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Most people on Facebook don’t know that I’m an atheist. It leads to some interesting observations.


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Recently, I stumbled on this website: http://skepticator.com/

What it does is compile blog posts from 720 different skeptical blogs and returns the latest 20 posts. It’s an interesting way to find new articles and authors. It’s nice to get a short summary for each entry without needing to click on it, too (instead of just the title of the blog entry).

One annoyance I should mention is that the skepticator can take upto 30 seconds or more to return results.

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Reason as Weapon

A recent NY Times article argues that reason evolved as a method to win arguments, rather than find truth.

“Some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose [than the search for truth]: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another.”

This isn’t the least bit surprising to me. I’ve been thinking about this idea for some time. I think it was originally sparked by this quote from David Hume: “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions”. Ignoring the “ought only” part for a moment (which could be interpreted in a few different ways), and we’re left with “reason is the slave of the passions”. Very often in debates, it seems that people are not really persuaded by logic and reason, but rather they use logic and reason (often badly) for the purpose of defending and protecting what they want to protect or get (i.e. it’s driven by their desires). I think many people are closest to being open-minded around their late teens and early twenties, when they are less invested in the outcome. But, many people in that age-group also have tremendously bad abilities to reason through logical-fallacies, making them fodder for whatever smart person aims to convince them of something. Another pattern I’ve noticed is that people who are smart often have very bad ideas, but instead of using their intelligence to find the truth, they use their intelligence to defend all the ideas they hold for very non-smart reasons. It’s left me feeling somewhat conflicted about humanity.

This idea is also interesting because many Christian apologists claim that reason can’t be trusted if evolution is true. In other words, if evolution is true, we have no reason to believe it would’ve formed our minds to accurately reason about the world. While I disagree with the claim that ‘evolution means our logical facilities can’t be trusted’, I do agree that out logic and reason is, in some ways, perverted by our desires. I think we often reason in a way that results in getting the best things for ourselves, build our ego, and (from an evolutionary standpoint) it makes sense that we would often twist our logic to agree with other people (which is exactly what we see — people have a hard time disagreeing with a crowd). There’s a certain evolutionary usefulness to agreeing with everyone around you: it makes you better-liked, which increases your chances for procreation. Obviously, there’s a cost to being wrong, but being wrong along with everyone else is less costly than being wrong while disagreeing with everyone else. In some cases, it might be better to be wrong along with everyone else, than it is to be right and disagree with everyone else. Unfortunately, this can obviously lead to a kind of groupthink, something that seems to be endemic in humanity.

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Here’s a story from “The Moth” (which is a national story-telling organization).
Jen Lee: Between Two Religions

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The Internet Filter

I know this has been posted all over the place, but in case you hadn’t seen it – this is a quick talk about the internet filter bubble. In it, Eli Pariser talks about how google and Facebook (along with Yahoo News) try to make guesses at what information you might be interested in, and custom-tailor their results to fit you. Of course, this leads to a problem in that the web results can reinforce pre-existing beliefs without dissenting opinions. If you’re politically liberal or conservative, religious or an atheist, the web will accommodate you and return results that support your views. In fact, it might begin to seem like the whole internet pretty much agrees with you, which can lead to a false sense of consensus.

It’s not clear what the solution is, given that it seems to be in internet companies’ best interests to do this filtering (i.e. it retains customers/users). In response to this talk, I expect that Google might provide some sort of “unfiltered results” button, but it will be off by default.

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Well, I finally have more time again. From the end of 2009 until early 2011, I was getting by ass kicked running my own business. Now, I have a new job that gives me both more time and more money. I’m debating whether to keep blogging here or moving to a new site – that would let me do more interesting things with the website layout (I have experience building websites), including things like viewcounts for individual posts, twitter integration, better ways to find old posts, etc. I’ve never been super happy with the options available on the wordpress site. I’d give me a reason to experiment with new webdesign, too. I could use some more experience.

I even picked up a new webdomain the other day – PostcardsFromTheApocalypse.com. (It’s a dead link right now.) I don’t know for sure if I’ll use it, but I picked it up the day before the “end of the world” on May 21st. Thumbs up or thumbs down?

In the meanwhile, enjoy this dose of crazy. He’s part of the “Black Israelites” religious group in New York City.

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I overheard two acupuncturists talking the other day at the coffeeshop. One of them explained that he was treating patients for cancer. Yeah, with acupuncture. He explained that he has to file the treatment as “secondary care”, which I presume means that he has to claim to the insurance company that he’s treating the patient for nausea that comes with the chemotherapy. I couldn’t help but just shake my head that he believed that he was treating cancer with acupuncture. I can only assume that he told the patient that cancer can be treated with acupuncture, too. Rather sad that once psudoscience gets a foot in the door, they try to expand their influence and convince people they can do things like treat cancer.

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Thank God…

(Updated: The original image seems to have been removed.)
Link: Jasper Schuringa

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Afghanistan Then and Now

Two pictures of the same location in Kabul, Afghanistan. The first one was taken 40 years ago.

(Click the image to see a larger version.)

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The Information is Beautiful website has a new display up about the arguments and counterarguments of climate change.

Even though they’re listed as “Climate Change Skeptics” on the image above, the website author seems to go back and forth between calling them “skeptics” and calling them “deniers” (note that the link is “climate-change-deniers-vs-the-consensus”). Personally, I feel a bit conflicted about the whole naming convention. On one hand, the term “denier” has a negative connotation and smacks of name-calling and attempts to steer the debate. On the other hand, the term “skeptic” seems a little too generous, and I think it has a positive connotation that essentially amounts to steering the debate in the favor of the anti-global-warming crowd.

Personally, I haven’t delved very much into learning about the whole global warming thing. It’s an interesting summary of the arguments on each side. (I generally trust the scientists, have seen a lot of bad arguments on the anti-global warming side, and think the ultra-rich oil industry is doing the same thing to undermine global-warming research as the tobacco industry did with to undermine smoking research.) It’s also sad that opinions about global warming fall largely along political lines.

While three-quarters of Democrats believe the evidence of a warming planet is solid, and nearly half believe the problem is serious, far fewer conservative and moderate Democrats see the problem as grave. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans say there is no solid evidence of global warming (Source)

Personally, I think Republican pundits are dismissive of global warming largely because the Democrats take it seriously, and because there’s enough confusion on the issue that they can use it to cast Democrats in the “they’re stupid socialists” role. The political divide makes it hard to make headway. It means that a Republican pretty much has to admit that the Democrats are right about something and the Republicans are wrong in order to accept global warming, which is something a lot of Republicans won’t be happy to do.

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