Category Archives: Skepticism

Nothing to See Here

There just isn’t much to the recent “announcement” of alien, bacteriological life being found in a batch of meteorites. The paper, “Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites: Implications to Life on Comets, Europa, and Enceladus”, was published in a scientific journal that really isn’t a journal, but rather a website with “journal” in the url.

Checking in with other scientists (always something I do when trying to understand science reports in the media) it’s painfully clear that this journal is about a rigorous with it’s review as the Exhaust Shaft inspector was with his review of the Death Star’s plans.

It’s really a frakking shame, too. I know I’m in good company around here in wanting something like this to be true. We already know that organic molecules have been found floating in space. It’s not a stretch to think that actual simple life-forms could be found out there…. and have smashed into us at some point in the travels of our planet.

But right now, with this article, “…the “evidence” is a bunch of squiggly stuff that bears little resemblance to actual bacterial fossils unless you obscure the details by rescaling the images” as Ian Musgrave writes at The Panda’s Thumb.

So right now, no, no evidence that little squiggly bits of Bacteria From Space made it to the Earth. Which means I can continue to believe that we’re just shoggoth food that continued to evolve into the marvel and wonder that is evident every day on Fox News….

Can Science Determine Human Values?

Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, calls for an end to religion’s monopoly on morality and human values. In The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values to dismantle the most common justification for religious faith — that a moral system cannot be based on science.

The End of Faith ignited a worldwide debate about the validity of religion. In its aftermath, Harris discovered that most people, from secular scientists to religious fundamentalists, agree on one point: Science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. Even among religious fundamentalists, the defense one most often hears for belief in God is not that there is compelling evidence that God exists, but that faith in Him provides the only guidance for living a good life. Controversies about human values are controversies about which science has officially had no opinion. Until now.

Morality, Harris argues, is actually an undeveloped branch of neuroscience, and answers to questions of human value can be visualized on a “moral landscape” — a space of real and potential outcomes whose peaks and valleys correspond to human states of greater or lesser wellbeing. Different ways of thinking and behaving — different cultural practices, ethical codes, modes of government, etc. — translate into movements across this landscape. Such changes can be analyzed objectively on many levels, ranging from biochemistry to economics, but they have their crucial realization as experiences in the human brain.

Bringing a fresh, secular perspective to age-old questions of right and wrong, and good and evil, Harris shows that we know enough about the human brain and its relationship to events in the world to say that there are right and wrong answers to the most pressing questions of human life. Because such answers exist, cultural relativism is simply false — and comes at increasing cost to humanity. And just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, there can be no Christian or Muslim morality. Using his expertise in philosophy and neuroscience, along with his experience on the front lines of our “culture wars,” Sam Harris delivers a game-changing argument about the future of science and about the real basis of human cooperation.

FORA.tv – Sam Harris: Can Science Determine Human Values?.

The Psychology of Magic

Why are we so easily fooled? As good as our brains are at finding patterns, they are also easily confounded and tricked, resulting in us seeing things that aren’t there, missing completely what really is and, most horribly, having us be certain of the most erroneous of conclusions with the conviction of a saint.
 
Psychologist Richard Wiseman endevors to explain the answer to us in a unique and interesting way. See, on top of being an award winning psychologist and educator, he’s also a professional magician…
 

Richard Wiseman Spoon Bending at TAM 6 from JREF on Vimeo.