Friday, May 31, 2013

Jesus appears in pot of marmite

I spotted a story in the news this week about a Welsh family who found the image of Jesus on the lid of a pot of sandwich spread. What do you think?:

I know that God moves in mysterious ways, but this is a bit too mysterious for my liking. It appears to be a case of a perceiving something that you want to in an otherwise random assortment of shapes. The family, themselves, appear to take comfort in the appearance of the image, saying "We've had a tough couple of months; my mum's been really ill and it's comforting to think that if he is there, he's watching over us."

After a quick perusal of google I have realised these kinds of sightings are a lot more common than you might think. In recent years Jesus' face has appeared on, among other things, a beer bottle, a fish stick, a shower curtain, a nebula, a pancake and a tortilla:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Blaise Pascal vs. Homer Simpson

Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and philosopher. He was a religious man who came up with a probabilistic argument for belief in God, now well known as Pascal's Wager. This states that, regardless of the evidence, it is infinitely safer to trust in God's existence, since you have everything to gain if correct, and nothing to lose if wrong.

To me, this is hardly profound, since surely an omnipotent God would see right through such a ruse. In addition it would be a rather mean-spirited and capricious God who was prepared to reward you just for taking a gamble.

I recently came across a reworking of this from a different philosopher. Homer Simpson's Wager posits that its best not to pray to any god, since if you get it wrong you'll just end up pissing off the real one.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Religion vs Secularism

In this debate (recorded in Sydney, Australia, in March 2013) British philosopher A.C. Grayling joins Sean Faircloth, director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, Jesuit priest Father Frank Brennan and the Hon. Pru Goward M.P. to discuss the influence of religion in Australia and the U.S. The speakers discuss whether the church and state should or can ever be decisively divided, and where each institution stands among evolving social and political values:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sylvia Browne

Sylvia Browne (1936-) is a self-styled psychic and spiritual medium. She used to appear regularly on the Montel Williams Show where she gave audience members advice on subjects such as love, finances and missing family members. She seems to have been remarkably unsuccessful when it comes to locating missing people - In 2010 the Skeptical Inquirer Magazine analysed the 115 predictions she made on Montel Williams and claimed her success rate to be precisely zero.

Despite this, she has remained one of the US's most high profile psychics (together with James van Praagh) with a huge number of followers and admirers. However, this week she is facing her biggest challenge, and a considerable backlash on social media following the escape of Amanda Berry from her abductors ten years after she was kidnapped (together with two other women - Gina deJesus and Michelle Knight, and Amanda's own daughter). Browne told Louwana Miller, the mother of Amanda Berry, on the TV show 'She's not alive, honey. Your daughter's not the kind who wouldn't call'. Louwana Miller died in 2006 unaware that her daughter was still alive.

James Randi has been a constant critic of Sylvia Browne and consistently states that belief in psychic readings is dangerous. I think psychics are largely immune from criticism since there is a general feeling that their predictions can't do any harm and may in fact be useful. Randi argues that they prey on the vulnerable and naive and may lead people to come to false conclusions which may be damaging to individuals and families. He makes this claim in the podcast below, recorded for CBC Radio:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Philosophy Postcards

As tweeted by Richard van de Lagemaat on his TOK Tweet this week, here is a series of images by graphic designer GenĂ­s Carrerasin in which he uses simple images to describe many philosophical concepts covered in TOK. In describing his work, Carrerasin says “I wanted to make philosophy look better, to feel more contemporary and relevant. For me shapes and colors are a way to communicate, a way that can break through language and age barriers. As a graphic designer, this is the only way I knew.”

Best viewed full screen in order to make out the written definitions.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Conspiracy Theories

An article in Scientific American this week looks at the reasons why some people are so ready to believe in conspiracy theories, even if they contradict each other. Similarly to articles I've posted previously, the author suggests that a willingness to believe in such ideas correlate with a mistrust of science (and western politics). It also appears that some apparently outlandish ideas are a lot more mainstream than you might think, with 37 percent of Americans believing that global warming is a hoax, 21 percent believing in a US government cover up of alien existence and 28 percent believing in a secret elite conspiring to take over the world.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The World's Smallest Movie

Researchers at IBM have created an stop-motion animation using individual carbon atoms as pixels. The atoms were moved around between frames using a scanning tunneling microscope.