That’s Right, A Half-Ton Fungus

In China they’re saying, among us is fungus—
This new one’s a record, a king of the giants!
It grew where a log was decaying, they’re saying,
And this is the largest recorded by science!

The years that it grew, maybe twenty, were plenty
To see that it reached its improbable size
Such wonderful things may be found all around us
Just all the more reason to open your eyes!

Via the BBC, a story on the world’s largest yet documented (I love that phrase–not “world’s largest” but “world’s largest yet documented”–it gives me the same feeling that pirate stories used to when I was a young cuttlesquirt, that there are wonders out there for those willing to look for them) fungus fruiting body, weighing in at half a ton.

It’s a bracket fungus (or shelf fungus); I had always heard that all bracket fungi were edible, but wiki tells me (I know, I know) that bracket fungi are grouped by appearance rather than phylogeny, so there is no guarantee that they have just found dinner for 2,500.

On Predictions

For folks who invest in their fictions, predictions
Are common as pennies, but worth a bit less;
When people rely on their visions, decisions
Turn out to be nothing but ignorant guess.

Predicting the future is never so clever—
When constantly wrong, it’s a good time to quit;
But dissonance drives their obsession—expression
Of failure means, really, they’re just full of shit.

I’ve had, you may recall, a few Jehovah’s Witnesses come to the house recently. Their sect has made multiple end-time prophesies (which, in case you haven’t been paying attention, have not come to pass). Of course, there have been many religions which have made similar prophecies; after so many failed predictions, it might seem unusual that a group like the Heaven’s Gate cult could have convinced people that their prediction was true. A handful of people believed, though, and are dead as a result.

Leon Festinger’s theory of Cognitive Dissonance was inspired by one such group and their predictions. There has been plenty written on CD, so I won’t repeat here. I just want to note that public announcement of belief is one of Festinger’s important variables–arguably, the development of the internet, of web pages, blogs, discussion boards and the like, have allowed people who would otherwise have remained in the shadows to make public pronouncements of various bits and pieces of ludicrous belief. Once these beliefs are defended (say, in the comments of a blog), it is rarer than pigeon teeth to find someone recanting them based on additional evidence. (Note, this is a primary characteristic of the scientific community as a whole–even if individual scientists may stubbornly cling to a view in the face of disconfirming evidence, the community is able to respond to the evidence.)

And the more often they are presented with disconfirming evidence, the more opportunities they have to re-buttress their unsupported beliefs. Take the public faces of creationism, for instance, who lecture to intelligent audiences; they are corrected again and again, and must build strong walls against the forces of evidence and rationality. Or take conspiracy theorists, or vaccination denialists, or… or… or…

Or take our friend the Dancing Monkey. Many are convinced he is insane, but it is not necessary, in order to explain his aberrant behavior. Defending his unsupportable world view would have started gradually (as, I am told, it did, back in the early days of internet discussion boards). Now, every time reality slaps him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, he has to reinforce his world view. And make no mistake, he is wrong again and again. Just on this blog, he has predicted my death “today”, several times a week, for months. Not only am I still alive, but The Digital Cuttlefish is now in its third year. Dancing Monkey has been wrong hundreds of times; Leon Festinger would be proud. The more often he comments, the more often he is wrong; the more often he is wrong, the more often he must comment. He is too weak to stop. Pity him.

A New Verse Form? (and a guest verse!)

From commenter “Thinker”:

If you find the stuff in the bible reliable,
and you trust the clerics: “It’s all we can know!”
If you in your pew with your missus think bliss is
sitting still, never moving, then how will you grow?
You’re proud you’ve accepted, not doubted, what’s touted:
that Truth is eternal and never will change
while we find the iconoclastic fantastic
and your static worldview as something quite strange.

If Old Truth is wrong, well, let’s face it: replace it
with models that fit data better – no sweat!
To us, it’s a quest never-ending: ascending
the shoulders of giants, to see further yet.
If you cannot see what is grand in expandin’
the body of knowledge we humans can share
and, frankly, if you think exploring is boring
as Hell, then in our view, you’re already there!

For those of you who have been paying attention, this is the same form as one I have used three times before–here, here, and here.

It is great fun coming up with the internal rhymes, and it makes me very happy that at least one other person has been enticed into trying the same form!

Now, the thing is, I can’t recall another poem like this–but I am not well-versed (pun, unfortunately, intended) in the various forms rhyme and meter can take. Have you seen such an animal before? Or do I get naming rights? (In which case, I am taking suggestions for names–just one so far, so I want more!)

Pew Poll Pablum

When you study religion in college, your knowledge
Goes straight to your memory, missing your heart;
For people who lack the emotion, the notion
Of putting down faith makes them feel really smart.
Unless it’s a testable question, suggestions
Of heavenly forces are mocked and ignored;
The good-hearted folks who find kneeling appealing
Are held in contempt by the atheist horde.

The godless remain where they started, cold-hearted,
While god-fearing people’s emotions are moved;
They’re different from real human beings, I’m seeing,
So clearly it’s shown, I consider it proved!
The godless are never excited, delighted,
Feel love unrequited, or sorrow unplanned;
They’re robots! Their whole human backing is lacking—
It’s clear as a crystal–they don’t understand.

The battle of Pew Poll is being spun in multiple directions. Atheists are smarter; atheists claim they are smarter; atheists know more trivia; the test was general, not specific; does knowledge cause atheism or vice versa; knowing about something is different from knowing something… and more. Atheists reject religion because they do not know it in the same way as the faithful… except that so many of us were once among the faithful, and have not forgotten what it felt like. At the time, my religious conversion experience was perhaps the most overwhelming thing I had ever felt. I was a part of that community, too, and would never deny that part of the appeal. I have since had more overwhelming experiences (hey, I am a parent, after all), and have been part of different communities.

I am slightly insulted by the insinuations in the argument. I am not arguing out of a place of ignorance, either in the trivial knowledge part or the emotional, community, spiritual, etc. part. It is not that I do not know that view. Rather, it is that I know that view and so much more.

There is definitely misunderstanding going on. I just don’t think the fingers are pointing in the right directions.

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, again.

The Real Insult

As citizens contemplate choices, their voices
Are amplified, rather than muffled or stayed;
The myriad pathways where freedom may lead ‘em
Are part of the country our forefathers made
I’ve thought that the loud disagreement we see, meant
That Freedom of Speech was just doing its work—
I’d argue it’s our constitution’s solution:
We give you the freedom to show you’re a jerk.

The Moslem Community Center now enters
The media spotlight, for better or worse;
Opponents all claim that Ground Zero’s where heroes
Must not be insulted—to hell with the First.
Despite the amendment’s protections, elections
Are one of the times when majority rules:
It’s easy to track politicians’ positions—
They gather more votes when they pander to fools.

In the same sense that politicians show their disdain for the flag by using it as a cheap prop (remember the spat over Obama’s [lack of] flag lapel pin?), the short-term demands of collecting votes has politicians scrambling to trample on the First Amendment. I’d write more, but I’ve got more important things to do. I will say this, though–I don’t know which I find more depressing, the alleged political leaders spouting one opinion or another on the news, or the hundreds of comments addressed to the online news stories or blogs, parroting the worst of the worst of these talking heads.

Ignorance Ain’t Bliss For Me

“I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day”
–Douglas Adams

Think of the things a flagellum would tell ‘em
If only they knew how to open their eyes
The stuff they could see through their glasses surpasses
Their presuppositions, distortions and lies
If all they believe is the bible, they’re liable
To miss a real world that is there to be seen
But gladly the biblical thinkers wear blinkers
And try to decipher the code of the gene

It’s hard to imagine a finer designer
Than blind evolution and millions of years
But this explanation’s (quite oddly) ungodly
And quickly rejected for fanning their fears
They cannot accept evolution’s solutions
And make up a God who’s the cause of it all
Myself, I can’t use that religion, one smidgen
It’s selfish and petty; I can’t think that small