MetaCognitions | Cynicism: Just Another Bias


There, I said it. Cynics who view their cynicism as an asset, of course, will disagree, self-assured in believing themselves perfectly realistic and objective, completely missing the fact of their own self-deception. I will be accused of crippling naiveté. Of bias.

But that doesn’t even pass a basic prima facie, “On first face,” relevance test.

So I’m biased? So my views are skewed? So what? Who cares?

I’m biased. You’re biased. We’re all biased. Everyone is biased. To be human is to be biased. We just can’t seem to help ourselves. I’ll be up front with my biases: I’m pro-science, pro-rationality, pro-reality, pro-humanity, and anti-anything that dehumanizes or needlessly harms people.

We all view the world through a subjective lens, evaluating and passing judgment to everything and anything we come across without even knowing we’re doing it. Much of it is below the level of our conscious awareness. And there’s no way we know to step outside of our own individual brains save for the methods of science.

Complete certain knowledge about the world and perfect objectivity are impossible. Our brains and senses just don’t work that way. And to see the world and everyone and everything in it as fundamentally hopeless, ultimately futile, and irredeemably rotten is simply applying another set of value judgments, though destructively negative ones. 

I’m reasonably sure that if I had all of the same genetic contributions to my personality, all of the same upbringing, all of the same environment and life experiences of a staunch cynic, I would very likely be one now.

But I have not. Yet, I myself struggle daily with the temptation to cynicism to which our 24-7 news cycle culture subjects us. Clearly, that struggle is part of being human also. Some lose that struggle, and these deserve empathy and understanding, not the contempt they offer others, and not the loathing they often offer themselves.

If that sounds condescending or offensive, then consider this: Anything ever written or said will offend someone, and I don’t have the right to infringe on anyone’s freedom of thought to even try dictating for them what that might be. It’s out of my hands what any given person finds offensive. My point is, though, that I’m not condescending anyone. 

I’ll make the presumption here that most reading this are adults, or young and almost-adults, and should have thick skins in proportion to their own level of personal maturity. To treat others as functionally children by pandering to their feelings seems to me the epitome of condescension.

So, here’s why I’m throwing shade on cynicism as an alleged asset, virtue, or worldview: 

Cynicism means you’ve given up. Cynicism is surrender to bitterness, to an attitude of feigned superiority, and to contemptuousness. Cynicism is a cheap excuse for inaction, for fatalism, and for moral cowardice. In what universe are those anything but destructive?

All things pass, even the terrible things people sometimes do to each other. I do not have any use for a worldview that tells me that everyone by default is lying to or manipulating me and everyone else. Just because the world seems like an awful place doesn’t mean it ought to be, or that it’s useless to do something, anything, to make it less awful. Trying to make the world a better place is not a mere easily dismissed utopian faerie tale. Human effort applied unwisely causes our woes, human effort applied wisely can fix them.

I do not believe that human beings are fundamentally depraved. I view most of us as a mix of both good and evil, both right and wrong, both moral angels and devils at various times. We are all people, and people are complicated. 

I see people as having some worth, and the ability for some measure of good, skeptical thinking, a healthy blend of scientific literacy and critical thinking, though not as innately talented. It’s more of a capacity, a potentiality, and something we must learn as a skillset to do well in order to come to a more accurate, better, more useful view of the world and of ourselves. 

Good thinking ought in my view to be for everyone. It’s empowering. It’s illuminating. Good thinking is almost a kind of super-power. It’s even better than being able to throw silly comic book energy-bolts at people’s heads. It can be used for nearly everything in life. To me, it opens the gates to reality, the gates to wonder, and it’s also great fun.

Why say this? 

Because I can. Because I believe I should. To do something more useful than to merely shake my fist and simply rail and curse the night. Because I see people, even those I know and care for, fall prey some kind of pseudoscience, specious political claim, or fallacious health scare. And it’s not because they are somehow gullible, or stupid, or weak. 

Oh, no, it’s just not that simple!

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m gullible. There are times when I’m far too trusting, far too easily swayed by spurious argumentation, and I believe many things that I cannot possibly prove objectively. I have to watch myself daily, hourly, and despite this, I sometimes fail.

To blame the deceived for their own deception is to ignore the fact that we can all be fooled at a vulnerable moment by anyone who knows how to push our buttons. We are best of all at pushing our own buttons. To be human is to be vulnerable, no matter how smart we may think we are. To think ourselves immune to that is to ignore our own vulnerability, and we cannot be vigilant against a foe that we ignore. 

To blame the victim is cynical, and with the sense of false superiority that comes with it, that cynicism makes us lower our guard. Ironically, even con artists can be conned, especially by other con artists who know what hooks them. Cynicism easily leads to being used and manipulated, despite its frequently implied justification of defending the cynic from being used and manipulated.

I think that good thinking is a much better defense against the dark arts of scam artists, pandering politicians, and fraudsters than cynical thinking, which only makes you more vulnerable, not less.

And those, I think, are reasons enough.

(This post has been updated on 8/1/2019, 14:50)

TED | 3 Worldview-Shaping Cognitive Biases


What shapes our perceptions (and misperceptions) about science? In an eye-opening talk, meteorologist J. Marshall Shepherd explains how confirmation bias, the Dunning-Kruger effect and cognitive dissonance impact what we think we know — and shares ideas for how we can replace them with something much more powerful: knowledge.

Mr. Eccles Presents | Science Salon: Dr. Susan Blackmore


Dr. Susan Blackmore is no stranger to skeptics. Dr. Shermer has known Dr. Blackmore since the early 1990s. When the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine were founded in 1992 she was already a rock star in the skeptical movement, having moved from believing in the paranormal, ESP, telepathy, and all the rest, to being an arch skeptic of all such claims. After earning a Ph.D. in the paranormal she devoted a decade to testing various phenomena under rigorous laboratory conditions, and continually found null results. That is, the tighter the controls she implemented and the more rigorous the research protocols, the weaker the paranormal effects became until they disappeared entirely. She went on from there to develop a theory about the neural correlates of such altered states of consciousness as Out of Body Experiences and Near Death Experiences, and after that wrote her bestselling book The Meme Machine, in which she developed a theory of how memes can be replicated and selected in a manner first proposed by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, when he coined the term.

Dr. Blackmore went on to publish one of the leading textbooks on consciousness and is now working on a theory of tremes, or technological memes and how they can be replicated and selected in machines without human input.

This interview was recorded on November 7, 2018 as part of the Science Salon series of dialogues hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society, in California.

Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloudhttps://www.skeptic.com/podcasts/scie…

Mr. Eccles Presents | OCC the Skeptical Caveman: Spark of Truth


Visit the Skeptics Guide to the Universe website and podcast:http://www.theskepticsguide.org

On Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/theskepticsg…

On Twitter:https://twitter.com/skepticsguide

Watch Ep1 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUca2…

Watch Ep0 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1X1F…

Watch Ep2 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dXC3…

Watch Ep3 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MqPl…

Mr. Eccles Presents | OCC the Skeptical Caveman: A Lie by Any Other Name


Visit the Skeptics Guide to the Universe website and podcast:http://www.theskepticsguide.orgOn Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/theskepticsg…On Twitter:https://twitter.com/skepticsguideWatch Ep0 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1X1F…Watch Ep1 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUca2…Watch Ep2 here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?

MetaCognitions | American Skeptics: On Pandering to Bad Ideas


I’ve given up on a few American skeptics, especially certain so-called thought leaders. I wash my tentacles of them. I’m much keener on most UK, continental European, Canadian, and other skeptics abroad. For the most part, as well as American skeptics I follow and am friends with on social media, they totally rock.

It makes perfect sense to me to focus on bad science, hoaxes, urban legends, pseudoscience, and claims that do real harm to people’s lives, education, and health.

But I see absolutely no sense and no real point in being “skeptical” of feminism, of anthropogenic global climate change, in “skepticism” of whatever the f*** “cultural Marxism” in academia is supposed to be, and the denial of the existence or validity of transgender and non-binary people.

That is not the skepticism I have come to know and love through such podcasts as The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, Monster Talk, Skeptics with a K, and The Reality Check.

I don’t dislike those on the political right, not over something as petty as differences of opinion. I feel that how we relate to and treat each other as human beings is more important than politics.  But touting awful ideas, advocating already tested and failed policies as fair-minded and “controversial” is just giving the pseudo-skeptics, the far, far Right, the alt-Right, the armies of the night, and reactionaries who see skepticism as a threat, ready ammunition for their culture war.

I don’t even think it’s fair or necessarily true to many I know to use the phrase “right-wing” to label these ideas, as it’s more like “nut-wing” to me and at any extreme edge along a political compass.

Stop. Just stop. I don’t care about your political leanings. I don’t care how even-handed you’re trying to be. I’ve been down that road myself. The end result is that lending even token credence to terrible ideas feeds the illiberal enemies of a free state, and aiding those who would gleefully bring down organized skepticism and destroy the (((FREE SPEECH!!!))) you think you’re defending in trying to be edgy and calling yourselves (((THE INTELLECTUAL DARK WEB!!!)))

Not all ideas deserve equal time, and some ideas are terrible enough that once they have had their hearing and been found wanting, they should rightly be discarded in the wastebin of history, not to rear their ugly heads again.

But if there’s anything skeptics know, it’s that certain ideas are roundly debunked, only to rise zombie-like from the grave to walk the earth in later generations.

“Unsinkable rubber duckies.”

Guys, the culture warriors getting free press from you in magazines, blogs, vlogs, or podcasts, don’t really give a damn about free speech, except their own, and certainly not yours. And they’ll gladly bring you down along with every other hated enemy or useful idiot in their sights once they win the war.

After all, skepticism is not something one is. It’s a process to follow, a set of methods, of thinking tools, not an identity, not a set of claims or doctrines.

I think that those most vocally claiming to be skeptical of identity politics should be most wary, first and foremost, of their very own.

Mr. Eccles Presents | Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories


 

“Why do people believe conspiracy theories? What’s the harm if they do? And just what is a conspiracy theory, anyway? Conspiracy theories captured the attention of philosophers and historians decades ago, but it is only within the last few years that psychologists have begun gathering data on these kinds of questions. In this talk, Rob Brotherton provides a psychological perspective on conspiracism, drawing on his own research as well as other insights explored in his book Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. In particular, research into cognitive biases and heuristics – quirks in the way our brains are wired – suggests that we’re all intuitive conspiracy theorists; some of us just hide it better than others. Rob Brotherton is an academic psychologist. He completed a PhD on the psychology of conspiracy theories with the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. He now lives in New York City and teaches classes on conspiracy theories, social psychology, and science communication at Barnard College. This talk was recorded live at CSICon Las Vegas on Saturday, October 28th 2017. See more at reasonabletalk.tv!”