Tag Archives: TED

Apollo Robbins: The art of misdirection

I’m always fascinated by how the mind works. Check out Apollo Robbins, he’s incredible.



Hailed as the greatest pickpocket in the world, Apollo Robbins studies the quirks of human behavior as he steals your watch. In a hilarious demonstration, Robbins samples the buffet of the TEDGlobal 2013 audience, showing how the flaws in our perception make it possible to swipe a wallet and leave it on its owner’s shoulder while they remain clueless.

On YouTube

Confronting The Woo-Woos Head-On…

james-randi-69By James Randi via randi.org

Back in September of 2007, I was invited to speak at the prestigious TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, California. To do so, I had to literally get up out of a hospital bed in Florida – very much against the advice of my doctors – and fly off to address what is arguably the toughest, most influential, and savvy audience to be found anywhere. During that heady experience I met actress Goldie Hawn, neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran, entrepreneur Richard Branson, and prominent skeptical author Stephen Pinker, all for the first time, along with literally dozens of other celebrities.

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Watch the full video below.

I committed homeopathic suicide during that lecture, a stunt I’ve done all over the world to make an important point about homeopathy, that it has no ingredients that will help or affect any ailment, symptom, or disease, and that it’s inane to take it seriously.


During my talk, which can be seen and heard here (and below) I opened and downed an entire bottle – 32 tablets – of homeopathic Calms Forte* sleeping pills, the main ingredient of which was “coffea cruda,” which is not made from instant coffee, nor brewed coffee, nor caffeine, but unroasted coffee beans, friends, but diluted – literally – billions of times, so that there isn’t even a single molecule of any active substance in a truck full of the tablets! I was confident that I’d not toss and turn that evening…

*which has since changed its formula to use “passion flower” rather than coffea cruda as the “active ingredient,” perhaps to invoke a more exciting reaction…?

Well, a Jack Myers was in that audience, and he was apparently not favorably impressed by my attitude or my opinions. Mr. Myers labels himself an “economist,” a media ecologist, author, documentary film producer, and publisher of economic reports on media, marketing and entertainment. Jack’s also a recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award, so I was surprised, following his attendance at TED, to read on his internet site a strong denunciation of me and my statements. In fact, he commented, ominously:

I found Mr. Randi’s presentation, itself, to be very misleading and disingenuous.

Fightin’ words, I’d say, but that tirade – strangely – was deleted from his site shortly after it was published. With the aid of friends, I managed to find an account he’d sent to an Internet columnist who wanted to know more about what she’d seen. I’ll share that with you, and break in to comment. Rather often. It began:

First [Randi] told us not to believe anything he said.

Well, not quite. As I always do, I suggested to the TED audience that they shouldn’t merely accept blindly what I’d said, but should look into the situations for themselves. Jack misheard me, I guess. He continued:

Then he told us homeopathic products are worthless, which he “proved” by swallowing a bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills. There was no seal on the bottle but he presented it as if he was opening it for the first time, even removing the instructions. I don’t believe they were, in fact, the original pills. I know many people who take those exact pills and they do work. I hope he doesn’t prove his “theory” with people who might “try it at home” and potentially die.


Not to worry, Jack. As I said, I’ve done this “suicide” act all over the world for some twenty years now, and the only problem I’ve had has been people laughing to hear just how naïve and dense others can be when smooth-talked to by the operators who obviously also got to you…

Secondly, Randi denigrated those who use herbs and homeopathic products as part of a medical practice. My daughter is a practitioner of Oriental Medicine and studied four full years in an accredited master’s program to gain her degree. She uses many herbs and remedies that have been handed down and have been effective for centuries that would be classified as homeopathic. I wonder who pays Randi – the medical institutions? The AMA? I would like full disclosure on his funding.

Rejoice, sir! That data is all available to anyone who asks for it, because the JREF is registered as a 501(c)3 charity, and by law must provide that information to anyone who asks for it. So, just ask, Jack! And no, we’ve never received a cent from Big Pharma, as you suggest, nor from those perfidious doctors who actually put real medicine into their patients’ bodies.

Next, Randi believes there is no afterlife. Again, he seeks to make anyone who does believe into a fool. He’s entitled to his opinions, but why should it be at the expense of those who disagree with him? I like many others believe there is another level of existence – an afterlife.

No, Jack, though you may choose for yourself any title or definition you want, of course. If you wish to think of yourself as a total jackass, be my guest…!

I have seen someone who has the abilities Randi pooh poohed and am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that a true communication occurred. It changed my life and my beliefs and, by the way, cost me nothing. I don’t feel he has a right to dismiss my beliefs as foolish and idiotic. I agree there are charlatans in every field – but that doesn’t mean he has a right to dismiss someone’s beliefs just because he doesn’t agree with them.


Well, perhaps it did cost you, Jack. It appears that you witnessed a demonstration that quite impressed you and changed your basic opinions on how the world works. But just think, man! Now you’re potentially rich, a million bucks wealthier than you were before you revealed this to me, because my organization, the James Randi Educational Foundation [JREF], is prepared to pay your “someone” a million bucks upon the demonstration of that ability that I scoffed at! Wow! Now, this guru/saint/medium/gypsy/whatever may be shy – so many are, I’ve found – and may be so strongly spiritual that he/she shuns taking such easy money, but isn’t it worth a try…? C’mon, Jack, give the wheel a spin!


I wonder why… Jack struck me as a far more dependable and worthy opponent in this brouhaha, but just see up ahead how perfidious he actually proved to be. Read on, as he throws down his gauntlet…

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James Randi: Homeopathy, quackery and fraud

Deepak, and the Emptiness of Spiritual Gibberish

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

CHOPRADeepak Chopra is a master of the vague, cognitively empty but emotively charged expression. Science and spirituality should be friends, says Deepak. Like Dick and Jane, I suppose. The only sensible thing he says in his entire article published in Michael Shermer‘s Skeptic magazine (vol. 16 No. 2, 2011) is “With no data to support the existence of God, there is also no reason for religion and science to close the gap between them.” Of course, he asserts this truism only to deny it.

Deepak gets aligned with reality by proclaiming that “God is inside the consciousness of each person.” (In each of us, I suppose, there is a divinity trying to escape.) Does this mean anything more than that God is a thought? Yes, according to the Master:

The physical building blocks of the universe have gradually vanished; that is, atoms and quarks no longer seem solid at all but are actually clouds of energy, which in turn disappear into the void that seems to be the source of creation. Was mind also born in the same place outside space and time? Is the universe conscious? Do genes depend on quantum interactions? Science aims to understand nature down to its very essence, and now these once radical questions, long dismissed as unscientific, are unavoidable….

It is becoming legitimate to talk of invisible forces that shape creation – not labeling them as God but as the true shapers of reality beyond the space/time continuum. A whole new field known as quantum biology has sprung up, based on a true breakthrough – the idea that the total split between the micro world of the quantum and the macro world of everyday things may be a false split. If so, science will have to account for why the human brain, which lives in the macro world, derives its intelligence from the micro world. Either atoms and molecules are smart, or something makes them smart. That something, I believe, will come down to a conscious universe.

Yes, the universe might be conscious, and Deepak might be giving it a giant headache with his frequent, noisy jabbering about quantum this and that. Deepak ought to . . .

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Human Guided Spiritual Defense Waves… Pseudoscience at it’s greatest (and Insanest)

Via The Soap Box

tin-foil-hat03_200pxWhen you explore the world of conspiracy theories and pseudoscience, you often times find out that there is no deep end in the theoretical pool of craziness, and just when you think you’ve reached the bottom, you find out you’re still not at the deep end.

Recently I thought I had found that deep end with the helmet that “stops alien abductions”.
It turns out I was wrong, and that there is something crazier than even that:

Human Guided Spiritual Defense Waves

What this claims is that human beings can use “spiritual energy” to get rid of chemtrails.
In other words, use something that’s imaginary to get rid of something else that’s imaginary.
Not only does the article claim that people can repel these alleged chemicals away, it also claims you can concentrate them and focus them on small area, even house.
In fact, it even says you should do so over the homes of members of Congress (which is a tad bit disturbing). It even tells you to “make them suffer” (which I would consider a threat, if I wasn’t fairly certain this wouldn’t work at all, and that neither of these things not even existing in the first place) and suggest using social networks to help organize groups of people to “focus” their “spiritual energy” in order to do so.

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Have TED Talks Jumped the Shark?

by Benjamin Radford via Discovery News

ted-logoTED is a nonprofit organization devoted to the dissemination of, as their slogan says,  “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Supported by many prominent thinkers, scientists, and entrepreneurs including Bill Gates, evolutionary biologist Steven Pinker, and philosopher Daniel Dennett, TED began in 1984 as a collaboration between thinkers from three enterprises — technology, entertainment, and design — and has since broadened its scope globally.

“The two annual TED conferences, on the North American West Coast and in Edinburgh, Scotland, bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers,” according to the website, “who are challenged to give the talk of their lives.”

TED talks have been popular for years, highlighting interesting and thought-provoking speakers on a wide variety of social and scientific issues. However, TED has increasingly come under fire for promoting pseudoscience and misinformation.

A spin-off department of TED, TEDx, licenses individuals across the country and around the world to stage similar events, record the talks on video, and submit the videos to TED for inclusion on their website. As TED and TEDx talks became more and more popular, the standards began slipping.

Bad Science

One notorious series of TEDx talks in Spain invited speakers to discuss a long list of conspiracy and New Age topics such as “Basic Mind Control,” rebirthing therapy, “Angelic Reiki,” and even something called “Egyptian Psycho-Aromatherapy and Transpersonal Homeotherapy.”

This list of pseudoscience apparently did not set off any red flags for TEDx organizers at the time, but it did for scientists and journalists who demanded to know why these were considered to be “ideas worth spreading.”

Concerns that the once-prestigious TED brand was being diluted and contaminated by sloppy scholarship and bad science grew so loud that in December 2012, TED representatives issued a letter to TEDx affiliates about it.

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The Trouble with Pseudoscience—It Can Be a Catastrophe

Sharon_hill_80pxBy Sharon Hill via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

Pseudoscience is what one might call a two-dollar word. Skeptics often throw it around because of its weightiness and the values it transmits. We need to talk about this word, where it came from, and why we should be cautious about using it.

Pseudoscience is a pejorative term that is bestowed upon a set of ideas, not used by choice by the holder of those ideas. It’s “false” science, fake science, an imitation missing a vital part, the knockoff, the wannabe, the cheap imitation… OK, you get what I mean.

telekinesis_fullpic_1149_300pxContrary to what we think we can say constitutes pseudoscience, there are no set criteria to identify it. It’s not a simple thing but a sticky wicket. It’s whatever scientists say doesn’t belong to legitimate science – a problematic definition. We often must use examples to explain what we mean. Wikipedia has a list of topics that have been characterized as pseudoscience by someone, sometime. Common examples include: astrology, cryptozoology, paranormal investigation, ufology, parapsychology, psychoanalysis, alternative medicine, homeopathy, and creationism.

Because science has authority in our society, it is worthy of imitation. Pseudoscience is science’s shadow, which makes it hard to separate from the real thing. It can’t exist without science. This science imitation was evident to me upon researching paranormal investigation and cryptozoology. I concluded it was useful to have a set of reasonable guidelines one could use to determine if the methodology and the resulting body of knowledge was scientific or lacking in a critical way. The more of these characteristics one can attribute to the field in question, the more likely it is fairly categorized as “pseudoscience.” But since those are fuzzy, subjective criteria, some theories we now regard as legitimate might have qualified as “pseudoscience” at one time, such as Einstein’s special theory of relativity, Mendel’s heredity, meteorites, and Wegener’s continental drift.

There is no continuum between science and pseudoscience. Nor is there a clear boundary or litmus test for what qualifies as science and what lies outside the lines. This is called the “demarcation problem”—a term that Austrian philosopher Karl Popper coined in the late 1920s to describe the issues of marking a solid line between what is scientific and what is nonscientific. It turns out Popper’s solution to the problem was not so hot. He thought it lay in the criterion of testability/falsifiability. But that fails since several theories are not practically falsifiable.

Any series of characteristics commonly attributable to pseudoscience, such as my pet list of criteria, also fails for various reasons. After all this searching for a demarcation criterion without success, philosopher Larry Laudan remarked that we might fairly conclude that “the object of the quest is nonexistent.”

Pseudoscience is just what pseudoscientists do, say the scientists. That is not very helpful for someone who wants to make heads or tails out of a controversial area of research.

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