SGU Episode 109

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You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello & welcome once again to the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. Today is August 24, 2007. As many of you have probably already heard, but some may have not, this is a very sad episode for the Skeptic’s Guide. Skeptical rogue Perry DeAngelis passed away on August 19.

We are going to have a more complete and more fitting memorial for Perry on next week’s show. For this week we are simply going to play some of Perry's best moments; these are clips from previous episodes chosen by Perry's fans. And I want to give a special thanks to Mike Lacelle, who runs, for putting together this collection of clips for us. Also, before those clips we will include a lecture that Perry gave about 10 years ago. This was part of a seminar that we gave to science school teachers at that time. So I give to you a brief retrospective of Perry DeAngelis and the full panel of skeptics and I will return next week to share our thoughts and our memories of Perry.


The Psychology of Belief: A Lecture by Perry DeAngelis (00:00)

(All dialogue in this segment by Perry)

OK, I’m just going to talk to you very briefly now about psychology and how it impacts what we've been talking about. I'm going to touch on the psychology of needs, your needs; susceptibility to a con, specifically how not to be; effects of crisis, when you're at your most vulnerable; cults what they do; the placebo, now the next for the placebo effect; the idiomotor effect, mass delusions, illusions and fantasy prone personalities are all ways that can often explain paranormal phenomena that we come in contact with. And then I’ll finally touch on conspiracy theories.

I just put up here Maslow's hierarchy of needs: this is just one hierarchy that exists today. It’s a good one, it's well rounded, it's one that is used all the time and impacts many other areas of psychology. He posited that there are five stages of needs that we all go through.

  • The first is physiological: air, water, food, the things you need to stay alive.
  • The second one is safety needs; this is feeling safe in your environment and knowing that the number one-- your first needs are going to be met.
  • Three is love and belonging; it's not to feel alienated.
  • Four is needs of esteem, to know that you have value and are valued by others.
  • And finally self-actualization, which where he posited that that is the state where people can finally do the things they were born to do. Painters paint, writers write, teachers teach.

We point this out because it is a clear demonstration of the fact that we-- that needs permeate us at all levels; all stages and all ages. And you have to be aware of them.

This is a slide on how to avoid being conned. First thing on the slide is “be aware of your own needs”. You can actually sit down and create a chart of your own needs. You can try and do it from highest to least; most to least and that will give you a very clear and very graphical way to understand your own needs and the places where you are most likely to be the most vulnerable. The things that you need the most, the desires you have the most are the places you have to pause the most and reflect soberly.

Going on, "if it seems too good to be true it probably is", that’s an old cliché, very valid. Be suspicious of flattery, be wary of pressure for impulse buying, "do it right now or else you're going to lose the deal", “everyone else is doing it". Don’t trust weasel words: may, might, could, should. If somebody claims that something may do something, they’re not making a claim at all. "Don’t trust vague references to authority", we've discussed that. Anecdotes we've discussed and the reasons why it's important to know why not to trust an anecdote; why you can't just trust a tale, it has to have corroborative evidence to support it. Peer pressure: don't believe that all cons are easy to spot or that you're too intelligent to be conned, because you're not. Conmen are out there; they are students of human psychology. they've been doing it for years and years. The con people are smarter than all of us. You have to be aware you have to reflect. do not be convinced by sincerity. This reflects back on the tales of anecdotes. Actors can turn sincerity on and off. It’s like a light switch. You cannot simply be moved by sincerity.

Crisis is simply a time when you are more vulnerable than normal. You know good example of this is in the case when a loved one or even yourself has been diagnosed with terminal disease. You have come the end of the course with evidence-based medicine. There’s nothing else you can do. This might be a time where it is conceivable, even logical to seek alternative modes of cure; alternative modalities. But still, even in this time, even in this great need when the alternative is death, you have to pause; you have to consider what it is that you're going to do. If you're going to go seek an alternative cure is there any evidence that that cure has effect? What does your evidence-based physician have to say about it? How much does it cost? Are you going to bankrupt your family? Things like this. Even in times of great duress you have to pause and it is when your critical faculties become the most vital and the most important.

There are groups in our society that prey specifically on people that are compromised and vulnerable. These are destructive groups; groups often known as cults. The five aspects that clearly paint them out and a way to recognize them quickly are--I have up on the screen. The first is totalism; this is, you know, black-and-white thinking; this is us versus them. Once a cult snares you in and that can be a subtle process; that can take a long time; doesn't have to be overnight, they can-- first they’ll invite you to come play some volleyball with them, maybe a couple of picnics, you know, make you feel comfortable, needed, wanted; they will satiate needs that in the outside world have not been sated for one reason or another. Once they get you in, these processes very quickly begin to take place. Environmental control: this is control of your every waking moment. 24 hours a day, everytime you're awake, what you're doing, what you're eating, what you're thinking, what you're saying; there's no time to reflect, there's no time to consider what's going on around you. There’s no time to criticize. Loading the language is simply jargon that is meaningful to people inside the cult, inside the network, but not to people outside of it. Like with the Moonies, when they call the Rev. Moon the true father; to us, that has very little meaning but to them it's very important. Because if you join the Moonies, that sad fact should occur, then he becomes your true father, literally. Your biological parents are severed from you emotionally, intellectually and physically; they keep you from them and he becomes your true father. People in that cult believe that and has powerful meaning to them. Next is demand for purity. This is what everyone in that cult is striving towards. Purity is defined by the leadership; it can be altered to their own needs, it can be changed in any way they see fit and anything is appropriate to sacrifice for purity, for seeking of purity. Finally, there's the mystical leadership. Again it's Moon in the case of the Moonies; this is a mass wedding that he performed, the 7500-odd couples, all pre-arranged weddings and it's a total surrender to the leader and the group. They take on an almost mystical mantle, these leaders. And you give up your morality, you will give up ethics, you will even give up the very basic need for self-preservation to court what the leader wants. We are all I’m sure familiar, at least peripherally, with Heaven's Gate that recently occurred; all those people gave up their lives, even the need for self-preservation was lacking in those folks. Very important to be aware of destructive groups and their red flags and they don't have to be religious in nature; it can be a political group, it can be a commercial group; it’s not just religious groups.

The Fans' Favorite Clips of Perry (00:00)