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Old 09-30-2014, 09:32 AM   #1
Neil
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Richard Dawkins' cognitive tool-kit item.

I stumbled upon this and it made me think of some of the threads I've read over the years. Feel free to comment on Mr. Dawkins, who was responding to the Edge.org 2011 question of the year:

http://edge.org/annual-question/what...nitive-toolkit

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Why do half of all Americans believe in ghosts, three quarters believe in angels, a third believe in astrology, three quarters believe in Hell? Why do a quarter of all Americans believe that the President of the United States was born outside the country and is therefore ineligible to be President? Why do more than 40 percent of Americans think the universe began after the domestication of the dog?

Let's not give the defeatist answer and blame it all on stupidity. That's probably part of the story, but let's be optimistic and concentrate on something remediable: lack of training in how to think critically, and how to discount personal opinion, prejudice and anecdote, in favour of evidence. I believe that the double-blind control experiment does double duty. It is more than just an excellent research tool. It also has educational, didactic value in teaching people how to think critically. My thesis is that you needn't actually do double-blind control experiments in order to experience an improvement in your cognitive toolkit. You only need to understand the principle, grasp why it is necessary, and revel in its elegance.

If all schools taught their pupils how to do a double-blind control experiment, our cognitive toolkits would be improved in the following ways:

1. We would learn not to generalize from anecdotes.

2. We would learn how to assess the likelihood that an apparently important effect might have happened by chance alone.

3. We would learn how extremely difficult it is to eliminate subjective bias, and that subjective bias does not imply dishonesty or venality of any kind. This lesson goes deeper. It has the salutary effect of undermining respect for authority, and respect for personal opinion.

4. We would learn not to be seduced by homeopaths and other quacks and charlatans, who would consequently be put out of business.

5. We would learn critical and skeptical habits of thought more generally, which not only would improve our cognitive toolkit but might save the world.
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Old 10-01-2014, 09:42 AM   #2
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How can you discuss this without bringing up the two biggest roadblocks to intelligence?
"Contempt Prior to Investigation" and being raised in the United States"??
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Old 10-01-2014, 10:47 AM   #3
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Dawson, a Brit, chose the US for his essay I think because the US is the most technologically advanced, wealthy and powerful nation in the world. Thus it emphasizes the impact of his statistics.

(Typical Dawkins to juxtapose the domestication of the dog with young earth creationism.)

Of his 5 points I think the most potent is this one:

2. We would learn how to assess the likelihood that an apparently important effect might have happened by chance alone.

How much unproductive ritualistic behavior, superstition and irrational belief stem from the association of two chance events? Such as: when I turn the TV on the other team scores therefore I shall stop watching hockey on TV.
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Old 10-01-2014, 11:29 AM   #4
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I don't know, I just know that I hope to see the potential of this country once the percentage of Americans that think those stupid thoughts and believe those stupid things goes down significantly. ALL SORTS of outrageous and dumb things are tolerated or permitted stemming from those stupid thoughts and beliefs.
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Old 10-01-2014, 12:19 PM   #5
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I don't know, I just know that I hope to see the potential of this country once the percentage of Americans that think those stupid thoughts and believe those stupid things goes down significantly. ALL SORTS of outrageous and dumb things are tolerated or permitted stemming from those stupid thoughts and beliefs.
It's called Self Centeredness
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Old 10-01-2014, 04:54 PM   #6
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It was a question, directed at Neil.

How do you discuss this without getting to the root causes, the manipulative power of religion and probably politics, both of these subjects are against forum rules.
Well, we could focus on the individual rather than on institutions. Also, I wonder why he focused on double blind experiments rather than on simply analytical (Cartesian) thinking. Double blind experiments AFAIK are for clinical trials.

Say for instance someone believes in a healing methodology where you pass your hands over a person and thereby diagnose and treat what is ailing them. (therapeutic touch it's called).

This presumes that
1- the ill person emits some form of energy or radiation as a function of their disease and specific thereto.
2-the "therapist" is equipped with a receptor mechanism capable of capturing and interpreting these emanations.
3-Armed with the diagnosis (kidney disease, let's say) the therapist would be able to emit his own form of energy that successfully enters the patients body, targets the source of disease and then interacts with the dysfunctional or diseased tissues and somehow affects them in such a way that they heal.

So you see, a little analysis can go a long way in showing how unlikely it is that such a therapeutic intervention could have any efficacy. No need to drag religion and politics into it.
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Old 10-01-2014, 05:25 PM   #7
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I may be wrong, but the analytical analysis assumes you believe or rather maybe understand the higher order concept of energy and how it possibly could or could not do the things that people think it does.

The above example seems perfectly logical to someone who accepts the standards of modern science but there still seem to be a large quantity of individuals who seem to think matter and energy don't obey the way science think they do... like those that believe in ghosts, hell, etc...

I believe he is trying to present an alternative method to disprove those kind of ideas without having to rely on a lot of previous knowledge of how things work, which may itself cause some sort of bias. For example, we don't know for sure that ghosts don't exist, and our preconception via modern science may bias us to say it is a ridiculous notion. Using something like a double blind tends to weed out the bias of those strongly opposed or strongly supporting and present the evidence.
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Old 10-03-2014, 06:40 PM   #8
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This feels like one of those introspective moments of revelation.

Thank you for this thread.

Last edited by DaveO; 10-04-2014 at 12:05 PM.. Reason: On second thought, too much information
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Old 10-04-2014, 10:57 AM   #9
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Thank you for this thread.
Not a problem.

Science is nothing more than a reliable way of acquiring knowledge. I can never figure out what's so difficult about that. Must be the word, "reliable".

I wore my underwear for 3 weeks in a row last year and my team won the championship. Therefore, my wearing dirty underwear made and will make my team win. You can rely on it.
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Old 10-04-2014, 01:16 PM   #10
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I try to keep an open mind. I don't specifically believe in ghosts or angels as I have not recognized them myself but I know people who have and who I have no reason to suppose would lie to me about them. I don't worry about any kind of afterlife, I try to live my life in the best way I can and I figure that what I can't know will take care of itself. I guess what matters more to me is what kind of lives I and others live rather than what we think that motivates us. I have known some rational people who were very unpleasant and also people with very strange ideas(by my lights) who were making the world a better place in small ways, which is all any of us can do in my opinion.
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Old 10-04-2014, 02:16 PM   #11
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I don't think Dawkins was specifically addressing the validity or otherwise of those beliefs. His point as I understood it was that if people were trained to think critically and analytically, by being taught in school to design double blind experiments, their thinking would become more incisive. As a result, they would cease believing in the existence of ghosts. (Dawkins, it's worth mentioning, is an avowed atheist and wrote the book, "The God Delusion".)

Martin Rees' answer to the same question was totally different and very interesting. (The question: WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY'S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT?)

Quote:
Deep Time And The Far Future

We need to extend our time-horizons. Especially, we need deeper and wider awareness that far more time lies ahead than has elapsed up till now.

Our present biosphere is the outcome of more than four billion years of evolution; and we can trace cosmic history right back to a "big bang" that happened about 13.7 billion years ago. The stupendous time-spans of the evolutionary past are now part of common culture and understanding — even though the concept may not yet have percolated all parts of Kansas, and Alaska.

But the immense time-horizons that stretch ahead — though familiar to every astronomer — haven't permeated our culture to the same extent. Our Sun is less than half way through its life. It formed 4.5 billion years ago, but it's got 6 billion more before the fuel runs out. It will then flare up, engulfing the inner planets and vaporising any life that might then remain on Earth....
...Awareness of the "deep time" lying ahead is still not pervasive. Indeed, most people — and not only those for whom this view is enshrined in religious beliefs —envisage humans as in some sense the culmination of evolution. But no astronomer could believe this; on the contrary, it would be equally plausible to surmise that we are not even at the halfway stage. There is abundant time for posthuman evolution, here on Earth or far beyond, organic or inorganic, to give rise to far more diversity, and even greater qualitative changes, than those that have led from single-celled organisms to humans. Indeed this conclusion is strengthened when we realise that future evolution will proceed not on the million-year timescale characteristic of Darwinian selection, but at the much accelerated rate allowed by genetic modification and the advance of machine intelligence (and forced by the drastic environmental pressures that would confront any humans who were to construct habitats beyond the Earth......
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Old 10-04-2014, 02:32 PM   #12
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The inherent problem may be systematic as people invent their own stories that frame the world they want it; hence, stupidity seems plausible.
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Old 10-04-2014, 03:45 PM   #13
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In a similar vein here's a snippet from a fairly clever fellow:
Quote:
Leon M. Lederman
Director emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Physicist and Nobel Laureate; Director Emeritus, Fermilab; Coauthor, The God Particle

The Coming Revolution in Science Education

I am optimistic about science education! I knew I should have had a
psychological check-up, be tested for delusional fantasies, my PhD revoked in a public ceremony with the breaking of my pencils. After all, in 1983, we were officially declared "A Nation at Risk".

.......

Eminent CEO's like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Craig Barrett (Intel), Louis Gerstner (IBM), Norman Augustine (Lockheed Martin) i.e. Corporations which depend on rationality for their profits, all agree that our system of 50 independent States, 15,000 school districts, 26,000 high schools etc etc has failed catastrophically to educate our students for life and work in the 21st century. But the good news is that the portent of our failed educational system as it impacts our health care, our economy, our culture and our status in the globalized world is finally becoming clear, clear to parents, clear to economists, clear, gasp! even to members of the Congress!

Somehow, we have created a sputnik-like climate warning of a powerful enemy...not the Soviets but even more worthy of a war we must declare and win: The War on Ignorance.

......
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Old 10-04-2014, 10:15 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Neil View Post
In a similar vein here's a snippet from a fairly clever fellow:
This is in the vein of Kurt Voonnegut's first book, Player Piano. In his future world, people were divided into two classes: the educated and the not. The 'not's' became Reeks and Wrecks', Reconstruction and Reclamation employees and the educated controlled all. That book was written in the 1950's and was prophetic in examining the consequences of an educational divide.

I decry this state of affairs since the brain is a fairly easy organ to exercise. It just takes practice...
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Old 10-05-2014, 07:51 PM   #15
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This is in the vein of Kurt Voonnegut's first book, Player Piano. In his future world, people were divided into two classes: the educated and the not. The 'not's' became Reeks and Wrecks', Reconstruction and Reclamation employees and the educated controlled all. That book was written in the 1950's and was prophetic in examining the consequences of an educational divide.

I decry this state of affairs since the brain is a fairly easy organ to exercise. It just takes practice...
And the rich and educated seem to be doing as much as they can to prevent the poor and the uneducated access to education. A very small elite minority are making the decisions for the rest of us.

It's cause for concern that much of the stuff written in the middle of the 20th century that was "science fiction" is now fact. Think George Orwell and "Big Brother" then consider the amount of video cameras there are and the revelations of what the NSA is doing. Now take that and couple it with how unconcerned Americans seem to be with it, most probably consider Snowden a traitor even though what he released was evidence of the NSA violating the law, because most people believe what the NSA has to say and of course they have a huge stake in it.
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