Ancient and Oriental medicine

Hippocrates: a conventionalized image in a Rom...
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While it seems like an oxymoron, the concept of ancient medicine has always been a moneymaker for con artists and bamboozlers. I have no idea why, but for some reason, many of the more gullible among us can be convinced that older remedies are somehow more valid than modern medicine. A very similar con is labeling alternative treatments as Oriental, implying that they know something in Asia that we don’t in the rest of the world. While I’m sure there is cutting-edge medical research happening in Asia, I’m guessing the little house on the corner with the Oriental medicine sign doesn’t subscribe to many peer-reviewed scientific journals.

There are a couple of points that can be made to quickly dissuade you from running to your local alternative treatment shop for a walletectomy.

Ancient medicine was brutal. Bloodletting. Blistering. Amputation. Plastering. Purging. There are a ton of examples of past practices that we know now to be more harmful than helpful. Not all ancient treatments are harmful. There are also a ton of practices discovered long ago that do much more good than bad. These beneficial treatments are used regularly by practitioners of modern medicine.

Treatments that show promise are absorbed into modern medicine. While I’m sure they know many things in Asia and in the past that we may not, the nature of modern medicine is one of sharing. Findings are published and reviewed by others. Any treatment that shows promise  is studied in depth so that we know how and why it works and to what degree it works. If the practices of ancient or foreign alt-med purveyors were in any way sound or their positive results were repeatable, those practices would become valid, go-to solutions for modern doctors. The very fact that these treatments aren’t used by modern medical professionals means that these alt-med remedies either don’t work or are actually harmful. Secrets are hard to keep, and you’re crazy if you think your local alt-med shop has a treatment that hasn’t been tried or reviewed and dismissed by modern medicine.

Science is a great thing. It rewards good ideas and makes them better. It punishes bad ideas by naturally discrediting them. When applied to medicine, science helps doctors use the good ideas to make us better and healthier. It doesn’t care how old those good ideas are – if they work and they’re appropriate, they’re accepted. If ideas don’t work or aren’t appropriate, they’re relegated to the realm of alternative medicine.

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Coexist = Fail?

A recent entry into the realm of social discourse is the “coexist” campaign. Though I don’t know if campaign is the right word for it. It’s a simple meme designed to tickle your idealogical self. It’s meant to be a statement designed with the purpose of implying that all of the world’s perspectives should be able to peacefully interact. It’s a brilliant use of symbolism but it could be noticed that because of the use of symbolism many groups are left out. Specifically one quickly growing and entirely relevant group which has no common symbol is left out. The group I’m referring to is usually quite eager to have their input be heard on pretty much any topic. So I find it a bit strange that I have yet to come across any commentary on this specific topic from the non-religious. Being non-religious myself this is my attempt to throw some relevant commentary into the discourse.

The idealogical part of me cheered the first time I caught sight of the mixed symbols and made out the word “coexist” on some lovely “hippy looking” girl’s bumper sticker. I instantly wished I could find whomever came up with the idea so I could bestow upon them a bit of my praise. That’s been some time ago and the skeptical part of me just recently worked through its process and meekly spoke up to say “Hey, that is indeed a quality meme but when examined it fails miserably.”

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about the “C” is made up of the cresent moon and a star which is a symbol of Islam. The “O” is an easily recognizable peace symbol. The “E” has the cross and arrow symbols protruding from it signifying the female and male sexes. The “X” can be decifered in the star of David of Judaic symbology. The “I” is dotted by a five pointed star within a circle which brings wiccan and pagan perspectives into the fun. The “S” is derived from the curvey line separating the opposing sides of the sacred Tao which is significant to Eastern religions. The “T” of course signifies the holy cross of Christianity. I now like to picture a question mark at the end as the contribution of the atheist/agnostic/ignostic’s. Coexist?

It is a lovely thought. All the perspectives of the world (even if they weren’t overtly represented) coexisting peacefully together. No reasonable minded person wishes for anything less of existence. For many it’s the singular answer to the question of the meaning of life. But of course it seems to be merely a dream to be perpetually chased and likely never caught.

The problem is that while they all come together nicely for that great idealistic word and they all signify the collectivization of their individual groups they remain seperate in the fact that there is no common ideology and thus no symbol that they share. The peace symbol makes a great attempt at it and it’s had plenty of time to bring us all together but in many ways the multitude of human perspectives are more divided than ever. The sacred Tao and the male/female symbols depict that division but accept it as perpetual and therefore never even seek resolution. The Tao has been around the longest but is obviously not capable of bringing about a peaceful reality. The rest covertly assign a sense of otherness to any perspective that doesn’t recognize a sense of superiority in their symbol. I wouldn’t have recognized that the “I” is supposed to represent wiccan and pagan beliefs if it weren’t for a google search and I don’t know if wiccans or pagans would even recognize it as a wiccan or pagan symbol.

When you look at the minutia of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian beliefs the most obvious commonality is the diverse range of orthodoxy within the groups themselves. They don’t even exist cooperatively among themselves. Looking deeper it should be noted that they all derive an idea of superiority from their beliefs. Their holy writings all promote war with outsiders to some degree. It’s no surprise then that a simple, clever meme designed to represent collectivization is doomed to fail.

Now you may see why I always want to put that question mark at the end. Coexist? It’s just not gonna happen with all those varied beliefs and symbols. If we can peacefully coexist and if we must symbolize our idealization why should it not be under the sign and through the implications of the question mark?

The question mark IS skepticism. It can recognize differences but does not divide. It is never wrong because any statement it may imply comes entirely from the answers it seeks. It represents the search for verifiable truth and is never satisfied with contradiction, irrationality or guessing. It is patient.

Obviously we already have the coexisting part down. We are always making more of ourselves than are dying off. Peace is what we seek. Not surprisingly to atheist/agnostic/ignostic’s some of the most peaceful people on Earth are atheist/agnostic/ignostic’s. If you don’t believe in anything if verifiable proof isn’t provided you’re a lot less likely to be unreasonable. Maybe most importantly atheist/agnostic/ignostic’s maintain an entirely reasonable sense of superiority that is usually kept in check by an equal sense of skepticism. Awareness of self and in general are valued most by this group. Critical thinking from yourself and others are of equal and great importance. Judgement does not come in the form of punishment but encouragement. Maybe we’ll never make it all the way to the ideal peaceful coexistance we all know we want but with the symbol of the question mark as our guide we should manage to make progress.

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6 Days

I had received word from my mother that grandma was in the hospital and was not going to go home. For several days I wrestled with what I was supposed to do. I thought to myself, “What is my role in this? How do I help?” After many days I realized that I was needed by my family, meager as it may be, it was all the more reason for me to be there. My mom had been staying with grandma for nearly a month and she was exhausted. You see, mom took up grandma’s torch as family caretaker. This isn’t a role that anyone wanted but it was one that mom knew very well. This is the burden that grandma left with her daughter, my mom. Grandma had spent her life taking care of her family. If you were sick Lovie was the one that would care for you. When her mom, my great grandmother, Leona Allan took ill with a brain tumor, grandma took her into her home for hospice care. My great grandmother spent her last days being cared for by her child, Lovie Jo, just as my grandma was cared for by her daughter.

Lovie was a strong woman, one that had spent her life working hard to keep what she had. She wanted things because her family never had much. These things gave her a feeling of success, a success that she viewed as having overcome the odds put in place by her family. You see, grandma started working at the age of 12 to help pay for things like the family car, in which she rarely got to ride, and the TV, which she rarely watched because of her hours at the movie theater. No, grandma was a working force in the family. She was expected to help and to act like an adult. I fear that this robbed her of what many of us take for granted, a childhood. When one’s childhood is taken from them it can have drastic effects well into adulthood. Our childhood is often where we go to remember what it was like to be carefree. It is a place that we can go to get away from the daily responsibilities that can sometimes feel like sandbags on our shoulders. Without those memories we can forget why life is so important and why it can be so enjoyable, even in the face of hard times. In addition to the lack of a childhood, my grandma was faced with a husband that had the rare motor neuron dysfunction known as Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a crippling dysfunction of the motor neurons in the brain that force’s the patient to lose control of muscle control. It is also degenerative and to grandma that meant that things are only going to get worse. In the end she hated that she could no longer care for my grandfather and she was determined to keep him in their home as long as possible. When this became too much, she accepted what her family had been telling her for months, that poppy had to go to the nursing home.  Needless to say this was one of the most devastating times for my grandmother.

As I came into the hospital the smells overwhelmed me. I was suddenly taken to a memory of the last time we were doing this with grandma. This time, though, we were closer to home.  As I turned the corner to my grandma’s room I saw her face light up with the excitement of my arrival. I’m not sure that I’ll ever know anyone’s love and enjoyment of my company quite like grandma’s. Months prior to this she would buck up and pretend that things were not as bad as they actually were but now, things are different. Grandma was dying and she knew it, I knew it, mom knew it. It was here, we were not sure how long but it was here. That Friday was the last coherent words that I heard from grandma. She seemed to be waiting for me to get there because the day after that she started to slip into a different state of being. Not quite coma but also not coherent. Grandma’s kidneys and liver had failed; there was no bringing them back. It’s hard to say but this was a much more dignified death than being taken by the esophageal cancer growing in her throat. You see, esophageal cancer will actually starve you to death before the cancer kills you. You stop being able to swallow and become weak due to malnutrition. You can also succumb to pneumonia much faster because of unproductive coughing; it’s nothing in, nothing out. Kidney and liver failure is a much more pleasant way to die.  Once the body starts building toxins you just slip off into a coma or just go to sleep. I spent 6 days in the hospital with my dying grandmother as her body became toxic enough for her to slip away. 6 days of morphine, 6 days of adavan, 6 days of ice chips and 6 days of silence. Sleeping didn’t seem important to me but instead felt selfish. When I was sent home to rest I would sleep for a few hours and spring from the bed as if the house was engulfed in a monstrous blaze. I would drive two blocks to the hospital at 5 o’clock in the morning as if my getting there was going to change something; it didn’t. When I arrived to the hospital I would find my mother sitting silently or hydrating my grandmother with one of those awful sponge lollipops that they use for invalids that are unable to drink. That makes for a long day.

I’m not sure when it started but I began to ask myself, “I wonder if she would just end it if she had a choice?” There was no hope of recovery; she was in swing bed at the hospital. If her kidneys somehow miraculously revived themselves the cancer would have taken her soon after. There we are waiting for the inevitable. Controlling pain with morphine, you see, grandma also had rheumatoid arthritis and it does not stop attacking the body just because you have cancer or your liver and kidneys are failing. Suddenly I began asking myself, “what if I was in her position? How long would I want to do this?” What I soon came to realize is that there are no options.

Right to die does not exist in this country. You don’t have a right to die on your own terms. This is the case because we feel that it is immoral to commit suicide, assisted or otherwise. Instead of being able to choose a timely death and rid herself of 6 days of incoherency and pain, my grandmother was asked to lie in her hospital bed and suffer the fate that her body had chosen for her. I’m not sure that grandma would have chosen assisted death but I do know she would have liked the option to choose. Every day we send our pets to their demise because they have leukemia or a broken leg or because they were hit by a passing car. We spare them a life of pain, we spare them a life filled with unspeakable despair. Why is it that we will do this for our pets but not our family? It is because we view ourselves as special. We view our species as separate from others when all evidence points us to another answer. We view ourselves as having a different set of standards from other species. We can’t assist someone wanting to end their suffering because it’s viewed as immoral, destroying something special. The reality of life is that we are not special. We are animals like any other. We have evolved to do some pretty amazing things but that does not revoke our animal status. What we view as humane for our pets we should also view as humane for ourselves.

Please, before you form your opinion of me, think about this. Do the research. I still believe that our species is an amazing one but we live and breathe the same way as the rest of the animal kingdom.

We should all have the right to die as we please.

Mason Powell

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Today is 9/12/10

Today is 9/12/10. The day after 9/11/10. Nine years and one day after 9/11/01. Of course, in the objective perspective, all those labels and the occurrences that may be associated with those labels are arbitrary. Some people argue that the arbitrary nature of such labels and associations makes those labels and associations not worth our recurring observation. Others argue that those labels and associations only become arbitrary once we forget about them, thus we MUST remember.

This is the nature of many arguments of today. Humankind has willingly, if not consciously, made the assumption that there must be different kinds of people, thus we look at everything as opposition. It takes a real, conscious effort to move beyond that perspective and recognize the possible shades of gray – or different, pretty colors if you prefer. And that’s the thing some of us do prefer. But it takes a very strong will to consciously keep the truly objective perspective in mind and realize that the fact that everything is different means that everything is the same.,222/

Here is a perfect example. It is impossible to determine exactly how many religions there are among humans. Do you consider agnosticism, ignosticism or atheism religions? In the subjective perspective, you have a choice. In the objective perspective you have no choice. They, as well as any possible beliefs about supernatural beings that other animals or even single cells may have (I’ve never found verification that they don’t), must be considered religion because they are collectively all beliefs about supernatural beings.

Over all of those possible religions, it is universally agreed that arbitrary killing of others is bad. Of course, that statement can be (and is all the time) argued subjectively. But objectively, even the most deranged psychopath or instinct-driven animal won’t kill EVERYTHING, and even the most peaceful, loving being MUST kill something sometimes to survive.


Ooooooohhhkkkkkaaaaayyyy Now back to the original topic…..

A lot of people spent a lot of yesterday if not actually remembering 9/11/01, then telling others that “we must remember.” Since the first anniversary, it has become customary in the days after the anniversary to remember what it was like in the days/weeks/months after 9/11/01. It has also become customary for some people who spend much of their time talking about remembering 9/11/01 and telling you to remember what it was like in the days/weeks/months after to hold rallies, memorials and other such things, as though remembering in physically concentrated groups has some effect on something. Sure, subjectively it may make some people feel better but objectively, of course, it’s just another arbitrary day with people doing arbitrary things.

The subjective thing that bothers me is that some of the people who spend much of their time talking about remembering 9/11/01 and the days/weeks/months after seem to be doing so not so much in the interest of helping others to feel better but for a profit.

The thing about that, though, is that I understand. I understand all of it. Obviously I’m not profiting from my commentary so I only offer commentary after thinking twice or thrice more instead of the usual never-ending thinking and re-thinking.

What I remember most from the days/weeks/months after 9/11/01 is the conscious effort made in the US to separate “radical Islam” from every other Muslim in the world. While I think it was a noble pursuit, I also think it was kind of pathetic that it was a necessary pursuit. Now nine years later, it’s disturbing that it is a more necessary pursuit than ever. Of course, this is a subjective necessity. Objectively, Islam as a whole presents the same danger to peace and the well-being of human kind as any other religion. The battles begin with delusional people and their subjective views about God. As long as people are willing to fight for what they believe in, other people will die for what they believe in. That, I think, is what should have changed on 9/12/01 and what needs to change now more than ever.

What I don’t remember about the days/weeks/months after 9/11/01 is an objective coming together. Sure, groups got together to collectively be together, but over time they just came apart again. I don’t remember them shedding their group identities once they came together, and that’s the problem. If anything, it seems many of us have dug in harder on our group identities since 9/11/01.

I remember the time before 9/11/01. A time when things weren’t subjectively much different and objectively not different at all. I remember slowly making my way to the realization that no religion works for me because I don’t need any God to tell me that people like other people to be decent. I remember a friend of mine telling me about bombing the camps of Muslim terrorists during the Clinton Administration and wondering why the people in charge in this country would think that such action wouldn’t inspire retaliation and more and more problems. Of course, only a short while later my perspective was proven to be in accordance with reality, and we were attacked.

I don’t remember the world seeming any safer or more rational before 9/11/01. It was just subjectively a little bit different.

My point in all this is that we have needed to, and now more than ever need to, come together as living beings, recognize the things that make us different and together consciously decide that they don’t objectively matter, and therefore are not worth fighting over. No one thinks it’s rational to hate women because some of them like the color pink, and no sane person wants to kill women for the same reason. Yet, quite a few of us tend to accept it as not exactly irrational or insane when people hate or want to kill an entire group of people in response to the irrational, insane beliefs or actions of even a minority of that group. This is wrong, and we should at least try to stop it. Hate and killing doesn’t work, and reasoning might not either, but we should at least try or we really are no better than them.

The objective truth is that it doesn’t matter how we think or act as individuals or groups. The subjective, but rational and sane, way of thinking and acting is to accept that none of us thinks or acts rationally or sanely all the time. Thus, we should not necessarily forgive and forget, but hating and remembering isn’t doing us any good either. Unconditional love and acceptance do nothing for our situation either. This concept can be observed by the number of born-again Christians in prison. If a person can do irrational, insane things and still receive unconditional love and acceptance, there’s nothing to keep him from doing irrational, insane things when he thinks he’ll always get what he needs.

Religion’s unverifiable, but usually convincing, “guarantee” of happy life after death does make most people feel good now, and implies that the future can and will feel as good as it does now, but at some point many of them realize they are just as miserable and unsure of the future as they were before.

Along the same line, for some people money is their religion. Black ink on the finance report can make people happy now, and again implies happiness in the future, and while I don’t think anyone believes that money will assure them of a happy life after death, they sure do believe that it can make the lives of those they leave behind better after they’re gone. This may actually be true, but there is no guarantee that we won’t all wake up tomorrow and realize that money is just fancy paper with fancy ink on it or that gold is just a shiny metal. Objectively, money is just like your boss. Your boss can verify that you did your work, but it was the work that was done that matters, and it’s a rare boss – or job for that matter – that really makes you happy with what you’ve done instead of just happy to get away from your boss and your job. Not only that, but we usually end up at home wishing we had a different job or at least a different boss so we could be happier.

However, it’s not just about what we do but how we feel about what we do. Of course, objectively it doesn’t matter but if our subjective perspective is actually content, it’s much easier to observe the objective perspective. For an example, I personally remain subjectively contented as long as I learn something useful at least a couple of times a week, and if I every once in a while manage to refine my philosophical self to a level of clarity which helps me to be able to convey my philosophical self to others. That is what I do, so I can consider myself happy. I find it much easier to be objective where it’s necessary to my rationality and sanity and subjective only when it won’t cause any problems.

And that’s the key point I wanted to make. Objectivity is the key to rationality and sanity. An objective perspective is best achieved through the contentment of the subjective perspective. The subjective perspective is easiest to make content when we maintain a level of awareness and understanding about reality that is stronger than the fear and the urge to judge we feel about the parts of reality of which we aren’t aware or don’t fully understand.

In the perspective of 9/11/01, the “war on terror” and everything else that’s been affected by that day, my point is that too many people aren’t subjectively content. I know you might be asking yourself, “Well how/why should they be?” If you are asking the question instead of just reading it, you haven’t really understood anything I’ve said so far. To be content with 9/11 and everything else and move on is to be better than wanting and especially trying to get revenge for what was done. It’s a matter of being willing to be wronged or even killed because at least you aren’t willing to do wrong or kill anyone, especially if you want to.

When we learn about those that wrong or kill us and understand them, we shouldn’t forgive them or love them but we definitely shouldn’t fear or hate them. Then, we are able to better relate to them and maybe even change their minds. If not, they will wrong or kill us. But again, objectively it doesn’t matter and it’s much easier to deal with being wronged or killed subjectively when you understand that. At least you didn’t do anything wrong or kill anyone and – after-life or not – that should make you feel pretty good.

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Tea Party Skepticism

I was taking my morning stroll through the tubes this morning when fell upon a couple of videos that were taken at Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally. I have been fascinated with this new sector of political protesters called the Tea Party for some time and these videos highlight some of the Tea Party members at the rally. The first thing that hit me was how uninformed these individuals seemed to be about the topics that they were protesting. This really made me step back and look at how we receive information, how we process it and then what we do with it. Here are the two videos that I saw this morning.

You know, it’s not the Tea Party that has me feeling sad. It’s that there are so many people willing to get behind something that they think they believe in without having any knowledge of reality. The lesson to take from the videos and the Tea Party is twofold; Be passionate (because that gets people involved) and be informed (because knowledge of the facts will keep you on the right track). I love the Tea Party because it is an exercise of our rights in this country. We need the Tea Party to remind us that we have these rights.

Informed skepticism is the only skepticism. Unlike Jenny McCarthy,  Make sure that you understand that of which you are skeptical.


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The New McCarthyism

This is being cross posted from Mainlining Pop Culture.

I’ve never been a fan of idiotic humor. For instance, the Ace Ventura movies annoy me much more than they entertain me. So, other than the fact that she is a very attractive woman, I’ve never had much use for Jenny McCarthy, but I could understand her appeal.

I mean, of course I can understand her appeal. I’m a heterosexual man who has seen her Playboy spreads. Her appeal is obvious!

So, when you need advice on how to raise your children and to fight autism why wouldn’t you turn to a former Playboy model with a mediocre(at best) acting career?

Sounds ludicrous, right? Well, it would be if thousands of people weren’t doing exactly that.

Continue reading

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The Merits of Diplomacy

While many skeptics are known for their condescending attitude(as are many believers in the woo woo and hokum that skeptics are attempting to debunk), Phil Plait made one hell of a case for not being a dick at The Amazing Meeting 8.

The entire speech is now available on Vimeo thanks to the JREF, and I highly recommend that everybody watch it. He makes some good points, and while I do think that there are situations that do call for being a “dick”, I think that we would all be well served to consider Phil’s points.

Phil Plait – Don’t Be A Dick from JREF on Vimeo.

In that speech Phil mentions the PSA style “Don’t Be A Dick” videos that have been done over on the fabulous Skepchick. If you haven’t seen them, they are worth checking out.

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Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan was one of the greatest thinkers of our time. He had a view of the world that surpassed even the most open-minded of individuals. He tackled the most abstract of ideas yet could bring it home to the most basic of intellects. Science is in need of another Carl Sagan figure, someone to spearhead the PR campaign that science lacks today, someone to put the “awe” back into science. Science needs someone that can make the splitting of cells seem grandiose and striking, and can make discussions of our origins seem like fairy tales, all the while keeping us grounded in reality and the scientific method. I believe that it is only then that people will understand that they can base their beliefs in the real while keeping that sense of awe and wonder.

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A Little Light Reading

While I am sure that the constant list of blogs to read and podcasts to listen to/watch is getting a bit overwhelming, I think it is important that we allow our dear readers the ability to see the type 0f things that we here at SkeptiKan find enjoyable to read in our free time. I promise that we will soon be posting more of our own original content, but in the meantime, let me join in by recommending some of my favorite skeptic/critical and free thinking blogs.

Most of these come at skepticism and critical thinking with the goals of both educating and entertaining, which, as somebody obsessed with pop culture, I appreciate.

I would like to echo Aaron’s earlier statement of thanking Mason for allowing us to join him in finally creating a space to foster community for skeptics and critical thinkers here in the breadbasket of America.

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