A Rant
Posted: 27 July 2007 12:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
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So I had a bit of a bad day today. I went and wrote a rant. A long one. It did make me feel better, so its purpose has more or less been served… but I felt like posting it here. Maybe somebody might appreciate it, and it’ll make me feel slightly better it someone does.

Because of what I’m about to write about, my own principles are making me admit the following things.
1.  I’m a skeptic.
2.  I enjoy being a skeptic.
3.  I love the word debunk.
4.  I love to debunk things.
5.  It gives me great pleasure to debunk things.
And now, because some people will start to think certain things about me because of the above…
1.  I have an open mind.
2.  I try hard to have an open mind.
3.  I do not enjoy hurting people’s feelings.
4.  I do not enjoy hurting people’s feelings when I debunk things.
Unfortunately, number four is inevitable at times. It’s strange that there’s a correlation between strong emotion and irrationality. Maybe the Vulcans were on to something when they eliminated their emotions in their quest for pure logic. Ooh… there’s the trekkie in me again.

Ever been having a conversation with a person about something when, almost without thinking about it, you debunked something they were saying?

Ever been looking to debunk something, without realizing the person who believed in it would get pissed shortly after?

I’ll admit that the latter has happened to me more often than the former… and it happened again today. My English teacher’s an ok person. She believes in following logic, at least she advocates it and talks about using logical arguments when we write our numerous essays… But she’s got these Native American (see, I’m using a politically correct term) beliefs.

It’s not that I don’t respect them… I respect all beliefs if they’re ethical, and not taken word-for-word… and don’t advocate pseudoscience. Alright, so basically all spiritual beliefs advocate pseudoscience… Alright, so I don’t believe I have a soul. You can’t judge me for being materialist, for valuing scientific empiricism (and empiricism carries too harsh a connotation in my opinion.)  I still respect their beliefs… until they start trying to pass of pseudoscience as truth in favor of their beliefs. That’s not logical… But that’s more or less what my English teacher does.

See, there’s this branch of holistic medicine known as homeopathy that she believes in.

Homeopathy is NOT logical. Let’s talk a little about what homeopathy is all about.

The first rule of homeopathy is where you give a well patient a substance and see what symptoms they get. Let’s say you gave the patient caffeine and they were unable to fall asleep. You write that down in the book.

The second rule of homeopathy is that whatever substance caused strange symptoms in a well patient will cure those strange symptoms in a sick patient. If you’re not seeing why this is not logical right now, you’re probably beyond hope in terms of logic. So say a patient with insomnia went to a homeopathic doctor… No, I will not justify them by calling them doctor. Say a patient with insomnia went to a homeopathic practitioner and said “I’m having trouble falling asleep.” The practitioner goes over to the book, looks up those symptoms, and finds out that that caused those symptoms in a well patient. He then gives the insomniac caffeine. Yup. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

The third rule of homeopathy is that you dilute that substance that’s supposed to cure the patient. You take one part of the substance and put it in ten parts of water. Then you shake it. So, you have one part of the substance in ten parts of water. Then you take one part of that and put it in another ten parts of water and you do it again. You then have one part of that substance in one hundred parts of water. But no… that’s way too strong to put in homeopathic medicine. They like to go to dilutions of one part of the substance in 10^20 parts of water. But they go even higher. Different homeopathic medicines have different levels of dilution. Let’s say you were to buy one that was diluted to one part of the substance in 10^24 parts of water. According to mathematics, you now at this point probably have 1 single molecule of the original substance. But they go higher still. Now, of course they ignore this. It’s all based on theories of electrical imprint. Somehow the substance is leaving an energy imprint on the water. What? I have yet to see someone able to prove that such imprints from vibrations exist. But wait… there’s more.

The fourth rule of homeopathy… drum roll… The more dilute the substance the stronger.

And my teacher thinks this is logical. And yet, when I explained my reasoning when for why it wasn’t logical, she simply glared at me (I even saw her bottom jaw trembling with anger) and dismissed it coldly by saying “I see your bottom line.” She was real pissed off at me, and so I did the smart thing to do… I left.

That’s not the first time I got bad reactions for debunking something. Online in forums I often give links debunking common beliefs such as conspiracy theories. People don’t like it. But yeah, I understand why. It’s fun to believe in these things. It’s fun and comforting to believe that there are spirits, and mediums, and psychics, and astrologers, and gods, and an afterlife. It’s comforting. I’ll tell you what else is really fun about believing in silly things.

People are going to see homeopathic and alternative medicine practitioners, and paying for ineffective cures. To me, scamming people out of their money is bad enough, though most of these practitioners seem to truly believe that their practices work. But there are also people who aren’t getting proper medical treatment for things. Not a lot of people are going to die, but some are. Say a cancer patient is already getting medication from a real doctor, but out of desperation goes to a homeopathic practitioner. Is there still something wrong with that? Well let’s see… It’s taking advantage of their grief, and their pain, and their desperation.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with that at all.

And now I feel better.

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1. God is omnipotent.
Source: Several incidents where I’ve annoyed fundamentalist Christians by challenging God’s power.
2. If God is omnipotent then he can travel faster than the speed of light.
Modus Ponens
3. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
Source: Einstein
Therefore, God is nothing.
QED

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Posted: 27 July 2007 08:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Thanks for the rant!

wink

Re. homeopathy you are absolutely correct. First off, there is no possible physical mechanism that could have any effect in a homeopathic treatment, so long as the dilutions are done “as advertised”. Indeed, if there were any effect from the additive (caffeine in your example) then presumably there would be an unbounded number of other, similar effects from other ingredients that the water used to contain.

The theory behind homeopathy is that water has a “memory” of what you put in it, and this “memory” is what causes the curative effects. But if that were true, the water would have a “memory” of many, many things besides caffeine!

The second issue here is that homeopathy has been extensively tested in clinical trials and found to have no effect beyond that of a placebo.

NB: in the US and Europe the ability to sell homeopathic treatments was specifically written into laws. Homeopathy was given specific legal protection. Basically, the quacks went to the politicians to change drug regulations in their favor.

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Doug

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Posted: 27 July 2007 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Sadly, the power of belief is so often greater than the power of reason, even in intelligent and otherwise reasonable people. I see patients in obvious and severe pain whose owners won’t let me give them proven pain medication becuase they contain “chemicals” and who insist the homeopathic stuff they’re giving is helping despite the suffering right before their eyes. And if the cause is ultimately incurable, like bone cancer, they will allow the suffering to continue while denying it because they cannot face the reality that there is nothing available to fix it beyond helping the animal die. Smart people, genuine love for their pets, yet mistaken and perversely held beliefs immune to evidence. Sigh. Believe me, I appreciate your rant.

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You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
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Posted: 27 July 2007 02:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thank you.

We had a girl from our school die from bone cancer not too long ago. I swore that if I heard that her parents went to see a homeopathic practitioner, I would… well… I know that I would’ve done something to stop them.

*sigh*

The most annoying part about it is I thought she was alright. Alright as in she said she used logic and critical thinking. She took points off of papers if we didn’t give logical reasons for what we were saying… and then in the same lecture where she was talking about logical fallacy, she talks about homeopathy.

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1. God is omnipotent.
Source: Several incidents where I’ve annoyed fundamentalist Christians by challenging God’s power.
2. If God is omnipotent then he can travel faster than the speed of light.
Modus Ponens
3. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
Source: Einstein
Therefore, God is nothing.
QED

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Posted: 27 July 2007 02:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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i read in dennets book, breaking the spell, about a mind-trick he used on his daughter when she hurt her hand. he had her push on his hand and transfer the pain to him.

yesterday my two year old tripped and hurt her hand.

so i tried it.

and it worked!

i cant wait till shes older and i can explain to her the mind trick i pulled on her. maybe ill tell her when she learns santa claus isnt real

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“Unsustainable systems can’t be sustained.” ~ Robert Jensen

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Posted: 27 July 2007 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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truthaddict - 27 July 2007 02:23 PM

i read in dennets book, breaking the spell, about a mind-trick he used on his daughter when she hurt her hand. he had her push on his hand and transfer the pain to him.

yesterday my two year old tripped and hurt her hand.

so i tried it.

and it worked!

i cant wait till shes older and i can explain to her the mind trick i pulled on her. maybe ill tell her when she learns santa claus isnt real

LOL.

I never liked Santa Claus anyway. I always saw him for what he was, a way for my parents to control me. I wasn’t all that disappointed when I learned he wasn’t real.

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1. God is omnipotent.
Source: Several incidents where I’ve annoyed fundamentalist Christians by challenging God’s power.
2. If God is omnipotent then he can travel faster than the speed of light.
Modus Ponens
3. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
Source: Einstein
Therefore, God is nothing.
QED

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Posted: 27 July 2007 04:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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my girlfriend and i have talked about whether we are going to continue to teach my daughter about Santa Claus and after reading Parenting Beyond Belief we decided to do so. Letting her figure out that hes not real could be a good test to help hone her skeptical skills.

besides i still like christmas. we have completely secularized it though

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“Unsustainable systems can’t be sustained.” ~ Robert Jensen

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Posted: 27 July 2007 07:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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If the parents or friends tell the kid Santa isn’t real, s/he feels tricked.  If s/he figures it out for him/herself it’s a great ego boost.  When I was about five and saw multiple santas in different stores, I realized it was a fairytale, but just thought the adults were too stupid to recognize it so I made believe I accepted the story so as not to disappoint them. 

Occam

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