Anthro Blog Carnival

The fifty-ninth Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at A Very Remote Period Indeed. Catch the best recent blogging on archaeology and anthropology!

Submissions for the next carnival will be sent to me. The next open hosting slot is on 11 March. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me for hosting. No need to be an anthro pro.


Etzel Cardeña, Professor of Parapsychology at Lund

i-4606ba0eebcf34b0ad2626f99b964c6c-etzelcardena.jpgI entered into organised skepticism because of anti-science tendencies in academe. Though a member of the Swedish Skeptics since 1997 and co-editor of the society’s journal since 2002, I’ve never been much of a skeptical activist outside academic archaeology. I’ve written articles and a few letters of protest. But I’ve visited no spirit mediums, gone to no New Age fairs, crashed no fundie revivals. I have engaged with Teh Woo only in the manner of a sniper. In fact, I hardly ever meet any true believers apart from my New Age mom. But last night I had two such encounters: first one that was planned, polite and academic in tone. Then one that was unexpected, hostile and decidedly low-brow.

Not knowing really what to expect, it was with some trepidation I went to hear Professor Etzel Cardeña’s lecture to the Swedish Society for Parapsychological Research. Cardeña is the first Thorsen Professor of Parapsychology and Hypnology at the University of Lund. Poul Thorsen was a Danish margarine tycoon who was interested in hypnosis and published a book on how to use it to have your way with women. The controversial endowment that bears his name spent four decades in limbo after Thorsen’s death, until finally Lund accepted it in 2003 — on one condition. They tacked the words “and Hypnology” onto the Chair’s title, much to the true believers’ chagrin.

Parapsychology is unique among the sciences in that no-one has been able to prove that the discipline’s object of study, “psi”, exists. While other sciences investigate the properties of their objects, parapsychological research tends to aim at demonstrating its object’s existence — so far unsuccessfully. Hypnology, on the other hand, investigates sleep and sleep-like mental states such as hypnosis. When the Thorsen Chair was announced, skeptics hoped that Cardeña would concentrate his efforts on the latter subject, which was what he had been doing before that date.

Last night, Cardeña spoke to an audience of about 35 people. The man who introduced him remarked that this was an unusally large gathering for the Society for Parapsychological Research, and us non-members were asked to raise our hands and be counted. We could become members as part of our entry fee if we wanted. Compared to the audience at a typical lecture event organised by the Swedish Skeptics, this one was markedly smaller, markedly older, and had a markedly more even gender ratio, though men dominated here too. Everyone was nice and quiet. As we waited for the talk to begin, I overheard an old guy behind me telling his none too enthusiastic friend about the Swedish Skeptics in appreciative tones, about how having thousands of members and a growing membership gives us a certain financial oomph, as evidenced e.g. by the Enlightener of the Year Prize of $3100.

Etzel Cardeña is a shortish, lively and likeable Mexican who honoured his audience by wearing a dark three-piece suit. I could see that his shirt collar caused the poor man some discomfort. He reminded me of Martin Sheen as the President in West Wing. Heroically, Cardeña gave his talk not in his native Spanish, nor much in his fluent English, but almost entirely in his recently acquired and decidedly patchy Swedish. But I could understand him well enough. He spoke for an hour and a half about “The relationship between anomalous states of conscience and parapsychology”. Most of the talk concerned his research into hypnosis, with psi entering only at the end.

I learned four main things about Etzel Cardeña’s beliefs. He thinks that:

  1. Hypnosis is real, in the sense that Cardeña believes himself able to place susceptible subjects in an anomalous mental state through suggestion, and they do not make up the experiences they describe to him.
  2. Psi, paranormal mental capabilities, is real and distict from hypnosis. Indeed, much of Cardeña’s research in Lund aims at studying the relationship between the two.
  3. The world is not just physical matter. I asked Cardeña specifically about this after his talk, and he explained that though he is definitely not a philosophical materialist, he hesitates to call himself a dualist, preferring to speak of a “oneness”.
  4. The mind, hypnosis and psi should be studied with scientific methods and test protocols: Cardeña notably uses EEG, questionnaires and statistics.Of these four core beliefs, at least two are extreme minority positions among the world’s scientists. I’ll leave it up to the Dear Reader to identify which one is not.

To understand Cardeña’s mode of thought, one may ponder the fact that he called William James his hero and ended his talk with a quotation from Alan Gauld to the effect that mesmerism is underrated. (I kid you not!) In my opinion, Cardeña is using Thorsen’s money to study the relationship between a certain fantasy-prone personality type and thin air.

Horror fans may also like to know that Etzel Cardeña has adapted and performed Edgar Allan Poe as radio theatre in Spanish and published it on the web!

During Cardeña’s talk, somebody in Scania called my cell phone once and my home phone twice. Then, just as I got home at about 21:40, the persistent Scanian called my cell again and I answered. It turned out to be an irate Christian fellow who greatly admires professor of medicine Lennart Möller and his absolutely batty brand of Biblical pseudo-archaeology. Ostensibly, the caller wanted to learn about my opposition to Möller (which I have published in Folkvett 2004:2 and Skeptical Inquirer 28:6 (2004). But he hadn’t read anything I had written, and the conversation soon turned into him ranting “Who do you think you are with yer fancy university degree, you haven’t even been to the sites Möller writes about, you aren’t even a Biblical archaeologist, Möller is a DNA researcher you know, I might just read something you wrote and say it’s all blah blah blah”. The caller pointed out that he had been able to build a small hydroelectric dam and save a lot of money despite the skepticism of his neighbours. And then he rattled off a long list of Christian Swedish celebrities, suggesting that this list in itself was an argument for the truth of his religion. The list ended, a bit confusingly I must say, with a woman whose name is known because she’s spent decades in a US jail for her participation in a murder.

The cool thing about this is that either Lennart Möller himself is telling shocked rural congregations on his lecture tours about my satanic criticism of his pious attempts at Biblical archaeology, or there’s a rumour about me among his fans. Luckily, most of them seem to be a bit more restrained than the guy I talked to last night, because this is the first time anybody’s contacted me about Möller. To my knowledge, he hasn’t responded in print to my arguments.

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Fornvännen’s Colour Change

Fornvännen — Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research has had a number of different cover designs over the past century and the colour of the stock has varied. Starting with the first issue for 1966, it has had a beige rusticated cover. Starting with the current issue, 2008:4, it suddenly has a pale grey rusticated cover. My buddy Leif at Arkeologi i Väst speculates as to why this may be — is it because I got a steady job working with the journal? No. We had to change the cover paper because the makers of the beige stuff suddenly quit offering it! Leif also has some incisive comments about the Kuhnian Huns, though I don’t like the way he tosses out objectivity as a reasonable goal for the humanities.

Windows Mobile Media Player is Crap

i-4563ae9780950566ccad38dcd67ddae9-winmediaplayer.pngSince getting a smartphone, I never use my iPod anymore. (I handed it down to Junior who is now getting a psychedelic musical education. He’s into the Marbles.) But the switch of course led to a huge drop in the ease of use. Here are the steps I have to go through to get my phone to play my mp3s in random order:

  1. Unlock phone.
  2. If need be, navigate to “Favourites” tab of start screen.
  3. Start Windows Media Player.
  4. Click on “Menu”.
  5. Click on “Library”.
  6. Select “Storage Card” from top-left menu.
  7. Click on “My music”.
  8. Click on “Play”.

And the software is absolute crap at remembering where I was in a file the last time I turned it off. In fact, it doesn’t even remember which file I listened to! How fun is that when you’re listening to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe whose weekly show is typically 80 minutes long? It’s really hard to use an inch-long scroll bar to find your place in such a long sound file.

I wonder if there’s better music playing software for Windows Mobile.

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Going to Chester

Next week I’m going to Chester in England to visit the archaeology department there and accept a position as Visiting Research Fellow. I’ll be in town from 2 to 6 February. Any Dear Readers in that neck of the woods who’d like to meet up?

Happy Chinese New Year

i-b8358a1cbc1d0511f19ab220b8f46af1-chinese new year.gif

Happy Chinese New Year, everybody! Today is the first day of the year of the Ox according to the farmers’ calendar.

The Rundkvist family is heavily secularised, to the extent that I have let slip almost all Western observances and have very vague ideas about the Chinese ones. So, to learn what this day is traditionally about, I turn as always to Wikipedia, and learn that I should:

  • Welcome the deities of the heavens and earth.
  • Not eat meat.
  • Not cook.
  • Visit the most senior members of my extended family.
  • Hire a lion dance troupe.
  • Give money to my kids.
  • Set off fire crackers.

Of these activities and abstentions, I find only the visit to family, the lion dance troupe and the fire crackers attractive. Sadly, I have no crackers and I can’t afford hiring dancers. But it so happens that I am spending the day at the house of the most senior member of my patrilineage, viz. my dad. So apparently I’m celebrating!

Unaccustomed to Free Time

Being a married man and a father of small children, I am very rarely alone in the workday evenings or weekends. Indeed, in the past five or or six years, my capacity for sustained self-entertainment (yeah, yeah, OK; “nudge, nudge”) has atrophied to the point where I no longer know what to do when faced with a free Sunday. Yet this was the situation I found myself in last night. Wife off on business trip. Son at mom’s place. Daughter likely to spend day at friend’s place. Now what?

After some thought, I reached the conclusion that I would very much like to spend the afternoon with friends at a museum and a café. That is the sort of enjoyable pastime that small children turn into a stressful chore. So I was happy, having found out what I would like to do.

As it turned out, I started planning this too late. My daughter’s friend was only available until three o’clock. My own friends have kids too or were otherwise occupied. So here’s what I did with my lazy Sunday:

  1. Went to town reading Pratchett on the train.
  2. Had vaguely Asian chicken & shrimp wok.
  3. Attempted to get replacement for non-functional remote control at shop in town, was directed to suburban mall.
  4. Went to mall reading Pratchett.
  5. Got remote control replaced. Checked price on wifi card for old laptop.
  6. Rode bus home reading Pratchett.
  7. Bought groceries.
  8. Was invited to new neighbours for tea and a bun and a chat.

Dear Reader, if you found yourself with a free Sunday, would it surprise you? And what would you do to entertain yourself?

Never Say Please To Mother

My lovely Chinese wife came to Sweden with her family at age seven and grew up here. This has given her an unusual level of bicultural competence. I like to quip, lewdly, that she’s a dual boot machine with two operating systems and the most awesome hardware, man. She’s like this typical bright Swedish middle-class chick who somehow happens to know everything about China and looks like an Imperial princess.

So I can’t really say that we have grappled with and overcome our cultural differences. She pretty much does that for me on her own. But there are some details where our different upbringings do show. Having read Vinlusen’s recent blog entry, my wife encouraged me to write a few words about manners in the home.

An American acquaintance with a Chinese wife once complained to us, “I really wish she would quit ordering me around”. That made me laugh. What this is really about is that the Chinese don’t use polite figures of speech with their families. Indeed, they may be offended by them as such phrases mark an unwanted distance. You don’t say “Please pass me the salt” to your mom, you say “Pass the salt”. My wife does that all the time with me, straight imperatives, and I often complete the sentence for her with a joke to soften the impact of what I can’t help but perceive as rudeness. She’ll say “Pass the salt” and I’ll pass it, replying “…or I will cut your balls off”. Then we’ll laugh.

My wife once made the mistake of translating a Swedish figure of polite speech when talking to her mom in Chinese. She said, “Could you pass me the salt?” (OK, maybe it wasn’t the salt that one time.) Her mother reacted really badly, as the connotations of such a question in Chinese, when directed at your mom, is basically “Tell me, are you at all capable of passing me the salt, or are you an invalid?”.

In the kitchen, my wife really doesn’t like it when I apologise for pushing her to the side when I need to get something out of the sauce pan cupboard. The correct way to do this in the intimacy of a Chinese family situation is to shove her gently out of the way without as much as a grunt. Apologising puts her on the level of a cleaning lady.

But she tries to remember my Swedish manners, and usually she gets it right. She knows I really need to hear please, thanks and sorry sometimes or I’ll feel mistreated. But every now and then she gets it backwards to comic effect. Once she tried a half-remembered “Would you be so good as to pass me the salt?”. It came out as “You may pass me the salt…” Then she hesitated, clearly feeling that she’d dropped some part of the phrase. So she finished it, ” … if you’re good”.

Update 26 january: And a shoutout to Miss Cellania at Mental Floss and Neatorama with thanks for the links!

Mohammed Rafi Rules

A few years ago my friend David the Psychonaut gave me an mp3 file with the greatest song, “Jan Pehechan-Ho” by Mohammed Rafi. And now another friend, Tanya the Cosmopolite, links to the song’s over-the top Bollywood dance number, straight from the 1965 film Gumnaam. Awesome! (As per standard Bollywood procedure, Rafi himself isn’t in the film.)

Towards Strengthened Legal Protection for US Archaeological Sites

As we welcome the Obama administration into its first period, everyone at Sb is eager to see it restore science to its rightful place in US policy making and political culture. Now, from an archaeologist’s point of view, there is one area of US law where science is sorely lacking. And in this case, it’s not the second Bush administration’s fault. Actually, this is an area where US law has lagged behind that of the rest of the developed world for as long as there has been a developed world.

What is science’s rightful place in US cultural heritage management law? It should be everywhere, while at present it is only really there on federally owned land.

The US constitution emphasises the rights and freedoms of the individual and of each state in the Union. Unfortunately, this means that in the US, the fate of an archaeological site threatened by land development depends, quite haphazardly, on who owns the land it’s sitting on and in which state that land is located.

What the US needs, from the perspective of the science of archaeology, is a set of simple federal blanket laws to the effect that if someone wants to develop a piece of land with the slightest potential for an archaeological site on it, then the developer must pay for archaeological evaluation and possibly a rescue dig. This is how it works in most of Europe. Surely the mightiest country in the world can have no problem in attaining a similar level of protection for its cultural heritage.