What's the most distressing trend in America? Crime? Drugs? Beavis and Butthead? In my book, it's the decline of skepticism. Not that I think a single web page can change anything, but I'm morally bound to try anyway. So let me try and hold up a candle of reason. On this page, I'll try to point out the fundamental silliness behind astrology, UFO abductions, and past lives. If you have comments, email me.

Astrology: My Magic Eight Ball gives me advice that's every bit as good as the astrology column in the paper. You'd think this would be enough to convince anyone that astrology is hokum, but, sadly enough, it isn't. So let's take a look at a few scientific facts.

The constellations of the zodiac are a completely man-made convention. In fact, they're specific to western culture. If astrology makes any sense, then it's only because western culture is so superior to other cultures that only the west could figure out...well, you get my point.

Of the time the sun supposedly spends in Scorpio (that's Scorpius, by the way, but astrologers can't be relied on to speak astronomy correctly anyway, I suppose), fully 75% of the time it is actually in the constellation Ophiuchus. Of course, the constellations are man-made conventions, so I suppose this doesn't matter (but if it doesn't matter, what does it say about the fundamental validity of astrology, which relies on which of these man-made objects the sun is "in"?)

I say "in" in quotes, because most of the time astrologers claim the sun is "in" Aries (for example), it is not in Aries! Right now, there are only 106 days of the year when the sun is "in" a constellation in an astrological sense at the same time it is "in" the constellation in the real sense.

Actually, points 1 through 3 above are a little unfair, since astrologers are somewhat cannier than politicians. They never say the sun is in a constellation, but say that it is in a nebulous "sign", which has no correspondence to anything you can point to in the sky: the signs, like the constellations, are purely man-made conventions. Specifically, European man-made conventions.

Aliens: I'm not talking UFOs. As Arthur C. Clarke once noted, if you've never seen a UFO, you don't look at the sky very much. But alien spaceships?

Does the U.S. military know about aliens? If they did, we the taxpayers would be the first to know. It would go something along the following lines: "Mr. President, there are aliens ready to invade the Earth. Give us $200 billion dollars to perfect a weapons system that will give us a fighting chance."

(What, they're hiding the fact that they can't defend against aliens? Folks, when has the military ever said "well, we can't defend against it, so don't give us money"? From the missile gap to Star Wars, the basic military response to any threat, real or otherwise, has been "We can defend against it if...", the "if" usually involving an expensive project.)

Right now the technology exists to eavesdrop on just about anyone without their knowing it. Neat devices like synthetic aperture radar and image enhancement and thermal imaging are nearly at the point where you could look over the shoulders of a guy reading the newspaper and see who won the Dodgers-Red Sox game. If aliens existed with the technology to cross the light years that separate us from even the nearest star, and those aliens had some interest in human beings, doesn't it seem reasonable to believe they could be at least was unobtrusive as, say, the FBI, NSA, or CIA?

As for those people who claim, under hypnosis, to remember being abducted by aliens...read on.

Regression into past lives: So, under regression "before" birth someone claims they were Julius Caesar in a previous life.

Too bad Patton's already claimed to be Julius Caesar; maybe you two got to time share Gaius? Why is it that no one ever regresses and says "Yeah, I was a dirt poor peasant who died at 23 from overwork." Everyone I've seen who's claimed to have regressed to a past life claims to be someone famous. Do the math: demographers estimate that perhaps a hundred billion people have been born, lived, and died in the time since human beings came into existence. Of those hundred billion, I think we're being generous if we claim to know anything about more than a million of them, so the odds should be at least a hundred thousand to one that you were somebody famous in a past life.

(Hmmm...maybe skeptics like me only get one life, so of course we're never anyone famous, while believers get a few million lives, so of course they have a good chance of being someone famous. The fact that the same people are being recycled again and again could explain a lot about history...)

As any reputable psychologist will tell you, a hypnotic state is one where you are very open to suggestions. As any statistician will tell you, millions of man-hours are spent designing survey questions that are not suggestive, and even then they often fail.

(What do I mean by this? Pick 100 adults at random. Ask 50 of them, "You like salads, don't you?" Ask the other 50, "Do you like salads?" The first group is just about guaranteed (all other things being equal) to have a higher ratio of "Yes" answers. Now if fully conscious, non-hypnotized adults will modify their answer based on what they perceive the questioner's desired response to be, how will a hypnotized, suggestible adult behave?)

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