SGU Episode 60
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|SGU Episode 60|
|September 13th 2006|
Juan Diego (1474–1548)
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He is said to have been granted apparitions of the Virgin Mary. His visions and the imparting of the miraculous image are together known as the Guadalupe event and are the basis of the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This veneration is ubiquitous in Mexico, prevalent throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas, and increasingly widespread beyond. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is now one of the world's major Christian pilgrimage destinations, receiving 22 million visitors in 2010.
|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
|Quotes of the Week|
--Science, the only true magic.
first quote: Dexter, Dexter's Laboratory
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, September 13th, 2006. This is your host, Stephen Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society. Joining me this evening are Bob Novella...
B: Hey everybody.
S: Rebecca Watson...
S: Evan Bernstein...
E: Hello everyone.
S: ...and back from Mexico, Jay Novella.
J: Hola, Señores and Señoritas.
S: Welcome everyone.
E: Hello, doctor.
R: Welcome back, Jay.
J: Thank you very much.
R: We missed you.
J: Oh that's so sweet.
S: Jay's going to give us a quick report from Mexico in just a minute. But first, let's start off with some 9-11 news.
5th year anniversary of 9/11 (0:54)
- Purdue researchers create computer model of jet crashing into WTC towers
Recent gullible article regarding the 9/11 Scholars for Truth
S: We are at September 13th, so we're two days past the 5th anniversary of 9/11, and just a couple of 9/11 items caught by intention this week. The first is a report from Purdue University where scientists and engineers are developing a computer simulation of the Jets crashing into the World Trade Center. And they are doing this to see how the structural damage occurred and what that damage would have done to the overall structural integrity of the World Trade Center to better understand why the towers collapsed. They've only done the initial impact. They haven't yet run the simulation to look at the later consequences.
R: Now Steve, are they part of the vast government conspiracy or not?
S: Apparently, they are just supporting the standard story, the government's status quo.
J: I would love to see them run that several hundred thousand times or whatever to see what the general outcome is of the things crashing in.
S: What percentage of times the towers would collapse? He says: "As a result of this research, we better understand what happens when a tremendous mass of fluids such as fuel hits a solid object at high velocity. We believe most of the structural damage from such aircraft collisions is caused by the mass of fluid on the craft, which includes the fuel."
B: That was a surprise to me. I never realized that it's really not the kinetic energy of the metal. The fluid, they compared it to the, the skin of the airplane, it was like a sausage skin. The fluid had many, many times the mass of the metal on the ship. That was a surprise to me. I never realized that.
J: Bob, you're saying that the weight of the liquids on the plane-
B: Did most of the damage.
J: Did most of the damage. I didn't know that.
S: Another thing to say is that "current findings from the simulation have identified the destruction of 11 columns on a 94th floor, 10 columns on a 95th floor, and 9 columns on the 96th floor. This is a major insight when you lose close to 25% of your columns at a given level the building is significantly weakened and vulnerable to collapse." I'm sure we'll learn more about the scientific details of the tower collapse. Of course, as Rebecca said, this will not influence the conspiracy theories one bit.
J: Don't let the truth get in the way.
S: The other 9/11 related news item that caught my attention was from the Daily Mail. This was written by reporter Jaya Narane, and it was a terrible job of reporting in my opinion. She is talking about the scholars for 9/11 Truth, and whose membership includes up to 75 leading scientists and experts from universities across the US. That is just a terribly sensationalistic and misleading characterization. This is a group that we've mentioned before. These are professors and students and et cetera who are conspiracy theorists. They believe that the accepted story of 9/11 is not true that there is evidence that the American government, the Bush administration, is complicit in carrying out the attacks on 9/11. To call them leading scientists and experts is a total crock. These people were anonymous before they came out in the scholars for truth. They are really nobodies. They are, and their scholarship is totally irrelevant. If anything, they make a mockery of scholarship. Their arguments have been utterly and thoroughly discredited numerous times, yet they do not change them. They keep repeating the same discredited arguments over and over again. We've talked about a lot of them on this show, and they've been thoroughly debunked in many other venues. They're just a bunch of conspiracy theorist crackpot, and trying to push themselves off as having some kind of scholarly credentials is ludicrous. This reporter is just pumping up there, calling them leading experts, is completely misleading.
J: It's a rally in conspiracy, Steve.
E: The Raëlians?
S: How did they get involved?
J: They're always involved.
S: This is the UFO cult that thinks that humans were planted on Earth by aliens?
R: People actually are lizards for the Raëlians. Is that what it is? Then the people who are ruling the world who look like humans are actually lizard aliens?
B: So were, what, sleestaks? Is that it?
E: They're also involved in the cloning, the whole cloning.
S: They had that hoax cloning claim, which they did, and practically admitted that they did it just for the free press coverage that it would guard their group.
R: Oh yeah, that's right.
E: Ironically, I think I would accept a scientific opinion from the Raëlians more than I would from this group of 75 professors in their ivory towers.
S: Some quotes from this article, Professor James Fitzer, a retired philosopher of science at the University of Minnesota, said: "The evidence is so overwhelming, but most Americans don't have time to take a look at this." Which is a total straw man. I mean, that's just complete nonsense. People have picked over their claims in fine detail and refuted them thoroughly. So that statement is absolutely meaningless.
B: Here's another one, Steve. Professor Jones said: "We don't believe that 19 hijackers and a few others in the cave in Afghanistan pull this off acting alone. I mean, does he imply that we were in cahoots with the terrorists?
S: Yeah, of course.
J: Yeah. And that's also a logical fallacy too.
S: So what's the logical fallacy, Jay?
J: From incredulity?
S: Argument from incredulity. Yeah, basically. And it's a pretty flimsy one because they committed this heinous act of terror just with box cutters and plane tickets. It didn't really require much. I mean, it wasn't the high-tech plan. It was just, yes, 19 guys sitting in a cave could cook this up and pull it off.
J: It was exploiting a major hole in the security system of our airlines.
S: Several dozen holes.
J: Yeah, you know what I mean? It was just a huge exploitation of the system.
B: And don't forget, they also got lucky. I mean, they so many times they could have been nailed and they just weren't because either someone didn't take a tip seriously or they just got lucky, I think, in a lot of ways. Didn't they come very close to being nailed a few times?
R: Yeah, on a number of occasions and they usually escaped via intense government incompetency.
S: Incompetency is always a simpler answer than a conspiracy.
B: Right. There's one more quote here that was pretty irksome of University of Wisconsin assistant professor Kevin Baird said that: "The experts are unwilling to believe theories which don't fit into their belief systems." No, experts are unwilling to believe theories which don't fit into their facts or have no evidence to support them.
J: Yeah, yeah.
S: Right. That whole supporting the status quo closed-minded, that's the true believers say that every single time. Every time you shoot down their wacky theory like, oh, you're not open-minded. We can't challenge your precious paradigm. You can't take it. Or sometimes the UFO guys like to say you're afraid of the truth. What are you so afraid of? It's just nonsense. It's all a distraction from the fact that they have no logical evidence on their side.
Jay reports from Mexico (8:30)
- Jay reports from Mexico
S: So Jay, tell us what pseudoscience you encountered on your trip through Mexico.
R: Was it Chupacabras?
J: What was that?
R: I'm wondering if it was the goat sucker. I'm really excited. Was it the goat sucker?
J: No. I had my eye out for goat suckers. I didn't see one damn goat sucker down there. Mexico is a great, great, great place to visit. I love it. Been there twice. I've definitely planned on going again. The reason why I went down to Mexico is because I recently got engaged. I know all you guys know that.
E: Where in Mexico, Jay? Where did you go?
J: I was down in Playa del Carmen, which is about an hour south of Cancun right across from the island of... Anybody know it? Cozumel.
J: Steve requested that on my trip I keep my eye open for anything interesting and the realm of skepticism, things that we could talk on the show about and everything. I definitely went to the local spot in my hotel and I was looking for anything new that we haven't encountered. I didn't see anything. But I did notice while being driven around on a lot of tours, going snorkeling and doing all the good stuff that you can do in Mexico. I noticed that a lot of the local residents, as soon as you leave the area where the hotels are and where the money is, the poverty level shows. You really you can see how poor the people live. And I noticed that in a lot of the poor sections that there was all these little shrines. Heavily decorated and everything and they were cool looking, but I had no idea what they were and I started asking around. And one of the guys that I was on a tour with told me that those are shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe. While I was down there and I had an internet connection in the hotel, I started looking it up and reading more and trying to figure out more about it. So basically, I don't know to what degree you guys know about this, but I didn't know about this. And this is the Mexican's local Virgin Mary encounter. Now right now, Mexico is estimated to be roughly 89% Roman Catholic. So the quick background is 1531, a man named Juan Diego. And I can't pronounce his last name on a hill near Mexico City was visited by the Virgin Mary.
B: Juan Diego? Isn't he the coffee guy?
J: No, it's his second cousin.
S: That's Juan Valdés.
J: Anyway, so his visitation lasted four days and she wanted two things. She wanted a temple built and she also wanted people to come there to be healed. The church was built two years after the visitation and was dedicated to her. So that's the basic story of it. The real thing that I found interesting though was that this lady of Guadalupe visitation really was one of the biggest things to influence the fusion of local religion and Catholicism. It also gave special importance to the lay people in Mexico. It gave them their own, basically their own patron saint that represented them and their class. It just had a tremendous effect on the church being able to pull in new recruits. It gave them something to talk about, gave them a local story that everyone could relate to. So when they were using this as a recruiting tool, everyone could relate to it and they morphed it into something that the people had a close attachment to.
S: Right. It had the flavor of their local traditions already.
R: Well, it's kind of similar to the advent of pretty much any major religion at all.
S: That's true.
R: Where it combines... It's definitely been happening since Roman times when you've got the Roman gods colliding with Greek and Egyptian gods. And you can really see all the myths overlapping. And it's one of the reasons why I originally became an atheist because I studied the way that all religions are basically the same kind of stories that overlap. It's one of the things that kind of put me on the path to skepticism in general.
S: Yeah, but you can see the cultural evolution of the belief systems. Even just Catholicism in general, a lot of the ritual and traditions, especially in the Catholic church, were basically borrowed from Roman pagan traditions. The reason why Christmas is on December 25th has nothing to do with when you might think that Jesus was actually born. It has to do with the fact that that was a pagan holiday. That was the Winter Solstice holiday.
R: Winter Solstice.
S: So the pre-existing religious traditions just morph into whatever the new religion is that's being adopted.
J: Steve, it's actually very common, though, for government officials and church officials to push this, to create a fusion. A couple more points I want to bring up, though, just from a skeptics perspective, which includes some Catholics, a lot of them doubt that Juan Diego's existence, at all. They say that he was created to bolster the church's ability to convert locals. I already told you that. And also an abbot that ran the local church said that he's considered a symbol not a reality. So they've actually had pretty good skeptical inquiry into this. The apron of Juan Diego, which was the item that received the iconic image of the Our Lady of Guadalupe, has been studied many, many times. And it's been said both that it's legit and it's been said that it's not legit. And if you're interested, definitely go and read about all the studies that have been done on it. But the guy who did this study on the Shroud of Turn, who we would respect did a study on it. And I think he came up with some negative findings.
S: Who is that Will McCrone?
J: Yeah. McCrone.
S: Well, thank you, Jay, for that report.
No Gulf War Syndrome (14:10)
S: One more news item this week before we go on to your emails. This is a VA report, the title of which there is no Gulf War syndrome. Now Gulf War syndrome has been controversial since the idea was first proposed. This goes back to the first Gulf War in 1991. When the returning veterans seemed to have a higher incidence of physical elements and complaints. There have been a number of epidemiological studies, some negative, some positive. But enough large epidemiological studies were positive to show that yeah, there definitely was a higher risk of having medical complaints for those people who were both in the service and serving in the Gulf War compared to people who were in the service but not in the Gulf War. So they were not deployed. But no one could really nail down what the Gulf War syndrome potentially was and what what cause or causes were the suspicion was that it may have been some exposure to some ill-defined toxins or gases or whatever that they were exposed to while while in Iraq.
R: Was there ever was there ever a theory that it was post-traumatic stress?
S: Yeah, absolutely. And a number of studies in fact suggested that perhaps stress was playing a significant role in the symptoms. Of course, this issue was hugely politicized. The government is trying to be politically correct. They don't want to not believe the veterans who were claiming that they were injured in some way. It's all tied to benefits. So there's very specific implications of all of this. So the science gets a little bit muddied. Like so many of the issues that we deal with. But there definitely have been some, looking just purely at the science, some Gulf War syndrome skeptics. But the worst problem with the Gulf War syndrome is that nobody knew what it was. And it's hard to know if something exists if you can't really define it very well. This is a latest report. This is from the Institute of Medicine. And they basically concluded that there is no unique pattern, I'm going to quote now "There's no unique of symptoms. Every pattern identified in Gulf War veterans also seems to exist in other veterans. Though it is important to note the symptoms rate is higher and is a serious issue." So that's Dr. Lynn Goldman of Johns Hopkins University. So she headed the IOM committee that prepared the report. So they're basically saying, yep, they have more symptoms, but they don't fit into any pattern. So without a pattern, you can't even call it a syndrome, let alone a specific physiological disease. A lot of the symptoms that are commonly reported are things such as fatigue and memory loss and difficulty sleeping and joint pains. So these are very-
J: Super common.
S: What we call non-specific symptoms. Non-specific symptoms are ones that can occur with many, many syndromes or diseases. And in fact, it can occur in people who are generally healthy. They're just what we call symptoms of life. People get aches and pains and fatigue and may have trouble sleeping now and then without having some underlying disease. So they don't really point you in the direction of a specific entity. So when you have a list of all the most common non-specific symptoms, to me that says there isn't really a real physiological disease here that we're seeing. The same list of symptoms you might find also under every single dubious syndrome, either Candida hypersensitivity or multiple environmental sensitivity.
B: Fibromyalgia, is that one of them?
S: Fibromyalgia, yes, but there are some specific symptoms that do go with fibromyalgia. And if you have those specific symptoms, then maybe you actually do have something.And that may be a very low grade autoimmune process. So there is actually some-
R: What's fibromyalgia again?
S: Fibromyalgia is a syndrome of basically muscle pain. The specific symptoms are trigger points. So there are specific points in the muscles that if you push on them, that point is very painful. But without the specific pattern of trigger point sensitivity, if you just have the fatigue and the muscle aches and the difficulty of sleeping, then is that really fibromyalgia or is it just again just non-specific symptoms? And I think the diagnosis is hugely overmade. Plus you can get all those symptoms just from being sleep deprived. So a lot of people, they're either just anxious or depressed or they're not sleeping well, and they get all these basic non-specific symptoms. And then depending on who you see, you get labeled with some diagnosis or another.
J: Steve, from what I understand, fibromyalgia is thought to be caused by lack of sleep.
S: So it's probably not to say fibromyalgia is caused by lack of sleep. It might be more meaningful to say that lack of sleep can cause many of the symptoms which are frequently associated but are non-specific for fibromyalgia.
E: But that's a tongue twister.
S: I wouldn't even use the label fibromyalgia in those cases.
J: So getting back to where we started with the Gulf War syndrome, my question to you, Steve, is don't they always want to figure out what is it's caused by a chemical, a local disease that they could have picked up or a number of things? Do they have any theories or people claiming that it was something like that?
S: They're only suspicions, they haven't been able to trace it any specific effect to any specific toxin or chemical that they were exposed to or even if anything in the environment. It remains in this very nebulous world of this non-specific syndrome. Now there's one specific disease that there was a report, this is going back about six or seven years, there was a higher incidence of Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS, in soldiers who served in the Gulf War. And a lot of people pointed that and said, aha, here we have a very specific disease that is diagnosable. It's not just a list of symptoms. The problem with this is that the absolute numbers are still very small. We're still only talking about a few people. And just by chance having one or two extra cases would be enough to have skewed the data. So it's still not ironclad. It still could just be a quirk in the evidence because it was the absolute numbers were so small. Well, let's move on to your questions and emails.
Persistent Vegetative State (20:34)
Firstly, let me congratulate you on an excellent podcast. I discovered The Skeptic's Guide only about a month ago and have been slowly listening back to all episodes. It's interesting to hear the audio quality improve vs. time, but I still haven't quite worked out at which point Thomas Dolby's people got in touch, forcing you to switch over to your current funky bass riffing theme tune! But I thoroughly enjoy the show, a great blend of
interesting issues, intelligent debate and humour. Thank you!
Anyway, I am writing to draw this article to your attention, printed in today's Guardian newspaper.
It's about a patient diagnosed as being in a vegetative state, who was then able to 'communicate' with her doctors via her brain waves-- when asked to think about 'tennis' the part of her brain responsible for limb movement began to fire, when asked to think of her home, another section responsible for location mapping was triggered.
How do you think this incident will change our understanding of this neurological condition? Do you think that if this technique had been applied in the Schiavo case, the outcome could have been different?
All the best
Sorry for spamming you, but it seems you can't move these days without seeing an article on this condition. Would be fascinated to hear your opinions on the previous article I sent you and also now (again in the Guardian), this one--
I think this is again interesting in relation to last year's Schiavo case, but I am sure that both stories are more nuanced than the mass media is portraying. Would be great to hear a skeptical and expert discussion of this.
S: The first one comes from Niall Shake Shaft from Helsinki, Finland. I think this is our first Helsinki email. And Niall writes: "Firstly, let me congratulate you on an excellent podcast. I discovered the Skeptics Guide only about a month ago and I've been slowly listening back to all episodes. It's interesting to hear the audio quality improve over time, but I still haven't quite worked out at which point Thomas Dolby's people got in touch forcing you to switch over to your currently funky bass riffing theme tune. But I thoroughly enjoy the show, a great blend of interesting issues, intelligent debate, and humour. Anyway, I'm writing to draw this article to your attention, printed in today's Guardian newspaper. It's about a patient diagnosed as being in a vegetative state who is then able to communicate with her doctors via her brain waves. When asked to think about tennis, the part of her brain responsible for limb movement began to fire. When asked to think about her home, another section responsible for location mapping was triggered. How do you think this incident will change our understanding of the neurological condition? Do you think that if this technique had been applied to the Shivo case, the outcome would have been different? All the best." Well first, regarding our intro music, I think we were too far below the radar for Thomas Dolby to get in touch with us. I just found the Pod Safe music on the web, which is a treasure trove of free music that you can have permission to use in podcasts. So we just said we probably shouldn't be using the Dolby song without permission. Let's just switch over to this. The Persistent Vegetative State article is basically, as you said, so what they did was there was a young girl, about 23 years old, who was in a "coma" after a traumatic injury. She was in a traffic accident. And she met the diagnostic criteria for being in what's called a persistent vegetative state. They then applied what's called a functional MRI scan to look at the different parts of her brain that would be lighting up or being activated. They then, just by speaking to her, even though she was unable to really interact or respond, they said, I'm going to say the word tennis, and when you do that I want you to imagine yourself playing tennis, and I'm going to say the word, I think, walk or home, and when I say that I want you to imagine yourself walking around your apartment. When they did the test, her brain lit up in areas that were expected, and the results were no different than normal controls, than people who were awake and functional, and this was a very surprising result. This is pretty good evidence that there is cortical activity and that she is responding to her environment, even though there was no exam manifestation of that.
J: So Steve, was she considered locked in?
S: No, no. So let me get, I think to really put, this question is very important. It definitely has implications for how we look at patients who are in coma. And the public's understanding of this whole issue comes up frequently. It did publicly in the Shivo case. It does whenever I deal with a patient who is in a state like this, then you have to educate the family and everybody as to what it all means. So let me give you the quick one-minute overview of what is a coma. It basically is a continuum. It's not a specific state that somebody's in. There's a continuum of consciousness from fully alert to brain dead. And coma is basically impaired level of consciousness to the point where you're not really able to interact with those around you. But not all comas are the same.
R: Now, just to give our audience an idea, Steve, where on that scale would you place Jay?
S: Jay is in the profoundly comatose category.
R: Okay, good. Go on. Thank you.
J: Actually, I'm using a machine right now to interpret my brainwaves to voice modulate everything.
R: Think about tennis, Jay. Think about tennis.
S: The only other bit that's helpful in understanding this is that there's two basic, basic localizations of coma, meaning that there's two different locations where an injury would cause someone to be comatose. Basically, in order to be conscious, you need to have one of your hemispheres working. Our brain is divided into two hemispheres. Actually, one half of your brain or one hemisphere is all you need to be conscious. But you also need a part of your brainstem called the brainstem activating system. And that basically activates the cortex and keeps us awake. So even if your cortex, the thinking part of your brain, where your personality is and everything and all your memories are, that could be perfectly intact, but if the brainstem activating system is damaged, you will be in a coma. It's like permanently being in a sleep and you won't be able to wake up. Those people literally are in there somewhere. Their brain is still there. They just can't wake up because the brainstem's not working. Or you can have damage to both hemispheres. And this is where you get into more of this continuum. The more damage you have, then the more comatose you are. Again, all the way from just barely comatose to just barely alive, to one notch above being brain dead.
R: And Steve, isn't there also a difference between, I guess, or maybe this is what you're talking about when the hemispheres aren't working, but isn't there a state where your brain's actually starting to degenerate while you're in a coma?
S: Well, you're talking about different causes of the damage, of the injury, which I'm not going to really be getting into, just talking about what's working, what's not working, and what it all means.
B: Steve, how does a medically induced coma fit to this?
S: Well, that would just be using a drug to put both hemispheres of your brain to sleep, like phenobarbital, for example. In this case, there's a couple things that are important in terms of interpreting this case. Yes, this girl was in a persistent vegetative state, but only for three months. And after this brief study was published, she is already out of the persistent vegetative state. She's already improving. So clearly, she was barely and recently in that state, and her brain was recovering. So she was crossing that threshold to more of a minimally aware state and beyond that. So you can't really extrapolate from this case and compare it to, say, somebody like Terry Shivo, who was in a persistent vegetative state for years.
E: Yeah, 10, 12 years?
S: And was not recovering. So clearly, this does not mean at all, by any stretch of the imagination, that Terry Shivo could have woken up someday. And we also know from the autopsy that her brain weighed about half as much as it should have. I mean, half of her brain was dead and gone, basically.
J: So, Steve, basically what you're saying is there's infinite shades of gray between totally brain dead and between this girl.
S: Yes, that's correct. Now, the real implication, this is a very interesting and very important study, and it's basically giving us another tool in assessing these patients. It doesn't affect one thing. We have lots of data that tells us, given your neurological exam and over time, we have very good epidemiological data that gives us odds as to what's the chances of you recovering significant neurological function. And that data is still valid. This doesn't really trump that. But this just gives us more information. Now we could look at a group of people who were in a persistent vegetative state. Instead of treating them all the same, except for the amount of time that they've been in that state, we can also do this functional MRI study and distinguish maybe those people who are just barely in that state and might have some more chance of recovery from those who are irreversibly or irretrievably in that state. So I think this will give us a new tool to sort out and to prognosticate better. So this may have very significant implications. And, of course, that's a critical piece of information to have.
J: Let me ask you one more quick question while we're on this topic. Just out of curiosity, you know in the movies it's a common theme where they have like the person who was in the coma, right? You know, like Kill Bill or I remember a really cheesy Kung Fu movie, the guy wakes up. Does that ever happen for real? Like 10 years, person's in, they come out, they can go back to normal?
S: No, it really doesn't. So first of all, you have to have your cortex relatively functioning for that to even be possible. And when no one goes from being like totally unresponsive and then waking up and being relatively neurologically functional in a very short period of time, that doesn't happen. What happens if they were like just below the threshold of being able to interact and then their brain healed to the point rewired and they had some plasticity where the brain was able to function better over time and then they became just able to interact minimally. But they crossed some threshold.
B: That happened recently.
S: That does happen. That does happen.
R: Yeah, I was actually about to point out, I just read a study about doctors using the Ambien sleeping pill to rouse people from comas. But they said that the problem with that is that they might not have been in permanent vegetative states. They may have been on the way to natural recovery.
J: How would they use a sleeping medication to rouse someone from a coma?
R: Well, I guess what happened was a nurse noticed one patient twitching a lot and tearing up his bedsheets and so thought that having his doctor prescribe the sleeping pill might help him calm down. So they gave him the pill and he very shortly afterwards started making sounds when he hadn't made any sound in quite a while, I guess. And so they started studying it and they found that some active ingredient in the drug somehow helps to restore their partial consciousness. But I think it's a temporary thing, though.
S: Some sleeping aids actually promote daytime wakefulness. And again, if you have somebody who's just below this threshold of consciousness and you do something to induce a better sleep-wake cycle and whatever, they may have that extra little boost to function. It may give them some new function they didn't have before, like now they're able to grunt when they weren't grunting before. So those are the cases where somebody, "wakes up out of a coma". They don't open their eyes and have fully functional neurological function. The cases where after many, many years people have, again, gone from being not able to open their eyes and be conscious to just barely being able to, were significantly neurologically impaired. I mean, they don't go on to a normal life.
B: And not only mentally, imagine laying in bed for five or ten years. You'd be completely wasted away.
S: Even in the best-case scenario, they would have many years of rehab in front of them physically. Interesting, but you have to put it in perspective, and it is very important to understand this, especially when it comes up in a family member. You have to know how to make decisions. This is kind of an aside, but since we're on this topic, what I recommend to everybody is to designate a healthcare power of attorney. So this means if you are in this situation, you need one family member or close friend that knows your wishes and that you trust to make these kinds of decisions, who is legally the person who would make these decisions.
J: Well, Steve, you're my power of attorney, Steve. I'm giving it to you all right now.
R: Yeah, Steve, I'm going to give you my power of attorney, too, and I just want you to ensure that no matter what happens to me, there's a huge media circus surrounding it.
E: Oh, there will be, sure.
B: I'm going to make Perry my power of attorney.
R: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's a mistake, but okay.
J: I agree with Rebecca wholeheartedly.
B: I'll unplug him. How much electricity does that thing use?
J: So long, Bob, I never liked you.
R: You birdist.
B: That 20-inch monitor is mine.
Science or just Mathematics? (32:24)
How assured can we be about mathematics when applying it to the real, physical world? My issue is that most mathematical proposals are unfalsifiable, like the big bang theory, string theory, and all these others that fall outside the realm of science. Also the fact that we use negative numbers, when no such thing as a negative observed in the physical world. Why is it that mathematician's are more concerned with an equation being beautiful and perfect, rather than precise? I don't think you'll be able to some up the entire universe in an equation smaller than an inch (a term used often within math) although unbreakable and rightfully so, could it be that math or its practitioners are flawed in
Your fan Elias LuNa, monkey vs. bird enthusiast, and a Rebecca marriage applicant.
Bronx, New York
S: Question number two comes from Elias Luna from the Bronx, New York. Actually, Luna is a regular on our boards.
J: He's also Perry's biggest fan. Don't forget.
S: That's true. Perry's biggest fan.
S: And Elias writes, "How assured can we be about mathematics when applying it to the real physical world? My issue is that most mathematical proposals are unfalsifiable, like the Big Bang theory, string theory, and all these others that fall outside the realm of science. Also, the fact that we use negative numbers when no such thing as a negative observed in the physical world. Why is it that mathematicians are more concerned with an equation being beautiful and perfect rather than precise? I don't think you'll be able to sum up the entire universe in an equation smaller than an inch, a term used often within math, although unbreakable and rightfully so. Could it be that math or its practitioners are flawed in some way? He says your fan allies Luna, Monkey vs. Bird, enthusiast, and a Rebecca marriage applicant." There you go. So there's your marriage proposal for the week.
R: Oh wait, did he convert from a Perry fan to a Rebecca fan?
S: The two were not mutually exclusive.
E: Yeah, well Perry was married already.
J: I think he wants to have a steak dinner with Perry and go on a date with you. Let's cut to the chase.
B: Steve, I have some comments about this.
S: Yeah, let's go on to actually answer his question.
B: I don't think it's valid to even have string theory and Big Bang in the same sentence.
S: Yeah, this is a very deceptively complex question that he is asking here. So I agree with you. I think the Big Bang theory is not a pure mathematical model. It actually is based upon inference, right?
B: Well, absolutely, but that doesn't mean it's even close to string hypothesis. There's so much going for the Big Bang. I mean, if we discovered that galaxies were not moving away at speeds relative to their distance or that there was no cosmic microwave back on radiation or that there was no abundant light elements like hydrogen or helium, then Big Bang would be in big, big trouble. I mean, these are important inferences that really support the Big Bang. So I don't think you should really compare the two at all.
S: The difference is that the Big Bang theory is testable. There is the possibility of evidence for or against the Big Bang theory. String theory or string hypothesis is so far, no one has figured out a way to test it.
B: Right, and I agree. And it shouldn't be called a hypothesis. And Brian Greene, one of the leading developers of string theory and just an amazing physicist, he even said this shouldn't be called a theory. It should be a hypothesis
S: It's actually not even a hypothesis. It probably should be called a model.
R: Let's just call it the string thing. The string thing I thought of the other day.
J: Steve, the core part of his question though in my mind is that he says, why is it that mathematicians are more concerned with an equation being beautiful and perfect rather than precise?
S: So here's the thing. Math is not science. Math is a system of logic that only needs to be internally consistent and valid, but does not necessarily relate to the external world. Now, because it is a valid logical description of numbers and how they relate to each other, if you have a valid mathematical concept, then the real physical universe has to comply to this. Because the physical universe cannot be illogical. It cannot be self-contradictory. So by necessity, things have to add up in the real world. If you have two apples and I give you another apple, you have three apples. That has to be the case because it's really just a description of logic. In that way, math does relate to the real world, but not in a scientific way, just in a realm of pure logic. It's not scientific because it's not something where you're proposing a testable hypothesis. Math then becomes a tool of science, but in and of itself it is not science. Now there are things, however, which kind of bridge the gap. So the string model or hypothesis is one of those things where it's attempting to describe physical reality, but it's not testable. There's no observation or empirical test that anyone can figure out for it yet. Therefore, it still remains, it's purely a logical mathematical description of what we currently know. But until it can be tested, it hasn't crossed that threshold into science. There's also mathematical theorems that have been tested empirically. And it's a very interesting question as to what are these things. For example, because we now have computers, we can take some mathematical theorem and test it by running a few trillion examples of it and seeing if the results of the simulation or of these calculations correspond to what the theorem says. The classic way would be to do a mathematical proof, again, to use pure logic to say it must be this way. Now the empirical method is to just run trillions of calculations in a computer and say, well, it is this way. So is that science? Because you're testing it empirically, even though it's a mathematical theorem. It's not really talking about the real world. It's just talking about numbers. So it's kind of a mixed bag. It's kind of both. And the other dimension to all of this is that some modern critics of science have used things like string theory to say that science is moving away from empiricism to one that's more intuitive or purely descriptive, which is nonsense. It's it misunderstands the relationship of logic, math and science.
Thinking about the dead (38:16)
I discovered your podcast a couple weeks ago and I must say that I am hooked. It is good to have a show that expresses my opinions on a great majority of issues. Thanks and keep it up!
My question is about experiences people have had with the recently deceased. Today my psychology professor was talking about the domains of science and as an example of things that were outside the realm of science she gave us an anecdote. She told us about an experience her mother and grandmother had. Her uncle was serving in a combat theater during World War II. One night her grandmother had a dream about my professors uncle(her son)walking up to her and saying good-bye and that he was going to a better place. The next morning my professor's grandmother related the dream to my professor's mother. Three hours later they found out that my professor's uncle had died in combat. My professor went on to say that there are a lot of anecdotes like this, coming from believable people. She also said that there was no way to investigate this phenomena because the results were not repeatable.
My question for you guys is 'do you agree with my professor that this type of phenomena can not be investigated by the tools of science?' Must we just sit back and let one of the most important questions in humanity let go unanswered?
S: The next question comes from Jeff Matzke from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Very alliterative. And Jeff says, "I discovered your podcast a couple of weeks ago and I must say that I am hooked. It is good to have a show that expresses my opinions on a great majority of issues. Thanks and keep it up." People love to hear their own opinions given back to them. It is unfortunate that we seek out. Now, of course, I want all the skeptics out there to still listen to our podcast. But it is true that people do tend to to seek out information that confirms what they already believe rather than challenging themselves by reading things that disagree with them. But anyway, "my question is about experiences people have had with the recently deceased. Today, my psychology professor was talking about the domains of science. And as an example of things that were outside the realm of science, she gave us an anecdote. She told us about an experience her mother and grandmother had. Her uncle was serving in a combat theater during World War II. One night, her grandmother had a dream about my professor's uncle, her son, walking up to her and saying goodbye and that he was going to a better place. The next morning, my professor's grandmother related the dream to my professor's mother. Three hours later, they found out that my professor's uncle had died in combat. My professor went on to say that there are a lot of anecdotes like this coming from believable people. She also said that there was no way to investigate this phenomenon because the results were not repeatable. My question for you guys is, do you agree with my professor that this type of phenomenon cannot be investigated by the tools of science? Must we just sit back and let one of the most important questions in humanity let go unanswered? Thank you, Jeff."
B: Well, I disagree. I disagree with the professor. You can't you can't investigate phenomena like that.
B: Just always just compile a list of all your predictive dreams and see how many came true. There you go. Right there. I mean, how many times did she have a dream that somebody else died and they and they didn't? You could you could work up some probabilities and say what are the what are the chances of this happening?
J: It's a very difficult topic, Bob, because first of all, you know this very well. We don't remember all of our dreams that we have per night.
B: That's true.
J: The thing is that you tend to remember things when a trigger happens. So that dream may have not even been remembered until the trigger happened, which was the actual event taking place. I remember my mother telling a dream about one of our dogs getting bit by a lion. And later on that day, our dog got bit by another really big dog. And I don't even think she would have recalled the dream if something triggered. So I don't know. I don't think it's testable.
B: That doesn't the fact that you can only remember some of your dreams doesn't impact doesn't affect the fact that you can still assign probabilities and and work with whatever you remember, whether it's 10 percent or or even one percent would just take longer to work up the probabilities. But you can still do it even though you forget a lot of dreams.
S: Now, of course, you cannot investigate whether or not this one incident was a coincidence or whether there was some external factor at work here. But you can, as Bob said, do statistical analysis of these kinds of events and say, is there a measurable effect here? Now, there's multiple different hypotheses you can come up with to explain events like this. And Jay, you mentioned one. The fact is that often we have dreams. Dreams are very weird and bizarre and surreal. And we remember them imperfectly. One possibility is that a chance coincidence between something we dream is something which happens to us the following day triggers a memory of that dream. So you could you could just be pure coincidence. Or even if you remembered the dream upon awakening and recount it and then something later on happens. So you can have that again. That could just be pure coincidence. That's one hypothesis. Or the the event vaguely matched the dream. And then your memory of the dream morphs to fit the event. Another possibility is that the entire event is misremembered in the telling. So it could be that the fit between the dream and the events and even the timing of things over the years of remembering the event morphs and the story becomes more and more meaningful and dramatic. So these are all things which can explain reports of this kind of thing happening. Well, you could also do calculations, as Bob said, to say, well how many dreams do we have? How many events happen in our lives? And what's the probability of there being a chance alignment? And then does that fit with what we observe in the real world? If the number of such events are at chance or roughly at chance, then you can conclude I think scientifically that there does not appear to be any measurable force at work here. Of course, you can't prove a negative. The science doesn't work that way. And saying that because science can't prove a negative, this isn't scientific is a non sequitur. And the final comment about that. The other thing is that it's natural to worry about a family member, a loved one who is in the war, who is on the front lines. So they were at risk of being killed in action. And that risk both caused them the mother to have the dream and for the son to be killed in combat. So it's not it's even less of a coincidence because events were sort of conspiring to make both of those things very likely. Let's go on to the last email.
Moon Hoax? (44:03)
I seen this and it really made me laugh to think that people can believe the craziest of things, at first I assumed it was a joke but as you read on it seems that this is a serious site the article is at
S: This one comes from Greg Carson in Northern Ireland. And Greg writes, "I've seen this and it really made me laugh to think that people can believe the craziest of things. At first, I assumed it was a joke. But as you read on, it seems that this is a serious site. The article is the mad revisionist." And of course, we'll have the link on our site. So I took a look at this. This is actually quite a humorous site. It claims that the existence of the moon itself is a propaganda hoax. And the mad revisionist is here to expose it. He answers 12 questions, 12 common questions about the moon. What evidence do we have that there really is a moon? You can see it. And he answers all of these questions. But don't all qualified scientists and astronomers agree that there is a moon? Let me just read his answer to this. Indeed, but shouldn't one be suspicious of such unanimity when universities are supposed to be forms for open debate of controversial issues? Even a lay person like myself knows that scientists are not supposed to approach issues with preconceived notions. And he goes on in that vein. But who would or could perpetrate such a hoax? Although it is impossible to fully fathom the depth of the deception without further research, the primary culprits are easy to spot. First of all, the various secret societies and religious orders to which the scientists responsible for propagating the moon hoax have belonged from the beginning. One could easily trace the history of this deception through the Templars and the Illuminati and the Masons by way of various scientists. So he goes on and on in this vein. Now, the whole website is satire. It is not, this guy does not really believe this. There's a disclaimer at the bottom of the home page that says all editorial content on this website is strictly not the writer's author's opinion. The mad revisionist located on the moon is owned and operated by accident. The content of this page is the copyrighted property of the mad revisionist. Any illegal copying or circulating of this page in whole or in part without the express permission of the mad scientist will be taken as a compliment. My favorite one, though, there were some tidbits in here which are let you know that this guy knows exactly what he's doing. One argument he says is that the the word moon does not occur anywhere in the in the English language prior to 1066.
B: That's a good one.
S: The reason is, of course, that the English language didn't exist before 1066. What this what this website is and I do take a look at it because it is hilarious. It's basically just a rank on all this stupid revisionist conspiracy theories out there. And you just take the exact style and logic of arguments that these people use, whether they're UFO nuts or whatever. And you just insert the most absurd conspiracy claim that you could think of. The moon doesn't really even exist. And it reads with as much with as much sense as all these other revisionist and conspiracy sites do. So it's a good way to show how absurd and ridiculous and pointless really all these arguments.
J: Steve, I would love to talk to the owner of the site and ask him or her, did you get have you ever got feedback where people didn't even bother to read the disclaimer and they buy into it?
R: Oh, undoubtedly.
J: I bet you I bet you he gets true believers just on this.
S: Well, yeah, we should try to contact him. Maybe we can get him on or we can ask him quickly about his experience running the site. But I thought that was very funny. I did write back to Greg and let him know what I thought. And he said that he thought it was satire. He just wanted to point it out to me.
Name That Logical Fallacy (47:34)
- 9/11 conspiracy theories
Statements taken from http://911research.wtc7.net/reviews/nist/WTC_FAQ_reply.html
"We know that the sprinkler systems were activated because survivors reported water in the stairwells. If the sprinklers were working, how could there be a 'raging inferno' in the WTC towers?"
"How could the WTC towers have collapsed without a controlled demolition since no steel-frame, high-rise buildings have ever before or since been brought down due to fires? Temperatures due to fire don't get hot enough for buildings to collapse."
S: We have a name that logical fallacy for this week in honor of 9/11. I have two statements taken from the scholars for 9/11 truth site.
R: Truth is in quotes whenever you say that just in case the listeners can't see them in their heads.
S: So these are in response to the National Institute for Standards and Technology that came out with an assessment of a lot of the 9/11 conspiracy claims with specific answers to them. And this is the 9/11 research websites response to these. I'm just taking a couple of their responses. The first one is this. We know that the sprinkler systems were activated because survivors reported water in the stairwells. If the sprinklers were working, how could there have been a raging inferno in the World Trade Center towers?
B: So where is the fallacy in that line of argument? Is that denying the antecedent or affirming the consequent?
S: Yeah, or if A therefore B and not A therefore not B, which is not not a correct extension of that. But that's I don't think that's the case.
B: Yeah, it was kind of fuzzy to to match those.
S: So there's actually a false premise is that this is the unstated major premise. The premise here is that water in the stairwells means that the sprinklers were working. That's the premise of the argument. That's false. It's a false premise because it ignores other sources of water in the stairwells. What the NIST site says is that answering this this specific claim there, of course, any tall office building is going to have water pipes running up and down all the walls. You have to get water to every floor with that. With the amount of structural damage that was done, many of the water pipes were severed. So, of course, there was water all over the place. It does not mean the sprinklers were working. In fact, the water there was water in the stairwells for the same reason that the sprinklers were not working because all the water pipes were broken. So that is a false premise. The second quote is "how could the World Trade Center towers have collapsed without a controlled demolition since no steel frame high rise buildings have ever before or since been brought down due to fires. Temperatures due to fire alone don't get hot enough for buildings to collapse."
B: That's appeal to ignorance, isn't it? That's one fallacy that they employ there.
S: The idea that we don't know how it could have happened, therefore it didn't happen.
B: It's never happened. It can happen.
S: This is probably mostly a hasty generalization. In the past, buildings that have been on fire have not collapsed. Therefore, buildings don't collapse from fire. That's a hasty generalization. That does not mean that it's impossible for a building to collapse from fire because each building fire is unique. No two buildings are exactly the same. No two fires are exactly the same. So this is just an inappropriate generalization. The fact that some other building in the past that was on fire didn't collapse doesn't mean that the World Trade Center tower wouldn't collapse given the specific damage and the specific fire that was, conditions of the fire that were present. Well, let us move on to science or fiction.
Science or Fiction (51:10)
Item #1: A new study shows that fathers secrete a hormone that delays the sexual maturity of their daughters.
Item #2: A new archaeological evidence from Gibraltar demonstrates cohabitation between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon man.
Item #3: A new study suggests that bicyclists who wear helmets are at greater accident risk.
|Fiction||Cohabitating early humans|
|Science||Fathers delay maturity|
Helmet-wearing is riskier
|Cohabitating early humans|
|Helmet-wearing is riskier|
|Cohabitating early humans|
|Cohabitating early humans|
Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.
S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine, one fictitious. I then challenge my panel of skeptics and the audience, of course, to sniff out the fake. Are you guys ready for the three items?
E: My olfactory senses are ready.
S: Okay. Again, two real, one fake. Number one, a new study shows that fathers secrete a hormone that delays the sexual maturity of their daughters. Item number two, new archaeological evidence from Gibraltar demonstrates cohabitation between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon men. And item number three, a new study suggests that bicyclists who wear helmets are at greater accident risk. Bob, why don't you go first?
B: Fathers secrete hormones? Do you mean pheromones?
S: Yeah. Yeah, it's pheromones. Pheromones are hormones.
B: Okay. Let's see. Cohabitation of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon? How long were they contemporaries? Three? I'm going to say three is true. Two?
J: You see, Evan, you hear Bob's stalling tactics.
E: It's giving me time to think. I like it.
B: Yeah, sorry I'm stalling to think this over.
J: This is worse than a spelling bee.
B: I'm going to say two. Cohabitation.
S: Okay. Jay?
J: I'm going to say three.
S: You think three is fake?
S: Okay. Rebecca?
R: I'm going to go with number two as well. No reason. I have no clue.
S: Okay. Just flip the coin. Evan?
E: Well, again having a daughter, I'm hoping number one is true.
R: Although, yeah, I have to say that I do find one creepy and weird for some reason. I just want to forget about it.
E: It has a certain strangeness to it that it almost must be true. It's bizarre that way. Yeah, I'm going to have to say number two is false.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: Okay. So you all agree that even though it creeps you out, that number one is true, that pheromones from the father will delay sexual maturity of their daughters.
S: That is true. That is science. The title is Scent of Father Checks Daughter's Maturity. Chemical cues from fathers may be delaying the onset of sexual maturity in their daughters. This is a study from Penn State. The imputative reason for this is what do you guys think? What evolutionary factor might that serve?
B: Well, if that's delayed and he's around, I mean, she could help out more if she's around and not, having dalliances with the guys or...
R: And you won't have other males sniffing around his house, I guess. Geez, I don't know. It still creeps me out.
J: I have an idea, but I don't even want to say it.
R: I'm going to take off my headphones. You finish this up.
B: So she's not attracted to the father? Is that what you're getting at?
S: Well, the thinking is that it's to prevent incest.
J: Yeah, I was going to say that.
S: And not just from the father, but from brothers.
R: Are you done talking about it yet?
B: Hormones are needed for that?
J: Rebecca's halfway across the room.
E: Rebecca, geez, you can talk about them.
S: Likewise, exposure to unrelated males will hasten sexual maturity. So the more you hang out with your father and brothers, the more delayed the maturity is, the more you hang out with unrelated males, the younger sexual maturity will be. So that all seems to imply timing the sexual maturity for when women are going to be exposed to males they're not related to, as opposed to males they are related to, which seems to be an evolutionary strategy to minimize incestual reproduction, which is genetically bad.
J: Okay, Rebecca, you can come back now.
E: That's called in-breathing.
B: So that supports my belief that not to let my daughter out of the house until she's 20.
S: That's also called, you sure got a [inaudible].
R: I can't wait to see the letters from that one.
E: Funny because it's true.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: Okay, Jay, you thought that number three was fiction, but in fact number three is science.
B: You've got to read your science news daily, Jay, that was all over it.
S: So this one, wearing a helmet puts cyclists at risk, suggests research.
R: Is that because they feel like they can go faster and do crazier things?
S: That's not a bad hypothesis.
B: Sorry, Steve, the drivers actually drove closer to bicyclists if they were wearing helmets than if they weren't.
S: So it was the car drivers, the automobile drivers that were the culprits here. I guess there's this assumption that if you're wearing a helmet that the bicyclist is either safer or they're a more experienced, better bicyclist.
R: Both times I've been hit by cars on my bike, I've been wearing a helmet.
B: There you go. You shouldn't have. Why the hell do you wear helmets?
R: I don't know. I'm an idiot.
E: What the hell are you doing on a bike in Boston?
R: Thanks, science.
J: Steve, do you think that that relates to motorcycles as well?
S: I don't know. This study just looked at bicyclists. So the other thing is so what's the bottom line? Should you wear a helmet or not? I mean, there's still tons of evidence that if you do get into an accident, you're better off having a helmet. It's definitely worth protecting your brain. I don't know if you factor those two things together. This study did not talk about that. I mean, more accidents, but your head's more protected. If you do get into an accident, I probably would still wear helmets, but just be very, very conscious of where you're driving.
J: Well, you obviously should wear a clear helmet.
S: An invisible helmet.
R: Or maybe just really strong hairspray.
B: They should sell helmets that look like your head. Just like a big head.
R: Actually, I saw a helmet that looked like a brain once. It was the most awesome thing I've ever seen. I really want one.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: But this means that number two is fiction. So everybody but Jay got this one right.
S: There still is no evidence of cohabitation between homo sapiens. Cro-Magnon was a was a European race of homo sapiens and Neanderthals. The evidence that I was referring to from Gibraltar is the most recent evidence, archaeological fossil evidence of Neanderthal dwelling from about 30,000 to 31,000 years ago. And this may have been the last pocket of Neanderthals still alive in the world.
E: Yeah, that was late.
S: Yeah, that is late. In terms of interbreeding between Neanderthals and homo sapiens, again, the evidence suggests that if it did occur, it was pretty rare. So there was just rare occasional interbreeding, but they were not interbreeding on any kind of large scale. So occasionally we swapped a gene here or there with them, but not much.
B: Well, that's pure that's pure guesswork, though. I mean, we really don't know that there was any Neanderthal sex going on there.
S: We have some DNA evidence. We have been able to extract DNA from fossilized Neanderthal bones.
B: Yeah. And I thought that I thought that conclusively show that there was no crossbreeding.
S: That there was no significant crossbreeding, but there are rare mutations in common, which means that there. So if you look at all the evidence so far, it means that there's there's a suggestion that there was no occasional or rare interbreeding, but it was certainly not commonplace. So congratulations. Congratulations, everyone who got that correct.
R: Everybody but Jay.
E: Everyone but Jay.
S: That's OK.
R: Can't be said enough.
Skeptical Puzzle (59:05)
Last week's Puzzle:
He says that the power of the mind is like an iceberg, 90% of it lies beneath the surface.
He says that this 90% of the mind's power is the subconscious.
He says the subconscious listens and absorbs experiences - much like a sponge soaks up water.
He says we need only talk to our subconscious to make ourselves happy, relaxed, strong, or whatever else we desire.
He says the absorptive qualities of subconsciousness will make these things come true.
He says the subconscious speaks back to us and that we need to listen to it.
He calls this instinct and intuition.
He says instinct and intuition are psychic gifts.
And he says by listening to these psychic gifts, we use more power of our minds than Albert Einstein ever used his.
Who is this deep thinker?
Answer: Uri Geller
Listeners were challenged to remote view a playing card on display in Rebecca's Boston apartment.
Answer:9 of hearts
You meet a woman and ask her if she has any children. She replies, 'two.' You ask if she has any sons and she says, 'yes.' So now you know she has exactly two children and at least one of them is a boy. What is the probability that her other child is also a boy, and therefore that she has two sons?
S: We have a new skeptical puzzle this week, but first Evan is going to give us the answer to last week's.
E: Here was last week's puzzle for those who missed it. He says that the power of the mind is like an iceberg. Ninety percent of it lies beneath the surface. He says that 90 percent of the mind's power is the subconscious. He says the subconscious listens and absorbs experiences, much like a sponge soaks up water. He says we need only talk to our subconscious to make ourselves happy, relaxed, strong or whatever else we desire. He says the absorbent qualities of subconsciousness will make these things come true. He says the subconscious speaks back to us and that we need to listen to it. He calls this instinct and intuition. He says and he says by listening to these psychic, I'm sorry. He says instinct and intuition are psychic gifts. And he says by listening to these psychic gifts, we use more power of our minds than Albert Einstein ever used his. So who was this deep thinker? Any guesses out there? What about you guys? What do you guys think? I didn't give any of you the answer.
R: John Wayne?
J: I'd go with John Wayne.
R: I'm pretty sure it's John Wayne.
J: Oh, I know who it is.
S: Is it Wink Martindale?
J: Sean Connery.
E: Uri Geller. I took it from Uri Geller's Little Book Of Mind-Power.
J: Rebecca, what do you call him?
R: Oh, you mean Uri Michelle Geller?
E: That comes from Uri Geller's Little Book Of Mind-Power.
R: Notice that Uri Geller doesn't have a big book of mind power. It's a good reason for that.
J: That guy is such an incredibly huge jackass.
B: Oh, you're going to get sued now.
J: Me and Randy are going to get sued.
R: That was Jay Novella. Just so you know.
S: Well, that was such generic nonsense, though. I mean, it really could fit any new age crackpot.
E: It could have, yeah.
S: But that was a good one. Evan, thank you. Nobody got the right answer. Somebody guessed Sigmund Freud.
R: Well, Freud had a lot of crazy ideas.
New Puzzle (1:01:14)
S: I got the new puzzle for this week. This one comes from our message board. This one was posted by TKO, and I'm borrowing it from him or her. This is the question. This is a logic puzzle. This is similar to the Monty Hall problem. You meet a woman and ask her if she has any children. She replies, two. You ask if she has any sons, and she says, yes. So now you know she has exactly two children, and at least one of them is a boy. The question is, what is the probability that her other child is also a boy, and therefore she has two sons? That's the logic problem. It's been quite controversial on the message board, so I thought I'd throw it out there for everyone and see what you say. And we'll have the analysis for you next week.
R: And Steve, I'm wondering if anybody guessed the card on my Windows.
S: Yes. And Rebecca had a card sitting face up on her windowsill in Boston. And the card was?
R: The Nine of Hearts.
J: I knew it.
S: Nine of Hearts.
R: But nobody else seemed to.
E: Those were hearts? I thought they were spades.
S: I looked through all the guesses that were emailed and posted on the board. I did not see any Nine of Hearts.
R: We have far more than 52 listeners, so I'm kind of disappointed. One of you should have gotten that.
S: But Rebecca, it's probably statistically improbable that nobody got it, so that is a case of psi missing. You are psychically keeping people from guessing the Nine of Hearts.
R: Yeah, that's a very good point.
S: That's a paranormal phenomenon.
R: Yeah, I have like a bubble around my apartment. That's really good.
S: There you go. Keeping people from guessing the Nine of Hearts. We've proven psychic ability yet again.
R: Hooray! Just in me. I win.
Skeptical Quotes of the Week (1:02:43)
Science, the only true magic.
It's curious, isn't it, that with low-grade, chronic conditions (back pain, seasonal affective disorder, what have you) people are eager to try alternative hocus-pocus. But bring on something virulent, acute, and truly terrifying, then, brother, bring on Western medicine! Nothing like your eyeballs leaking blood to put things in perspective, hey?
– kWe, a Skeptic forum user, on 6 Feb 2001
S: Now we have a new segment this week. Bob has been dutifully collecting his favourite skeptical quotes over many, many years. And he has thousands of them. And he is going to each week end the show with his favourite skeptical quote of the week. Bob, what is the quote for this week?
B: I actually have two here. It's not just skeptical quotes. It's funny stuff and scientifically interesting things to me anyway. But I do have one skeptically oriented one and one kind of funny one. This was a posting I took many years ago to cut and paste from a skeptical email group I've been a member of that just tickled my fancy. This response was regarding somebody mentioning a possible case of Ebola in Canada. "And he says, let's hope they're treating her with something more effective than homeopathy and acupuncture." And this person replied, "it's curious, isn't it, that with low-grade chronic conditions, back pain, seasonal affective disorder, what have you, people are eager to try alternative hocus pocus. But bring on something virulent, acute, and truly terrifying. Then, brother, bring on Western medicine. Nothing like your eyeballs leaking blood to put things into perspective, hey?" So that was from KWE.
R: I say that every morning.
B: KWE on the skeptic emailing list, February 6<suo>th, 2001. And then one other quick quickie quote here. This is from Dexter from the cartoon Dexter's Laboratory. "Science, the only true magic."
S: That's very pithy.
J: I love it.
E: That's a bumper sticker.
S: Well, that is our show for this week. Everyone, thanks again for joining me.
R: Thank you, Steve.
B: Good episode.
E: Thank you.
S: It was a pleasure to chat with you.
E: I appreciate it. Until next week, this is your Skeptics Guide to the Universe.
S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society. For information on this and other podcasts, please visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website, or you can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.
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