Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Science of Energy

There are no such things as auras. Feng shui doesn’t work, and neither does tarot. Psychics are frauds and souls don’t exist. All of these concepts are based on a flimsy understanding of the science of energy.

Energy is released or stored. We humans gain energy by eating, and the calories in that food are stored until burned by our muscles. We give off energy in the form of heat, similar to an aura (but with important differences) and we transfer energy to the things we come in contact with.

What we don’t do is take in energy from our surroundings. If this were true, we could survive without eating. Believers in the New Age want us to believe that we’re swimming in a virtual sea of energy, that it is around us and through us and in us. An explanation of their theories often begin with “We’re surrounded by energy, agreed?” Sorry, there’s no agreement there, at least not with science.

While living things exude energy in thermal form, we don’t give off different energy signatures when our feelings change. “Aura readers” supposedly see different colors of energy coming from their fellow human beings, depending on their moods. This has been put to the test, both with scientific equipment that reads energy and also in practice with so-called aura readers, and has failed the test miserably.

Penn and Teller did an excellent test of Feng Shui on their Showtime program “Penn and Teller’s Bullshit.” They hired three different Feng Shui consultants to remodel a certain woman’s home, but they weren’t told that anyone else would be brought in to lend their expert opinion. The consultants not only didn’t reach a consensus, but had hilariously different views on several rooms. Penn and Teller were even smarter with a parody, in which Teller rearranges the furniture in a room and Penn keeps checking his wallet to see if the money it contains has changed. “Good fortune” is hard to measure, and this is what Feng Shui consultants prey on.

There are no shortage of psychic tests online, but they don’t make rational sense. It should be easy for a psychic to prove their powers, and yet none has done it. We joke about never reading the headline “Local Psychic Wins Lottery.”  Psychics claim that everything is connected, and that people should be able to and some are able to reach through these connections and gain information that escapes most of us. These connections are said to be made up of energy, and this energy just doesn’t exist. We’re not all tied together, not even on a molecular level. There is no science behind extrasensory perception, which is why so few scientists believe in it.

The soul is by far the least reasonable to believe in, and yet has the greatest following. There is no way for a non-physical entity to react with the physical world. Scientists have never found a soul in a person yet (the belief that a person loses a mysterious 21 grams upon death is based on a hoax) nor does it make sense for humans to have a soul and for animals to lack one. If a soul consists of energy, where does this energy come from? Do souls eat and consume calories? Again, it just bad energy science.

Finally, an anecdote about Tarot. I witnessed a Tarot reading once, and was joking about the act as it happened. The reader and her “customer” went into a different room for a second reading, claiming that I was messing up the spiritual energy and thus ruining the reading. This reader actually believed that (without such interference) a second reading would result in the same cards being dealt. This would lend weight to Tarot being a real science, but it doesn’t actually happen in real life… it is fantastically improbable.  We have yet to see a single YouTube video, a show on TV, or a demonstration for a skeptic in which this is done. Tarot is easily debunked by going to 2 different readers, which will in all probability give you 2 different readings.

Learn about energy, today.

-Supernova


Aesop’s Fallacies

Have you ever examined Aesop’s fables closely?  While seeming wise on the surface, the morals of these tales are often misleading. Let’s re-examine them, together.

THE HARE AND THE TORTOISE – “Slow and steady wins the race.”

It should be immediately obvious what is wrong with this moral – it has been proven many, many times that slow does not win a race. In this fable, the hare challenges the tortoise to a race. When the race is in effect, the hare is so confident that he’ll win that he naps after putting some distance between himself and the tortoise, and wakes up when it’s too late and he has lost. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, that the hare couldn’t pick a better time for a nap, but the moral is even more nonsensical.

Scientists don’t run experiments where they change 2 variables at the same time, because when it gets an effect it’s hard to pick out the cause. The tortoise was steady and slow, and the hare was unsteady and fast. I’m quite certain that fast and steady would have beaten either of these competitors. The tortoise being slow is just coincidental. The moral could’ve been “green and steady wins the race” or “shelled and steady wins the race” and it would’ve made just as much sense.

The reason why this moral is so awful is because it’s spoken when someone plods along, working slowly and carefully. They invoke it to prove that by going slowly they’ll actually get their work done by a deadline, but the true moral is that spending more of one’s time on a project rather than at a sporatic pace will get it finished on time.

THE GOOSE WITH THE GOLDEN EGGS – “Greed often overreaches itself.”

THE DOG AND THE BONE – “He who covets often loses everything.”

The golden egg story is about a golden goose that lays a golden egg every day. Its owner kills it for a faster reward but ends up getting nothing. In the fable of the dog and the bone, a dog is carrying a bone (or meat) over a bridge, sees its reflection, and opens its mouth to grab the treat it sees in its reflection. The morsel is dropped and the dog ends up with nothing.

Both of these morals are about being content with what one has, but they fail to see that a little greed is necessary – when we consume what we have, being content will kill us. If the dog had not stolen the morsel in the first place, it would starve. Sure, the extra food may be unnecessary at that precise moment, but the dog is being wise and thinking ahead to times when he’ll need it (this moral seems to be the antithesis to The Ant and the Grasshopper, a story about saving for lean times).

In the story of the golden goose, then and now a person can see how having a golden egg every day for the rest of their life is more than enough to satisfy, but that doesn’t make gambling for more a losing proposition. We have to assume in this story that the goose will go on living forever, and that it has nothing when harvested. In real life, though, sources of fortune can and do dry up, and “quitting while you’re ahead” by selling your source of fortune is often a wise move.

THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF – “A liar will not be believed, even when telling the truth”

This fable is about a shepherd boy whose job was to cry “Wolf!” whenever he spotted one – the townspeople would come running and protect the sheep. He thought it was funny to cry it out needlessly, lying about a wolf’s presence so that the villagers would waste their time. After a few times of this they stopped reacting to his cry, and when he actually spotted a wolf and sent up the alarm there was no response. The wolf ate the flock.

I hate this moral most of all because it lends credit to the idea of discrediting. If someone continues to lie, they will be labeled a liar and then nothing they say will have any weight. However, even as this fable says, a liar can tell the truth. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Just because a person lies often doesn’t prove that they’re lying (nor does a person’s honesty prove they’re incapable of lies), and a person’s credit or lack of it should not be used alone to determine if what they say is true or false, fact or fiction. As we see in debates, particularly in court testimony, a person’s credit holds far too much importance… and I feel this fable is to blame.

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These are just some of Aesop’s fables and the morals that he culled from them. The point is not that Aesop was a fool or a con artist, but rather that you should draw a conclusion from a story yourself – another person’s conclusion may be best, and may not be. You may see the logic of these tales in a different light than either Aesop or I do, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You have a mind capable of reason – use it.

-Supernova