I've had Heaving Dead Cats for some time now, and I think it's time to at least take a break, or perhaps even draw to a close.

EDIT: I'm not really drawing to a close, I'm just making some changes.

I'm very sorry to do this, as I care about the mission of this blog greatly, but for several different reasons (which probably aren't interesting), I think the best thing to do is say goodbye. 

EDIT: As of now, find HDC on Facebook  for a continuation. I am keeping up on there with interesting quotes and anything else that inspires me. :)

Keep up the good fight, my friends. It's definitely worthwhile to spread Reason far and wide. I'm sorry I have to change the format but hopefully the Facebook page will be a good venue to have a conversation instead of me pontificating on here. I look forward to seeing you over there. 


Feel free to email me or leave comments below with any questions, etc.

Good is Good

In the past, I've argued, like many atheists, against the appalling morals of the bible. Even the new testament has immoral acts being promoted in it. The first that comes to mind is that the only way God could help us poor sinful creatures (who were created by him, obviously imperfectly) was to have his son sacrificed. Seriously, is that really the best this barbaric god could come up with? Couldn't he find a better way to fix his mistakes? But I digress.

See, it's really easy to tear the bible apart with logic, a basis in good morality, reason, critical thinking and basic skepticism.

But what about the morals of actual Christians? Where do those morals come from - the Bible or elsewhere? If you ask a Christian they will say it all comes from the bible.

Certainly if you are a fundamentalist and you think the bible is the inerrant word of God, and you don't eat pork or shellfish, you think homosexuality is an abomination, you only wear one type of fabric at a time, you think owning slaves is fine as long as they come from other tribes, then you would think of yourself as a "good" Christian.

I would beg to differ. I'm talking about people who are genuinely good. So what defines a good person? I think there are two factors:

  • Someone who attempts to make the lives of others better - The Golden Rule (should also include animals and the environment)
  • Someone who purposefully does not negatively affect others - The Silver Rule

The Future of Skepticism

I was listening to an old podcast - Episode 231 - of the SGU yesterday, and a listener asked a question about the future of skepticism.

So first, have we gotten more skeptical?

Jay thinks we have, overall. Our science has progressed a great deal. And our ability to get information with the internet is so much more profound now. But the number of people who believe in woo hasn't gone down.

Rebecca is very optimistic. It's not necessarily about the number of people who believe in weird things, but that we are neutering superstitions and myths and turning them from something dangerous into something that is just a pastime for the wealthy.

There's still a tremendous amount of work to go when it comes to dangerous pseudoscience and superstition, but in general we're doing OK. Our scientific knowledge is growing, and will continue to grow into the forseeable future.

Bob can see it going either way. Skepticism has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 20 years or so, but irrational beliefs have also grown. We'll never get rid of superstitious belief, but in the future it could be marginalized to a degree we haven't seen. But it could also totally go nuts, totally descending into superstition. As science gets more and more complicated and technological, I could see people just giving up on it, and treating it like a religion, that it's so complicated that you have your "techno-priests" that nobody can understand. Who knows if they're telling the truth.

My God!

... it's full of stars! (did I just date myself?)

Almost every culture on the planet has created gods, probably since the beginning of human consciousness. It seems like it's a natural process, to try to explain things they don't or can't understand, to have a parental figure to keep people in line, and to watch over them, etc.

There are common threads with many gods, such as immortality. But usually the individual traits of a god are made in the image of the humans imagining it. 

So here is my question to you. If you were to create a new god, what would it be like? Assume that the god you'd create would be one you'd like. 

Here is the god I'd make, at the moment. I'm sure this will change once I get some good ideas from all of you. 

Swearing and Getting Angry

I was talking to my friend Jeff today about swearing. He doesn't swear at all. Ever. On the other hand, I swear like a pirate at times. He's never really explained why he doesn't swear but he did today and I thought it was interesting.

His observation many years ago was that when someone swears a lot, no one listens to them. I wonder, do you think this is true?

I thought about it and realized that when I really want to be listened to, I refrain from any bad language. I also don't swear when I'm trying to be courteous, which is common. 

So for instance, when I'm out in public in mixed company, at a meeting, doing something business related, or with most of Butch's family, I clean up my language. If I'm trying to make a point or explain something, I also usually refrain from rude language.

But when I'm relaxed among friends, I am more apt to use the bad language. To me, they are just words, using the same letters as any other. I think of it as a vestige of religion to say that some letter combinations are taboo.

I think if you want to express something strongly, a good swear word usually does the trick. For instance, if I stub my toe, research has found that if I swear it actually reduces my perception of the pain. This only works if I am not a complete potty-mouth all the time, though.

I've heard some say that swearing shows a lack of intelligence, but I don't think that's necessarily true. I think if you swear profusely all the time, and don't express anything beyond coarse vulgarity in the full content of your speech, then yes, it shows a lack of intelligence - and class.

But I think if you save your profanity for appropriate situations, then there shouldn't  be anything wrong with it. You're just using the full breadth of the language.

High Treason

When I was a kid, we ate the same basic meals all the time. I was a picky eater, but my mom was good in the kitchen and she taught me how to cook at an early age.

I left home when I was 14 (There's a point to all this reminiscing, I'm getting there.) and had to learn to eat slightly different foods, but basically I was the cook so I could keep making the same things as I grew up with.

When I was in my early 20's I was living very close to my mom again, and we started having Sunday dinners together. My mom made a cabbage stew which I had always loved, so I asked her to make it one week.

Imagine my shock and horror when I took a big bite and it tasted drastically different than my memory! It wasn't what I had expected at all. While I wasn't mad, I did find myself upset, and I felt a little betrayed. How could she ruin it like that?

Turns out she had learned from her previous husband to add a can of V-8 juice to the recipe. Well, my tender taste buds thought that was a really bad idea. I don't think I ate any of the offending stew.

Why would I feel betrayed? I've been thinking about it. We form memories and attachments to certain smells and tastes. Taste and smell seem to get locked in.

For example, I went outside yesterday and that distinctive spring rain smell was in the air. You probably know it. It's really clean and fresh. I used to think it was ozone but I heard on The Naked Scientists that it's actually spores released by the rain into the air. That smell makes me feel optimistic and happy, maybe because Spring is my favorite time of year.

It seems that my mood can be changed by what is in the air, especially when it involves food. If it evokes good memories, like pumpkin pie or cookies baking in the oven, it's just the best thing ever. I guess that's what people call Comfort Food -  stuff that evokes good memories.

I thought it was interesting that it seemed like high treason for my mom to just change her age old recipes. We had many discussions after that regarding food. I wanted to make sure she would make her pumpkin pies exactly like she used to, or not put anything funny in the mashed potatoes.

Bless her heart, she never tried to make the cabbage stew with V-8 juice again, when I was there. Now I live far away again, but every holiday season, I make sure to ask her how she is making the sweet potatoes. I don't tolerate insurrection lightly!

Do you have any foods that you need and expect to taste a certain way, especially if made by your mother/father/grandmother/etc? Has a parental figure ever changed the way they made a food suddenly? If so, did you find it discomfiting? Or am I just overly sensitive?

Consensual Reality

I have heard from quite a number of people over the past couple of years, this idea that "you can't know anything" therefore it's all meaningless. Usually people throw that sort of concept out without ever explaining it. It sounds nihilistic, doesn't it? I've heard this from a philosophy professor, but also from normal people who don't seem to be able to explain what they are saying. Often it seems reactionary.

I've always had a problem with this school of thought, but I've never been able to really wrap my head around why, and what I thought was the more accurate way to look at the world.

But lately, I've formed this idea of reality that I thought I'd share with you. I've never taken a philosophy class, so excuse me if it sounds silly.

Ok, if I say "finger", most of us on the planet know what I am talking about. You can lift your finger triumphantly in the air and waggle it about. You can touch your keyboard with it. Even babies can learn what a finger is and how to use it to pick their noses and do other fun things.

Language helps us form a consensual reality. This reality is basically universal. For instance, I can say "love" and translate that into Japanese, and a Japanese person can get the general idea of what I am talking about. If I form a sentence, "I love my child", that other person on the other side of the planet can relate to that statement and agree or disagree.

Consensual reality has often been explained as "if enough people believe something, then it's real." This is not necessarily true. For instance, most people believe in a deity, but there is no evidence of anything supernatural, so most people are probably wrong. But just about everyone knows that water is wet, and they are correct.

I'm an Evangelist

This picture and quote from the Dalai Lama was put on my Facebook wall by a future relative who we will call Rachel.

Now, considering our mildly confrontational Facebook exchanges in the past, I felt chided and I admit I got a bit defensive in the conversation that unfolded.

I won't bore you with the whole exchange, but here is the key point she made:

Rachel: ..."It basically says that changing the beliefs of others and judging the Life Path of others is not your duty or responsibility, just as it is no one's duty or responsibility to change YOUR beliefs or judge YOUR Life Path. When one makes a mission out of converting others to their way of thinking, they become a missionary... an extremist. And no one likes an extremist. Live and let live!"

Now, I certainly felt she was accusing me of being a missionary for atheism, and therefore an extremist. Which of course, is faulty logic. (I believe that's the slippery slope) In other words, she's saying if I talk about my atheism to try to change another's beliefs, I am an atheist missionary which means I am automatically an extremist. It's excluding the middle and saying if you do it at all, you go to the Extreme! (you have to shout the word extreme like you are in a commercial for the WWE)

I'm glad she posted this picture and said that to me because it helped me to clarify how I go about interacting with people. First, I do not go onto the walls of other people on Facebook and foist my worldview onto them. I do not engage with people unless they come to me first and start the conversation.

If Only It Were True

I live under a (nice mossy) rock, so I am pretty slow to hear about things that are all the rage. During the Superbowl, we were at a restaurant with TVs. (Unfortunately I saw a bit of Half Time and have had Madonna singing "Like a Prayer" in my head ever since... gah!)

Anyway, I saw a commercial for something called Sensa, a weight loss product that you sprinkle on your food. I noticed in the ad they didn't explain at all, so I wrote it down and looked it up later.

Now, the reason I'm writing this article is not necessarily to debunk Sensa exactly, but to talk about what went on in my head as I read their site. I am happy to call myself a skeptic, and I try to use critical thinking and reasoning whenever I can.

So first I went to the site that was in the ad: The site has an embedded video with an anecdotal story from a TV personality, they offer a free trial, there are shiny pictures of people eating healthy foods, a seriously simplistic explanation of how it works, and several big red buttons to click to try it for free*.

There are a number of logical fallacies, your classic marketing, strewn about. But in the midst of the typical BS, there is a clinical study that is mentioned over and over. A few places scattered about different sites claim that the study was peer-reviewed (by the Endocrine Society?) but there is no mention of that paper on that site, and apparently that journal says they never did the peer review. I also read that the journal that apparently reviewed the study is partly run by Alan Hirsch, the creator of Sensa. Another red flag. So take all of that with a grain of salt!

So here are the findings: 100 control people did not use the Tastants. 1,436 men and women did. The control group lost an average of 2 lbs. The people in the treatment group lost an average of 30.5 lbs in 6 months, which was nearly 15% of their body weight.

This is really important. The participants were not required to change their normal diet or exercise. Also, they were told to stay on whatever diet they were on before they started.

Now, I had read the front of their site, and I found myself believing it. I noticed that I really wanted it to be true, it was all so shiny and wonderful, and there was a study, so it must be real!

Last year I lost 45 lbs through a radical diet plan (eat less, eat healthier and move a lot more.) But I was often hungry, and am even now for large parts of every day, which totally sucks. So I was thinking, I don't need to lose any more weight, but if this could help me feel full, I'd be so happy! And my husband Butch is still trying to lose weight. It could help him too!

I thought it was fascinating that I took everything at face value at first and believed the hype, the surface marketing. When I started reading other things that were red flags, I noticed that I tried to rationalize them! We all do this, I am pretty sure. You'd have to be a Vulcan to not rationalize something that you really wish were true.

The difference is, I didn't just order the stuff and disregard the red flags. I looked deeper and put my Critical Thinking cap back on.