Archive | October 2011

The Cat & the Critter: Halloween Humor

A Tboli Nipa hut in Southern Philippines (orig...

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One of my interests is the mythology and folklore of one of my favorite countries, the PI, and I’ve got a story to tell about a sort of ghoul-like creature called buso, which only eat dead people, but have no problems with making live ones into dead ones. Cats can serve as protection from them, says the lore, as you’ll see…

One night, a buso wandered from the forest into a rural village, a little hungrier than usual, since few people had died lately of the usual causes. Spying a nipa-hut large enough to house a family, in a village housing several, the buso approached, thinking it would have an easy meal, but noticed the family cat sitting before the entrance, checking it out with inquisitive kitty eyes as it approached.

“Let me in, cat, since I’m feeling a bit peckish tonight, and there’s food within.”

Now, cats are prone to f*cking with people, even creepy undead ghoulish ones, and this cat was no exception, so he said to the buso,

“Well, I could let you in…but you’ve got to do something for me first. I want you to count every hair on my tail, and if you count all of them, down to the last one, I’ll let you go inside…Deal?”

This undead critter, being particularly dim, nodded its head, said  “Deal,” and began to count…1, 2, 3, 4,.. and so on, but just as it was approaching the last few strands of fur on the cat’s amply fluffy tail, the cat, true to form, flicked his tail, forcing the buso to begin again, and again, and again, to its increasing frustration, for its tummy was beginning to growl with emptiness.

“Stop that!” The undead thingy said, as the cat did his best to look mockingly apologetic, and it began counting again, but it was several hours since it had begun, once again beginning count. As the buso got to the last few strands of fur, the morning sun began to rise about the horizon, causing it to run off screaming into the forest, never to trouble the locals again.

On Dismissing Claims: My Rules [Repost]

(This has been reposted, updated, and heavily revised from the clumsily written original posted on May 6, 2010)

I think it a bad idea to casually dismiss claims out of hand, so I try to give each a fair assessment to see if it is worth looking into, to see if peering deeper into it can actually tell me something new.

If it can be helped, I try to avoid  a priori rejection of claims merely on the basis that they may seem superficially silly, counterintuitive, bat-sh*t insane, or merely on the basis of who makes the claim.

Sometimes, though, it is necessary to dismiss a claim once it has had its fair hearing and been found wanting. Just because a claim deserves to be appraised doesn’t mean it’s valid.

I have a set of rules I use to help me decide what claims to take seriously and which to reject, especially when the claim in question is merely another account of the same purported incident..

First, any claim I look at must be somehow testable. There must be some sort of evidence obtainable that will meaningfully demonstrate the true nature of the claim.

If not, which is usually the case with anecdotal accounts, those which I have no way of conceivably looking into due to a lack of independent access to or objective records of the events recounted, I can only say about these that they are unproven.

Such claims can tell me nothing of value, so there is no point in taking a closer look at those particular claims, especially when the same issue is raised again merely using the same reasoning and evidence as before. Some claims have already been deconstructed repeatedly by others more skilled than myself and shown false, mistaken, and/or adequately explained.

My time is better spent not reinventing the proverbial wheel…

A different case of a similar specific claim would be worth looking into, since there is no ‘one true explanation’ for all cases of even a limited sort of claim.

At the very least, it’s important to find out from the beginning if anything worth explaining actually happened to begin with.

Once that’s done, the rest can follow naturally. Who knows, some of these claims actually turn out to be true, though not literally as claimed, and finding the explanations that follow are what drives science.

I also consider the degree and kind of possibility of the claim, and claims that are incoherent or logically impossible I also reject as inconsequential.

I’m less quick to decide that something is physically or contingently impossible unless I can know just which physical law or contingency is violated and how.

Claims entailing obvious violations of consistently reliable fundamental physics (such as any of the Laws of Thermodynamics…)may also be summarily dismissed, as may those that are dangerous and unethical to test, especially when lending foolish credence to them radically and needlessly violates our understanding of the world and doing so could lead to the injury or death of the claimant.

For example, it is unethical to test the claim of someone who says that they can fly by flapping their arms, but only after making an unaided nosedive off of a skyscraper, or to test a claimant who says they can live on hard radiation with no other sustenance needed.

I think that it is much more reasonable to think that a claimant might most likely be deceived and/or deceiving than it is to suppose that we must rewrite everything we know about the universe to take far too seriously someone’s claims of magic.

APW | Astronomy Pix of the Week for October 23 – 29, 2011

Cassini space probe view of the unilluminated ...

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APW is a weekly installment, published each Saturday between 7:31 and 8:30 am EDT, of links to each daily entry on NASA’s website Astronomy Picture of the Day. I hope you enjoy looking at these often breathtaking images as much as I do.