Cetacean Woo

8 05 2007

Every night for the past few days I’ve been reading bits of Kenneth Brower’s Freeing Keiko: The Journey of a Killer Whale from Free Willy to the Wild and I feel relatively ambivalent towards it; the story itself is interesting but Brower seems to be reaching to find a mythology to relate to Keiko, be it found in Moby Dick, the Bible, or Norse mythology. I can accept such attempts to make the unprecedented return of a killer whale to the wild seem mythic, but Chapter 16 (entitled “The Galactic Federation”) made me want to drop the book and not finish it.

Chapter 16 begins as follows;

In the early 1990s, when Keiko was still in Mexico, a woman named Dianne Robbins began going down to the shore at Deerfield Beach, Florida, where she would sit alone by the ocean with pen and notebook. Robbins is a telepath and empath [emphasis mine]. In the late 1970s, she had been an active member of Greenpeace, but she had not understood back then, very early in her spiritual evolution, that she could hear whales; that she had been telepathically linked to cetaceans in previous lifetimes. Once this reality dawned on her, communication with whales became easy. On the Florida beach she would telepathically call out, “I am ready.” The voices of the sea would then press in upon her as the cetaceans dictated their messages.
“I am Corky, your sister imrisoned in Sea World. Know that my days are fraught with sorrow.”

The chapter continues on with the wild claims, never once qualifying them as Robbins’ beliefs but instead merely presenting them as if everyone believes in telepaths and empaths and all other kinds of neo-spiritual woo. My personal favorite “missive” from the whales Robbins alleged she communicated with is related in this passage;

“I am your Orca Friend dictating this letter to you,” Keiko telepathized. “Know that although I am well taken care of, I still am not free. How long must it be, before I am free? The only sure way to rehabilitate me, is to set me free. The ocean is my home, where my family still awaits me. The ocean contains all the healing ingredients necessary for my complete reintroduction back into Orca life. I have not forgotten how to eat live fish, or how to fish, just because I’ve been penned up all these years. On the contrary, would you forget how to eat your food or shop for food if you were imprisoned?”

Keep in mind that this is all before the assertions that cetaceans are the data-collectors of the universe, the closest beings to being made of pure light, that they repair damage to the earth’s magnetic field, and they can spiritually be beamed aboard Galactic Command ships. Brower makes no comment on such claims, only relating (at the end of the chapter) that Robbins has a different view of the whale than others. I tire of the new-age psychobabble that is so entwined with cetaceans today, just as I am infuriated by those who refuse to acknowledge their intelligence. All too often cetaceans are related to just being animals responding to their environment or some sort of mystical creature that feels kinship with mankind, both extremes being wrong. If Brower wanted to reproduce some of Robbins’ ramblings, so be it, but I can’t abide the blind relativism that allows crackpot claims to seem respectable and proliferate.



10 responses

9 05 2007

they can spiritually be beamed aboard Galactic Command ships

UFOs are giant flying aquaria? At last we have an explanation that makes sense!

(This kind of stuff makes my head hurt.)


β€œI am Corky, your sister imprisoned in Sea World. Know that my days are fraught with sorrow.”

This sounds like the kind of faux-Elizabethan gibberish I often find myself flagging in people’s short stories I’m trying to crit. “Know that my days are fraught with sorrow” s/b “My life certainly does suck.” Shorter and punchier, don’t you think?

9 05 2007

Thanks for the comment Molly; as you can tell from my recent postings I’ve been reading too much woo lately; after I finish Natural Theology I’ll have to lock myself in a room with some good books for a change…

And I agree that “My life certainly does suck” is a lot better; it’s blunt, contemporary, and more emotionally charged than “My days are fraught with sorrow.” If you don’t use the word “fraught” in your day-to-day dealings, why include it in dialog (unless you’re doing a period piece, and even then you don’t want your writing to become a caricature of itself).

The more I started reading, the more I realized how difficult it is to find good writing…

9 05 2007


And if these are “ascended beings”, why do they all talk like dialog out of cheap fantasy novels or bad B movies, too?

I’ve just been reading Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World”, and he has some good insights about why pseudoscience is much more accessible and believable to people than science — no less true today than 10 years ago. There is a lot of romantic wishful thinking involved, too, I imagine. The fact that people are willing to swallow this drek without even engaging critical thinking skills in first gear, apparently, and even for the most outrageous and outlandish claims (very, very far away from everyday experience, say) sticks in my craw, too, though.

Back when I was a teenager, I remember my mother and sister-in-law dragging me off to see this “wonderful” woman who was trying to raise money to build a dolphin “sanctuary”, for dolphins rescued from marine park shows. She, too, felt that dolphins were “ascended beings of light”, which idea was reinforced by the fact that “when she put large crystals into a dolphin pool, the dolphins repeatedly sprayed the crystals with sonar.” My interpretation was that she had put a set of novel objects in with animals in a concrete tank, so, yeah, they wanted to have a look. Her interpretation is that they were “communicating” with the crystals, because “they recognised the power that crystals have.” Um, yeah.

She was going to set up her “sanctuary” for, in the first instance, 7 “rescues”. I asked her how big their environment was going to be. A whole acre, she said. And where was this going to be? She had land in northern Arizona, she said.

Oh, yeah, the idea of shipping in fresh seawater daily for this pool in freaking Arizona….that was “detail that she really didn’t need to bother with at this point”, because “it was all about having a can-do attitude and striving to help our fellow creatures, not just be defeatist about it.” So very, very reality-based, no?


Er, sorry about the rant. Just, I share your frustration.

9 05 2007

It’s ok Luna; being that my blog is, in reality, just one big rant I encourage others to do the same. During a street fair the other day I saw a booth that said “The Science of Spirituality” (or something like that), claiming they had found a miracle-tea that could cure diabetes. I didn’t get a chance to confront the woman at the booth but it just amazes me have pervasive this stuff is (especially books like “The Secret”). I actually haven’t read “Demon Haunted World” yet myself, but the Q&A notes from “Varieties of Scientific Experience” had an interesting and well-played (on Sagan’s part) exchange between him and a woman who believed in psychic powers.

Like you mentioned, I think many people engage in “magical thinking” because it’s not only easier than trying to find the real answers, but it also elicits a feel-good response. “Yes, everything is control of a benevolent cosmic force and I have nothing at all to worry about.” As I’ve mentioned during some of my talks on evolution, my life would surely be easier if I was a fundamentalist or creationist, but I would rather know the engage reality than construct a fantasy that merely makes me comfortable.

For those who do recognize new-age BS for what it is, I often think there is a problem making a distinction between respecting a person and respecting an idea. All too often people make excuses like “Well, it works for them” and don’t try and open up a dialog about someone’s wingnuttery (although you wouldn’t want to start the conversation by saying “What’s up wingnut?”; that’d be a bad plan). You can entirely respect a person while being ruthless with ideas that make them believe in magic crystals or spaceships, although admittedly it’s hard to excise such beliefs. It’s only mildly related but I remember an episode of the “Dog Whisperer” where a woman was having a problem with her dog, a dog she related to as if it were a child. She absolutely wouldn’t treat the dog as a dog or act like a “pack leader” because she had convinced herself that she was the mommy and the dog was the baby, and hence despite the trainers attempts the sessions weren’t a success because of the woman’s inability to deal with reality.

Anyway, I should probably stop ranting now myself, but thank you again for a wonderful comment.πŸ™‚

9 05 2007

It’s especially difficult to deal with woo-meisters when they’re people you’d otherwise like to get along with. My sister-in-law–a smart woman, but one with whom I have very little in common–was telling me last week about this new MLM product she’s just started using that “detoxifies the cells” and “helps cut off the flow of energy to the cancer cells that are already there. Did you know that everyone actually has cancer cells, and if you can keep down the level of toxins in your body they won’t start growing out of control?”

I think I still have toothmarks in my tongue from biting it so hard. Just one of those situations where I *could* challenge her, but I know nothing I would say would make her question her beliefs (because she’s a Christian and follower of the One True Way, and I’m the blacksheep atheist of the family) and we’d just end up causing unnecessary family strife.

How do you deal with situations like that? (This is something I’ve been wanting to blog about for a long time, but my brother-in-law reads my blog despite being specifically disinvited to do so, and, once again… family harmony trumps all…)

9 05 2007

Forgot to add… the stuff she’s using is $100 a month. A HUNDRED BUCKS A MONTH. Meanwhile, they’re in credit counseling for the second time and looking at selling their house so it won’t get foreclosed upon…

I really hate woo-meisters who take advantage of people when they know full well their “victims” can’t afford what they’re peddling.

9 05 2007

Thanks for the comments Molly; you’re right in that it’s easy for me to sit here and say “Stand up for rationality!” when people that are close to you buy in to wacky things. It’s certainly harder when family-harmony gets in the way. For my own part I usually take the offensive, i.e. when I heard about The Secret I mentioned it to some friends & family as a bunch of B.S. and briefly explained why, thereby trying to at least plant the idea that such a system was nutty (regardless of whether they bought into it or not).

What one does when someone constantly and consistently gets pulled into such things, however, that varies with who you’re dealing with. Like I mentioned above, some people will not believe you no matter what because they think they have the answer (see the 3rd excerpt from Paley in my post about Natural Theology for an example of the argument).

Maybe the best way to handle it is not to say “Well that’s wrong and this is why” but rather take the approach of “Oh really? That is curious. This is what I heard about that remedy/cancer/etc.” and put the information out there. I remember when I was having dinner with some creationists, rather than say “How can you believe this stuff?!” I went with the approach of “I just read an interesting paper that suggested that many mammoths had tuberculosis as evidenced in their bones, and disease could have wiped them out” and tried to make them explain how I was wrong (rather than attacking them outright). Mind you both these guys were die-hard creationists so I doubt I converted either one, but a little cognitive dissonance was all I was after.

Anyway, it’s a very tough question; do you breach family protocol to help someone who is being duped by false promises? I probably would (if it had no bearing on finances I might be less inclined to if it’d cause nothing but trouble), mostly because it angers me to see woo-meisters taking advantage of people, getting reach off lies. Definitely something to chew on, and regardless of whether we return to this topic in the future I admire your respect for your family and desire to help them.

9 05 2007

RedMolly: I feel your pain….

Oh boy do I ever.

My mother and sis-in-law are both very much into that kind of thing (my mother being the more so). She’s not poor, but she is on a fixed pension — and yet, she thinks nothing of spending hundreds of dollars a month on getting her aura photographed and “crystal massages” to “help balance her energy flows”. She says it helps her arthritis. She knows perfectly well what a placebo effect is, but heck, that doesn’t apply to her. What’s happening with her is Real, got it?

How to deal with it…sore, bleeding tongue, yes. When someone believes, absolutely and with full emotional commitment, that they know the Truth and you’re just being closed-minded, then there’s no point arguing with them; it’s not about evidence, it is about the coherence and stability of their entire world.

Laelaps — I can’t remember where I saw the point made recently, although I’m sure it was one of the Scienceblogs — but someone pointed out that the woo-meisters like to point at hardnosed scientists as being people who “want to have all the answers”, while the woo being pushed supposedly demonstrates their comfort with the wonder and mystery of the universe; and the fact that in reality, it’s the other way around. In practicing science, you have to get used to the idea that you exist in a very small pool of illumination in a very large, largely unknown universe, and the universe is for the most part profoundly indifferent to your efforts to discover its nature. It won’t actively try to hinder you (even though it does seem like it sometimes), but it’s not going to go out of its way to help you, either, and you pretty much need to get used to data and reality kicking your preferences in the teeth on a regular basis.

When it comes to woo, however, everything has an answer, a reason, which has generally been “revealed” to one practitioner or another. There’s no mystery; they “know” the answers. And you have the comfort of knowing that there are Power(s) (fill in the flavor of your choice) which really are in charge of it all; even if you don’t know exactly what they are or why things are happening, there is a “plan” and it isn’t random, and you can influence these Powers and their plans if you just believe the right way/do the right thing. Thinking about it, yes, that’s a heck of a lot more comforting than contemplating the possibility that random things do sometimes happen in people’s lives and in the operation of the universe itself, there’s nothing you can do about many of them, and you may never know what goes on in an entire chain of events. The ship is under full sail, and no-one’s at the helm!

I see this philosophy of believing in higher powers with a Plan for your life as being the natural inheritor of the ancient/medieval belief that things like plagues simply happened because people had somehow pissed off God, and if the right sort of repentance was achieved it would all go away and things would be better. It puts people back “in control” even when there isn’t any real control there. But you could argue that this has deep roots; much of our mental lives seem to be spent spinning tales about ourselves that we can live with. Having a “healthy” and optimistic mental outlook usually involves some level of comfortable delusion…

It is funny, too (not really in a ha-ha kind of way) how people seem to equate sincerity of belief with validity of belief. Something about a pre-conscious instinct that people are only certain about things when they have good reason to be, perhaps, so if someone seems really sure about what they think, no matter how…odd…there must be good reason for others to believe it too. Unfortunately, when this and the whole comfort thing work together, it seems much easier for the general public to believe pseudoscientific nonsense and magical thinking than the often difficult and counterintuitive reality that science tries to pry into, with its inherent uncertainties and official enforcement of doubt.

Sorry, very long ramble again. Shutting up now.

9 05 2007

Wonderful comment Luna; you should be blogging. I especially loved this gem;

“In practicing science, you have to get used to the idea that you exist in a very small pool of illumination in a very large, largely unknown universe, and the universe is for the most part profoundly indifferent to your efforts to discover its nature.”

I wish it felt like I was in a small pool of illumination; the best way I can describe my scientific experience is akin to how I see the world when I get up. Any bright light is nearly blinding at first and everything’s a bit hazy; I know I must get up but doing it seems more complicated then it has to be. The alarm is going off, telling me to move by butt, and so I grope around blindly for it… nope that’s the pillow… no, that’s the cat… ah, there we go.

Ok, so I might have played out that joke a little bit further than I had to, but I’ve been pondering the evolution of the giraffe’s long neck lately and I definitely relate to your statement.

I also liked how you made the observation that sincerity often passes for validity in many circles of faith; if I just have enough conviction then it must be true. It reminds me of how some Christians use evidence for their faith, i.e. “If I’m “crazy” enough to do [insert crazy activity here], then my faith must be real; there’s no way a rational person would do it without faith”. Hence, we have snake handlers, wrestlers for Christ, etc.

All in all it reminds me of the famous Inherit the Wind moment where Brady says “I do not think about things I do not think about”; it can’t both me if I don’t consider it.

Anyway, thank you again for your wonderful insights and comments; as I suggested before, you should be putting such thoughts on a blog of your own.

10 05 2007

For a quick antidote to all things cetacean-woo, read the Peter Watts and Laurie Channer story Bulk Food. Watch carefully for the bit about the vegan cat.

PDF here: http://www.rifters.com/real/shorts/WattsChanner_Bulk_Food.pdf

I don’t understand how you can grind through this trash so quickly and frequently. My hat is off to you for having the strength of will to actually pick up, read, and even finish such terrible, terrible books.

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