January 26, 2006

TM introduction

David Lynch's TM presentation

I happened to see part of this presentation that took place at the UW, on cable today [January 7, 2006]:

Consciousness, Creativity, and the Brain

I wouldn't have paid attention to a lecture about meditation, but the part I came in on was showing pictures of activation in areas of the brain, like it was a real science show. They think, and want you to think, that a person who has anger problems or has been abused will have what are called "functional lesions" in the frontal area of their brains, areas where activity is lower as if there are physical lesions, compared with a normal brain scan.

The speaker, Dr. Fred Travis, claimed that when you're stressed, it causes this damage because your brain does "down shifting" to depend more on the motor area for activity, which can lead to making blunders like running to class and forgetting your homework. He explained that the frontal areas do the conscious decision making, "That's where your David Lynch is." He blames damage there for poor decision making, such as violent behavior.

Then the show got even better: They had a young man hooked up to an electroencephalogram and pointed out the differences in the graphs they showed on screen for the front and back of his brain as he they had him blink, close his eyes, open his eyes, and lastly, meditate. (A disclaimer on the screen said due to technical difficulties, some of that was recorded separately.) It made it look like meditating has some scientifically measurable effect, compared to just closing your eyes.

David Lynch and the other speakers talked for a few minutes about the benefits of transcendental meditation and surprisingly it wasn't boring. Knowing that the TM movement is like a religion, it seems like they may have been exaggerating with some of the success stories, such as reducing recidivism in a prison in Africa. (Once I heard a Christian missionary give a speech about a miracle in some place in Africa: lightning out of a clear blue sky that killed a lion. That sort of story about a place that listeners can never check on, if presented as if it is evidence rather than just a story, reduces the credibility of a presentation.)

The closing title screen gave this web address:


You can watch or download a video of the "Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain" presentation that was given at Emerson College in Boston (77 minutes). Film students ask Lynch questions about his movies for the first few minutes, until a film teacher asks the expected question about what TM can contribute to film making creativity and he starts on his speech about it.

After a few more questions, John Hagelin the physicist, who was in the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?" gives a speech about consciousness.

From 48:40 on, the presentation is similar to what I saw and described above, but with a little more apparent nervousness and searching for words, and not seeming to make the entertaining points as well, showing that a month and several tries later, they had improved their presentation. That's evidence of thinking on their feet, an ability which they would probably credit TM for enhancing.

What about the story of the prison in Africa? The first version I looked at: abstract from Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 2003. It says in Senegal, TM was introduced in prisons from 1987 to 1989, and recidivism went from 90% down to 3%. Next I found a webpage by David Orme-Johnson, Dean of Research, Maharishi International University, from 2001 that said recidivism went down to 8%. Here's a paragraph from an article from Corrections Today, December 1991:

"Before the TM program was introduced in Senegal in January 1987, inmates there returned to prison at a rate of about 90 percent within the first month. After TM had been instituted, a study of 2,400 inmates released through an amnesty in June 1988 revealed that fewer than 200 of them returned within the first six months-80 percent of those who returned did not practice the technique."

So the prisoners who didn't reoffend were released in an amnesty, not the usual releases. That means they might not be the usual inmates held for short times for offenses that are often repeated.

A letter from Colonel Mamadou Diop, Director of the Penitentiary Administration (in Senegal,) from January 1989, to one of the writers of later articles about it, who translated it from French, gives the same information, plus more details. It's at www.tmscotland.org/popup/senegal although the index of the site is not up. It appears to be the source behind the other stories. It contains this sentence just before the recidivism statistics:

"Indeed, we can say that in Senegal usually about 90% of the inmates released after serving their sentence (or those released because of the yearly presidential pardon) come back to prison within one month."

So the author (or maybe the translator?) has thought of adding the parenthesis about the yearly pardon to make the implications more scientific. Still, did the pardon in 1988 release the right prisoners for once?

Senegal is a majority Muslim country. Transcendental Meditation is associated with Hinduism. It seems unlikely they would let there be TM classes in the prisons for both the prisoners and guards, but maybe that's why the project was discontinued despite seeming so successful. Some critics of the TM movement say that studies about any form of meditation are called evidence for TM, so maybe it was some form of Sufi meditation.

Who knows what really happened? There are some countries where you can buy forged documents from government officials to have evidence for whatever you like.

January 08, 2006

Global Warming still in doubt, part 2

So the next day, I checked for a reply. There was one and I responded to as follows:


Re 140: (Hockey stick beaten again, skip if bored with it:)

I did not claim scientists have not considered the problems I mentioned. I specifically mentioned that those problems were just starter points to think about “in case you have trouble seeing the problems revealed in the disclaimer for the graph on your own.” I almost put the paragraphs containing those obviously non-expert common sense observations into parentheses to link them to that purpose, and I’m sorry that I didn’t. I was trying to point out that no one should be fooled by the hockey stick, because what it’s based on raises questions for anyone thinking skeptically or even critically that would lead to looking for explanations and critical reviews of it before accepting it, and that leads to learning that it has been discredited by scientists. The tree ring studies included WERE better proxies for rainfall than temperature. The statistical method DID lose the absolute temperature signal, by which I mean obviously the information about whether temperatures were generally high or low several centuries ago, not the relative information about when shorter term global highs and lows were.

No, I do not work for the petro industry. Another study by Mann et al. in 1999 doesn’t count to me as replication. You see, I am in fact a rank amateur rather than a professional shill, and as such I have the right and the pleasure of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes when you try to pull that self-replicating study business that is so beloved in professional circles.

Yes, anthropogenic global warming is probably true. I didn’t claim otherwise. The subject I was keeping track of when you brought up the dreaded hockey stick was what world temperature or conditions should be gone back to as a preanthropogenic ideal. The hockey stick shape has the political potential of justifying any amount of global regulation to return nature to a narrow ideal range and to hold it there. It’s not that I’m worried about the specific hockey stick graph. I know science has passed that by. What had me reacting was just the idea of anyone taking such an obvious fudge seriously, and with its huge error margins, as setting a goal everyone should aim for, as if it was the scientific clarion call to a new millennium that has been vindicated. You may not be a socialist personally, and I apologize for the casual way I write implying that, but the pushing of a scientific consensus that dogmatically includes things like the hockey stick serves that sort of ridiculous socialist political movement.

Thank you for a stimulating and honest response to my post. To be perfectly frank, I’m checking whether I was right, because you seemed to have great self-confidence and to be saying that I shouldn’t have so much. Verification of devastating criticism of the hockey stick: McIntyre and McKitrick, in Geophysical Research Letters and in Energy and Environment, 2005. (I’m referring to the abstracts and comments because I’m not a professional subscriber.)

(Re 142: Thank you Philip for your defense against ad hominem on my behalf.)

Posted by sonny · January 7th, 2006 at 3:29 am

[I should have corrected the statement about tree ring studies to say: The tree ring studies of bristlecone pines included WERE found to be better proxies for CO2 than for temperature.]

What does this all mean?

The essay starting that thread at Crooked Timber was saying the debate has been settled, and that Ross McKitrick has no credibility (with a link to a page of criticisms of his past comments on climate science) as if that ad hominem can stand in place of referring or linking to an answer to the scientific arguments raised in reviewed, published articles where he was a coauthor.

Some humans act like finding the truth is all about producing a hierarchy of credibility, a way of socially rating others to decide whether they believe them and allow them to dictate truth or they disbelieve them and, regardless of their arguments, insult them as discredited, ignorant, and so on. To those, the global warming debate is settled in one camp or another.

The history of religions and governments demonstrates that the credibility method alone does not work. However, some degree of rating and sensing credibility is necessary, such as having scientific journals that have a reputation for accurate information. It doesn't matter to current scientists how crankish they think Newton's interest in alchemy was, they know that his published work in physics, optics, and astronomy has been reviewed by many scientists and was the source of many discoveries and formulae they learned in school, so current scientists count Newton one of the greatest scientists in history. He was doing the equivalent of calculus his own way, genius that he was, with his own notation that didn't catch on, while Leibniz founded calculus mathematically.

The religions and politics of individual scientists shouldn't matter to arguing the truth or falsity of the best work they've published. What should be cultivated to find truth is a skeptical attitude that nothing is absolutely sure and an ability to take arguments for what they say, apart from who says them. (Looking back at the last paragraphs of the essay by John Quiggin on Crooked Timber that started the debate, it's a good example of the opposite of this point of view. "Any analysis on this issue coming out of a think tank that has engaged in global warming contrarianism must be regarded as valueless unless its results have been reproduced independently, after taking account of possible data mining and cherry picking.")

That's all being optimistic about science though. I can feel moderately pessimistic too, and think it's the End of Science, as in the John Horgan book of that title. All science that attempts to move beyond the level of what an individual has time to learn from the ground up and beyond applied science that proves itself in technology every day becomes post-modern science. In post-modern science, complications allow adjusting and correcting data and methods and analyses to produce only result that the consensus calls for, and individual researchers depend on products of that consensus for what they work on in turn.

A gambit of stronger criticism of science as post-modern would be to think science has never really gotten anywhere except to provide a rationalization for technology, and the methods used in technology are self-evident mathematics not really discoveries from natural science, and techniques and working knowledge of materials that are always somewhat separate from what scientists explain you should be able to do with those materials. In this view, those who build particle accelerators are technologists, and the scientists who want them and use them have always been post-modern fantasizers.

Stronger pessimism would be to think humans don't even see the real dangers or problems, while science makes no progress on what we are worried about.

Related links to this post: Philip Stott at A Parliament of Things and EnviroSpin Watch. The site given by the critic of my earlier post, ecolanguage.net. The opposing scientists' websites: more established climatologists, including Michael Mann, RealClimate, more skeptical outsider climatologists, mostly Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit. An apparently not vandalized Wikipedia article that shows the main estimates from several recent major studies in one graph, demonstrating a tendency to show a "Little Ice Age" and "Medieval Warm Period" not the flattened past of the original 1998 hockey stick: Image:1000 Year Temperature Comparison.png.

January 06, 2006

Taking down sidebar links

I'm removing all the external links from the sidebar of Return of the Sasquatch.

Here they are, just for reference:

cultural derealization:

Pop Occulture

(formerly Occult Investigator)

sasquatch emulation:

Ran Prieur

total pessmism about civilization:

The Anthropik Network

moderate pessimism about peak oil:


disaster pessimism:


war and disaster paranoia:

What Does It Mean

not gullible about terrorism:

What Really Happened

political paranoia and channeling:

Signs of the Times

pessimism about government:

Lew Rockwell

optimism about anarchy:

Strike the Root

I thought a lot about what to write about this today, and came up with the following three points:

Links will appear in posts when relevant.

Normal entertainment and periodicals never give static recommendation lists. References occur in context, giving them meaning and weight.

One hot link beats a hundred stale blogrolls.

Really it's more personal than trying to further the art of the blog. I feel tied down by having a list on the sidebar that I feel like I should keep up with to be authentic. Then I feel embarrassed to put the address of the blog into places where I post comments, because one list of a certain pop-media/ bad news genre doesn't represent everything about who I am and whether my comments should be taken seriously or lightly on a given subject.

I want this blog to show development and growth, not becoming a big fan of particular websites just because it seemed cool to have them in the sidebar.

Global Warming still in doubt

Here's my contribution to the global warming debate, which I posted at Crooked Timber:


߬◊, regarding your post 118: That hockey stick graph you link to says right on it: “Data from thermometers (red) and from tree rings, corals, ice cores and historical records (blue).”

Excuse me while I puke over the poor quality of the facade of science being used to justify international socialist regulation of the world. If you’re going to rule the world under the banner of science, could you at least choose some real science, instead of pushing this pseudo stuff onto the podium for forced applause? No, I guess that would be out of character for a real socialist not to make the platform offensive to truthfulness as a test of party loyalty.

(In case you have trouble seeing the problem revealed in the disclaimer for the graph on your own, here are some starter points you should be able to think about for yourself to understand why this is poor quality, unreliable science, which are points in addition to the devastating criticisms of the hockey stick data and statistical methods that have been published:)

Tree rings don’t make a good proxy for temperature, when the species selected are more sensitive to rainfall, humidity, CO2, and maybe a hundred other things than temperature. Corals are an interesting choice of data. That might tell you something about whether there were El Nino oscillations or other changes in circulation in tropical oceans in the past and how strong they were. Ice cores have a selection bias: They can’t possibly exist from places and times that were much warmer in the past. The ice would have melted away. Taking gas content measurement of ice cores as revealing absolute differences in the past requires ignoring that life and chemistry can still happen on and in glaciers.

If a climate historian puts enough proxies that are partial guesses together and averages them, the resulting graph might have some bumps that correlate with what actually happened, but the absolute temperature signal is totally lost in the choice of how to balance various inaccurate estimates.

Posted by sonny · January 6th, 2006 at 3:45 am