Facts (and Minds) are Stubborn Things

Our brain is a brilliant lier: A nice bunch of examples illustrating the gap between our opinions and our consciousness.

See the original article!

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Above the Market

When making his defense of some British soldiers during the Boston Massacre trials in December of 1770, John Adams (later the second President of the United States) offered a famous insight. “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  Legal Papers of John Adams, 3:269. In a similar vein, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said that “[e]veryone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

I have often warned about our proclivity to and preference for stories to the exclusion of data (for example, here, here and here). Because stories are so powerful, we want the facts to be neatly packaged into a compelling narrative. Take a look at John Boswell‘s delightful send-up of this technique in the TED context below.


We crave “wonder, insight [and] ideas.” Facts?

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Today is our anniversary!

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One year ago we started to post our QUIZ which contained 31 simple and naïve, sensible and absolutely senseless questions.

Back then we thought that wisdom lies somewhere on the way between question and answer. And we still think so.

We invite our readers to solve the quiz and remind that the best replies, comments and discussions will be published on the main page with the names of their authors.

Thank you for all your comments that are made and are still to be made!

Greatest&Great

The Tribe of Science

This is an expanded and improved version of my comment to the article There is only one dogma of science: truth is better than fantasy. The term “tribe of science” is taken from that blog’s author reply to my comment, as I found his term to be more descriptive and poetic than my original term.

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Science exists in two forms. There is the concept of science itself, and there is science as a group belief – the tribe of science. Like one has Christianity as in the bible, and Christianity as a group belief that often has little relation to the bible. There is science as a method or idea, and science as a symbol; a group ideal that one feels connected to.

There are Christians who react with violence to “heathen” behaviour, though the new testament  never allows violence, not even as a reaction to violence – one should turn the other cheek! This is Christianity as the group symbol – the reaction does not stem from the belief in Christ, but from the group attachment. Similarly, there are scientists and “Believers in Science” who not only discard but ridicule statements, ideas, experiences and thoughts without as much as considering the possibility of their “truth”, much less trying to disprove them. This is far from how conclusions are reached by scientific means, exactly like the violence and warmongering of many christian groups is far from the teachings of Jesus. There are also those who seem to deny the possibility that current scientific theories may have overlooked/misunderstood something – who in words may say that “according to current knowledge there is no indication that…” while obviously believing and behaving as “there is no possibility that…”.

The kind of behaviour as described above explains why some call atheism and “science” for beliefs: many who profess their conviction in either of these (usually both) display the same type of behaviour, reasoning and closed-mindedness that is often, especially by these people themselves, connected to religiousness. Religious people’s behaviour towards their religion does not, in general, come from the fact that they believe in a God, but because the religion is, as I have called it here, the group ideal. This type of behaviour and attitude comes from humans group behaviour – our tribal nature -, and it is only natural (and reasonable) that such behaviour should occur within “science” as well when it becomes a group ideal. (To be fair though, some concepts/ideals/beliefs are more easily abused by our tribal nature than others).

Religions and political movements have wrongfully been blamed for actions that are generally thought of as a result of the content of a religious/political belief itself, or the nature of religious beliefs. The true culprit is the tribal nature of humans. As discussed in Categorizing Beliefs, if one is concerned about people’s behaviour, beliefs should be classified according to the relevant properties – making the psychological attachment more important than philosophical content. According to internal, psychological criteria, “science” or “evolution” can be a belief equally well as Islam.

Reason: Personal Excuse or Social guidance

This article is a follow-up to the article Weighing Without a Scale: Duty, Honour and Dignity, and though this article stands on its own it is recommended to read the linked article first. Here we attempt taking a step down on the abstractness scale and discuss more concretely the problems connected to duty raised in the above mentioned article in the context of modern society. We ask the question: is it reasonable to think that uniform social norms can be arrived at and obeyed by appealing solely to the individual’s reason?Quotation-George-Bernard-Shaw-funny-people-Meetville-Quotes-34937 Continue reading

Weighing Without a Scale: Duty, Honour and Dignity

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What is duty? – A dictionary will let us know it is a moral or legal obligation. Legal obligations we can make unambiguous sense of. One is obligated in the sense that failure to comply will lead to persecution in a clearly defined manner. The obligation of law is not an invisible bond, but a simple statement of consequences – do this, or else…

Moral duty, on the other hand, is a mystery. Indeed, we have done legal duty a disservice, for the law is not in truth meant as a statement of consequences; if it were, what then when there are no observers, no one to enact the promised consequences! The law states, as the moral duty does, that one should. Here the moral duty sets a period while law, perhaps in admittance of should’s obscurity, adds a tangible motivation; a because. You should; if you do not, then… Law made the astute observation that handcuffs are more certain to be binding than should.
Continue reading

Cheese is Good in Itself

If I say a dish is tasty I am describing a particular property of how I perceive eating it, not an intrinsic property of the dish itself. While the taste of a dish certainly depends on the properties of the dish itself we are all aware of it depending also on properties of the taster and that these properties are not equal for all people. Therefore we define tasting good in a purely subjective fashion – the definition relates not to intrinsic properties of the dish but to the individual’s experience of eating it. Continue reading

Categorizing Beliefs

Since the enlightenment, if not before, philosophy has belonged to the abstract and the ideal.availabilityCascade Terms, concepts and categories have been defined by abstract properties, and the language used have been in a sense platonic – speaking as if these concepts exist in themselves. In later years, most thinkers have left the cave, and instead of gazing far away into worlds beyond, the focus has changed to the immediate and the internal. Instead of looking to the stars for moral and religious answers, we have admitted ourselves as the source of such ideas, and the study of these concepts is moving more and more into the fields of psychology and biology. However, while the focus has taken a sharp turn the way of speaking has remained much the same; we study concepts in a new way, but still separate concepts along the same old lines. Is it safe to think no information is lost this way? Continue reading