April 30, 2010 · 8:04 am
This week has been a mixture of sex and death. Entrances and exits if you will. I was going to post something on sky burials but that got pipped to the post by this morning’s story of Paul Challis because it ties in so well with the Puerto Rican embalmed biker, David Morales Colón who was buried yesterday.
Paul Challis, pictured above, is literally, pictured. He died last year from cancer at the age of 38 and his adoring wife Maria had the life-size cut-out of him made for his funeral. However, afterwards she decided to keep the cut-out in their living room so that the children never forget him.
The story in the Telegraph is very touching and incredibly tragic as the couple seemed like a perfect match sharing jokes and banter about his impending death. Maria even took her husband’s cut-out to a friend’s wedding after his funeral but I am concerned that this is going to impair and undoubtedly prolong the grieving process; especially for the children.
I also know from my own research that pictures of loved ones are not simply pictures. Even if we know that a photograph is not the real object, adults can not easily destroy pictures of sentimental objects or spouses. We may consciously say that we can do these things but deep down we feel anxiety about damaging or disposing of representations. Imagine how difficult it will be for the Challis family to throw Paul out with the rubbish or burn him on the garden tip. I predict that the family will have to endure another funeral ceremony all over again for the cardboard cut-out dad.
What do you think?
March 1, 2010 · 8:57 am
What is the Ministry of Defence Hiding?
So far, it has been somewhat of a bumper beginning to 2010 for skeptics in the UK. First bomb dowsing is exposed and banned, then we have the recommendation to remove homeopathy from the National Health Service, Simon Singh’s libel case brought by the British Chiropractor Association is gathering positive momentum (against the bone manipulators!) and today I learned that the Ministry of Defence will destroy reports of UFO sightings in the UK. This move follows up on the decision to shut the British UFO investigation unit and telephone hotline.
Is it due to a drop in reported sightings? On the contrary, sightings have been increasing steadily in recent years according to a former MoD employee who used to work in the UFO unit. It would seem that the MoD are fed up having to respond to Freedom of Information requests from UFO hunters. On the other hand, that might just be the cover story….
I hope this sweeping rationalism does not go too far. Otherwise I will have nothing to blog about. There again, that’s the nature of belief… the more you try to remove it, the stronger it becomes!
February 4, 2010 · 10:58 am
Who Was I?
I gave a public lecture on Tuesday night to the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution and talked about the separation of body and mind as a basis for belief in the supernatural. Most people are dualist in that they believe that the mind is not tethered to the body. We feel that we occupy and control our bodies – some inner self seated inside our heads controlling the body like the operator of some complicated meat-machine. If the mind is not tethered to the body, then maybe it can survive the body after death or even leave the body to meet up with other minds! Dualism is fertile ground for spiritualism.
To illustrate my point, I asked how many members of the audience (who were mostly past retirement) looked into the mirror every morning only to be confronted with an aging body and yet they themselves, did not feel any older. I told the audience that I knew that I was past my prime but still felt like an 18-year-old. That’s because we do not feel that our mind ages. Yes, we are aware that we no longer have the same thoughts and that we may be slower or more forgetful but we do not experience our minds as different because we ARE our minds. We cannot step outside of our mind to consider how it looks to others.
So imagine my horror when this clipping was sent to me by an old friend the following day? If I was inclined to my SuperSense, I would say that it was not a coincidence but a reminder that there are more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in my philosophy. Nevertheless, it was very spooky. I know it is me but I don’t recognize him. Why was I in the papers giving opinions about conscription and women serving in the army? I have no recollection of the interview. And I certainly don’t recognise his pretentious comments and sexist opinion. That’s because I have never been out of my mind.
February 11, 2009 · 5:19 pm
The mystery of the damaged Lincolnshire wind turbine has finally been solved. Last month, it was claimed that one of the blades had been sheared off following a collision with an U.F.O. We may not be very religious but we are a nation of U.F.O. spotters. Those and trainspotters of course.
On the night of the incident, John Harrison reported seeing a ball of light with its ‘tentacles’ over the wind farm. ‘It was an incredible sight, I have never seen anything like it before,’ he said. ‘I have no idea what it was.’ Also reported in the UK’s Daily Mail (that should set credibility alarm bells ringing), Dorothy Willows said she saw orangey yellow spheres. ‘I don’t believe in UFOs but it was a low-flying object,’ said Mrs Willows. Meanwhile a more credible witness was council chief, Robert Palmer, who said he had seen a ’round object with a slight red trim hovering near the top of the turbines’ that night too.
‘When I heard what had happened I was slightly worried so I’ve called for a full health and safety review,’ said Mr Palmer, 66. ‘If the aliens are coming, I want to be there to meet and greet them.’ Sounds a bit like the concern of the Zombie invasion of the US that I reported last week.
Today we learn that the explanation for the mysterious destruction is a little more mundane. It wasn’t a bird, it wasn’t a plane, it wasn’t a block of ice and it certainly wasn’t a U.F.O. It was failure of the bolt housing. Remarkable, how the rumor of a U.F.O. suddenly generates reported sightings.
February 8, 2009 · 12:46 pm
The last post on the bus slogan has generated the most comments to date for any of my blogs. So clearly there is still a passion for arguing about whether promoting religion should be tolerated in our society. As this story is so close to home, (I live in North Somerset) I thought I would canvass your opinion on the Christian nurse who has been suspended for offering to pray for her patients.
Having some links with the NHS, I am all too aware that many junior doctors and nurses engage in life styles that engender the mantra, “Work hard & play hard.” I could tell you some stories that would shock you. Of course, not all medical care workers are like this but given the choice between your regular NHS nurse and one that has chosen a Christian lifestyle which normally eschews the worst excesses of personal pleasures, I honestly believe I may feel more comfortable with the bible-basher.
That said, looking into this particular case more thoroughly, I was a bit alarmed to see that Nurse Petrie had taken to handing out cards which read, “I am sorry for what I have done wrong in my life and I ask for forgiveness. Thank you for Dying on the Cross for me to set me free from my sins. Please come into my life and fill me with your Holy Spirit and be with me forever. Thank you Lord Jesus. Amen.” That’s a guilt trip that seems a bit much for those who may be already terrified at the prospect of death.
I am happy for people to pray for me, adore me, worship me or any other form of positive adulation. But don’t make me feel guilty for your belief systems.
February 2, 2009 · 8:39 pm
The British National Health Service is under constant pressure these days. NHS staff are over-worked, bureaucracy–burdened, morale-defeated and have to cope with one “public outrage” after another. MMR fiasco, waiting lists, super-bugs, dirty wards and now of all things…. ghosts. At the weekend, that bastion of truth and integrity-journalism, The Sun, reported that Derby’s spanking new Royal Hospital has an outbreak of spooks with staff reporting sightings of a black-clad figure stalking the wards or corridors.
Senior manager, Debbie Butler says, “I’m taking it seriously as the last thing I want is staff feeling uneasy at work.” So how do you cleanse a hospital of one unwelcome supernatural belief? You could try reason and science but you would be wasting your time. Beliefs are pretty immune to such tactics which is why rationalists are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to changing people’s minds. Best way to combat supernatural belief is with another set of supernatural beliefs.
Butler is reported as saying, “I’ve spoken to the Trust’s chaplain and she is going to arrange for someone from the cathedral to exorcise the department.” Now why can’t they do that with MRSA?
January 29, 2009 · 7:45 pm
In a previous post, I pointed out how peculiar it was that most of us prefer to consume bovine milk rather than human milk. Also we find breast-feeding beyond infancy perverse and disgusting. Why is this? I find this question fascinating for many reasons. Anyway, the Swiss restaurant owner who has opened an establishment that serves food cooked with human milk is finding it hard to meet demand. But there might be a simple solution.
Drs Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University have shown that by giving a cow a name and treating her as an individual, farmers can increase their annual milk yield by almost 500 pints. Basically treating animals in a much kinder, humane way is good for yields. Anthropomorphism is not such a bad thing after all.
Oh and as for human milk…. oh come on.. would you?
January 28, 2009 · 9:48 am
Whenever, we take part in events or situations where the outcome is important, our SuperSense kicks in whereby we engage in behaviors and rituals that we believe will affect the final result. Also, as I noted in a previous post, when we experience a sense of loss of control, we also become victims of magical belief.
It’s no surprise then that superstitious rituals are extremely common in sport both amongst players and fans. Nick Hornby wrote about his ritual of biting the head off a sugar mouse and lobbing it into oncoming traffic before each soccer match in his masterpiece of male obsession, “Fever Pitch.”
Today we learn that touching David Beckham’s bottom for luck has become a superstitious ritual to his fellow team-mates at the Italian club AC Milan. Well that’s their excuse as I am sure that many would like the opportunity to massage Beckham’s gluteus maximus.
As Hornby points out in Fever Pitch, the problem with superstitious rituals is that they have the tendency to become even stronger and more elaborate. Simple conditioning theory suggests that a string of failures should reduce the tendency to engage in ritualistic behavior. However, intermittent success (which is often the case for soccer) can increase these rituals in an attempt to regain the perception of control. This means that Beckham’s bottom could experience increased attention from the other players over next 3 months during his stint with AC Milan.
Watching Italian soccer may take on a whole new dimension or do you think I am being too ‘cheeky?’
UPDATE FEB 5th. We now learn that Beckham is considering staying at AC Milan! I wondered what persuaded him?
January 24, 2009 · 12:41 pm
A goat is currently being held in Kwara State police cells in Nigeria, accused of car theft. According to the BBC report, a vigilante group captured the goat who they claim is actually a lycanthrope or ‘shape-shifter.’ Lycanthropy has its origins in myth but does have a rare clinical manifestation in some psychotic patients who believe they can transform into animals.
After hearing about General Butt Naked in the last post, one might be tempted to think that supernatural beliefs are the norm on the African continent but before jumping to stereotypes, I would urge caution. Apparently, the gang captured the goat and then immediately went to the media. One is reminded of a certain famous anthropologist who was fed many a yarn by the “natives” coz they thought it was a bit of fun. However, whatever the motive, there is a more worrying concern that the police have lost control over the mob-rule that now terrorizes the society.
November 23, 2008 · 6:22 pm
How did I miss this one?????
The Government’s new science minister Lord Drayson claims to have a ‘sixth sense’ to predict the future and cites Malcolm Gladwell’s popular bestseller, “Blink” as a fascinating book that confirms his belief that humans have involved an intuitive supernatural ability.
Ka…thunk! The sound of a million jaws hitting the ground!
Oh well… guess he will appreciate “SuperSense.” I’ll get my publisher to send him a copy.
Thanks to Andrew Kelly from the Festival of Ideas for pointing this one out to me.
Now that’s two posts on the same day… time to take a break