Tag Archives: rationality

Don’t Judge Anyone?

I hear this all the time, especially from the political left and I think it’s the biggest load of BS ever.  Don’t judge!  Don’t judge!  Bite me.

Everyone judges.  If you don’t, you’re a gullible fool.  But unfortunately, there are a lot of really gullible fools out there.  This is just a means to avoid responsibility, to avoid having standards, to avoid picking the high road because you’re terrified to hurt someone’s feelings.

Well boo f’ing hoo.  It’s all a bunch of hippy dippy feel-good horse excrement.  Everyone judges.  In fact, as a society, we have to.  It’s the only way for society to not only survive but thrive.  It’s why we have laws, because we have decided that some acts are acceptable and some are not.  The idea that we shouldn’t judge is just absurd.

It’s even worse when you get those self-same liberal lunatics who tell everyone else not to judge, but then go around judging the hell out of everyone else.  But their judging isn’t based on common sense, it isn’t based on logic and reason and what’s demonstrably best for society, their judging is all about feelings.  It’s all about emotions. It doesn’t matter if anything they’re judging on makes rational sense, only if it makes them happy and then they carry around the “don’t judge” flag, poking everyone else for being judgemental pricks.  Yeah, because we can’t see the blatant hypocrisy of the political left.

Now granted, there are plenty on the right who are every bit as absurd and those tend to be the religious who, again, operate on nothing but emotion and hypocrisy.  Is it any wonder why I see more similarities between the religious and the liberal than differences these days?

So what do you think?  Is it okay to judge?  Is it mandatory that we judge?  Let me know in the comments.  I’m just getting sick and tired of people telling me not to judge when not only is it not a bad thing, but they’re doing it every bit or moreso than I do. These people have problems but they’re completely blinded to them.  It’s what happens when you value feels over reals and that, regardless of the side of the aisle you’re on, is an irrational, stupid thing to do.

Being Irrational About Being Rational

I’ve seen this before, but it’s come up recently in a debate with a Muslim who is completely convinced that his beliefs are rational, yet cannot see that, as he describes them, they are anything but.  He tries to use things like the Cosmological Argument, but when I point out that, even if it was true, it only points to a very generic entity and he cannot make the logical leap from a generic being to his specific god without faith, he says he can, but he simply cannot, or will not, show how he got there.  But it’s all very rational, he assures me.

These people are idiots.

I mean, I get that people don’t like to think they are irrational in their beliefs, but you either are or you’re not.  Redefining terms to get around the failure in your beliefs is absurd.  I honestly don’t think these people know, or care, what these words mean in the first place.  It certainly isn’t the first time that I’ve been engaged in a religious debate with a theist where they assure me they’re being rational, only to turn around and behave totally irrationally.  I have a feeling that they equate rationality with “it makes sense to me” which is diametrically opposed to what rationality actually means.

See, the very word means “relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason”.  That means we have to look to reason, which means “a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense; especially :  something (such as a principle or law) that supports a conclusion or explains a fact“.  I also include objectivity in my requirements, which means “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.”.  Hence, an objective and rational person is concerned with what is demonstrably factual, without regard to their personal feelings or beliefs.

And very few people want to do that.  In fact, what a lot of people who claim to be “rational” about their religious beliefs are doing is simply rationalizing their beliefs.  That means, again turning to the dictionary, “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.”  Anyone ought to see why this kind of behavior is problematic if your goal is to get to the facts, as mine is.  But very few people actually care about the facts, they care about their feelings, they want to feel good about the world around them so they invent ad hoc explanations for how the world operates and then clench their eyes shut and stick their fingers in their ears so nobody can correct their misconceptions.

Is it any wonder I point out how stupid these people are?  Is it any surprise they refuse to change their mind?

 

The Liberal Hypocrisy Continues

Liberal Experience

Although it’s rare these days, the only blog I ever look at over on FreeThoughtBlogs is the Atheist Experience blog, just to see what people say about the most recent episode of Atheist Experience.  Of course, it’s filled to the brim with a bunch of ultra-liberal whack-a-loons, but what can you expect?  Recently, on this post, someone named Robert, not Bob said that “the real problem seems to be how to tell people their most fundamental mental assumptions are wrong. I’ve run into this with anti-Feminism, conservatism of all stripes, and New-Age woo (as well as religion). I don’t know if there is a solution: there’s nothing more guaranteed to bring up the defenses.”

Of course, neither he, nor any of the other posters, recognized that the exact same thing happens with liberal ideas too, such as feminism (which he capitalizes for some reasons, as though that makes it important), liberalism of all stripes and any number of liberal woo causes.  It seems that when it’s absurd, woo-driven bullshit that they don’t like, they can see the failures and faults in the process, but when it’s absurd, woo-driven bullshit that they do like, it suddenly becomes invisible.

Another poster, Peggy, responded with ” And not just their defenses but their offensive position, too. It feels rather tribal. And, yes, saying that I’m happy now and glad to be out can’t help but sound pretty insulting to those who consider being “in” a virtue, no matter how it’s said. I just really didn’t expect the pure meanness, I guess.”  Sure, this coming from the liberal side, characterized by Richard Carrier with “There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all.”  Lack of tribalism on the liberal side? Hardly.  These are the people who form cliques and write BlockBots and try to harm their opponents by doxxing them and trying to get them fired from their jobs.  I’ve rarely seen anyone on the other side try to do that.  Liberals aren’t only fanatics, they’re mean fanatics who are utterly blinded to their own faults and failures.  They can point fingers, they just can’t see when the fingers are pointing back at them.

Another one, JD and Co., seems to think that people on the other side just react badly for no reason at all, such as when he became a vegetarian.  Now I can’t speak to that particular case, but in another recent debate, someone popped on, said they were a vegan, and immediately started moralizing about how horrible anyone who eats meat actually is.  This seems to be quite normal for the vegetarian crowd who can’t help looking down at those who don’t abstain from animal products.  Again, I have no idea what happened with JD and Co., but I can’t say I’d be surprised if he did the same thing, it seems very common.  When you attack others, they have every right to turn it around on you.  Liberals are totally blind to this as well.  Try telling one of them that you’re not a feminist and watch them shit their pants.  I’m sure they’ll tell you that you’re intolerant too, tolerance only goes one way in the liberal worldview. just like racism and sexism and all the rest does.

It constantly amazes me just how similar liberalism and fundamentalist religion are.  They both operate on pure and completely blind faith.  Both of them point fingers at their opponents and accuse them of “heresy”, insisting that their enemies are acting wrong-headedly, while entirely ignoring the exact same things within their own ranks.  They share the same penchant to twist and turn words to get the best effect from them, even if they’re guilty of misquotes and misrepresentations of their sources.  They redefine terminology so that they can sound reasonable, while taking the opposition to account for doing the same thing.  They’ve gotten so absurd that now, they’re co-opting the definition of “egalitarian” for that of “feminism” because they’re tired of people attacking them for only caring about the rights of women.  Feminism is now the same as egalitarianism unless you’re talking about equality for white men, at which point you’re sexist and racist.

When is this liberal stupidity ever going to end and when are we going to hold the people who act emotionally, irrationally and stupidly accountable?  My prediction?  Not any time soon.

Being Atheist Doesn’t Mean Being Liberal

conservative atheists blazing saddlesI’m kind of kicking myself right now, but I don’t remember where I saw this earlier, but when I tried to go back and look for it, I couldn’t figure it out.  If I find it, I’ll drop a link in here, I promise.  So anyhow, earlier today, I read a blog post, something along the lines that open atheists are more prevalent in more liberal societies, such that atheists clearly want to be part of more liberal societies.

Bullshit.

I’m an atheist and I have no interest whatsoever in living in the kind of liberal society that we see in many western nations. I can’t stand liberalism, I find it absurd and abhorrent, I find many of the extremist liberals that we tend to see in atheism to be a joke.  I find liberal ideas to be at the core of most of society’s problems and responsible for the slow but demonstrable slide of America into a socialist morass.  And no, that’s nothing to be proud of.

Unfortunately, this is an idea that doesn’t seem to go over well with most atheists, even though studies have shown that upwards of 20% of atheists identify as secular conservatives as well.  This isn’t a new revelation either, in fact it’s been at the center of my general disagreement of the atheist “movement”, as well as more than one argument with liberals who can’t quite get it through their head that every atheist out there isn’t a far-left booster.  You know, for people who often claim to be rational and skeptical, I see very little of that among many political pundits in the atheist camp.  In fact, I see the same kind of overt emotionalism that I see criticized among the religious on a daily basis.  News flash, if having beliefs based on nothing but wishful thinking and emotional comfort is bad for religion, it isn’t any better for politics.  Claiming to be skeptical and critical only works if you actually are skeptical and critical.  You can’t say one thing and then do something entirely different, yet you see a lot of very vocal atheists dancing on top of their high horses, declaring that if you don’t share their ludicrously liberal views, you’re an enemy of atheism.  It harkens back to the classic Richard Carrier post where he demands everyone abide by the Atheism+ mantra or be declared a C.H.U.D.  Why are there people like this and why are they seen as leaders in the “atheist community”?  They’re certainly nobody I’d ever want to represent or speak for me.  This isn’t an old issue, it’s something I see again and again and again among atheists who can’t stop linking their “Social Justice Warrior” nonsense to their lack of belief in gods.

Can we please just  get back to being atheists and get rid of any plusses?  It is possible to be several different things at the same time, you know.  You’re not stuck with a single label that you have to make mean a bunch of different things.  You’re free to label yourself a variety of different things and advance different views in different venues.  It doesn’t have to be a one-size fits all thing and you don’t have to refuse to deal with anyone that doesn’t fit into your little clique and check off all the same boxes as you.  Finally, if  you want to be a freethinker and a skeptic, you can’t just wear those hats and not follow their creeds.  If we’re rejecting religion because it cannot be rationally justified, why aren’t you looking at your political views the same way?  I know you’re not  because I see it all the time.  I see the exact same irrational, emotional nonsense with atheists as I do with theists.  If we’re to be better than the religious, you actually have to do it, not just declare it.

Maybe if more atheists did that, there wouldn’t be nearly so many liberals carrying the non-religious flag.

Being Right All The Time

i-am-rightIt’s a very common human foible, but lots of people have the psychological need to be right all the time, to defend their views to the death, even if those views are factually wrong, simply because their ego will not permit them to admit that they were actually mistaken.  I think this is very commonplace among evangelical and fundamentalist theists, they hold that their beliefs can never be wrong and, when shown that what they believe is actually false, instead of changing their views, they will double down on the false beliefs because their egos will not allow them to be wrong.

I’ve been suggesting this to theists for a while now, especially those who completely ignore any and all evidence that their beliefs are factually incorrect, and I had one of them come back and accuse me of the same thing.  I want to be right all the time.  Well yes, but not in the same way.  See, they’re going to cling to a belief, right or wrong, because it is the belief that they are emotionally attached to.  I, on the other hand, if I find that a belief is wrong, I will reject that belief and go find another that is better supported by the evidence.  As such, I do want to be right, I simply go find better beliefs if I find weaknesses in the ones I hold.  That’s an entirely different thing than the religious do.  My beliefs are fluid, they can be changed if they are found to be faulty.  Religious beliefs are rigid, they can never be changed for any reason, even if revealed to be wrong.  I suppose in some sense, we both want to be right all the time, I just want to be actually right, they just want to present the illusion of rightness.

So what is best?  I think clearly the ability to change your mind on the issues as new information becomes available is best, but the religious seem oblivious to that.  They believe they have the eternal Word of God that can never change, it must always be exactly the same because otherwise, it weakens their religious beliefs.  Therefore, they cannot ever modify their beliefs for any reason, it reveals a flaw in their God if they do.  I have no gods to keep happy.  I just go where the evidence leads.  It makes for a superior position.

So if anyone tells you that you’re trying to be right all the time, explain it to them in small words how your position is vastly superior to theirs and why.  We all ought to strive to be right, not by defending untenable positions, but by continually following the changing information landscape and planting our flag on those ideas that are best supported at the time.

That’s Just The Way It Is

thatsthewayitisOne of the most disturbing arguments I see and one that bugs me a lot is the idea that we shouldn’t try to change humanity for the better because people are irrational and “that’s just the way it is”.  This comes up most often in religious discussions where I try to encourage people to think critically and rationally about their religious beliefs and invariably, someone will pop up and say “humans aren’t rational, you can’t expect them to ever be rational”.

Bullshit.

That’s like saying that humans are naturally racist and sexist, which we know they are.  We generally seek out those with similar characteristics to ourselves and tend to fear those with different characteristics.  It’s part of our biology and part of our evolution.  That doesn’t mean we should throw up our arms and accept it, in fact, we’ve spent a lot of time, several generations at this point, fighting exactly that and it’s worked.  There aren’t as many racist or sexist people around anymore.  Just trying actually accomplishes things.

So why is it so awful to ask that people actually use that piece of meat in their heads?  Why shouldn’t we hold people to a higher standard than we do cattle?  Well, it all comes down to those lovely people, the accomodationists, who don’t want anyone to ever feel bad for being stupid.  Unfortunately, the theists tend, and I say tend, to be stupid and irrational, basing their entire religious worldview on emotion, not intellect.  It makes them feel good to think that there’s a powerful invisible man in the sky who is keenly interested in what people do in their bedrooms.  I don’t know why it makes them good, I just know that it does, it certainly did back when I was religiously delusional, even though I can’t, for the life of me, remember why I ever thought it was a good idea.

That said, no, I do not accept that it’s just the way that it is.  Those who aren’t willing or capable of upping their game ought to be criticized for it.  People shouldn’t be allowed to feign stupidity as an excuse for believing ridiculous things. They ought to be challenged and if they fail the challenge, they ought to be ridiculed.  It makes it a bit easier since the United States is becoming increasingly more secular, up to 38% in the most recent polls, for people who claim no religious affiliation.  We’re winning, folks.  Maybe we ought to press our advantage and take the war for intelligent debate over religious topics to the streets.  Don’t let people use blind faith as an excuse.  Blind faith is a failure.  Make sure they know it. Make sure everyone knows it.  The more people are ridiculed for relying on such absurd things, the more embarrassed they get by repeatedly failing to win these debates, the more they’ll be forced, by peer pressure, into actually adopting a more intellectual and rational standpoint.  From there, it’s only a few steps to giving up the ridiculous religious beliefs altogether.

Let’s not allow “that’s the way it is” to be an excuse.  It isn’t the way it ought to be.  We need to demand better of everyone. We need to have high expectations.  We need to keep raising the bar instead of what so many accomodationists routinely do, pull out a shovel when they look for the lowest common denominator.  Stooping to the worst possible choice doesn’t improve humanity, it just allows humanity to remain blissfully ignorant and ignorance doesn’t help any of us improve.

Why People Believe What They Believe Part 4

IRRATIONAL

Welcome to part 4 of my series on cognitive biases and other irrational things that go on in our heads that we need to not only be aware of, but we need to know how to counter.  As in the past, I’ll give a short explanation of each and hope that you try to recognize these problems in  your own life and how they affect your rationality.  As critical thinking individuals, we have to be aware of potential problems that may arise in our thought processes.  Just wanting to be rational isn’t enough, we have to continually test our positions to make sure they are arrived at through rational means.

So on with the show!

Observer Expectancy Effect – Here, the observer can influence witnesses by holding and/or expressing an expectation of the witnesses.  One example of this was backmasking, the belief that Satanic messages are recorded backwards in songs.  Because people are told that there are messages in the songs, many people hear these messages where, before they were told what to listen for, they only heard random noises.  This is also common in irrational and undemonstrated practices like dowsing.

Omission Bias – When engaging the Omission Bias, people are likely to judge an action that is harmful as worse or more immoral than an equally harmful lack of action because it’s easier to see action than inaction.  A good example would be a politician who knows his political rival is allergic to a particular food.  If people are asked if it is worse that the politician gave his rival food that he knew his rival was allergic to, or if he purposely did not inform his rival that the food he was about to eat contained something he was allergic to, people tend to identify the first option as more immoral when they both lead to the same conclusion.

Ostrich Effect – Those guilty of the Ostrich Effect attempt to avoid risky or dangerous situations by simply pretending they do not exist.  While typically used in financial transactions, it does apply, for example, in faith healing cases, where the parents simply refuse to acknowledge the possibility that prayer doesn’t work and their child may die from lack of proper medical attention.

Outcome Bias – When considering a past decision where the ultimate outcome of the decision is known, individuals will often judge that decision, not on the basis of the decision itself, but on the outcome, positive or negative.  Data discovered after the decision is made should have no bearing on whether the decision was good or bad at the time.  A doctor, for instance, should decide whether a particular treatment option is warranted based on the prognosis at the time.  If an operation had a good chance of success for the particular ailment, it would have been a good decision to make, even if the patient ultimately died.

Overconfidence Effect – Some people are extremely confident of their abilities, even when their abilities are demonstrably faulty.  People tend to overestimate their own accuracy when the truth is notably less.  Someone who claims to be 99% confident in their ability to correctly answer questions, yet their answers are only 40% correct, has a problem with the calibration of their subjective probabilities.  We need to understand the reasonable limits of our abilities and not pretend, through ego or unwarranted confidence, that we are better than we actually are.

Overoptimism – Also called the Optimism Bias, this is the state of belief that one is less likely to suffer adverse effects because they are optimistic about the world around them.  For example, there are smokers who are convinced that they are less likely to contract lung cancer than other smokers, people who think that they are less likely to be victims of violent crime than others in similar situations, etc.  Much of this comes from self-presentation, the desire to present a specific image of oneself, whether that image is realistic or not.  It can also come from a desire to impose personal control on the world around them, whether or not that control is possible.  It really asserts that the individual is special and thus at less risk than anyone else, a demonstrably faulty assumption.

Pessimism Bias – This is the opposite of Overoptimism, it is the assumption that bad things are more likely to happen to an individual than to other similar individuals under similar conditions.  All of the things that I said about overoptimism apply here as well.

Placebo Effect – In medicine, the placebo effect is a demonstrable change in health or behavior that cannot be attributed to actual medication or treatment, only the assumption by the patient that such treatment has been given.  Our brains have a wonderful capacity to heal and sometimes, it only takes the assumption that we are being treated and the confidence that such treatments are effective, to trigger these healing properties and allow the body to fix itself without outside intervention.  Of course, this doesn’t just apply to medicine, people who believe, for instance, that they are being prayed for, can experience dramatic changes in attitude or experience if they believe prayer helps. It is important to recognize that outside of a desire to improve, placebo doesn’t actually do anything, it just provides a means for people to improve their own situation.

Planning Fallacy – People often have difficulty estimating how long it will take to complete a particular project, even if they have experience with the amount of time it may actually take.  Asked to estimate how long it would take to complete their thesis, only 30% of students actually accurately predicted the timetable.  Most vastly underestimated how much time it would take.

Post-Purchase Rationalization – Especially when it comes to expensive purchases, or perceived expensive decisions, the decision maker will attempt to build up their purchase or decision to rationalize the cost.  This isn’t just a matter of cars and boats, where a buyer may disregard any shortcomings because they paid a lot for the product.  People who make heavy decisions that have a lot of personal cost to them may ignore problems with their decision in order to make themselves feel better about having made it.  People tend to want to avoid admitting that they have made bad decisions for bad reasons.

Next Monday, ten more!  We’re coming down to the wire, I hope you’re enjoying this look at things we need to avoid to make good decisions.

Why People Believe What They Believe Part 3

IRRATIONAL

Here’s part three of my 6-part Monday series on cognitive biases that we all should be aware of.  I got the idea from here, but it’s something we should all strive to understand and be careful with if we want to be as rational as we can.  Just because we’re programmed to believe certain things doesn’t mean those things are actually good to believe. And so, here’s my next set of ten biases to think about, things that come up all the time and that we need to consider before acting.

Hindsight Bias – I would argue that the tendency for Islam to declare that scientific discoveries are found in the Qur’an is an excellent example of this fallacy.  This deals with people “discovering” in retrospect that ideas are true and they knew it all along.  It springs from selective memory and is often associated with schizophrenia and PTSD.

Hyperbolic Discounting – When given a choice between two similar rewards, people tend to discount the later reward and give favor to the earlier, simply because it comes first.  Even if the reward is greater if one waits, people tend to place value on the smaller reward, just because it comes sooner.  As the amount of time the subject has to wait increases, their tolerance for slightly longer waits increases as well.  If they are told that they can get ten dollars today, or thirty dollars tomorrow, a significant number will choose the ten dollars today.  However, if you tell them that they can have ten dollars a month from now, or thirty dollars a month and a day from now, a smaller number will pick the ten dollars, preferring to wait the additional day for the larger amount.

Ideomoter Effect – The human body may sometimes take action, seemingly without being commanded by the brain.  This likely explains things like Ouija Boards and dowsing, where people are subconsciously maneuvering objects without being consciously aware they are doing it.  In fact, people are often so unaware that they utterly refuse to acknowledge the possibility that they are influencing the outcome of the experiment.

Illusion of Control – I’ve talked about people’s ability to under-estimate the control they might have over a particular situation, but the Illusion of Control addresses the opposite, people can vastly over-estimate how much control they have in a particular situation, to the point that they assert that they are actually responsible for things that they simply cannot be responsible for.  This is especially true with many superstitions and belief in extrasensory perception, etc.  People think that they have special powers that let them change the results on dice or that performing a ritual will help their sports team win the big game, etc.  Feedback loops play a particularly strong part in this, if a person takes a particular action and a favorable result comes about, they may link that action with that result and continue to perform one in order to get the other.  Of course, this is subject to confirmation bias, the ability to remember the hits and forget the misses, when things really operate no better than random chance.

Illusion of Validity – We find this commonly when people think that getting additional data points that provide no more actual evidence, will provide for a better result.  Essentially, it’s data for data’s sake.  If having 50 points of data is enough to come to a conclusion, having 100 points doesn’t make the conclusion any better.  However, there are some who insist on increasingly large data sets, just  because they don’t ever want to come to the conclusion that the data seems to indicate.  This is very true of the religious, especially creationists, who want an ever-increasing data set for evolution because they do not want evolution to be demonstrated, even though it’s absurdly clear that it has been.

Information Bias – Information bias results from an individual insisting that any data, even irrelevant data or potentially faulty data, is better to acquire before coming to a conclusion than less data, even if it is all relevant. This is similar to the Illusion of Validity, in that people who are guilty of it think that more data is better, just because there’s more of it.  In rational studies though, only valid data, data that directly speaks to the thing being studied, makes any difference at all.

Inter-Group Bias – Also called in-group favoritism, this is the tendency to give members of your own group, whether social, religious, sexual, racial or whatnot, more credence than people who fall outside of your  group. The reasons for this are numerous, through our evolution, competitive pressures between groups have been commonplace and those who are with you, typically aren’t against you, therefore you work harder to protect and defend those who are on your side of the conflict.  There is also a modicum of self-esteem involved, you tend to see yourself in those who are similar to yourself and therefore, feel better about supporting those who look most similar to yourself.  The lower one’s self-esteem, the more likely they are to rely on the group dynamic as a substitute for their own self-worth and be more likely to value in-group vs. out-group dynamics.

Irrational Escalation – This is sometimes referred to as Escalation of Commitment, or the Sunk-Cost Fallacy. As one becomes invested in a particular proposition, they become more strongly committed to their current position, even if it becomes clear that they’re wrong.  The more wrong it appears they are, the harder they cling to their current belief, doubling down on the losing side as it were.  In U.S. politics, many think that recent military actions owe much to the sunk-costs of building up the military during the Cold War era.  We’ve already spent the money, we might as well use the hardware!

Less-is-More Effect – Sometimes called the less-is-better effect, it results from people choosing a lesser option when presented in a certain way than a clearly better option.  Dan Ariely, whose book I reviewed recently, studied this effect.  People, for example, if offered two cups of ice cream, will often take the smaller amount of ice cream if offered in a small cup, over a larger amount of ice cream offered in a large cup.  The size of the cups makes them think that more is actually less than the lesser amount.

Negativity Bias – Many people will more easily or strongly recall negative experiences than positive experiences, thus attempt to avoid future negative consequences much more strongly than to re-experience future positive events.We do understand that there is more electrical activity in the cerebral cortex while viewing negative images than there is while viewing positive images.  We also know that learning takes place much faster in cases where a negative influence is used, compared to a positive influence.  We also know that when humans distinguish things or people from one another, it is the negative aspects that stand out, not the positive or neutral ones.  Your brain looks for things that are wrong with a person’s face to distinguish it from a different face.  We also find negative information to be more credible than positive information.  In marketing terms, a good experience may cause an individual to tell one or two friends about it.  A bad experience will cause an individual to tell upwards of ten people about it.

That’s it for this week.  I know that it’s difficult because a lot of these things are evolutionary relics of our human brains, they once fulfilled a purpose in our survival, but today, most are simply useless vestigial patterns in our heads.  However, we have the ability to over-ride these patterns and recognize them for what they are, so that we can make better, more rational decisions.

 

Different Levels of Irrationality

IrrationalThere’s a lot of irrationality in the world and lots of people who hold irrational beliefs who point at other people who hold different irrational beliefs in an accusatory manner, like their own silly beliefs are fine, but those other silly beliefs… HERESY! I ran into someone like that recently, whose hypocrisy was so utterly blatant, yet she was completely blind to it.  We were talking about supernatural claims, whether they were worth considering or not and one woman said that she recognized  belief in gods were irrational, but she  believed in ghosts for personal reasons and argued that belief in ghosts was less irrational than belief in gods.

I asked her how she could justify such a statement and she said that at least belief in ghosts caused no harm to the world, it didn’t order a particular set of morals, it didn’t require people attend services or read books or hold a particular worldview.  To her, the belief in ghosts was totally neutral.

Belief in anything irrational is still irrational and if you recognize that it is irrational at all, then you lose all credibility when you continue to hold that belief.  The level of irrationality is just a justification for a belief, it doesn’t make that belief any better than the true wingnuts out there.  You can’t argue that belief in ghosts is better than belief in unicorns, but worse than a belief in leprechauns.  It just doesn’t work that way.

Unfortunately, she’s convinced, as are many irrational people, that because there are a lot of irrational people in the world, that makes irrationality fine and dandy.  That’s like saying that because there are lots of racists around, that makes racism acceptable.  Essentially, she’s arguing that because other people are crazy, nobody can possibly complain about her own brand of insanity.

Bullshit.

Of course, the discussion isn’t going to go anywhere because she can’t be reasoned with, any more than a theist can.  She’s utterly convinced that her belief in ghosts is valid and true and beyond reproach and no amount of logic or reason is going to convince her otherwise because she doesn’t live in a rational world.  She lives in a world where wanting something to be true is all the evidence that she needs that it actually is.  Funny how much that sounds like religion, isn’t it?

We only need one standard, as I told her.  That standard is based on evidence and reason and logic.  It is based on the best supported position, determined by the best currently-available evidence and, at least so far, the factual existence of ghosts doesn’t meet that standard.  She chose to ignore me, which is hardly unexpected, the delusional don’t get their minds changed by rational arguments, especially when she lives in a world where rationality is fairly non-existent.

More sad insanity for the reader to consider.

Why People Believe What They Believe Part 2

IRRATIONALWelcome to a 6-part series of articles detailing cognitive biases, based on an article I found here.  I’ll post one part every Monday between July 28 and September 1, hopefully informing people who actually care about accepting the factual truth and avoiding cognitive dissonance, 57 things to be aware of and careful to avoid.  I hope it will also be useful for understanding why the irrational believe what they believe and to help us show them the way out.

Let’s get started.

Curse of Knowledge – The curse of knowledge is something that a lot of atheists, particularly those atheists who regularly debate theists, know all about.  It is a difficulty for those who have lots of knowledge about a particular subject to look at the situation from the perspective of those with less knowledge.  It’s a fault of perspective, in some ways, a reverse of the Dunning-Krueger Effect.  Now that doesn’t mean that the more knowledgeable individuals may not be correct in their assessment of a given situation, they more than likely are, but they cannot assume it a priori because they feel superior to the lower-knowledge opponent.

Decoy Effect – When making a decision between two products or ideas and one criteria is important to the decision maker, that bias may cause the decision maker to come to an irrational conclusion by placing an undue importance on the specific criteria.  For instance, if a consumer is considering a new car and their criteria are cost and mileage, a mileage-conscious consumer may not consider the cost-per-mile of the vehicle if they see an expensive vehicle that gets more miles per gallon.  People who tend to focus on only a single criteria may be misled by marketers who try to hide other important criteria from the consumer.

Denomination Effect – While this may have limited application, the Denomination Effect refers to a tendency by consumers to be less likely to spend larger bills than their equivalent in smaller bills.  People tend to think they are saving money by transacting in small bills rather than large bills, even if they spend more in the small bills than they would in the large.  It is a cognitive bias in recognizing the difference between perceived value vs. actual value.

Duration Neglect – Individuals do not tend to take the duration of a bad experience into account when thinking back on it later.  This is likely because our brains tend to edit out pain or discomfort, we can remember having been in pain but we cannot remember the actual pain itself.  In one experiment, subjects were told to put their hands in uncomfortably cold water.  They were asked to take their hand out immediately first, then when the experiment was repeated, they were told to leave their hand in the water for several minutes while it was slowly warmed, although never to a comfortable level.  After a few days, the subjects were asked which of the two tests they wanted to repeat and most people chose the second, even though their discomfort lasted for much longer than the first.

Empathy Gap – This is the effect that a person in one state is unable to easily place themselves in, or imagine themselves in another state.  In an experiment on bullying, people who were not placed in the position of being a social outcast routinely underestimated the pain and unhappiness of those who were placed in the out-group position.  It may also serve to overestimate the pain if having pain is particular to the belief. For instance, Christians might assume that atheists are in a lot of “pain” and “suffer” from their disconnect from God because Christians want to think that belief in God is the optimal position.

Frequency Illusion – Also known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, this is the feeling that a recently encountered word or idea may come up an inordinate number of times in the short span that follows. It’s how we see coincidences.  For instance, when I bought a new car a couple of years ago, suddenly those cars were everywhere, I was seeing them wherever I went and I thought it was odd.  In reality, there were no more of them on the road after I bought mine, I was simply paying more attention to them because I was now driving one.  It is drawing additional significance of these newly-noticed events that makes them irrational.

Galatea Effect – The Galatea effect is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy.  People who are expected to do well tend to do well in tests and at work.  Those that are expected to do poorly tend to do poorly in the same situations.  I;m sure a lot of us have seen this in action in our work lives, where management who thinks their underlings are horrible and can never succeed are not surprised that it turns out to be true.  This can also be a factor for the rational individual where they can influence the outcome of an experiment with their expectations of the conclusion.  If they expect things to turn out well, things will usually turn out well, if they think they will turn out badly, they tend to turn out badly.

Halo Effect – The Halo effect, first described by psychologist Edward Thorndike, describes the influence that a person’s physical appearance might have on the overall reaction of the observer when discussing their character. We know this can have a strong impact in court cases, where the more attractive witness is taken more seriously than the less attractive witness, and in politics where the more telegenic politician is given more credence than the lesser telegenic politician.  In reality, physical attractiveness has nothing whatsoever to do with the character of the individual and it certainly has nothing to do with the arguments that individual makes.  Facts are facts, who delivers the facts is irrelevant.

Hard-Easy Bias – This relates to confidence when related to tasks that are easy or hard.  People tend to be more confident in their ability to perform difficult tasks and less confident in their ability to perform simple tasks.  This seems to be non-intuitive as we’d think that easy tasks and questions would elicit a much more confident response, but repeated studies show that this is not usually the case.

Herding – Humans maintain our herd instincts at some primal level and, even in the modern world, tend to want to act together in complex but unplanned social behaviors.  Many people are extremely concerned with fitting into the social structure around them and thus may unconsciously act as the group acts, wear the same clothes, profess the same beliefs, enjoy the same music, watch the same movies, etc.  From this, we can get many other irrational behaviors and beliefs, some of which I’ve already talked about.

It’s clear that a lot of these biases and effects are present in our every day life and, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves falling into them quite easily.  However, as rational people who have the intellectual ability to both understand and override our basic mental instincts, we have to be aware of these biases and how to overcome them, or at the very least lessen their effect in our daily lives.

Next Monday, another 10 cognitive biases that we should all be aware of.

 

 

The Bitchspot Report Podcast #67

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Here we go again!  This week, Fox News falls for a 4Chan hoax, or do they?  Egypt outlaws unlicensed Imams and we wonder where you get an Imam license?  Christian persecution, a new study shows it’s nonsense but the Christians probably don’t care.  Pat Robertson encourages children not to involve the authorities in domestic abuse.  Plus, we have a long discussion on where religious debates go wrong and why apologetics fail but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Give it a listen!

Not Predictably Irrational

irrational2It’s somewhat rare when I get to sit down and read a book, especially a heavy-duty, intellectual book.  I might manage to muddle through the latest Richard Dawkins tome, usually many months after it comes out, but that’s not a common occurrence.  I did have someone recommend to me that I pick up Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely, specifically because I am often extremely critical of the ability of most people to act in rational, intellectual ways.  However, I don’t think I’m getting the lesson from it that I was expected to.  Please note, I’m writing this as I’m reading the book and therefore, it might feel a bit disconnected, but please try to muddle through.

Ariely notes that people’s reactions are typically not rational, they will make decisions based on emotional responses and social pressures that really, if they had stopped to think about it for a moment, make no sense at all and are often the worst choice of those available.  He describes numerous social experiments that have been performed that show that people will pay more money overall, buying things they don’t even want, to get “free shipping” than they would have paid just for the product they wanted and shipping alone.  I tested myself on every single example he gave and honestly, I’d be the guy who broke their test model because I do act rationally on every decision I make.  I would never have bought things I didn’t want in order to get free shipping.

In fact, I think there are some cases where he didn’t think out the test parameters very carefully.  In one, he offered an expensive brand of French chocolate vs. a Hershey’s Kiss and showed that the rational choice would have been to get the more expensive chocolate and bypass the cheaper (or even free) Kiss.  That’s not what would be going through my mind. I’m diabetic.  I can’t have either chocolate.  If I was going to be picking one, I’d be doing it to give to someone else, thus I’d choose something based on what I know they like, not any kind of financial motivation.  But to be honest, I think there is something he wasn’t considering at all in his free vs. pay scenarios. People are much more likely to take something for free, even if they have no interest in it, simply because it’s available.  That’s why people who hand out flyers and coupons get so many people taking them, even if they have no interest whatsoever in the subject matter and why most of those coupons end up deposited in trashcans nearby.  It’s a matter of convenience, not a matter of cost.  But I digress.

There was a bit on the division between social norms and financial norms, how the expectations and actions of people who are being paid for a task differ from the expectations and actions of people who are asked to do something in a social setting, “as a favor”.  The conclusions were that most people would work harder, the more money they got paid, but people doing it out of perceived social expectations would work harder still.  However, I don’t look at it that way at all.  If I give my word that I will do a thing, whether I get paid or not and no matter how much I get paid, I will give it my all and perform my best regardless.  Even with no financial gain and no potential for any social advance at all, after all, I’m almost certainly never going to see these people doing the test again, if I am willing to perform the task, it will be performed to the highest standard of which I am capable.  I am neither motivated by financial gain or social status.  I am motivated by dignity and self-respect.

Likewise, when he spoke of the “Running of the Brides”, where brides-to-be will fight each other over drastically discounted designer wedding gowns, I see no use in that at all either.  It’s like the Black Friday sales, where people will give up dinner with their families at Thanksgiving to stand in a line at a store and hopefully score some cheap booty.  I’d never do that.  I don’t care what’s being given away.  I simply don’t have that mentality.  I’d rather pay full price and maintain my dignity than run around like an animal, punching and kicking other people to save a couple of bucks.  He describes how most people in a given situation would screw over their neighbors in a heartbeat but I don’t understand that kind of thought process.  I pay the fair rate and I take no more than I need, regardless of the situation, because I am not an evil or cruel person.  In fact, I’m more likely to take less than I might want, just to leave things for others, even complete strangers.  I don’t get why so many people are dicks.

In another experiment, he told his class that they had to turn in three papers over the course of the semester, they could select any date they wanted for those papers to be due, but once chosen, they could not change the dates, nor be late. The most rational choice, of course, is to pick the last day of the semester for all of them since you could turn them in early without penalty, this was a study on people’s willingness to procrastinate.  I don’t procrastinate.  I get things done early, not just early in fact, but absurdly early.  The idea of leaving anything for the last minute is anathema to me.  I’ve been in situations like the above, where I could decide when my work was due and invariably, I turn it in virtually immediately.  Just knowing that I have work to do is enough to spur me to finish it right away.  I’d have had all three papers turned in within the first two weeks, had I been in his class.

Now it’s not my intention to go through this book, experiment by experiment, study by study, and say I have nothing in common with the conclusions because that much is true.  Whether you’re talking about self-control (I have it), the influence emotion has on decisions (it doesn’t affect me), etc., I simply do not line up with any of the test groups that he describes.  Why?  Because I’m a rational individual.  No matter how many experiments and studies Mr. Ariely describes, I always fall on the rational side.  I evaluate claims fairly, I neither fall for dishonest ideas, nor am unjustifiably critical.  I think logically about claims and do not allow emotion to run away with me. I see things as they actually are but apparently, I am virtually alone in this, if Ariely’s results are to be believed and I have no reason to doubt them.  It seems that when a person can get away with lying for a reward, far too many people will do it.  I will not.  For me, character counts.  I am an inherently honest person.  Even if nobody else knows I’m lying, I know and I simply won’t do it.  He argues that most people would steal a pencil from work but I won’t.  It’s not mine.  There are no circumstances whatsoever under which I would steal from my employer or take someone else’s food from a refrigerator or abscond with an abandoned piece of property.  It’s just  not right, yet his findings show that most people will do so without a second thought.  What’s wrong with people?

And before anyone says anything, I’m not trying to claim to be special.  I’m not.  I honestly don’t understand the actions of people in any of these studies.  I cannot relate to them at all.  Apparently, most people will happily steal, screw others over, rip off their employers, make bad decisions and do just about anything you ask them to if you get them horny first.  What the actual fuck?  Maybe the human species is more screwed up than even I thought.  I don’t think any of this comes from upbringing either.  While I think my parents were good people, I don’t think they had any special tricks or secrets to childrearing.  They taught me the importance of being honest and the importance of hard work.  They didn’t necessarily push me to be rational and critical, I grew up in a very religious household and asking questions, especially about religion, is frowned upon, yet I picked that up somewhere along the line and that’s what caused me to jettison religion.  So please, I don’t see how the people in most of Ariely’s studies qualify as decent human beings, at least not the ones who cheated, stole, etc.  These are not things to be lauded, they’re things to be punished and maybe, with the lax liberal ideals on punishment, that explains a lot of what we see, after all, the majority of the studies were conducted on college students.

Oh, there are a few things that I had to question in general of course.  He wrote of an experience he had at Burning Man, where no one exchanged money, they just traded gifts and services as payment for everything they needed and he seemed genuinely surprised how it worked.  Why?  The barter system is how every economy gets started.  If you have a goat and you want grain, you trade your goat to the farmer and he milks the goat or slaughters it for meat.  Money is simply a unit of transfer that represents some undefined barter property.  It has an agreed upon value so that when deciding whether or not to trade, you can weigh the intrinsic value of the property against the artificial value of the paper to see if it makes sense.  This isn’t something new, this is something tremendously old. It’s just an observation that I thought should be pointed out.

Now I honestly don’t know what to think.  This was an interesting books, I’m neither telling people to go buy it or not, it’s available from the Amazon link at the top if you want to check it out but I get nothing one way or the other.  Clearly, people don’t have to be the dicks that I see in these studies.  People can choose to be moral, rational, intellectual individuals.  I did it.  I know others who have done it.  Why can’t everyone?  That’s the real question and we need a good answer to it.  Why has humanity failed so miserably?  Chime in if you think you know.

No Wonder The Religious Are Screwed Up

Religious RationalistIn a recent forum exchange, I started discussing rationality and how we ought to teach children, from a young age, how to think, how to reason and how to make rational decisions by examining evidence and using critical thinking skills.  A theist popped up and started laughing, he couldn’t imagine anyone ever being rational and called the whole idea of anyone being a critical thinker irrational on it’s face.  No wonder these people are so screwed up.

Unfortunately, I suspect that isn’t such an unusual view from the highly religious, who really don’t want a world where people can think and reason and be responsible for themselves, it does an unbelievable amount of damage to their religious worldview where they want to be totally reliant on an imaginary friend in the sky.  The existence of a growing rational population is terrifying to the fundamentalist because it signals an end to their time at the head of the pack.

The Bible even says so, just look at the picture to the left.

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.

However, whether they like it or not, their time is coming to an end.  We live in an increasingly technically-oriented and well-educated society (if you avoid Texas, that is) and as people become more educated, the studies clearly show, they tend to become less religious.  As people are able to look at the world around them and make determinations based on the evidence, they have less of a need to rely on religious dictates and books of mythology for their answers.

It won’t be too many more generations that the religious will have the ability to negatively impact the intellectual lives of those around them.  Maybe it’s irrational to think that the religious can be rational-minded with regard to their religions, but it certainly isn’t irrational to think that we can, and should, educate our children in all public schools to think critically and intellectually about the world around them and that should hasten the demise of religion, especially fundamentalist religion, around the world.

I can’t wait.  Can you?

Just Reading it Made Me Suffer

Every time I think I’ve found the limit of human stupidity, someone surprises me.  There’s a “movement” out there that proposes that humans stop breeding entirely and voluntarily go extinct so that we can “end suffering”.  It’s part of a larger concept called “antinatalism”.

These people are fucking stupid.

Without  going into too much detail, they think that life is inherently filled with suffering and therefore, since all suffering is to be avoided, we should all die and thus end suffering.

Except it doesn’t work that way.  It doesn’t stop all suffering, just human suffering.  If all humans just vanished off the planet tomorrow, suffering would continue.  That Thompson’s Gazelle is still going to suffer when the cheetah eats it. Animals are going to die, animals are going to get diseases, the suffering won’t take a moment’s break just because humanity is extinct.  The plan fails.

What’s worse though, their entire methodology fails.  They claim that their aim is to stop suffering so they’re just going to die a natural death.  What about all the suffering they cause while they’re here?  Every second they spend on this rock causes an immense amount of suffering to everyone around them!  Every breath they take kills millions of microscopic lifeforms.  Their immune system kills billions more every day.  Even though bacteria don’t feel pain as we recognize it, they still demonstrably move away from dangerous situations, they recognize, in a non-sentient manner, that something is bad for their survival.  I don’t see how you can call that anything but suffering.  So you idiots, STOP BREATHING!

Further, every time you eat, you’re causing suffering.  You must kill something, in fact, lots of somethings, in order to have a meal.  It doesn’t matter if you’re having a salad or a side of beef, something died to give you that food.  You’ve directly caused suffering!  But wait, you’ve also indirectly caused suffering.  By ingesting that food, you’ve deprived someone else, somewhere in the world, of the ability to eat it.  Everything you do, every day, causes suffering.  You use energy that others could otherwise use, you wear clothes that others could otherwise wear, you live in a house that others could otherwise inhabit.  Every second of every day that you’re alive, you are causing untold suffering.  In fact, by remaining alive at all, you are refusing to feed the bacteria and insects that will digest your body and break it down into component atoms for recycling.  How dare you!

I guess that brings us down to nuking the planet to a charred cinder.  End all life on Earth and thus end all suffering!  Except for the aliens, of course.  It’s absurd to think that there are no aliens out there in the universe, the odds are absurdly against such a thing.  Assuming for a second that they are anything even identifiable as life, they must also suffer in one way or another.  If we’re supposed to oppose *ALL* suffering, then we have to end their suffering too.  That means ending all life everywhere in the universe.  How we’re going to kill everything, everywhere, I have no idea, but it must be done!

See, these people really don’t want to end suffering or they’d be out offing themselves right now.  None of them want to do that.  They want to live out a long, happy, healthy life and die of natural causes.  This isn’t about suffering at all, it’s about wanting to remain childless and they’ve come up with this load of crap as a rationale to do it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t give a damn if they want to breed or not.  In fact, these people are so damn stupid, I’d rather their genes not get passed on to the next generation.  But seriously, enough of this idiotic rationalization nonsense.  They don’t mean it, it’s just an excuse so that when people ask them why they haven’t had kids and they’re not brave enough to be honest, they can pull out this ridiculous cock-and-bull story.

So let’s summarize.  They don’t really give a damn about suffering, only about specific kinds of suffering for one specific species.  They’re not really all that worried about that, they just want it to end at some unspecified time in the future because they can’t be bothered or inconvenienced to take steps to stop it right now.  And they want to be taken seriously?

Ha.

Of course, then you go off the deep end with this group.  Why, exactly, is there anyone around to maintain that web site again?

Fundamental Differences

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this one.  I’ve debated this guy before, he’s always been a fanatic, not open to thinking about his beliefs or even examining them, but yesterday he hit me with something new, something I’ve never seen before.

I asked him what he’d do if he found out his beliefs were false and he told me, in no uncertain terms, that he didn’t care if what he believed was true, even if he discovered absolutely that he believed a lie, he’d  still continue to believe it.  The emotional benefits he gets from his beliefs outweigh any possible benefit from believing reality. Continue reading Fundamental Differences

It’s How They’re Raised

On Thanksgiving, I had the annual displeasure of having to hang around with a “family friend” who has come to attend family functions with her obnoxious hyperactive kid.  She’s one of those annoying extremely permissive parents who lets their kid get away with murder and wouldn’t know how to discipline if her life depended on it.  As such, her daughter is an obnoxious brat with serious entitlement issues.  She thinks she’s the center of attention for anyone and everyone and has no problem butting into conversations, taking things from others without asking, etc.  She’s just asking to get smacked and her mother is too.

However, that’s not the point of the story.  During the evening, she was wandering around the house with an iPad trying to show people YouTube videos of “monsters” like Chupacabra and the like.  Her mother says she thinks they’re all real.  It was annoying and my kids were trying to be nice and not tell her that she was a fucking idiot, which, of course, she is.  My kids aren’t that much older than the little spoiled shit-stain, but they’ve never been into that.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when my wife and kids were watching one of those “Alien Conspiracy” shows on TV.  You know something?  They were laughing at it!  My oldest daughter sits there pointing out everything they do that is irrational and illogical, detailing the holes big enough to fly an alien mothership through.  They know how to think critically and they apply that knowledge.  The conspiracy-theorist minion hasn’t a clue and neither does her mother.  They come off as people who believe anything they are told without a moment’s thought, incapable of rational evaluation and seemingly uninterested.

It makes me even prouder of my kids who, not only know how to think, they apply that ability to every day life on their own, without being told they ought to.  Healthy skepticism is a way of life for them.  They actually care if what they believe is factually true and they have the basic tools, and are developing more all the time, for making the determination if something is worth believing or not.

So while they’re excellent students who everyone raves about, the other little shit is going to be subjecting the planet to a lifetime of entitlement-whining and utter stupidity because hey, thinking is for other people.

Sad really.

Fear of Reality

In a recent debate, someone asked what we all thought happened after death.  Most, thankfully, said we simply stopped existing.  Then she asked if that bothered us.

My response was “who cares?”

What difference does it make whether or not reality bothers us.  It’s reality!  Reality is not up for a vote, it doesn’t matter if it makes you happy or sad, it is what is.  It doesn’t matter if you scream or whine about it or embrace it as inevitable, reality changes for no man. Continue reading Fear of Reality