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A Museum that Makes You Think

by Mark Edward, Jun 05 2010

Yes, all museums make you think, but have you ever been to a museum that has exhibits that may or may not be based on real science and facts? Want to see bogus science lined right up against the real thing and test your gullibility? Several of the IIG group and friends journeyed to The Museum of Jurassic Technology here in Los Angeles this past weekend and enjoyed comparing notes on just what was real, what might have been real and what was fake – or what we conjectured must be fake.

The MJT is a must for skeptics. Their motto is:

“…guided along as it were
a chain of flowers into
the mysteries of life.”

The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, California is an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic.”

This is a venue that forces you to think – and think hard. Was there any technology in the Lower Jurassic period of history? Sandwiched between wonders from collections as diverse as Ricky Jay’s decaying dice to mice on toast as a cure for bed-wetting, the curators have put together an eccentric museum that  elegantly recreates19th century exhibits that were known as a “Cabinet of Curiosity” in earlier times. Searching out the strange thinking of our ancestors, the curious visitor to MJT can wander through a beautiful section on superstitions where the wackiest beliefs are made into real life tableaus built in individual see-through boxes. This isn’t just another tourist attraction like “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not,” it’s a classy little palace built to honor inquiring minds and human gullibility. Check out the whole deal at www.mjt.org  When in L.A., I suggest setting aside two or three hours to explore this “educational institution.”

Looking Over Bizarre Letters

Another room is dedicated to letters that were sent to Mt. Wilson in its infancy entitled, “No One May Ever have the Same Knowledge Again: Letters to Mt. Wilson.”  These letters concern different opinions on imagined origins of the universe and the who, where and why it all came about. We all agreed that many of the rants and claims were not unlike the letters received from various claimants for the CFI/IIG $50,000 Challenge. Each was written with earnest enthusiasm, but were also reminiscent of H.G. Wells science fiction. Then as now; people didn’t know any better.

A Russian Astronaut Dog Portrait

Among the relics and ephemera displayed is a collection of oil paintings “Dogs of the Soviet Space Program.” It’s hard to imagine where else you could see all of these heroic pooches arranged in a room dedicated to their memory. There is science here – and borderline fantasy too. The fun part is that at MJT gettingchallenged to figure what is science, what is odd eccentricity and what may be entirely made up.

Special sections on such ruminations as Cat’s Cradle, “Eye of the Needle: The Unique World of Microminiatures of Hagop Sandaldjians,” or sculptures carved in the eye’s of needles’ and a displayof miniature paintings created with butterfly wings compete with horns taken (supposedly) from human heads and a scale model of Noah’s ark. In a room entitled “Athannasius Kirchener’s The World is Bound by Secret Knots”  one can view fine miniature examples of “Pepper’s Ghost,” and down the hall stunning 3-DFloral Radiographs vie with other early 3-d photography. Several of the people in our group who had not been to MJT before gathered in the tea room and tried to take it all in. Without an Iphone or laptop on hand to investigate each wonder, it’s hard to tell what is genuine. For a skeptic, it’s a heady mix.

One of the Creatures from "Rogue Taxidermy"

We ended an adventurous day at the Rogue Taxidermy Show. See example. This is not exactly cryptozoology or for the faint of heart, but it sure beats tha Natural History Museum for colorful examples of what today’s new breed of taxidermists are up to. Google “Rogue Taxidermy”if you dare. Yes, I know this has nothing to do with skepticism, please don’t bother to comment on that fact. I just dig weird stuff.  Deal with it.

Jarrett Lennon Kaufman Tries to Make Sense of the MJT

Hugs and Kisses to Susan Gerbic-Forsyth for all the great photos!

Susan and Steve Taking a Break at Farmer's Market, L.A.

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17 Responses to “A Museum that Makes You Think”

  1. Sgerbic says:

    This was my second visit to the museum in a years time. I love it and think it is a wonderful place for the skeptic to mul over how we know what we know. I loved the room devoted to superstitions, I wonder if they were not original ones, they might be now just by the exhibit. I almost don’t want to know what is real and what isn’t.

    My favorite ones were, eating ant eggs when you want to fall out of love, not allowing a baby to see its reflection, flip mirrors face to the wall during thunder storms, let a baby breath a ducks breath when the baby has a sore throat, the groom should keep one shoe untied during the wedding ceremony to assure a successful wedding night.

    This place is not a tourist attraction, it is just a hole in the wall place until you get inside and see how really cool it is. The price is something like $5 a person and they have a gift shop with great books. No postcards though. Boo Hoo.

    It is totally dark in places and there are rooms the size of closets in areas so it is easy to not see everything. More than one visit is required.

  2. ZenMonkey says:

    Aw, damn, I wish I’d known about this! I had suggested the MJT as an L.A. Skeptics Meetup a while ago and was told it had already happened. It’s one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. The mixture of truly amazing exhibits — I still have my 3-D Viewmaster slides from the floral radiographs — and truly bizarre BS is just fantastic.

    • Sgerbic says:

      Your just hanging with the wrong people. Mark was told this as well but we went anyway.

  3. Citizen Wolf says:

    Maybe the Discovery Institute is really a fiendishly cleverly disguised skeptics educational foundation, and there’ll be a big reveal at some stage.

    • Brian The Coyote says:

      Funny! I picture Duane Gish jumping out from behind a curtain and shouting, “DUDE, you’ve been punked!”

  4. jim says:

    I highly recommend the book, Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder which is about this place.

  5. rob c says:

    sounds like a good day out but if i was to cross the atlantic for a museum it would be the other famous piss take museum i would have to go to the creation museum. i really want to go if only to see the triceratops with a saddle.

  6. Robo Sapien says:

    I heard they had plans to add a wing devoted to gynoplasm, but they were cancelled for unclear reasons.

  7. kabol says:

    maybe they should dedicate a section to JREF challenges?

    Among the relics and ephemera displayed is a collection of oil paintings “Dogs of the Soviet Space Program.”

    i remember some aussie movie called “dogs in space” that featured the late michael hutchence. i never quite got the correlation (the movie was some sort of commentary on drug use, as i recall)

  8. Gwilym Wogan says:

    Not quite on-topic, but on a related note, how common is it for major museums to give equal footing to science and pseudoscience? My country’s national museum does exactly that, only without any of the irony or fun of Mark’s example. Oh, and our one also throws straight-up mythology into the mix too.

    For instance, right next to the exhibit on tectonic shift, you’ve got an impressive-looking video booth saying “Enter here to see how the world was created.” Upon entering, you get the Maori creation legend, presented as fact. In the area about flora, there’s a fairly gushing exhibit about biodynamics, presented uncritically (though it does redeem itself slightly by opening with this brilliant claim). This odd blend permeates a large amount of the museum.

    Are we ridiculously backwoods, or did this become the norm at some point?

  9. Jerry Schwarz says:

    I visited this place a couple of years ago with another skeptic. We finally concluded it was all fake, but maybe not?

    I came away with a T-shirt containing Geoffrey Sonnabend’s “Theories of forgetting and the problem of matter”. Don’t ask me to explain it. Just go and see it for yourself.

    • TurboFool says:

      Some elements of the museum can’t be fake, simply because their mere existence proves otherwise. The Cats Cradle section, for instance, is indeed made up of a wide variety of Cats Cradles and techniques. Hard to fake that. Same with a wide variety of other items where simply its existence there proves it’s real. Other items, such as the logic language right outside that room, I was also able to confirm via Google and Wikipedia. There’s enough items that are definitely real to make the rest murky. Clearly much is fake or speculative (Noah’s Ark, for instance, can’t be based off of anything legitimate), and it’s entirely possible that the stories behind some of the items are faked. And some is just absurd, such as the room dedicated to, of all things, motor homes, with detailed scale models and collections of “things found in motor homes.” It’s the pure absurdity of the collection, and lack of a common theme, that makes it so stunning.

  10. TurboFool says:

    I’ve never looked better trying to make sense of the MJT. At least I think I haven’t. This photo would fit well in the eye of one of those needles. ;)

    It really was a fascinating visit, and I’m sure I could have spent a great deal more time there if I were to really make the effort to read all of the writings. There was so much there that I found myself just jumping from sight to sight and only occasionally stopping to glance over the descriptions for a deeper understanding. I would definitely return there. I also think it would make a fantastic date, especially if you want to judge how your partner reacts to a wide variety of concepts. If it’s your cup of tea to be fascinated by the bizarre, it would quickly weed out those who aren’t.

    • Sgerbic says:

      I think that might be why Mark took me here within the first month we were dating. I agree with you though, its best to weed out the non-compatible right at the beginning if you are looking for a long-term relationship. If you don’t both agree on this kind of thing then at least you can see how you both handle the differences you might come across in your relationship.

  11. Wendy H. says:

    I had mentioned to Jarrett that I had read about the pictures made of cells from butterfly wings that could only be seen with microscopes before I ever went to the MJT… and so when I went there, and saw the room full of microscopes, I knew exactly what they were. But there are other examples of microscopic art, and even an annual contest. It’s nice to know that there is an appreciation of beauty among scientists such as the colorized pictures of the galaxies that Phil Plait posts on his Bad Astronomy blog, and these small world competition winners:
    http://www.microscopyu.com/smallworld/gallery/index.html

  12. ketty says:

    That’s true The Museum of Jurassic Technology is the museum which makes you think. The first thing that is that the museum is very confusing, showing exhibits that ranges from artifacts to trailer home dioramas. The museum seems to be “understood”, though it is unlikely that you will actually “understand” it even after leaving.
    http://www.thetop10guide.net/top-10-weird-museums.html