Growing up, I believed a lot of ridiculous things. For example, I convinced myself that the force was real for a while after watching “Star Wars” — the movie, obviously, was exaggerated, but there were people out there in our world (I imagined Indian men on street corners in India busking by levitating pennies) who could actually manipulate matter with their minds. I was probably 11 years old, and at the time I was incredibly obsessed with magic. Not Magic: the Gathering, nerd, the other kind. I can’t remember what first sparked the interest, but ever since I was little I’ve been in love with the art. It taught me a very important lesson about having a healthy level of skepticism.
I know now that no man can manipulate matter with his mind, other than the matter that makes up his mind, but studying magic put me into a unique position where I was constantly shown the impossible and asked to find the answer. Usually I could by watching whatever trick I saw on the still infantile Internet over and over again until I caught something or by looking up methods in old and ancient manuscripts borrowed from well-meaning magic store owners. And so I found myself in a pattern, seeing the impossible and finding the answer. Then when performing the impossible, I found consequently that people often would assume I had some sort of powers. This was addictive, and I went through what I think every adolescent magician goes through — a period of feeling and acting embarrassingly supernatural. I obviously had some personality issues to work through, and I did; but I also found myself questioning other things that I hadn’t ever really thought of before — whenever I heard something fantastical I wondered: How? Hearing about psychics who could read minds, I thought, “Can I do that?” And so I learned.
One day my dad came home with something given to him by his boss at work — a tiny, mysterious stone painted yellow. Holding it in one hand, you couldn’t push my dad over, but when he set it down, you could! I was shocked and amazed. Later I found out that this was the same trick done by the collective swindling that is the Power Balance company … In the future I would hear fantastical claims about acupuncture, about homeopathy, about magnet therapy and other alternative medicines. I saw that they worked for people and was again intrigued. Eventually my healthy level of skepticism allowed me to see through these things, too, and to understand why they work psychologically (or why people think they work for them). I saw that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation. Maybe you prayed to God to win your basketball game and you won, but that doesn’t mean that praying to God caused you to win. It’s the same for the smelly, unwashed socks of the proverbial baseball player that ‘cause’ him to get a home run.
It turns out that evidence is the only thing that can imply existence. And whether it’s Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, God or ghosts, if you look through your life, you’ll find that you’ve probably been believing certain things that aren’t true or real. You might find that the evidence you think you have probably isn’t very good. Psychology tells us that memory is extremely malleable and also that first-person accounts are very unreliable. Hmm … Problematic, considering most everybody believes that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space and that if you flash your brights at a car with their headlights off, you’ll be shot by a gang member.
Daily Nexus columnist Kevin Ferguson just dashed the hopes of any six-year-olds reading.