Friday, April 24, 2009

The difference between supernatural and natural: underinformed.

One often wonders how there can be so many people out there that believe in supernatural things. Or for that matter, how people can not believe in them when there's so many websites, books and documentaries about such things. So much information, but is it enough?

Despite all the information these sources have, they're always incomplete. They always paint a picture of what is directly observed but highly lacking in surrounding information. It is usually in this surrounding information that the explanation lies.

Take a look at this post by Brian Dunning. You can tell straight away he's a sceptic by the amount of seemingly irrelevant information he's providing. A believer for example would talk about the hills and the cars driving on those hills, the houses, and that's it. They wouldn't talk about the trees, the clearness of the sky, or mention the security guard in such detail. Without that key but seemingly irrelevant information that a believer wouldn't include, one would have no hope of coming up with the right explanation for the lights as per Brian's second post here.

It reminds me of a discussion at another forum with someone about so called light angels. This particular image (right) was the example he used of a mysterious light that appeared for 3 days in a row. These would appear before the sun was up and would disappear and re-appear quite quickly. I've seen these before so instantly knew what it was and tried to explain them to him, but no matter what I said he wouldn't believe me. His most common rebuts were that the sun wasn't up and that these were in a shaded area.

After a lot of very persistant questioning he started a new thread and included a location (Novy Jicin, Czech Republic), a rough map (left), sunrise (5:22am) and times it appeared (6am-7:30am). From this I was able to track down the location in Google Maps. From google maps, I could use the shadows of the buildings and surrounding trees to scope out the size of them in comparison to each other and low and behold, all the evidence backed up my explanation to a tea.

What was happening was that it was early in the morning. In both maps you can see roughly where the photographer was located. They were in a position that kept them in the shade. The building to the south blocked the direct light from the sun to the person. The building behind the person was taller than the building to the south. The walls of that building are not reflective enough to reflect much of the light. The windows on the other hand, were.

As the sun caught the windows, they not only reflected the light but also expanded as things do. With nowhere to expand due to the window pane, the glass formed an ever so slight concave shape which warped the light being reflected. This light then shone over to the building across from it, warped, forming the shape seen in the picture. It only appeared in the morning when the sun was in the right position and at the right height.

The trees to the south of the southern building as well as clouds meant the lights appeared and disappeared suddenly. The change in path of the sun through the seasons means it only occurred for a 3 week period.

Here we have a perfect example of the warping of the light. The ones in red are unwarped, the ones in yellow are warped.

Evidence which he hadn't payed enough attention to himself to take note of happened to be the key evidence required to find the rational and correct explanation, no supernatural one required.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Is nothing safe? Woo is now involving wine!

Today I tried to summon a sandworm. I know full well they are a fictional creature, but sometimes you come across something that affects you in a way that you just cannot help but to create a rhythmic thumping sound similar to that used in their summoning. I'm sure you too have experienced such things. One moment you're innocently browsing the internet, reading the paper or watching TV. The next moment there is an emanating thump, thump, thump, thump, as your forehead repeatedly hits the palm of your hand or the desk in front of you.

Today's summoning comes from a story on BoingBoing about an apparently new trend taking rise mostly in England, Germany and America. The story is about a method of farming called "biodynamics". The methods read word for word as though from occult, magical, and mystic traditions although the purveyors of it do not advertise it that way. They tend more to claim it as a method of organic farming, free of modern "harsh" chemicals and sprays.

Before reading further, I would like to request you ensure you are seated and have a collection of cushions ready. Please place one either in the palm of your hand, or on the table in front of you.

It was all started by one Rudolf Steiner in 1924 who claims to have come upon this after communicating telepathically with spirits. Please add another cushion. The two most popular are to place either fermented cow manure in a horn, or ground oak bark in a cow's fresh skull. This horn or skull is then buried in a shallow moist hole in a field for two seasons upon which time it is extracted and the contents applied in nearly undetectable quantities (akin to homeopathy) throughout the field.

It doesn't stop there. Biodynamics extends beyond the farm too. Please add another cushion. The two wine producers responsible for almost one third of the wine sold in the U.K. have started using biodynamics in their wine tasting too. You see, it's not just about the growing of the plants, there's also the consumption to consider. The consumption times are based upon a combination of moon cycles and astrologyy to seperate the days and hours out in to periods known as fruit, flower, leaf and root, the former two being the best for tasting and the latter the worst. How one figures out which period is which is a tightly held concept, but of course they are more than happy to let you know what times are good and bad ... by selling you an overpriced calendar containing this information.

So, biodynamics can be summed up as a combination of druidic, wiccan, magic and occult practices, ghosts and other-worldly beings, homeopathy and finally astrology. I bet these people claim to be christian too. Those of you who didn't add enough cushions throughout reading this most likely also have wormsign.

Source1: BoingBoing.
Source2: The Guardian.
Source3: SF Weekly.

As an aside, I've heard many people speculate that thanks to modern medicine, human evolution has all but come to an end. Sometimes though when I look at all the woo and people purposefully and willingly choosing the options which have zero supporting evidence and deriding the options that have mountains of supporting evidence ... I start to wonder if this increase in willing ignorance is actually a new evolutionary change to once again bring back the possibility of survival of the fittest.