Afternoon InquisitionRandom Asides

AI: The New and Improved Ass Kicking Thursday Afternoon Afternoon Inquisition.4

I received another suggestion for the “The New and Improved Ass Kicking Thursday Afternoon Afternoon Inquisition”. As you may recall, these are questions you all send in when you have something important you’d like the readers to discuss, or when you can tell that I’m totally out of good ideas. (Use the comments or contact page to suggest more.)

Today’s topic comes from Skepchick reader, mrmisconception, who says:

Sometimes I like to turn off my skepticism and watch (read) something that is as credulous as can be. My current favorites in this vein are Fringe and a BBC show called Misfits.

What are your skeptical “dirty little secrets”? What are your irrational guilty pleasures?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET. And the New and Improved Ass Kicking Thursday Afternoon Afternoon Inquisition is something Sam made up. Look for it to appear when Sam is out of ideas, sick, or just too drunk to even blink.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. I believe I’m significant and important despite evidence to the contrary…

    Sorry, I gave up the lottery this fall and can’t think of a single irrational guilty pleasure I have now. Would you like to hear some of my plain old guilty pleasures instead?

  2. The universe hates me. I have to make the universe think I don’t want something important if I even have a chance at getting it. I have really annoying things happen to me on a regular basis. In 6th grade, I got a permanent sub because my Social Studies teacher died. In 8th grade, I got a permanent sub because my teacher was pregnant. She was social studies also. I warned by 10th grade social studies teacher, and broke the curse. In 2001 I crashed into a horse. This year, I hit a deer. If in 2021, I hit a cow, I’m staying off the road in 2031. Maybe, like my social studies teachers, being aware of the curse-grudge against me by the universe-I can break it.

    Scientifically proven – my life sucks.

  3. I’ll fess up; I knock on wood. Whenever someone (including myself) announces something that I hope doesn’t happen (eg., “The weatherman says we’re due for category six hurricanes tomorrow,”) I’ll respond with either *knocks on wood* in a textual medium or by actually finding the nearest piece of wood or wood-simulacra and knocking on it in physical space.

    I justify it as a cultural shorthand for hoping for the best, but it still has the same context and emotional impact as knocking on wood to keep evil away.

  4. I have a thing for calm and relaxing voices. I’ll download podcasts and listen to clips on Youtube, no matter how filled with chakra-talk and energy-balancing mumbo jumbo, just so long as there is a calming voice speaking.
    It’s never about the content (I barely hear it) just the soothing voice.

  5. Dice have personalities, and good days and bad days, and it is entirely possible to annoy the dice gods into denying you any successful roll. All gamers know this to be true.

  6. I’ll admit it, even though I’m completely ashamed of it. When I have a particularly strange dream (which is frequently), I’ll look it up in dream dictionaries if I’m bored at work the next day (which also happens frequently). The interpretations are usually way off, and even when it’s a hit I realize rationally that it’s just a coincidence. But it is a reminder of how easily it is to fall for this stuff with the confirmation bias, because even I get a little pang of temptation to give it more meaning than it deserves.

  7. @Zapski:

    My gaming friends think I’m a gigantic freak because I’m not superstitious about dice at all. Apparently I’m to only gamer ever to just consider dice to be little pieces of plastic.

  8. Meditation probably. “Energy” work. I think it’s valid as long as you keep it in mind that visualizations are just that, and a way to help organize your mind and thoughts. I don’t seriously believe there are chakras or whatever, but sometimes it helps to use those symbols to help calm you.

  9. If I can’t find something, I ask St. Anthony to help me find it. I don’t actually think he’s helping, it’s just become a way to focus on where I man have left the missing item.

  10. Hi there!

    I have a bunch of them. A BUNCH.

    1. I’ll tell astrology “lightbulb” jokes. “How many Taureans does it take to change a lightbulb?” “Only one, but YOU try to convince him that the old one needs changing”. ba-dum ching.
    2. I’ll talk about new age hippie mumbo-jumbo with cute patchouli-scented hippiechicks. If that had been ME in Tim Minchin’s spoken word opus: “Storm”, I would have been telling her all my astrology jokes. And she would have been laughing!
    3. Ghost Hunters! Oh Gods, Ghost Hunters. I’ll argue with Jay and Grant on the screen. (which is a lot more difficult now that SOMEone told Jason Hawes that “Grant and I” is proper English) I’ll critique their investigative skills and wonder why *I* can’t have a job that involves sitting in the dark with Kris Williams.
    4. I just used the expletive: “Oh Gods” in that last one.
    5. I’ll attempt to use The Force when bowling.
    6. I’ll beseech the Spirits of Radio to play a less sucky song than that last one. I’ll BARGAIN with the Spirits of Radio, telling them that they can play Sinead O’Connor next, really, it’s okay, just please PLEASE play some Dresden Dolls or Emilie Autumn after that. They usually comply, somewhat.
    7. I make the same wish every time I blow out my candles on my birthday, catch a blowing dandelion seed, or watch a falling star. I won’t tell you what it is, because then it won’t come true, but it involves my Wifey and a three word French phrase ending with “trois”.

    There are plenty others, but I don’t want to bore you with all of them. Suffice it to say that I am a very very very bad skeptic. Please don’t hurt me. :(

    — Craig

  11. I play the lottery every now and then… Yeah, I know my chances of winning it are like 1: 15 million or something, but I don’t care.

    I like Ghost Whisperer. I don’t believe in an afterlife, I don’t believe in ghosts and spirits, but I have fun watching it anyway.

  12. @Zapski

    My dice definitely roll better when I’m feeling the connection with them.

    Plus, I always start a gaming session with a single d20 roll to see how the game is going to go. High indicates a good day.

  13. two quick guilty pleasures: i talk about funding the facility i work at by making “Yin and Yang aligned “Stuff of Life” crystals grown in a Tesla field” – i think i could make millions but my conscience won’t let me. and, i run an frpg in which one of the magical methods makes use of homeopathic principles. it just fit the setting so well.

  14. @Skept-artist

    I was in the middle of explaining why hate was too strong a word and trying to explain why I really don’t care about Star Wars, one way or the other, when I got a text that one of our pet mice died.

    I don’t care enough about that movie to waste more time on it, I’ll just say that the doors on the Enterprise always opened that way so I’m more surprised when they don’t.

  15. Hi there!

    Okay, I just had to add this one because it happened just now. JUST NOW!

    8. I’m an academic reference librarian, and I just helped a student who was looking for scholarly, peer-reviewed articles on Alchemy. Not because he was researching the history of Alchemy and it’s influence on modern chemistry. Oh no. Because: “I really believe in that stuff. It’s true, y’know”.

    [facepalm] :(

    Don’t hurt me.

  16. @catgirl: My dice always roll dispropionate amount of 1s. I select them to match the character: Bone White dice for necromancers, purple sparkly dice for a mage. Orange dice if I’m the DM. (everyone remembers that orange D20 right?)

  17. I have a few:

    1. I read my horoscope. I also have a book all about Aries, and which signs are most compatible with mine. Every time I date someone new, I check out how compatible we are in this book, so I pretty much know them all by heart now. I even was a little worried when everyone was saying that the signs were going to change.
    And YES, I know astrology is bullshit, and I don’t believe it for a minute. Even with that whole fiasco last week I knew that people were freaking out over nothing, and the signs wouldn’t be changed. For me it’s more like an amusing parlor game, and it’s neat when the readings are right on the money, even if I know it’s just confirmation bias.

    2. I do yoga. I do it for the physical exercise, and I don’t enjoy the classes that focus more on the meditation than the fitness aspect. Nonetheless, you can’t get into it unless you do all the breathing and imagine the flow of energy and all that. But I agree with @Madfishmonger, that it’s just a way of organizing your thoughts.

    3. @Skept-artist – Guilty.

    4. I’m trying not to say “bless you” anymore, and I found out the the German “Guzunteit” (sp?) translates to “breath of God” or something, so it’s really not a secular alternative. But I feel guilty and rude for not saying it, so I often do it anyway. Then I feel stupid for saying it. I prefer to use the Seinfeld-inspired “You’re so good-looking,” as much as possible, but I don’t have the guts to say that to people I don’t know that well. So usually I say “bless you” just to quell my cognitive dissonance.

  18. @Chelsea: I’ve read that gesundheit means “health”, or it’s just wishing someone good health. Nothing supernatural/religious about it as far as I know.

  19. 1.I watched every episode of LOST. More than once.
    2. I looked up my new horoscope sign and for one brief second said to myself that I knew all along that I’m not a Taurus. Yikes!
    3. I attribute my dog with incredible wisdom and emotion and insight. I fear it might be all about the cookie.

  20. @Chelsea:
    “Gesundheit” simply means “health”. It’s not ostensibly religious, but I guess you could consider it an incantation if you took it seriously. I personally don’t consider either “bless you” or “gesundheit” anything other than a polite ritual, like your average pleases, thank yous and hellos.

    Incidentally, “goodbye” is also religious in origin (, but thoroughly bleached of its former meaning, just like “bless you”.

  21. I NEVER say bless you. I absolutely consider it religious. I do say Gesundheit. I don’t say Merry CHRISTmas either. In our family we call it Presents Day.

  22. I absolutly believe in luck.

    And I love bad science fiction movies and tv.

    The Twilight Zone
    Star Trek (except for Voyager)
    Wharehouse 13
    Godzilla (except for the made for America ones)
    Babylon 5
    The Man from Planet X
    etcetera, etcetera, etcetera

    If it is bad I will give it a chance and there is a really good chance I will like it.

  23. @Gabrielbrawley: I admit guilt of liking bad scifi. The worst science in a movie I liked award goes to The Saint. Cold Fusion MAKING hydrogen, gah.. But somehow I gave that a pass.

  24. I throw some salt over my shoulder when I spill some. Every time I say, “why the hell did I just do that?” It’s bizarrely reflexive, especially since I only ever heard of that superstition when I was like 23 or something, so I can’t even blame it on family tradition or anything. It just latched onto something in my brain and stuck.

    I have a rather extensive collection of tarot cards. They fascinate me. I know they don’t tell the future, but I find that shuffling them and doing a spread relaxes me and helps me organize my thoughts. Plus: pretty pictures.

    Also (and I am the most ashamed of this one), I will watch anything starring Keanu Reeves. I don’t think he’s particularly attractive, and I don’t think he’s a good actor, and he is in a lot of terrible movies, but if I am flipping through channels and see Keanu Reeves, I will just watch it. I say it’s because I want to see how many different characters he can play exactly the same way, but the truth is I just can’t stop myself for some reason. I’ve seen A Walk in the Clouds 3 times. 3 times! Do you know how terrible that movie is? And let me tell you, it does not get better with repeat viewings…

  25. @Laika: I had an employee today tell me proudly that she finally figured out why you are supposed to say “bless you” when someone sneezes. “It’s because your heart stops when you sneeze!”


  26. I have a clip-on angel on my visor and if you rub her tummy and chant please a few times, you get a really good parking space. I have no idea why it works and I don’t care. When I forget I end up parking in the back 40.

    Of course, she isn’t any good for anything else. I should do a study. Keep track and all that, but I’m afraid it would spoil her magic.

    And I don’t think it’s a guilty pleasure to enjoy good or bad FICTION, as long as you understand there are no ghosts, light-sabers, space ships or schools of magic.

  27. @qyiet: Oh my goodnes I remember the Saint. I acutally liked that piece of crap.

    @Garbledina: I own “A Walk in the Clouds” and I have to disagree with you. I think it is a fine movie. It makes me think of Cary Grant movies. It is one of the best love stories ever put on film. It may not have been a great movie but I absolutly believed the love story.

  28. @Garbledina: Get. Help. Now.

    For me, wooish pseudo sci-fi/fantasy. Such as Lexx and The Mighty Boosh (Editor’s comment: is that even fantasy? Or just weird?)

  29. @catgirl, no, you’re not the only gamer like that ;)
    But I probably hide my non-supersticiousness concerning the dice by being a bit OCD about having them all lined up or neatly stacked or some other type of fidgeting.

  30. I was born and raised a Boston Red Sox fan, before the curse was broken. Years of going to bed with them up 7 to 2 in the bottom of the seventh and waking up to find they lost in 11 innings has lead to the practice of not tempting the Fates. The act of commenting on probable good news will cause it to not happen. Knocking on wood can offset the ill effects of noticing good fortune.

  31. Hmmm…on reflection, I have a few others, I guess.

    I’m not sure if saying “Gesundheit!” or “Salud!” is superstition or not, as I take it as my wishing the other person good health. A sneeze could be the harbinger of an approaching cold. Ugh. Overall, I agree with Tora-Chan on this. In our culture, it’s considered good manners.

    I read my horoscope if I happen to come across it, just for the amusement value. (I especially like the onbes in The Onion, but I digress…)

    I take some dreams as my subconscious trying to get my conscious mind’s attention about something its noticed…That’s all. No prophecies, etc. Most of them make no sense whatsoever, so I ignore them.

    The same about having “bad feelings” about things/events…Again, I think it’s my subconscious alerting me to something the conscious mind has missed. (Sort of like Han Solo…”I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Luke…”)

  32. I love SF, not just the Asimov/Clarke serious-sounding stuff, but almost anything, especially as movies (with books I’m more selective): starting last year I’ve watched enthralled all the sessions of Stargate (SGC, SGA, SGU), Battlestar Galactica and Caprica…

    I also have a phobia for red wine.

    My football (soccer to you Americans) team, Sampdoria, has a tendency to win when I don’t watch them. But still I can’t stand the idea of not watching them play. (So, this shouldn’t really count).

    “Gesundheit!” — I thought it was through Yiddish that it entered NA English.

  33. Why would any fictional story be a skeptical guilty pleasure? Isn’t the point of fiction/art in general that one can explore the impossible without the limits of reality? It’s when people attempt to assert their personal fictions on the real world that problems arise.

    As for my own… hmmm… I think I’ve actually done a pretty good job at ridding myself of superstition beyond the cultural reflexes (“bless you”).

  34. @catgirl: I have tried and tried and tried to believe that dice are just lumps of plastic, and that the law of averages will even out rolls over the course of a game. However years and years of observation has convinced me that they are pernicious and devious creatures who seek to destroy all happiness unless appeased with appropriate rituals and sacrifices.

    There is no way, none whatsoever that this is just Confirmation Bias. Nope. Can’t be. Just try and tell me that. Blahblahblah! I’m not listening! Not listening! Blahblahblah!


  35. @Amanda: Actually, the only Scholarly articles we found were all “history of science”-type stuff. So, that was a win, at least. [shrugs]

  36. I believe in the possession of inanimate objects by forces out to make my life miserable. (Similar to @infinitemonkey: “the universe hates me”.) The two strongest that I have encountered are the Xerox “Urgency Sensor” and the “Red Light Troll”.

    When I was in grad school, back in the days when you had to send in multiple copies of your grant via overnight courier, I was convinced that all of the Xerox machines had an urgency sensor in them. The closer you got to the deadline and the more you had to get copied, the more likely the copy machine was to break down. And I don’t mean just jam. I mean full on error message, all the lights blinking, call the repairman Ka-flooee! Usually at 6:30 PM with FedEx coming at 7.

    The second is one that still stalks me – The Red Light Troll. There is a definite inverse relationship between how much of a hurry I’m in and the number of lights I hit while driving. If I’m out for a relaxing drive then it’s smooth sailing. If I’m late for an appointment, I hit every light between here and there. You can try and tell me that’s confirmation bias, but I don’t buy it. I’m certain there is an evil troll in those lights who can sense my urgency.

  37. well, I like to engage in some kinds of woo for fun (like horoscopes), though obviously, i don’t believe it. It seems funny to me because it’s so obviously bunk, yet so many people buy into it. But the real skeleton in my closet is Santa. I’m a believer. Not so deluded that I actually think there’s an overweight ancient guy in a red suit with flying reindeer breaking and entering all over the world one night out of 365, but still, the actual details aside, I could have written that letter to Virginia myself.

  38. @Zapski:

    and that the law of averages will even out rolls over the course of a game

    Actually, it only means the rolls will even out over the course of infinite rolls.

  39. @Zapski

    However years and years of observation has convinced me that they are pernicious and devious creatures who seek to destroy all happiness unless appeased with appropriate rituals and sacrifices.

    I believe that is the definition of children.

  40. I tell people off while I look in the mirror after I go to the bathroom.

    Because telling them off in that specific situation is the same as telling them off in any real life situation.

    Sometimes I say really beautiful and wonderful things to people…. but it’s not the same. When I do that I always walk away reminding myself to tell them what I just said next time I see them in person. Because they didn’t hear it.

    Could someone please tell me why the mirror only delivers the mean stuff?

  41. @Elyse: Mirrors: absent power and software they still provide impressions. potentials, possibilities, and desires. And like Snow White, so much more absent the appropriate medication.

  42. I engage in the gambler’s fallacy when recreationally gaming with dice.

    Also, what in the world is wrong with enjoying fantastic fiction? I am confused as to why this would be a skeptical sin. I’m certainly a bit annoyed sometimes when fiction goes out of its way to insult me (such as when the characters of Stargate SG-1 spent five minutes sitting around a table talking about how atheism is such a silly position), but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy fantastical stories as long as they aren’t preaching against you (and even sometimes when they are; I’m sure there are atheists that liked the Narnia books).

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