Day three. Saturday. Once again we started at 8:00 am sharp. There was a pretty nice crowd for 8:00 am after an 11:00 am rock and roll/donut/bacon party.
The crowd at 8:05 am:
Ben Radford, one of my longtime heroes in the skeptics movement, drew the short straw to talk at 8:00 about the Mayan ” 2012 end of the world prophesy.” He has stated with a history of major end of the world predictions, starting with the Millerites in the 1840s
Ben: “Some say the world will end in horrible ways, you know disembowelings, Pauly Shore movies, you know.”
Per Ben, the Mayans did not place a great deal of importance on 2012, and often mentioned dates after 2012.
Per Ben, positions of modern Mayans on the 2012 prophesy: “Who gives a shit.”
There is at least one Mayan inscription mentioning 2012, describing the descent of a god. Here if is:
Ben: “I predict that there will be widespread stress and panic on Dec 21, 2012. After all, it is four days before Christmas.”
8:30. Sara Mayhew. I am interested in what she has to say, as I have no idea why she is here. She is apparently a “manga” boom artist–manga being the comic-book form of anime.
She seems a little off, honestly. Perhaps not enough sleep last night. She stated out with a manga drawing lesson, drawing Phil Plait and Richard Wiseman (the joke-same drawing)
Still don’t know why she is here, but she really knows how to use PowerPoint. Deep. She may be the most talented person in creating PowerPoint than I have ever seen, perhaps not surprising, as she is a graphic artist.
Ten minutes in to her time, she has said nothing of note.
8:45. Sara Mayhew has talked about living in Northern Ontario. She is a skeptic artist: “it is a little world that I am stuck in between but I love it. It had helped me creatively to think outside the box.”. Yes, she really used that cliche. Boy, is this meandering. I really can’t understand why they invited her to TAM, she really has nothing to contribute. At most she should be on a panel, not wasting the time as a solo act on the main stage. At 8:49 she starts talking about the characters of Twilight and Harry Potter (really). Many phones now being bright out and games being played:
Sara is an intelligent, talented, and nice person, but this talk is the first epic fail of TAM. 30 wasted minutes talking about nothing. For the people on the next panel, this is at least a good lead-in, as the audience will be hungry for anything of substance. And she went five minutes late, disregarding several stage cues from MC George Hrab. Ugh.
9:07 am. The Skepticism And The Humanities Panel. Led by Brian Thompson. Members Amy Davis Roth, Miranda Celeste Hale, Robert Blaskiewicz, Eve Siebert, and Hai-Ting Chinn.
Amy is, of course from Skepchicks, and she mentioned this, to a very small (even minuscule) amount of applause.
I have never heard of Eve Siebert, but she seems really interesting. She mentioned creationist interpretations of Beowulf. That seems like an interesting topic. Why the hell didn’t the Jref give us Eve talking about that for 30 minutes at 8:30 instead of 30 minutes about nothing.
Eve made a very interesting point, literary interpretation, like looking at Hamlet can teach critical thinking skills. I had never thought about that, but definitely true, as long as you have a good teacher in high school or university.
Miranda Celeste Hale eloquently talked about how to teach students skepticism and supporting their assertions worn high quality evidence. These skills can be transferred to skepticism.
Hai-Ting Chinn answers a question, flanked by Amy Davis Roth and Miranda Celeste Hale:
For a while, the panel seemed to veer off into a buzzaro netherworld where then seemed to urge us to support bad artists producing bad art, if it agreed with us. I guess to allow these artists to develop into better artists. I guess early George Lucas films sucked, so perhaps this is a good point.
The topic if post-modernism comes up. Fringe cultural theorists use scientific terms. Miranda brings up the Sokol affair, one of my favorites. Eve said these post-modernist fringe cultural theorist are like zombies, trying to “eat your brain in the most annoying way.”. Fantastic!
Brian: “Post-modernism is defined as that which cannot be defined”. The “extrinsic meaning is intrinsic.”
So, the panel started off slowly, but got on a roll towards the end, and Miranda Hale was an unexpected treat. She should be a plenary speaker, along with Eve. Eve should maybe be a keynote (I am really interested to hear about creationist interpretations of Beowulf!).
10:02 Jamy Ian Swiss comes on stage.
“Hi, my name’s Jamy. And I’m a skeptic!”. He then picked up a book, saying the definition was within. He opened up the book and flames shot out! “That’s all the magic you get from me.”
My notes on what Jamy said: “Atheism is skepticism directed at one particular claim”. Skepticism is now about what to think, but how to think. Not outcomes, just a method. There should be no litmus tests for particular ideas/views to get into the skeptical tent. It is the way of thinking that is important. I don’t have to agree with a skeptic’s conclusion, as long as they use the process to get there.
The world is full of atheists who are not skeptics. He has argued with an atheist about “The Secret.”.
His wife started an atheist parents meetup, and at first meeting someone asked her: “What’s your sign?”
Example of atheist non-skeptic: Bill Maher. “Screw Bill Maher!”. Maher is a “faith based atheist who is not really a skeptic.”
“Skepticism is not atheism is not secular humanism.”
“If atheism comes from a scientific world view, atheism, skepticism, and secular humanism are overlapping magesteria, and have a lot of overlap on a Venn diagram, but not identical.”
Skepticsm is a “thinking took kit” that must be applied to all subjects and claims. Skeptics test claims when nobody else does.
If political ideology is not part of our movement, we can invite leftists, conservatives, libertarians, people of all political backgrounds.
Consumer protection is the most important work of the skeptic movement. The job isn’t done, it will never be done. Skeptics should unapologetically re-affirm this and not abandon it in favor of something “more important.”. This is a critique of “Skepticism 2.0″. I don’t know what Skepticism 2.0 is. “You welcome to come into the tent of the skeptics movement as another kind of activist, but do not come into my Skeptics tent and say you are moving it”.
“Everyone can be fooled. Everyone. . . It’s not because they are stupid. They are human. They are stuck with a human brain and all it’s evolutionary fiobles.”
“Skeptics are often more concerned with being right than explaining their thinking. Help someone not wrong the next time.”
WOW. Jamy was fantastic. FANTASTIC!
11:00. (15 minutes behind schedule). Deirdre Barrett comes out.
“An exaggerated cue can pull an instinct stronger than the real thing. You can creat super-normal stimuli for all instincts.”
“We are raising free range chickens to feed to couch potato people.”. Great line.
11:35 Steve Novella comes out. We are now 20 minutes behind schedule.
Per Dr. N:
A problem with skepticism, is that people often think we are calling them stupid, when in reality we are saying everyone is stupid.”
Phrases to avoid: “I know what I saw.”. “I clearly remember.”. “Why would they lie.”
What you perceive as reality is a constructed fiction. The facts that Skeptics understand this is the largest gulf between skeptics and non-skeptics.
Perception is constructed by the brain, and this construction is filled with flaws and holes.
Your sense of yourself is constricted by your brain and can break down when the brain is injured.
Our brain tells is a story of what it thinks is happening. Our brain subconsciously used biases.
Optical illusions are an analogy to everything your brain does.
Your brain chooses what information to focus on, and disregards the rest.
What you see is altered by what you hear, and what you hear is altered by what you see.
All memories are constructed, and false in some way. We make up details and memories all the time. Your brain fills in gaps. Your brain evolved to make you think reality is real, and not constructed.
A really interesting talk from Steve:
Then Pamela Gay came out and gave what was, to be blunt, a boring, self-reverential, and useless waste of time. Nothing learned, nothing really said. It is an inspirational talk that is not inspirational. “I and my friends are wonderful and important, and so can you be” and in the most boring possible way. Then, towards the end, she goes into sexual harassment by “men in power” at astronomy conferences. “If pisses me off that as strong as I am, I can’t name names and expect to have a career tomorrow.”
Then she complains about sexual harassment at her place of employment, where, apparently she grins and bears it instead of reporting it to HR.
Says she has had breasts and butt grabbed by drunk guys in the skeptical conference/events, but, she says NOT TAM.
This has become a long rant on Internet trolling and negativity. This talk will, no doubt get a standing ovation. It doesn’t deserve it, but it will get one.
12:38. Yup. Undeserved standing ovation. We are now about 25 minutes behind schedule.
One nice thing about TAM running late is the almost total lack of time for questions from the audience, which I generally find a waste of time.
Due to a technical glitch, my entries for Susanah Martinez-Conde were lost. Suffice it to say, her talk was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.
Lunch: JREF had this idea that they would put a little sign on each table with a particular subject or interest. That way people sharing that idea/interest could sit together and talk about it. Again, fantastic idea. Execution both days was an abject failure. Nobody mentioned it yesterday and they were late with the placards, which were only placed on a few tables. Today they mentioned it, but a bunch of people snuck out to lunch early, and as a result all of the tables were full when the guy assigned placard placing duty came into the room. So no placards for the “birds of a feather” idea. Too bad, it was a great idea.
I am running low on batteries again, so live blogging this afternoon may be limited.
4:14 pm. Got a nice fresh charge on the phone, so let’s backtrack a bit
2:00. SGU live taping. Interesting. They showed a fantastic new video they have made a fantastic new video of a skeptical caveman. Jay Novella played a prominent role, and wow, that guy can act. Seriously.
3:00 Sean Carroll. Great.
3:45. Elizabeth Cornwell. Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. She discussed issues in social media and blogging. And discussed an interesting type of narcissistic personality online that gets sudden fame, gets boosts of self-esteem by counting comments, especially comments in agreement, and reacts strongly and quickly to any dissent or criticism. Dunno. Reminded me of some people.
4:15 Lawrence Kraus. Each of the compact detectors at the Large Hadron Collider has more steel than the Eiffel Tower.
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Kraus: “When we ask why, we really mean how.”
“Science changes the meaning of things, because we learn things.”
“We have a plausible explanation of how it happened without resorting to a supernatural explanation.”
“Before Darwin, life was a miracle. Darwin showed it was possible to show how organisms arose from a single organism. And that is where we are with the universe. And that’s amazing.”
“You are far more insignificant that you can possibly imagine. We are just some cosmic pollution in a universe of dark matter.”
Mr. Randi enjoys Dr. Krauss’ talk:
“We know to within 1 perfect of accuracy that the universe is flat. But there is not mass in galaxies. It would mean that nothing weighs something.”
“If you put 70% of the mass and energy of the universe in empty space, the math of a flat, expanding universe works out.”
“If there was nothing, that would be interesting, and unexpected. But you wouldn’t be there to observe it.”
We were in a closed universe so large it looks flat. Wow.
We live in the only kind of universe that could have been made from nothing.
“If there are many universes, we would be manifestly surprised if we lived in one in which we couldn’t live.”
Standing ovation for Dr. Kraus:
5:27 pm. Penn and Teller come on stage. It is a discussion with one of their writers.
Penn: “Randi is everything to me”
Teller: “Magic for me did not have a moral component until i met Penn.”
So, it’s a Q and A but not an audience Q and A. Nice.
Penn: “The only people that jugglers can look down on in show-business are ventriloquists and hypnotists.”. Love it.
Teller answers a question:
Penn: “I have been attacked more for not being a liberal than being an atheist.”
This Q and A has been great, much more thoughtful than audience questions. Loving it! And then they stated with audience questions, and I an out of there.
Over and out from day three.