Gravity Mine, redux

By Phil Plait | December 4, 2005 10:02 pm

So, most people figured out the video I posted about on Friday. The camera was simply turned upside down, and that made the rocks appear to fall up. This was a very simple trick, and it’s not like the videographers were trying really hard to make it look real, yet a lot of people fell for it (haha! Get it? Fell!).

A lot of the comments on that entry were from people who couldn’t believe anyone would think it was real, given how simple (and in hindsight, how obvious) the trick was. But, in my experience, I’ve found that a lot of folks will quite easily be perplexed by such a thing. It’s not that they’re stupid; far from it. It’s just that they are not used to thinking critically about what they see. Thinking that way takes practice, and it’s easy — far too easy– to let those guards slip.

The vast majority of people in the world simply accept what they see and hear without analyzing it. It’s an evolutionary trait of humans, and maybe a long time ago had (and in some circumstances even now still has) survival traits. But in today’s world, with an easily-manipulated media, unedited opinions on the web, and — let’s face it– a whole lot of people who want to control you in one way or another, this is a dangerous thought process indeed.

So just think. Think! When you see something that you have a hard time believing, then maybe you should take it as a sign you shouldn’t believe in it. In my opinion, you shouldn’t believe in anything. Don’t just ask for proof: demand it!

Comments (34)

  1. When television would air a special about a magician (David Blane to be specific) it would drive me absolutely nuts to here people declare him as a true user of magic and fall for his tricks just because he made it look so real.

    The same holds true when people like Sylvia Brown pipe in their blather and my mother in law swears that the woman is an authentic psychic, or John Edwards and his “guess till someone agrees” routine that people buy into so easily.

    Amazing that people will fall for this stuff so readily.

  2. Christian Burnham

    I disagree with the BA. You can’t possibly be skeptical of everything! There aren’t enough hours in the day. If someone tells me that they bought a new Jazz CD then I’ll assume they’re probably telling the truth. If they tell me that they found an alien artifact in their garden, then I’ll want more information.

    This is all deep philosophy of science stuff. There’s something to be said for assuming that the theory of evolution is probably right if 99.9% of geneticists use it every day. That’s not to say that theories should never be criticized. However, there is something to be said for assigning a probability for a statement to be true.

    Let’s make this a little greyer shall we? Should we applaud people for questioning evolution and landing on the moon? Aren’t they being skeptical?

    I’m being a contrarian, but I want people to think critically about their own critical thinking- but I pretty much agree with the BA’s sentiments. I also like that he points out that skepticism and intelligence are two separate (but maybe not entirely unrelated) things.

  3. Of course– I claim men landed on the Moon. The difference between me and someone like Bart Sibrel (who claims Apollo was faked)? I have evidence to back up my claims. I don’t mean for people to deny everything. I want them to understand the difference between faith and trust.

  4. Christian Burnham

    Thanks BA. As I said, I was being a contrarian. And I completely agree with your comments.

  5. Blake Stacey

    If you are skeptical of **everything**, then you must necessarily be skeptical of your own skepticism — and if you try **that** for very long at all, you’ll blow a fuse in your brain, give up and join the Postmodern Lit Department. Yes?

    “The difference between faith and trust” — I like that. Thanks BA.

  6. David A

    Useful quotes to remember in these situations (but not originally mine unfortunately):

    “The plural of anecdotes is not data” and
    ” is not a peer-reviewed journal”

    See BadScience.net discussion forums for more:
    http://www.badscience.net/?a=xdforum&xdforum_action=viewthread&xf_id=1&xt_id=8

  7. David A

    Damn the second quote didn’t come out properly:

    “INSERT FAVOURITE TABLOID NEWSPAPER is not a peer-reviewed journal”

  8. Christian Burnham

    I can see my comments are in danger of being misunderstood here. Sometimes I think we should do more to understand why people believe the apparently (to us) ludicrous. Calling it ‘faith’ is a bit of a put-down and seems to be an easy way out. After reading Shermer’s book on “Why People Believe in God” I’ve realised that there’s a very strong psychological tendency for people to assume that their beliefs are for logical reasons, whilst others believe things for emotional “irrational” reasons. I’m certainly not claiming that any of the hoaxes that the BA has dealt with should be treated as anything more than magical thinking. After all, the BA points out that there’s an inherent assymmetry in the evidence (mountains and mountains for science, vs none for magical thinking). What bothers me is that we are not making enough of an effort to understand why people adopt their beliefs. This is important if we’re to fight creationism in this country. (Creationists, for instance are also fantastically certain that the evidence leads inescapably to their belief) As the BA says and it can’t be emphasized enough, it’s not simply a lack of intelligence. Maybe this is the wrong forum for these thoughts.

  9. Marlayna

    I was one of the people who “fell” for the video the last time… not in the sense that I believed there is such a thing as anti-gravity (I was looking for a more rational explanation) but in the sense that it didn’t cross my mind that the video was intentionally faked. Only when I started reading the comments did it strike me. “Oh yeah… there’s that”.

    I’m sorry, it’s my nature to trust people, and I don’t want to change that. I ALWAYS question the interpretation people give to their experiences (even to a ridiculous degree, I’ve been told) but NEVER their experiences themselves. If someone comes up to me and says “I saw a UFO”, I will probably think he/she saw a plane or a flock of geese or something… I don’t like to assume people lie to me.

    Does that make me any less of a skeptic? I don’t care. I’m not so eager to lose my innocence, thank you very much.

  10. Christian Burnham

    Don’t worry Marlayana. I think your attitude is charming. There are more important things in this world than competing for best skeptic title. (My opinion) I’ve got no idea how 99% of magic tricks are done.

  11. Jon Niehof

    One of my undergrad physics profs had a saying: “Trust, but verify.”

  12. There’s also the fact that the insert, as a cinematic trick, has become nearly invisible, probably because we’ve all seen plenty of movies and we know the “language” of cinema. But I wonder what people in, say, 1905 would have thought of a similar film.

  13. Michelle Rochon

    Hee hee… I thought as much. Everything didn’t feel normal.

    ‘course, it’s just silly they wouldn’t follow the rocks as they “climbed up” and made sure we’d see the guys standing straight.

  14. arensb: Sufficiently advanced technology appears as magic, etc. I’d wager some smart cookies would figure out it was fake, though. You got me thinking about modern cinematic techniques and the late victorian era, though. What would they think of computer generated imagery? Even when it’s bad? Would they buy it?

  15. I fall for this stuff all the time. How else would I have come to own a Super Slicer from TV-shop?
    I did throw it away again though, after it nearly got one of my fingers.

  16. NelC

    In the job I just walked out of, one of the reasons I did so was the slow-dawning realisation that my manager wasn’t just socially maladroit, but knowingly lying to me. It became obvious that even she didn’t believe the rubbish she was spouting, but just saying it to manipulate her staff.

    So yeah, we do tend to trust people, and even when we spot the dissonances, we tend to make excuses for them. One lie leads to another, and it is quite hard to lie effectively for any great length of time, I found out as a child, so I try not to do it myself. My problem is that I tend to believe that other people have come to the same sensible conclusion, so if it looks like someone is doing it to me, I think I’m missing something, that with one key piece of information it’ll suddenly make sense.

    Incidentally, my manager didn’t believe in the Moon landings, either. Maybe one day I’ll be wise enough to spot these abuses of reason as the warning flags they are.

  17. Wikipedian
  18. Christian Burnham

    Hey Wikipedian. Without carefully going through the whole page- I think this has been explained very many times as a result of an optical illusion making it look like the road has an upwards gradient. I’m sure other people on this board can point you to the references.

    However much skeptical thinking you use on a day-to-day basis, double it and then triple it and then double once more for good luck when you read a Fortean Times article.

  19. Jon Jensen

    B.A> mentioned faith and trust. I would argue that faith exists only in the minds of people. Aristotle would argue that we come to knowledge 3 ways: observation, which would include science, reason, and faith. I would argue that faith, i.e. believing in something without proof, is not knowledge at all. You gain no knowledge if you believe in anything without some type of proof, whether that be through science or reason. Can a skeptic have faith and be a true skeptic? I wonder.

  20. Christian Burnham

    Jon. Can a skeptic have religious faith? I would argue yes. This is one of the most debated topics amongst skeptics. I’d like to point out that Martin Gardner, who is easily one of the most important skeptics in the movement is a theist. For the record, I’m a staunch atheist- but not for entirely rational reasons. I am however a strong believer in allowing others the right to their own beliefs as long as it doesn’t impinge on my civil liberty or education.

  21. Peter B

    What makes me laugh about this is that if the video had been screened on a “Funniest Home Video Show” everyone would have applauded its cleverness, and not assumed it was filmed in an anti-gravity mine. Those sorts of camera tricks are often used to make video clips.

    Perhaps context is everything…

  22. antipodean

    Marlayna: I was one of the people who “fell� for the video the last time… not in the sense that I believed there is such a thing as anti-gravity (I was looking for a more rational explanation) but in the sense that it didn’t cross my mind that the video was intentionally faked. Only when I started reading the comments did it strike me. “Oh yeah… there’s that�.

    That happened to me too, but i am still confused about what exactly cavorite is

  23. antipodean

    i don’t think i could believe anything written in fortean times

  24. Peter B

    Antipodean

    Cavorite doesn’t exist. The science fiction author H G Wells invented it as the means to allow a spacecraft to travel to the Moon in a novel he wrote.

  25. NelC

    Fortean Times is a great workout for the skeptical mind, I think, as well as great for letting your imagination roam. Not all of it is credulous boondoggles. Not even most of it, I think.

  26. antipodean

    Ah, thank you for the explanation Peter, much appreciated

    Yes, fortean times has its place, just that every time i see it i am instantly reminded of the X files

  27. Jon Jensen

    christian

    i can’t cay that I am an athiest, as it takes faith to say that as much as it does to say one believes in any religion. both are equally unprovable one way or the other. it makes no more sense to argue for a god than it does to argue against one…..still, i’d tend to agree with you. :-)

  28. Evolving Squid

    i can’t cay that I am an athiest, as it takes faith to say that as much as it does to say one believes in any religion.

    No it does not. That it takes faith to not believe in gods or religion is an unsupportable claim. Faith requires a leap in logic

    One can arrive at a non-belief in the supernatural through logical, scientific means, and many of us here have done so. I have no “faith” in my belief as my belief was arrived at through reason based on an examination of the available evidence for and against the existence of supernatural beings. It requires no more faith than does a belief that 1+1=2.

  29. Irishman

    Jon Jensen Said:
    >i can’t cay that I am an athiest, as it takes faith to say that as much as it does to say one believes in any religion.

    I disagree, for two reasons. The first is terminology. You seem to be taking “atheist” to mean “one who asserts there is no god”. That is something referred to as strong or positive atheism. You are correct that that is an assertion of a position. However, many people are atheists in the sense of soft or negative atheism – they do not believe in gods because they do not have evidence to support that belief. If I asked you if you believe in Zeus, you’d likely say no (unless you’re trying to be contrarian). If I asked if you believe in the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or that there is a China teapot orbiting Mars, you’d very likely conclude no as well. Why not? You can’t disprove them, either. The reason – it makes little sense to accept an outlandish claim as true without evidence, so there is no reason to believe it true. Well, many atheists feel that way about God. It’s an outlandish claim that makes no sense to believe without evidence, ergo they don’t believe. An Atheist is one who is without God or gods.

    This is in contrast to the Agnostic. Many people think that agnosticism is not concluding either way. However, what many people think of as agnosticism is really weak atheism. Agnosticism answers a different question – not whether god exists, but what is knowable about God. There are both atheist and religious agnostics. An atheist agnostic is one who doesn’t think that humans can know about god or find evidence, so chooses not to worship. A religious agnostic is one who doesn’t think that humans can know about god or find evidence, so chooses to worship. This latter is more akin to saying “I think there is a God, but what we can know about him is limited, and we will never find proof.”

    I said there were 2 reasons why it doesn’t take faith to be an atheist. The first was terminology. The second is reasoning. The postage stamp summary goes like this: the descriptions we are given for God are logically self-contradictory. They also depict a God that at times seems more like a bratty child than a loving father. The typical depictions of God as an anthropic agent do not fit well with nature, with the way the world works, the so-called “problem if Evil”. What we know about history, religious variation, psychology, neurology, sociology, and just about any other involved topic all point in the direction that religious stories are mythologies invented to serve a purpose, not an accurate description of how the world works. In other words, Man created God, not the other way around. When all of this evidence and reasoning is lined up, the conclusion that makes the most sense is that God does not exist. Ergo, the decision is not based upon faith, but upon a string of reasoning.

    Now I suppose you are correct that people could be atheists on faith – not go through the above processes and just choose to believe there isn’t a god. But I submit that is a very tiny subset if at all.

  30. Irishman

    Christian Burnham Said:
    >Let’s make this a little greyer shall we? Should we applaud people for questioning evolution and landing on the moon? Aren’t they being skeptical?

    If they are acting out of a desire to discover the truth, if they are applying critical thinking, if they are evaluating and comparing the evidence, they they are being skeptical. But that means applying that skepticism and critical thinking to the supposed alternative explanations as well. It also means basing your criticisms on accurate claims. If you base your disbelief in the moon landings on picture “anomalies”, such as the lack of stars and funky shadows, then you can be applying skeptical thought and be wrong. However, if you then are shown explanations and even demonstrations of how the so-called errors are in fact acurate to nature, and the anomaly is an erroneous expectation on your part, then continued skepticism of the moon landings steps from concern over the evidence to pig-headed stubbornness. You are still wrong, but now you are unwilling to learn. Skepticism isn’t rejecting out of hand, it is critically evaluating the evidence.

    Further, suppose you come to the topic with questions over some of the pictures. Some of the things don’t seem right to you. Do you automatically conclude that the Apollo missions were all a hoax, that the astronauts never went, that the whole of NASA is engaged in a coverup, that people were murdered to silence them from exposing the scam? Or do you apply some skepticism to that scenario, too? It’s okay to not know the technical details. It is not okay to assume because you do not know the technical details that it must be a hoax.

  31. Christian Burnham

    I agree, but I can also see how even conspiracy nuts think they’re being skeptical. There are 1000′s of conflicting accounts of the Kennedy assassination, and all of them think that they’re following the evidence in a skeptical manner.

    Maybe part of my point is that being skeptical isn’t enough because we all think we are skeptical- we need to be skeptical of our own skepticism. Yeah- we could end up in a recursive loop here.

    The Christians all think they have god on their side- and now the skeptics think we have logic and rationality on our side. That may be true, but it gives me some pause for thought. If everyone thinks they’re logical and that their theories are proved by the evidence- how do we know that our theories and logic are better than theirs? It’s not automatic- rationality requires constant thought and questioning, even of ourselves.

  32. Irishman

    Christian Burnham Said:
    >Sometimes I think we should do more to understand why people believe the apparently (to us) ludicrous. Calling it ‘faith’ is a bit of a put-down and seems to be an easy way out.

    While I agree with your first statement, the second is perhaps a bit off. It is the religious (especially Christians, especially certain christians) who laud faith themselves. “Saved by faith through grace” is the refrain. Ask the typical christian about evidence, and eventually the defense turns to god wanting us to have faith. The Christian apologist literature is full of faith as their justification. So it isn’t exactly an insult for us to describe them with their own label. The problem is we seem to disagree over the relative worth and significance of faith itself.

    >After reading Shermer’s book on “Why People Believe in God� I’ve realised that there’s a very strong psychological tendency for people to assume that their beliefs are for logical reasons, whilst others believe things for emotional “irrational� reasons.

    That is a very valid point, and one we need to consider more closely.

    >What bothers me is that we are not making enough of an effort to understand why people adopt their beliefs. This is important if we’re to fight creationism in this country. (Creationists, for instance are also fantastically certain that the evidence leads inescapably to their belief) As the BA says and it can’t be emphasized enough, it’s not simply a lack of intelligence.

    Each person’s decision in these matters is a personal one, crafted by who they are, their prior experiences, the beliefs and attitudes of their families, and their existing beliefs on other matters. Belief is contextual. We take new information and try to integrate it with our existing knowledge and belief base. When something doesn’t fit, our normal reaction is to reject the new material, not the old. It takes a really significant impact to make us weigh the new information more favorably than the old, and reject the old. Because of this, we’re coming at the question from very different perspectives, and those perspectives color the interpretations we give to the information.

    Add to this the fact that there’s evidence, and then there’s evidence. People have personal experiences that they take at an emotional level. Those experiences are used as evidence for their personal evaluations. It is a rational process to evaluate the situation, but that includes “evidence� that is not objective. I think that is where the breakdown comes between the two perspectives. I made a logical conclusion based upon my evidence. He made an irrational decision based upon emotion and irrational reasons.

    Sometimes I think that most of the time we only think we’re communicating.

  33. Mathias

    Hehe. I fell for it… I tend to trust everything on this site. I showed it to a friend who sent back “LOL”. He is highly skilled in working as a photographer and saw right away what was going on. He said “do you really believe this stuff” I said yeah, and linked to the BA.com. Then his reply was “get a life” :D Anyway, thanks Bad Astronomer for this wake up call.

  34. Mathias, you should know by now that BA has got a sense of humor. He was just pulling our rock hard legs. :-)
    Never trust a joker.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »