Make Smart Sexy, It Could Save Us All

Standard

For any thinking person sometimes it seems as though we’re drowning in a sea of stupidity. Anti-intellectualism has gotten so bad that a growing movement of people believe the Earth is flat, a staggering 12 million Americans believe alien shape sifting lizard people rules us and the president of the most powerful country on Earth is so frequently incorrect that it is hard to keep up with. Anti-intellectuals have managed to root into western culture the idea that intelligence, reason and science are cold, robotic, boring and difficult. Ideas that could save lives are often easily dismissed in favor of theories and conspiracies that appeal to emotion and not reason.

Richard Hofstadter, Dabiel J. Rigney, Diane S. Claussen defined three types of anti-intellectualism:

  • Religious: Viewing various scientific endeavors as unholy, sinful or against scripture in various ways.
  • Populist: Undue skepticism of ‘the establishment’ and intellectual elites.
  • Unreflective Instrumentalism: Valuing education that leads to immediate monetary or material gain over humanities and social sciences.

A historical examination  shows that anti-intellectualism has been been a problem since the Enlightenment:

For all these thinkers, rationalism was the source of the evil: it led to ‘‘materialism,’’ to utopias, to the supremely pernicious idea that man is able to change things. It killed instinct and vital forces; it destroyed the almost carnal connection between the members of an ethnic community and made one live in an unreal world. ()

It doesn’t help that people are entertained by people acting stupidly, from simple slapstick to dangerous stunts (Jackass 1 and 2 made over 130 million at the box office). The success of these types of movies and T.V. shows helps glorify stupidity and enhance the cultural tumour of anti-intellectualism. The dangerous results of this anti-intellectualism are not hard to see:

  • Anti-Vaccination: The Anti-Vaccination movement, started by one falsified study, has caused the resurgence of preventable diseases like whooping cough, rubella and measles worldwide. Thousands of people are getting sick and many are dying as a result.
  • Global Warming: We are on the brink of a global disaster. If global warming continues we will see more frequent and severe weather, higher death rates due to illness exasperated by  heat (such as cardiovascular and kidney diseases), worsened air pollution, more frequent animal extinctions, more acidic oceans and higher sea levels. 

Anti-Intellectualism is linked to lower quality of life (human development index), higher incarceration rates and high teen pregnancy rates.  The Catholic church and other religions have put us behind scientifically, by some estimates, as much as a thousand years.

Fighting Anti-Intellectualism

Given the strong and pervasive nature of anti-intellectualism prevalent in modern Western Culture fighting it could be a daunting task for it will require a multifaceted approach that attacks many part of western culture itself. The first step is to start taking it more seriously. The current backlash against the Trump administration and its supporters could have the hidden benefit of showing everyone why anti-intellectualism is such a big problem.  But more raising awareness is needed to truly counter it. Everyone is capable fighting the fallacies common to anti-intellectuals such as appeal to emotion or fear, pandering and appeal to emotion.

In fact, especially in a democracy, the fight against anti-reason can ultimately be won only at the grassroots, via a general population that recognizes it, rejects it, and demands more rational public policy that reflects real human interests. (David Niose)

Niose recognizes  four areas in western culture that need changing to stem the rising tide of anti-intellectualism:

  1. The Government: Using our votes and pressuring our representatives to pass rational policies.
  2. The Corporate Sector: Using media to distract people and promote mass consumption and using their wealth manipulate government.
  3. Fundamentalist Religion: The sometimes vague nature of religious scripture can leave it open to interpretation leading to opposition of everything from music and beauty products to stem cell research.
  4.  Ourselves: Recognizing our irrational thinking and not letting it lead us.

The corporate sector also realizes that an entertained and poorly informed population is much less likely to engage in political activity that might oppose corporate-friendly public policy. Distracted citizens will passively allow large corporate interests to dominate government. As such, anti-intellectualism is the magic weapon that the corporate sector has used to maintain control. (Niose)

From the Game Mastermind

I would suggest a fifth approach: Making intellectualism more appealing, even sexy. In Western culture sexy is currently tied to wealth and beauty, a standard defined primarily by the mass media. The entirely impossible modern standards of sexy where women are expected to be impossibly thin and men are expected to be buff and/or ‘rugged’ and both must dress a certain way (usually requiring wealth). All of these modern standards of sexy are purely physical. Magazines don’t feature cover models for their IQ and very few movies and television shows make their main characters sexy based on their intelligence (although this is slowly changing). A shift in appeal to intellect as attractive would have enormously good long term benefits for everyone.

Whatever our approach stemming the tide of anti-intellectualism is in everyone’s best interest. A cultural change won’t happen overnight and our human nature wants us to take the easy route but anti-intellectualism is a dangerous weed we must all do our part in rooting out, our future depends on it.

Advertisements

Speaking of Heaven

Standard

The Hubble Telescope, one of humankind’s greatest inventions is regularly bringing us the wonders of  space at https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/main/index.html

A few favorites:

Human Embryos Edited To Stop Disease

Standard
Embryo

Genetically Modified Embryos

Scientists have, for the first time, successfully freed embryos of a piece of faulty DNA that causes deadly heart disease to run in families.

It potentially opens the door to preventing 10,000 disorders that are passed down the generations.  Courtesy of BBC

This is amazing. Science can now prevent some fatal diseases from being inherited. Some ethical issues but overall an incredible development that could save millions of lives in the decades to come.

 

 

God Just Doesn’t Add Up

Standard

Einstein said “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas” Math is rightfully viewed as the key to understanding the physical world. The sciences themselves rely on different types of math (i.e statistics). So it makes sense that some have tried to use math to prove the existence of God.  Mathematics, when done correctly, is absolute and if someone could use it to prove the existence of God then that would easily be one of, if not thee, greatest discoveries in human history.

There has been a few very solid attempts at proving God mathematically and warrant exploration.

Godel

Kurt Godel was an influential mathematician who was best known for his incompleteness theorems. He also made a strong case for the ontological argument for the existence of God. First, the Ontological Argument:

  1. It is a conceptual truth (or, so to speak, true by definition) that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined (that is, the greatest possible being that can be imagined).
  2. God exists as an idea in the mind.
  3. A being that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is, other things being equal, greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.
  4. Thus, if God exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine something that is greater than God (that is, a greatest possible being that does exist).
  5. But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God (for it is a contradiction to suppose that we can imagine a being greater than the greatest possible being that can be imagined.)
  6. Therefore, God exists. (1)

Premise three is the primary failing of this argument. Premise three makes the assumption that a being necessarily exists both in the mind and in reality. While the idea of God certainly exists in the mind there is no evidence that such a being exists in reality as well.

 ‘there are many theologically threatening sets of properties which also conform to that specification? In other words: Godel’s own argument can used to prove God’s Non-existence too'(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

The Ontological Argument can be used to prove anything simply by changing the words to suit whatever it is you are trying to prove, for example:

  1. It is a conceptual truth (or, so to speak, true by definition) that Santa Claus is a gift-giving being than which none greater can be imagined (that is, the greatest possible gift-giving being that can be imagined).
  2. Santa Claus exists as an idea in the mind.
  3. A being that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is, other things being equal, greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.
  4. Thus, if Santa Claus exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine something that is a greater gift-giving being than Santa Claus (that is, a greatest possible gift-giving being that does exist).
  5. But we cannot imagine something that is a greater gift-giving being than Santa Claus (for it is a contradiction to suppose that we can imagine a being greater than the greatest possible gift-giving being that can be imagined.)
  6. Therefore, Santa Claus exists.

The Ontological Argument also fails for the following reasons:

  1. Existence is not a predicate. Immanuel Kant correctly pointed out that to say something exists  is not to attribute existence to that thing.
  2. The concept of God is meaningless (theological non-cognitivism).
  3. Ontological arguments are ruled out by “the missing explanation argument
  4. Ontological arguments presuppose a Meinongian approach to ontology. There are different modes of being for a variety of objects of thought.

Godel’s Theorem

Godel goes one step further and uses pure, mathematical modal logic to support the existence of God.

Definition 1: x is God-like if and only if x has as essential properties those and only those properties which are positive

Definition 2: A is an essence of x if and only if for every property B, x has B necessarily if and only if A entails B

Definition 3: x necessarily exists if and only if every essence of x is necessarily exemplified

Axiom 1: If a property is positive, then its negation is not positive.

Axiom 2: Any property entailed by—i.e., strictly implied by—a positive property is positive

Axiom 3: The property of being God-like is positive

Axiom 4: If a property is positive, then it is necessarily positive

Axiom 5: Necessary existence is positive

Axiom 6: For any property P, if P is positive, then being necessarily P is positive.

Theorem 1: If a property is positive, then it is consistent, i.e., possibly exemplified.

Corollary 1: The property of being God-like is consistent.

Theorem 2: If something is God-like, then the property of being God-like is an essence of that thing.

Theorem 3: Necessarily, the property of being God-like is exemplified.

This version again is begging the question. There are  at least two things within that argument that are undefined such as as ‘positive property’ and ‘God-Like’.

Baye’s Theorem

Bayes’ theorem is a formula that describes how to update the probabilities of hypotheses when given evidence. ‘It follows simply from the axioms of conditional probability, but can be used to powerfully reason about a wide range of problems involving belief updates.(brilliant.org)’. Baye’s Theorem fails as it uses statistical probability to try and prove the existence things that are spiritual or religious in nature and for which there is no other evidence to support their existence. Accepting evidence based on assumptions is dangerous and gullible and so this method can also be dismissed

“The theorem is good for dealing with concrete things like tests for cancer, developing spam filters, and military applications but not for determining the answer to questions about reality that are philosophical by nature and that would require an understanding of realms beyond, realms of which we know nothing.” -Patheos

Mathematical attempts to prove God fail because they make assumptions about existence and the nature of theological/mythical concepts, thus they are eliminated by the rules of logic and Occam’s Razor.

Let’s Be Optimistic About Our Future

Standard

Here here! Our  science fiction has indeed been a bit gloomy lately.

Neal Stephenson has seen the future—and he doesn’t like it. Today’s science fiction, he argues, is fixated on nihilism and apocalyptic scenarios—think recent films such as The Road and TV series like “The Walking Dead.” Gone are the hopeful visions prevalent in the mid-20th century. That’s a problem, says Stephenson, author of modern sci-fi classics such as Snow Crash. He fears that no one will be inspired to build the next great space vessel or find a way to completely end dependence on fossil fuels when our stories about the future promise a shattered world

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dear-science-fiction-writers-stop-being-so-pessimistic-127226686/#7cjuiZ7mhOlH0hf5.99

Fact Checking

Standard

In 2012 we published an article on conspiracy theories and explored what they are and some of the basic psychology behind them. It is a scary fact that conspiracy theory websites are seeing an increase in traffic. What’s worse some of these conspiracy theories are dangerous i.e. holocaust denial or vaccine scares. According to Dr. Nicholas Terry, a history lecturer at Exeter University , who has monitored Holocaust denial online for 10 years and is co-editing a forthcoming book, Holocaust and Genocide Denial: A Contextual Perspective, (1) holocaust denial websites are increasing in number and amount of traffic.

Conspiracy theories wouldn’t last long people knew how to check facts. Perhaps a failure of the education system or culture or both. Either way in light of this here is our contribution:

How To Check Facts:

  1. Consider the Source: Who is providing this information? Are they qualified? Any reputable source will have or be willing to provide their education, sources or research. If it doesn’t fit (i.e. a mechanic writing a website on vaccines or an engineer providing information on history like the holocaust) or they are unwilling/unable to provide sources, qualifications…etc. then you should be skeptical of the information being provided.
  2. understandUnderstand Science:  It is actually fairly easy to come to a basic understanding of what constitutes science. What is Science, The Scientific Method, Understanding Research Papers , more understanding research papers.
  3. Logic: Recognizing a valid logical argument is also easy to learn. Logic 1, logic 2, and logic 3 (personal favorite).
  4. Compare: Is the information consistent with other findings? Consistency doesn’t necessarily imply truth but does lend credibility to the facts provided. This crucially involves number 5.
  5. Be Open Minded: If an alternative source of information challenges what you already feel is true then you must be open to the possibility that facts you previously believed might not be true. This is the hardest to do once you have made up your mind but a crucial part of learning. Open Mindedness

There are also numerous websites now  dedicated to fact checking and debunking the myths, pseudosciences and conspiracy theories spiraling around in popular culture.

  1. Snopes.com: One of the big ones. First established in 1995 in it’s 22 years it has faithfully been debunking everything from politics to advertising. If there is a popular concept out there snopes has probably looked into it.
  2. Scienceornot.com: “This website will help you separate real science from nonsense truth-1030x771that’s masquerading as science.” A great site that can help anyone determine if the science they are looking at it is true or not.
  3. Quakwatch: Quack is primarily about the pseudosciences but has a lot of information about other science hoaxes and rumors as well.
  4. Sciencebasedmedicine.org: Another great one that examines science and medical controversies.
  5. factcheck.org: Primarily American politics but another great resource.

There are some good organizations and publications as well:

  1. CSICOP: Committee for Scientific Inquiry of Claims Of the Paranormal. Recently shortened to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) to be more suitable to the broad range of topics they investigate. The also publish the Skeptical Inquirer a great bimonthly magazine committed to skeptical exploration of scientific, medical and other claims.
  2. councilThe Council For Secular Humanism: The council has been fighting religion, the pseudosciences and paranormal claims for more then 20 years. It also publishes Free Inquiry Magazine
  3. James Randi Educational Foundation: Randi has been famously offering a million dollars to anyone who can conclusively prove a pseudo-scientific claim, it has never been won. He went on to found his educational foundation ( Randi was by the way involved with CSICOP’s founding many years ago as well). JREF also has a handy list of resources.
  4. The RationalWiki: This site is so good we often use it a source ourselves. Everything Aliens to Zoology covered in articles in a scientific, non-biased way.

There are dozens, perhaps, thousands of skeptical, atheist, humanistic websites, publications and organizations dedicated to the truth. Wikipedia has a pretty good list , Atheists United’s list is pretty exhaustive as well. As long you are willing to do a little research and stick to reliable resources then you should never have a problem getting to the truth or the very least knowing when to doubt information being provided to you. The trouble lies in the fact the not enough want to make the effort and so are being duped by cleverly worded lies and misinformation.  Our hope is this little list helps a person or two sort truth from lies.

Sources:

  1. New online generation takes up Holocaust denial

2017 is Here And We Have a Lot of Work To Do

Standard

With all the celebrity deaths, a Trump presidential victory and the usual chaos and turmoil in the world and our personal lives many people are talking about how bad 2016 was. Last year was, as usual, full of the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s worth reflecting on so we know what’s important going forward.

  1. Human Rights:
    1. libertyData from the CIVICUS Monitor  3.2 billion people live where freedoms are badly repressed or nonexistent.
    2. The radical alt-right will soon control the most powerful country in the world.
    3. The U.N has turned into powerless money pit.
  2. Politics:
    1. Even in thriving democracies governments continue to repress freedoms .
    2. Millions still live below the poverty line.
    3. War wages in Syria. In fact, there are least 10 different armed conflicts ongoing into 2017.
  3. bokoReligion: There are still close 6 billion people who identify as a specific religion worldwide. Different religions still wage war like the Shia and Shiite Muslims always have always have or the Burma conflict or The Boko Haram in Nigeria. This is a list of religion based violence five pages long and that’s just for 2016.

Clearly work to be done and there is always hope. This blog won’t allow the mass media and the naysayers to destroy that. Humanity, despite all of the problems, continues to push forward. Here are some examples from 2016:

Human Rights

Michael Jordan donated two million to try and help bridge the connection between police and the community.

Harriet Tubman is going to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

In February, Ontario announced a $100 million initiative to curb violence against indigenous women.

Female Genital Mutliation in Africa won a major battle 

Germany took on rape culture.

The gender gap between girls and boys in school narrowed in 2016 too.

transDenmark  no longer defines transgender as a mental illness, and Canada announced a ban on transgender discrimination.

Following the end of conflict in Colombia in 2016, all of the war in the world is now limited to an arc that contains less than a sixth of the world’s population.

Politics

Homelessness in the United States declined by 35% since 2007, and Los Angeles committed to $1.2 billion to help get more people off the street.

Gambia and Tanzania banned child marriage.

victoryOpponents of female genital mutilation scored a major victory when the Pan African Parliament endorsed a continent-wide ban. 

Standing Rock Sioux stopped the pipeline construction that threatened their water supply.

Science

Gene editing became a reality

Sri Lanka is now malaria-free . Global malaria deaths have declined by 60% since the year 2000

New medicine has been shown to increase melanoma survival rate to 40%

Religion

The Anglican church now performs same sex unions.

The Rabbinical Assembly issued a resolution affirming the rights of transgender and non-conforming individuals.

ISIS started falling apart and even Muslims clerics declared a fatwa against them

Religion is still on the decline and affluence is on the rise

A few other great lists
99 reasons was 2016 was a good year.

2016: It Was A Very Good Year, Despite What The Pundits Say

People Really Love This List Of Good Things That Have Happened In 2016 Inspired by a really great Reddit thread

It was a good year but going forward we must all keep on fighting the good fight against hate, violence and suppression of democracy and our human rights that happens even right here at home. This blog sure as hell will and so should you.