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MetaCognitions | Worst Apocalypse EVER!*

Last Caturday was the appointed time of a common non-event, the End of the World, again, as predicted this time around by an alleged Christian numerologist, one David Meade.

He has since shifted his goalpost by saying that the apocalypse has been moved to October. Whatever. They do this every single time an End Times prediction predictably fails to come. The claims both come and fail to bear out like clockwork.

Even professional theologians, which this fellow is apparently not, have powerful, versatile imaginations that aid them in seeing and recognising patterns in the data they perceive.

Sometimes, as when critically discussing the content of scripture, its origins, its meanings, its history, they are often spot on in the accuracy of their conclusions.

Other times, when expounding on matters of the Unknowable, their speculations are only that: speculation, and only as good as the assumptions they bring to bear. The patterns they see, or rather, impose on the data, have no objective bearing outside of their own faith community, much less the larger world outside their own lives and world-views.

What exactly is a Christian numerologist supposed to be anyway? The term is nonsense, empty of valid professional content, though I’m aware of what it’s supposed to mean.

So, moving on…

It is said that predicting the future is a lost art, and in many human endeavors that is so. There are the failures of long-term economic forecasts, the predictions of futurists, and most notably, the claims of politicians out for your vote or your money, or both.

But science, at least in the more rigorously mathematical fields, has a stunning record of successful past predictions even with the occasional failure. Rarely 100% accurate, as certainty of that level is never easy to come by on contingent matters of fact, science makes no doctrinal claims of absolute metaphysical certitude.

But it’s a stunning record of success nonetheless, with, for example, solar eclipses being accurately calculated years, even decades or centuries in advance of their actually happening, often down to the millisecond. Even in predictions not so accurate, the track record of science is still far better than the predictive claims of almost any other human enterprise.

So, with that in mind, I’ll raise a question: given the profound and consistent failure of predictions of the End by armchair mystics and even professional theologians who should know better, why give any weight at all to them?

Why, if the observed is to be a guide to the unobserved, as with scientific empiricism, or the past is to be a guide to the future, as conservative thinkers of history have argued, why are we to give any credence at all to such a historically consistent pattern of failure to bear out in fact?

If the past or the observed is to be a guide to the future or the unobserved at all, and if both show that there is nothing to these profligate, evidence-free claims, then the next time one of these makes its rounds around the Internet, maybe it’s wiser to give it no heed at all, and to simply get on with life.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

*title courtesy of Leslie Ann Ellis.

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MetaCognitions | Thoughts at the Age of 53

 

As I reach the age of 53 this morning, I consider myself lucky indeed, to have lived the experiences I have, to learn the things I’ve learned, and to have met the people I have, both in real life and online. But one thing has always been lurking on the background, and that’s frequent self-doubt as to how good a friend I am to others.

That self-doubt, engendered by my failure to keep in touch with many of those I’ve befriended over the years, was a major cause of the several-month long inactivity on this blog starting in November of last year.

Part of the cause of that is my . . . condition . . . that results in a frequent, totally nonsensical and irrational desire for solitude, even with full knowledge that human interaction of some form is absolutely necessary for my psychological and physical well being.

Every year, I’m required to live alone, tending the house, garden, and cats, as well as my own affairs while family is away, often from a period of time ranging from two weeks to a full month, all on my own. I don’t at all mind the responsibility, so that’s not the issue.

But spending such long spans of time as the only human being at home causes a heightening of that innate, irrational drive for solitude, normalizes it, accustoms me to it, drawing me further from those I know, unless I actively work toward making that needed human contact more frequent.

There’s also my study and work periods spent poring over manuscripts, reading, lectures, work on notes, and the less-often-than-I’d-like practice sessions learning languages. These require solitude in order to focus, as I am a terrible multitasker.

I simply cannot engage in online conversation while at the same time trying to focus on details of a language, or the same while working on manuscripts. I’m 53 now, after all. And one’s ability to multitask declines significantly with age.

That forces me to single-task whenever I can to get anything done. That requires focus, often leading to solitude while working. If I try to do two involved tasks at once, I wind up succeeding at neither. I’m no longer in my twenties, though psychologically, I don’t feel 53.

So there’s that.

What to do about this?

One solution is to schedule my time in an organizer, and to develop more productive habits, like rising earlier while maintaining my sleep hygiene, and spending more time each day interacting online than I’m ordinarily inclined to by my condition. Isolation kills. It’ll also drive me nuts if I let it.

There is also something, more attainable with someone here to help out at home, of simply getting out more often and doing things I enjoy with others. But I’m most definitely not an extrovert, so dealing with others face-to-face can be exhausting, and that can carry over to online engagement as well, even with the seeming anonymity of the Internet.

I have doubts, frequent ones, that I have anything of real consequence or importance to say online, say, in response to tweets sent my way, or in the comment threads of blogs, even this one. It makes me feel as though I’m just not a very good friend to those I’ve come to know through social media.

It came to a head late last year on this blog. And part of the chain that led up to that involved the late Christopher Trommater, formerly known to the blogging and Twitter communities as Skeptic Cat. In February of 2014, he took his own life, and I’d only found out about it from his ex-fiancee the following month.

From then, until late 2016, that has haunted me, along with the nagging, totally irrational thought that maybe I could have kept in more frequent contact with him through email, that maybe I could have talked him out of his decision to end himself.

Maybe, the silent voice within says, I could have been a better friend than I was and he would still be here today. But that’s nonsense. I’ve learned that to give credence to such musings is nonconstructive. I can’t live my life based on what might have been, what I might have done, and yet I can’t shake the mild self-loathing stemming from the feeling that what it says is true.

But suicide doesn’t work like that. I know to a high degree of certainty that there’s nothing I could have done, other than torment myself sooner, and more deeply, than I did in fact. Chris had metaphorical demons to deal with I cannot possibly grasp as a merely online friend, that I’d be no help in enabling him to overcome.

So, happy birthday to me, as there’s a lot of work to do, and things to improve until the day I cease to be and cannot improve anything at all, save the nutrient content of the soil.

When will I reach my ultimate life’s goal, whatever that is? I’ll let you know as soon as I reach it . . . .

Aaand I don’t expect that to be anytime soon!

Tf. Tk. Tts.

MetaCognitions | Cosplaying as the Ninth Doctor

MetaCognitions

After a horrific weekend evening dealing with my own incredibly annoying and slightly scary inner narrative, I’m watching Doctor Who episodes, this time from the 2005 series reboot with Chris Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor.

Why?

I’m trying to study Nine’s speech patterns and mannerisms for an upcoming costume event I’ve been invited to for recording this month, in attending as the Ninth Doctor, as I gather the elements of his clothing style and props. Here’s the replica of Nine’s sonic screwdriver that came in recently, a bit blurry from the excited shaking of my hand holding the iPod:

img_1997

It lights up and makes cool sonic screwdriver noises!

Why bring this up? Because frankly, I find the whole thing a bit daunting. Eccleston’s are big shoes to fill, even as a mere cosplay role. Nine was my introduction to the series, as Tom Baker was to the classic Who series. It’s both a frightening responsibility and an honor to dress the part, but with work and practice, I should pass.

Nine was the debut of a very different Doctor than I’d known in the old series, the survivor of a terrible war between the Time Lords and the Daleks, and deeply scarred for it. Let’s face it, Nine was broken, dark, brooding, and tragic, but he was also the most austerely dressed, least affected, most down-to-earth, and…fantastic…as a (then) new turn for the Doctor who still tried to do the right thing wherever he went, even when he couldn’t save everybody from the monsters. I liked the succeeding actors as the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors, but never quite warmed to them as with Nine.

I look on the upcoming event as a challenge, and one worth taking seriously. I’ve got close to the right nose, ears, and hair for the role, so what remains is practice, and the rest of Nine’s garb to assemble.

Wish me luck. Maybe I can pull this off. 🙂

MetaCognitions | 2016.08.10

MetaCognitions

I’ve been busy lately, practicing mnemonic techniques for my study subjects, and not just Bengali, but some new courses have arrived and I’m currently immersed on a series of lectures on nonverbal communication, which as someone with high-functioning schizophrenia, showed me and continues to things which normal socialization had never, ever adequately addressed. These are things which severely impacted my people skills throughout my youth. Something this interesting bears further viewing, and listening. The memory techniques I’m using are fairly advanced, but worth the time needed to work on; keywords using interactive imagery, and this combined with the method of loci, or memory palace technique to memorize the Periodic table of elements. This last evening, I was mapping out locations in and around my home upon which to place the images and their associated tags, in my case, for hydrogen I place the image of an imaginary deuterium-tritium fusion reactor (an old tokamak model) spitting out neutrons on a nearby bookshelf, while on another sits a green Martian from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom sounding like he’s just inhaled helium while giving a speech in the city of Helium. And the silliness goes on…

But the sillier, the better! The idea is to make each image memorable.

My practice was inspired by a piece from 2014 by Dr. Lynne Kelly, which is being heavily referenced as I go. It’s one of the clearest explanations I’ve seen for the method of loci, so I’ve plenty to keep busy with, and I’ll see you later this week!

Tf. Tk. Tts.

 

MetaCognitions | Editorial, Schmeditorial — Further Thoughts on Policy

MetaCognitions

Recently I’ve updated my editorial policy page to clarify a few things, at least the sorts of posts I avoid on this blog since adopting it. As I type this, the thought goes through my head about why I didn’t adopt it from the beginning.

After all, that’s pretty irresponsible, isn’t it, for a publicly accessible website?

I agree, especially given that with this blog’s general readership, I’m not preaching to the choir and wasn’t even from the inception of the site.

As my writing has evolved, so has the blog, and some of that evolution may be seen in the content of posts dating from shortly after this blog’s founding to the present. Early on, I didn’t adopt the use of graphic headers for posts, organization was looser, and my tone really wasn’t what even I would have been particularly proud of.

Not that I ever received nasty-grams from the tone trolls, but I had doubts about the professionality of some of the material. Some of it seemed less than objective, less than professional, and more polemical than I care for.

Mind you, I’m not opposed to controversy, except when it’s mere click-bait, and I don’t care for inflammatory language, which I’m much better at noticing in myself, along with instances of fallacious reasoning (The false dilemma fallacy was common, and rightly pointed out by reader Aliman Sears in several instances.).

I’ve grown not so much prone to walking on eggshells to avoid offending, but just putting more care into my writing. Adopting an editorial policy, even this late since the blog’s founding, was and is mostly to keep the blog on topic and not simply political correctness (which I despise). I’ve noticed over time major instances of topic-wandering, often for stretches of time in my archives, like a tendency to post too many cat videos in 2010, which in all fairness, was a good year for cat videos, and too many critiques of religion, politics, and faith for a skeptical blog.

The following is the current editorial policy in a nutshell, taken from its page on this site:

…I rarely venture into political issues unless they pertain to critical thinking, science, or skepticism. For the same reason, I rarely touch directly on religion and do not attack religious institutions outright, though the occasional misunderstandings of reality by religious leaders, like similar factual misstatements by political figures, needs calling out and critique.

The focus of this blog’s skeptical side is on claims and process, not beliefs or conclusions. I will never tell anyone what they ought or ought not to believe, or what party or candidate to or to not support for office. That is in fact completely out of my hands in any case.

So that’s it. I’m still moving over my major posting to Blogger this November, but I’m transferring all pages on this site to there before that happens. I’ll continue to read, comment, and otherwise follow and interact with those on WordPress unable to use blogger, on their own sites, it’s just that this site will be closed for updates until such time as I need to use it for that again. The current content, even early material at odds with the current policy, will remain online and publicly accessible unless the content involves broken links to images or blocked, deleted, or otherwise unwatchable embedded videos, in which case the post will be deleted for not contributing to the value of the site.

So I’m not going away entirely. But I’ve been posting here for nearly eight years, and this venue needs a rest. And once I’ve shifted over, the lessons learned here shall be continued there.

Thank you, and…

Tf. Tk. Tts.

 

MetaCognitions | Biases, Leanings & Inclinations

MetaCognitions

We are all biased to varying degrees no matter our relative sanity or intelligence.

In fact, a sure sign of bias is to believe ourselves to be unbiased, to see only the biases of who disagree with us.

Our biases can be insidious, blinding us to themselves, and we have them merely by virtue of having perfectly ordinary if individually quirky human brains that work the way they happen to do.

Hence the need for scientific skepticism, to know of, understand, and to varying degrees bypass the problems of our own biases.

So, here are my biases, my leanings, those I’m aware of, minus the neuroscience jargon, and some of my resulting ideological views and values.

First, my politics; they are somewhat left of center.

I believe in a strong central government with checks and balances concerned with social welfare, equal treatment under the law, civil liberties and the common good with efficient spending and effective taxation.

I’m for a strong but lean and efficient military capable of effectively defending the state and national interests from threats to peace and the general welfare.

I favor a strong wall of separation between church and state maintained vigilantly against the efforts of fanatics and theocrats. There currently seems to be a considerable erosion of this by a major political party and special interests in my country. Needless to say, I find this a disturbing sign.

I favor reason and rationality, not gut thinking, as effective ways of reaching reliable conclusions and clear decision-making.

I place little stock in believing things on faith without prior reasons. I take people at their word when it is rational to do so, if and when they are generally reasonable and given to making reliable claims.

I value science as a fallible but powerful and reliable way of understanding the natural world.

I consider blind faith irrational and dangerous, but allow for a sort of faith in those things whose rational denial would be self-refuting—science, reason, evidence, objective facts—and whose irrational denial would be incoherent nonsense.

I consider dogmatism and authoritarian claims to knowledge unreliable and profoundly dangerous; contrary authorities and dogmas are always to be found, and they cannot possibly all be correct.

I’m technically an atheist, not a strong anti-theist, and I subscribe to humanist ethical values, preferring the labels non-theist, humanist, rationalist, or skeptic.

I’ve little interest in certainty or absolutes regarding matters of fact, value, or opinion. Certainty is a feeling, not knowledge, so certainty is not worth much to me.

Not all biases are bad—that would be prejudice—and some of them are often downright useful. It is possible to be ideologically biased in favor of reality and in wanting to have more true beliefs than false ones.

So rather than deny my biases, I try to understand and sometimes sidestep them, sometimes make use of them. That seems to me the better path.

Tf.Tk.Tts.

MetaCognitions | Thoughts on my Editorial Policy

MetaCognitions

I prefer rationalism to atheism. The question of God and other objects-of-faith are outside reason and play no part in rationalism, thus you don’t have to waste your time in either attacking or defending.

English: This image is a reproduction of an or...

English: This image is a reproduction of an original painting by renowned science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Rowena http://www.rowenaart.com/. It depicts Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work. Français : Peinture de Rowena Morill réprésentant Isaac Asimov sur un trône décoré des symboles de son œuvre littéraire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The above quote, by the late Science Fiction writer and skeptic, Isaac Asimov, encapsulates nicely the essence of the current editorial policy.

I’m by circumstance, not by choice, a nonbeliever in all of the world’s ancient, respected, and confident faith traditions.

Let others believe as they will, whatever they will, as they will. I’ve no say in that.

I can have no say in that.

Skepticism, science, and rationalism, not atheism or anti-theism, are the foci of this blog.

My current editorial policy requires me to avoid posting on matters of faith or politics, unless their advocates try to make scientific claims, attempt to impede scientific literacy for ideological reasons, or indoctrinate the young or vulnerable for less than ethical intentions. ‘Nobody likes a skeptic’ it’s said, but scammers can be dangerous, and can part you from more than just your money. Those, not religion or politics themselves, are fair game.

No one wants to hear about how much I don’t believe this doctrine, or arguments against that theology, as those are matters outside of science and so outside the purview of this site.

No one wants to see yet another tiresome attack from me on faith, another boring tirade on contradictions in somebody’s holy book. No one cares, and neither do I enough to have blogged about it recently or do so anymore. I’ve said it all before, so no longer.

Earlier posts on my earlier views will stay up, as Google gets very angry about my deleting posts, and as I am not in the habit of writing inflammatory polemics there’s no worry there.

I admit, it’s a policy that I should have adopted long ago. So no rhetorical sparring with apologists, or debating political ideologues. This is not a forum for that…

…but for science, skepticism, and those things that matter to me…

…and the fractals. That’s all.

Tf. Tk. Tts.