All images in this post are original works by the author, and are copyright 2012 Troy Loy
All images in this post are original works by the author, and are copyright 2012 Troy Loy
What is the true purpose(s) of the brain? — Perception? Thinking? Speaking? — Dr. Wolpert argues that these are hardly the case, that in fact the main evolutionary purpose of the brain to control and produce complex adaptive movements, all the ways we interact with the world and control it through the actions our brains generate, using the processing of information from our perception and prior knowledge to select and undertake physical actions, even speech and looking about by moving our eyeballs, to gather more data from and affect the reality around us.
He makes a sound case that the ultimate reason we have brains is to affect the world around us to aid survival, and in the most direct way through physical acts.
As an old-school tabletop gamer, I’ve a penchant for rolling weird dice, and was originally going to use a d20 to determine the winner of the Call’s first giveaway contest for a copy of Margaret Wertheim’s book Physics on the Fringe.
Well, the way things went with the contest entries I thought that a d24 would be more appropriate, with the contestants’ names taken in alphabetical order and each assigned a number, so… *shake* *shake* *roll* *clatter* the winner is…
Congrats, Cheryl. I’ll get with you soon to work out shipping arrangements, maybe on Facebook, and thank you VERY much to everyone else who participated.
It’s been a blast!
I’d also like to thank those of you who subscribed, commented, rated or clicked the “like” buttons on entries, reblogged posts on your own sites, and in other ways made this blog an absolute scream to post on during this far-too-brief three years, for an unprofessional dabbler like myself in science geekery and philosophical nerdist topics, an Annoyer of Worlds with more friends than I deserve.
You all have my gratitude and appreciation for the evolution of this blog and its content over time, and I hope to keep things interesting in this site’s promotion of science, skepticism, the occasional posts on critical thinking and yes, my gratuitous fractal artwork and occasional barely coherent rambles, as I improve my clarity of thought and reasoning, such as that sometimes is.
Practice makes you-know-what, after all.
This will probably be my last post for 2011, with updating to resume after the next 72 hours.
I’ve got studying and writing projects, some dealing with this blog’s content, some for furthering my education, and some for fiction I’m working on, so I need to refine the material and do the research required for accuracy.
I’m rather confident that the world will still be here throughout and beyond next year, so silly pseudo-Mayan prophecies notwithstanding, you won’t be rid of me that easily.
Peace out, Peeps. It’s terrific to have met you!
Or as my totally made-up extraterrestrial hominid race, the Kai’Siri, would say…
Talotaa fraang! Togma’uuta vas!
This has been an absolutely vibrant year, with the Arab Spring begun in December of 2010 coming to a boil across the Middle East, and continuing even as I type this.
There was, and is, the terrible trifecta of disasters of earthquake, tsunami and the resulting worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, in Fukushima prefecture, Japan.
But let’s look at some of the highlights in science and skepticism of this year, considering this blog’s theme:
Pastor Harold Camping made the headlines and much headway with the credulous when he predicted, as he had previously done in the 1990s, that Teh Rapture™ would happen on April 21, and when this failed to materialize backpedaled by saying it had happened, but was a subtle event, and reset his prediction for this last October 21st.
This too, unsurprisingly, failed to come to pass, as has every other End Times™ prediction made to date, like clockwork.
There was a rash of mysterious bird deaths, with reportedly thousands of birds at a time falling from the sky, which in many cases turned out to be caused by fireworks which frightened the birds, causing them to crash into things at full flight speed.
New exoplanets were discovered, bring the number past 700, and only a few weeks ago the discovery of more roughly Earth-sized planets, including one in the habitable zone of it’s home star, Kepler 22-b, sighted by and named after the Kepler space telescope, a new world with roughly twice the diameter of Earth — I said Earth-like, not Earth identical!
More supermassive black holes were discovered including an uncharacteristic and most properly pumped-up one in a dwarf galaxy, Henize 2-10, an irregular galaxy 3000 light years across.
Astrologers got a bug up their butts when Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain publicly and quite rightly made unfavorable comments on the validity of astrology, calling it “rubbish” and “nonsense,” which given my obvious skeptical bias, I’m inclined to agree with.
Ken Ring was making headlines with his overly-publicized and discredited claims of earthquake prediction, credulously promoted by the media.
Doomsayers were making the rounds with predictions of disaster allegedly following the dreaded Supermoon, a silly idea more hype than fact…
…predictions which flopped when the event came and went, of course.
After decades of use, NASA’s space shuttle program was finally retired, unfortunately with, at the time, no real replacement to succeed it.
In June, two new elements, neither found in nature, 114 and 116, were added to the periodic table – Mendeleev would be proud. It will be interesting if industrial uses for these can be found once more stable isotopes are produced.
In my home state of Virginia, the first notable earthquake in a long time happened in August, at about 5.8 on the Richter scale, and I can honestly say, “I felt that.”
In September, headcase Pastor Mike Stahl suggested a registry for atheists, comparing them to sex-offenders and terrorists in a classic and typical show of religiously-motivated bigotry, which just induced a Picard facepalm with me.
In October, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs passed, may he be forever at peace, with a controversy in the skeptical community over his use of alternative medicine in treating his cancer, and the whether to discuss it as a lesson in the dangers of Alt Med so soon after the announcement of his death.
In November, a research team funded by the Koch brothers confirmed the reality of global warming, surprising because it was a confirmatory study conducted by global warming skeptics, not proponents, but skeptics who permitted themselves to be convinced by the data.
Of course, other AGW skeptics backpedaled on earlier statements that they would accept the results, now claiming them fatally flawed, and calling the head researcher a closet warmist instead.
Earlier this month, the Curiosity rover, the Mars Science Laboratory vehicle, blasted off flawlessly to the Red Planet, while the Russian Phobos-Grunt probe bound for one of Mars’ moons got stuck in orbit, likely falling back to Earth next year.
This month also saw an event I dreaded but knew was going to happen, the death of “the Hitch,” Christopher Hitchens at age 62, in my view the greatest rhetorician of his time, from pneumonia after struggling with esophageal cancer since the Spring of 2010.
Mr. Hitchens was an inspiration for me, like Carl Sagan, and like the host of Cosmos, he will be sorely missed.
Here’s a bit of wishful thinking that the coming year is just as much in the way of “interesting times” as this one, though without the tragedies, but wishful thinking is just that, and I’m not really betting on it.
All images in this post are original works by the author, and are copyright 2011 Troy Loy
Well, here it is, the third anniversary of this site, launched during a gaming session this day in 2008, and with both the ups and downs, the joy and the sadness, it’s been a fantastic three years that I’ve been posting my crap, meeting incredible people, and expanding my social networking more than in the previous two years.
2011 for me has been the year of the cat, in both bad and good ways:
One of my favorite sites to visit was deleted by it’s owner only this last March, for reasons which I shall respect as I respect the awesome blogger who owned it…
…while another of my cats passed away, old Mistykins, the second to go in as many years…
but we also adopted a new kitten, the diabolical Mister Eccleston, named in a fit of T.S. Elliot and Doctor Who fandom, who is even now sharpening his claws and playing with his toys on my bedroom carpet in anticipation of more roughhousing amusement at the expense of my soon to be shredded hands!
Also, this year marks the first giveaway contest for this site, of a new, hardback copy of Margaret Wertheim’s book, Physics on the Fringe: smoke rings, circlons, and alternative theories of everything, ending at 12:00 this morning, with the winner to be announced later this day.
My being a gamer, the winner shall be chosen by a roll of polyhedral dice after a number has been assigned to each contestant’s name(I’m looking at a d20 here…). The winner will be contacted by email, and I’ll set up the delivery arrangements then.
This last year has been a blast, and I hope that the coming new year will be better for all of us, at the very least a door for new opportunities, a fresh start, a clean slate, as a year yet to unfold should be.
Terry, Kate, _C_A_T_, TFIY, Carl, Dan, Kriss, Aliman, Marty, Cheryl, Laurie, Gideon, Diane, Katherine, and all those of you not mentioned who’ve commented, all this site’s subscribers who make this blog the adventure to post on it is, I wouldn’t…couldn’t… do this without you, so thank you, from the bottom of my eldritch heart!
[Last paragraph updated as of 12:54 am Dec 28, 2011]
Fairly recently, Stephanie Zvan [Here] and Steven Novella [Here] posted some really good thoughts on the difference between effective, intellectually honest skepticism and cheap, lazy, cynical denialism, and on the importance of cultivating the former and avoiding the latter.
In the past, I’ve attempted to describe a belief spectrum from absolute credulity to definitive denial, but I currently think that’s an erroneous concept.
As Stephanie pointed out, except for some rare cases of neurological dysfunction, nobody is totally credulous or completely cynical about everything, but somewhere between them in more of a rock-strewn landscape of belief with surer, safer footing nearer the center than at the edges, to paraphrase her analogy.
But in the comment thread of Steve’s post, one of the commenters [Starting Here] tries very hard to prove the very thesis of cynicism the post addresses in a classic and blatant display of the Dunning-Kruger effect, by conspiracy mongering, in dishonestly ignoring or dismissing all counterarguments, attempting to assert intellectual superiority by evading questions and repeating the same talking points using glaring errors in reasoning apparent to nearly everyone else in the thread, and especially obvious to Dr. Novella.
Despite suggestions from the others, and better arguments offered by same, at no point does the offending commenter get a clue as to his own incompetence in reasoning, and repeatedly sticks to 20-30 years out-of-date books and documentaries as proof positive of his claims of evil government conspiracies in a manner that seems a bit too uncritically cynical, arrogant, and condescending for one claiming to be the better skeptic.
Exactly what was described in Steve’s main post. To a tee.
The commenter is content to claim the moral and intellectual high-ground, and not once does he note the irony of his factual errors, illogical statements and attempts to shift the burden of proof onto the other commenters, thinking his own arguments absolutely steel-girded and views flawlessly correct.
I’m going to say something I rarely feel a need to: Incompetence leads to more of the same. Some people are too clueless to notice or too resentful to acknowledge their own stupidity and project it onto others to protect their fragile egos and rice-paper thin skins.
I for one am skeptical of his claims, as I hear the same sort of absurd arguments from people whose only criticisms of science are based upon casting aspersions of motive and vested interest, thus showing quite nicely that they really don’t understand science.
As noted with the Dunning-Kruger effect, There’s an enormous difference between self-reporting how well-informed one is about something, and really being as well-informed as one claims: It’s an inverse relationship between how unduly confident one is about their understanding and how much they actually understand, ego and self-esteem aside.
People who really do know more probably tend to be more introspective and self-critical thinkers and are more aware of their own intellectual shortcomings and biases than incurious types who don’t think deeply enough to question the limits of their understanding and of their own subjective but real weaknesses.