Tag Archives: Science

Peeing away your cash

Evidence piles up that the body and mind are inseparable.  For we all know that you should NOT:

  1. Wait until you are hungry to buy food.
  2. Wait until you desire sex to plan protection.
  3. Wait until your bladder is empty before making life-changing decisions.

What, you never heard of #3?  Well, here it is in the April 5th issue of Psychological Science which published a study by Dutch and Flemish researchers (PDF).

In their study, they gave a test were participants were given the option to hold out for a greater monetary gain ($$$) vs getting an immediate lower monetary gain ($).  Some participants had full bladders prior to the test and others had empty bladders.  The full bladder crowd (who drank 5 glasses of water prior to deciding) tended toward $$$ while those with empty bladders tended toward $.

It seems that when our minds are inhibiting out bladders from peeing they also have a tendency to inhibit our impulsive behavior (admittedly occasionally advantageous).

So like any science knowledge, this information can be used to help us by reminding us to gulp down water prior to some investment decisions.  Or this information could be used to harm us: for instance, stores may start making bathrooms more available for shoppers or on-line sites may send subliminal signals telling us to get up and pee before we continue shopping.

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Luck in Science

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
— Thomas Edison

Chance plays a leading role in science, but to gain the glittering prizes it is not sufficient to be in the right place at the right time.
— Frank Close “Neutrino“, 2010

Science has a much more decorative word for “luck” — “serendipity“.

So, considering my posts of Games & Luck, how much luck do you think is involved in science?  Do you have any famous quotes I can add?

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Invisibility Cloaks: “Faith”, “Mindfulness” and “Research”

Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak

Faith” is a word that Christians throw around to cover all sorts of different situations — they must have 7 different uses of that word.  It is a comfort word for Christians — it is a holy signal.  Likewise, many Buddhists use the word “mindfulness” similarly.  Both words have a sanctimonious sense that allows the believer to use the word to say whatever they want.  Sly little words.  These cloaks of invisibility allow people to hide from scrutiny.

“Research” has a bit of this quality among people who value science.  ‘Believers’  say “research shows us” ….. but offer no references.  They assume that once the holy word “research” is said, that all heads will bow and eyes will close (Christian allusion) or, if put in Buddhist terms,  all spines will straighten and eyes will lower to a downward gaze. 🙂

We should challenge sanctimonious language.  Nothing is sacred in that it is closed to discussion or to approach.  Do not let the cloak of sanctity stop dialogue and escape scrutiny.  Using loaded words to sanctify thought and close down conversation should not be tolerated and all of us should try to avoid such practices.  Sure it feels great as an in-crowd rallying word — it builds a sense of security and strength, but such security is deceptive.

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Vulnerability and Self-Disclosure

Over the years I have found debates about abstract principles can be greatly enhanced by self-disclosure.  I will use two up-coming posts on Pacifism and Suicide to illustrate this point.  If your debating-partner discloses their experiences with violence or suicide, it could greatly help you understand you their position even if you don’t agree with it.  This seem like common sense but I find many bloggers who feel personal details are immaterial and want to keep their debates limited purely to the argument’s unadulterated logic — and of course, there is not such thing.

I find that when people argue opposing positions on controversial issues, they  can enhance their dialogue by sharing their personal experiences.  This may not resolve issues but hearing your dialogue-partner’s experience may give you empathetic insight into their position such that you can restate your  position with caveats that capture their concerns, thus changing both your position and possibly theirs.  Or, if nothing else, you will feel for the other person and realize that their decision is not just bad logic but, as in all of us, tied together with strongly, understandable emotions.  For thought never occur in isolation but always tied to emotion.

Self-disclosure does, however, come with obvious problems.  You risk that your dialogue-partner may take your personal information and employ it against you using the genetic fallacy.  And though the genetic fallacy is illogical, it can be persuasive to others listening in on your debate.  So then you would loose the argument.  But do you blog to win or to grow in understanding?   Another danger is that your debate-partner may not show any empathy and leave you feeling vulnerable and hurt after a self-disclosure.  Thus the decision to risk vulnerability is complicated.  But if one feels confident enough for the vulnerability of self-disclosure, it can be a very healing and useful technique in building healthy relationships and community.  It is for this reason that I value self-disclosure and vulnerability though I think they should be used judiciously.

Religious debate is a good place to experiment with self-disclosure.  The pure logic of religious person who debates religious philosophy or theology may not budge an atheist, but if the religious person shares their religious conversion or shares how their faith has changed their life, the atheist may be able to listen with a different heart.  Likewise if the atheist shares their negative experiences with religion and how reasoning and empiricism have greatly benefited them, the religious person may be better able to share a few mutual concerns with the theist.

Thus, on blogs, I suggest that self-disclosure pages may help readers understand the arguments of the blogger.  On my site, I have done this on my “About Author” tab.  Take a look if you are interested.  I have found the vulnerability to be nothing but helpful when discussing controversial issues with my readers.

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The Spackle God

Brain Spackle“Spackle” is an American genericized word like Kleenex (tissue) and Band-Aid (adhesive bandage).  Spackle is a filler used to repair cracks, fissures, holes and other defects in walls.  And in my model below, Spackle is the supernatural the stuff used to fill your mind where your knowledge is lacking.  My “Spackle God” is the same as the classic term “God of the Gaps“.  I prefer “Spackle God” because it sounds cool and focuses on the cheap stuff that fills the gaps, instead of the gaps themselves.

Since de-converting from Christianity I have tried to make sense of both my former believing-self and now of Christians who still believe.  The Spackle god image to the right is one I have used to make sense of what believers call “God”.  In this model, the red figure stands for the god created by the cluster of supernatural explanations believers use to fill holes in their knowledge.  Being a true skeptic, I have left some white space inside the “God” hexagon to represent a possible actual god.

Over the last centuries, the Spackle god has shrunk significantly and consequently the white-space “possible god” which it supports has likewise diminished.  As scientists have discovered the mechanisms of lightening, floods, earthquakes, famines, and disease once attributed to god(s),  “God” has gotten radically tinier.  Evolution, Physics, Cognitive Science (to mention a few) have continued to shrink the Spackle god and replaced it with much more substantial material.   The strip below illustrates what I think should happen as science and reason inevitably whittle down the Spackle god even further.  The remaining “God” will be pathetic in size and destitute of explanatory power.  But my model has a problem.

The Shrinking Spackle God

Below I show three versions of how I see believers reacting to science’s whittling away of the Spackle god.

  1. The Disillusioned Believer:  Almost no significant god left.  This god may only appear at severe times of trouble, perhaps as a desperate prayer, and even then the ex-believer probably chuckles at themselves.
  2. The Science-Resistant Believer: The anti-evolutionist, flat-earthist, anti-geologist, anti-historian.  You can imagine see-no-evil, hear-no-evil monkeys as another image.  The arrows are their efforts to resist and obstruct knowledge.
  3. The Science-Friendly Believer:  These believers incorporate well-reasoned insights and discoveries for the most part and their “God” only shrinks a little.  Science and reason play a large role in their epistemology.

The Disillusioned
Believer

The Science-Resistant
Believer

The Science-Friendly
Believer

But I have been puzzled by these science-friendly believers who admittedly see their Spackle god shrink yet their “God” hexagon stays relatively inflated.  In this model, their “God” should contract.  I have been pondering and blogging about that phenomena over the last year.  I have wondered why their “God” does not collapse more without the support of the Spackle god.  Finally I think I have a visual model that helps explain why all that white space does not collapse further in the science-friendly believer’s model.  I will share that new model in my next post.  This post has been an introduction.  But before I post, what are your ideas?

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Christian: share thyself !

There are many different kind of Christians. So as to make dialogue easier, please consider sharing your present beliefs.  See the section in my Religious Dialogue Tools for an explanation for how to use this table as a means of sharing your Christian theology.  Note, no one is expected to know all these various categories or positions.

Christian Theology

Present Denomination:
Short religious history:
God’s Nature:
Majority View (  Personal,  Intervening, All-knowing / All-powerful / Omni-present / All-Loving / Perfect / Eternal / Perfectly Just / Perfectly Merciful )
Non-Majority View ( Impersonal / Non-intervening …)
Christology:
High / Low
Bibliology: Inerrant / Errant
Infallible / Fallible
Inspired / Inspiring
Unified Theology / Multiple Theologies
Harmartiology: (coming – your view of “sin”)
Favored Hermeneutics: (coming)
Favored
Apologetics:
Evidential / Propostional
Cosmology: Young Earth Creationist / Gap Creationist / Old Earth Creationist / Evolutionist
Goyology:
Socialize with Unbelievers (rare, occasional, often) ;
Deep friendship with Unbelievers (never, yes);
Discourage marriage with unbeliever (always, sometimes, never)
Soteriological
Goyology
Exclusivist/  Inclusivist/ Pluralist/ Universalist
Soteriological
Determinism
Calvinism / Arminianism / Moninism
Atonement
Theology:
Moral Influence Theory / Recapitulation Theory / Ransom Theory / Satisfaction Theory / Penal Substitutionary Theory / Governmental Theory / Participatory Theory / Mystical Theory
Literal Bodily Resurrection: No / Yes
Type of Christian Ethics
Divine Command / Virtue Ethics / Utilitarianism / Deontological
Missionology:
Salvation First / Service First
Eschatology:
Premillenialist / Postmillenialist / Amillenialist / Preterist / No Millenialist
View of Hell:
Traditionalist / Annihilationist / Universalist
View on
State of Israel:
Christian Zionist / Pro-Israel / Israel-Neutral
View on Science:
Science leery / Science friendly
Women-Men Relationships Chauvanism / Complimentarianism / Egalitarianism
Women can be priest or minister: No / Yes
Homosexuality can be valid life style:
No / Yes
Abortion
Legality:
Should be: Illegal / Legal
 Personal Teleology: life without Jesus is essentially meaningless / every persons life can have rich, deep meaning — with or without being a Christian

I list some of the above categories below in order to add brief definitions and/or links to help understand each category.  I will be working on this list slowly.  Suggestions welcome !

Christian Theology Categories

  • Bibliology :     Unified Theology/ Multiple Theologies, Infallible / Fallible
  • Favored Hermeneutic Tools: coming
  • Cosmology :    Young Earth Creationist / Gap Creationist / Old Earth Creationist / Evolutionist
  • GoyologySee the post where I coined this theological term to mean: how a believer treats or thinks about non-believers.
  • Soteriological Goyology :     See my post on these positions:  Exclusivist,  Inclusivist, Pluralist, Universalist
  • Soteriological Determinism :    Calvinism / Arminianism / Moninism
  • Atonement TheologySee my post
  • Literal Bodily Resurrection :    No / Yes
  • View on State of Israel :   Christian Zionist / Pro-Israel / Israel-Neutral
  • Type of Christian Ethics: Divine Command / Virtue Ethics / Utilitarianism / Deontological  (variety of Christian Ethics)
  • Missionology : Salvation First / Service First
  • EschatologySee my post
  • View of Hell:  I will expand this, but see this now.
  • View of Science:
  • View of Women:
  • Women-Men Relationships: See wiki on Complimentarianism
  • View of Homosexuals:

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Promiscuous Teleology

My Typical Superstitious Morning

I laugh at my mind constantly.  She (my mind) is so silly, so primitive, so deluded, so stubborn, so dull.  I mean, how many times have I told her something is not true or not so and yet she keeps coming back with the same perceptions and conclusions.  She is totally unruly.  Yet, I can not live without her.  She is also the source of all the great joys in my life.  Alas!

This above story happened earlier this week and is just one of thousands of examples of how unruly my mind can be.  You see, the bulb simply burns out and I look for someone to blame.  This story reveals how my mind is obsessed with “agency”.  She assumes somebody is behind everything !  This phenomena explains much of religious thinking.  And don’t think that if you are an atheist your mind is free of religious thinking.  It ain’t that simple.

A huge delusion that feeds religious thinking is to see “peopleness” were it doesn’t belong.  Atheists should not be deluded in thinking that just because they have declared themselves free of the gods and no longer deluded by such abstractions, that they are somehow magically free from the curse of peopleness.  OK, I will stop inventing terms.  Bruce Hood, in his book “Supersense: Why we believe the unbelievable” tells us the proper academic phrase for “the curse of peopleness” — “promiscuous teleology“.  “Teleology” is the explanation of phenomena in terms of goals or purposes, as if an agent (a person) is behind an event.  And you’ve got to love the nuances of the adjective, “promiscuous”!  For indeed, the mind goes overboard looking for someone to be responsible for all actions — even if the action is simply a light bulb naturally burning out.  Hood points us to  research that shows that children from a very young age see the inanimate world as alive and relating to them.  Piaget called this “egocentrism” to reflect this self-obsessed perspective.  Children are also prone to “anthropomorphism”, which means that they think about nonhuman things as if they were human.  Adults do the same.  Have you ever lost your temper at a chair that is in your way?  This illustrates how the mind-modules, which are used by religious thinking, are present from a young age and don’t disappear just because someone declares themselves free of the gods.  Two other fantastic books which illustrate anthropomorphism in our religious minds are:

I think what happened in this light bulb story is a variant of that notion of promiscuous teleology which itself is a child of anthropomorphism — two persistent superstitious modules in all of our heads.   Being cognition modules, they must have had or still have some adaptive advantage to exist.  I won’t explore that in this post, but I did touch on the selective advantages of superstitions in my post on “The Benefits of Pareidolia “.

Here, a bulb blows out — but who did it?  No one, of course.  It just finally wore out.  Such is the nature of bulbs.  And when these sort of bulbs die [note the anthropomorphizing language — see how pervasive the thinking is], they go out with a bang.  But now the mistake jumps in:  When the bulb blows, my mind tells me somebody caused it to happen, a person did it.  My mind searches for someone to blame.  It reaches to the most convenient and closest actor — my wife.  She did it!  She probably screwed it in loose or bought cheap bulbs.  Or maybe the darn kids did it by continually bumping the lamp when playing.

“Stop it !  Come on! ” I tell my mind, “I love my wife and kids, why are you attacking them?”  But my mind often has no mercy.  In her delusions, my mind just throws stuff together and tempts me to buy into her story – at least emotionally so.  She does not expect me to analyze what she offers me, she just want me to nod, agree and reflexively move on.

A Buddhist perspective

Buddhism’s primary practice is the honest observation of the mind.  It trains the practitioner to bravely observe one’s true nature — how one’s mind works.  “Bravely”, because what we see is not always pretty or noble.  Buddhism teaches respect for the mind but also offers ways to discipline the mind.  It lets us realize that the mind, while serving us constantly, also generates all sorts of delusions which cause many problems in life.  Observation is the first step in the Buddhist practice.  This task is difficult and is aided by other methods which help weaken the delusions.

Buddhism offers many approaches to cure our undesirable reflexes that lead to our unsatisfactory experience of life.  One, is to observe the illusion but not to feed it.  The practitioner strengthens her mind to resist following a particular unhealthy thought.  For instance, I see my mind accuse my wife and children of causing the bulb to go out and I chuckle at my mind, pat her on the back, maybe even give her a hug and move back into a more restful mind.  Another method is to spend time contemplating positive emotions and positive beliefs so that when negative emotions bubble up (like anger toward others), I readily have positive modules fired up ready to take over if I deem the anger irrational or unproductive.

OK, I had no real intent to go into Buddhist solutions in this post, but I realized how central it was to how I viewed the above situation.  Don’t get me wrong, certainly there is no reason that a purely secular way of dealing with these insights could not be equally as productive.  But I do feel that working with the unhealthy aspects of our minds is best done intentionally.  And it is this intentional inner life that people often refer to as their “spirituality” or their “religion” or their “faith”.  I think this is one of the possible positive potentials of religions.

Sorry, this was a long-winded post, but if you made it this far, I have a few questions:  How do other religious practitioners reading this post work with such mundane emotions in their lives?  How do you pure secularists nurture your mental/moral culture?

Summary:

  • Superstitious modules in the brain are present from a young age
  • “Promiscuous Teleology” and “Anthropomorphism” are just two examples of Superstitious Brain Modules.
  • Superstitious modules serve a function to the brain, but like all modules, they often are also misused to our detriment.
  • All religions capitalize on the Superstitious Brain Modules, but many of them also offer us methods to deal with their downsides.
  • Superstitious modules keeping working even in Atheists.  I am curious how we acknowledge them and use them.

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Where god lives & how he listens

Must read:  Tom Rees’ article review at Epiphenom:  What you want, god wants.

This study shows how we create our gods.  It shows where the gods & spirits live.   I think this evidence also ironically shows how prayer works as I will now explain:

Studies on prayer clearly show that intercessory pray (AKA: other-prayer or magical prayer) does not work, but I feel self-prayer (praying that you yourself will grow and change) can be a useful tool for peace of heart and insights into daily life.  However, self-prayer efficacy is difficult to research.

Tom’s review of this brain research study supports my theory on self-prayer by showing that the reason we can learn much from self-prayer is because the god we are praying to is actually ourselves.  Now, if self-prayer were only talking to a non-existent god, it too would be powerless like magical prayer, but instead, a person’s earnest prayers may actually be reaching someone who listens and actually cares — themselves!

Yet self-prayer is not as simple as just talking to yourself in the normal way.  When people do deep self-prayer, they probably have better access to some of their multiple selves  which are not easily accessible consciously.  These selves contain information and ideas you may not be aware of at the moment of your prayer when you are locked in another self.  I know this sounds sort of woo-woo, but this view fits well, I feel, with some computational views of mind.  You can see this link if you aren’t familiar with my notion of  multiple selves.

So, if you couple the insights of this study that Tom reviews along with the notion of self-prayer and my view of multiple selves,  you may see why I feel self-prayer sometimes works.

Anyway, great article by Epiphenom !

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Darwin’s Signature for Sale: $125

darwin's signature

Believing that a person has something inside–an essence–that makes them what they are is called “Essentialism”.   Essentialism is often accompanied by the belief that this “essence” somehow can rub off on things that person touches or where that person lives — that their essence is contagious.  Such essentialist thinking plays a huge role in our superstitious/religious minds.

Many atheists would be excited to purchase a signature of Charles Darwin for the price I listed above.  They may frame the signature in their house or office.  They would love to show it to their friends.  All this because part of their mind buys into “Essentialism”.  Signatures of Richard Feynman, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould and many others may be equally exciting.   In a similar way an Atheist may boast of having met and shook hands with Margaret Atwood, Steven Pinker, James Randi, Daniel Dennett, or Lance Armstrong.

Being an atheist, being a free thinker or being an agnostic does not protect you from the many deep seated cognitive illusions in the human brain.  You are inescapably human.   Sure, we can try to discipline our minds to avoid these illusions, but then you could not have as richly enjoyed sharing Darwin’s signature, of attending a lecture by Richard Dawkins, or of meeting Steven Hawking.

————
Notes:
(1)  Bruce Hood’s new book “SuperSense” discusses this phenomena in an excellent chapter called, “Could You Wear a Killer’s Cardigan?”

(2) OK, I photoshopped that framed signature.  I trust that everyone realizes that I am not selling a signature.  Sorry if anyone was tricked to visiting and reading by my pic — OK, I am a fibber, I am not sorry !  Smile.

(3) Word on the street is that Dawkins’ new book talks about Essentialism too.   This concept is essential in understanding our religious minds.  OK, that does it, I am going to Amazon to order now !

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Unprovable Faith

The Edge.org is a site dedicated to skeptical, critical thinking among intellects of very different beliefs.  In a 2005 post (later to become a book) they explored the important question of:

What Do You Believe Is True
Even Though You Cannot Prove It ?

To tease your interests, below I list the unprovable beliefs of just a few of these writers.  I will let you guess why I chose the ones I did.  Please do go to the site to read their full explanations of their ‘confessions’ — they are fascinating.  Presently, I am writing a larger post on “Faith” and I will refer back to these examples as evidence for my conclusions.

  • The universe is infinite.
    Alexander Vilenkin, Physicist
  • That time does not exist.
    Carlo Rovelli, Physicist
  • I believe that intelligent life may presently be unique to our Earth.
    Marin Rees, Cosmologist
  • I believe we are not alone.
    Carolyn Porco , Planetary Scientist
  • The continuum hypothesis is false.  I think human-level artificial intelligence will be achieved.
    John McCarthy, computer scientist
  • Capitalism and other market-driven systems are better than their alternatives.
    Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, Wired
  • We’re living in a draft version of the universe—and there is no final version. The revisions never stop.
    Rudy Rucker, Mathematician, Computer Scientist
  • I believe in science. Unlike mathematical theorems, scientific results can’t be proved.They can only be tested again and again, until only a fool would not believe them.
    Seth Lloyd, Quantum Mechanical Engineer
  • I believe that people are getting better.  In other words, I believe in moral progress.
    W. Daniel Hillis, Physicist, Computer Scientist
  • Progress
    Neil Gershenfeld, Physicist
  • Human Behavior is Unconsciously Controlled
    Robart R. Provine, Psychologist and NeuroScientist.
  • Cockroaches are conscious
    Alun Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, New Scientist
  • Consciousness and its contents are all that exist
    Donald Hoffman, Cognitive Scientist
  • I believe there is an external reality and you are not all figments of my imagination.
    Janna Levin, Physicist
  • I believe nothing to be true (clearly real) if it cannot be proved.
    Maria Spiropulu, Physicist
  • That reality exists and science is the best method for understanding it.
    Michael Schermer, Publisher
  • Quantum Mechanics is not a final theory.
    Lee Smolin, Physicist
  • Most ideas taught in Economics 101 will be proved false eventually.
    Jean Paul Schmetz, Economist
  • That our universe is infinite in size, finite in age, and just one among many.
    John Barrow, Cosmologist
  • There is no God that has existence apart from people’s thoughts of God.
    Scott Atran, Anthropologist
  • There is a God.
    David Myers, Psychologist
  • I believe, first, that all people have the same fundamental concepts, values, concerns, and commitments, despite our diverse languages, religions, social practices, and expressed beliefs.
    Elizabeth Spelke, Psychologist
  • I do not believe that people are capable of rational thought when it comes to making decisions in their own lives.
    Roger Schank,  Psychologist & Computer Scientist
  • Science, like most human activities, is based on a belief, namely the assumption that nature is understandable.
    Piet Hut, Astrophysicist
  • It is possible to live happily and morally without believing in free will.
    Susan Blackmore, Psychologist
  • I believe that animals have feelings and other states of consciousness, but neither I, nor anyone else, has been able to prove it.
    Joseph Ledox, Neuroscientist
  • I believe that human consciousness is a conjuring trick, designed to fool us into thinking we are in the presence of an inexplicable mystery.
    Nicholas Humphrey, Psychologist

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