From the creator of Video Skepdude

Oh the stupidity!

If acupuncture didn’t have a bad enough record, this guy is sticking needles in ….Portland…THE CITY!!!

Acupuncture is not just for people. It’s also for cities — if the city is Portland.

Adam Kuby has stuck a 23-foot needle into the ground down by the Willamette River and hopes to plant more, choosing locations where he figures the city’s “chi,” or vital energy, needs some help.

Among the latest additions to the panoply of Portland’s oddities are Adam Kuby’s giant needles. An artist who arrived from New York four years ago, Kuby says the acupuncture project is an attempt to get people to see the city in a holistic way.

“It is a visual way of expressing what a lot of people already know,” said Kuby. The city is “one organism, one body, one very complex, independent system.”

Let’s see, the city is an organism, it has “chi” and they’re sticking giant needles where some guy figures the city needs them. And it’s not clear: is it art or acupuncture? He sounds a little confused himself. Maybe it’s both. Maybe acupuncture is no better than bad art! Scratch out the maybe.

Oh teh stooopidity!


May 6, 2008 Posted by | Critical Thinking, Logic | , | Leave a comment

Buy flight insurance to keep plane from crashing?

According to this NYTimes article, we buy flight insurance because we actually at some level believe it will help keep the plane in the sky.

Last year, tens of millions of people bought life insurance for scheduled flights of airlines in the United States. Not one of those insured passengers died in a crash — and this was not just a coincidence, at least not to many of the people who bought the insurance.

No, at some level they believed that their insurance helped keep the plane aloft, according to psychologists with new experimental evidence of just how weirdly superstitious people can be.

We buy insurance not just for peace of mind or to protect ourselves financially, but because we share the ancient Greeks’ instinct for appeasing the gods.

Apparantely, this level of superstition is not limited to flight insurance only.

We may not slaughter animals anymore to ward off a plague, but we think buying health insurance will keep us from getting sick. Our brains may understand meteorology, but in our guts we still think that not carrying an umbrella will make it rain, a belief that was demonstrated in experiments by Jane Risen of the University of Chicago and Thomas Gilovich of Cornell.

The psychologists first identified this reluctance last year by reconsidering a well-known superstition about lottery tickets. Experimenters had repeatedly found that once people were given a lottery ticket, they would refuse to trade it for another ticket despite being offered a cash bonus and reassured that the other ticket was just as likely to win

Psycholoigsts try to explain such behavior using the theory of anticipated regret.Even though the people realized the odds were no different for any ticket, they anticipated feeling especially stupid if they traded away a winner, so they held on to their ticket just to avoid that regret.

It seems this is more than pure speculation. Experiments seem to confirm such behavior. I find this very interesting. It makes me stop and think about my own behavior. When I get health insurance do I have an expectation of reduced chances of illness? Not that I can remember. I do have an expectation of reduced negative consequences if I have insurance, versus not having insurance.

If I bought a lottery ticket for $1 and someone offered to trade that for another $1 ticket, I also think I would not trade. The theory of anticipated regret seems to make sense. If someone offered $1 ticket plus and additional $10, I think I would. I would take the $10 buy another 10 tickets and increase my chances of picking the winning ticket by 1,000 % (which is still nothing if you take into account the odds of actually winning the lottery). But I never thought of this before.

Bottom line, I do not buy flight insurance in the hopes of avoiding of a crash. I do not buy health insurance in the hopes of not getting ill. But I probably would not trade a lottery ticket for another equivalent lottery ticket if the additional cash was not substantial. It seems we still have traces of superstitious thinking left in us. Now is that a product of evolution or of an intelligent designer?

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Is immortality achievable?

Yesterday I had posted an entry about a bogus news item at Environmental Graffiti about a Chinese man who lived to be 256 years old. That is of course, a pile of horse dung. But is it too improbable for us to live that long? Can immortality ever be achieved?

I would like to think that this is at least possible, even if not too probable.

I think it would take two things for us to reach immortality. The first one is around the corner, the other one no where to be seen as far as I know.

The first requirement is cloning. Our biological bodies obviously cannot exist indefinitely. Unless there are major advances in medicine and our understanding of the human body, there seem to be limits to how long our bodies can live. And it seems like the science is slowly, but undoubtedly, progressing in this area. It is very reasonable to expect that in the near future (which could be decades or a few hundred years) the technology will be there for us to duplicate our physical bodies.

The second one is much much more complicated I am affraid. A person is more than just a body. What really makes me, well me, is not the body itself,but the human experiences. The memories, the learned knowledge, the feelings. The real hurdle is to first understand how the brain processes and stores such information. Then we must be able to access this information through machinery, copy it and store it in machine readable format. Then we must be able to take this stored information from the machine and transplant it, upload it if you will on a clone. Wow that’s a lot! Easier for me to speculate, than for the scientists who have to do the actual work.

Obviously there are so many ethical issues connected to this that I don’t even dream of taking them on. But that is besides my point. I am wondering: could this be possible, not if we should do it. I am not advocating that we should strive for this…yet. If we subscribe to the material view of the brain, than at least theoretically we should be able to do this, albeit in a very very long time. But the intriguing question remains.

Even though this sounds like that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, could it be within science’s grasp?

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Thinking Out Loud, Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment