Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 9.1

At some point we’ve all been duped by something.  Even the best most skepticalest of us have been.  So I want to know:

What is the weirdest thing you ever bought into?

And unless you were a member of some alien-worshiping cult, religion doesn’t count.

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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77 Comments

  1. Aliens visiting Earth. Definitely. A love of space flight and David Duchovny led me to be fascinated by UFOs, with help from unskeptical TV “documentaries” on the subject. However, the more I learned about how science works, thanks to some amazing high school science teachers, the more skeptical I became of spacemen abducting innocent humans, as well as all other so-called paranormal phenomena.

    There, that’s my big confession!

  2. Well I was Mormon, and technically Mormons believe that god was once mortal and inhabits a planet next to the star Kohlab. So alien worshiping cult: done and done.

    Seriously though, I was once very into aromatherapy. Obviously there is some merit to the idea that things that smell nice make us happy since scent is deeply tied to our memories, etc, but the amount of things aromatherapists claim they can fix with purty smelling plants is a extremely bizarre. Oh, I also read tarot cards for awhile. I still find it entertaining as a form of storytelling to interpret the cards, I just no longer think it has greater significance.

  3. For the longest time I barely slept because my mom and grandma were buying UFO books, and I thought that if I fell asleep they might snatch me.
    Also, when I had sleep paralysis I believed it was evil spirits tormenting me. I also dabbled in silly teenage witchcraft.

  4. Ghosts. In my late 20s, I lived in a haunted house for about a year and a half. I never quite bought into the whole Spiritualist thing, but there were incidents that occurred in that house that still seem pretty incredible to me.

    My current view is that there are real (albeit rare) combinations of environmental factors (e.g. infrasound, isolation, temperature/humidity) which, coupled with psychological/cognitive factors like apophenia, hypnogogia, and suggestion, can create a potent, sustained experience of disembodied personality. I think cognitive science is only barely beginning to come to terms with all the ways that human sensory cognition can go wrong, and in the meantime, it’s not particularly helpful to laugh at people.

  5. In my less enlightened but post-Catholic youth I (deep breath) cast a wiccan spell to rid myself of bad thoughts after a nasty end to a relationship.
    Did it work? Did it arse!

    Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

  6. When I was 13 in 1960, my grandfather called me aside as my folks and I were heading home, and gave me a book on a medical topic that interested me and which he had inscribed in a personal and memorable way to me. I thought it odd because he’d never really acknowledged my interest in the subject before, nor had he ever been a sentimental type. There was no special occasion–he just seemed to want me to have it and to know that he loved me. One week later he was dead from sudden and massive heart attack. I felt then he must have known what was going to happen. Having to sleep in the bed in which he died over the next few days when we returned for the funeral didn’t help either–although nothing showed up which, even then, helped me eventually to figure out that the whole idea of ghosts and spirits is bunk. Time, of course, gave me perspective, so I know there was no precognition on his or anyone else’s part (another often repeated story at the time was that he had taken the opportunity to say “goodbye” to all his co-workers on his last day as he left work–something I know now to be the result of cherry-picking events to fit preconceived notions). At the time and at my relatively young age, though, and under the stress of a family tragedy, the idea of a meaningful progression of events was a powerful one and easy to accept.

  7. I was a co-founder and leader of a “guild” of Chaos Magicians after having participated in a magical war between factions of a splintering order called the Illuminates of Thanateros.

    Both the Illuminates of Thanateros and the rival guild (AutonomatriX) that I founded still exist, by the way.

    I guess that would count as weird, no?

  8. Penis pills. There, I said it. My natural 8 wasn’t enough.

    Kidding.

    Actually, as a young kid, a salesman at Wards doing a mind reading act “guessed” the month I was born in, and that scared me for a long long time that he could knew all of my horrible thoughts.

  9. “I saw Oliver Stone’s JFK when I was 17, and bought it hook, line and sinker.”

    Me, too. When I left the theater I said to my brother, “If one half of the crap in that movie is true, what the hell is going on?” Turned out only 1/10 of 1% was true. There was a guy named John F. Kennedy and there was a guy named Lee Oswald. Other than that…

    Oh, and I used to believe in eskimos.

  10. Oh, almost forgot… I also hung out with this guy for a few days because he was a fellow member of The Order. I believed his bullshit almost as thoroughly as I believed my own.

    I did get better, though. That’s gotta count for something.

  11. No, Chew. It’s not role playing. It was (allegedly) real. Far from a game; people (including myself at the time) really believed in it… and still do.

    It’s more a bunch of competing cults. People casting spells and doing rituals and blood-letting and sex magic and the whole nine yards. It’s hard to describe the depths of weirdness and woo involved.

  12. My bad, you stated that religion doesn’t count.

    In my country, one of the popular superstitions is that if you’re passing a cemetery and point at the graves, you should bite all 10 fingers to ward off bad luck/prevent your finger from dropping off. My mother would say, “Old time people always say…”

    And I believed her. Sincerely. You should hear some of the others she used to drill into my head as a child.

  13. In Lithuania you have to point with the whole hand, not with a finger. I don’t think this has anything to do with graves. But if you shake hands or kiss over a threshold, it is bad luck. Yes, people really still worry about this.

  14. I think there’s got to be some kind of criteria as far as age goes. When I was a kid, I bought it ALL. Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, aliens. If it was in a book with “Unexplained” in the title, I was all over it like biologists on fruit flies.

    As an adult, I had a few credulous months after I read The Bible Code,/i>. This was back before I had reliable Internet access, where I could have seen easy debunking materials.

  15. Lets think, I honestly believed for a few years my best friend was a Robot who escaped from NASA. I also used to be into LaVey Satanism, but not so much the magical stuff that went with it, although I do have the book somewhere. I believed in ghosts for most of my life and believed I saw a ghost when I was in Second Grade, I don’t know how to explain it, but I’m sure it wasn’t really a ghost.

  16. UFOs were pretty sexy for me as a kid, but I mean it’s aliens. How could I resist? How cool would it be if aliens actually existed? Although that abduction stuff was less exciting.

    Also, the Bermuda triangle. They had me pretty much convinced with all those TV specials until I sat down and thought “It’s the frigging ocean. Of course stuff disappears there.”

  17. Definitely UFOs. I remember reading Chariots of the Gods as a kid. Of course it was true! You mean it’s not? :) Ok … I was 10 years old.

    I even thought I saw a UFO myself. In retrospect, through adult eyes, I’m pretty certain it was a military maneuver I was witnessing in the dark.

    I still think that the POSSIBILITY of intelligent life on other planets , solar systems, galaxies, or even universes exists. I just haven’t seen any evidence.

    Yet.

  18. Yea, I wrote a report for a high school history class using nothing but Chariots of the Gods and a few wacko web sites as my sources. If I remember correctly, I got a pretty good grade too, which probably means my teacher didn’t read it.

  19. I used to believe that UFOs were actually aliens from another planet. I even thought I saw one as a kid. Today, I realize that I imagined that one. Now I look at UFO pictures and wonder what I was thinking.

  20. I wanted to believe in the force, but after trying it for myself (at great length and with great effort) when I was a kid.

    I kind of bought into the ghost/psychic/paranormal stuff for a bit. Those were influenced by the TV shows I now hate on the Discovery and History channels.

    The craziest thing I ever believed was the moon hoax stuff. I only believed in it for 0.68 seconds, but for an android, that is nearly an eternity.

  21. I had a stint when I was nine where the Bermuda Triangle looked like a spooky phenomenon and the problem with communism was that no one had done it right. So, not all that deep. I threw a fit when I was four that I didn’t want to hear any more stories about “that Jesus man” from the folks running my daycare. So there ya go.

  22. Pretty much any goofy stuff that came out in the 70’s: ESP, Uri Geller, The Bermuda Triangle, UFOs on the cheap, I fell for a lot of it.

    The Bermuda Triangle went quickly after I read Kusche’s book. The rest fell away piece by piece and then I just became a full fledged skeptic.

    The last things that I ‘fell’ for was Cold Fusion and the Stone JFK mythology. In fairness, ‘falling’ for CF was endemic of that era and once the facts became clear that was the end of any faith in that.

  23. Hi. I’m new here.

    /waves at the skeptical folks.

    I’m going to admit to some quite recent bits of sillyness, and none of this hiding behind the naivety of youth business for me ;) .

    I have to admit right here and now that I did not know that Stone’s JFK flick was bogus. Is it really?

    /me blushes.

    Until just a couple of years ago I believed the bit about vaccinations being generally useless if not outright bad for you.

    In the 90s I was also gulled into believing that whole Blood and the Holy Grail scam.

    Lots more stuff, but I know better now. I hope.

  24. I can’t think of anything I didn’t buy into as a kid. Aliens, JFK conspiracies, ghosts, psychic powers… Everything but religion, oddly enough. Then, in 10th grade, I had an astronomy course with Dr. Peter Detterline (he’s been to Mars. Really!). One day we watched FOX’s moon hoax special. Still being a sucker into my teenage years, I bought it hook, line, and sinker. I honestly felt that the government had lied to me. Then, after receiving our written responses, he handily debunked every iota of crap that had spewed from the television. That was the day I discovered skepticism and began to apply it to all of my beliefs.

    “Why not religion?” you ask, not paying any attention to the rest of the post. I just never bought into the whole unquestioning faith thing. And yet ghost stories were “real” enough to keep me awake at night. Weird.

  25. Everything. Religion, ghosts, the Bermuda Triangle…

    The one that got me most, though, was vampires. My brothers insisted they were real – and I believed everything my brothers told me. I developed a habit of sleeping with my shoulders hunched up so they couldn’t bite my neck. Don’t believe in vamps anymore – can’t seem to break the hunched shoulder sleeping habit, though.

    Side note: I’m still absolutely just as gullible. Skepticism is a form of self-defense for easily-fooled people like me.

  26. Danarra:“Side note: I’m still absolutely just as gullible. Skepticism is a form of self-defense for easily-fooled people like me.”

    Ah, but that really is the key to skepticism, realizing that you too can be fooled. If you are not skeptical of your own infallibility then you are skeptical of nothing.

  27. When I was little I bought into ghosts, Ouija boards and all that good stuff but the weirdest thing that I haven’t seen mentioned here is the Macbeth curse. This is one of the many varied and excessive superstitions of people who work in live theatre. The play Macbeth is said to be cursed and mentioning the word “Macbeth” inside a theatre is believed to bring doom pouring down upon the current production. The only time the word Macbeth can be used is when performing the play, at all other times it is to be referred to as The Scottish Play. If you accidentally say the cursed word inside a theatre you are supposed to immediately run outside, turn around three times, spit over your shoulder and curse as loud as you can and that will fix the curse. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve done this myself a couple of times. There’s certainly an element of humor to the alleged remedy, but I’ve met plenty of people who take the curse itself very seriously. I got over it in college. All our productions seemed to be disastrous, irrespective of this particular curse.

    As an aside I now think that this belief is a great example of confirmation bias. Live theatre by it’s nature is prone to mistakes and disasters of various types and degrees. People seem to remember such disasters more easily if someone invoked Macbeth at some point during the production process.

  28. I was into pretty much everything as a kid. I gave up religion pretty early, but I was all about UFO’s, Bigfoot, energy medicine, Bermuda Triangle, ghosts, the whole nine yards. I gave it all up eventually, but bits of it lasted through high school. I gave up the pseudoscience entirely after taking a critical thinking type course in college. Thanks Professor S.!

  29. One weird thing I used to believe was that “I’m the only real person in existence, you’re all just parts of my imagination” thing. Think Matrix mixed with the Truman Show. I’m better now.

    Now-a-days the only truly weird thing I believe is that the other drivers on the road actually KNOW the rules of the road. (Grumble, grumble, gripe, gripe)

  30. Bah, “Scottish Play”. Stupid actors.

    Although I have to admit that I’ve been in two productions of Macbeth that got canceled, one due to extremely unfortunate personal circumstances on the part of the director… Still, I know a coincidence when I smell one.

    Anyway, while I used to believe in alien visitation, like a few other people here, evidently, the most ridiculous thing I ever bought hook, line, and sinker had to be the Philadelphia Experiment stuff. Ironically, it also ended up being my gateway into skepticism, because my insatiable desire to uncover every known scrap of information about this thing that I was convinced had happened brought me around eventually when I realised that Carl Allen was a complete phony. Not to mention that there seemed to be a million different versions of what actually happened…

    I also used to believe in Remote Viewing, and I even tried to teach it to myself. I got frustrated due to my inability to actually verify my results, though. ;P

  31. When I was a kid, my brother and I had bunk beds. I was the older brother (by four years) and was much bigger and stronger, thus, more persuasive, so I claimed the top bunk early on.

    However, I soon began to have nightmares about Bigfoot. I blame it on seeing “Harry and the Hendersons,” which I thought was funny, not scary.

    But, somehow, my subconscious mind turned a cheesy 80’s movie with Lithgow into truly frightening dreams of a Bigfoot that was the perfect height to pluck me right off the top bunk and maul me to his black heart’s content.

    I’ve outgrown these nightmares now, of course.

    But every now and again, I have a dream about Lithgow telling Bigfoot that dancing is a sin. And then Bigfoot and I smoke cigarettes, chug beer, and punch-dance until we collapse.

  32. I believed in the worst one of all….

    …ear candles.

    Seriously, though, that’s one of those insidious things where the treatment and the potential benefits thereof are pretty mundane, so it seems more plausible. Sort of like Airborne or Head-on.

    Also kinda bought into ghosts, poltergeists, and the Bermuda Triangle, but I’m more pissed off at myself about the ear candles.

  33. As a kid I bought the whole Erich von Daniken thing. I also believed the guy in my class who told me he was really an alien, although to be fair he was pretty weird.

    I also believed that letting my sister blow-dry my hair would make me look cool and cause girls to want to snog me. Now that was just plain dumb.

  34. Hmm… Bermuda triangle, UFOs and ghosts for me. (Not aliens; I believe (hope?) they exist, they just haven’t visited us. Yet. :)).And I did read some books of Erich von Däniken; I think after those books was when I started being a bit more sceptical: It was just too amazing…

    Oh, and I once tried to summon Shub-Niggurath. Does that count? *grin*

  35. Gerg: “One weird thing I used to believe was that ‘I’m the only real person in existence, you’re all just parts of my imagination’ thing.”

    I toyed around with solipsism myself.

    Oh, and nothing fancy for me. I was fascinated by UFOs as a child.

    I also read a book about Uri Geller and thought the evidence in favor of his abilities seemed strong…which they were if you took the contents of the book to be well-researched fact…which they weren’t of course.

  36. Wow! This will teach me to be away from the computer for the day when it’s my turn to do the inquisition!

    Thanks all for sharing.

    The things I’ve believed in are a long long list. From Ouija boards to ghosts to psychics and aliens… I’ve believed it all.

    One thing that I’m particularly embarrassed about was that I actually believed that if you die in your dream, you’ll actually die. Never once did it occur to me to ask how the hell you’d know if someone was dreaming about dying if they were dead before you could ask them.

    There was also the time that I came to understand the meaning of life while in an *ahem* “enhanced” state, if you will. The meaning of life is…… bubbles.

    Here’s the short and easy version of the whole bubble epiphany:

    Everyone has bubbles surrounding them for every emotion. All the people in the world are supposed to combine their “love bubbles” with all the other people in the world. Once everyone did that, the world would end and we’d all live inside one big love bubble nirvana for all eternity.

    Oh yes. I actually believed that.

  37. @48: “If you accidentally say the cursed word inside a theatre you are supposed to immediately run outside, turn around three times, spit over your shoulder and curse as loud as you can and that will fix the curse. ”

    I think it is no coincidence that Monty Python Fandom rates in high school are among the highest in the drama kids.

  38. “I think it is no coincidence that Monty Python Fandom rates in high school are among the highest in the drama kids.”

    Also pretty high with the physics kids! In my college, we had an overlap of physics and theatre, though…

  39. Astral projection. When I was in my early 20’s I found a book among my collection, didn’t remember getting it (which was about par for the course, I used to buy books by the boxful from garage sales and the like and never really knew what I had.) and it claimed that it would teach me astral projection. I thought it would be great. I could shoot my soul out, fly over to the university, go into my prof’s office and copy out the answers to upcoming tests. I wasted so damn much time trying to astral project that I almost got kicked out of school for crap grades.

  40. ummmmm… When I was a kid I believed there was ghost that lived in the mirror in my bathroom. Just to add- the ghost looked like a character from the hit Broadway musical CATS. Luckily we moved when I was 13, and the man-cat-ghost stayed in the mirror and didn’t follow me.

    However, I will say that to this day. I can not look at a picture or watch a commercial on tv for CATS without feeling really, really creeped out.

    But I was a kid and everyone believed something crazy when they were little.

    A few years ago I thought JuicePlus vitamins had transformed me into a new healthier taypro. JuicePlus- not only vitamins that claim to be the equivalent of eating fruits and vegetables, but ALSO a multi-level marketing scheme, if I’m not mistaken.

  41. However, I will say that to this day. I can not look at a picture or watch a commercial on tv for CATS without feeling really, really creeped out.

    ————–

    But doesn’t everyone feel that way about “Cats”?

  42. I used to believe you could use the powers of NLP to get normally unattainable women into bed.

    I didn’t really practice this belief, but I had a buddy who was into it and used to listen to him repeat the stuff he learned, and while I was skeptical as to whether or not what he was doing was ETHICAL, it didn’t occur to me until recently that it might also just be B.S.

  43. I used to believe that Aliens had already visited Earth, and I could never watch those crappy “alien autopsy” shows without getting nightmares. Of course there are aliens, but they haven’t visited earth. Oh, and the Bermuda Triangle. I never did religion, and I still kinda don’t know where I stand with ghosts. I have very confusing, conflicting views on that.

    Honestly (oh I might get knocked off for this), I still follow Feng Shui a bit. I -DO NOT- believe that if you place a gold coin on a string and hang it from your bedpost that you are going to become a wealthier person. Only YOU can make yourself better, more wealthy, more fit..etc. etc. However, I believe that if you change your bathroom color and style to something that is more comfortable, you are far more likely to use that bathroom in peace. Like the living room for my apartment – I used to walk in there and CRINGE simply because it felt HORRIBLE. I asked my roommate if we could simply rearrange the furniture, and now it feel so much better in there. Nothing supernatural, simply a belief in the power of environmental interaction.

  44. Ditto Zambiglione on the Mormon thing. In fact I’m still stuck going to church every week. The Mormon church is a pretty bad environment for a skeptical atheist.

    I also used to read a lot of the National Enquirer when I was a kid, and I pretty much believed it was all real. I remember stories about kids being reincarnated and saying stuff like, “Mommy, don’t you recognize your own sister?” and something about how Michael Jackson thought the world was going to end in 1998. I have a long and sordid history of gullibility.

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