I cannot resist a blog post titled “I get email”. It is hard to find email funnier than the stuff PZ Myers posts at Phyrangula this is my personal favorite), but I think that my first email of the year is worth one or two giant belly laughs.
The email I received was from Stephen Takowsky, who introduced himself as the publisher of Beverly Hills Times Magazine. It arrived at 12:22 am on January 1, 2010.
The Beverly Hills Times has come across a book we are considering running an article on. The book presents a theory on the emotional balance of people with focus on culture, relationships, and evolution. We are trying to get some background information on the topics in the book to see if any or all of the information the book provides is accurate.
My BS detector went off immediately.
Most people would probably delete an email like this, but there is a reason I started writing a blog called “ICBS Everywhere”.
He included a link to the book’s website, so I followed it. What I found was a page with some text below a rather sketch of a blindfolded muscular man wearing a frilly set of armor and standing in a Spiderman pose with trophies one either side and in front of him. I am sure that the author can point to numerous symbols in the image, but it looked pretty silly to me – a bit like a teenage boy’s rendition of his fantasy life.
BTW, all typos and other errors are theirs, not mine.
The content on the book information page can dramatically alter your life.
I invite you to Google “dramatically alter your life” and see what surfaces. I found ancient techniques to manifest money, messages from angels, a “new sound technology” called “binaural beats”, and of course, weight loss products.
There is only infomation on the book information page. There are no downloads, attachments, practical jokes, advertisements or malicious software…
The statement that there are no practical jokes is questionable.
The information contained in the digital book is of a very sensitive nature and should be approached with caution.
…am being recruited by the CIA?
Clearly, the author takes his/her ideas far too seriously.
It has not been easy getting this information to you so take advantage of the information you are about to read because there is no saying how long you will have access to it .
I began to wonder if the Martians might to jam the signal, the government might discover that someone knows the dangerous secret and take down the site, or the author was afraid that he/she was going to lose their website host due to nonpayment.
Pressing on, the “information page” is actually a web-based flip book. Page 2 provides what appear to be the title, author, and publisher:
A World Governed by the Law of Emotional Balance
Published by Of Grandeur LLC @Http://www.OfGrandeur.com
Now, I live and teach in the greater LA area, which is very diverse. I have seen a great many names with what appear to average Joes like me to have an overabundance of vowels or consonants. My teaching assistant for two years had a last name so long (16 letters) that it did not fit into the “last name” field on most forms.
I have never seen a name like the one above.
It seems the author decided to make a riddle of his/her identity instead of own up to what he/she wrote. This cryptic message appears in several places and makes little sense in any of them.
The introduction was just silly.
The first thing I noticed was the terrible writing style. Perhaps I noticed this because I spend so much of my life reading, grading, and providing feedback on written work, but something tells me that anyone would notice this quickly.
The next thing I noticed was the utterly ridiculous confidence the author has in its accuracy and the condescending manner in which he/she suggests that they are smarter than “the general population”. In the first two paragraphs, he/she writes:
This book was written to make it easier for the general population to understand. This book limits the scientific terms used and renames other so the general population can understand what is being discussed with limited research is complex fields being required…The goal of analyzing the world through the lens of the Law of Emotional Balance is to provide perspectives on problems facing humanity.
Apparently, the author believes that the general population is too stupid to understand the serious science of this “law”, so it must be dumbed down because it tells us so much about our biggest problems that we must learn it. Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who has published a “book” full of sentence fragments, dangling participles, and missing words. I might overlook the myriad of typos found throughout, but the grammar is simply atrocious.
The author goes on to ask the reader to simply accept the premises as true without question:
Readers are asked to accept the premise of the book and approach the book as if the premise is true. We are only accepting the premise of the book for the sake of following the soundness of the claims made in the book. Your focus should be on following the tangents explored in each topic. Readers should approach the soundness of the claims made as if the premise is true. Readers should avoid focusing on proving the premise false, just like viewers should avoid trying to prove that Superman can’t actually fly.
So, this is starting to look like a piece of fiction. Of course, it is pure fiction, but – and I apologize for the spoiler here – there is no story in the book. The closest you will come to seeing a story is at the end of the introduction where you will find a silly attempt to describe experiments which are supposedly going to occur in the future. It is clearly a book filled with nonsense meant to elaborate on the author’s crackpot theory, but disguised as a speculative work of fiction. The author seems to think he/she has stumbled on an important concept with deep meaning.
Then came the cop-out. Um, uh, I mean caveat:
Scientific experimentation is required before any theory or assumption can be regarded as fact. This is a book of ideas compiled to indirectly teach a lesson and should not be regarded as a book of proven theories. This book is an exercise in accepting variables, like an ability to fly like Superman, and staying true to the context presented.
I really wanted to send the author a good dictionary and tell him/her to look up “assumption”, “variable”, “theory”, and “context”. Why would someone write a “book of ideas”, admit that none of it is supported by evidence, yet claim it teaches some sort of lesson?
So, what is this “lesson”? In a nutshell (pun intended), the book says that we must experience the same amount of “happy emotional energy” as we do “sad emotional energy” in our lives.
If we do not, we can never die.
Yep. That’s what it says.
The Law of Emotional Balance maintains an emotional balance in all beings that experience emotions. All beings that experience emotions are emotional beings. People are emotional beings and can only die when they are emotionally balanced.
This is absurd and for many, many reasons.
I sensed this as an opportunity to educate Mr. Takowsky, whom I assumed had done little more than glance at the book himself, and possibly to give him the tools to publish a review which would educate a reader. Following is my response to him:
Oh, my. I would be happy to review this and would appreciate the opportunity to contribute to an unbiased review, but I should warn you that after only a few pages I can easily tell that I will have nothing good to say about it. The grammar and language use are poor, the first thing the author does is ask the reader to accept the premises as true without question, and the quote on page 11 (which clearly shows that the author has little understand of emotion – its definition, source, or measurement) is dated “December 20, 2012″.
This is a piece of fiction and there is no validity to the basic concept of “emotional balance”.
If you would like me to go into details, I will be happy to read further and make some notes over the weekend, but my initial assessment is, if I may be blunt, that this “book” is not worth the electricity which maintains it – not even as entertainment.
A bit harsh, maybe, but he asked for a scientific analysis and there is nothing scientific about this crap. He replied:
Thank you for your time and happy new year. Thank you for your prompt response. The next issue of our publication will be out in 6 days and we are looking for a review of the premise more than a review of the book itself. We are trying to see if there is any concrete evidence that proves the premise false. We are also looking for an analysis of the various topics explored. Once again we appreciate your time and effort.
Hmmm. It seems that Mr. Takowsky has done more than simply glance at this book and is actually taking it seriously. So, time to get a little more serious myself. I took a few minutes to jot down some of the more serious problems with the “theory” and sent the following to Mr. Takowsky:
Well, my first response is that it is the responsibility of those making claims to support them with evidence, but setting that aside for a moment, this is a lot like asking for concrete proof to refute the claim that my dog is the head of a secret organization whose goal is world domination. To accept the claim requires unreasonable assumptions (e.g., my dog can communicate in ways unknown to man).
This “theory of emotional imbalance” is not a scientific theory at all. Scientific theories are plausible explanations for events and processes which do not require unreasonable assumptions (such as the existence of things supernatural). The introduction clearly states that a supernatural assumption is required. On page 22, it states that “physical disabilities and natural disasters are factored into a person’s emotional balance before either occurs”. That alone makes this “theory” completely unscientific.
Even if that were not included, the “theory” is completely implausible because it rests on a number of assumptions which are clearly false:
Assumption: There is such a thing as “emotional energy”.
Problem: Although it is popular in alternative and eastern “medicine” to define everything about humans as “energy”, these descriptions rely on a faulty definition of “energy”. Emotion is not energy, nor is it related to energy.
Assumption: Emotion can be described on a single dimension ranging from “sad” to “happy”.
Problem: This definition of emotion does not fit accepted views or definitions of emotion. In a diagram, the positive and negative values are described as “emotions that make you feel sad” and “emotions that make you feel happy”. Emotions don’t make you feel anything; emotions ARE feelings and among those emotions are “happy” and “sad”. Also among them are emotions which do not accompany values of happy or sad such as “anticipation”.
Assumption: Emotion is measured in a way which could be “in balance”.
Problem: Relies on a faulty definition of emotion as discussed above.
Assumption: That there is some biological mechanism which keeps track of “sad” values and “happy” values in a way which could affect life processes.
Problem: People are not characters in video games. We don’t have “counters” which record the emotions we experience. We don’t even record events. Memories don’t work like cameras.
Problem: Although emotion itself does not affect general health, stress and other states related to emotion do. However, not in a linear way – stress, which would clearly fall into the author’s “emotions which cause sadness” category, has both negative and positive effects on health. Biological systems like human beings are much more complex than this “theory” allows.
Problem: People who are sick and in pain usually recover, THEN feel better, not the other way around. This refutes the existence of a biological mechanism which could accomplish the task of leading one closer to or away from death.
The “big” premise: It is not possible to die in a state of “emotional imbalance” as the theory defines it.
- If it were true, no young child would ever die after a long illness or a life of abuse.
- If it were true, only men with happy childhoods would be killed in action during war.
- If it were true, it would be impossible to kill someone that one has tortured unless that person had an unusually high store of happiness prior to torture.
- If it were true, suicides would only be successful if one had an unusually high store of happiness prior to experiencing the events which eventually led to suicide.
- Decades of research on longevity have revealed only one unifying factor among those who live more than 100 years: an exceptional ability to cope with grief. According to this “theory”, these people are ripe for death. They manage to feel strong emotions of all kinds, yet those emotions do not persist for long periods which, according to the theory, should translate to maintaining a relatively balanced emotional state.
I hope that is enough for you to work with because, frankly, I find the whole thing ridiculous. It certainly is not based on anything we know about emotion, biology, physics, or anything else in the natural world and I have no interest in pursuing questions of the supernatural.
And this was his response:
Thank you for your time and happy new year. There is a general consensus among scholars that the book in question has several problems. Expert analysis on this kind of topic is appealing to our readers and informative in a way they can properly digest.We are very interested in concrete studies/facts that can disprove the premise or studies/facts that can support the premise in any way. We understand this can be a very difficult task and will require expert analysis. We have already recieved over 15 responses that support the premise in some way, but no responses that provide concrete proof against the premise.
Here are some examples of support we have recieved.
The man was obviously not listening.
I thought about all of those arguments for avoiding debates with creationists. I thought about how often I have told my son not to feed the trolls at school (kids who tease him) because it seems to frustrate him so much. I thought about the probability of actually getting through to him. I thought about leaving it alone.
Then I thought about the fact that he was about to publish an article on this dung pile and I gave it one last try:
I’m sorry that you seem to have misunderstood my response and I hope that you will pardon my all-caps and bolds in this email. They are an attempt to draw your attention to my meaning, which I hope is clear this time.
First, please read my message again. I gave you evidence from common knowledge which CLEARLY refutes this ridiculous hypothesis. You won’t find studies testing it because it cannot be tested. Science does not address the supernatural and the parts of the theory which involve the natural world are simply incorrect.
This is NOT a difficult task and it does not require “expert” analysis as there are no “experts” on things which are made up. There are only people who make claims to “knowledge” that has no basis in reality…
…Again, this is a wholly Unscientific “theory” which is completely implausible because it rests on assumptions which are clearly FALSE. To even entertain the hypothesis requires that we assume that supernatural (not real) forces are at work and set aside much of what we know about emotion and biology from decades of scientific study.
IT IS VERY, VERY SIMPLE: this “theory” is utterly ridiculous.
I can’t put it any plainer than that.
Other than to convert this to a post for my blog (note the name: ICBS Everywhere), I’m done here.
Of course I have not received a reply and I put off this blog post hoping to have the opportunity to read his final review. The Beverly Hills Times website, though, was not updated with a new edition of the “magazine” until very recently and it appears that they skipped the edition which was to include this review. Judging from the “news” sections, it may be some time before additional updates occur.
In the past two months I have put more thought into this exchange and I almost feel bad about my last message.
I wondered if the author of the drivel and the publisher who requested my input were friends, relatives, or perhaps the same person. If so, I felt a little guilty for my harshness. On the other hand, whether the author himself takes this theory seriously or not is hardly relevant. It is being peddled as the answer to life, the universe, and everything – the kind of woo I spend a good deal of time and energy combating.
After taking a look at the “magazine” it became clear to me that the Beverly Hills Times is nothing more than a book of advertisements disguised as articles. The “articles” promote local businesses such as plastic surgeons and personal trainers. I think the “article” to which I was asked to contribute is merely an advertisement for this goofy book.
Since then, I have read more of the “book”.
It gets worse. Much worse. It is page after page after page of incredibly bad grammar, incorrect word use, poor spelling of common words, and silly fabricated jargon. Paragraph breaks are virtually non-existent. The content is sexist, racist, elitist, arrogant, and presumpuous in addition to ridiculous. It reads very much like the ramblings of a paranoid schizophrenic.
It is difficult to describe just how silly it is, so I will just leave you with a couple of passages chosen almost at random. The spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and bolding are the author’s, not mine.
The words said while preying are not heard by the Queue System, but the Emotions experienced while preying can cause the Queue System to choose an Act that results in a person getting what they prayed for…The Queue System can’t grant a prier if it results in an Emotional Law or universal law violation…Preying for a person can assist or hurt the person. If you have a high enough Emotional Stake in a person experiencing a surplus of happiness they will experience a surplus of happiness in the way you desired as long as your Emotional stake in them experiencing happiness is higher than other peoples’ Emotional Stakes in the person not experiencing sadness, plus there can’t be Emotional Law Violations.
In “Difference between Men and Women:”
A traditional house wife and a traditional 9 – 5 husband go out on the town for a night of excitement. The surplus of happiness experienced by the night of excitement is Emotionally Balanced by the wife and husband differently. the wife emotionally Balances the night by getting her hair waxed, eyebrows plucked, spending ours putting on makeup, getting her hair done and taking care of the house and kids. The husband Emotionally Balances the night of excitement by dealing with the stress of his job, paying the bills, and worrying about his health. If the wife doesn’t put on makeup she will probably not feel as comfortable as she normally does during a night of excitement. If the husband does not deal with the stress of his job he will probably be stressed out about something else during the night of excitement. Some people may think certain customs and habits are strange, but they fail to see the customs or habits are required to maintain Emotional Balance in people. If a woman is not strong enough to lift a box and she experience a surplus of sadness that will Emotionally Balance a surplus of happiness. If a woman is not strong enough to life a box and she doesn’t care then she will not experience a surplus of sadness. Some people believe they are entitled to receive something just because they are a certain gender, ethnicity, or class, but in reality only people that experience the necessary Emotions deserve certain things and will receive certain things.