Posts Tagged ‘Global Warming’

What We Should Learn from the Current Coronavirus Pandemic

April 28, 2020

This is the final post motivated and based on the the excellent book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease.

The first thing HM learned was that it is likely that there will be more pandemics. Indeed, if normal activities are resumed prematurely for the current virus, this virus will return to potency. Even if it doesn’t, we learned that pandemics can have three stages. It also appears that for some reason, viruses are becoming more sophisticated and more communicable, so the new normal might involve being constantly vigilant and constantly prepared.

Perhaps the most important thing we should have learned is that politicians who do not listen to the advice of scientists do not belong in office. For too long, Trump ignored scientists and came up with the conspiratorial theory that it was Democrats promoting false news to discredit his presidency.

We might very well experience additional damage from Trump’s ignorance and that is global warming. That can have catastrophic damages sooner than anticipated. There is a clear scientific consensus on this genuine problem. Republicans say that there are conflicting opinions. Trump thinks that scientists propose global warming to get big bucks for their research. Actually, there is an industry and it is a lucrative one. And that is the generation of contrary opinion so that too many Republicans can argue that there are diverse opinions. The big bucks are in generating contrary opinions for the purpose of certain industries and certain politicians. Since HM has a Ph.D, he probably could earn big bucks generating this trash.

There have been many previous healthymemory posts on the need for government supplied health insurance for all residents of the country. These posts have mentioned that the United States is the only advanced country that does not provide this assistance. In all cases, costs are lower with government provided insurance and the health care is better.

A large social support network is needed for these pandemics. And provisions need to be provided so that when people are forced from their jobs, their financial obligations are pushed to the right until they are able to reassume them.

Of course, we also need to have financing for the development of vaccinations and all the services that are needed for pandemics, to include the professionals and the equipment and personal protective equipment they need.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Systemic Causation

December 7, 2018

This is the seventh post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Lakoff writes “Studying cognitive linguistics has its uses. Every language in the world has in its grammar a way to express direct causation. No language in the world has in its grammar a way to express systemic causation.”

There is a structure to systemic causation—four possible elements that can exist alone or in combination. Driving a complex, systemic problem, there can be one, two, three, or all four of these elements in play. Here is how they might apply to global warming.

A network of direct causes. (1) Global warming heats the Pacific Ocean. That means that the water molecules in the ocean get more active, move with more energy, evaporate more, and move in the air with more energy. (2) Winds in the high atmosphere over the ocean blow from southwest to northeast, blowing the larger amount of high-energy moisture over the pole. (3) In winter, the moisture turns to snow and comes down over the East Coast as a huge blizzard. Thus, global warming can systemically cause major blizzards.

Feedback loops. (1) The arctic ice pack reflects light and heat. (2) As the earth’s atmosphere heats up, the arctic ice pack melts and gets smaller. (3) The smaller amount of arctic ice reflects less light and heat, and more heat stays in the atmosphere. (4) The atmosphere gets warmer. (5) The feedback loop: Even more ice melts, even less ice is reflected, even more heat stays, even more ice melts, and on and on.

Multiple causes. Because of the interaction between the polar vortex and the jet stream, parts of the vortex move south into central North America causing abnormal freezing temperatures as far south as Oklahoma and Georgia.

Probabilistic causation. Many weather phenomena are probabilistic. What is caused is a probability distribution. Although you can’t predict whether a flipped coin will come down heads or tails, you can predict that over the course of a large number of flips, almost exactly 50% will come down heads and another 50% tails.

Systemic causation is common. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies, which are a systemic cause of abortions.

Because it is less obvious than direct causation, systemic causation is more important to understand. A systemic cause may be one of a number of multiple causes. It may require special conditions. It may be indirect, working through a network of more direct causes. It may be probabilistic, occurring with a significantly high probability. It may require a feedback mechanism. In general, causation in ecosystems, biological systems, economic systems, and social systems tend not to be direct, but is no less causal. And because it is not direct causation, it requires all the greater attention if it is to be understood and its negative effects controlled. It also requires a name: systemic causation. And systemic causation can be developed to serve as a frame.

Consider how the scientists James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy authors of “Perception of Climate Change” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences write, “…we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence warming was exceedingly small.”

Scientists have been trained to be guarded in their writing and to caveat any conclusions. You hear conservative politicians say they are not scientists but they do not believe in global warming because they have read studies on both sides. As has been explained in previous healthy memory blog posts, there is a highly paid industry of scientists and writers posing as scientists to make the arguments that industry wants to make. Politicians need to restrict their reading to the refereed scientific literature in reaching their conclusions. To avoid actually having to read the research, they can rely upon established reputable scientists in the field. For their part scientists should use the frame “systemic causation” and proceed from there.

I Am Not a Scientist, but

May 7, 2017

This post is based largely on the book, “NOT A SCIENTIST:  How Politicians, Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science” by Dave Levitan.  In October of 1980 while campaigning against the incumbent President Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan addressed some environmental concerns in his speech.  He said, “I have flown twice over Mt. St. Helens out on our West Coast.  I’m not a scientist and I don’t know the figures, but I just have a suspicion that that one little mountain out here has probably released more sulfur dioxide  into the atmosphere of the world than has been released in the last 10 years if automobile driving or things of that kind that people are so concerned about.”  Someone who was a scientist and represented the Environmental Projection Agency told the New York Times that although the volcano spewed as much as 2,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day on average, all human sources in the United States produced about 81,000 tons per day.  Globally at the time, the total would have been over 300,000 tons of sulfur activities from human sources each day.  The massive eruption of Mountain St. Helens alone released about 1.5 million tons of sulfur dioxide.  Ten years worth of sulfur dioxide emission from “things that people are so concerned about,” was equal  to more than 200 million tons from the United States alone.

Should you be at a speech where a politician says, “I am not a scientist,” then yell out, “THEN SHUT UP!”

Now the GOP has a strained relationship with science.  Former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has said that the GOP needs to “stop being the stupid party.”  South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham issued the challenge:  “To my friends on the right who deny the science, tell me why. “

Democrats are not immune to criticism.  In 2014 President Barack Obama said that 2014 was the planet’s warmest year ever and repeated this statement several times in 2015.   This was the estimate provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)  had an estimate of 38%.   NOAA climate scientist Deke Arndt explained it this way:  This may seem pedantic, but it’s an important point:  there is a warmest year on record.  One of the 135 years in that history is the warmest.  2014 is clearly, and by a very large margin, the most likely warmest year.  Not only is its central estimate relatively distant from (warmer than) the prior record, but even accounting for known uncertainties, and their known shapes, it still emerges as easily the most likely warmest of the year.”

It would have been better for Obama to provide both estimates, but he is also not a scientist.  He is a lawyer and a politician so he presents the number that better makes his case.  But too many people in the general public would not be impressed by either the 48% of the 38% estimates.  These are probabilistic estimates and they want certainty.  They are certain in their beliefs, why can’t these scientists be certain?

Going into the 20th century there were some scientists who thought that they knew about all that could be known.  Perhaps a few decimal points could be added, but not much more was needed.  But in 1905  Einstein published his special theory of relativity.  His general theory of relativity came in 1915.  Then subatomic physics presented a whole new ballgame.  Then the social sciences blossomed, molecular biology, epigenetic, and so forth.  There are way too many changes and new sciences to enumerate.  Anyone who is certain about anything is either a fool or a charlatan.

There is a chapter in “NOT A SCIENTIST”  called The Certain Uncertainty.  TOADS (Those who Oppose Action/Deniers/Skeptics) who always raise the issue that scientists are not certain about global warming.  They do not appreciate that scientists are never certain and they regard their uncertainty as there basis for being deniers, skeptics, and opposing action.  But there is a consensus not only that global warming is occurring, but that the consequences of being a denier and opposing action could be catastrophic.  The reality is that even if the risk of global warming were small or if the rate of global warming were pessimistic, the consequences are potentially so catastrophic that taking action still would be indicated.  But TOADS never hedge their bets, because they are certain.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


October 12, 2016

Epilogue is, appropriately enough, the final chapter of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  Readers should be aware that we do not have direct contact with reality, but that we build mental models on the basis of our interactions with the external world.  This book, and it is hoped that the posts based on this book, provided ample data that contemporary people believe that things are bad and are getting worse.  The reason why people think this is based on the availability heuristic formulated by Kahneman and Tversky.  People base their estimates on information that is available.  The media focuses on what goes wrong and what is being done wrong.  This is the cause of the pessimistic assessments.  This is not a matter of a conspiracy by the media.  This is the type of news that sells.  A headline that there were no significant data comprises would be boring, unless the headline came after  serious data comprises.

The final chapter begins with the following Inscription on a stone from Chaldea in 2800 bce :
We have fallen upon evil times
and the world has waxed very old and wicked.
Politics are very corrupt.
Children are no longer respectful to their parents.

So it appears that pessimism and alarm might be the defaults for our species.  The subtitle is “SO WHY ARE YOU STILL NOT CONVINCED?
Frankly if you are not already convinced on the basis of these blog posts, HM would say that it would be pointless to read the book.  But this would be because HM has concluded you are intellectually compromised.  But the truth might be that HM failed to communicate effectively and perhaps you should read the book.  Even if you are already convinced, HM touched only barely on the books content, so it would be worthwhile for you to read it.

HM must confess to have been already convinced of the book’s thesis before reading.  He has long thought that he would rather be a person of modest means living in the present than a rich, influential individual living in the past.  This book has strongly justified this sentiment.  Moreover, HM would likely bet on a better life in the future.

Of course, this better life is not given.  Matters could go wrong.  We must to continue to grow our minds, think critically, and work for a better future.  The risk here is that there are indications that too many people do not use their minds much, and do not think critically.  Unfortunately there is a tendency for too many not to think critically and to fall under the influence of demagogues.  Demagogues succeed by inducing fear via big lies about the present and what they will do in the future.  It is remarkable, but people are convinced by promises absent any plans as to how this will be done.  Moreover, they exhibit an ignorance of government and a rejection of science.  Unfortunately, if the President of the United States thinks that global warming is a hoax, this places not just
the United States in jeopardy, but the entire world.  And, unfortunately, at present this appears to be a risk.

If you have yet to do so, go to   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.  This is the last call for this important and informative website.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Violence and the Environment

October 9, 2016

Violence and The Environment are Chapters 5 and 6 of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

HM had been extremely skeptical of Stephen Pinker’s argument that the present is the most peaceful time in the history of humanity.  Although I definitely dispute beliefs that terrorism makes this the most terrible time of all.  Terrorism is not new, but people of my age lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I remember when we left high school one afternoon not knowing whether we would see each other again.  This was during the prolonged period when nuclear annihilation was a real possibility under the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, which had the appropriate acronym (MAD).  Today’s terrorism is a definite problem, but the probability of any individual being harmed by a terrorist act is extremely small.

Norbert’s arguments have brought me in compliance with Pinker’s views, a scholar for whom I have the utmost respect.  Pinker stated that the dramatic drop in violence that has occurred “may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history.”  Norbert cites a study that compared violence on British television before 9 p.m. and in nursery rhymes, and came to the conclusion that the frequency of violence in nursery rhymes is around eleven times that feature in television considered safe in children.”  So violence has been a longstanding component of culture.

Norbert reviews the Ancient Greek epics with they catalogues of killing.  And he also reviews the Good Book, the Holy Bible, and its brutal violence, perpetuated by the good guys.  In the Old Testament people casually kill, enslave and rape even family members.  When Moses discovered that some of his people worshipped a golden calf he executes 3,000 of them, and goes on a merciless ethnic cleansing spree, which he claims is ordered by God: ‘ do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hives, and Jebusites —as the Lord thy God has commanded you’ (Deuteronomy 20:16—17).  At one point Moses scolds his men for letting women and children survive, so he orders them to go back: ‘Now kill all the boys.  And kill every woman who as slept with a man, but save for yourself every girl who has never slept with a man’ (Numbers 31:17-18).  Presumably, God even gives advice on rape itself:  “if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife’ (Deuteronomy 21:11).  Reading this reminded HM of some of the atrocities committed by ISIS.

Everyone knows the Gladiators fought to the death and that naked women were tied to stakes and raped or torn apart by animals.  At the higher rungs of Roman society, 39 of the 49 Roman Emperors who ruled before the empire was divided were murdered.

Torture and mutilation were regularly applied in all great civilizations, from the Assyrians, Persians, and Chinese to the African kingdoms, and the the Native American tribes.  But Norbert notes that ‘the medieval Christian culture was more creative than most, and some of the era’s best minds were occupied with coming with ways of inflicting as much pain as possible on people before they confessed and died.  Medieval torture was not even a primitive and brutal way of trying to keep public violence at bay.  Most the the crimes that sent people to the rack or stake were non-violent offenses, sins rather than crimes that we would recognize, like blasphemy, apostasy, gossip, scolding, unconventional sexual acts, and, not surprisingly, criticism of the government.  “The Spanish Inquisition probably killed something like 350,000 people and tortured countless others, sometimes on suspicion of having clean underwear on a Sunday or being known to take baths.

HM wonders where was empathy, the trait that some use to distinguish us from computers.  Empathy does appear in the New Testament of the Bible, but it does appear that it had an immediate effect.

Matters gradually changed.  Eventually human sacrifice was abolished in all cultures, often at first replaced by animal sacrifice.  According to Steven Pinker’s sources, the average annual death rate for non-state societies, and this includes everything from hunter-gatherer tribes to gold rush societies in California, is 524 per 100,000.  If we add all the deaths from wars, genocide, purges and man-made famines in the 20th Century, we still don’t get a rate higher than 60 per 100,000 annually.

The chapter on the environment begins with the following quote from Indira Gandhi:  “Are poverty and need the greatest polluters?…How can we speak to those who live in villages and in slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and air clean when their own lives are contaminated at the source?  The environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty.”  Then it discuses the Great Smog that settled over London near the end of 1952.  It stayed for four horrible days.  Cold weather had made Londoners burn more coal, and the smoke, combined with pollutants from industrial processes, from vehicles and from across the English Channel, formed a thick layer over the city.  Cars were abandoned..  People felt their way home along railings.  The smog penetrated clothes and blackened undergarments.   This was the most lethal instance of smog, but London often suffered from it by different degrees as do many big cities in developing countries today.

This pollution of the environment was  a product of the affluence and development that saved humanity from poverty and early death.  Now the future looked nightmarish unless something was done.  People envisioned a world without forests, with acid rain, and where people had to wear surgical masks to protect themselves from emission.  Most species were extinct and humanity suffered from an explosion in cancer because of all the chemicals being used in nature.  The conclusion seemed to be that wealth and technology were not compatible with a green breathing planet.

To prevent this conclusion from becoming a reality a green movement picked up speed in the West, led by intellectuals and activists.  These concerns were taken seriously and policies and technological solutions were developed and large parts of today’s world are avoiding these crisis scenarios.  But the dangers still exist and the battle needs to continue to be fought.

In 1972 the Club of Rome warned:  “Virtually every pollutant that has been measured as a function of time appears to be increasing exponentially.”  However pollution did not just stop increasing, it began to decrease dramatically.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, total emission of six leading air pollutants were reduced by more than two-thirds- from 1980 to 2014.  Volatile organic compounds were reduced by 53%, nitrogen dioxide by 55%. direct particulate matter by 58%, carbon dioxide by 81% and lead by 99%.

In the 1980s the international community recognized that a huge hole in the ozone layer over Antartica was expanding and could expose life on earth to damaging ultraviolet light.  Countries by international agreement phased out the substance that were eroding the ozone layer.  It worked exceptionally well and the layer is gradually recovering.  This is possibly saving humanity from hundreds of millions of cases of skin cancer.

The number of oil spills in the ocean has decreased dramatically.  In the 1970s there was an average of 24 oil spills per year.  Since 2000, there has been an average of less than 3.  The quantity of oil spilt has been reduced by 99% between 1970 and 2014.

In wealthy countries deforestation has stopped.  Europe’s forest area grew by more than  0.3% annually.  The global annual rate of forest loss has slowed from 0.18 to 0.008%  since the early 1990s.  In China, the forest cover is now growing by more than two million hectares per year.  Deforestation has declined by 70% since 2005, but it still continues.

Developing countries still have the problem of growing their economies while they decrease pollution.  Moreover, their pollution is not localized to their countries—it spills over into the rest of the world.

The fight over pollution needs to continue and to continue with vigor.  The worst situation is the failure to recognize problems such as global warming.  The problem needs to be recognized before effective remedies can be pursued.  In the United States there are many members of one political party and the presidential candidate of this political party who refuse to recognize the problem of global warming.  These politicians need to be voted out of office, and candidates running for a political position need to be defeated.  These individuals constitute a problem not just for the United States but for the entire world.

If you have yet to do so, go to   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Labor Day Message 2014

August 31, 2014


Regular readers of the healthymemory blog might receognize some striking similarities between this message and the 2013 message. Unfortunately, not much has changed. When I was in elementary school the predictions were that due to technology we would have much more leisure time ( in the future. I’ll remind you that at this time it was highly unusual for married mothers to be working. In my view, some of the technological achievements, particularly in computing and in broadband, have vastly exceeded these predictions. So I ask you, why are we working so hard? We’re working much harder than when I was in elementary school. And it’s getting worse. Americans now work for eight and a half hours more a week than they did in 1979.

I would further ask, exactly what are we producing? Suppose only those who provided the essentials for living and for safety went to work. What percentage of the working population would that be? Make your own guess, but mine would be less than 10%, so what is going on here?. Currently we are working hard to achieve an unemployment rate at or below 5%. But is this a realistically achievable unemployment rate? Remember that the previous two occasions when the employment rate was at or below 5%, the economic prosperity was bogus. There was the dot com bogus, when people expected to become rich via the internet. Then there was the bogus finance/real estate boom where riches were created via bogus and unsubstantiated financial instruments. So why, absent some other fictitious basis for a boom, do we expect to get back to 5% unemployment

To examine the question of why we are working so hard, I present the following study tht can be found in Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.It found that being poor is bad. Of course, this finding is not surprising. The surprising finding is that a household income of $75,000 represented a satiation level beyond which experienced well being no longer increased. And this was in high cost living areas. In other areas the number would be lower. So, it is clear that we are working more for no real benefit. Why?

The world’s environmental and resource issues also need to be considered here. As the undeveloped world develops, the demands on resources, the pollution of the environment, and the rate of global warming will increase as the developing world hops on the same exhausting treadmill that the developed world has been on.

I think the problem is that classical economics has outlived its usefulness and has become destructive. Economics needs to undergo a paradigm shift. Classical economics is based on the rationale theory of man. Socials scientists have debunked this theory quite well as have behavioral economists. Computing the Gross National Product (GNP) in terms of hard dollars might seem to b objective, but reminds one of the drunk who is looking for his car keys under the streetlamp rather than in the dimly illuminated part of the parking where he dropped them. Economists need to consider subjective, relevant measures as happiness and life satisfaction, but these measures are given only glancing consideration. Perhaps this is due to the extreme economics supermeme that plagues us and has been discussed in previous healthymemory blog posts.

Once appropriate measures and appropriate philosophies regarding self fulfillment and self actualization are adopted we can get off the treadmill and enjoy the fruits of technology and our lives.

You also might visit or revisit the Healthymemory Blog Post “Gross National Happiness.” There is also an entry on this topic on

The Personalization of Blame Supermeme

February 13, 2013

In The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse by Rebecca D. Costa, she outlines five supermemes that lead to the stagnation and collapse of civilizations: Irrational Opposition, The Personalization of Blame, Counterfeit Correlation, Silo Thinking, and Extreme Economics. This healthymemory blog post will address the personalization of blame supermeme.

Whenever there is a problem the immediate response is to try to find the individual or individuals who are responsible for the problem, and to blame that person or persons. The problem here is that the causes of most problems in our complex world are systemic. By blaming an individual or individuals the system problems can be overlooked and the problem will continue to occur.

One of the best examples is when there is an airplane crash and the crash is attributed to pilot error. All this does is to confirm that we humans are all fallible. So what’s new? The questions is why did the pilot commit the error, or series of errors. If the pilot was not alone, then the question goes to the crew level to ascertain why the crew did not respond appropriately. If the pilot was alone, reasonable questions follow. Was the pilot adequately trained? Was the pilot overly tired, or in poor health, and if so, why? Did the design of the flight deck contribute to the problem? These are the questions that need to be asked at the system level if future crashes are to be avoided.

A very serious problem is medical error. Again, the initial response is to blame a nurse or doctor. Doing this is counterproductive and makes it difficult to find the problem when everyone and the hospital itself is preoccupied with saving its respective keister. A 2000 Institute of Medicine report estimated that medical errors are estimated to result in about between 44,000 and 98,000 preventable deaths and 1,000,000 excess injuries each year in U.S. Hospitals. This is a virtual holocaust that occurs annually that exceeds highway deaths and most war deaths. These deaths and injuries are often due to communication problems, being it the failure to pass information, illegible writing, or failing to contact and involve the correct people. The failure to use simple checklists results in unnecessary deaths and injury (see the healthymemory blog post, “A Cognitive Safety Net”). There is much that can be done here, but the first step is not to look for someone to blame, but instead to look at the entire system and look for points of systemic failure.

Osama bin Laden has been the face of terrorism. But his killing, while being satisfying to many, has not led to the end of terrorism. There are many terrorist organizations and a variety of causes of terrorism. They must be understood and approached from a systemic perspective. Looking at terrorism in terms of a most wanted list is not going to be effective.

Obesity, pollution and global warming are major societal problems that can be blamed on ourselves. Although the argument can be made that these problems can be addressed at an individual level, individuals can stop overeating and stop polluting, these approaches will not be effective. First it must be recognized that we are fallible human beings. With respect to obesity, eating as much high caloric whenever it was available was a good adaptive mechanism that allowed our species to survive. Unfortunately, we are left with this evolutionary adaptive mechanism, which is not longer adaptive Unfortunately, will power is a resource that can easily be depleted. This ego depletion is a loss in will or mental energy and can be measured by glucose metabolism.1

So systemic approaches need to be applied. In the case of obesity, sizes of fast foods can be restricted. Unhealthy foods can be taxed. Healthy foods could be made easier to obtain (for example, replacing the junk food in most vending machines with healthy foods). Ultimately, I think the food industry needs to become more creative and make food and drink with fewer calories more palatable. I believe they have made progress in the beverage industry.

With respect to environmental pollution and global warming, possible solutions include heavy taxes on heavy vehicles, and higher gas taxes to pay for better public transportation. Tax credits can be given for environmental friendly vehicles. Incentives for both individuals and industry to more away from fossil fuels can be provided.

A major flaw in Costa’s book is her misunderstanding and consequent mis-characterization of B.F. Skinner and behavioral psychology, which has much to offer. It espouses an empirical approach in which facts and beliefs are strongly linked. Systemic approaches to behavioral modification to promote environmental friendly and personal healthy behaviors are quite possible.

1Baumeister, R.E., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Discovering the Greatest Human Strength.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Beliefs vs. Facts and Knowledge

February 6, 2013

According to Rebecca Costa, civilizations collapse when beliefs do not keep up with facts and knowledge.1 Of course, the facts and knowledge must be accurate. Facts and knowledge change and grow. The rate of growth of facts and knowledge has become exponential, so it is quite difficult for beliefs to keep up. Moreover, we grow comfortable in our beliefs and are reluctant to change them. So the deadlock and stagnation many of us are experiencing is not surprising. Nevertheless, to achieve the ends of both a healthy memory and an advancing civilization it is important, to the extent possible, to try to keep our beliefs in correspondence with ever changing and developing facts and knowledge. We have to be like the great economist, John Maynard Keynes who said, when the facts change, I change my mind.

In science, tentative beliefs, called hypothesis, are tested by looking for facts and by designing experiments to determine the correct facts. The facts and knowledge in science are never certain and continually growing. Indeed, if there is no means of falsifying a belief, then it is not science. New facts lead to new knowledge and new beliefs. New knowledge identifies new problems that need to be addressed. Before the advent of science, beliefs changed slowly as facts and knowledge accumulated slowly. However, since the advent of science, finding new facts and knowledge has increased at an exponential rate. Unfortunately, beliefs are falling further and further behind .

For example, free markets are extolled. Although, there is no doubt regarding the benefits of free enterprise, the notion of a free market is an ideal. Free markets do not remain free in the real world. There are eight centuries of data proving this point.2 Markets are manipulated and monopolies are formed. Most of the world came close to a financial collapse due to ill behaving markets that were insufficiently regulated. Although it is true that regulation can be stifling if done improperly, it is almost a certainty that if they are unregulated, serious problems develop. Given the limited corrections that were implemented as a result of the previous market crisis, there is no reason to be confident that there is not a market collapse in the future.

Another example is global warming. There seems to be a scientific consensus that global warming is a serious problem. Now science is never certain. Facts and knowledge can be change. But the ramifications of global warming should not be ignored and considerations need to be given to how global warming could be mitigated or eliminated. Even in the unlikely event that the predictions of global warming are wrong, we would have erred on the side of caution. But it is easier to cling to the belief that there is no global warming, as it avoids the inconvenience and costs of taking action. Our situation is analogous to the Mayans who failed to deal with their conditions of drought.

Evolution is another belief widely held in the scientific community. Nevertheless, there are people who disagree with evolution and do not want it taught in the schools. They offer an alternative theory, creationism. It should be understood that a belief in God does not preclude one from believing in evolution. Nevertheless, some religious people do find the concept of evolution uncomfortable. Frankly, I think both creationism and evolution should be taught together in school because it provides an ideal means of explaining how science works. The first question to ask a creationist is whether creationism can be proven false, and if so, how. If it cannot be proven false, then it is not science. An evolutionist should also admit that evolution could be proven false. The evolutionist certainly can explain how the theory of evolution has been changing over the years, but the fundamental premise remains. I find it ironic that one of the proofs, a teleological proof, for the existence of God is the human eye. But when you examine the eye, it appears that the retina is designed backward. Before light hits the cones and rods it first goes through the neurological wiring from the eye to the brain. Although it is true that there are many beauties in nature, there are also many uglies. And there are millions and millions, perhaps billions of extinct species that did not survive. It was the humorist and sports maven Tony Kornheiser, I believe, who remarked, after he had experienced vomiting and diarrhea at the same time, what a perverse sense of humor God had when he designed the human body! One of the primary deficiencies we humans have is that we look for confirmations of our beliefs, but fail to look for disproofs of our beliefs.

1Costa, R.D. (2010).The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. Philadelphia: Vanguard Press.

2Reinhart, C.H. & Rogoff (2009). This Time is Different. Princeton University Press.

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