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
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
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
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
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
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
(For the story behind my stuffed red dragon, Blip, see chapter 1 of my book.) Continue reading
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
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
The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking goes on sale today. By (spooky!) coincidence, today is also the fourth anniversary of the incident that opens the book—an event asserting America’s belief in voodoo. On April 12, 2008, two men pulled a shirt out of a hole in the ground and lifted it before a mass of media. Somehow this shirt, and this hole, were kind of a big deal.
The shirt was a baseball jersey with the name and number of David Ortiz, a star player for the Boston Red Sox. The hole was a freshly jack-hammered void in the concrete of the New York Yankees’ expensive new stadium. In 2007 a mischievous construction worker had buried it there, and word had just got out. The Yankees, and their fans, wanted it gone. Continue reading