SGU Episode 34
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|SGU Episode 34|
|March 15th 2006|
|SGU 33||SGU 35|
|S: Steven Novella|
|B: Bob Novella|
|J: Jay Novella|
|E: Evan Bernstein|
| P: Perry DeAngelis
- 1 Introduction
- 2 News Items
- 3 Your E-mails
- 4 Science or Fiction (45:44)
- 5 References
You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.
S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, March 15, 2006. This is your host Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society. With me here tonight are — we have a full boat of skeptical rogues tonight — Perry DeAngelis ...
P: Hello, everybody.
S: ... Evan Bernstein ...
E: Hi, everyone.
S: ... Jay Novella ...
J: Well, hello, cherubs.
S: ... and Bob Novella.
S: Welcome everyone.
B: Hey, what's up?
E: Hey, Steve.
S: Thanks for joining me.
The Ides of March and Caesar's Last Breath (0:48)
S: So today is the Ides of March, March 15th.
S: And of course you guys all remember what happened famously on the Ides of March. This is when ...
S: ... Caesar bit it.
P: Yeah, 2050 years ago.
S: That's right, 2050 years, 44 BC.
P: That's right.
P: That's right.
S: And interestingly, I did come across an interesting story related to that called "Caesar's Last Breath." Apparently, that has become a popular topic in chemistry classes. The question is, what happened to all of the air molecules in, just to take an example, the last breath exhaled by Caesar as he died.
B: It's around.
S: They're still around. That's right. So, first of all, there's quite a lot of them. The estimate is about .3 times Avogadro's number, which is 10 to the 23rd power. So ten to the 23rd power, 23 zeroes, that's a lot, that's a big number. So they actually — chemists have calculated what would happen with all those air molecules, and they actually would distribute themselves throughout the world's atmosphere in a very predictable pattern. Some of them will be taken up by plants during plant respiration, like some of the carbon dioxide molecules are being incorporated into plants. Some will dissolve in the world's waters, the world's oceans, but most of them are still floating around out there, pretty evenly distributed. The rough distribution is that if right now you take a deep breath, (breathing sounds) you will be breathing in on average one molecule that was in Caesar's last breath.
P: Et tu.
J: So, going with that logic, we'll be breathing in one molecule that anyone that lived ...
J: ...a certain number of years before a certain time ever breathed in.
S: That's right.
B: I don't buy it.
S: Not only every person, but every breath of every person who's lived in the past. Again, too far in the past and the air has been recycled. Too soon, and it hasn't distributed. I don't know what those parameters are, but yeah, for hundreds or to thousands or maybe even millions of years ago.
J: That is a really weird thought.
S: Yeah. Every time you take a breath you're breathing in air that was in the lungs of every other person that's ever lived, basically.
P: Making notes of this for my next Trivial Pursuit bout.
J: So there's no such thing as fresh air, then.
S: Depends on your definition, I guess.
B: Yeah, but Steve, saying you're breathing in a molecule that somebody breathed is one thing, but saying you breathe the molecule that was someone's dying breath.
S: But it's every breath!
B: I think it's different.
S: It's every breath, Bob. Every breath you've ever taken. There's a certain volume to one breath. The volume of air in that breath distributes itself in such a way that right now it's evenly distributed, so that pretty much every time you take a deep breath one of those molecules from that breath is going to be in there.
P: Expand your mind, Bob.
B: From his last — not everything he's ever breathed, but just that one breath.
S: That one breath. One lungs full of air.
P: You got that?
B: I'm not buying it.
S: It's because molecules are really small. Avogadro's number is huge — ten to the 23rd. You've got to wrap your mind around that.
P: Bob, are you a Caesar denier?
B: I can.
P: You are. I believe that you are. I did know this about you.
J: So Steve, the debate is that people don't believe it? What's the story here?
S: There's no debate. It's just an interesting story of statistics and chemistry playing off the whole Ides of March angle.
P: It's not debatable. There's a few fringe Caesar deniers, but they're way on the edge. Jay. They're way on the edge.
S: There's no controversy about this. This is pretty basic textbook chemistry and physics, you know.
J: It's very interesting.
S: It's interesting. Think about that. It's what you get when you start dealing with such huge numbers.
J: But there really is something about that creeps me out.
S: You think so?
J: Yeah, absolutely. It's creepy.
P: I like it.
J: I don't like being in an airplane and sharing air with those people.
J: Now you're saying I'm sharing air with the every ...
S: With everyone who has ever lived, yeah.
P: And every festering corpse.
S: And every animal that's ever lived.
P: There you go.
P: Let's not talk about other things that emit from the body you might be sharing, Jay.
S: That's true.
J: Well, I can't help that. I have a flatulence problem. You don't have to broadcast it to the planet.
P: I didn't.
S: We do need to investigate the chemistry of flatulence and calculate in every breath of air that you breathe in maybe you're also breathing in the flatulence of every person that's ever lived.
J: Oh, my God!
B: This is a new low.
P: You see, you can't get information like this anywhere else beside the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Only here! It's only here.
B: I was going to say that, Jay, at any moment of your life there's billions of neutrinos coursing through your body, but that just pales in comparison to the flatulence (unintelligible)
J: The fact that I'm breathing in every single fart that every Emperor of Italy ever farted. It blows my mind.
P: It's worse. Every Emperor of France!
J: You'd figure we would be able to light the entire atmosphere up with one match.
P: It's worse.
B: Let's segue somewhere, shall we?
Buddha Boy (6:18)
S: Why don't we segue to the Buddha boy. Have you guys heard the update on the Buddha boy?
P: I hear he's (unintelligible).
J: I hear he went out on a bender. I heard he went out drinking and whoring.
S: Well, he skipped tree, as it were.
P: Good, Lord!
S: So to update you guys. This is the — for those audience members who may not have heard our previous discussions of this — this is a boy about 15 years old in Nepal who has been meditating under a tree, emulating Buddha. According to reports he has sat there for months without food and water, which of course is biologically impossible. And also, of course, he's not observed in the evenings. He sits behind a curtain. Now the last time we brought up an update on the Buddha boy, he was still under his tree, but witnesses said that he was starting to look a little weak and dehydrated. And I speculated that maybe with all of the attention — the guys basically surrounded by observers — with all the attention he's getting, maybe it's not so easy to sneak some food and water, and he might be feeling it. Well now he decided to leave and go somewhere else, and the people close to him say that it's because he couldn't meditate with all the people around. It was just too disturbing. But maybe he just got hungry.
J: He's hanging out with Bat Boy. Ever read about Bat Boy?
S: Bat boy?
B: Oh, God!
P: Oh, no.
E: Is that the one who hangs upside down forever.
J: Yeah, the two of them met each other at a nightclub, and now they're hanging out.
P: Bat Boy never rose to the fame and prominence of Buddah Boy.
P: Buddha Boy is much more, much more ...
S: Buddha Boy is an A-level freak. Bat Boy is only a B-level freak.
P: Right. Buddha Boy's got the tinge of religion. Bat Boy's got a comic book.
B: Steve, I'm looking at his picture. He doesn't look too dehydrated or emaciated to me.
P: Who knows when the picture was taken, Bob?
B: Yeah, that's true. That's true.
S: Who know when that picture is from.
P: The first five or six months of no sustenance you're fine, but you start rolling into the seventh month, eight month, you know, it starts to take a toll.
S: Of food, yeah. Water, though, you're talking like a week. You can't go very long without water.
P: Yeah, well no sustenance of any kind.
E: According to the properties of the picture it looks like it was snapped on February 12.
J: When you think about how important Buddha Boy has become, right? People really are finding some religious satisfaction out of him existing, and the fact is that Buddha Boy knows that he's full of it, because he's sneaking food and he is lying about it, and the people that surround him help him do this, and they're a bunch of liars, too. So the whole thing is based on a lie.
P: It's easy to rationalize a hundred different ways.
S: Pie is fraud, right?
P: It's a better man. Doing good, anyway.
B: It is, it's a scam.
P: Of course it's a scam. To his, what, credit he has stated "I'm not Buddha." I don't want people to say (unintelligible) ...
S: That's just the soft sell.
P: I know. I know.
S: That actually works to his advantage. People are more willing to believe him if he is the "reluctant God".
P: That's right.
J: Yeah, plus he's not the real Buddha Boy. I am. I can channel Buddha at any moment I want to. You guys, whenever you want to talk to him, let me know. I've got him — he's right here. (cheesy Indian accent) "Yes, my friends. Talk to me. I am here. Talk to me."
P: You speak Indian?
P: "Oh, I can say anything you want."
S: You don't speak Indian, you just speak English with a cheesy accent.
J: "No, no. I speak Indian. (gibberish)".
P: I think if people saw photos of us, Jay, they would know that I'm the real Buddha.
P: Who would be an emaciated chump.
S: Jay's channelling the spirit of Buddha while Perry channels the body of Buddha.
J: The physical body of Buddha.
P: I'm a physical psychic. Jay is a mere mental psychic.
El Chupacabra (10:07)
S: Let's move onto the next news item, which is El Chupacabra.
P: Oh, finally something serious.
E: Si, señor.
B: Steve, isn't it "La Chupacabra?"
S: I've always seen — yeah, but you know what? You would think, but I've always seen "El Chupacabra."
B: Well, look at that.
S: I've seen "El Chupacabra." I don't know why that is.
P: What is it "La?" What's "El?"
E: What does he look like?
B: "La" is feminine; "el" is masculine.
S: It's the masculine. It ends in an "a" so you think it would be "la". Whatever. There have been a rash of chupacabra sightings in Texas. Now chupacabra is a Mexican-American, a Hispanic-American myth of the "goat sucking monster." It basically is thought to suck the blood out of goats and other livestock. It's sometimes described as a cross between a lizard and a wolf and a vampire bat or a vampire.
B: Right. And that's what it means, actually: "goat sucker," doesn't it? "El Chupacabra?"
S: Chupacabra means goat sucker.
P: Of course it does.
S: This is like Big Foot and Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster. Of course, there are sightings, which are always either fleeting or in dubious circumstances, or people of very questionable credibility, but never a piece of verifiable evidence. No biology.
B: Well, I've seen pictures, Steve, and I read an article about it. Apparently some people did find this — basically, it was a wolf that had this bizarre skin condition ...
S: Hm, hm.
B: ... that people, when they saw it, of course they had never seen anything like that, and they said "Look, we got chupacabra here", and I could see how people who aren't very savvy with canine skin conditions could misinterpret it as this myth.
J: What did it look like, Bob?
B: It was bizarre. It just had this weird color and missing a lot of hair and weird (unintelligible).
S: Yeah. I saw that picture too. I've seen other pictures that were clearly hoaxes, though. They were childish.
B: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
P: If you go to elchupacabra.com, there's actually a film of him on the home page. He's just ...
P: ... sort of looping over and over, swimming up to the end. Very terrifying.
S: Right. So either, like Bob said, some of the sightings may be based upon sightings of real carnivores. I mean, yeah, sure, there are wolves and coyotes out there, and if you have chupacabra on the brain and you see, you know, an animal that may look even vaguely like it, then you'll — especially if there's something unusual about it — you'll morph that with the legend of chupacabra. But chupacabra existed before and outside of that particular dog that you are referring to, Bob.
B: Yeah. Oh yeah, I know. I know.
S: This culture also has other monster legends, too. There's a demon child legend, a small imp that steals your kids in the middle of the night. And then sightings tend to come in rashes like everything else. People hear about it and they start seeing it all over the place. But chupacabra is apparently stalking Texas.
Scientology and South Park (13:20)
S: I know you guys have all heard about Isaac Hayes. Isaac Hayes is a musician who has a very deep voice who does the voice of the character Chef on South Park.
P: "Hello, chillun."
S: "Hello, children."
P: He sounds something like that.
S: Now South Park, which is a wonderful cartoon, by the way.
P: Oh, yeah.
S: It's shtick is to be as completely irreverent as possible. The writers of South Park make ruthless fun of everything, and they have a very savvy sense of American culture and of human foibles and idiosyncrasies. They really do a great job of satirizing the stupidest things in American culture. In fact, some of the best skeptical stuff that I've seen has been on South Park.
E: Oh, absolutly.
S: The episode they did ...
E: John Edwards.
B: John Edwards.
S: ... on John Edwards was in my opinion the definitive critique of him.
S: It was so well done.
J: Very concise.
S: They get the skepticism right. I mean they get it right. Those guys, they're savvy.
E: Oh, yeah. They mention cold reading and everything.
E: They really give it to you.
S: Well they did an episode this season, this last season, on Scientology, and they eviscerated Scientology, including ...
J: Oh my God! Tom Cruise.
P: Tom Hanks and Travolta.
S: Not Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise.
P: Sorry Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise.
E: We know you listened, Tom, so continue to listen to our podcast.
P: Travolta. And they got it all right. All they did was put their ridiculous beliefs up there. The volcano ...
J: The funniest thing about that episode was the flashing sign that said they actually believe this.
S: They actually believe this. This is true.
B: Oh, man.
S: They didn't make this up. Isaac Hayes, who was happy to remain on the show for nine seasons while the show made fun of Christians, Catholics, Jews, pretty much every other religion ...
P: Mormons, everybody.
S: ... Mormons and cash his checks etc., now suddenly he says that he can't stay on the show because they are insensitive to other people's religious beliefs. Of course he means his own religious beliefs.
P: What a hypocritical boob.
E: Totally hypocritical.
P: I mean, really, that's outrageous.
B: Guys, here's a quote from that article, one of the best quotes in the article. It says here "He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that's where intolerance and bigotry begin." That's from Matt Stone, one of the creators of it.
P: That's right.
B: That just says it all. That says it right there. It's all there.
S: It's OK to be harshly critical of Catholics and Jews, but not Scientologists. He's going to quit in protest over that, because, in case it's not obvious, Isaac Hayes is a Scientologist.
E: He should give back all the money he earned from that show ...
E: ... to make his point. That would show me something.
J: I find it very surprising that this whole thing took place. You would figure somewhere in his head he would be saying to himself "I'm just going to let that one go by." But probably what happened was that the church got on him about it.
P: Exactly. He was probably pressured.
B: Whoa! I didn't think of that.
P: I agree. He was probably pressured.
S: Yeah, that's probably right. The church of Scientology ...
P: Very paranoid.
S: ... is very aggressive ...
S: ... at attacking its critics. In fact, that episode has not aired in England, and the speculation is because the libel laws are much different in England.
S: The level of proof is a lot lower.
S: So, not the writers, but I guess the ...
P: The lawyers! Yeah.
S: ... the producers were gun-shy about airing it in England.
J: Hey, Bob. Didn't he actually deny at one point that what they represented on the show was actually what Scientology's about?
S: Hayes did, yeah.
B: I don't know.
S: He says that didn't get it right, and they should come to a couple of classes and learn what it's really about. But that's nonsense. The thing is, Hayes may not be at a high enough level to really know the inner beliefs. What was shown on South Park was what was leaked on the Internet. It was like the secret real true beliefs of Scientologists. But you don't get to actually learn that stuff until you're at the most inner circle, the highest levels.
J: Yeah, until you're into them for 300 grand.
E: That's right, or $5 million or whatever it is.
S: So Hayes — the celebrities that the Scientologists recruit, they get the kid glove treatment, they get the red carpet. They might not necessarily be privy to the real core nonsense that the Scientologists believe. The other thing is ...
P: It's all nonsense. It's all ridiculous. Science fiction.
S: What's interesting is it's a science fiction cult that's evolving into a religion over the course of our lifetime, basically is what we're seeing.
J: It's just so ironic that of all the TV shows that exist out there that it was this TV show, the most irreverent TV show that just over and over and over again did he have a million times were he would've quit that show if he could've.
J: The fact that — I read something along the lines of he didn't even show up to the taping of that show.
S: He was out sick or something.
B: Yeah, sick.
S: The last point I was going to make about this i that the other really irreverent show on television these days is Penn and Teller's "Bullshit" on Showtime, and Showtime has not allowed them to do a show about Scientology.
S: So, so far the guys at South Park are the only ones who were unafraid to take them on full-court press.
E: Kudos to the ...
S: In that episode, one of the characters on the show, one of the kids, was saying to the Scientologists, "Go ahead and sue me." Basically it was the writers telling the Church of Scientology "If you want to sue us, go right ahead. In your face."
S: They were fearless, fearless in their criticism.
J: Well I'll tell in my opinion, if Showtime really did that, you're kidding me. It's just disgusting.
P: They would just come back and tell you it's dollars and cents, Jay. That's all.
P: How much revenue does the show bring based on how much of a threat is the lawsuit based on past success. It's all bottom line.
E: You gotta give your kudos to the Comedy Channel ...
E: ... for allowing it to happen.
E: Good for them, whoever's in charge of that.
P: Unfortunately, I'll bet you South Park brings a lot more revenue than Bullshit. They're both great shows, but I bet it does.
J: Oh, definitely.
E: True, true.
J: South Park just got signed up for two more years.
P: Of course.
P: Highly successful show.
P: Of course.
Palm Walkers (20:35)
S: Have you guys heard about the hand walkers?
S: This medical paper was published recently describing ...
B: Yeah. We talked about it a little.
S: ... a family that has ...
S: ... a host of neurological deficits. Most dramatically is they walk on all fours, on feet and palms of their hands. They also have some degree of mental retardation, so they are cognitively delayed, and they speak a simple and guttural language. Now the scientist who initially presented this family to the world is claiming that they represent backward evolution. In other words, a mutation that represents the reversal of a previous mutation, and that this family has actually reverted to a more phylogenetically primitive state, essentially imitating a state earlier in our evolution.
P: That's impossible!
E: Is that possible?
S: That's been met with a great deal of skepticism. Not the deficit that the family has, but the interpretation that this is reverse evolution. Now I think that that's speculative almost to the point of being absurd.
J: Isn't it just a genetic disorder, Steve?
S: It's clearly a genetic disorder.
P: I think Occam's razor would have sliced that right off the top.
S: Devolution. The thing is, the evolution of bipedality was a complicated event that required many, many, many mutations — many genetic changes. It would be very unlikely for any single mutation to cause a reversal in all the things that led to bipedality. The same thing — actually, the evolution of our greatly enhanced intelligence was actually a far simpler thing to achieve genetically, but even that also involved many genes. So it's a lot simpler to hypothesize that this is just a neurological disorder that results in a gait disorder and decreased intelligence, which is just much simpler to achieve then actually reversing the course of evolution.
P: It's ridiculous.
S: It's actually kind of a silly suggestion.
P: Of course.
B: Steve, can they stand upright or can they walk?
E: A couple of them can.
B: Have they even tried?
E: A couple of them can, according to the article, I think.
S: There's what we call variable penetrance. In other words, not every family member is affected to the same degree. But, basically, they walk on all fours. I haven't read a detailed neurological exam of them. I don't know if they're totally — what would happen if they tried to walk on two legs.
J: Steve, what about that African tribe? You know where I am going. The people that have like the bird feet? Their feet look like a bird's foot. There's like two main big toes and like one with a heel, so it looks like a normal foot on the bottom, but then it branches off into two big toes. You never seen those people?
S: No, I haven't seen that.
P: Neither have I.
J: I can send you a link to a video clip of them, but basically it reminds me very much of this story that were talking about.
J: These people have a genetic disorder, and every single person in the family has this to a varying degree, and they said it was from inbreeding.
B: But, Jay, are you saying that we evolved from birds?
S: That would be the equivalent of saying that that mutation, ...
S: ... which leads to basically having two big, fused toes in the front of the foot, which is a morphological abnormality, basically a failure of the toes to divide in development. The digits partly formed by the cells between them dying off, and then basically you would have skin between every finger, except those in development, those cells die off. And if that fails to occur, then you end up with fused digits. That's a very common, actually, kind of developmental problem.
B: I knew somebody that had that.
S: Right. But to suggest that that somehow would represent an earlier evolutionary stage we had two toes is silly. Nw there are examples in the animal kingdom of genuine reverse evolution. That concept is not new. For example, occasionally a horse is born that has more than one toe. The hoof of a horse is basically one big and large toe, and the other four toes, because the animals that horses evolved from had five toes, the other four basically became smaller throughout the course of evolution and don't develop. But the genes for them are still there, and there, it just takes one mutation for a horse to be born with three toes. Two of the smaller toes would develop. So when you have a single mutation that made a specific change, especially if it's a regulatory gene, a gene that basically turns on the development of an entire ...
B: Suite of things.
S: ... suite of things, like an entire limb, for example, that would control the number of toes. That one reverse mutation could then revert back to an earlier stage in evolution. That does happen quite frequently.
B: Steve, I can also imagine another way that it would happen, not necessarily requiring a mutation. But if your environment changes back in a way so that it duplicates the environment as it was a long time ago, or say you migrate somewhere, and you encroach an environment where the environment is very similar to what it was as you were evolving, then the selective pressure could push you back to adapt to that environment again.
B: That would be another type of backward evolution in a sense.
S: Yeah, that's true. And the difference from what you're talking about is that there may be populations of animals where the vast majority of them have one allele, one type of gene that expresses a certain characteristic, what we call a phenotype, and that represents the average member of that species, because it's adapted to their current environment. If they change their environment or the environment changes, that the small minority of the population that has another allele with a different characteristic that's better adapted to the new environment, they may become the dominant allele in the species. And that's just population genetics, which is a lot of what occurs in evolution. In fact, Stephen J. Gould wrote an excellent essay about that. Gould's specialty was snails. That's what he was a specialist outside of his popularizing of science and evolution. His technical specialty was in snails, and he identified species of snails where that happened all the time. Where basically the different coilings of their shells — one was better adapted to some kind of environment. I think it had to do with how windy the environment was. Another type of shell was adapted to a different kind of environment, and as they migrate from island to island or whatever from area to area, whatever form of the shell was better adapted would be the one that became dominant there. And also the same kind of thing you could see over evolutionary time at the same changes in morphology would occur and reocurr and reoccur and reoccur over evolutionary time. And then reverse themselves again as, again, the local environment changed.
B: That must have taken quite some time for a snail to migrate to another island.
S: Maybe they just drift on wood or something. There's some quicker ways.
S: The bottom line of all this is that this is a legitimate concept, but it usually only applies to much simpler genetic systems, not to something as complicated as bipedal gait. So I don't think that that ...
S: ... theory is going to pan out with this family.
What the Bleep: Down the Rabbit Hole (29:32)
S: Let's move onto another item that caught my attention this week. Do you guys remember the movie that was put out a few years ago called "What the Bleep Do We Know?"
B: Yeah, yeah.
S: Now this was produced by the Cult, actually. This is the cult of Ramtha. Now Ramtha is J. Z. Knight, who is a woman who lives in California, who claims to channel the spirit of a 35,000-year-old Neanderthal called Ramtha. She's a total scam artist. Channeling is an old scam. This is basically the spiritualism, the mediumship of a hundred to two hundred years ago, except modern channelers figured out that if they just leave out the physical manifestations like the floating trumpets and the rapping noises — if they just leave that out then there's no way they can get caught. Right? There's nothing to catch. All they do is say "Yes, I'm channeling the spirit of this person.," and then that's it. The truth or the hoax of it lies only in their mind. There's no physical manifestations to test.
P: Well, you usually have to have a another good voice. (unintelligible)
E: Yes, not a cheesy stereotypical accent.
S: Right. And in fact I don't know if it's a coincidence or if you guys were thinking of this, but Evan and I investigated a local channeler, very much in the tradition of J. Z. Knight and Ramtha. Again, it's amazing how spirits were channeling one way 100 years ago, and now they're all channeling a different way in this generation. So either it's culture, or the spirits have all decided to start spontaneously changing what they do. But anyways, this woman was channeling a Nepalese spirit, only about 750 years old called Dehartma.
S: The funny thing about this — this was so pathetic — is that she goes into a little pretend trance, and then she speaks. She spoke in an absolutely cheesy Indian — I guess it's also Nepalese — accent.
J: Worse than mine, Steve?
S: Worse than yours, Jay. She wasn't even that good an actress. Evan and I were interviewing her while she was channeling, and we asked Dehartma if she could speak Nepalese, and she can't! And I was fully expecting her to actually speak the local tongue. I don't know if you call it Nepalese or not, but whatever you call it, to speak the local dialect, and she doesn't even speak it! Then how come you know how to speak English? That language she got from the person who is channeling her. It's like "Oh, then why are you speaking in a cheesy accent." Why would the accent carryover but not the language.
J: (cheesy Indian accent) "Shut up! Do not ask stupid questions!"
P: (cheesy Indian accent) "You should not be confusing me with reason and logic."
E: Only those of the seventh circle of some nonsense can understand.
S: Seventh dimension of love.
J: (cheesy Indian accent) "You do not talk when I talk. Only I talk when I talk."
E: That's what it was like, only worse. Only worse.
B: Shouldn't, when you go to scam school, shouldn't they teach you how to do a good accent? (unintelligible)
S: Bob, you don't have to. You don't have to.
J: People buy it. People buy it.
S: The people around her totally bought it.
E: Oh didn't they, though? There were four other people there, her little posse, her flock, her rogues, as it were.
P: They really believed her?
E: And they, they totally, absolutely did.
S: She did speak one word. She did say "Namaste". The joke was that's like saying I'm channeling the spirit of King Kamehameha, but all I know how to do a say is 'aloha' and speak in a cheesy Hawaiian accent.
S: That was the equivalent "Aloha! I'm King Kamehameha."
E: Can you speak anything else of your native tongue?
S: Oh my goodness!
J: Are you sure you're channeling King Kamehameha or Don Ho?
S: It is. So anyway, J. Z. Knight, who's made millions of dollars with this (unintelligible).
J: Yo! I'm down with J. Z.
E: Not that one.
S: Not that one.
S: Her people produced an actual, a pretty slick movie a few years ago called "What the Bleep Do We Know?", which basically is a compelete bastardization of quantum mechanics and using a very fuzzy understanding of quantum theory and quantum physics to try to argue that we make our own realities, and there is no reality, and it's all a product of consciousness, all the feel-good, new agey spirit crap, right?
B: I hate that.
S: But wildly successful within those circles.
J: Of course.
S: Especially on the West Coast, where these kinds of sensibilities ...
B: If could make my own reality, it would be very different.
S: Yeah, right.
E: Oh, yeah.
J: I sure as Hell wouldn't be wasting my time here with you idiots.
S: That's because you don't believe. You're locked into this reality ...
S: ... because you don't accept the truth, and you haven't given millions of dollars to J. Z. Knight.
B: Has anyone read — this is kind of related, Steve. Has anyone read "Vannie Fucci Is Alive And Well And Living In Hell"?
E: I did not.
B: It's a great, great short story about this guy that appears on a religious talkshow. He just shows up out of nowhere. Nobody knows where he came from, and it turns out his name is Vannie Fucci, and he's been living in hell for 800 years, and he basically just goes to town on these religious hypocrites. It's funny, they threw in a little quantum mechanics in the story, and I loved it. They said that in 1981, Elaine Ospic did a quantum mechanics experiment with a photon of light showing how the photons are entangled and stuff. He claimed that it showed that the mind creates reality, which is kind of exactly what this kind of stuff is talking about. It said that the modern concept of hell was created by Dante Alighieri in his comedy, and because so many people believed it, it actually did become real. His whole schtick was that the more people believe in it, the more real it becomes.
B: If all of society believes it, then it's real, and that's why Hell as he described it in his book existed. I recommend that short story to anybody.
S: It good fiction, but of course the history of science completely disproves such notions.
B: Absolutely, absolutely.
S: Science has been a process of discovering that what everyone believes is not true. If what everyone believed made it so, then there would be an ether and the world would look like whatever Medieval people thought it was supposed to look like.
B: Right, right, and quantum mechanics is such a great target becasue it's so counterintuitive and so unlike other sciences, that it's just easy for people to latch onto and say "See, science supports this crazy idea."
S: But for the record, the core misunderstanding in "What The Bleep Do We Know?" and the quantum quackery that we encounter is that the consciousness does not make reality. The idea that the quantum level matter exists as a probability wave and that when "observe" it that it collapses and has to choose one form, and that therefore the observer is making it happen.
S: But that's really by a misconception.
B: That was an initial interpretation that pretty much nobody really believes anymore. Now there are other ways ...
S: No, no, it is not the act of observing. It's the fact that when you observe you're doing something to it.
B: Right. It's the interaction with the environment. "Decoherence" it's called.
S: And in fact, one physicist trying to counter this said that the quantum probability waveform is so fragile that even the slightest interaction with its environment will force it to collapse and choose one state.
S: So it's just that it's extremely — you can't observe it. There's nothing you can do it to observe it that won't force it to collapse, because it's so fragile. And, of course, it's that fragility which completely counteracts or contradicts all of the quantum quackery out there. Basically, we don't live in a quantum world. We live in a physical, mechanistic world.
E: A knowable world.
S: It's only at this very fragile level of particles, subatomic particles that are not interacting with anything where this quantum fuzziness occurs, not in the macroscopic world that we occupy or inhabit. I bring this up because they're coming out with a sequel "What The Bleep: Down The Rabbit Hole," which is just more quantum quackery from J. Z. Knight and her loony followers.
J: J. Z.!
P: Does she not have enough millions? What's the problem?
E: She must be running out or something.
B: I don't think I can bring myself to watch that.
J: Guys, when you find something that works, you know. Of course she's doing it again.
E: Oh, it's no surprise. That's for sure.
Water on Enceladus (39:10)
S: We had one email this week.
E: Only one?
S: Only one. We get between one and three or so a week. By the way ...
E: Email us. We want to hear your feedback, good and bad, so make sure
S: We want to hear your voice. No one yet has sent us a voice. We will play you on our podcast.
E: Include your cheesy Nepalese accent, if you want. We'd really like to hear it.
J: Don't hesitate to send your nude pictures to Jay. I'll examine them and pick the ones that will go up in the website.
B: Steve, I got a few emails as well. We'll go over them for next week's podcast.
S: Bob, your holding out on me. Your not sending me (unintelligible)
B: Yeah, all right.
S: Apparently we are getting more emails than I'm aware of that Bob is holding out.
S: In any case, just for disclosure, now all the emails that I've seen I've read on the show so far, so I'm not handpicking these, and I've actually been a little surprised that every email so far that I received is been very, very positive. No critical emails, which is different than when we publish articles on our website, I usually get about 80% critical. The podcast so far has been a hundred percent positive, so I guess non-skeptics are not bothering to download and listen to our podcasts, which is just fine. But still waiting to hear — so if anyone out there is not a skeptic and you want to criticize anything that we have to say, let us have it. We want to hear from you, too.
S: Be happy to discuss your thoughts. We will read your emails on our podcast. But this is another positive one. This comes from Julio Mendez from Miramar, Florida. Julio writes "I just wanted to say thanks for providing a unique and insightful show that strengthens my beliefs and disbeliefs about a universe, not to mention my skeptical toolkit." He goes on to say that he is 25 years old and works as an IT administrator for an engineering firm. And then he says some more stuff and goes onto to ask the question "What do you guys think about the latest discovery of the Saturnian moon Enceladus? They now have significant evidence of towering geysers of water shooting out water vapor and ice 265 miles out into space. That's pretty crazy. Could this be the door leading to the holy grail of science? Where there is water, shouldn't there be life that requires it? Your thoughts? Thanks again, Julio Mendez." Well ...
E: Thank you, Julio. Thank you, Julio.
B: Yeah, we talked a little about it.
S: We did talk about this a little bit the last week. In fact, Rebecca, who was on our show last week brought it up. What he says is true. I did look at the astronomy sites and the NASA sites to get some update, and they definitely confirm that these are water molecules that are shooting out from the south pole of Enceladus. And here's the new bit that I picked up from — I think it was just published yesterday or today — that they now have confirmed that the material from these geysers are actually what produces the E-ring around Saturn, which was ...
S: ... Saturn's biggest ring. The rings of Saturn are actually many, many identifiable rings, and the ring that has been designated as the E-ring, which is one of the bigger ones, I think it's the biggest one, is actually continuously being replenished by material from Enceladus that's shooting out.
B: I'd think it would be the F-ring, but okay, I'll go with that.
J: Steve, do we know why it's shooting the water out like that?
S: It just because it's being heated from inside, probably because of tidal forces, and then that heated water gets under pressure and then shoots out like a geyser.
P: I'm not much of an astronomer, but I though everything was frozen out that far.
S: Well, once it goes out it freezes, so you have these little crystals of ice floating around in the ring.
S: The other thing that happens is that once it shoots up, it rains snow down onto Enceladus, and Enceladus is completely covered with snow and is very, very white for that very reason.
B: How big is that moon?
S: It's small, actually. It's kind of small.
B: You'd think it would go into orbit or beyond the orbit of the moon. If it's a tiny moon and it's squirting out 265 miles, you'd think it would reach orbital velocity, but I don't know how big the moon really is.
S: But it's getting caught in the orbit of Saturn.
B: Right, and it's raining back down on the moon.
S: Well, some of it is coming back down on the moon.
E: Some of it.
B: Right, okay, that's makes more sense.
S: The outer fringe that are not going as far, but the main spray — you can imagine a spray ...
S: ... which is not all a discrete stream. It's getting probably different velocities in different parts of it, and the slower ones rain down, and the faster ones do escape and then become the ring of Saturn. Jay, you were saying?
J: Steve, Julio asked at the end of his email, he said where there is water shouldn't there be life that requires it.
S: Yeah, that's right.
J: What do you think about that?
B: He's got it backwards. He's got it a little backwards. Life as we know it, I think, probably requires water, but not the other way around.
S: Where there's life, there's water. I guess what he is saying is that there's at least the possibility of life if there's water.
B: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely.
S: It makes Encelaldus a much higher priority place for us to investigate, although my thinking is if the water is constantly shooting out in a geyser, would that make it difficult for life to get a foothold, or are there reservoirs of water underneath the surface of Enceladus that are relatively stable over millions of years. They're not at risk for shooting out into space. I guess there must be because there's still water under there, so there's got to be a pretty big reservoir.
B: Right. I can't wait till we get to one of those moons and see if there is any — some sort of bacterial life.
S: Europa. I think Europa is still the best chance.
S: There are oceans of water under Europa.
B: That's going to be tough, though. They're talking how many miles of ice would we have to bore through. It's doable.
S: It's worth it.
B: Oh, absolutely. I agree.
S: Imagine the boon to science if we found life on another planet.
B: Oh my God!
J: We should hit it with a nuke. Crack it open, right?
S: And destroy whatever's down there.
J: Just kidding, of course.
S: I know. I know.
B: Imagine if the DNA was just like ours.
S: Just that question alone: "Does it have DNA?"
E: Right. Right.
S: And what would be the similarities and differences.
J: E.T. had DNA.
S: He did.
P: How do you know that, Jay?
S: From the movie "E.T.".
P: Yeah, how do you know he had DNA?
J: The guy came running in "He has DNA!".
P: Oh, oh. Okay.
S: They said that in the movie.
P: I forgot.
B: What if it had like a triple helix instead of a double helix?
S: Yeah, instead of a double helix.
J: Imagine what kind of kung-fu it could do, then.
Science or Fiction (45:44)
S: Well, guys, let's move onto Science or Fiction.
S: Each week, I come up with three news items or facts, two genuine one fictitious, and I challenge my skeptical rogues to tell me which one is the fake. The theme for this week, kind of playing off the Enceladus email, is astronomy. So I have three recent astronomical discoveries, and you guys have to tell me which one is fake. Ready?
E: Ready. Ready.
S: Again, no comments until I name all three of them.
P: Unless your name's Evan.
E: Thank you.
S: Item number one: astronomers have discovered a nebula near the Milky Way center in the shape of an elongated double helix. In effect, looks like a little long string of DNA. Number two: recent studies of distant galaxies has revealed that young galaxies have far less dark matter. In other words, the ratio of dark matter to stars is much smaller than in galaxies today. Astronomically, that means galaxies that are closer to us, because as you look far away you're looking back in time, right? This suggests that dark matter is increasing, and if you extrapolate this out, dark matter will eventually take over the universe.
B: Wait! Oh, I got a question on that.
E: No comments. No comments.
S: We'll get to you. Item number three: astronomers have developed a technique allowing them to view the far side of the sun. Okay, so number one is: we discovered a nebula near the center of our galaxy shaped in an elongated double helix; number two: studies have shown that dark matter is increasing in the universe and will eventually take over the universe; and item number three: that astronomers have developed a technique allowing them to view the far side of the sun. Jay, why don't we start with you?
J: I definitely think it's number three. I've heard of number one, the double helix. I think I remember reading about that, so I'm just going to say that exists. Number two: number two kind of makes sense to me, but number three makes absolutely no sense at all to me. I can't imagine how they could view the side of the sun that isn't facing us.
S: Ah, the argument from personal incredulity. Good.
E: I love that one.
J: It's not like I'm saying I'm right. These are guesses, of course.
B: Steve, not a bad reason for a game like this.
J: I remember Bob telling me ...
P: Okay, I'll go next.
J: Wait! One more thing I want to say. I remember Bob telling me ...
P: Oh, God!
J: ... it takes 1 million years for the light ...
P: Somebody stop him.
J: ... to actually leave the sun once it's generated.
J: Right, Bob?
J: Interesting fact.
S: From the core?
J: Move on.
B: It is. It's bouncing around a long time before actually exits.
J: I pick number three.
B: Unless it's neutrinos.
S: Number three: we can't see the far side of the sun. Perry?
P: (clears throat) Is it my turn?
S: It's your turn.
P: All right. The first one sounds perfectly reasonable.
S: Of course it does.
P: The third one sounds odd. To believe the second one, however, would throw me into a downward spiral of hopelessness.
P: I probably couldn't withdraw myself out ...
J: Because you're such a cheery guy to begin with, right?
P: That one simply has to be — the second one has to be fake.
S: So the argument from final consequences.
S: All right. Evan.
J: Love it!
E: I'll do the argument from authority.
E: Being a novice astronomer myself, I can conclude that I'll agree with Perry. I'll think that number two is the false one, simply because I know so little about dark matter ...
S: Okay. The argument from ignorance.
E: Yeah, okay, argument from ignorance.
P: You wanted authority, you ended up with ignorance.
E: Really! I don't have a clue at all about number two, and whereas the other two.
S: I'll give you a bit of background. We know by observing galaxies that there has got to be a lot more matter in them than we can see. There's a lot more stuff producing gravity ...
S: ... than what's generating light that we can see.
B: Otherwise, the orbital speed of the stars that are in orbit around the center, would fly apart, because ...
B: ... they're just going too fast to be held.
S: They should be moving slower, or they would be flying away from the center of the galaxy. So there's more gravity holding them in place than what we can see. That's been called dark matter, and, in fact ...
P: Why is dark matter more plausible than invisible alien civilizations?
S: It's just a hypothesis.
S: You can hypothesize your invisible aliens civilizations, too.
J: It's the psychic bigfoot.
P: Okay. All right.
S: In fact, most of the universe — actually the most common thing in the universe is dark energy ...
S: ... which I won't get into right now. But dark matter does vastly outnumber what we can see. Most of the universe is invisible to us. What we can see is only like — what is it Bob? — ten percent of what's actually out there?
B: I think it's even less than that.
S: Less than ten percent?.
B: Similar. Little less than ten, I think.
P: Dark matter is not to be confused with black holes?
E: I was going to ask if dark matter was influenced by black holes.
B: No, because black holes, even though they are by definition invisible, they're detectable, but dark matter so far is not. We don't know what it is. We can't detect it yet. We're not sure what it is.
E: Very good. I'll stop.
P: I mean, seriously to me. To my mind — excuse me, Evan — to my mind it sounds like the old theory of the ether.
S: Well, it's different.
S: Because we know something is out there. We just don't know what it is.
B: Something's there. Something's there. There's an effect, and we're just trying to figure out what the cause is.
J: Steve, could you consider dark chocolate dark matter?
S: Can you see it?
J: No, but I can eat it.
E: If I close my eyes I can't see it.
B: Guys, I subscribe to Douglas Adams' interpretation of dark matter: it's all the packing material in the boxes of scientific instruments that astronomers used to find out about dark matter.
P: It's entirely possible.
S: It turned out it was only packing material.
E: Well, I mean, this just reinforces my decision that B is, of course, incorrect. It must be.
S: Okay. So you don't think dark matters is taking over the universe.
E: That's correct. Not by a long shot. How about that? I'll go out on a limb.
P: The argument from authoritative ignorance.
E: Thank you.
S: Bob? Let me hear it.
B: Okay. The double helix nebula sounds totally plausible, and for that reason alone might be a good reason to pick, but I'm not going to pick that one.
S: It's a bit too plausible.
B: Right. The far side of the sun. At first I was thinking: how the hell you're going to do that, but I can imagine that somehow you could somehow peer through — what is it, the photosphere of the sun? Look at the sun edge on and go through the upper atmosphere, and you could maybe go through the sun and see what's going on the other side. Maybe you could see what kind of sunspot activity's going on or something. It seems feasible that you could actually see through the Sun and image the other side. Now, Steve, your description of number two didn't make much sense to me.
S: Bob. The galaxies are farther away, therefore they're back in time.
B: I understand that. I actually understand that.
S: Therefore, they're younger, right? — young galaxies.
B: We could be looking at a galaxy as it was 10 billion years ago.
B: But at that time, it could've been a young galaxy.
B: The equivalent in age to a galaxy that's only a million light years away, so age — I don't see how age is that important of a factor, because age isn't necessarily negated by distance. Do you know what I mean? Do you know what I'm saying?
S: But in general, as you go back in time, galaxies get younger. It was six billion years ago. If you look at six billion years ago, galaxies at that time had much less dark matter than say our galaxy does now, suggesting that dark matter has been increasing over the last six billion years.
J: So you've got to pick one, Bob.
B: I know.
J: There's people in Florida that are waiting for the answer, right now.
B: Okay. I'll go with two. That just doesn't sound right to me — the dark matter.
J: So I standalone!
S: Jay stands alone. We've got three picks for dark matter taking over the universe. Jay doesn't think we can see the far side of the sun, and everyone liked the double helix thing.
E: I like that. It has to do with life. It's very positive, very optimistic.
S: Let's start with the double helix nebula. That is, in fact, true. That is science.
S: You guys all got that one right. The nebula — this was just published in the March 16th issue of Nature — the observation of the nebula. The hypothesis is that — the center of our galaxy there's a huge black hole.
E: As is the center of every galaxy.
B: Well, a lot of them. A lot of them.
S: That's probably true, many of them. The center of our galaxy also has an enormous magnetic field.
S: Basically, what they think is happening is that the nebula is kind of like tethered to the magnetic field, and as it rotates around the center of the galaxy ...
S: ... it twists it up like ...
S: ... when you wind up a rubber band it takes on a double helix structure.
E: Hm, hm.
S: That's what they think is happening with that.
S: Now, Jay, you don't think that we can see on the far side of the sun, but the other three of you do, so do any of the other three of you have any idea how we might be able to see on the far side of the sun?
E: Yeah, we use the reflective surfaces off other planets and other objects to see what's going on.
B: No, somehow we're imaging through the sun and seeing the other side.
S: Kind of. We are using a technique called acoustic helioseismology.
B: Ah, yes!
E: I knew that.
S: Bob, you actually recognize that term?
B: Yes! Sound! Yes!
S: That's right.
B: The sun is ringing like a bell, and they determine that through this acoustic helioseismology.
J: I hate you, Bob! I hate you!. Suck!
S: What they're actually doing — that's correct — but there are also bubbles of solar gas, and these bubbles percolate to the surface of the sun, and they actually make noise when they do that. You can use the noise that's basically spreading throughout the sun, and you can use that just like a physician uses a Doppler to image a fetus in the womb, right? You can use the ...
E: Noise in space?
S: Yeah, yeah. Well, through the very thin matter. Space is not a perfect vacuum, remember.
B: Well, there's also the solar wind that I'm sure is being affected.
S: Right. Right. Most of the matter in our solar system is basically solar wind in the space. So in any case you can use the sound produced by the sun's farts, basically. It's the bubbles of gas percolating to the surface like a Doppler scan, and they figured out how to use that to not only image deep within the sun but to image all the way to the other side. Now the purpose of that is to see sunspots on the other side so that we can predict when they're going to rotate to the near side of the sun and disrupt communications or whatever — produce solar weather. So this is a way of predicting solar weather, because we actually see it coming around. Now the sun takes about 27 days to rotate around, so basically we can see 13 days into the future. Now, so number three is also science. Number two is fiction.
S: You guys are correct. I basically took a genuine report and then just changed what was actually found.
E: Of coures.
S: Recent investigations have in fact shown they when we examine young galaxies, galaxies in the past, specifically 6 billion years ago, they have the exact same ratio of dark matter that we do today. So this ratio of dark matter is actually stable over very long periods of time, and that this is very informative, apparently, to cosmologists about the relationship between matter and dark matter. And that, in fact, they must be interacting with each other a lot more than was previously supposed.
S: Because the stable ratio suggests that there's an interaction between the two.
B: Huh! I don't follow that, but okay.
S: I don't understand exactly how you come to that conclusion, but that's what the investigator said.
B: Maybe they're both stable but don't interact much. I don't know. Okay.
J: Steve, so how long has truth or fiction been rigged?
B: Science or fiction.
S: Science or fiction? What do you think, I emailed Bob the answers before?
B: I'd do better if that were the case.
J: I have one more question for you before you close out the show. When you're arguing with your wife, do you, while she's coming up with her arguments, do you say quietly to yourself "logical fallacy number three, logical fallacy number seven"?
S: Jay, I'm saying that to myself all the time when I'm talking with everybody.
J: Oh, God!
P: Oh gosh! Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.
B: Great! I mean it's ... And on that note ...
S: Understanding how the mind misfires is very instructive. It's very helpful to purge your own thinking of logical fallacies. Once you are familiar with the logical fallacies, you realize that people make them all the time.
E: Yes, they do.
S: But I have at least a modicum of social skills, so I am not constantly pointing it out to people. Now you guys, you guys will get it full force.
E: Oh, yeah.
S: I don't have to pretend to have any social skills with you guys.
P: Hm, hm, hm, hm.
E: Oh, you do a great job, Steve.
E: I wanted to say one — can I make a personal note.
S: Of course.
E: I thought I would throw this out there.
S: I'm sorry, we're out of time!
E: We're talking about astronomy. We're talking about other things. I just received in the mail the other day the seven disc DVD version of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos".
S: Excellent. I've been tivo'ing it off of public television.
E: (unintelligible) in 1980. I've only ever seen bits and pieces of that show. I now have the luxury of being able to sit down and watch it from beginning to end. So over the course of the next weeks as I learn some tidbits, I might choose to share them here on the show with you all and ...
E: ... maybe get you all interested and hopefully you'll all be able to go out and take a look at "Cosmos" again.
J: Maybe a little example of Evan next week: "You know, gentlemen, I find it very interesting when we consider light solarizing itself off of the other side of the sun."
S: I've actually watched every episode of "Cosmos" at least five or six times. It's an excellent, excellent — a landmark series. The thing I like about "Cosmos," it really took a new format. Prior to that, and even since then, many science documentaries still do this. There's basically a disembodied voice narrating in the background, and then they cut to different talking head scientists saying almost random bits of information. And then some producer or editor strings it all together. The thing that was really different about "Cosmos" is that it was written. It was a story, and Sagan was a consistent narrator and host, and he really walked you through from beginning to end in a very prescribed way. So it had a much better storytelling, consistent, thorough feel to it than any other science documentary, really, that I've seen. It still stands out as just a tremendous, tremendous work.
E: I can't wait to lose myself in it, and, again, I'll be looking to share some facts with you all in the weeks to come.
S: It would be nice to have an updated version of "Cosmos".
E: Here, I'll channel in Carl Sagan.
P: That's what I was going to say.
S: That's all we have to do, channel Carl Sagan.
E: "Billions and billions" of podcasts ago.
S: He never said that, by the way.
P: He never said that. That's right.
E: I know! Of course. Yes, yes.
S: He never said "billions and billions." My wet dream, by the way, is to do a Cosmoesque Series, all about skepticism, scientific skepticism. That would be awesome.
E: It would be the magnum opus of skepticism ...
P: Skeptos. We could do it.
E: ... that would endure generations and generations.
P: I will start writing it.
S: Absolutely. Yeah, let's do it. Let's write it.
E: Actually, we're kind of doing it now with these podcasts, in a way.
S: We don't have anything else to do, right?
P: No. This is the ground work.
S: Okay, gentleman, thanks again. We are now out of time.
S: Thank you, again, for joining me tonight, guys.
E: Well, thanks for having us.
P: Thank you! It was good being here. It was really good.
S: Evan, Bob, Perry, Jay, skeptical rogues.
P: Very special.
S: It was a good episode.
P: It was.
E: Good night, my friends.
S: Until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is a production of the New England Skeptical Society. For information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at New England Skeptical Society. You can send us questions, comments and suggestions to 'podcast @ theness.com'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.