Archive | July 2009

If You Believe…

The following was inspired by a post by Skepdude on the Skepfeeds blog…Enjoy.

If you believe that the pyramids were built by aliens or Atlanteans, you’re wrong.

If you believe that conventional explanations for unusual phenomena are always contrived and implausible because you can’t understand them, you’re wrong.

If you believe that believing something really, really hard makes it true, you’re wrong.

If you believe that objective reality doesn’t exist, and that this is objectively true, you’re wrong.

If you believe that cold reading, the Forer effect and the Ideomotor effect are myths because they are used to refute psychic powers, you’re wrong.

If you believe that superstition and magical thinking are psychologically healthy, you’re wrong.

If you believe that the religious rules you follow apply to everyone, even those not of your religion, you’re wrong.

If you believe that ancient myths are literally true historical accounts, you’re wrong.

If you believe that electromagnetism and not gravity is the principal large-scale binding force of the Cosmos, you’re wrong.

If you believe that the laws of physics are different on Earth than they are in space, you’re wrong.

If you believe that invoking a conspiracy to dismiss a telling lack of evidence for a crank theory is logically valid, you’re wrong.

If you believe that human evolution was influenced by ancient astronauts from the stars, you’re probably wrong.

If you believe that the planets Nibiru or Tiamat actually exist and can cause catastrophic disasters on Earth, you’re wrong.

If you believe that those who don’t believe in the paranormal are in fact deeply afraid of it, you’re wrong.

If I believe that I cannot possibly be wrong about any of the above statements, I’m probably wrong.

Skating Babies & Modern Advertising Ploys

As cute as the video above is, it shows something typical of many modern advertisers in using less direct, more subtle ways of marketing the health benefits of their product, in this case bottled tap water.

It’s a good way to avoid all the legal hassles of having federal organizations, like the FTC or FDA here in the U.S., getting all over them like stink on a lemur’s tail for making more direct unsubstantiated claims about, say, distilled tap water literally maintaining one’s youth or obviously ridiculous ones, like restoring you to athletically superhuman infancy. They’re not actually saying it will, not in a way anyone can pin on them.

Granted, it’s generally more healthy to drink water than say, sodas or beer, but really…it’s just…water.

It is a funny commercial though, so it still gets points for amusement value from my troythuluness.

This is getting in on the act of the nutritional supplement industry too, which is allowed to sell its wares as food items rather than drugs, even though nutritional and herbal supplements have demonstrable physiological effects on the human body, and are by that criterion…drugs.

As long as marketers don’t make specific medical health claims about their product, they’re usually fine, often giving disclaimers like: This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, or somesuch.

Yep, I suppose even snake-oil salesmen in the modern world have adaptively radiated in their marketing strategies to survive in an environment of federal regulators and lawsuits, and seem to be doing well here in the Colonies… Fnord.

Look Sir, (Rat-)Droids!

Robots that can feel their way around in lightless conditions, for disaster relief service, rescue of survivors from collapsed or burning buildings, and I suspect that this could be useful for mining or even exploration in constricted spaces like tunnels at archaeological dig sites too narrow for a human to fit.

Though robots with touch sensors aren’t new, this version, called SCRATCHbot, has as its only sensory equipment plastic whiskers similar to a rat’s which can rapidly move back and forth to help the ‘bot navigate by touch, even changing the rate of whisker movement to identify an object’s exact position.

Developed by a team led by Tony Prescott and Anthony Pipe in the U.K., it’s software enables it to learn from what it senses and there are future versions of this planned that can distinguish textures, so it can better adjust its footing and navigate depending on what surface it travels on and its surroundings.

SCRATCHbot was developed as part of the ICEA (Integrating Cognition Emotion and Autonomy) project, which attempts to develop biologically modeled AI systems.

Now, aside from the immediate practical applications, like rescue operations, this, especially later versions, could prove very useful in allowing us to better understand how animal brains use and control sensory systems.

This in turn could have added bennies in allowing us to develop AIs with human, near human, or should the Singularity arrive, metahuman cognitive ability and full sensory awareness, even senses that humans don’t have, such as scientific instrumentation for autonomous research ‘bots like today’s comparatively crude Adam, and its next generation model, Eve (See my post: I, Robot…Scientist).

When we get to the point of developing fully-functional molecular-sized nanorobots, tiny molecular feelers would also be useful as a sensory system on the nanoscale, enabling a micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS), or nanobot to navigate without the use of light or in conjunction with it should both options prove feasible.

Baloney Detection 101: the Clustering Illusion

It doesn’t seem to make sense that truly random events would bunch together, or cluster, and this, the Clustering Illusion, is the perception that such events are non-random, unusual, significant, and meaningful.

This is based on a false supposition, derived from the psychological phenomenon of subjective validation, also known as selective thinking, or selection bias, a tendency to remember the events that stand out, or “hits,” and to dismiss from one’s mind and thus to forget the “misses,” those events that do not appear to get one’s attention or notice.

For example, while it seemingly makes no immediate sense that in a series of 20 coin flips that there is a 50% likelihood of getting a result of 4 heads in a row, and the fact that in any particular community, there might be a statistically significant number of those diagnosed with cancer, it’s the math, not our intuition that is correct, and once you actually do the math, it makes a lot more sense.

It would be unusual, highly unexpected, and highly improbable that each of only 20 coin flips would be the opposite of the previous flip. And it is even less likely that in any given sequence of random coin flips, that short runs will give what would logically be expected.

In any small sequence of random events, a wide range of probabilities, even and especially those that run counter to what we would consider sensible, can and should be expected to happen. Statistically odd events not only do happen, they can be expected to happen by the laws governing chance alone, without the need to invoke anything out of the ordinary.

Just because an apparently paranormal event happens more frequently than chance would seem to indicate, it does not logically follow that it is not due to chance. The laws of probability as we know them can and do predict such events, and these clustered events are random, even if they seem to be immediately unexplainable and non-random.

Anomalous cognition researchers often mistakenly interpret a run of apparent successes by their test-subjects as evidence for psychic ability, or seemingly statistically significant failures as evidence of ‘psi-missing‘ or Antipsi, and that such varies over time.

This is derived from simply ignoring or ignorance of perfectly ordinary random probabilities. The clustering illusion is also known in logic as the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, the Belief in the Law of Small Numbers, and the Division Fallacy, the erroneous assumption that parts of a whole are identical to the whole.