Amazing fMRI “Study” Not What It Seems

The following was originally posted on MJC (February 2014), and I felt that it should probably survive the demise of that blog since it clears the air on a topic many find important.

Did you see headlines like this over the last few days?  “The Woman Who Can Will Herself Out Of Her Body” or “Scientists unlock mystery of out-of-body experiences (aka astral trips)”, or even “Out-of-body experiences are the result of unusual brain activity, study claims”?

If you just read the headline and not the linked articles, you might have gotten the wrong impression.  Actually, even if you did read the article you may still have gotten it mixed up, but that’s not really your fault.

All three of those headlines, and a host of others, refer to a “study” published 10 February, 2014 in the science magazine Frontiers, titled Voluntary out-of-body-experience, an fMRI study.[1]  The story broke via a Popular Science Magazine article by Douglas Main, titled The Woman Who Can Will Herself Out Of Her Body.

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What is – and isn’t – AI?

The following is an excerpt from the book I’ve been working on for the better part of a year.  I may or may not finish it (as is both my prerogative and my style), but recent discussions elsewhere have prompted me to post this here, for the time being.

AI-lowres-300x285What it is:

Artificial Intelligence is a complicated topic, and as such the pursuit of Artificial Intelligence is equally complicated.  A complicated pursuit of complexity, one could say.  So what then is Artificial Intelligence?

It does us little good to provide a single definition, as there are many.

  1. The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
  2. An area of computer science that deals with giving machines the ability to seem like they have human intelligence.
  3. The capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.

Or, from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence: “the scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their embodiment in machines.”

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10 Answers A Creationist Doesn’t Want To Hear

[Originally posted on on February 18, 2011]

051111_darwin_portrait_02This afternoon I stumbled upon yet another poorly written creationist diatribe, touting a singular ability to refute the brilliant scientific minds of the last three centuries of enlightenment.  Every time I read one of these idiotic monologues, it strikes me that the author has less knowledge of the subject for which they treat than an infant does calculus.

Anyway, this particular piece issued a challenge, it requested that “evolutionists” review the 10 questions he or she had posted in the body of the article, which are supposed to be definitive proof that “evolution is stupid”.  And since I’m a huge supporter of remedial science for the illiterate, I thought I’d give it a go.  The questions are listed above my answers in order as they appear on Breaking The Presidium[1].

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Atheism and Forteana are NOT Incompatible

atheist_concreteI get asked on a fairly regular basis how I can be passionate about and spend much of my time studying Forteana, whilst being a baby-eating atheist.

I wanted to take this opportunity to answer this once and for all, and to clear up a few glaring and common misconceptions.

Atheist: noun – A person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.

It’s a pretty simple definition, but for whatever reason, most people you meet can’t understand it.  To lay it out in the simplest terms I can, it means simply that I don’t believe in God (any of them).  Now, that isn’t me redefining the word to fit my agenda.  That is, in fact, the only thing is has ever meant.

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My Response to Sharon Hill’s Call for Help

Sharon HillThe following is a response to Sharon Hill, noted Skeptic and voice of reason in the community of paranormal research, Forteana, and fringe science.  She is my friend, and my colleague, and she has asked for any and all opinions regarding the future of organised Skepticism.

It’s been said of atheists that organising them is like herding cats.  I’m hesitant to conflate atheism with skepticism – as many others have done – but it can’t be denied that there are certain personality traits the two groups share.  Independent thought, reason, a penchant for evidence and the scientific method, etcetera.

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Learned Associations Between Music and Emotion: A Theory?

music-notesIn this post, I’m going to tackle a topic for which I have little real knowledge, but a deep curiosity and one particular question for which I’m unable to find a satisfying answer.

I’ll begin by recounting the story of a conversation I had with a very close friend several months ago. Continue reading

From a book I almost wrote…a lifetime ago

apple-gravityWhere would we be without Sir Isaac Newton?  Well, probably right where we are, we’d just be a little worse off is all.  Where would we be without gravity?  Better yet; what would we be without gravity?  This would be very different indeed.  Gravity defines life on earth; it binds us to our planet and binds our planet to its position in the solar system.  It also binds our sun in its position relative to the rest of the universe, even though that position is ever changing; gravity is what makes everything make sense for us.  It is a constant in our universe (though cutting edge science is beginning to refute that idea) and it dictates what we can and can’t do.

It governs our weight, relative to our atmosphere, it provides the means to assign a value to mass, and in fact it was the first invisible phenomena of our universe to be detected, categorized and measured.  In essence, gravity is the reason we’re here at all. Continue reading