Skip to content

Category: Culture

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

January 30, 2009 | 13 Comments

Why I will never fly US Air

You will have heard by now that US Air has offered the Hudson crash survivors a full year’s worth of upgrades for their trouble. “Sorry you nearly died. Here’s a coupon for extra peanuts when next you fly.”

Well, you can argue that the crash was not entirely, or even any, of US Air’s fault, so it’s not clear that they owe the passengers much of anything beyond paying for their lost luggage and refunding their original ticket price (no word whether they have done that). A coupon to upgrade is a particularly stupid palliative; at least, it sounds lame.

An “upgrade”, after all, means you first have to give money to US Air for a lower-class ticket. They will then, if possible, offer you a slightly roomier seat if they have it. Don’t forget that most US Air flights are on aircraft that have only one class: there is nowhere to upgrade to most of the time. Plus, most people only fly maybe once or twice a year anyway, and it’s not clear how quickly these water-logged people will return to the air.

But this incident of ham-handedness by US Air is not the reason I will not ever, under any circumstances, fly them. This is.

About three years ago I bought a round-trip ticket to visit a friend in Knoxville, Tennessee. Before I left for the trip, I was offered a job interview at the University of Florida. It made sense to go their first and then, from Gainesville, head up to Knoxville and then home. So I had the university buy me a ticket from New York to Gainesville, and from there to Knoxville.

When it was time to leave Knoxville, I tried to get my boarding pass from the US Air agents. They said my ticket was canceled. Why? Because I did not show up for the flight down to Knoxville. I explained that this was true, that I had gone elsewhere, but here I am now; plus, I have given you nearly $400 for the ticket.

They insisted that the ticket was null. The agent was even angry with me for asking for my ticket. She (and a he) said, “When you buy a ticket with us, you are agreeing to a legally biding contract.” I said, OK, that must mean that you are agreeing to one, too, so what about the $400 I gave you? They said I “broke my contract” by not having them fly me—and thus costing them money in increased fuel usage and attention by flight staff. If anything, I said, I saved you money.

But they would not relent. I kept asking: “What do I get for giving you $400?” They never would answer. They next claimed that it was I that was cheating them! How? Because my buying a round-trip ticket two months in advance was a way to avoid paying a higher one-way fare on the day of travel.

They acknowledged that I did in fact live in New York and that that strategy made no sense, but they insisted that I was trying to cheat them. I again asked what was I getting for the $400 I had already given them. They responded in two ways. The first was to offer to sell me, for roughly $600, a new ticket to New York. When I said that that was idiotic, they then threatened to have me arrested for causing a disturbance. They even called over the airport police. The policeman stood listening to us go back and forth, and thank God, he never seemed interested in arresting me for trying to get my money back.

After about twenty minutes of this, I left, exasperated. I went to the Continental counter and bought a ticket there (about $600, too).

I understand that some airlines attempt to use various complex pricing models to squeeze more money out of certain classes of passengers, but excessive reliance of these models can end up costing them more money than they make. Other airlines, JetBlue for instance, does fine without these oddities.

In any case, US Air is obviously staffed by inflexible, uncaring, heard-hearted half wits. Which is why they can only offer “free” upgrades after one of their planes crash.

January 9, 2009 | 14 Comments

The MIT Dahn Yoga Brain Respiration Experiment: Part V

NOW

I lost track of Sung, and had not given much thought to Dahn Yoga or KIBS in a long time. But my memory was jogged when I finally saw somebody in the window of a Dahn Yoga center, which is on my route to the dreaded F train (the center is on the second floor on the southwest corner of 66th and 3rd in Manhattan).

I did a search and found this video, which shows Dr Sung Won Lee in a conference sponsored by KIBS, held this past summer at the United Nations.

More on that conference can be found here.

Sung uses a lot of words, but says little other than that strong emotions can sometimes cause difficulties, something we have known since the men of Sumner first drank the byproducts of moistened barely. Intriguingly, he mentions that a later speaker will be Antonio Damasio, a best selling author of The Feeling of What Happens and Descartes’ Error. Damasio is a neurologist whose main interest is in consciousness, and is somewhat well known. This means that Ilchi Lee is still reaching out.

And Dahn Yoga and KIBS is going strong. Is this a good thing?

PRESSURE

I am not, in any way, an expert of cult behavior and so cannot say too much about this. But a quick search reveals stories like this one, not at all atypical. At the very least, Dahn Yoga practitioners like to put the hard sell on people to spend a lot quickly. Many more links are at Lorie Anderson’s site.

This video is typical of what you will find:

As is this video and this one.

The Rick Ross Institute is an “Internet archive of information about cults, destructive cults, controversial groups and movements.” They have a page on various Dahn Yoga activities that I highly recommend perusing.

Cult or no? I don’t know, but none of the evidence points to Dahn Yoga being an entirely benign organization.

I worry very much about the kids back in Korea who are undergoing “training” in brain respiration/education methods.

OPEN MIND

I am often told by proponents of psychic powers that “I should keep an open mind.” That if my mind was “closed” I would never be able to appreciate what they could.

I agree.

An open mind is important. This is why I design and conduct tests like the KIBS kids test. I will not dismiss somebody’s claims out of hand. If the KIBS kids test would have been a success, I would have been willing to believe that the theory behind brain respiration, now “brain education”, had validity. But the test did not work, and so, rationally, I conclude that brain respiration is yet another failed theory, that it is invalid.

I now ask those who believe in Ilchi Lee to have an open mind. To prove you have it, answer this question: What evidence will convince you that brain respiration/education is false?

To people who believe in ESP, I ask the same thing: What evidence will convince you that ESP is false?

To people who believe in any controversial theory in which the only evidence for or against it is observational: What evidence will convince you that it is false?

If you find you cannot or do not want to answer this question, then it’s your mind that is closed, it is you that is unwilling to face the truth, it is you that is stuck in old ways of thinking.

I have never yet met a True Believer who gave me an answer.

Part I, II, III, IV, V

January 8, 2009 | 20 Comments

The MIT Dahn Yoga Brain Respiration Experiment: Part IV

AFTERMATH

The test was clearly a failure, the kids bombed. The only time they succeeded was when the opportunity—and temptation—for cheating was available. It was not just that they couldn’t read the colors inside the envelopes—though the KIBS people claimed they could in Korea, and all sides agreed to the experimental protocol—but they could not read the cards when all three kids were blindfolded, taking away the opportunity for cuing.

All evidence, therefore, rationally points to the simplest explanation: HSP is false and the kids cheat. They might cheat with the best of intentions, but it’s still cheating. In other words, with this evidence, it would be irrational to increase your believe that brain respiration is real. It is rational, however, to decrease your belief in it.

Randi

Before the test, I emailed James Randi, a well known expert in designing tests of psychic phenomena. Randi has for years held out the “Million Dollar Challenge”, which will pay to the individual who can demonstrate, under test conditions, any psychic ability, what is now over one million U.S.A. dollars.

My email to Randi was unsolicited (he didn’t know me, but I called him a “hero” of mine), so I only gave a sketch of my request. He did not get back to me until the test was over, at which time I emailed him again, briefly outlining what had happened. At no time did I not mean for my sketch to be a complete report of what occurred. But Randi, without my knowledge, published my email on his popular site, and added interstitial comments, taking me to task for deviating from the protocol and allowing the non-scheduled blindfold trials after the main trial had failed.

He said, “Matt, sympathetic as I am to your situation, you let the kids run away with the situation. That doesn’t happen when I get going on such a test.” Well, Randi is an old man and curmudgeonly, and certainly has had more experience than I ever will, so I accept his criticisms gracefully.

I want to stress that had Randi asked for permission to publish my email, I probably would have given it, but I would have liked the opportunity to be more explicit about what happened. I have had no further communication with Randi since, except that I mailed his educational foundation library a copy of my book (also unsolicited).

It is important also to note that Randi had written negative commentary on Ilchi Lee prior to receiving my email. I didn’t know about these posts until afterwards, but my favorite is the one explaining the $4000 cost of a small metal turtle that Dahn Yoga followers could purchase and place by the side of their bed to “increase energy flow.”

What happened next was this: some member of Dahn Yoga found Randi’s post of my email and told Dr S. Lee. Sung was furious that I could have published something without his prior knowledge. But the first time I learned that Randi had published my email was from Sung. I told him this, and also said I didn’t care that Randi had posted it, and reminded Sung of our agreement that either of us could publish what we wanted.

Sung stop talking to me and starting communicating with me via email, mostly to dispute my conclusions about the experiment’s results. I suggested to Sung that if the kids truly get as good as they say they can get, that they contact Randi to win that million bucks. This received an emphatic no.

I also suggested that, if I was right, and brain respiration was false, then KIBS was doing the kids harm by encouraging their cheating and subjecting them to stressful situations that they might not understand. This warning fell, as it’s said, on deaf ears.

Sung

A reporter, either present at the MIT trial, or who had heard about it contacted Cornell’s Public Relations department. The reporter was concerned because there were rumors that Dahn Yoga was a cult. I did not know about these accusations before the experiment.

I was subsequently contacted by Lorie Anderson, who runs this site, which compiled evidence of Dahn Yoga’s less laudatory practices.

I assured Miss Anderson, and my boss, that we ran the MIT experiment unofficially, and that we did not involve Cornell’s name except to give our affiliations for the record. Sung also assured the Public Relations department and our boss of the same
thing. This was accepted.

But it was further discovered by officials at Cornell that Sung was running and planning experimental medical trials which used Dahn Yoga as a treatment. His interactions with the Cornell hierarchy became more acrimonious and he, about two months after the MIT experiment, resigned from the Cornell faculty.

Before he left, I tried patching things up with Sung and told him I thought brain respiration was false and why didn’t he? We went back and forth, but I finally said, “Let’s boil it all down to this turtle” (mentioned above). I asked, “Do you really and truly believe it does what it says it does? If so, then you’re a true believer; if not, then you’re willing to accept negative evidence.” He started, “Well, there are things about energy…” and I stopped him. I said, “Okay, you do believe. Let’s leave it at that.”

We shook hands and he left.

I had heard he went out to Arizona to work in a new facility Ilchi Lee was building to develop brain respiration in America. As far as I know, he hasn’t contacted anybody at Cornell since he left; I haven’t heard from him either.

Next: what’s new

Part I, II, III, IV, V

January 6, 2009 | 19 Comments

The MIT Dahn Yoga Brain Respiration Experiment: Part III

THE EXPERIMENT

The test was filmed by several cameras, most from the KIBS people (I have been unable to find any videos on line). The KIBS staff itself was large, about a dozen or two. The public was not barred from filming or photographing any part of the proceedings, and many did. I did not meet many people, but I was told prominent physics and medicine professors from Harvard and MIT were invited, as were other “thought leaders”. There were about forty people not from KIBS in attendance.

There were snacks and drinks provided. I set up in a corner and tried to be be non obtrusive. From what I could gather from the chatter, the audience was anxious but expected good things. Everybody, staff included, was all smiles. Each kid was more adorable than the last, and we were all pulling for them.

Ilchi Lee gave a standard opening speech in Korean, which was simultaneously translated by Sung Lee. Sung also gave a speech explaining the history and goals of brain respiration and what was expected that night. I was introduced, as were the proctors, but none of us spoke.

Sung explained that, in practice, the kids had hit rates of 80-90% with the test envelopes during the previous two weeks. As I said before, I have no clear idea how they did these unsupervised trials. We were thus expecting each kid to guess about 10 more envelopes correctly.

Sung outlined the experimental protocol, assured the audience we would see some special that night, and the test began.

Blindfold phase

The three kids sat together at a table, but only one at a time was blindfolded. Not surprisingly, the kids got all the blindfold guesses correct. I’m pretty sure they didn’t peek down their nose, though they could have above it because they held the cards up high in the air to indicate that they were ready to announce their guess.

But they didn’t have to peek to cheat. I and two other proctors, who also had experience in magic, felt that the kids were cluing each other (the third proctor admitted the possibility but did not care to guess); which is to say they were either telling the blindfolded kid openly what color card he held, or using other signaling methods. There were certainly countless ways the kids could have communicated to each other. All in the room could see the card except the blindfolded kid. The kids were fairly close to one another and they were allowed to move about and talk when the other of them was blindfolded. I’m fairly sure on the kids and the KIBS staff spoke Korean, so there was no way for the proctors to definitively know what was said. I suggested to one Sung about the potential ways the kids might have cheated, and that there were ways that we can check this. But he was not interested in finding out!

Interestingly, a good portion of the audience cheered and applauded when the correct guesses were revealed. One woman, not affiliated with KIBS, was moved to tears.

This phase of the experiment went exactly as I had expected it to. The kids in the KIBS tape never missed when wearing blindfolds, and neither did they now in front of an audience.

Envelopes phase

After a five-minute pause, the main trial began. As mentioned, each kid had a separate proctor, and I watched from the sidelines. The kids took up to 20 minutes for each guess, announced his guess in English, the proctor repeated the guess, the kid confirmed it loud enough for all to hear, the proctor wrote down the guess then checked the envelope for holes or tears which would have allowed the kid to cheat, then the proctor opened the envelope and wrote down the actual color.

We never found any holes, though one kid’s envelopes were consistently wet as if he tried to lick them and perhaps allow a tear—but the paper was too thick to allow him to see anything. The dampness could also have been sweat as this kid occasionally held the cards to his face tightly. He might have also been trying to see through the envelope as he consistently pressed the envelope to his face and pointed his face towards the ceiling lights. But my prior tests of directly holding the envelopes on the surface of an incandescent light bulb assured that it would not be possible to see through the envelope using a ceiling-mounted fluorescent bulb.

The first set of cards took about eight minutes. The kids grunted and sweat, ate come chocolates, did some exercises, and announced their guesses—not all at once, but when each was ready individually.

There was tension in the room when the first kid spoke his guess. The proctor confirmed it and then began to open the envelope. Remember, nobody, not me, not anybody, knew what the card’s color was going to be. People held their breath. I held my breath.

It was a miss. The color did not match the kid’s guess.

No problem, 35 more cards to go.

After a few more misses—and open groans and even hand wringing—there was finally a hit, followed by applause and cheers. Had things finally turned around?

Most of the guesses were wrong, and the pressure started to mount on the kids. Each kid was to get 12 envelopes, and by chance we’d expect they’d get 2 or so correct. But the hits—the correct guesses—were slow in coming.

The kids knew they were failing, the audience had become mostly silent, or sat quietly talking to one another. The kids began to get up more, ate even more candy, exercised more. But no change. Most guesses were misses.

Eventually, after it became clear that nothing more was going to happen, Sung told me he was going to stop the experiment out of concern for the kids’ anxiety. The remaining trials would be marked down as misses.

Sung stepped up and announced the trial’s ending. The audience understood, and clearly felt for the kids.

One kid did 7 trials, the other two did 6 before the experiment was stopped . They were scheduled to do 12 trials each. They got 4 hits during these 19 trials, right what chance would predict: kid one got 1, kid two got 1, kid three got 2.

Recall that before the trial started, KIBS staff members were confident each kid would get at least 10 out 12 hits.

Immediate sequel

Because the test was a failure, the oldest kid wanted to do another blindfold demonstration. I should not have allowed it as it was not part of the official protocol agreed to before the test. But I weakened and said Okay.

This demonstration went the same as before: he got both new cards right. It was then suggested be a proctor that all three kids be blindfolded at once, and that, respectfully, no noise be made. This was because the Sung and the KIBS people finally took seriously our suggestion that the kids were cuing each other when one was blindfolded and the others were not.

I still didn’t love this idea because there were many other people in the room who could have cheated if they wanted to (the KIBS staff, audience members, and so on), but the audience insisted on it. Again, I should not have allowed this, but I was weak.

Only kids two and three attempted a reading, but all were blindfolded anyway. In the previous blindfold demonstration, each kid made their guesses in under a minute. This time—when none of the kids could see each other—it took about five to seven minutes until kid number three started to complain of a stomachache. And so, even the last blindfold demonstration was called off with no guesses made.

The end

The evening ended with both Sung Lee and Dr. Ilchi Lee giving rambling, long, impromptu speeches saying things like, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, they hoped that more trials would be done, none of us really understood what is going on, and something about “mysterious Z-rays that are absorbed or emitted by the human brain.”

None of it made any sense, and the audience began shifting their traps by the end, clearly ready to leave.

Nobody from KIBS spoke to me after the test. I walked out with Mark Glickman and said goodbye.

Except for Sung Lee, that was the last time I talked to any KIBS member.

Next: the aftermath

Part I, II, III, IV, V