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Do You Believe in Skeptics?

But much was cut from the story too, including a few bits editors thought too literary (or not literary enough, maybe?). One of the many joys of the Juice, though, is that this space allows us to tell you more.

For instance, the story once had the following epigraph:

"You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religions. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, intelligent enough." - Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World and grandson of a biologist.

For me, that's what the story was all about, the men and women who believe -- and vocalize -- humans behaving with "gratuitous folly."

There were also a few scenes reported from the Amazing Meeting (so named for Randi and organized by the James Randi Educational Foundation).

After the jump, a few of those.

One afternoon in the main lecture hall, Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, was on stage discussing the considerations of individual versus group morality. Meanwhile, along the wall, a handsome, muscular man in his 20s, with a tattoo in French across his chest, discussed the most famous feline in the history of quantum mechanics. 

"Schrodinger's cat," began the muscular man, "is a classic thought experiment in which you have a cat sealed in a box with poison." He was describing a riddle physicists use to help people understand and debate quantum theories.

"Ah yes," said his bearded friend, who seems only vaguely familiar with the story, named for the Austrian scientist who devised it.

"You can't see in the box or check on the cat. After a certain amount of time passes -- theoretically, until you open the box to see it -- the cat is simultaneously dead and alive."

"Such a sad story for the cat," the friend said with a short laugh.

"Yeah, that pussy never had a chance."

Just then a young, tall, pale conferee walked by in a black T-shirt with the words "Schrodinger's Cat is NOT Dead!" on the back.

I also had the chance to speak with Penn Jillette and his partner, Teller (who speaks eloquently, thoughtfully, despite his onstage persona). In addition to the Penn quotes in the story, he said this of Randi: "He was outside of the norm as Tiny Tim but as grounded as Norman Borlaug. Putting those two together gave me something that I wanted to be."

When the topic of global warming came up during the conference, Penn, a vociferous libertarian (and frequent guest of Glenn Beck), breaks it down like this:

"I really and sincerely don't know. All I'm trying to say is, if there is global warming -- which there probably is -- that doesn't necessarily mean we caused it. And if we caused it -- which we probably did -- that doesn't necessarily mean that we can stop it. We can't necessarily stop it just because we started it. But if people can stop it -- which they probably can do --  that doesn't mean the way to stop it is by stopping carbon emissions -- which it probably is. And if it is happening and we did start it and we can stop it and the way to do that is through carbon emissions, that does not necessarily mean that the answer is socialism." The audience of more than 1,000 roared with laughter. "Really, I-Don't-Fucking-Know."

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Michael J. Mooney

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