October 16, 2013 by kittynh
I often laugh when Dr.Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory” speaks of his love of trains. I am married to a man that has never remembered a time when he has not loved trains. He’s an engineer, not a train engineer, and works in IT now. Still, as his wife I have had to learn to not only tolerate, but to appreciate and finally fall in love with trains myself.
I am told that “Thomas the Tank” videos are good for children with autism spectrum diagnosis. I do know that the train layout may husband built to take to senior centers and also to the local care facility for children with serious illnesses, is always a big hit. The seniors with diminished memory and mental acuity issues enjoy the train going around and the details. The children, many with serious mental impairment, also find pleasure in the gentle joy of watching a train go around and around.
His “charity layout” can be seen here.
So what has this to do with skepticism? Well, I am not a scientist. I am not very good at math, and I have a slightly fantasy prone personality. I’m not supposed to be the kind of person that likes trains. I’m also not the kind of person that is supposed to find friendship and enjoyment in the skeptic movement. Instead, with both of these interests of mine, trains and skepticism, I decided not look at the stereotype, and instead focus on figuring out just what other people found so attractive.
While the pleasure I find in riding a train, or visiting a miniature train layout may be of a different nature than my husband, we can both enjoy looking at trains together. He enjoys identifying the engine and cars. He knows all about where each engine is built and the design details of each engine. I enjoy the history and the beauty of the trains. I love train travel, far more than air travel. Air travel is something to be tolerated and survived, train travel is part of the adventure and often a highlight of any trip we take together.
I simply had to take the time to really learn about trains and also to find those aspects that appealed to me, which I did as this was such an important part of his life.
Skepticism though was something I hadn’t even heard of as a “thing” one could participate in. I came to learn about skepticism because I needed to connect with people that had the critical thinking skills I needed. These are skills we all need to survive, it’s rather like consumer protection for your life. While there are many self taught skeptics, the majority of people in the movement are highly educated and sometimes rather intimidating to those of us that are not.
I needed help to figure out if a psychic was real or not, one that my friends all happily paid lots of money to visit. I had no clue what the words “Cold Reading” meant. Google wasn’t around, just the basic internet. It took James Randi, and the JREF, who were so warm and welcoming, and also not for one moment did they make me feel I was incapable of learning critical thinking skills. There was no “just trust us, we know this you are too dumb”. This lead to me attending the first TAM in Plantation Florida and discovering that even a creative type can find great joy and friendship among the skeptic community.
It was TAM 2 at the Tuscany ,when the skeptics took over the cheesy lounge, when a stranger walked in and asked what group we were with. I informed him we were a skeptic group, and he couldn’t believe it. We had a chocolate tasting contest going on in one area, crazy dancing in another, and much laughter. “Skeptics aren’t supposed to be so happy!” he informed me.
I hope always to remember the lesson James Randi and the JREF taught me long ago. Always be welcoming, and also take a little extra time to explain things and help a newbie find the parts of skepticism that they will especially enjoy. Throw the stereotypes out the window, trains and skepticism have something for everyone.
Also if there is anything resembling a train, we’ll find it and ride it. We can’t afford those train vacations, so we try to just find trains to ride when we are travelling for work. We especially enjoy the Polybahn.
- This Is the Physicist Who Makes Sure That the Science on The Big Bang Theory is Accurate (neatorama.com)
- Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg (jessmany.wordpress.com)