Have you ever wanted to have the fun of telekinesis spoiled for you while learning about the structure of the cosmos? Then you missed your opportunity at a meeting of the Ontario Skeptics Society for Critical Enquiry on Friday, June 13 at OISE.
The meeting began with a presentation by award winning author Dan Falk, who summarised his book Universe On A T-Shirt: The Quest for the Theory of Everything (Viking Canada, 2002). Toronto mentalist Tom Rasky then took the stage with a metal bending demonstration.
Falk’s book chronicles attempts to come up with a complete account of the physical universe, starting with the pre-Socratic philosophers and moving up to modern theoretical physics.
But would a theory of everything leave room for a belief in God? Falk doesn’t think so. He makes it clear, however, that anything is possible and the theory he’s referring to really only applies to physics. “Is a theory of everything going to predict who I’m going to vote for in the next election? Probably not. Things like that, things like consciousness, things like chaotic systems, trying to figure out what the weather is going to be three weeks from now…We might eventually figure that out, but not likely from this line of inquiry.”
Just in case pondering the infinite wasn’t mind-bending enough, Rasky proceeded to bend a small collection of forks, spoons and keys, with apparently only a slight touch and a little willpower. He then explained how he had only mixed some sleight-of-hand and phenomenal finger strength.
Rasky wanted to show just how easy it is to fake such an ability. “I’m angered when people demonstrate this stuff as genuine psychic phenomena, telekinesis or whatever. I think it’s great to have fun with this stuff – but [also] to show that this is just an illusion.”
So just what is the Skeptics Society all about? They started meeting at U of T in 1984 to discuss unusual phenomena and extraordinary claims, and have been debunking bunk ever since. Group Chair (and Varsity Editor, ’76-77) Eric McMillan said “the purpose of the group is to promote critical inquiry into all matters.”
Although McMillan believes skepticism can be applied to anything, he says the group mostly looks at unexplained phenomena. “In practice what we end up doing is dealing more with extraordinary claims, such as to do with the paranormal: ghosts, UFO’s, ESP, metal benders like Uri Geller, and so on.”
Skepticism is not just about investigation, it’s also about protecting the public from con artists. But McMillan points out that a healthy skepticism should take an open-minded attitude. “Skepticism requires always keeping open the possibility that new evidence or reasoning could lead to new conclusions.”
It’s all about the proof. “Skeptics don’t stand for, ‘there are no ghosts, dowsing doesn’t work, or Uri Geller is a fraud.’ Skeptics stand for ‘You say there are ghosts? dowsing works? Uri Geller can bend spoons with the power of his mind? Let’s look at the evidence, let’s test it.'”
The society meets on the second Friday of every other month at OISE. In September, they’ll be launching a campus group called U of T Skeptics. Check them out at www.skeptics.ca.