I’ve decided to update my bios on various venues on the web at some point, since most of them are simplistic.
Too simplistic. Convenient, but still too simplistic.
Because people are not nouns. We are not collections of simple one-or-two syllable terms. Human beings can never be adequately defined and described by simple static descriptors.
We are what we are, but nothing about us can be fully captured in the space of a few brief words. We do things, we perform actions.
We are verbs, not nouns.
We are not just artists, nor writers, nor believers, nor nonbelievers, nor followers, nor leaders, nor students, nor teachers, nor are we just collections of the countless other descriptive labels, though these are a useful shorthand when we are in a hurry, or constrained by space limitations on a blogpost or a brief biographical description on a personal website.
The problem is that over-reliance on these leads to stereotyping, because language is not neutral, and the meaning that the writer of the blogpost or bio-page puts into them very often isn’t the same as the meaning that the reader supplies to them.
Ask a religious nonbeliever what ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic’ or ‘humanist’ or ‘secularist’ or ‘rationalist’ or ‘freethinker’ or ‘antitheist’ means and ask the same of any randomly selected self-described religious or spiritual practitioner, and very, very often you will get two very different answers.
The content and meaning of these answers will diverge greatly, depending on the differences in culture, worldview, education, and personal background.
Ask someone who practices analytical thinking skills, has a fair level of scientific literacy, a healthy level of suspicion for questionable claims, and who values the use of reason in argument what a ‘skeptic’ is, and you will very likely get a completely different answer from that of, say, a New Age practitioner of crystal healing and Reiki.
The point is, again, that few people, save those with compatible perspectives, are likely to attribute the same meaning to the same nouns, so labels can cause difficulties.
They lead, for one thing, to stereotyping, though as long as one keeps in mind that the stereotype is just a schematic and not a literal representation of reality, all is well.
The problems result from the fact that few of us do this. We tend to be lazy thinkers, even the smartest of us, using cognitive shortcuts to reach closure on a matter quickly, and while this is efficient and usually works in ordinary usage, it is hardly adequate for scenarios we are not prepared for, that may require deeper levels of problem solving skills.
When we see a stereotype and confuse it for the literal reality of what or who it seems to apply to, not just a schematic or an abstraction, we commit a hasty generalization — reaching closure on something from an insufficient number of instances (or too low a sample size in statistical lingo) — and this can lead to bigoted thinking.
I am not a skeptic, nor a fractal artist, nor a blogger, nor a cat person, nor any other collection of nouns, though I’ve used these as a convenient shorthand, not that it hasn’t caused confusion in a number of instances…
Better still, from a verbal perspective…
I practice and seek to develop clearer thinking skills, to hone the edges of my reasoning and argumentation ability, improve my level of education and science savviness, to protect myself and others from scammery and flim-flam artists, to look into the claims of cranks and quacks, and generally help support good science education.
I make fractal artwork as a pastime with the intent to develop it to professional levels. I think that cats are some of the most awesome animals on the planet, and not just in internet memes (though I confess some bias there).
I post on a number of blogs and internet social media like Facebook and Twitter, and through these I’ve come in contact with and interact with some of the coolest people my species has ever produced.
Like anyone else, there are countless things I do daily, weekly, monthly and over spans of years, even the most ordinary tasks, that cannot possibly be adequately captured in just a few words on a Twitter bio or Facebook page.
People are far too nuanced than that, and that includes anyone reading this post.
So consider thinking of people in terms of verbs, not static nouns, as intelligent causal agents who do things, rather than just simple clusters of tags and labels. The world may seem a lot more complex if you do, but it will also be a lot more interesting as well.
I’ve decided to tweak this blog’s look for 2013, updating the background image and header text color with something just a bit less garish than previously, and I may do this again within the week to get things just right, and not too dark or bright for the skeptical scrutiny of browsing eyes.
During the past year, one of the biggest single referrers for links and steely gazes cast on this blog was the James Randi Educational Foundation for a video post on a talk that Steven Novella gave at TAM 6, so many thanks, JREF. The other referrers were social networking sites, including Twitter and Facebook, and thanks go out to all those who’ve shared or tweeted this blog’s content in 2012 — This blog couldn’t have been as active as it has without that. Also much appreciated was referrals to this site by my fellow bloggers from their own sites, and the discussions with them via comment threads both here and elsewhere online.
Strictures on commenting have been relaxed a bit, but nota bene the warning in the prompt just above the commenting box — attempting to promote your propaganda or advertise for your latest bestseller or porn site will not be tolerated — there are plenty of other places online to do that besides this blog. Free speech must be tempered with responsibility and honesty, not corrupted by bullshit.
I’m open to suggestions by any of this blog’s readers on good skeptical and sciencey topics for posting this year, and any ideas that may be used to make this site a tad more appealing in layout and artwork. I’m going to be reducing my posting of strictly atheist material, and focus instead on those areas and matters where it converges with science and skepticism.
For those of you new to this blog, be informed that this site is biased — it is unequivocally biased in favor of science and I fully support a scientific consensus unless and until it is shown wrong by the same process of evidence and thinking that led to it. — it will do no good to try debunking science by arguing from a religious, political, economic, or other ideological position, since that just shows a profound failure to understand the scientific process — again with attempts to promote your agenda in the guise of free speech.
On this I agree with Grumpy Cat.
Have a wonderful remaining Tuesday, and a very happy New Year. I know what my resolutions are for this year, and may all of you fulfill yours in the months to come! Thank you for your participation in this blog’s online community.