Archive | August 2012

Troythulu’s Gnuz and Lynx Roundup for August 31st, 2012 [Updated]

Good evening. This week there’s not much that’s been going on, save more study and less internet time, so this will be a minimalist post. I’ll be posting blog stat updates for the week with this entry, the 1,833rd published thus far:

  • 1525 comments posted,
  • 173 WordPress and Email subscribers…Thank all of you for your keen-eyed peerings and steely gazes,
  • 1712 Twitter fellowers (much better than “followers”…),
  • …and 111,176 page views as of this writing.

This week on the Call was posted:

…Should I Believe?

Dr. Karen Stollznow — “Talking to Tomorrow” TAM 2012

Largest Sky Map Revealed: An Animated Flight Through The Cosmos

Fractals of the Midweek: The Machinafex

Pure Reason…

The Future of the Creationism and Evolution Controversy — Dr. Eugenie Scott TAM 2012

…and posted only hours ago,

How To Argue: A Sample Argument Evaluation

Elsewhere, there was posted,

The Threat of Monkey-Faced Jesus (It’s not what you may think.)

Bill Nye: Creationism is not Appropriate for Children

Tampa is Safe Due to Christian Prayer. God Screws New Orleans. Again.

Donations Needed to Fight Witchcraft Accusations in Africa

Hijacked, Robbed and Spit on…Again.

Gettin’ It On The One

ESP course taught kids how to cheat, parents claim

Hand of Jesus appears just in time for End Times

Well drillers still doing the water-witching thing

New so-called “based on a true story” horror movie about a demon-box hits theaters this fall

It will be a short list of uninfluential scientists: Creationists plan Creation Science Hall of Fame

Two Alien Planets with Twin Suns Like “Star Wars” Tatooine

Book Review: ‘The Scope of Skepticism’

Richard Dawkins Interviews Ted Haggard

…Should I Believe?

Part of Image:Planetary society.jpg Original c...

Part of Image:Planetary society.jpg Original caption: “Founding of the Planetary Society Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman, the founders of The Planetary Society at the time of signing the papers formally incorporating the organization. The fourth person is Harry Ashmore, an advisor, who greatly helped in the founding of the Society. Ashmore was a Pulitizer Prize winning journalist and leader in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we are faced with an incentive to believe something that agrees strongly with our prejudices, it comes down to a simple matter of “Can I believe?” that we may not even have to ask. We accept such things on a whim, unless we exercise care in our thinking. We have a tendency to first believe things we have an emotional investment in, and then cobble together, often quite ingeniously, reasons to justify our belief.

When we are faced with those things we are disinclined to believe, things contrary to our ideologies, or belief/value paradigms, it’s a matter of “Must I believe?” as though we are being faced with an uncomfortable choice and go immediately on the defensive with frequently clever rationalizations we muster to attack the discomforting idea and defend our belief structures from harm.

But I would add a third option, shown by thinkers and investigators I’ve known, read and listened to who approach certain…nonscientific and scientific…topics as intellectual curiosities or academic subject matter without a clear vested interest in accepting or rejecting the claims that these concern:

“Should I believe? Do I have sound reasons to accept this claim as true, or do I have sound reasons to reject it as false, or worse, as not even wrong?”

Often these questions aren’t even consciously asked by those believing, disbelieving, or suspending both until the data are in.

But the first two involve belief or disbelief first, followed by a attempts at conscious justification, often subjectively ironclad, and often fallacious, whereas the third involves deliberation, a weighing of evidence and argument, followed by a tentative conclusion, possibly with leanings toward either end of a continuum of credulity to denial, but a conclusion subject to newer and better information and reasoning as they are presented.

The third option is uncommon, and involves thinking unfamiliar to most of us, but as it occurs with perfectly normal human brains operating with the proper training and accumulated habit, it is every bit as human as reflexive acceptance or knee-jerk rejection.

It’s something we probably did not specifically evolve to do, but like playing a piano, also without a direct adaptive function, we can learn to do, and quite skillfully for many of us.

I think it’s something worth doing, but it requires that we consciously override some of our impulses, consider our thinking, our motivations, and mind the soundness of our reasoning and solidity of the facts we claim, and always consider that these things all have limits — they are fallible, but used well and with care, reliable and effective as paths to real knowledge.

We must consider the input and critiques of others, for alone we are prone to misleading ourselves, even the smartest and best educated of us, with our own biases and fallacies of thinking and memory.

To quote the late Carl Sagan, “Valid criticism does you a favor.”

This is why modern science acts as a community, so that research workers can get public input from their colleagues, cross-check their findings, and it is the reason that external replication of results is of the greatest importance — one-off phenomena that are impossible to verify objectively are of little use, and any finding must at least in principle be testable, or it cannot be demonstrably known.

Scientific inquiry works as effectively as it does, because unlike any other set of methods, it can tell us when we are wrong, and even when we are, to sometimes continue to reap discoveries from failed ideas that lead to new territory.

Is there something better than this now? Will there be, ever?

I don’t know, to both questions. If such a set of methods exists, I’ve not heard of it, and apparently, neither has anyone else I know of.

But if and when something superior comes along, that more effectively and accurately does what scientific inquiry, and as part of it, skeptical inquiry does at the moment, then I shall happily change my mind about science and support whatever works best instead.

Troythulu’s Weekly Gnuz and Lynx Roundup for August 25, 2012

G’day. This has been a busy week, with two appointments, one with a representative of my health service provider and my annual physical exam, both of which went off without a hitch. We recently got our new cat, Rocky, a big, fluffeh Maine Coon who seems to be really good at pacifying Mr. Eccles and keeping his evil kittenish tricks at bay. We really can’t call Eccles much of a kitten, though, since he just reached his first full year of age, and seems to be getting rather large. A hefty beast, as it were.

This week was also a busy one for blogging, with my second guest post, Once Again from the Land of Fractals, on my friend Kate’s blog, and this morning’s fractal post on my Blogger site, the Collect Call of Troythulu

For Monday, on this site, was posted Human Curiosity: It’s crucial to our survival, and a fiction piece about a kaiju on a moon of Jupiter I call On Europa

For Wednesday, the most recent Fractals of the Midweek were published, a couple of MB3 images I did using newly recovered and updated parameter sets.

You know, the more I learn the ins and outs of the software, it doesn’t detract from the aesthetics of these images at all, only adding to it. The more I know what I’m doing, the more satisfying, and better the results. Worship of mystery and an eye for good results only gets you so far. Knowing what you’re doing and how it works gets you much, much further.

For Thursday, there was a new How to Argue post, also an assignment I did for my critical reasoning course I’m taking, which I found rather fun, taking a big hairy-looking argument and setting it up in formal symbolic notation that’s easier to evaluate. There was also a talk given by Tim Farley at TAM 2012, with tips and resource options for online skeptical activism, and on Friday, a talk given by Dr. Pamela Gay at TAM 2012.

This Caturday, there were the Fractals of the Week, and this week’s Astronomy Pix

Over at the six-pack blog of my SacTown homie Kriss, there was A Super-Quick Biology Post & Music & the GOP

On Left Hemispheres, Episode 01 of the Left Hemispheres podcast… Check it out!

Over at Astronasty, a bit on the newly developed hoverbike, strongly evocative of the ones used in Return of the Jedi by the imperial scouttroopers…

Also, The Drake Equation goes Interactive,

Todd Akin and the Anti-Science House Science Committee,

It’s not an alien creature, it’s an unfortunate ant-eater

The Truth About Alternative Medicine — TAM 2012