Yew Cain’t Trust Yore Lyin’ Eyes

Watch this video:

I’ve been seeing optical illusions like this for something like 60 years, and the never-fail tagline is always “You can’t trust your eyes!” The thing is always presented as a profound scientific lesson in human perception.

But it’s SLANTED science, science with a somewhat false editorial built into it, the whole aimed at achieving a little funhouse-type prank on the viewer. When I figured this out 30 or so years back, when I understood the REAL lesson, I stopped being impressed by optical illusions.

The real lesson is: Yes, your eyes can be fooled … on rare occasions. Note how much work has to go into these contrived examples. Someone has to work very hard, probably going through dozens of trials, before hitting on the final form of the “illusion.”

Note also that the illusion works only from a single, sharply limited viewpoint. Move a few inches to the side and the illusion breaks down completely. Rather than the eyes being fooled, they verify our sense of the real — even in the face of a significant effort to deceive.

Finally, we aren’t really talking about eyes, are we? We’re really talking about eyes hooked to a human brain, which is VERY GOOD at seeing the real world around us — better than just about anything alive. Presented with an optical illusion, natural or contrived, we naturally experiment with changing viewpoints, observation over time, other senses, the observational assistance of other people, and a certain amount of careful thought, until we see through the illusion.

The truth is, it’s actually very hard to fool a human’s eyes for very long. This is something we unconsciously know — so well that when we DO meet up with an optical illusion, we enjoy it immensely, playing and laughing at it, walking around it, studying it, until it loses its luster and becomes just another part of our sensory knowledge.

Contrived examples like this are useful, but the sole conclusion should never be “You can’t trust your senses.” It should be “Look out for these rare occasions when you can be briefly fooled but, other than that, you can trust your senses as THE prime tool for observing and understanding the world. Never let anyone tell you not to trust your own perceptions.”

This is one of an array of quasi-mystical declarations that tell us not to trust ourselves, either implying or outright saying we should instead trust some god, or some “authority” who speaks for that god.

Nobody’s saying human vision doesn’t have its limitations. But the real world is the real world, we evolved to live and prosper in it, and every one of us is qualified to witness and appreciate our surroundings.

The Book of Good Living: Left Lane Driving

BGL copyThe Book of Good Living, if you’re new here, is my concept for a broad, basic guide to living well and living with others. It’s all the stuff we SHOULD know about living life among other humans and on Planet Earth.

Rather than some silly Ten Commandments focused on duties to a mythical god, this would be a searchable online multimedia encyclopedia something like Wikipedia, constantly updated by users and powerfully cross-referenced, covering every area of life, everything from basic morality to practical everyday health and safety. A how-to guide, completely voluntary in use, but packed with crowd-sourced wisdom about every little thing.

Elsewhere I recently wrote:

I imagine a Book of Good Living collected online with non-religious guidance for daily life, for anyone who chose to read and consider it. With tidbits such as “Take pictures of your parents, lots of them, something to keep you company in the long years alone,” or perhaps “Live your life in such a way that nobody has to pick up after you.” Or maybe even “Never leave your dog in a hot car.” But definitely, “Hey, dummy, if you’re on the freeway and people are passing you on the right, get the hell out of the left lane.”

Regarding that last, I came across this video last night, and it’s practically perfect for The Book.

Beta Culture: Videoactive! Eschaton 2012 in Ottawa

I got invited to Eschaton 2012 in Ottawa last year, and the video of my talk — on Beta Culture and the “end of the world” — has just been released.

Be gentle. It was my first time before an audience since the early 1990s, and I was a bit nervous.


Atheist Grief Panel Discussion: FTBConscience

Thanks to the kind invitation from Rebecca Hensler, founder of Grief Beyond Belief, I was on the Atheist Grief panel of FTBConscience, and that took place today at 5 p.m., East Coast time. Other panelists were Greta Christina and Nicome Taylor.

And here it is, already on YouTube!


Free Online Movies, Including One on Atheism

Things to be found on this newfangled Internet:

535 Free Movies Online

Including this one: Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief

With the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the emotional whiplash that followed, the monotheistic religions of the West took a more stridently political turn. It was in this context that Jonathan Miller, the British theatre and opera director, felt compelled to create a three-part documentary tracing the history of religious skepticism and disbelief.

Broadcast by the BBC in 2004 under the title, Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief, the series wasn’t broadcast by PBS in America until 2007, and only after “Atheism” had been removed from the title and the word “rough” changed to “brief.”

The complete program is in three segments, each an hour long.


Pain and Healing: Rotten Charities and Wonderful Puppetry

Couple of things caught my attention this morning.

One is a list of America’s Worst Charities — thanks to the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Imagine a “charity” that takes in tens of millions and gives out nothing — zero — in direct cash aid to the cause it supposedly champions. It’s on the list: Project Cure of Bradenton, Florida.

Since 1998, Florida-based Project Cure has raised $65 million to lobby Congress and educate the public about alternative treatments for cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

But its office off Interstate 75 south of Tampa is little more than a storage unit filled with plastic bins, unused furniture and Christmas decorations.

Percentages of direct aid range from 10.8 percent on the high end to zero on the low … and Project Cure is not the lone zero. Missing children, sick children, children with AIDS, burned firefighters, diabetes, cancer, disabled police officers, they’re all represented here … by parasites who bleed off our warmest feelings for the less fortunate, stealing-by-misrepresentation millions, over the years billions, in scarce money and resources.

Project Cure’s longtime president, Michael S. Evers, is paid about $200,000 a year.

[… ] Reached at the house he rents about five miles away from his group’s office, Evers, 60, said he frequently works from home. “It’s not necessary to go into the office,” he said.

When asked for details about how he spends his time, Evers ended a phone interview, saying he was “in the middle of editing a new report on Alzheimer’s disease.”

Oh shit. Is there enough pain in the world for someone who does something like that? But Evers and others like him sleep well every night, I’m sure of it.

On the other hand, there’s this. King Kong the musical, with a giant gorilla puppet that you just fall in love with.

A Window Into Past Lives

Here’s a video simply titled “England, Edwardian Era around 1900 (enhanced video).” No idea of its provenance, but it was apparently uploaded on May 17, 2011. The caption reads:

This video has been dramatically enhanced in quality, using modern video editing tools. The film has been motion stabilized and the speed has been slowed down to correct speed (from 18 fps to 24 fps) using special frame interpolation software that re-creates missing frames. Upscaling to HD quality was done using video enhancer software.

I have been told that at least part of this film was shot in Cork (Ireland). The music is “Chanson du Soir” and “Arco Noir” from Harvey’s Strings of Sorrow album.

The phrase that ran through my head as I watched it was “Everybody you see here, and everybody who ever knew them, is probably dead.” That may not be strictly true — some of the youngsters in the film probably produced grandchildren, or even children, who are still alive. But it’s mostly true.

It’s a moving piece, for me. I see attractive slim-waisted women, handsome mustachioed men, happy children, and even old people, everyone wearing fantastic hats and all vigorously moving through their days and lives — long-passed days and temporary lives. How many of them are gay? How many are servants of the others? How many would be atheists today if they’d had that choice? Dressed in what would otherwise appear to be costumes, but which are everyday attire for them, they stride busily about, thronging the streets in numbers that make it look as if some special event is happening, but which is probably just everyday street  traffic in their time and place.

I challenge you to count the fat people. I noticed three who might qualify as overweight, but nobody really fat. It may have been thrift with food, but it was most likely the daily exercise required of average people living in their time. There are a certain number of horses and bicycles in the streets, but the vast majority of people are walking, walking, walking.

The Rochet Cars sign surprised me at 1:02 — “Motor Vehicles — Electric, Steam and Petrol System.” Even though there’s an electric car in an engineering museum here in Schenectady from 1917, I still have a hard time thinking of electric cars in earlier times. And steam cars? Isn’t it intriguing that you can’t even get them anymore?

The panoramic shot of the city (how did they get that?) shows air filled with smoke. See if you can catch the wagon sign “Henry O’Shea’s Bread” after the pan.

I love the open looks of curiosity on so many of the people, and how casually they bump into each other in their desire to know more. I wonder just what they were seeing — something like this stilt-legged hand-cranked movie camera?

Heh. Looking at all the horse-drawn vehicles on the streets, I know that if I was dropped back there into that past, with my years of draft horse driving, I could at least find a job.

Then again, maybe I would have been one of the legions of shovelers.


The First Music Video in Space … Rocks.

I know you’ve probably seen this already. But it’s special enough that *I* wanted to put it somewhere permanent. This is so cool it brought tears to my eyes.

Thanks to ISS Commander Chris Hadfield. (Hurrah for Canadian intelligence, talent and bone-deep class!)

Video below:



Beta Culture: Never Doubt the Power of Religion

The basic rationale for establishing Beta Culture is to provide a balancing force against three “social entities” that are the only current avenues into any sort of future.

As I say it: “There’s the future we might WANT, and the future we’re going to GET.”

The future we’re going to get is the one government, business and religion will get us to. You and I might want a cure for Alzheimer’s in ten years, but if government won’t help fund the research, if universities, hospitals, pharma companies and such won’t DO the research, and if religion blocks the research, there will be no cure for Alzheimer’s. Not ever, unless something changes.

Beta Culture would be a fourth social entity  force that would either act directly or act to exert force on the other three, to get us to a livable, likeable future. Think of these entities as boats on an ocean of possibilities. If the only boats we have are THEIR three boats, we will either not get where we want to go, or will arrive on their schedule instead of ours.  But if we had a fourth boat, our own boat, we’d have more of a guarantee of getting to the livable future WE dream of.

Even considering it’s me saying it, I always flinch just a bit when mentioning religion in the same sentence as government and business. Governments and worldwide corporations are the massive, powerful forces that run the world, aren’t they? By contrast, we generally see churches and religion as relatively powerless. We atheists are comfortable laughing at poor, weak, doddering religion, expecting it will die off any day now and leave us free of it.

And yet, here religion is, flexing its muscle, influencing the minds of the public and members of Congress to ignore climate change. From Raw Story:

Belief in biblical end-times stifling climate change action in U.S.

The United States has failed to take action to mitigate climate change thanks in part to the large number of religious Americans who believe the world has a set expiration date.

Research by David C. Barker of the University of Pittsburgh and David H. Bearce of the University of Colorado uncovered that belief in the biblical end-times was a motivating factor behind resistance to curbing climate change.

“[T]he fact that such an overwhelming percentage of Republican citizens profess a belief in the Second Coming (76 percent in 2006, according to our sample) suggests that governmental attempts to curb greenhouse emissions would encounter stiff resistance even if every Democrat in the country wanted to curb them,” Barker and Bearce wrote in their study, which will be published in the June issue of Political Science Quarterly.

David Pakman talks about it.

(Apology in advance: I don’t know how to set this so you’ll only see the first segment, which is the one on global warming. You’ll have to shut the video player down manually at the end, or it will go on to the “bulletproof whiteboard” story and five others.)

We pretty much have to build this fourth boat.