Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Universe is NOT Like a Clock!

A famous demonstration of applied egocentrism is the theory of creationism. A primary argument used to support creationism is that the complex nature of the universe naturally implies a creator. The standard example for illustrating the argument is a clock. Clocks are complex and could not exist without a clockmaker to create them. Clocks require creators. Since the universe is much more complex than a clock, it must obviously also require a creator. This argument, of course, falls to pieces with a modicum of critical evaluation. 

Early humans (and many other animals) used objects found in nature to make tools. A rock, for example, may have been used as a tool for killing game. As human understanding of technology advanced, so did the complexity of human tools. In the modern age, we experience a world brimming with complex, man-made items. However, in the vastness of the universe, man-made objects represent an incomprehensibly minuscule percentage of known objects. And, every single man-made item is ultimately constructed from natural materials that were present for billions of years prior to the arrival of the modern evolved human. The universe is NOT like a clock. It is like a universe.

Against Universal Consciousness

The only way human beings can understand the world around them is through their own experiences. This is limiting and predisposes each of us to egocentrism. Egocentrism is the inability to view the world from any perspective other than one's own and the tendency to frame all issues in terms of how they relate to the needs of the self. So, in discussions of politics, I respond to all comments from my individual, egocentric worldview. Likewise, my deliberations on topics ranging from sports to business to child rearing must all be interpreted through the filter of my own ego. Egocentrism manifests in every aspect of human life.

A natural outgrowth of egocentrism is the inclination to anthropomorphize. Because we are restricted to understanding external items through the lens of human experience, we often
attribute human characteristics to non-human subjects. While my dog, Zeus, certainly understands his world as only a dog can understand it, I constantly (and inaccurately) bestow upon him a full range of human traits. It is intuitive to me that folks who assume the universe is endowed with cosmic consciousness are, likewise, anthropomorphizing.

While human consciousness was once a subject considered too enigmatic for scientific study, recent technologies have helped to demystify consciousness.
Historically, consciousness has been described as being like a stream. Indeed, people may subjectively perceive thoughts as flowing like a stream, however, “stream of consciousness” is a misleading and ultimately inaccurate metaphor. “Hive of consciousness” is a better fit for our current understanding of the phenomenon. “Stream” implies a linear progression of thoughts moving forward from a central source. Neuroscience informs us that human thought patterns more closely resemble a popcorn popper than a stream.

Consciousness is composed of neuronal firings from different parts of the brain. In simple terms, consciousness is a byproduct of the brain interacting with itself. Remove part of the brain and consciousness is altered. Remove all of the brain and consciousness is eliminated. 

Consciousness changes but does not stop during sleep. The brain remains active and different areas of the brain are still able to communicate with one another during sleep. When one awakens from sleep, one typically still
has some awareness of the passage of time and may remember dream experiences. However, when a person is put under general anesthesia, communications within the brain are blocked. When one awakens from general anesthesia, there is no sense of the passage of time and no dreaming. Consciousness is eradicated when internal communications between various parts of the brain are obstructed. Consciousness is produced by the brain and can not exist independent of the brain. No brain, no consciousness.

Since consciousness is a function of the brain, and there is no evidence that the universe itself has a brain, it would stand to reason that the universe is not conscious. 

Wise and powerful caregivers comfort the egos of human children. The egos of human adults desire similar comfort. In the absence of an actual wise and powerful caregiver, human adults invent gods or anthropomorphize the universe to meet this egocentric need.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Conspiracy Theorists are Lazy Thinkers

I used the term "lazy thinkers" to be provocative.
The truth is that lazy thinking is nothing more than "natural thinking." Every lower animal on the planet operates on intuition, or "what feels right." Humans who have not learned the skills of critical thinking naturally engage in the same thinking patterns as other animals.  

I am attracted to conspiracy theories. There is something about the idea of a conspiracy that titillates a paranoid vein that runs through the human psyche. However, conspiracy theories say much about us and very little about reality. It is not that conspiracies are impossible, just that the likelihood of successfully executing a large scale conspiracy approaches the impossible. The old adage, “Two people can keep a secret as long as one of them is dead,” rings true more often than not.

For any given belief, we will encounter disputing evidence (indicating that the belief is false) and supporting evidence (indicating that the belief is true). Folks with highly developed critical thinking skills approach these two pools of opposing evidence by objectively evaluating the quality and the weight of both pools. The foundation of a developed intellect is the willingness to change positions when disputing evidence clearly outweighs supporting evidence. This requires a great deal of emotional maturity. Our beliefs are rooted in our egos and we are wired to protect our egos at all cost. Shifting positions when disputing evidence outweighs supporting evidence also requires a deep commitment to truth. Truths are often uncomfortable and/or undesirable. Critical thinking requires that objective truth (what is true) must take priority over individual ego needs (what feels true or what we would like to be true).   

The Critical Thinker's thought process looks like this:

The Conspiracy Theorist engages an entirely different process when presented with conflicting pools of evidence. The conspiracy theorist accepts ALL supporting evidence, regardless of quality, and rejects ALL disputing evidence, also regardless of quality. Disputing evidence will either be ignored or the source for the evidence will be baselessly maligned. The ultimate result of this process is the elimination for the opportunity to learn, aka willful ignorance. In the words of Dudley Field Malone, "I have never in my life learned anything from someone who agreed with me."

The Conspiracy Theorist's thought process looks like this:

Identifying Quality Sources of Information:

In the midst of the information age, distinguishing good information from bad information can be extremely difficult. People untrained in recognizing logical fallacies can be easily manipulated to believe even the most absurd claims (examples: The moon landing was faked. Obama is a foreign-born, closet Muslim. The government is hiding UFOs. Hillary Clinton is a serial killer who runs child sex rings. Ronald Reagan was in the Illuminati.). Relying on "reasoning" from outside sources to establish where one stands on the issues is akin to relying on a car salesman to determine which automobile you should buy.

  • Despite claims to the contrary, mainstream sources of information tend to be of much higher quality than unconventional sources. Every place in the free world gets pretty much the same news. The mainstream media in the US reflects reputable news outlets in England, France, Germany, India, Australia, Japan, etc. The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, Google News, The BBC, Reuters, and most professional journals are reliable, albeit not perfect sources for accurate news. These sources mirror the news from the rest of the free world. News reported by outlets in countries with authoritarian governments such as those of Iran, Russia, and North Korea, like news reported by Right Wing media outlets and fringe Left Wing outlets in the US, report very different news that is often in direct conflict with legitimate sources.
  • News sources from authoritarian regions, as well as, sources from Right Wing and fringe Left Wing American outlets, use the "news" as an instrument for propaganda. However, citizens in countries with authoritarian governments have no choice but to consume fake news, while a huge percentage of mainstream Right Wingers and nearly all fringe Left Wingers in the US avoid legitimate news by choice. THIS is how a narcissistic, predatory, conspiracy theorist, who makes fun of the handicapped and spouts obscene vulgarities, became President of the United States.
  • Mathematics and scientific research represents the gold standard for quality information at this time. The statement, "any position can be proven with statistics," is patently false. It is true that statistics can be used by dishonest presenters to manipulate those who are untrained in statistics, however, there is an ultimate truth that will be revealed through the scrupulous use of statistics.
  • While scientific research is often inaccurate, every advancement in the modern world has resulted from the application of science. As yet, there is no process more effective in the discerning accurate understanding of the physical universe than science. If the efficacy of science is not overwhelmingly evidenced by your own life experiences (as it should be to any self-aware human being), then developing a deeper understanding of the scientific method and the peer-review process should dispel any lingering doubts.

Consider The Global Warming Hoax:

Everyone knows the statistic that 97% of climatologists concur with the research that supports global warming as a legitimate phenomenon exacerbated by human activity. 

The conspiracy theory holds that first, global warming is a hoax conjured by the Democratic Party in the US. Second, scientists have skewed their research data in favor of global warming in order to procure grant money from liberal universities.  And third, because the Democratic Party has a greater interest in conservation and environmental protections and the Republican Party has a greater interest in protecting industry, Democrats benefit from the acceptance of climate change as an actual and man-made phenomenon.

  •  Global warming was dreamed up by the Democratic Party.
    • The 97% of scientists figure is not limited to American scientists. It means that 97% of the scientists in the entire world accept the findings on climate change. Even if the Democratic Party were important enough to American scientists to risk sabotaging their own careers by falsifying data, it is inconceivable that scientists from every other country in the world would be so invested! Even if we were to change the premise from a plot invented by the Democratic Party to a plot invented by liberals in general, the idea of such a global initiative is ludicrous.
  • Scientists receive research grants from liberal universities.
    • Many scientists work for universities. Others work for government agencies. Still others work for industry. At any rate, the funds provided for research grants are typically supplied by outside sources and not by universities. Even if we accepted the bizarre idea that scientists across the globe could be bribed into torpedoing the integrity of their chosen profession, we would still need an industry capable of providing the motherlode of funds needed to accomplish the task. Which industry would stand a better chance of pulling this off, Big Oil (which benefits from disproving global warming) or Big Windmill (which benefits from proving global warming true)?
  • Democrats profit from the efficacy of climate change
    • Which makes more sense? 30 years ago, some Democrat mastermind or thinktank randomly invented an environmental phenomenon and was able to secretly coerce 97% of the scientists on Earth to fake research data... Or that the most lucrative industry in the world advanced a conspiracy theory to protect its own interests?

In truth, the global warming phenomenon has no more to do with politics than gravity theory or germ theory. Scientists simply support the efficacy of global warming because there is an ocean of high-quality supporting evidence for the theory and a tiny drip of low quality disputing evidence against the theory. If new, high quality, evidence disputing global warming grew to outweigh existing supporting evidence, every scientist worth her salt would shift positions and we would find the vast majority of scientists denying the theory. This is how the developed intellect operates

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