All posts by Anila

5 Best Science Learning Kits on Amazon.com for Kids


Science kits are a great way to teach your children about science and give them a fun and effective learning experience. You can easily find different types of science kits online; however your best bet is Amazon.com where you can get great prices on all science kits.

Scientific Explorer My First Mind Blowing Science Kit

Scientific Explorer My First Mind Blowing Science Kit

It a Chemistry science kit and has 20 pieces that will engage your kids and make learning easy and fun for them. It will allow your children to learn and explore the basics and help them learn a great deal about science tools and chemical reactions. The kit is based on the principle of STEM, which is a short for Science; Technology; Engineering & Math.

The kit has many chemicals which will help children learn about their properties and carry out their own chemical reactions. You will also get step-by-step instructions on how to use the available chemicals. This science kit can be used by children over the age of four and must be used under the supervision of adults.

Learning Resources Primary Science Lat Set

This kit has ten different double-sided cards for activities and includes other real tools for science such as beakers, eyedropper, magnifying glass, goodies, funnel, test tubes of different sizes, tweezers and flask. You will also find a guide for activities which will make the learning even easier. It is a great way to get your children to explore, observe and discover wonderful things about basic science.

Scientific Explorer Magic Science for Wizards Only

If your children are fans of Harry Potter then they will love this kit. It offers your children activities that seem impossible at first. It will allow your young ones to explore the science which drives magic and help the create wonderful items such as Hocus Pocus Powder, Magic Wands, Test Tube Crystal Ball, Magic Hat, Bubbling Potion that will glow in the dark and many other fun things. The kit includes a few useful chemicals and other tools such as purple paper, test tubes and their stand, measuring scoops etc. You will also find a guide that will help you use the kit effectively.

Scientific Explorer Tasty Science Kit

Scientific Explorer Tasty Science Kit

As the name suggests your children will be able to taste their scientific creations, which is makes all the more fun for them. The kit will help them understand basic culinary facts such as why the cake rises and why there is fizzle in soda pops. Scientific Explorer Tasty Science Kit contains baking soda, fruit flavorings, sprinkles, citric acid, Bouillon cube, labels, spoons for measuring and scoop. You will also find other tools such as a dozen baking cups, test tubes and their stand, cap and a plastic vial etc. You will also find the guide to use the kit.

Be Amazing Lab-in-a-Bag Test Tube Wonders

Be Amazing Lab-in-a-Bag Test Tube Wonders

This kit offers 15 different activities which allow your children to do fun things such as make snow (of course fake) and grow Crystal Comes of different colors. The great thing about this kit is that it comes with its own bag so you do not have to worry about where to store all the items. All the tools and other elements in the bag have been tested for safety and are non-toxic. The kit contains items such as magic sand, super absorbent crystals, water gel, energy beads and color tablets. You will also find a guide inside the kit, which will make the kit much more fun and easy to use.

Free Microsoft Office Templates for Scientists

powerpoint-template-for-scientists
If you are working in the field of science and you happen to have a symposium to administer, PowerPoint slides are a must. And it is not enough to have slides. You need to have interesting slides to make sure that your audience would listen to you attentively. Remember, no matter how good your topic may be, it is extremely important to have a vivid and attractive design.

There are a lot of websites offering free office templates for science-related presentations. They range from PowerPoint slides to academic templates and even scientific poster templates. With most templates available online, you are good to go with your presentation. Easily create your science and research presentations in a small amount of time. Most templates available have the places where you could put your topic’s title, agenda, tables, diagrams, timetables, text, graphics, and conclusion. Stay away from those boring presentations which make your effort to share your knowledge worthless.

We have listed some websites where you could download free office templates. For PowerPoint, try visiting these websites:

  • Office.com
  • http://blog.presentationload.com/download-free-powerpoint-templates-science-research/
  • http://www.free-power-point-templates.com/scientific-powerpoint-template/
  • http://www.skilledup.com/articles/best-powerpoint-templates-for-free/

Microsoft’s very own Office.com is of course the first place to look at for all your needs. Other sites listed above usually have their templates arranged into categories so all you have to do is choose which template you would use for your presentation. Make sure you pick something visually aesthetic and classy at the same time.

Then of course, aside from PowerPoint presentations, scientists also need academic paper templates for their scientific documents or researches. A lot are also available online. Among the sites to look at are:

  • Office.com
  • http://www.stocklayouts.com/Templates/Free-Templates/Free-Sample-Microsoft-Word-Template-Design.aspx
  • http://www.word.poweredtemplate.com/word-templates/free/0/index.html
  • http://www.layoutready.com/Free-Word-Templates/Free-Sample-Microsoft-Word-Template.aspx
  • http://www.smiletemplates.com/free/word-templates/0.html
  • http://www.wordtemplates.org/

Like most websites, the templates are already arranged by category. Just pick which one among them best suits your study.

scientific-templates-for-ms-powerpoint
Meanwhile, another frequently needed template in the field of science and technology are poster templates. Scientific poster templates for Microsoft Word are widely available online. Sometimes, PowerPoint and Publisher is also use but it depends on your preference which one is easy for you to use. Among the websites where scientific poster templates are available are:

  • Office.com
  • http://www.layoutready.com/Free-Word-Templates/Free-Word-Poster-Templates-Download.aspx
  • http://www.posterpresentations.com/html/free_poster_templates.html
  • http://blog.postersession.com/2011/10/03/word-poster-templates/
  • http://www.mywordtemplates.org/templates/poster

With all those websites where you could download different Office templates for free, doing that presentation or passing that paper becomes a lot less difficult and time-consuming. Deviate from those boring and too basic presentations and papers. Download the free templates online that are available and ready to use.

Kentucky Theme Parks

What better way to spend the weekends with your loved ones than going at theme parks in Kentucky? Currently, Kentucky houses 5 theme parks you could visit. Read on to find out more about them.

1. Beech Bend Raceway

Located in 798 Beech Bend Road, Bowling Green, Beech Bend is certainly a one of a kind amusement park that you will enjoy. They were named as the 5th Friendliest Park in the World by Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards. They were also named the “Publisher’s Pick Park of the Year” in 2010. Their amusement rides include go-carts, mini-golf, and water slides.

They have games of skill and luck as well and a petting farm. They also stage live entertainment shows. Adjacent Beech Bend, you could enjoy stock car and drag racing. They also offer camping facilities where you could easily access their amenities. Whether you have your own tent or you need to rent in case you do not have one, you are guaranteed to have a good time.

beech-bend-raceway-map

The park admission prices are as follows:

  • Adult Admission (54 inches and above) – $31.99
  • Child Admission (Under 54 inches) – $27.99
  • Senior Adult (Age 60 and over) – $27.99
  • Children (2 and under) – Free

2. Guntown Mountain

guntown-mountain

You may visit them at 101 Huckleberry Knob Road, Cave City. This theme park is ten minutes away from Mammoth Cave National Park. This amusement park is a part of Americana, Guntown Mountain. Experience the picturesque view of the mountain by riding the skylift. Take yourself to the past by having that Old West feeling while enjoying the view. The main attraction of this theme park lies mostly in bringing to life memories from the Wild West.

This experience is made possible through realistic drama and gunfights right along the streets. Even town hangings are reenacted. There are magical medicine shows. See the dancers of the Lucky Lady Saloon as they portray their hilarious side. If you are more of the listener type, enjoy listening to the singers of the Country Music Show.

The park admission prices are as follows:

  • Adults – $14.95
  • Kids 11 and under – $9.95

kentuck-action-park3. Kentucky Action Park

Simply drop by 3057 Mammoth Cave Road in Cave City to have a one of a kind experience. Being one of the oldest and largest horse stables in Kentucky, it is here where you can enjoy Jesse James’ trails back in time. Participate in guided trails and relive history. You may also avail of the Outlaw Cave tours for a more historical experience. For the adventurous at heart, you may try the alpine slide and the zipline. Want to satisfy your need for speed? Try their go carts.

They also have bumper cars and boats. Meanwhile, if you are into a scenic view of the mountains, ride the chairlift. If you are an adrenaline junkie, try their trampoline and rockwall. If you are not too much of the active type, you may try the 18 hole mini-golf. Lastly, if you are in for an adventure that could last from 3 hours to 2 nights or more, depending on your preference, try their green river canoeing. Experience swimming, fishing, bird watching, camping, and all other outdoor activities you could think of. Cabins and camping sites are available for your convenience.

The park admission prices are as follows:
All-day pass – $24.95
(If you will not avail the all-day pass, single tickets vary in price, depending on the activity.)

The Afterlife Experiments

The Afterlife Experiments is a lucid, well-written, thought–provoking book. The book starts out with a quote from the works of William James, the founding father of American Psychology, a man who actually accepted evolution and believed that our minds had evolved to help us survive! The words quoted state “In order to disprove the law that all crows are black, it is enough to find one white crow.” Presumably, the author has found not one, but five such crows!

Dr. Gary Schwartz, is described as a professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry and surgery at University of Arizona and is the director of Human Energy Systems Laboratory.

Dr. Schwartz has published more than four hundred research papers in his field in prestigious journals and has more than eleven books to his credit.

Dr. Schwartz and his friend, Dr. Linda Russek, a psychologist who believes her dead father communicates with her, jointly conducted the experiments described in the book.

The author should be congratulated for running well-controlled experiments on Medium-received information and getting the work published.

The last set of experiments described in the book rule out the “Barnum Effect” as an explanation of the high ratings given to the readings by the participants. (“Barnum Effect” attributes the vagueness and generality of statements made by horoscope writers, to people believing that those statements correctly describe their personalities.)

The experiments mainly consist of having well-known “mediums” such as John Edward, George Anderson, Suzane Northrop, Rev. Anne Gehman and a relatively less-known newcomer named Laurie Campbell, to do readings for the same set of people, simply called “sitters”, and have the sitters grade the mediums’ statements on a rating scale as to the applicability and accuracy of the readings. The participants (both the mediums and the sitters) are also attached to EEG and ECG machines and the entire session is also videotaped and audio-taped for good measure!

The author is very aware of all the objections professional skeptics like James Randi and Michael Sherman (mentioned by name in the book) are likely to come up with. He discusses those objections thoroughly in his book, and takes great precautions to make his studies fool-proof by running blind studies and making sure that the identity of the sitters is not made known to any persons other than himself and his trusted partner, except at the last minute.

As they get better at designing fool-proof experiments, Dr. Schwartz makes sure that the mediums do the readings without seeing or hearing the sitters, first. They then continue with the reading after they have heard the sitter’s voice in a brief “hello”. The final set of experiments is conducted such that a “blind” silent sitter is given two readings to score. One is done for him or her by a “blind” medium, and the other reading is one that was done for some other blind and silent sitter. Both the readings are to be scored for personal relevance and accuracy. The results indicate that even with this protocol the sitters pick the reading that was done for them, as relevant, and assign a high score for accuracy to it, while assigning a score of “zero relevance” or close to a reading which was not meant for them. It is this part of the experiment that neatly dismisses the “Barnum Effect” as a plausible answer. Now all we need is replication of this part of the experiment by another reputable University or College.

Dr. Schwartz also relates what he thinks, is a very salient episode, via the transcripts of the sittings. As you read through the Medium’s statements and the Sitter’s yes/no responses, you realize that each of the five Mediums picks-up the violent suicide of one of the sitter’s sons. The words they choose to describe the tragic event differ, but it is clear that they all are referring to the same event. What is more, some of the mediums even ask the sitter directly, whether the person who died the violent death was her son, and whether or not he had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head! A very daring thing to do if someone is just “guessing”, and indeed, Dr. Schwartz and his collaborators are duly impressed.

However, it is not possible to rule out fraud in this particular episode because, the sitter, a Pat Price, was selected to sit, not by Dr. Schwartz, but by someone from HBO who taped the session for Television! When conducting Scientific Experiments, it is best not to involve the Media or any “for profit” organization. Another problem with the Pat Price reading is that the transcripts indicate that Ms. Price does not contradict the Mediums, even when the information given is blatantly incorrect in two instances. One is when the medium tells her that her husband is dead when he is very much alive, and the other when he says she must have had a miscarriage, when she had not had one. If her rating cannot be trusted when it is given out loudly and orally, how can it be trusted when she scores the statements silently, by herself?

Two other problems with the book are, first, Dr. Schwartz starts the book by talking about some code that he sets up with the help of a Mediumistic housewife named Suzy Smith and Dr. Linda Russek. Suzy Smith is supposed to help someone break the code and win a sum of $10,000.00 by divulging the code from “the other side”, after her death! Towards the end of the book, Suzy Smith is reported to have died, but there is no mention of her helping any body to break the code or any invitation to the readers to try to break the code!

The other problem is that the relevance of the massive amount of ECG & EKG data collected during the readings is not at all clear. This author wondered if Dr. Schwartz was referring to a phenomenon similar to evoked potentials, but did not seem like it. Dr. Schwartz talks of “detecting ECG triggered in the medium by the sitter” and vice versa, but does not explain it well enough to understand what he means by it and what exactly the “triggered” ECG has to do with the medium’s ability to convey messages from the sitter’s dead relatives. A “Control group” made up of people who are not Mediums, but who simply sit opposite the sitters and also get attached to ECGs is not mentioned.

Every Skeptic ought to read this book, even if the aim is to dissect every statement and dismiss it by relegating it to one of several categories described as “loose-procedure effect”, “self-deception”, “Barnum & Bailey Effect” or the skeptics favorite F word category…“Fraud”. All in all, a challenging piece of work. Hopefully it will get other scientists involved in experimental work regarding messages from the other side!

The Afterlife Experiments: Breakthrough Scientific Evidence of Life After Death by Dr. Gary E Schwartz, Ph.D. with William L. Simon, 1st Ed. March 2002, Pocket Books, New York. ISBN: 0-7434-3658-X

Has Deepak Done The Impossible?

Chopra Deepak (2003): How to Know God The Soul’s Journey Into the Mystery of Mysteries.  ISBN 0-609-60078-8 Harmony Books, 201 E 50th St. NY.NY. 10022.

In this rather rambling book, Dr. Deepak Chopra, former endocrinologist, takes on the impossible task of explaining the human mind and The God who created it. Chopra basically argues that the material world as we humans experience it is really the quantum world of energy packets as described by Science but connected by God or Supreme Principle, that connects the quantum world and creates the material world, and is itself, what Chopra terms the “Virtual World”.  Dr. Chopra then goes on to give instructions on how to contact this so called “Virtual World” or God.

One of the first things that a non-fiction writer ought to do, is to verify the so called “facts” which he/she uses to develop his/her ideas. I will bring up three such “facts” mentioned in the book, the first regarding sea-cucumbers, the second about Multiple Personality Disorder, and a third regarding meditation mantras.

Chopra says:

“In a similar act of communal awareness, the cells of a sea cucumber are arranged to give a mouth and a digestive tract to this primitive animal, which is little more than a giant feeding tube. You can puree a sea cucumber in a blender, pour the solution of brine and cells into a bucket, and after a while the entire animal will regroup itself from the unformed biological sludge.” (Chopra, pg. 249)

This sea-cucumber fact is used to explain ESP type phenomena. Chopra talks of a unified “Mind-field” which connects us all. This Mind-field is “intelligence” “information” or “God” and it also does the job of holding all the atoms together and giving them the shape and form that material goods have. It is the “virtual world” supreme principle that directs and allows the regrouping of the pulverized sea cucumber.

On reading this, I contacted the Information Officer for the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Isles at press@darwinfoundation.org and requested verification. Ros Cameron of the Foundation replied “Highly unlikely that any animal, even a system as simple as the sea cucumber could be pureed and then reform itself from the mix….Our marine staff who work with the sea cucumbers have never heard of this. Probably be worthy of a Nobel prize if ever proven to be true.” (Cameron, 2003, personal communication, emphasis added).

The second item is the enigmatic Multiple Personality problem. Chopra fills the reader in on the existing theories of the genesis of the Multiple Personality Disorder, including the one where MPD is seen as “role playing”. He seems to subscribe to the role-playing theory, and then goes on to explain it in terms of his “Mind-field” theory. Chopra says:

“Alter egos must come from a region beyond personal experience; they are like voluntary incarnations—or partial incarnations—activated from the storehouse of the mind field” (Chopra, pgs. 252-253)

There is however, no explanation as to why the Mind-field in all its wisdom produces these socio-pathic “alters” which make the life of the host personality a living nightmare.  Chopra then goes on to say:

From the perspective of the mind field, if an alter ego is strong enough, it can actually change the body to conform to it. Striking cases are on record in which one personality is menopausal, for example, while the others aren’t, or, or where each of the alter egos has its own menstrual cycle. In other cases a single personality may be diabetic or allergic to pollen while the others show no signs of these disorders. ….The diabetic personality may be insulin dependent and yet revert to normal blood sugar levels during the time when other personalities appear”. (Chopra, pgs. 252-253” emphasis added).

Different menstrual cycles for each alter personality? Talk about magical thinking! Wouldn’t it be neat if each personality also had its own pregnancy, its own gestational period and its own baby? So we could have one very straight laced, non-pregnant personality and one baby-kicking in the womb, soon-to-give-birth personality? Alas, Chopra himself does not provide any references. A survey of literature on MPD conducted by me indicated that even authorities on the subject like Frank Putnam (1987), Colin Ross, 1996 ; Eugene L. Bliss (1986), etc. do not record any such cases. Putnam talks of anecdotal evidence of different personalities being differentially dose-sensitive to psychoactive drugs, but goes no further.

Chopra has also failed to substantiate his statement regarding meditation. Chopra writes “-the vibration of the Mantra is the key. The word vibration means the frequency of brain activity in the cerebral cortex” (Chopra, pg.93. emphasis added). The above sentences make it seem like different EEG frequencies are linked to or generated by use of different Mantras, where the word “mantra” stands for a specific Hindu or Buddhist chant used for meditation. Again, Dr. Chopra does not provide any references. While there is scientific evidence especially that provided by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard, that meditation induces a relaxation response, and that EEG slows down to that of a tranquil state (Benson, 1984), there is no evidence that different chants are associated with different EEG frequencies or patterns. Providing references for such facts would have really enhanced the usefulness of the book.

Furthermore, although Chopra addresses various interesting anomalous phenomena and tries to pull everything into a neat little “quantum” package complete with a “virtual” God, and a recipe to reach him, it is fraught with discordant religious ideologies which he tries in vain to synthesize.

Chopra pulls in age old ideas from the Bible such as “Ask and you shall receive” and quirky new ideas from the writings of New Age writers, such as “mankind as a whole is evolving towards transcendence” or that God is a “Bright White Light” etc. which are a world apart. He draws from the Philosophy propounded in the Yoga Sutras of India (which Indian intellectuals uphold as the “true” teachings of Hinduism) and the teachings of Jyotish Shastra or Hindu Astrology, which reflect the actual religious practices of most Hindus and are a far cry from the teachings of the Yoga Sutras. Dr. Chopra merrily writes his huge treatise as if all of these philosophies were alluding to the same ONE God. The problem is they are not. Their “gods” are different and their world views are different.

The Bible professes one jealous Supreme Being that wants you to forsake other similar Supreme Beings. This God rewards those who comply with Biblical teachings and metes out punishments to those who don’t. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra professes an all-pervading principle, which one can access if one wants to. Patanjalli does not equate it with white light or synchronicity in life events. No specific punishment outside of common human misery is professed, if one does not access this principle.  The Yoga Sutras talk specifically of leading a disciplined, controlled life and using meditation and physical exercises to overcome pain and misery. In contrast,  the religious teachings of Seers like Bhrigu, the famous mythical astrologer from India, talk of the existence of various Gods, Goddesses, demi-gods, demons, ghosts, etc. and ascribe causality to eight planets/stars in our galaxy. Any one or more of these gods and also the planets themselves are to be worshipped and given gifts, etc. for a happy successful life, as per this Bhrigu ideology (Rao, 1991). One is also advised of sins committed in previous incarnations and is told which planet/god one should propitiate to mitigate the effects of those sins. Deepak Chopra takes all of these discordant dogmas and pounds them along with a hefty helping of modern Quantum Physics as a binding agent, in creating his new hodge-podge placebo.

After taking the reader through a labyrinth of various and sundry religious ideas, Chopra lists what he calls “Ground rules for knowing God”. Those rules are no different from advice given in any New Age book, such as knowing your intention, setting your intentions high, seeing yourself in the light, learning to forgive yourself and others, and bringing about miracles in your life and the lives of others, etc. There is no mention of those old fashioned moral values such as “thou shalt not commit adultery”, or any mention of giving gifts to the gods to get rid of sins committed in past lives.

Chopra’s main thesis is that every mind is on a journey of evolution where the final goal is to merge with the All-pervading connecting principle, which is pretty much the same as the Vedic Hindu idea of achieving “Moksha” and that there is a specific way in which one can achieve it. The eternal hell/heaven of the Biblical God sort of vanishes and is not discussed. Chopra goes on to say:

“Every mind is on a journey of evolution. The final goal is inevitable, to merge with god. It is better to cooperate than to resist. The soul is the source of truth and love. If you cooperate, your life will be organized with the help of infinite power and intelligence as it flows from God.”

What Dr. Chopra means by this, is that your life will be full of fortunate synchronistic events, and he narrates several fortunate synchronistic events that took place in his life, to support his statements.

Synchronistic events do take place in a person’s life. Sometimes they are fortunate, sometimes they are not! Chopra turns a blind eye to the horrific unfortunate synchronistic events that happen, so there are no answers as to why they happen or how to avoid them.

All in all, Chopra fails to impress scientific minded people because he fails to verify his facts and he leaves non-scientists just as confused as himself with all the discordant views mentioned without the rejection or elimination of any of them. The “virtual world” stuff thrown in for good measure does not help either. So, has Deepak Chopra done the impossible by showing us a way to Know the Unknowable? I don’t think so. But then again, like the movie title said, What the #$*! Do We Know!?

References:

Benson, Herbert & Proctor William. (1984): Beyond the Relaxation Response: How to Harness the Healing Power of Your Personal Beliefs Berkeley Publishing Group, A Division of Penguin Books. Penguin Putnam, New York, N.Y. ISBN 0-425-08183-4

Bliss E.L. (1986): Multiple Personality, Allied Disorders, and Hypnosis, Oxford University Press. ISBN: 0195036581

Putnam, Frank W. (1987): Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder. The Guilford Press, NY, London. ISBN 0-89862-177-1

Rao, R.G. (1991): Bhrigu Nandi Nadi, Ranjan Publications, New Delhi, India.

Ross C.A. (1996): Dissociative Identity Disorder: Diagnosis, Clinical Features, and Treatment of Multiple Personality (Wiley Series in General and Clinical Psychiatry) Publisher: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-13265-9

Why I Am a Skeptic

“I want to say to young people…go to church,” President Clinton said, and my attention was arrested. I was listening to the president’s state of the Union address with my usual admiration. The president was talking about the high crime rate and how the government alone would be unable to stem it unless parents inculcated humanitarian values in their children. It was in keeping with this sentiment that he said:”…young people… go to church.”

This particular statement so bothered me that I have no recollection of what the president said after that. My first thought was that the president was confusing the practice of religion with the practice of moral, ethical and just plain humanitarian values. Prayer and worship do not necessarily augment any of them. History is replete with so many examples that I will not elaborate. However, I will jog the reader’s memory with two names…Jim Bakker and Jerry Falwell. (More like jolting than jogging the memory.)

As I pondered the consequences of the statement “go to church” from such an influential person as the president of our nation, I became a little despondent. I felt that once people realize that the president backs going to church, it will gain prestige. Evangelical cult leaders will make hay. Human nature being what it is, gradually and quite automatically church goers will feel superior to temple goers or mosque goers who were not mentioned in the presidential address. Problems due to differences in religious doctrines will surface causing unnecessary friction and yes, superstition will regain its lost ground, bringing to naught the painstaking work of science educators.

This scenario may seem far fetched, but it is not. The words or the language used to foster an idea make a considerable difference in its application. In time those words shape the nature of things to come. This is exactly why feminists resent “male” words such as “fireman,” “chairman,” etc. and rightly so. Educators need to point out that people, especially those wielding social influence, need to use terms that are not associated with any given religion if they are to make reference to an all-pervading being. If President Clinton had instead said, “I want to say to young people, go to any place of worship,” I would not have been disappointed in him. If he had said, “Keep going until you have gone to mosques, temples, synagogues and universities so you may discover the fundamental principles with which to guide your life;” I would have been ecstatic. It is not the existence or otherwise of God that matters, but the discovery of life-sustaining principles that does.

As I pondered the president’s words, my mind wandered to one of my favorite interests; i.e., introducing a healthy dose of skepticism in myself and my students. I try to make my students think about the profound issues that face our society so they can make rational, life-sustaining decisions. I do not wish to make them atheistic or agnostic, but a little skeptical.

Several months ago, a fellow KASES member (Dan Phelps, if my memory serves me) requested other members to express their thoughts as to why they are skeptics. He said (and I am wildly paraphrasing here) that he can see why we would want to stop people who are minting money by selling false hopes, but he could not see why we would want to debunk the supernatural stories told by small guys who do no harm and make no money.

While I understand the sentiments which prompted the questions, I am of the opinion that fraudulent stories of miraculous happenings distort thinking and foster inappropriate belief systems. Especially if the miracle-mongers claim that their god is the only true god and their way of belief is the only recourse. There is no such thing as a “harmless” false belief. False beliefs do immeasurable harm. Often not only to the individual who clings to them but to a large segment of the society due to ripple effects.

Often, people do not understand the impact a belief has on life-events and life-choices made by the individual. I could give any number of examples from belief-mediated Voodoo deaths and conversion disorders (Hysterical illnesses) to suicide pacts between forbidden lovers who anticipate a joint life in the glorious hereafter. Beliefs are guidelines that individuals use to steer themselves through life’s conflicts. Belief systems affect everyday trivial choices as well as life’s major goals, such as the choice of career, mating, and reproduction. Society as a whole suffers because false beliefs lead its members to making incorrect life choices which seem logical from the perspective of the choice –maker.

Even bright people who very readily see the flaws in the belief systems of others and who actively challenge and pressure others to change still maintain their own idiosyncratic beliefs which hamper their lives. The following anecdote exemplifies this point.

About eight years ago, I was at a graduation party. I was introduced to a Catholic nun, a high school teacher, who said she had just returned from India, the country of my origin. In the course of the conversation, she talked of a very bright young scheduled caste (an underprivileged ethnic group) village girl. Apparently, this girl was removed from a school a little before she turned 16, even though she was an excellent student. Her father feared that if she got further education he might be unable to find her a suitable husband…a real fear in his social circle.

He simply wanted her to stay home and help with chores until it was time to give her away in marriage. The nun tried everything she could do to pressure these people into continuing the girl’s education, but to no avail. The girl herself refused to come back to school because she wanted to marry, and this the nun could not accept.

The nun complained bitterly that the girl’s “Hindu belief system” was ruining he life and that she was wearing “blinders”. I was annoyed by the nun’s tactless statements. However, I gently pointed out that if the girl wanted marriage, then it was hardly ruining her life, and since her father was going to see that she got a respectable husband, she might actually be better off than many American teen-age single mothers who think they are in love only to find themselves in deep trouble. The nun changed the subject.

I must have been more offended than I let on at the party. On my way home, I was imagining the following retort instead of the mild answer I actually gave. It went something like this: “So, the Hindu girl wore blinders. What about the blinders you wear, Sister? You have not even met your wired-in sexual drive, let alone experienced the joys of giving birth, suckling, holding and comforting your off-spring! Nature meant for us to have those pleasures. You gave up all those wired-in motivations and remained celibate in the hope of pleasing God the Father, who as far as my knowledge goes, is supposed to have commanded you to ‘go forth and multiply.’ Yes?”

Ever since that time I found that I actually started feeling sorry for nuns, not just Catholic nuns but Buddhist and Hindu celibates as well. What is life if you live it without meeting your basic instincts? Life is a success if you meet your requirements in style and then some! What “Almighty” is going to fault you for seeking what you were designed to seek?

The nuns and monks are one extreme; at the other are many who hold that because the Good Book says that God wants you to “go forth and multiply,” not only does He banish those who abort to eternal hell, he frowns even on the prevention of pregnancy. This belief has not only caused stress in the lives of women who bear unwanted children year after year, but also in the lives of the many children they produce. It is near impossible for a mother or a father to give each child its due attention in over-sized families.

Neglected and uncared for children not only suffer emotionally, but often grow up to be problematic to society. The only way to nip such problems in the bud is to ensure that families are of manageable size and all those who are born are wanted by their parents.

This philosophy sounds like a reasonable, practical perspective on life. But, alas, it is not necessarily so. Just take a look at the new monster produced by modern science, the above ideology, and the remnants of an ancient belief system in India.

As a woman, I cannot help but make observations on the bizarre consequences of the behaviors of a group of people who accept some modern ideologies while still hanging on to age-old, baseless beliefs. The case in point is a belief that a son, i.e., “Putra,” saves one from going to a specific state of misery known as “Pu.” Though today’s “educated” Indians do not admit holding this belief, they still hang on to it emotionally by their strong desire to have more sons than daughters.

Mingled with new ultrasound technology and the drive to have small families, the drive for sons has led many Indians to check the gender of the fetus and keep it if male but abort it if female. What about the “hell” they will have to pay for aborting? Eternal Hell is not part of the Hindu belief system. The traditional literature of India contains references to abortions and infanticides without condemning the perpetrators to eternal hell.

Mental states fraught with pain, or rebirth to a lower status in life, are thought to be the punishments. Also, one can mitigate such punishments by performing meritorious acts, penance or worship. There are several myths which explain the tortured lives of otherwise righteous women in terms of the wrongs they had committed in their pervious lives— their torturers being the souls they had wronged previously. Hindu epics recount an almost unending saga of vengeance and rebirth. But then again, today’s Hindu hardly admits to a belief in reincarnation. So the modern Hindu is punished neither by society nor by his Gods for either the prevention of pregnancy or for the abortion of female fetuses.

Abortion is legal in India; small families are desirable. So what’s my beef with selective abortion?

What bugs me is that the evolutionary machinery took millions of years to produce a primate like us and to keep the numbers of the two sexes in balance. To keep our species from extinction, we must reproduce. To reproduce and raise our offspring with proper care and nurture, we need both a man and a woman devoted to that child. Any behavior that throws off the balanced numbers of our species, takes us one step closer in the direction of the breakdown of family and the extinction of our species. Even alligators know enough to lay some eggs in a warm place and some in a cooler one so they can produce both male and female offspring!

To me, being a skeptic who favors practical and thorough reasoning before making major life decisions does not automatically mean being an atheist. Granted that frequenting a place of worship means believing in a God and seeking His/Her grace by various means. Who is to say that there is a God and what evidence do we have that this being benefits us in any way? Not much and we all know it.

Why, then, do I say it would have been wonderful if President Clinton had said “go to church, temple or mosque?” Why do I believe in any Higher Power at all?

First, in learning everything I could about the functioning of the human brain, I learned that we are wired-in to seek spiritual enlightenment and adhere to moral values. Wow. This is a strong statement. I can already see several “Cerebral Primates” with advanced language skills getting ruffled and outright violent because of this statement. Let me explain.

Twelve or thirteen years ago, while I was doing my course work in neurosciences, I came upon the real-life story of a Mr. Ed, who suffered from Geschwind Syndrome due to a massive brain tumor in the temporal lobe, and became a religious fanatic as a result. In general, a person with this syndrome suffers from hyper-phagia, hypersexuality, hyper-graphia and hyper-religiosity.

When reading the biographies of mystics, saints and the like, I often wondered how many of them suffered from temporal lobe malfunction. Although hyperphagic and hypersexual saints are uncommon, hypophagic and hyposexual saints are quite the norm. Nonetheless, the point remains that our brain has a region called the temporal lobe which seems to mediate spirituality or thirst for that being we call God. We also know there are “moral emotions” such as guilt, shame, compassion, and so on, which children experience by age three. This is relatively early in a life span of 100 years, and is not likely to be totally experiential. If so, there must be some reason as to why this particular brain function exists.

There are two possible reasons: One is that it exists because there is a God and He/She/It wants us to discover that.

The second possible reason is the argument William James forwarded for the existence of what we call the Mind. James professed that the mind itself evolved because it aided survival. In other words, we have areas of the brain reserved to seek an almighty being, or become righteous and moralistic, because there is survival value in it.

In any case, why wait until you die to find out that there is a being which expects you to seek it and do the “right thing”? Why not do both? At best it will help you negotiate turbulent times; at worst, it will be another interesting and fun thing to do as you live your life.

Why go around saying there are no “supernatural” phenomena? After all, not every claim of divine intervention can be a total falsehood. Where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

Unless once experiences paranormal phenomena and seeks alternate explanations, one should neither accept nor reject the supernatural. It is very easy to dismiss someone else’s subjective experience, but not all that easy to dismiss one’s own.

The incident I want to relate here happened sometime in 1983. I had at this point severed my ties with my temple going friends and had openly become an agnostic, and was at times an outspoken atheist. At this time it so happened that a certain close friend betrayed my confidence in her. A certain other person at work was also causing me grief. The stress of an assistantship, course work, raising children, house work, and lack of financial stability, all caused me —and no wonder—to be extremely irritable. I went around doing my normal tasks, but at the slightest lack of active involvement, my cortex would latch on to the broken record of my anger and disappointment with my “friend”.

In all honesty, I would now describe my mental state as on of “mixed anxiety depression” with a tinge of “obsession”.

The following week, my husband had some work out of state and suggested we make it a family trip. Since he was not agnostic, he suggested we visit a famous temple enroute. After much argument, I reluctantly agreed because the architecture would be worth seeing. As we drove to the temple, I carried on a one-way conversation with “God”. I said, in effect, “If you exist, give me a sign, something to show me that you exist.” I remember being intense about this.

The temple was crowded. A throng of devotees had lined up to see the deity, and we joined the line. Suddenly, one of the officiating priests came out of the sanctuary in a great rush carrying a crown in his hand. There were several people in the queue in front of me, a queue not in single file but three or four people wide. The priest stopped a foot or so past me, leaned past the others and placed the crown on my head!

At that moment, all my anxiety, depression, anger and hate vanished. I was tranquil. As quickly as he placed the crown on my head, he removed it and went to someone else in the line.

I wondered at the time if this was a random event, and if it was the crowning that calmed me, or it was the camphor-flavored holy water given me by another priest a few minutes before, that had done the calming (Camphor is a central nervous system stimulant). At that moment, the priest quickly turned on his heels and rushed back toward the sanctuary and then towards the queue. Again, he disregarded others in the queue and placed the crown on my head, and the heads of my husband and children!

It took me a long time— years actually— to accept this as something more than a coincidence. I later discovered that placing the crown on a devotee’s head as a blessing is part of the routine at that temple. What intrigued me was that the priest should put it on my head twice even with such a large crowd waiting for it. Some people were clamoring for it, but the priest rushed past them. I was not expecting this double crowning, much less hankering for it, but I had asked for a sign. Was this that sign?

There have been other incidents which could pass for coincidences, but might not be. Reflecting on these experiences, I am of the opinion that something out there cares for us, all of us, and wants for us to get to know it. Why that task is so difficult, I do not know.

Providing correct information is one of the responsibilities of science and science educators. That is what I do. I talk about evolution and any scientific knowledge I’ve gathered, but I admit that there is a lot that science does not know yet. Accepting science does not mean rejecting the Creator or Creatoress. It does mean scrutinizing every claim, whether made by scientists or non-scientists, and continuing one’s efforts at seeking the true nature of life.