SGU Episode 918
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|SGU Episode 918|
|February 11th 2023|
|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
|Quote of the Week|
Not all lucid dreams are useful, but they all have a sense of wonder. If you must sleep through a third of your life, why should you sleep through your dreams, too?
Introduction, Time Zone at the South Pole
Voice-over: 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 Thursday, February 9th, 2023, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody!
S: Cara Santa Maria...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: ...and Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening everyone!
S: So we're deep into February.
S: Cold, but still not that bad.
J: There's no winter here.
E: Oh my gosh, we have gotten off so easy this winter. Oh, there I cursed it.
S: Yeah, famous last words.
B: It's not even really winter. I mean, sure, we've had a little cold, but we have days, like today was what, in the 40s Fahrenheit?
E: Yeah, mid 40s.
B: I mean, what the hell, man?
C: It's comfortable.
B: We've had days in the 50s.
J: I hate it. I want a winter, you know? That's why I live in Connecticut.
S: I'm fine with it. Well, I'll tell you, you want a winter, go down to the South Pole.
E: Yeah, in the summer.
B: I smell it.
E: In our summer, make sure you do that. Hey, do you know we got an email from a listener who was in Antarctica recently?
S: So did he email us from the exact South Pole?
E: Well, yes. Eventually, he did. Here was the first email he wrote. This was back on January 4th. His name is Eric. "Happy New Year. Writing to you via satellite modem while skiing a new route to the South Pole. Listening to back issues of SGU, a staple on my expeditions for 10 years, and now a significant part of my education. My team has covered 740 kilometers with another 130 to go." And he signs, he says some more things. Oh, he has a word for Cara that's pertinent to the Antarctic Plateau. It's called perihelion.
C: Yeah, I love it.
E: And he's seen some very spectacular, really spectacular ones over the years. "Big fan. Great work for you guys." Oh, and he says: "Eric, just shy of 89 degrees South", which is his latitude. Great. So I replied and I said, thanks for sharing. Oh, he also shared with us his tracking information, an expedition page. So it was really cool to see him and all the points along Antarctica that he and his team has traveled. And I said, when you get to 90 degrees South, let us know what time it is according to your satellite information. The SGU needs to know for certain to settle a months long debate on what time it is at the Earth's two poles and to stay safe. And Eric, when he got there, he actually did report in.
E: South Pole time. All right. I checked and he replied. This was a few days later. "I checked my time at the South Pole at exactly 90 degrees South. This point is marked every year on January 1 with a steel pole by a geodeist."
C: Cool. I love that. That's like a job?
E: Geodesist is what it's called.
E: Yeah, geodesist. I also waypointed it with my GPS and he sent a picture to basically confirm that. He says: "Oh, by the way, 90 degrees North or South cannot be manually entered into a GPS. It can only be recorded by being there." That's interesting. "To get the time exactly at 90 degrees, I went to the date and time setting on my iPhone 14 Pro and toggled to set automatically. The time that came up was 9.34 or 18.34 UTC and 13.34 Chilean time", which I suppose that's what it ties to.
C: Well, but I guess it depends on where you are in Antarctica because I know that at Amundsen, they are on New Zealand time.
E: Well, there's only one exactly 90 degrees.
C: Yeah, I'm just saying I think the convention is that they use New Zealand time.
C: And so I don't know. There is no, obviously, this is arbitrary, what we're assigning to it. Which band he fell into is interesting. But from my understanding, because I interviewed a woman who was wintering over at Amundsen Research Station and they all use New Zealand time.
E: But check this out. In his next sentence in his email, he said: "I couldn't use any of my Garmin devices to determine the time at 90 degrees as they do not offer auto time, only a selection of time zones." So I think what Jay, in a way, you might be right. What did you say? There was like no time at 90 degrees?
J: No time, of course.
E: So that is so cool. And he signs off by saying that he's doing an expedition to the North Pole in April and he's going to do the same for us when he reaches the North Pole. And he said this was a fun exercise to keep up the great work. So thank you, Eric. It was really great to hear from you. And obviously hearing from you from the most remotely from the remote most remote spot on the earth, basically, that you can be is super special. And so glad you're listening to us on your on your expeditions.
S: Yeah. Now there's no pole at the North Pole because it's just ice that's moving and floating. So it doesn't stay in place.
E: Yeah. And he mentioned that in his email as well.
S: But the South Pole-
E: He is going to do the best. He's going to use his GPS as best as he can to find 90 degrees north when he's there in a couple months.
C: Oh, yeah. And Amundsen must be close because I remember, do you guys remember when I told you about that that club that they join, like the 300 Club or whatever, where on the coldest day of the year?
E: They jump in the ice?
C: Yeah, they wear boots, but they run outside naked and then they run back into the station and get in a hot tub and they span like 300 degrees Fahrenheit. And so but but I think the thing is, they run out and they tap the geographic South Pole. So it must be within like running distance of Amundsen.
E: I would think so.
C: Yeah. So I think wherever he is, the convention is to use New Zealand time. So that's that kind of goes back to what we were talking about with Jay. It's whatever is chosen is the time zone.
E: Invent your own time zone. I like that. Come up with your own. So a couple of things, hopefully nobody stuck their tongue out to the South Pole.
C: So far, I don't think so.
E: And try to go back because that's a big that's a big no no. And speaking of Amundsen, which is the station in Antarctica named after the explorer, Raoul was it Raould Amundsen?
C: Something like that.
E: Roald Amundsen. So I'll tell you guys this. This is something you've never heard about me before. You know why? Because I've never told you guys about me before. There is a story in my family history. I have not been able to certify it through genealogy or anything or DNA tests or anything else that on my mother's side were descendants of the Amundsens. I've never been able to confirm that. And it's only been a story that's told. I think my grandmother mentioned it and my mom knows it passed down the same story, essentially. So it's one of these tales in effect that you hear. But and it never, when I first heard it when I was young, I was like, oh, that's that's really cool. But as I got older, I was like, how do we know this for sure? I mean, we're talking about like the 1970s and 80s when we're talking about this. And I'm like, really, I don't know how we really how how we know that other than the story, right? There was no book. There was nothing to reference to in which I could go to try to try to figure it out. So what I have to get a DNA test and see if we have DNA from Amundsen?
C: I don't even know if you could do that.
E: Amundsen was never married. I looked that up.
C: So it's scandalous.
E: But but what that but he did have apparently relationships with several women. So perhaps that's-
S: Or is that through like nieces and nephews.
E: Maybe I mean, again, it could be this is again, just a story that's been passed down sort of in my family.
S: It would be a fun thing to try to track through genealogy, not through DNA, just through.
C: I think you do both usually when you're really trying to make sure you're dialed into it. You got to go on that show. Who do you think you are? Except you're not a celebrity to get on that show. But yeah, that's what they do is they work with a bunch of experts to try and figure out your.
E: So what do you think? Should I put the effort in and try to figure that one out?
J: Yeah do it. Why wouldn't you?
C: For sure.
J: It's fascinating.
E: All right. All right. I'll put that down after. Let me get through a couple months of tough work here. And then I'll I'll get to work on that maybe this summer.
C: Speaking of you'll be so proud. Evan, file my taxes. Nice and early.
E: Hey, congratulations. Nice and early.
C: Thank you. As it should be.
E: Nice and early.
J: How could you possibly have that done already?
C: I already did it. I did it. I did it. And I file intense tax because I've got personal and corporate because I have an S Corp.
E: 17 million tax returns have been filed so far this season.
B: By the crazy people.
S: Evan, so the Novella boys are all we're related if you dig back far enough in our genealogy to Julius Caesar.
C: Aren't we all?
E: Is that true of millions of people around the world?
S: That's true of anybody who's related to anyone from the Mediterranean region. At some point, like 40 percent of the world is related to Genghis Khan or something. At this point, you go back far enough, everybody is related to everybody.
C: Yeah. Because there's so many bottlenecks.
E: Am I related to mitochondrial-
S: It's not even the bottlenecks is that each generation you go back, the genealogy doubles the number of people. Eventually, you get more ancestors than there were people.
C: There's a name for that, right? It's like the ancestor effect or something.
S: So mathematically, it has to be that way. You end up with trillions of great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents or whatever. So they have to all be the same. They have to overlap at some point.
C: Oh, actually, that is not what the ancestor effect is. So I don't know what the name of that is. But the ancestor effect is that thinking about one's genetic origin provides people with a positive psychological resource that increases what? This can't be true. Okay, this is scratching everything I said. There's like a whole body of literature on this. This is fascinating.
E: Oh, it sounds like a special segment from Cara.
C: Weird intelligence research over here. But I am seeing over and over things about how ancestor research affects our well-being. There's a lot of research on that. So Evan, this might bring you some good quality of life.
E: Hey, you know that.
Quickie with Steve: Dwarf planet Quaoar's rings (10:16)
S: So I have a quickie before we go to the full news items. Recently astronomers have discovered that the dwarf planet Quaoar.
B: Is that how you pronounce that?
B: I'm sure you looked it up because when you look at it.
S: I have looked it up.
B: What the hell is that?
C: Qua-or. Qua-or.
S: I saw two pronunciations, a two-syllable one and a three-syllable one. So it's either Quaoar or Quaoar. The three-syllable one more closely resembles the native language that it derives from.
S: And is preferred. So it's Quaoar.
C: Quaoar. Okay.
B: I like it.
S: So that's a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, range from about 42 to 45 AU from the sun.
E: It's pronounced Kuiper.
C: Yeah, I was going to say.
E: It's pronounced Kuiper.
C: Also hard to pronounce if you're just reading it for the first time.
S: Yes, totally. So it has a small moon, but it also has a ring around it. But that's not the exciting part because plenty of stuff have rings around them in the solar system. It has a ring that's farther away from the planet than the Roche limit.
B: The Roche limit.
S: And if you understand the Roche limit, you'll go like, hmm, that shouldn't be possible. And it shouldn't be possible for a very good reason. So inside the Roche limit, a moon would break up into a ring. And outside the Roche limit, a ring would coalesce into a moon. Right?
B: That's what our moon did. It was a ring outside the Roche limit.
S: So it coalesced into a moon.
B: So it coalesced to a moon. Maybe two moons briefly, but then one moon.
E: So there's another force working?
S: Well that's the question.
E: Another body or something.
B: Well the moon might be having an effect.
S: But you might be wondering, so what? It hasn't coalesced into a moon yet. But it only takes decades for that to happen.
J: It that it?
S: What's the probability that we're seeing this brief window of a ring?
E: Highly improbable.
S: It would be highly improbable. Not impossible.
C: It could still be happening.
S: Not impossible. It's just if the answer is it's extremely unlikely, that's probably the reason.
C: So are we.
E: But wouldn't this have... Yeah, but okay.
S: It's a mystery. So the bottom line is the astronomers don't know why. It's just it shouldn't be there.
C: But maybe we'll know in a couple decades.
S: Well if it is just that we just happen to catch a newly formed ring, then we'll know. Yeah. If we observe it over the next 20, 30 years, it should slowly coalesce into a moon. But I think there might be other reasons for it. One is that it's so cold. How cold is it?
C: How cold is it?
S: It's so cold that the bits of the dust and ice and whatever in the ring are not sticking together. So I don't know how plausible that is. That's just one thing they're throwing out there. Maybe it's just because it's way far out from the sun. So observations of things closer to the sun may not hold because it's it's significantly colder out there, I suppose. So that's one explanation. And that's the only one I've heard. So either we just happen to catch it early. But you could also, I mean, I thought what you thought, Evan, that maybe that there's something else shepherding it, keeping it from forming into, from coalescing.
E: Something else that hasn't been seen.
S: But it would be something unseen because the moon is nowhere near it. So its moon would not do it.
E: Another item with another body with some sort of gravity?
S: Maybe there's another moon we're just not seeing. This thing is really far out there. We actually didn't even see the rings. We detected them by the stars passing behind it and the winking out as it passed the rings.
E: Oh, interesting.
S: Yeah. Data from Cheops confirmed it.
E: Oh, isn't it Cheops?
S: Is it? Is it Cheops or Cheops? I actually don't know.
E: It's Greek. Is that the word? I think it's Cheops.
S: Yeah, I'm hearing Cheops. Yeah, we'll just say Cheops. So before we go on to the full news item, we just want to make a quick mention that our hearts go out to anyone affected by the devastating earthquake in Syria and Turkey. 21,000 confirmed dead so far and counting. The number is still rising. It's in we don't know where it's going to plateau. Yeah, it's just terrible. Yeah, one of the worst natural disasters in the 21st century so far. Yeah, it's just you read numbers like that, it's just hard to wrap your head around it.
C: It is. Yeah.
S: Okay, let's move on with the news items.
Lucky Girl Syndrome (14:49)
S: Cara, you're going to start us off talking about Lucky Girl Syndrome. What's that?
C: Have you guys heard of Lucky Girl Syndrome?
C: Why would you?
B: Is that everybody I dated? What was that?
C: Are you women on TikTok? No, you are not.
E: Oh my gosh.
C: So yeah, there's a new, I guess, I don't want to call it a trend, but we usually call them trends on TikTok. Some sort of technique. Lucky Girl Syndrome, let's just say that it is trending. To be a lucky girl, you pronounce yourself to be prosperous, you pronounce yourself to be lucky, you pronounce yourself to be a magnet for good things. Is this new? What does this sound like to you?
S: The Secret.
C: The Secret.
C: Right. And so there's been some ride-arounds recently because this really is trending and it's big. There's a Vox article written by Rebecca Jennings where she talks about how the law of attraction, which was made popular by The Secret, this just feels like a repackaging and recapitulation. And of course, that's periodically going to happen when it comes to pseudoscience and magical thinking because these labels get old, they get tired, they get passe, but the people who are perpetuating this very often self-help gurus, very often people who stand to gain financially, whether it be because they're getting more clicks on TikTok or because they're selling books or they're doing seminars they got to figure out a way to keep this hot and fresh and young and new. And there's this whole new generation of people who probably weren't exposed to The Secret. And so this is The Secret for a new generation. Lucky Girl Syndrome. What I love about the write-up that I read by Lou Mudge in Live Science, other than the fact that whenever I listen on, I have an app called Pocket that reads me articles out loud and it can't differentiate between live and live because it's the same word. So it always says live science and it makes me laugh. I don't know why. What the writer Lou on Live Science did, which I think is really great, is sort of highlighted this, I feel like this article is a bit of a smorgasbord of name that logical fallacy, except instead of name that logical fallacy, it's name that cognitive bias. There are so many cognitive biases that are involved in falling for and perpetuating something like Lucky Girl Syndrome. And so I thought I would highlight a few of them as they do in the article. The first one that they draw attention to is something called positive illusion, which according to the American Psychological Association's online dictionary of psychology is a belief about oneself that's pleasant or positive and that's held regardless of its truth, which is kind of sad.
E: Regardless? Okay.
C: So the most common positive illusions would be exaggerating your good traits, overestimating your degree of control over events and sustaining unrealistic optimism, which can all be really, it's like they're good until they're bad. Some of these traits, they're on a continuum, right? And so maintaining the cognitive bias of a positive illusion can actually heavily shoot you in the foot. And the reason for that, as again, as pointed out in the article, is that when we have this kind of power of positive thinking mentality, we start to believe that simply putting thoughts into the universe will give us back outcomes. And what we forget is that we actually need to act. Our thoughts don't interact with anything unless we say them, unless we use them, unless we physically have behaviors that are linked to them. So if we're just trying to "manifest", which is what all these videos on TikTok are, it's like repeat this three times.
S: It's magic. It's basically magic.
C: Yeah. And then it's magic. So what ends up happening is A, sometimes good stuff does happen to us and then we all of a sudden attribute it to this, right? Because we're counting the hits and not the misses. And B, it can actually backfire because we might stop doing the things that are necessary for us to achieve, for us to have positive outcomes, because we think we don't have to. We can just will it into existence by thinking about it. And then we stop actually, I don't know, like doing good in the world.
S: Yeah. Richard Wiseman spoke to us about this, the idea that, and this is from his book as well. He summarized that research in the 59 seconds where if you imagine where you want to be, that's counterproductive. If you imagine the steps you need to take to get to where you want to be, that's productive. And so this is, looks like the counterproductive version of that.
S: It's just affirmation. I'm great.
C: And that's the thing. Affirmations can be psychologically beneficial when they're followed by action. But this idea, so first we're talking positive illusion, which is a cognitive bias. There's another cognitive bias that this can often be tied to, which is called the causal illusion. The causal illusion, as we talk about it all the time, is basically that just because two things happen similar in time or space, doesn't mean that one causes the other. Correlation does not necessitate or equal causation. And even beyond that, sometimes things aren't even correlated. They just randomly occur at similar times. So this is like exactly what we talked about. If somebody puts out these positive "affirmations" and there's like lucky girl, lucky girl, lucky girl, and then they do well on an exam or they get a present in the mail or they get a raise at work, they're not going to attribute it to the hard work that they put into that. They're going to attribute it to the affirmations that they made. But then there's something even more sort of insidious that lies beneath this. And it's something called learned optimism, which is sort of the opposite of learned helplessness. So this is fascinating because you guys remember the learned helplessness studies, right? I use this a lot in therapy when I'm working with clients. But what they would do back in the day is they would put these dogs in these cages and there was basically a gate they could pass through from one side of the cage to the other. They had treats or food on one side of the cage. On the other side of the cage, the floor was electrified. So of course they put the dog in the cage, they shock the dog, it jumps across and goes to safety. They do that a bunch of times and they see, yes, dogs are smart. They know not to be electrocuted. They jump across to safety and then they close the gate. And then they shock the dog, the dog tries to escape and it can't because it can't get across the gate. And then after enough trials of that, they open the gate again. What do you think happens?
S: He does not jump.
C: He does not jump, right? He has learned to be helpless in that situation. The opposite of that, learned optimism. Okay, so learned optimism is that whenever bad stuff happens to you, it's not because of anything you did, it's because the circumstances made it happen. And so in some ways it's like the opposite of learned helplessness. But what we know, this is really interesting, is that learned optimism as a coping strategy, guess what it is highly correlated with? Guess who tends to use learned optimism the most?
J: Happy people?
C: Privileged people. People with means. People for whom good things are going to happen because they're life circumstances allow more good things to happen.
E: Yeah, they have a greater chance of it happening because of their socioeconomic status.
C: Exactly. And we tend to see learned helplessness among people whose circumstances are keeping them down. And so when we actually look at the literature, for example, we know that poverty, growing up impoverished has all sorts of negative psychological outcomes. And a lot of them have to do with your cognitive style and your framing. So I think the reason that I said that this is even slightly more insidious, and I've long thought this, is that the power positive thinking movement as a whole, and I think I even might have worked quite a bit on this chapter for the first SGU book, is actually this kind of deep, dark, very American exceptionalism view that is born out of privilege. And so you often will see these young girls on TikTok being like, just manifest, just manifest, just manifest. And that could be really psychologically damaging or harmful for somebody watching that, who A, doesn't have the same opportunities in front of them, or B, is attempting this manifesting technique and keeps getting slapped in the face by difficulty in life. So it's sort of a lot of risk and almost no reward. And that's not to say that it is dangerous to have a positive outlook. There are a lot of psychological studies that show that positive outlooks are highly correlated with positive benefits, because positive outlooks are often correlated with positive action. But we can't leave that part of the equation out, just like you said, Steve.
S: Yeah, there's no magic to it.
C: The future future that you want, and then not doing anything to achieve it and hoping it comes is magical thinking. It's pseudoscience. But envisioning the future that you want, and while you're doing that, envisioning all the steps that it would take to do that, and then acting upon those things, it may not turn out the way that you want it to, but at least you have a more realistic plan in front of you.
S: Yeah. Yeah, that's important to recognize. Just for completeness, because when I was reading this, one of the things that occurred to me too is that this, another actual logical, what I think is a logical fallacy, is the rainmaker fallacy. You guys hear about this?
B: Yeah. I remember that one.
S: So the rainmaker fallacy is you basically, you predict rain, right? You do your rain dance, whatever, that obviously has nothing to do with whether or not it's going to rain. And then eventually it'll rain.
C: It rains. Exactly.
S: And then you take credit for it when something that's going to happen inevitably. So if you do this, you just wait for something positive to happen, and that's because you were doing this, right?
C: It's so easy to do too, because come on, so much of it's framing. A lot of positive things happen to all of us all the time. Whether we recognize them is a different question.
S: That's another point, Cara. You glossed over it, but that's huge, is the framing. Because you can make anything seem positive. Well, I learned a lesson. This is going to be good for me in a different way, even though it might superficially seem like it was a failure, it was really a success.
C: Just like on the flip side of that.
E: I'll know to never do that again.
C: Right. And just like on the flip side of that, and Jay, we talk about this quite often on this show, we know that when it comes to depression and anxiety, a lot of it is also cognitive framing. And a lot of what we learn using cognitive behavioral therapy is how to change some of those distortions and restructure our thoughts so that we're not framing everything in the most negative possible way. So yeah, a lot of this can't, obviously, framing things positively can be really beneficial for your mental health until it becomes delusional. And that's sort of the cutoff, right? And when it comes to lucky girl syndrome, the secret manifesting, power positive thinking, there are a lot of really dangerous outcomes that can come from it. And it worries me when people go, what's the harm?
S: Right. See, I like to frame things not positively or negatively, but realistically.
C: Me too. Yeah.
S: Just because then it's like, and with a practical thing, like, all right, what do I have control over? What could I do that would make the situation better? Here's the good, here's the bad, here's the things we could improve.
C: And that's such a common approach when I'm doing psychotherapy with individuals. It's interesting because I'm secular, but the serenity prayer so often because of the way that it just so cleanly identifies, let's be empowered to change the things we can. Let's learn how to sit with the things that we can't change. And let's know what the difference between the two of those things are, because that's pretty important. And also, so often it's about preparing for the worst, or expecting and hoping for the best while also being prepared in case if that's not what happens.
S: Yeah, because if you count on the best outcome, that will bite you in the ass.
C: But you also don't want to count on the worst thing happening either, which is a strategy that a lot of us-
E: Let's hope for the best, plan for the worst.
C: -with depression use.
S: Because that could be self-fulfilling as well.
C: It absolutely can be. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
J: All right. Well, thank you, Cara, because the secret is back, rebranded. It's still complete BS.
E: I'm a lucky girl.
More on Space Debris (27:02)
S: All right, Jay, give us an update on space debris.
J: Well, this is really cool. So scientists are studying retrieved debris from objects that once were in orbit. Right? Doesn't that sound a little...?
J: So they're not like something that was in orbit as like an artifact. That would be a cool thing. But no, they're seeking out debris that has fallen from orbit, and they're doing this to improve the design of new space hardware, ensuring that it will disintegrate more fully during reentry. Does this make sense?
C: Oh, nice. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
E: Yeah, it makes it less hazardous, less chance of hazard.
J: Yeah, the concept is to build hardware that is specifically designed to not withstand the intense forces that something is going to face when a reentry occurs. This is called design for demise by those in the field. I think that's pretty cool. Marlon Sorge, a technical fellow for the Space Innovation Directorate of the Aerospace Corporation and executive director of the nonprofit organization's Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, also known as CORDS, he says his team is gathering useful information from objects that have returned to Earth. The researchers say that knowing what the hardware looked like before it reentered the Earth's atmosphere is helpful to them figuring out what exactly happened to that object during reentry. You're starting to see what's going on here? So one of the main objectives of the research is to find out what materials can survive the reentry process and what materials don't survive the reentry process. So as an example, titanium, it's a fantastic material, but it's also a material that can really withstand the intense heat of reentry. And the researchers say that objects that were made out of titanium that were in outer space, these components that they've recovered, they don't even look damaged when they recover them. They look like they are dirty.
C: And what's funny is that used to be what they were probably going for in their design.
J: Sure. Yeah. It has to be as hardy as possible. So what they're trying to do is they're trying to figure out what should spacecraft and fuselages and all those types of things that go into outer space, what's the best materials that they can be made out of so they can survive launch, but they don't survive reentry. Because when they do reenter the Earth's atmosphere, that's the end of their life. It's not like a ship that's intended to come back.
C: Even if something disintegrates in the atmosphere, the stuff that made it up is still going to be, right? It's not just going bye bye. The components of it are aerosolized. Is that also dangerous?
J: Well, that's a totally different topic. I agree with you that there could be things that are not good for the environment and whatnot. But what we're really talking about here is we don't want aircraft and people to get hit by debris.
B: Or structures.
J: As these numbers dramatically increase, the amount of things that we're putting into outer space is going up by an order of orders of magnitude. We're having launches that are happening all the time now. Multiple companies are getting involved. We're going from the old world version of what's in space to the new economy in space. And we're going to see massive leaps forward in this tech and visits to space and everything that we're doing in space. So we need to update and really figure out what is the future going to bring. Can't just do positive thinking here. This isn't lucky spaceman syndrome. We really need to think about this. There is a need. These researchers also believe that there's a need for greater public awareness because there is a growing space debris problem that most people just aren't really that concerned with. Now, there are quite a few scientists that are concerned with it and they are trying to figure out. It's inevitable that reentry is going to happen to things in outer space. At some point, they're going to come back.
C: And that's better actually than it just staying up there for forever.
J: Yeah, but, well, yeah, but, Cara, right now, this gets a little complicated, but there are things up there that will be there for probably longer than humanity is going to exist just because of their orbit, how far out they are.
C: But most new things are required to have some sort of deorbiting situation built into its lifespan, right?
S: Well, that's not universally.
B: Not for all countries.
J: Not globally.
J: So what's happening right now, the people that are involved are first trying to figure out what's going on. So you have scientists, people that are involved with NASA, lots of organizations that are trying to understand what is happening. What is the situation that we're in right now and what should we do about the way we understand it today? So let me give you an example. There's something called active debris removal, ADR. ADR is essentially the removal of objects that are in orbit through an external disposal method, right? You know how we're always saying, can't they send up a spaceship that could just gobble up these things or you shoot a net or like, no, it's so much more complicated than that. And even though there's a lot of stuff up there, there's a lot of space between that stuff. So there isn't like one way to grab a whole bunch of stuff.
B: The big problem is that in order to go from orbit to orbit and pick up the junk, it would cost way too much money to use all that fuel that would be required to do that. That's the problem. And that's why that's never going to be an option, going from place to place because that works in the movie.
C: It's not like driving a car down the road.
E: Yeah, like scooper, right? It's too vast.
J: So ADR is the idea that you have controlled reentry, which is important. Some things don't need it. Some things need controlled reentry because of what they're made out of, the size what their orbit is. So they have to figure out like when do we need to pull something down by its own power. Of course, uncontrolled reentry doesn't cost as much as controlled reentry does because you have to literally send the object up there with the ability to maneuver itself as it's reentering. If you wanted it to auto de-orbit, it has to have the fuel to do that or the propulsion of some kind to do that. So ADR is this idea that we're looking at every single craft that's going to go up, no matter how big or small it is. We think about its lifetime, what's going to happen to this thing, how long is it supposed to last, and then what is the end of its life and how does it get out of orbit, right? So it's the full picture. So several parameters are needed to fully understand the conditions that lead to fallen space debris on Earth. And like these are the things that the scientists are collecting now. They're starting to put a list together of like, what are the parameters? Okay, so first I'll give you a few instances here. What's the object's initial mass? What kind of insulation does it have? What's its orbital velocity, its reentry flight path angle, breakup sequence. You see, like they're looking at like what will actually happen when this thing reenters? What's going to burn up? They're finding, for example, that certain plastics that they use act as a heat shield when it's coming back down. And it doesn't allow the internal components to get exposed to the intense heat, to get broken up and to basically turn into particles at that point. So they're really learning a lot about what materials need to be avoided, what materials need to be used more. And then also we're talking about design here, they're designing things to break apart in a particular way and to knowing that they're going to be able to burn up when pieces are a certain size and all that stuff. It's very technical and there's a lot of engineering involved in this. So late in 2022, the Outer Space Institute, OSI, I love that, the Outer Space Institute.
C: Right, it's like Space Force, it doesn't sound real.
J: I know, it's totally, it sounds like it's from The Simpsons, you know? They published an international open letter calling upon leading space agencies to reduce risks from uncontrolled reentries of rocket bodies and other space objects. So the Outer Space Institute has published a call to action. Now, this is what we were talking about, some people do it, some people don't. So this organization is saying, hey, let me give you a quote of something that they're asking. So multilateral negotiations on a controlled reentry agreement. So this highlights the importance of reducing the risk posed by falling space debris and the ongoing efforts to improve the understanding of the reentry process. So from the letter that they wrote, one of their state statements is, simply hoping that uncontrolled reentries will not cause harm is an unsustainable strategy. With leadership, cooperation and global goodwill, these preventable and therefore unnecessary dangers can be greatly reduced. And what they're trying to do is they're trying to get everybody that has a space program that's going to launch anything into outer space. We want them to sign on, follow these parameters and suggestions. Basically everybody works with the same rule book. And I think it's obviously, it's something that absolutely needs to be done. We're not only talking about the problem is going to grow moving forward, but we have a ticking time bomb out in orbit right now. One bad thing happens, one satellite hits another satellite and it can cause a chain of events that could lead to wiping out huge swaths of objects that are out in orbit.
B: Critical satellites that we use to communicate and look at the earth and look at weather. I mean, it would be devastating on so many levels.
E: And know what time it is at 90 degrees south pole.
J: So I think it's really cool that we have people out there that are studying the material science here. What is out there right now? What materials should people who are building spacecraft avoid in the future? It's all good. It's all pointing in the right direction. I just, every once in a while pops in my head, how are we going to get all that stuff out of orbit? How are we going to do it?
C: Jay, did you see this? I mean, I know it happens all the time, but this big story last week about two pieces of Soviet space debris.
J: Yeah, I read about it.
C: There were 19 feet away from colliding.
S: That's close.
J: It freaked me out to find out, Cara, that they're worried that stuff is going to hit airplanes.
C: Oh my gosh.
J: Imagine you're on a commercial flight and the wing gets taken off because some satellite does survived the upper atmosphere reentry. It's scary. So it's good that they're doing this. It's good that they're thinking this is a safety issue. This is something that absolutely needs to be addressed right now. And guess what? Everybody's got to sign up because you gotta, you gotta, you gotta, we've got to work together because it's that the low Earth orbit area is everybody's low Earth orbit area. Nobody no one country can own it.
C: Yeah, but this feels so Cold War. There was some satellite that just like last month, a Russian satellite that blew up that made a new cloud of debris. And it's like, yeah, we should all be working together. But clearly we're not good at that.
J: Yeah, that's true. I know. I'm agreeing with you on that. It's scary when you think about-
C: It's so scary because we can be using this. It's just like another tool of war.
S: It's a perfect domain for the UN. We need international cooperation for everyone's benefit. Everyone benefits if we keep low Earth orbit usable. And the thing is, it's easy to be doom and gloom, but honestly, if we, if every new thing that we put up into orbit had planned self-deorbiting, eventually the old stuff will, their orbits will decay and it'll rain down. And it'll clean itself up over time to some extent. Obviously the higher you get, higher orbits not so much, but the ones where there's already some drag from the atmosphere. So as long as we're not putting more stuff up that's coming down, things can get better just by not putting more debris up there. Jay, did you read about this Japanese endeavor? So they're planning this for this year, 2023.
S: Nope. A satellite made of wood.
J: Yeah, I've read about that.
S: Yeah, yeah.
S: So this is a test satellite and they just want to see how it withstands the whole process. And if it works well because they could be, wood is pretty, hard wood could be very, very strong. They want to see will it work as an outer layer of a satellite because better than metal or plastic, when it deorbits, it completely burns up. Yeah. So it could be interesting. You would think it's so, you think of wooden satellites, something doesn't feel right about it, but it could be perfectly a good thing to do.
J: And Steve, remember we were talking we've talked about this in our last book how the building materials, we're still using like the same building materials for the last few thousand years.
J: Right? We're actually going to put wood in outer space. Oh my God. How awesome is wood?
B: It's like making a car out of aerogels.
S: Nature made a bunch of really great material, you know.
J: So I got to tell you guys, my daughter said to me today, Daddy, how come we don't put our car in outer space?
E: Good question.
J: And I'm like, wait, you mean our car?
B: Tesla did.
J: Like our car? The one we're in right now, she's like, yeah. She's like, cause she kind of thinks of it like a spaceship, you know? And it was fun because I had to actually sit there and think out loud to them about all the reasons why the car wouldn't work in space. How it's obviously there's so many things to be said. I talked to them about it for like 20 minutes about how the car just is not not made for space and here's why. But it was really fun to think about that.
S: Right. And wouldn't it be cool if you hit a button and it turned into a spaceship and took off?
J: Yeah, that would be awesome.
S: That would be a science fiction movie.
C: Like those boat cars. The cars that turn into boats.
E: The boat in one button.
AI and Technosignatures (42:35)
S: All right, Bob, tell us about A.I. and techno signatures.
B: Yes, techno signatures and A.I. in the news. I love it. New machine learning algorithms have been used to look at previously examined astronomical data and they found eight potential techno signatures that were missed. And this was reported in the journal Nature Astronomy. And I'll say right now that there are no meatball jokes in this entire talk.
S: Except for that one.
E: Except for that one.
B: Except for what I just said. Techno signatures, as the name implies, are technology based signals that potentially point to extraterrestrial civilizations, technology. So finding a radio signal clearly from deep space that say is based on prime numbers, for example, that would be that'd be a pretty good techno signature and it would be an amazing discovery. Now, researchers wanted to develop new algorithms, though, to see if they could tease out potential techno signatures from telescope data that conventional algorithms fail to detect. Those old techniques were mostly developed years ago for early digital computers and therefore they're what? They're inefficient. They're and in a lot of ways inferior to the newer techniques. So they wanted to get the latest and greatest algorithms to see what it could pull out of there. So now the new algorithms they want to try out are based on machine learning, which is one of those A.I. terms that people are going to become more and more common more recognizable in the next 10, 20 years. It's going to be one of those words, those A.I. words, machine learning. So get used to it. Machine learning is a branch of A.I. and computer science that uses methods similar to what people use to solve complex problems. And also the fact that that we get slowly better over time, but all without explicitly programming that into the code. That's what machine learning basically is. Now, in this case, they tried various algorithm types to see which ones were the best and which ones were the best at the most important part of finding a technosignature. What do you think the most important part is when you're looking for technosignatures? It's distinguishing-
E: The handwriting, penmanship.
B: Yes. That and distinguishing between human generated interference from potential extraterrestrial technosignatures because the world is awash in human generated interference. And if you go to some of these-
E: Yeah, we're good at that.
B: If you go to some of these places, they say you can't have your phone. They really try to limit it as much as they can.
E: Right. Because the microwave heating your coffee can screw everything.
B: Oh, absolutely. So they the best they found was actually a fusion of two different subtypes of machine learning. We've mentioned them on the show before. One was supervised learning. Now that's where people are in the loop. They help to train the code so that it can generalize. So for example, you'll often see this in the context of training a system to recognize chairs so that it could recognize all chairs, including the really unusual ones, the really bizarre ones that they may have never seen before. So that's where that's where supervised learning is good to help it help people tell it that this is these are all chairs and even this one and it becomes better at recognizing chairs. So that supervised learning was then joined with unsupervised learning. And that when that's done, that's used to let the system kind of like run freely around huge data sets, looking for new and subtle patterns on its own. So the researchers called the fusion of these two types of machine learning, semi supervised learning. Kind of an easy one. They're semi supervised learning. So using this this new technique, they looked at data that was collected from the famous Green Bank telescope, which you can learn more about when I discussed it on my visit there on episode 883. Awesome, awesome place. I recommend going there and getting a tour. So it when they when they turned it towards the Green Bank telescope data from I think it was in 2017, they found eight signals that came from five different stars within 30 and 90 light years from Earth. So kind of close. And eight of them. Now, these were techno signatures that weren't found before when the data was previously examined. That's important. People looked at it before it didn't find any. So what made these signals convincing? And there's generally two there's two big ones. The biggest one I think is that when when the telescope looks at the star, and it detects the signal, and then it looks away from this, the star, the signal goes away. That's a very, very strong signal, if you will, or sign that this is origin that the signals is not originating from the earth because signals that come from the earth that are human created generally don't do that. They will always kind of be there in the background, no matter where you turn it in general. The other reason that they were they was very convincing was that the frequency of the signals change over time in a very specific way that indicates that they come from quite a distance from the telescope. So those two things were there. And it's what got them excited. Now the other there's another gold standard observation technique for true techno signatures. And that's when you get back to the source after a source after a period of time. In this case, they went back after three or four years, and they looked at these new these newly discovered potential techno signatures. And if it's still there, then I think that's when you would break out the champagne. I think at that point, that would be one of the big times. Unfortunately, spoiler alert, when the researchers went back to those stars, the signals were not present. So that was kind of a bummer. But what's the takeaway here? The takeaway means unfortunately they were not signals from aliens. That's the big takeaway. All right, these are more than very likely that they're not signals from aliens. Okay. But also, you need to understand that that's not that big of a deal as you might think, you might say, oh, it failed. They're not good machine learning algorithms. But the fact is, though, when you look at terabytes of telescope data sets, you're bound to find things that just happen to look very convincing. And that's why basically why we got to science the crap out of them, to make sure that that's not the case. That's what science is all about. And Sigma confidence levels that we talk about on the show a lot as well. The other big takeaway, though, is that the researchers showed that semi-supervised learning is a viable method for finding subtle candidate technosignatures. This is really kind of like a breakthrough that could mean the difference in the future. So what is the future? Speaking of the future, what's the future of this technique? The first author of the paper, researcher Peter Ma at the University of Toronto, said: "With our new technique combined with the next generation telescopes, we hope that machine learning can take us from searching hundreds of stars to searching millions of stars." He continued saying that: "We're scaling the search effort to one million stars today with the Meerkat telescope and beyond." So they're already doing this. "We believe that work like this will help accelerate the rate we're able to make discoveries in our grand effort to answer the question, are we alone in the universe?" And it is, I'll end with this, it is a grand effort, finding evidence of not only extraterrestrial life but life intelligent enough to create technology to send signals over light years. I mean, it's obvious to everyone that that would be one of the greatest achievements of humankind and the way things are going, machine kind as well. So this was a fascinating story. Check it out online.
S: Yeah, cool. So I think that's, techno signatures is probably our best bet at detecting alien intelligence.
B: Yeah, I mean, we will be able to infer the presence of things like bacteria on other worlds, because everything will be there, everything will be there or life as we know it could only generate, say, for example, the methane in that atmosphere or whatever, things like that. But to actually get a signal from a real techno signature, yeah, that would be like prime numbers or something that's really not clearly not natural. That would be, imagine that discovery, that would be, the whole world would be talking about it.
S: Yeah, it'd be the news of the millennia.
B: Oh my God.
Paranormal Beliefs and Sleep (50:38)
S: All right, Evan, tell us about the correlation between paranormal beliefs and poor sleep.
E: Yes, Steve. And oh, to sleep perchance to dream. Aye, there's the rub. Anyone familiar with that phrase?
J: Of course, of course.
E: Yeah. It's from the King James Bible. I mean, from the other Shakespeare, Hamlet, of course.
S: Have you ever seen that by the way, there was a game where you get a quote and you have to say, is that from Shakespeare or the Bible? It's hard. Once you get beyond like the most popular, the most famous ones that everybody knows, it's because it's very similar in a lot of ways. Anyway, go ahead.
B: Get the E490 ring.
E: But here we are now, 420 years later, we might have finally realized what the character of Hamlet was actually talking about. Yeah, no, he could have been equating death with sleep or perhaps he was talking about the correlation between restless sleep and belief in the paranormal, which is what this recent sleep study suggests. It was published a few weeks ago in the Journal of Sleep Research, titled The Associations Between Paranormal Beliefs and Sleep Variables. Several authors contributing to this particular piece. Here it is right from the summary. It does a pretty good job of, well, summarizing this. They talked about the previous studies that have found significant associations between paranormal beliefs and sleep variables. However, those studies have been conducted on a small scale. They're limited in the number of sleep variables investigated. This particular study, though, aimed to fill a gap in the literature by investigating paranormal beliefs in relation to a wide range of sleep variables in a large sample. How large? Well 12,000 participants began in the – 12,873 people started in the study. 8,853 completed it. So 69% got to the end of the study. So this was a survey. The participants completed a survey where they reported on their demographics, sleep disturbances and paranormal beliefs. Poorer subjective sleep quality, which is lower sleep efficiency, longer sleep latency, shorter sleep duration and increased insomnia symptoms were associated with greater endorsement of belief in several things, the soul living on after death, the existence of ghosts and of demons and an ability for some people to communicate with the dead and near-death experiences as being evidence for life after death. Oh, and also, yes, aliens visiting the earth. Jay, how about this? In addition, episodes of exploding head syndrome and isolated sleep paralysis were associated with the belief that aliens have visited the earth. I want to pause there. Exploding head syndrome?
J: Yeah, what?
E: Now, we've been doing this – we're in our 18th year. We're approaching our 19th year of doing Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Steve, Bob, anyone, Cara, have we ever talked about exploding head syndrome on this show?
B: Is that a euphemism for orgasm?
S: I don't know. I mean – I know what it is obviously because it's a neurological condition, but I don't know that we've ever talked about it.
J: I don't think we have.
E: I can't recall that we've ever done this and when I read that, I mean my head almost exploded. I was thinking, why haven't I heard about this before? It's an abnormal sensory perception during sleep in which a person experiences hallucinations. They're loud and short duration when either falling asleep or waking up and the noise can be frightening and loud or it can be a boom. It can even experience perhaps a flash of light, no pain associated with it though. Have you guys ever had anything like that happen to you?
E: I've never had that.
S: I mean I've had noises, auditory hallucinations when falling asleep, absolutely, but not-
E: Yeah, I have as well.
S: Not exploding.
E: As if somebody said a word or someone speaking in another room, but that's about all I can recall, but not exploding head. Whoa.
B: I've been able to – you can induce them I think. I've done it where you think your name over and over as you're drifting off to sleep and the times I've tried it, I had a clear – like somebody whispered my name from like a foot away. It's creepy and awesome.
E: Isn't that creepy? I know.
C: It's never happened to me.
B: Have you tried though?
C: No, but I mean that's never naturally. I've never had like – which one? I always mix up hypnagogic and hypnopompic.
B: One's going to sleep and one's waking up.
E: Audio versus-
C: No, one's falling asleep and one's waking up. Pompic, yeah, I always mix them up. But I don't have either of the – I think my worst might be upon waking. I don't think I have any weirdness upon falling asleep. But sometimes I wake up with a start. Does that ever happen to you guys?
J: Yeah, that's happened to me many times.
E: That has happened to me, sure.
C: Where you're like, did I miss my meeting?
E: Right. Yeah, something like that. There was some deadline.
C: Then you're like, no, it's only 6 AM.
B: I had my first waking nightmare where I was – and where there was paralysis.
S: I have that all the time.
B: The paralysis – I mean there was no hallucination with it but there was the paralysis where I was like – my eyes were open and I was awake and I could not move and I tried to move. That was – I knew what it was and I wasn't afraid but it was intense. It was intense.
E: Bob, according to the study, isolated sleep paralysis was associated with the belief that near-death experiences are evidence for life after death.
B: Oh god.
E: Getting back to the exploding head syndrome, that's the aliens visiting the earth. They said the findings obtained here indicate that there are associations between beliefs in the paranormal and various sleep variables. Mechanisms underlying these associations are likely complex. I believe that. And need to be further explored to fully understand why people sometimes report "things that go bump in the night".
S: Yeah. Just to clarify by the way, hypnagogic is when you're falling asleep. Hypnopompic is when you're waking up. I mean the obvious thing to think about is that these experiences themselves make people believe in paranormal phenomenon, right? If you have sleep paralysis, you think, oh my god, I was abducted by aliens or there was a demon sitting on my chest or whatever.
B: Succubus. Succubus.
S: But yeah, there's so many confounding variables. There are so many other ways that the causation could be working that it's hard – you can't conclude that just from the correlation itself.
B: That's why a lot of ghost stories revolve around going to sleep and waking up. I was in bed. When you hear them say, I was in bed, like I go, yeah, yep.
J: Yeah, right Bob? Yeah, sure.
E: Or 3 – it was 3 in the morning, yes, in which this happened, right? Part of the night where you're usually the most asleep, in the deepest parts of sleep.
J: I've had a couple of really interesting sleep paralysis things happen. One time I had sleep paralysis and I was pretty damn lucid and I could not move my body. It was kind of like you're screaming on the inside, like, get up, move. I was trying to move and I couldn't and I was way too conscious.
S: All right, now, Jay, have that experience but also be absolutely sure there's somebody menacing right next to your bed.
E: Right. There's nothing you can do about it. The helplessness that a person–
J: That's horrifying.
S: That happens to me all the time.
E: Now, but when you realize it's happening, Steve, are you able to reason it out that, OK, this is an illusion, this is not real?
S: Usually no.
E: Are you – oh.
S: Usually no. Because usually you're in that twilight zone cognitively where – that's the trick is always – and I'm thinking, am I awake or am I not awake? Then I try to figure out if I'm awake or not but I end up just convincing myself I'm awake when I'm still asleep. And then I–
C: Because you don't have any external-
S: Yes. And I–
B: You look at words.
B: I don't really know until I'm actually awake. You know what I mean? And I have a – when I get in this state, I've had times where I've dreamt I woke up 12 times, in a row.
E: Oh, my gosh.
S: Before I finally actually wake up. It's hard to tell when you're in that state.
C: So that's so interesting because I've definitely had recurring dreams where I like – my legs don't work but I wonder if that's because I'm actually hypnopompic.
S: That's because you're paralyzed.
C: Yeah. And I'm paralyzed.
S: Because you're actually paralyzed.
C: But I don't think I'm awake. It's a dream. During my dream, I think I'm paralyzed because I probably am actually paralyzed.
B: Are you trying to get away from anything?
C: No. It's always like I'm trying to just like walk, like stand up off of the couch and then I'm like, oh, no, my legs don't work. And it's like really scary and sad.
S: Yeah. I've had that too.
C: It's never like – yeah. But it happens to me a lot. It must just be that I'm actually not fully asleep but it feels like I am.
E: And you have no lucidity? In other words, you don't know.
C: No. I never have.
E: You don't realize that you're in the dream?
C: I mean I know I'm dreaming. I don't think I'm awake.
E: Because I have–
C: I don't really think that's lucid dreaming. It's just I'm in a dream.
E: Occasionally, I will be able to recognize that I'm in the dream and have – but it doesn't last very long. It's like, OK.
S: It's an unstable state.
B: Try not to get too excited is one thing.
E: Yeah I know it is exciting.
B: And if you feel yourself losing it or even waking up, you could feel the transition starting. There's a technique. You look at your hand. For some reason, looking at your hand can help anchor you to in the dream and not leave it. I've tried that a couple of times and it worked. And it's in the literature. It was the last time I actually delved into the literature. But it was – yeah, it worked for me.
E: I mean we've talked often on the show about sleep hygiene and how it is-
B: I never brush my teeth in a dream.
E: -important for health, overall health.
C: Oh, yeah.
E: So again, in a way, not retaining these sorts of beliefs and paranormal things in a – maybe in an indirect way is healthier for you in this regard to your sleep hygiene. I don't know how you would overcome it though necessarily. What would you need to do? I think that's what the authors were also saying here is like this needs to be researched a lot more so they can actually try to help people who – for whom this is having a detrimental effect on their overall health.
S: Yeah, yeah. I know. I've had patients bring it up to me usually reluctantly. Usually they have no idea what it is and they're relieved. They'll say, yep, this is a known neurological phenomenon. It's totally benign even though it freaks you out. You can treat it with medication. You can treat it with better sleep, with hygiene, better sleep hygiene, et cetera. Usually it's entry point into a deeper discussion. And you can basically give them a sense of control over it. This is what this is. We could do something about it, et cetera. But they're often freaked out about it. And having had these experience, dramatic examples of them, if I weren't a skeptic, I could totally see how somebody would believe something supernatural is happening with these episodes.
S: Because they are absolutely freaky.
Earthing Update (1:01:31)
S: Do you guys remember what earthing is?
C: Is that just walking around barefoot?
S: Yeah, basically. Also called grounding.
C: Which is annoying because there's-
E: That used to happen to me as a kid.
C: There's also a real technique in psychotherapy called grounding.
S: Yeah. It's annoying.
C: So I don't like that they stole that word.
S: Whatever, call it earthing.
S: I wrote about it on my blog about a decade ago. I've been writing, doing this long enough where I can go back and go, hmm, what's changed over the last decade?
E: Of. 5 to 10 years. Nice.
S: And here's why. I've long held, I remember making this argument at least 25 years ago to a creationist. Because what creationists do is they take snapshots. Evolution can't completely explain this one thing right now. It's like, okay, but let's look at the last 200 years or 150 years and see how has it progressed over time. We've been doing this long enough where we can say, oh, all the arguments of the UFO believers are the same as they were 40 years ago. They're going around in circles. They're not really making any progress. And that's the best way to really tell a pseudoscience from a legitimate science, how is it progressing over time. So in the last decade, what's been happening with research into earthing? Quick background.
S: Yeah. Quick background. So earthing is the idea that it's healthy to literally electrically ground yourself. So you can do that by walking barefoot on the ground because you're connected to the ground, or by sleeping or sitting or standing on a mat that is itself grounded to the earth, which of course you could buy, these grounded mats.
C: But isn't everything grounded to the earth?
E: Yeah, right?
E: Isn't gravity kind of...
S: Because that's the natural state. We lived walking barefoot on the ground and we evolved to have this electrical homeostasis. Now that we're electrically isolated from the earth, we're out of balance and that causes all the usual suspects, oxidative stress and inflammation and blah, blah, blah. So if you ground yourself, then you'll have all the usual health benefits that the quack pseudoscience alternative medicine people claim. It's anti-inflammatory and it boosts the immune system at the same time. I love that. It's my favorite. It's anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory. It improves your oxygenation and it's an antioxidant.
E: I'll buy three.
S: Yeah. It's like, yeah, these things already exist in a carefully evolved homeostasis. Thank you. All right. So, and the evidence for it is, it's like acupuncture level evidence where there's mostly the research is like tooth fairy science. It's nibbling around the edges. It's saying it's either looking at markers that are multiple steps removed from any actual clinical effect. It's like, oh it's like, again, this is so common in this industry. You do stuff to immune cells in a Petri dish. And you look at 20, 30, 40 markers. Looking at cells and, and in hormones and signals and whatever. You look at a bunch of different markers of immune activity. And if anything goes up, that boosts the immune system. If anything goes down, that's anti-inflammatory.
C: But also, wait, how do you have an in vitro model of walking around with your shoes off?
S: Well, I think they're just yeah, I know, but they're-
C: It's like, what are those Petri dishes does have to do with putting your shoes off?
S: They're grounding them. They're grounding them, you know.
C: Oh, because they're, I see. They're like literally grounding them with like a mini wire or something like that.
S: Or then you could do like in people you ground people, don't ground them, and then you measure their blood pressure or you draw their blood and look for markers.
C: Which is so stupid because walking around without your shoes on doesn't, "ground you electrically". It probably also, I don't know, when I walk around on the beach without my shoes on, I'm like, holy shit, I'm outside and it feels good.
C: And my blood pressure goes down.
S: So that's it. And then when you talk about clinical studies, it's all like people feel better. It's like the quality of life was enhanced.
C: It's like, yeah, because they're outside, they're not at work.
E: Because they're doing something.
S: But there's no research that's of the type that could actually answer the question, does this work? So it's really dubious physics, really dubious biology and really crappy clinical research. And in the last 10 years, it's been more of the same. That's it. Just more totally crappy research. Nothing that is progressing towards an actual model of, yes, there's something actually really happening here. One study specifically that I looked at recently, again, this is sort of typical of these types of claims. It looked at 16 people. It says, yeah, so right there, it's like, okay, you can't really do statistics on that. They looked at a whole bunch of different outcomes and they were all over the place. And then they just cherry picked the ones that went in the right direction. I mean, it's like classic p-hacking type behavior. They claim it was double blind, but they used a study design where the people were their own controls. So like they were not grounded on day one, then grounded on day two to five, and then not grounded on day six. Everybody. So how was it? There's no randomization to anything. So how was that possibly double blind? It was not clear. I don't think they're using that term.
C: Because they don't know what that word means.
E: I do not think they know what this means.
C: They're like, we closed our eyes.
S: Yeah. So close both of them. So anyway, so that's like the level of research there. But it's designed to allow proponents to say, this is supported by research, or this is supported by double blind studies. But it's just total and utter crap when it comes to the clinical research. So again, more of the same, no progress, nothing to say, oh, look, there's actually something real happening here. So I wrote about this recently on Science Based Medicine. I always love to look at the comments. I did get an email from somebody who did a little back of the envelope calculation, which I kind of alluded to in the article. But it's funny to sort of spell it out. So here's the physics problem with this. The notion that you are not grounded if you're not walking barefoot on the earth is ridiculous, sitting on some pad. We discharge any electricity on us every time we touch anything. You know what I mean? And if a little bit builds up, you'll know it the moment you touch something conductive because you'll get an electric shock. That's what a static electric shock is. So you're not getting shocked all the time because you're not building up electricity. It's already spreading out to the earth. The reason why the earth is used to ground certain electrical equipment is so that it can take massive amounts of electricity, like a lightning strike. You ground a building to the earth so that when it gets hit by lightning, that electricity has someplace to go.
C: And the building doesn't catch on fire.
S: Or you're using electrical equipment that's producing massive current and voltage. The kind of electricity that you're talking about on the human body is teeny tiny.
C: Are they talking about static electricity?
S: It's just completely vague.
E: Carpet shock?
S: So the extra electricity that you could be losing from your feet into the ground is like orders of magnitude less than, so when he was comparing it, their main claim is that it's an antioxidant, right? It's like, okay, so those electrons will somehow neutralize an oxidative molecule. But it's the amount that you would get from standing on the earth is orders of magnitude less than you would get from food. And which in turn is orders of magnitude less than the antioxidants that are already in your body. It's like literally millions of times less antioxidant effect, even if everything they say otherwise is true, which it isn't. But even if just the amounts that we're talking about are like less than a round off error to what's actually happening in your body. The plausibility is basically zero.
E: The radiation from eating the banana, right?
S: Yeah, there's zero plausibility here. It's just silly. Just but they could sell their earthing mats.
C: It's all about that money, isn't it?
E: So that's the update, huh?
S: That's the update. The evidence is still crap.
E: So in 10 years, you're going to whip this one out again? We'll see where we are 10 years from now.
C: If anybody's even bothered to study it.
S: I have a lot of stuff I wrote about over the last 20 years that I could dip into. What's happened to this thing? You know, over the last...
C: This is a goop thing, right, Steve? No, this is independent of goop. There's an earthing association and they promote this.
E: Cara, don't give them any ideas over there at goop.
C: No, I think goop probably also like promotes it.
S: I'm sure.
C: But you're right. They didn't invent it.
S: They didn't invent it. They probably are piggybacking on it. They probably sell earthing pads because-
C: I would not be surprised.
S: It meets their one and only criterion. It's stupid. And so that's, they will sell it.
Who's That Noisy? (1:11:08)
S: All right. Jay.
J: I'm here.
S: It's Who's That's Noisy.
J: Last week I played this noisy:
[moving squicky parts]
E: Oh, I know what that is.
E: That's the wagon wheel on the carton. Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead. No, I'm not dead.
J: Mark Constantine wrote in and said: "Hi, good show this week. The noisy sounds a lot like a foot operated sewing machine." Oh, and I don't disagree.
E: It's a loom.
J: When you think about a foot operated sewing machine the kind you have to actually work with your foot, like you pump it so the needle actually moves. That's exactly what you'd expect it to sound like. All right. So now this next listener has a name that I am going to shred. Okay?
J: Okay. Maciek Brzozowski. I'm not kidding. That's exactly what it's spelled like. I hope you're not angry at me. "Hello, Jay. People walking through the flappy doors of a Wild West style saloon." And I could see they were going with this because you hear, I hear footsteps in this sound. I don't know if you guys do. There's footsteps in there and they're squeaking. So yeah, I can see where you came up with that. That's not correct, but that's a great guess. Ted Burson wrote: "Hello, this sounds mechanical in nature and in need of some lubrication. I'm guessing a windmill used to pump water from a well." That is not correct. I've never heard a windmill, but I'll take your word for it. Danilo Escobar writes: "I think my six year old Kai nailed it. A bird on a swing and then a monkey pushes the bird on a swing and then a man comes out and says, what's happening in my backyard?"
E: I like that.
J: Yeah. So nobody guessed it as far as I got through the huge number of who's that noisy emails this week. Oh my god. I got so many emails this week. So anyway, guys, this is, believe it or not. Have you ever heard of an anti ninja floor?
B: Yes. Yes.
B: They make them squeaky so that even the best ninjas couldn't sneak across it.
J: Yeah. So let me play it for you and then I'll give you the description. But this is basically somebody walking on a floor that was built to make noise. So nobody is going to be sneaking into your house with this setup.
B: Yeah, but I also wouldn't want anyone not sneaking in my house.
C: I know. I don't want that.
J: But if you think it was going to save your life, right? So in 16th century Japan, there were rumors of ninja prowess and these rumors were spreading and by the 17th century, people who were involved in construction at the time, castle builders or whatever, they designed this interesting countermeasure, which would alert people who were sleeping in the building if there was a ninja sneaking around where you're sleeping.
B: Wow. How did you find that sound?
J: It's two pieces of metal that when the floorboard is pushed down a little bit, they rub against each other and they make that squeaking noise. It's pretty clever if you see exactly how they did it. Of course, it's a little bit more complicated than you think, but at its core, it's just two pieces of metal rubbing against each other.
B: It's also much more obnoxious than I anticipated.
J: Yeah. Well, you really want to know if that ninja is going to come get you with the katana. You know what I mean, Bob?
B: Sure, but I also would hate to have anybody walk near me.
S: I don't think ninjas used katanas. This was a samurai weapon.
J: Don't get technical, okay?
C: Don't be so pendantic.
New Noisy (1:15:02)
J: All right, so I have a new noisy for you this week. I'll warn you ahead of time. A lot of people are going to recognize this sound and probably have a good idea what it is. I'm interested in hearing what people that don't know what it is, I'm interested in hearing what they think it actually is. I also will say that this week, the first person that writes in the correct answer is going to be the winner as opposed to, I usually pick the first person and then I kind of moved over to picking just some random person so you don't have to be the first responder to win. But the first responder to this one is going to win, whoever gets it right. Okay? Just to be fair, because I think a lot of people will know it. And here it is.
I'm assuming you guys recognize that sound.
J: Okay. Don't say what it is. It's a generational thing. If you think you know what this week's noisy is or if you heard something cool that you think I got to hear, email me at WTN@theskepticsguide.org.
S: All right. Thank you, Jay.
Potent Quotables (1:16:10)
S: You have another round of your quotable game for us.
E: Yes. We're going to play the quotes game. I put together five more quotes. Oh, it's the first time playing this year. Welcome to 2023, potent quotables. I'm going to say some quotes and Steve and Bob, Jay and Cara, they're going to guess who they think said this particular quote. It is multiple choice, so at least we get to narrow that down for you. Do you remember how to play this, everyone?
E: I will be keeping score as I'm wont to do. All right. Here is the first quote. I'll start with what I think is an easy one. "You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do." Was that:
A) Dr. Daniel Amen
B) Tom Cruise
C) Dr. Phil McGraw. Dr. Phil.
Steve, we're going to start with you on this one.
S: I think because of the way you said it, I'm going to say Tom Cruise because that's a typical Scientology kind of anti-psychiatry thing to say.
C: Oh, right.
E: All right. Jay?
J: I'm going to agree with Steve.
S: I know. I was very compelling.
J: I agree. His explanation actually pushed me over the edge.
E: And Cara.
C: I'm going to agree too. I bet Amen and Phil have both said that, but to me it sounded more like a movie quote, which is why I thought Tom Cruise. But then he said Scientology and I was like, duh, doubly Tom Cruise.
E: Yeah. And you're all right. It was Tom Cruise. I kind of remember. Remember the interview we did with Matt Lauer back in, what was it, 2005 or 2006? Oh my gosh, that was, what a moment. Jay, I remember. Jay, you were in your, I hate everything Tom Cruise phase back then.
J: Yeah. There was a time when I just couldn't deal with him. I mean, it's all because of Scientology.
C: That's fair.
J: To me, it's just so unbelievably absurd. I just can't imagine anybody buying into that garbage.
E: You're off to a great start, everyone. One down, four to go.
J: Thank you.
E: Here's the next quote. "We're so bounded by time, by its order, but now I'm not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings." Who said that?
A) Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock in Gravity?
B) Dr. Ellie Arroway, played by Jodie Foster in Contact?
C) Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams in Arrival?
We're going to start with Jay.
J: I'm going to go with the last one.
E: Louise Banks, Arrival.
E: Okay. Bob?
E: Wow. Cara?
C: Yeah I think it's Arrival. It could be Contact, but I think it's very Arrival. It's very on the nose for Arrival.
E: And lastly, Steve.
S: Yeah. I mean, it is the plot of Arrival. But I agree that the Contact... I'm trying to... I don't...
C: Right, because they lost time in the transmission.
S: I don't explicitly remember the quote, but it fits the best with Arrival.
E: And yes, of course, you are all correct. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams in Arrival. And Cara, I remember-
B: Arrival is based on a short story by Ted Chiang, who is my favorite short story author of all time. He's got two anthology books.
C: Oh, the Story of Your Life.
B: Yep. The Story of Your Life and others. And Exhalation. Get those books.
C: But Story of Your Life is the short story within Story of Your Life and others that Arrival is based on.
E: And Bob, it's finally paying dividends for you because you're correct in this game of potent quotables. Everyone is two for two. Well done so far. Let's see. Third one. "To make an embarrassing admission, I like video games. That's what got me into software engineering when I was a kid. I wanted to make money so I could buy a better computer to play better video games. Nothing like saving the world." Who said that?
A) Larry Page
B) Mark Zuckerberg
C) Elon Musk
And we are going to start with Bob.
B: Oh, wait, you didn't say the name I thought you would say. Crap.
S: Yeah me too.
B: I was just waiting for the name to appear and I wasn't even paying attention.
E: A, Larry Page, B, Mark Zuckerberg, C, Elon Musk.
B: I mean, I think Musk kind of makes sense. I don't know, man. Yeah, I'll say Musk. What the hell? Who cares.
E: Okay, Elon. Cara?
C: It could be Elon. It could be Zuckerberg. I mean, Zuckerberg is not saving the world with freaking Facebook. And Page honestly isn't saving the world with Google. And I could see Musk being like, I fly to space and I've got electric cars. Because he actually did, I hate to admit it, create a tangible and measurable impact, I think, on carbon emissions. It makes more sense for it to be Musk. So I'm going to go with Musk. But it's still narcissistic.
E: All right. All right. Steve?
S: Yeah, I was thinking along Cara's lines as well. At the end, the saving the world bit only really fits with Musk. I mean, any of them could have said it, but it does fit best with him.
E: And finally, Jay?
J: Yeah, Musk.
E: And the answer is Elon Musk. Four correct answers again.
J: Not bad, guys.
E: Perfect so far. Two to go. Fourth question, or fourth quote. "Thousands of years ago, only Christ could walk on water. Today, anybody can do it. You just step on the garbage." Who said that?
A) Steve Allen
B) Tim Minchin
C) Penn Jillette
Cara, we're going to start with you.
C: OK, so Tim Minchin, Penn Jillette. And who is the third?
E: Steve Allen. Steve Allen first, Tim Minchin second.
E: Allen. Interesting. Oh, I don't know. I've never heard it. It's funny. It's funny. It's a little bit blasphemous. So that could be Minchin. It could even, I don't want it to be Penn, so I'm not going to say it's Penn. But it could be Steve Allen because boats. I'm going to go with Tim Minchin.
E: Tim Minchin.
C: I don't think it's true, but I'm going to go with it.
C: It's a hard one.
S: Yeah, I think it fits best with either Minchin or Allen. It definitely is a snarky kind of thing that Allen would say. But it is a little irreverent, so I think, I would say Tim Minchin.
E: OK, and Jay?
J: Yeah, my first thought was that it's Tim Minchin.
E: And Bob?
B: Yeah, it seems to fit Tim best.
E: And the answer is A, Steve Allen.
J: We missed it! We missed it!
C: Well, at least we all missed it.
E: You all held hands and jumped into the same pool there.
C: But we were elevated by the garbage.
B: How old is he?
C: I know, that's a little weird.
S: That was the other thing.
E: Yeah, I know, a little out of date with the other fellas.
S: Or ahead of his time, he was.
E: Yes, I think so. So that was a good one. All right, the last one. Here's the final quote. "This is not even a conspiracy theory. The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat. It's right in front of our faces. I'm telling you, it's right in front of our faces. They lie to us." Do you guys remember that quote at all, perhaps?
J: No, I don't.
E: Was that said by one of these, well, let's see who they are.
A) Kyrie Irving, professional basketball player
B) Aaron Judge, professional baseball player
C) Aaron Rodgers, professional football player
And we're going to start with Steve.
S: I think it was Rodgers. Football.
J: Yeah, I'm going to go with, I agree with Steve.
B: Yeah, I'm going to go with the football as well.
E: All right.
B: Kind of just rings a bell.
E: All right, Cara.
B: What did you say?
C: I don't know. Sports people? I got to go with the guys. I have no idea.
E: And the answer is A, Kyrie Irving, professional basketball player. It made big headlines when that happened. He had to apologize and, you know.
S: I know, I remember. I remember it was some sports guy.
E: Right. Some sports guy thinks the Earth flat.
B: It's so funny that Cara's like, I'm going to go with the guys because it's sports.
E: Oh, no, you didn't say that. I missed that. Did you?
C: No, I was just like, I'm going to go with the guys because I don't know anything about sport. Not like you guys are the sports guys. But I feel like just by virtue of living in a male world, you probably are exposed to sports more than me.
S: I just forgot which sport it was.
B: That's good in theory.
C: I just looked up this guy, Kyrie Irving, and he was a Dallas Maverick, and now I feel ashamed.
E: Oh, that's right.
B: We should have deferred to you.
E: Well, we have a tie. Everybody's a winner this week. Three out of five.
S: Yeah, we all went together.
C: Three out of five ain't bad.
E: I don't have a tiebreaker, so there's no tiebreaking mechanism in this particular game, which I don't mind.
S: Everybody wins.
E: Everybody wins. Well played, everyone.
S: All right. Well, let's see how you all do on Science or Fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:25:30)
Theme: Ridiculous proposals
Item #1: Scientists propose ejecting dust from the Moon to act as a shield between the Earth and Sun in order to mitigate global warming.
Item #2: As mountain lion numbers increase, conservationists have proposed setting up traps that will dye their fur pink, or another bright color, to reduce their risk to humans and pets.
Item #3: Neuroscientists propose using fMRI scanning to quantify subject reaction to a copycat trademark to see if it is too similar to an established trademark.
|Fiction||Dye mountain lions pink|
|Science||Eject moon dust to shield|
MRI for trademark test
|MRI for trademark test|
|Eject moon dust to shield|
|Eject moon dust to shield|
|MRI for trademark test|
Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.
S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake. Then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. There is sort of a theme this week. These are all things that people are proposing as solutions to problems. So here we go. Item number one: Scientists propose ejecting dust from the moon to act as a shield between the earth and sun in order to mitigate global warming. Item number two: As mountain lion numbers increase, conservationists have proposed setting up traps that will dye their fur pink or another bright color to reduce their risk to humans and pets. And item number three: Neuroscientists propose using fMRI scanning to quantify subject reaction to a copycat trademark to see if it is too similar to an established trademark. Okay, Cara, go first.
C: I don't like this because we've got scientists propose, we've got conservationists have proposed, and we've got neuroscientists propose.
S: That was the theme.
C: And I feel like three people, anybody can propose anything. It doesn't mean that it's doable.
S: Yeah, but it's not just some guy in the street screaming at people. It was published, just serious proposals that were published somewhere or part of some kind of meeting or whatever. They have enough legitimacy that I included them.
C: But they're all ridiculous.
S: That's the idea. That's the theme. That's the theme.
C: To quantify subject reaction to a copycat trademark to see if it is too similar to an established trademark. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
S: Do you want me to give you the quickie background on that?
C: I feel like I get it. You're saying that a way to tell whether or not something is close enough to be in violation of a copyright is to put somebody in a scanner and test it on them?
C: Using an fMRI as a lie detector, but not really.
S: Yeah, as -
C: Yeah, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
S: Are these trademarks the same with different detector?
C: I'm going to call that the fiction. The other ones are dumb too, but I'm gonna say that one's really dumb.
S: Okay, Bob.
B: I'm gonna go with the moon one because I think that's, I think the proposal. I mean, why would they propose the moon when it'd be, I think, a lot cheaper to just do it from the earth than going all the way to the moon and then bringing, getting, somehow getting that all the way back quarter, quarter million miles. Yeah. So I'll say that one's fiction.
S: Okay, Jay.
J: Yeah. I mean, I can't imagine anything here more ridiculous than taking regolith from the moon, somehow positioning it between the earth and the sun to block sunlight to cool the earth. Everything about this is insanely ridiculously wrong and so stupid. I can't believe that somebody proposed that. Right? Think about it. Okay, so we cool the earth. What if we don't want it cooled anymore? What if that dust gets in orbit around the earth? Imagine that.
C: I think that's the point. I think that's what they would want it to do.
J: But then that's going to interfere with all the satellites that we have up there.
C: Yeah, well, some scientists are dumb.
J: I agree with Bob. I think this one is just like, you got to be on some type of heavy medication to come up with this.
S: Okay, and Evan.
E: Well, I will agree with Cara that I think the fMRI scanning one is the fiction. It does sound too much like trying to make a high tech polygraph in a sort of way. That was the first thing that came to my mind. Pun intended. And yeah, I mean, the moon, the moon one though, and the dust, the reason that one might be plausible because of gravity, it wouldn't take much to get a cloud of dust off the moon one sixth gravity of the earth kind of thing. And if you have some means of directing it in a certain way, then it could possibly be done. I think it's technically plausible.
S: Okay, so you're going with fMRI?
E: Yes, I am.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: All right, so you guys all agree on number two. So we'll start there. As mountain lion numbers increase, conservationists have proposed setting up traps that will die their fur pink or another bright color to reduce their risk to humans and pets. You guys all think that one is science. And that one is the fiction.
E: Of course it is.
C: And I feel like now I'm seeing that you wrote to reduce their risk to humans and pets. And I wish that it said to reduce their risk from humans.
S: That would be very different.
C: Right. Because the biggest cause of death to mountain lions is other mountain lions. But the second biggest cause of death to mountain lions is people hitting them with their cars.
S: So yeah, I made this one up out of whole cloth.
C: Some scientists out there could have proposed that.
S: I looked, I looked. But here, this was my third choice. Because the first one I'm like, all right, I just had to make something up as to like, what would what would somebody propose that's like semi plausible, but as dumb as the other two, right? And so the first thing I came up with was filtering water through cow dung.
C: And it's been done?
S: It's totally been done.
E: Totally been dung.
S: So then I said, okay, all right. But I still like the filtering water thing. So I said, okay, how about human hair? Again, I have to do something that's been done. So I'm like, all right, I had to abandon the entire thing. Anything I come up with that is like in any way semi plausible probably has been you can filter water with anything, apparently. So I just abandoned that and just made this up.
E: Your instincts served you well on that.
S: Damn, the water through cow dung.
J: Steve, I don't want to. I can't believe that somebody came up with the moon dust.
E: Let's get yeah, let's let's have the dust up.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: I was worried about this because I wrote this yesterday and then it's all over the news today.
E: Oh, no.
S: Yeah. Scientists propose ejecting dust from the moon to act as a shield between Earth and sun in order to mitigate global warming. This one is science.
J: It's so dumb on so many levels.
S: Bob, what you said is the exact opposite of what they said. They said because it would be way too expensive to be ejected from the earth. Because you got to get out of the earth gravity well. But if you go to the moon-
B: Yeah, that is a fair point.
S: Yeah, you can just kick up dust from the moon, blow it up or transport it from the moon. And they wanted to settle in one of the Lagrange points between the earth and the sun. And you would have to knock down like the light getting to the earth by one or two percent. They said dust is good because it's the way it would diffract the light. It's like they got the idea from the dust clouds around exoplanets that cause the light to dip.
B: Yes. That's what I-I saw those.
S: I agree with Jay. It's like, really, have you watched the movie Snowpiercer? That's not something we can easily call back if it's like too much. This doesn't seem like the thing, the way to go.
B: If we do anything dramatic like that, it needs to be scalable back. It can't be like, oh, here's a permanent chain. Let's cross our fingers.
J: That to be, that to state the obvious here. But how about we fix the problem on our planet? Stop, stop littering outer space with dirt from our moon. And like, let's fix the goddamn human behaviors that we have here first.
S: I know.
E: One sixth gravity, though, Jay.
S: The knock on effects would just, would be would be worrisome. I would not do that lightly.
J: This is at the level of don't look up. You know what I mean?
C: Yeah. These are all terrible, terrible ideas.
S: Right. I agree. All right. But let's go to number three.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: Neuroscientists propose using fMRI scanning to quantify subject reaction to a copycat trademark to see if it is too similar to an established trademark. So that is science. That is a serious proposal. It was a study, actually. They did a study to show like a proof of concept. And the idea is so when we obviously for trademark, if somebody is copying a famous trademark, the trademark of your company looks just like the Coca Cola trademark so that you sort of benefit from people mistaking your trademark for a more famous trademark. And so how so of course, the more famous company is going to sue you if you do that. And this is determined by a judge who looks at it and goes, makes a decision. Now, usually both sides will present evidence. They'll present surveys have experts to come in and they'll talk about like, is it too close or not too close? And it's basically a wash a lot of the time. So judges just use their own gut instinct to say, is it too close or not? So that's the problem that they identify. So we want to come up with a quantifiable way to say it's too similar or not too similar. Of course, it doesn't really do that. It just it's a different way of looking at the information. But what they're basing this on is the idea that if you look at the same object twice, the second time your brain doesn't react as much to it, there's an attenuation when that happens. So they want to say like, how much does it does your brain activity attenuate the reaction from looking at the established trademark and then going to a copycat trademark?
C: But that doesn't tell you anything.
S: I know it's, I think I agree. It's just silly. I do. It is this neuroscience nonsense that we see where it's like, but it's in the brain and we can come up with something quantifiable. Yeah, but it's still just as fuzzy as people going, yeah, I think they look the same or not look the same. I don't know. And it's just a really, an fMRI as we've been talked about extensively, fMRIs in an individual are really hard to quantify. When you do research looking for, which module in the brain is reactive, you have to average it out over multiple sessions and multiple subjects, and you're just barely pulling signal out of the noise and half the time, it doesn't work. And there's been software issues, whatever. I just, I don't think we are anywhere near the science where you can use an fMRI scan to tell what's happening in somebody's brain on an individual level to this degree that it could give you a quantifiable test of something like this. I just don't think we're there.
C: Also, it's weird. It's like using like wetware. It's like using a person as like a meat detector, guinea pig thing. What are you going to employ them in an fMRI every time there's like a court case?
S: Right. That's the other thing.
E: Minority report or something.
C: So weird.
E: Floating in a substance of goo.
S: Let's see. Let's go to the goo scanner. What does that say? And judges would be no more obliged to listen to this evidence than anything else. I think it would just be one more thing that they would have dueling experts with dueling fMRI studies.
E: Oh, great.
S: And the judge would ignore it and go, I think it's this.
E: Hang on. Let me get my coin out.
S: I don't think it would actually solve the problem. It'd just be one more thing for them to ignore.
E: Oh, lawyers, careful. You're giving a whole new you're giving fuel to the legal profession on a new pursuit here.
S: Believe me. They're all over stuff like this.
E: Oh my gosh.
S: I thought these were funny. And I first sweep of the year. So just saying.
E: This is the first one. OK, Steve, maybe the last.
C: Well done.
B: How many of you guys when he was reading to you could just sense the smirk in his face.
S: You mean after the reveal, not upfront.
B: Yeah. After.
E: Oh, delicious.
S: I was smiling pretty hard. All right.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:37:59)
Not all lucid dreams are useful but they all have a sense of wonder about them. If you must sleep through a third of your life, why should you sleep through your dreams, too?
S: Evan, give us a quote.
E: Turn these into video casts so we can read each other. "Not all lucid dreams are useful, but they have a sense of wonder about them. If you must sleep through a third of your life, why should you sleep through your dreams too?" Steven LaBerge, American psychophysiologist specializing in the scientific study of lucid dreaming.
B: He's the guy that he wrote the book like 30 years ago that I that I read.
B: He was the guy.
E: Yeah. You still refer to to it whenever we talk about lucid dreaming.
S: And 30 years later, we're still not lucid dreaming on demand.
E: I know. Well, why can't we crack that?
B: There are lucid dream inducers that are pretty slick that you wear and it could determine when you're in REM. And and I never, I bought a cheap one and I only tried it a couple of times. It didn't work. But whatever.
E: You should have bought the deluxe one, Bob.
B: Yeah I know.
S: Yeah, you can't get the cheap one.
E: Yeah, you can't go cheap. These are your dreams, man.
S: All right. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.
J: You got it Steve.
E: That was fun. Thanks, Steve.
S: And don't forget about the Friday live stream. Most of us will show up sometimes with guests to do a live streaming chat on Friday, beginning at 5pm Eastern Time. Feel free to join us for that. We don't do it every week. So just pay attention to where Jay, where does it get announced?
E: On social media's, everywhere.
S: Yeah, on social media, but on Discord mainly?
J: What? The live stream?
S: Yeah. Whether we're having a-
E: I've seen it on Instagram.
C: It's on Insta too.
J: Yeah, we have it on social media.
S: It's all the social medias? OK. All right. So keep an eye out for that.
S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.
Today I Learned
- Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference
- BBC: Astronomers discover unexpected new ring system around dwarf planet
- Live Science: Is 'lucky girl syndrome' trending on TikTok just old-school magical thinking?
- Space.com: How fallen space junk could aid the fight against orbital debris
- Space.com: Machine learning spots 8 potential technosignatures
- Journal of Sleep Research: The associations between paranormal beliefs and sleep variables
- Science-Based Medicine: Earthing Update
- PLOS Climate: Dust as a solar shield
- No reference given
- Science Advances: From scanner to court: A neuroscientifically informed "reasonable person" test of trademark infringement
- [url_for_TIL publication: title]