Monday, December 15, 2008

Q: What's Worse than Creationism?

A: When (real) scientists claim they've gotten to the bottom of something when they haven't even gotten to second base.

Full Disclosure: Rant ahead.

The offense of both is neither has anything to do with actual science, or more specifically, any real proof that support their claims.

Case in point - a paper that was published recently about the phenomenon of widows and widowers seeing their recently deceased spouse and sometimes even having conversations with them. (Btw, I won't bother ranting about the abomination that is Creationism as it kneecaps itself. Christ on a dinosaur.)

Here's the abstract:
Ratings of grief reactions, post-bereavement hallucinations and illusions and quality of life were made during the first year after the death of a spouse among 14 men and 36 women in their early seventies. In both sexes, the reactions were generally moderate or mild and characterized by loneliness, low mood, fatigue, anxiety and cognitive dysfunctioning. Feeling lonely was the most persistent problem during the year. Post-bereavement hallucinations or illusions were very frequent and considered helpful. Half of the subjects felt the presence of the deceased (illusions); about one third reported seeing, hearing and talking to the deceased (hallucinations). Former marital harmony was found to make a person more prone to loneliness, crying and hallucinations or illusions. The quality of life was significantly lower among the bereaved than among married people and those who never married, but equalled that found among divorcees.

Here's the post about it. It contains the link to the site that has the paper, but apparently you have to pay to download the paper itself.

My rub is the ASSUMPTION that these are hallucinations these folks are experiencing.

Now, yes, science typically operates under the unstated assumption that there are no supernatural causes or explanations for anything. That's fine. However, I don't feel that you can entirely dismiss events that cannot be entirely explained in cases like this - especially when it's a common occurrence that results from a specific event. That alone to me suggests that we need to leave the door open to what might be the actual cause and not write them off as mere hallucinations.

Listen, both my grandma and a great aunt of mine had this happen. These two ladies were WWII tough cookies who had been hard partiers back in the day (another one of those "greatest generation" things), so they knew a hallucination when they saw one. My grandma didn't tell anyone for years, because she was concerned someone would think she was nuts. When it happened to my aunt, she called my grandma because she knew about her seeing her hubby, too. She asked if she were going nuts because it certainly wasn't a hallucination. Grandma assured her she wasn't. Thank God neither of them asked a scientist.

If you're curious:
1)My grandma's "event": Her deceased husband just came walking down the hall into the dining room, stopped in front of the basement door, announced he was there to get his tools, opened the door, and went to the basement.
2)My aunt's "event": She heard something downstairs in the middle of the night, something like a chair scraping. As she was the only person home - "home" being a remote farmhouse - she figured she'd better check it out. Sitting in his favorite chair at the kitchen table was her deceased husband. When she arrived, he stood, announced that he needed to do some gardening (it was winter), and he went out the front door. The chair remained slid out from the table, so she knew it wasn't a dream or hallucination.

So, here are two level-headed ladies seeing something they shouldn't. Both dead husbands didn't say anything all that grand or enlightening. If it were a hallucination brought about by loneliness and grief, you'd think there'd be a bit more wish-fulfillment and comfort, not these odd statements about toolboxes and gardening. And, one left a door open and the other moved a chair. 'Slain that.

In other science (or more accurately, corporate) news, babies are dying because a company has a patent on the DNA sequence related to the disease, and charges thousands of dollars to test for it. There's a special place in hell, I'm tellin' ya....

Tell you what, people's babies dying because they can't afford an available test is going to create one hell of a monster. You are going to see executives gunned down as they leave work, angry mobs with torches, etc. Mark my words, baby.

And wouldn't it be rich if the superbug the scientists have been predicting for years came from mars?


Sya said...

Since I can't get immediate access to that article either (my institution doesn't subscribe to Scandinavian psychiatry journals), I'm going to give that research paper a benefit of a doubt and say that maybe in their references, they cite another study which gives them evidence to assume that these are hallucinations.

I'm reminded of the phenomena of the phantom limb that some amputees experience. The body part isn't there any more, but the brain region associated with that body part is still firing away despite the lack of input. Since a lot of people consider their significant others part of them, then it's no stretch of the imagination that perhaps seeing their loved ones is an extension of this phenomena. But this is pure speculation on my part. A more definitive experiment would be to monitor the brain activities of these widows and see if there's a change in the brain when they think they perceive the presence of their deceased loved ones versus when they're not present.

Of course, as you say, there could be another explanation. I think quite a few scientists do fall into assumptions--either because they're married to a pet theory or just due to laziness. But I'd like to think that if the typical scientist was presented with contradictory evidence, he/she would be open-minded enough to revise the hypothesis. This is a far cry from creationists who stick to their own ideas of how things work--despite the presence of contradictory evidence--yet demand that other people are wrong.

Anyways, it could be that this phenomena can't be adequately explained by today's understanding and technological sophistication. Is there life after death? I don't know--and personally, I'm not convinced that there's any credible evidence for that. Or, maybe what the widows are experiencing is some sort of distortion in space-time--perhaps they're seeing a snapshot of the past or maybe an alternate universe where their loved one is still alive. Or, maybe I've just watched too many Star Trek episodes.

Anonymous said...

Q: What's worse than creationism?

A: Creationists with power

yahmdallah said...

"This is a far cry from creationists who stick to their own ideas of how things work--despite the presence of contradictory evidence--yet demand that other people are wrong."

Very true.

"Q: What's worse than creationism?
A: Creationists with power"

Even more true.

Certainly "regular" scientists being lazy or dismissing what they don't understand is the lesser of two evils. No debate there.