Ubi dubium… | The Conceptual Penis Hoax and Its Aftermath

A bit back, certain skeptical thought leaders like Shermer and Harris, who along with others not so affiliated with the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, such as Dawkins and Coyne, drew criticism for their endorsement of the infamous Conceptual Penis Hoax of Lindsay and Boghossian. The panel discussion on the video below, on the YouTube channel of the NECSS, discusses those involved and does a deep dive on what the hoax did and did not actually prove:

Pigliucci’s commentary starting at the 8:04 mark is pertinent. For myself, I’ve long found the idolization and celebrity culture of American movement skepticism increasingly problematic, especially in public figures embroiled in their own controversies and questionable public statements while also trafficking in the controversial claims of others. Yes, I know: Dawkins is from the UK, not the US, but the same celebrity status problem as the others exists at least in relation to his American fanbase.

The whole phenomenon reminds me a bit of megachurch pastors, who with fame and a large following become enmeshed in the same problems as any secular media star. Meh.

Beginning at 42:08 is I think a good assessment, that initial response to the hoax is a failure of leadership in the skeptical community, and a disappointment by those who are considered role models in that community, some of them world class thinkers, and who are all, presumably, smart enough to know better.

The problem, I think, is in essentializing skepticism, and so unconsciously imbuing prominent individuals with this quality, when I think it’s more accurate to say that skepticism isn’t an ontological property you have or any sort of thing that you necessarily are, or a thing that you own.

Skepticism is a set of ethical and intellectual values, a process of thinking, and a methodological (not a philosophical) approach to reality in the evaluation of testable factual claims. It’s a methodological approach because some skeptics are theists, as was the late Martin Gardner, or deists, like Dr. Hal Bidlack, and in any event not necessarily philosophical naturalists, non-theists, or atheists. Agnosticism is a separate matter as a position on how knowable any answer to the God-question is, and is compatible with any of these. There are agnostic theists as well as non-theists. One can believe or not, and still not be certain, or claim to know of the existence or nonexistence of the thing believed.

My understanding is that skepticism is something that you practice, something that you DO, and if you do it poorly or not at all, then whatever else you are doing, it isn’t skepticism, no matter your preferred label or identity, your organizational status or affiliation, what you ate for breakfast, the brand of suits you wear, or the name of the magazine you publish. Any crank or fool can call themselves a skeptic.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Quid Novi? | Commentators’ Guidelines Addendum

I’ve posted this elsewhere on the site just yesterday, though I’ve been using the policy unwritten but de facto for several years now. I’ve officially updated my Commentators’ Guidelines page with the following addendum. ~Troythulu

I believe firmly in free speech up to a point, and it has come to my attention that at least one reader has attempted to comment on posts only to have their comments wind up in this blog’s spam folder for meeting Akismet’s criteria for spam.

I’ve used for the last several years a strict policy of deleting such comments as brevity in this blog’s comment threads is a virtue and a Good Thing™ for the aging eyes and limited time of other commenters and myself. It also saves me time otherwise spent offline in posting any needed responses in a thread.

Please keep any comments, even if a previously approved commenter, concise, succinct, and with as few links as possible. If you need to post anything over 75 words, please post it in full on your own site and post a brief comment with a link to the appropriate comment thread here.

I, my cats, and the other readers thank you for your consideration.

For example: https://troythulu.net/2017/06/10/ubi-dubium-the-three-faces-of-skepticism/ Skepticism is both a set of intellectual and ethical values as well as a process, a set of methods, not merely an identity or a label. Any yahoo can call themselves a skeptic. If you ignore skeptical values or methods in what you do, then you aren’t being skeptical.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

I’m Baaack.

It’s time to end the most recent blogcation and resume regular posting. This piece originally dates from 2010.11.21 after my first blogcation had ended. My anger has largely abated, except when vulnerable people get hurt or defrauded, and my disillusionment regarding the failures of skeptical thought leaders in their endorsement of the infamous Conceptual Penis Hoax of Lindsay and Boghossian. Hopefully, I’ve migrated to a skepticism more robust and better informed than before. But I do think less of these individuals as serious skeptics than I once did. Things change, and so too my views. This post has been updated where needed.

We live in an angry society which in some quarters values blind faith over thinking, with political and ideological polarization between right and left, religious fundamentalists and everyone else, and a notable rise in public rejection of science and credulity toward pseudoscientific claims.

In times of uncertainty, especially with the current status of the economy, people tend to more easily entertain irrational ideas, and worse, accept them as fact. It’s become common for many to behave as though irrationalism is the new reason.

Skeptics are motivated by a number of reasons for their being what they are, whether a passion for science, the value of truth and reason, simple doubt, the need for the promotion of better education, and any number of other reasons. But skeptics can also be motivated by anger, and a few wear this openly while others are no less honest but more discrete in expressing it.

Even the late Carl Sagan, in his masterpiece The Demon Haunted World, at times showed a subtle frustration at the proliferation of nonsense in the last decade of the 20th century, which has only been aggravated in the past 19 years and shows no sign of abating any time soon. He wasn’t abrasive about it, but he expressed a frustration that I suspect all of us feel.

The causes of this anger come easily to mind; loved ones lost through the denial of adequate medical care caused by the pursuit of quack remedies, and the crushing despair that follows false hope; children or adults hacked to pieces or burned alive in the name of superstitious beliefs in witchcraft and magic; botched exorcisms that kill far more people than any imaginary demon ever could; intelligent but vulnerable people who lose thousands in return for the worthless services of psychics; political obstructionism in dealing with major environmental problems based on anti-scientific denialism; the short-term educational and long-term economic consequences of the encroachment of sectarian religious ideologies in public schools and science classes.

These things alone are enough to make anyone angry, and yes, especially me. The people who promote the claims we skeptics oppose sometimes get angry as well, but with much less real moral justification – they are angry because skeptics are costing them customers, cutting down on their book royalties, keeping more people than they’d like away from their seminars, retreats, and churches, and reducing their clientele for whatever untested or failed “alternative” medical modalities they promote – skeptics have bit by bit eroded their celebrity, their influence, and worst of all, their bottom-line, by showing people how to how not to be taken in by the nonsense.

The propagandists of unreason often have the upper hand, since they aren’t in any way constrained by the limits of intellectual honesty, logic, facts, evidence, or even reality. They have the liberty and the incentive to make sh*t up as they please, and they are very effective at persuading people to believe them, considering that their claims, often not even arguments, only assertions, make headlines and grab ratings for the credulous and journalistically sloppy media outlets that promote them.

But sometimes skeptics win, like with Kitzmiller vs Dover in 2005, or the successful deconstruction of the 9/11 conspiracy film, Loose Change, in an issue of Popular Mechanics.

But it’s far from over. In truth, it will never be over. Ever.

It sickens me to the core of my being to see people cynically lied to, used, robbed, defrauded, hurt, even killed, all for somebody’s stupid, blind, dogmatic sectarian doctrine or reactionary ideology. Nothing that we think, believe or do is without real consequences.

There’s work to be done.

Ts. Tk. Tts.

Mr Eccles Presents | Kavin Senapathy – A Science Mom’s Path from Reason, to Oz, and Back Again

If skeptics are diametrically opposed to one thing, it’s woo.

That’s why Kavin Senapathy took on her new Woo Watch column for Skeptical Inquirer, which explores the alternative health, clean food, and spurious parenting worlds, examines what drives these movements, and, of course, cites the evidence that condemns them. But even though she relishes wielding data and evidence, Senapathy fights woo not only because it’s wrong.

What took this mommy blogger from buying Dr. Oz-endorsed supplements just a handful of years ago to her third time on the CSIcon stage? From being raised staunchly atheist by former Hindu immigrants from India to today, this Science Mom will explain why Woo Watch and CFI are part of her fight.

The Center for Inquiry is a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization. CFI’s vision is a world in which evidence, science, and compassion—rather than superstition, pseudoscience, or prejudice—guide public policy.

You can join CFI and find out what we do to protect critical thinking and science by visiting: https://centerforinquiry.org

Kavin is an author and public speaker covering science, health, medicine, agriculture, food, parenting and their intersection. Her work appears regularly at Forbes, SELF Magazine, Slate, and more.

Her chapter in the recent MIT Press book “Pseudoscience” is entitled “Swaying Pseudoscience – The Inoculation Effect.”

When she’s not writing and tweeting, she’s busy being a “Science Mom”—also the name of a recent documentary film in which she’s featured—to a 7-year-old and 5-year-old.

This talk took place at the CSICon 2018 in Las Vegas on October 20, 2018

Gods of Terra Primer | The Assumptions of Psionics

Vanakkam. Here, I give the basic ideas that go into the use of supernormal mental powers, or psionics, for the setting. Psionics are powers of the brain, and are utterly physicalistic in how they operate, having nothing to do with anything spiritual or nonmaterial in nature. There is no such thing here as astral or spiritual travel abilities, as the soul as a nonphysical entity does not exist in this setting. The mind here is not some homunculus loosely connected to the brain operating it like a puppet, but rather a thing that the brain does in its normal operation. Minds are an emergent property of the brain, not something separable from it. But psionics are still powerful, and those who use them are capable of demonstrable feats that any stage conjuror or performing mentalist in the real world would be hard-pressed to duplicate. Psionics here are on the level of comic book and pulp SF super-powers. This will offend alleged psychics, mediums, and intuitives in the real world, and their supporters, but think X-Men, or better still, E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen, not the late Sylvia Browne or the extant John Edward. Gods of Terra psis don’t mess around with mere tricks or stage illusions, and that’s because they don’t need to. 

So, here are the basic principles governing the functioning of such powers and abilities:

  • There is no such thing as a uniquely psionic energy or force-carrying wave-particle generated by the mind for psionic effects. Psionic abilities employ only the fundamental forces of real-world modern physics: the electroweak force, the strong force, and gravity. Psionics may be partly understood from the standpoint of a more mature, future theory of quantum gravity, possibly descended from current Loop Quantum Gravity or M-Theory. There is an element of psionics that is still poorly understood in the setting, and that is its ability to bend natural laws and physical constants locally, using portions of certain physical laws to seemingly violate major portions of other laws. It may be the emerging and still young discipline of Axiomatic physics that leads to a better understanding of how hypershards, and the brains of Stage Three wavetouched, achieve this.
  • Psionic potential is software in the brains of psis that needs additional hardware to power and operate effects. That hardware is usually an active hypershard, or the central prefrontal lobes of Stage Three wavetouched. The brain provides the instructions, the hardware provides the energy source and the means to produce the effect. The signal strength possible for unaugmented human brainwaves is far too weak, and attenuates far too quickly from brain, skull, and flesh to be of use.
  • Psionics obeys conservation of energy and momentum. It needs a power source that can tap, generate, and transmit greater amounts of energy than the ordinary human brain alone can possibly generate and emit at range. While there appears to be some bending of physical laws by psionicists in the use of their powers, fundamental conservation laws cannot be violated or overturned, even locally or temporarily.
  • Psionic effects are non-local, using shortcuts through hyperspace, with range from the body for that nonlocality limited by the strength of the psionicist. Weaker psis generate effects nearer to the body, stronger psis further away. The strongest psis’ nonlocality can ignore physical barriers, except psionic screens and Kurtz-Dunar fields, which can block them. Psionic effects do not radiate through and out of the brain, through skull and flesh or other body tissues, to produce effects in the world. All psi-effects are generated at a focal point in a hypershard or specialized neuronal tissue in Stage Three wavetouched, and appear at the target location without travelling across the intervening space. This allows some stronger psis to generate effects using nuclear forces, despite the rapid decay rates and extreme range-limits of the force-carrying particles involved, by cutting the actual space crossed to less than the diameter of a proton. Weaker psis often generate effects microscopically close to the skin, and must touch the target to affect it.
  • Psionics obeys Special Relativity in the speed of transmission of energy and information from point to point in conventional spacetime, limited primarily by the level of hyperspace accessible by the psionicist. Higher levels of hyperspace, more difficult to access, give more rapid relative transmission time. Such transfer of energy/information is never instantaneous for macroscopic objects, as there is always a lag time from sender to target, or from origin to destination for physical teleports. Teleportation here does not rely on quantum-level information, as it is not a mass-transference of particles in which the exact position and quantum state of each must be known. I’m talking subjectively rapid travel through warps in spacetime, closer to stargates, tesseracts, or wormholes than Star Trek transporters. No “Heisenberg compensators” need apply. Relativistic time-dilation occurs with teleportation over interstellar distances. 

With these five principles in mind, we can then take a look at the powers themselves and how they operate in greater detail. Next time, we examine the power-level classifications of psionicists according to military and law-enforcement organizations in the setting, while after that we’ll do a deep dive into the specifics of the powers themselves and their sub-abilities.

I’ll see you then!

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Gods of Terra Primer | Setting History, Part 2

The Shutter was a catastrophic event that closed all access to M-level hyperspace, halting all interstellar travel, settlement, commerce, and warfare, and resulting in the collapse of Local Galaxy civilizations for centuries. The previous installment in this series ended at the onset of the Shutter, and this one opens at its end, leading to the timeline in my planned novelette, The Null Dance, and the adventures of the Meera:

190 BPE: Development of S-drive by emerging Local Galaxy civilizations, replacing the now-useless M-drive. Resumption of interstellar trade, exploration, and warfare. 

130 BPE: The Broogh Flow meanders into Tellusine space. Intermittent warfare between Broogh and Kai’Siri Koorgraada fleets. Bombardment of Terra by Broogh Giyagh6 fleet. Destruction of Giyagh6 fleet in two stages by Tellusine at the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Jupiter’s moon Europa is destroyed in the conflict. Phobos is fragmented, knocked from orbit, and crashes into Mars. Rebuilding of Terra begins. 

100 BPE: Founding of the Second Great Tellusine Civilization, centered on Terra. Sirug becomes an imperial ally, as Kai’Siri enlist in the Tellusine military along with Mentite-, Sensorian-, Brute-, Bomb-, Cannon-, and Dreadnought-class wavetouched as special forces troops, but no Planet Killers (Officially). 

45 BPE: Creation of Indigo Sigma by Tellusine, as an elite intelligence and paramilitary organization. Personnel makeup is highly classified but suspected to involve at least one Planet Killer-class wavetouched. Maybe. 

0 PE: Reconstruction of Terra is complete. The Indian subcontinent, Africa, and South America took the least of the Giyagh6 fleet bombardment of Terra. Much of Africa, South America, and everything south of the Himalayas is once again fit for human habitation. Lagos, Khartoum, Rio de Janeiro, New Kolkata, Colombo, and Chennai become major economic and space transport hubs. 

115 PE: First contact between humanity and the alien Tathladi. Alliance between human and Tathladi against their ancient enemies, the Dinathog-Trulg. 

336 PE: The Meera is given the now-regenerated hypershard once belonging to the Mirus, becoming for a short while the second Magna. She wakes up, quits the role, and goes into hiding while those who tried turning her into a superweapon seek to re-enslave her and recover “their property.”

50 Billion PE: The far-future descendants of humanity loop back in time to ensure the evolution of humans, and thus themselves. These beings will be known to xeno-archaeologists as the Strangers, and known only by the fruits of their biological engineering and meddling with early Homo sapiens and its relatives on Terra. This generates a predestination paradox in which humanity brings about its own existence, a causal chain with neither beginning nor end.