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Weird Things

 

After reading my views, some academics would probably dismiss me as just another superstitious nutcase who falls short of the secular rubric of rationality. Though that may very well be true, althougth I hope it isn’t, but nonetheless I am quite sympathetic to arguments of skeptic Michael Shermer, author of Why People Believe Weird Things. I suppose if you lined up a laundry list of controversial ideas and theories, some harmlessly eccentric, some truly dangerous, some in between, my assessment would be on the more skeptical side. I decided to make such a list, one that, while not exhaustive, should at least give a glimpse of my thought process.

 

I don’t believe at all:

 

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – This is a forgery created in Russia in the late 1800’s by Czarist police, and anti-Semites have seized on it ever since. I also reject similar theories that substitutes a plot by Jews to rule the world with the Illuminati, Freemasons, or any misunderstood group used as a scapegoat. (I might make an exception for the Bilderberg group).

 

The Hollow Earth theory – The earth is filled with molten lava, rock, with a core of iron. I don’t see how it could sustain life. Of course, people also used to think the earth was flat.

 

Literal Bible Interpretations – The Bible contains authentic history mixed with fictional accounts, parables, and mythologies, some of which, especially in the Old Testament, explain freakish occurrences in nature (like most religious texts).

 

Siddhis – This refers to the power of yoga adepts, or other advanced people, to defy the laws of physics, such as flying, walking on water, turning invisible, or materializing objects from nothing. (Note: Patanjali considered siddhis by-products of meditation, the real powers he lauded were insight and discriminative wisdom). It is true that physical law can be suspended in special circumstances, but not without the presence of other natural forces, e.g. magnetic levitation, optical camouflage, etc. The fact that there are phenomena that exist that contradict Newtonian physics, such as black holes, does not necessarily prove that people have supernatural abilities. Even the term “supernatural” is a misnomer, for if these abilities do exist, it is not necessarily unnatural, just unconventional.

 

Virgin Birth – Christianity did not invent this notion, it was common in pre-biblical era mythologies as well. It’s true that some organisms are asexual and reproduce differently than gendered ones. Also, some female animals have the ability of “parthenogenesis,” the fertilization of an embryo or seed without a male. With advances in bio-engineering we have the ability to do in vitro fertilization and even cloning. But I see no evidence that a human female can spontaneously engage in parthenogenesis without the aid of medical science.

 

The Shroud of Turin – Evidence shows that this image was created more than a thousand years after the accepted date of Jesus’ death. Some say this is due to a monastery fire at that time, which fudged the carbon dating results. But where is the evidence that this is legitimate? Italian scientists have recently produced a very similar looking shroud using techniques and tools available in medieval society. 

 

Lost Continent of Atlantis – If it existed at all, it was probably a small society on an island  in the Aegean Sea that was submerged during an earthquake. Archaeological sites found off the coasts of Greece and Turkey seem to confirm stories by Homer and Plato. There are similar such myths around the world, and this may be an indication of a common mythological theme rather than a real civilization.  

 

Alien Abductions – It used to be these types of accounts were attributed to demons violating people at night. In the 20th century, aliens – often depicted as grey, fetal hominid looking creatures - were the culprits. Some UFO enthusiasts claim that past accounts of night-time possessions were really documented cases of alien abduction, filtered through the language and beliefs of people in those times.  

 

I remember seeing a scientist on TV who theorizes that abduction experiences result from the effects of magnetic fields on the nervous system due to some experiments he conducted. Another interesting fact is that many people report that these experiences happen at night as they go to bed. This suggests that they may be under the influence of sleep paralysis and hallucinating in the hypnagogic state. Another interpretation is that these alien images are a psychological symbol, what Carl Jung called “archetypes,” like Atlantis, for example.

 

The Thule Society – One of several Romantic cults in Europe. Some of their members formed the Nazi party. They believed in Atlantean theories of a “pure race” (taken from Theosophy and its offshoots, see below).

 

Social Darwinism – This is a misapplication of Darwin’s theories on species adaptation to patterns in human cultural evolution. This has lead to the abuse of meritocracy, particularly in capitalist counties like America.

 

Julius Evola – He was a prominent thinker in the traditionalist school of philosophy and an ardent fascist, leading credence to the idea that the perennial philosophy is inherently fascist. Similarly, Giovanni Gentile took Henri Bergson’s biological concept of élan vital and applied it to historical enfoldment. It should be noted that fascism can appropriate any otherwise reasonable philosophy. 

 

I’m doubtful of:

 

Objectivism – Ayn Rand was at best a formulaic fiction writer. Her philosophy is not totally bad, such as her unequivocal denunciation of slavery, but it is problematic and not entirely objective. (See social darwinism above).

 

Pop Psychology – Also known as the “self-help” industry, it makes a fortune off of advice that is often unrealistic - as though all you need to change your life are clichés. Too many self-help books put too much emphasis on positive thinking to the exclusion of other tools.
 
A lot of people giving this advice might be good writers, but have dubious qualifications. It’s a good idea to check on what research, if any, backs up their claims. If you seek real help for yourself, there are many qualified mental health professionals and social workers out there, and it works to have a live person to talk to. That doesn’t mean there aren’t quacks in the mental health field either. Just as you should check out a doctor before seeing him or her, so to with a counselor, psychotherapist, or psychiatrist.  

 

Alternative medicine/surgery – Many alternative methods are at best a waste of money, at worst dangerous. Some alternative treatments can work, but should not be used to the exclusion of standard medical science. That is, they should be “complementary” rather than “alternative.” I like the term “integrative,” for healing should include all aspects of a person. Generally, it’s best to go with a medical professional.

 

Megavitamin therapy – It is generally good to take vitamins, but too many can be toxic.

Feng Shui – It’s interesting from an architectural or design standpoint, but that’s about all it’s good for, in my view. And this fad may be quickly waning.

 

Ghosts (spirits, angels, demons, jinn, devas, etc.) – I do believe that people, in varying degrees, have psychic abilities, meaning the ability to sense things without relying on the five senses. We could say that the sixth sense uses the five senses plus the imagination.

 

As for hauntings, I suspect that they can mostly be chalked up to mistaken phenomena, hallucination, or perhaps genuine psychic experiences. I’m not convinced by ghost images caught on film. Photographs and film can be easily tampered with, intentionally or not, to show images resembling ghosts. They say the camera never lies, but even before the wonders of photoshop and CGI, camera images have been able to lie to us quite a bit.

 

Prayer - Some claim it can heal people, even at a distance, even if the healee does not know they are being prayed for. Perhaps. But this does not necessarily mean that they prayer was answered by a supernatural being who intervened on their behalf. Maybe there is some latent psychic ability we do not yet understand. And the studies on prayer are also flawed, because it is difficult to verify if the participants were genuinely praying, actually praying for the intended person, and praying with equal feeling or intensity.

 

Theosophy – I find its metaphysics interesting, but I am dismissive of the notion of “root races.” I don’t know if they meant to be racist, or had an unconscious prejudice, but this implies that some cultures on earth are inherently superior and some are inherently inferior.

 

Possession – Some cultures view possession as resulting from evil spirits or demons. In voodoo, if you place a curse on someone, they can become a zombie. One theory is that this works because the person who is cursed believes it, and it becomes self-fulfilling. However, there is also evidence that one of the tools implemented in this curse, a Caribbean blow-fish, emits a toxic substance that if inhaled produces hypnotic and catatonic states. If this is placed outside someone’s home and they inhale it, they can easily become a zombie-like slave.  This does not mean a spell really works.

 

Ritual Satanic Abuse – The idea of Satanism, meaning “worship of Satan,” has historically been a Christian frame of reference to define other religions, pre-Christian European customs, or even other sects within Christianity. Basically, if you don’t worship Jesus/God you worship the devil, period. If other religions don’t hold such a conception of an absolute being of evil, or an absolute being of good, then that definition is meaningless to them. Even if those maligned groups really do believe in absolute good and bad beings, they surely would think that the being they worship is all good, and would flip those notions against their accusers, saying that it is the Christians who worship the bad deity (for example, the Gnostics versus the early Church).

As for the whole abuse scandal in the 80’s, it was fully investigated by the FBI and was thoroughly discredited. Like other historical witch-hunts, it ruined some innocent peoples’ lives.

 

Now, there are some dissident groups who call themselves Satanists, largely for shock value, particularly the Church of Satan founded by Anton LaVey. However, this philosophy is not as radical as it seems. Groups like this have roots in the enlightenment age rebels, when atheism started to become respectable among intellectuals (and hedonism is an even older philosophy). America’s premiere libertarian, Benjamin Franklin, may have been a member of the infamous Hellfire Club; known for having wine- drinking parties and orgies in abandoned monasteries.

 

For the most part, so-called Satanists are mostly atheists with a Randian or Nietzchian worldview. 

 

Crop Circles – They obviously do exist, the question is who is creating them. I would go with people rather than space ships. Artists can create crop circles with very simple materials (and they’re quite talented, I must say). There are old folktales in England about crop circles, suggesting it is an old phenomenon. However, it’s unclear whether those tales are literally true or not. Furthermore, if they did exist, they could’ve been caused by natural circumstances, or people back then could have been making them as well. It’s interesting to note that a majority of crop circles sightings have sprung up very recently since the late ‘70s, full swing into the dawning of the New Age movement.

 

UFO’s – I’m sure somewhere out in the vast cosmos, there are alien civilizations, some probably much more sophisticated than our own. It’s unlikely that humans are the only intelligent species in the universe. Whether aliens have ever bothered to come to earth is another issue. As for UFO’s, referring to “unidentified” flying objects, when you eliminate the accounts that can be explained by natural phenomena and misperception, a few might be genuine. I suspect that some people are actually seeing advanced, secret military aircraft of the human variety. As for occurrences like “cattle mutilation,” I don’t see that as evidence of aliens. It may be that some people are simply unfamiliar with what decaying carcases look like.

 

Fantasy animals (Bigfoot, Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, Chupacabra, etc.) – There is very little evidence for the existence of these creatures; many people who have submitted photographs have later admitted they were hoaxes. Real animals have been discovered in the 20th century that were once dismissed as myths, such as gorillas and giant squid. But after so much time it’s highly unlikely that we cannot turn up hard evidence for these animals if they really exist. For example, if the Loch Ness Monster is a plesiosaur, based on what we know of these dinosaurs, the environmental conditions needed to support them are not available in that region today.

 

It should be noted, however, that these animals have long existed in myths and are endowed with supernatural powers, such as shape-shifting. Some believers say this is the reason they elude proof, but if that’s the case, why bother using science to look for them at all? If scientists do discover more unknown species, which they often do, it would be great, but I think these are wild-goose chases.

 

Monsters – I think the above paragraph overlaps with this category. Generally, monsters represent our deepest fears, some very primitive and visceral. In ancient times people told stories around the fire after a good meal to entertain themselves. In some places, this was a way for shepherds to keep each other awake while they were watching their flock. For children, it’s a way to process anxiety, giving name and form to the incomprehensible terrors of existence, mainly, the reality of death. For others, especially in this modern world, they may be so bored with daily life that they need something to jar them out of their slumber. I love a good spook tale as much as anyone.

 

Certain monsters take their cue from human traits, or types of people deemed “freaks.” The bogeyman is the bad guy lurking in the shadows, the loner, the stalker, the psycho serial killer who preys upon the vulnerable. Werewolves represent the inner carnivore, or cannibalistic desires. Vampires also represent carnivoral desires, with themes of sexuality, disease, and blood lust.

 

Perhaps the biggest thing we fear is that we ourselves are animals. 

 

In addition, stories of werewolves and vampires might be related to rare medical conditions. Some people crave blood, are sensitive to light, and sleep a lot during the day. They have dubbed themselves “sanguinarians,” but could these people be simply suffering an undiagnosed medical condition such as porpheria? 

 

Astrology – When the ancients gazed with wonder at the heavens they saw a great power and mystery. I don’t think this feeling has diminished among astronomers today; actually, this fascination is probably what leads them into the field in the first place. Astronomy and astrology were once part of the same discipline. What’s the difference now? It lies in the difference between correlation and causation, and indeed, that is what divides superstition from science.

 

Two events can be correlated, but that does not mean one event causes the other. Certain stellar patterns can be correlated with events on earth, but that doesn’t mean that they cause them. The ancients believed that the stars were gods, or the abode of the gods. It may be that stars have some mysterious power, but I think we should leave that up to astronomers and astrophysicists to find out. I believe there was one study that suggested a small correlation between stellar positions at birth and certain behavioral traits, and it is hypothesized that cosmic radiation from stars might have an effect on the brain. But there are so many other factors that could account for that correlation.

 

I think astrology works fine as an art. The basic insight is that if you continue living a certain way, certain consequences will result. This is also true of arts like palm-reading. Lines in your hands are probably not reliable predictors of certain events. By reading the body language of someone during a reading, a reader can gain insight into that person, and this has value as far as it goes.

 

What I like about astrology is that it presents an interesting array of psychological profiles and personalities. We all have, say, a Pisces or a Taurus inside us. I myself am an Aquarius, and I relate strongly to the themes of this sign.

 

But if I want to predict the future, I would not use astrology. If I want to know the weather will be like, for example, I’ll rely on a meteorologist to help me plan my day. This is more useful to me than something like “today, your lucky number is 6.”  

 

JFK assassination conspiracy – Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy. The theory that the CIA and/or others were behind it has generated passion among anarchists, linking this conspiracy to a general dark agenda of those in power. But plenty of well-documented research has shown that it is entirely possible that Oswald did it as described by the Warren commission. The fallacy here is a misunderstanding of the Kennedy presidency.

 

He arrived at the perfect time as a young, handsome candidate who communicated well. JFK truly captured the idealistic hearts and minds of the baby boomer generation. However, his presidency was actually not that radical. The fact that he was first non-Protestant president is irrelevant. Look at his family and their connections; they were nothing if not part of the power elite. He was what we would now call a “moderate” or “centrist.” Really, this assassination conspiracy issue is a useless distraction for the Left, which has more important things to focus on.

 

I partially detract from:

 

Noam Chomsky – I realize this has nothing to do with the supernatural, but neither do some of the other entries. What I am highlighting is irrationalism in general, and conspiracy-theorizing is a field certainly ripe with that.

 

No doubt, Chomsky is not called the most important intellectual for nothing. On the whole, he is a commited rationalist, and I think his ideas are more right than wrong, and his books (and ideals) a very useful resource. But at times he may be reading too much into his analysis of government and corporate documents, forgetting Occam’s razor. What I doubt is the pervasiveness of a conscious conspiracy by members of powerful groups (I think for most people in power it’s simply an unquestioned ideology). He has even been accused of lying or misquoting, just to get his point across. 

 

But critics are wrong that Chomsky is completely “anti-American.” He is more accurately described as anti-imperialism. Believe it or not, Chomsky does agree with the beliefs of our founding fathers, and rejects Marx’s notion of the “dictatorship of proletariats,” for as a consistent anarcho-syndicalist, he rejects all forms of dictatorship.

 

The Integral Institute – Ah, I hate to bring them into it, I really do. The work of Ken Wilber has had a profound influence on me. But I have issues with the Integral Institute he founded. 

 

The biggest problem I notice with the II is their view of evolution. Some members of II are in the nasty habit of ranking people according to memes and levels of consciousness, almost like Darwinism.

 

II classes and products are now being heavily marketed as the “best,” “most complete,” and “ultimate” spiritual technology available today. While that might very well be true, I just don’t want to see II become another fad, quickly gaining mass followers and then getting dumped as they crumble due to internal foibles. It’s easy for those who follow charismatic spiritual figures to get lured by a feeling of infallibility, locked into the antinomian illusion that they can think or do no wrong because they have reached heights of awareness beyond anyone else on the planet.

 

Indeed, it has the ingredients of a cult.