skepticism


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There’s a fascinating book that I would half-recommend: Running With the Fairies: Towards a Transpersonal Anthropology of Religion by Dennis Gaffin. The first half of the book worked quite well for me, but I didn’t think the latter half of personal testimonies from people who believe they are reincarnated fairies or actual fairies in human bodies quite jelled. I support people believing whatever they like—and it harm none—but I had a problem with their adamant insistence that there is no such thing as a dark side to the fairies. All is sweetness and light in their Universe. Which flies in the face of millennia of human folklore and experience which sees the fairies as a tricksy lot, often inimical to humanity. The believers in this book put that down to superstition and ignorance, but I’m not so certain. People in past centuries may have been superstitious and ignorant, but in general were no more clever or no more stupid then we are. And they had a much vaster experience of the dark side of nature than most of us do these days. It’s easier to discount that chthonic world when you have electric lights and indoor plumbing. If there are such things as fairies, there may indeed be good ones, but I suspect most are at best ambivalent towards humans, and some may actually be malevolent.

But anyway, Dennis Gaffin. He’s an academic (a Professor of Anthropology at the State University of New York College at Buffalo) who has done something quite rare: a serious study of contemporary Irish fairy belief. Academics are big on doing serious studies of the folk traditions of Buddhists or South Seas Islanders or Native Americans, et al., but there’s a prejudice against turning that same eye towards Western folk beliefs. It’s an inherently racist stand, I think, that Those People and their Quaint Beliefs are okay to study, but somehow Western belief structures must be dismissed as silly trash. It’s as if the people who are doing the studies have decided that First Worlders are “too good” to have such ideas, that they must be ruthlessly derided and suppressed by Western academia so we can preserve our collective First World reputation.

So Professor Gaffin runs an academic risk here. True, he’s an anthropologist who’s gone native, so to speak, and now perceives fairies his own self. Which further risks his academic reputation, I suppose, but his point of view straddling both worlds is fascinating to me. I feel a kinship to him.
Have I ever seen a fairy? No. Nor heard none, neither. Do I believe in fairies? That’s a thorny question. I believe in another world that cozies up to this one and sometimes leaks through. I suspect that Whatever takes many forms and some people—otherwise rational and solid citizens—see It as fairies. Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, devas, dakinis, djinn, angels, name your poison. It’s all part of the same bag: That Which Leaks Through.

It’s okay. I know you think I’m crazy. When I say I don’t care, I don’t mean it in a snotty or rebellious way. I mean that I made a conscious decision some time ago to share the things of the spirit as they come to me, in case someone else is having similar experiences and wondering if they’re nuts. I can’t answer the question of sanity, but I do know that I am a rational person who occasionally has trans-rational experiences.

When it comes to belief, experience is the core of it, an emotional heart-to-heart with something beyond the narrow confines of personal ego. It’s not a received wisdom, which is why religion often fails to convince. “Belief cannot be transferred,” says Professor Gaffin, “for it is a function of experience.” These things often seem to go hand-in-hand with a closeness to nature. As we move more and more away from the natural world and more into a mechanized, urbanized environment those experiences become more rare.

Scientific education is a great thing and a fundamentally good way of looking at the world. I highly recommend it. But even scientists (well, the rational ones) will admit they don’t have all the answers. There was a time when I was about ninety percent of the way towards atheist. I called myself agnostic, but I’d come to view the Universe as fairly mechanistic. At one point, I finally said, “Okay, I don’t believe there’s anything else.” The Universe decided to call my bet. Almost as soon as I’d uttered that sentence It sent me an extraordinary experience. Followed by another and another until I capitulated, swept up in what to me was irrefutable evidence of there being something else. Generally, I’ve been a great deal happier in my “defeat” than I was in my “victorious” skepticism.

Why me? Why was I sent experiential data? I haven’t a clue. That’s the thing about the Universe. It’s a big freaking mystery with big freaking mysterious ways. We wander down half-formed pathways with thick fog on either side and every once in a while the mists lift to reveal a dazzling view of sheer cliffs and the dramatic crashing of waves far below. Then the clouds return and we proceed on the path—but once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see that amazing sight. You’ve glimpsed the beauty and the peril lying just beyond the verge. You step carefully from that point on.

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Odd beliefs cling to the face of the moon—and why not? It hangs above us in splendid glory and from the first blink of consciousness, primates must have gazed on it in wonder and fright and superstition. It’s inside of us, too, its cycles shaping the ebb and flow of our internal tides. The moon is a very powerful object, pulling and deforming the shape of the earth as it rotates around us. Why shouldn’t it also pull and deform the creatures that crawl upon the earth?

Science remains skeptical. Oh, not about the pull of the moon on earth’s tides and geography, but on the claims of its influence on human beings. ER doctors, police, mental health professionals may all come up with strong anecdotal evidence of altered behavior during full moons, but scientists—who require replicable studies to believe things and are no fun at all—find it hard to take such things seriously. Even when they do produce a study that suggests some aspects of moon lore may have a basis in fact, they are quick to point out that a single study must be viewed with a certain amount of cynicism. Sometimes even by those who produced the study.

Take for example the belief that a full moon leads to restless sleep. A study from 2013 suggests there may be some basis to this. Christian Cajochen and his colleagues at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel decided to do sleep studies on 33 volunteers and found that around the time of the full moon, the kind of brain activity associated with deep sleep decreased by 30 percent, participants took slightly longer to fall asleep than they did at other times, and slept on average twenty minutes less overall. What I find most significant is that their levels of melatonin also diminished during this period. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleeping and waking cycles.

However, when interviewed by National Public Radio, Cajochen was quick to downplay his own study, saying the findings might not hold up in a larger investigation. Other scientists remain adamantly and steadfastly skeptical, demanding more research before they take anything to do with moon madness seriously. Like I said, no fun at all.

A 2014 study at the Max Planck institute found no significant connection between the lunar cycle and sleep.

Research published in March of 2016 of 5,800 children between ages 9 and 11 in 12 different countries found that they slept about five minutes less on nights with a full moon.

So. The search for truth continues. So do the myths. I suspect science will never be able to completely convince those on the front lines of moon madness triage that there is no correlation. As for me, I will continue to “purify” and “charge” my crystals by the light of the full moon. You just can’t be too careful about such things.

This is an interesting overview of scientific studies on moon madness.

Random quote of the day:

“To arrive at certainty, you need to start from a skeptical posture. The best scientists are impartial, not swayed by their own beliefs.”

—The Dalai Lama, Twitter, 25 May 2011

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

Random quote of the day:

“Skepticism has made no actual contribution to science, just as music reviews in the newspaper make no contribution to the art of composition and book reviewing falls far short of writing books. Because it rides on science’s coattails, skepticism lays claim to defeating all manner of fallacies and ignorance when it has done no such thing. Skeptics have not contributed to theories of mathematics or logic in any substantial way, and the chief victory of skepticism—to discredit religious thinking as opposed to scientific thinking—is a battle long ago won.”

—Deepak Chopra, “Gadflies Without a Sting: The Downside of Skepticism,” The Huffington Post, October 10, 2005

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Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

Random quote of the day:

“I dislike skepticism when it sits by the road and shoots down any traveler trying to take a different way. I oppose skepticism when it turns destructive, using disdainful dismissiveness as its chief tactic.”

—Deepak Chopra, “Gadflies Without a Sting: The Downside of Skepticism,” The Huffington Post, October 10, 2005

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Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

16 May
Man, are there a lot of people who are terrified of mature women. If they can’t be sexualized in a cliché way they must be mocked & crushed.

 Mature women: http://bit.ly/10BoP22 

16 May
And in other news, Jon Hamm’s camo wad still has the most clicks on my Bitmarks. Although “Kindness” by Naomi Shahib Nye is a close second.

Camo Wad is the name of my next band. That or Ironic Sexualization.

20 May
Ricky Gervais says, “Atheism is a belief system, like ‘OFF’ is a TV Channel.” That’s because he confuses his belief system with fact. He can’t disprove God any more than believers can prove God. When it gets to the point of foaming at the mouth, as it does with Mr. G, then we’re dealing with emotion, not rationality. Emotion is the core of a belief system.

20 May
I try to pretend things aren’t hard on me in order to save Mom from feeling bad, but some days, I’m so tired and it’s so hard the mask slips. And I always feel so much worse when she gets a glimpse and feels bad. Guilt is my constant companion. Not a boon companion, either. Not trying for sainthood, just trying to be humane as much as possible. It’s really hard.

22 May
My friend, M., wonders if insurance companies have special classes for their workers on making well-crafted “mistakes” that delay payouts. I certainly believe JOHN HANCOCK LIFE INSURANCE OF THE BUNGLING IDJITS do. I am informed that this scenario was a plot element in The Rainmaker by John Grisham. Which only tells me there are many people who have had my experiences with insurance companies, alas.

26 May
Life is good. Bird is sitting on my shoulder and hasn’t pooped yet. This will probably change soon.

26 May
“We do not decide to believe or actively change our minds.” —Dennis Gaffin, Running With the Fairies

28 May
Our neighbors in the back have chickens. I find their “bwoks” and “cluck-cluck” oddly soothing. Of course, there’s no rooster.

29 May
Pope Francis: Even atheists can go to Heaven if they do good.

30 May
Just found in Australia—giant, florescent pink slugs: http://yhoo.it/10KWkjS   If you wrote this in a fantasy, people would laugh at you.

31 May
Greenies Pill Pockets saved my life. I have to give Min pills twice a day but she thinks it’s a treat!

31 May
Celebrity gossip makes me so damned weary. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

31 May
In case you missed this Awesome Thing from CC Finlay: “My son sent me this comic about old super-heroes. Read it all the way to the end.” http://imgur.com/gallery/h2my0 

2 Jun
I had the weirdest dream about the Magic Castle last night. Instead of being in a large Victorian Mansion it had been Disneyfied into a theme park, so instead of being able to enjoy an intimate exposure to magic and magicians, and those lovely bars, you were lost in cavernous spaces and large groups of people. I got separated from the people I was with and couldn’t contact them because the Magic Castle staff wouldn’t allow cell phones. I spent all my time searching for my companions and feeling left out instead of enjoying the show. 🙁

3 Jun
I wish Google Images had a -no -crappy -pastel -art setting.

3 Jun
Feeling extra glad this week that I didn’t get involved with Game of Thrones.

4 Jun
Another intense dream last night, a thriller: chases, betrayals, assassinations. The details are fuzzy or I might try to write it. Eh. Who am I kidding? Although at least two of my seven completed novels started their lives as dreams. Back when I was still a real writer.

4 Jun
Is it just me or does the Miami Heat’s logo look like a flaming butternut squash?

4 Jun
Reviewing a very old ms. I realized I’d used my least favorite cliché line in all of writerdom: a character not realizing they’d been holding their breath. Curse those double realizations!

5 Jun
Be careful who you diss because you might end up working for them. God help me. I don’t need this crap on top of everything else.

5 Jun
Sequestration sucks, and nobody’s doing anything about it. Everyone says, “It doesn’t affect me. Why should I care?” You know what? It will roll around to you eventually. We need to insist our Congresspersons get off their butts and do something.

5 Jun
I got this from someone on Twitter but can’t remember who. You literally are the stories you tell: http://nyti.ms/18XF82k 

6 Jun
Never say never. Unless, of course, it’s to say “Never say never.”

7 Jun
In the waiting room while Mom has a routine outpatient procedure. Routine, nothing to worry about, but I still do. She came through just fine. We were home by one.

7 Jun
I picked the right day not to go to work. In Santa Monica. SM College is an alma mater of mine.

11 Jun
Weird: is that memory fragment something I saw on TV or something I dreamed?

19 Jun
Things you have to be really old to remember:

“Calgon, take me away.”
Bubble Up
One Step Beyond
Carbon paper and mimeograph machines

21 Jun
I once circled a scene for three months. I couldn’t figure out why I was stuck until I admitted I didn’t want to do what had to be done: break my protagonist’s heart. Once I admitted that to myself, it came unstuck. Still not fun to write, but at least the story progressed forward. It doesn’t take me nearly as long as three months anymore. I assume. Once I write again.

21 Jun
C: Why do people act so damned weird?

Me: Because they lose track of the fact that life is short and our time here is very limited.

21 Jun
I’ve been researching retirement options that last few weeks. They are: slim, none, and hahahaha.

Random quote of the day:

“Skepticism or debunking often receives the bad rap reserved for activities—like garbage disposal—that absolutely must be done for a safe and sane life, but seem either unglamorous or unworthy of overt celebration….Proper debunking is done in the interest of an alternate model of explanation, not as a nihilistic exercise. The alternate model is rationality itself, tied to moral decency—the most powerful joint instrument for good that our planet has ever known.”

—Stephen Jay Gould, Forward to Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer

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Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

 

Random quote of the day:

 

“The skeptical fences are there for a reason—to keep the borderlands of science from shading too far into pseudoscience, non-science, and nonsense. For every Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein, there were a thousand cons, cranks, and quacks with their revolutionary theories that turned out to be flummery and flapdoodle.”

—Michael Shermer, “The Value of Skepticism: Is Skepticism a Negative or a Positive for Science and Humanity?”

 

 

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

 

“If science had been merely skeptical, it would have merely replaced belief with disbelief. This it didn’t do; science gave new grounds for knowledge that belief couldn’t match. To disdainfully dismiss any immaterial phenomenon, as skeptics do, actually betrays the scientific method, which allows any hypothesis into argument in an open-minded tolerance for the next ridiculous speculation that may turn out to be true.”

—Deepak Chopra, “Gadflies Without a Sting,” The Huffington Post, October 10, 2005

 


Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

 

“In my experience skeptics are overreachers. They equate doubt with logical thinking, so that to be unskeptical makes one irrational….The line between religion and science, which skeptics defend like armed guards, isn’t so definite as they suppose, given the religious bent of Kepler, Newton, Einstein, and other scientific minds great and small.

—Deepak Chopra, “Gadflies Without a Sting: The Downside of Skepticism,” The Huffington Post, October 10, 2005

 


Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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