Native Skeptic

Native Skeptic
Apache Crown Dancers 1887: http://www.firstpeople.us/photographs2/Apache-Spirit-Dancers-1887.html

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For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this site, please feel free to read my "Diary of a Native Skeptic" page, especially if this is your first visit.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Skinwalkers

Skinwalkers might be the most popular paranormal creatures in Native American culture. A close second to Bigfoot. While there are many stories about them, I have never heard one about their origins like I told in the Skeptical Briefs 2012 spring edition titled, Skinwalkers. After going through historical documents, I discovered a chilling secret...



* You can follow the link to the entire article here---> Skinwalkers

The full article originally appeared in Volume 22.1 of the Skeptical Briefs 2012 spring edition, which is now available over on the CSI website.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Beyond the Curve of Flat-Earth Theory

Behind the Curve is such a great title. This movie is a depiction of what lies at the heart of Flat-Earther groups.  It goes under the skin of what motivates someone to question something like...

"Is the Earth really a globe?" 


This 2018 documentary film presents us with the world of conspiracy theory. Namely, the conspiracy that the Earth is flat. What we discover about this flat world is that it has more dimensions to it than what first meets the eye. 

*Trailer available on YouTube 

While it's easy to shrug off, we are seeing more claims like this in different forms which are concerning. Superstitious thinking isn't harmless and has real world consequences. 

The problem with combating these types of things, is that they get emboldened when ridiculed.  It's easy to condemn and come off condescending in the process.  Have you ever been persuaded by being ridiculed?

It can be tough to be cordial and understanding when talking about something like vaccines. When I first heard of anti-vaccine groups, it drove me crazy. Crazy enough to start this blog and thus my whole campaign of consumer protection advocacy.

At the end of the day, flat earth isn't about science or a search for the truth. It's about human psychology and the pitfalls in our thinking when we aren't taught how to reason. Our brains, like the internet, are powerful tools of information. But, if we aren't taught how to use them, we could end up with more misinformation than what is tried and true.

There is a subtle difference between being skeptical and being cynical. Carl Sagan once said,

"Science is more than a body of knowledge. Is a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs." 

Mere doubt isn't good enough. Asking questions isn't good enough. We must demand evidence. Critical-thinking is being able to challenge one's own beliefs and positions.

The entire film, I kept thinking about the ancient Greek philosopher, Eratosthenes. He managed to calculate the size of the Earth with amazing accuracy by measuring the angles of shadows at different cities. In the final scene of Behind the Curve, it shows a flat-Earther named Jeran Campanella performing a simple, clever laser experiment to confirm the Earth is flat.


Overall, the movie does a great job of presenting the subject and its followers. It includes all the different contributing elements and their complexity. In the end, it makes a convincing case. If you came into the subject on the fence, this should take you over the horizon.

*Behind the Curve is now available to stream on Netflix.


Friday, February 22, 2019

The Real Problem with the Jussie Smollett Case

The claim that we are today more divisive than ever, is constantly being thrown out. Identity politics are highly controversial. It has many groups of people annoyed with social justice and political correctness. Mix our cultural differences and religious worldviews with a lack of knowledge of how to navigate the world wide web, and we get the mess of the internet we see today.

We give people the powerful tools of internet technologies but we don't teach anyone how to use them. People don't want to learn and understand how their smartphones function, we just want them to work. This all relates to the Jussie Smollett case.

Now, I am not determining guilt or innocence here. I am addressing the bigger, underlying problem. It's not about race. It's not about gender. It's not about sexual orientation. It's not even about political party. It's about people not exercising healthy skepticism. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are tailored to our short attention spans. It's all too easy to click "like" and "share". The algorithms that determine our interactions on social media show us more of what we want to see, the more we use them. The inherent bias of race, gender, sexual orientation, and political party that we all bring to every issue get confirmed by them. We validate our own bias and make ourselves feel confident about our preconcieved beliefs.

Now, we all know people make mistakes. We all know people can lie. That being said, how do we know what to believe? There is an antedote to fight bias. At the end of the day, it's evidence that should speak louder than mere claims. Evidence should matter more than what people say, no matter who says it. Reality is what exists whether we believe in it or not. There is too much discussion about the impacts of race and political affiliation. Too much listening to people making claims. Not enough listening to what the evidence is showing.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Using Science and Skepticism to Build a Better Tomorrow Today

I would like to leave a trail for others to follow like bread crumbs. If I could every once in a while drop a piece to help others stay on the path, that would be fulfilling. Whether it is through a story or shared experience, the end result is finding some common uniting factor and building upon it.

"The point of an argument or debate should be progress, not victory." 

With all of the focus on what is wrong with the world and the things in it, we should be turning our attention to what is great about the world and the ways we can make it better. That starts with becoming better thinkers and decision makers. Then, becoming leaders in anything we do. 

The initial intention behind the start of this blog was to help other people who were like me and felt lost amongst all of the spiritualness in the world. I could not find my place, but knew I was part of something bigger than just myself. Was I Apache, Navajo, or Hopi? Was I white? Where did my answers lie? In one of those tribal religions or perhaps in the white mans' religion? 

I am not trying to change people's minds about their beliefs or looking to debunk myths. I am trying to get people to think for themselves and become just a little more skeptical. But, when I say skeptical, I don't mean cynical. I mean scientifically-skeptical. A large portion of science and scientific skepticism is open-mindedness. That tenet should always be in the forefront, clear and present. A large part of understanding science is getting to know skepticism. It makes us better critical thinkers. 

"You don't change people's minds, you give them the tools to decide on their own."

That is what science, critical thinking, and skepticism have done for me. Not only are they the best ways for vetting new information and attaining knowledge, they act as self-defense systems for your way of thinking as well. 

So, my focus went from what we don't know to the things we do. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of these patterns I see in nature? These questions began to seem less relevant to me as my brain was now infatuated with learning as much as I could about the universe and our place in it. 

I started my journey thinking that science was all about math and facts. Along the way, I found out that it was much more than that, it was "a way of thinking." Now I see it as humbling, awe-inspiring, and elegant. 

"Who is making all the decisions about science and technology that are going to determine the kind of future our children will live in?" (Sagan 1996) 

 
Carl Sagan on Charlie Rose in 1996.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, are the implications to our civic duties to be informed citizens and engaged with the issues at hand. When we stop questioning authority, we leave ourselves open for them to take advantage of us. Then, people don't run the government, the government runs the people. Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of questioning authority because of these very reasons. 

Who will govern the governors?" There is only one force in the nation that can be depended upon to keep the government pure and the governors honest, and that is the people themselves. They alone, if well informed, are capable of preventing the corruption of power, and of restoring the nation to its rightful course if it should go astray. They alone are the safest depository of the ultimate powers of government. (Jefferson 1903-04)

Benjamin Franklin has been quoted as saying, "It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority." I hold a similar belief. Socrates believed that ordinary citizens were not fit to govern themselves. He didn't believe that the general public was informed enough to make big decisions and often voted against their best interests. But, I have more hope for people and would like to see a world where more people can think for themselves and are not afraid to question authority or the status quo. A place where we can argue constructively and find progress, despite any differences. The aim isn't to win debates, but to be just a bit more skeptical. About as much as you would be buying a car. It is especially important when we are most vulnerable. While scientists are busy doing real science, people like me are prepared to take on what is not like the paranormal and supernatural. That's the difference I would like to make in the world. The best part about living with today's technology, is we all have a real chance to make a change!

Original Artwork by Noah Nez.





Sources

Sagan, Carl. 1996. Charlie Rose. YouTube. Can be accessed online at: http://youtu.be/d8O1e_TZHZo.

Jefferson, Thomas. 1903-04. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson on Politics and Government. Memorial Edition (Lipscomb and Bergh, editors). 20 Vols., Washington, D.C. Can be accessed online at: http://famguardian.org/Subjects/Politics/thomasjefferson/jeff0350.htm.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why I Care About Science and Skepticism and Why You Should Too

I get excited when I am talking about science, it's process, and the power it bestows. I am supremely passionate about the importance of critical thinking skills and the pivotal role scientific skepticism plays in making any endeavor successful. What draws me to both science and scientific skepticism, is how they can both be useful to everyone at any level. Kids, young adults, and up to professionals in any field. 

How does science and skepticism tie into your life?

I grew up hearing all kinds of stories from different cultures and as a kid I was a fan of reading scary camp fire tales. I was always a pretty avid reader and amongst the collection I consumed were books on the paranormal and supernatural. My cultural beliefs were full of the supernatural, so I already had a foundation in me for things like psychic, ghosts, and monsters like Bigfoot. Not too far removed from that, was new age mysticism. After I started getting into martial arts, I entered a world of eastern philosophy that is filled with energy charts and acupressure points. At some point, I just realized there must be a way to discern what is real and what is the truth as best as it can be defined. 

Being such a heavy reader as a child helped with my writing as I got older. The philosophy of martial arts from Bruce Lee lead me into studying Taoism, which prepared me for abstract thinking when I got to ethics and philosophy courses. I feel that my journey on the outside fringes of science ultimately lead me to where I am now. So, I speak from a place of personal knowledge on things I once believed whole heartedly. I make it a point to not dismiss the things I know nothing about. I usually only give my opinion on the things I have experience with and researched myself. 

After I got to college, my writing progressed from doing so many essays, technical papers, and projects. After college, I used those skills and combined them with a newfound love for science. Once I discovered how poor the general understanding of science was amongst the public, I quickly identified myself as being one of those people. Science literacy became my new interest. 

Why do I care? And why should others?

Carl Sagan was one of the most famous scientists to promote this brand of scientific skepticism. A large part of his work was in informing the public about the dangers of pseudoscience and the importance of being able to differentiate the good from the bad. "Our world is built upon science and technology that people do not understand." If people are not informed, who will make the important decisions that affect the future of where science will take us? That decision should be left to the people. With all of the misinformation on the Internet and the fact that some beliefs can have harmful consequences like those concerning health, the question should be, why doesn't everyone care? Why don't you?