Pictured here are two young Mormon missionaries pushing their weird religion on someone stuck at an intersection in Fengyuan 豐原, Taichung 台中. This is not accidental—missionaries actively target people at long lights, endangering themselves and everyone else on the road in the process. Taiwanese people are generally too polite and conflict-averse to tell these delusional clowns where to go—but I’m not, on the odd occasion they dare to make a play for my immortal soul. Sorry, it’s already taken…
Recently I have experienced a novel physical sensation: bee sting, or something like it. Last week while riding a scooter through the hazy agricultural fields of Mingjian 名間 in the western part of Nantou 南投 I felt a sudden, sharp pain in my exposed leg. I impulsively reached down to brush something aside—possibly the body of an insect—before glancing down to dislodge a small, black object that might have been a stinger.
I say “might” because my recollection of the sequence of events should be considered suspect. Everything happened so quickly that I can’t really be sure if the aforementioned events actually took place. It is, after all, a very human trait to manufacture narratives from fragmentary data in memory, and even skeptics like myself are subject to such things. It might have also been a wasp or hornet or something else entirely—perhaps a piece of grit or glass from the road?
At any rate, the bite or sting or whatever it was soon became so painful that I had to pull to the roadside to take a closer look at what was going on. I haven’t been stung before but members of my family are extremely allergic to bees and I worried that I might have a serious problem to contend with out on these obscure country roads. I’m the sort of guy who goes to get a cavity filled without anesthetic so I can handle pain—but this was absolutely excruciating.
Not having any better plan I continued north along highway 139乙 and made the ascent to the Bagua Plateau 八卦台地 (also the Bagua Mountain Range 八卦山脈) in search of a convenience store where I could at least slap a bandage on whatever it was as the wind whipping across the wound greatly exacerbated the pain. Before long I had it dealt with—and thanks to the magic of endorphins the pain became far more manageable and I made it back to Taichung 台中 in time.
Now, more than a week later, I’ve cycled through a number of unusual symptoms, and the wound remains an angry red bullseye the size of my palm, hot to touch and itchy as fuck. I’m not worried about going to the doctor or anything—my interest in posting this is mainly to recount an experience unusual for me. I’ve never been stung by a bee, or have I? Probably maybe, but possibly not. Yet another uncertainty that will be compacted over time, like memory, into something more prosaic, a simple “yes”, if only to spare others the needless complexity of my internal skeptic.
Lying here, during all this time after my own small fall, it has become my conviction that things mean pretty much what we want them to mean. We’ll pluck significance from the least consequential happenstance if it suits us and happily ignore the most flagrantly obvious symmetry between separate aspects of our lives if it threatens some cherished prejudice or cosily comforting belief; we are blindest to precisely whatever might be most illuminating.
I saw these reptilian delicacies for sale in Vancouver’s Chinatown while visiting way back in 2007. Nobody believes me anytime I mention flayed lizard for sale so here it is—photographic proof! These are likely to be tokay geckos, a species used in traditional Chinese medicine for various indications, “male endurance” among them. They aren’t eaten whole—they are boiled along with various other ingredients to make a soup.
Conspiracy theories are popular because no matter what they posit, they are all actually comforting, because they all are models of radical simplicity. I think they appeal to the infantile part of us that likes to know what’s going on.
What are the facts? Again and again and again—what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell”, avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history”—what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!
The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche. As long as that niche is occupied, evidence and proof and logical demonstration get nowhere. But once the niche is emptied of the wrong idea that has been filling it—once you can honestly say, ‘I don’t know’, then it becomes possible to get at the truth.
Some ancients believed that drinking elemental mercury would lead to eternal life. Just because it is “traditional knowledge” does not necessarily mean it is safe, valid, or true; there have been more misses over the millennia than hits.
“Truth activist” or brainwashed countercultural zombie seduced by all the flashy Internet memes? I am getting a bit weary of positive social change in the form of “raising awareness” via poorly produced and intellectually lazy Youtube videos. I guess taking up virtual arms against a shadowy cabal of rich white dudes out to enslave humanity is far more glamorous than doing anything that will make an actual difference.
The word skeptic, in fact, comes from the Greek skeptikos, for “thoughtful”—far from modern misconceptions of the word as meaning “cynical” or “nihilistic”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, skeptical has also been used to mean “inquiring”, “reflective”, and, with variations in the ancient Greek, “watchman” or “mark to aim at”. What a glorious meaning for what we do! We are thoughtful, inquiring, and reflective, and in a way we are the watchmen who guard against bad ideas, consumer advocates of good thinking who, through the guidelines of science, establish a mark at which to aim.