Saturday, May 30, 2009

Magic > Magick

Well, I'm not completely a believer in the title. In fantasy games, I'm usually one to take up spellcasters. I guess I'm a sucker for scholarly people making explosions and creative sorts of battlefield manipulations. This, however, is a post about the real world.

There's a real talent involved in stage magic. It takes dexterity, planning, coordination with Lovely Assistants, showmanship, and an understanding of human perception. I'm especially fond of "street magic," where the magician has to perform under conditions he can't control as easily, and often alone. We know we're going to be fooled somehow, and yet a good magician still manages to fool us.

It's fun in a humbling manner. A guy gets to show off our perceptual flaws with good humor. When we don't know the trick, we can make educated guesses as to how he pulled it off. Maybe he palmed the watch when he was asking for a handkerchief and we were distracted. Maybe instead of sticking our chosen card into your back pocket, he put one in there at the start and manipulated our choice in a separate deck. That sort of "magic" is solvable. We can look at the results and figure out answers. When we do, it's often surprisingly simple and clever.

The other kind of magic woos are fond of usually isn't like that. It isn't something to ponder, just to blindly accept. Questions about conditions and details are discouraged. Don't try to measure it. Don't try to understand it, except for the vague jargon they throw out. And don't you dare suggest there's something going on other than what your eyes see. Your eyes can't deceive you, so trust them.

I like the magic of fantasy worlds because there's usually an implication that there's something to be studied. Arcanists have towers full of books for a reason. Magical power is associated with knowledge, and it's dangerous to let an uneducated apprentice play with your pointy hat for the same reason you don't lend a child your power tools. Fantasy magic requires you know what you're doing. Bring a fantasy wizard's library into the information age, and I wouldn't be surprised if some careful, studious individuals could learn their own spells and give us some breakdown of the principles.

Yet with woos who claim to wield magic or psychic powers, they tend not to be terribly forthcoming. They're just not interested in basic tests that exist just to show that they're doing something science doesn't know about, yet.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Pointless Question #61

Why do girls go squee over vampires?


A while back, I ended up trying to think of some little meme-worthy slogans about morality. One that came to mind was something along the lines of "If morality is objective, it's random."

The rationale behind it is essentially this: I think morality is more or less "technically relative": It's based on our instinctive needs and desires. Presumably we all want to live, therefore we outlaw murder. Essentially, we can deduce general principles to use to maximize everyone's satisfaction in life. It's messy at points, but it's fairly firm. Much more so than the typical fundie's morality.

Objective morality, well, if there's a "Don't murder" objective moral law out there... How do we find it? If magic men in the sky are supposed to tell us, how did they figure out that law? If the magic men define it, well, what gives them the ability to do so? What's the basis behind the existence behind these laws? Are they completely baseless?


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Not Quite as Doomed as Usual

Well, McLeroy got shot down in his nomination for the head of the school board here. Party in the thread. Enjoy the ice cream cake.

A Little World

I've ended up with an odd desire to run some sort of continuous simulation of some sort on a spare computer. I was thinking some kind of community/city simulator that can be left alone for extended periods of time. Of course, other simulations are welcome. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Vyvanse Discussion Thread

I mentioned a while back in another meatspace thread that I've started on Vyvanse for ADHD. I'm good at spotting fundamental fallacies in altie talk about drugs that tweak our heads, but I thought I'd see if I had any medical-leaning readers who might know something right off I probably wouldn't find in simple searches. I'm currently got my mind on other things like moving, so those of you willing to save me some time sifting through the good and bad information will be appreciated.

I'm also on (a generic substitute for) Lexapro, and the drowsiness from it has done okay so far to cancel out insomnia.

god is Too Tiny For My Tastes

I should probably bring this issue up more often with fundies: The various gods of the various fundies are universally too small for me to respect, much less worship. Cue many of them going on about omnipotence, dropping the word "infinite" several times, and an attempt to appeal to my selfishness instead of my morality. They don't seem to get it.

When someone can put aside their anger to seek a peaceful solution while an adversary continues to be aggressive, there's a reason we refer to that peacemaker as "the bigger man." People we regard as having moral fortitude are able to put the greater good of the community above his own, whether that means sacrificing wealth, opportunities, freedoms, or simply swallowing his pride. Many people out there find it easier to die than to be humble. I suspect that's one common reason why some people are willing to "die for their faith."

Worse, many people live their lives and die their deaths only for ethereal rewards. A suicide bomber who acts only for the carnal pleasures he expects after the explosion is hardly a role model: He's willing to inflict suffering on those he injures and onto the loved ones of those he kills for a reward. In my view, he's only a high-priced assassin. There are plenty of others who bring in more subtle forms of suffering for those same rewards, such as those who try to bully non-believers and other religions from living their lives openly and without fear. They often do this by imposing religion on the state, the organization that exists to protect everyone's rights. When the state openly displays such an arbitrary preference, it sends a message that there is no equal protection. It tells us that possible rivals can corrupt the system however they wish. It tells us there is no rule of law.

The gods of the fundies encourage this corruption. Their mighty deities tell them that they've been granted special exceptions and privileges for agreeing with their petty self-importance. That's the defining characteristic of a fundie god: They place their bloated ego above any sort of morality. Peaceful compromises with "the enemy" to reduce the suffering of the world are wrong because it places compassion and empathy above their collective hubris.

Invariably, the gods of the fundies have special torture chambers they enjoy imagining. They love to envision the suffering of "inferior" people when they allegedly find out they're going to pay for not stroking their god's ego. Their petty, small-minded god is incapable of seeing any purpose beyond his self-satisfaction. Sapient beings are only tools to that sort of being's ends. Such a god is too small to swallow his bloated pride.

The excuse fundies use to side with such a being: He's too powerful to oppose. Might Makes Right, and nothing is mightier than an almighty being. I find it hard to imagine an emptier outlook on life.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Morality of Red Team and Blue Team

I've been thinking about making this post for a long time. The thing that got me started today, though, was a though in the shower about Revelations (which Brick Testament seems to be doing a good job of illustrating) and some of the antichrist accusations I've heard. I'll probably cover that in a later paragraph.

I use the term "Red Team" and "Blue Team" to invoke the image of online team games. The trope is pretty well distilled in an exchange I remember from Red Vs. Blue that went something like this:
Red Team Member: "Sarge, why exactly are we fighting the Blue Team anyway?"
Sarge: Because they're BLUE!
That pretty well covers how I see a lot of Fundie squabbles. There's no real sort of morality, just a vicious desire to ensure their color team "wins". Don't criticize the Red Team members. Unconditionally and instantly forgive whatever a member of Red Team does, even if they don't display remorse or try to make amends. Red Team leaders can do whatever they darn well please, and criticizing them is tantamount to treason.

As for the Blue Team, well, any good they do is obviously a part of a sinister plan to recruit you, and never a sign of being genuinely good-intentioned. Peace treaties are a sign that the apocalypse is coming, and if you sign up, you'll be exterminated alongside the Blue Team for being in league with the Blue Flag. Efforts to outlaw discrimination by team color or restricting Capture the Flag to a board game on a debate table is no different from worshiping the Blue Flag. Those who abstain from Capture the Flag and wearing painted armor or claim there are no Flags are obviously in league with the Blue Flag and will obviously never help out a Red Player. Don't turn your back on the colorless, because obviously without a Team Captain to give them orders, they'll just be happy to act randomly and stab you in the back. They obviously believe that without a Flag to defend or capture, there's no point to anything.

The reason Revelations sped up this rant: I was thinking about some fundies claiming some of my YouTube favorites were a trinity of evil, as well as some claiming that Obama is the Antichrist because he's popular, talks about doing good things, and doesn't look Red enough for their tastes. In short, religion seems like it easily creates the old "Us versus Them" mentality and discourages seeing any good in Them.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pointless Question #60

Dear Heroes Unlimited,

I'm a member of a young squad of superheroes, and I've been having trouble with a certain critter the team adopted. Yeah, it's cute, but the little rabbit-bear-rat thing is always getting us into trouble. It's useless in a fight (though in fairness, I will say it was a big help in escaping Dr. Moist's underwater lair), but it insists on standing its ground when it's clearly outmatched. It pushes buttons all the time, cracks lame jokes, forgets life lessons we taught it a week ago, and just overall makes a nuisance of itself. The worst part is that no one else seems to notice.

I've been trying to get rid of it without hurting anyone's feelings ...or resorting to worse means. I tried reasoning with the team, but they won't hear any of it. Once lucked out and found a community of more rabbit-bear-rat things, and even had an awkward but successful bit of matchmaker to get it a possible love interest and motivation to stay. Everyone said a tearful farewell... Thirty seconds later, it's back, cue the group hug and me banging my head against the nearest tree.

What should I do?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Doing Fine in Meatspace

Feel free to skip this post. Though you may want to know that I'm going to be moving into my own place on June 4th.

I've been nervous about the move, but I'm now very excited thanks to a bit of a furniture expedition with my mother, who has a degree in interior design and knows a lot of the furniture stores' staff. Got some good deals thanks to the connections. Already bought a few of the smaller items, like dinnerware and a really nice covered basket. The bigger items I'll probably commit to tomorrow are a new headboard, a super-soft black couch, a chest of drawers, and nightstand. Still need a good coffee table and a throw rug. Overall color themes I'm currently going for is indigo and reddish browns.

Of course, one big change I'm starting on is Vyvanse for ADHD. I've usually been pretty easily distracted, and have a bad pacing habit. I've just been able to compensate with a good IQ for a long time, but it's kind of caught up with me. It's a stimulant, so the first pill might be a part of how stoked I am right now. Just letting you know so that if you see me typing up longer, better researched posts than usual, you'll know the likely culprit.

My mother's resting her eyes and feet after the browsing spree, while I'm merely resting my feet. Need to figure out something to do outside the house to further my moving ambitions.

111th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Action Skeptics.

Open thread as usual, but selling me cleaning products in your outdoor voice is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Woos and Boredom

Recently, PZ posted a bit about a woman's diatribe about atheists. Plenty of people made comments about her characterization of us as bores and expressed puzzlement that she'd spend so much ink on writing uninformed statements about us if she thought we were boring. I'll leave the specific refutations for that other thread, but I thought I'd go ahead and say one thing I've been meaning to do a post on:

I find woo boring. That's the overall picture. Sure, there's plenty of trolls out there who can get me to chuckle when they engage in obvious contradiction or projection, or occasionally say something so absurd I can't help but laugh, such as 9/11 nuts who believe it was an R-9 Orbital Wave Cannon that brought down the towers. But that sort of thing quickly wears out, and I'll be explaining why.

1. Woo never defies my expectations: I don't mean on level of absurdity or anything like that. I mean things like success rates. They can't perform under well controlled conditions. They only have inherently cherrypicked anecdotes, not meaningful data. They reject simple, known explanations for mundane phenomena and expect me to believe the ordinary isn't ordinary. In short, their evidence is typically so weak and expected that I think "so what?" It's easy for someone to perform magic tricks under questionable circumstances and then lose those abilities when test conditions are designed to render those known tricks are impossible. It's easy to find at least a few people who praise a quackery treatment, have their statement recorded, and have it turn out that they were a very lucky minority, received actual medicine, or died of their condition after making an inaccurate assessment of their health. That's why anecdotes aren't to be trusted. You don't use any one single subject to make a life-altering decision, especially not when you can't get all the circumstantial information you need to know.

2. Woos behave very stereotypically in my experience. That's a big reason for the Doggerel Index: I'm sick of having to refute the same cliches and logical fallacies over and over and over again. I'm sure many of my fellow skeptics feel the same way, which is why I've made it publicly available. I'm sick of woos going in eternal circles based off what the woos from centuries ago made up about their critics, without bothering to look at the world or what their critics really say.

Dealing with the robotic behavior and the same tired old notions with every troll is frustrating. That's boredom's contribution to my passion: I try many ways to break the cycle, and upset the status quo the woos are content with. I want to force them to think when I successfully point out how they're the ones being closed-minded, that they have no idea what skepticism actually means, or whatever.

What it boils down to is that I'm lashing out against stagnation, indifference, and repetition.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why I Storm the Ivory Tower

One of the primary reasons I rail against believers in the supernatural is that I'm not fond of how hard they work to mentally isolate themselves from the world. I looked up the definition of "Ivory Tower" over at Merriam-Webster Online, and I think they picked out an excellent word to describe the attitude:
1: an impractical often escapist attitude marked by aloof lack of concern with or interest in practical matters or urgent problems
If you've been directed here by one of my readers, please pay close attention so that you can understand the attitudes common to skeptics, or at least those I know, rather than rely on the stereotypes you hear of:

1. Mystery: Many of the believers I've encountered treat mysteries like shiny baubles to be stared and gaped at. Awareness of things labeled "mysteries" is treated like collections to compare against others, like us geeks do with TV series, movies, and comics. They see nothing else to do with them. For a skeptic like me, a real mystery is an opportunity. Science has been steadily charting the universe. A mystery means there is uncharted territory to explore, examine, and understand. Idle, escapist speculation can be fun, but in the case of science, it's a reversal of the Decemberween Present Effect: When we do solve it, the answer is very often more amazing and profound than we could imagine. The universe kept getting bigger and bigger. Stars used to be tiny windows in the sky dome. Now we know they're distant suns that could have whole other worlds orbiting them. For us, science is an amazing, humbling experience.

2. Humility: Science has little tolerance for ego. We may celebrate many luminaries who saw something others didn't notice, but we can't treat them like the heroes of fiction: The universe of the real world doesn't exist specifically for the "main characters" to do heroic things in. Einstein deserves kudos for his research into relativity, but he was no infallible Marty Stu: His reluctance to accept the "messiness" of quantum mechanics caused plenty of problems for him in his later years. Even someone as great as Einstein is fallible and biased. That's why the authority rests in evidence, not individuals. It doesn't matter how high your IQ is, or how many letters you can write after your name. You still need good evidence to back you up, not a sense of self-importance.

3. The Galileo Gambit: There's no shortage of people who are perfectly intelligent but wrong about something. One easy form of escapism from that fact is to blame others for a lack of acceptance. It's often a compelling narrative: Everyone loves an underdog and roots for their success against seemingly impossible odds. Unfortunately, the universe doesn't operate according to the Rule of Drama. The scientific method is also intended to make that sort of suppression hard to pull off: Anyone is supposed to be able to replicate an experiment, and such a conspiracy would require that every scientist in the relevant field be in on it. It takes a special kind of cynicism and ego to wield that broad a brush. Sometimes people just need to accept at least the possibility they could be wrong and address legitimate criticisms.

4. People get hurt: All too often, especially with the topic of psychics, I'm treated like a wet blanket intruding on harmless, escapist fun. And they tell me this in the comments on articles about psychics wasting police resources in the search for a missing child or psychics who charge exorbitant rates for their non-services. The life of a missing person and the life savings of some innocent, if somewhat gullible, person are very real. Having a little innocent fun with a penny fortune-telling machine is one thing. Gambling a person's well being on unproven methods is another. Aside from more quantifiable damage, there's all sorts of emotional harm that can be done: There are plenty of "psychics" of the con artist variety who live by betraying people's trust in them. I want people to be sensible about who they trust: Trust is supposed to be earned, and no simple magic trick should act as a cheap shortcut to your heart.

21# !fooW

Well, managed to get myself annoyed at some Creationists, and Jenny McFrankenstein's altie ways ended up pushing my anger to foamy levels. I've calmed down some thanks to my brother sending over a bit of music I was impressed by, but I think it's time again for !fooW.

For those unfamiliar with the series: Ask me a question, and chances are you'll get a silly answer.

Pointless Question #59

Anyone know how the Discovery Institute explains god's the designer's fetish for beetles?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Do Over!: Trek Rebirth

Since Star Trek seems to be doing extremely well at the box office, it's got me wondering if the franchise could produce some more series. I ended up with one general concept of my own, and thought I'd share it:

It takes place on a small Oberth class science ship, outfitted with cutting edge sensors and other science-oriented equipment. It's focused on planetary study (since I'm not so fond of Negative Space Wedgies). I think the ship type makes a lot of room for writing potential:

1. As a science ship, they're naturally going to gravitate towards scientific curiosities and save the day in the manner of a Campbellian hero, like Star Trek tends to be fond of.

2. The ship works with a smaller crew, so a casual manner among them can be more easily justified. There could be friction between Starfleet and civilian crew.

3. If the ship gets caught up in a conflict, you can easily understand it being outgunned and the crew forced to rely on guile to survive, at least until a bigger class of ship arrives to help. It'd be well established they've got better Everything Sensors than average, so they could detect unusual advantages. One of the things that makes it harder for me to take a number of original series episodes seriously was how often the Enterprise, the flagship of the Federation, was outgunned by various alien species. How's the Federation still around?

So, anyone got their own ideas?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another Big Round Number

Just noticed the Sitemeter hit a quarter million. Must have happened while I was largely unconscious this weekend.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pointless Question #58

How does a monitor with a spinning Pac-Man and some dots moving on grid lines tell the engineer how the warp engine's holding up?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Woos and Humor

Is it just me, or do woos have no sense of humor? I know that some of it's probably biased sampling, since I mostly end up dealing with woos when they're being antagonistic. When they do attempt to make jokes, though, I never see the humor in it.

One possibility that comes to mind involves something my brother often said on the subject of humor: It's often based on logical fallacies. The punchline of many a joke ends with someone missing the point, or a reveal that only makes sense if you change your assumptions.

"A man walks into a bar. He says, 'Ouch!'"

This one deals with equivocation and a change in expectation from pattern recognition. First, in interpreting the word "bar", most people understand it to be an establishment that sells alcoholic drinks because many jokes begin with people walking into one as the start of an anecdote. This joke's humor is in the subversion of that expectation via equivocation that changes the definition of 'bar' to a rod.

All that for a very simple joke. The inability of many woos to identify logical fallacies seems like a likely candidate for their lack of humor. Combine this with one belief of mine: That humor requires at least a grain of truth, and the woos' inability to interpret what they see doesn't contribute.

I've seen some pretty bad examples of woo humor, including bad glurge. One particularly nasty example came from Dane Cook, who is not funny. He essentially told an anecdote about an atheist getting poetic about "coming back" as a tree after his body decays. He then goes on a vicious diatribe, fantasizing that the tree gets chopped down and made into the paper for bibles. His manner of saying this "joke" and the cheering fundies of the crowd left a feeling of savage bloodlust in the air.

Dude, not funny.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Star Trek was Awesome!

That is all.

Woo Enthymemes #2: "Theologians are Experts in Theology!"

Welcome to the second edition of Woo Enthymemes, a new series where I cover various fundamental, unstated assumptions in woo. Today's enthymeme looks like a tautology, in the way that "biologists are experts in biology" is expected to be a tautology. It doesn't quite work out, however.

For someone to be considered a biologist, they have to demonstrate an expertise in the subject. Biologists have to be familiar with existing literature and theories, as well as conduct biological research. This shouldn't be a surprise. If you don't look closely enough, you might say something similar about theologians.

The problem: How do you conduct research into theology? How do you experiment with gods? A biologist can point to a living creature, examine it, and record observations as well as formulate theories and, by extension, make firm predictions. The subject of biology, life, exists. We can say this with great confidence. Not so much with gods. All the various sciences can demonstrate the existence of the entities they study, even ones that aren't immediately obvious or easily understood. Theology, however, has yet to demonstrate the existence of gods, much less any specific god. Without that fundamental detail, the whole edifice is founded on vapor and wishful thinking.

That's why many of my blogging friends consider theology to be on par with fandom trivia. A fan of Star Trek, for instance, can make logical deductions using the "evidence" of the TV series to explain how warp drive works, but that doesn't prove that faster-than-light travel is possible because there's no evidence that the Enterprise exists as anything more than a fictional star ship made to entertain television viewers. Gods are in no better a position than Kirk, Picard, or Sisko, and theologians are in no better a position than over-obsessed television fans who think a show is real.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Day of Blasphemy

May 7th, national day of prayer? Not here. Here comes a wild thread where you can blaspheme whatever you wish. Anarchy is the rule of the comment thread.

Oogyth Skeptics' Circle

It's up at the Ferret's Cage.

Open thread as usual, but randomly making up rules that disallow things is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Economic Skepticism Attempt #1: Money Fundamentals

Well, since I've bumped into another 9/11 conspiracy nut who ranted on about the fiat money standard, I thought I'd attempt to cover some basic economics from what I remember in my high school classes, since many woos don't seem to recall even that level study. I've heard some people complain about the "fakeness" of fiat money, which is what we're currently on here in the US: Those green slips of paper and those numbers in your bank account are valuable because we say so. For the people who complain about the fakeness of that and want us to get back onto the gold standard, there's a little something I need to drill into your head:

The value of gold is just as fake.

Precious metals are only really precious because we agree they're precious. Sure, gold has some value for electronics, since it's a good conductor and is very resistant to corrosion, but stuff like that's only recent in human history: Gold is seen as valuable because it's shiny and rare. That's about it.

For a long time, gold and silver have been good enough to serve as a medium of exchange because they can't be duplicated (sorry, alchemists), they're scarce enough to be conveniently small, and still common enough that you could mint coins and such for public use. That's not much different than paper money: US currency is difficult to counterfeit (duplicated), it's scarce enough to be meaningful, and there's enough of it to be used by the public. That can be subject to change with fiat money, since the government can increase minting or someone can hoard the money, taking it out of circulation. Of course that's not much different than with notes backed with precious metals: How much is "a dollar worth of gold" anyway?

Fiat money just takes out the middleman of shiny metals.

As for the government supposedly taking away the value of a dollar by simply no longer accepting it for transactions, well, that's their loss. How are they going to convince the guy at my local comic shop not to take my dollars in exchange for packs of cards? That's about the same as convincing a nation of internet goers that kitten videos aren't cute. Money is a human construct based on our emotions and perceptions, not a tangible thing.

I play Magic. I have some cards that are worth a fair amount of money right now. A couple decades from now, the game could very well stop being popular enough to justify printing new cards. At that point, a card in my collection, which hasn't changed at all, could very well cease to have any value beyond being a very thin drink coaster. For the government to kill the value of the US fiat dollar, they'd have to somehow make it profoundly unpopular.

Back on the topic of overprinting cash: I'm pretty sure if the government tried that in an effort to devalue the dollar, they'd have mass riots and revolutionaries to deal with on every class level, and probably plenty of foreign intervention, since a lot of overseas businesses use US dollars. Not exactly a competent thing to do if you're trying to control people.

Since my economic education's just limited to high school, some marketing classes, and some rational-seeming blog posts, feel free to bring up points I might have missed.

Possible next entry: The myth of fixed value.


Remember back when I endorsed shanedk's science videos? I think it's time I unendorsed his political ones, including this one time he took a stab at the FDA, saying it's killed more people than it's saved. I'm worried he might be an altie, relying on bogus ways of measuring how many lives they've saved, so that they can underestimate the value of food and medical regulations.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Convergence and Divergence

Here goes a short post on a fundamental difference between science and woo. Science is convergent, woo is divergent.

First, science converges. That means that multiple observers and lines of inquiry will lead to a few or even one answer. For example, evolution is backed by genetics, population statistics, geology, fossil records, nuclear physics (via radiometric dating), and so on. There's one objective reality, and all the evidence it leaves for us should point to one answer. That's what we get.

Woo diverges. That means the opposite. Take religion and faith, for example. Belief with faith as the basis has produced thousands of religions and denominations thereof that rarely agree on anything. For another example, take the recent wake of 9/11 twoofers. You've got some who claim the planes were holographic, some who claim the buildings were brought down with hushaboom, some who claim they were brought down by thermite that burns perpendicular to gravity, some who claim it was an orbital R9 wave cannon, and so on and so on and so on.

The divergence of woo is so bad, that many woos, apparently to tolerate their differences, dive into the belief that reality is different for everyone and that we should give up on science because the answers change, depending on your "certain point of view." My regular readers know I'm not a fan of that sort of pessimism.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Let's Poke a Troll! #1

Well, it's been a few days since I replied to Dave's spam that went direct into my inbox. Poked him with a few questions, including one at a link about "Disconfirmation bias" from the dark bulbs of Telic Thoughts. If Creationists can't even tell us what evidence would support their theory of randomness, well, how can we be biased into ignoring it? Given the predictability of Creationists, who've been pulling the same tricks for centuries now, I didn't bother to read the link. Until now. Bracing myself...

We've been talking about confirmation bias, which is the tendency to seek out data that confirm one's preconceptions, while ignoring data that conflict with those preconceptions. But there is a flip-side to this phenomenon known as disconfirmation bias.
Yes, we're quite knowledgeable about confirmation bias, and we routinely deal with denialism, which is ignoring contradicting evidence. Of course, on the topic of evolution versus creationism, Creationists, to my knowledge, have never bothered coming up with examples of what would be confirming or contradicting evidence for their unfalsifiable "hypothesis."

Quotes from some psychologists:
When evaluating an argument, can one assess its strength independently of one's prior belief in the conclusion? A good deal of evidence indicates the answer is an emphatic no. This phenomenon, which we refer to as the prior belief effect, has important implications. Given two people, or groups, with opposing beliefs about a social, political, or scientific issue, the degree to which they will view relevant evidence as strong will differ. This difference, in turn, may result in a failure of the opposing parties to converge on any kind of meaningful agreement, and, under some circumstances, they may become more extreme in their beliefs.
The history of science says otherwise. New ideas come up quite often, get rigorously tested, and if they keep passing tests, they become accepted. I'm sensing the usual sour grapes involved in psychobabble arguments instead of honest inquiry, but that's mostly because I have a lot of prior experience with Creationists. Cynicism is no substitute for a sound, logical argument based on evidence. Science and skepticism may be conservative, but they're inherently expansive.

More psychobabble follows, including one example involving the death penalty. Of course, that's an ethical/moral argument for the most part, not one of science.

Back to Telic Thoughts' commentary:
It makes sense that a disconfirmation bias would exist. If the human brain is wired to defend its preconceptions with confirmation bias, attacking beliefs that threaten those preconceptions would likely be part of the same strategy. This undercuts Michael Shermer's belief that "Skepticism is the antidote for the confirmation bias." In reality, hyper-skepticism, or selectively applied skepticism, may simply be another facet of the same brain processes that generate confirmation bias.
What is "hyper-skepticism"? Where are Shermer and my fellow skeptics applying our skepticism selectively? That's what I'd like to hear you talk about.
What does disconfirmation bias look like? I would like to propose three possible signs that disconfirmation bias is taking place, where one may be defending their preconceptions more so than playing the honest skeptic who is simply trying to "follow the evidence."

1. According to Edwards and Smith, "When one is presented an argument to evaluate, there will be some automatic activation in memory of material relevant to the argument." Searching one's "memory banks" can easily become relying on stereotypes. A stereotype, after all, is the brain's "summation" of previous experience that is linked by certain cues. Thus, I hypothesize that when one is confronted with an argument that challenges their preconceptions, the more that person relies on stereotypes, the more it is likely they are exhibiting disconfirmation bias to protect a preconception.
The difficulty with this is that sometimes people actually live up to negative stereotypes, and I can't recall the last time a Creationist broke from the mold. In contrast, skeptics rarely ever act according to the predictions of Creationists.
How can you tell if stereotype is involved? Often, it is obvious. For example, if a critic on the Internet poses his own argument against my design hypothesis, and I begin to rail against Richard Dawkins, obviously my brain has been tapping into information about Dawkins to interpret my opponent. Often times, however, the evidence is more subtle. And that takes me to my second sign.
Just a note: I have yet to meet a Creationist who knows anything whatsoever about Dawkins's views. From what I've seen, they've done everything they can to shove Dawkins into their straw man molds and failed. At least he deserves kudos for demonstrating some sliver of self-awareness.
2. If one's brain is on "a deliberative search of memory for material that will undermine the argument simply" and the "search include stored beliefs and arguments that offer direct evidence against the premises and conclusion of the presented argument," it stands to reason the person with disconfirmation bias will have a strong tendency to link a current argument with the perceived failures of previously-experienced arguments. This creates a mental inertia that leads to two expressions of disconfirmation bias:
Oh, boy. Have you ever considered that the presented argument is exactly the same as a previously experienced and refuted argument? That's why we've got things like the Index to Creationist Claims. I haven't seen anything new in Creationism in decades aside from this one guy claiming ice is magnetic. And even then, it seems he was copying Kent Hovind or someone of his ilk, trying to defend the "vapor canopy" tripe.
a. Misrepresentation "“ Let's say that Jones develops an argument that threatens the preconceptions of Smith. But let us also say that Smith had previously successfully dismantled a similar, but different, argument that was once posed by Miller. The memory of this experience will shape the way Smith reacts to Jones. The brain processes involved in disconfirmation bias will cause Smith to morph Jones' position into that of Miller's. Smith will feel vindicated by the disconfirmation bias, while Jones will recognize that Smith is attacking a "straw man."
The problem I experience with this: All subtle variations of Creationism have almost all the same underlying faults. Usually, if they're making a straw man claim on me, it's for an unimportant detail. Even if I concede that minor inaccuracy, they tend to continue whining about it for the rest of the thread while ignoring any questions about their premises.
b. Faulty Extrapolation "“ This is a more subtle version of misrepresentation, where Smith's brain is so highly activated that it is sensitized to "cues" from Jones that lead Smith to believe that Jones is reaching for Miller's point. Smith will not focus on the actual argument Jones is making, but will be trying to "anticipate" where he thinks the argument is going in order to cut it off. In this case, Smith is not really disconfirming Jones' argument; he is creating an illusion of disconfirmation in his mind because he thinks he knows where the argument is going (when it may not even be going in that direction).
I'm sometimes guilty of this, but mostly in an effort to rouse the creationist from his circular mill by shock. Of course, much of the time, the extrapolation is something the creationists never thought of, and never made a cutoff limit for. They tend to make up principles that only seem to apply when it's convenient for them.
3. Finally, to put this lengthy blog (and tired blogger) to bed, there is the dead give-away of personal attack. When someone attacks another person by questioning their motivations or with ridicule (and more), they are seeking to discredit the argument by discrediting the person who makes the argument. If such personal attacks are linked to stereotypes, it becomes clear the person's brain is adopting an "end justifies the means" approach to disconfirmation bias.
There's a difference between an ad hominem fallacy and an insult. None of my arguments are based on the stupidity of the opponent. Sometimes I have to use ridicule to shock someone awake at the absurdity of their arguments. Or to keep my sanity with laughter when faced with someone who parrots debunked arguments over and over and over. When I lob an insult at someone, it's a conclusion based on their poor logic, stereotypical robotic behavior, ignorance of the most basic knowledge, etcetera. I never use it as a premise to disregard someone's opinion.
In summary, skepticism is a good thing, but skepticism can be just another facet of the way brains defend "their territory." Add tribalisitic group behavior to the picture and the whole process is amplified and entrenched. I propose that you can detect disconfirmation bias at work, in individuals or groups, when hyper-skepticism, stereotype, misrepresentation, faulty extrapolations, and personal attacks occur more often than not.
There's a difference between skepticism and rationalization. Skepticism requires that someone make an escape route in the form of specific types of evidence that would openly contradict a false belief. Without leaving room for falsification of a bias, you can never get out of it.

That's why Creationism is a bad idea: It's unfalsifiable. There's no telling what kind of evidence would support or contradict it, since they tend to fall quiet or change the subject in the matter. That's why Creationists use stereotypes, misrepresentation, faulty extrapolations, straw men, and ad hominem fallacies to defend themselves.

There was a time in my life when I was willing to entertain some of the fluffier forms of Creationism like theistic evolution. The fact that I could be convinced to join the ranks of atheism means that I was perfectly able to listen to the other side. Cynicism is no substitute for a collection of good, logical arguments. I write the way I do because I seek to emulate the wonderful people who won me over with unapologetic vigilance and irreverence in the face of would-be PC Police.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

D&Dify Some Stuff #3

I've got a diverse collection of stuff in mind for this session. I'm working towards 4th Edition, but feel free to make up stats for other editions or systems you like.

1. Icy Manipulator: Artifact I'm going to try to pick up a few copies of. For non-Magic players, tapping something pretty much means using up something's power for the turn. Continuous effects aren't affected.

2. Clockwork Steed: Could be an interesting mount. Winding it back up could be annoying.

3. Crosis's Attendant: Not interested in D&Difying it. I just found a Japanese one in a commons box. Looks awfully like someone who did well in theaters about a year ago.

4. In the original Armored Core, there's a pair of arms with the highest defensive stats. They've got a big pair of long horizontal cylinders for the shoulders. Big enough to prevent the use of most weapons in the two back hard points. Don't know why, but I liked the idea behind 'em, even if the loss of two weapons crippled you in those old days. I've been trying to think of some defensive magic item to go with the idea, up to including a pair of those cylinders that hover by the user's shoulders. It's mostly about the aesthetic.

5. Those of you who have Arcane Power, it'd be nice to hear some familiar ideas. I haven't been able to settle on a standard one for a desert sorcerer/ranger of mine.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Meatspace Stuff

Played a pirate game today as the French and somehow resisted the urge to describe my cannon assaults as farting in my opponents' general direction. Had the upper hand for a while, but the tide of battle turned pretty quickly. Can't remember the game's exact name, but the ships were made from punchout pieces of plastic cards.

More importantly, got some Alara Reborn cards. My current favorite: Vedalken Heretic.