TAM 8 pt 2 – Thursday

While we arrived in Las Vegas Wednesday afternoon, nothing beyond socializing really happened until Thursday. That was the day with only the optional workshops. If you have been debating about whether or not to spring for the workshops, I cannot recommend highly enough that you do so. I learned SO much at the workshops that I attended.

I’ll start with Skepticism 101. Although I know the basics of skepticism, I wanted to take this workshop because having more tools to teach skepticism with is useful. Here Jeff Wagg talked about how easily our senses can be fooled. He introduced the concept of Pareidolia (Pair-ah-dole-ee-ah). is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse.  Other commonly seen examples of pareidolia are the pastry that looks like Mother Teresa and the grilled cheese sandwich that looks like the Virgin Mary. Although I personally think the grilled cheese looks more like a zombified version of Marilyn Monroe.  I will be writing more about this phenomenon in later articles so stay tuned.

Another aspect of what is perceived as “paranormal” is the Ideomotor effect. It commonly occurs when people use Ouiji boards, pendulums and dowsing rods. The ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions unconsciously. As in reflexive responses to pain, the body sometimes reacts reflexively to ideas alone without the person consciously deciding to take action. For instance, tears are produced by the body unconsciously in reaction to powerful emotions. Automatic writing, dowsing, facilitated communication, and Ouija boards have also been attributed to the effect of this phenomenon. Mystics have often attributed this motion to paranormal or supernatural force. Many subjects are unconvinced that their actions are originating solely from within themselves.

Jeff asked for two volunteers for this example: Two male, one female. He then used the Genuine JREF Gender Detector Pendulum. He explained that when a person pu their hand under the pendulum it could detect the gender of the subject. The pendulum would swing in a circle for a woman and in a line for a man.

He had one of the male volunteers hold the pendulum and then asked the woman to hold out her hand. The pendulum swung in a circle, just as predicted. Then, when the man stuck his hand underneath, the pendulum swung in a line.

Here’s the kicker. When the pendulum holder was blindfolded, the pendulum swung erratically, detecting nothing. The reason for this is that it is impossible to hold a pendulum still for very long. Our muscles are constantly twitching imperceptibly. So who did the gender detection? The pendulum holder because he was told what the pendulum would do in each circumstance, thereby unconsciously making the pendulum do precisely what Jeff said it would do. But when he couldn’t see who was in front of him, his subconscious was unable to respond.

There will be more about this workshop in Part 2.


1 Comment

  1. sgerbic said,

    July 25, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    Great summing up. I didn’t attend any of the workshops this year, but it sounds like you got a whole lot out of them. I’m just now reading this TAM8 series of yours, looks good.

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