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Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #2

Posted on : Dec-13-2009 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post

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Our second BSBC meeting was a week ago and it was really good to see everyone again. For anyone who wasn’t there and is still interested in reading Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, here are some of the discussion points that were brought up:

  • How different Western culture is from the Pirahã (pronounced pee-da-HAN) culture in that they have no social words like “hello” or “sorry” for “thanks” but instead they let their actions speak for them. (And we talked about the politics of saying hello in the hallway to everyone you pass by, with some bringing up interesting social algorithms related to when you say hi or whether to make eye contact, etc.)
  • The concept that the tribe has no specific word for color or numbers, but rather use a comparative system. (This point of the book is actually very hotly debated in the linguistics community.)
  • Whether or not the Noble Savage stereotype affects what the author is trying to say about the tribe.
  • How much parts of language of the tribe reminded us of the Star Trek: TNG episode entitled “Darmok”, where the aliens speak entirely in metaphor. (Yes, we are geeks.)
  • The reason that missionaries have been unable to convert the Pirahãs for the past 300  years is because the people do not speak about events that they have not personally witnessed or know the person who witnessed the event.  They live totally in the present.
  • However, the Pirahãs do believe in spirits, similar to the way that some people in Western culture believe in ghosts and séances.
  • The idea of inserting yourself into a tribe where not only do you not speak the language or know the grammar but also you have to figure out how to translate the language with minimal help.

We also added a few books to our master book list:

If you have any books to add to the list, please make a comment on this thread or at the forum on our Facebook group.

The next book that we’ll be reading is Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach (a fellow New Englander). This is a humorous book that explores various experiments that have been conducted on concepts such as ensoulment, reincarnation, etc. So far it’s a very enjoyable read (especially for those who found the last book hard to get through). I do have a related podcast extra: This FFRF podcast featuring nonreligious folk singers Lou and Peter Berryman has an interesting song called “After Life Goes By” (at the 21:28 mark). Lyrics sample: The trouble with my praying/Is I find it so dismaying/That no one may hear me saying what I say. and I believe there’s nothing after life goes by/I believe it’s over when we die die die. (Just imagine that set to a folksy accordion and guitar–who says irreverent music isn’t upbeat?)

Due to the holidays and MLK weekend, our next BSBC meeting will be on Saturday, January 23, at 2 pm, in the Clear Conscience Cafe (same as always). Please join our Facebook group to get our book club invites. (Also, if anyone has a good idea for our BSBC Facebook avatar, I’d love to hear about it!)

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