Posts Tagged ‘Random’

This is a rewritten version of an earlier post –

These three phenomena cover a wide array of activities and beliefs but share the same broad sense that they break away from what could be considered to be ‘natural’ and move towards trying to produce or support events that cannot be explained unless there is an unsupported theory behind the curtain. They use a selection of common defences in order to make sure of their own continuation, these are claims that are often made outside of the sorts of other logic and reasoning that perhaps every other part of our lives are subjected to. If I were to claim that I was in fact the best stock broker in the world (I know that in these times of financial melt down that most likely is not a difficult claim to make) then you would expect me too to back it up with at least something. If however, I were to claim to have the ability to speak to a family member of yours who has died, if I were really good at reading you and had been through some sort of education which might include Barnum statements & showmanship, I could actually make you believe that I was doing it. Based not on my actual ability but because you are vulnerable (primed even) and you were brought up in a society where even the slight possibility of these things being real means something to you! These three things which I will refer to as general superstitions rely on at least these five common defences that have to be in place or they will simply fail. There are two wider questions; are such superstitions true (the answer is no) and why do they even exist at all, of course these have very complex answers. Part of the reason behind this post was a promotional video for the Centre of Inquiry which describes superstition as ‘uneducated answers’ and how science makes it possible to have educated ones. Still I think it should go further; superstitions are failures in reasoning, as René Descartes promoted – reason & rationality are the sources of truth and the guarantors of progress.

Read the rest of the post here: http://www.rationalunderstanding.co.uk/superstition/the-common-defences-used-by-superstitions-religion-and-sometimes-conspiracy-theories-rational-thinking-pushed-aside/

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There is an old Irish saying, religion is the superstition of fools and I cannot help but think that should be religion is the religion of fools! I will give religion one point though, not that I’m actually keeping a record of points awarded or anything, at least for the most part it is perhaps a clearer distinction to where certain thoughts or behaviour come from, this is certainly not as clear when you consider luck for example. That is to say if you hate gay people then it comes completely justifiable once the understanding of a religious belief becomes apparent, even though such a position is easy rejected under the broad label of a modern society. If you believe some things are lucky and others are not, then it’s a little more difficult to see the thought process that has gone on in order for that to be justifiable to anyone especially to those that believe it. I think that I will start off with Superstitions since under my own broad definition this includes Luck, horoscopes, homeopathic medicine, anyone that argues they can speak to the dead, faith healers, Reiki, card reading and anything that can come up along those lines. I want to argue that these things have never been proven to work, at all, from what I hear people argue it works as there is a kind of feeling that it does. Rather than simply putting my focus in to that, I want to answer the question of what harm these things can do and the investment which is placed within these superstitions. In general I am not celebrating despair, rather extreme levels of hope which can be achieved by removing these things from people’s minds. If anyone points the finger at me saying that I am trying to remove their hope I wish to comment that this is not the case, there are real benefits to abandonment and also real empowerment to be taken back from both superstitions & religion.

I like this analogy; if you go and get health care treatment in America and increasingly in Western European countries as well, once your condition is found out the burden of deciding on treatment is pushed back to the person who is ill, this is not the issue of consent which should always happen unless it is agree that you no longer can give it, it is a list of treatments that you can pick. This comes from the fear that doctors or hospitals might be sued if they get things wrong and you suffer in this event. This might sound really good, still consider who is more likely to make mistakes a doctor with at least 7 years of training who is at heart a professional or a sick person who knows next to nothing about medicine? It might seem an empowering notion to go through after all what is bad about choice, nothing and it does give the ill person a sense that they are in control of the situation. Even so you can see why this is illogical and perhaps wrong; a doctor who might make a mistake is always in a better position to make decisions than a sick person who is more than likely completely unaware of what is involved in the medical treatments offered. It is these supernatural things that create their own inbuilt despair as the same thing is happening, things like Reiki, faith healers and homeopathy give people who are ill or suffering the feeling of control over their own lives, still do we ever consider the possibility that an ill person is no good at deciding what one of these treatments will be best for them? Who is to say that Reiki will work and faith healing will not. This might seem like an overlaboured point to make but it is not as empowerment and control is so important to us. This leads me to the next objection; the level of hope that is given to people by these superstitious treatments often falls short of expectation, so they create despair often. Richard Dawkins puts this best by saying that people in India are choosing scientific medical treatment over useless superstitious treatments in overwhelming numbers, mean while in the west we are stuck in the reverse!

There is no evidence to suggest luck, horoscopes, homeopathy, Reiki or the other things ever work or are real reflections of the world. If these things are not based on truth, then it is perfectly possible to reduce them down to personal feelings and ‘I thinks’, this is a move towards the metaphysical. There is no evidence to suggest that someone’s metaphysical feelings are real, you might have really strong personal feelings that black people should not share the same space as you, that is just racist and if we end up deciding what is true based on our personal feelings then to me that is just a judgement call and ultimately dangerous to us all. The human brain is an amazing inability to decide what is true or not. Let’s take the case of 9/11 where almost 3000 Americans died, this is sad and deserves our action in every way. Only three days later, exactly to the minute after these attacks 3,300 Americans had died as a direct result of cigarettes, a further 1,100 would die every single day for the rest of the year (Chris Jordan). Since these terrorist attacks the American budget for health care has been reduced in real terms and homeland security has been increased by a significant amount, even though if a small percent of the homeland security budget was direct at healthcare prevention it could save more people. Of course we must stop terrorists, I am not suggesting we don’t, still is an example of how sometimes we can worry more about the things that are not really all that much of a threat to us. We think that smoking cigarettes is a choice, it might be in the start but often turns out to be an addiction, still we assume that it is controllable thus making it a safe known rather than perhaps an unsafe unknown. We have an error in our understanding when it comes to threats to safety of ourselves and the people we care about. In order to remove judgement from within our personal feelings we must check science and in order to remove errors in our understanding, even at national level, we must come to understand what logic is showing us – these create true things unlike personal feelings!

I use the word investment when we are talking about superstitions; this describes the situation the best since I don’t think that you walk into these superstitions not giving up things, this could be time, energy, money or your mental ability to cope in a rational way. Please keep in mind the idea of truth when I talk about these things here. When I talk about luck, I assume that most people do things that they hope will result in good things happening to them still when they don’t do these things it can often result in changes in thoughts, behaviour and a great deal of anxiety. The loss we make is great, we change our thoughts with the end result being irrational thinking, we change our behaviour as a result making us do things that are not justifiable and if we put our hope into something that is not true how can it be anything other than despair. Let’s go to Reiki for example, the process where someone puts their hands over your body and it heals you magically, people put time and often money, our hopes and often ill people go there in order to receive treatment. I think it is dishonest to say that you can treat someone when there is no evidence that you can, it scares me that someone can do Reiki who could possibly not be going through proven treatment or spending the time & money into going for a nice massage that would make their life better without the false hope. Of course both luck and Reiki can provide us with something but at what cost to ourselves. All these things chip away at the thing we call science and that will harm everyone in the end, you move the mind set away from the logic and towards the irrational. If you think that computers, vaccines, antibiotics, Cognitive behavioural treatments, MIR scans, X-ray scanners either at airports that keep you safe or at hospitals, possible fusion energy in the future, gene therapy, disease, chemical & infection control and much more are not only useful but saving people’s lives every single day, then how can you reject what all these things that are based on rational and reasoned thinking. To accept superstitious rubbish is the full face rejection of science, there is one proven thing that has improved & saved the lives of millions of people – science. There is nothing that as caused more suffering and death than superstition, and this brings me to the biggest one of all time, Religion!

www.issr.org.ukReligion is not based on the hope that there is a supernatural being rather extreme fear that there is not, with the wish that belief is not wasted. Religious people see the same evidence that God is not real as the rest of us; still it suits their needs to promote the irrational idea, it is indeed a real problem and why should anyone settle for this? Either you make the decision to give your life, mind or often death over to someone else or you do not. The debate should never be about morality or the evidence that a certain religion is either right or wrong, the evidence is clear for all to see. Focus should be on the implications of belief, we should not be scared into religion since it is our only hope in explaining things, I even reject this idea, it ends up explaining very little. If the result of belief is anything negative then it must answer for this, many people claim to be good Christians unless you are homophobic, racist and don’t agree with the idea of women’s rights then you are not a good Christian at all, this is God’s word and you cannot pick what you want from the bible. Religion can make people do the upmost stupid things, there justifications comes from faith even though morality tells us that these things are wrong and I am not talking about extremists that blow themselves up, I am talking about the everyday believers here. Bringing up your child in just one religion is child abuse, you have no evidence that you are picking the right religion so how can you justify placing rules & guide lines for a child without knowing whether it is right or not! Mutilation of children’s genitals is wrong no matter how many metaphysical feelings you, as a parent, might have. I object to religion on so many grounds, you can read some of it on my blog or go look on the internet for yourself. Now let us turn to science.

A lot of crap science is out there and this is not the result of science at all, rather people claiming that something is science when it is not. So I will give you a little rule to remember; if you come across something that is claiming to be science in order for you to check whether it is or not, ask yourself under what conditions could this be completely wrong! If you can’t work out how it could be wrong then it is not science, for example a new drug that helps people with depression this can be proven false if it is found not to work correctly. The creationist’s argument that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark umm… dinosaurs lived before humans and around 64 million years ago? Ok you know that or you think the earth is only 4000 years old. I think you get the picture there is no condition in the creationists approach that allows me to say that would be false thus it is not science. If you go up to anyone that claims to be a true scientist and ask them the most important factors are the fact it can be wrong is the most significant, followed by peer review, reason and reliability of both method & result. You might not understand it at all but if you wanted to then you could go out and repeat the experiments of science. The method is always published within the peer review in order so others are able to find the same findings. Other than that it is a rational & reasoned response, not always but the things that go to create general laws or known facts are checked and the feedback loop checks them well so you can take from it that they are true things. To me the wonders of science far surpass that of anything else, the beauty of the surface of Mars or viewing atoms through powerful electron microscopes, how can anything else challenge these things? The hope that science brings is also amazing, around the time of the Enlightenment was a period were humans took control of the world they found themselves in, no one should ever want to lose that power, it is so important to us. I have gone on about how useful it is, I will end with this; it is thanks to science that I am still alive and that most of us are, we don’t owe science anything but we do owe the method of thinking that allow humans to think, imagine and create the things that saved so many people and that will save many more in the future. You should feel optimistic about the future; with science and its reasoned thinking we can do almost anything we can dream.

I have written about science and religion so far, I hope to write more about the things I consider as Superstitions soon. I decided to write this post now since I felt ready and confident about these issues. I have really enjoyed the journey that has being going on with me in the last six months, I hope it will continue. It is a little sad though that my posts offering insults about religion seem to get more views than anything else, so if you are reading this and have not done so already, please go read a science post. Thank you for reading my blog!

A little more on this matter….

Michael Shermer – Why we should think before we believe things. I like this man, he also thinks that intelligent design is the end of the conversation and science is an attitude rather than anything else. He discusses UFO and other things along that nature. Humans tend to see patterns and use their cognitive abilities to make sense of unclear data, this does not, as he suggests, be the end of investigation or be used as evidence. Our brains change the things we perceive into a workable pattern and this is what is happening, the more difficult it is to hear or see something clearly the more likely it is we will start to see with our brains and not our eyes.

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Donnelly is a statistician, please keep reading it’s more interesting than it sounds, in his talk discussing errors that people use when they apply statistics it shows a real example of rational understanding. He goes onto talk about disease tests being right 99%, why this does not mean the chance of the test being right being 99% and then about how statistics can be used to fool juries. The example that I want to present is the part about coin tossing, watch the video for this wonderful talk. It is important to understand what he is saying because we must in order to judge the things we come across in life that we think to be logical and reasonable. The coin tossing is a random event, it can either be presented with a head (H) or a tails (T) and is generally agreed that it is a fair representation of random.

The experiment is to toss a coin until we can see a pattern of HTH, for example HTTTHTTHTH or the pattern HTT such as THTHTHTHTT. We do this 100 times for HTH and another 100 times for HTT writing down the results each time so you can create the mean (average) number of toss before each pattern occurs. If you understand the process then pick a following statement based on what you think is true.

A. It will take longer (more tosses) for HTH to occur in random coin tosses than for HTT to occur.
B. They will take the same number of tosses for either HTH or HTT to occur.
C. It will be sooner (less tosses) for HTH to occur in a random coin tosses than for HTT to occur.

Come up with your answer before you read on!

We assume that because the coin toss is random that everything that comes from it is also random. This ignores the fact that both HTT and HTH are not random; they are non-random patterns that have been created. Most people think that B is the correct answer, although it is actually A which is correct. The average number of tosses for HTH is 10 before the pattern occurs and 8 tosses before the pattern HTT occurs. To explain why A is correct; it has to do with the third toss in the patterns. When we are looking for the pattern HTH, and we have the HT the next toss could result in H in which case we complete the pattern or T where we have to start over again. When we are looking for the pattern HTT, and we have HT the next toss could result in a T in which case we complete the pattern or a H which would not complete the pattern but it is then possible to use that H in the start of the next HTT. It’s weighted for the benefit of HTT and that is why we need fewer coin tosses to get the pattern HTT. If you still don’t understand please watch the video.

Why does this matter? Well a lot of people make decisions and accept things on the bases that they seem to be logical and rational, see my earlier post about the event in ghost hunters, when they are in fact not logical or rational at all. If we can explain to people why they are wrong with such powerful logic, perhaps we could start to break down irrational belief. How much time, money and control is given over to things that don’t stand up to logic, how many laws or social no go areas exist because they are seen as right. The logic in the real world is of course much larger, the simple example by Peter Donnelly is wonderful and compact which can be applied to it.

We and our minds are not very good at understanding statistics, since we never really live in a statistical world and our minds are programmed to understand just a few objects rather than thousands. Statistically very few people have ever died in an elevator still this does not remove the notion that a lot of people feel really scared and trapped in one. Statistically you are more likely to die in a car accident than a plane accident still a lot more people are scared of flying than driving. Even if we understand that we are 99.99% safe while travelling in an elevator or plane, we tend to focus on the 0.01% chance of what could happen. The possibility is that even with 99.99% chance of a positive event it is as likely to occur as the negative; somehow they are equally liable to happen in our minds. The perception of the mind is why this tends to happen, since the confines of our brain is set at a certain limit in our thinking. We cannot remember thousands of names just 30 or so; we cannot attend to everything that comes through our senses so we ignore most and only focus on a few. With these limits when we prepare to get onto a plane the imagination of possible outcomes is limited to just a few, we cannot imagine millions of successful journeys so then more weight is given to the negative ones, perhaps one successful journey and one unsuccessful one. This is of course only part of the process; needless to say that the imaginational crash presents a much more dramatic picture so we attend to them with greater detail.

Ok right now you are possibly thinking that I am just making stuff up, so let me put it in another way! Around 20,000 Americans join the Muslim religion each year, that seems quite a lot and if you have read some of my blog then most likely this seems like a worrying trend that is going on. Will America soon be overrun with Muslims? Well, no! The 20,000 is only about half a percent and is nothing compared to the 3% or so that become atheists each year in America. Living in middle earth with relative few world objects limits our understanding of statistics. There is another problem, a much greater hitch with statistics they are often collected for a certain reason. It is only when someone or groups want to show something do they go out and find the information. Going back to the religion statistics, is could be argued that at certain times in history perhaps the turn of either the atheist or Muslim right now, people tend not to want to tell the truth when people ask them questions. I am not saying everyone is a liar but it is easy to do when you don’t want to enter the discussion. Statistics are not often true reflections of what is going on rather perhaps a loose indication of the truth.

Always use statistics with a pinch of salt!


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Rives highlights the one thing that really gets to me, there is a method that human brains normally use; they create patterns when there is just randomness. If you are thinking of someone and then the phone rings to only find that it is actually them, it’s nothing metaphysical or spooky it’s just random chance. Richard Dawkins give us this example; if you were to get 100 people together there will always be one really lucky person. If you decide who is the lucky person by creating two groups and then tossing a coin, with heads always winning you will narrow it down to until you get to that one individual. This is just random chance, it is perhaps nice to think that somehow a dead grandmother or Jesus (or who you like) is guiding the coin so it picks you although random chance does not care about you and the coin is not debating about which side it should land. The world is much bigger than your friends, who happen to call you often or the winning of a series of coin tosses. So the pot of randomness is much bigger and it intersects your life with greater uncertainty.

Ok I will be honest; Rives did not really mention any of that stuff I thought that I would just bring it up, it seemed somewhat important. Rives, I guess is taking the piss out the of the Da Vinci code, that bestseller I have never actually read all the way through, at least I am guessing that is what he is doing. I will lump in all conspiracy theories into this argument – to seek patterns within a random set of facts only shows what you want it to. These patterns are developed not because there is evidence to suggest such a pattern; rather you are looking because you want to confirm something you already believe in. To look for these patterns and make claims from them, Rives does this with 4am, just because you can see those patterns does not make what you are saying anymore true or valid. Actually, to ignore the value based opinion of such pattern seeking behaviour even putting it together without agenda still does not make it true or valid. If you want intelligent people to believe in something, conspiracy theorists need to stop moaning about stuff and do the one thing that the rest of us have to do when we want to prove something – make a specific prediction and hold all the evidence up for us to look at.

Rives presentation is a funny and different perspective on 4am, enjoy..

Graham Hancock is a prime example of this pattern seeking behaviour, it not only shows that some individuals can present evidence which only fits if you ignore a lot of other things but also that agenda can be used to amend evidence by taking massive leaps towards a conclusion. Hancock is a bestselling author and is outside of science or logic. He used the slowly changing position of the stars to show that the pyramids of Giza where built to represent Orion’s belt, based on there position in 10,500BC and in effect the plan of the pyramids where there to represent a very early civilization unknown to any historian. In other words the pyramids where built to commemorate the civilization of Atlantis that existed in 10,500BC, as the pyramids were not built based on the position of Orion’s belt when there where constructed in 2,500BC. The way the case for the existence of Atlantis is built up by Hancock is wishy washy, considering that the Egyptians were master builders and astronomers there are a few things missing from Hancock’s theory.

Dr Ed Krupp suggests that the pyramids of Giza only match up with Orion’s belt if you turn them upside down; Hancock’s response to this is that they built them upside down because they could only view them by looking south rather building them how they appear in the sky, they mirrored them. Dr Krupp disagrees with this because they had a good understand of north and south, building them on those lines and building in shafts that could view stars in those directions. So why would they all of a sudden change their perspective. Not only this, it is highlighted that the other 75 or so pyramids in the region don’t match up with any other stars. Hancock’s makes up more shit adding more assumptions about the Egyptians in order to explain away this counter evidence plus lots more that also goes against him. There is a lot more evidence to dismiss Hancock’s theory but the point here is not about the theory just the method he used to get there.

Graham Hancock*Picture taken from http://www.grahamhancock.com

This is taken from Hancock’s own website, check how many assumptions he puts in his’ response to the criticisms that the pyramids where built on a 45 degree angle where the belt stars are at a degree of 54 degrees:

“GRAHAM HANCOCK: No they’re not absolutely correct and I don’t care. I, I have to stress that in my view the Ancient Egyptian priesthood was not staffed by anal-retentive bureaucrats. The Ancient Egyptian priesthood was, was a group of, of creative and imaginative thinkers who were exploring the mystery of life and death and who believed that there was a connection between ground and sky. They wanted to make a resemblance on the ground of a particular moment in time.”

Assumption 1 – that he should not care. Assumption 2 – Egyptian priesthood was not staffed by anal-retentive bureaucrats. Assumption 3 – was a group of creative and imaginative thinkers. Assumption 4 – exploring the mystery of life and death. Assumption 5 – believed that there was a connection between ground and sky. Assumption 6 – wanted to make a resemblance on the ground of a particular moment in time. In essence some of these assumptions are based on truth, while others are based on personal opinion. A true investigation based on all the evidence to which a theory can be taken from this evidence, unlike this which is a theory not based on truth. Truth is something we are looking for and what Science & logic is trying to get too, so please ignore such theories that are just pattern seeking and don’t stand up to the evidence. Agenda based theories, including this one and others are just that, agenda based theories. A person looking for truth will always be open to evidence that disproves something, those looking for evidence to complete than agenda will always ignore evidence that could disprove it.

*source for some of this is Horizon – Atlantis Reborn Again

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