In general, what goes around comes around. If you’re nice to people, good things come your way, but if you’re a jag-off, look out. (Or as I like to say, “Don’t put shit on a boomerang.”) These expectations make sense in social situations, where people can retaliate or return favors, and where reputation matters. But, as I explain in chapter 7 of my book, we expect the universe to play by the same rules—to manifest karma. And new research indicates that when we want something from the universe, we’ll invest in karma by doing a good deed. Continue reading
Haunted Scrotums and Smiling Fetuses
Humans have a tendency to see faces everywhere—including in medical images. In my book I note a paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine titled “The Case of the Haunted Scrotum.” J. R. Harding, a British radiologist, performed a CT scan on a patient with an undescended right testicle. On the left side he saw a “screaming ghostlike apparition” (click to enlarge). On the right, no testicle was found. “If you were a right testis,” he wrote, “would you want to share the scrotum with that?” Continue reading
Does Autism Lead to Atheism?
In most religions—and arguably anything worth being called a religion—God is not just an impersonal force or creator. He has a mind that humans can relate to. Maybe you’re not gossiping on the phone with him late at night, but he has personality traits, thoughts, moods, and ways of communicating with you. If you didn’t know what a mind was or how it worked, not only would you not understand people, you would not understand God, and you would not be religious. Continue reading
Are Conservatives More Religious, And Liberals More Spiritual?
In the United States, religion and politics have always been (fitful) bed buddies. But whether faith drives people left or right (or neither) is not obvious. On one hand, there is the Christian Right, a demographic epitomized by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that values tradition and authority and opposes gay rights and teaching of evolution. On the other hand, we owe many of our advancements in civil rights—a predominantly left-wing cause—to religious leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. One way to make sense of the relationship between faith and political orientation is to recognize the difference between religiousness and spirituality. Continue reading
Weird Fishing Superstitions (Don’t Bring a Banana on Board)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, commercial fishing is the deadliest job in America. It may also have the richest culture of magical rituals and taboos. That makes perfect sense. Continue reading
Can You Be More Dead Than Dead?
In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion describes the year following the sudden death of her husband. At one point while collecting his clothes for donation, she stops. She can’t give away all of his shoes, for he might need them if he returns. This is the magical thinking of the title. Continue reading
Are There Really No Atheists in Foxholes?
It’s often said that there are no atheists in foxholes. While this isn’t technically true—a group called The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers even keeps a roster of them—new research suggests that inducing fear of death at least makes atheists a little less entrenched in their beliefs. Continue reading
Teddy Bears Make You Friendlier — And Maybe Healthier
I slept with a Beanie Baby for eight years—from the ages of 18 to 26. Thanks to new research, I can now look back and say it was probably good for me.
(For the story behind my stuffed red dragon, Blip, see chapter 1 of my book.) Continue reading
Can Emotions Haunt Houses?
In the early 1990s, Trent Reznor (the man behind Nine Inch Nails) purchased the house at 10050 Cielo Drive, in Los Angeles. Before moving in, he learned of its dark past. This is the house where members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered Sharon Tate and four other people in 1969. Reznor moved in despite (or perhaps because of) these events. Continue reading
The Unsinkable, Sunk, The Unthinkable, Thunk
Today, April 15, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. If you don’t recall the details, just read one of the many other stories in the media right now, or watch a certain movie by James Cameron (not the one with aliens). Or read the novella Futility, written 114 years ago.
Futility describes a British luxury liner, the largest in the world, with a top speed of 25 knots, a capacity of 3,000, and too few lifeboats. Despite being considered “unsinkable,” it went under after its starboard side struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic one night in April. (For reference, the Titanic was a British luxury liner, the largest in the world, with a top speed of 25 knots, a capacity of 3,000, and too few lifeboats. Despite being considered “unsinkable,” it went under after its starboard side struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic one night in April.) And guess what the name of the ship in Futility was: the Titanic! No, just kidding. That would be crazy. It was the Titan. Continue reading