Category Archives: Brain Works

Have you met a psychopath?

Alzheimer’s and the Brain

Not conspiratorial, but still fascinating stuff from VSauce (Michael Stevens)🙂

Berenstein or Berenstain? The Mandela Effect

The origin of countless conspiracy theories


Why can we find geometric shapes in the night sky? How can we know that at least two people in London have exactly the same number of hairs on their head? And why can patterns be found in just about any text — even Vanilla Ice lyrics? PatrickJMT describes the Ramsey theory, which states that given enough elements in a set or structure, some interesting pattern among them is guaranteed to emerge.

How To Count Past Infinity

Hold onto your brain, VSauce does it again!

Why do so many people believe in psychic powers?

Source: BPS Research Digest


Researchers say belief in psychic powers is not related to general IQ, memory bias or education, but to a lack of analytical skills

A large proportion of the public – over a quarter according to a Gallup survey in the US – believe that humans have psychic abilities such as telepathy and clairvoyance, even though mainstream science says there is no evidence that these powers exist. It might be tempting for sceptics to put this down to a lack of general intelligence or education on the part of the believers, but in fact past research has failed to support this interpretation.

Now a paper in Memory and Cognition has looked for differences between believers and sceptics in specific mental abilities, rather than in overall intelligence or education. Across three studies – this was one of the most comprehensive investigations of its kind – the researchers at the University of Chicago found that believers in psychic powers had memory abilities equal to the sceptics, but they underperformed on tests of their analytical thinking skills.

Stephen Gray and David Gallo surveyed the psychic beliefs, “need for cognition” (how much people enjoy mental effort) and life satisfaction of over two thousand people online. For example, regarding psychic beliefs, one survey item asked participants whether they agreed or disagreed that “it is possible to gain information about the future before it happens, in ways that do not depend on rational prediction or normal sensory channels”. The strongest psychic believers and sceptics matched for years in education or academic performance (around 50 people in each group, in each of the three studies; aged 18 to 35) were then invited to complete a range of tests of their memory and analytical skills, either online or in person at the psych lab.

Continue Reading @ BPS Research Digest – – –

Narcissism and low self-esteem predict conspiracy beliefs

By Danielle Levesque via

conspiracist 1200Individuals who hold strong beliefs in conspiracies often also score high in narcissism and low in self-esteem, according to 2015 research.

The series of studies, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, examined individuals to determine whether self-evaluation plays a role in predicting conspiracy beliefs.

“Previous research linked the endorsement of conspiracy theories to low self-esteem,” said Aleksandra Cichocka, principal investigator and corresponding author of the study.

“We propose that conspiracy theories should rather be appealing to individuals with exaggerated feelings of self-love, such as narcissists, due to their paranoid tendencies,” she continued.

matrix alternate reality_300pxIn the first study, 202 participants completed a conspiracy beliefs questionnaire, a self-esteem scale, and an individual narcissism questionnaire.  In the conspiracy beliefs questionnaire, participants rated the extent to which they agree with such statements as “A small, secret group of people is responsible for making all major world decisions, such as going to war” and “The American government permits or perpetrates acts of terrorism on its own soil, disguising its involvement.”

Scientists found that among participants, high individual narcissism and low self-esteem significantly predicted conspiracy beliefs.

In the second study, scientists sought to rule out the possibility that collective narcissism contributed to the results of the previous study.

“Because conspiracy theories often refer to malevolent actions of groups, we wanted to distinguish whether it is a narcissistic image of the self or the group that predicts the endorsement of conspiracy theories,” said Cichocka.

“For example . . .

Continue Reading @ – – –


25 Mind Bending Scientific Truths To Challenge Your Brain

By list25 via YouTube

From the video description:

It doesn’t take much to realize that science is awesome! For example, you probably already know that everything is made up of atoms. Those atoms have a few protons and neutrons in the nucleus and then they are surrounded by electrons that orbit the nucleus like little moons (simplified explanation). At any rate, the most interesting thing about atoms is that they are about 99.99% empty space. That’s right. This screen consists of atoms. And those atoms consists of almost nothing. So why is it that you don’t see right through the screen. In fact, how is it that we can see/feel/stand on anything at all? It’s because of forces. Those atoms in the table (in spite of just being mostly empty space) actually repel the atoms (aka empty space) in your hand. So what you are touching isn’t actually a “thing”. When you touch something you are actually experiencing a repulsive force, kind of like gravity. And since those empty atoms reflect photons, you cannot see through them. You only see the photons being reflected off of what is essentially empty space. Crazy right?!

See we told you science was awesome! Just wait til you read about all the other scientific truths found in this list! So if you’re ready to give your brain a challenge, read on! These are 25 mind bending scientific truths to challenge your brain.

Math Magic

Another video from Vsauce and you know what that means … strap in your brain, it’s about to go for a wild ride.

Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless

Source: Vox

Carl Jung in 1960. (Douglas Glass/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Carl Jung in 1960. (Douglas Glass/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most widely used personality test in the world.

About 2 million people take it annually, at the behest of corporate HR departments, colleges, and even government agencies. The company that produces and markets the test makes around $20 million off it each year.

The only problem? The test is completely meaningless.

“There’s just no evidence behind it,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who’s written about the shortcomings of the Myers-Briggs previously. “The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you’ll be in a situation, how you’ll perform at your job, or how happy you’ll be in your marriage.”

The test claims that based on 93 questions, it can group all the people of the world into 16 different discrete “types” — and in doing so, serve as “a powerful framework for building better relationships, driving positive change, harnessing innovation, and achieving excellence.” Most of the faithful think of it primarily as a tool for telling you your proper career choice.

But the test was developed in the 1940s based on the totally untested theories of Carl Jung and is now thoroughly disregarded by the psychology community. Even Jung warned that his personality “types” were just rough tendencies he’d observed, rather than strict classifications. Several analyses have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people’s success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time.

Continue reading at – – -Vox

10 Scary Facts About Mind-Control

More information in the video description.

Lumosity to Pay $2 Million to Settle FTC Deceptive Advertising Charges for Its “Brain Training” Program

ftc_logo_430Via Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The creators and marketers of the Lumosity “brain training” program have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges alleging that they deceived consumers with unfounded claims that Lumosity games can help users perform better at work and in school, and reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions.

lumosity-logoAs part of the settlement, Lumos Labs, the company behind Lumosity, will pay $2 million in redress and will notify subscribers of the FTC action and provide them with an easy way to cancel their auto-renewal to avoid future billing.

“Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, the Lumosity program consists of 40 games purportedly designed to target and train specific areas of the brain. The company advertised that training on these games for 10 to 15 minutes three or four times a week could help users achieve their “full potential in every aspect of life.” The company sold both online and mobile app subscriptions, with options ranging from monthly ($14.95) to lifetime ($299.95) memberships.

Continue Reading @ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – – –

Ghosts and Infrasound

By Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know via YouTube

While humanity has yet to generate any universally-accepted proof of ghosts or hauntings, millions of people around the world report seeing apparitions or experiencing ghostly encounters every year (and sometimes these events cluster around specific areas). Why? Is there any possible explanation for the purported appearance of ghosts?

Will This Hypnotize You?

I love anything having to do with brain functions. Enjoy🙂

Why conspiracy theories are so popular and how our suspicious minds look for big causes for big outcomes

The speed with which conspiracy theories spread can make them seem typically modern. But, Rob Brotherton, the author of a new study on the mind of the ‘truther’, says they are as old as thinking itself and tap into our darkest prejudices.

By Simon Usborne via The Independent

In the shadows: Conspiracy theorists said this photo of Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin standing by the US flag planted on the surface of the Moon on 20 July 1969 was mocked up EPA

In the shadows: Conspiracy theorists said this photo of Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin standing by the US flag planted on the surface of the Moon on 20 July 1969 was mocked up EPA

Before the victims had been identified, before any group had claimed responsibility – before the blood had been cleaned from the streets – the “truth” about the terror attacks in Paris was already taking shape online. Just hours after the last shots, one YouTube user explained what had happened in a video that has since been viewed more than 110,000 times.

“It was a false flag event aimed at destabilising Europe into New World Order oblivion,” the anonymous man says in narration laid over shaky mobile phone footage of his laptop. The computer displays images of immigration and the Wikipedia entry for subversion. “Friday 13th is not a coincidence! – it’s an occult date of evil Illuminati satanists,” he adds.

As photographs and footage of the attacks emerged, armies of “truthers” went further, describing in dozens of similar videos and on their slick websites how, among other things, the crime scenes had been staged by the intelligence agencies. The fleeing woman filmed dangling from a window at the Bataclan theatre was an actor wearing a harness.

Terror attacks are always fertile ground for conspiracy theories, none more than 9/11, but committed conspiracy theorists find “truth” anywhere. One truther, as conspiracy theorists prefer to be known (many believe that the use of the term “conspiracy theory” is part of a conspiracy theory) was arrested in Connecticut this month after confronting the sister of a teacher who died in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.

Continue Reading at The Independent – – –

Shadow People and Sleep Paralysis

By Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know via YouTube

Since the dawn of civilization, nightmares have haunted the human mind. But what are they, exactly? Why do some people think they’re more than hallucinations? Listen in to learn about the superstition and science surrounding sleep paralysis.

4 STRANGE Paranormal Phenomena! feat. Jack Black

By Vsauce3 via YouTube

Read the video description for lots more information.

Messages For The Future

If you’re a follower of my blog, you know by now that i’m a big fan of Vsauce (YouTube) because he makes some awesome, brain-twisting videos. Well, he’s back to melt your brain with another great video. Enjoy🙂

Source: Michael Stevens (Vsauce) on YouTube

blew my mind joker

This Much Will Kill You

As the saying goes, “the dosage makes the poison.” Maybe people like the anti-vaxxers or the anti-fluoridationists can learn a thing or two from this video.🙂

By AsapSCIENCE via YouTube

A lot of things can kill you – but here are some surprising ones!

Crazy ideas that could become future truths

New Scientist usually puts out great stuff, but this video? Eh. I was tossed up over whether to post it or not. Check it out for yourself, maybe i’m missing something.🙂

By New Scientist via YouTube

Full story:

Every now and then an idea comes along that upends how we see ourselves and our place in the cosmos. The rumblings of the next revolutions in our thinking may already have started. Here are four potential “what ifs” with the potential to change us forever.

How Do Optical Illusions Work?

By Inside Science via YouTube

For more information, please visit…

10 Amazing bets you will always win

By Quirkology via YouTube

What Is Synesthesia?

I love anything having to do with how the brain works. Enjoy!🙂 – MIB

By BrainStuff – HowStuffWorks via YouTube

It’s true – some people hear colors, or taste words. But what produces synesthesia?

Critical Thinking

Fun stuff.

Critical Thinking – YouTube.

The burden of proof

Makers of supernatural claims have an inescapable burden of proof.

Via The burden of proof – YouTube.

Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception

Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills.

Watch on YouTube …

The Moon Terminator Illusion

Yup, i’m geeking out over here. Check out this video🙂

by Vsauce via YouTube

For more information, go to the video description.

Out-of-Body Experience Is Traced in the Brain

by Tanya Lewis via livescience

What happens in the brain when a person has an out-of-body experience? A team of scientists may now have an answer.

Out-of-Body 722In a new study, researchers using a brain scanner and some fancy camera work gave study participants the illusion that their bodies were located in a part of a room other than where they really were. Then, the researchers examined the participants’ brain activity, to find out which brain regions were involved in the participants’ perceptions about where their body was.

The findings showed that the conscious experience of where one’s body is located arises from activity in brain areas involved in feelings of body ownership, as well as regions that contain cells known to be involved in spatial orientation, the researchers said. Earlier work done in animals had showed these cells, dubbed “GPS cells,” have a key role in navigation and memory.

The feeling of owning a body “is a very basic experience that most of us take for granted in everyday life,” said Dr. Arvid Guterstam, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and co-author of the study published today (April 30) in the journal Current Biology. But Guterstam and his colleagues wanted to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie this everyday experience.

Rubber hands and virtual bodies

In previous experiments, the researchers had explored the feeling of being out of one’s body. For example, the researchers developed the so-called “rubber hand illusion,” in which a person wearing video goggles sees a rubber hand being stroked, while a researcher strokes the participant’s own hand (which is out of sight), producing the feeling that the rubber hand is the participant’s own. The researchers have used a similar technique to give people the feeling of having a manikin’s body, or even an invisible body, as they described in a report published last week in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the new study, Guterstam and his colleagues  .  .  .

MORE – – –

Also See:

10 Scientific Explanations For Near-Death Experiences

By J. Francis Wolfe via Listverse

There is very good reason for all of humanity to have a healthy curiosity relating to near-death experiences. Death is the one experience we are all guaranteed to ultimately share. The field of science has therefore made numerous attempts to explain the near-death phenomena that so many people have independently described.

10 • The Temporoparietal Junction May Be Responsible For Out-Of-Body Experiences

right temporo-parietal junction_300pxAmong the more common elements of near-death experiences is the distinct feeling of an individual having left their worldly body. Those who have had an “out-of-body” experience often report floating above themselves while being able to see their body and the people surrounding them. There have even been a few reports in which those who have had an out-of-body experience can identify objects and events occurring during times in which they were considered clinically dead, but there have also been studies demonstrating that this all could be due to damage in the temporoparietal junction of the brain.

The temporoparietal junction is responsible for assembling the data collected by the body’s senses and organs to form the perception of an individual’s body. When this part of the brain is damaged, it is possible that this results in the “out-of-body” experience that so many people have reported.

Though the experience may appear to be incredibly vivid and real, scientific studies have been able to reproduce this phenomenon without bringing the subject close to death, simply by electrically stimulating the temporoparietal junction of the brain.

9 • Excess Carbon Dioxide May Create The Tunnel And White Light

tunnel tumble_200pxNearly every individual who has had a near-death experience discusses the existence of a bright, white light and a tunnel that seems to lead to the afterlife. The white light seems to take on an otherworldly quality and is often accompanied by an overwhelming sense of peacefulness and welcoming.

A 2010 study of patients who had heart attacks revealed that there may be a correlation between this type of near-death experience and the level of CO2 in the blood. Out of the 52 cardiac patients studied, 11 reported a near-death experience. The levels of CO2 in the blood of those 11 patients were significantly higher than the patients who did not report having a near-death experience.

The feeling among researchers is that the excess CO2 in the bloodstream can have a significant effect on vision, which leads to patients seeing the tunnel and the bright light.

8 • Lack Of Oxygen To The Brain Causes Hallucinations

out of bodyMany near-death experiences include the presence of long-dead friends and relatives appearing and perhaps even guiding the individual as they pass from the world of the living to the afterlife. Memories from every part of life are recalled in rapid succession, and there is an overwhelming sense of comfort, yet it appears that scientific research has provided an explanation for this phenomenon as well.

While excess CO2 has an effect on vision during a near-death experience, a lack of oxygen to the brain also plays a contributing role. It is well known that oxygen deprivation can lead to hallucinations and may even contribute to the feeling of euphoria that is often reported. While the sample size available to researchers is limited, studies have indicated that individuals who reported a near-death experience during cardiac arrest also had lower levels of oxygen.

Researchers believe that oxygen deprivation could well result in people “seeing their lives flash before their eyes” or being transported to a place where they are surrounded by friends and relatives who have long since passed on. This remains just a theory, however, as the other available research seems to indicate that multiple factors contribute to the near-death experience, which include the aforementioned CO2 levels as well. It makes sense in this regard that near-death experiences are commonly reported by those resuscitated following a heart attack, as a heart attack occurs when blood is blocked from reaching the brain.

MORE – – –

Are Stupid People More Confident?

This might explains why some conspiracists believe what they believe.🙂

By BrainStuff via YouTube

We’ve all heard about the supposed relationship between confidence and knowledge – but is it true? Two researchers think they’ve found the answer.

Also See:

The new ŠKODA Fabia Attention Test

A great example of change blindness.

By ŠKODA UK via YouTube

More examples of change blindness:

What Colour Is This Dress? (SOLVED with SCIENCE)

By AsapSCIENCE via YouTube

By BuzzFeedBlue via YouTube

Ever Wake Up and Think You See a Ghost?

Here’s What’s Happening

by Bahar Gholipour via LiveScience

It was an ordinary night, but Salma, a 20-year-old student at The American University in Cairo, had a particularly frightening experience. She woke up, unable to move a muscle, and felt as though there were an intruder in her bedroom. She saw what appeared to be a fanged, bloody creature that looked like “something out of a horror movie,” standing beside her bed.

She later explained her experience to researchers who were conducting a survey about sleep paralysis, a common but somewhat unexplained phenomenon in which a person awakens from sleep but feels unable to move. Up to 40 percent of people report experiencing sleep paralysis at some point in their lives, and a few, like Salma, hallucinate shadowy intruders hovering over them.

sleep paralysis 903 flipped_250px“Sleep paralysis can be a very frightening experience for some people, and a clear understanding of what actually causes it would have great implications for people who suffer from it,” said Baland Jalal, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.

Researchers say that sleep paralysis happens when a person awakens during a stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). People in this stage of sleep are usually dreaming, but their muscles are nearly paralyzed, which might be an evolutionary adaptation that keeps people from acting out their dreams.

It is harder to explain why a subset of people who experience sleep paralysis feel a menacing figure in their room or pressing on their chests.

One possible explanation could be that the hallucination is the brain’s way of . . .

MORE – – –

Also See: Senses and Non-Sense: 7 Odd Hallucinations (livescience)

Is your boss a psychopath?

By Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know via YouTube

Almost everyone has dealt with a difficult boss — but could yours actually be insane?

The Fallibility of Memory

We are a story our brain tells itself. And our brains are habitual liars.

skeptoid eyeby Craig Good via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

memory-fix_250pxTake a moment to think of a cherished childhood memory. Try to recall it in detail. Think of where you were, who you were with, the sights, the smells, the tastes. Recall the sounds, like the wind in the trees, and how you felt. Were you happy? Anxious? Laughing? Crying?

We would all like to think that our memory is like a camera that records a scene, tucks it away in a corner of our brain, and retrieves it for playback when we want to relive that birthday ice cream or feel a long lost summer breeze on our cheeks. In a large sense we are what we remember, so memories are an integral part of who we are.

Unfortunately memory isn’t even remotely like a record/playback device. As neurologist and renowned skeptic Dr. Steven Novella puts it,

When someone looks at me and earnestly says, “I know what I saw,” I am fond of replying, “No you don’t.” You have a distorted and constructed memory of a distorted and constructed perception, both of which are subservient to whatever narrative your brain is operating under.

As I like to say, we are a story our brain tells itself, and our brains are motivated, skilled, pathological liars.

Lets take a look at memory, get a rough idea of how it works, and learn when and why we need to be cautious about trusting it. Functionally, the three parts of memory are encoding, storage, and retrieval.

memory falseAs Dr. Novella points out, the problems begin with encoding, even before a memory has been stored. Our brain is constantly filtering information, and constructing its own reality. We are surrounded by detail. Take a moment right now to be aware of every distant sound around you, of all the leaves on the trees, fibers in the carpet, your breathing, and the sensations on your skin — all of it. Imagine dealing with all of that all of the time! Our brains evolved to construct a narrative of what’s going on, lending attention to what matters most. That thing over there that might be a predator is a more pressing matter than the sensation of every individual blade of grass you’re standing on. But just as things get lost, distorted, or added when your favorite book becomes a movie, the running story your brain puts together isn’t a faithful rendition. In fact, sometimes the circuitry in your brain that distinguishes what’s currently happening from a memory gets confused. This is the most likely explanation for déja vu. It’s a glitch in your own brain’s matrix.

And the first thing your brain does with most information is forget it.

MORE – – –

Are psychic powers real?

By Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know via YouTube

60% of Americans believe in psychic powers. What about you?

Brain Games Don’t Improve Memory or Cognition

Benjamin Radfordby Benjamin Radford via Discovery News

We’ve all seen the ads, banners, commercials and books hyping the benefits of “brain training,” offering games and puzzles that promise to keep your brain in tip-top shape as you age. Diseases such as dementia are terrifying, and millions of people do their best to stave it off though online games, crossword puzzles and so on.

brain game Mental-Fitness_225pxAs a recent Scientific American column noted, “cognitive training — better known as ‘brain training’ — is one of the hottest new trends in self improvement. Lumosity, which offers web-based tasks designed to improve cognitive abilities such as memory and attention, boasts 50 million subscribers and advertises on National Public Radio. Cogmed claims to be ‘a computer-based solution for attention problems caused by poor working memory,’ and BrainHQ will help you ‘make the most of your unique brain.’” It all sounds very impressive and scientific.

While it’s important to stay both mentally and physically active in our later years, there’s little evidence that most of the commercially-sold brain enhancement methods or pills do any good. In fact the scientific community pours cold water on these fanciful myths.

In late October the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development gathered many of the world’s leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists to examine these brain games and programs. It then issued a statement that read in part:

MORE – – –

The psychology of conspiracy belief

A Professor of psychology from Victoria University sheds some light on the conspiracy theories surrounding illuminati.

By matt stewart via

paranoia 737_201pxYou don’t have to be mad to create conspiracy theories, but it certainly helps, new research suggests.

Just believing in them indicates you are more likely to be paranoid or mentally ill, a Victoria University study shows.

Widely held conspiracy theories range from harmless ones, such as the belief that the Moon landings were faked, to more dangerous delusions such as the one in Nigeria that polio vaccines were a Western plot to sterilise people. That led to vaccination crews being murdered and thousands dying from disease.

Clinical psychologist Darshani Kumareswaran is delving in to the psychology of conspiracy belief, and has found some believers are likely to endorse far-fetched plots in an effort to make sense of chaotic situations beyond their control.

Kumareswaran, who graduated from Victoria with a PhD in psychology this week, wanted to find out what made people more likely to believe in, or come up with, conspiracy theories – and whether the process was linked to mental illness.

Avid conspiracy theorists can put themselves under intense psychological strain with their tendency towards paranoid thinking and delusional beliefs, causing mental strain even when a conspiracy theory turns out to be a verified plot.

paranoid illuminati_250pxShe also looked behind the common public image of the conspiracy theorist as a crackpot.

Despite evidence of verified conspiracies, such as the Watergate scandal, the public viewed conspiracy theorists in as negative a light as they did convicted criminals, she said.

“For the label to be so negatively rated by the public is quite a powerful finding.”

Study participants were asked to recall a situation in which they had no control, describe it in detail, and write it down. They were then put in a “psychological space” in which they felt powerlessness and were given 24 pictures that looked like snowy television screens.

Half featured obscured objects such as a chair or tent, the other half nothing.

Those who scored highly on a form of psychopathology known as schizotypy were more likely to see an object in the images where there was none, indicating they were more likely to make connections between unrelated things.

“I also found that someone who creates conspiracy theories is more likely to have some form of psychopathology, or mental illness such as  .  .  .

MORE – – –

Paranoid 1217_0450px

Coincidences: Remarkable or Random?

Most improbable coincidences likely result from play of random events. The very nature of randomness assures that combing random data will yield some pattern.

By Bruce Martin via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

“You don’t believe in telepathy?” My friend, a sober professional, looked askance. “Do you?” I replied. “Of course. So many times I’ve been out for the evening and suddenly became worried about the kids. Upon calling home, I’ve learned one is sick, hurt himself, or having nightmares. How else can you explain it?”

CoincidenceSuch episodes have happened to us all and it’s common to hear the words, “It couldn’t be just coincidence.” Today the explanation many people reach for involves mental telepathy or psychic stirrings. But should we leap so readily into the arms of a mystic realm? Could such events result from coincidence after all?

There are two features of coincidences not well known among the public. First, we tend to overlook the powerful reinforcement of coincidences, both waking and in dreams, in our memories. Non-coincidental events do not register in our memories with nearly the same intensity. Second, we fail to realize the extent to which highly improbable events occur daily to everyone. It is not possible to estimate all the probabilities of many paired events that occur in our daily lives. We often tend to assign coincidences a lesser probability than they deserve.

However, it is possible to calculate the probabilities of some seemingly improbable events with precision. These examples provide clues as to how our expectations fail to agree with reality.

Coincident Birthdates

Happy Birthday_150pxIn a random selection of twenty-three persons there is a 50 percent chance that at least two of them celebrate the same birthdate. Who has not been surprised at learning this for the first time? The calculation is straightforward. First find the probability that everyone in a group of people have different birthdates (X) and then subtract this fraction from one to obtain the probability of at least one common birthdate in the group (P), P = 1 – X. Probabilities range from 0 to 1, or may be expressed as 0 to 100%. For no coincident birthdates a second person has a choice of 364 days, a third person 363 days, and the nth person 366 – n days. So the probability for all different birthdates becomes:


MORE – – –

Why science is NOT ‘Just a Theory’

By The Royal Institution via YouTube

Have you ever heard ‘evolution’ dismissed as ‘just a theory’? Is a scientific theory no different to the theory that Elvis is still alive? Jim Al-Khalili puts the record straight.

Subscribe for regular science videos:

There’s an important difference between a scientific theory and the fanciful theories of an imaginative raconteur, and this quirk of semantics can lead to an all-too-common misconception. In general conversation, a ‘theory’ might simply mean a guess. But a scientific theory respects a somewhat stricter set of requirements. When scientists discuss theories, they are designed as comprehensive explanations for things we observe in nature. They’re founded on strong evidence and provide ways to make real-world predictions that can be tested.

While scientific theories aren’t necessarily all accurate or true, they shouldn’t be belittled by their name alone. The theory of natural selection, quantum theory, the theory of general relativity and the germ theory of disease aren’t ‘just theories’. They’re structured explanations of the world around us, and the very foundation of science itself.

Read the blog post to find out more:…

21st century exorcisms: Examining the psychology of possession

james-randi-69Via James Randi Education Foundation – JREF

A video has surfaced of a reported exorcism as it was taking place last February behind the closed doors of a Roman Catholic church in Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic.  A 26 year old visitor heard screams and filmed through the keyhole of the door. Not much is visible; there is plenty of screaming and obscenity (in another language) but nothing supernatural happens from this perspective. The drama that unfolded is what we would expect an exorcism to look like from our familiarity with sensational news reports. Pope FrancisOnly in the movies, in fiction, are there visions of horror that break the bounds of physics or human capabilities. In reality, exorcisms at their most basic, are an interaction between the victim in some disturbed state and the people who are enacting the ritual. Some might say the ritual enables the victim, encouraging the expression of possession. For some afflicted people, they may benefit psychologically from the process.

The Czech priest confronted over the released video says they were asking for God’s help to protect the anonymous person in the church. He is quoted as remarking, “Of course it helps.” Does it really help, or is this reinforcement of an antiquated belief system harmful? Therein lies a tricky question for religious officials, psychologists, and the skeptically-minded about the value of exorcism. Most rationalists would not condone an exorcism, likely feeling that the potential for harm that could occur is unethical or the endorsement of belief in demons is nonsense.  What once was a given fact – evil spirits can possess people, and had been usurped by modern medicinal practice, has recently been re-embraced by the Catholic Church and endorsed through rejuvenation of the exorcism ritual.

On November 11, 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an English translation of the Rite of Exorcism that was published by the Vatican in 1999.  The vote was 179 “yes” to 5 “no.” Pope Francis recognized 250 priests across 30 countries who are members of the International Association of Exorcists which many observers saw as a surprising step backwards in time for the church. exorcism_225pxThe church sees exorcism as something of a last resort and repeatedly notes that the cases are carefully evaluated by medical professionals to address medical or psychological problems. Who does these evaluations? Are the psychiatric evaluators Christian? What are their criteria for concluding that, yes, this person can not be helped by Western medicine and must be treated spiritually?

Curiously, as noted in this Catholic news agency piece, exorcism is “not magic.  It is the Church imploring God to come to the aid of the person afflicted.” This can be interpreted in a secular way –  if the troubled person believes that they can be helped with this ritual, then perhaps they really are helped. It is plausible that many cases of deliverance or exorcism have been successful because people have “named” their troubles and outwardly cast them away, like the devil, to be gone and leave them free. Professor Christopher French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit of the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London has studied the psychology of possession. He also thinks that, under certain circumstances, people can benefit from exorcism.

“As I believe that “possession” is a purely psychological phenomenon, any psychosomatic symptoms might be cured by any form of treatment that the victim believes in. Also, adoption of the “possessed” role sometimes allows people to let off steam without being held responsible for their actions.”

Dr. French is clear that exorcism will not directly help anyone who has an underlying neurological condition, although, he says, “If the condition was aggravated by stress and the ritual reduced the stress, it might produce temporary relief.” This is not to make light of the several downsides to exorcism. There have been several cases of families who subjected “possessed’ elders, women, the handicapped, and children to abuse. In some cases, this has resulted in death.

Yet, the popular belief in exorcism is growing.

MORE – – –

‘Ebola is man-made’, and other crazy conspiracy theories

By Will Storr via The Telegraph

Icke - Remember what you are_250px

Who are the Anunnaki? What is the Planet Nibiru? Click the image to find out.

The best conspiracy theories are like enchanting mazes of logic whose thresholds, once crossed, are hard to return from. As ludicrous as they can appear from a distance, the closer you get, the stronger their gravity and the greater the danger of being sucked in. How else to describe the extraordinary rebirth of David Icke? Best known to some as the former BBC sports presenter who appeared on Wogan in a turquoise tracksuit implying he might be the son of God, to the post-Twin Towers generation he’s the visionary master of conspiracy, performing his unscripted 10-hour lecture about the secret forces that rule the world to sell-out crowds at Wembley Arena.

A 2011 BBC poll found that 14 per cent of Britons believed 9/11 was an inside job. Just as conspiracy websites are flourishing, so are those dedicated to undermining them, such as Snopes, The Skeptic’s Dictionary and Skeptoid. The number one debunking podcast on iTunes, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, claims a weekly listenership of 120,000 and tens of millions of downloads since its 2005 launch.

Icke often describes his work as “dot connecting”. But connecting dots is precisely how all sorts of mistakes about reality arise. “Our brains evolved to spot patterns in the environment and weave them into coherent stories,” says psychologist and conspiracy theory expert Dr Rob Brotherton. “We’re all conspiracy theorists because of the way our minds work. It’s how we make sense of the world. But it’s easy to connect dots that shouldn’t be connected.”

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.

So humans are rampant dodgy dot connectors, and they also suffer from an array of biases that make them susceptible to faulty belief. “We’re biased towards seeing intentions in the world, to think things were done deliberately instead of being chaotic,” says Dr Brotherton.

“There’s also a proportionality bias, so we want to think that when something big happens in the world it has a big explanation. In the case of JFK, you don’t want to believe some guy you’ve never heard of killed the most important man in the world and changed the course of history. Another is confirmation bias – when we get an idea in our head it’s very easy to find evidence that seems to support it. It takes a very unusual mind to de-convince itself. We’re made to believe.”

And some of the theories out there at the moment really take some believing. Here are five:  .  .  .

MORE – – –

This Robot Makes People Experience a Ghostly Presence

By via WIRED

This robot causes people to experience the illusory sensation of someone standing behind them. © Alain Herzog/EPFL

This robot causes people to experience the illusory sensation of someone standing behind them.
Image © Alain Herzog/EPFL

People who’ve stared death in the face and lived to tell about it—mountain climbers who’ve made a harrowing descent, say, or survivors of the World Trade Center attacks—sometimes report that just when their situation seemed impossible, a ghostly presence appeared. People with schizophrenia and certain types of neurological damage sometimes report similar experiences, which scientists call, aptly, “feeling of presence.”

Now a team of neuroscientists says it has identified a set of brain regions that seems to be involved in generating this illusion. Better yet, they’ve built a robot that can cause ordinary people to experience it in the lab.

The team was led by Olaf Blanke, a neurologist and neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Blanke has a long-standing interest in creepy illusions of bodily perception. Studying these bizarre phenomena, he says, could point to clues about the biology of mental illness and the mechanisms of human consciousness.

In 2006, for example, Blanke and colleagues published a paper in Nature that had one of the best titles you’ll ever see in a scientific journal: “Induction of an illusory shadow person.” In that study, they stimulated the brain of a young woman who was awaiting brain surgery for severe epilepsy. Surgeons had implanted electrodes on the surface of her brain to monitor her seizures, and when the researchers passed a mild current through the electrodes, stimulating a small region at the intersection of the temporal and parietal lobes of her brain, she experienced what she described as a shadowy presence lurking nearby, mimicking her own posture.

MORE – – –

False Memory Syndrome Alive and Well

steven_novellaby Steven Novella via Science-Based Medicine

It is disheartening that we have to return to pseudosciences that have been debunked decades ago, because they continue to linger despite being eviscerated by scientific scrutiny. Belief systems and myths have incredible cultural inertia, and they are difficult to eradicate completely. That is why belief in astrology, while in the minority, persists.

Professions, however, should be different. A healing profession should be held to a certain minimum standard of care, and that standard should be based upon something real, which means that scientific evidence needs to be brought to bear. Professionals are not excused for persisting in false beliefs that have long been discredited.

The Courage to Heal, the source of many beliefs about false memory syndrome

The Courage to Heal, the source of many beliefs about false memory syndrome

The 1980s saw the peak of an idea that was never based on science, the notion that people can suppress memories of traumatic events, and those repressed memories can manifest as seemingly unconnected mental health issues, such as anxiety or eating disorders. The idea was popularized mostly by the book The Courage to Heal (the 20th anniversary edition was published in 2008), in which the authors took the position that clients, especially women, who have any problem should be encouraged to recover memories of abuse, and if such memories can be dredged up, they are real.

The notion of repressed memories led in part to the satanic panic of the 1980s, and many of those subjected to recovering techniques not only “remembered” being abused, but being part of satanic ritual abuse.

Recovered memory syndrome was a massive failure on the part of the mental health profession. The ideas, which were extraordinary, were never empirically demonstrated. Further, basic questions were insufficiently asked – is there any empirical evidence to support the amazing events emerging from therapy, for example? Is it possible that the recovered memories are an artifact of therapy and are not real?

Now, with three decades of hindsight, we can say a few things with a high degree of confidence.

MORE – – –

Psychology: The truth about the paranormal

In the 21st Century, why do so many people still believe in the paranormal? David Robson discovers that there’s good reason we hold superstitions – and a few surprising benefits.

David RobsonBy David Robson via BBC Future

Soon after World War II, Winston Churchill was visiting the White House when he is said to have had an uncanny experience. Having had a long bath with a Scotch and cigar, he reportedly walked into the adjoining bedroom – only to be met by the ghost of Abraham ghost_300px Unflappable, even while completely naked, Churchill apparently announced: “Good evening, Mr President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” The spirit smiled and vanished.

His supposed contact with the supernatural puts Churchill in illustrious company. Arthur Conan Doyle spoke to ghosts through mediums, while Alan Turing believed in telepathy. Three men who were all known for their razor-sharp thinking, yet couldn’t stop themselves from believing in the impossible. You may well join them. According to recent surveys, as many as three quarters of Americans believe in the paranormal, in some form, while nearly one in five claim to have actually seen a ghost.

visions_200pxIntrigued by these persistent beliefs, psychologists have started to look at why some of us can’t shake off old superstitions and folk-lore. Their findings may suggest some hidden virtues to believing in the paranormal. At the very least, it should cause you to question whether you hold more insidious beliefs about the world.

Some paranormal experiences are easily explainable, based on faulty activity in the brain. Reports of poltergeists invisibly moving objects seem to be consistent with damage to certain regions of the right hemisphere that are responsible for visual processing; certain forms of epilepsy, meanwhile, can cause the spooky feeling that a presence is stalking you close by – perhaps underlying accounts of faceless “shadow people” lurking in the surroundings.

Out-of-body experiences, meanwhile, are now accepted neurological phenomena, while certain visual illusions could confound the healthy brain and create mythical beings. For example, one young Italian psychologist looked in the mirror one morning to find a grizzled old man staring back at him. His later experiments confirmed  .  .  .

MORE – – –

The Science and Non-Science of the Ouija

Benjamin Radfordby Benjamin Radford via Discovery News

The new supernatural horror film “Ouija” hits theaters soon, and is expected to scare up big numbers at the box office this weekend.

The Oujia board, also known as a witch board or spirit board, is simple and elegant. The board itself is printed with letters and numbers, while a roughly heart-shaped device called a planchette slides over the board. The game was created in the 1890s and sold to Hasbro in 1966. It began as a parlor game with no association with ghosts until much later, and today many people believe it can contact spirits.

“Ouija” is only the most recent in a long line of movies featuring the board. Since the Oujia board’s film debut in the 1920 Max Fleischer film “The Ouija Board,” it has appeared in hundreds of films including “The Uninvited” (1944);”The Changeling” (1980); “Witchboard” (1986); and “Paranormal Activity” (2007).

Speaking to the Dead

People in all cultures have long believed that communication with the dead is possible, and throughout the ages many people have claimed to speak to the dear departed. Ghosts and spirit communication shows up often in classic literature, including in mythology, the Bible, and Shakespeare’s plays.

Seance Scene in Dr. Mabuse the GamblerIn Victorian England it was fashionable in many circles to conduct séances; Ouija boards, three-legged tables, and candles were used to try to contact the dead. A century ago mediums “in touch with the spirit” during séances would write pages and pages of “automatic writing,” the psychic’s hands allegedly guided by ghosts to convey lengthy handwritten messages.

Since that time ghosts seem to have lost their will (or ability) to write—or even communicate effectively. These days the spirits (as channeled through mediums) seem to prefer a guessing game and instead offer only ambiguous, vague information: “I’m getting a presence with the letter M, or J in the name? A father, or father figure perhaps? Did he give you something special to remember him by, something small?” The Ouija board seems to cut out the middleman and let you communicate directly with the dead.

Fearing the Ouija

There’s a reason that scary movies are based on the Ouija game and not, for example, Monopoly or Scrabble. Many evangelical groups believe that playing with Ouija boards can lead to demonic possession.

MORE – – –

Also See: Video: What Makes Ouija Boards Move?

Gang Stalking YouTube Videos: The Most Serious Conspiracy Theory

paranoia 737_167pxBy Andrew Whalen via iDigitalTimes

Gang stalking is a highly coordinated operation, usually by a counterintelligence entity, to intimidate dissenters through a mob of watchers, harassers, prank callers, hackers, and irritants. To be gang stalked is to suspect everyone, to feel eyes fall upon you and not be sure whether it’s just another person in the grocery aisle or an agent paid to induce that exact feeling of uncertainty in your heart. And while gang stalking can be coordinated by anyone, from a personal enemy to the Mafia, the coordination tactics enabled by modern communication technologies and sheer computing power is most available to large corporations and governmental entities.

Gang stalking is also nonsense.

Gang Stalking Youtube Video – Window Into Delusion

Watch this Youtube video and you’ll immediately understand why:

The transparent paranoia in this Youtube video is evident to all but the gang stalking initiate.

Gang stalking, as experienced by most of its victims, is delusional. It’s the most serious conspiracy theory not because it reflects reality, but because gang stalking is the bridge between conspiracy theorizing as a hobby, and conspiracy theorizing as an all-consuming mental illness.

Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories

paranoid illuminati_250pxPeople who believe that H1N1 Swine Flu was created by the miltary, that 9/11 was a Mossad operation, that world leaders worship owl demons at a summer retreat, or believe any of the endless permutations of conspiracy theory, are likely not mentally ill. My preferred theory is that they’re just incredibly dumb, but the current research into conspiracy theory ideation doesn’t really back that up either. Rather, conspiracy theorists are sane people, of normal intelligence, who have become trapped in a self-reinforcing belief system. It’s a convenient trick: anyone who can offer up evidence against the conspiracy theory is an agent of the conspiracy theory–a shill–sent to deceive you.

There are many motivations for believing in a conspiracy theory.

MORE – – –

Here Be Dragons (Brian Dunning)

Originally posted February 9, 2013 this video is definitely worth a second look.



Here Be Dragons is a 40 minute video introduction to critical thinking. This video is on my “must watch” list for skeptics and critical thinkers🙂

Most people fully accept paranormal and pseudoscientific claims without critique as they are promoted by the mass media. Here Be Dragons offers a toolbox for recognizing and understanding the dangers of pseudoscience, and appreciation for the reality-based benefits offered by real science.

Here Be Dragons is written and presented by Brian Dunning, host and producer of the Skeptoid podcast and author of the Skeptoid book series.

Source: Here Be Dragons – YouTube.

Anomaly Hunting and the Umbrella Man

steven_novellaby via NeuroLogica Blog

This is not a new story, but it is worth repeating. At the moment that bullets were being fired into JFK’s motorcade, a man can be seen standing on the side of the road near the car holding an open black umbrella. It was a sunny day (although it had rained the night before) and no one else in Dallas was holding an umbrella.

The "umbrella man" seems strangely out of place and uniquely positioned in Dealey Plaza when Kennedy was assassinated.

The “umbrella man” seems strangely out of place on a sunny day in Dealey Plaza on the day Kennedy was assassinated.*

This is exactly the kind of detail that sets a fire under conspiracy theorists. It is a genuine anomaly – something that sticks out like a sore thumb.

The event also defies our intuition about probability. Even if one could accept that somewhere on the streets of Dallas that morning one man decided to hold an open umbrella for some strange reason, what are the odds that this one man would be essentially standing right next to the president’s car when the bullets began to fly?

Our evolved tendency for pattern recognition and looking for significance in events screams that this anomaly must have a compelling explanation, and since it is associated with the assassination of a president, it must be a sinister one.

When you delve into the details of any complex historical event, however, anomalies such as this are certain to surface. People are quirky individual beings with rich and complex histories and motivations. People do strange things for strange reasons. There is no way to account for all possible thought processes firing around in the brains of every person involved in an event.

The umbrella man appears before the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978.

In 1978 the umbrella man appeared before the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations.*

Often the actions of others seem unfathomable to us. Our instinct is to try to explain the behavior of others as resulting from mostly internal forces. We tend to underestimate the influence of external factors. This is called the fundamental attribution error.

We also tend to assume that the actions of others are deliberate and planned, rather than random or accidental.

The common assumption underlying all of these various instincts is that there is a specific purpose to events, and especially the actions of others. We further instinctively fear that this purpose is sinister, or may be working against our own interests in some way. In this way, we all have a little conspiracy theorist inside us.

MORE – – –

*Who Was the Umbrella Man?

By The New York Times via YouTube

Also See: Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives

No, this study is not evidence for “life after death”

Sharon_hill_80pxBy Sharon Hill via James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)

Yesterday, a study was announced with a headline that didn’t fit the results. That’s very common. But what was strange was that a few proponents of the study seemed to hang their hats on the headline. I wonder if they actually read the same study I did?

Here was the piece in The Telegraph (U.K.): First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study

tunnel tumble_200pxThe largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.

It is a controversial subject which has, until recently, been treated with widespread scepticism.

But scientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.

And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.

From reading just this pop media piece, I saw no indication of “life after death” mentioned. I saw a claim that people appear to be mentally aware (to some degree) when there is no recorded brain activity occurring. That would be an important new finding, there was no need to jump to a more overarching, unwarranted claim about evidence for “life after death”.Other media outlets followed suit with misleading headlines:

Unconventional theorist Graham Hancock seemed mighty smug about it:

Via Twitter. I’m not Mr. Randi but I’ll give it a response…

Via Twitter. I’m not Mr. Randi but I’ll give it a response…

The first inkling I saw (also on Twitter) that there was something a bit off with this headline was from Dr. Caroline Watt, Senior Researcher at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh.near-death-tunnel_200px (Yes, an actual parapsychologist. She wrote the book.) She seemed less than impressed with the study. I contacted her and, as is good advice, she said I should read the paper. So I did. I was also unimpressed. In a nutshell, the study attempted to objectively measure “out of body” and “near death experience” claims. The researchers concluded that it was not as successful as planned, but they discovered a small percentage of people report awareness in what medical standards considers a nonfunctioning brain.Dr. Sam Parnia, who headed this study, has done such prospective studies before. He suggests that the brain may “live” on minutes or hours after “death”. That is interesting, but not paranormal. Let’s see what the study showed.

MORE – – –

%d bloggers like this: