Floyd Loves Janice: True Love Forever

John, Jenn, Fifi and Bob Cat, off on another adventure!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

TAM 6: Jenn's Journal Part 5

Saturday June 21 2008
Somewhere around 9:00 AM. Ugh. Too much fun. We meet up with Patrick, Crystal and Peter this morning for the second SGU podcast. Evan took a picture giving the forehead "L" loser sign to John Edward, who has been the Flamingo's special guest and has his large mug shot EVERYWHERE. Apparently this was fodder for multiple skeptic pranks. Patrick told us that he had bought the last Massengil in the entire hotel. The plan is to use my photo splits to hang them up on one of the posters around the hotel.
Dr. Michael Shermer
Dr. Shermer talked a bit about why people believe unseen things. We are pattern-seeking primates. We like to connect the dots. Gaps in the dots can lead to anecdotal thinking, using stories or personal experiences, to fill in those gaps (This is a very popular way of thinking in the intelligent design movement). Unfortunately, this can lead to false positives and false negatives. False positives are when results of a test appear to be true but are really false, and false negatives occur when results of a test appear to be false but are present. Dr. Shermer also touched a bit on the Intelligent Government Theory- the theory that X is a problem I can't solve privately, so I am going to solve it publicly (again, another type of popular thought in the intelligent design movement). Dr Shermer also premiered a clip of the pilot of a new show by Brian Dunning called The Skeptologists. Dunning assembled a Justice League of skeptics- Shermer, Phil Plait, Steve Novella, Yao Man Chan, Kirsten Sanford, and Mark Edwards, as an answer to the massive dung heap of shows dedicated to pseudoscience. The clip featured Dr. Shermer, Dr. Sanford, and Dr. Novella sampling wheat grass juice. It really really looked gross.
Hal lets us know that during lunch we'll be treated to a sneak peek of The Skeptologists in it's entirety!!!
Sharon Begley
Sharon Begley is a science editor at Newsweek magazine. Her lecture was about the role of the press in the promotion of science. It's not an optimistic little ditty of a lecture. Sharon reports that there is a vast scientific ignorance of John Q. Public. She warns that, just because you can think rationally, doesn't mean you always do. She also touches on the public attitudes towards the press as well as the press' attempted commitment to balance, although she points out that folk beliefs are more prevalent than common sense. She does throw a gem of a compliment out to the crowd:
"Critical thinkers tend to be more curious, more open-minded, open to new experiences, more conscientious, less dogmatic, less close-minded,
less authoritarian, and likely to rely on more empirical data and rational data than intuition and emotion when weighing information and reaching
Now, back to the bad news. Sharon warns not to count on the press as a "reality based community." Science journalism often contends with contrarian politicians, elite distrust, and new sources of news that occur each day (blogs, for example). She also touches on what she calls uncommon common sense- how it can be misleading about the physical world for a lot of people. Our brains are drawn to seeing patterns, and we have habits of imputing consciousness to inaminate objects (trees have feelings, etc.) which can create bias in what is supposed to be objective science reporting. Despite the grim report, Begley was really nice and signed my book happily.
Dr. Steven Novella
Dr. Novella spoke about consciousness. When it comes to consciousness, there is no simple answer, and that can open the door for a sneaky paranormalist who spews pseudoscience to a confused public. Dr. Novella first talked about the history of the study of the philosophy of the mind, mainly in the forms of dualism vs. creationism.
In medieval and classical times, any deviation from the norm as far as consciousness or unconsciousness or some lack of consciousness via brain damage or what have you would fall under the convenient diagnostic blanket of "possessed by spirits." Then Descartes came along and promoted consciousness dualism and that consciousness is not physical. David Chalmers is a philosopher who resembles a surfer dude who also discusses consciousness. According to Chalmers there are hard problems, and then there are easy problems that are separate from one another. Chalmers has a nice word for why something is the way it is- the qualia. And then we got into Deepak Chopra. Chopra is really guilty of a modern denial of neuroscience and basically hides behind an anti-materialistic agenda with a bit of eastern mysticism and substrate consciousness.These guys think that the brain is separate from consciousness. That we're just too complex to be chalked up to being just chunks of meat and tissue. Confused yet? Me too. Steve defined it as Quantum Woo.
The neuroscience evidence of consciousness is pretty fascinating stuff. Brain anatomy and brain activity correlate with mental activity. There is no mind without the brain. Brain development correlates with mental development. When the brain is damaged, the mind is damaged. There are different states of consciousness that correlate with different brain states. Turn the brain off and you turn the mind off. The mind does not survive brain death. In short, our brains are totally bitchin.
The future the study of consciousness is really going to be interesting. Scientists are already working ideas on reverse engineering the brain- identifying and localizing elements of consciousness to certain areas of the brain. The ultimate test of this will be future work with artificial intelligence. Robots with brains. Also bitchin.
Dualism, or that we're just not chunks of meat and tissue, is something that the intelligent design and creationist camps really can't get over. Chopra has a buddy in Discovery Institute minion Michael Egnor. Egnor's arguments for consciousness being intelligently designed is full of logical fallacies. Egnor, according to Novella, confuses "how" with "does". The question "does life evolve?" is not the same question as "how does life evolve?" Also, Egnor makes the mistake of linking correllation with causation- the "God in The Gaps" theory that intelligent design advocates are so enthralled with. Just because something is somewhat related to something doesn't make it the cause of it. Also present is what Dr. Novella refers to as the Hyperactive Agency Detection- the almost obsessive search for a connecting agent in things that occur. Another fallacy is creating the false controversy that evolution is hotly debated and almost declared "dead" in evolutionary scientific circles- not true. There really is no debate about evolution because it's pretty much been accepted by most biologists as a theory that stands up against multiple testing in multiple conditions. Worst of all, Egnor is quoted as saying, "the world is of . Yee-ikes. If doubting Deepak Chopra is wrong, I don't wanna be right. These folks also change science to induce supernaturalism so they can "win." Steve thinks this a cop-out, an ideological cover. This is not about enhancing the truth- it's about denial of neuroscience.
The Skeptologists
During lunch, Brian Dunning treats us to a sneak peek at his TV pilot, the Skeptologists (Phil Plait, Michael Shermer, Steve Novella, magician Mark Edward, Dr. Kirsten Sanford, and Yao Man Chan) which is about skeptics countering claims of woo. On the pilot, they tackle ghost hunting and wheat grass. The opening credits look great, like the skeptics are hear to kick arse and chew bubble gum. Very fun. Also, the content is really really meaty- the skeptologists explain not only the biology behind the wheat grass but also go into how the instruments used in ghost hunting are really misused.
Phil Plait
Ah. The Bad Astronomer. Phil spills out really neat factoids about planets, tying in his talk about why he is a skeptic with what he loves most- astronomy.
Did you know...
Venus is the hottest planet? It is 90 times hotter than the Earth's atmosphere- somewhere around 800 to 900 degrees.
Phobos, the Mars moon, may not be a moon at all? It appears to be an asteroid that was captured by Mars' atmosphere, and now orbits around the planet. It mau someday hit Mars.
Science, Phil says, does not know everything, but that doesn't mean that they do not know anything. Phil reports that he is skeptical because the universe is cool enough without having to make crap up about it. Phil's new book Death From The Skies! will be out around October of this year.
Adam Savage
Adam told us how he was trying to build a replica of The Maltese Falcon. His attention to detail is amazing. Also, he showed us a couple of fun videos, including a montage of Mythbuster explosions. Adam handed out ping-pong balls that were used on the show (The Raising of The Mythtanic) and signed them.
Matthew Chapman
Matthew Chapman is a direct descendant of Charles Darwin. He is trying to engage the presidential candidates in Science Debate 2008, in which the candidates step up to the plate and profess their knowledge (or lack thereof) of science and their feelings about science education. Chapman was born in England but considers America home. Chapman reports that the looney B.S. in the United States is greater than in Europe. His goal with Science Debate 2008 is to make science interesting to a lay public- and to include more questions about more science topics (other than global warming) in the debates. He has obtained 50,000 signatures on a petition.
According to Chapman, the great thing about America is that it's not easily defined- it's a melting pot full of both wonderful and not-so-wonderful ideas. Chapman hopes that faith will not be valued over reason by the next president. He is hoping that the next president will be an interrationalist- someone who rationally addresses the state of the nation.
Richard Wiseman
Wiseman, along with special guest, Teller, talked about the psychology of magic tricks- specifically, spoonbending. The highlight of today was the opportunity we had to use our talents to participate in the world's largest spoonbending (813 spoons). Go check us out at www.spoonscience.com. Wiseman is the guy in the black shirt who introduces us.
Panel Discussion- The Limits of Skepticism
Mr. Randi, Banachek, George Hrab, Adam Savage and the rest had a nice panel in which they gave advice about being skeptical in the real world. Mainly, the goals are to be helpful, approachable, entertaining, ethical and moral. Also, enthusiasm and contributions in a specific knowledge area are very useful as well. The panel also stressed leading by example. When it came to arguing points with nonskeptics, the panel stressed validity, efficiency and honesty when assessing claims as the most practical approach. Also, read and study!
Somewhere around 1:00 AM.
This evening was Rebecca's infamous hotel room par-tay. It was held at an "oh-my-damn" inspiring suite at Caesar's Palace. We met up with Patrick, who was decked out in his "I Love Alcohol" tee. I was in my Skepchick "Don't High-hat The Monkey" tee. Tonight I was really tired, so I abstained from imbibing and held court on a couch nearby. People came by and chatted with me. The cops showed up early in the night, but we stayed and helped Rebecca clean up. This is the most sober I have been in the past three nights. But it feels good.
NEXT ENTRY: The paper sessions.


Post a Comment

<< Home