The Arizona Skeptic A Journal Promoting Critical Thinking Volume 6, Issue 2 September/Octo
The Arizona Skeptic
A Journal Promoting Critical Thinking
Volume 6, Issue 2 September/October 1992
How Much of Your Brain Do _You_ Use?
By Mickey Rowe
The claim is frequently made that the average individual uses only
10% of their brain's potential. This claim is usually buttressed
by a reference to the generic "experts," thus making the
statement's validity of unquestionable value. But who are these
experts, and how did they reach this conclusion? I've heard the
claim so many times in my life that I've naturally been curious to
discover its basis. Unfortunately, after asking many of the
people that might reasonably be considered experts and searching
through some of what I thought might be the relevant literature,
I'm left with a mystery even more puzzling than that which I faced
at the outset of my search.
Although I can't yet delineate the origins of the belief in
our untapped mental potential, I can at least shed some light on
the merits of the claim. There are three topics which I wish to
pursue for the remainder of this article: what _have_ the
experts typically thought about tapping our brain's potential,
where might a belief in our untapped potential have arisen, and
finally, what does current neuroscience have to tell us about the
verisimilitude of "the 10% hypothesis"?
The Mental and the Physical
The significance of the 10% hypothesis seems to be that people are
generally more intelligent than they appear, or even perhaps than
think they are. As such it seems likely that the claim must have
its origins with some understanding that intelligence (whatever
that may be) is a product of our brains. Perhaps one of the
seminal points in the history of scientific thought in this area
was the turn of the 19th century--particularly the writings of
Franz Joseph Gall. Gall pushed two major propositions: that
brains are composed of multiple "faculties", each underlying a
different mental "faculty"; and that the size of individual brain
faculties--and hence the size of the bumps on the overlying
cranium--varied according to their strength in any given
individual. Unfortunately for Gall, he is principally remembered
for the last bit of the second proposition, which served as the
basis for one of the worst offenses of pseudoscience in the 19th
century, phrenology. Later historical revisionism has attempted
to distance science from that unfortunate offshoot of his
theories, but in fact Gall had a large effect on the study of
neuroanatomy and the field that would later be labeled psychology.
For instance, in 1832, Samuel Jackson described Gall's
proposition that "intellectual faculties and cerebral organs
executing them are multiple" with this endorsement:
The testimony, as to its general truth, presented by the
morbid phenomena of the nervous system, and of the
intellectual and moral faculties, is so conclusive, that few
well instructed and observing physicians, accustomed to
analyze and reflect on what passes under their observation,
have any difficulty yielding to this proposition. No problem
in physiology rests on a clearer demonstration.
Gall's ideas set the stage for much of the later
investigations on the physical basis of intelligence. Toward that
end, we should take particular note of Gall's belief that the size
of different brain regions was an objective measure of the
particular mental ability which that brain region subserved.
Although often appearing in slightly different guises, this has
been a recurrent theme in investigations of the physical
correlates of mental ability.
In this pursuit much time and effort have been wasted.
Although for many years quite popular amongst the general public,
the idea that the sizes of bumps on the skull could lead to
significant insights into the mental abilities of the bearers of
those skulls did not take root among many experts except for those
of the self-proclaimed variety. The real experts, those with
scientific training, pursued other avenues. One of the most
popular avenues among these circles was the attempt to demonstrate
that the size or weight of the brain relative to the body
containing that brain correlated with intelligence.1 When such a
correlation proved elusive, other researchers attempted to measure
the mass or size of particular parts of the brain.2 These
measurements included surface area of individual cerebral lobes as
well as their mass. The measurements of surface area were an
attempt to demonstrate another belief often heard today--that the
size or number of convolutions of the cerebral hemispheres (or
parts thereof) is an indication of the power of the brain bearing
them. In all of these cases (and a few others), the implicit
assumption seems to be either a) a person who is of above average
intelligence is so because some particular physical aspect of her
brain is larger, or b) the size of the brain (or parts thereof),
like that of muscles, is a function of the amount of training
which it undergoes by virtue of the thinking of its owner.3
If the average person did use only 10% of their brain's
capacity and assumption a) above was correct, it might still make
sense to search for a correlation between say, brain size and
intelligence. If instead, assumption b) is correct, it would make
little sense to claim that humans typically use only a portion of
their brains--why would our brains respond to use if we weren't
pushing them to their limits? However, there is at least one
other possible assumption about the relationship between brains
and intellect. It might be that all of our brains possess the
same (or similar) potential, and intelligence is correlated with
the extent to which we make use of that potential. Although this
assumption would seem to make the most sense in terms of a
backdrop for the statement that on average humans use only 10% of
their brains, it seems to be an assumption that never occurred to
those looking for the physical basis of intelligence. At the very
least, serious discussion of this possibility seems to have evaded
reviews of the primary literature. For this reason I'm doubtful
that any expert ever actually made the claim. So how did the
urban legend originate?
Who said what?
One possibility immediately suggests itself. People are often
misquoted, particularly in reference to technical subject matters.
An almost humorous account of such misquoting appeared in a
footnote to the printed version of a lecture given by Karl Pearson
in 1924. After Pearson indicated that the speed at which humans
can respond to an auditory stimulus is a maximum at age 21, he
A light headed pressman who unfortunately got access to my
lecture theatre reported next day that I had said that a man
reached his "intellectual prime" at 21 years. From his
newspaper the report spread round the world and formed the
thesis of an after dinner speech by the late Lord Curzon. If
intellect were identified with mental agility, then and then
only there would have been truth in the report. It is,
indeed, impossible to interpret our curves with regard to
mental agility in any other sense.
To make the story of a misquote plausible, one must suggest a
statement of fact (true or not) which could then be misquoted.
Fortunately (or perhaps not) there are many possibilities. Rather
than provide a fully exhaustive list, I'll discuss only some of
the top contenders, i.e. those that I've heard most often, or
sound the most plausible. Before proceeding I would like to
emphasize that I have no hard evidence backing _any_ of these
scenarios. In a sense, each is a meta-urban legend ostensibly
created to make sense of a previous urban legend.
One area that might have lead to the 10% hypothesis with the
least amount of misquoting is early studies of brain lesions.
These studies have come in two flavors--the examination of
patients that acquired accidental injury, and the study of animals
in which injuries were deliberately applied. In both cases,
attempts are made to correlate dysfunction with neurological
damage to discrete brain regions. Naturally, the ability to
discover a dysfunction is highly dependent upon the expectations
an observer might have on what a "dysfunction" is. It's not
unexpected that such studies will often lead to the conclusion
that there are no lasting deficits resulting from the destruction
of a particular region, because the deficits just aren't
recognized. It wouldn't be too surprising to find that someone
had added up all of the different brain regions that have been
destroyed with no obvious harm, and this summation could then have
been twisted into a claim that this much of the brain is
unnecessary. By implication it would seem that if these areas
aren't necessary, then most of us must be getting by without using
An obvious problem with this conclusion is that humans and
other animals have some ability to recover functionality because
some functions can be carried out by more than one anatomical
pathway. That is to say that biological systems are robust due to
their considerable redundancy. However, this redundancy is both
limited and specific. It's limited in the sense that "backup"
systems perform some functions even when the "primary" systems are
undamaged. For instance, one might conclude that our left eyes
are unnecessary; why do we need two eyes when only one is required
for vision? Of course, the answer is that two eyes give us a
larger visual field and some cues for depth perception that are
not available to cyclopean individuals. As suggested above,
nuances in the benefits of particular structures can easily escape
detection. Redundancy is specific in that not all brain regions
can perform the tasks of all of the others. As more and more of
a given brain is damaged, fewer and fewer cells will be around
that can take over for those already destroyed.
We now have an obvious test of the 10% hypothesis if it came
about from lesion studies. Find a human (or use inference from
other animal models) in which 90% of the brain has been destroyed.
Even the most casual observer would discover some dysfunction in
such an individual. If a scientist ever arrived at the 10%
hypothesis from this direction, it would seem unlikely that he
would fail to test it by seeking an individual with 90% of his
brain damaged, or claim the 10% hypothesis with any conviction if
he hadn't. I'm not aware that anyone has attempted this
falsification (and I honestly hope that this silly idea was never
considered worthy of such a test).
The opposite of discovering function by destruction is
exploration by stimulation. Nervous tissue is easily excited by
the passage of small electrical currents. Although we don't yet
have the technology to stimulate an arbitrary set of neurons in a
pattern resembling that which those neurons would see under normal
physiological conditions, it is possible to stimulate all of the
neurons in some reasonably small volume (in some experimental
setups, it is possible to impale a single neuron and stimulate it
alone). Prior to surgery for intractable epilepsy, it has become
quite routine to stimulate the brains of alert patients who can
report any sensations they experience as a result of that
stimulation. Regions where stimulation lead to no particular
sensation, loss of ability, or discernible bodily movement were
initially lumped into a wastebasket category called "association"
areas.4 I've also heard that these association areas extended to
90% of the brain's surface, thus potentially leading to the 10%
hypothesis. An obvious problem with this conclusion is that the
stimulation is very different from the natural excitation of
neurons. Although patients might report a particular type of
sensation (e.g. visual or auditory), they do recognize that the
sensations arise from stimulation--the appearance of the percepts
is not normal. Given the abnormality of the neural activity
produced even by the most refined techniques of electrical
excitation, it's almost surprising that any of it leads to
specific perceptions or movements. Additionally, there is a self-
report problem. Not only do patients have to be aware of a change
brought about by the electrical stimulation, they must be able to
verbalize that feeling for the experimenters to be able to
document the function of the stimulated region.
Currently far more common than either of the above two
approaches to elucidating the function of different brain regions
is the use of recording electrodes. In a general sense,
electroencephalography (EEG) is an instantiation of this
technique, since an EEG trace is just a recording of the electric
potentials resulting from the activity of billions of neurons.
Much more precise localization is possible, however, with the
surgical insertion of smaller electrodes. The advantage of
recording vs. lesioning or stimulation is that it's a passive
technique, so the information obtained is less tainted by the
effects that the "measurement" has on the system under study. On
the other hand, in order to obtain that information the
experimenter has to be creative in the presentation of stimuli or
the training of subjects in order to discern what sorts of
sensations or activities are correlated with changes in the
activity of neurons in the region under investigation. We now
have an additional explanation for the 10% hypothesis, that early
researchers who were unable to discover what activated specific
regions might have thought those regions uncommitted to any
specific function. Naturally it could be argued that an inability
to find a specific function is more easily attributed to
experimenters not knowing what to look for than to the brain
region in question not having a function.
Another common story about the origination of the 10%
hypothesis relates to severe cases of hydrocephaly. Deep within
the cerebral hemispheres and extending down the brain stem and
into the spinal cord there are fluid filled ventricles in all
normal humans. The fluid is continuously extruded from the blood
supply to the central cavities, and it circulates around the brain
and spinal cord. During the course of that circulation the fluid
must drain out of the central cavities through one small tube
which travels down to the brain stem. If that tube is blocked--a
condition brought about by the growth of nearby tumors, or more
frequently by congenital defects--the ventricles swell at the
expense of the surrounding cerebral tissue. This condition is
known as hydrocephalus. In some severe cases, the cerebral
hemispheres are compressed into a narrow ring of tissue around the
interior of the skull. If such a condition obtains in a young
child, the person may grow up to be of normal intelligence.
Seeing that the volume of the cerebrum had been condensed to 10%
of normal size without gross defects in mental abilities, it is
conceivable that someone could draw the conclusion that our brains
are much larger than they need to be. However, the brains of
these patients are compressed, not destroyed. A brain compressed
to 10% of its normal volume is not 10% of a normal brain.
It's probably not commonly known, but one thing experts _do_
say is that the number of non-neuronal cells in the brain is ten
times as large as the number of neurons. These cells have many
known functions, which can be summed up here as being supportive
of the activities of neurons. No one currently believes that
these cells play any active role in the mediation of our
perceptions, motions or thought processes. This information could
easily be twisted into the 10% hypothesis if it began as "90% of
the cells in our brains are not used for thinking, remembering,
This list is not exhaustive, but I think it covers most of
the meta-urban legends. As I've indicated after each scenario,
none of these "explanations" really seem to offer any support to
the conclusion that our brains have a wealth of untapped
potential. So what can we confidently say about the subject?
I Hope I Use Less than 10% of My Brain...
If you ask a neuroscientist if it's true that you use only 10% of
your brain, the most common response is a laugh followed by one of
the above meta-urban legends of the origin of the statistic. If
you press on, then the story is typically followed by an
explanation revolving around the prematurity of the 10%
hypothesis. From a scientific standpoint, not enough is
understood about the relationships between brains and mental
ability to make any sort of definitive statement about how much
mental ability a given brain can produce. A common sense approach
to biology would indicate that the 10% hypothesis is false,
however. Our brain is the most energy intensive structure of our
bodies, especially on a per weight basis. Much of our metabolism
is devoted to feeding the ion pumps that make electrical activity
across nerve cell membranes possible. Considerable effort is also
required to keep our brains from overheating as a result of that
metabolism. Biological systems aren't known for investing such
Sometimes experts will offer a different sort of response,
however. The response is posed in the form of a question: What
does it mean to say that we only use 10% of our brains, or how
would you go about measuring it? Because of the difficulties
described above in association with lesion, recording, and
stimulation studies, firm conclusions cannot be drawn from them
about the lack of a particular finding. In addition to the
aforementioned difficulties, one also has the problem that even if
a particular region isn't necessary at the time of the
observation, that doesn't mean that it isn't ever necessary. This
train of thought could lead to the question "how much of my brain
am I using _right now_?". Once again, the question isn't
immediately answerable, but there are two lines of evidence which
can shed some light on the significance of whatever the answer
The first line involves the activity of individual neurons.
Most neurons have some basal activity level even at "rest." In
that sense it could be argued that we're always using _all_ of our
neurons. At any given time, perhaps most neurons are exhibiting
only basal activity, but even that carries information. The
information conveyed by such a neuron is similar to a guard at a
watchtower calling out "9 o'clock and all's well." The neuron is
basically saying that its inputs aren't changing; it has nothing
new to report. Much as the guard's report conveys an important
message--that nothing interesting is happening--so does the basal
activity of an individual neuron.
The second line involves the activity of groups of neurons as
indicated by PET and SPECT scanners. These experimental
techniques weren't included in the list of sources for the 10%
hypothesis because I'm pretty certain that the urban legend
predates them. However, they provide a wealth of information
pertinent to the question of how much activity is going on in a
living brain at a given point in time. The experiments rely on
radioactive tracers injected or inhaled by subjects. Typically
the tracers are atoms in a water molecule, an inert gas, or best
yet a glucose analog. The first two give information about
regional blood flow; the third gives information about local
metabolism. Although a determination from these measurements of
_absolute_ levels of activity requires some assumptions about the
distribution of the tracer in the rest of the body, the techniques
give a tremendous amount of direct information about the
_relative_ amount of activity in different brain regions as well
as the relative changes in activity in a given region under
An interesting finding from PET studies is that as patients
get better at performing different tasks, the changes in activity
that accompany the performance decrease in magnitude.
Furthermore, subjects that are better at performing a given task
generally don't seem to work as hard--activity levels don't rise
as much to meet the challenge. Much as an Olympic marathon
runner's body doesn't have to work as hard as the average persons
to complete a six minute mile, a person who is good at say,
mentally rotating a given object, is good at it not because her
brain is bigger, but because her brain is more efficient. This
leads to the interesting speculation that "more intelligent"
people typically use less of their brains than "less intelligent"
people. If you think that you _do_ use more of your brain than
the average person, perhaps you shouldn't brag about it!
Those interested in learning more about the functioning of our
brains might want to look at the September issue of _Scientific
American_, which is a special issue devoted to "Mind and Brain".
Also on that topic is: P.S. Churchland's _Neurophilosophy_, MIT
Press, Cambridge 1986. Readers might also look for an exhibit
entitled "It's All in Your Head" which opened this summer at the
Franklin Institute and is about to tour eight U.S. cities. Its
final stop is the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los
Angeles, where it will appear in October 1994. For more
information on the history of thought behind the physical
correlates of mental abilities, there is S.J. Gould's _The
Mismeasure of Man_, W.W. Norton and Co., New York, 1981, and J.D.
Davis's _Phrenology: Fad and Science_, Yale University Press, New
Haven, 1955. An additional reason to read Gould's book is that it
attacks another assumption that was left unchallenged in this
article, the assumption that "intelligence" is a single thing
whose basis can be found in a single measurement. The sources of
my two quotes are S. Jackson, _Principles of Medicine_, Carey and
Lean, Philadelphia, 1832, and K. Pearson, "On Our Present
Knowledge of the Relationship Between Mind and Body," _Ann.
Eugen._ 1(1925):382-406. The quotes come from pages 208 and 397
1 Indeed the search for this holy grail of a correlation continues
today, as one or two papers per year are still published
purporting to show that it really exists.
2 For good reviews of some of this research, see Hamilton, J.A.
(1936) "Intelligence and the Human Brain," _The Psychological
Review_ 43:308-321. and Donaldson, H.H. (1932) "The Brain
Problem--In Relation to Weight and Form," _American Journal of
Psychiatry_ (sometimes bound as _American Journal of Insanity_)
3 Actually human brains apparently grow and then shrink as we
mature and then age. During childhood, brain cells enlarge, and
new connections between brain cells are made (in humans, few if
any brain cells are added after birth). As we age, some brain
cells die and are resorbed; other cells shrink.
4 "Association" cortex is rapidly disappearing in the face of
continuing research into functional anatomy. At present, the term
is mainly of historical interest.
I'd like to thank Alan Rosenquest and Teresa Pantzer for making
suggestions in the writing of this article.
_Mickey Rowe received a B.S.E. from Arizona State University in
1986, where he majored in biomedical engineering. He is presently
completing his Ph.D. thesis in the neuroscience graduate program
at the University of Pennsylvania. His thesis involves the
mechanism of detection of polarized light by fish._
Phoenix Skeptics and the Sedona Harmonic Diversion
By Mike Johnson
I visited Sedona during the recent Harmonic Convergence and again
found overwhelming evidence of psychic energy transfer to my car;
there was a consistent 20% increase in my car's mileage on the
return ride from Sedona to Phoenix. It seemed quite reasonable to
attribute this increased mileage to the energy added to my fuel by
the Psychic Vortex in Sedona.
When I presented my case to the Phoenix Skeptics meeting in
August, I was met with their usual glib scientific rebuttals. The
_scientists_, in their ignorance, believed the increased mileage
was due to Sedona being 4,000 feet higher than Phoenix. While I
admit that elevation may have had a slight effect, clearly with
4,000 feet being less than one mile, and Sedona being 120 miles
away, the effect should have been less than 1%!
I challenged them to devise an experiment to refute my claim.
They suggested running more cars. I consider this irrelevant;
however, I did happen to have some data on friends' cars which
demonstrated a similar 20% effect. Eventually, someone suggested
running my car to Payson, which is about the same altitude and
distance as Sedona, but without a vortex. I had already done this
and also found a 20% effect. The scientists misinterpreted this
as supporting the altitude theory. To me, it was clear that
Payson must have a psychic vortex too, albeit unrecognized (the
Psychical Society will discover it soon, now that I've put them on
the right track).
Mount Lemmon came up. A very strong mileage effect was
reported. The scientists noted that Mount Lemmon is at 9,000
feet, therefore altitude was the cause. It's amazing how myopic
these scientists can be. I could see absolutely no reason not to
accept that there must be a particularly strong vortex on Mount
Data for other trips uncovered a similar relationship between
high altitude and gas mileage modification. In a rare flash of
creativity, I recognized a broad new psychic principle: _Vortices
are much more widespread than previously realized, and their
strength is proportional to their altitude._ This is likely due
to their proximity to extraterrestrial psychic emanations and will
be easily understood when we overcome the inhibitions wrought by
rigid scientific thinking!
The discussion led to Occam's razor: the principle that the
simplest explanation is preferred. So, whose explanation is
simpler, the altitude or the vortex? (Some thought that defining
"simplicity" was by no means simple.) For the Sedona phenomenon,
it might be hard to choose based on simplicity alone.
I thought we might add _generality_ to the simplicity
requirement. The altitude theory is based on well-established
principles of physical energy. It works for cars going up and
down hills (if you do the right calculations), for planetary
motion, bullets, aircraft, and a zillion other phenomena.
Vortices don't predict well for these. In a given case,
simplicity may be unclear, and only resolved when you broaden the
application to other cases. I think this will be the subject of
much debate by the Skeptics.
_A slightly longer version of this article appeared on p. 20 of
the September 1992 issue of_ Much Ado About Mensa_. Reprinted by
permission of the author._
Jehovah's Witnesses and Earthquake Frequency
By John Rand
Like many evangelical groups that claim the "end is near," the
Watchtower Society claims there has been a tremendous increase in
earthquake frequency in recent times, specifically since 1914. A
perusal of the actual data shows this claim to be without
foundation, but they have often misused statistics to confirm
their views. Sometimes this seems to be a result of perennially
poor scholarship; other times it seems more like deliberate
1. The _Awake!_ magazine of Feb. 22, 1977 said:
Interestingly, for a period of 1,059 years (856 to 1914
C.E.), reliable sources list only 24 major earthquakes, with
1,972,952 fatalities. But compare that with the accompanying
partial list citing 43 instances of earthquakes, in which
1,579,209 persons died during just the 62 years from 1915 to
1976 C.E.... The dramatic upsurge in earthquake activity
since 1914 helps to prove that we are now living in the time
of Jesus' presence.
The fact is that reliable sources list thousands of
destructive earthquakes for this period. The U.S. Geological
Survey's Earthquake Data Base System shows that the 20th century
is pretty much the same as any other in terms of frequency of
quakes. Many other sources show the same for both the frequency
and the number of deaths caused per year.
In 1978 the Watchtower Society began using a "neutral" source
to prove its contentions about earthquakes. A close look at this
source provides an interesting lesson in the art of "proving" by
The October 8, 1978 issue of the Italian journal _Il Piccolo_
stated (quoted from _The Watchtower_ magazine, May 15, 1983, p.
Our generation lives in a dangerous period of high seismic
activity, as statistics show. In fact, during a period of
1,059 years (from 856 to 1914) reliable sources list only 24
major earthquakes causing 1,973,000 deaths. However, if we
compare this figure to the partially complete list of recent
disasters, we find that 1,600,000 persons have died in only
63 years, as a result of 43 earthquakes which occurred from
1915 to 1978. The dramatic increase further goes to
emphasize another accepted fact--our generation is an
unfortunate one in many ways.
A comparison of this statement with the above shows that the
Italian journal was quoting virtually word-for-word from the 1977
_Awake!_ magazine article, without attributing the quotation. A
few numbers were rounded off and the origin date of 1977 was
changed to 1978, but that's about it.
The problem with this is that the Watchtower Society used the
Italian journal quotation at least ten times in various
publications through 1985 to "prove" its contention about
earthquakes. Very nice, the Watchtower Society quoting its own
magazine _Awake!_ via _Il Piccolo_.
Here is one instance where _Awake!_ quotes itself this way.
The Oct. 8, 1980 issue said, p. 20-1:
Has the frequency of earthquakes really increased? The
Italian magazine _Il Piccolo_ observed: "Our generation
lives in a dangerous period of high seismic activity, as
statistics show." And then it produced figures for the past
thousand years to prove it.
With this sort of scholarship as a base, any reader of
Watchtower publications should ask if this Society is deserving of
his or her confidence.
2. Earthquakes are a random phenomenon, of course, so that there
will be random statistical variations in the number of them in any
given time period. The _Watchtower_ magazine of May 15, 1983, p.
Some seismologists believe that the earth is now in an active
earthquake period. For example, Professor Keiiti Aki of the
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology speaks of "the apparent
surge in intensity and frequency of major earthquakes during
the last one hundred years," though stating that the period
from 1500 through 1700 was as active.
The impression given is that this seismologist is using
"apparent surge" in the sense of "obvious surge," but that is not
his intent. His full statement was:
The apparent surge in intensity and frequency of major
earthquakes during the last one hundred years is, in all
probability, due to improved recording of earthquakes and the
increased vulnerability of human society to earthquake
damage. The main reason is the well established plate
tectonics which indicates a very steady fault motion over the
past many millions of years.
A measure of earthquake strength more objective than
casualty is the Richter scale. It is in general difficult to
assign the Richter scale to earthquakes more than 100 years
ago. An attempt, however, has been made in China, where
historical records are kept in better shape than in other
regions. Enclosed figure shows the Richter scale (M) of
earthquakes in China during the period of about 2000 years.
The past 100 years are certainly active, but there have been
periods as active as that, for example, from 1500 to 1700.
Clearly the professor is talking about a "seeming surge" due
to better reporting, etc. His true position is that there has
been no increase at all in earthquake activity in our century, and
that the seismicity of the earth has been stationary for thousands
of years. In private letters to one author he stated:
I feel strongly that the seismicity has been stationary for
thousands of years. I was trying to convince Jehovah's
Witnesses about the stationarity of the seismicity, using the
data obtained in China for the period 1500 through 1700, but
they put only weak emphasis in the published statement....
It is clear that they quoted the part they wanted,
eliminating my main message.
Obviously the Watchtower Society quoted the professor in a
way that misrepresented his true statement and views. Other
recent articles show similar distortions of fact in Watchtower
literature (e.g., Hector Avalos, "The Jehovah's Witnesses and the
Watchtower Society," _Free Inquiry_ 12(2, Spring 1992):28-31;
Malcolm P. Levin, "Life--How It Got Here: A Critique of a View
from the Jehovah's Witnesses," _Creation/Evolution_ 12(1, Summer
1992):29-34). _The Sign of the Last Days--When?_ by Carl Olof
Jonsson and Wolfgang Herbst (1987, Commentary Press, P.O. Box
43532, Atlanta, GA 30336) thoroughly debunks end-times predictions
and was used as a source for this article.
_"John Rand" is the pseudonym of a former Jehovah's Witness who
wishes his true identity to remain secret because of his
continuing relations with Watchtower Society members. He has
assembled detailed critiques of misrepresentations by the
Watchtower Society on numerous issues._
The Institute for Creation Research and Earthquake Frequency
By Jim Lippard
The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) offered some commentary
on "end times" earthquake frequency in its _Impact_ No. 198,
December 1989. ICR geologist Steven A. Austin, known for his
claims that Mt. St. Helens proves various aspects of young-earth
creationism and his Grand Canyon Dating Project, writes about
"Earthquakes in These Last Days" by pointing out various occasions
in the Bible where earthquakes were signs of momentous events.
Among these was the earthquake described in Matthew 27:51-54 at
the moment of the death of Jesus, which was allegedly accompanied
by the resurrection of many dead saints (though no other gospel--
or historical source of any kind, for that matter--notes this
After a brief survey of the significance of earthquakes,
Austin points out that Jesus spoke of earthquakes as signs of his
Second Coming. He cites Jesus' statement that "There will be
earthquakes in divers places (Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8)" as "a fact
now verified by the global distribution of earthquakes recorded on
seismographs." Austin seems to imply that this is something new,
yet he gives no evidence that the global distribution of
earthquakes has ever been any different.
Strangely, he then goes on to debunk the claim that
earthquake frequency has been increasing. He writes:
Some people have supposed that earthquake frequency and
intensity have been increasing significantly in recent times,
and that this is fulfilling prophecy. This is an illusion
caused lately by more frequent detection of earthquakes (more
seismographs with greater sensitivity). (p. iv)
He goes on to point out that there was a peak in global
earthquake energy release between 1952 and 1965, and that the 1989
global energy release will be only about a tenth of the amounts of
those peak years. Yet even though he engages in this debunking,
he still concludes that earthquakes should be understood as
fulfilling the divine purposes of "judgment, deliverance, and
It is pleasing to see something approaching a debunking
issued by the creationists (also see "Dissension in the Ranks of
the Institute for Creation Research," _AS_, February/March 1990).
* John Rand notes that the JehovahUs Witnesses New World
Translation of the Bible makes this verse sound as though there
are simply observers of the earthquake in the cemeteries who then
go into the city, and other Watchtower Society literature claims
that the earthquake simply opened up graves and revealed dead
corpses. This interpretation is not supported by any reputable
QUAKE DAY - Minus 7
By Mike Jittlov
It's 1:47 a.m., 9/15/92, and we just had a little rock & roller in
Hollywood. It's probably a good time to bring this up, without
:@ ALARMING EVERYONE!!! :@
An 8.3 (-/+.5) earthquake is being predicted to occur, between now
and September 22, 1992, and epicentered within 100 miles of Palm
Springs, California. Lest you Northerners think you're home-free,
there's a 7.8 (-/+.4) scheduled for Sonoma County, by September
28th. And a 7.1 for San Diego, by October 14.
This information comes from Gordon-Michael Scallion, a
clairvoyant living quite safely in faraway New Hampshire.
Scallion publishes a newsletter, and therein has reportedly been
quite accurate in predicting the recent Florida hurricane, and
other natural disturbances.
I have seen his new "Future Map of the United States." It's
22x34, in color, with the new coastline all the way to Denver,
plus lots of new islands, and even the resurfacing of Atlantis
just east of Miami. (Hey! Our old family deed might be worth
something!) Needless to say, this is quite impressive and should
be hanging in everyone's bunker or shelter. It includes Early
Warning Signs, Migration Regions, Political Changes, Weather
Insights, and more--all this for just $11.95. "Not Sold in
Stores, Available only through the Matrix Institute, RR1 Box 391,
Westmoreland, NH 03467, 603-399-4916."
I'm sending for mine, today. Hopefully it'll arrive before
the postperson has to deliver it by rowboat.
Can't say I'm entirely unhappy about all this. My ex-
business partner (who played the evil, slimy, embezzling,
sociopathic producer in my movie) is secretly living in Arleta.
Only seven more days, and he could be 50 feet under sea-level.
Those of you located near the epicenter/shoreline could
probably give any house-cleaning a rest, for a week. Might be
depressing to do all that work, just to have a collapsing roof
mess it up.
Let the count-down begin.
_Mike Jittlov directed, wrote, and starred in "The Wizard of Speed
and Time," a 1988 feature film adapted from his short subject of
the same name. This no longer timely article was originally
posted to the alt.fan.mike-jittlov and sci.skeptic Usenet
New Skeptical Group/Magazine
A new skeptical group, the Skeptics Society, has formed in Los
Angeles. They publish a quarterly magazine, _Skeptic_, the first
issue of which has just come out. It features a tribute to Isaac
Asimov by Steve Allen, Harlan Ellison, and Martin Gardner, "A
Skeptical Manifesto," and the text of an address by James Randi
given at Caltech, among other articles.
A one-year subscription to _Skeptic_ is available for $30
from Skeptics Society, 2761 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena, CA 91001,
The Phoenix Skeptics will meet at the Jerry's Restaurant on
Rural/Scottsdale Road between McKellips and the river bottom, with
lunch at 12:30 on the first Saturday of each month except where it
conflicts with a holiday.
The October meeting speaker will be Peter Lima on the search
for the historical Jesus; the November meeting will be for
collecting predictions for 1993.
Articles of Note
_Fortean Times_ Issue 64 (August/September 1992) contains
articles about the Filipino who (falsely) claimed to be a
pregnant hermaphrodite, waterspouts and seiche waves, the
"Alternative 3" life on Mars and the moon hoax, more UK
allegations of Satanic Ritual Abuse, and much more.
Richard A. Kerr, "The Lessons of Dr. Browning," _Science_
253(August 9, 1991):623-633. Reports on the widely
disseminated Missouri earthquake prediction of self-taught
climatologist Iben Browning. Browning predicted that the New
Madrid Fault would be responsible for a major quake on
December 3, 1990, which created somewhat of a panic but
failed to occur. One of Browning's supporters, David
Stewart, director of the Southeast Missouri State University
Earthquake Information Center, with a Ph.D. in geophysics,
had previously promoted California psychic Christa
Bernhardt's prediction of a 1975 earthquake in Wilmington,
North Carolina, at a nuclear reactor site (Stewart opposed
its construction). That quake also failed to occur. Stewart
was then denied tenure at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill, and subsequently moved to Missouri. (See
sidebar, "Will the Fourth Time Be a Charm," p. 625.)
Mathews, Jay. "The Big One," _The New Republic_ 207(July 27,
1992):26,28. Corrects misinformation about a supposed
"megaquake" hitting California in the future.
"Circle Hoax Contest," _Science_ 257(July 24, 1992):481. A news
report on a crop circle making contest sponsored by _The
Cerealogist_ and Rupert Sheldrake to see if humans can make
"real" crop circles, with a $5,200 prize for the winner. The
Wessex Skeptics declined to enter, but twelve others did,
some producing impressive results. (One of the judges,
however, claimed that none of them were quite as good as the
"real" thing.) The winners were a team of three design
engineers from the Westland helicopter company who used a
rope, plastic piping, and a ladder suspended from a trestle.
The first runner-up was Jim Schnabel, an American working on
his Ph.D. in sociology of science at the University of Bath.
Schnabel was the only contestant to work alone, and he did so
using only a plank, some rope, and a garden roller.
The Arizona Skeptic is the official publication of the Phoenix
Skeptics and the Tucson Skeptical Society (TUSKS). The Phoenix
Skeptics is a non-profit scientific and educational organization
with the following goals: 1. to subject claims of the paranormal,
occult, and fringe sciences to the test of science, logic, and
common sense; 2. to act as clearinghouse for factual and
scientific information about the paranormal; and 3. to promote
critical thinking and the scientific method. The contents of The
Arizona Skeptic are copyright (c) 1992 by the Phoenix Skeptics
unless otherwise noted. Material in this publication with Phoenix
Skeptics copyright may be reprinted provided that The Arizona
Skeptic and the author are provided copies of the publication in
which their work is reprinted. Address all correspondence to the
Phoenix Skeptics, P.O. Box 62792, Phoenix, AZ 85082-2792.
Submissions for publication in The Arizona Skeptic may be sent to
Jim Lippard, P.O. Box 42172, Tucson, AZ 85733 or electronically to
LIPPARD@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU. All manuscripts become the property of
the Phoenix Skeptics, which retains the right to edit them.
Subscription rate is $12.50 per year. Editor: Jim Lippard.
Production: Ted Karren.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank