About 60,000 of us will descend on the Tabula Rasa known as the Black Rock Desert and let our freak-flags fly, escaping the "default world" into this temporary utopia of fellowship and beauty, where commercialism is crass, money has no meaning, and where art and technology synergize and flourish in an explosion of creative bliss. Yes, it is that good. It is my annual revel in what I wish the world could be like, rather than what it is. I am so moved and inspired by the spirit of Burning Man that I have written an epic poem about the experience a few years ago. I invite you to read it here if you're curious.
Burning Man certainly has no shortage of creativity and technology, but, unfortunately, there is also a huge amount of woo. (James Randi prefers to call it, "woo-woo," but I think one "woo" is enough) Yes, there are plenty of "Earth Spirits," "crystal power purveyors," "Tarot Card Readers," and other assorted silliness floating around the Playa. I vaguely recall some camp that was going to bury their menses under the light of the full-moon to bring about world peace. Ugh. A couple years ago I was part of a camp called the "Skeptical Bastards" which was the brainchild of Jon Garvin. My alter-ego Master Nashwan made an appearance, distributing "Used Bath Water," (It contains His "Spiritual Essence.") and Jon distributed Plecibix concentrated water (snicker) but the real hit of the camp was Dan Green who performed spirit animal divinations. A description of his act, and one of his cards featuring the blobfish, is posted on Dangblog. Other lucky folks discovered that their spirit animals amongst an assortment of interesting critters, including tapeworms, vampire bats, purple tubeworms, or, perhaps luckiest of all: the tongue-eating louse. Imagine your surprise, hoping that your spirit animal was a lion, wolf or coyote, when you discover that your true spirit animal IS: (Insert drum-roll here.) the NAKED MOLE RAT! What fun. The expressions on the "seekers" faces was priceless.
One of my fonder memories was stumbling on a presentation in Center Camp by a woman from San Francisco who specialized in spoon-bending using the power of your mind. I only saw the last part of her presentation. She seemed quite passionate about her craft. She, quite generously, handed out several dozen cheap metal spoons to the eager assemblage and instructed them to continuously rub the stem of the spoons vigorously while focusing on bending them using their psychic energy. I watched in wry amusement as the audience vigorously rubbed their spoons, some of them with their eyes closed, hoping for a psychic miracle. There actually was one talented magician in the audience who was able to manipulate his spoon through his fingers creating the illusion that it was being bent, straightened, and re-bent in a continuous motion. Well done! Meanwhile, the crowd was furiously rubbing their spoons as the spoon bending pro was working the audience to look for signs of progress. And, whattya know, some of the spoons were bent. Success! Some spoons were bent more than others because, of course, some folks have more psychic power than others. The speaker finished her presentation, telling the crowd that she was available in the default word for parties--presumably for a fee.
Right after her presentation I approached her and we had a conversation something like the following:
Me: Pretty neat. Thank you for your presentation.
She: You're welcome.
Me: Say, have you ever heard of a famous spoon bender named Uri Geller?
She: Of course! But, I'm not nearly as good as he is.
Me: I have an idea. How would you like to make a half a million dollars?
(This seemed to get her attention.)
Me: You and I could approach the James Randi Educational Foundation and, if you can prove that you have psychic spoon-bending powers, we can split the prize. You game?
She: Here, let me show you something.
(She then led me to a particularly enthusiastic knot of about five audience members still rubbing spoons while the crowd dissipated.)
She: Let me show you how it's done.
(She then compared one of the test spoons with a "control" spoon that had not been rubbed. Sure enough, it was bent!)
Audience Members: Ooooh, Ahhhhh.
(Well, something like that.)
Me: Yes, I see.
She: You do believe in energy, right?
Me: Well, yeah, the capacity to do work.
She: It's the energy of the mind that bends the spoon.
(Meanwhile, the audience enthusiasts--and me too--continued to rub our spoons. She went on to explain that people who have particularly powerful ability can bend, not only the stem of the spoon, but the cup of the spoon too.)
Audience members: Woah!
(No, not Whoa, not Woe, but Woah! She then showed us a picture of a bent spoon, that had the cup of the spoon bent a considerable distance.)
Me: So, what about the half a million bucks? I think we both might enjoy that kind of extra cash.
(Meanwhile, I was watching one particularly enthusiastic spoon-rubber, not only continuing to rub the spoon stem with her thumb and index finger, but furtively pushing the cup of the spoon on her stomach.)
She: You know the problem with having a skeptic around for a test is that the "skeptical" energy pushes all the "psychic" energy out of the room.
Me: Ah, I see. I guess we're not going to split our million then, huh?
Me: Hey! Look! I think the cup of her spoon is actually bending!
She: Let's see. (carefully examining the spoon.) I do believe you're right!
(They were cheap spoons.)
Audience Enthusiast: That's fantastic! I CAN CONTROL MY OWN REALITY!
Me: Yes you can, can't you? You can control your own reality.
I really enjoyed Burning Man that year, and every other year, and I now have an extra spoon as a souvenir in my cutlery drawer at home.
I'll be back in ten days, and I'll be sure to have a report on the Do Ya Think? Blog when I return.