The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘New Age’

Physics and Martial Arts: My Interview with The Secular Buddhist

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2011

While I was at Dragon*Con in Atlanta last month, I did a lot of things.  Among them was to be interviewed by my friend and skeptical colleague Ted Meissner, a.k.a. The Secular Buddhist.  For a long time, Ted and I have wanted to do a discussion on physics and the martial arts, because we are both skeptics and have a history of martial arts training.  And, believe me, if you have been engaged in martial arts training for a considerable amount of time, chances are that you’ve heard some really goofy claims out there.  From “no-touch knockouts” to “shielding with chi”, there’s a lot of nonsense being spread around in the martial arts world, and Ted, me, and Brian Gregory (of Virtual Drinking Skeptically) take it all on.  Enjoy! 🙂

Episode 85 :: Matt Lowry and Brian Gregory :: Physics and Martial Arts

Matt Lowry the Skeptical Teacher, and Brian Gregory of Virtual Drinking Skeptically join us to talk about the myths and facts of the physics of martial arts.

I remember a television show called “That’s Incredible”, and indeed it was. One particular episode had a self-proclaimed martial arts master, James Hydrick who could — supposedly — move pencils and turn phone book pages with his extra-normal powers. This was debunked with a few flakes of packing material on another show, showing how this charlatan was simply using his breath to cause objects to move.

But there are people who mistakenly believe their own press, who think they really do have supernatural powers, or that they are enhancing their strength with invisible fields of cosmic energy. As you can see in one of the embedded videos on the web page for this episode, one fellow comes drastically close to severing his own arm because of this unfounded delusion. It is important for us to question with confidence, to ask for evidence, or else all claims are equally true, and equally, potentially, harmful.

Matt Lowry

Matt Lowry

Matt Lowry is a high school physics teacher (plus a part-time physics & astronomy college professor) with a strong interest in promoting science education & critical thinking among his students and the population in general. He is a self-described skeptic, someone who believes in Carl Sagan’s adage that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” His blog The Skeptical Teacher is to allow Matt to expound upon various topics related to skepticism, science, and education.

Brian Gregory

Brian Gregory

Brian Gregory is a software engineer that has recently discovered that most of his assumptions about life are wrong; including beliefs, expectations, roles, etc. This transformation, fueled by the Internet, Social Media, Podcasts, and traditional media, has sparked his passion for science, reason, and the naturalistic worldview. Drinking Skeptically is “an informal social event designed to promote fellowship and networking among skeptics, critical-thinkers, and like-minded individuals”. These “real life” groups meet around the country to provide an opportunity for skeptics and skeptic-friendly people to talk, share ideas (and yes, drink) in a casual, relaxed atmosphere.

In case you didn’t notice the Explicit tag in iTunes on this episode, let me just give you an extra warning here: this is an explicit episode. We’re not talking porn, but there may be a light seasoning of expletives. Also be sure to check out the episode page for this episode on The Secular Buddhist website, as I’ve embedded a lot of the videos we talk about on that page. So, sit back, relax, and have a nice… skeptical drink of you choice!

Posted in humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Placebo Band Bracelets and Opportunity for Easy Skeptical Activism

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 14, 2011

I have written before on this blog about the scam called Power-Balance, and how that company has raked in huge gobs of cash by essentially lying to its customers.  In fact, in Australia the company has basically been banned for false advertising, and fortunately more and more people are cluing in to this nonsense here in the United States.  But to help along everyone’s critical thinking skills as well as expose the Power-Balance for the scam that it is, I want to pass along to you a wonderful opportunity to engage in some easy and fun skeptical activism.  Dear reader, I give you the Placebo Band!

The Placebo Band: image courtesy of SkepticBros

There are two outlets for the Placebo Band, the original one at SkepticBros out of Australia and a new North American affiliate at the Placebo Band Store.  In addition, you can find testimonials on the power of  the Placebo Band, as well as instructions on how to educate your friends on how the whole thing works (hint: think placebo effect, hence the name 😉 )

For example, here’s a real* testimonial on the power of the Placebo Band.  Order yours today!!!

*And by “real”, I mean totally fake 🙂

Posted in humor, medical woo, physics denial/woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Skeptical Teacher Interview on The Secular Buddhist

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 13, 2011

During my time at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9, one of the things I got to do was engage in a fun interview with my friend Ted Meissner, who runs the Secular Buddhist podcast, and his colleague Dana Nourie. The info on our interview is below, and I hope you find it (pardon the pun) enlightening 🙂

Episode 77 :: Matt Lowry and Dana Nourie :: Fun With Physics and Walking Through Walls

Dana Nourie and Matt Lowry join us to speak about physics, the natural world, and quantum misperceptions.

Lately, there seems to be an unfortunate mixing of Siddhattha Gotama’s teaching and practice around the existential experience of dissatisfaction, and science. Certainly we do see wonderful scientific studies about what’s going on in the brain during meditation, for example, but that’s a far cry from levitation and walking through walls. Buddhism is not about physics, despite our seeing false patterns of synchronicity between the two.

Of course, I’m not a physicist. Fortunately my good friend Matt Lowry is, and was also in attendance at The Amazing Meeting, and joined Dana Nourie and I to discuss a few questions about physics, and how they might apply — or not apply — to assertions not in evidence. …

Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Firewalking is Just Physics, Not Mysticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 28, 2011

Fire is cool… well, not cool, because it’s actually pretty damned hot.  But what I mean is fire is really interesting to watch – what kid hasn’t at some point been fascinated simply staring into the depths of a campfire?  Do you know what’s more interesting?… the fact that some people actually like to walk on fire.  This in and of itself is just all-around awesome, but then some woo-meisters have to go and spoil it with a bunch of made-up New Age nonsense.  The purpose of this blog post is to show you why firewalking really works.

My skeptical physics colleague David Willey shows his stuff, sacrificing himself for science.  **THIS IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS AND SHOULD NOT BE PERFORMED WITHOUT PROPER SUPERVISION**

And just to show you that I put my money where my mouth is, below is a video shot of me and my colleagues performing an experimental firewalk back in the summer of 1999…

We decided that we wanted to study the physics of firewalking for ourselves and made this video as a way of documenting the effect. There are (were) two basic competing, scientifically plausible ideas for why it is that firewalkers are not too damaged by the high temperatures during the walk across hot coals: low thermal conductivity and the Leidenfrost effect.

In the first hypothesis, it is the low thermal conductivity of ash, wooden coals, charcoal, or rocks that the firewalker traverses in their journey. Even though the temperatures are extremely high (on the order of 500-800 degrees Fahrenheit), the low thermal conductivity means the rate at which heat will transfer from the hot material to the walker’s feet is very slow. This is why when you check out a baking cake in the oven it is okay to touch the batter but not the metallic pan – the thermal conductivity of the cake batter is low whereas that of the metal pan is very high!

In the second hypothesis, the Leidenfrost effect protects the walker’s feet. The Leidenfrost effect is the same thing that prevents your finger from being burned when you touch a hot iron with a wet finger. The hot iron turns the spit into steam which forms a temporary insulating layer between the iron and the finger. In this argument, the sweat on the walker’s feet is what is vaporized and then protects the feet from the hot coals.

In the video we tested out these two ideas, and we found the Leidenfrost effect to be inadequate to explain the phenomenon. It is the low thermal conductivity of the coals which prevented our feet from being too damaged – I walked a total of four times, three times dry and once with very wet feet. After three dry walks my feet were fine, with only one very small blister (half the size of a pinky nail, barely visible on the video) on one foot, but during the walk with wet feet, to test out the Leidenfrost effect, I found the coals sticking to my feet… OUCH!!! That is where I got badly burned (which is apparent by the very end of the video).

One thing we found was clear: we successfully negotiated the fire bed without any appeals to New Age mysticism or supernaturalism – no prayers were muttered, no crystals stroked, and we never even bothered to measure our “chi” levels. Such appeals to woo are simply not necessary to explain what is happening here – in fact, I have a challenge: if any New Age firewalking guru wants to really convince me that they have paranormal powers, then they’ll walk barefoot across red hot METAL!

I submit that no one will ever seriously attempt such a stupid feat, and even if they did I guarantee they’ll only do it once 😉

For more information on the physics of firewalking, I suggest reading Dr. David Willey’s page at http://www.pitt.edu/~dwilley/Fire/FireTxt/fire.html

 

Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Real Reason Why the Rapture Didn’t Happen: “Macho Man” Randy Savage!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 23, 2011

Rather than waste any more electrons on seriously analyzing the most recent doomsday Rapture silliness and how the followers of that particular religious cult are attempting to rationalize away the spectacular failure of Judgement Day to manifest itself, I would like to offer up this humorous portrayal of why it is the Rapture did not come to pass this last Saturday… 🙂

Posted in doomsday, humor, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The May 21st “Rapture”: When Crazy Religion Meets Crazy Numerology

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 19, 2011

I know that I’ve blogged a couple of times already (here and here) about the supposed impending “Rapture” coming up this coming Saturday, May 21st.  But while I’ve written there about how loony of an idea this whole Christ-is-returning-so-it’s-the-end-of-the-world is – mostly because there are so many failed doomsday predictions that were supposedly ironclad before they failed epically – one thing I haven’t yet done is to actually seriously analyze the claims made by the would-be prophet of this weekend’s Armageddon festivities, the good Rev. Harold Camping.

It’s Judgement Day!!!

My oh my, that Jesus is one fine lookin’ dude!  I wonder who does his hair? 🙂

In the following Livescience.com article, the rationale (such as it is) for Camping’s predictions is outlined.  Let’s take a look at the argument and then take it seriously just long enough to show the logical flaws within it, right before we piss ourselves with laughter…

End Times Math: The Equation That Predicts May 21 Judgment Day

The May 21 Judgment Day meme is the brainchild of an 89-year-old radio evangelist named Harold Camping. Using a mathematical system of his own creation to interpret obscure prophecies in the Bible, Camping originally predicted that Sept. 6, 1994 would be Judgment Day, or the day of the “Rapture” when Christian believers will ascend to heaven, leaving the rest of humanity to its deservedly dreary fate.

Hold on, right there.   Camping has made such a prediction before?  Yes, he did – he predicted the world would end almost 17 years ago… and the world is still here.  Also note this key phrase: “… Using a mathematical system of his own creation…” – what this basically means is that Camping has created a system of numerology which would allow him to manipulate the numbers of his calculation in such a fashion as to give him whatever result he wants.  In other words, using such a system, folks like Camping can’t fail… that is, until they actually fail, which is what happened to Camping on Sept. 7, 1994 when we were all still here.  But that’s the beauty of using slipshod and ad hoc mathematical systems such as Camping’s:  since they are essentially made up out of whole cloth with the express purpose of “never failing”, a missed prediction can easily be discounted when “corrections” to the calculations are magically uncovered after the fact.  This, like the thinking driving conspiracy theorizing, shows that such a system is clearly unfalsifiable: it is always right, even when it’s wrong.

The article continues:

… Here’s the gist of Camping’s calculation: He believes Christ was crucified on April 1, 33 A.D., exactly 722,500 days before May 21, 2011. That number, 722,500, is the square of 5 x 10 x 17. In Camping’s numerological system, 5 represents atonement, 10 means completeness, and seventeen means heaven. “Five times 10 times 17 is telling you a story,” Camping said on his Oakland-based talk show, Family Radio, last year. “It’s the story from the time Christ made payment for your sins until you’re completely saved.”

Okay, once again note that these numbers only make sense “in Camping’s numerological system” – which he made up.  What is the rationale which justifies Camping’s numerological system as being superior to that of other failed doomsday prophets (such as Nostradamus and those claiming the Mayan calendar portends The End on Dec. 21, 2012)?  And why does Camping settle on 722,500 days?  Why not 722,500 seconds, minutes, months, years, or centuries?  What is so special about days in Camping’s system which distinguishes them from any other unit of temporal measurement?  And, assuming there is some kind of reason (whatever that could be) for using days as units, why is it that you have to multiply and subsequently square 5, 10, and 17?  Why not simply add them up?  Or just multiply without squaring?  Or add them up and then square the result?  Why not raise the product of these numbers to the third power?  What is the rationale behind this calculation which explains why it could be considered trustworthy – other than, of course, the fact that it just happens to give a “prediction” of the world’s end, conveniently, during Camping’s lifetime?

And last, but not least, here’s a good question to ponder: if the Rapture is supposed to come on Saturday, May 21st, on which side of the International Date Line is that going to happen?  Will the Rapture follow the rotation of the Earth, seeing as how some parts of the planet will still be on Friday night time while other portions will be on early Saturday morning time?  Or is it supposed to just kind of go “poof!” all at once?  But if it does that, then it can’t all happen on the same day – and why doesn’t Camping take this into account in his calculations?  You can see the problem here.

Now that I’ve taken this stupidity seriously for a bit,  it is now time to treat it as the utter silliness that it most certainly is: I’m off to go get ready for the After Rapture Party & Looting 😉

Posted in doomsday, mathematics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Armageddon on May 21st? Meh…

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 12, 2011

[**Update (5-19-11): If you want to take, just for a moment, a serious look at the flaws in the calculation which produced this prediction, see my latest entry on the topic.]

I just wanted to provide an update on the fundamentalist religious loonies who keep on preaching the message that the Rapture will take place on Saturday, May 21st.  According to these folks, the true followers of Jesus Christ will be magically whisked away to be with him in Heaven, leaving the rest of us poor shlubs to tough it out here on Earth.

And, apparently, these folks are serious… very, very serious: they are attempting to warn as many people as possible about the impending end-of-the-world…

Armageddon Weekend? It’s the end of the world as we know it (and they don’t feel fine)

One of my favorite places in Washington, D.C., is the National Mall. When you stand in the center with the U.S. Capitol on one end, the Washington Monument on the other and the Smithsonian museums flanking the sides, you can’t help but feel you’re having the quintessential D.C. experience.

Because the mall is so popular, it has become a type of free-speech zone. People often stand around hoisting signs with various political or religious messages and pass out literature.

Today’s Washington Post has a story about a group of fundamentalist Christians who are working the mall with an aggressive pamphlet campaign. These folks, who follow a radio evangelist named Harold Camping, are convinced that the world will end on May 21 at 6 p.m. Not surprisingly, they feel compelled to warn us all.

Call me a skeptic. A few years ago, I read an interesting book titled End-Time Visions : The Road to Armageddon(authored by an evangelical Christian) that chronicled a long list of failed end-of-the-world predictions. Somewhere around the house, I have a flier handed to me by a fellow who was convinced that the world was going to end in October of 1988. When it didn’t happen, the man who made the prediction, Edgar Whisenaut, insisted that his calculations had been off by one year, and it was definitely going to happen in 1989. … [emphasis mine]

Now I have to say – well, meh.  I mean, come on folks, people like these have been claiming the end-of-the-world is coming ever since there’s been religious belief.  And, as the bolded part above notes, there is one all important fact that every last one of these predictions have in common: they have all been dead, flat wrong.  Period.

Here’s my bottom line prediction: don’t worry about the Rapture on May 21st, because it isn’t going to happen.  I further predict that the true believers in this fairy tale will somehow attempt to rationalize away the glaring fact that they look like complete idiots because of how obviously wrong they were.  And, for the hat trick, I predict that the next time some nutty group comes up with a religious doomsday scenario based in some esoteric reading of the Bible or another holy book, there will be far too many people willing to gobble up the nonsense.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be enjoying a really big laugh on May 22nd 🙂

Posted in doomsday, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Nick Nelson Fails IIG Test to Produce “Vortex Energy”

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 3, 2011

As I outlined mere days ago, the master spinner of all things having to do with so-called “vortex energy” – the notable Nick Nelson – had finally agreed to be tested by the Independent Investigation Group from Los Angeles.  Mr. Nelson traveled to IIG’s headquarters – claiming that he could bring his “vortex powers” with him from the Montana Vortex (a location that I investigated in 2006 and found to be hilariously full of woo & nonsense).  And after he got to IIG, he allowed himself to be tested according to the protocols that both he & the IIG team agreed to ahead of time.

The result: Nick Nelson failed.  Badly.  And he admitted it.

And it’s all on video:

Nick Nelson talks with the IIG’s Jim Underdown before the test begins.

In addition, Mark Edward – a member of the IIG team that tested Nick Nelson – put together a very nice & detailed blog on the whole experience at Skepticblog.  Here’s a couple of noteworthy excerpts…

… Hours of set-up, conferences and phone calls finally paid off with even more long hours of watching a grown man move magnets around the floor, stand stock still while swinging a pendulum over his hand and listening to albeit some great anecdotes about how his world has so many times “blinked” when he has experienced what he calls the “vortex phenomena.’

Unfortunately when the rules of science are applied, in this case careful measurements (really careful: using engineering calipers) of photographs; first before the creation of the fabled vortex using eight foot high wooden poles, then photos snapped and immediately developed, nothing showed up other than what would be expected from discrepancies consistent with human eye variation that were averaged mathematically and compared. …

… The best part for me as Lead Investigator was watching Nick get flustered and finally state to all present the he “…felt like a fool” when nothing happened. What did he expect?

It’s a freaking optical Illusion!

Well said, Mark.  While I must admit to feeling a bit of schadenfreude at Nick Nelson’s failure (I had, after all, figured out five years ago, on an impromptu investigation of my own, how his tricks at the Montana Vortex worked), I also feel just a wee bit sad for Mr. Nelson.  I get the sense that he probably believes what he says, and that he has believed it for so long that he is going to have a helluva time trying to rationalize away the stone cold fact that his “vortex energy” claims simply don’t work.

Perhaps Mr. Nelson and others like him who have their paranormal claims tested by folks like the IIG and fail at those claims should consider the wise words of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick:

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Vortex Master Nick Nelson Accepts Skeptical IIG Challenge

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 29, 2011

I just wanted to update everyone about a very interesting development concerning the Montana Vortex & House of Mystery and the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) – you may recall that I blogged about this initially last summer, when it seemed an investigative team from IIG might go to the Montana Vortex to test their paranormal claims.  Well, it seems that vortex expert of the Montana Vortex, Mr. Nick Nelson, has finally agreed to the terms of IIG’s $50,000 challenge:

The Independent Investigations Group (IIG) at the Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles offers a $50,000 prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The IIG works with the applicant in designing the test protocol, and defining the conditions under which a test will take place. IIG representatives will then administer the actual test. In most cases, the applicant will be asked to perform an informal demonstration of the claimed ability or phenomenon, which if successful will be followed by the formal test. The IIG conducts all demonstrations and tests at our site in Hollywood, California, except in special circumstances.

However, there is a twist.  Apparently, Nick Nelson has traveled to Los Angeles to conduct the test, as opposed to the IIG team going to Montana – this is because, in addition to all manner of other interesting claims he makes, Nick Nelson now seems to be claiming that “his vortex” (and its related effects) travels with him!  Wow…

In any case, the IIG is going to be conducting their test of Mr. Nelson’s claims/abilities this Saturday, April 30th.  The test will be streamed live via the Internet, and if you are interested in keeping up with the latest developments on this skeptical investigation you can check for updates at IIG’s investigation page.

Stay tuned 🙂

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Huffington Post is Boycotted by More and More Science-Based Bloggers

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 21, 2011

Some of you may recall that I wrote a scathing post a couple of years ago, when The Skeptical Teacher was still young (in Internet time), about the progressive online newspaper called The Huffington Post (or, the HuffPo, as I call it).  In it, I essentially accused the HuffPo of becoming a front for left-leaning woo, such as various forms of New Age nonsense, “alternative” medical quackery, and vaccine denial. Well, the good news is it seems that the number of science-oriented bloggers criticizing the HuffPo is growing, as evidenced by this post over at the Red State Progressive blog…

Huffington Post Spreads Misinformation and Pseudoscience

Many progressives get their news, at least in part, from The Huffington Post. I think this is unfortunate, and I side with a growing number of bloggers who will not promote them with links or retweets. As I have explained previously, they promote a dangerous sort of quackery, including creationism, homeopathy, antivaccination propaganda, and pseudoscience. It seems that Ms. Huffington has a soft spot for this sort of drivel, and HuffPo has become notorious for it.

If you are still not convinced, you might consider examining the growing body of evidence:

In keeping with this trend, I encourage you all to NOT promote the HuffPo with links and retweets.  The more people who hold them to account for the dangerous pseudoscience they are spreading, the better.

Posted in media woo, medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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