Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Book Report - Flim Flam

Flim Flam is a book written by James Randi in 1980. In this book, Randi looks to debunk all sorts of “paranormal activities” that have occurred throughout history, from fairies to aliens. Known as, “The Amazing Randi”, James Randi has built a career debunking and exposing what he describes as different forms of deception that have been promoted by the media. He believes that the cause of all of these deceptions is a misrepresentation of data. Data collected by scientists has been misinterpreted, and people who believe in the paranormal have spun this data out of control to create these stories. Each chapter of this book goes into an in depth investigation into different forms of the paranormal, where Randi uses numbers, graphs, and charts to explain how science is behind all of these paranormal activities and that everything has an explanation.

One of my personal favorite chapters in this book is the first paranormal event that Randi seeks to debunk, fairies. This chapter describes a 1920 Christmas issue of London’s Strand magazine, featuring a piece by Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes. The article featured photographs of two girls from Bradford, Yorkshire who had taken photographs with fairies and garden gnomes that they had run into in Cottingley Glen. Doyle was sent these pictures from a friend, and being a believer in the mystical and the paranormal, he was excited to get these out there. As proof was required to see if these pictures were real, Mr. H. Snelling, who had more than 30 years of experience with photography and special studio work, had declared that there was only one exposure(no double-exposure effects were possible); photo number one was taken “instantaneously”(meaning at a shutter speed of 1/50 or 1/100); and the fairies in photo number one moved during the rapid exposure. Skeptics began to announce points of falseness in the pictures, including one of the girls looking at the camera rather than the fairies and the fake movement of the fairies. The girls were asked to produce more pictures with the fairies to prove that they were real, which they did three more times, resulting in more people believing in the photos. The defense argued that the girls had no previous history with photo trickery and they had no motive to fake these pictures. In the following years, as the investigation went on, the girls were asked to produce more pictures, and eventually they got sloppy. Some had double exposures, some were out of focus, and some featured the girls not directly looking at the fairies. One of the final blows against the girls photographs were the findings of the shapes of fairies in books. Investigators found the exact shapes and cutouts of the fairies in books about them, which the girls used in the pictures. Randi makes the point that people can be easily deceived by visuals with not much work put into it, especially in earlier days of the 20th century.

Another interesting chapter of this book describes the myths behind the Bermuda Triangle and the lost city of Atlantis. Author Charles Berlitz, who wrote about the Bermuda Triangle, went on a trip to the Bermuda Triangle with 15 others to study the lost city of Atlantis. It is early into this adventure that the idea behind the Bermuda Triangle is seen as nonsense. Randi seeks to look into the number of disappearances in the area, and what he finds is that very few of them actually occur in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle. Many of the planes and ships that have disappeared were traveling along the path of the Triangle, but most of their last sightings happened off the coast of Florida or up north near Canada. The disappearances in the Triangle became such a great fear to so many people due to the number of Navy members that went missing in that area, mainly from an Avenger boat disappearing, as well as a number of planes and boats that went after it to look for it, resulting in 6 aircraft and 27 men disappearing. Another idea exposed by Berlitz was his Pyramid Theory, which is based on 2 heavy bits of data. One of which is a supposed 470 foot high pyramid under the ocean that seems to be evidence towards the city of Atlantis. The other is a 1,000 foot ling and apparently man made road located underwater less than half a mile off Bimini’s west coast. Randi proves these false by looking at the sonar readings of the area. The area of the pyramid shows that the pyramid was not actually that, but of a common slope that could be found in that area, made by nature. The “Bimini Road” was also found not to be man made, but made by nature, having always been there before the possible days of Atlantis. Randi concludes that Berlitz theories of the lost city of Atlantis were false, which debunks both the Bermuda Triangle and the city of Atlantis.

In a chapter called, “The Giggling Guru: A Matter of Levity”, Randi debunks Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and what he calls “Transcendental Meditation”. We are told that there are three states of mind: wakefulness, where the brain and body are active; sleep, where the brand and body are at rest; and the dream state, where the body is at rest and the mind is active and productive. Many psychologists believe there is a 4th state of mind called meditation. This state is said to reduce anxiety, improve job performance, perception skills, and IQ. TMers believe that humanity will improve in the long run with meditation. The TM course includes a number of “checking sessions”, where students follow meditation techniques, and during the follow up sessions, students are told of all the scientific support claimed by the Maharishi  and given endless graphs and very carefully selected experimental results. TMers say that oxygen consumption decreases greatly during meditation, as well as carbon dioxide and metabolism. Randi claims that there is no state of meditation, and that when TMers believe they are in a reduced state of anxiety and oxygen intake and metabolism decrease, subjects are basically just asleep. TMers claim that through enough practice and years of meditation, people can gain the power of levitation through mind power. No one has ever seen the process of levitation, and when asked about it, instructors do anything they can to avoid a simple yes or no answer. Randi concludes that, despite years of many subjects practicing meditation, people continue to die and commit suicide, and still people continue to give money to Maharishi.

I think that this book is good for any skeptics out there. There is no part of this book that looks at the other point of view, the point of view of believers. This entire book looks at different types of mystics and paranormal scenarios and debunks them in a variety of ways with data and science. Randi has debunked everything from the Bermuda Triangle to the theories of meditation and has shown how everything in this book can be contributed to humans misinterpreting information or intentionally misleading people to believe something. I liked how straight forward Randi was with his feelings and how they were effective in proving the paranormal wrong. I recommend this book to anyone who is a skeptic or anyone looking for an explanation behind anything paranormal related.

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