A really fun way to waste some time.

Have you seen the Skeptic’s Dictionary site? It bills itself as “A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions”, but I think it should really be labeled with a warning about the potential for losing quite a bit of time browsing around the amusing entries.

The entry on true-believer syndrome may shed some light on those people who still approve of Bush, for example:

True-believer syndrome is an expression coined by M. Lamar Keene to describe an apparent cognitive disorder characterized by believing in the reality of paranormal or supernatural events after one has been presented overwhelming evidence that the event was fraudulently staged.

It’s not a terribly long step from there to a disorder characterized by believing in the competence, honour, or good faith intent of a political leader after one has been presented with… well, the joke tells itself, right?

I also quite liked the story of the man who could read records with his eyes, especially the bit where he explains to a disappointed audience that it’s mostly common sense:

He admitted that he used only his knowledge, experience, and reasoning power to accomplish this amazing feat. “I have a knowledge of musical structure and of the literature,” he said. “And I can correlate this structure with what I see. Loud passages reflect light differently….Record companies spread the grooves in forte passages; they have a more jagged, saw-tooth look. I also know how the pressings of different labels look, so I can often figure out who is conducting” (Holland). He can also occasionally figure out the nationality of the orchestra, an ability that amazed even James “The Amazing” Randi. In Randi’s test of Lintgen, the doctor not only identified a recording correctly but announced that the orchestra was German. The recording, he said, had an upturned edge, a feature that was unique to the Deutsche Grammophon label. He also saw that there was a “lack of junk in between the grooves,” from which he inferred that the recording was digital. He also knew that “Deutsche Grammophon, up to that time, had only recorded German orchestras for their digital recordings”

However, far and away my favourite entry (so far), is the entry on that hilarious cousin of phrenology: rumpology.

Rumpology, also known as butt reading, is the art of reading the lines, crevices, dimples, and folds of the buttocks to divine the butt owner’s character and get a glimpse of what lies ahead by analyzing what trails behind.

While the entry itself is funny, the big win is the associated essay Rumpology for Dummies. It’s a kind of primer for any kind of fortune-telling scam, with lots of excellent bits:

One common misconception people have about clients is that they must be stupid and gullible. In fact, most clients will be of average or above average intelligence and be no more gullible than the next guy. In fact, the better clients are likely to be the brighter ones because they have more ability to make connections and see the significance of different kinds of items brought up in the readings. Also, most of us have an illusion of invulnerability. We think we’re at less risk for being duped than others. Very intelligent people often think that they can’t be fooled, which makes them especially vulnerable. One need not be gullible to trust the rump reader and it is your job to make the client trust you. One way you can give people the illusion of trustworthiness is to have lots of testimonials from people who swear by your readings. Another is to have a list of predictions you’ve made about social, geophysical, or political events. You don’t really have to predict anything. You can appear to be prophetic by posting your predictions after the events happen and dating them as if you posted the predictions before the events occurred.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada
This work by Chris McLaren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.