Sunday, August 7, 2016

Fact-resistant humans are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life

Andy Borowitz reports that "Scientists have discovered a powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life."


Actually, we DO understand the psychology of this phenomenon.  We know that human cognition which includes storytelling and logical thinking did not evolve to discern TRUTH but simply to enhance the probability of survival and reproductive success.  Right?  We are exquisitely tuned to detect inauthentic or flawed STORIES, not whether or not the stories are based on or contradict hard evidence.  On the contrary, to conserve energy under severe cognitive load, we basically delegate reasoning from evidence and first principles — which is HARD — to much more subconscious heuristics that are predisposed to select those stories framed to confirm existing beliefs and to filter out those stories which contradict them.  It’s called ‘confirmation bias.'

Borowitz is right:  shocks required to break through confirmation bias could include hunger, thirst or even respiration.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Remembering Carl Sagan and his Legacy of Critical Thinking

It's hard to believe that Carl Sagan died 20 years ago.  But it's worth remembering his death because it's worth remembering his life, his belief in and dedication to public engagement with science.  In this last interview with Charlie Rose he articulates the two arguments that motivated him throughout his life to continuously seek new ways to communicate science to everyone.  First, he reminded us that science is power, surely the defining power of our time.
We live in an age based on science and technology with formidable scientific powers.... If we don't understand it ... then who is making all the decisions ... that are going to determine the world our children are going to live in?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Reason, Truth, Lies, Empiricism and Belief in the Age of the Internet

In the March issue of The New Yorker Jill Lepore posted an amusing rant on reason, truth, lies, empiricism and belief in the "Age of the Internet."

She asks a good question:  How do we know?  And what is the role of evidence?  Reason?

Lepore observes in this season dominated by the Republican debates and largely negative advertising based almost exclusively on unsubstantiated opinion and belief:
  1. "Tump doesn’t reason... He wants combat." 
  2. "Cruz’s appeal is to the judgment of God. 'Father God, please . . . awaken the body of Christ, that we might pull back from the abyss,' he preached on the campaign trail."
  3. "Rubio’s appeal is to Google."