Episode 18: WiFi, Mobile Phones, and Electrosensitivity

Episode 18: WiFi, Mobile Phones, and Electrosensitivity

Life, the Universe & Everything ElseIn this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman, Richelle McCullough, Javier Hernandez-Melgar, and Mark Forkheim discuss recent attempts to ban WiFi in several Canadian schools and the scientific merits of health claims made about WiFi, cellphones, and other sources of electromagnetic radiation.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

News: Imagine No Religion 2 Conference | Altona Parents Protest LGBTQ Pledge (Initial Coverage, Response from Rev. Dr. Lesley Fox, Follow-up) | Catholic Teachers Urge WiFi Ban (Globe & Mail, CBC/Canadian Press) | Homeless Hotspots

Links: Illustration of the EMF Spectrum | National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet: Cell Phones and Cancer Risk | WHO Warns Cellphone Use is ‘Possibly Carcinogenic’ | The Not-So-Dangerous Truth Behind Microwaves | Elizabeth May on EFM (SkepticNorth, Winnipeg Skeptics) | Evaluating The Evidence for Cell Phones and WiFi | “Dirty Electricity” | Electrosensitivity in Sweden | Skeptics’ Guide 5×5 on WiFi | Skeptoid on Electrosensitivity | Lakehead University WiFi Ban (Ban, Repeal)

Also on this episode, the first instalment of our new segment …and That’s Why You’re Wrong. This week, we discuss the Cosmological Argument, and its increasingly popular cousin, the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

The Cosmological Argument
1. Everything has a cause.
2. A causal loop cannot exist, and a causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
3. Therefore, a First Cause must exist. (We call this cause “God”.)

The Kalam Cosmological Argument
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The Universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.

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Correction: On this episode I made an offhand remark about gamma radiation turning a person into a member of the X-Men. I obviously should have said a member of the Avengers (more specifically, the Incredible Hulk). I apologise in advance to any of my fellow Marvel nerds who are offended by this gross misstatement of comic book fact.

Rage Against the Machinery

I thought I would share some of my thoughts and feelings about the intersection of people and systemic oppression.

They are somewhat complicated.

I myself have been an “instrument of the machine” (and still unavoidably play some part within it), as we have each likely been in big and small ways. In recent years I have become much more conscious of the world around me, not the least of which including a burgeoning understanding of human psychology and social systems. I simultaneously feel culpable for supporting oppression as I have prior to this awareness (and do not simply absolve myself ethically), yet fully understand the deterministic nature of the universe and its impact on me.

This is to say that in a quantum mechanics kind of sense, I am merely a product of my life situation and experiences (and other “random” events). Yet, I take on the onus, not because I believe that myself or anyone else can exist outside of cause and effect by sheer will or completely self-determined moral character, but because it is practical to do so from the perspective of human experience.

It’s a practical matter.

It is practical in that it guides my thoughts and actions toward ethical self-improvement and self-awareness: a mindset of ethical responsibility. If I’m not invested in the experience of others with respect to my actions, but only the defense of my own character, then by definition defense of my character is all I will accomplish. I will not change my character, nor the experience of the other person.

It is also practical in that it offers the greatest possibility of communication and restoration. The process doesn’t need to be about figuring out who’s to blame, explaining away and justifying (rationalizing), in an effort of returning to status quo. Instead, I can take responsibility for my actions (even if I feel that there was no way I could have done differently given what I knew at that moment), have empathy for the other person’s experience with respect to my actions (regardless of my experience or good intentions), and cooperatively strategize ways of avoiding unnecessary hurt. If needed, you can explain what you’re doing and ask for reciprocation. The best way to ask for it is by simultaneously showing that you’re willing to do it. Focus your efforts on those who are willing to reciprocate because it needs to become reciprocal in the long term for progress to be sustained; It’s also part of maintaining healthy boundaries.

UR doing eet wrong!!1!

This stands in stark contrast to the now typical, violent defensiveness exemplified by people trying to externalize responsibility, defend their character (ego) and avoid any resolutions which require personal effort, self-evaluation or change. I’ve seen many people (including myself in many past and even recent occasions) react to another’s expressions of experience and feelings, with anger and dismissal. The argument is often that they could not have done any differently (which as a matter of determinism may actually be true). “I couldn’t have known that my actions would hurt you, therefore it’s not my fault, therefore I’m not a bad person, therefore you should not be feeling that way towards me” (so stop feeling that way or you’ll be to blame for this continued conflict). It is a desperate act of self-preservation driven by the conscious or subconscious idea that others are out to destroy your character. You might want to investigate your own life experience to see where this pattern has come from.

Not just for lovebirds.

It should be obvious that this relates to interpersonal relationships. These words probably conjure up thoughts of happy (or not so happy) romantically involved partners, but I want to stretch that definition a bit. As I’ve alluded to above, I view relatively simple human interactions expanding into complex social systems. The product of this effect is called an emergence. To affect the complex system you need to somehow affect the individuals and their basic interactions. I believe that this failure to resolve rather than blame is one of the basic units of interaction that create or at least support structures of oppression within society.

Fallacy? How Humerous

There is a kind of is-ought fallacy that says, “Because I will not always be able to avoid offending or hurting you, I can not be held to such a standard of behaviour. Therefore your expectations are unreasonable”. Or in other terms, “I am this way, so you ought not to ask for me to change.

Now, taking this idea of deterministic social behaviour and applying it to other people I see the enactors of oppressive behaviour in a similar light. They are absolutely the products of their situation and experiences as much as I am. That is to say that in a given snap-shot in time, they could not have been anything other than exactly what they were at that moment, given their collective experiences and situation. This is not an ideological justification that it ought to be this way, but a mechanical explanation of why it is this way. In this light I simultaneously have a kind of empathy (though more like sadness and frustration at the unfortunate reality), and yet unwaveringly denounce their actions given not only the immediate emotional pain they cause, but also for their part in the social mechanism at large.

A wrench in the gears.

I do this because I perceive myself as a potential cause that may be able to affect them. Sometimes do this by holding their feet to the fire. Other times I try to be a friend and gradually influence them. It depends an their apparent willingness to self-evaluate.

I don’t wholly demonize anyone, since it doesn’t make sense from my perspective. However, there are limits to the personal effort I’m willing to put into specific scenarios, or with specific individuals. My emotional resources are limited, as is my ability to carry out my own philosophy in this regard (though I continue to work at growing that capacity). I have very little patience when I perceive that someone is hurting someone else, either directly with words and actions, or with harmful ideologies that they are presenting as ideal or as normal (and therefore ideal: another is-ought). I am far from perfect (I hope that my ability to see this is not a surprise to anyone). More often than is likely obvious, my anger is motivated by empathy for others, though this doesn’t absolve me of responsibility for all of these actions. Let me not commit my own fallacy.

Hey, I’m a pass-a-fist!

As an aside, in a broader political sense I am also not necessarily advocating for pacifism since the collective mentality borne out of situation and experience (including systemic dogma) may be so fixed and on such a large scale as to be untouchable by any practical means of persuasion. Sometimes there are creative strategies that can be attempted beyond this point, but if the system becomes tyrannical enough, sometimes it is the only way. We who have comfortable lives can be easily prodded into gasps, jaw drops, and “oh dear”s when told about things like the Black Panthers or riots in the street and totally miss the oppression that instigated it. It wasn’t just buses and drinking fountains, nor was it MLK and his cheek-turning philosophy that did all the work (though he certainly had an impact). That’s another topic for another day.

The burden of love.

It seems to me that the most meaningful and practical understanding of reality sometimes takes a mental flexibility that stretches us beyond our original programming. I look at it as the joy of figuring things out. Actively seek out accurate observations. Be determined to build ideology that’s congruent with those observations regardless of personal cost and effort, up to your capacity. Be willing to un-learn your assumptions about your own motivations and those of the people around you. Strive to be aware of your own psychology: your automated emotional reaction to people and ideas. This can be simultaneously very difficult, but also very rewarding. Not only for you personally, but for the kind of world you will be fostering around you.

I leave you with this brilliant quip by Tim Widowfield over on Vrider:

Empathy is about seeing things from another person’s perspective, not imagining yourself in somebody else’s situation. The former is the first step to understanding others; the latter is a kind of naive narcissism that does more harm than good.

Cross-posted from Jack-in-the-Brain

Episode 17: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 2

Episode 17: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 2

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, host Jeffrey Olsson continues his discussion with Ali Ashtari (a former Shia Muslim), Scott Carnegie (a former Mormon), and Greg Christensen (who dabbled in Christianity), talking about how leaving their faiths behind has changed their lives for the better.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Third Annual Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown | Quebec Kids Cannot Opt Out of Religion Course (Redux) | Expelled Exposed | NOVA | Neil deGrasse Tyson | The Atheist Experience | Timetree | Shia Islam | Anglicanism | Mormonism | Leaving Faith Behind (Blog, Book)

Also on this episode, the second instalment of Where’s My Jetpack? This week Old Man Newman asks, “Where’s my pet dinosaur?”

Where’s My Jetpack? Links: Jack Horner: How to Hatch a Dinosaur (Wired, TED Talk, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe) | Woolly Mammoth to be Cloned (Discovery News, BBC, Discoblog) | Dinosaur Taxonomy

Programming Note: In the coming weeks we start releasing an episode every second Sunday. We are making the switch to a bi-weekly release model to allow our team more time to research topics and edit podcasts. This will ultimately serve to provide you, our listeners, with a higher quality listening experience!

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Third Annual Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown

The Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown is back… and this year more cities are participating than ever before!

The Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown is a British-style pub quiz that occurs every year on or around Pi-Day (the fourteenth of March) in multiple locations across Canada, with local and national bragging rights at stake. Teams of four(-ish) will compete in a series of five rounds of questions to see whose knowledge of all things skeptical will reign supreme!

If you want to participate, form a team of up to four players and come down to the closest event near you. And if you don’t have a team, don’t worry about it! Single players will be placed into new or existing teams upon arrival. If you decide to come down, I will personally guarantee you’ll have a great time!

Our event in Winnipeg will be held at the Norwood Hotel (112 Marion Street) on 14 March 2012 at 7:00 pm. You can RSVP at our Meetup site, or you can just show up!

But if you’re not in Winnipeg, you can attend one of the four other events across Canada this year.

City Venue Date Time
Halifax TBA TBA TBA
Niagara Region Mahtay Café TBA TBA
Ottawa Foolish Chicken 14 March 2012 TBA
Vancouver Billy Bishop Legion 14 March 2012 7:30
Winnipeg Norwood Hotel 14 March 2012 7:00

Participation is free!

The champion team for the past two years running is missing a core member. Come on out and give it your best. Have fun, and maybe walk away as the new national skeptical champion!

For more information on the other locations across Canada, this post will be updated as information becomes available. You can also email XCANSKEPSMACK@gmail.com for more info.

Episode 16: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 1

Episode 16: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 1

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, host Jeffrey Olsson sits down with Ali Ashtari (a former Shia Muslim), Scott Carnegie (a former Mormon), and Greg Christensen (a former Protestant Christian) to discuss their journeys away from faith.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Third Annual Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown | Mormon Baptism Targets Anne Frank – Again | Afganistan Koran Protests Claim More Lives | All Dead Mormons Are Now Gay | Shia Islam | Anglicanism | Mormonism

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