creationism) into the science curricula of our nation’s classrooms.

Appealing to a somewhat less science-focused, but still rigorously skeptical community is Rebecca Watson’s “skepchick” blog. Rebecca’s sometimes sardonic wit is legendary in the skeptical community. She is extremely adept at getting to the heart of an issue, clarifying it and, if warranted, poking fun at it. She also participates in the SGU if you want to hear her in her element. The blog actually has several contributors which adds diversity but also means there is a fair amount of content.

Other resources:

PZ Myer’s “Pharyngula” blog
. I have just recently started reading PZ Myer’s work and am impressed so far but I don’t know enough to comment yet.

The “Amazing Randi’s” website “James Randi Educational Foundation” has some good information although I tend to find it a little hard to read. There is information there on TAM (The Amazing Meeting) that is supposed to be a mecca of all things skeptical. I hope to attend TAM6.

From any of the above resources you will find links to still further skeptical sites and information.

Halloween 2007 pictures on Flickr

Marie Antionette and the headless guyI’m slowly moving my pictures from my own, locally hosted, gallery up to Flickr. There’s a wider audience there and, quite frankly, the local gallery is a bit onerous to maintain. There are *thousands* of files involved so any updates and backups take quite a while to complete.

These pictures were taken at Michelle’s office’s annual Hallowe’en party. The costumes there are usually quite spectacular and this year was no exception!

I *knew* there was more to Mary Ann … “Gilligan’s Heist”

If you’re so in love with “Gilligan’s Island” that you can’t stand to see it defamed, don’t watch this. If you’re a part of the real world and remember the show for what it was – a bad time waster after school when you should have been out playing with friends – then you’ll find this amusing in a Quentin Tarantino kind of way.

If they made this into a full length film, I swear I’d watch it!

And, for what it’s worth… Mary Ann all the way!

Volley Soccer

Wow! Talk about a “Young person’s sport” . I suppose it’s safe to say that the golf set is unlikely to adopt this as their winter sport…

I used to play some volleyball after work and I think that, in a week, I could have got off maybe one of the shots these guys are doing each time the ball comes to their side (I would have needed the week to recover after smashing into the floor…).

Trip to Ellijay

Over there over here fallsWe spent the weekend at a great little cabin up in Ellijay, Ga.
The cabin was located on a really steep hill on 6 acres of property. It was very nicely appointed, having everything you would need to spend a week there except food. We took the opportunity to visit and hike in a couple of local parks, Fort Mountain the first day and, after a great twisty-turny drive, Raven Cliffs Falls.

The hikes were pretty long for me, I’m not much of a walker (I run for exercise, drive everywhere else :)) but it was a satisfying romp in the woods and I got some nice pictures out of it. Click on the picture of the falls to see more.

Sarah Silverman’s “I’m F***ing Matt Damon”

I’m pretty sure everybody’s seen this by now. I just wanted to have a pointer to this for myself.

I find Sarah super attractive and she maintains an almost genuine “girly” quality while simultaneously broaching topics even *I* would stumble over. So I enjoy her work in little bits and pieces.

But this I found to be hysterically funny AND somewhat catchy. I have absolutely not been able to find an uncensored version of this which makes me wonder if it ever really aired without the bleeps..

Anchored thoughts

Marc ThinkingDo you find yourself repeatedly remembering some things via a circuitous path?

I, for instance, consider myself to have size 10 1/2 feet. If you ask me, that’s the answer that comes immediately to mind. The *reality* is that they are size 11 1/2. But in order for me to recall this I start with the immediate 10 1/2 thought which then triggers a memory of mail-ordering some running shoes of the wrong size, which then triggers a memory of getting my feet sized at a local running shop where I get the final result of being shown that my shoe size is 11 1/2. But the answer is not automatic.

Similarly, if someone asks me how tall I am, my initially triggered memory is of the doctor who measured me for my pre-university physical. He said I was 5′ 10″. If you know me, you know this isn’t at all true. I have no idea what he put on my report but that figure sticks with me to this day. But to come up with my height when asked, I start with that 5′ 10″ which triggers a memory about an acquaintance scoffing about that figure, which triggers a memory of showing an absolutely useless doctor once how she is supposed to use the height measure tool on a medical scale where I saw my 5′ 8″ height clearly represented and that is the figure I give.

In thinking about this, assuming I’m not hopelessly abnormal, it makes me wonder to what extent childhood stories and allegories muddle or slow down the thinking of folks in later life. If you’re told something is true from an early age, by an authority figure, what does that do for your recall ability when you later find that the truth is otherwise?

For example, Santa Clause. You spend the first 8 years (give or take) of your life being told there is a Santa Clause, with a lot of exciting pomp and ceremony surrounding it only to discover later that he’s just a cultural icon rather than the beneficent gift-giving elf that you formerly believed.

Admittedly, Santa’s not a huge deal and serious questions about his existence don’t come up very often. But what about other things to which we have been confidently given an answer which is now incorrect?

This applies to many areas of our life: Foods that we may have believed are good for us turn out not to be so because of new findings. Practices in diet, exercise or other skill areas become outmoded as we either learn more about how things work or as different cultural fads come in and out of vogue.

Of course, there is religion with pat and incorrect answers for just about everything, but if you’ve read my blog you already know about my opinion of that so I won’t go into it in detail here.

I suppose the thrust of my thought for this posting, is how much change can a person accept and still function effectively? Is the “anchoredness” of the original memory or thought as I express it above a normal way of recalling things? Or do we routinely discard/dissolve/destroy incorrect information and replace it with new information as it is presented to us (and we choose to accept it)? Does this explain why some older people seem to have a stake in the ground and refuse to learn anything new after that point? What does that say about the ability of people to function as our average lifespan continues to increase year after year?

I must say that the circuitous memory path above is the exception and not the rule for me. But I cannot say if it’s just that the path followed happens to be noticeable in those instances and not in others, or if I truly just pull up the information directly when I need to recall other things.