Monthly Archives: July 2010

From Out of Ancient Athens…


This comes from a guy considered by many to be the most skilled of the ancient Greek orators, the statesman Demosthenes of Athens, and the following quote attributed to him is enormously relevant to modern skeptics, namely, the topic of self-deception.

Even though some pseudoscientists do turn out to be charlatans, it’s often extremely difficult to definitively identify someone as either an intentional fraud or just self-deluded believers without knowing them and their personal history inside and out.

There’s the risk of committing a False Dilemma fallacy on insufficient information.

It’s often not just one or the other, though, and frequently it turns out to be an odd mix of the two when the crank’s true motives can be identified at all…the well-known phenomenon of the pious fraud who truly believes their own claims, but isn’t above a little dishonesty and corner-cutting to promote them.

The reasons and psychological mechanisms for self-delusion are many…

Again, not an easy task for a n00b like me, which is why it’s a good idea for me at this point not to jump to conclusions until the evidence is in…and even then, there’s no way to be certain short of actually getting inside his head, and I ain’t psychic.

Anyhoo, here’s the quote:

A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true.

– Demosthenes (Δημοσθένης) (384 BC – 322 BC)

Asteroid Impact (HD)


To paraphrase Phil Plait, ‘This is the way the world ends.’ – mass extinction to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon

Logical Fallacies — the Slippery Slope


Hey, guys. This post deals with an informal fallacy known as the Slippery Slope, the causal version known also as the Fallacy of the Beard, or the Camel’s Nose fallacy. This argument takes the form of a statement that assumes that a position is unacceptable because if it is accepted, the extreme of that position must inevitably follow, without any sound justification as to why. This can sometimes be a strong line of reasoning when the chain of argument is fully laid out and logically follows, but we concern ourselves here with the specious usage, and an example is below:

The public teaching of comparative religion leads to religious doubt, which leads to agnosticism, which leads to atheism, which leads to anti-theism, which leads to inexorable nihilism, which leads to moral degeneracy, which inevitably leads to the disintegration of a society now characterized by total anarchy, so we don’t want comparative religion courses taught in our public schools.

Aside from the fact that the evidence just doesn’t bear this ridiculous chain of consequences out, note that no supporting reasons or other justification are ever provided as to why this chain must be true.

The other major version of this fallacy, the semantically-based Vagueness, or False Continuum, is used in one variant in which the argument is made that concepts B and E shade into each other along a continuum without any real demarcation between them, therefore they are the same thing.

But it just doesn’t follow that there is no difference between blue light and yellow light, despite the lack of a sharp dividing point in wavelengths in the visible spectrum, nor does it follow that there is no demarcation between humid or dry weather when the moisture in the air at any one time and place varies in degree from high to low.

The second variant of the False Continuum is used to argue that concept B differs in only insignificant ways from E without any real demarcation between them, and that therefore E simply doesn’t meaningfully exist because of a lack of said demarcation. As for this one, it doesn’t follow that truth doesn’t exist merely because of the continuum between truth and falsehood, that the concept of truth is utterly without objective reference.

These two fallacies, causal and semantic, are distinct, though sharing the same general name, and they are mentioned together in this post because the use of the semantic version can and does often lead to the commission of the causal version, the idea that a slip from B to E is inevitable because of the lack of a fine point of separation between them.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Apollo 11 restored footage: montage


NASA has released a brief montage of restored footage from the Apollo 11 footage. This is archival data that has been digitally cleaned up, and it looks MUCH better! – TheBadAstronomer

On Debating Cranks


Is it moving the goalposts when a skeptic demands evidence, not just necessary, but sufficient evidence as a reason to accept an extraordinary factual claim?

Is this heavy-handed, this demanding of evidence more sound than just that of alleged but nonetheless seemingly compelling personal experience, the anecdotal testimony of ‘reliable’ eyewitnesses whose accounts don’t sound ‘obviously false’ and who would ‘never lie,’ or ‘irrefutable’ physical evidence like blurry photos, low-resolution video or trace evidence that is either inconclusive or easily faked by even a child (and often has been)?

Is the requirement that a seemingly impressive statistical result of a paranormal study be replicated by others, no matter their beliefs or attitude, excessive or unfair?

I would say not.

Sure… one could argue that I’m arguing for the skeptical position on the need for solid evidence because I’m a skeptic myself, and that would be true, but not for the reasons the accusation would be and often has been given. I take the skeptical position in this because as a skeptic, I just might be in a real position to understand skeptical attitudes, thinking, and reasoning better than, say, someone whose mindset, belief system and values are opposed to those of skeptics.

In discussions I’ve attempted with those who subsequently show themselves to be dedicated advocates of fringe-claims, sort of ‘testing the waters’ so to speak, to see what they’re actually like, and to make reasonably sure that I haven’t misjudged them on the basis of their initial comment, most of the time such attempts at constructive discourse have been unproductive.

Generally, all I’ve learned from such exchanges is the extremes of intellectual strategies that people can and will resort to to protect their cherished personal opinions from questioning or criticism.

True believers tend to have rather peculiar ideas, often rather lax ones, as to what qualifies as reality, science, logic, or evidence, and have shown to me a tendency to dismiss them or the need for them when these do not conform to or otherwise validate their beliefs.

They do not play by the same rules as science, and by that token, their skeptical critics…

It is for this reason that once I establish that someone actually does argue like a crank, I decide that any further attempts at reasoned discussion are pointless, and that I could better spend my time and resources on other matters.

Is this being dismissive? Of course. But it’s dismissal for reasons of practicality.

My time is limited, and there’s no point in devoting attention to playing a game when the ‘other guy’ (both genders)isn’t playing by the same rules, and therefore isn’t really playing the same game.

It is for this reason that I will not debate cranks, quacks, pseudoscientists, antiscientists and other fringe-claimants on the venue of this blog once I figure what they really are from the initial exchange in the comment threads.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll completely ignore them, only that all attempts at rational discourse are now off, and that I’ll no longer cater to their need to defend whatever doctrine or belief-system they happen to hold dear that I had the temerity to criticize.

In my experience, it’s a lot easier to argue constructively with another skeptic than with a believer, because those skeptics I’ve read and met are open to the possibility of being shown wrong, of being convinced by the evidence. This is a key ingredient for intellectual honesty, and in strong contrast with those self-styled champions of What They Know to be A Proven Fact™, who have shown themselves to act as if it were simply unbecoming to change their minds in the light of mere facts and mere reality that could conceivably refute their views.

After all, changing one’s mind and being wrong are weaknesses of character…Aren’t they?..

Sharmishtha Basu

paintings, poems and thoughts

Realm of Empress Musie

Sharmishtha Basu's poetries

colours and words waltz

Colours and words two muses dancing together

Thoughts

Realm of Musie (my muse)

Marianne Talbot Philosophy

Marianne is Director Of Studies in Philosophy at the University of Oxford's Department for Continuing Education

La Audacia de Aquiles

El Mundo Visible es Sólo un Pretexto

Optimal Human Modulation

Your Space To Defrag

Words on a blackboard

In a world of poems, words steal love and put it on a blackboard

Math Outlet

Math Resources For Elementary Teachers

Kurt Brindley

status: world series, but only out of a sense of obligation, not interest, brb | music: spoon | mood: /_(' ) -------------------------------------

Author -Carole Parkes

Psychological, thriller, mystery, secrets, betrayal, adoption, romance, poetry, art

Some Bad Plankton

creative outlet plugged in

kvm88

I don't want believe I want to know. - Carl Sagan

Physics and Art

The strange case of Dr. August and Mr. von Orth.

Charlotte Cuevas, Author

Current writing projects: 52 Flashes of Fiction & The 365 Poetry Project: Year 2

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

Deidra Alexander's Blog

I have people to kill, lives to ruin, plagues to bring, and worlds to destroy. I am not the Angel of Death. I'm a fiction writer.

lalocabrujita

Zingendewoorden

Riley Amos Westbook

A fantasy Author with too much free time on his hands.

Kelsey's Cluttered Bookshelf

My ramblings about books and other random things.

Radhika Mukherjee

Writer. Editor. Dreamer. Eco-Feminist.

The Nerd Nebula

The Nucleus of the Universe for all Nerd Hacks!

The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Sucheta the Scribbler

Random. Purely Random. And then some more...

Eric Ian Huffman

I've come to Write.

Woodland Rambles

A writer, a dog, and miles of trails

A.D. Martin

writing - novels - film - television - video games - other stuff

Sausey is Sexy...

Humor, Dating, Sex, and a Whole bunch of Sause...

bdhesse

A writing WordPress.com site

1 SIGFRIDSSON

ON = TIME

UP!::urban po'E.Tree(s)

by po'E.T. and the colors of pi

Mik Mob's Music Mass

share your favourite tunes with The Mob

Something Like a Storybook

This is where Morgan Bradham shares stuff.

Project i•Am•You

Awareness. Lifestyle. Motivation. Spirituality. Inspiration.

hessianwithteeth

This site is all about ideas

Zebra Humor

The world's biggest collection of zebra jokes!

koniramm

This WordPress.com site is the cat’s pajamas

Katzenworld

All about (our) cats. Food, toys and other cat related products

nadiaharhash

living in the shoes of a woman

Ray Jay Perreault

Science Fiction writing about aliens with lives you can relate to.

Spirituality Exploration Today

Delving into the cross roads of rationality and intuition

The Wrong Triangle

Obscurum per obscurius | Ignotum per ignotius

Daily (w)rite

A Daily Ritual of Writing

olufunkekolapo's Blog

You are on Olufunke Kolapo's blog...where talent and personality bring forth quality.

Reagent Post

Expanding Perspective and Exploring ideas

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,103 other followers

%d bloggers like this: