The Irrational Worm in the Rational Apple

I’ve been promoting rationality on the web for some time now. There is a good core rationalist moment that sticks to the basics of identifying and eliminating logical fallacies, cognitive biases and other barriers to clear thinking. However, many groups of skeptics and rationalists have been co-opted by those with some agenda that they are promoting with very irrational methods. Let me make a few points.

You are not rational if you…

  1. consider arguments contrary to your opinion to be insults
  2. respond to arguments with insults or sarcasm rather than with counter-arguments
  3. think participants in a discussion must be of a particular race, sex or ideology instead of simply being capable of presenting arguments
  4. create a false dichotomy by suggesting that any rational assessment of the strength/weaknesses of accusations of X is actually a defense of X.
  5. tell others what you have concluded they believe instead of asking them what they believe
  6. intentionally misrepresent someone’s position rather than interpreting their comments graciously

There is currently far too much irrational nonsense emitted from those claiming to be rational.

I’m calling it out when I see it from here on.


Skepticism And The Web

I would like to argue that, as the world becomes more global, it will also become more skeptical. Let me first give a bit of background before I argue the reasons for this prediction.

Skepticism is an epistemological disposition. It is a commitment to disbelief until a certain threshold of evidence has been provided. It disparages faith and credulity.

What would humanity look like were skepticism not the default disposition towards new propositions? It would look exactly as it does now with -isms of every imaginable sort, all competing with specious but majestic assertions and other emotional weapons to trespass the barriers of evidential warrant and created bloated ontologies of mythical entities and proportions. Waiting for the proper evidence to arrive that would substantiate a wonderful concept is not very agreeable to the impatient human psyche that is constantly seeking more existential validation than is ever available. But this longing for existential validation is no warrant for violating the barriers of evidential warrant, and any mind that trespasses in this manner must constantly self-delude. This is the rate of exchange; self-delusion for a bit of existential comfort.
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The Japanese Irreligious

fantasyI have a theory. Those with rich fantasy lives tend to be less religious.

Here in Japan, comic books (manga) and cartoons (anime) are a staple of a very literate public with almost 2 billion manga books and magazines sold in Japan in 1995. At the same time, the percentage of Japanese atheists and agnostics is at a very high 65%.

I’d like to suggest that the mundane reality of the average Japanese life is alleviated by an escape into fantasy. At the same time, Japaneses are in no way confused about which world is real and which is fiction. The escapism is a conscious choice that is activated in a discrete part of their minds, and is not at any time entangled and confused with their material realities. This notion was substantiated by several of my Japanese friends who marveled that Americans so easily fall prey to claims of miracles and notions of god. A lonely missionary I meet regularly in Tokyo’s Yoyogi park as he attempts to evangelize Japanese “sinners” admits the fact that Japanese very quickly dismiss the miraculous claims of the bible.

Americans, however, are much more inclined to combine the elements of myth and reality. Continue reading

Causal Alignment Of The Mind

It is surprising to many that a substantial percentage of science-fiction writers and their hardcore fans are skeptics who do not subscribe to UFO mythologies, cryptozoology, alternative medicines, 9/11 conspiracies or the paranormal.

credulityvsscientific-understandingIt seems that the greater the degree of scientific knowledge (in this case a produce of exploring what is plausible though science fiction), the less one quickly believes in the unsubstantiated fantastical. This can be mapped to a curve on the Y axis of credulity that extends along the X axis of scientific knowledge and critical thinking. This lends credence to the idea that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
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Manual For Pseudo-Scientists

psuedo-scienceMany of us who have access to various truths that do not have the support of mainstream science have been relentlessly persecuted recently as the more skeptical public clamors ever-louder for sufficient evidence of our claims. This unfortunate state of affairs is largely due to 1) the growing acceptance of the alleged correlation between what is euphemistically called quantitative science, and technological and medical successes, as well as highly coherent explanatory paradigms that have penetrated even the most simple minds, and 2) the reassessment of the virtue of faith. These dark notions are turning the innocent minds that once unquestioningly accepted our unsubstantiated truths into skeptics that will believe only as far as the evidence extends, and thwarts the bald assertions we were once at liberty to make. The virus of rigorous scientific methodology is now thriving, largely due to popular writings of science’s more devious prophets. These prophets have combined their own form of logic with effective rhetoric to make the tools and results of science more accessible. We must stop this epidemic that threatens the virtue of ignorance upon which we base our very livelihood. The following is a list of guidelines that may stay this insidious surge of rationality and science.

  1. Above all else, stir up the emotions. These include the following. Continue reading

Saving Sheep

sheepIf buying a $5 lottery ticket every day made someone you cared about happy, would you go out of your way to dissuade them from wasting their time and money?

I would. It’s not that I feel under any obligation to do so, but rather out of a deep sadness when speculating who that person could become if they only diverted that wasted time, money and cognitive resources towards education or self-improvement.

This is the attitude underpinning my efforts to encourage the relinquishing of ideological assumptions and the reassessment of commitments to a particular religious faith or ideology.
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