Fear Experiment Reactions

Now that most of the class’ experiments are over, it’s time to reflect a little bit. I’d say everyone did a pretty great job overall, and there were several very brave (if perhaps ill concieved) presentations involving the sharing of personal stories. I thought the experiments that involved class participation and provoked conversation were far more effective than those in which the presentor just talked.

Amber Vanderpohl’s experiment was an extremely effective comment on how fear of the unknown, especially when it comes to our own bodies, can affect the way we think and act. She asked the class to close their eyes and eat and unknown substance out of a cup; something that I personally had a really hard time with, being squeamish when it comes to weird food. I’ll admit I had to wait to hear the reactions of my classmates before I could summon the courage to toss back whatever was in my dixie cup. (It turns out that eating Poprocks is kind of like eating fiberglass, though.)

None of the other experiments got me invested in the idea of fear quite as much as Amber’s. When you close your eyes, it’s a lot easier to focus on your other senses as Beth suggested. The first thing I noticed was my heartbeat picking up steam like a train. Then my imagination started wandering, as it tends to do, taking a mental tour of all the horrible, nasty things that I might be about to put in my mouth. When the first conclusion I come to is that whatever is in my cup will be harmful or gross, it’s easy to see how an emotion like fear is something that living things evolve to keep themselves from eating disgusting things in a college classroom.


Fear Experiment Post-Mortem

So I presented my fear experiment last week to the class, and had a pretty good time doing it. My experiment was to play some creepy music / sound effects before allowing the class to play a scary video game. My hope was that the music would put the class in a better mental space to enjoy a good fun scare, but I’m not sure how effective it was. I’m not surprised that people didn’t really respond to the music; it’s asking a lot of an entire room full of people to pay full attention and really participate in a silly experiment like this, especially if they’re busy fretting over their own presentations. The game portion of the experiment was really fun though. People were definitely on edge during the gameplay and there were some pretty good shrieks when it ended. I wish the game could have gone on a little longer with some more harrowing chases, but it was necessary to have an unfamiliar volunteer take the wheel.

The last thing I’d want to mention here is that I don’t think I quite did justice to the concept I was trying to communicate. I talked a little about how horror in games is a unique and personal experience. I didn’t get to discuss broader subjects like why some people are entertained by horror, and why some people shy away from it. I think it’s also interesting how some horror experiences are better had in groups. I’ve had a lot of fun with a few friends huddled around a computer screen while one of us explores a haunted catacomb with nothing but a lantern and a sharp stick.

“Fear” Experiment Predictions

The results of my “experiment” might be difficult to interpret at a glance, especially given that it will have no real controls. Another problem is the testing environment; the content of my experiment would almost certainly be better experienced in isolation, not in a room of twenty other people. The goal of my presentation will consist of two parts which explore a psychological reaction and let the class have some scary fun in the process. My prediction is that part one of the presentation will increase the effectiveness of part two.

What the Bleep Do We Know? Here’s what I know.

I’ll be writing down my thoughts and reactions as I watch this movie, and look back on how my views change as I reach the conclusion.

So, right away this movie is throwing up red flags for me as a skeptic. One of the narrators says that science paints this bleak picture of the universe and the relationship of humanity to that universe. Science doesn’t paint any pictures, it illuminates facts. WE as human beings paint our own pictures with those facts. We can spin the facts any which way you like to come to a conclusion that satisfies us, and that is in no way a fault of the scientific method.

This movie is throwing around a lot of science terms that I don’t doubt the interviewees understand, but might be over the head of a general audience. It seems like its aim is to provide justification for people disenfranchised with traditional religion to maintain some sense of spirituality.

The fact that matter is mostly empty space and that I’m not *actually* touching this keyboard is pretty neato.

So far we’ve seen examples of the untrustworthiness of our senses, of  spacial relationships between objects, and of sensory delay and the apparent lack thereof. Not sure where this movie is headed yet.


Oh, I’ve seen this clip before. The experiment implies that aspects of quantum mechanics are altered when a conscious observer is present. From what I know this is one interpretation of those experiments, at least. The problem is that this interpretation is not falsifiable. It’s like saying, “I can turn completely invisible, but only if nobody is looking at me.”

They seem to be really leaning heavily on this “observer” theory.


This movie has gotten really weird. Not just the animated stuff, this whole idea they seem to be pushing is new-age fluff justified by inconsistencies in physics. I felt I needed to stop and do some research. First thing I stumbled upon was that one of the people being interviewed for this film, David Albert (the one guy who turns out to be a legitimate scientist, it turns out, but more on that later) was quoted after the release of the film as saying:

“I was edited in such a way as to completely suppress my actual views about the matters the movie discusses. I am, indeed, profoundly unsympathetic to attempts at linking quantum mechanics with consciousness. Moreover, I explained all that, at great length, on camera, to the producers of the film … Had I known that I would have been so radically misrepresented in the movie, I would certainly not have agreed to be filmed.”

Huh. Not a good start for looking deeper into this film’s history. The article I found that mentioned this quote is from Skeptico http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2005/04/what_the_bleep_.html

So I’m getting a distinct feeling that this film is more interested in pushing a new age agenda than accurately representing a scientific investigation of quantum mechanics. This is not okay. If we want to create a more science-literate society, we can’t go about telling people that it’s okay to twist scientific controversy to suit your previously held notions about the way the universe works. This film feels like a pat on the back to those in spiritual crisis saying, “It’s okay, you can still cling to your notion of god and transcendentalism because look at all this science saying that reality is just whatever you want it to be, man”.

As if distorting the words of an actual scientist wasn’t enough, the film further adds insult to injury by putting the spotlight on charlatans and pseudoscientific talking heads who have no business talking to an audience about quantum physics in any capacity. Let’s run down the list of offenders:

Dean Radin: researcher in the field of parapsychology, or the study of psychic powers, a pseudoscientific endeavor that no scientifically literate person would take seriously, but here we are.

John Hagelin: Ph.Dl. working at Maharishi University, known for such programs as “Maharishi Vedic Science”.

Joe Dispenza: Chiropractor and follower of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment (I bet he’s stoked to be featured alongside our final guest). Proponent of changing the world around you with your mind. Pure nonsense, and he would like you to pay a subscription for access to his classes where he peddles this nonsense. This is the definition of a charlatan.

Amit Goswami: Physicist who pushes the idea that quantum theory proves the existence of God and embraces alternative medicine. The bullshit detectors are redlining.

William Tiller: Ph.D. pursuing research in “psychoenergetics” and “subtle energies”, both baseless.

Masaru Emoto: Believe that “polluted water can be restored through prayer and positive visualization”. Yep, sounds legit.

And at the top (bottom) of the list, MOTHERFUCKING RAMTHA. Yes, that Ramtha, AKA J.Z. Knight. I shouldn’t have to convince anyone of how hilariously ridiculous this woman is, or how woefully unqualified she is to speak about anything science-related or even rationality-related, because unless this woman is a truly spiteful creature bent on taking advantage of the ignorant, she is most certainly mentally disillusional.

So, now that it’s over, I can say without a doubt that “What the Bleep Do We Know?” is a disgusting corruption of science and rational thinking. It makes baseless claims about a field of science that is still being heavily explored, it employs a cast of unsavory charlatans, gurus, and spiritualists, and it is emblematic of a very real problem in our society; that of perverting science to “prove” the validity of someone’s world view.

I wrote this all down rather passionately, and I know that the point of this assignment is to share our thoughts regardless of whether or not we enjoyed the film, so the requirements are met. I’m almost certain that my views will not be shared with most of the class or my professor for that matter, but science education is extremely important to me and this film throws that concept to the wind. I’d like to discuss the implications of this film with the class at large, but I’m pretty terrible at arguing in person, so perhaps it’s best if I quietly seethe instead. I know several of my classmates in particular really buy into this nonsense, and I stand little to no chance of changing their minds in a direct confrontation.

In any case, this was a good way to exercise my skeptical faculties. There is a schaderfueudian pleasure to taking down a piece of content like this.


Class Takeaway 11/11

As the class presented their vision boards, I got to thinking about the ways in which people motivate themselves. There are practical methods, like setting goals, making checklists, and having a desire to meet the expectations of your boss or your peers. There are also more esoteric and philosophical methods like our dear vision board exercise. I’m not a believer in any kind of supernatural positive “energy” espoused by the gurus and Oprahs of the world, but I do believe it can be useful to trick yourself into becoming a better person. For instance, studies have shown that externalizing positive and negative emotions, such as writing them down on paper, can help a person deal with those emotions more effectively. I think a similar thing is happening when a person creates a vision board, although vision boards have their own set of problems, problems outlined in the article we were linked last week.

Another thing that stuck out to me this week was Beth’s elegant explanation of the feeling of wonder that can be had in the world around us. Using a rainbow as an example: she says it’s possible to simultaneously understand the physics behind a rainbow and still appreciate it having a sort of magical quality to it that is specific to her experience. Her example resonated with me as a rationalist. I’ve spoken with people who are incredulous about my disbelief in the supernatural, and those who claim that knowing how things work (refraction in rainbows, for example) destroys the magical quality that those things have. I don’t believe I’ve lost any of the wonder, in fact I would argue that my sense of wonder is increased by understanding how it works and being in awe that such a thing is possible.

Vision Board


There she is, folks.

The simple idea here is a vision board in the shower. For me, taking a long shower in hot water is the most relaxing and thought provoking part of my day. I feel like I can actually think more creatively. It’s strange, and I’m still not entirely sure what parts of a shower make it more creatively invigorating than other things, but I’m going with what I know. Having a vision board here, something to remind me of my goals, would be an excellent catalyst to inspire me to achieve them.

I chose photos of my favorite cities and scenery from along the west coast. It’s my goal to someday move out there, and I think these photos are good motivation. I also included photos of my friends because frankly, I don’t have any in my apartment.

Class Takeaway 11/4

It didn’t surprise me to learn that many of my classmates’ creative spaces were just as mental as they were physical. Being in the right state of mind is invaluable for doing quality work. Music and noise were consistent factors in creative spaces throughout the class. Most people need some sort of music or background noise to work well, and some people specifically mentioned being around people. The thought of doing homework in the middle of a punk concert made me giggle.

I’ve started thinking about what my vision board will look like. I feel like it should definitely involve a shower to some extent. Thinking in the shower became something that stood out to me during class as something that really fosters my creativity. I’ve thought about using photos of the west coast too, since that’s kind of representative of my goals.