Skepticism: It’s the Thinking Person’s Secret Weapon (But Don’t Take My Word for It).

Bulls are not permitted to sit on rocks.

Sometime last month, quite likely you were one of millions who received a Facebook or email message telling you of the special significance of this October in particular: there were 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays in this month, and this is something that happens only once every 823 years.

When I had finished reading this email, my immediate (and quite automatic) response was, “What a fascinating piece of trivia!” I couldn’t help but revel in the thrill of learning such an interesting fact. It immediately preceded, however, a sharp ping from my built-in bullshit detector, which was in it’s turn followed by my musing, “I wonder if that really is true?”

My next action was to open up my calendar in Windows and see for myself. I learned long ago that most people are foolish, gullible and stupid and will indiscriminately sop up any piece of information, true or not, whole or not, trash or treasure and are quite willing to believe it because they are either afraid that it may be true or because they wish it to be. They will also quite happily (and mindlessly and again, indiscriminately) pass on these myths, urban legends, superstitions, beliefs and infojunk to any available recipient ear (or eyeball), whether the recipient is willing or not.

Sure enough, there were 5 Friday/Saturday/Sunday weekends this October. So far, so good. I began to scroll through the months to see with my own eyes if this was indeed as rare a happenstance as foretold.

As it so happens, January of this year had exact same calendar as October.

It's amazing what you can find on the internet these days.

So I went back to my trusty calendar and I started scrolling through the years with October as the static month. Lo and behold! What struck my eye? the last year to have the October quintuple threat was 2004.

Not 1187.

2004.

To set the record on an even straighter keel, October 1187 does not even share the same calendar as October 2010, however, 1193 and 1182 do.

For the mathematically challenged:

2010 – 1193 = 817  and  2010 – 1182 = 828.

You will note, the answer to either equation is not 823.

As you can see, the claim that the last time this ‘rare’ ‘event’ occurred 823 years ago can be refuted with a bit of grade 2 math. So the claim of it last occurring 823 years before isn’t even mathematically accurate, because of the simple fact that the person who bred this insidious (and insipid) little mind-worm didn’t even bother to check the date.

Previous to that, it was the years 1999, 1993, 1982 and then my calendar stopped going back in years (Damn you, Microsoft.). Delving deeper into the calendar and my self-appointed task, I discovered: March of this year had 5 Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; May had 5 Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays; July had 5 Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; August had 5 Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays; and that December this year will have 5 Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Wonder if that all happens every 823 years, too?

After a bit of internet spelunking, I learned that this message is a viral rumor meme that is spreading like gonorrhea at an abstinence camp and that many intelligent but gullible people are being being reduced to the level of stupefied yokels, consuming what any Tom, Dick or Harry (or email or Facebook message) says as concrete fact with nary a thought given about it’s validity. Suffice to say, it was enough for me to call shenanigans on the whole affair and reply to my friend with a nicely-worded-but-gently-sarcastic email stating as much, along with a request to stop propagating false information.

I was told, very rudely, by another friend (who didn’t like their bubble being burst) to ‘suck it’.

Indeed.

I shall not go into a detailed explanation as others have done so already, and with more elegance than I could possibly hope for, and it has already been debunked by Snopes.com. You can even see for yourself.

I know this will ruffle feathers; I can’t say that I care about your ruffled feathers when you haven’t given a care for the state of mine. Allow me to head off the inevitable outcry, indignance and sore feelings that will undoubtedly ensue and say this: are we not inundated enough with junk information in the form of spam, advertisements, loud hi-fi systems in cars being driven by youths with excess testosterone, pop-up windows, snippets of overheard conversations, movies, television, video games, horoscopes, and whatever else you may wish to add to this list, without adding another useless (and incorrect in every one of it’s assertions) piece of junk information to the whole tottering, rotten heap?

I love information. I love learning new and interesting things. I love learning new skills, new trivia, new words, new songs to sing and play and listen to, new stories to tell and new jokes with which to amuse my fellows. The world’s true history is sufficient in itself to engross even the most jaded of scholars for a lifetime, with ample lifetimes left to spare for more study, and that is just the history of this planet and everything on it.

That is the information I wish to learn. That is the information I crave. I seek the truth and the factual, in all things and in everything. And isn’t that information much more interesting and consuming than all the junk myths and pseudo-science and superstitions of fear and wishful thinking?

When you allow others to do your thinking, or allow others to tell you what to think, believe, read, listen to or watch, you compromise your own self-development and free will. You give tacit approval to be told what is right and wrong, allow them to make your choices for you and ultimately allow them to define who you are through the dissemination of information that they see fit to bestow upon you in their mercy.  Believing what others tell you without question is the intellectual equivalent of being a dog who’s receiving a tummy rub; it may be nice and feel good, but whatever else the dog was thinking beforehand goes completely out of their head. Critical thought and skepticism are the two things that define us and separate us from the animal kingdom from whence we came and refusing to use it is an insult to our species’ evolution and history, and theft from it’s growth and future.

Skepticism is freedom of mind, and ultimately, freedom of the individual.

Question everything.

Including what you have just read.

Now who’s a good doggie?

Oh, and incidentally, I’ll see you all on December 23, 2012.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Skepticism: It’s the Thinking Person’s Secret Weapon (But Don’t Take My Word for It).

  1. This is exactly how I feel!!! The spreading of ignorance and misinformation makes me angry. I just don’t understand why, with all the resources available at a person’s fingertips (literally) in this day and age, that people are incapable of doing any kind of research.
    Throw them any kind of sensationalist hogwash, and they just swallow it up.
    Personally, every time I read something that tries to stir up a panic about the dangers of something, or some sort of overly sentimental anecdote about the goodness of someone or the other, my initial response is one if skepticism. So the first thing I do is pull up the old Google and check the validity. And 99.9% of the time, my skepticism is justified.
    I have been tempted, in the past, to come up with my own myth… just to see what happens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s