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Quantum Quackery

A surprise-hit film has renewed interest in applying quantum mechanics to consciousness, spirituality and human potential
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In spring 2004 I appeared on KATU TV’s AM Northwest in Portland, Ore., with the producers of an improbably named film, What the #$*! Do We Know?! Artfully edited and featuring actress Marlee Matlin as a dreamy-eyed photographer trying to make sense of an apparently senseless universe, the film’s central tenet is that we create our own reality through consciousness and quantum mechanics. I never imagined that such a film would succeed, but it has grossed millions.

The film’s avatars are New Age scientists whose jargon-laden sound bites amount to little more than what California Institute of Technology physicist and Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann once described as “quantum flapdoodle.” University of Oregon quantum physicist Amit Goswami, for example, says in the film: “The material world around us is nothing but possible movements of consciousness. I am choosing moment by moment my experience. Heisenberg said atoms are not things, only tendencies.” Okay, Amit, I challenge you to leap out of a 20-story building and consciously choose the experience of passing safely through the ground’s tendencies. (continue reading…)

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Magic Water & Mencken’s Maxim

Social critic H. L. Mencken offers a lesson on how to respond to outrageous pseudoscientific claims
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Henry Louis Mencken was a stogie-chomping, QWERTY-pounding social commentator in the first half of the 20th century who never met a man or a claim he didn’t like … to disparage, critique or parody with wit that would shame Dennis Miller back to Monday Night Football. Stupidity and quackery were favorite targets for Mencken’s barbs. “Nature abhors a moron,” he once quipped. “No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people,” he famously noted. Some claims are so preposterous, in fact, that there is only one rejoinder: “One horselaugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.” I call this “Mencken’s maxim,” and I find that it is an appropriate response to preposterous claims made about magic water sold on the Web. I offer as a holotype of Mencken’s maxim the following: Golden ‘C’ Lithium Structured Water. (continue reading…)

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Psychic Drift

Why most scientists do not believe in ESP and psi phenomena
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In the first half of the 19th century the theory of evolution was mired in conjecture until Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace compiled a body of evidence and posited a mechanism — natural selection — for powering the evolutionary machine.

The theory of continental drift, proposed in 1915 by Alfred Wegener, was not accepted by most scientists until the 1960s, with the discovery of midoceanic ridges, geomagnetic patterns corresponding to continental plate movement, and plate tectonics as the driving motor.

Data and theory. Evidence and mechanism. These are the twin pillars of sound science. Without data and evidence, there is nothing for a theory or mechanism to explain. Without a theory and mechanism, data and evidence drift aimlessly on a boundless sea. (continue reading…)

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Debunking James Van Praagh & Psychics

Michael Shermer explains how psychic James Van Praagh appears to talk to the dead by using such mentalism tricks as cold reading and hot reading.

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Firewalking Across Hot Coals

Michael Shermer tries his hand at firewalking barefoot across 1000-degree red hot coals and doesn’t get burned. Dr. Shermer provides a scientific explanation for the mysterious phenomenon.

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