Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Reality" is NOT a four-letter word!

Last year I was visiting family in Pennsylvania over the Christmas/New Year holidays; the snow was pretty heavy and it was a welcome change for this desert rat as it always is (since I know I'll be leaving it relatively soon!).  Driving on a main street near my Aunt's home, I frequently passed by a house with the door open and a big glowing "Psychic" sign in the window, but never actually saw anyone going in or coming out.  That, of course, got me thinking: wouldn't a psychic know when someone was going to come, and open the door only a few minutes beforehand?

Well, I chuckled to myself and shook my head every time I passed the place, but one evening I actually saw movement there.  Snow was falling, and I saw a lady leaving as the psychic (I presume) was saying goodbye and closing the door from the inside.  Since this was the first time I'd ever seen anyone there, I naturally paid attention.  As the woman began to descend the icy steps, her feet shot out from under her and she bounced like a Slinky all the way down to the sidewalk. 

Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but I couldn't contain my laughter. How much of her hard-earned money had this lady just spent there? Shouldn't the psychic have warned her that this would happen and help her down the steps?  Or maybe the lady paid just for the discount prediction package that didn't include a notice of impending accidents.

Now I know what you "true believers" are thinking... that I just don't understand the psychic world, and I readily admit that.  Apparently, I don't understand the astrological realm either, as it was angrily pointed out to me many years ago.

I had been invited as a guest on the KUSI Morning News in San Diego, as I often was, to discuss some exciting celestial discovery or phenomenon. When I arrived in the "green room" before the program, imagine my surprise to find that they had also invited an astrologer who was waiting as well.

Now there's one thing I've learned over the years about astrologers--and others who believe in similar nonsense: they always behave the same when they learn they're talking to an astronomer.  First they speak quite reasonably about the universe and its behavior, perhaps even asking some well-thought out questions--this is to lure the unsuspecting listener into what they believe will be a rational discourse. Then they begin to toss out some scientific and mathematical jargon to demonstrate that they're scientifically literate. Finally, they try to show that theirs is a "legitimate science" and gradually, in what becomes more and more kooky by the minute, try to reel the "skeptic" into their lair of crazy thinking. 

Now ask yourself honestly.  Why would anyone do this if they weren't aware of how nonsensical and irrational their ideas are?  I mean, does a pediatrician do this when meeting a teacher?  Or a plumber when talking with a dentist?  Of course not.  But I fully expected her to take this tack and, of course, she did, so I wasn't disappointed.

I listened patiently in hopes that, at some point, she might express ideas that represented something relatively close to reality.  She had just published a book on the subject--I suspect this was the reason for her appearance on TV that day--and handed me a copy to take home and read, explaining that this would help me "understand."  And then she made me an offer I couldn't refuse. 

Well, sort of. 

She suggested that if I told her the date, time and place of my birth, she would make a "chart" for me that would explain so much about my personality and life, and stun me with its accuracy. Never had anyone offered such a thing to me before, and I was surprised.  But not nearly as surprised as she when I came back with a counter offer. I suggested, instead, the following:

"Better yet, how about this?," I countered.  "I'll take you to lunch--at the time and place of your choosing--and tell you absolutely everything about myself that you want to know.  Then you tell ME the date, time and place of my birth."

I sure wish the encounter had been videotaped because medical science could learn a lot about how quickly a person's face can become red and start shaking from anger.  She ripped the book from my hands and screamed "It doesn't work that way!" 

"Now wait a minute," I replied calmly.  "It certainly should.  It's called 'reverse-engineering,' and it's done all the time.  If one can map out all the important features of my personality and life from the date, time and place of my birth as you claim, then you should also be able to work in the opposite direction... to use this same information to determine the date, time and place of my birth."

Well, that concept was apparently a bit more rational than she could handle, and she began to shake even more angrily as she retreated to the opposite side of the room muttering to herself words I can't repeat on this public forum... but they certainly included multiple uses of the word "skeptic."

You bet I'm a skeptic, Sweetheart!

Unfortunately, such illiterate boobs use the word "skeptic" as a derisive term; they think it refers to one who pooh-poohs everything, a closed-minded individual unwilling to accept anything but their own narrow way of thinking.  In fact, it's just the opposite.  A true skeptic is, perhaps, the most open-minded person you'll ever meet.  While a skeptic may not believe what you're selling, he or she will always give you an chance to prove it honestly, in which case they have to no choice but to believe it themselves.

It should surprise no one, however, that rarely do the world's psychics, astrologers and other charlatans take up the challenge, and those who do--much like criminals who believe they can outsmart a lie-detector or breathalyzer test--fail miserably.

Now I don't expect to convince any of the "true believers" who happen to have made it all the way to the end of this blog.  In fact, it would be a first to have even a rational discussion with such a person--at least beyond the first few minutes when they're in "scientific jargon mode." 

Because, let's face it. It's impossible to reason with someone whose basic paradigm is that reason doesn't count.