Friday, October 31, 2014

#1195: Charles Tart

Charles T. Tart is a psychologist and parapsychologist best known for his work on lucid dreams, astral projection, LSD, marijuana, and ESP. He is currently a Core Faculty Member at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (Palo Alto, California) and a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (Sausalito, California), as well as Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UC Davis.

His early work was concerned with altered states of consciousness (ASCs), particularly as induced by various drugs (he also wrote this). Tart, who believes that Yoga and Zen had long been tapping into ASCs, took there to be something mystical or spiritual – superior or higher – about these altered states of consciousness. Indeed, according to Tart, ASCs are a gateway to a higher consciousness, to the realm of the paranormal and the spiritual. He hastens to assert that “[t]here was a time, years ago, when I was highly skeptical of any paranormal claims of any kind,” but he came to change his mind because … well, because of curious personal experiences easily explained without invoking the supernatural but for which a supernatural “explanation” appealed more to him. “What you make of [these stories] depends very much, I think, on your prior convictions,” says Tart, and uses that as a blanket permission to interpret them any way that suits his mood.

Tart is, in fact, somewhat more dogmatic than parapsychologists in general, and has stated that science has confirmed the existence of remote viewing, psychokinesis, precognition and ESP, even though these claims are false (though Tart has rather systematic problems with understanding basic methodology), and usually counters objections by claiming that “materialistic skeptics” ignore the data (rather than, you know, pointing out methodological flaws in the process of obtaining those data).

Indeed, Tart is – like Deepak Chopra – a vocal critic of materialism and “material science”. He even calls parapsychology “essential science”, and science that denies the non-material realm is “scientism.” He is the author of the book The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together (2009), which is substantially reviewed here. As the review (R. Carroll) puts it, the book “is written as if there is no need to prove the existence either of psi or of spirits. It is written for those who already reject materialism, accept the reality of the paranormal, and don’t really care one way or the other what science has to say about either.”

Now, to understand where he is coming from it is worth noticing that Tart’s definition of “science” is rather different than the rest of the scientific community, and much of the arguments in the book rest on his deep interests in Buddhism and spirituality, making it clear these things give him a bias toward favoring the paranormal data he reports on. Most of the data he reports on are made up of personal reports or testimonials, often well-known and already much-discussed cases (including Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ), which to Tart apparently counts as scientific proof.

Even though he is a psychologist, he rejects established psychological explanations for paranormal phenomena, and plumps instead for the idea that people can remote view out of their physical bodies into the past, present, and future and that people can predict future events. It is, however, a bit difficult to reconcile his claims that psi is real, that it is non-physical in basis and that is does not operate to known scientific laws, but has nevertheless been proven by science in repeatable experiments – one almost suspects some wilfull compartmentalization going on.

Tart himself has complained about the difficulty in getting funding for research into parapsychology, suggesting that inherent bias among scientists is the cause (oh, yes, the appeal to conspiracy instead of the more obvious explanation that Tart’s claims are completely unsupported and his research methodology patent nonsense). Of course, when making these complaints he neglects to mention that he spent a year developing a curriculum and teaching as the director of Robert Bigelow’s endowed Chair of Consciousness Studies at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Bigelow gave nearly $4 million to UNLV in 1997 to investigate such subjects as dreams, meditation, hypnosis, out-of-body experiences, telepathy, and the ever-popular subject among college students, drug-induced altered states of consciousness. One may wonder why One wonders why Tart, instead of using some of Bigelow’s money to do the large-scale studies he complains about not being able to do because of lack of funding, apparently decided to use the money to promote what he already believed to be true.

His book The End of Materialism is also notable for endorsing the ravings of fraudulent mediums such as Eileen Garrett and Leonora Piper.

Diagnosis: Wishful thinking taken to extreme levels – and Tart even seems to admit as much on occasions. But he has no evidence for his conclusions, unless you – as Tart seems to suggest – redefine evidence”.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#1194: Bonnie Tarantino

Bonnie Tarantino is a faith healer whose faith healing is based on Eastern mystical beliefs rather than Christianity. Due to rampant orientalism the fact that the faith healing is Eastern rather than medieval Western somehow makes it more respectable among certain people, even though it is based on the same principles of vitalism, alchemy, and religious fluffery, and just as remote from anything resembling a foundation in reality or evidence. In Tarantino’s case, she uses the titles Melchizedek practitioner (no reliable link found – this is serious stuff), holographic sound healer (no, it doesn’t), and an Usui and Karuna Reiki Master. None of it works, and Tarantino, like the others, has no evidence whatsoever that any of it works.

As such, she is really a run-of-the mill crackpot altmed practitioner. But Tarantino’s career illustrates a really, truly insidious and scary trend: the inroads that quackery has made into academic medicine. Despite her disregard to any value associated with education, science or the search for truth Tarantino is the deranged Saruman of the University of Maryland School of Medicine Center for Integrative Medicine, and haunts the halls of the University of Maryland R. Adam Cowley Shock Trauma Center offering her services to unsuspecting patients – “preys on people in difficult situations”, as some might put it (and I wouldn’t be in a position to disagree). The Center apparently also offers e.g. acupuncture, homeopathy, craniosacral therapy, and reflexology (for instance in the form of the services of one Jean Wehner, who offers Reflexology, Life Coaching & Reiki).

Diagnosis: There is no way around the conclusion that you should be wary of a medical practitioner with an education from the University of Maryland. But the problem is a general one. The infestation is already a pandemic.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

#1193: Nancy Ann Tappe

Indigo children are children whose auras are indigo in color. That allegedly means that they are somehow aliens or part alien or something and don’t have autism spectrum disorders or attention deficit disorder or anything like those darned doctors might say because they are close-minded. The term “indigo child” was introduced by psychic and aura reader Nancy Ann Tappe, who maintained that “The Indigo label describes the energy pattern of human behavior which exists in over 95% of the children born in the last 10 years … This phenomena [sic] is happening globally and eventually the Indigos will replace all other colors.” (Note the delectable use of “energy pattern”). The concept was further spelled out by our old friend Lee Carroll and his Kryon gang, according to whom indigo children are somehow a next step in human evolution – though since the rest of us are presently unable to recognize them for their true potential, they end up getting classified as attention-deficit instead.

According to Peggy Day and Susan Gale, authors of Psychic Children: A Sign of Our Expanding Awareness (stop for a moment to really take in that title) the arrival of indigo children was foretold by Edgar Cayce, which is a claim it is in practice often hard to argue with for reasons not having to do with what Cayce actually said. Robert Gerard, who runs the Oughten House Foundation, Inc. and sells angel cards, believes – as explained in his book Emissaries from Heaven, that his daughter is an Indigo Child and that “[m]ost Indigos see angels and other beings in the etheric.” There is something almost infinitely sad about that claim.

Gerard contributed, as did Tappe, to the important collection The Indigo Children, where the connection between children diagnosed as having ADD or ADHD and the indigo auras signaling “a new kind of evolution of humanity” was explained hypothesized asserted. Emotion and wishful thinking play central roles in the arguments, and it isn’t hard to see why “my child does not have ADD; she/he has special abilities and is further evolved than the rest of the children” might seem appealing to some. That does, emphatically, not make Tappe and Gerard the good guys.

More recently, the New Age movement has introduced the idea of crystal children, who have “a crystal-colored aura”, though it has yet to offer an unequivocal definition, partially one assumes because “crystal-colored” is a bit tricky to cash out. Crystal children are even more peaceful and magical, and have greater psychic abilities, than indigo children, and they start talking late because they communicate telepathically. Jesus might have been a crystal child (the word “Christ” is afterall like the word “crystal,” sort of). There may also be rainbow children, at least according to Doreen Virtue, whom we will have a chance to revisit later.

It should be mentioned that says that “just in case you heard otherwise from other ‘indigo’ sources, the designated word ‘Indigo’ has nothing to do with the color of an aura! It is the result of scientific observations by a woman who has the brain disorder called synesthesia.” That woman would be Nancy Ann Tappe. Her scientific observations consist of aura readings, psychic readings and getting lost in metaphorical descriptions of her own imaginations.

Jenny McCarthy used to believe that she was an indigo and her son was an even more evolved crystal child (she even ran the website Indigo Moms), until she decided that her son was vaccine damaged instead. Another self-declared indigo child is Andrew Basiago who can travel in time with the dolphins.

Diagnosis: Though abysmally crazy, Tappe and her ilk also conveys a sense of deep sadness. Indeed, the whole, hysterically insance fluff carries an aura of desperate tragedy; although it is easy to see why their claims may be appealing to some, their efforts are in the long run not going to lead to anything good.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

#1192: William Tam

Hak-Shing William “Bill” Tam is Executive Director of the San Francisco-based Traditional Family Coalition. Tam was very heavily involved in the proposition 8 trial, partially because Tam believes that legalization of gay marriage would lead directly to the legalization of pedophilia because this was, as confirmed by his imagination, the next item on that infamous “gay agenda.” According to Tam, San Francisco was even in 2010 already “under the rule of homosexuals.” So who is behind this travesty? “Satan is working on our youths. If we and our churches don’t do our parts, we will certainly lose our kids. They’ll one day surrender to Satan.” But of course.

During the trials Tam made several novel claims, including alleging that homosexuals were 12 times more likely to molest children, and that if Prop 8 did not pass “one by one, other states would fall into Satan's hands.” He defended these writings primarily with the Bible, but when pressed for sources he also cited “the Internet.”

In the end Tam begged out of the trial, claiming he was afraid of retaliation, despite having spoken at innumerable public rallies and expressed his views in public and on TV hundreds of times.

Diagnosis: Numerous people like Tam out there, of course, and they can’t all get their own entries. We’ll do our best to cover a representative sample, though.

Monday, October 27, 2014

#1191: Tom Tam

The woo is everywhere and can have a strong influence on the weak-minded. The range of idiotic bullshit you can subject yourself to is almost endless, yet the Tong Ren technique, an “unholy alliance of acupuncture and voodoo”, remains among the more quaint of options. Yes. Tom Tam, its inventor, taps not on you, but on a voodoo doll representing you, and this tapping, along with “intent”, enables him to treat you of cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and other diseases, as well as emotional problems and weight loss. Actually, he even claims to be able to treat chemotherapy side effects, surgery side effects, autoimmune disorders, and thyroid disease, and you don’t even need to be present – like Pat Robertson, Tam can heal you over the telephone.

How does it work? Well, Tam claims that it is not faith healing, since he isn’t affiliated with a particular faith. It is allegedly not even mysterious. “My belief in Tong Ren healing is associated with the philosophy of the collective unconscious and the power of the mind. […] When a group comes together to form a collective unconscious, as in healing meditation, this collective mind can become healing power. […],” though that qualifies as “not mysterious” only to the extent that vapid, incoherent rubbish isn’t “mysterious”. “In Tong Ren Therapy we use a regular plastic acupuncture model to form the healing image. The acupuncture model becomes an energetic representation of the patient’s body. By placing the needles in the appropriate spots on the model and connecting the mind with our collective unconscious, the practitioner can give a patient a treatment. […] Just as light shining through a slide will display an image, the Chi directed to the patient is modified by the image of the acupuncture model with needles inserted at specific points.” In other words, it’s faith healing, pure and simple. But Eastern faith healing. And it is all about balancing the humeurs, just like medieval alchemists believed, but calling it a “means to balance the patient’s Chi,” makes it sound trendier.

And just to make sure his journey to the crackpot side is complete, he throws in the … quantum. That’s right. And no, he doesn’t understand quantum mechanics, but neither, presumably, does his audience, so to Tam, quantum energy just is an appeal to vibrating metaphysical spirits that can justify exactly what he wants to say. Then there is the claim “Western” doctors aren’t interested in Tong Ren because they can’t understand it or sell it and there’s “no economic benefit” to Tong Ren and “all medicine is political”, which should lead you to ask how Tam makes a living off of it. He also has testimonials.

But apparently the technique has gained some popularity. If you are ever in the Detroit area, for instance, you can drop by the De’Spa Elite (owned by one Carolyn Hopkins), and for just $75 for a 50 minute intervention, acupuncturist Linda Kent will give you a full Tong Ren procedure (apparently forgetting that there is “no economic benefit”). According to Kent, “energy medicine is the new medicine for this century,” which makes one wonder why it sounds like a combo of voodoo and exactly what mysticists believed and did in medieval times.

Diagnosis: Everything woo and shiny in one. And yes, it is religious fundamentalism – with a friendlier face, perhaps, but in a similar manner a threat to human well-being and civilized co-existence.