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Burning Man

Can burn patients really be healed from a distance by phone?

A couple of weeks ago I was at a meeting with television producers at a Pasadena, California hotel when I ran into a man named Richard Greene whom I had met last year at the debate that Leonard Mlodinow and I did with Deepak Chopra and others at Chapman University. With him was a woman named Dr. Marja Pronk, whom Greene introduced as someone who can heal burn patients from a distance by phone, and that she learned this skill under the tutelage of one Dr. Philippe Sauvage. Greene was interested in having me test Dr. Pronk while she was in town, but we ran out of time and the protocols and ethical considerations of intentionally burning either people or animals were prohibitive (in my view) and so at present we are still working on how this claim might be tested under controlled conditions. If you have any suggestions on how we might do this while also meeting the ethical requirements of an Institutional Review Board or Ethical Review Board that overseas the ethical treatment of human and animal subjects in experiments, please let me know.

First, I will provide you the background I was provided followed by my own thoughts on what it would take to test such a claim, along with my thoughts in between on Philippe Sauvage, which as you shall see is making extraordinary claims that go far beyond healing burn patients.

Richard Greene sent me this background material:

photo of burn patient

As we discussed, the claims made by Breton “healer” Dr. Philippe Sauvage and his co-workers, including medical Dr. Marja Pronk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sshO4IrvJzI and www.sosburn.info) are astounding and challenge almost every belief we have in Western science. To date there have been approximately 500 who have benefited from this technology in 29 countries (including 46 states in the US). Here, for example, is a video of 22 year old Chris Fleming from Ontario, CA. and some press clippings from Africa:

Newspaper Tanzania
Newspaper Ghana

The protocol is, as we discussed, for those who receive 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th degree burns to simply call the designated free healing hotline within 30 minutes of the burn. As you will see in the videos, the claim, remarkably, is that 100% of those who do this have their pain removed and ALL skin damage reversed within hours or a few days at most. Here is the most dramatic example—a Ghanan girl that Dr. Marja Pronk treated using Dr. Sauvage’s method. Her burns, as you can see, were 3rd and 4th degree and she was expected to die…

Because her father made contact with Dr. Pronk’s team, this beautiful young girl made a full recovery. Here are the after photos. There were no grafts or other surgical procedures performed.

photo of burn patientphoto of burn patient

photo of burn patient

Mr. Greene did qualify his own observations:

I do not have direct experience of these examples or claims. What I do know is that Dr. Sauvage is one of the most intelligent, genuine and unique men I have ever met and that he looks at the world in a very different way. Based on my time with him and Dr. Pronk and Alison McDermott, the highly articulate nurse who coordinates the efforts here in the US, I (even the lawyer side of me) am highly inclined to believe that his healings are real and represent the most repeatable, verifiable and significant scientific breakthroughs in centuries, if not all history.

Thank you for keeping an open mind.

I found Mr. Greene to be a very intelligent and thoughtful man who genuinely believes that Sauvage can do what he claims. However, a little background search on Sauvage turned up some disturbing aspects to the man. For example, I noted that this doesn’t look too good.

I asked Mr. Greene if he believes these things that Sauvage claims about himself:

At the end of “Druidism,” there would be born a single male child [to] the only surviving matriarchal lineage of ancient Armorican spirituality. Androgynous, with the sacred powers of both female and male combined for the only time in Druidic history, this male child would be called the last Strobineller, the paradigmatic shiftmaster, assigned with the task of reconciling Man and Nature before humankind destroyed, forever, planet Earth, or vice versa. Born on December 30, 1953 in the Celtic nation now called Brittany, Philip Savage was this male child.

This, I noted, is the classic messiah complex, single male child of matriarchal lineage, healing the sick…come here to save mankind…he’s the new Jesus and Marja Pronk is his Mary Magdalene.

I asked Mr. Greene what he thought of all this, and he responded thoughtfully:

1) Dr. Pronk is 100% solid with impeccable integrity and the testimonials—as a professional in non-verbal communication and body language who gets as much as $25,000 per day to teach businesses same—are overwhelmingly solid and believable in my professional opinion.

2) I have spent about 30 hours—1 on 1—with Phillip and have experienced a level of knowledge, perspective and answers to questions that I have never experienced before. He is not normal and is, indeed, exceptional in every way—even in his eccentricities. How many con men do you know that speak 17 languages, play at least as many instruments and have 3 advanced degrees.

3) I have never seen anything to indicate that the medical cases are not 100% real.

4) I have never seen anything to indicate that the burn cases are not 100% real. As we discussed, Michael, he could be an alien, the worst human around or even a figment of one’s imagination…but if this shit works, it is a phenomenal story and one of the greatest medical breakthroughs in human history.

All of the above is irrelevant, though, Michael, as you know better than anyone. Let’s do the testing.

Fair enough. The proof is in the pudding. But I did write to Richard the following concerns that I have about Sauvage (sometimes rendered online as Savage):

I appreciate your frankness. I must tell you that the more I read about Philip Savage the louder my baloney detection alarm sounds. I’m sure you must understand why. Even in LaLa land here in So. California, with egos bigger than Mt. Everest and loonies claiming every nutty thing under the sun, Savage towers above them all in both audacity and unbelievability. My experience after three decades of investigating such claims is no one to date who has ever made such claims has turned out to be the real thing. Not one. Not even close. They are either delusional or psychopathic con artists. So…the chances of Savage being able to do what he claims, in my view, is extremely low, very improbable.

Still, as you say, the proof is in the pudding, so let’s put him to the test: not by advertising a phone number and hope people call with a burn accident; but by a controlled test in a laboratory under conditions that he (or Marja) could attempt to alter cells or heal them or whatever—some objective measurable effect that can be documented and recorded. The problem with subjective pain readings (on a 1-10 scale, for example), is that all sorts of things can effect it, including acupuncture, acupressure, meditation, just thinking about the pain scale, etc.

Please ask Marja if she can do something along the lines of altering cells or healing burns or injuries in a controlled setting such as a lab. I do not want to participate in a program that involves giving out a phone number because gullible people may naively start calling it in the belief that their cancer, AIDS, etc. will be cured, giving them false hopes, possibly draining their bank accounts (if such a thing is going on), etc. That would make me party to a scam and so I can’t take that risk. And in any case, as I said, that’s not an ideal test. We need controlled conditions in a lab or a hospital. I don’t see why, if burn pain is a product of the brain and thought, that Marja can’t go to the UCLA medical center and find someone who is in agony, and just heal them right there, reduce their pain level through her and Savage’s method. If you want a dramatic demonstration that could be filmed, that would certainly do it!

In a follow-up email I added:

More to the point, we need to establish some sort of definitive test in which we can clearly see results (or not). Remember, medical conditions are rarely stable—they are constantly changing, so we need to have in place a way to tell if the change is due to natural processes of the body healing itself, interventions by traditional medical treatments, or through Savage’s method. Anecdotes won’t help us. “I felt better after Dr. Pronk treated me” doesn’t mean anything. Maybe that patient feels better after a good night’s sleep, or after the doctor visits, or after taking his meds, etc. Most important is that we are very clear about what exactly is being claimed so that we can test that. Big generic things like “feeling better” or “getting better” won’t cut it in science. Specifics, such as burned skin healing 50% faster with the Pronk treatment versus the traditional medical treatment would be an example because then we’d have a time frame that can be quantified.

Then, out of the blue, I received an email from another Sauvage acolyte named Alison McDermott:

Through researching you, there seems to be pervading humanitarian integrity, a steadfast scientific mind who loves the simple truth of the matter, as well as a remarkably in common, “list of Loathsomes” with Dr Savage and myself. Religions, “New Age bozos” to coin his phrase, (these two top of the list), so-called “psychics”, “mystics”, most definitely “healers”, prophets, “goddesses”, fakirs, so-called “alternative practitioner’s” and all the other self-deluded of which you can find just about everywhere, busy claiming to do what they cannot do…. If I may presume some understanding of your “gurus”? Facts, solid proof, science and the scientific methodology. Also know as “The experiment”, and the findings thereof. (None of which you have ever found demonstrable by the list above throughout your 30 year investigative career, if I am correct?)

The “salt” of any good skeptic you’ll probably agree would be, “We want to see the diligent establishment of these “facts, results and proofs”, else expect, (quite rightly) to be “thrown to the lions”?? The skeptic with integrity that is, not the “dime a dozen”, wanna-be de-bunkers of subjective “mere opinions”, educated or otherwise, “ruin them without testing them”—“witch-hunt” tacticians (“paid for slander” as deployed by the BBC) etc etc, amateurs which are as “virally prolific” as are those on the list of deceivers above your mission is to “expose”.

Dr Savage can do what he claims…and can prove it to you.

There has long existed the perfect logistic to execute this “experiment” meeting all scientific standards required, not shared with you in any contact with Dr Marja Pronk and Richard Greene. Simply put, it is this:

This “right person” is PERSONALLY (friends) connected to a TV News Network DECISION MAKER, (CNN, FOX NEWS, APTV have journalists in every major city) who, with a simple phone call, can quietly and privately mobilise a posse of his journalists on location ALREADY, eg in major cities or war zones etc, to send in burn cases, and film the results. (they are called to fires, explosions, bombings all the time…their “runners” are on the scene in minutes.) Proofs start coming in…where upon, the “decision maker” now KNOWS it’s true!!! Then, he has ALL his worldwide journalists alerted to send in burns…and the start pouring in thick and fast, 100’s or more per day…

The “carrot” for this network decision maker is that they get to “break” the news AND the exclusive interview rights with the man behind the results…(ratings ratings ratings!!)

Would you agree that observable, repeatable and recordable results, documentable over and over by independent scientist’s/doctors around the world, nothing whatsoever to do with YOU or US, each other or any party involved, (except as an emergency admission burn victim to their ER) is as scientific and objective as it gets?

I am permitted to officially “throw down the gauntlet” directly on behalf of Dr Savage himself for you to…”Expose the famous Breton healer” scientifically, once and for all.

I responded:

Hi Alison, thanks for the thoughtful note.

There’s no gauntlet to throw down or anything like that. We’re just trying to figure out a way to test Dr. Savage’s and Dr. Pronk’s claims of being able to heal burn patients. The problem with what you suggest about getting journalists to call the number in the event of an accident or fire that results in burned people is that this would not be a controlled experiment. People vary greatly in their ability to heal from various disorders and there are dozens of reasons why. The hard part about doing science is isolating the variable that actually matters from the variables that do not, and then controlling all the variables for the placebo effect as well. Take age, for example. Older people heal much slower than younger people, from most diseases and accidents, so you have to control for age. That is, take age into account in a statistical analysis of group differences in whatever you are measuring. Socioeconomic status also matters, since poor people typically have poorer diets, exercise less, smoke and drink more, engage in riskier sex and do drugs more, have poorer health care, see doctors and dentists less often, and so on, and all these things also influence health and healing, so these too must be controlled for. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Anecdotes about this or that person who got healed by Dr. Savage (or any one of hundreds of other alternative medical treatments available on the Internet and other alternative sources outside mainstream medicine) are completely meaningless from a scientific perspective because of the problem I’ve described above.

What needs to be done to properly test Dr. Savage and Dr. Pronk would be to, say, have a sample size of 75 people, all of whom are burned in precisely the same manner, with the same technique (e.g., cigarette burn), at the same temperature, in the same place on the body, etc., then treat 25 of them with Dr. Savage’s technique, 25 with standard medical treatment, and 25 get no treatment whatsoever. Then see if there are any measurable differences between the three groups. Studies such as this, which typically involve much larger sample sizes (usually in the hundreds or thousands) take many months—sometimes years—to complete. It can’t be done in one setting. That’s the only way to know if something works or not.

So, although I can certainly sense in your passion that you believe Dr. Savage can heal burn patients, there’s really only one way to know for sure and that is to conduct a test such as what I’ve outlined above (although there are others I could propose as well). But for both legal and ethical reasons that I’ve communicated to Richard Greene, it is very unlikely we could ever get permission to conduct any such test on humans, and even animals might be difficult to get approval for such a burn test that would inflict harm and damage. I don’t personally feel comfortable burning rats or any other animal for such a test. I’m not a member of PETA, and I don’t in principle object to animal testing, but I personally wouldn’t do it myself and I would prefer that medical research make more efforts to avoid it where possible using, say, computer models for testing.

What would be helpful to me is if someone can tell me exactly what it is that Dr. Savage and Dr. Pronk can do. We need very specific definitions of what constitutes a “healing” and over what time frame. Wounds naturally heal anyway. Let’s say a cigarette burn normally heals in 10 days. What is it that Dr. Savage and Dr. Pronk can do? Can they heal it in 9 days? 8? 1? Five minutes? And what does this healing look like? Does the skin just magically grow over the wound such that you can’t even see any scarring? And over what time frame? Again, the problem is that people vary a lot in such conditions. For example, one person perhaps heals from a cigarette burn in 6 days, someone else in 15 days, with a general population average of 10 days. So what if the person Dr. Savage happened to heal was one of those who heals in 6 days, and he then claims to have done the healing in 6 days when in fact he did not. Does that make sense? You see the problem here, right?

Finally, although, again, I can sense in the passion of your words that you believe the claims of Dr. Savage, please be aware that there are thousands of people just like him all over the world making equally bold claims about healing cancer, AIDS, paralysis, weight loss, depression, and the like. Not one has ever been able to prove their claims under controlled conditions such as those I’ve outlined above. Not one. Ever. So what’s more likely? That Dr. Savage is the first person in history to actually be the real deal, or that he’s just like the thousands of others making such claims? For those who know him, such as yourself, the answer is likely to be “yes, he’s the one, the only one, ever, and how fortunate that we get to live at the same time as him and know him.” But to the rest of us on the outside who don’t know him, his claims are indistinguishable from the thousands of others just like him making similarly extraordinary claims.

If anyone reading this blog has an idea of how we can test Dr. Pronk and Dr. Savage in some controlled manner beyond what I’ve described herewith and that would not violate ethical standards outlined by ethics committees that regulate the ethical treatment of experimental subjects I would be appreciative of your thoughts on the matter.

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The Flake Equation

Estimating the number of people who have
experienced the paranormal or supernatural

The Drake Equation is the famous formula developed by the astronomer Frank Drake for estimating the number of extraterrestrial civilizations:

N = R × fp × ne × fl × fi × fc × L where…

  • N = the number of communicative civilizations,
  • R = the rate of formation of suitable stars,
  • fp = the fraction of those stars with planets,
  • ne = the number of earth-like planets per solar system,
  • fl = the fraction of planets with life,
  • fi = the fraction of planets with intelligent life,
  • fc = the fraction of planets with communicating technology, and
  • L = the lifetime of communicating civilizations.

The equation is so ubiquitous that it has even been employed in the popular television series The Big Bang Theory for computing the number of available sex partners within a 40-mile radius of Los Angeles (5,812). My favorite parody of it is by the cartoonist Randall Munroe as one in a series of his clever science send-ups, entitled “The Flake Equation” (on xkcd.com) for calculating the number of people who will mistakenly think they had an ET encounter.

Such multiplicative equations for calculating the product of an increasingly restrictive series of fractional values are effective tools for making back-of-the-envelope calculations to solve problems for which we do not have precise data. To that end I thought it a useful addition to the Skeptic toolbox to create a Flake Equation for all paranormal and supernatural experiences (and in the Flake Equation I’m interested not in beliefs but in actual experiences that people report and that we hear about, because this becomes the foundation of paranormal and supernatural beliefs):

N = Pw × fp × fm × ft × nt × no × fm where…

  • N = Number of people we hear about who report having experienced a paranormal or supernatural phenomena,
  • Pw = Population of the United States (January 1, 2012: 312,938,813),
  • fp = Fraction of people who report having had an anomalous psychological experience or witnessed an unusual physical phenomena (1/5),
  • fm = Fraction of people who interpret such experiences and phenomena as paranormal or supernatural (1/5),
  • ft = Fraction of people who tell someone about their experience (1/10),
  • nt = Number of people they tell (15),
  • no = Number of other people told the story by original hearers (15), and
  • fm = Fraction of such stories reported in the media or on Internet blogs, tweets, and forums (1/10).

N = 28,164,493, or about 9 percent of the U.S. population.

To compute this figure I used the 2005/2007 Baylor Religion Survey, which reports that

  • 23.2% say that they have “witnessed a miraculous, physical healing,”
  • 16.3% “received a miraculous, physical healing,”
  • 27.5% “witnessed people speaking in tongues at a place of worship,”
  • 7.7% “spoke or prayed in tongues,”
  • 54.5% experienced being “protected from harm by a guardian angel,”
  • 5.9% “personally had a vision of a religious figure while awake,”
  • 19.1% “heard the voice of God speaking to me,”
  • 26.1% “had a dream of religious significance,”
  • 52% “had an experience where you felt that you were filled with the spirit,”
  • 22.1% “felt at one with the universe,”
  • 25.7% “had a religious conversion experience,”
  • 13.8% “had an experience where you felt that you were in a state of religious ecstasy,”
  • 14.2% “had an experience where you felt that you left your body for a period of time,”
  • 40.4% “had a dream that later came true,” and
  • 16.7% “witnessed an object in the sky that you could not identify (UFO).”

This works out to an average of 24.4 percent, thereby justifying my conservative 20 percent figure for fp and fm. The other numbers I gleaned from research on gossip and social networks, conservatively estimating that 10 percent of people will tell someone about their unusual experience, and that within their average social network of 150 people they will tell at least 10 percent of them (15) who in turn will pass on the story to 10 percent of their social network of 150 (15). Finally, I estimate that 10 percent of such stories will be reported in the media or recounted in blogs, tweets, forums, and the like.

Of course the final figure for N will vary considerably depending on what numbers are plugged into the equation, but the result will almost always be a number in the tens of millions, which goes a long way toward explaining why belief in the paranormal and supernatural is so ubiquitous. Experiencing is believing!

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What is Pseudoscience?

Distinguishing between science and pseudoscience
is problematic
magazine cover

CLIMATE DENIERS ARE ACCUSED OF PRACTICING PSEUDOSCIENCE, as are intelligent design creationists, astrologers, UFOlogists, parapsychologists, practitioners of alternative medicine, and often anyone who strays far from the scientific mainstream. The boundary problem between science and pseudoscience, in fact, is notoriously fraught with definitional disagreements because the categories are too broad and fuzzy on the edges, and the term “pseudoscience” is subject to adjectival abuse against any claim one happens to dislike for any reason. In his 2010 book Nonsense on Stilts (University of Chicago Press), philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci concedes that there is “no litmus test,” because “the boundaries separating science, nonscience, and pseudoscience are much fuzzier and more permeable than Popper (or, for that matter, most scientists) would have us believe.”

It was Karl Popper who first identified what he called “the demarcation problem” of finding a criterion to distinguish between empirical science, such as the successful 1919 test of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and pseudoscience, such as Freud’s theories, whose adherents sought only confirming evidence while ignoring disconfirming cases. Einstein’s theory might have been falsified had solar-eclipse data not shown the requisite deflection of starlight bent by the sun’s gravitational field. Freud’s theories, however, could never be disproved, because there was no testable hypothesis open to refutability. Thus, Popper famously declared “falsifiability” as the ultimate criterion of demarcation. (continue reading…)

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The Woo of Creation: My evening with Deepak Chopra

Shermer and Deepak

On Thursday, March 31, Deepak Chopra and I squared off for a second time in person in a public venue, this time accompanied by the physicist Leonard Mlodinow on my side and Stuart Hameroff on his side (along with other panelists). The question on the table was this:

“Is there an Ultimate Reality?” and if yes, “Can it be accounted for by science such as mathematics, biology and physics?”

My answers: YES and YES

I explained that I am a Materialist and a Monist. I do not believe that there is a body and a soul, there is just a body. There is no brain and mind, just brain. The mind is just a word we use to describe what the brain does. I said, “you know I’m right” (which got a surprising laugh from the audience) because of the evidence from strokes, tumors, brain damage, senility, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, all of which kill brain cells, and along with the loss of brain comes the loss of mind. I asked Deepak and Stuart where Aunt Millie’s mind goes when her brain slowly disappears from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

I noted that consciousness is just a word we use to describe our inner thoughts about the workings of the brain, and that our “soul” is just a pattern of information stored in our genes and our brains. Consciousness is just an emergent property of integrated brain modules and patterned firing of neural networks.

By contrast, I believe that Deepak’s use of the word “consciousness” is very anthropocentric, once again returning humans to a central place in the cosmos as the “observers” who, in quantum mechanics, brings things into existence. If Deepak is right then the moon doesn’t exist unless it is observed, and yet, quoting that great scientist Bill O’Reilly, “times come in, tides go out—never a missed communication—and they would do so whether or not humans, or any other conscious (or unconscious) being existed.

In fact, I said, Deepak’s quantum consciousness is not holistic but reductionistic in the extreme. We don’t need to go down that far. Quantum mechanics is not needed to explain brain functions: the neuron is the individual unit of thought, the “atom” of mind. I then worked in a little joke I wrote earlier in the day:

Quantum mechanics is spooky and weird.
Consciousness is spooky and weird.
So what? Charlie Sheen is spooky and weird, but we don’t need quantum mechanics to explain his behavior. His “tiger blood” theory works just fine.

Haha.

In Deepak’s worldview, everything is conscious, which means that there is no way to distinguish between consciousness and unconsciousness, which is how I often feel when I listen to Deepak.

Thought Experiment:

  • If humans went extinct instead of Neanderthals, how does that effect the universe?
  • What if the Earth were suddenly demolished by a rogue planet (as in 2012)? Would that mean the end of the universe because observers would disappear?
  • Are whales, dolphins, gorillas and chimps conscious and therefore integral to the universe?
  • What can it possibly mean to say that the universe is conscious? If you will pardon the nerd science pun, that is such a vacuous concept!

Before the debate Deepak asked me to read a paper by himself and Menas Kafatos and Rudolph Tanzi published in the Journal of Cosmology, entitled: “How Consciousness Becomes the Physical Universe.” Deepak asked me to comment on it, which I did in the second half of the debate. I noted that given the prominence of “consciousness” to the central theme of the paper that one might expect it to be defined with semantic precision. Nope. Here is what the authors write:

“We will sidestep any precise definition of consciousness, limiting ourselves for now to willful actions on the part of the observer.”

What can it possibly mean for the universe to be conscious in the sense of having willful actions? The universe behaves with willful action? The universe is an observer? As well, quantum mechanics only requires an observation of any kind: an electron microscope will do. Is an electron microscope willful? Does an electron microscope take action? The authors of this paper write:

Werner Heisenberg concluded that the atom “has no immediate and direct physical properties at all.” If the universe’s basic building block isn’t physical, then the same must hold true in some way for the whole. The universe was doing a vanishing act in Heisenberg’s day, and it certainly hasn’t become more solid since. And Heisenberg again: “The atoms or elementary particles themselves … form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.”

No, sorry, these are different levels of analysis. To prove it I challenge Deepak to climb to the top of this building and jump off and see if the ground is a potentiality or a thing! They also write:

Heisenberg: “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Reality, it seems, shifts according to the observer’s conscious intent.

Once again, NO! This would imply that anyone’s method of questioning is just as valid as anyone else’s, which would mean that the way astrologers question the universe is just as valid as that of astronomers. I concluded by saying that if you want to get a spacecraft to Mars the questions that astronomers ask are absolutely objectively really better than those of astrologers. Q.E.D.!

In Deepak’s rebuttal, in discussing quantum mechanics, he actually used the phrase “the womb of creation.” Nice. It’s that sort of precise language that makes people all gushy and mushy about science. I pressed him for a definition of consciousness, which he gave me as “consciousness is the ground of existence.” I replied that this sounded tautological to me: since reality needs consciousness to come into existence, this means that reality = consciousness = existence; or existence = existence. A is A. Very Aristotelian. But what does that really tell us?

In the end I pressed both Deepak and Stuart Hameroff for an answer as to where Aunt Millie’s mind goes during the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Stuart’s answer was so rapid fire and jargon laden (something about the collapse of the wave function inside the microtubules in the neurons inside Aunt Millie’s brain) that I couldn’t quite get an answer, so Deepak clarified it for me later: Aunt Millie’s mind is in the matrix. Okay, I asked, how does poor Aunt Millie access the matrix. “We’re working on that,” was the reply. Okay, fine, and if our memories really are stored somewhere outside of our brains, then that would indeed be one of the greatest discoveries ever made in the history of science: Nobel worthy. But, until that is proven, I remain … skeptical.

Post Script

I am often asked if I believe that Deepak believes what he says, with an underlying assumption behind the question that Deepak is knowingly selling snake oil and doesn’t really believe his public patter. Having gotten to know Deepak over the years I can assure you that he absolutely positively believes what he says, and that while he may make a lot of money in the process of writing books, giving lectures, hosting radio and television shows, and running his various business enterprises (but, hey, that’s not exactly something anathema in America), this fact is quite orthogonal to his deeper mission in life: to shift the Western worldview Eastward.

I had never met Stuart Hameroff before, but I liked him as well, sharing a beer after the debate while watching a Laker game and schmoozing about science. Although I do not accept his theory of consciousness (most neuroscientists are skeptical as well), it would be fun to engage him again in a spirited debate over the brain and the mind.

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The Skeptic’s Skeptic

In the battle for ideas, scientists could learn from Christopher Hitchens
magazine cover

SCIENCE VALUES DATA and statistics and champions the virtues of evidence and experimentation. Those of us “viewing the world with a rational eye” (as the new descriptor for this column in Scientific American reads) also have another, underutilized tool at our disposal: rapier logic like that of Christopher Hitchens, a practiced logician trained in rhetoric. Hitchens—who is “leaving the party a bit earlier than I’d like” because of esophageal cancer, as he lamented to Charlie Rose in a recent PBS interview—has something deeply important to offer on how to think about unscientific claims. Although he has no formal training in science, I would pit Hitchens against any of the purveyors of pseudoscientific clap trap because of his unique and enviable skill at peeling back the layers of an argument and cutting to its core. (continue reading…)

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