It was Queen’s Birthday Weekend in Melbourne. Several Vic Skeptics took the opportunity to check out the Mind, Body Spirit Festival (aka MB$) being celebrated in the edifice affectionately known as Jeff’s Shed. Here are some reports.
Having never been to the Mind Body Wallet, sorry Spirit – Festival before, I was curious about what it might be like, the lone Skeptic in a sea of belief. Not quite; I had my 12 year old daughter with me and would be meeting fellow Skeptics – on the inside.
Realistically, the possibility of changing any one’s mind-set at such an event was very low. I’d just take in the sights and ask a few polite questions; that’s all. In any case, if I got into too long a conversation with anyone, no doubt my daughter would quickly let me know she was bored and drag me away in a half-nelson hold.
The “Good Food and Wine” show was on next door. It was very tempting to just walk right by MBS. Oh well, too late, we had tickets, so in we went.
Yes I was interested in the ear candles, (stand G10). The nice lady had only good things to say about them, she had no idea of possible risks and the many reports of harm from hot dripping wax. I asked how many pharmacies in Australia she believed sold these candles, “about 80%” was the reply. However, the sales lady made it quite clear, she was not making any claims of health benefits. “What was the point of them at all?” I thought.
The Pranic healing (stand D17) was quite a bizarre sight, people dressed in black, standing, waving crystals at customers. The customers were seated in rows in the crowded stand with their eyes shut. Ten dollars for 15 minutes, I recall. Is it really 2009 or am I dreaming? Although the conversation with the sales people on this stand was much easier than elsewhere, it was still a wild ride of; shifting the goal posts, a grab bag of new age terms, auras, chakras, crystals, ill defined energy etc. The only question on which I got a quick short accurate reply was, “Have you ever heard of Occam’s Razor?” “No“. The sales lady was quite positive about the “intelligent” questioning she got from Terry and I, although sales people are paid to handle objections and always be positive no matter what.
One of the saddest episodes for me was when I sat down with Charles and had a coffee in the crowded cafe area. I found myself sitting next to a guy whom I’ll refer to as “D“, a salesman for some kind of exotic juice. (Xango, stand F34). A 750ml bottle sells for $50 or so. After the usual extraordinary anecdotal claims of curing chronic conditions like asthma and arthritis, he claimed to be a “senior scientist” at a leading Melbourne Hospital. Having worked there myself in the research area, I decided to question D to find out if he was on the level. It turns out he was; we quickly established that we knew many common colleagues. Yikes! D made no bones about being in it for the money. He wasn’t shy about describing the organization as a successful multi-level marketing company. I’m astounded that a scientist could compromise his ethics to such an extent and lend his credibility a product which hasn’t been scientifically verified – for money.
One repeated theme at different stands was the sight of people lying down. That is, people lying down and having someone:
– beat a drum near them
– play odd, new age whale music to them
– wave two ringing tuning forks over them
– point a crystal in a waving motion at them
– wave hands and whistle in time with the slow hand movements at them
– wave their hands whilst straining the facial muscles at them
– or just plain wave the hands over them whilst looking totally bored
I’d encourage as many Skeptics as possible to go to “Mind Body Wallet” and check it out for themselves, if only to polish up their ability to spot logical fallacies in a sales pitch.
The sights really are quite extraordinary. There is plenty of uncontroversial stuff, mineral water, charities, jewellery etc.
I can highly recommend the fudge.
There’s no substitute for actually going to a Mind Body Spirit (MB$) festival. Elliot, Matt, Catherine, Jack, and I went on a field trip to MB$. Our friends from The Skeptic Zone encouraged skeptics to experience MB$. I could feel the energy. Scary energy. Before I’d even bought a ticket my concession card was scrutinized and I was asked for extra ID. The hired muscle checking out tickets as we entered the Palace of Woo was odd, but not as odd as what was on the inside.
In every direction I looked were lovely phrases such as Butterfly Essence, Angelyte, Infinite U, Metaphysical Mysteries, Universal Healing, and T3 Tachyon (What? A Star Trek stall was there?), and the hilarious Nana May’s Magic Hands who claimed to “get rid of your smelly feet forever”
There were a number of legitimate companies selling legitimate things – Wear Your Goddess, which sold hippy clothes, MBF Health Insurance, someone selling all sorts of food products with lavender oil in them (ergh…), a sponsor-a-child company, potted plant advice, and “Enchanted Cottage Preserves” which sold delicious fudge, and the owner of which joked about the need to label his product in woo-type ways, such as ‘heavenly fudge’ or ‘divine fudge’. But mostly there was just new age nonsense. Dream interpretations were offered by a friendly woman from Christocentric Light, along with spiritual blessings by a muscular ‘angel’ with dreadlocks (donations accepted). Matt’s recurring dream of traveling in an elevator always ends up traveling sideways, directly out of the building, was interpreted that his personality was “outside the box“. Catherine remarked that Matt should be pressing the ‘up’ button instead of the ‘sideways’ button. I asked a few questions at Astrology Charts. Again, the women there were happy, friendly, and enthusiastic to answer your every question (when they knew the answer).
I had to drop the Pluto question. They handled this calmly and said it didn’t matter that Pluto is no longer labeled a planet, because the charts consider all types of heavenly bodies, such as the sun and moon, and the interaction between them. At the discount price of $35 I could have had my Astrological Character Portrait assessed (20-30 pages, “recently enhanced and updated!“). Well, it’s good they’re not still living in the Dark Ages.
My favourite was the QUANTUM SCIENCE ™ stall: A BioTech Optimum Energy Program. I was diagnosed via kinesiology to prove that volcanic ash containing 16 different minerals, forged at high temperatures into a pendant, released scalar energy into me when the mineral vectors were oppositely opposed. What, you don’t understand? You may have heard of Tesla, who first discovered this, and something-something Einstein and Relatively. Oh, and nanotechnology something-or-other. It didn’t matter that I said I didn’t feel any difference when I had the pendant or not, and that the water from a “Quantum Science flask” tasted no different than ordinary tap water… but, but, but, it was Quantum Science!
A few of us signed up for the chance of a free personal development seminar and a free alternative medicine course (Reiki? I can’t remember. They’re all the same). I can only assume they’re legitimate and won’t spam the hell out of our email addresses.
Elliot debated some oldies manning the Christian Science stall. And I almost questioned too much about the use of the term ‘energy’ by a couple that could astral travel and claimed to have met mysterious “beings“. We had to remember that we were not there to convert or criticise, but to observe and learn. I wanted to practice interacting in a non-confrontational way with believers and peddlers of woo. I tried to be honest yet respectful. I asked about the science behind the product, but allowed them to hold the position of authority.
I didn’t get a chance to sit in on any seminars, but here’s what Terry Kelly, the President of the Victorian Skeptics said about a seminar by the witch, Stacey Demarco, from television’s The One: She was teaching people how read the “symbology” in the dregs of coffee. The dregs are “oracles” to boost intuition. During her spiel, which included, as an aside, that drinking one (one only) cup of real coffee (not instant) per day would reduce your chances of getting dementia by 80%, she said, and I quote, “My friend Richard, the Skeptic, admits there is intuition“. I don’t know how Richard would feel about being used to support evidence for a witch reading coffee cups. When I asked Stacey why Doctors didn’t just prescribe coffee to everyone (as a way of practically eliminating ‘dementia’) she said, “They do“.