Society for Secular Humanists in Calgary


The Amazing Meeting 2 Day 1

Hey everyone! My long awaited report on the Amazing Meeting 2 is here! For those of you who don't know, Pat (my significant other) and I (your highly esteemed webmaster) went to Las Vegas from January 15th to the 18th for James Randi's Amazing Meeting 2. This was a wonderful meeting of skeptics, scientists, magicians, etc.

Our first day involved lots of travelling. We took our flight from Calgary to Denver and then to Las Vegas. For those of you who have travelled to the States since 9/11, I have a new appreciation for the ordeal. Needless to say, we were both looking and feeling our best by the time we arrived at the Tuscany.

After we checked in and registered, Pat and I did a little shopping and strolled about the strip. Being my first time to Vegas, I was impressed by the scale of the hotels on the strip. Vegas doesn't appear to have much in the line of office towers and high-rises, but it certainly makes up for it with large hotels. Closer up, some of these hotels have interesting features like fountains, statues, etc. We eventually ended up at Caesar's Palace.

We wandered about the 'Palace' gawking like tourists for a time. They do have a lot to look at. But of course, where ever we went, the ever present slot machines were always there as well like modern standing stones encouraging the fertility of imagination of those with poor probability skills. We finally happened upon a sushi bar next to Queen Cleopatra's barge and decided that we were hungry. After eating we hustled back to the Tuscany for the evenings events.

Initially the conference was to start with a 'Solved Mysteries' workshop. However this particular event was an extra that also cost extra money so we opted to forgo it. The first official event was the welcome reception, this was followed by opening remarks by the Amazing One himself (James Randi), on the far right of the picture, and Lieutenant Colonel Hal Bidlack, on the far left of the picture, who acted as the Master of Ceremonies for the conference. Hal also was living proof that one can be both theist and skeptical (and took great pains to share that knowledge whenever the opportunity arose). He also had an amazing collection of poems by the famous Greek poet "Anonymous".

Jamy Ian Swiss then took the stage and amazed us all with his mentalist performance. At the end of his performance, he assured us all that he can not read minds, nor can he remove a person's free will. Be that as it may, he can certainly create the illusion that he can! I've dabbled in sleight of hand when I was younger so I'm able to usually guess what COULD be an explanation for a trick, but in this case I'd have to say that Mr. Swiss is an amazing cold reader and is accomplished at fooling even a room full of skeptics.

Not to be out done, Ian Rowland managed to absolutely baffle me. He was able to do cold reading and sleight of hand as well as Jamy. Ian told us that although he will not reveal how his tricks are done, he freely admits that they are tricks and that he can duplicate any ability that any psychic claims to have. He did an interesting trick with drawing. I donít know if it was cold reading or simply a pact with the devil (ha ha). He got an audience member to draw a picture while standing behind a screen. He then drew a picture as well. When both pictures were revealed, they were both of horses!

Now that sort of trick I can bear to enjoy without knowing how itís done. But imagine watching this guy take a newspaper and a pair of scissors, cut the newspaper, all the while talking to the audience, and end up with two loops of unbroken newspaper linked like a chain. Iíve tried and tried to imagine how this is done, and I canít think of any explanation that does not violate the laws of physics. This is the sort of trick that keeps me up at night wondering.

The last speaker of the evening was Rick Maue. His specialty was theatrical sťances. Unlike the other magicians, Rick did not do actual tricks for us, but only lectured. He described his first sťance to us. The tricks he did were simple as were the theatrical props and effects. However, all these things combined with the mood that he had created had an incredible effect. One person actually passed out from fright in spite of knowing that it was all make believe. After thinking about what he had related, I can understand why a "religious" or "supernatural" experience affects people so deeply. It's like his fainter at his first sťance. Had he done these tricks on a well lit stage with cheesy organ music playing she might have laughed and applauded instead. It was a good thing that she knew beforehand that it was make-believe or she might have been tempted to take it seriously.

He went on to talk about the skeptical movement and how, for himself, he only targeted those people who were not "eyes shut". Eyes shut refers to people who absolutely believe in their pet superstition. His point was that people like that are extremely unlikely to abandon their views and even if they did, theyíre likely to replace those views with something just as bad.

And so ended our first day...

Day 2, Day 3, Wrap Up