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Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Warrior Spirit of Geronimo

There are many obvious differences between the past and present. However, there are also some things that haven't seemed to change much and take thoughtful consideration to notice. I still see classes of warrior societies today in our military or professional full-contact competitive athletes (martial artists included).

For me, Geronimo personifies a part of this with the Apache warrior spirit. When I see his image, I don't just see the worn look of a man scorned and bitter. I witness the embodiment of American Indian rage. I recognize the idea that we, as people, will always be free. I see the wild nature of man and the untamed heart. But, I also see infamy and vengeance.

Living in a world where Apache children’s scalps were worth $25, women $50, and men a cool hundred dollars, it's hard to judge the actions of people during that time. 

The things that happened historically, such as the atrocities committed against people, often speak more about the culture of the time than those performing the acts.

I think about the samurai and their struggle to transition to a more civilized society during the early 17th to mid-19th centuries (Discovery Channel 2011). The Japanese warrior class of society that were for so long highly revered, living in a technologically driven world that no longer needed their special trades. Military tactics, armor, swords, bows and arrows, were eventually no match for the advancements in military weaponry. Once we got a hold of this whole science thing and technology got to a certain state of acceleration, cultures were affected so rapidly that societies had to adapt quickly by learning the latest discoveries and harnessing the potential to stay competitive and successful. It didn’t take long for a whole way of life to be redefined by a country and deemed to be “outdated, backwards” and ultimately, “unacceptable.” In 1876, the Japanese government even banned the samurai from carrying a sword, their trademark weapon. (Discovery Channel 2011). One of the major factors of contributing to the downfall of the samurai’s way of life that often gets mentioned is “urbanization.” Historically, it's a common trend for nations to subvert the cultures of old for the greater good of advancing the society overall. The government gave the retired samurai a deal to attain land and establish themselves as farmers (Grabianowski, Ed. 2014). The samurai, once proud defenders and personal bodyguards of lords and emperors, were eventually stripped of their high-class status and thrown out to live on the street and figure out a new way of life amongst the commoners.

That story sounds familiar. The end of isolationism and the oncoming wave of urbanization brought many American Indians to live on reservations and inspired the creation of boarding schools which were instilled to weed out any trace of tribal culture in order to help “civilize” Indian children as a part of this urban progression. 

The historical accounts of Geronimo often sound like the plot line for every Kung-Fu, revenge movie. A whole family gets wiped out, a surviving member seeks vengeance for the lives that were lost, and goes out on a rampage in the process. Very much fitting the role of the “anti-hero.”

The way the term "power" is often used is interchangeable with “knowledge of.” And like power, great knowledge carries with it great responsibility. For it is indifferent to good and bad, moral and immoral. Because these things are determined by us collectively and how we choose to use them. 

Being in such a hostile world, produced a being...just as hostile. 

When I see Geronimo’s image, I don't just think about the legends told to me as a kid. I recognize the man, the name, and see warfare personified. I think of the tribal nature of people, mobs and gangs. Images of people coming together in resistance spring to mind. I think about what it was like when I was a young adolescent constantly looking for opportunities to prove myself amongst my peers, or people I looked up to. Adverse effects from the overflow of hormones like heightened states of aggression. Ah, to be a teenager coming of age again.

"Masked Geronimo" by Noah Nez. Spray paint on canvas.
Gangs bring plight to their own communities by committing crimes in, and against, the people living in them. Reminds me of the people living next to the Taliban. Or should I say, trying to live next to the Taliban. Armed with ideology, they too use that as a means to commit crimes against their own people and whole communities. Much to say, a great deal of people over there don't like the Taliban either. Much as the neighbors of gang members don't appreciate the constant intimidation and unknowingly being placed in the line of fire, being caught in between a turf war. Nobody likes their neighborhood to be transformed into a battlefield. Victims of collateral damage have more than enough reason to condemn. Geronimo brought a great deal of suffering to people, including his own. Even still, many Apache people have not forgiven him and many never will.

Art has seemed to always be there as my filter to which I see things through. Some of my fondest memories of early childhood involve movies and video games. One of the things that has greatly influenced my world perspective and the subject of Geronimo, is cinematography

American Indian history IS American history.

We Shall Remain is an unprecedented mini-series that re-establishes Native history as an essential part of American history. 

Three hundred years of United States history, that most Americans have never heard of, gets summed up in five 90-minute documentaries and helps to illustrate these historically significant moments. 

An unprecedented five-part television event depicting Native people’s fight for their homeland and to withstand extinction. These stories aren’t just another non-Native filmmakers interpretation. This collaborative effort is informed at every level by Native advisers, scholars, and filmmakers as well.

As noted in the behind the scenes portion of the movie page, the filmmakers worked closely with Chiricahua Apaches in southern New Mexico in preparation for the movie. In addition to that, Producer, Writer, and Director Dustinn Craig is White Mountain Apache/Navajo.

Craig’s documentary I Belong To This was included in the four-part series, Matters of Race, produced by Roja Productions for PBS. Other projects include two short films and a thirty-minute three-screen production titled Home for the Heard Museum’s Native People of the Southwest exhibit in Phoenix, Arizona (PBS 2008c) (Vision Makers Media 2014).

The fourth installment of the We Shall Remain series is titled, Geronimo. We get a glimpse of not just the man, but the realness of the day and the situations that many American Indians faced. Here, we have a depiction of Geronimo that rarely gets portrayed by historical accounts and popular culture. 
"Born around 1820, Geronimo grew into a leading warrior and healer. archfiend, perpetrator of unspeakable savage cruelties. the embodiment of proud resistance, the upholder of the old Chiricahua ways. stubborn troublemaker, unbalanced by his unquenchable thirst for vengeance, whose actions needlessly brought the enemy’s wrath down on his own people" (PBS 2008a).

There's no glory in the acts committed by Geronimo against his own people. But, one might also argue that those kinds of acts should never be committed against anybody, friend or foe. It takes me back to the kind of thinking that comes from strategic warfare. For instance, take the "Art of War" by Sun Tzu. Businessmen love it because of its' cutthroat mindset like one of a military general. It fits in with their whole, "it's just business, it's not personal" mentality. It's not all formations and flanking battlefield tactics. But, a great deal of it focuses on using intimidation and other aspects of psychology against an opponent. Such as, sacrificing some for the greater good for an even greater cause. "The ends justify the means." Something I first really got to know in an ethics course. The philosophical argument never really sat well with me, even now as I think it. There's a feeling of uneasiness that I associate with it, even though I am aware of certain cases when the conditions are such that I would agree.

"Elvis Geronimo" by Noah Nez.
So, whether it's his name or his image, that's what I see. This is why I depict him in the thick frames. It's not to make him look cool. I'm poking fun at the posers trying to tap into the current popularity of nerd culture by simply dressing the part, and at the same time, thumb my nose at the idea of this mythical, heroic Geronimo we are so often told about, especially as Apache kids. We are also guilty of making heroes out of people who did some rather unheroic things. I put the mask over his face like a bandit would back in the day, or as the terrorists and gang bangers do now in modern day. I have had some people tell me that I am not supposed to draw him in these ways, but then again, there are others that say I am not supposed to draw him at all! So, I prefer the dirty looks that I get and being told I am not supposed to do such things, over the mindless praises from those purely concerned about aesthetics.

“By any means necessary.” Malcolm X 

This is not to say that I am left in some state of disillusion. There are plenty of other people that I admire for different reasons that are flawed in their own ways, like Malcolm X or Nelson Mandela. They both did some acts in their younger years that seem out of place from the way history might present them. Malcolm X often gets pegged as the militant Black Nationalist member of the Nation of Islam. But there is another side to his story about how he turned his life around after his pilgrimage to see the Holy City of Mecca for himself. Mandela is praised around the world. But he took part in some pretty heinous acts against other people in his younger years as well. 

There was a time in my personal life that I became more interested in being aware about certain things that seemed to hold more weight to them. There’s so much garbage in the world now that we live in an information age with the internet. Things can easily become overwhelming. 

There's a dark side to human nature. So there's a dark side to human history. We don't gain anything from remaining willfully ignorant to the things in the world that we might consider to be ugly. War is ugly. We like to glorify it, but down in the thick trenches of reality, we know it's anything but glorious. Hopefully, there are more individuals that take the time to ask why I depict things in the way that I have chosen to do. 

So, what does the name Geronimo mean to you?



Discovery Channel. 2011. What Brought About the End of the Samurai as Warriors? (Culture and Society). Can be accessed at: 

Grabianowski, Ed. 2014. How Samurai Work: The End of the Samurai. (Pg 8). Can be accessed at:   

PBS. 2008a. We Shall Remain. Can be accessed at: 

PBS. 2008b. Geronimo. About the Film. (Ep. 4). Can be accessed at: 

PBS. 2008c. Geronimo. Behind the Scenes: Featured Cast and Crew. (Ep. 4).. Can be accessed at:

Vision Maker Media. 2014. Bios. Can be accessed at:

Friday, May 9, 2014

Have You Ever Heard about the Thing between Deodorant and Cancer?

I recently came across an article by Stephanie Marcus on the Huffington Post featuring Cameron Diaz where she reveals that she has not used antiperspirant for 20 years. It appears there is quite a prolific list of celebrities that subscribe to this more au naturale method of marination. Upon reading this, I recalled a conversation that I had years ago with a co-worker regarding his fears of the chemicals used in many of them as well. This prompted me to ask, where do these fears of antiperspirants and deodorants come from? More importantly, are any of them legitimate?

This all stems from a red carpet interview E! did at the premier to The Other Woman. Last April, E! Online published, Cameron Diaz Hasn't Used 20 Years!, by  Marc Malkin. When the subject of antiperspirants came up, Diaz responded that she did not believe in them and went on to clarify that, "It's really bad for you. I haven't used it for almost 20 years." She then goes on to share many of her other personal views about how she thinks human biology and science work by soliciting some advise from her book, The Body Book. Last January, Kate Dries documented a personal experience reading the book in the article for Jezebel titled, Cameron Diaz's Body Book is Actually Pretty Good, and uses the following quote that Diaz does in her book,

"I'm not a scientist. I'm not a doctor. What I am is a woman who has spent the past fifteen years learning about what my body is capable of, and it has been the most rewarding experience of my life."

Just to be upfront, I am not a scientist or doctor either. However, the major deciding factor that is being overlooked here is scientific literacy. Not all claims are equal in merit and just because something sounds, or seems to be scientific, doesn't mean that it is science or that it's true. When lies and cons are informed by some truth and appeal to our emotions, it makes things cloudy so that being smart isn't good enough. Smart people can make mistakes just like the not-so-smart people can be correct from time to time. Without a good definition of what the process of science is, the less likely you are to have any sense of what it should look like and the likelihood of pseudoscience infiltrating your web browser grows. Smart people fall for not-so-smart things all the time. Sometimes we believe things too, for no good reason. It's not a stretch, or novel, to say people are irrational. But, what's not being said enough is that we need tools to help us with our psychological blindspots and personal biases. That's precisely what critical thinking and science literacy can provide.   

While she doesn't address anything specific or make any sort of definitive claim, she seems to be convinced that what she does know, is that they are "...really bad for you." This prompted me to look just a bit further for myself to see if there is any reason, or evidence, for such concern.

The University Health Network in Toronto, Canada took to the streets last February 4th to promote World Cancer Day and see what people thought about this very question and give them some facts in a special YouTube video they put together titled, Cancer Mythbusters: Antiperspirants and breast cancer.

Anti-perspirants have been identified as the leading cause of breast cancer.

Anti-perspirants have been identified as the leading cause of breast cancer.

Anti-perspirants have been identified as the leading cause of breast cancer.

The specific claim that, anti-antiperspirants have been identified as the leading cause in breast cancer, has been looked at quite thoroughly by one the greatest skeptical tools available online, Snopes. If you are not familiar with this site as a resource, I'd recommend bookmarking it to memory for the next urban myth you come across. 
In 2003, the article titled Misleading Medical Myths Spread Quickly Over Internet was published by NewsOK warning the general public about some medical myths circulating like a chain e-mail at the time. One of the claims that made number two on the list also going out to physicians in an issue of MDnet Guide magazine notifying them about certain urban myths gaining popularity, is the one claiming that anti-perspirants/deodorant cause breast cancer. Apparently, the rumor got bad enough for the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health to respond with this fact sheet about anti-perspirants/deodorant and breast cancer. A key point in the document states, "There is no conclusive research linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer." But, there is also another point that completed research studies were inconclusive because they produced conflicting results. Some may interpret that differently. One thing that's for sure is that you can't extrapolate that we know for sure what causes any specific type of cancer from these studies. So, where else might these fears perspire from?

In the 'Health, Wellness, and Hygiene Tips for Body Odor' section of the How Stuff Works website, there is a more than I, and probably you, would ever want to know about body odor in the article titled, How Body Odor Works. The subject of anti-antiperspirants and deodorants comes up five pages in; where it goes through a brief history of deodorant, some science behind it, and a few examples of alternatives. The aforementioned concerns and uncertainties surrounding the safety of aluminum-based deodorants shows up once again in the little informational box that appears on the side of the piece and states the following,      

"The safety of aluminum-based deodorants has been the cause for much debate. Some studies seem to have indicated that antiperspirants can increase breast cancer risks, but according to the National Cancer Institute and FDA, there's no conclusive evidence to tie the two together. Additionally, a study done in the 1960s indicated that there was a higher presence of aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, which has lead to the persistent belief that antiperspirants can contribute to the disease. However, according to the Alzheimer's Association, studies released since that time have failed to confirm aluminum's role in causing Alzheimer's."

A brief explanation of just what body odor is and some things to do about it, appears on the blog site Science Knowledge under the article titled, Deodorants and Antiperspirants. It also mentions that there are other alternatives which include masking scents and germicides. There is also a funny example going with this telling of how they test antiperspirants with control groups. The post eventually comes around to breaking down the active ingredients to what makes up an antiperspirant, and addresses some of these concerns in the following excerpt,

"Finally, it’s important to address one of the very real risks of antiperspirants. No, it’s not breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, despite what you might have read in imaginative email chain letters. For the record, aluminum, the key ingredient in antiperspirants, is the third most common element on our planet, and it’s found in food, air, and over-the-counter medications like antacids, all of which provide more aluminum than you can absorb from an antiperspirant through your skin. Furthermore, the amount of waste your sweat glands excrete is small, so there’s no reason to think that slowing down a few sweat glands can increase the level of toxins in your blood."
The real downsides to antiperspirants appear to be found in their limited application to be effective on certain glands, so they don't "suppress" the smell from "apocrine glands." Based on the evidence gathered, the only dangers that I can determine surrounding this whole subject, are embarrassment from excessive sweating and staining. The amount and the sweat itself can also indicate other health concerns that could be more serious, like diabetes or thyroid disease as well.

The How Stuff Works article had one other gem of advise that stood out to me amongst all the information sifted through,

"Because everyone's body chemistry is different, it may take a bit of experimentation to find a natural deodorant that works for you but the science of making the skin's surface unfriendly to bacteria is sound, and thousands of people use these products successfully every day."

Unfortunately, some people might argue that the research from big organizations like the American Cancer Society, the FDA, or the National Institutes for Health cannot be trusted because they are part of some elaborate umbrella government conspiracy allowing the poisoning of the general public. But, then I might argue that you might have bigger, more urgent problems of concern than the aluminum in your deodorant.


Dries, Kate. 2014. "Cameron Diaz's Body Book is Actually Pretty Good". (Janurary 10) Can be accessed online at:

Franco, Michael. 2010. "How Body Odor Works" (May 4). Accessible online at: Last updated May 9, 2014.

Malkin, Marc. 2014. "Cameron Diaz Hasn't Used 20 Years!". E! Can be accessed online at:

Marcus, Stephanie. 2014. "Cameron Diaz Say She Hasn't Worn Deodorant in 20 Years". Huffington Post. April 24. Can be accessed online at:

Mayo Clinic Staff. 2014. "Sweating and Body Odor: Causes". Mayo Clinic. (Janurary 25). Can be accessed online at:

NewsOK. 2003. "Misleading Medical Myths Spread Quickly Over Internet". (January 7). Can be accessed online at:

National Cancer Institute. 2008. "Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer
". Can be accessed online at:

Snopes. 1999. "Anti-Perspirants and Breast Cancer". Can be accessed online at: Last updated, January 2, 2014.

Science Knowledge. 2010. Deodorants and Antiperspirants. Can be accessed online at:

University Health Network.
2013. "Cancer Mythbusters: Antiperspirants and breast cancer". YouTube. UHNToronto. (January 13). Can be accessed online at:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Case of 'Particle Fever'

One day, I was sitting in a production lab performing a video test as part of the quality control process for a monitor and came across the image of a giant structure being hauled by truck so big it closed down both directions of the highway. I needed to see what a 50 foot magnet was being used for, and was I surprised to see it was just a small piece of the bigger machine. Instead of quenching that thirst, my curiosity would only continue to grow just as much as my understanding did, the more I explored the fundamental aspects which govern the laws that lead humans to build such an impossibly complex machine. It really is a marvel of human ingenuity. A pinnacle of engineering and physics. It's only fitting that hundreds of hours and years of footage were used to make the upcoming movie focusing on a scientific journey that involves all of us. Particle Fever is being featured by Angela Watercutter in her recent article for Wired as, "A Movie About the Large Hadron Collider That You'll Actually Understand."    

Part of my own personal voyage was described in an interview with Ben Radford for the Center for Inquiry where I gave this example of how the Large Hadron Collider lead me to become involved with organized skepticism. Here is my response to that question,
"Philosophy, Socrates, and the socratic method, planted a seed with a question, "What is knowledge?" If you can't define that for yourself, then how can you maintain the claim that you truly "know" anything? I wanted to know how we as the collective human race compiled all of the scientific understandings of such things like Einstein's theory of relativity or how we know certain things about the nature of subatomic particles. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN really ignited my interest in getting to the bottom of how man could even postulate such a machine. The process of how science works became clear only after I became more familiar with the history of science, and finally I had the standard for knowledge that I was looking for: scientific knowledge.

After becoming engulfed in this newfound obsession for everything science related, it was only a matter of time before I came across the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. Simply listening to the SGU let me know that there was this community out there and that really helped sharpen my critical thinking skills while establishing a deep-seeded root to be more actively involved in skepticism. I wanted to help others follow along those lines and discover how enlightening and empowering science can be through its relevance to everything."

Like with most skeptic's origin stories, mine also began with a love for science. Once I became better acquainted with the scientific method I also became aware of my own scientific illiteracy. At that point, I already had a applied science degree and a bachelors in technical management. So, it was a bit of a shock for me and blow to the ego to admit that I did not really know what science was or how to clearly define it. I wondered how I went clear through the entire educational process and missed out on such a vital part to understanding the modern world. But, what I did attain through my educational experience through philosophy, ethics and other writing courses, was the ability to think with different perspectives. Which has also helped me as an artist. 

I am excited for this movie and the opportunity to make these concepts exciting for others as well. The LHC inspired me so much by the sheer ingenuity of the whole machine, forget the way it works. The look of it alone is straight out of a science fiction movie and could easily pass for a Star Trek set! But, in order to truly appreciate the inner workings of the biggest scientific experiment in the world and most complex machine ever built by human beings, there's a bit of physics to examine and explore. And about a couple hundred years worth of science.   

That has kept me busy ever since and I am just as curious about things, but as a result, my appreciation of those things is so much deeper.

Particle Fever will be smashing it's way to select theaters March through April.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Brian Dunning From Skeptoid on The Joe Rogan Experience

The episode #441 of The Joe Rogan Experience ended up being rather memorable for some quite unexpected reasons. At first, I was excited by the premise of Brian Dunning, the host of Skeptoid, being featured as a guest on one of the other podcasts I actually listen to regularly and personally feel could be used as a resource to spread the awareness of skepticism and science. For the most part, I have found that the people that I bring this idea to do not have a good reaction to the notion or do not know what a podcast is. In a grander scheme of things in terms of the greater good and what the skepticism movement is supposed to be about, or at least what it means to me, we really should utilize these avenues of popular culture trending right now like YouTube and podcasts. I would love to hear a prominent name being featured as a guest on the Nerdist podcast or have an episode recorded from The Amazing Meeting.
The first major thing that became fixated to my mind and lingered around throughout the entire episode was making it a point to clarify and define what it means to be “scientifically literate”, and the importance it serves us as everyday citizens. It's part our civic duty to learn these things. One definition that I pull off from the top of my head comes from one of the best science communicators doing his thing today, and that’s no other than Mr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Here is a clip of the YouTube video I am talking about:

There are general misconceptions about science and skepticism around anywhere people can be found. For some, sounding technical is enough for it to be considered science-y. For some others, being a nay-saying cynic gets misconstrued for being "skeptical." Another giant aspect to the definition of science, that doesn't get discussed enough, is pointing out that the word skeptic as in scientific skepticism also means open-minded. It’s not so centered on a constant state of disbelief as in the way Joe Rogan represents it to be in this discussion with Brian Dunning. The word skeptic (as I define it at least) is interchangeable with science, or the scientific perspective, which is always open to new evidence and constantly changing. My personal views on things are always changing as I receive more information through experience and as knowledge is gained. This is where something from another YouTube video this time featuring physicist Richard Feynman comes to mind:

Another glaring point that I didn’t really feel like got covered that is important to the putting together an accurate portrait of science is how we determine standards of evidence or validity. Making a claim is easy for anyone to do; the real interesting part is in backing it up, but that also takes the most effort. It’s easier to just go along with people than to argue against them too. If you disagree with someone, you may feel the burden to justify your position and that’s just too much work! So, I can see how sitting in silence can seem so much more appealing to your brain in certain circumstances. But, feeling that way doesn’t always mean that it’s the right thing to do either. Another fallacious argument that was repeatedly used resembled the following form: the government conspired in the past therefore the current instance in question is a conspiracy too. That is a bit like saying a specific event is a conspiracy because conspiracies exist. Not only is that bad logic, it's just plain ole lazy thinking.

Vitamins are an important subject to skeptics and consumer protection activists because it deals with something that concerns everyone, health. We all have our own definitions of what it means to be “healthy”. Not many people receive much education in nutrition, but that doesn’t stop anybody from formulating an opinion and thinking they know what’s best for them- health wise. In this instance, a recent relay of research covered by the media spouting that vitamins are a waste of money got Joe up in arms and arguing that vitamins are beneficial. However, the media headline was misleading and the research did not show vitamins to have "completely no benefits", but what it did indicate is that additional dietary supplementation is not necessary for most people eating a regular varied diet. And what they did say is that, "using supplements and multivitamins to prevent chronic conditions is a waste of money." In other words, vitamins don’t work in the specific manner that the nutrition industry is currently selling them to us. But, I understand how these personal views can become emotionally charged and this particular area is prone to Joe and I would expect a strong knee jerk reaction or some resistance at the least. It was hard for me to let go of some of the nutritional claims that I had bought into early on from getting immersed in bodybuilding. High school can drive some boys to do crazy things just to get a competitive edge or that feeds into an urge to get bigger and much of it is based on anecdote and placebo. Joe oversimplified the multi-vitamin research study being discussed and the misinterpretation seemed to me most likely due to the misleading media headlines. The vitamin c claims being made were vague. There is some validity to vitamin c shortening the lifespan of colds, but not so much preventing them. Ultra high doses of anything are generally not a good idea. Some claims do not hold up while others can have risks that are more harmful than they are beneficial.

The others things that bothered me were not the topics themselves, but the manner in which they were presented.

For instance, I found the debate over what Dr. Mark Gordon said in a prior episode # 438 about a chemical called glutathione and effects on the liver it had when drinking alcohol that caused Brian to shut off the episode and describes an experience closely resembling the uncomfortable feeling of distress that I had while listening to this part of his conversation with Joe. After they replayed and listened to the prior segment in question during the show, Joe clarified what the doctor had said and Brian stood by his original statement. I remember when the initially started the conversation that it prompted me to start thinking about the interview because I had just listened to that episode and found the doctors’ statement to be suggestive, but it wasn’t clear to me it was being recommended. After they brought the subject up, I remembered listening to this episode the day it became available for download and my memory of that show didn’t include the sort of menacing portrayal as described by Dunning’s experience. But, I also recall not being too convinced by the evidence Dr. Gordon did provide either, such as the one little anecdote that gets brought up. What did seem to stand out about this part of the conversation is that Brian appeared eager and bent on being confrontational based on something I believe he misheard. Perhaps, being hyper focused on activism can lead to fighting fights that are not effectively helpful in the spreading of the original intended message.

At the end of the day, skeptics are susceptible to their own psychology too. It’s just that as skeptics, we are often aware of these pitfalls in thinking and intently seek out contradictory evidence. However, as we are all flawed and biased we are all guilty on occasion of hearing what we want to hear, or perhaps in some cases, we don’t hear what we weren’t listening for, and being aware of our bias doesn’t make us immune to it.

I did happen to agree with Joe when he echoed a common mantra that gets thrown around often when discussing the topic of skeptical outreach and scientific debates; “sometimes being a dick can take all the attention away from the point you are trying to make.” It’s like you can literally hear a giant slurping sound during the middle of a conversation from everyone’s attention leaving the room all at once like a vacuum. Joe often justifies his positions by pointing out how smart people are or how educated they are, as he does a couple times in this episode, but we have many examples of smart people being demonstrably wrong. Take someone as seemingly intelligent as Dr. Oz promoting homeopathy and other questionable forms of alternative medicine and pseudoscience for instance. However, I would like to give credit and point out that I have recognized a change over the years listening to the show.

Guests like Sam Harris or Neil deGrasse Tyson seem to corral the conversation into staying within reason by breaking down ideas before tangents go too far down the rabbit hole. Even the silly conversations are so much more interesting when one or more people in a party are scientifically literate, then you can really nerd out properly. Like what often happens on The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. I really enjoy these conversations the most and feel that I get more out of these types of episodes too. Joe also appears to be much more pliable in these scenarios than the common misconception that many people hold of him in the skeptical community. Much of this is due to the history surrounding Joe and his former beliefs that the Moon landings were a hoax, amongst a few other conspiracy theories thrown in there too. When Joe had a debate with astronomer Phil Plait on Penn Jillette’s show, it got the attention of the scientific and skeptical communities. So, I can see the need of some damage control on both sides. Joe has since relinquished many of these beliefs but has been written off long ago and said to be too far gone in his irrationality. After someone brought the whole Moon debacle to my attention, I initially felt that way too. It would be one thing if it was strictly an all hardcore comedy show, but the fact is that most of the time it treads into scientific topics of discussion lends itself to criticism. In the past I have proposed to other notable skeptics that there is some potential for outreach on Joe Rogan’s podcast, but for many there is still a bad taste left after the whole Moon incident. There are so many times in conversations that I wished Dr. Steve Novella from the SGU was there to discuss experiences of the brain that people have or when there is a weird news story in the media that Sharon Hill from Doubtful News could help put into perspective by providing further insight with a little back story.

I noticed things that have changed for the better especially with recent Joe Rogan Experience episode featuring from something you might have already sensed, psychics. It was pleasantly surprising and I feel is definitely the most skeptical thing he has done. At one point he slips and calls himself a skeptic, only to quickly retort. It features an engagement with another prominent skeptic and world class mentalist, Banachek. This podcast episode JRQE5 with Duncan Trussell was recorded during the production of Joe Rogan Questions Everything which originally aired on SyFy and it discusses how that meeting not only changed their perception of all psychics, but reality as well.

I was really hoping for this episode to be an opportunity to share the ideas of what skepticism, science, and critical thinking has to offer everyone and the importance they are to the way we acquire knowledge about the modern world we live in today. So, I guess what bothered me the most and got me down was the lost opportunity to point out what distinguishes something as being scientific and the notion that it's the same perspective that lies in the heart of skepticism wasn’t stressed at all. “Skepticism and science are not so much about what you think; it’s about how you think.” And it is possible to have an intellectual debate that is still lighthearted that others can learn and grown from. I would just like to hear or see them in more places other then skeptics podcasts. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Feeling Something Is True Is Not an Argument for Something Being True

Everyone has their own unique upbringing filled with distinctive experiences. These pivotal events lay the foundation to how we will relate to the world and the information we receive from it. I doubt many would argue with the notion that our personalities and behaviors are shaped by our experiences. It’s rather easy to overlook our past history’s influence on us and forget how deceptively powerful they can be. Perhaps it is due to our brain’s ability to mask its own limitations by bridging the gaps between any perceived inefficiencies. Or in other words, we can’t see the gaps found at the end of our cognitive limitations because part of what our brain does is hide these from our conscience mind so that we experience reality more smoothly.

There are so many things that the brain is doing that we are not aware of most of the time. For instance, our hearts beat and our body temperature stayed regulated without any conscience effort. Well, it appears that our ideas and beliefs might also arise in a similar fashion, starting deep from within an inaccessible place of our minds that we are not aware of until it reaches a certain level into our consciousness.

Our emotions are no exception to this notion either. Usually, we do not think of our feeling of certainty, or our feeling of being right, as an emotion. However, I have come across more recent discoveries made through research being done in this area of brain science that has shifted my view to consider the feeling of “knowing” to be classified more as an emotion. Even just philosophically, this is a fun conversation to have and ponder upon. But, when boiled down to the bones, it all comes back to describing a feeling. A feeling like an emotional state of being, or you know, like an emotion. So, like with the other examples of how things enter into our consciousness, the feeling of “rightness” begins with a process in the brain that we do not consciously initiate. I can even vividly recall experiencing this feeling in certain instances of my dreams where nothing makes sense but know what I’m supposed to do or where I’m supposed to be. This might also lend some insight into feelings of déjà vu. Our brains might just be interpreting a situation as being familiar and produce the feeling of familiarity without our conscience awareness, sort of like knowing without knowing. Some people who have damaged parts of the brain that are needed for functioning properly lose their ability to experience any sort of feeling of certainty. Think of that for a second. These people report to recognize that everything about a person, place or thing to be identical to something they used to know like a person they are married to or even their own children, but without the feeling of certainty they insist these things to be imposters. So, sometimes our feelings of being right can obviously throw us off from time to time.     

Now, it might seem obvious that our feelings of something being true are not arguments or good explanations to support something being true. Like saying something is right because it feels right. Just think of all the instances in which people can’t explain what they saw, but still protest they know what they saw. These are some reasons why we should be cautious of individuals that operate with no shadow of a doubt, making claims of absolute knowledge or absolute certainty about anything. In many circumstances, this feeling can act as an obstacle to the process of expanding our understanding and acquiring new knowledge.

The inspiration for this train of thought came from something I read in Carl Sagan’s, The Demon-Haunted World. This all comes back to why understanding the inquiry process of science is so important to EVERYONE in ANY field.
"Science is different from many another human enterprise — not, of course, in its practitioners being influenced by the culture they grew up in, nor in sometimes being right and sometimes wrong (which are common to every human activity), but in its passion for framing testable hypotheses, in its search for definitive experiments that confirm or deny ideas, in the vigor of its substantive debate, and in its willingness to abandon ideas that have been found wanting. If we were not aware of our own limitations, though, if we were not seeking further data, if we were unwilling to perform controlled experiments, if we did not respect the evidence, we would have very little leverage in our quest for the truth." (Sagan 1997)

Sagan, Carl. 1997. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Antiscience. (pg 263). Ballantine Books.