Let’s stay Vigilant

Hi All,

This will be my first blog entry and hopefully a kick off to a weekly one I’m sure will be read exclusively by my parents and girlfriend. Hi Mom, Dad and Fanny! Yes before you ask, that is her real name, and believe me if you think it’s got a bad meaning in America you should check what it means over here in Ireland. I will be sending the link to this blog out to my followers on twitter and hopefully get a bit of talk going.

Anyway, I have a story to tell you that triggered this venture into the blogosphere and like a lot of people I know, I have toyed with the idea of doing a blog for a bit.  I did worry about finding content to write about and every poster on a Dublin bus for some sham fix-all remedy or discussion on twitter with a particularly brainwashed IDer (Intelligent Design) eventually convinced me that there was lots of stuff for me to be frustrated about that would possibly, stress that word, be interesting. Anyway, to the story…

I just got back this week from a holiday in Berlin. My girlfriend and I took the opportunity to sit in and watch a movie one of the nights. As is our usual custom we decided to turn off the light to fully enjoy the film (mind out of the gutter people). During the movie the lights in the room, which were controlled from the other side of the room by a switch, turned back on. Dodgy switch, I thought of course, after all, this hotel is on the East side of Berlin and because of that, the electrics probably go back to the 1950’s. The Tv, as an illustration of this, was the size of a small car and remote control a little bigger than an iPad. A couple of minutes later it happened again though. Cue the jokes between me and my girlfriend about ghosts and floating candlesticks going across the room. A firm bang of the switch to turn them off ‘for good’ and back to the movie.

Ok, at this point I can admit that not having an explanation for this was a bit disconcerting, more because I wanted a reason but slightly because, joking aside, it’s pretty fucking creepy. We were after all the only people on that floor of the building and eerie imaginings of twin girls dressed in blue in the corridor are only a few steps away for even the most sceptical person (I convinced myself anyway). This I think is what annoyed me most. I KNOW there is no such thing as ghosts and the supernatural but that eerie sense was still there along with a frustration that I couldn’t figure out the problem. This by the way was probably not helped by my drinking half a bottle of Whiskey during the course of the film.

Cutting a long story short, we eventually realised that just behind the bed, on the wall was a switch that controlled the lights. That’s obvious of course, you say. “What a couple of idiots, I know I would have seen through it”, you might mutter. As a skeptic I pride myself on trying to see through the veil of the improbable and although I was certain I would find out the reason, the doubt and desire to see an agency behind the phenomenon was enough to fuel my non-critical faculties into action. That is why it resolved me to start a blog. It may be read only by me when I edit it for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors (or to stop myself sound like a dick), but it adds to my understanding of happenings like this, to review them. Learning to hone our skeptical skills is a necessity and spelling out your reasoning helps you understand your own position better. A healthy community of skepticism is needed if we hold any aspirations of overcoming the Tsunami of bullshit that’s out there. From Homeopathy to Faith healers, Magic and Intelligent design, there is a lot of crap out there and we lend it legitimacy in part by the fact that it’s not ridiculed for the childish, magical thinking that it is. What I got from the story above is that although most of us as skeptics pride ourselves on being out of the reach of these modalities, we have to acknowledge that we are susceptible to them and things similar to them. Even when you know there is a reasonable explanation, there is something in you that drives for an explanation and that can work both ways. It can drive you to look for evidence, and piss off your girlfriend who is patiently waiting for the film to resume or in some cases it can undermine your skeptical nature. Skepticism is, in short, unnatural when not practised and the open-minded view that evidence will change your opinion on anything when properly shown, can leave you susceptible to considering CRAP, even temporarily.

So even if this is only for my girlfriend and family to quickly tire of reading, it will hopefully better hone my bullshit detector and lend fuel to growing need to get involved in Skepticism. Lets keep on top of the nonsense out there, vigilance is the key. Also, please point out my bullshit when you see it, I don’t want to get away with anything and calling each other on our mistakes is part and parcel.


NOTE: Just a final note to say that, another reason, which I am reluctant to mention, as to why I started this blog, is the recent death of Christopher Hitchens. He was an inspiration and a hero of mine. If a hundred people who share his beliefs and possess half of his conviction, make their voices heard, it might do something to fill the void left behind by this giant of rational thought. I am reluctant only because I would never want to cheapen his memory by piggybacking on his death. He is sorely missed.