My Conversation with God

I had a conversation with God last night. Really, I did! I was just re-reading through portions of Neale Donald Walsch‘s wildly popular Conversations with God series, and I couldn’t help but wonder how any self-respecting God, if one exists, would allow such lunacy to continue. And, wouldn’t you know it, God responded!

An uncommon dialogue

DB: Son of a bitch, this stuff is giving me a migraine…

God: Hello!!! This is… Gaaawwwwwwwwwwd.

DB: Holy crap, you do exist! Silly me, I thought you were a logical impossibility!

God: Oh, I am an impossibility. Of awesomeness!

DB: But how do I know it’s really you?

God: Well, I can’t really prove anything to you at this point. Maybe it’s really me, or maybe it’s a drug-induced hallucination. And the headcheese hoagie you ate for dinner can’t be helping, either.

God's imageDB: You know–

God: I’m–

DB: Oh, sorry, go ahead.

God: No, no, you spoke first.

DB: I’ve actually had a few burning questions to ask you, now that you’re here. Do you mind?

God: Burning questions are better answered by Satan. Get it?!

DB: Wow… that is just awful.

God: I’m just joshin’ you. Go ahead and shoot away.

DB: You know who Neale Donald Walsch is, right? He has built a multi-million dollar empire from his “Conversations with God” books.

God: Yes, I’ve heard… such things.

DB: Well, was it really you speaking to him? Because, forgive me, but it sounds an awful lot like Walsch’s conversations are between himself and his gigantic ego, instead of a deity like yourself.

God: You’re absolutely right. I’ve never spoken to him in any way, not in print, writing, thoughts, or conversation. He is a dangerous cult leader, and I’m amazed that more and more people keep on feeding his ego trip. You can quote me on that.

DB: Oh, good, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so. It will be interesting to see what my readers think of your opinion on this, o Lord. So, let me ask you this. How can I make a million dollars from this conversation that we’re having right now?

God: It’s simple! People are idiots. I created them that way, because I felt like it. All you have to do is sprinkle this conversation with some positive messages, appeal to their fantasies and desires, and subtly inject your own agenda at your leisure! Tell people that, by just reading this conversation, their lives will improve and become filled with happiness. Also, use words like “Eastern” and “alternative.” Then all you do is sell, sell, sell!!! Write books, have seminars, workshops, retreats, cruises, and charge as much as you want! They’ll pay, and beg for more! Make sure to nickel-and-dime at every turn, so they get used to paying whenever they hear your name. And of course, make sure to copyright everything you do, and insist that you’re the only one with the true message.

DB: Awesome! But what if people’s lives don’t improve from reading this conversation?

God: Tell them it’s their own damn fault. Use an excuse like “you create your own reality” or “you are your own god.” That will shut them up real quick, and give them some much-needed guilt, so they’ll buy even more stuff from you! If they still insist that their lives aren’t changing, wave your hands in the air and tell them that they haven’t “opened their mind” enough, and offer to clear their mind for an additional charge.

DB: Wow, it sounds so simple when you put it like that!

God: I know, right?! Oh, and one more thing. When selling this stuff, you really have to stand out, or no one will notice you. You have to be really flamboyant. I mean extremely flamboyant. Flail your arms around when speaking, and dance around on the stage. Change the emotion in your voice randomly from one sentence to another, just to throw them off.

DB: But what if people accuse me of being a fraud?

God: So what? Just tell them they can believe whatever they want! Maybe you spoke to God, maybe you didn’t! Here’s a good one to throw at them: “we’re all god!” I’m God, you’re God, this rock is God! Did you talk to a rock today? Boom, you talked with God, and I just blew your mind! Is that profound enough for you? How about them apples, Debbie Downer?

DB: Okay, let me give it a try real quick, and tell me if I’ve got it.

God: Alright, let’s see what you’ve got.

DB: [Clears throat] Umm…

Eastern religion… is… awesome. You people are… fantastic. Leading a healthy lifestyle is… great. Come to my workshops and, for $500, I will repeat these platitudes to you!

God: No, no, no, you have to do a lot better than that! First of all, you can’t just ask for money. What are you, a wimp? You have to demand money. You have to make them assume that they need to give you money to get anywhere!

DB: [loosens up] OK, let me try again…

We’re all connected! If you try hard, you can accomplish things in life! Don’t harm animals! America! Sex is good for you! Think about money and it will come to you! You must give me $1200, so that I can show you how to make $500!

God: Ehh… good, not great. Here, take an example from the master. Now watch what I do, and listen closely: I’m just going to speak naturally, and say whatever comes to mind… [Clears throat]

According to the scientifically proven Law of Attraction, which we all know is true, quantum reality can be manipulated by something as simple as your thoughts! Since your consciousness exists both in the physical and spiritual realm, according to scientists, you can consciously use quantum effects like entanglement and superposition, to literally change the world around you. Once you master this simple skill, which we’re all born with, you can attract prosperity, health, love, power, and anything else you want in your life.

At my upcoming workshop, for an introductory fee of $10000, I’ll teach you to channel your life-force energy through scientifically verified quantum field points on your body, allowing you to heal yourself and others, enjoy a better love life, create wealth, and finally be the master of your quantum world. Also, for an additional $200 per 10 minutes, I will hold an attunement session with you, where I will use my mastery of the quantum field to unblock your chakras, one at a time, and re-enable the flow of magneto-electric spiritual energy throughout your body!

…You see? Damn, I’m good! I didn’t even have to think about that! The bullshit just flows so naturally. It’s a gift, really, but you too can learn to talk like this, if you keep practicing.

DB: Wow, I am speechless. I threw up in my mouth a little, but that is just brilliant! God, you’re a genius. Let me just write this all down…

God's imageGod: Well, what did you expect, a retard for a god? Would a retarded god sacrifice himself to himself to atone for the sins of his own creations?

DB: Hmm… why don’t we save that question for a future conversation?

God: Absolutely! Feel free to contact me anytime. You know how to reach me!

DB: Actually, I’m not sure how I reached you. You just started talking to me.

God: Exactly! Cheerioooooo!…

DB: Wait, just one more thing! How can you, in good conscience, allow people like Walsch to continue to do what they do?

God: How am I supposed to do anything when I don’t exist? Jackass.

Money, please!

So there you have it, dear readers, straight from the horse’s mouth. Neale Donald Walsch never had a conversation with anything but his own giant head. I spoke with the real God, as you can plainly see above. So… give me money. Come on, cough it up.

This just in: You create your own reality!

When proponents of pseudoscience talk amongst each other, any doubts about the validity of their claims hardly ever arise. When two pseudoscientists have roughly the same beliefs, they will never question one another, and no attempt to verify their claims will be made. It’s assumed, as a given, that what they believe is real and true.

It’s only when pseudoscientists are confronted by skeptics that they try to cobble together actual pet theories of how their claims can be justified. These theories are usually ad hoc (as in, invented right on the spot), just to get the skeptic off the pseudoscientist’s back. There are, however, certain theories that seem to permeate the pseudoscientific community, and are used universally for all brands of quackery.

One of my favorites is the argument that each of us “creates our own reality.” And that’s not in the weak sense of “our life is what we make of it,” with which I completely agree. It’s in the strong sense that physical reality actually bends to our will in real time! This is reminiscent of the philosophy of solipsism, where all of reality is in the mind of the observer. The pseudoscientists, however, dress up the argument in the usual array of loosely-knit scientific terms hijacked from quantum mechanics, such as taking the idea of quantum entanglement to mean that “everything is connected,” among other nonsense.

To the untrained skeptic, this might seem like a powerful argument. And it is, in most cases, a debate-stopper. I mean, if we all create our own reality, then surely we can create whatever physical laws we like! Skeptics create realities of strict, unchanging physics and lead boring and unfulfilled lives, while pseudoscientists create realities where “anything is possible.” Or so the argument goes. This argument, however, is a debate-stopper for the wrong reason: not because it’s so airtight that it checkmates the skeptical opponent, but because it’s so devoid of meaning that no further discussion can logically continue.

Because of this, the “argument” serves as the foundation for the most weasely excuses for why a quack treatment won’t work on skeptics:

  • My treatment won’t work on you because you created a reality that stops it from working!
  • You have to want the treatment to work. You must open your mind to it.
  • Your skeptical presence in the room will stop the treatment from working.
  • The outcome of the test will be whatever you believe it should be. Your presence will skew the results in your favor.

Poverty of the argument

My contention is that the idea that “we create our own reality” is an empty philosophy, a cowardly withdrawal from reason. It’s intellectually lazy, and ultimately useless as a means of understanding our existence. Allow me to illustrate how I arrived at this with a series of observations and rhetorical questions.

  • If we create our own reality, then why don’t we have intimate knowledge of its innermost workings? For instance, why isn’t everyone endowed with instinctual knowledge of physics? And I don’t mean Newtonian physics, or even quantum physics, but the “true” physics that governs all the fundamental forces and encompasses what quantum mechanics and general relativity only approximate? If we are the architects of our world, surely we should know how it works!
  • On a related note, how is it possible that so many discoveries about our world have been totally counterintuitive, like the roundness of the Earth, heliocentricity, or the curvature of spacetime? If we are the ones who create our world, it would stand to reason that our intuition should naturally guide us towards understanding its nature. And yet, from the most profound breakthroughs in our history, we’ve observed the exact opposite.
  • Taking the above points a bit further, how can there be anything in the world that is “unknown” to me? That is, why am I not omniscient with respect to my reality, since it’s all my creation? For example, how can I be surprised when I taste a certain food for the first time? Why am I awed when I walk into a cathedral I’ve never visited before?
  • If I create my own reality, why are there people in the world who are better than me at various activities? For example, if I pick up and start reading Andrew Wiles’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, there’s a good chance that I won’t understand a word of it. But why is that? If Andrew Wiles and his proof are products of my imagination, then why can’t I understand the proof that my imagination created?

    Because you wanted to create a proof that you couldn’t understand.

    No, I didn’t! Being a world-renowned mathematician was one of my earliest dreams. So why hasn’t that reality been realized?

    Because you created a reality wherein you have to learn and grow in order to understand it.

    If this is the case, then the whole argument becomes an easy candidate for Occam’s Razor. Why would I voluntarily limit my understanding of reality, and then spend my life attempting to rediscover this understanding, while never quite approaching the level of understanding I must have had in order to create reality in the first place?

  • If our understanding of reality is deliberately limited, then attempting to expand our understanding of it would ultimately require cautious use of the scientific method, which is precisely what we do in understanding the real world! It should be apparent that this argument eventually achieves a one-to-one correspondence with plain old realism, albeit in a roundabout way that has emotional appeal for those unwilling to face realism head on.
  • Why is the reality we create imperfect? This boils down to the Problem of Evil, which is ever so inconvenient for believers in omnipotent, benevolent gods. When someone uses the argument that “you create your own reality”, they’re essentially transferring the burden of the problem from God to “you,” since you now become the god of your reality.

    So then why do I, as a god, create a reality that is not perfect? At what point did I decide to create a reality where I’m a common citizen who has to work for a living and deal with the everyday problems of middle-class life? When did I decide to give HIV to a quarter of the population in Africa? And when did I decide to create a vast number of people who delude themselves with imaginary realities and magical thinking, and kill each other over whose beliefs are holier? None of the above creations are things that I ever wanted. And yet they exist.

  • If we create our own reality, then why is reality so difficult to alter? Specifically, why doesn’t reality automatically bend to our will, like the pseudoscientists say it should? If the state of reality is guided by our deepest desires, why doesn’t reality rebuild itself according to what we want at any given time? It seems like the only way to make actual changes to our reality is by doing physical work, or paying someone to do it for us. It almost seems like we have no cognitive control over external elements in our reality!
  • I could go on, but the conclusion will remain the same. No matter how we approach this argument, like any other pseudoscience, it will eventually reduce to absurdity. So, please, next time you hear this nugget of pseudo-reasoning, recognize it for the intellectual poverty it represents, and challenge the speaker with a much-needed dose of skepticism.

The Intention Experiment(s?)

Unknown to me until now, Lynne McTaggart (author of The Field and The Intention Experiment, discussed in my previous post) has apparently been spearheading a series of actual “intention experiments” online. This is done by giving online readers a certain task to “intend” upon, and observing the results.

I found a very interesting discussion thread on the JREF Forum that details the various iterations of McTaggart’s website over the last several months. Apparently, every “intention experiment” promoted by the website is referred to as “the first intention experiment.” When that experiment fails or produces inconclusive data, the next experiment is called the “first,” and so on.

The “experiments” themselves appear to be completely nonsensical. For example, one of the experiments was to measure the emissions of “biophotons” from plants that were being intended to glow by distant observers. According to the website:

Our first experiments examined the alteration in the tiny light — called biophoton emissions — being emitted from living things. We chose to look at this tiny current of light, because it is infinitely more subtle than, say, cellular growth rate.

Of course! Why measure something tangible, when you can measure something “infinitely more subtle”!

The current incarnation of the Intention website doesn’t even brag about the results of the experiments anymore, but instead directs visitors to purchase McTaggart’s books and DVDs, and join an online community that’s reminiscent of some kind of sad, pathetic support group for people who are uncomfortable saying, “won’t you pray for me?”

Here’s an example of the Intention website’s community posts:

…In 2001 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I had a mastectomy & chemo (experimental) that just about killed me. I had a bad reaction that left me with nerve damage and constant bone/joint/muscle stiffness & pain. Last week I had my annual mammogram on the remaining breast. I rec. a letter saying there was a “suspicious” area, so I have to return on 8-8-07 for more films/sonogram. I would really appreciate as many members as possible to send the intent that all will be fine

Wait a minute… for some reason that has a very familiar ring to it. What if we replace the word “intent” with the word “prayer”? Isn’t this the exact same thing?!

Who are they trying to kid? Instead of praying to an invisible supernatural deity, they’re simply praying to an invisible supernatural “field”! Well, I’m afraid the old adage still applies: Nothing fails like prayer.

The non-science of Lynne McTaggart

A friend of mine recommended that I read a book called The Field by Lynne McTaggart, and referred to the subject matter as thought-provoking, if not life-changing. A cursory examination of the book on Amazon.com revealed overwhelmingly positive reviews and similar “life-changing” testimonials. So I obtained The Field for myself, as well as McTaggart’s more recent book, The Intention Experiment.

The moment I read the back cover of The Field, I knew what I was getting myself into:

Science has recently begun to prove what ancient myth and religion have always espoused: There may be such a thing as a life force.

Naturally, I become suspicious of a book that demeans and cheapens science by putting religion on a pedestal, and claiming that “ancient myth” knew something all along that science is just now discovering.

The idea of “uniting science and spirituality” is nothing new. Whenever a new buzzword gets coined in science (especially physics), within a month or so, someone will publish a book relating the buzzword with auras, spirits, energy fields, and how anyone can harness the new buzzword to improve their health, marriage, and credit rating. The hot topic in this case is the zero-point field, or more generally, quantum mechanics.

Essentially, both of McTaggart’s books are opinions on various studies and articles published over the years that, according to McTaggart, show a connection between the will (or “intention”) of the mind, and physical reality. With the logical agility of an acrobat, she concludes that, through the effects of quantum mechanics, it’s possible to influence the world around us using nothing but our intentions, hence the “life-changing” reviews associated with the books.

To begin, it doesn’t help that McTaggart is an “investigative journalist” (instead of, perhaps, a physicist), with no formal training in physics or biology, which are the very subjects she’s writing about.

Nevertheless, McTaggart digs up an impressive handful of studies whose results are certainly curious, as long as we interpret the results the way she wants us to. But then, like most other authors in the genre, she blatantly disregards the vast, overwhelming body of evidence that proves that people do not have psychic powers, that we cannot move objects with our minds, and that we cannot change the world through our intention alone.

Even if we suppose that the results cited by McTaggart are in some way anomalous, there’s no reason to assume that ESP or some other paranormal influence was involved. This kind of assumption would only be made by someone who is predisposed to believe in such things to begin with. A competent researcher would instead look for more plausible factors that may have skewed the results, and inevitably such a factor will eventually be found.

Appeal to Vanity

People like to feel smart. And books like this appeal to this desire. The average casual reader who is intrigued by quantum physics would love to understand the staggering complexity of the science surrounding it. If only there was a shortcut to understanding quantum physics at the same level as the researchers at Cambridge or MIT….

Unfortunately, there is no such shortcut. Anyone who claims to understand quantum mechanics without any formal training is either misinformed, deluded, or has an agenda. Quantum physics is a maddeningly complex subject. It’s quite possibly the most hard-to-understand theory in all of science, ever. To even begin to grasp it, one would require intimate familiarity with graduate-level mathematics (linear algebra, complex analysis, etc), not to mention a very firm grasp of classical physics.

But then, a book like this comes along and suggests that it can make you understand quantum physics in a paragraph! And not just quantum physics, but how it relates to any number of completely unrelated topics. It makes the reader exclaim, “Wow, I can understand quantum physics in a day! Sucks to be the losers who spent so many years actually studying the subject!”

People also seem to like the fuzzy, addictive feeling of “understanding” or “enlightenment,” even if the feeling is completely false and unwarranted. Well, books like this do just that — provide the reader with a feeling of enlightenment without presenting any actual science or any useful information. The best analogy for this would be mental masturbation — tell the readers who are likely to believe this stuff exactly what they want to hear, and they’ll eat it up like candy.

But in the end, after reading this type of book, all the reader “understands” is just a cleverly-worded regurgitation of the same old pseudo-intellectual nonsense that has no bearing in reality. It is certainly not quantum mechanics.

Recall Richard Feynman’s famous quote, “If you think you understand quantum theory, you don’t understand quantum theory.” McTaggart (the investigative journalist) thinks she understands quantum theory.

Taking Analogies Too Far

Now, to be fair, a lot of scientific concepts, including aspects of quantum theory, can be easily explained to a layperson using analogies with commonplace objects and phenomena. But any analogy is liable to be taken a bit too literally.

For example, in electrical engineering it’s a highly useful analogy to compare an electrical circuit to a system of pipes with water. The flowing water is electrical current, a pump is a battery, a one-way valve is a diode, a very thin pipe is a resistor, and a rubber tank is a capacitor. However, if taken too literally, the analogy falls apart. If a pipe cracks, water will leak out of it; this does not happen in an electrical circuit. Also, the motion of water in a pipe is caused by the physical pressure of water molecules on each other; in an electrical circuit, the energy is propagated by fields produced by each electron.

Taking analogies too literally is dangerous, and ultimately paves the way towards pseudoscience and voodoo. As you may have guessed, McTaggart takes quantum analogies to the extreme, and beyond.

The biggest error anyone can make in trying to understand quantum mechanics is to make the extrapolation that, since quantum effects occur on quantum scales, they must also occur on large scales. They don’t!

For example, in quantum mechanics, the position of a particle is defined by a complex wave function, the square of which represents a probability density — the “chance” of finding the particle in a given area of space. A naïve interpretation of this would be that “there’s always a slight chance of finding any particle at any point in the universe.”

As profound as that may seem, it only applies on a quantum scale. It does not mean that something as large as a watermelon, or a baseball, or a blood cell can suddenly blink out of existence and reappear somewhere else in the universe!

Similarly, the concept of quantum superposition refers to the idea that, before a particle is observed, it exists in a “superposition” of possible states, and only “collapses” to a certain state once it’s observed. From this, McTaggart makes the generous extrapolation that, since our mind is “the observer,” we can choose which state something will be in when we observe it, thereby creating our own reality!

And finally, the zero-point field refers to the nonzero energy of pure vacuum, the existence of which is a requirement of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. But just because the zero-point field isn’t fully understood doesn’t mean that it must be the unifying force of all things in the universe (whatever that means)! And it takes an even greater leap of logic to suggest that our intentions (patterns of tiny electrical impulses) can have an effect on the zero-point field anywhere outside of our brain.

Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Pauli, and Planck must all be spinning in their graves — I doubt that any of them intended for their theories to be so grossly misinterpreted and misapplied. There is nothing in quantum theory that states that any quantum effects occur on a macroscopic scale. To state otherwise would be intellectually dishonest.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Here’s where I get a little personal. To an actual scientist, this kind of book is more than just innocent fun and games — it’s actually insulting; it’s a slap in the face to anyone with the slightest scientific background. Some say that religion is the enemy of science — well I think this is way more dangerous than religion. At least religion doesn’t claim to be scientific in nature. But these “theories” go out of their way to show how they’re “backed up” by science!

So then, what should we tell the thousands of children in the war-torn countries of Africa who are dying of starvation and disease? Surely they “wish” for food and medicine every minute of their miserable day; surely they “intend” for a world of love, joy, and prosperity for themselves, so… where is it? Are they not intending hard enough? How can we, in good conscience, even entertain such a despicable idea? McTaggart apparently can. The message in her books is clear: you can intend your world into existence; and if it’s not working, you’re not intending hard enough.

But did McTaggart “intend” her own prosperity into existence? Of course not! She simply wrote a bestseller that happens to appeal to the wants, needs, and fears of suckers gullible enough to buy into it, of which we seem to have an infinitely-renewable supply.

All that The Field and The Intention Experiment boils down to is the age-old quest for the genie in a bottle, or rather the embodiment of human laziness: “you can get whatever you want by wishing for it.” Sadly, this is not how the world works.

Resources

The articles that McTaggart cites in her “amazing” exposition are either studies done by people who already believe in this stuff, or simply articles that talk about actual studies and reinterpret their results as they see fit, much like McTaggart has done, to a second degree.

It’s sufficient to examine just one of McTaggart’s sources to see the quality of data she’s working with:

F. Sicher, E. Targ et al., “A randomised double-blind study of the effect of distant healing in a population with advanced AIDS: report of a small scale study,” Western Journal of Medicine, 1998; 168(6): 356-63

This was a study where 40 patients with advanced AIDS were selected, some of them randomly chosen to receive “remote healing” treatments, while the rest continuing their course of regular treatment. According to the study, subjects who were “healed … acquired significantly fewer new AIDS-defining illnesses,” plus other positive effects, although there were “no significant differences in CD4+ counts” (darn).

Upon reading the abstract of this paper, numerous glaring red flags emerge. The most obvious of these, I think, is that the healers who performed the “psychic healing” were “located throughout the United States during the study,” meaning that the healing was completely uncontrolled.
Furthermore, if the healers and the subjects “never met,” how did the healers know where to direct their “intention for health and well-being”? Did they direct their intention at a photo of the subject? And if so, how does “The Field” know to redirect the intention from the photo to the real person? Wouldn’t this be a line of bullshit that’s even crazier than McTaggart is willing to push?

Curiously enough, there is a note from the editor of the Western Journal of Medicine (Linda Hawes Clever) at the top of the paper:

…Does the paper prove that prayer works? No. The authors call for more research, as do we and the reviewers, for a number of reasons. We note that the study was relatively short and analysed rather few patients. No treatment-related mechanisms for the effects were posited. The statistical methods can be criticized….

We can tell from the editor’s tone that she was being charitable by publishing this paper in her journal, and inserted her note to avoid embarrassment. If studies like this are the “definitive evidence” that McTaggart uses to support her claims, then her theories don’t have a leg to stand on.

Return to Reality

On the other end of the spectrum (the rational one), here is a brief list of studies that I have found that show conclusively that prayer, intentions, and “distant healing” do not work, as well as papers that show why studies attempting to measure effects from prayer are fundamentally suspect:

…but what do I know.

More Tachyon Energy

A while ago I posted a couple of articles about Tachyon Energy, which is a relatively new development in the “field” of new-age self healing pseudoscience. I had hoped that this would be just a negative blip on an otherwise upward trend towards rationality and reason among the general population. Of course I was mistaken — interest in Tachyon products is strong as ever, and the Tachyon distributors are continuing to diversify their products in more shapes, sizes, and colors.

Recently I communicated with a gentleman from Germany by the name of Samvado Gunnar Kossatz, who is apparently a noted Tarot Card enthusiast, having published his own set of Tarot cards. Mr. Kossatz claims that Tachyon products helped to completely alleviate his back pain, as well as keep him free of back pain for almost ten years.

Mr. Kossatz has revealed to me that he will conduct a series of experiments to test the efficacy of various Tachyon products (using his own funds, no less)! This certainly piqued my curiosity; I invite everyone to keep track as these tests proceed. I hope that Mr. Kossatz performs the tests in an unbiased, scientific manner, in spite of his conviction that Tachyon products healed him many years ago.

His test protocols can be accessed here. Unfortunately, the protocols are in German, as I’m sure the test results will be. I will try to post translations of relevant portions as time permits. According to his page, the tests should be completed by September 12. This may prove to be quite interesting.