Skepticism

Good Girls Keep Their Temper

By Guest blogger Tkingdoll (aka Teek)

“We can fly, you know. We just don’t know how to think the right thoughts and levitate ourselves off the ground.”  – Michael Jackson
 

I take the name ‘skeptic’ very seriously. It’s a label I’ve applied to myself rather than one that’s been thrust upon me, so I feel I have a certain responsibility to it. Heck, I even wear the word in gold on my lapel.

You can be a skeptic at home on your own and never tell anyone, as I found out recently when I accidentally ‘outed’ someone to their bemused friend, or you can be the militant dogmatic kind, demanding evidence from small children crying at monsters in their closet. Or you can be somewhere in between, which is where I usually place myself. As a skeptic, I want to challenge claims and help my friends to educate themselves in matters of flummery. As a human being, I want to be popular and not get punched.

I’m usually pretty good at striking a balance, presenting the skeptical viewpoint without being obnoxious or patronising my buddies. However, a few months ago I failed in my duty to be a good skeptic, and instead became a raving lunatic. I was based in a client’s office for a few months, and became quite pally with the staff, most of whom had rather wooish leanings. Over time, I actually made some pretty good progress in debunking fad diets (blood type food groups, anyone?), Derek Acorah, and ghosts, but my patience was wearing a little thin in the face of a never-ending stream of nonsense.

On this particular day, four of us were sitting in the canteen, discussing colonic irrigation and rating the Hollywood superhunks, as you do. One of my colleagues, Charlotte, starting talking about her brother’s success with yogic flying.

“Yogic jumping, you mean,” I snorted, perhaps a little derisively.

“No no,”  she replied defensively, “he’s told me that he meditates cross-legged and then rises from the ground and floats slowly across the room.”

I took a deep breath. “Erm…that’s not physically possible. Gravity, you know.” No-one can argue with gravity, surely? This debunk would be a cinch.

“Yes it is.” Charlotte looked at me, totally serious. “He’s part of a big group and they all do it. Are you saying he’s lying?”

Ha! Well, he’s certainly not F-lying! Ahem. I kept a reasonable tone despite a rising disbelief that an intelligent 30-year-old colleague could honestly think this. “I don’t doubt that he believes he’s flying, “ I told her, “but what he’s experiencing is most likely to be a hallucination.” I explained how this could occur through meditation, and I also pointed out that even the official Transcendental Mediation guys state that flying is not (yet) possible.

“No, I’m sorry,” She said, “but you’re wrong. I know my brother and he’s not stupid. If he says he can fly, I believe him.” Well! That told me! I looked at my other two colleagues for backup. Surely two smart middle-aged guys wouldn’t buy in to this crackpot idea? Colin looked at me and shrugged, so I turned to Simon, who had previously been an ally in such debates.

“Well…” he said slowly “I don’t see why it shouldn’t be possible. After all, that university in America proved that ESP is real, so why not levitation?”

A drawback to being an atheist is not having a god to plea to for help in situations like this. I was on my own. What should a good skeptic do? Calmly ask him if he was referring to the PEAR study, and explain the flaws? Pop down to my desk and grab my copy of Flim Flam with its revealing chapter on yogic flying? Email across a few choice links from Skepdic, perhaps? Yes, that’s what a good skeptic would do. That’s not, however, what I did. I jumped up, gave one last incredulous look at the three slack-jawed fools in front of me, tore my chair aside and before storming off screamed into their faces,

“PEOPLE CAN’T FLY, YOU F**KING IDIOTS!”

 

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent, except Michael Jackson who has lawyers to do that.

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19 Comments

  1. It's a bit late now, but maybe this quote will help:

    "Probably the least believable claim of TMers is that they can fly–well, not really fly, more like hover. TM loudly promoted levitation in its early days. Television news programs featured clips of TMers hopping around in the lotus position, claiming to be flying. Apparently, this claim was too easily disproved and now TMers do not claim to be able to fly or hover. Some advocates, however, claim they can achieve a range of supernatural or paranormal powers through TM, including invisibility. Apparently, since television is a visual medium, this skill has gone largely unnoticed."

    From http://www.skepdic.com/tm.html

  2. My brother, who despite my best efforts, is a Hare Krishna, regales me with tales of Jewish conspiracies, pyramids and prana. I tell him over and over again how it isn't possible and back my arguments up as thoroughly as I can.

    He always responds with "but you can't prove it isn't happening as it's a big secret that's been kept for thousands of years."

    Last time we met I came back at him with the most witty bon mot I could muster (after hearing this for the 1000th time):

    "YOU'RE A F*****G MORON! IF IT'S A F*****G SECRET, HOW DO THESE CONSPIRACY FREAKS GET TO HEAR ABOUT IT? COME BACK TO ME WHEN YOU'VE GOT SOMETHING MORE CONCRETE THAN A SECRET MEMO OR A BADLY COPIED ROCK CARVING!"

  3. I know it has been done to death but I find this works "Oh wow that is amazing. Did you know he could win a million dollars for that?"

    There are a number of people in the woo commumity that try to discredit offers like the James Randi million dollar prize but in my experience office coworkers generally have not even heard of them.

  4. Teek, do you have full access to this blog? Or anyone else?

    i.e. enough access to get rid of the spammer who's been advertising on the comments pages of half a dozen blog entries?

    As for flying, yes, it's such a huge claim I can't believe people in your office are being so casual about it.

  5. totally agree with the million dollar thing.

    I often just open my eyes wide open and say, “wow, I know where he could get a MILLION DOLLARS if he could just tape it. How easy would that be? Do you know he should be doing this at MIT!!! It totally breaks all the known laws of physics! Can you give me his phone number? I know a professor at MIT! I can even get him all set up for the million dollar prize thing. You KNEW he could do THIS and you never told me?? Wow everyone, her brother is going to win a million dollars? This should be on the front page of every paper! It has never been proven before and now we are going to have proof!”

    I go freaking nuts. I INSIST on the phone number, I call the brother and tell him all about being tested and going on tv. I say I can call up the local tv station and we can set somthing up tonight!

    And then you get the brother sheepishly saying, well it FEELS like he’s flying. You get him backing out and making excuses, and saying he’s going to fly, but is only in the hopping stage…you get all sorts of excuses and usually you find that the other relative begins going “but you said you COULD fly…”

    Make your friend look stupid. But always say what a HUGE claim this is. And how if this is real it can CHANGE thE WORLD, because that’s what it means stupid people!!!

    And how do I know this? My friend at work (woowoo central in Vermont) told me her father could fly. So when we called, he admitted, well probably not flying yet.

    If someone if freaking flying, it should be a BIG DEAL, not a “well he flies” sorta thing. If he REALLY thought he was flying 100% he’s have a damn video camera up in an instant.

  6. :D I can't stop laughing.

    Seriously though, I try to avoid extended debates on such topics, as I get insanely frustrated when people refuse to accept the obvious. I don't think I'll ever come to the point where I scream at someone, but I might turn bright red, lose the power of speech and start crying. And then the woos would laugh at me.

  7. I did ask the girl if she'd witnessed him flying, she said she hadn't but that her mum had…

    I also mentioned Randi's challenge, as I tend to do at the slightest hint of a claim, but neither of those facts were funny enough to make it into the story. However, that does give me an idea. I think I might email her and say there is some current interest in yogic flying within the skeptical community (well, this article counts :D) and ask her to get him to demonstrate. That would be great, even if it's just yogic flinging I'd still like to see it in the flesh.

  8. Yogic Leg Flapping would be a fabulous youtube video to see. I say you work on that. Unfortunately I work in an engineering firm where most people are sane. I did once get a "I don't know about evolution, but *I* didn't evolve from monkeys!"

  9. I wonder how incorrect that statement really is?

    First of all, mankind didn't evolve from monkeys. Humans and monkeys both evolved from a common ancestor.

    But that aside, semantically speaking is it me personally who evolved from that ape-like creature? Or is it my ancestors who evolved from that creature, and me who evolved from my parents and they from their grandparents all the way up to those ancestors? Just wondering …

  10. Individuals don't evolve, exarch, it's populations. That's one of the important aspects that Darwin brought to the biological table, that of looking at populations rather than individual organisms.

  11. Personally, I think I would say such a thing, using "I" as a representative of the human species. And the "monkeys" thing… it would be "monkeys as they existed so many millions of years ago." I think it's fairly safe to say that if we were able to get hold of one of those pre-hominid ancestors, it would be as much a monkey as makes no difference to the layman. The objection, of course, is if we use "monkeys" to refer to any currently extant species. The whole idea of "species" through time (a diachronic sort of approach) and idea of "species" taken as a cross-sectional 'snapshot' of what populations exist at one moment in time (a synchronic approach) is something that people find either easy to confuse or difficult to see the difference between (and about which I've had some, ahem, heated debates about elsewhere).

  12. The discussion was a lay discussion, what my coworker was trying to express was that since she was revolted by the idea, it followed that it couldn't be possible that she was a victim of evolution. She clearly meant that *she* did not share common ancestry with other primates.

    She just as clearly demonstrated a failure to understand evolution and its mechanisms.

    So is this a new logical fallacy: Argument from Revulsion?

    msd

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