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The human tendency to believe strange things


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#1    Render

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 11:18 AM



Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things -- from alien abductions to dowsing rods -- boils down to two of the brain's most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble.


#2    eight bits

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 03:54 PM

Thanks for the link.

It is funny how much it seems to bother voluntarily self-described "skeptics" that other people disagree with them about things which can only ever be matters of personal opinion. Obviously, nobody could disagree with Dr S simply because they have a different point of view. They must have some neural wiring issue, or perhaps it's their meds. Or maybe it's evolution.

Put aside the question of how, then, did Dr S escape the alleged "default" or "hardwired" human condition of belief by default. There's a problem with belief by default. Believe what by default?

Example, adapted from Shermer I'm an ancient hominid on the Savanah named Lucy. I hear a rustle in the bushes. It's either the wind, or a predator, or it's something I can eat.

Conclude: Dr S needs to learn about errors of the third kind: using the wrong model of the situation.

Anyway, it was nice to see that Shermer has learned something from his adventures in debunking. The vid is a nice demonstration of "shot-gunning," a standard cold-reading technique. He just keeps throwing stuff out there, and hopes that what you remember is what makes his thesis look good.

A lot of the stuff flying by was standard and sound. Alas, the stuff that was standard and sound didn't especially support his thesis, and the stuff that supported his thesis wasn't especially standard and sound.

In my opinion, of course. Other views are possible.

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#3    Ryu

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 04:41 PM

View Posteight bits, on 21 January 2012 - 03:54 PM, said:

In my opinion, of course. Other views are possible.

In general I liked the video and agree for the most part but, as you said, other views are possible and should be considered which is something Dr. Shermer doesn't allow for.
Basically it seems that if you dare to question commonly held ideas then you are somehow at fault for being superstitious or not accepting what the majority says is the "truth".

He does seem to have a "know-it-all" kind of mindset and seems to dismiss those who don't readily go along with his ideas but then again..aren't we all like that to some degree or another?


#4    Leonardo

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 05:36 PM

View Posteight bits, on 21 January 2012 - 03:54 PM, said:

Thanks for the link.

It is funny how much it seems to bother voluntarily self-described "skeptics" that other people disagree with them about things which can only ever be matters of personal opinion. Obviously, nobody could disagree with Dr S simply because they have a different point of view. They must have some neural wiring issue, or perhaps it's their meds. Or maybe it's evolution.

Put aside the question of how, then, did Dr S escape the alleged "default" or "hardwired" human condition of belief by default. There's a problem with belief by default. Believe what by default?

Example, adapted from Shermer I'm an ancient hominid on the Savanah named Lucy. I hear a rustle in the bushes. It's either the wind, or a predator, or it's something I can eat.

Conclude: Dr S needs to learn about errors of the third kind: using the wrong model of the situation.

Anyway, it was nice to see that Shermer has learned something from his adventures in debunking. The vid is a nice demonstration of "shot-gunning," a standard cold-reading technique. He just keeps throwing stuff out there, and hopes that what you remember is what makes his thesis look good.

A lot of the stuff flying by was standard and sound. Alas, the stuff that was standard and sound didn't especially support his thesis, and the stuff that supported his thesis wasn't especially standard and sound.

In my opinion, of course. Other views are possible.

While I don't worship at the altar of Michael Shermer, neither do I casually (or caustically) dismiss what he has to say as being sub-standard or unsound.

For sure, what he believes may be the whole picture might, in fact, turn out to be only a part of a greater whole, but 'belief' being something that is 'wired' into us due to how we have evolved has a certain, credible, 'ring' to it. Indeed, skepticism might turn out to be another, similar, product of our neurological and psychological evolution, and helps to 'balance' belief in individuals. Some people may have a neurology/psychology that favours belief and some may favour skepticism, but that does not indicate either the believer or the skeptic have some inherent 'superiority' in how they think when compared to each other.

As I said, I don't worship what Mr Shermer has to say, but I also do not see where he is suggesting that someone whose psychology favours belief over skepticism is any 'less' for that?

Edited by Leonardo, 21 January 2012 - 05:38 PM.

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#5    eight bits

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 06:39 PM

Easy things first. On his website, he refers to himself as Dr Shermer, so I just followed suit.

http://www.michaelsh.../about-michael/

Now for something a little tougher. I'm not dismissing him, but he made a bold claim (more about that in a moment), and did not offer bold evidence for it. I also noted the irony that his presentation technique was a teaching instance of something that, under other circumstances and if done by someone who disagrees with him, he would denounce.

Now for his bold claim, that there is biological bias favoring the affirmative of an arbitrary proposition. How could that be?

I already gave an example, the correction of his own example in fact, of a classification problem with more than two outcomes. Which of the three outcomes does this supposed bias favor? I don't take into account whether I'm hungry, whether I'm armed, what fauna have been in the region recently, ... I just hear the rustle in the bushes and think "Oh, a predator. I must run away."

To use his own phrase, that sounds like a "Darwin Award" winning strategy to me, to run away from your food. Please use the handrail as you leave the gene pool.

Even in truly binary questions, what possible selective advantage could accrue to early hominids who believed that the Universe was teeming with life off-earth, or respectively, that the Universe was sterile except for this planet?

"Oh, no. It operates at a more abstract level. It is the affirmative hypothesis that is biologically favored, that you are hardwired to believe."

"So, which of 'teeming' and 'sterile' is the affirmative hypothesis?"

"Whichever one Dr Shermer disagrees with."

Humankind has struggled under the weight of woo-woo theories of rational choice as long as we have records. Dr Shermer wants to turn back the clock to before The Port Royal Logic. Good luck with that.

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#6    Render

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 07:34 PM

I agree with Leonardo.

Shermer is just explaining a theory and a perspective of possible logic behind certain experiments and observations.
I don't understand why you, eight bits, are focussing so hard on Shermer, this talk isn't about him...it's about what he talks about. Just like any other Ted Talk, it's not about the person, it's about the story the person tells.

Aside from that I also don't understand how and why you are going totally off topic with your "hunger" reasoning. It's not about that.
He's just trying to explain why beings see something which isn't there or sometimes don't see what is there. So he's just trying to use an analogy of the rustling in the bushes of explaining that some ppl are more inclined to believe there is a beast hiding there, and other ppl seem to be more inclined to believe it's nothing dangerous and merely the wind.

Why certain ppl are more inclined to believe it's a beast or something dangerous? Well he finds reasoning in the theory of evolution for this. Now, if we are more inclined to believe the rustling is only wind, BUT it is a dangerous animal ready to devour us ... then we clearly have made a costly decision. But if we assumed it was a dangerous animal and acted accordingly, BUT it was merely the wind, then nothing was really lost.
So he theorizes that we evolved to believe in false negatives because our chance of living is higher.
This, he continues further could be explanation why some ppl are more inclined to believe in things that aren't really there. For example superstition.
Or for example psychoses, or schizophrenia. These ppl see patterns in things that are not really there. They believe they are followed for example, while it's all in their head.
It's also in most cultures: Friday the 13th for example.
Some ppl believe if they walk under a ladder they somehow affected their own fate and something bad will happen => this is a false negative.

It doesn't make sense to start talking about "well some ppl stay because their hungry" ... it has nothing to do with that ... it has to do with the belief if something dangerous is there or not.



You simply cannot deny that some ppl are more inclined to be superstitious than others. He merely seeks to explain this.
A human being, or maybe even a living being is inclined to believe, to see patterns. As he explains with the pigeon, even if there was no pattern, the pigeon will make one up and act accordingly. Just like walking under a ladder.


He's not making a statement that all belief is false. And i guess that's the art of it, how do we know what is real and what is not. How can we be sure our mind is playing tricks on us or if what we see, hear, etc and what we make of it in our minds is real?


Another example: heaven and hell.
Do we seek a pattern in doing good things so that we will go to heaven, because if we don't believe in heaven and it does exist, the cost will be that we'll suffer eternally.
so maybe it's just safer to believe in the false negative.

Just in case.

Edited by Render, 21 January 2012 - 07:47 PM.


#7    eight bits

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 10:36 PM

Render

Dr Shermer is not some disinterested scientist telling us about the impact of heredity, drugs and surgery on cognitive processing and belief formation.

Dr Shermer is the media advocate of a certain view about how the world works. He presents in his video his latest answer to those whose opinions differ from his: high-tech ad hom.

Ad hom, let us recall, is the attempt to refute an argument not by considering the merits of the argument itself, but by pointing out reasons to doubt the rectitude, health, competence or rationality of the person who is offering the argument.

Dr Shermer doesn't address the arguments of anybody who believes in any of the many things he doesn't, such as ESP, intelligent life on other planets, God, ghosts, cryptids, dowsing rods,... It's all down to personal attributes of the believer, their genetic heritage, and how their behavior, beliefs and experiences resemble those of drug abusers or people undergoing brain surgery.

High-tech ad hom is good old fashioned ad hom.

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Aside from that I also don't understand how and why you are going totally off topic with your "hunger" reasoning.
If you believe my post is off-topic, then please report me to a moderator. I would be delighted to defend myself. Allow me to give you a preview of that defense:

In the OP, you posted a video in which Dr Shermer is the only perfomer. Shortly into the talk, at 3:52, he invites us to imagine ourselves as a hominid hearing a rustle in the bushes.

I did what Dr Shermer asked me to do. I am allowed to discuss here what I noticed when I accepted Dr Shermer's invitation.

He erred in the formulation of the problem. The situation does not present a binary choice, but at least a three-alternative classification problem. For the reasons stated, that is fatal to his claim that the hominid's choice can be explained by an inherent neural mechanism, to favor one kind of hypothesis over its alternative. Its alternative is provably not completely specified in his own example.

The completeness defect can be repaired, preserving the form of his "equation." However, the resulting equation still denies widely accepted principles of rational choice that have been in the literature since The Port Royal Logic.

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So he's just trying to use an analogy of the rustling in the bushes of explaining that ... other ppl seem to be more inclined to believe it's nothing dangerous and merely the wind.
No, he offered no explanation of that. Shot-gunning really is effective at creating cognitive illusions, isn't it? Check the video, the incident runs from about 3:52 to 5:15.

And you say that, even though you know he didn't explain that other people believe differently, because you go on to say, pretty nearly correctly

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So he theorizes that we evolved to believe in false negatives because our chance of living is higher
And, since "we" includes him, that justifies my pointing out that if his theory was correct, then he wouldn't be telling us about it, would he? He would have evolved to believe the things he doesn't.

Many of the other examples are simply biological instances of what engineers call ROC (receiver operating characteristic) theory. It's fine. As I said in my post,

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A lot of the stuff flying by was standard and sound.
But there is nothing in ROC theory that tells you what to believe about anything. But, by reciting real science and engineering next to his pseudo-sceince, he creates the impression that the whole thing is science. And that, too, is a cognitive illusion, crafted by a professional commentator on the art of crafting cognitive illusions.

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It doesn't make sense to start talking about "well some ppl stay because their hungry"
Well, then, I guess I must be the only one who finds places where there is food when I'm hungry, and stay there until I've eaten. My mistake. It has always made sense to me.

Meh. I need to go on a diet anyway. Very good holiday season. Not staying places where there's food will probably help with that. Thanks for the tip.

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A human being, or maybe even a living being is inclined to believe, to see patterns.
Yes, and when they do, they will be governed by ROC. All of them, and no, Dr Shermer is not an exception. All people who can detect any patterns will sometimes detect patterns when they are not there. Not "superstitious" people, not cocaine abusers, not surgical patients, not people who believe that there is life on other planets - each and every person without exception.

Therefore, ROC is uninformative about wheter Dr Shermer is right, or instead whoever might disagree with him on whatever issue is right.

As I said in my post,

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the stuff that was standard and sound
For example, ROC in its various forms,

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didn't especially support his thesis
ROC just says that everyone will make mistakes, and that there is (just as Dr Shermer said) a trade-off between missing authentic patterns when they are there and detecting inauthentic patterns when they aren't there. Improve one and you will degrade the other. So, indeed, find a sweet spot.

Finding that sweet spot, however, has nothing to do with agreeing or disagreeing with Dr Shermer. That includes possibly disagreeing with Dr Shermer about where that sweet spot is.

Seriously, both of his "sweet spot" examples, Feynman and Nash, are exceptionally well-documented people. They've both been major motion pictures. Nash's did better, ironically. But irony aside, did John Nash set his ROC incorrectly? Who TF is Michael Shermer to say, one way or the other? Check out what Nash has already accomplished in his life, and be open to doubt that it's so damned easy to answer.

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Another example: heaven and hell.
Do we seek a pattern in doing good things so that we will go to heaven, because if we don't believe in heaven and it does exist, the cost will be that we'll suffer eternally.
so maybe it's just safer to believe in the false negative.

Just in case.
Interesting. So, in your view, hell-related theology comes down to a parody of Pascal's wager? If so, then what's the explanation that there are the theologians who reject Pascal's wager, root and branch, but believe in eternal puishment?

Is it possible that somebody disagrees with you for reasons other than those that Dr Shermer claims? Is it possible that arguments really do have to be met on their own terms, and not by marginalizing and denigrating the person making the argument?

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#8    Leonardo

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 11:19 PM

View Posteight bits, on 21 January 2012 - 10:36 PM, said:

And, since "we" includes him, that justifies my pointing out that if his theory was correct, then he wouldn't be telling us about it, would he? He would have evolved to believe the things he doesn't.

The "we" in Shermer's argument is a generalised "we" and not intended to make a statement of absolutes, as you portray it to, eb. You are familiar enough with Evolutionary Theory (or The Modern Synthesis, as Copa prefers it) to know that evolution is not about absolutes, and that a trait being expressed in a population does not mean that all individual members of that population need to express that trait.

If we are to look at the incidence of belief (a la superstitious belief) vs non-belief/skepticism across a sample representative of the global population, what would your opinion be on which particular psychology would be the most common?

As far as I have heard his talks on the topic, Shermer is not making a value judgement based on his hypothesis, but using it [the hypothesis] to describe a phenomenon.

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#9    Cassea

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 11:28 PM

Interesting.  Yes it is like that thing when you see faces in the clouds.  People will see things that are not there.  Superstitions, ghosts and other things.

Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury communication issues.   http://www.asha.org/.../#comm_problems

#10    Habitat

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 11:44 PM

Everyone is born for a reason, and the folk that believe all the wacky stuff were born to make Shermer and his adhererents feel better by giving them someone to look down on. It's great to feel superior, isn't it ? Just about any behavioural trait exhibited by humans can be labelled 'hard-wired',but it is psuedo-science to cherry pick the ones you 'love to hate' Find a better cause I say, crusade against people who pick their nose in public, something that half-matters. I see far more menacing and harmful wrong-headedness in the world than fantasising about 'cryptids' etc. Next !

Edited by Habitat, 21 January 2012 - 11:47 PM.


#11    eight bits

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 12:25 AM

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The "we" in Shermer's argument is a generalised "we" and not intended to make a statement of absolutes, as you portray it to, eb.
Well, Leo, the "we" that I commented upon was in Render's post. If you have an example of Dr Shermer using the pronoun, then I'd be happy to comment upon that.

The issue I have with the video is not about what TMS actually says, but what use Dr Shermer pretends to make of it to grind his axe in disputes about matters of opinion. He seeks to prevail without producing any argument about the controversy, nor refuting anybody else's argument.

Of course, I hardly need to tell you that there is a long history of taking sound ideas from Darwin and other theorists, and applying them wrongly to support the oppression of people, to deprive them of their natural rights, and to marginalize or denigrate their opinions.

I can't answer your question about the global distribution of superstition, because I don't know what you mean by a "superstitiious" belief.

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As far as I have heard his talks on the topic, Shermer is not making a value judgement based on his hypothesis, but using it [the hypothesis] to describe a phenomenon
Shermer states his thesis at about 2:00 and following. I don't know what value judgments he makes personally. I have no sense about what his values are.

As I have said, his talk intersperses sound and truthful descriptions of a variety of phenomena with a woo theory about the irrational origin of beliefs and opinions with which he disagrees. At no point does he consider even the possibility of rational disagreement with any of his opinions.

---

Pareidolia, Cassea.

Beliefs are a bit more complicated than perceptual processing. I can see faces in the clouds without believing that there is any face in any cloud.

But even perceptual processing is complicated. Your ability to see faces in the clouds is exactly what allows me to communicate with you thusly

:D

There just may be some survival value with abstract pictorial representation of objects, which is just as species specific to human beings as language.

But it is a fact of physics, not biology, not psychology, that if I can ever send you a message using a picture, then you must sometimes see a picture when there isn't one.

----

Howdy, Habitat. Good golly, you're not suggesting that skeptics derive any gratification from their innate superiority, are you?
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Edited by eight bits, 22 January 2012 - 12:28 AM.

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#12    Leonardo

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 09:14 AM

View Posteight bits, on 22 January 2012 - 12:25 AM, said:

Well, Leo, the "we" that I commented upon was in Render's post. If you have an example of Dr Shermer using the pronoun, then I'd be happy to comment upon that.

As Render's comment at that point was obviously his synopsis of Shermer's overall theory, who used the "we" is irrelevant to what it is taken to mean in the context of that theory.

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The issue I have with the video is not about what TMS actually says, but what use Dr Shermer pretends to make of it to grind his axe in disputes about matters of opinion. He seeks to prevail without producing any argument about the controversy, nor refuting anybody else's argument.

As far as Shermer's not having quality data to back up his hypotheses, I'd agree. He has arrived at his conclusions somewhat unscientifically, but that does not mean we should dismiss them outright simply because of that.

Also, Shermer's own personality has little to do with the merits of his hypotheses.

As for your suggestion that Shermer is 'pretending', this is tantamount to an accusation of fraud on his part. Do you have any evidence that Shermer does not actually believe what he is saying?

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Of course, I hardly need to tell you that there is a long history of taking sound ideas from Darwin and other theorists, and applying them wrongly to support the oppression of people, to deprive them of their natural rights, and to marginalize or denigrate their opinions.

*snip*

Shermer states his thesis at about 2:00 and following. I don't know what value judgments he makes personally. I have no sense about what his values are.

If you read the first sentence and then apply it to the second, you will realise what values you are insinuating onto Shermer, your 'sense' of them. Those being him marginalising, depriving, oppressing and/or denigrating people with superstitious belief.

While he may be a fervent skeptic, and truly believe skepticism is 'better' than being prone to superstitious belief, I do not see what you see in his hypothesis. That 1) our psychology is moulded by our evolution and 2) that superstitious belief is one expression of that psychology, are totally neutral and carry no hint of 'rightness' or 'wrongness' - in the sense of being applied to the possessor of that psychology. It is possible to discuss them without discussing Michael Shermer.

Edited to add: I can see where his use of the phrase 'self-deception' to describe how that psychology affects the individual may be seen as perjorative, but it applies only in a self-centric context and should not be read as meaning/suggesting any comparison to another. When properly applied, the hypotheses about the evolution of our beliefs as a part of our psychology can be extended to incorporate skepticism as also being a result of 'self-deception', but with a different expression by the individual.

Edited by Leonardo, 22 January 2012 - 09:23 AM.

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#13    Englishgent

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 09:41 AM

As far as this ''rustling in the grass'' is concerned, yes, assuming it is a predator will possibly save your life. But that is purely what it is. An assumption, Not a belief. That is how we survive. We dont have to believe something, but sometimes it is wise to assume. That way you live to fight another day. IMO an assumption is not a belief,  
I agree with Eight Bits that a third option comes into the equation when we are talking survival.. It might be food.
I think using the word belief is a bit strong, or maybe he just used the wrong analogy.  IMO, belief is what happens when you actually discover what is causing the grass to rustle. :)


#14    Render

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 10:04 AM

View PostEnglishgent, on 22 January 2012 - 09:41 AM, said:

As far as this ''rustling in the grass'' is concerned, yes, assuming it is a predator will possibly save your life. But that is purely what it is. An assumption, Not a belief. That is how we survive. We dont have to believe something, but sometimes it is wise to assume. That way you live to fight another day. IMO an assumption is not a belief,  
I agree with Eight Bits that a third option comes into the equation when we are talking survival.. It might be food.
I think using the word belief is a bit strong, or maybe he just used the wrong analogy.  IMO, belief is what happens when you actually discover what is causing the grass to rustle. :)

I don't fully agree, because many ppl believe in God, for example. Without actually discovering/ seeing God.
The assumptions of false negatives turns into a pattern. The pattern of self-deception. He's trying to link to our beliefsystem and i do find value in what he says. It's worth thinking about.
There are also ppl who trully believe in friday the 13th, without anything bad happening to them. And BECAUSE nothing bad happens to them on friday the 13th they start believing that whatever they did or didn't to contributed to their safety on that day. This is a belief-system based on a false negative.



As for eight bits his comments, im sorry but im going to put them aside because you're obviously just looking for a fight and you cannot formulate a decent argument so you're trying to bring the Ted talker down with ramblings. I don't know why you so insecure that you see everything that he says as an attack on believers. He's not judging them, but you seem to be. I am also not judging, I'm trying to discuss why indeed some are more inclined to belief, what appears to be, non-true things.
If some random person on this forum posts a topic with a question in it, you're not going to attack that person by assuming stuff about him right? "Oh he means that he looks down on us because he thinks he knows everything" . No, you're going to try and discuss the topic,  not the person. If you have the capacities for it anyway.
edit: Maybe this can also be linked to what Shermer talks about. You're so hard wired to believe the things you believe you're unable to even talk about a skeptic point of view and immediately attack the speaker. You automatically assume/believe certain things about the speaker, which he doesn't even speak about or give notion of.

As Leonardo formulates, the same can be said of skeptics their beliefs. They can also be the false-negative. And that is what I find so interesting about this talk (not the speaker), on what side do we error? Are their things that we do not see but some do that are really there?
Can we ever be sure?
Is that why we give ghost hunters a media platform .. because even if some don't believe, they think there might be something they're just not seeing?
Same with religion, it's not banished. Even though some say believing in heaven and hell is crazy. Still, it's in institutionalized belief .. so does that make it kind off true?
But why do we label some ppl with psychoses or some mental illness if they see things that aren't there for others to see?
Where is the line drawn?



Also, I've heard and read about cases where ppl who are are blind for example, do not believe they are blind.
When confronted with their blindness, by for example asking how many fingers am i holding up, they will guess. Everytime, they will a guess a number. Because their brain does not register that they are blind. And when told that they are wrong and they cannot see, they will immediately make up excuses of why they were not able to give the correct answer. "Oh it's because you were moving to fast"
"oh it's because i had something in my eye". etc.
The same with ppl who cannot move one of their arms. On is asked to move his right arm, this he can do and shows it. Then he is asked to move his left arm, this he cannot do and as he watches himself not moving. He is actually thinking he is moving it. So when confronted with the truth, he also tells a flat out lie that he actually was moving it.
They cannot acknowledge the truth for the life of them.
It's a very interesting phenemenon and i wonder if it is linked to this Ted Talk of self-deception.

I see the same in ppl like Derek Ogilvie for example, the baby whisperer. He claims he can talk to the dead. And when he is confronted with the truth, that he is actually cold-reading. And ppl mention that the things he said were false, he immediately makes up excuses that "he doesn't remember readings because he's somewhere else so he cannot be hold accountable for what he says"
or "their were so many voices so something he mixes them up"
etc

Could it indeed maybe be something in our brain that is hard-wired, that is that starting point of all this?
I'm not saying, and the ted speaker is not saying, it's the full explanation for everything that has to do with assumptions and beliefs, but maybe it's  a starting point.

Edited by Render, 22 January 2012 - 10:31 AM.


#15    eight bits

eight bits

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 12:53 PM

Leo

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As Render's comment at that point was obviously his synopsis of Shermer's overall theory, who used the "we" is irrelevant to what it is taken to mean in the context of that theory.
That's a nice thought, but since I was unable to answer your question as asked, I didn't, and declined to guess what you would choose to ask instead.

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... but that does not mean we should dismiss them outright simply because of that.
That's the second time you've dropped the D-word on me. To dismiss is to refrain from discussion without making a finding. I have done neither.

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Also, Shermer's own personality has little to do with the merits of his hypotheses.
I haven't mentioned his personality in connection with his hypothesis except in reply to something you brought up, your "Shermer is not making a value judgement based on his hypothesis."

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As for your suggestion that Shermer is 'pretending'
I write American English, Leo. Among the meanings of to pretend here is "to claim or allege insincerely or falsely; profess" (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third). In the usage notes, which help with connotations, the same source notes that our word of the day "often suggests a vain or transparent attempt to fool or deceive."

I am quite happy to have asserted, rather than merely suggested, Dr Shermer's pretence. However, fraud, which is a crime here, requires something more effective than a vain or transparent attempt to deceive. Thus, I didn't suggest that Dr Shermer committed fraud.

As to whether Dr Shermer believes what he is saying, I have already noted that he presents himself as an expert in invalid and unsound argumentation. Thus, the alternative to insincerity is incompetence, by the standards he professes elsewhere. Since I doubt he will resolve the matter by telling us which of the two applies to him, I'll simply leave my remarks to stand as they are.

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If you read the first sentence ...
I see no mention of Dr Shermer. It is about the history of the problem, which began before Dr Shermer was born, is still with us apart from Dr Shermer, and I fear will yet be a problem after Dr Shermer leaves us. The sentence states some of the context for our discussion, what is at stake in it, and not the values or state of mind that Dr Shermer brings to his work.

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I can see where his use of the phrase 'self-deception' ...
The main significance of that turn of phrase, in my opinion, is to serve as an integral part of the take-home message of the talk, that there can be no rational disagreement that, say, Lee Harvey Oswald acted completely alone to assassinate John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

That is absurd. I have no alternative theory to advance about this murder, but many real historians studying this would choose, as an aspect of their professional routine, to examine the matter with an open mind, if only to understand what questions were unresolved at the time of the Warren Commission, and how effectively their report responded to those concerns.

Ironically, at another point in his talk, Dr Shermer introduces Richard Feynman. Nobody who has read Feynman's account of his experience as a member of the Challenger Commission could be untroubled about the investigative rigor of an ad hoc politically appointed federal investigative body, in my opinion. Although it is not my view, some rational disagreement with the Warren Commission is obviously possible, on those grounds alone.

On another matter, I was rather hoping you would clarify your earlier remarks about superstition, since that seemed to me to be a fertile avenue to explore here.


Englishgent and Render

I think that the "rustling in the grass" isn't a good model of how people come to believe in God. A comprehensive theory of belief formation would account for both, but, in my opinion, would have different things to say about them.

One key difference is temporal persistence. Whatever I am going to do about the rustling in the grass, I will do it now. Five minutes from now, I'll either have other problems, or no problems at all anymore. Either way, this matter will be closed.

Belief in God, in contrast, is complicated, develops in the face of continuing exposure to experience and argumentation, and comes in a wide variety of flavors. Belief in Odin is a different thing from belief in Jesus Christ, which ironically is a different thing from believing in the God whom Jesus Christ would be expected to believe in, based on his religious affiliation.

The time it took me to compose just that paragraph is more time than I have in the other problem, yet that paragraph doesn't begin even to describe the question of God, much less say anything about its solution.

I believe that natural selection might favor a rapid, robust and non-deliberative "default" generator to dispose of transient concrete emergenices. To account for God-beliefs in the same way is an extraordinary claim, a kind which, I have been told, requires extraordinary evidence.

Anyway. Yes, Render, perhaps it is best that you put me on ignore. It is easy to see that you have absorbed Dr Shermer's message, that if you can't refute an argument, then claim it isn't an argument at all. Thank you for illustrating my point so well.
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Edited by eight bits, 22 January 2012 - 01:00 PM.

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