Sunday, August 27, 2006

Subjective Universe

Well, I got sick of the general lack of results that my silly objectivist worldview was getting me, so I took Steve's suggestion and started adopting a subjectivist mentality! The results have been outstanding! For instance, I saw this video on and got all inspired to practice my psychic skills. I tried and tried and tried and nothing happened. Then I tried one last time and was able to produce this video:

Actually, that's not exactly how it happened. First, I saw the video and thought, "Gee, that looks an awful lot like a magic trick I learned in high school." Then I set up said magic trick and filmed it. And unlike the sample video I do it with the top of the glass in full view. Of course, psipog, the investigatory powerhouse that it is, states on the media page:
Everyone knows that videos and pictures can be faked - please do not go around saying how you think something was faked, there are literally hundreds of ways to fake the files below. With that said; they aren't fake. But draw your own conclusions.

Okay, so my conclusion? They're fakes. By the way, the music in the video is relevant to this post. First person to name the song in the comments section wins my love and respect. Matt's probably most likely to get it.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rifftrax: Fifth Element and More!

Mike Nelson has been busy over at rifftrax and has just released his take on The Fifth Element along with Star Trek V: The Undiscovered Country!  Go download it now!


The Church of Steve Pavlina

Update: I've been conversing with Steve via email (my initiation, not his...I point that out because I don't want to give the impression that he is being critical of any of this article). He's decided to not submit himself to the JREF challenge (he points to this blog entry for his reasoning), but has provided some more background information on the college graduation. Apparently, he graduated from CSUN with his double major, and served as President of the Association of Shareware Professionals in 2000. I've informed him that any proof he (or anyone else) provides for the claims I bring up in this article will be posted. My goal here is to seek the truth in this matter. The article will stand as originally written with new evidence appearing in updates such as this.

One of the sites that I read quite frequently is lifehacker. I think it's a great site with lots of cool software, tips, and tricks that are great ways to maintain organization, simplify processes, and generally learn about interesting things. Lots of great DIY projects to suck up free time as well.

One of the core sites that they seem to refer back to again and again is Steve Pavlina's weblog. They've featured articles on how he works, how he gave up coffee, and how he gets up early, among others. Steve is a bit of a productivity, self-improvement guru, who has taken a whole host of self-help, feel-good, nonsense from a variety of sources, rolled it together, repackaged it, and made it his own.

Via lifehacker, I kept getting sucked into poking around Steve's website and finding myself amazed at the outrageous claims that he would make. He is, as lifehacker describes him, a "prolific productivity writer and entrepreneur." On his site he describes himself as "intensely growth oriented," and his website is subtitled as "Personal Development for Smart People".

The Mythology of Steve
Steve makes some pretty wild claims about his life, many that I find hard to believe. For instance, he claims, through the application of incredible focus and discipline, to have graduated from college with a double major in a mere three semesters! He claims to have taken 30+ hours a semester, worked a full-time job his last year, and served as the head of the local computing organization, while maintaining a 3.9 GPR and having adequate time to socialize, do errands and housekeeping duties as well. While all of this was going on he, "continued reading time management material and applying what [he] learned, but [he] also devised some original ideas."

He also talks about triaging course work and refusing to do assignments, not showing up to classes he thought were worthless, and a whole host of far-fetched ideas that sound great on the surface, but definitely don't seem applicable if you intend to get a 3.9+ GPR. He then goes on to give conflicting advice, like, "During one of these sacred time blocks, do nothing but the activity that's right in front of you," only to be followed by "the best way I know to keep up is to multitask whenever possible." He caveats this by saying that multitasking should not be used where it will "degrade performance," but it should be used on low level tasks. But then he goes on to talk about taking advantage of dead class time and working on other class assignments during boring lectures, and also instantly memorizing all material presented the first time through.

All of this advice on the surface, by itself, sounds like it should be plausible to implement. But it fails in the same way that most self-help fails; it's full of non-actionable platitudes. For instance, how do I go about determining which classes to blow off and which to attend, at the beginning of a semester when I know nothing about the teacher, their exam preferences, or even the skill level of the rest of the class (which determines the grade curve)? How do I instantly memorize new material the first time through so I don't have to read outside of class? These are just a few instances of a series of problems like this.

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
On the surface the list of accomplishments sounds impressive (the college thing being just one of them). However, there is no evidence of any of this being true. Steve claims to make about $9000/month from his website via ads, donations, and other services, and claims that it is not his only source of income. There is no proof of this other than his word. How about a scan of a few monthly Google Ad-Sense checks? Or a tax return for the web business if it's broken out into a separate company?

Even if he doesn't want to publish his income figures, how about backing up some of the other claims? A college transcript would be a good start, since that usually breaks down what semesters you took what courses. Even the name of his college where he got his degrees would be helpful. How about one of those "glowing letters of recommendations" he received from his professors, or even a copy of his "student of the year" award that he mentions? At this point, anything would be a good start.

Pavlina provides nothing other than his word, which becomes more and more suspect as you stroll through the site.

Multiple Sources of Income
One of the many sources of income that Pavlina taps into is his wife, Erin's, "intuitive reading services." For $45 you can email Erin up to three questions, along with a photo, and she will use her psychic abilities to answer them. My first question is, why do you need a photo? For $90 you can talk to Erin for 20-30 minutes over the phone and she will provide intuitive readings in which she can give you more in-depth information and allow you to ask follow-on questions. Her specialty is helping you see "where you're at on your life path and where your guides would like you to be going." Steve claims to have these abilities as well, but decided not to pursue it as a career himself. Something about spirit guides telling him it wasn't his destiny or something.

As is common with the self-help gurus, Steve and his wife have bought into and promote a wide variety of psychic nonsense, from intuitive readings, psychokinesis, astral projection, herbal remedies, qi gong, communication with the dead, lucid dreaming, and intention manifestation (if you think it, it will come).

The Death of Skepticism?
All of this nonsense has been getting more apparent on the personal productivity site that Steve runs. He details the results of a spirituality seminar he and his wife attended and then explains why his wife has started charging for her services. His recent articles "The Death of Skepticism" and "The Law of Attraction" are examples of more of this woo-wooism.

I was quite amazed by the "Death of Skepticism" post. Being an unabashed skeptic myself, and being a living being, I have to say, "reports of my death have been greatly exagerrated." Once I got over the shock of the title, I read through the article and was absolutely amazed at the shoddy thinking rampant throughout. I've dissected it below because I think it's a decent example of faulty logic.

Pavlina starts out by saying:

Skepticism is the mindset that says, “I’ll believe it when I see it… and even then I’ll still have doubts.”

This is a straw-man argument, essentially Pavlina redefines skepticism so that it will be easier to attack and argue against convincingly. In truth, skepticism is the belief that knowledge is obtained through observation, testing, and the gathering of empirical evidence (data points), and drawing conclusions from that evidence. You ignore things like what you see, hear, or feel, and pay attention to what you can measure and record. People tell stories, see false patterns, and hear strange noises and draw erroneous conclusions all the time.

The best example of how a skeptic operates I can give is one of Bayesian probability. If I flip a coin without letting you examine it and I flip heads, do you instantly think I have a two-headed coin? Probably not.

What if I flip 3 heads in a row? You're probably still not worried.

What about 25 heads in a row? Not impossible, but improbable enough that you'd want to examine the coin. Closely.

You would not, without examining the coin, publish an article about how the laws of probability are bunk, or the person tossing the coin is controlling the coin with his mind, or how the coin toss is affected by life affirmations! But that is essentially what Steve is doing when he talks about the effects of his lucid dreaming, his thought channeling, and all the other nonsense he goes on about.

He goes on...
The basic idea of skepticism is that you should doubt that for which you’ve seen little or no evidence. Apparently it’s cool to be a doubter these days. Plus it’s always easy to poke holes in someone else’s beliefs from the outside looking in. Pavlina attacks the establishment and uses the Underdog Fallacy to gain sympathy. Those cold, unfeeling scientists with their instruments and test tubes can't possibly have the requisite positive spiritual energy alignment to see what I've seen. How can they comprehend the grandeur of the universe? By implying that it's cool to be a doubter (he provides no evidence of this one way or another), he is insinuating that the popular vote is not always the right vote. This is absolutely correct, but it's also not always the wrong vote, either. As a matter of fact, popularity has nothing to do with truth one way or the other.

The problem with most skeptics though is that they don’t take skepticism far enough. If you want to be a true skeptic, then you also need to be skeptical about skepticism.

Fair enough. Let's get skeptical about skepticism. What has skepticism given us? Well, for one it's allowed us to understand basic principles of physics, which has allowed us to put a man on the moon. It's allowed us to understand the underlying principles of genetics, and do pre-natal screens for diseases like Down's Syndrome, it's given us vaccines to cure diseases like smallpox, and drug cocktails that are helping people with AIDS and a whole host of other great things. Furthermore, it's given us a framework to determine if some of the traditional remedies like homeopathy, magnet therapy, psychic communion, feng shui, numerology, and chiropracty actually work. It's also helped us analyze newer types of psuedoscience like perpetual motion and alien abduction to see whether these things are true. We can look at the statistics behind psychic surgery and determine whether it's effective. Same thing with reflexology and magnet therapy. How about the power of prayer? Yup, we can measure that too.

So now that we're done being skeptical about skepticism, let's turn the same critical eye on things Steve endorses. Studies on life affirmations and goal setting? Turns out the only study these gurus refer to over and over turns out to be a myth.

If the universe was truly influenced by my thoughts, but I believed it wasn’t, then I’d be using subjectivity to manifest objectivity. So I had to know – was the universe really objective, or was I manifesting the illusion of objectivity in a subjective universe?

Unfortunately, testing for subjectivity is an oxymoron. You can’t actually test for a subjective universe.

Actually, you can, and it's really easy to do. Simply take a survey of a large enough sample of people and have them make intentions, or pray, or consult psychic advisors and compare their results to people who don't do this stuff and measure their results against people striving for the same goals and not praying, etc. A simple test like a series of coin flips should be sufficient. You'll find what the rest of us have found, random chance is a much better predictor than any intentions you may have.

The whole idea of testing implies doubt, and doubt will corrupt the test if the universe really is subjective
By this logic, subjectivity would appear to be a waste of time anyway. If the universe is truly subjective, than all physical laws should be able to be repealed at a moment's notice provided the will directing them is strong enough. By this same extension, it should logically follow that the stronger subjective will would win in a contest of two subjective universe participants with diametrically opposed intentions. In short, if you and I flip a coin and I will it to be heads and you will it to be tails, the stronger will should prevail in a subjective universe. So if a subjective universe proponent goes up against an objective universe proponent in an experimental test, the one who has the most will should win. In short, subjectivites should be influencing the tests in their favor. The negative naysayers should be getting proved wrong time and again, because they're not intentionally manifesting anything. Even if they were, I've got to imagine the chi-wielding, feng shui focusing, psychic communing powerhouses of the world would be shutting them down. But they don't. Ever. No controlled study has ever been done that has found in favor of a subjective universe where intentions can be manifested through thought alone. So this means either the universe is objective, or it's subjective and all us objectivites are putting a perpetual aura of objectivism out there that's precluding all attempts of subjectivity anyway. Sorry to be harshing your mellow, Steve! But either way, for all intents and purposes the universe becomes objective!

Ultimately skepticism is rooted in fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of being gullible. Fear of living foolishly.
This is an appeal to sympathy. You don't want to live in fear, do you? Skepticism is full of fear. Don't believe in skepticism!

Actually, I find skepticism to be incredibly enlightening and fascinating. We have the capability to split atomic particles; we live in a universe where an incredibly complex strand of amino acids plays a major role in determining our height, weight, eye color, and even our daily emotions and responses, and replicates millions of times a day without error due to basic universal principles; where simple processes of natural selection and evolution have led to the rise of a wide diversity of life, from humans to wasps that make cockroaches into zombies.

I personally find this much more satisfying than the concept that putting my sofa in a different corner of my living room will align my spirit energy. Or the crazy notion that angels sit on my shoulder and whisper thoughts into my head.

I would think that if I believed in a subjective universe, and the universe was really objective, then my ability to function should decrease.

This statement is erroneous on so many levels. Putting the argument from incredulity aside, the most obvious problem is that it is drawing a false premise. If the universe is objective, and I believe in a subjective world-view, than I should make mistakes that should hinder my success. The last part of the sentence doesn't follow from the first. Logically, it's a non-sequitur. Being wrong does not denote failure to achieve goals implicitly, you could have a string of good luck, you could be doing things that are beneficial in both a subjective and objective universe. Certain things, like hard work, for example, can be beneficial in both instances. Also, people win in Vegas all the time. Most just don't have much luck making a career out of it.

Or you could do what most self-help gurus do and redefine failure as postponed success, and claim that the failure made you grow into some future success that will come down the pipe. For example, Tony Robbins gave relationship advice about how to maintain a committed relationship that was full of passion, love, and romance. Then, he got a divorce and claimed that now that he had gone through the pain of a divorce and the success of finding a new life partner he was truly ready to give people the final word to create a really successful relationship full of passion, love, and romance. Same goes for Wayne Dyer. It's a classic case of heads I win, tails you lose.

Finally, your subjective worldview could cause you to make money in an objective world off people by convincing them to pay you for your brand of nonsense. But really, when you factor in all the self-help drivel that Steve is paying to read, all the seminars he attends dealing with angels, and psychic friends, and magical spirits, and the like, he IS coming out behind. That is lost income, lost time, and lost effort that could be put to more productive use elsewhere.

Steve then goes on to outline his "intelligent alternative to skepticism." Since he's done so well in redefining skepticism for his own uses earlier in the article, he continues doing so.
A skeptic is concerned about the probabilities of success vs. failure in any endeavor. For example, before a skeptic starts his/her own business, lots of questions must be answered to alleviate fear and doubt. How well are other people doing in this industry? Do I have enough money? How will I support myself? What if it doesn’t work? Am I good enough? What are my chances of success?
My experience with skeptics is that they are less concerned with success or failure and more concerned with truth versus fantasy. Plenty of skeptics have businesses. Einstein wasn't particularly concerned with popularity, neither was Richard Feynman. As for business enterprises, Harry Houdini, James "The Amazing" Randi, and Penn & Teller have all had successful careers and would be what one could define as entrepreneurs by the classic definition. They weren't too concerned with failure when they started with no money, many times performing shows on the streets for a few dollars while they were establishing themselves.

An Open Challenge to Mr. Pavlina
It is quite possible that Mr. Pavlina and his wife are sincere in their beliefs that they have these amazing psychic gifts despite the fact that these types of phenomenon have never been manifested under controlled experimental conditions. Ever.

Another of Steve's main interests is the $1 Million Experiment. Essentially, you sign on for free and then use daily affirmations to, as Napoleon Hill would say, "think and grow rich." The end goal is for everyone who signs up to manifest their way to $1 million dollars, including Steve. Think of it as a combination of Stuart Smalley and Dave Chappelle; "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggone it, I'M RICH BEEYOTCH!"

Well, I've got a great way for Pavlina to fulfill his $1 million manifestation, put the final nail in the coffin of skepticism, and prove these psychic gifts exist. The JREF Million Dollar Challenge! That's right Steve, for a measly couple of hours of your time, you and your wife can undertake a controlled experiment, with a previously agreed upon protocol, put your psychic abilities to the test and walk out with a cool million bucks for your trouble. Not bad, huh? Here's what you need to do to apply.

By the way, if Steve gets another chance to talk to Sylvia Browne again, he may want to ask her how she's coming along on getting ready to take the JREF Million Dollar Challenge. Then again, he may want to keep quiet since she might get to the prize money before he or his wife does. But I doubt it.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Criss Angel is totally Mindfreaked over this!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Overheard in the Office

To paraphrase Bill Cosby, "Adults say the darnedest things." via []


Already Slackin'

Less than a month after I promise to post more, I already start slacking.  I have excuses in spades tho.  Audrey and I both got food poisoning last week and were put out of commission for a day and a half.  Then I had to get caught up at work before the end of the week which killed the rest of my free time.

Finally, Audrey's left out of town and Sean and I are home alone at the "bachelor-pad".  Unfortunately, Sean's not at the age where he can appreciate our low-estrogen situation so he makes me spend most of my nights trying to put him to sleep.  Normal activity shall resume mid-week (hopefully).

In the meantime check out the Daily Show take on Social Networking.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

For those of you who have cable and get the FX channel, you should make it a point to watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  This show is the best parts of Seinfeld, Arrested Development, and Cheers all rolled into Danny DeVito.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Beauty of Capitalism

As many of my friends can attest, I am an unabashed fan of all things quirky, offbeat, and off-message.  In short, I am drawn to social train-wrecks of all sorts.  In college, I would run home from class to watch Jerry Springer every day.  I went to Nuevo Laredo to buy a glittery, silver-painted Buddha, because of course, nothing screams Mexican culture like a 2 ft. tall, ceramic Buddha in glitter paint.  So when we were in Cancun and my sisters came back from the market and claimed that a large percentage of the tourist T-shirts had nothing to do with Mexico, Cancun, the beach, or tourism in general, I was intrigued.

Venturing down to the market, I laid eyes on what I would consider the penultimate achievement of capitalism and free markets.

The Front
T-Shirt FrontThe front of the shirt is innocuous enough,  It reads, "Guess Who Just Got A New Daddy" and has a picture of a blond haired face in some sort of helmet/goggle combo.  Could be that the man has become some sort of father-figure, and the back will have one of those Tequila Rage/Stupid Teen/Spring Break/ "Girls Gone Wild" type quips on the back.  Only upon closer inspection do you realize that the man looks like a real bad caricature of George "Dubya" Bush.  What does Dubya have to do with Spring Break, Cancun, or Mexico, you ask?  Other than some questions about how he spent his youth, I have no idea.  Let's turn the shirt over and find out.

The Back
Flipping the shirt over, we discover that it is a picture of...I need to emphasize this so you can truly appreciate the awesomeness of it all...GEORGE BUSH IN MILITARY GARB GIVING SADDAM A SPANKING WHILE OSAMA LOOKS ON FORLORNLY FROM THE DISTANCE! Aside from the gratuitous asses depicted since both Saddam and Osama have their pants off, I have no idea what this has to do with Cancun.  I especially like the hand prints on the rumps of the "bad guys" and the "stars of liberty pain" emanating from their posteriors.  Just to let you know that "Dubya" is a tough, but fair, disciplinarian.

The Burning Question
What kind of person dreamt up this shirt?  Was it a Mexican with a US-type streak of patriotism?  What made them think there was a market for a shirt like this?  Of course, I HAD to pick one up!  I only wish I had it in time for 4th of July!  What a conversation starter!

Imagine, me at an Independence Day BBQ talking to some random person about my shirt:
RANDOM PERSON: So, I see by your shirt that you support the war in Iraq?
ME: Actually, I support spanking as a form of international discipline.
ME: I also support being a daddy!  I think there's not enough love in this world.  Want to see pictures of my son?

Ahh...good times, good times.