The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe Part 5 of 5

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This book covers many other things such as free energy, homunculus theory, vitalism, dualism, and pyramid schemes. An important take-away from the chapter on quantum woo is that quantum effects don’t apply to anything much bigger than an atom, so don’t believe anyone who tells you quantum effects apply to your day-to-day life. The chapter on N Rays demonstrates that intelligent people aren’t more likely to be good at critical thinking, just better at coming up with rationalizations. Continue reading

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe Part 4 of 5

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Data mining is sifting through large amounts of data looking for anything that stands out, even if it happened by chance. Astrologers are often guilty of this, using one study to claim people born under certain signs are more accident prone. However, a single study doesn’t prove anything until it’s replicated. A followup study actually demonstrated that people born under different signs are more likely to have car accidents. Continue reading

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe Part 3 of 5

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Cognitive biases are flaws in how our brain processes information and heuristics are mental shortcuts which are not always true. For example, we’re more likely to buy something that costs $19.99 rather than $20.00 due to our leftmost digit bias. Handedness bias makes right-handed people prefer the item on the right (and left-handed people the item on the left) when two similar items are presented. An example of framing bias is that we prefer something with a 90 percent survival rate over something with a 10 percent death rate, even though these are both the same. We also take bigger risks to avoid negative outcomes than to achieve positive outcomes. Continue reading

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe Part 2 of 5

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People will usually accept new information as long as it doesn’t conflict with an emotional belief that’s part of their identity. When this is challenged, they engage in motivated reasoning, defending their belief illogically and dismissing inconvenient facts. It’s triggered by cognitive dissonance, psychological discomfort which occurs when two ideas conflict. It’s human nature, but we can try to avoid it by not getting emotionally attached to factual beliefs that might turn out to be wrong. Continue reading

The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe Part 1 of 5

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“So, while we cannot trust the stories we are told, tradition, faith, convenient or reassuring narratives, charismatic figures, or even our own memories, we can slowly and carefully build a process by which to evaluate all claims to truth or knowledge. A big part of that process is science, which systematically tests our ideas against reality, using the most objective data possible. Science is still a messy and flawed process, but it is a process. It has, at least, the capacity for self-correction, to move our beliefs incrementally in the direction of reality. In essence, science is the process of making our best effort to know what’s really real.” Continue reading

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By The Taliban

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“It seemed to me that everyone knows they will die one day. My feeling was nobody can stop death; it doesn’t matter if it comes from a Talib or cancer. So I should do whatever I want to do.”

Malala Yousafzai was raised in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, often called the Switzerland of the East since rich people from around the world used to go on holiday there. Almost anywhere you go in Swat, you’ll find the remains of old Buddhist temples. Malala relates the ancient history of the area as if it were her own family history. Continue reading

The Voynich Manuscript

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The Voynich Manuscript has remained a mystery for centuries. First off, it’s written in an unknown script by an unknown author. It might be a hitherto unknown language, a cipher, or just plain nonsense. It features images of unknown plants, possible star charts featuring zodiac-like imagery, and pictures of naked women bathing in pools connected by tubes which may be balneological (relating to healing baths). Several pages are missing from it. Continue reading

The Private Letters of Countess Erzsébet Báthory by Kimberly L. Craft

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Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Báthory was a medieval Hungarian countess, best known for bathing in blood to keep herself young. While it’s a myth that she bathed in blood, there was a trial in which she was said to have tortured and killed several servant girls. The trial itself, however, was rather irregular, so whether Elizabeth Bathory was indeed guilty or not is still an open question. Continue reading

Stories from Ancient Canaan

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“Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan” -Ezekiel 16:3

The city of Ugarit was destroyed around 1200 BC and rediscovered in 1928. It was a Canaanite city-state like Jerusalem. Until the Ugaritic texts were discovered, all we knew about the Canaanites was what was said of them in the Bible. The texts that survive are fragmentary, but at least give us a small window into what the Canaanites believed. The Ugaritic texts have similarities to both the Gilgamesh epic and passages in the Bible. Continue reading

On the Historicity of Jesus by Richard Carrier Part 12 of 12

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This will be the final post in my multi-part summary of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. After going over our background information, evidence outside the Bible, Acts, the Gospels, and most of the Epistles (which are all more likely if Jesus didn’t exist than if he did), we finally get to the best evidence there is for historicity (the theory that Jesus existed as a historical person instead of a celestial deity). Continue reading