Most of the time with alternative medicine I take the stance that as long as you’re not hurting anyone else and it works for you then you’re free to do whatever the heck you want. I do this as I’ve been in more than a couple situations where I’ve caused serious offence to people when I’ve started heavily questioning their beliefs and I’m not the kind of person who takes joy in getting people angry at me. Thankfully its pretty much a non-issue for the company I regularly keep as we’re all well aware of what topics are potential minefields for arguments that’ll lead down a rabbit hole from which no winner will ever emerge.
However I have in the past made my stance known on several pseudo-science issues before and I’m saddling up to do so again. This time I’ve got my sights set on homeopathy because it seems to be the last little bastion of woo I’ve yet to tackle seriously.
I haven’t really had much to do with homeopathy since I firs heard about it 5 years or so ago but I can remember clearly reading up on it to figure out what it was. Whilst at first I was intrigued by the notion that dilution increase potency (because anything that posits something that crazy has to have some fun stuff backing it up) when I read about the actual process required to prepare homeopathic remedies I instantly twigged that it was nothing more than water and any effects people were ascribing to it were just a simple function of the placebo effect. Surely, I thought, given enough time people would come to realise this and the movement would fade back into the obscurity from whence it came and I’d never hear about it again.
It would never be that simple, of course.
Cue my honeymoon trip to Turtle Island off the northern coast of Fiji. The beautiful temperate weather dulling the more harsh sides of personality with the great food and plentiful booze ensuring that I was in no mood to go on a sceptical rampage. What else would happen but a conversation about homeopathic remedies where a surgeon was looking for something to ease his nagging shoulder injuries. I fobbed it off, enduring the conversation for as long as it lasted, and instead focused my attention to other, more pleasurable endeavours (read: the booze). Thankfully it seemed that the only people that really believed in it were a singular couple as the surgeon friend said it did nothing for him.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that factually we can’t put any more faith in homeopathy than we do in sugar pills. The research clearly shows that homeopathy is ineffectual in treating the ailments it claims to be able to and any effect is simply the placebo effect in action. If a remedy seems to work for you fine but don’t let me catch you trying to peddle that nonsense to anyone else as you’re far more likely to do someone harm than any amount of good. If the treatment is as good as you think it is then they will find it on their own and I have no problems with consenting adults putting whatever rubbish they want into their bodies (just not other people’s bodies).
I always feel like there’s a creative side to me that’s always struggling against my logical brain. I love creating things but when it comes to anything artistic or something that doesn’t follow a strict set of rules it seems that my internal wiring gets all crossed up and I write the whole experience off as illogical. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate good creative works, far from it. People who have the ability to create fascinate me in a way that I can’t push aside. One of the great examples I was shown recently was the YouTube celebrity Ronald Jenkees and here’s my favourite of his videos:
His story is quite amazing having only ever taken music lessons for 3 months (which didn’t work out) and prefers to just jam out on his keyboard with FL Studio providing the beat. I spent almost a whole afternoon just checking out his work and subsequently spent a couple frustrating hours on FL Studio trying to create my own tracks. I think I’m suffering from what I’ll call the IllDoc caramel problem whereby everything I do doesn’t appear to be any good since I’m listening to it for hours on end. That doesn’t stop me from thinking that I can buy my way out of the problem with more gear (I just know I’ll get good when I buy that keyboard!), but I know I’m just ogling gorgeous tech.
You may be asking yourself what the point of this post is since I’m just randomly linking to stuff I like and whining about how hard it is to be creative. Well the thing is I meant to write this post a long time ago, in fact almost 2 months ago when I got back from Turtle Island. You see whilst on the island I had revisited one of my old creative passions, photography. I initially got into this because I wanted a good camera to take with me on a trip to New Zealand with my now wife and became obsessed with DSLR technology. I set myself a budget of about $1000 and ended up with a Canon 400D and a standard lens. The next 6 months were filled with me annoying my friends and family with my new toy as well as taking a couple opportunities to try my hand at a couple artistic shoots.
So here I am pimping out some of my work again after buttering you up with some other creative people. Have a look, let me know what you think and feel free to give me any criticisms or ask questions about them. Most of these were done in the moment and are my favourites out of the bunch. If you’re crazy and want the high res versions they will be available soon in my gallery page, which I’m still working out how to set up properly (that was another reason for the long delay).
You know there are times when I’ve caved into a stereotype just because it was easier to work within those boundaries than trying to define my own. I remember some years ago being told that I took quite a keen interest in my appearance and had myself labelled as a metrosexual. Initially I fought back against this since I hadn’t really defined myself in such a way, still trying to grasp onto the last bit of teenage rebellion that I had in me. After a while though I realised that the label brought with it ideals that I found easy to align with, so I just went with it.
More recently though I’ve been fighting with the idea of caving into becoming a full blown ravenous skeptic. I’ve blogged numerous times in the past about the sceptical movement and how I support their ideas whilst criticizing their technique but it’s becoming more and more apparent that it might just be easier to join the cause and cave into the stereotype. Whilst the benefits of doing so are great (indeed joining their ranks would generate more blog traffic, possibly open up the opportunity to speak at their conventions and give me daily blog fodder) there’s still that little teenage voice of angst whispering at the back of my mind telling me not to conform to their standards. So where has all this cognitive dissonance come from?
Winding the clock back 3 weeks finds myself living the life of luxury on Turtle Island, lapping it up with my wife. I’d be lying if I said the people I was there with were exactly my kind of people, it was far from that. Indeed the majority of them were in their late 30s to 40s and many of them were highly successful people (in fact one of them was the CIO for Westfield Corporation) so the conversations often drifted far from areas I could talk about. One warm night having dinner on the beach the topic drifted to stories of how we all met, and one of them happened to involve a tale about homeopathic medicine. Fortunately the story teller was a cardiovascular surgeon and didn’t believe the stuff would work (and in truth was only trying it because he was at wits end and had resigned to just living with the mild shoulder pain it was trying to fix) but another couple perked up saying that they regularly saw a homeopathic doctor. Instantly two voices cried out in my head: the first telling me to shoot down homeopathy in a blaze of skeptical glory and the other warning me that that kind of conversation wasn’t going to win me any friends, something which on a private island designed for relaxation wouldn’t be looked on kindly from the other guests.
In the end I kept my mouth shut, but that didn’t make the skeptical voice inside my head go away. I quickly came to realise that whilst there’s a giant community of skeptics and endless support from the scientific community in the end being a skeptic isn’t going to win you any friends, save for those who are skeptics themselves. The fact that dulled the sceptical voice in my head was that whilst the couple said they visited such a doctor not once did they actually recommend anyone else go and see one over a regular GP and as such the only harm they were doing was to themselves. If they had started spruiking such nonsense to everyone else I don’t think the skeptical voice would’ve kept quiet and I’d probably be telling a completely different story.
There’s also the fact that the Global Atheist Convention is coming to Melbourne next year. Since I have many friends who would identify themselves as either Atheist or Skeptical I’ve already had a couple invitations to come down for the weekend and spend a day or two touring the event. I am tempted to, since many of the people lined up to speak are interesting in their own right and the Atheist convention may be my only chance to see them speak in Australia for a long time to come. Plus I’ve always wanted to try my hand as a blogging mogul running around a convention trying to break stories to the world like a real journalist 🙂
I think this internal debate will rage on for quite some time and I don’t see any side of it winning out. I’ll stick with my idea of the casual skeptic who makes it their job to point out bullshit when it has the chance to do harm to others whilst quietly letting people do their own thing. Of course you regular readers here will always be told that you should think for yourselves, but you’ve come to expect that of me over the past months that I’ve spent rambling at you 😉
The brain is a wonderfully complicated piece of organic matter and we’re still in the early stages in our understanding of how it all functions. For the most part the basic components are well understood, like neurons and synapses, however when the whole thing comes together we get some extrodinary emergent behaviour. One of the most interesting behaviours that we all experience is that of dreaming, and it was this behaviour that caused me to analyse the last year of my life whilst I was on Turtle Island.
Among the many theories about why we dream there are a couple that really stand out. The first being that dreams are in fact your brain’s way of training you for certain situations (Coutt’s theory). Whilst this might not make sense when you have a lot of fantastical dreams such as flying I can remember many dreams that mirrored real experiences later in life. Whilst I can’t truly estimate how helpful these dreams where some of them did get me thinking about certain ideals and beliefs I had held, sometimes resulting in me discarding them completely. It definitely feels like dreams do serve some form of cognitive evolution to strengthen yourself against the world.
The second, and I believe most important, is for the brain to process, link and organise your memories (R. Stickgold et al. “Sleep, Learning, and Dreams: Off-line Memory Reprocessing”). It goes hand in hand with studies done that show a prolonged lack of sleep affects memory. This also makes quite a bit of sense to me since, for the most part, my dreams usually have some theme from the day woven into them. You can then imagine my surprise then when on the second night on the island I had, and can distinctly remember, around 15 separate dreams with themes that I could trace back to events that happened well over a year ago. It didn’t take me long to formulate a theory on what happened based on the 2 dream theories I’ve described.
Now I don’t usually think I’m a stressed person, in fact I usually thrive in stressful situations. The last 6 months of my life could easily have been described as some of the most stressful in my life, what with the wedding, investment purchases going awry and almost being unemployed. As far as I could tell I can physically cope with stress pretty well, but this series of dreams and the mental clarity I had afterwards lends me to believe that there’s a possibility that my mind was somehow pent up processing my daily life and was in essence backed up on down time processing. With everything being provided for me and the stress of the last 6 months far behind me my brain when into over-drive catching up on processing and linking up those memories. It seems to line up nicely with the fact that I had been waking up tired for about the past 4 months no matter how much sleep I got, which would seem to indicate that my brain wanted more time to catch up on memory processing.
The next few days saw my thoughts become a lot more free flowing and the conversations at the dinner table all that more interesting. I’ve never really gone on a holiday where everything was provided for me so I guess the combination of relaxation and not having to think about anything allowed my mind to unravel itself from the tangled mess I had gotten it into over the past year. I guess the moral of the story is that we all need some downtime to let our brains relax and recover from the daily grind and mine just so happened to be the honeymoon.
Or maybe it was the Kava… 🙂
For many Australians there’s an unspoken right of passage that many of my generation undergoes. It’s usually in the form of a gap year between college and university when most choose to work for a while and then spend the remainder of their time abroad, travelling through various countries and racking up quite a bit of life experience in the process. I’ve watched so many of my friends set off overseas for years and heard their stories with a slightly jealous ear. Whilst a week away in an exotic location doesn’t really compare to a year spent overseas it has given me many insights on life, work and the human condition.
As everyone now knows our honeymoon location was none other than Turtle Island, a private island held by Richard Evanson. It’s been in operation for about 27 years now and has a maximum occupancy of about 14 couples. The focus of the entire experience on the island is to welcome you into the family of staff and other guests. The Fijian people are incredibly welcoming no matter where you are and I don’t think I could pass one of the staff without them smiling and giving me a hearty “Bula!” (Hello/Welcome). This sense of welcome is even more instilled when you’re introduced to your Bure (traditional Fijian house) Mama, who is for all intents and purposes your mum whilst you are on the island. They will get you anything you want, clean your bure, arrange activities for you and be your own personal photographer. They’re also your source of insights into the Fijian culture, something I was completely ignorant to before coming to Turtle Island.
There are only 2 ways to get to the island: by a 4 hour boat ride or a 30 min seaplane. Being so fascinated by aeronautics I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a ride in a seaplane which turned out to be a de Haviland Beaver, a rare craft that hasn’t had a new one built in over 40 years. The pilot was a French-Canadian who has had 40 years of flying experience and this showed from his ability to handle such a craft as the Beaver. The flight in is very picturesque with islands and reefs dotting the course until finally you make the final approach into Turtle Island, where you get to see the island for the very first time.
All the housing on the island is done in the traditional Fijian style, with Bures and thatched roofs being the norm. All the staff are either from the surrounding Yasawa island chain or Fijian natives. Jumping off the plane you are greeted to songs and, if you’re one of the fairer gender, you will be carried off the plane by 2 of the staff dressed in traditional war attire. The initial experience is so overwhelming that you almost don’t know how to react other than smiling and soaking in the atmosphere. The waters of the beaches are either crystal clear or a piercing blue, with the sand of the beaches white and welcoming. It’s hard to describe the island as anything short of a dream as from the moment you leave the plane you feel like you’ve stepped into another world.
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are all held at the family table unless you’re having a private dine out. This means that every day you get together with your fellow guests for food, wine and good conversation. It was a confronting experience for Rebecca and I since we were the youngest couple on the island by at least half a decade, although the insights and wisdom we gained from their experience was phenomenal. The shop talk was kept to a minimum as most of the other guests were extremely busy people normally and talking about work was the last thing on their minds. It was great though and the advice we’ve taken away from the other couples is something we’ll carry with us for the rest of their lives.
After a few days on the island you start to completely let go of your normal self and start to slip into the Fijian lifestyle. I can remember clearly waking up on day 3 completely aloof to the stresses of work and normal life. To be honest this was my first real holiday in over a year and it felt like my brain finally had time to process the last years worth of tangled up memories. After that I was completely comfortable with spending an hour or two just sitting on a hammock and staring out into the sea. For someone who’s usually strung up on making the most of their time anywhere this was quite a mind shift and I think it was something that I sorely needed.
One of the things that got me when we first arrived was everyone kept saying “Welcome home”. Now I know where my home is, and it wasn’t there, so I just wrote them off as being polite. However after spending a few days on the island you forget how life was before and Turtle Island becomes your home without you even realising it. Every guest and staff member then becomes part of your Turtle family with all the emotional attachment that comes with it. I really didn’t notice it until the day we tried to leave when I felt that familiar tightness in my chest, the one I get when I feel I’ve lost something. That day I was moving away from home and it really pulled at my heart strings.
The island is not about the food or the accommodation or activities you do whilst you’re there; it’s about the people. The Fijian people are so welcoming that you can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped into a world filled with old friends and this is imprinted on every guest that stays there. When you’re about to leave you make a Check-Out Tile which is a small hexagonal block of concrete imprinted with whatever message you want. These are then used on the island everywhere, and I mean everywhere. There are literally thousands of them to be seen each with their own unique message to the current guests of the island. We have no idea where ours will end up, but I’ll be sure to track it down on our next visit to the island.
Turtle Island wasn’t a vacation for me, it was a transformation. I finally unravelled the meaning behind the last year of my life and broke apart a lot of my preconceived ideas about people and the world. Being thrown into such a foreign situation and changing so rapidly is something that someone like myself, who thought they thrived on change, had never experienced before. It is with a smile on my face and many fond memories behind me that I write this post and recommend that everyone try the experience at least once in their life.
My life has changed.
Tomorrow I’ll be heading home with my blushing bride Rebecca from our lovely honeymoon retreat. I’ll be sure to do a massive update with a gallery full of pictures and many stories that I will bring back with me from Turtle Island. If the updates don’t start again on Monday morning I hope I don’t have to tell you what to do (and no, nuking me from orbit just to be sure is not the right answer ;)).
So sit back and relax, enjoy the weekend and hopefully I’ll return in a blaze of glory to entertain you all for real instead of automated posts written at 11pm the night before 😛
By the time this post hits the world Rebecca and I will be on our way to the mystery destination, Turtle Island.
Now for those of you who are in the know and managed to get some clues, here’s them explained:
So there’s the big secret. You can see why I always cracked a wry smile when everyone was guessing locations that were no where near where we were going 😀
I’ll be sending many a picture everyone’s way when we return. 🙂