Science enthusiasts and critical thinkers cannot escape the reality that human culture world-wide is absolutely chockablock with fake science. The word “scientific” has a cachet that I’ve seen co-opted for homeopathy, energy-harmonized aluminum plates, even Biblical “scientific discoveries” (always good for a laugh.) Science seems to be all about the results, the inventions, the breakthroughs. It’s never about the process, the codified critical thinking that keeps those end products from being complete hokum. We humans have a tendency to see what we want to see, to see what agrees with our preconceptions, to see what benefits us and justifies our beliefs. The scientific method is what developed in order to boil out the biases, the fallacies, the unconscious assumptions which corrupt our cognition.
Pseudoscience has been a bugbear of mine for quite some time. So, let’s talk about UFOs, and why the pseudoscience of UFOlogy fails on so many counts.
FALSIFIABILITY: UFOlogy prominently displays a hallmark of many pseudosciences—it begins with its conclusion, and then goes looking for whatever disparate facts might support it. One of the most common misconceptions about science is that you start with a hypothesis—a question that you’re testing, which you then gather data or do experiments to support. However, one requirement of a good hypothesis is that it is willing and able to be proved wrong. If it is not, you are setting yourself upon a primrose path of Confirmation Bias. Continue reading
Let me begin by saying, I have fallen in love with Dr. Who, but things weren’t always this way. Growing up we were not really allowed all that much SciFi except when my mom would watch Star Trek. As I got older Star Trek continued to be the sum total of my SciFi experience, even though I did not follow it in any sort of regular way. By time I got to college I decided to major in Theatre. While we do have some geeks in our midst, the dynamic is really more pretentious than anything. At the same time, many of my friends would be considered in the geek category, including things like D&D, Magik, comic books, and SciFi. I just never crossed over.
While living in CA I found more of the similar comic book friends, but still resisted, then I met someone. He has a huge comic book collection, loves SciFi, but doesn’t do dressing up for things if it’s not Halloween. I started reading some graphic novels and I was off. Next it was “Good Omens” (Best. Book. Ever!) then everything else available by Gaimen and Pratchett. There was no way to know where this would lead. Continue reading
Having gone back through all of the blog posts BNFree has produced so far, I realized something: we have yet to have a blog about Freethought. Since BNFree (think Bein’ Free) stands for Bloomington/Normal Freethinkers (not Pee Drinkers, FREE THINKERS, sorry I had to shout, but I just wanted to be clear for my readers who are hard of hearing), I thought, freely I must admit, that it would probably be a good idea to actual do a blog about free thinking.
So, what exactly is a free thinker? Someone who thinks freely. That explains that. OK, that wasn’t very helpful, but in my defense, when has a blog I wrote ever been helpful? A freethinker is basically someone who is an agnostic, atheist, humanist, skeptic, and/or a deist (in some definitions). Freethought/freethinking is a kind of catch-all name that encompasses many different groups. From the fifteen seconds of research I did (this is the second most research I have ever done in a blog), I found that freethinking is basically adogmatic with a strong scientific bent. Freethought is based on following where the evidence leads. Continue reading
I had a little trouble when I went to write my rent check last month. My wife and I had some one-time expenses in our budget for May, and so as I watched my weekly paychecks come in, it was evident that the month-end total was going to be a tight squeeze in the checking account we use for it. To top it off, my direct deposit didn’t hit my checking account when I was used to seeing it, and it was the last one for the month. So I sent an email to the home office, asking whether there were any trouble signs. The reply, from a clearly frustrated HR rep, was that many people had inquired, technically it didn’t have to be there until tomorrow, there weren’t any problems she could see, and she didn’t know anything else.
I thanked her, reassured her I wasn’t going to be a jerk about it, and it got me thinking, that “I don’t know” is a perfectly honest answer. In any area of inquiry, our available pool of facts is limited, and nothing is ever known to an absolute certainty. (Unless you’re going on faith, in which case you’re taking “belief” and counting it as “knowledge” which is, at the very least, dishonest. More on that later.) Based on the HR rep’s reply, I was at least able to eliminate some hypotheses: that there wasn’t an error in my time reporting or in the payroll submission. Anything else is left to the vagaries of the electronic banking infrastructure, which I know from professional experience to be arcane and impenetrable–the money gets there when it gets there. Continue reading
Soon on my reading list after Mistakes Were Made is likely going to be The God Virus, by Dr. Darrell Ray. In it, he discusses how many religions can be thought of as parasitic memes–literally viruses of the mind, which take advantage of cognitive dissonance in order to thrive and propagate.
Consider the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed, Pride, Wrath, Envy, Lust, Gluttony and Sloth. They fall into two categories: First, we have five flavors of thoughtcrime over which we have no conscious control. The last three are activities which not only are pleasurable but in some degree necessary to live. You have to eat when you’re hungry. You have to rest when you’re tired. You have to have offspring or you go extinct. Because you cannot help but sin, the cognitive dissonance between your concept of morality and your inevitable failure creates guilt, in what Ray calls “the Guilt Cycle.” The only way to relieve the guilt is to return mentally to the thoughts and devotions described by the religion, thus priming you for the next failure which simply being human will inflict. Fundamentally, Ray says, religion is not designed to make you behave well, but rather is about fomenting guilt when you don’t measure up. It’s a great racket, and you’ll notice how picayune and petty are the strictures in many religions, the better to inflict such.
I’m not going to delve into that much more than to say I’m sure it will be interesting reading, but in light of what I’ve already discussed in parts 1 and 2, it does raise concerns about just what I am doing with activism in the Skeptical and Atheist communities. If dissonance from self-concepts of general good sense meant I couldn’t fully succeed with my own family, about something as simple as a screwball diet plan, exactly what am I going to accomplish by telling people their beliefs about their immortal soul and hope for salvation are not justified? Continue reading
Before I acknowledged to myself that I was an atheist I accepted the honored role of godmother to my niece, A. I felt I could surely find some middle ground and emphasize humanistic ethical and moral values that would presumably overlap with the many Catholic teachings I did not share but that she’d be expected to absorb. By the time A was approaching her 1st communion and its associated celebration, I was much more disapproving of the psychological and intellectual coercion inherent in the religious indoctrination of children, and, too late, I felt I was being coerced in a way too.
The party was an invitation to shower the freshly minted child believer with meaningful religious-themed mementos and fine jewelry. I chose to give her a book about the universality and cultural permutations of the Golden Rule, a humanistic guideline if ever there was one. I also gave her a Mary Englebreit plaque featuring the Golden Rule.
Several years later now my nephew, D, has just had his 1st communion. I was not able to attend the event or his party, but I sent him a card with a picture of a dog with one paw held up. Inside it read, “High Five! Congratulations!” and I enclosed a small check. What’s an aunt to do? It was a compromise. I don’t think D should be judged, let alone harshly, for letting himself be trained; he was not allowed a choice in the matter. So I sent him a secular card with a slightly subversive tone and a token gift. In a sense, I rolled over. But he was a Good Boy.
Are you an atheist? You’re going to hell. Are you a homosexual? Guess what, you’re going to hell, too. Wrong religion? Hell. Believe in God, but not Jesus? Hell. Bicycle repair man? Hell. Well, I guess not that last one, unless you are a bicycle repair man who is a murderer, but if you repent…
So, what is Hell exactly? Is it a firey pit where you will spend eternity in torment, having worms crawl through all of your orifices and crows pecking at your eyeballs? Is it merely the absence of God? Or maybe it’s just an eternity of being forced to watch the movie Junior starring Arnold Schwartzenegger over and over (I cried the next day when I realized that I had actually paid money to see the movie the night before). At any rate, Hell is whatever any particular religion tells you it is. Continue reading
This is my attempt to understand then distill and describe how the American legal system can be compared to the scientific method. While this may seem like an obvious notion (it certainly did to me) there is actually an entire field of legal study devoted to comparative law. Who knew? (clearly this Ernest Bruncken guy did, bet he feels Important.)
If you were brave enough to read the entire entry, while not being responsible for blogging about it, either you love the subject or deserve a medal. This is a big subject, but the title of the book from which the excerpt comes says a great deal “Science Of Legal Method“, by Ernest Bruncken.
Now for my brief observations. (It’s in outline formish, I promise) Continue reading
The issues surrounding the Skeptic and Freethought movements are an absolute carnival of cognitive dissonance and self-justification. It’s difficult to winnow down, but I’ll take one example. Remember, we all carry the notion that we are intelligent and sensible, and disconfirmation of that notion is a prime source of cognitive dissonance.
Some family members of mine were sold a radical, frightfully expensive diet plan by their chiropractor, which involved a 500 calories-per-day food restriction, vitamin supplements and homeopathic hormone drops. It’s safe to say no element of the program failed to set off its own skeptical alarm bells, and the research I did quickly indicated that this diet was based on bad science.
I had to proceed carefully, though. I knew I couldn’t stand by, because starvation diets and rapid weight loss are not without risk. But I was looking up a very steep incline–not only was I denouncing visible results of 1-2 pounds per day of weight loss, but the outlay of money and professing of belief in its success are extremely potent generators of cognitive dissonance. Every possible incentive for self-justification was in place. Continue reading
May 5, 1888 – A Conversation between Walt Whitman and Leonard Corning (who was a candidate for the pulpit of the local Unitarian church) recorded by Horace Traubel…..
Walt: “And what may be the subject of your sermon tomorrow?
Corning: “My subject? Why—the tragedy of the ages.”
Walt: “And what may be the tragedy of the ages?”
Corning: “The crucifixion.”
Walt: “What crucifixion?”
Corning: “The crucifixion of Jesus, of course.”
Walt: “You call that the tragedy of the ages?”
Corning: “Yes—what do you call it?”
Walt: “It is a tragedy. But the tragedy? O no! I don’t think I would be willing to called it the tragedy.” Continue reading