Tag Archives: Kyle Hill

Magnet People: How Do They Work?

By Kyle Hill via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

. .. never mind that there is no evidence for these gaussy guys and gals, what would the world be like if people really did generate a noticeable or even intense magnetic field?


hill-magnet-people

Strip club patrons would get quite a show, more so than usual, if people really were magnetic.

Amid the dollar bills and drunk-at-noon businessmen, a magnetic stripper, if she spun fast enough around the poll, would melt it. At the very least she would shock herself before shocking the crowd. When a conductor like metal meets a changing magnetic field, the magic of reality induces an electric current in it. Flip-flop this current around enough, and the metal heats up to the point of melting.

If people really were magnetic, they would be terrible navigators. Taking to their smart phones and computers, their screens would blur out and become unusable. Going back to the old methods, a compass wouldn’t help much either. It would be more likely to find you than Earth’s magnetic north.

Barrell MagnetLike all interesting human qualities, magnetic people would have a range of field strengths. Perhaps there would even be schools and universities dedicated to harnessing or improving your output. In any case, the strength of the field matters quite a bit. It’s the difference between being a glorified refrigerator magnet and being able to free fall down a metal tube without dying.

Magnetic people with the strength of refrigerator magnets would produce a field 100 times stronger than the Earth’s. But if any fortunate “Magnetos” existed, perhaps with MRI-like output, they would have one million times the field strength of Earth. For the refrigerator-strength people, you wouldn’t have to change much. But a public warning would have to go out whenever those Magnetos were about. Entire houses, entire cities, would have to be shielded; all metal objects not tied down turn into deadly projectiles. In fact, a rogue oxygen tank once proved this danger, killing a patient during an MRI scan after rocketing across the room, drawn by the monstrous amount of teslas. (You can see the incident re-created here.) And at this strength, you better avoid your friend’s stack of old floppy disks and unshielded hard drives, as you could shuffle their bits into blurry oblivion.

But it wouldn’t be all bad. Magnetic craftsmen would find that every part of their body has become a convenient tool and nail holder. Salmon fishermen could experience a huge boom. As salmon navigate their way home according to the Earth’s magnetic fields, a giant magnet in the form of a fisherman could disorient or even attract the fish. Magnetic lifeguards could take to the ocean as shark repellants.

Lovers might find it annoying however, as there is no telling when your poles, so to speak, would line up.

If people really were magnetic, it would eliminate the need for elevators, at least as a way down. A strong enough magnet can . . .

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A Million Poisoning Planes

By Kyle Hill via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

The largest fleet of aircraft the world has ever seen was created to poison it. Millions of planes criss-cross the skies, dumbing down the populace with secret and powerful chemical agents. Every time you board a plane, you can’t look out a window without seeing one of these jet-powered poisoners. There is always danger overhead when chemtrails really do cover the sky.

If the chemtrail conspiracy were true, millions of pilots would be needed to crop dust the American population. A typical crop duster might use seven ounces of agent diluted in seven gallons of water to cover one acre of land. Chemtrail “people dusters” would use a similar concentration to cover the entire United States, just to be safe. For 2.38 billion acres of land, the pilots would then need—for just one week of spraying—120 billion gallons of these cryptic chemicals. That’s around the same volume as is transported in all the world’s oil tankers in one year. And such an incredible amount of agent would need an incredible number of planes. Considering that a large air freighter like a Boeing 747 can carry around 250,000 pounds of cargo, at the very least, the government would need to schedule four million 747 flights to spread their chemicals each week—eighteen times more flights per day than in the entire US.

Unless a plane could make multiple runs per day, a true chemtrail conspiracy would need 2,700 times as many 747s as have ever been constructed.

chemtrail UFO culprit_250pxAn infrastructure large enough to cover the country in chemicals would make the skies look like Coruscant. Pilots—not the millions in on the scheme—never pick up on the increased traffic. It’s a mystery to them that they never report, and they never scan the communication channels to find out what is going on. They don’t question that they have to wait an hour while half a dozen unmarked planes make their descents. A world with a chemtrail conspiracy means the most skilled vehicle operators on the planet have no idea who is operating the other vehicles or why. Ever.

Property values across the country plummet, as the most populated areas are inundated with airplane traffic and the associated noise. The government thought about putting the planes higher up in the atmosphere, but the higher they go, the more agent they would need—and that only leads to more planes, pilots, and secrecy. At this point the government might not even need a secret, stupefying chemical—if hundreds of millions of Americans never catch on to the millions of passenger-less planes overhead everyday, who needs to spend all that money on devious research and development?

The incognito infrastructure needed to conceal the chemtrail conspiracy would dwarf any other governmental agency. Millions of people—pilots, engineers, chemists, data analysts, and boots-on-the-ground hazmat teams—would need top-secret clearance for information that could never get out. If a chemtrail conspiracy were true, chances are you would run into a few involved in the cover up everyday. An effort to keep millions of mouths silent—to keep any information from pilots or participants out of the media—makes the NSA look like child’s play.

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When All of Us Are Nostradamus

By Kyle Hill via the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

psychic_fraudYou open up the morning paper to check the obituaries. With a shaking hand, you read what you’ve been dreading all along—your own name. Your number is up; your fate is sealed. Sometime in the next month you are going to die. Everyone knows it. And you know it, too. At least you have time to choose your own epitaph. You’re psychic; everyone is, or at least has the potential to be.

Peeking at the hand fate dealt you is commonplace in a world where psychics actually exist. For them, the future is as clear as the past, though abilities would range from Spidey sense to Oracle at Delphi. The most powerful seers—the Nostradamuses, if you will—among them wouldn’t be relegated to pricey phones lines. Such powers almost demand public service. A Minority Report-style pre-cognition division would surely spring up in every police department that could afford one. Seismologists and volcanologists could no longer be persecuted for inadequate predictions—the onus would be on the psychics to alert the public of impending natural disasters. Predicting better than even our best computer models, tune in for the psychic weather forecast on the nightly news.

psychicFair_210pxIf people had psychic future-sight every phone number would be for a Miss Cleo. Casinos around the world would close. Gambling isn’t a matter of luck anymore; can you predict the snake eyes or not? And the lottery hardly seems fair when any real psychic could pluck the numbers from the tealeaves. Insurance plans would diversify and skyrocket. When a psychic insurance agent could predict a cancer diagnosis, future-existing conditions are what they will deny. Forget about the heat of competition. Every sports team is a group of players on a stage going through the determined script until the last whistle blows.

Raising children in a world full of actual psychics would involve going through another stage of development: existential turmoil. If a psychic taps into the loom of fate to see where a string weaves, children would quickly learn that they live in a determined world. Perhaps they will learn about free will like psychology students learn about behaviorism—a clever idea that eventually fell by the wayside in the light of how the world really is. Is anyone really responsible for his or her actions? Should we punish criminals if they are beholden to fate and not sadistic whim? Parents in a world full of real psychics wouldn’t look forward to fielding such questions. The “birds and the bees” talk is much easier to handle.

Real psychics wouldn’t just grasp the future. They would be able to sense beyond what an eye or ear can tell them—a “sixth sense” for objects and feelings. Marriage disputes over where the hell the remote is are no more. Car keys, if not in the pocket, are never lost. Neither are children or loved ones. Real psychics wouldn’t be the laughing stocks of detectives anymore; they would be their saviors. Resolving a manhunt or Amber Alert would be a simple matter of having the psychic manpower (and psychic children would find hide and seek pretty boring). Every cold case would be hot again.

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Reality Hits Hard

If you didn’t believe in telekinesis before, you will definitely believe after seeing this extraordinary video (said with extreme sarcasm).

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)


Written by Kyle Hill via randi.org

RobinsonHeg Robinson has been a martial artist and Tai Chi teacher for four decades. He has surely taught legions of willing participants to relax and “find their inner flow.” Through his practice of this ancient art, Robinson claims “that a self-health practice such as T’ai Chi heals the mind/ body /spirit and prevents common ailments.”

It’s the boilerplate alternative medicine pitch. I was expecting that. Traditional Chinese Medicine has made that claim based on the supposed power of Chi forever. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how extraordinary his demonstration of telekinesis was.

I have to be honest (and laugh). Even if skeptics unduly assume that many of those who claim to have supernatural powers are knowingly faking it, this demonstration does seem like an impression of an impression of a fake. It could be a Poe. I have seen spoon-benders and page-turners and other martial artists who can “knock out” an attacker without touching them. This is something else.

The flailing student is quite shocking. It’s reminiscent of the dances of trance-induced ecstasy cultures like the Amazonian Yanomami practice. Though “kinetic” implies some force being transferred, we get this imparted dance instead of an otherworldly punch or kick. But as bizarre as the reaction to Robinson’s “energy” is, it’s still no different from other feats of Chi. Reality always hits it hard.

A demonstration like in the video above, I will claim, can only be done with a student or willing participant. Like stage hypnosis, Robinson’s feat is a performance piece between two believing parties. Choose anyone else, and the supposed power will immediately evaporate.

Sam Harris gives a great example of the student-master delusion on his blog. A martial arts master, supposedly able to defeat multiple opponents (his own students) with unseen Chi-based attacks, meets reality rather violently. Outside of his own school, facing an unfamiliar opponent, the master is punched in the face multiple times. It’s rather sad. When he needed it most, his powers vanished. Of course, the die-hard practitioners will claim this or that condition was not met or this or that life force was not in line, but nothing can substitute for the empirical test. He put his money where is mouth was, as did the opponent his fist.

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The Life of Death

By Kyle Hill via CSI – Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

ghosts 829_300pxMore humans have died than you will ever meet, see, or learn about. Since our split from the apes, Earth has been littered with the detritus of human demise—nearly 110 billion bodies. If spirits did live on after death, most of the people you meet will have already met their end.

Every single house on Earth would be haunted by default.

If becoming a ghost were the next stage of life after death, our planet would be absolutely packed with ectoplasm. Earth currently harbors over seven billion human beings, all very much alive. We pack them in skyscrapers and in endless suburbs. But adding another 110 billion souls to the population would make everyone a neighbor. If ghosts could interact with matter, they would need space to haunt, and in the United States, we value our space. If the seven billion humans alive today wanted to live like Americans, they would need over four times the landmass currently available on Earth. By extrapolation, all the haunting space required by ghosts would push that number to 185 times all the landmass on Earth. If ghosts existed, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting one (or it passing through one). Ghost hunter’s thermal cameras would see a blur of reds and blues wherever they looked.

ghost 820_250pxFamous for being able to pass through matter, ghosts might simply pack together instead of being neighbors to everyone on the planet. Just how much space these phantasmal people would require is impossible to determine. How many ghosts could fit on the head of a pin? How many Ghostbusters’ ecto-containment chambers would you need to hold them all?

A new view of death accompanies real-life ghosts. When the body is just a vessel—a way station for the eternal spirit—life is a race to your best self. If ghosts manifest themselves as a picture of the person at the instant they died, old, grotesque ghosts would evaporate. Like how most animals strive to raise their children to reproductive maturity, all humans would occupy this material plane only until they looked however they wanted to look for eternity. Droves of twenty-somethings would commit suicide, seeking to remain young for all time. Billions of Dorian Grays make their pacts with death. Why live until you are old if you are bound to exist in that form forever? “Live fast, die young” is sound advice in a world where ghosts exist.

Carrying on as a ghost taking the last form of the deceased still would be spooky.

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Understanding Coincidence

By Kyle Hill via randi.org

Many people have a legitimate fear of numbers, equations, and probability. This “math anxiety” keeps much of the lay public from ever willfully learning about mathematics; indeed, ignorance in this regard is often touted. Commonly used phrases like “I’m not a numbers person” and “I hate math” betray that fact that a good portion of society does not understand math and consciously avoids it.

Comprehending this deficit and doing something about it should be taken up within our school system; we should engage students with math early, often, and more rigorously.

23 peopleBut mathematical illiteracy plays a role in perpetuating not just equation ignorance, but pseudoscience. Not understanding just how much of your life is governed by randomness generates many a fallacious belief about the way that the world works. It should be clearly understood that randomness creates coincidence. That is to say, if there were no coincidences in life, we could speculate that some outside force is controlling the events in our lives. However, with true randomness comes the expectation that coincidences will happen: there will be cancer clusters, your friend will call you just when you were thinking about them, and last night’s dream will have somehow “predicted” the events of the following day. It is with the last example, predictive dreams, which I would like to press on with. With a short lesson in randomness and probability, we can see that so-called predictive dreams (and any other event “too amazing to be a coincidence”) are nothing more than random happenings. You don’t have ESP, it’s not fate, and it’s not magic.

“I Dreamt This Would Happen!”

The purpose of this example is to show that many pseudoscientific ideas about the way the universe works are driven by a misunderstanding of randomness and probability. While predictive dreams are harmless, I would suspect that this belief characterizes the kind of thinking that underlies pseudosciences like astrology, ESP, and parapsychology.

coincidence invented

Let’s overcome our math anxiety with a dreaded word problem. Let’s stipulate that the chance of a dream to some extent matching the events of the following day is 1 in 10,000. This means that out of 10,000 dreams, the vast majority, 9,999, will not match any future events. Let’s also assume that having a non-matching dream one night will not affect the dream of the next night, so each night is independent from one another. So given these stipulations, the odds of having a dream that does not match any real life event is 9,999/10,000. When people speak about predictive dreams, it is not as though they have them every night. If this were happening, we might consider it to be more than coincidence. However, anyone who has experienced this phenomenon (myself included) will probably tell you that they do not hit a homerun every night. It is this fact, that an amazingly serendipitous event only happens once in a while, that alludes to chance as the rational explanation.

Remembering the odds above, the chance of having a dream that does not match any real life event for two nights in a row will follow the multiplication principle of probabilities, meaning that the probability is (9,999/10,000)*(9,999/10,000). Likewise, the probability that you will have a dream that does not predict anything for three nights in a row is (9,999/10,000)*(9,999/10,000)*(9,999/10,000). Following this principle, the chance that you will have successive dreams that do not match reality can be expressed as (9,999/10,000)N, where N is the number of nights. As I said above, I don’t think that anyone would say that these predictions are a common occurrence, so let’s consider a time period of one year. The probability that you will have successive dreams every night for a year that do not predict anything would be (9,999/10,0009)365, with N equal to the number of days in a year. This results in a 96.4 percent chance that people who dream every night of a year with not have any predictive dreams. 57 peopleThis of course means that over a period of one year, 3.6% of people who dream every night will have at least one dream that matches reality in some way. Consider that for a moment. Even though coincidences like these can drive people to believe in fate, precognition, ESP, etc., using our definition here we can say that these probabilities in large population would produce literally millions of predictive dreams each year! Even if we relax our standards and make a predictive dream a one-in-a-million event, it would still produce thousands upon thousands of predictive dreams each year by chance alone.

It’s not magic, it’s not fate, it’s not a spiritual connection with someone else; if there’s a likelihood that something will happen, however small, it is explained by chance alone that it is bound to happen to some people at some time. Look at what happened with the supposedly prophetic Nostradamus. He threw out a claim that had to do with two towers coming down and . . .

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“Small Study of Reflexology Finds Nothing,” Headline Should Read

Written by Kyle Hill via randi.org

If alternative medicine wants to be taken more seriously, the studies must be better designed and be put in the proper context.

UK’s The Telegraph reported last month that a study published in the journal Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practice showed that reflexology was “as effective as pain killers.” It’s a bold claim.

However, this claim is backed up by nothing in the study. In fact, all the methodological flaws encourage a reflexive rejection of the study’s conclusions.

No Control, No Power

Reflexology is based on the unsubstantiated belief that each part of each foot is a mirror site for a part of the body. (source: The Skeptic’s Dictionary)

You don’t have to be a scientist to know what questions to ask about a study. Some of the most basic are “What was the sample size?” and “Was it double-blinded?” Even these basic questions can tell you a lot about what researchers find.

The reflexology study had a sample of 15 participants, most of them women, and each received both experimental conditions (we will come back to this point later on). If 15 sounds like a small number to you, that’s because it is. In fact, because the statistical analyses they were using looked at group averages, this small number gets broken down even further. With so few participants, this study does not have the power to comment on very much. In larger studies, vexing variations between individuals “cancel out” to hit on some average value. Whether this study hit on something interesting or not, we wouldn’t be able to tell—values are lost in the large variations between so few people.

To control for possible placebo effects, the researchers used transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) as the “sugar pill” comparison to reflexology.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device placed on the wrist.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device placed on the wrist.

But the famous “sugar pill” experimental design comes from the idea that subjects should not be able to tell the difference between one pill and another. In this study, every subject could easily tell the difference between a massage of the foot and some electrodes placed on the wrist. And this brings in other problems. Because each subject, and each researcher, knew what treatments were given, there was effectively no blinding. Blinding is the best way to avoid the pernicious biases that tend to creep into studies like this. Needless to say, an unblinded study is far less persuasive.

And what of the TENS treatment that was supposed to act as a placebo? One systematic review concluded that there is “no benefit of TENS compared with placebo.” Another review found that “evidence for the efficacy of…is limited and inconsistent,” in regards to treating chronic back pain. The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that “treatment with TENS is no more effective than treatment with a placebo, and TENS adds no apparent benefit to that of exercise alone,” also referring to treating chronic back pain.

So, according to much larger studies, there is no reason to believe that TENS does much for pain. TENS could then effectively be a placebo, but the authors of the reflexology study . . .

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The Lurking Pornographer: Why Your Brain Turns Bubbles Into Nude Bodies

I love anything having to do with how the brain works. Fascinating stuff!!! Enjoy!!! :)

by Kyle Hil via randi.org

There is a pornographer lurking in some corner of your mind. He peeks out from behind the curtains of your consciousness without warning, and almost never at an acceptable time.

The lurking pornographer in your brain is ever vigilant, looking for patterns, for signs of nudity, and sometimes generating them out of nowhere. He is exceedingly good at what he does, and isn’t afraid to prove his power over your perception. Just like that, he can take a picture of Daniel Craig in a bathing suit and turn it obscene.

Craig_Bubble

If anything, Craig is more covered than he was before, but still he must be nude in the new picture, or so the pornographer would have you believe. The pornographer is sly. He takes advantage in the slightest slip in shapes and curves to insert his nudity. One of his favorite techniques is called “bubbling,” a technique that reveals how our brains actually “see.”.

Breasts and Blind Spots

Stifled by the pornography-restricting tenets of his religion, a young Mormon took to Photoshop, or so the story goes. His attempt to fool God and circumvent his law resulted in “bubbling,” a trick clever enough that how it works hasn’t yet been answered.

You eye doesn’t see everything. Right now, there are innumerable photons hitting the photoreceptors all over your retina, except in the place where your optic nerve connects to it. This area is your blind spot, and it should show up as a rather large black dot in your vision, but it doesn’t. Why not?

As your brain matures, it learns from the world. Neuronal connections are formed and broken in accordance with the deluge of information your brain receives. Over time, your brain becomes adept at predicting the world, so much so that much of our conscious lives are spent only noticing when things aren’t going as predicted. For example, there was probably a time when you got out of the car and realized you have almost no recollection of the drive you just took. It seemed automatic because it was. Consciousness didn’t need to intrude during something so routine, so it didn’t. However, introduce a near-collision into your daily commute, and consciousness quickly steps up to handle the situation.

Based on all the shapes and colors and lines and lighting schemes that your brain has encountered, your cognition makes predictions about how things will look. The surprising part is that this “software” is even good enough to fill in areas that we in fact cannot see. There is no better example of this than the blind spot test.

Blind_Spot_Test

Cover or close your right eye and look at the cross with your left eye. Move closer and closer to the screen (likely ~12 inches away) until you see the dot on the left disappear. This is your blind spot. This is where you aren’t getting any optical information, but merely the dot vanishes, not the world. No matter the background nor the pattern nor the shape, your brain will fill in the blind spot with what it sees around it, in this case the white screen. To prove to yourself how good the brain is at filling in the world, try this test involving multiple versions of the blind spot test.

The Easiest Assumption is Genitalia 

The pornographer lurking in your brain has been especially aware of human nudity since your birth. A likely outcropping of evolutionary pressure on reproduction, he looks for the body parts we try to cover up at every turn. He is familiar with nudity, but not with swimsuits.

Like how the brain fills in the background in the blind spot test, your brain makes a prediction about what is behind the bubbling when all it can see is bare skin. To the brain, a continuation of bare skin is more likely than one of the infinite variations of bathing suit. Moreover, the unconscious isn’t nearly as bound by social convention—given the choice between a naked human and a clothed one, the assumption goes the pornographer’s way.

Womens_Bubble

Bubbling gets its name from the clever use of circles to obscure people’s clothing in photos. But the technique isn’t as clever as you may think. Any way to cover all of the clothing on a person’s body while leaving the bare skin should produce a similar assumption of nudity. For example, comedy shows regularly blur out the genital regions of actors who aren’t actually naked, still producing the illusion. A black “censored” bar over the suit of Daniel Craig above would still seem risqué.

You can’t control your blind spot, and neither can you control the lurking pornographer. He is cemented in your subconscious, laboring away at any pattern or shape that could be construed as indecent. But he is only one of many pattern-seekers. He sees genitals, but others see faces.

So, don’t feel bad about where your mind goes, it’s just a product of a predicting and pattern-seeking brain. We fill in the blanks all the time, but sometimes it’s dirty.

Images (along with some other “rude” illusions) from Richard Wiseman’s blog.

Kyle Hill is the JREF research fellow specializing in communication research and human information processing. He writes daily at the Science-Based Life blog and you can follow him on Twitter.

How Long Will a Lie Last? New Study Finds That False Memories Linger for Years

By Kyle Hill via Scientific American Blog Network

True memories fade and false ones appear.

Each time we recall something, the memory is imperfectly re-stitched by our brains. Our memories retain familiarity but, like our childhood blankets, can be recognizable yet filled with holes and worn down with time.

To date, research has shown that it is fairly easy to take advantage of our fallible memory. Elizabeth Loftus, cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory, has found that simply changing one word in a question can contort what we recall. In one experiment, Loftus had participants watch a film of a car crash, and then asked about what they saw. They were either asked “How fast were the cars going when they hit each other,” or “How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other.” One week later the participants returned for some memory questions. Loftus asked whether or not there was broken glass at the scene of the accident. Those participants that heard the word “smashed” were more than twice as likely to recall seeing broken glass than those who heard the word “hit.” Keep in mind, there was in fact no broken glass at the scene[2].

This kind of insight—that our memories are terrible camcorders of reality—had serious pop culture ramifications. “Repression” and “repressed memories” have entered our culture’s lexicon, without evidential support. Even with numerous accusations of sexual abuse and other childhood horrors filed in court with the explosion of “recovered memory therapy,” the same research pioneered by experts like Loftus has suggested that most if not all of these “repressed” memories are merely false ones[1]. At CSICon, a skeptic’s conference earlier this year in Nashville, Tennessee, Loftus herself noted that the same techniques used to implant false memories in psychological experiments are precisely the techniques used by repression therapists to recover supposedly buried traumas.

Nearly four decades later, Loftus and colleagues aim to further memory science once again. Introducing a false memory in experiment can be done quickly and with some degree of reliability, but how long does the lie last? Surely bolstered by a digital age reverberating with misinformation, the results point to a disturbingly long half-life of lies.

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