The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking
Adam Alter writes:
According to a great deal of research, positive fantasies may lessen your chances of succeeding. In one experiment, the social psychologists Gabriele Oettingen and Doris Mayer asked eighty-three German students to rate the extent to which they “experienced positive thoughts, images, or fantasies on the subject of transition into work life, graduating from university, looking for and finding a job.” Two years later, they approached the same students and asked about their post-college job experiences. Those who harbored positive fantasies put in fewer job applications, received fewer job offers, and ultimately earned lower salaries. The same was true in other contexts, too. Students who fantasized were less likely to ask their romantic crushes on a date and more likely to struggle academically. Hip-surgery patients also recovered more slowly when they dwelled on positive fantasies of walking without pain.
Full Story: The New Yorker: The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking
The cult of “positive thinking” – Barbara Ehrenreich discusses her new book on Democracy Now
Smile or Die: Bright Sided as a 10 Minute Marker Board Cartoon
Beyond Growth – Technoccult interviews Duff McDuffee and Eric Schiller
India anti-superstition campaigner Narendra Dabholkar shot dead
A high-profile Indian anti-superstition activist, who was campaigning for a law to ban black magic, has been shot dead in the city of Pune, police say.
Narendra Dabholkar, 71, was attacked by two gunmen on motorbikes while he was taking his morning walk.
He was known for founding the Committee for the Eradication of Blind Faith more than 20 years ago.
Full Story: BBC: India anti-superstition campaigner Narendra Dabholkar shot dead
Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them
Palm reader turned cognitive scientist Ray Hyman wrote:
As we have seen, clients will readily accept stock spiels such as those I have presented as unique descriptions of themselves. Many laboratory experiments have demonstrated this effect. Forer (1948) called the tendency to accept as valid a personality sketch on the basis of the client’s willingness to accept it ‘the fallacy of personal validation.” The early studies on personal validation were simply demonstrations to show that students, personnel directors, and others can readily be persuaded to accept a fake sketch as a valid description of themselves. A few studies tried to go beyond the demonstration and tease out factors that influence the acceptability of the fake sketch. Sundberg (1955), for example, gave the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (known as the MMPI) to 44 students. The MMPI is the most carefully standardized personality inventory in the psychologist’s tool kit. Two psychologists, highly experienced in interpreting the outcome of the MMPI, wrote a personality sketch for each student on the basis of his or her test results. Each student then received two personality sketches– the one actually written for him or her– and a fake sketch. When asked to pick which sketch described him or her better, 26 of the 44 students (59 percent) picked the fake sketch!
Sundberg’s study highlights one of the difficulties in this area. A fake, universal sketch can be seen as a better description of oneself than can a uniquely tailored description by trained psychologists based upon one of the best assessment devices we have. This makes personal validation a completely useless procedure. But it makes the life of the character reader and the pseudo psychologist all the easier. His general and universal statements have more persuasive appeal than do the best and most appropriate descriptions that the trained psychologist can come up with.
Full Story: Skeptical Inquirer: Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them
See also: The Forer Effect
An open source personality testing system
Occult Battles On The Streets Of London, 1993
In 1993 the Neoist Alliance protested Ian Stuart’s performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s Harlequin, promising to levitate the Pavilion Theatre 25 feet off the ground. Thee Temple Ov Psychic Youth (TOPY), however, lead a counter protest to stop the levitation, concerned that the levitation could create “a negative vortex would be created which could seriously damage the ozone layer.”
As the handful of individuals who’d decided to cross the picket line arrived for the concert, they were met with chants of ‘Boycott Stockhausen’ from our ranks, to which the TOPY activists replied with cries of ‘Stop The Levitation’. The counter-demonstrators pleaded with concert-goers to remain outside the building so that they could participate in a set of breathing and visualisation exercises designed to prevent the levitation. Once the concert began, the two sets of demonstrators prepared themselves for a psychic battle outside the theatre. These street actions drew a far larger crowd than the Ian Stuart recital inside the building. Passers-by were reluctant to step in front of the waves of psychic energy we were generating and soon much of the street was at a standstill. The Brighton and Hove Leader of 20/5/93 quoted one shaken concert-goer as saying, ‘I definitely felt my chair move. It shook for a minute and then stopped.’ The Neoist Alliance also received reports of toilets overflowing and electrical equipment short-circuiting, although these went unreported by the press.
While TOPY were adamant that their actions prevented the Pavilion Theatre being raised 25 feet into the air, the Neoist Alliance considers the protest to have been a complete success.
Full Story: The Stewart Home Society: OUR TACTICS AGAINST STOCKHAUSEN
(via Peter Bebergal)
eBay Bans The Selling of Magical Items And Psychic Services
The great and powerful internet auction house eBay has henceforth banned all sales of wizardly enchantments and magic spells, even if you have a vacuum cleaner’s worth of gold to offer.
Indeed, the company knows not what it does, unaware that the hour of the dragons grows near. Not only has eBay banned the sale of spells, but it has also prohibited the sale of potions. Yes, that even includes the +2 Potion of Dragonslaying — the fools! Psychic readings are similarly forbidden.
Read more at http://www.tecca.com/news/2012/08/15/ebay-magic-potion-psychic-reading-ban/#HhbovxHjcM6L82FJ.99
Tecca: Alas! eBay to ban sale of magic spells, potions
See also: Square prohibits its service from being used for “occult materials.”
Synesthesia May Explain Aura Reading
From Science Daily:
In basic neurological terms, synesthesia is thought to be due to cross-wiring in the brain of some people (synesthetes); in other words, synesthetes present more synaptic connections than “normal” people. “These extra connections cause them to automatically establish associations between brain areas that are not normally interconnected,” professor Gómez Milán explains. New research suggests that many healers claiming to see the aura of people might have this condition. [...]
Many local people attribute “paranormal powers” to El Santón, because of his supposed ability to see the aura of people “but, in fact, it is a clear case of synesthesia,” the researchers explained. According to the researchers, El Santón has face-color synesthesia (the brain region responsible for face recognition is associated with the color-processing region); touch-mirror synesthesia (when the synesthete observes a person who is being touched or is experiencing pain, s/he experiences the same); high empathy (the ability to feel what other person is feeling), and schizotypy (certain personality traits in healthy people involving slight paranoia and delusions). “These capacities make synesthetes have the ability to make people feel understood, and provide them with special emotion and pain reading skills,” the researchers explain.
Full Story: Science Daily: Synesthesia May Explain Healers Claims of Seeing People’s ‘Aura’
(via Matt Staggs)
I’ve long suspected this to be true. I’ve met a couple of people who claimed to be able to see auras and didn’t seem to be liars or crazy.
Alejandro Jodorowsky Leads Group Psychomagic Ritual for Casualties of the War on Drugs
Alejandro Jodorowsky made a rare public appearance in Mexico City to lead a group psychomagic ritual with over 3,000 participants:
It was billed as “the first act of collective psycho-magic in Mexico.”
The call made by the cult mystic Alejandro Jodorowsky said the event would seek to “heal” the country of the cosmic weight of so many dead in the drug war, by gathering for something he called the March of the Skulls.
On Sunday, on a wet and frigid morning in this mountain capital, hundreds of Jodorowsky fans answered the open convocation (video link in Spanish).
They donned black top hats and black shawls, and carried canes and Mexican flags colored in black. They wore calavera face paint or masks to give themselves the look of stylish skeletons gathered in this often-surreal city in the name of Mexico’s tens of thousands of sometimes nameless drug war dead.
LA Times Blog: Cult mystic holds ‘march of skulls’ for Mexico’s drug war dead
Update: You can find a collection of links to more pictures here.
When Did Magic Become Hereditary?
The Twelfth Enchantment author David Liss on the portrayal of magic in popular story telling:
In the past, people generally believed they could acquire magic in two ways: through learning the craft, either from another practitioner or from books; or through obtaining magic from a powerful being-think Faust or the classic, demonized witch, both of whom get their mojo from Satan. Anyone could learn magic as long as he or she had access to the knowledge or could make a connection with the right supernatural entity. The important point is that in theory, the gates of magic were open to everyone, and what I find most interesting is how that has changed in popular culture. [...]
Magic has gone from being an open system to a closed one. Their massive popularity make the Harry Potter novels and films the most glaring example, but it’s everywhere, and has been for decades now: TV shows like Charmed and Wizards of Waverly Place, books like those of Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris. More often than not, magical practitioners are born, not made. Magic is an exclusive club. You can watch and be envious, but you can’t join.
i09: When did magic become elitist?
Also, Alyssa Rosenberg writes: “I wonder if a sense of biological magic also correlates to a sense of unease about how much power we have to impact our lives and to change the world. Believing that you can put the evil eye on someone, or that you can summon the devil, means believing in your own capacity to learn, hold, and wield power. Biological conceptions of magic are a way of explaining your own powerlessness. We can’t change our lives — but we’re also not responsible for changing the world — because we’re not Harry Potter, or the Slayer, or the Halliwell sisters.”
(both links via David Forbes)
Not unrelated are Michael Moorcock’s essay on the fascist, conservative and/or reactionary strains running through sci-fi and fantasy fiction, and this essay by Stokes on the aesthetics of fascism and the TV series Game of Thrones.
West Memphis Three Go Free – But At What Cost?
ABC News reports that West Memphis Three are being released today after a special hearing in which the three men made an Alford plea. According to Wikipedia, an Alford plea is: “A guilty plea in criminal court, where the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence. Under the Alford plea, the defendant admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
What this means is that the WM3 will not be able to sue the state for wrongful prosecution, or profit financially from book, movie or speaking deals based on the ordeal. Or, in other words, it means that those responsible for railroading these kids in 1993 and putting them in prison for nearly two decades (while the real killer(s) remained free) will never be brought to justice, and the WM3 will never be compensated in any way for the years of their lives that they lost.
It’s a surprise move to those of us following the case. In 2007 new DNA evidence placed two men, including one of the victim’s stepfathers, at the scene of the crime, but provided no evidence that the WM3 were at the scene. I should emphasize that this doesn’t in and of itself exonerate the WM3, nor does it necessarily implicate the stepfather in the case. However, it was widely believed this DNA evidence would be enough to get the WM3 a new trial, and, given the lack of evidence in the first trial, would likely result in the three being exonerated.
I don’t know why the WM3 decided to take this plea, and I don’t blame them for taking an opportunity to go free after 18 years in prison. If they and their counsel believed this was the best option, then it probably was. But it’s extremely disappointing that the individuals – including David Burnett, Brent Davis and Dale Griffis – who railroaded the WM3 to advance their own careers will never be held accountable for their crimes.
PZ Myers on Alan Moore and Magic
A while back Cat Vincent asked why no atheists debated Alan Moore at the skeptics conference TAM London. I told Cat that I personally didn’t have much to debate with Moore.
Moore’s position, staked out in this essay on magic as well as the magic essay from Dodgem Logic 3 (which I think is a better version of the “Fossil Angels” essay, and extends the purpose of magic from art in particular to creativity in general), is that that magic is a process that takes place probably in one’s own mind and doesn’t confer the power to fulfill wishes. For example, in Dodgem Logic he wrote that using magic to try to get money handed to you was pointless. Instead, you were better off using magic to try to find some creative way to actually earn some money. He claims to have seen visions of gods, but admits they could very well be hallucinations. There’s not much room to debate a guy who says magic can’t fulfill all your wishes and that he could be tripping balls mad.
Biologist and noted atheist blogger PZ Myers seems to agree:
Moore has an affinity for a 2nd century oracular sock puppet, but he doesn’t worship it. He believes in magic, but he doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He also doesn’t like religion. I agreed with almost everything he said 100% (although he did speculate a bit about the absence of explanation for memory, which he thought was a mystery because there are no changes in the structure of the brain that last for more than a few weeks, which is total bullshit, and he wondered if the purpose of junk DNA was to store memories, which is bullshit on fire. But, OK, the rest of the talk was mostly fun.)
Moore is a writer, and his explanation was basically that the weirdness was to spark creativity; for instance, he talked about staring into a quartz crystal and seeing visions, but he was quite plain that it wasn’t supernatural, it wasn’t the crystal, it was his own mind generating and imposing ideas on what he saw. And that’s all right with me — it fits very well with how I see science functioning.
Pharyngula: Alan Moore at Cheltenham
Actually, I think if there’s anything to debate Alan Moore about it’s whether what he describes as magic is truly “magic” at all. But I’m not particularly interested in having that debate, and I doubt he really is either.