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First, I'd like to express my surprise and thanks at my last diary's apparent popularity. yes, it was a riff off of another diary which most old-timers will fondly remember, titled "INAPPROPRIATE CAPS" , which remains one of the best metadiaries ever written here.

Enough of that, however. I didn't come here to write a meta thank-you note to the community. I came here to write about pseudoscience.

It's no secret where I stand on the subject. Pseudoscience is crap. I'm actually doing the word science a disfavor by putting the prefix "pseudo" in front of it, but it's the best word for what I'm describing. Anyway, Pseudoscience is described as:

Pseudoscience is often characterized by the use of vague, exaggerated or unprovable claims, an over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation, a lack of openness to evaluation by other experts, and a general absence of systematic processes to rationally develop theories.
A significant portion of pseudoscience is in fact relatively harmless. Lots of people believe lots of very stupid things, and that's okay. It's perfectly okay to believe those ridiculous crystals they sell on Lifetime infomercials actually work.They do work, for the people who make them as they make a great deal of money off of pseudoscientific gullibility. And astrology? Sure. I have no real problem with the fact that millions of people actually believe the orbital motions of the planets around our local star actually controls the personalities of everyone on one of those planets although I certainly don't stop myself from saying "that's totally ridiculous, bro."

It's when one wants ones pseudoscientific belief to be treated as actual fact, and then taught everywhere as fact, and especially when it has measurable effects when promugated that it becomes harmful. Or, when it becomes harmful to oneself.

Example: The autism/vaccine "debate."

Andrew Wakefield's research into the hypothesis (now completely debunked) that vaccines cause autism was not and can not be reliably tested, which is necessary in any scientific endeavour.

His hypothesis and research were picked up in several mass-media outlets and blogs. As my last diary noted, much of the coverage used the format I used. Conspiritorial headlines. Hyperbolic extrapolation. Blockquotes to press releases. No actual link to the actual study.

Enter Jenny McCarthy. Once she got ahold of it (while trying to figure out what was "wrong" with her son), it was all over from there. Now, we have outbreaks of childhood diseases that were more or less effectively eradicated in the United States, Canada, and the UK, because people 1. fear autism and 2. still associate the vaccines with causing the condition despite long-running campaigns and a significant amount of research stating otherwise. It's worth noting that polio, which still is eradicated from the US, is just a 22-hour Mumbai-Los Angeles flight away.

And now Jenny McCarthy has her own death-toll website.

“I do believe sadly it's going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it's their f__ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They're making a product that's s__. If you give us a safe vaccine, we'll use it. It shouldn't be polio versus autism.”

Jenny McCarthy in Time Magazine, April 2009

Pseudoscience can kill.

Example: 188-Day Periodicity

At present, humanity is undergoing a boom. It’s the Last and Final Population Doubling and it’s accompanied with a concurrent building boom, the likes of which has never been seen and never will be seen again, largely because population will decline slowly or crash completely back to levels seen around 1850 sometime late this century (I make no predictions but the former is based on UN Projections which are offered in a range, and the latter is long-running internet speculation; I’ve yet to see any actual science on it although I’m sure it exists. Somewhere.)

Many of these people live in hazard prone areas, be it from floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, cyclones both tropical and extratropical, and the like. Earth was already fairly hostile to human life to begin with, but coupled with our population growth and reliance on fossil fuels, climate has begun to shift to make it even more hostile, not just to human life but to many more species.

There’s a belt that girds the Earth from Gibraltar to China that is exceptionally earthquake prone. It’s also home to the majority of the people on Earth. Since history has been recorded (in geological terms, a blink of an eye) this belt has moved time and time again and killed millions, from poorly engineered structures falling down. This isn’t the only locale on Earth that’s densely populated and vulnerable to earthquakes. We tragically saw the results of poor preparedness and dense populations in January of 2010 in Haiti. Even prepared locations such as Japan and New Zealand can get surprised—witness Kobe in 1995 and northeast Japan just last March, and the ongoing sequence in and around Christchurch, NZ.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could predict earthquakes? Give people warning that within a certain time frame they were absolutely going to get hit? Wouldn’t this save scarce mitigation funds? Building earthquake resistant structures costs a substantial amount of money and rehabilitating existing structures to survive a large quake costs even more. Many nations (Japan currently leads this effort) have spent funds and research on earthquake prediction and have largely concluded that while you can forecast within a certain time frame that a large and damaging quake will occur, you cannot predict with any accuracy that within a certain time frame, for example, an M7 earthquake will strike such-and-such fault. We likely won’t ever see the USGS/Weather Service issue an “Earthquake Warning for the Palmdale segment of the San Andreas Fault for May 22-24th”, although the USGS already does issue probability forecasts after moderate quakes occur.

(There have been “successes”, famously in China in 1975, but subsequent research suggests that there was a great deal of psychology involved. Earthquake prediction was globally a huge research deal in the 1970s. At about the same time, a previously aseismic region in northeast China “woke up.” There were many precursors—and this does happen in some cases---but it just so happened that a very large population was attuned to listen. See “Predicting the 1975 Haicheng Earthquake”. (PDF). This same region, sadly did not get any warning the following July when Tangshan was leveled and nearly one million people perished.)

There’s been a great deal of pseudoscience over the centuries about earthquake prediction (some of it that may have merit). The one that appears most popular at this moment on the internet is the 188 day periodicity.

Basically someone (a religious loon as best I can tell, who feels the earth is about to hit a large gravitational object, coincidentally on December 21, 2012 ) went through the global earthquake catalogue. This is where I’m forced to note that said catalogue is only about a century old, for data that’s not worth crap. It’s actually only really good from the mid 1970s and onward as seismograph networks expanded. Beyond that, you’re stuck with historical accounts which can be inaccurate and take considerable work to figure out exactly what happened (Lisbon 1755 is a good example) or just plain wrong (a 1737 earthquake near Calcutta that killed 300,000 actually never happened but still appears in earthquake catalogues.)

This person found a “pattern.” Basically, if you use a certain earthquake as your pivot point (the quake in question being the M8.8 2010 Chile quake) all the others show a periodicity of 188 days—that is, every 188 days (plus or minus 15), there’s a big-ass earthquake. They couple this with the “fact” that there are lots more earthquakes now than ever before ever and they’re increasing. They allege the USGS censors its data (it doesn’t).  It gets even worse when people who believe the Bible (and only their sect’s particular hacked-and-chopped-up version of the Bible) is literally true get in on this. Youtube and internet fora such as “Above Top Secret” and “Democratic Underground”  are full of this dreck and if you need to give yourself brain-damage, go right ahead and look for the videos and websites about this. There’s ever so much wrong with this.

There’s a bit of psychology going on here. There are more of us (7 billion and counting). There are more seismographs. There’s an omnipresent media culture that has, since 2004, splashed lurid images of leveled towns and cities from Indonesia, Thailand, India, Italy, Haiti, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan across our screens. And lastly, there’s our (sometimes, ok, often) unfortunate ability for pattern recognition. We find patterns in everything, even when they often don’t exist. This is called Apophenia.  This is why we see faces on Mars, animals in clouds, and Middle-Eastern (yet oddly Northern European in appearance) monotheist deities-that-are-also-trinities-but-not in toast, oil stains, and mold growths on walls. Your brain entirely makes all of it up and this happens to just about everyone, even skeptics. Apophenia is defined as:

Apophenia is the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.

The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad,[1] who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness", but it has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random nature in general, as with gambling, paranormal phenomena and religion.

We can thank evolution for this phenomenon.

There’s also a poor knowledge of geology, plate tectonics, and earthquakes in general. Earth is always moving. Always. If you have a smartphone with a data plan, download one of the many earthquake apps. Set that app to Global and M3 and set the app to buzz when an earthquake is detected and confirmed. Your phone will buzz all day and it will eventually get on your nerves. Despite media speculation (including a rather unfortunate article written by Simon Winchester last March), the number of earthquakes (even the large ones above M8) Earth is experiencing is entirely normal. It’s worth noting that a number of the very large quakes experienced since 2004 were aftershocks of the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean quake.

In short, it isn’t real.

It's also worth noting that there is a great deal of publically available research on the possibility of looking for signals that will tell us whether or not a major earthquake is about to occur within a very precise timeframe.  Despite the fact that most have concluded that we'll never get there, I do think this is an area that warrants continued research. In the meantime, we really owe it do ourselves and the future to construct buildings that can resist seismic activity, especially critical structures such as power plants, transportation infrastructure, water and sewage, schools, hospitals, and resource distribution networks. Mitigation, in my view, is much more important. That's not to say we can't do both (and we can), it's just that one should take priority over the other, as this can measurably save lives.

An excellent book is Predicting the Unpredictable by Dr. Susan Hough, if you want to learn more. I've recommended this book before.

These are just a couple examples of pseudoscience. I could write an entire diary series on this, and I just may from time to time.

Critical thinking is important, now more than ever, and we owe it to ourselves to make sure we're doing it. Schools don't teach it, people prefer to avoid it, and a major American politcal party seems to want to ban it explictly from their party platform.

I'll also try not to be an ass in those diaries where pseudoscience comes up. I know I have been in the past. There are better ways to tell people that they are wrong.

That's all I have.

Originally posted to SciTech on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 06:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Science Matters.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Yeah, I'm sorry to say I got into it (26+ / 0-)

    on Ye Olde Facebook, which is pretty much the worst place to discuss politics, over a friend-of-a-friend who was defiantly defending her decision not to vaccinate her children.  Lots of the usual BS.  "Not enough testing" was in there, I'm sure.  And "Big Pharma", our favorite bête noire.  Another friend was defending her with some woo about Toxins, and how there is no such thing as disease, and if we ate raw foods we wouldn't get polio in the first place, etc. etc.

    All from the left, which is doubly disappointing.  My conservative friends have a different set of crackpottery, but this is (mostly) ours.   Also: you're a Monsanto shill for posting this diary, terry.   The end.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 06:14:56 PM PDT

  •  and don't forget pretty much everything in the (11+ / 0-)

    Self Help/Positive Thinking areas of bookstores.

    Actually--I'm all in favor of Self Help (i.e. doing it yourself) but it's nearly all hogwash.

    A lot of evolutionary psych is hogwash, too.

    Although some of the questions of periodicity are interesting in light of things like chaos theory, 'e', population growth/decay, and other naturally occurring phenomena that do follow broad mathematical--if not directly predictable--patterns.

    •  I tried positive thinking to ger me over (6+ / 0-)

      clinical depression and The Virus They Never Actually Diagnosed but knew was real because  they could document the temp changes....when I was still sick and depressed, I just felt more depressed.  Antidepressants however worked.

      The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

      by irishwitch on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 07:48:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  positive thinking is fine for superficial things.. (6+ / 0-)

        like 'my room is a mess--MY LIFE IS RUINED!' ok, deep breath...

        But not for underlying issues.  Because it tries to delude the mind into thinking those root causes don't exist--but they do.  It's using shallow psychology to try to override deep psychology--and can cause more damage.

         Antidepressants can help because they're actually working with the neurochemistry--at least while you're using them.  I generally try to use old-school psychoanalysis on myself--it does take a lot of willpower, but it's great (and really interesting) to be able to practically map out which mental blocks I've been able to cure and which ones I still have to deal with...

        •  Agreed, positive thinking works with some smaller (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BachFan, Ahianne, wenchacha, terrypinder

          things like quitting helped my husband as he was going through withdrawal to think positively that the urges do not last forever, that the worst of it was over in a few weeks, and that his clothes, breath smelled better, his health was improving and saving money. Thinking in a positive manner helped him greatly.

          It also helps me when I am having a bad day and thinking how tomorrow can be better and when I get too tough on myself for not finishing a chore around the house..I think positively on how I will feel when it is completed  and how I am still a good and worthy person even if I failed to complete  something in the time frame I wanted to.

          But with mental illness and other major issues, more is needed than positive thinking..often medication and counseling is needed and recommended and works.

          Follow PA Keystone Liberals on Twitter: @KeystoneLibs

          by wishingwell on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 11:02:08 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  however not to say quitting smoking is small as (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            am in quit program now and hubby was 2 years ago and it was tough and big for us..but nothing like clinical depression or bipolar disorder or a chronic illness....all of which require medication and help.

            And it can help with people after rehab but the addict must go to meetings or counseling or both to keep clean on top of thinking complete the steps.

            Follow PA Keystone Liberals on Twitter: @KeystoneLibs

            by wishingwell on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 11:04:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Barbara Ehrenreich (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BachFan, ladybug53, terrypinder

          has written extensively about the downside of "positive thinking", particularly its tendency to quite easily mutate into victim-blaming.

          If you integrate fantasy with reality, you do not instantiate reality. If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse. --Mark Crislip

          by ebohlman on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 11:06:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  actually, contrary to 99% of people on the site (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I think the 'victim blaming' concept is overused, and there are too many knee-jerk reactions to it.  It's case-by-case.  Sometimes recognizing your own contributions to personal difficulties and working to understand them can be extremely empowering.  Not everything is about the outside world, and not everything is unchangeable.  But I try to approach it from a psychiatric perspective.

            But in general yes, I agree that positive thinking generally varies between unhelpful and negative, except in certain, more surface-level cases.

    •  What? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It seems obvious that psychological traits could be influenced by genetics. Isn't it?

      Thus, they would be subject to the evolutionary process.

      Am I misunderstanding what you mean by evolutionary psychology?

      GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

      by gzodik on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 10:13:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The problem is that (5+ / 0-)

        Evolutionary Psychology (capital letters are important) is just a rehash of the "sociobiology" from the 60s/70s which generally tried to defend our baser traits. EP (again, the caps are important) generally tries to come up with evolutionary justifications, often quite fanciful, for why Men Are Pigs and Nice Guys Finish Last.

        Although evolutionary psychology (small letters are important) is a legitimate field of study, all too often it comes up with supposed evolutionary explanations for behavior that are non-falsifiable and non-testable, commonly referred to as "just-so stories". Sometimes the proposed explanations are falsifiable, but their proponents don't realize that they've already been falsifiable (e.g. a much-ridiculed paper that proposed an evolutionary explanation, based on certain features of vision, for why pink is associated with girls and blue is associated with boys. The author was completely ignorant of the fact that this association occurs only in Anglo-American culture and is very recent (in the late 19th century, it was exactly the opposite: pink was a "boy color" and blue was a "girl color").

        If you integrate fantasy with reality, you do not instantiate reality. If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse. --Mark Crislip

        by ebohlman on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 11:16:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Interesting, thanks (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I wasn't familiar with the "capital letters" phenomenon.  I can see that it's an area that could be carried to ridiculous extremes.

          Evolution is a field where experts have been known to ignore the obvious.  There was an "authority" in the '60s (I forget his name) who said there was no such thing as group selection. As if he was completely ignorant of history. Your group shares a gene (for religion maybe?) that makes you fanatical and fearless in battle. So, you kill the other group, take their land and multiply. Obvious, yes?

          GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

          by gzodik on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 11:32:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  no--we understand it the same way--although (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        it's far too often approached in a very deterministic way, which I think is extremely simplistic and, often not scientifically helpful.

  •  Buying the History Channel (19+ / 0-)

    Pseudoscience is taking over formerly reputable media.

    I've been trying to condense some reading on anti-science today into a diary. You've inspired me.

  •  It bothers me when people (18+ / 0-)

    who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about glom onto something dangerous and run with it.

    The star of "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" has finally weighed in on the government's role in vaccinating children. And he's not happy.

    In an interview with a California news station (watch above), comic actor Rob Schneider, whose sitcom "¡Rob!" was recently canceled by CBS, inveighed against a new state law that would require parents to obtain a physician's signature in order to prevent their child from receiving vaccinations.

    Talking to News10 Sacramento, Schneider also endorsed the widely discredited theory that vaccines cause autism, and railed against what he sees as government overreach.

    "It's illegal," Schneider said. "You can't make people do procedures that they don't want. The parents have to be the ones who make the decisions for what's best for our kids. It can't be the government saying that. It's against the Nuremberg Laws." (Schneider likely means the UN's Nuremberg Principles, which dictate an individual's responsibility to follow government orders; the Nuremberg Laws were a series of anti-semitic statutes passed by Nazis.)

    On the topic of vaccine safety, Schneider said, "The doctors are not gonna tell you both sides of the issue... they're told by the pharmaceutical industry, which makes billions of dollars, that it's completely safe."

    "The efficacy of these shots have not been proven," he later continued. "And the toxicity of these things -- we're having more and more side effects. We're having more and more autism."

    Jenny McCarthy's legacy. Kids who might die because their parents get snowed by somebody they saw on TMZ into not vaccinating them. That other dimbulb celebrities know they will get attention for jumping on the bandwagon only makes me more frustrated and angry at this crap.

    The Deuce Bigalow Guy is Very Concerned About Autism and Vaccinations

    I am from the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party

    by LeftHandedMan on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 06:31:10 PM PDT

  •  Well done terry! (21+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the interesting diary.

    You might like a map of all the earthquakes since 1898. I see a pattern :)


    Stunning Map Reveals World's Earthquakes Since 1898

    If you've ever wondered where—and why—earthquakes happen the most, look no further than a new map, which plots more than a century's worth of nearly every recorded earthquake strong enough to at least rattle the bookshelves.

    The map shows earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or greater since 1898; each is marked in a lightning-bug hue that glows brighter with increasing magnitude.

    The overall effect is both beautiful and arresting, revealing the silhouettes of Earth's tectonic

  •  terry i love you (9+ / 0-)

    thank you!

    i just saw a tweet:  we have facts, they have fox.  

    i want science!  

  •  "Turtles All The Way Down" (13+ / 0-)

    With pseudoscience, the level of cognitive dissonance is what always amazes me. I've seen people make fun of conservatives for pushing creationism, but in the very next breath start talking about the healing powers of crystals, the "water memory" in homeopathy, or embrace antivax bullshit (e.g., the same Bill Maher that put out 'Religulous' has used his show to push anti-vaccine arguments & has discounted germ theory).

    Over at the Denialism Blog, they once had a great post about math cranks & squaring a circle.

    Mark Crislip recently wrote an interesting piece on mathematics crankery which bears upon just this phenomenon. Mathematics is a wonderful area to study crankery because as Crislip points out, mathematics is a field in which it is possible to distinguish between the possible and the impossible.
    In mathematics there are things that are impossible. Absolutely impossible. No ifs, ands, or buts. Impossible. Can’t be done no how no way. In the world of mathematics, things are not only impossible, they are proven truly impossible within the boundaries of the mathematical discipline.

    An example of mathematical impossibility is the quadrature of the circle, also called squaring the circle.

    It is impossible, using only a straight edge ruler and a compass, to construct a square with the same area as a given circle. It was proved to be impossible in 1882 by Lindeman. Not improbable or unlikely or very, very, very difficult. With in mathematical reality, it is impossible.

    But in his review of Mathematical Cranks he hits upon many of the commonalities between cranks....
    1) They are convinced that their opinion is superior to the accumulated opinion of 2000 years of mathematics and mathematicians. That hundreds of mathematicians have worked for hundreds of years on these problems and found no errors in the proof that it is impossible to square a circle is of no consequence. Despite the accumulated mathematical knowledge of uncounted mathematicians, they are convinced that their solution is the right solution. Everyone else for all of history has been wrong. There is a tinge of megalomania in all the correspondence, and some appear to me to be clinically insane.

    2) To accommodate their solutions, they are willing to alter reality to fit their proofs. There are solutions to squaring the circle, but they require a value of pi that is different that 3.14159265… Pi, for those that have forgotten, is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle and is a constant of the universe. For some circle squarers, Pi has a different value and all the mathematics that has confirmed the current value of pi is wrong. Others deny that pi exists or that the definition is meaningless, since they can construct a squared circle with pencil and paper, and send in the (flawed) construction.

    3) When errors of math or logic are pointed out, they respond not with understanding, but a redoubling of efforts to prove that their erroneous solution to the problem is actually correct. They are incapable of recognizing flaws in logic, or mathematics, or flaws that are in opposition to mathematical consistency. A crank cannot recognize their error because they cannot recognize that their reality differs from mathematical reality.

    4) Cranks are impervious to arguments based on mathematical reality. They do not recognize or understand that their solutions are in error because the solution contradicts known mathematical reality. They do not base their solutions on known mathematics, but on their own flawed understanding of mathematics.

    5) Cranks evidently send their ‘solutions’ to multiple mathematical departments and rarely receive a reply. This silence from academia is interpreted not that their solution is worthless, but that there is a conspiracy of Professors of Mathematics to keep their solution secret, to the detriment of human kind. Big Math, out to suppress the truth THEY don’t not want you to know.

    It is obvious to me that no matter what the field, the problem is crankery - the defective thought processes that allow people to believe in nonsense, no matter what obstacles reality throws in their path. Every description of every crank in every field ultimately boils down to these same factors. Cranks believe in something contrary to observable reality. They will do anything to prove it. When reality gets in their way, they ignore, subvert, lie, cheat, or obfuscate to create confusion. And when it's proven beyond all doubt they're wrong?

    That's when the conspiracies come out.

      •  Super Power Placebos! (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jlms qkw, nota bene, Ahianne, terrypinder

        But, know what's worse than consenting adults eating sugar pills and drinking water with powerful nothing in it?  

        Christian Science hospitals for children.  There was a diary about this a few years ago, and it was absolutely horrific.

        Children dying of childhood cancers and other horrible diseases, without any medical treatments, and without even painkillers, told harshly that they shouldn't moan or cry out in pain because that offends God.

        Those places deserve to be demolished with bulldozers and the people who run them locked up next to the likes of Jerry Sandusky.  The evil of that is just unimaginable.  

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 08:47:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  my son was teething when i lived in germany (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          G2geek, terrypinder

          i actually gave him homeopathic teething drops, because i knew it wouldn't harm him, and it made me feel better to do something.  

          why don't people like science?  

          •  OK, but that's harmless, and there's even... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jlms qkw, terrypinder

            ... a reasonable possibility of a placebo effect there, mediated by the nonverbal emotional communication between parent and baby.  That is, the emotion of "comforting / comforted" might in some way reduce the sensation of pain in babies much as it does in adults.

            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

            by G2geek on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 09:45:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  I loved the Denialism blog theory (9+ / 0-)

      on Crank Magnetism--that when you are a crank on one topic, you are more likely to buy into other crankery.

      But they were also the first ones to introduce me to Dunning-Kruger, which I think has more actual foundation and data: Revisiting why incompetents think they're awesome

      “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

      by mem from somerville on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 07:14:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  that phenomenon also works in reverse. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dirkster42, ebohlman, bevenro, indubitably

        I have lately noticed that a certain subset of atheists is having something that appears to be an increasing "auto-immune" response to anything that even remotely has the least suggestion of something to do with religion.  

        First it was creationism: OK, that's reasonable, atheists have good cause to criticize creationism.

        But next came the "natural law" theory of rights: because the words in the Declaration of Independence about humans being "created" with certain inalienable rights, is somehow supposed to support creationism!  Even though Jefferson & Franklin's assertion about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is empirically supportable all the way down to at least the level of insects and flatworms: one can do this purely with empirical science, no faith needed, no deities needed.

        Nevertheless, that's too allergenic for certain people so they immediately go right to the opposite end of the spectrum and heartily endorse the social contract theory of rights.  Even though that is amenable to all manner of abuses, as can be demonstrated with even the most basic consequentialist workup on the subject.

        But wait, there's more...!

        Now we find these particular atheists inveighing against the entire concept of free will, on the basis that anything other than a purely algorithmic classical universe opens a loophole for a deus to get into the machina.  

        So they posit a superdeterministic universe, that leaves no room for free will.

        But guess what?  Superdeterminism is unfalsifiable!

        So in the haste to condemn anything that might remotely be used in conjunction with religion, they end up inventing a new religion.  Based on faith, because it's unfalsifiable.

        Wonders never cease!

        Prediction: Next turn of the wheel, they will attempt to deny even the very existence of human consciousness.  Because it suggests the possibility that there might be such a thing as a "soul."  No kidding.  

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 09:37:37 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah - (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          indubitably, terrypinder

          I don't think that's going to earn you a huge fan club in this particular thread, but I liked it.

          If religion means a way of life, and life's necessities are food, clothing, and shelter, then we should not separate religion from economics. - Malcolm X

          by dirkster42 on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 10:10:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  thank; and i'm not concerned about fan clubs. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            dirkster42, indubitably

            I merrily think for myself and keep doing so despite having to duck an occasional flying rotten tomato:-)

            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

            by G2geek on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 05:57:02 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  I had a high opinion of you. (0+ / 0-)

          You got a link demonstrating the existence of these atheists with their "new religion"? How many of them are there? Two?

          GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

          by gzodik on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 10:23:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  here, read up: (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            bevenro, indubitably

            Here's one in particular.  Lengthy and feisty debate between myself and Seth Rightmer, who is an old friend of mine in the real world (when he was in the San Francisco area).  He's a ferociously smart guy and it also happens that we disagree strongly about a few things.  


            BTW, I'll pre-emptively say it's not a valid counterpoint to tell me I've only shown you one or two at this link.  If you want me to show you a dozen or two dozen, please let me know in advance how many will suffice and where I can send the bill for my search time.

            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

            by G2geek on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 06:03:07 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Interesting discussion. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              G2geek, terrypinder

              But I think you and Seth just need to agree on a definition of the word "rights".

              So, you think this shows that he is practicing a new religion??? If you think logic is a religion, maybe.

              GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

              by gzodik on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 07:25:29 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  definitions... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                I researched the definition that Jefferson & Franklin used: it meant "inherent characteristics of."  What I see as the implicit assumption in Seth's definition is "legal attributes of."  

                And what I consider to be religion, is the belief in superdeterminism that also denies the existence of free will.  Superdeterminism is unfalsifiable: therefore it's not science.  At minimum it's philosophy, but when applied to the fundamental questions of human existence it's religion.

                This is not to criticize religion or philosophy, but to say that we should be quite clear about when we're doing religion, and when we're doing philosophy, and when we're doing science.  

                "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                by G2geek on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 10:40:44 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Philosophy, religon, or science? (0+ / 0-)

                  We hear a lot about nature and nurture, determining what we are.

                  But I haven't heard of a third option. There isn't one, is there? Your DNA and your upbringing, that's it.

                  But here's the thing -- we didn't get any choice about either one. Pure dumb luck, both of them.

                  And that means that no one is responsible for anything. Doesn't it?

                  GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

                  by gzodik on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 11:00:47 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

        •  geek, ordinarily I love your posts, but.... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          G2geek, terrypinder

          there's a lot in this one particular one that I either don't understand, don't think follows, or is just plain incorrect.

          The bit about accusing atheism of being a religion is particular galling....that's such a vapid cliche. I get so tired of dealing with that.

          Plus I don't even know who the "they" you keep referring to are. Dawkins and Hitchens? Bill Maher? Random people on the internet? Why do they get to speak for "atheists?"

          To hell with repeal-and-replace. The president should run on maintain-and-improve.--Pierce

          by nota bene on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 11:10:51 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  that's not what I was doing.... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nota bene, indubitably, terrypinder

            I'm well aware of the offensiveness of categorizing atheism as a religion: roughly similar to the offensiveness of anti-marriage nuts telling me that I had the same right to marry someone of the opposite sex as anyone else did!  

            The assertion I'm making is very specific (similar to the distinction between "a" Higgs Boson and "the" Higgs Boson:-)

            The specific assertion in question has the following parts:

            1)  Some atheists deny the existence of free will.

            2)  This they do because to them free will sounds like a loophole with which to sneak a deus into the machina.

            3)  They argue the nonexistence of free will based upon a philosophical position known as superdeterminism

            4)  Superdeterminism entails that every event in the entire universe could be predicted with sufficient knowledge of starting conditions, including every decision that every living person would ever make.

            Now here's where I pop up with my counter-arguement:  

            5)  Superdeterminism is unfalsifiable.  No experiment can be performed to falsify it, because any experimental outcome can a-posterori be held to be a superdetermined result.  

            6)  Beliefs that are held in the absence of empirical facts or at least the plausibility of falsification, are by definition articles of faith.  (As well, belief in a deity: any entity that is omniscient and omnipotent can confound any experiment performed to test its existence, therefore no such experiment can be valid, a-priori.  BTW I'm a hardcore empiricist and I don't generally use a-priori reasoning, but it clearly applies here.)

            7)  Faith is the cognitive foundation of religion, by definition.

            8)  Therefore superdeterminism is not a scientifically supportable belief, but instead is a belief in the same category as religious beliefs.  

            9)  Therefore the belief that humans do not have free will at all, is also not a scientifically supportable belief, but instead is a belief in the same category as religious beliefs.  

            10)  Creating an ontology based upon unfalsifiable propositions is effectively creating a religious belief system.

            11)  Atheists who deny the existence of free will are engaged in promoting a belief system that is equivalent to religion, thereby contradicting themselves.


            Does that make sense yet?  

            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

            by G2geek on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 06:21:56 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  actually, yes, thanks for typing that out (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              indubitably, terrypinder

              I'll have to chew thru the thread at your link later, but I've got it bookmarked.

              I have never been comfortable w/ the idea of determinism, but the idea that it is unfalsifiable is a new one on me. Very interesting.

              To hell with repeal-and-replace. The president should run on maintain-and-improve.--Pierce

              by nota bene on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 01:50:14 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  and here's an example: (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Read through this lengthy thread to see this in action.  BTW Seth Rightmer is a friend of mine in real life from back when he was in the SF Bay Area; we also have our feisty debating points:


            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

            by G2geek on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 06:23:55 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Free will is a weird idea. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          G2geek, terrypinder

          I generally don't know what the concept of free will means for me on a personal level.  And I don't know what it would look like to not have it.  If I could recognize an action as being taken on the basis of my having no free will, I could simply avert my non-free-will by taking an opposite action, thus proving I have free will after all.

          I generally regard the concept of free will as being functionally useless, since I do not know what could possibily distinguish it from an alternative.  If I knew I certainly didn't have free will, or certainly did, I don't see how that would impact anything about my life or my feelings.  Therefore, I don't consider it an idea worthy of much consideration or thought.

          It just sounds like a not well defined idea.  My personal theory was the whole idea was concocted as a workaround to 'fix' the Problem of Evil.  It's not a solution for it, but that's getting into another topic, so I'll leave it here.

          •  sure you can, like this: (0+ / 0-)

            Ever get into an emotional state that compels you to say or do certain things while some other element in your awareness is reminding you that you shouldn't "go there"...?

            Emotions are chemicals; chemicals are classical physics; classical physics is deterministic ("Newton's precision clockwork").  

            Cognition ("thinking" as distinct from "feeling") appears to be driven by neural computation that entails both classical and quantum mechanical elements (Penrose & Hameroff, "orchestrated objective reduction" theory, with a couple dozen falsifiable hypotheses currently being tested).  

            The easiest way to recognize "not-free will" is to spot the instances where your decisions and/or behavior have been driven by emotional states.  

            This provides an easy to recognize contrast with instances where your decisions and/or behavior are not driven by emotional states.  And with some effort you can spot the ones where you are actually engaging in choice-making rather than in reacting to feelings.  

            Once you've got experience spotting both of those types of cases, you can start looking for others and recognizing them, and hypothesis-testing them as well.

            My tentative conclusion is that free will operates in the system to varying degrees: varying by trait in populations, and by state in any given individual.  

            The functional use of the concept of free will is as a cognitive tool, one among many.  

            And I would also suggest (please don't take this as an ad-hom attack, it is not) that your degree of self-knowledge is rather limited, by way of your statement that "If I could recognize an action as being taken on the basis of my having no free will, I could simply avert my non-free-will by taking an opposite action, thus proving I have free will after all."   (emphasis added)  What you just described isn't free will but reflex reaction, which is also locally deterministic.  Knowing only that fact about you, someone could manipulate you rather completely until you figured out what they were doing.

            The value of having free will in your cognitive tool kit is the same as that of having any other tool in any other tool kit: it gives you capabilities that you would not otherwise have.  Who would knowingly turn down having additional capabilities?  

            It's like trying to improve gas mileage by removing the jack and spare tire from your car to reduce the weight of the vehicle on the road: the tradeoff is that you can end up getting stuck, whereas if you had the tools you would not get stuck.  (And a difference of about 25 lbs. of gross vehicle weight is hardly significant for fuel efficiency compared to speed and other factors.)  

            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

            by G2geek on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 06:39:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I remain skeptical this concept is useful (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              terrypinder, G2geek

              I don't see how that's a useful definition.

              Are you suggesting that free will is determined by a certain magnitude of emotional control?  If so, does that imply a continuum of free will, rather than a binary state?  How would I know that my feeling of free will isn't simply another emotional state?

              If it is a condition I can learn to identify in my own thought process, and feel is there, how would I convince a skeptic I'm experiencing it?  How could I tell if anyone besides me had free will?  What predictions does the framework of free will provide us to test?

              Science by its nature requires rigorous defintional standards, and a community to operate within.  All of these questions are necessary in order to establish that.  If the concept can't be resolved satisfactorily and tested in some way, it will be ignored by science.

              As for the idea that free will is the same as non-determinism?  I don't accept that either.  There are interpretations of physics models that allow for non-deterministic events in physics (particle decay).  Though the decay of an individual atom may be non-deterministic, no scientist asserts this means the atom has free will.  (For one, atom decay does follow statistical trends.)

              Scientists do contest whether or not the universe is deterministic.  Not whether there is free will.  They are separate ideas.

              Finally, people studying the brain and psychology have a rather large body of work indicating the human mind is structured out of an extremely intricate network of many, many complex systems all doing different tasks and working in tandem to create different aspects of our intelligence.  Many different aspects to our experience and personality can be permanently altered by brain damage, or drugs.

              This last point, of course doesn't prove we are deterministic, but it does seem to be compelling evidence that our brains determine those things most important about us, and that damage to our brains WILL result in specific kinds of changes to what we are, and impact our decisions.  That is evidence that we, on a fundamental level are as deterministic as the chemistry we know and the celestial bodies we see.

              •  i'll need to reply to this later today or... (0+ / 0-)

                .... this evening, because it deserves a thoughtful reply rather than a perfunctory one, and I have to scoot now for most of the rest of the day.  So I'll be back this evening and reply to this.  

                "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                by G2geek on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 10:42:21 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  Re. your points in detail: (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                (OK, I'm back; now you see why I wanted to defer this until I had time...:-)

                Emotional states:

                Emotions are the subjective sensations of the effects of chemicals on neurons in the brain.  For all relevant intents and purposes we can reasonably assert that chemistry is deterministic, though it may be complex and chaotic.

                Yes, free will is a continuum, and thanks for highlighting that point (congratulations, you've just made it into the paradigm; this is how my views evolve: you pointed out a facet of this that I had neglected in my use of binary examples to make a point).  For example an individual might have a desire for three pieces of chocolate cake but decide to only eat one in order to not gain weight: the emotion of desire for sensual gratification, conflicts with their rational understanding of the effects of over-eating, and the person decides to limit their emotional/sensory gratification.

                The feeling of free will can become conflated with emotional states, for example when someone behaves "defiantly."  Parent: "Eat your vegetables!"  Kid:  "No, I don't want to and you're not going to make me!"  It would seem that the kid is attempting to assert his/her will.  But there is a large component of emotion at work here, that confounds the assessment of what's going on.  

                The key to figuring out what's what in one's own subjective experience is to look for instances where one makes deliberate choices that are not influenced by obviously emotional dynamics.  Power-conflicts are an example of obviously emotional dynamics, but there are many others.  

                The place I suggest that people start, is by looking for the clear contrast between choices made in the absence of obvious emotional states, and reflex reactions to emotional dynamics of whatever kind.  Being able to spot the obvious ones should (in theory) make it easier to spot more and more subtle ones over time.  By analogy, using a lot of a particular spice in a food makes it easy to notice the effect of that spice on the taste of the food; and then over time one learns to recognize subtler applications of that spice in various foods.  

                (There are counter-examples to "starting with a strong instance": for example the Shulgin Assay Method for assessing the effects of new psychoactive compounds, is to deliberately start by administering a dose that's considered too small to have an effect.  This is done from a deliberate excess of caution since a compound may be unexpectedly strong or have unexpected main or side effects.)

                This is not to say that emotions are not a good thing, or should be ignored, or anything like that.  Emotions are one of the most important aspects of the human experience, and are a valuable feedback system on choices and behaviors.  

                The key is for people to learn how to exercise choice, or at least stand back and question themselves:  "Should I let myself fall in love with this person?", "Should I eat three pieces of chocolate cake?", "Which of two job offers should I accept?", etc.  

                I consider emotions to be "primary subjective data," along with sensory impressions, the experience of remembering memories, the content of thoughts, and so on.  That is, it is subjectively true that one sees X, feels Y, remembers Z, thinks Q, etc.  This does not mean (for example) that it is objectively true that "the object you see is red," what it means is that "all other factors equal, when you say that you perceive the color red pertaining to the object, it can be reasonably assumed that you are truthfully reporting the sensation."  (Note the caveat for "all other factors equal.")

                How to convince a skeptic of the existence of free will:  

                In general the problem is how to ascertain the nature of another person's subjective experience.  For example both of us eat a chocolate chip cookie and say "these are good cookies."  But it may be that we each like something different about the cookie: the taste, the consistency, the amount of chocolate chips, or something else.  Without asking further questions, we can't be sure whether our experiences are similar or very different.

                Objectively all we can go on are behaviors, ranging from very subtle nonverbal elements such as facial expression and tone of voice, to the words someone uses, to their overt bodily behaviors such as doing more of something or doing less of something.  

                In theory most of this can be operationalized as experimental variables.  A simple example is to offer someone two types of snacks: we can ascertain which one they prefer because they eat more of it.  A more complex example is to observe how peer influence in a social group alters the opinions and decisions of members of the group.  

                On the assumption that people with normally healthy brains who were raised in the same culture, have similar responses to stimuli, we can make reasonable inferences from behavior.  

                There's more to be said about this under the following topic.

                Science & rigorous definitions:

                I am ferocious about good operationalization of variables.  Poor operationalizations are commonplace in the social sciences and that's highly annoying.  When I offer formal experimental designs as thought-experiments, I attempt to be meticulous about all of the elements of the designs (and will happily tighten up any protocol to meet reasonable criticisms).  In casual political and social discourse I usually don't bother to get into that level of detail because it would be a digression.

                So: how to operationalize free will?  This is a tough one, more difficult with humans than with simpler animals.  What Maye et. al. did with fruit flies was use "turning-in-flight behavior," operationalized as rotational torque on a strain gauge on a shaft to which the fly was attached inside of a visually uniform enclosure.  I'll readily admit I thought that was brilliant.  And it's also darn difficult to do anything like that with humans.  

                For humans, we would have to come up with an example of behavior that is not loaded with emotional and social connotations, and we would have to come up with a way to translate it into a statistically meaningful measurement.  

                I will readily admit here that I can't think of a good one off the top of my head, because I haven't been asked to come up with a controlled experimental design for this yet.  So far for humans I've been operating on what may as well be called anecdotal observations of instances where behavior appears to be deterministic and instances where behavior appears to be freely-willed.  Thanks for giving me a poke on this one, which generalizes to: all claims about cognitive and behavioral variables should be treated as "extraordinary claims" for which strong supporting evidence is required.

                Back to physics...

                I know about "hidden local variables" models and other examples that postulate a deterministic universe, and the debate over the outputs of entanglement experiments, and so on.  And obviously nobody would assert that random decay of particles is evidence that they have free will!  If nothing else, we have good tests for randomicity.  

                The relationship of free will to physical determinism is pretty straightforward:  

                a.  If the universe is superdetermined, such that QM-level indeterminacy is either locally determined via hidden variables or does not have a means of translating to effects upon classical-scale phenomena, then we can reasonably assert that all of the operations of the brain/mind are also subject to these characteristics and are therefore themselves deterministic.  

                b.  If indeterminacy is an accurate description of the physical universe, such that QM-level phenomena are not locally determined via hidden variables, and that nondeterministic QM effects do have a means of translating to effects upon classical-scale phenomena, then we can reasonably assert that this does not forbid nondeterministic events occurring in brains/minds, and that we cannot rule out the existence of nondeterministic effects upon cognition and behavior.  

                And now back to brains & minds:

                The item above, about physical indeterminacy "not forbidding" nondeterministic elements of brain functioning, still leaves us with the thorny question, "what is the mechanism of free will?"  That is part of what David Chalmers calls the "hard question of consciousness."  What is the mechanism of consciousness itself?  

                We have decent answers for "easy questions" such as "how does visual perception work in the brain?" and "what are the neurochemical correlates of (some) emotional states?"  But those answers don't suffice for (or extrapolate to) answers to the "hard question" of the mechanism of consciousness itself.  

                At present this is still an unknown, though progress is being made on some fronts (neural computation).  And I will admit that my belief that naturalistic explanations will be found, is an article of "faith" in the full sense of the word: I believe that's correct even though the conclusive experiments haven't yet been found or performed.  

                Your last two paragraphs reflect on findings about the "easy questions" of consciousness.  And the fact that we can demonstrate causal relationships between brain events and "mind events" (subjective experience) and behavioral events, only demonstrates that traditional "substance dualism" is falsified.  We can reasonably assert that the mind is not wholly unrelated to the functioning of the brain.  

                The key findings in that regard (falsification of traditional substance dualism) were a) the demonstration that certain compounds (LSD) have profound effects on consciousness even at doses that are undetectable in the blood, and b) the finding that certain subjective states (dreaming) have very tight neurological correlates (emergent stage 1 sleep, as recorded on the EEG).  

                There are also c) some others such as Steve LaBerge's findings on lucid dreaming (self-aware consciousness and exercise of will during the dream state as correlated with EEG output) that demonstrate very tight correlations between "mind-events" and "brain-events," though strictly speaking some of these (such as LaBerge) don't entail the requirement that the causal arrow point only in one direction.  

                However all of these findings so far don't address the "hard question" of the mechanism of consciousness in the first place.  I tend to believe ("tend to") that a good answer to the hard question will also point directly toward a good answer to the question of the mechanism of free will.  

                But here's an interesting puzzle to ponder:

                EEG biofeedback: the ability of individuals to train themselves to modify their own brain activity in a manner that is demonstrable in EEG output.  This was first discovered in the 1970s and has since become a common treatment method in stress-reduction clinics.  

                In a strictly Gödelian sense, it shouldn't be possible for the brain to modify its own activity: that should require going "meta" to some level of input from outside the system (and the signals from the biofeedback equipment are not sufficient to meet this test).  Yet it appears that the brain is doing just that (modifying itself from within the system), and/or it appears that there is a causal arrow from mind to brain.  Intellectual honesty requires conceding that this would seem to be a holdout for a thin sliver of substance dualism.  

                However in any case, I have to stick with my "faith" that naturalistic answers to the hard problem of consciousness will be found.  If nothing else, that provides the basis for doing "something" about it, whereas consigning consciousness to a "supernatural" realm (strictly defined: above or outside of nature) would be defeatist.  

                What do you think about this so far?

                BTW, if you want to pick this up outside of DK, my public email address is:  
                g2g-public01 (at) att (period) net

                "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                by G2geek on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 11:19:29 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  This took a long time to compose. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  Thanks for the thought put into the reply.  I think I can agree with most of what you said, and the effort is obvious and appreciated.  However, I do have a few comments to make regarding this topic.

                  If I am understanding you correctly, you're saying you think of free will as an ability to suppress emotional impulses and behavior in favor of judging choice on a more rational basis.  This is a rather nice trait to have, and different people (and animals) can accomplish this to varying degrees of success at different times.  I don't think I've heard of that being described as free will before, hence the confusion.

                  If that is what you mean, there's a region of the brain that actively suppresses impulsive, emotional behavior.  It's larger in humans than chimpanzees, bigger in dogs than cats, and can be damaged and hinder peoples' ability to not act impulsively.  Treating free will as a continuum makes this easier to speak about.

                  I'm not entirely certain this is what you meant by free will, though.  Although allow me to move onto your other statements.

                  I would say that it is probably impossible to demonstrate whether the universe is deterministic or non-determistic, so on this level it is largely a matter left to philosophy, not science.  Although I do think that case a) is the 'simpler' case of the two, so I apply Ockham's razor.

                  In regards to part b) of your statement on the interplay between free will/consciousness and determinism, I agree.  However, I would suggest that the occurance of non-deterministic effects in the brain doesn't imply any sort of ability to choose.  In fact, it seems to me that it would hinder it.  If our brain could be impacted by an event that is by definition random, then I don't see how we could have the ability to make choices.  Our decisions would be contingent on how the random effects happened to play out.

                  The only thing I can think of to 'escape' this apparent dilemma is to go into kookville and assert that the mind and consciousness is the sum of the non-deterministic events in the brain.  But that would mean that our personalities control non-deterministic events in our vicinity, and thus, eliminate the non-deterministic events we were considering in the first place.  This is the sort of thing that people clueless about quantum mechanics seem to like to think it means.

                  Most of my experience with philosophy is in regards to cranks and science.

                  If you'll indulge me, I'd like to briefly explain why I don't consider the problem of what causes consciousness very interesting.  It may help you understand my position better.

                  Suppose a driver hits and kills a stranger on the road, wrecking their vehicle in the process.  When the driver is examined in a hospital, it is discovered that they are intoxicated.

                  For contrast, suppose the driver is instead diagnosed as having had the first siezure of their life.

                  These two situations are very different.  For the first, we know alcohol impairs an individual's ability to drive, so we know that while the accident was not certain, it could have been entirely because of a poor choice (or impulse) by the driver, (to become intoxicated in the first place, or to drive).

                  For the second, we know that siezures can hit anyone, at any time of their life, with no warning.  This person had made no conscious decision that led to the event.

                  In other words, knowledge about the world completely changes our understanding of fault and blame.  One person had likely (though not certainly) made a choice that led to this event and the other had no choice at all.

                  Although humans are complex, there are numerous situations we have discovered where a person's actions may not be entirely their choice or control.

                  Although a siezure may seem to be an extreme example, I would like to point out that at one point some cultures thought siezures and other mental disorders were caused by demonic possession.  The idea was that the person invited those things into themselves through sin or such, as in, a conscious choice.  Not saying that's your position (it's clearly not).  Just that we certainly understand consciousness better now than we used to.

                  Scientific knowledge, completely dispels the notion that we have choice all the time, as you noted yourself.  Sometimes, what we call consciousness is completely hindered, and I find that fact, and the circumstances in which it does to be more interesting than the question of what consciousness is or what makes it.

                  There are real limits to our consciousness that science gives us.  Every time a new limit is discovered, it pins down what consciousness is a little further.  It also explains a little more about what our consciousness is not.

                  Personally, I'm comfortable with the idea that my consciousness may just be a stubbornly persistent illusion, my mind entirely a product of my brain, and nothing more.  But I can understand if it might bother someone else to think so.

                  Anyway, I hope I didn't drift too far off topic, and my explanation makes sense.

                  As for the example you cited in regards to the EEG, I don't really get why someone couldn't learn to change their brain state in the way you describe.  Blind people can use their visual cortex for spatial intelligence tasks, for instance.  The brain is very adaptable.

                  As for the suggested implication for a mind -> brain impact, well...  It would be nice if such a link existed, since stroke and brain damage victims could potentially benefit greatly from such a discovery.  I doubt it though, for the same reason.

                  I regard having to accept such a possibility of a form of dualism as similar to having to concede that the supernatural isn't proved false.  As far as I can see, there's no reason at all to assume dualism based on the evidence available.  I try to only accept and argue for those things I have sufficient reason to think is true.  I'm sure I make mistakes occasionally, though.

                  BTW, I generally do not prefer to use email, but feel free to send me a note if you'd like.  I rarely check my email.  Maybe 1 or 2 times a month, so this is way more reliable.

                  •  Hi Paul.... (0+ / 0-)

                    Thanks for taking the time to read & reply; this is a very interesting exercise.

                    Free will:

                    Definition of free will: the ability to make decisions and initiate behaviors that are not predictable by an external observer.   (This still doesn't solve for how to operationalize it effectively for experiments.)  

                    The reason I use emotionalism as a counterexample is because emotional responses are very often predictable by an outside observer, and the mechanism of emotions (neurochemistry) is within a category of natural phenomena (chemistry) that is known to behave deterministically.  

                    Clearly I need to start spelling that out more clearly too!  In fact I'm working on a more rigorous write-up of this stuff (and much more) and getting serious advice from someone else here who has hardcore science track record (Robert Fuller; studied physics under John Wheeler) who has taken an interest in my work in this area.  With regard to this aspect, you got there first!:-)

                    One of my points in using emotionalism as a counterexample is that it's something that can be operationalized into subjective exercises that people can do in order to observe these phenomena (keyword "mindfulness").   Another is that it's clearly observable by third parties:  strong emotions produce predictable behaviors.  

                    Suppressing emotions (or impulses) to make decisions does not guarantee that decisions and behavior are not predictable to outside observers.  Soldiers are trained to not feel hatred toward enemy forces because hatred screws up judgement; however, soldiers predictably fire their weapons on order from chain of command.  A worker with a busy schedule will suppress impulses to do distracting activities in order to get their work done; and their behavior (sitting at desk doing work) is predictable by an outside observer.

                    Demonstrating the existence of free will in an organism (including humans) does not require that all of the organism's behavior, or even a substantial part of it, is predictable by outside observers.  Fruit flies show apparent voluntary behavior for turning-in-flight, but their mating behavior (for example) entails predictable elements.  

                    Universe deterministic or not:

                    As with free will, we don't have to demonstrate that all phenomena are nondeterministic in order to end up with a universe in which indeterminacy plays a role and has an effect on observables.   We just have to find enough cases to falsify determinism.  

                    Now assume we have a nice file full of what appear to be random data from radioactive decay: what's the more parsimonious hypothesis to account for them?  To my mind, superdeterminism can be excluded in the same manner as we can exclude hypotheses involving deities (unfalsifiable therefore outside the scope of science).  What we're left with is the conclusion that the universe has nondeterministic phenomena that have effects on the classical scale (e.g. radioactive decay triggers the meter on a Geiger counter).  

                    Either Ockham favors nondeterminism in this case, or Ockham is OK with deities!  

                    Nondeterministic events in the brain:

                    Clearly consciousness is not solely the product of nondeterministic events in the brain.  I tend to believe that nondeterministic events play a role: how large or how small remains to be ascertained through experiments.  One fairly common anecdotal example that serves to illustrate, is to ask someone to say a random number, and then the next day ask them to say a random number: chances are we'll get two different numbers.  We can reasonably infer that a random process (or constrained random process, which is not the same as a determined process, e.g. "pink noise" is "constrained white noise" but is still stochastic) was involved in choosing the numbers on the consecutive days.

                    How did you get from that issue to "But that would mean that our personalities control non-deterministic events in our vicinity..."? and what do you mean by that?

                    Re. the problem of consciousness is "not interesting" to you: that's OK, we all have varying degrees of interest in various issues and questions.  I find it interesting because there's a large "hard question" that doesn't have any particularly good answer yet.

                    Re. cranks & kookville:  I'm sure if we wrote out the complete lists of everything we each believe, each of us would spot things in the other's beliefs that we thought were kooky to one degree or another.  Complete consensus of belief systems isn't necessary for consensus at the big-picture level (else we go down another kooky trail, to dogma and orthodoxy).  In my outlook, empirical results count for more than social attitudes (e.g. no amount of majorities voting for creationism will make it so).  

                    Back to nondeterministic events in the brain:  One thing we know empirically, and this is pretty well settled, is that brains have "noisy neurons" whose firing in response to a stimulus is 50% and unpredictable.  So there's one way that nondeterminism gets into the brain.  However if that particular type of nondeterminism was sufficiently large, ordinary awareness would be much more like an LSD trip.  In any case we know or can reasonably assume that noisy neurons are a very small minority of the total population of neurons.  

                    Impairment and demon-haunted minds:

                    Today we also recognize that alcoholism is a disease, specifically a metabolic abnormality in the way the body processes alcohol.  So if the drunk driver has a medical history suggestive of alcoholism, we might conclude that they had a relapse and were no longer operating voluntarily.  

                    Thereby we might not put them in prison, but in my scheme of things we would suspend their right to purchase or consume alcohol for five years.  There would be a letter A on the driver's license for "alcohol allowed", and the judge would take a hole-punch and punch it out until a new license without one could be issued.  (There would also be a letter M for marijuana allowed, same thing, etc.)

                    But this gets us into the whole question of "empirical vs. social" that I find so damn vexing.  

                    Just as political/social attitudes are polarizing around a number of other topics (religion, climate, etc.), I have also observed polarization around free will, as follows:  

                    Conservatives have a goal of asserting that individuals are solely responsible for their own behavior.  This plugs into issues related to capitalism and wealth, and into issues related to crime and punishment.  Among other things, conservatives like to punish.  

                    Liberals have a goal of asserting that individuals are not responsible for a wide range of their personal behaviors, but instead that those behaviors are a product of social conditions.  This plugs into the same issues: for example that poverty isn't the result of moral failing.  And as for crime & punishment, liberals generally don't like to punish quite as much as conservatives.  

                    So here we have two sets of contrasting goals, and they operate teleologically: people work backward from those goals to their assertions about the nature of human behavior, and then very often find "rationales" to "explain" their beliefs.  

                    Now this is where things get really weird:  very often we find conservatives arguing for free will, and liberals arguing for determinism, both very predictably arising from their ideological goals!  Personally I find that unacceptable: it's "a-priori thinking," it's letting the tail wag the dog, and it's obscurantist in a very fundamental way.  One cannot under any circumstances deny the existence of empirical findings.  Sometimes those findings support conservative beliefs, sometimes they support liberal beliefs, and that's the way it goes.  

                    Consciousness hindered.

                    There's a wide range of altered states, some of which cause obvious impairments in functioning, others cause changes that aren't clearly impairments, and others cause improvements in certain functions.  

                    This is basically Charlie Tart's (U.C. Davis, Prof. Emeritus) arguement against the phrase "higher states of consciousness."  The right question to ask is "what state is preferable for what task?"  For example marijuana intoxication is arguably a preferable state for the task of improvising in a jazz music performance.   (I would argue that mindfulness meditation is a preferable state for recognizing one's "objectivity-compromises" but that's another topic for another day.)

                    "Stubbornly persistent illusion"... except that it produces clear advantages in natural selection, that would not occur if it was illusory.  In any case you know that you are sitting here reading this, and you can say "I think, therefore I am," which wouldn't occur if all of this was illusory.

                    I think the term you're actually looking for there is not "illusion" but "epiphenomenon."  It makes more sense to assert that consciousness is epiphenomenal than to assert that it's illusory.  Now I happen to not agree with that position but neither of us is going to consider the other a kook for that particular difference:-)


                    To be quite clear, I am not asserting substance dualism, per my points about LSD (chemical effects) and the EEG findings regarding sleep (electrical effects).  Those two findings pretty well killed substance dualism at least in its more obvious form as advanced by a range of socially-accepted belief systems.  

                    Nor am I asserting that Gödel a-priori supersedes empirical findings; in general I don't like a-priori thinking because it gets in the way of seeking out empirical tests of whatever kind.  (Funnily enough, there was plenty of a-priori thinking to the effect that biofeedback control of certain bodily functions was not possible; the empirical results pretty well defeated that position.)

                    It's just an interesting way to ask a question; and I have a pretty strong tendency toward Keatsian negative capability, so in general I like checking out "contrary hypotheses."  

                    Since we know that people can voluntarily modify their EEG output, the next logical step is to seek out the mechanism.  That should be fairly easy to do with today's tools including PET scan as well as 32-channel EEG.  Though if we find that the desired change in EEG output appears to happen globally and simultaneously, with no clear progression from one area to another, well, uh, er, uh, "I think we might have a problem here!":-)

                    Though, in the event that any type or degree of substance dualism was found, I would argue against a "supernatural" interpretation of it.  Anything that can be treated as an experimental variable is by definition natural, not supernatural.  That or I'm just stubbornly refusing to concede territory to "supernatural."

                    One can't disprove "supernatural" because by definition it's not falsifiable.  But what one can do is simply exclude it from consideration in any testable hypothesis or scientific theory, and that's sufficient (a-priori, but none the less!).  


                    I'm intrigued as to why you don't like email.  By that I assume you don't mean the DK messaging system, which is pretty bad, but email generally.  Clearly we're having text communication here in public, so it's not about text communication.  The reason I'm asking is, professionally I'm a telecoms eng., and I have an ongoing interest in finding out things about peoples' preferences in user interfaces and so on.  

                    "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                    by G2geek on Thu Jul 05, 2012 at 08:44:31 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Determinism and models and stuff (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      A couple final comments on that definition of free will, which I suspect we'll just have to agree to disagree on.

                      I don't have reason to think my behavior isn't possible to predict for all outside observers, with finite knowledge.  No known model can predict human behavior (as humans are very complex), but to think it is impossible is something I don't think is warranted.

                      As far as I'm concerned, whether or not I am impossible to completely model as a physical system, it doesn't change the fact that nobody can do it right now.  I don't really expect a direct answer to this question to be forthcoming either.  Of course, suspecting that I will never know can be construed as answering the question of free will in the affirmative, but I wouldn't really say that.  I just don't know.

                      Whether or not anyone ever can is unimportant to me.  There are rather simple physical problems with counter-intuitive complexity to them.  Any definitive confirmation that humans don't have free will (the case that would have to be demonstrated) is unlikely to occur in my lifetime, or the lifetime of anyone I will ever meet.

                      That's why I don't really think the idea of free will is very interesting, in as short a case as I can make.  I'm pretty much never going to know.

                      As for the universe being deterministic or not, I suspect it might be, but don't think it could ever be proven.  The reason for that, is that we have two cases.  Either the universe is deterministic and not fully understood.  Or it is non-deterministic.  I don't know how someone could possibly tell the difference.

                      Well, there is one way.  Suppose there is only one consistent mathematical represention for the universe.  A single mathematical model that contains not only all physical laws, but through which all knowledge could be derived from them alone.  This would mean that we could find our Earth and its entire history entirely in the implications of the mathematics, similar to how a complex image can be found within the relatively simple mathematics of a fractal.  We could then use this model to 'explore' anywhere in the universe, without going anywhere or even looking at anything!  Of course, there's no reason why there couldn't be an infinite number of copies of 'Earth' with identical histories to ours, and divergent futures, thus making it impossible to determine which 'Earth' we are on, and making our experience subjectively non-deterministic, even though the universe is itself provably deterministic!

                      That's a bit silly for my taste, but it's the only thing I can imagine that would be evidence for a difference between a deterministic universe and a non-deterministic universe.  Like forming a model to predict my behavior, I don't expect to see it.  Anything lesser than this could be interpreted as evidence of our lack of knowledge.  So it all comes down to personal preference for what makes more sense.  I just happen to think a deterministic universe makes more sense than a non-deterministic universe does.

                      As for my statements on non-deterministic events in the brain and free will.  I meant that if non-deterministic events do impact the brain's operation, even if it is some small amount, or some small number of cases, then outcomes would be influenced by something definitionally random.

                      Imagine a scenario where someone could select outcome A if the non-deterministic events play out one way, and outcome B if they played out a different way.  This means that a human's action isn't in their control.  They'd be subject to which way the dice fall, not any sense of their own will.

                      The magnitude of this kind of influence on the brain is not going to be all cases (as humans generally can do real mental calculations, and 'see' the same things, our minds do not make random decisions, clearly).  But if that case ever occurs, it calls all unpredictable, 'free will' decisions into doubt.

                      I spoke of impacting our environment to indicate that one way to 'solve' this problem is to say that consciousness is embedded into those non-deterministic events.  As in, our consciousness selects the non-deterministic events that lead our brains to outcome A or outcome B.  But this would mean that the events which are by definition random, are really not, since our minds have an impact on them.

                      I've heard Deepak Chopra and others in the general field of kookery say this kind of thing before.  Of course, most kooks attempting to build such cases make countless science errors in their statements, so their cases for it are usually less coherently formed.

                      As for people working backwards from their goals to their reasoning?  Yeah, I find that rather amusing as well.  There's plenty of things people assume, then rationalize.  I find that kind of thing interesting, as our assumptions tend to lead to problems.

                      Empirical thinking is hard for humans.  Many brilliant scientists and thinkers have been stubbornly incapable of examining their own assumptions because it is difficult for humans to do that.  Instead, advancement is made when the outdated beliefs die off with the previous generations.

                      Still, I think science is the basic method of human thinking, that all humans want to feel connected to.  When kooks try to convince other people of their brand of quakery, whether they're creationists, mystics or psuedoscientists, they attempt to construct scientific-ish arguments.

                      I suspect science is as much a human trait as our other traits and although its only recently been refined into a powerhouse of learning, I suspect the axioms of scientific thinking have been in our species since ancient times, just waiting for development into what it is today.

                      Anyway, in terms of the liberal/conservative split with regards to determinism/free will, I see it too.  I remember having a discussion with a conservative about obesity.  We seemed to agree until I realized that he was stressing the person's lack of discipline to not eat so much, and I was stressing the addictive properties of highly unhealthy foods.  Initially, we had talked past each other, so we didn't realize we had different ways of thinking about the problem.  How do we solve this problem?  Make our food less unhealthy/addictive (liberal solution), or educate individuals to make better choices (conservative solution)?

                      People espousing conservative solutions tend to delegitimize everyone who doesn't fall in line with their view.  There is no such thing as valid opposition, so there must be a conspiracy against reason.  This is why I do not consider both parties to be 'the same'.  Both engage in glorified gossip, and partisan cheering.  Both try to diminish their own scandals and inflate the other party's.  But both do not engage in deligitimatization and conspiracy theories.

                      Back to your commentary, I do not generally read philosophy texts, 'a stubbornly persistent illusion' was a reference to a quotation I have enjoyed.  Epiphenomenon is a suitable term.

                      With regards to supernatural, I agree that it's a self-contradictory term (a conclusion I am amazed more people don't arrive at).  I just used the word because I generally dismiss things filed into that category as having no basis in observable reality.  If they did, they wouldn't have to be in that category to begin with.  Ockham's razor, and all.

                      If EEG changes occurred globally, and simultaneously, that would be quite a startling finding.  The notion raises skeptical alarms with me because it sounds similar to the claims of the 100th monkey effect.  That, and the startling nature of such a thing would require a fairly high level of evidence to back it up as well.  I would naturally expect such a thing to not be discovered, based on past observations, but definitely the possibility is there (or else we wouldn't experiment at all).

                      As for my dislike of email, that's hard to say, and it might be a personal bias without any good reason.  But I do have a few thoughts.

                      There is an immediacy to email that I don't have much interest in.  I have never participated in Facebook, twitter, and the like either.  Low signal to noise ratio and I just don't want to feel obligated to check my email every day.  Sometimes, I just don't feel up to it.

                      This is an interaction in a public forum, so others can potentially benefit from the effort I put into this conversation.  (I think it is unlikely anyone other than you and I, and maybe the diarist are still reading this particular thread, though).  When I have nothing I consider worth saying, or when I am not in the mood for interaction, I can be absent for days or weeks.

                      Really, though, I just never really got into the email thing.  It's hard to say why.

                      •  good time of night for this... (0+ / 0-)

                        Free will & determinism

                        We might have to write that up as "agree to disagree."  Though, about "in my lifetime," I'm typically thinking in terms of "where will we be in a billion years?", as relates to sustainability and the potential for creating interstellar civilization before the Sun goes or an object slams into the Earth.  Natural selection on the cosmic scale, where Earth is one of many potential ecological niches for humans and whatever-comes-after-humans.

                        You raise a most interesting and intellectually tasty paradox there about unpredictable behaviors being locally determined by random events in the brain.  In effect what you're saying is that human decisions and behavior can be deterministic even in a nondeterministic universe.  Yes, that's possible.  What I'm looking for is the causal mechanism behind the somewhat invariant "observer" element of mind, that I and everyone I know recognizes exists in themselves: the thing that's consistent regardless of chronological age or state of consciousness.

                        I'll admit to a very strong bias against "fate, luck, and happenstance," and since noone but you & I are reading this, I can say freely that I find the belief-system of "fate, luck, and happenstance" to be primitive superstition of the kind that prevents humans from inventing, creating, or discovering anything significant.  "It's all God's will."  Phooey on that; if there is a deity, the deity is not an obscurantist arsehole whose intent is for us to be drunken monkeys with consumer baubles.

                        And back to brains...

                        Where you say, "consciousness is embedded into those non-deterministic events...", that would be an example of the idea of a sliver of substance dualism creeping back into the picture (like a splinter that got stuck in the brain:-).  Now frankly I find this somewhat intriguing, as follows:

                        You & I both agree that overt substance dualism has been soundly falsified by experiment.  Where we are on the spectrum is somewhere between material monism and interactionism (the latter is basically an extension of the former that provides a place for information in the system, and Chalmers is on record saying he doesn't endorse substance dualism).  

                        But to play devil's advocate (Keatsian negative capability), what happens or what changes, if we insert just a tiny bit of substance dualism into the picture?  I'm not quite sure how that would proceed, but it's an interesting question, and I'm raising it without first having worked it out.  Something is bugging me to the effect that it might be a useful black-box, and if it can be kept small enough, it won't cause much interference to everything else we already know.  Or I may be "not even wrong" and I'll figure that out once I give this more thought.

                        And silly people...

                        Re. Deepak Chopra: don't even get me started!:-)   Grrr, grrr, grrr!, that guy has an astounding talent for sweet-talking various scientists into hanging out with him long enough that he can claim some kind of endorsements for his crazy stuff.  A slightly different version of the way that wackos latch onto words such as "Gaia" and "God particle," and stretch them halfway from here to la-la land.  

                        Though I was surprised one night to hear "some guy" on Public Radio discussing how to reconcile political differences between Christian and Islamic cultures, and it struck me that he was pretty well versed in comparative religion and he knew his stuff well.  Guess who that was?  Yep, our old nemesis, Deepak himself!  From which I had to conclude: the guy is pretty smart about comparative religion, he really should stick to that, and stop mucking about in places where he only makes an archetypal fool of himself.  If he did that, he could actually do some good.

                        And the problem is, people such as himself make entire sets of subject matter so radioactive as to scare other people away.  As with the abuse of the Gaia hypothesis: we as a species really do need to understand our dependence on interlocking negative feedback loops, and magically-thinking that into a goddess is not going to do it, and the reaction of rational people against goddess-woo isn't going to help one bit either.  

                        Examining assumptions...

                        The way I learned that was a) growing up in a family where "thinking for yourself" and "resisting social pressures" are important values, and b) from a very close friend whose talent for thinking outside the box would be world-class legendary if he was well-known.  That plus a whole bunch of paradoxical life experiences that had a remarkable way of challenging my basic assumptions in mutually contradictory directions, to the point where the only way forward is to rely on empirical data first and foremost.

                        The writing project I'm working on, that I've mentioned a couple of times, includes the reverse of "deriving science from religion," which is, "what kinds of religion-like statements and experiences can we reasonably derive from a scientific/rationalistic worldview?"  I might have also made the quasi-hubricious or wholly-naive-and-stupid assertion that one really can derive "Ought" from "Is."  

                        Religion serves a number of valuable roles in humans: not only the obvious ones of social cohesion and the promulgation of ethical systems, but also the basis for "a deeply-felt sense of meaning in relation to something larger than self."  The latter point is well supported by findings in neuroscience, and we even know where in the brain it occurs.  So the question is, how to tickle that part of the brain without need of a bunch of superstitious nonsense?  

                        The obvious answer, from Einstein on down, is to find "the sense of the mystical" in the form of awe at the inherent beauty and comprehensibility of nature itself.  Anyone can drive or otherwise get to a place where urban light pollution is minimized and they can look up at the night sky and see a mind-boggling display of what Sagan (who was one of the best at evoking this sensibility) called "billions and billions of stars."  Now if they just sit still in the dark night and contemplate the vastness of the physical universe, and pause to think about how it is that we've come to comprehend it, they might start to get it.

                        Humans need that sense of awe and wonder, as much as they need sex and romance.  It's hardwired in the brain, and as with the desire for sex, it varies along a normal curve.  If we (empiricists and rationalists) don't occupy that territory, it will be captured by the religious right and the woo-meisters and their ilk, and used to create either a harsh fascistic theocracy or a soft fluffy Disneyland, either of which reduce humanity to an infantile state that is inimical to progress.  Our core task for sustainability is to promote the cognitive and social evolution of our species.  

                        Pragmatically, associating positive emotional reinforcement with specific content, creates a desire for more of that content.  "Cold hard facts" are hardly as attractive as "inspiring, awesome facts."  This translates to political strategy.

                        Liberals and conservatives:

                        Yes, obesity is a clear example.  But they contradict themselves explicitly and to an extreme degree:  how can they on one hand support "making better choices" while on the other hand support the unfettered market constantly encouraging people to "make worse choices"...?  

                        Part of the answer appears to be carving out an exception for greed and the "venal sins" (sins of the market).  Part of the answer appears to be puritanism.  They thrive on the idea that they are going to heaven and everyone else is going to hell.  And there have to be lots of people who are going to hell, in order to make their own trip to heaven extra-special.  (Think of the way the word "exclusive" is used as an advertising come-on, and ask yourself: "who is being excluded from what?, and why does that matter enough to advertise it?")

                        The nexus of that issue is in the words "coddle" and "punish."  Puritans view "coddling" as caving in to sin, and as depriving them of the very visceral pleasure of righteousness.  They get a perverse little buzz out of punishing, either directly or vicariously, and making themselves out as "better than" others.  

                        Calling out that contradiction is a potentially useful educational exercise to use on conservatives.  "OK, if the problem is that people make bad choices, why do we even allow all those bad choices to be offered in the first place?  Why not take the half-gallon cups of soda and all the rest of that shit off the market?"  

                        The answer will typically be one excuse or another about "the free market."  And the comeback to that is, "so why not just legalize heroin and get it over with?"   And that will trap them right in the middle of their contradiction, which, if they're willing to admit it, should open the door to making progress on the issue with them.  

                        Another approach is to raise the issue of the moral culpability of those who offer the nasty temptations in the market in the first place.   And yet another is to call out the venal sins in the most starkly moralistic language.  

                        Unfortunately there is plenty of CT among liberals.  There's 9/11 CT, and most perniciously there's anti-vaccine CT.  And there's political CT that usually sums to a rationalization for defeatist feelings.  

                        The rest of the stuff including email:

                        Agreed, the usual sloppy thinking on the subject of "nature and its opposites" is highly frustrating.  Worst of all is the obscurantism that says it's not even worth trying to question certain things.  

                        Re. global & simultaneous EEG changes:  I don't know of any findings to that effect, but there may be some that bear on it one way or another.  And at least it's a falsifiable hypothesis, so it would be interesting to find out.  

                        Re. email: no Facebook or Twitter for me either, I'd rather get my surveillance from the government than from profit-seeking corporations;-)  

                        Though, email properly speaking is a whole 'nother animal.  When it was just beginning as a medium of communication, it appeared that it would bring in a new era of literacy and intelligent communication: enabling people to go into depth about meaningful subjects, without the delays of writing conventional letters.  Instead what we end up with are certain commercially-hyped things such as "social media" displacing it with formats that are geared toward superficiality.  But as with supernaturalism, I am stubborn about not conceding territory to cognitive laziness, and my email exchanges with friends reflect that.

                        Though there is definitely benefit to having these kinds of conversations in public places where others might (may, maybe:-) see them and learn something, or contribute something that we might learn from.  

                        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                        by G2geek on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 12:00:47 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Mostly other things (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:

                          I do agree we need awe and wonder in science and our culture.  I still think it's amazing humans have walked on the moon.  That's a pretty huge accomplishment.  It's strange how little emphasis is placed on what we can accomplish with a little collective effort.

                          As for conspiracy theory stuff, some that cater to liberal interests do exist, they're just not as many, as widespread, or as promoted as the conservative varieties.  We've never had a modern Democratic controlled house or senate vote on anything like a 9/11 Truther agenda.

                          The conservatives have.  Fast & Furious.  Not to mention that conservatives in many states promote teaching creationism (which requires a conspiracy of scientists willing to hide the truth from the public).

                          I accept that CT stuff exists in one's political party when it loses.  But in less than 4 years of Obama, we're seeing more new conservative conspiracy theories than liberal conspiracy theories in 8 years of Bush.

                          This is mostly off the topic, but I can't really think of what to say about anything else, though I did enjoy reading.

                          •  accomplishments of collective effort: (0+ / 0-)

                            There's a diary on the rec list showing an unexpected public performance, in a city in Spain, of a piece of classical music, and the public's enthusiastic response to it.  And while this was produced by the Spanish bank on whose section of sidewalk the music was performed, its value as a cultural event is entirely distinct from its value as PR: it expresses the beauty of the music in an unexpected place and time, and how that is appreciated by all who saw it.  

                            Moon landings, new science, and free live classical music in public: all of these are collective efforts, and the value of them is something that belongs to everyone.  They are what economists call "non-rival goods," in that each person's enjoyment of them does not compete with anyone else's enjoyment of them (unlike e.g. a piece of pie: I can eat it or you can eat it but we can't both eat all of it).  

                            The existence of non-rival goods is a countervailing paradigm to the dominant focus of the economy on rival goods.   After watching a Moon landing, or listening to a performance of music in public, one feels happy and satisfied and uplifted in a manner that does not encourage more consumption activity.  

                            And yet in a world that is hard up against the limits to growth, it's exactly these kinds of non-rival goods, paid for indirectly or by everyone through their taxes or some other means such as patronage of private companies, that will have to expand radically.  Otherwise it's a short slide down the slippery slope to a Hobbesian existence.


                            I'm not so sure that the sheer quantity, or degree of qualitative depravity, of the right-wing CT has increased during Obama: this may be a reporting artifact, like the "autism epidemic," a good bit of which is clearly due to increased public awareness of the signs & symptoms.  

                            In the case of right-wing CT, the reporting artifact is the rising prevalence of many new forms of media and communication that enable memes of all kinds, CT included, to spread virally through the culture with little effort.  But that of course isn't all there is to it: in the case of the reaction to Obama, there's a large reservoir of barely-hidden racism that has been whipped up into a rabid foam by those who benefit from using it as support for their agendas.  

                            I get the distinct impression that humanity is at another turning point of its cultural evolution, much as occurred when the development of nuclear weapons forced the superpowers into a position of accepting mutual deterrence and negotiating with each other rather than going to war on each other.   In the present case, what's doing it are the limits to growth and the various ecological and resource crises of our times.  As with nuclear weapons, we are faced with something that can and will destroy us unless we muster the cultural and cognitive evolution to deal with it and change our ways accordingly.

                            The fact that we succeeded in evolving the culture to meet the challenge of nuclear weapons, is a good sign.  But the fact that the present existential threats work on longer time frames, is daunting.  

                            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                            by G2geek on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 04:12:54 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

      •  Marker comment. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, indubitably

        Hopefully I'll have time to follow the links sometime soon.

        Cogito, ergo Democrata.

        by Ahianne on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 07:15:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Ten points for calling out Bill Maher! (4+ / 0-)

      His anti-vax bullshit has totally destroyed his credibility as far as I'm concerned, and the fact that he's taken as a spokesperson for progressives is downright pernicious.  Progressives should make it damn clear to him that dangerous quackery has no place whatsoever on our side of the aisle.  And we should be willing to enforce that with boycotts if necessary.

      We can find better spokespeople than that.  If he believed in New Age pet rocks or Power Placebo Water, at least he'd only be harming himself.  But anti-vaxism is bioweaponized stochastic terrorism that harms and kills people.  Zero tolerance for that crap!

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 08:37:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  about squaring circles and the word "proof." (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dirkster42, gzodik

      The core problem is the difference between empirical results and logical proofs.  

      Anyone here can "square a circle" by making one out of a loop of yarn and then sticking it over some pins in corrugated cardboard and adjusting the pins!  Yes, and so can an architect who is trying out circular and square plan forms for a building, though architects use design software for that purpose.

      But that's not math.  

      Empirically, a hypothesis is "supported" rather than "proved."  It's supported when the contrary hypotheses are falsified.  The latter step involves handling logical negatives, something that most humans are notoriously not good at.  ("The dog did not chase the red ball":  you probably visualized a red ball in the picture.)

      "Proof" is logical proof, the only thing that counts in mathematics.  

      In physics a theory is supported when the empirical results are better than
      p < .000028.  (As we wait eagerly for tonight's report on the Higgs Boson!)  But even that standard doesn't suffice in pure math: it's not about "probability" but about logical absolutes: something that will work 100% of the time, zero exceptions.

      This is what the math cranks don't get when they try to square a circle: they might come up with something that "works" empirically (e.g. as an architect might calculate square and circular plans for enclosing a given amount of square footage), but that's not the same thing.

      And it seems to me that the way to cure them of their error is to start by demonstrating the difference between empirical results and logical proof.   Once they've got that, they should be able to grasp that their attempts are no different to anyone else's, and no better.  

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 08:56:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I often wonder (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        "Proof" is logical proof, the only thing that counts in mathematics.  
        how many of the sceptics who demand that I prove God's existence (something I think would be a waste of everyone's time, but nevermind) before I say anything about religion have actually worked through the mathematical proof of 1 + 1 = 2. From what I hear, it's rather long.

        If religion means a way of life, and life's necessities are food, clothing, and shelter, then we should not separate religion from economics. - Malcolm X

        by dirkster42 on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 10:02:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  different type of phenomena. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dirkster42, terrypinder

          Truth in math is mediated by logic.  Truth in science is mediated by empirical findings.  Truth in religion is mediated by deep personal experience and by various forms of traditional wisdom.  Truth in criminal and civil law is mediated by material and testimonial evidence.  Truth in the arts mediated through authenticity to imagination.  Etc.

          We use the word "truth" for all of these but they are not interchangeable.  All manner of trouble arises from conflating them: like someone telling a cousin to "bring a flag to the picnic" and forgetting that the cousin is married to someone from Germany or Mexico or China, and any of a number of flags could show up.  Which flag is "a" flag or "the" flag?  If the picnic is today we can reasonably infer an American flag, but a few days ago it would have been a Canadian flag.  

          I would really like to see some peace and reconciliation between science & religion, per Robert Fuller's diaries and other similar lines of thought.  Science can answer certain questions, religion can answer others, one without the other is either blind or deaf as the case may be.  Individuals don't have to adopt beliefs that are contrary to their own nature in order to partake of both dishes at the philosophical feast.  

          "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

          by G2geek on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 05:53:16 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That's all true - (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            G2geek, terrypinder

            and for some people I've talked with, they've thought it through.

            Others, however, have treated me to a certain kind of "if you can't prove it, it's not true" without putting much thought into "prove" or "true."

            If religion means a way of life, and life's necessities are food, clothing, and shelter, then we should not separate religion from economics. - Malcolm X

            by dirkster42 on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 09:31:55 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  the number of people who can... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              dirkster42, terrypinder

              .... walk in both domains is still small, but appears to be growing.  And we shouldn't be surprised at the prevalence of misunderstanding.

              "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

              by G2geek on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 10:36:02 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  If you say so. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        G2geek, terrypinder

        Fucking mathematicians. :)

        GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

        by gzodik on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 10:27:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  but i LIKE (4+ / 0-)

    acai berries!

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 08:07:20 PM PDT

  •  I like the belief that if you put a tiny bit of (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ebohlman, pico, terrypinder

    medicine in the river then go 100 miles downstream and drink the water, you'll be cured because the diluted medicine is stronger. Don't know the name of it but it's just too funny.

    Foreman had a splitting headache the other day, lots of water did nothing for him, drove down to the closest supermarket which was a Sprouts, not one aspirin, ibuprofen, anything in the store. A whole section on nutraceuticals.

    The theory that nature is permanently in balance has been largely discredited

    by ban nock on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 08:51:13 PM PDT

    •  Homeopathy, I think. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock

      Is that what you're talking about?

    •  It's called the (7+ / 0-)

      "Law of Infinitesimals" which, along with the "Law of Similars" (a pretty obvious form of sympathetic magic) , forms the basis for homeopathy. David Gorski quite rightly calls homeopathy "the one quackery to rule them all" because if any offered (or even conceivable) "explanation" for homeopathy were to be true, almost everything we know about physics, chemistry and biology would have to be false. Accepting such an explanation wouldn't expand humanity's store of knowledge; it would greatly contract it.

      If you integrate fantasy with reality, you do not instantiate reality. If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse. --Mark Crislip

      by ebohlman on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 09:31:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Miracle Cure: Ocean Water (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ebohlman, ban nock, terrypinder

      All normal water has been mixed with every medicine ever made, so a glass of water should be able to cure anything more effectively than the specific medicine made for a specific ailment.

      Also, think of the dilute portions of Hitler that have leeched into the environment, that everyone has been drinking for the last 60 plus years.

      I find psuedoscience in general to be rather amusing, when it's not depressing, and homeopathy is no exception.

      Something I heard not too long ago.  "Homeopathy is the belief that disposing the body of Osama Bin Laden in the ocean will cure the world of terrorism."

      •  Really like your last paragraph, but (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ahianne, ban nock, terrypinder

        most homeopaths would argue that nobody has properly shaken up (often involving repeatedly slamming a vial of the "remedy" against a Bible or similar totem) the exposed water, and therefore it has no effect. That's how they answer Tim Minchin's objection:

        If you show me that, say,
        Homeopathy works,
        I will change my mind,
        I will spin on a fucking dime.
        I'll be as embarassed as hell,
        Yet I will run through the streets yelling,
        It's a MIRACLE!
        Take physics and bin it!
        Water has memory!
        And whilst its memory
        Of a long lost drop of onion juice is infinite,
        It somehow forgets all the poo it's had in it.
        People sometimes ask "how could you possibly come up with a placebo to test homeopathy against?" My answer is "easy. You use water that's been stirred rather than shaken." James Bond would approve.

        If you integrate fantasy with reality, you do not instantiate reality. If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse. --Mark Crislip

        by ebohlman on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 05:34:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Got a problem? Forget things! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ban nock, terrypinder

          Ah, I have never heard that excuse before.  I suppose they don't understand that sound and temperature are the result of individual molecules 'colliding' with one another.

          Or do they accept that the liquid heating in your body could replace shaking?  Or, more amusingly, would they be okay if I yelled at the concoction for a period of time?

          Understanding basic science is an unfortunate barrier to understanding crackpots.  They operate without any basic knowledge of science.  And of course, when they do understand something, they dream up a reason why it is wrong.  Usually with something that they don't understand.

          Anyway, amusing poem.  Truly a modern day epic.  Thanks for the link.

  •  I think the healthcare problem feeds pseudoscience (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nota bene, Ahianne, cocinero, terrypinder

    People without insurance start casting about for solutions to their problems when they can't afford a doctor or prescription drugs.  They're more willing to try quackery if it seems like it might be an affordable way out of their problems, and they're vulnerable to suggestion when they're afraid for their health (and their lives).  The quacks and fakes are the scum of the earth.

    •  Medicine. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      What science is more vulnerable to quackery and fakery? (Psychiatry is not a science).

      GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

      by gzodik on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 10:34:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Or when the cure is worse (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      antirove, lineatus, terrypinder

      than the disease. Side effects of many medications can be unacceptable.

      Very few people have any trust of pharmaceutical companies or their drugs. There have been way to many times when they have released onto the market with the testing skewed in some way to hide unfavorable results only to be pulled later when people started dying.

      Science got us into this mess by being for sale to the highest bidder. An example I read recently while working on an article for my local farmers market were the studies conducted on free range eggs vs commercial pen raised. The egg council study is often sighted to debunk the idea there maybe a difference. Problem is this study used beak trimmed birds for their outdoor flock. Any farmer with a 4th grade education could tell you that a beak trimmed bird can only eat certain food and not the foods they may find roaming a pasture. In short these birds will only be able to take in the very same food their battery raised counterparts do negating the benefits, if any, of letting them outside.

      For someone like me who knows this I see ignorance and deception trying to pass itself off as science. I am not impressed. Give me straightforward results based on best practices in both management styles and we will get truth.

      Until that happens people are likely to continue being skeptical of everything no matter what the merits may be.

      It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is not what he has -Henry Ward Beecher

      by PSWaterspirit on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 10:41:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  In an article about pseudoscience, you write this? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    At present, humanity is undergoing a boom. It’s the Last and Final Population Doubling and it’s accompanied with a concurrent building boom, the likes of which has never been seen and never will be seen again, largely because population will decline slowly or crash completely back to levels seen around 1850 sometime late this century (I make no predictions but the former is based on UN Projections which are offered in a range, and the latter is long-running internet speculation; I’ve yet to see any actual science on it although I’m sure it exists. Somewhere.)
    WTF?  Unless of course it is nicely done snark....
  •  Bravo Terry, excellent diary !! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angry marmot, terrypinder

    Follow PA Keystone Liberals on Twitter: @KeystoneLibs

    by wishingwell on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 11:07:09 PM PDT

  •  Pseudoscience, like conspiracy theorizing, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FishOutofWater, terrypinder

    confirms what people already "know," a knowledge rooted in feeling and desire rather than observable data and critical thinking. Both simplify a complex world to terms where an individual finds comfort in "knowing" something, "knowing" anything...

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Wed Jul 04, 2012 at 06:04:40 AM PDT

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