Ms. Popularity

I may well get kicked out of my school by the end of the term. As many of you know, I started working on my Master’s in Herbalism through the American College of Heathcare Sciences before becoming a skeptic and atheist. A couple months ago the new term started.

In the last module one of the discussion questions asked the students to discuss why we would or would not get our children vaccinated. After taking a deep breath so I didn’t go with my initial “ARE YOU CRAZY YOU FUCKING NUTTERS??” outburst, I posted links to several pro-vacc websites that also detailed WHY vaccines are safe, etc. I just wish that http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.com was up and running. I still linked to the site after mentioning that it is currently down.

What floored me is that one anti-vacc student was told that she did a good job by our instructor and that both sides of the debate had lots of evidence!!! I really don’t know if I can keep going to a school where that kind of thinking is actually ENCOURAGED.

I was hoping that this debate would be skipped over. What’s worse is that this next module discusses homeopathy. I’m going to have to go in and utterly destroy that too.

In the first module many of my classmates discussed how they felt that alternative approaches to Western medicine were valid because they had been around a long time. The underlying tone was one of disdain for science and scientific study.

Herbalism CAN be approached scientifically and HAS been. There are many studies that cover the efficacy of various plant based medicines. But WHY my school feels the need to include woo-based bullshit alone with scientific content is beyond me. I just don’t get how a place that can be so in-depth with its studies on herbs can stoop to including homeopathy in the coursework.

I just don’t know HOW I’m going to be able to keep from calling people complete whackjobs this week when the homeopathy believers come out of the woodwork.

I could use some links and advice. Something besides “Quit” would be good.

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Conversations With My Car

I realized something today. Even though I know logically that my car, Maz, doesn’t have a spirit or even a personality, that doesn’t stop me from having conversations with him. No I’m not off my meds and I don’t really hear him talk back. That doesn’t stop me from having a discussion though.

Here’s a photo of Maz so you know what he looks like.

CIMG0966As you can see, my car is really not much bigger than your average pregnant roller skate. It is smaller than a Mini Cooper by just a little bit. The Honda del Sol also came with a targa top. So he’s basically a convertible, too. I also had the interior completely redone with custom leather seats. All it needs is new paint.

Now here comes the fun part. I actually have conversations with my car. For instance, this morning I had to ship off a package to a customer so I drove over to the post office and parked. On the other side of a small median was a new Corvette.

I could almost hear that Maz growling with jealousy because the Vette’s top was down. So I swatted him lightly on the steering wheel and told him “Stop growling. It’s not nice.”. He acquiesced with a sullen sigh. Then I proceeded to explain” It’s too hot to have your top off.”. It’s still in the high 80’s to low 90’s here in central Florida during mid day.

I honestly can’t imagine that I’m the ONLY person who has conversations with their car. I’ve SEEN other people talk to their cars time and again. Nicholas Cage’s character talked to Eleanor when she started to sputter during the chase scene in “Gone In 60 Seconds”. A person with even the tiniest bit of imagination could relate, feeling like the car was acting up on purpose.

Now here’s the question: Why? Why do we attribute human emotions and behaviors to inanimate objects? For my part I was an only child and I was left to my own devices quite frequently. So I developed a habit of talking to myself so that I didn’t feel so alone. Maybe I’m still doing that to some extent.

I’m only doing that with my car though. I don’t do it with anything else: Not my laptop, even though I call it my baby; not my iPod, though I really love having it. I don’t even humanize my dog. I can thank Cesar Milan for that though.

I have to admit that a part of me misses the magic I had convinced myself was in the world. I can’t delude myself anymore though. I don’t WANT to. So I still keep these little quirks. Even at 42 years of age I still enjoy playing pretend now and again.

Prelude Part 2

That experience (see the last post) threw me completely into the wonderful world of Woo and drowned me in it. I became convinced that I was some kind of trance channeling psychic Girl Wonder. Any brand of Woo was something that I subscribed to. I spent thousands of dollars on Reiki classes and became an energy healer. For years I practiced hands on healing as an Usui and Karuna Reiki Master. I convinced people that Reiki would help them feel better.

In reality, who doesn’t feel better by laying down for 45 minutes and just relaxing? It doesn’t take mysticism to make that happen. At this point I had lost all rational thought. Fortunately the American public didn’t buy into it and I found that I could not make a living doing or teaching Reiki. So I moved on to hypnotherapy.

There is at least a little bit of validity to hypnosis. Unfortunately the theories about how the brain is ordered that this group subscribes to is incorrect. Hypnosis really is simply giving someone else permission to reprogram you. If you REALLY want it to work and put the effort into making it work then it will work. It’s another form of a magic bullet, though. As with reiki, there is SO much woo in hypnosis. I would love to see more scientific research done on how and why it works.

Penn and Teller did an episode of Bullshit! on hypnosis. I was only able to see their conclusions in that show though. According to Penn, they just don’t know how it works yet.

When we moved to a smaller town and I couldn’t get my hypnosis practice off the ground, I turned to a different career. Herbalism. Dr. Steven Novella calls herbs “dirty drugs” and for good reason. They are not regulated by the FDA or any other government agency. I became SO fascinated with how herbs work on the human body that I started studying phytochemistry and pharmagognosy through the American College of Health Sciences.

That was an inkling of the beginning of my return to rational thought. About that time my husband introduced me to Penn Jillette’s podcast radio show and his cable TV show Penn & Teller’s Bullshit. The things Penn said really started making sense. It took me no time at all before I had begun to reject psychics and the like. It was a hard lesson but I realized I had been deluding myself. So I walked away from Reiki and the rest of the Woo I was involved in.

Unfortunately, I clung to herbalism for another year or so because of the financial investment and because I still thought I might be able to do some good.

Ken also introduced me to The Geologic Podcast. Thanks to George and my continued exposure to Penn I became a skeptic and a non-theist. What cemented it in place fully for me was meeting James Randi at DragonCon last year. He asked me if I felt any better since giving up Beliefs.

My heartfelt reply was a resounding “Yes! I feel like a burden has been lifted and now I’m free to be myself”.

I’m afraid I don’t have a real time line for any of this so I’m calling my official Skeptical Birthday August 29th 2008 because that was the day that James Randi helped me confirm that I was doing the right thing for myself.

Prelude to Rational Thought

I have always been a skeptic. I just didn’t know it.

When I was 12 I wrote an essay about why December 25th is not the anniversary of the Christian savior’s birth. Unfortunately i was raised in a home where magical thinking was encouraged. My mother, an artist, believes in psychics, astrology, influencing outcomes with positive thought and other standard woo. My Dad is in radio and had quite a few characters he portrayed on air. Needless to say, playing pretend played a huge role in my family life.

While my parents are Christian, we very rarely went to church. Sunday was my Dad’s only day off. So I was never really indoctrinated formally. Although there were a couple summers when I was sent to Bible camp. I think I ticked a few people off with some of the questions I asked. Many of the teachings just didn’t make sense to me.

When I was 16, I had a very emotional experience at a church get together for teens and I became a believer. I still didn’t go to church and I still had questions that had no answer. Finally I accepted the “God works in mysterious ways” reasoning. I got beaten over the head enough times with it so eventually I capitulated.

When I was 17, I spent the night at my Mom’s friend’s house and she played a tape that I just fell in love with. I didn’t understand at that moment but that was my first introduction to Wicca. The Old Ways made more sense to me. In that religion god was both male and female and there were many gods to choose from. If you didn’t like one, you could choose another. It was a taste of free thought.

The more I investigated, the more I really liked the precepts that Wicca followed. “If it harms none do what thou wilt”. Short, sweet and to the point. “Whatever you do, be it good or ill, comes back to you three fold”. Fantastic. A religion that taught that you were capable of policing yourself without fear of some Mighty Smiter coming along and condemning you to Hell.

For about 10 years I followed Wicca. Eventually I became a High Priestess, though I was mostly a solitary practitioner. I even cast spells and did ceremonies. Eventually though I began to realize that the spells I was casting weren’t working. They weren’t making a difference in my life. I had also never looked very deeply into Wicca and it’s foundations.

When my Christian boyfriend asked me “Why do you worship the Creation and not the Creator” I genuinely didn’t have an answer. So, back to Christianity I went. And it got pretty bad for a while. I got sucked in deeply this time. I started going to his church, a Church of God (aka Holy Rollers). I even started speaking in tongues and giving the translation during the weekly tongues and interpretation segment.

After a year or so, my logical thinking abilities REALLY went south. I went to visit my best friend in California. We were on a road trip to see another friend of ours. While she was in a convenience store I started having a flashback to the time I was anally raped by my first husband. She came out to find me curled up on the front seat, sobbing.

Her solution was to hand me two crystals and have me place them at either temple.

To this day I still do not understand what happened. It felt like a bolt of electricity went from temple to temple and I was momentarily blinded. When the darkness cleared it was like a veil had been removed. The world seemed clearer. Color were brighter and everything was thrown into sharp focus. I was enthralled by the bark of trees and the texture of brick. It was like the world was brand new.

This is getting a little long so I’ll continue this in my next post.

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