January 29 – Happy Birthday, Vic Stenger

Posted on January 29, 2015

Today's famous birthday was a scientist and author who delved into so many things I'm interested in: physics, quantum mechanics, cosmology, philosophy, and skepticism / pseudoscience!

Born in New Jersey on this date in 1935, Stenger died last year. But what he explored during his 79 years included the very, very teeny and the mind-numbingly huge, the beginning of time and the ending of the universe.

Stenger worked on furthering our
knowledge about things like quarks
and gluons.
And if you don't count all that grand sweep of ideas that Stenger explored, you can also look at the explorations he did right here on Earth: His study of physics took him from New Jersey to Los Angeles, to Hawaii, and to visiting positions at universities in Colorado, Germany, England, Italy, and Japan. Also, Stenger became a public speaker and promoted his books, science, and skepticism all over!

Here is an example of some of Stenger's work for skepticism. In 1990 he wrote a book called Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses. In that book, Stenger examined claims by well known psychics – claims about extrasensory perception (ESP) and paranormal activity, things unknown and unseen – and he explained how each of those claims could be explained with scientific principles that have the benefit of tons of testing and evidence to back them up. There is no need to resort to the supernatural when you can explain things with the natural.

One of the psychics whose tricks Stenger explained was Uri Geller. Geller was famous for supposedly bending spoons with his mind. But really he is just an illusionist or magician—and other magicians such as James Randi easily demonstrate the exact same tricks that Geller relies upon.

Geller didn't like being revealed as a fake in Stenger's book, so the so-called psychic sued both Stenger and the publishers. However, the case was dismissed, and Geller was ordered to pay legal fees of nearly $50,000!

Stenger also worked hard to decouple (separate) quantum physics from the silliness that people keep spewing about life on the universe – stuff they SAY comes from quantum physics but that really comes from their misunderstanding of quantum physics. Examples of that silliness include the movies What the Bleep Do We Know? and The Secret, as well as the book The Secret. Stenger helped show why these movies and book are incorrect about the power of the mind.

Also on this date:

Flight pioneer Lawrence Hargrave's birthday

Geologist Frederick Mohs's birthday

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