Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Irresistible

April 12, 2017

“Irresistible” is the title of a book by Adam Alter.  Its subtitle is “The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.”  This is an important book because it addresses an important problem, the addiction to computer games.  The World of Warcraft (WOW) is perhaps the most egregious example in which lives have been and are continuing to be ruined.  The statistics will not be belabored here.  They are well presented in “Irresistible” along with numerous personal stories.  “Behavioral addiction” was discussed in a previous healthymemory blog post “Beware the Irresistible Internet.”  There is a series of posts based on Dr. Mary Aiken’s book, “The Cyber Effect” that has addressed this problem. Additional healthy memory posts on this topic can be found by entering “Sherry Turkle” into the search block of the healthymemory blog.  What is especially alarming is that Adam Alter makes a compelling argument that game makers are getting better at making their games irrestible, that is behaviorally addicting.

Of course, not all games are bad.  “Gamification”  is a term for games devoted to beneficial ends, such as education.  This can be very beneficial when learning, that could be tedious, is transformed into an entertaining game, which could be played for its entertainment value alone.  Good arguments can be made for these games provided that their educational benefits are documented.  However, even if it were possible, it would be dangerous if all of education were gamefied.  Not everything in life is enjoyable, and part of the educational process should be learning to assure the students persevere even when learning becomes difficult and frustrating.

Alter also does a commendable review of treatments for behavioral addictions and preventive measures to decrease the likelihood of addiction.  The book begins with Steve Jobs telling the New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that his children never used the iPAD, “We limit how much technology our kids use in theme.”  Bolton discovered that other tech giant imposed similar restrictions.  A former editor of “Wired,” Chris Anderson, enforced strict time limits on every device in his home, “because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.”  After relating the way tech giants controlled their childrens’ access to technology lAlter wrote, “It seemed as if the  people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing:  never get high on your own supply.”

Perhaps one of the most informative studies related in “Irresistible” is not specifically about addiction.  It related a paper published by eight psychologists in the journal “Science.”  In one study they asked a group of undergraduate students to sit quietly for twenty minutes.  They were told that their goal was to entertain themselves with your thoughts as best you can.  That is, your goal should be to have a pleasant experience, as opposed to spending time focusing on everyday activities or negative things.”  The experimenters hooked up  to a machine that administers electric shocks, and gave them a sample shock  to show that the experience of being shocked isn’t pleasant.   The students were told that they could self-administer the shock if they wanted to, but that “Whether you do so is completely up to you.”  It was their choice.
One student shocked himself one hundred and ninety times.  That’s once every six seconds, over and over for twenty minutes.   Although he was an outlier, two thirds of all male students and about one in three female students shocked themselves at least once.  Many shocked themselves more than once.  By their own admission in a questionnaire they didn’t find the experience pleasant, so they preferred to endure the unpleasantness  of a shock to the experience of sitting quietly with their thoughts.

Upon rereading this experiment HM became convinced that the teaching of mindfulness and meditation should be mandatory in the public school.  If so these students would have taken advantage of the situation to be “in the present ” and to meditate, just as they would if they found themselves stuck in traffic or being forced to wait.  (See the healthy memory blog post, “SPACE”)

Perhaps HM is a “goody two-shoes” but he has never been attracted to games.  He never cared how much he scored on a pin ball machine.  He is the same with respect to computer games.  They strike him as pointless activities, so he never plays them.

It strikes HM that public education is avoiding a key responsibility.  Students need to understand from an early age that their time on earth is limited.  This should not send them into panic or to avoid enjoyable pursuits.  But a question should be asked regarding any pursuit is what value does the pursuit have.  It is okay for some pursuits to be pursued for enjoyment alone.  But there are also pursuits, which in addition to being enjoyable, provide both personal benefits as well as societal benefits.

Ideally one should pursue a life with purpose as was related in the posts on Victor Strecher’s book “Life on Purpose.”  This provides for a benefiting an fulfilling life.  In the healthymemory blog post “SPACE” Stretcher argues for pursuing a healthy lifestyle to further the ends of living a life with purpose.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Another Post on Psychology as a STEM Discipline

September 1, 2016

HM likes to address this topic at the beginning of the school year.  Psychology is officially a STEM discipline.  STEM stand for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and these are the disciplines highly prized for our economy.  Many are probably surprised that psychology is a STEM discipline because they think of psychology in a clinical sense and often confuse these psychologists with psychiatrists.

Well there is a scientific version psychology, parts of which are frequently termed neuropsychology because of the neurological structures and brain imaging techniques that are used.  For the student interested in science psychology is recommended because it crosses many levels of science.  Some psychologists image the brain and make recordings and measurements of the brain.  Cognitive psychologists study perception, memory, decision making, problem solving, and creativity.  Social psychologists study how groups of people interact.  Organizational psychologists study how organizations work and prosper.  Each of these sub-disciplines of psychology has special methodologies for dealing with these problems.  There are also mathematical psychologists and engineering psychologists.  HM had the privilege of serving as President of Division 21 of the American Psychological Association (APA) which is the Division for Engineering and Applied Experimental Psychology.

Although there are marketing psychologists, if you are interested in marketing it might be better to study marketing in a Business College.  If you are interested in how others think and feel, you might be better advised to study literature or drama in college.  Literature is known for fostering empathic understanding, which might be more of what you are interested.  Although HM has not seen any literature on The benefits of studying drama, he has a hunch that the study of and participation in drama might have similar benefits.  However, if you are interested in the scientific study of humans, then psychology would be a good choice.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Dalai Lama, Science, and Buddhism

June 6, 2016

The Dalai Lama, whose shortened religious name is Tenzin Guyatso, is the 14th Dalai Lama.  Dalai Lamas are important monks of the Gelug school, which is the newest school of Tibetan Buddhism.  This current Dalai Lama was interested in science from a very early age, and this interest in science has grown as he has matured.  Although science and religion are often portrayed as chronic opponents and sometimes even enemies.  There is no historic antagonism between Buddhism and Science as there has been between science and the Roman Catholic Church.  The Roman Catholic Church put Copernicus’s work on the Index of forbidden books and tried Galileo by the Inquisition, found him “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced him to recant, and to spend the rest of his life under house arrest.  Both Buddhism and science share the goal of seeking the truth, with a small t.  For science truth is, or should be, always tentative and always subject to refutation by the next experiment.  For Buddhism, especially as the Dalai Lama sees it, even core teachings can and must be overturned if science proves them wrong.  Most importantly, Buddhist training emphasizes the value of investigating reality and finding the truth of the outside world as well as the contents of one’s mind.  According to Alan Wallace, who spent years as a Buddhist monk before turning in his robes to become a Buddhist scholar and who is a long time participant in the dialogues between scientists and the Dalai Lama, “Four themes are common to Buddhism at its best:  rationality, empiricism, skepticism, and pragmatism.”

In 1983, the Dalai Lama traveled to Austria for a conference on consciousness where he met Francisco Varela, a thirty-seven-year-old Chilean born neuroscientist who had begun practicing Buddhism in 1974.  It was not surprising  that the Dalai Lama had never met an eminent neuroscientist who was also knowledgeable about Buddhism, so the young researcher and the older Buddhist hit it off immediately.   Even with his busy schedule the Dalai Lama told Varela he wished he could have such conversations more often.

The following year Varela heard about a plan that Adam Engle, an entrepreneur in California was working on.  When Engle heard from Varela about the Dalai Lama’s interest in science he decided he wanted to put some energy into making the Dala Lama’s interest in science something more than a passing fancy.

After having put a great deal of energy into the effort in October 1987, the Dalai Lama hosted the first conference of what had been named the Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile.  Many conferences of the Mind and Life Institute have followed.  Many parts of this book are taken directly from these meetings between scientists and Buddhist scholars in Dharmsala.

Some scientists saw the Dalai Lama as a bridge between the world of spirituality and the world of science, someone whose expertise in mental training might offer western science a perspective that has been lacking in its investigations of mind and brain.  He was invited to address the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 2005, but not without controversy.  Some five hundreds members signed a petition protesting his appearance arguing that religion has no place as a scientific conference.  The Dalai Lama has offered the following answer, “Spirituality and science are different but complimentary  investigative approaches with the same greater goal of seeking truth.”  He told neuroscientists that although Eastern contemplative practices and western science arose for different reasons and with different roles, they share an over-riding purpose.  They both investigate reality.  “By gaining deeper insight into the human psyche, we might find ways of transforming our thoughts, emotions and their underlying properties so that a more wholesome and fulfilling way can be found.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hey US Teachers, leave those climate myths alone

February 22, 2016

The title of this post is the title of an article by Michael Mann in the Feb 20-26, 2016 edition of the New Scientist.  He summarized an article in the 12 Feb 2016 issue of science, whose authors are Eric Pulitzer, Mark McCaffrey, A. Lee Hannah, Joshua Rosenau, Minda Berbeco, & Ann H. Reid (doi.org/bcgt).  Even though 97% of active climate scientists attribute recent global warming to human causes, and most of the general public accept that climate change is occurring, only about half of U.S. adults believe that human activity is the predominant cause.   The U.S. ranked the lowest in this belief among 20 nations polled in 2014.

The article examines how the societal debate in the U.S.  affects science classrooms.  They found that whereas  most U.S. science teachers include climate change in their courses, it appears that their insufficient grasp  of science is hindering effective teaching. Generally teachers devote a paltry 1 to 2 hours to this important topic.  Despite the fact that 97% of experts agree climate change is mainly human caused, many teachers still “teach the controversy,” suggesting a sizable “consensus gap” exists.  They survey showed that 7 in 10 teachers mistakenly believe that at least a fifth of  experts dispute human-caused climate change.  Although they are supposed to be teaching science, they have insufficient knowledge in the discipline they are teaching.

Michael Mann in his book “The Hockey Stick and Climate Wars describes how those with interests in fossil fuels have spent tens of millions of dollars to create the impression of a consensus gap by orchestrating a public relations campaign aimed at attacking the science and the scientists, thus confusing the public about the reality and threat of climate change.  They also have created a partisan political divide on the issue.  The United States is the only advanced country with a major political party denying the reality of climate change.

These climate myths provide an unfortunate example of the effectiveness  of Big Lies.  These Big Lies are working their damage in the United States and not only on the issue of climate change.

These myths on climate change are exacerbating a problem and endowing it to our
children.  These children need to know truth so that they can educate their parents.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognitive Misers and Democracy

February 17, 2016

Cognitive misers are people who do not like to exert the effort involved in thinking.   In addition to entering “cognitive misers” into the healtymemory search block, you can also enter “System 1” or “Kahneman.”  Cognitive misers like to believe in things because questioning beliefs or principles or learning new things involves cognitive effort and thinking.

A short while back I read a poll that I found extremely discouraging.  The question asked what was more important to voters, a politician’s willingness to compromise or to  principles.
Here is a breakdown of the responses by political party.  Note that they do not add up to 100% as some respondents refused to answer.

Group                   Principles        Willing to Compromise
All Voters             40%                  50%
Republicans        54%                   36%
Independents     40%                  47%
Democrats           23%                  68%

I guess that the good news is that with the exception of one group, the remaining groups a larger percentage indicated a Willingness to Compromise.  In only one group did this percentage reach 50% and only one other group indicated a slightly greater than a two to one preference.  If the results are representative, then I argue that these beliefs present a far greater existential threat to the Democracy in the United States than does ISIS.

Before addressing cognitive miserliness per se, let me remind readers what a democracy is supposed to be..  A democracy is a system in which people vote for candidates and the candidates try to vote for what they think are the correct policies, but negotiate when the need to get the most palatable policy that they can accept.  There will be times when the vote goes against them, but they accept the result.  They do not threaten to shut down the government or actually shut down the government.  As you know this has already happened at least twice.

It is unfortunate that “politician” has negative connotations.  Using “politician” in a pejorative sense, “he’s a politician,” or he is doing this for “political reasons” is both unfair and wrong.  The first requirement of a politician is to make the political system work.  Sometimes that might correspond to political beliefs, sometimes it will not.  But beliefs or principals should not be the driving factor.

The advancement of mankind has been in direct proportion to the advancement of science.  Key to science is thinking.  Cognitive miserliness is anathema to effective science.  Whatever beliefs science has are beliefs that are subject to change.  It that is not the case, then the enterprise is not science.  There have been enormous changes in science during my lifetime.  There is not a single subject matter that has not changed.  Until fairly recently science believed that humans could not generate new neurons.  In other words there was no such think as neurogenesis.  Had I argued to the contrary as a graduate student I would have quickly been booted out of graduate school.  It was not until close to the end of the 20th century that neurogenesis was accepted and the notion of neuroplasticity  was advanced.

I become particularly annoyed when I hear reporters accuse politicians of flip flopping.  It seems like this is the stock in trade for many reporters.  This reminds me of the response the eminent economist John Maynard Keynes gave when he was accused of a statement that was in conflict with previous comments.  He responded,”when the facts change, I change my mind.  What do you do, sir.”  An argument can be made that opinions are not being changed by facts, but by political considerations.  Here I would refer you to the remedial exposition on democracy I offered above.

I also argue that cognitive miserliness is a problem for the Supreme Court of the United States.  There are two views of the Constitution.  One is that it is supposed to be a dynamic document that has been written that is expected to change with the times.  The other, originalism, is that the Constitution needs to be interpreted in terms of what the authors intended.  We need to remember that when the Constitution was written, slavery existed, black people were counted as three-fifths of a human being, and women could not vote.  It should also be remembered that one of the most advanced scientists of the time, Benjamin Franklin, did not know what current high school physics students know.  Moreover, I am virtually certain that if the framers of the constitution knew what we do today, they would have written a different constitution.  I am upset when the Supreme Court Justice who recently passed away is described as having a brilliant mind.  He was an originalist.  He believed that what the framers of the constitution believed at that time should provide the basis of judicial decisions.  I regard such individuals as intellectual runts.

The results of cognitive miserliness are readily apparent in the United States.  Realize that the United States is the only advanced country that does not have a system of national health insurance.  What we do have is the country with the most expensive medical costs with results comparable to third world countries.  We are the only advanced country that has no control over the cost of prescription medications.  And we are the only country that has a major political party that refuses to believe in global warming.  We also have a major TV network that insists on always having a denier of global warming on a show where a scientist is presenting data bearing on global warming and its ramifications.  This is in spite of the fact that this is a small minority of scientists, some of whom are paid scientific guns to counter the overwhelming evidence.

The reason that is often presented is one of American Exceptionalism.  This exceptionalism is a product of cognitive miserliness.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Psychology is a STEM Discipline

August 22, 2015

STEM is an acronym referring to the academic discipline of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  It  is significant in that it recognizes the importance of these disciplines to economic competitiveness and, accordingly, stresses their importance to educational  policy,  Psychology is recognized as a STEM discipline by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  These STEM disciplines affect immigration policy.

Unfortunately, there are people who confuse psychology with psychiatry, a medical specialty.  Although clinical psychology does deal with mental illness, and clinical psychologists do work with psychiatrists, it is but one branch of psychology, as is counseling psychology.  Psychology is concerned with how humans and animals behave.  This interest extends beyond just behavior and is heavily involved with cognitive processes and neuroscience.  This includes the behavior and interactions of groups of people.  There is a branch known as industrial and organizational psychology that deals with businesses and organizations.  One of the divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA) is the Division of Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology.  I have had the honor of serving as president of this division.

Although psychology is an important discipline and deserves recognition as a STEM discipline, I had long thought that it was best to postpone psychology courses until college.  However, my thinking has changed.  I have long advocated that statistics and experimental design be taught in high school.  The reason for this is that it is difficult to be a responsible citizen, or to make informed decisions about medical care, without a fundamental understanding of statistics.   However, I think all adults should have some understanding about how human cognition works, and the information processing shortcomings and biases we are all prey to.  People need to learn how we understand and come into contact with our environment and our fellow human beings.   People need to understand that we are conscious of only a small percentage of our cognitive processes.  And we all need to learn about mindfulness so we can deal better not only with our own cognitive processes, but also with our interactions with our fellow human beings.

I have also found that psychology, that is scientifically based psychology, provides an expert platform for learning about science.  Psychology involves more than neuroimaging.  There are psychologists who use biological assays in their research.  Cognitive psychology is concerned with how cognition works to include memory, perception, concept formation, problem solving, language, and creativity.  Educational psychology studies the best ways to learn including teaching and computer assisted instruction.  Social psychology is concerned with how groups of humans act, how opinions are formed, and the best ways to persuade.  Industrial organizational psychology is concerned with how organizations work, and how their functioning can be performed.  This includes the performance of teams.  Different areas of research require different techniques, so a wide variety of experimental methods and statistical approaches are used.

It has been my experience that many, certainly not all, but many, from the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering, know well the methods and techniques needed for their disciplines.  But they still lack a general ability to apply the scientific method.  The function more as technicians in their disciplines, rather than as broadly trained scientists.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Unfortunate Business of Science

July 9, 2014

The idea for the immediate preceding blog post, “What’s Wrong with the World:  A Paucity of Mindfulness” was motivated by an article in the Washington Post.  I regarded the research to be important enough to go to the source of the article in the journal Science.  Unfortunately, I needed to purchase the article fot $20, which I did.  And I am glad that I did because the newspaper article, as is frequently the case, missed the major importance of the research.

Science is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The purpose of the organization is to foster science and the dissemination of information about science.  In my view the $20 charge is inconsistent with the goals of the organization.  I should note that the AAAS is not different from other professional organizations in doing so.  Unfortunately professional organizations dedicated to good objectives tend to morph into businesses dedicated to profit.  Strictly speaking these are not profits because the money goes back into the professional organization.  The organizations would argue that this is good for their intended purposes and would argue that researchers with grants could charge these costs to their contracts, which is more having to do with the “business” of science.  Bloggers, like myself, and others interested in science, be they citizens or students, should have ready access to these publications.  Understand that I have nothing against some nominal fee of several dollars to cover costs, but $20 for an electronic reprint of three pages is ridiculous.

There is another issue. is research was funded by the National Science Foundation, so anyone who paid taxes to the United States helped finance this research.  There is a footnote with a URL indicating where the data from the individual studies can be accessed.  This is due to recent laws requiring that the data from funded research should be made available to other researchers.  This policy is both good and just.  Nevertheless, I think that the public should also be entitled to research reports that are either free or at a nominal cost.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Greatest Genius to Have Walked on Earth

June 29, 2014

In my mind that genius is unquestionably Leonardo da Vinci. I can think of no ne else who was so creative and his genius was manifest in art, science and engineering. So when I ran across a book titled How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci in the National Gallery of Art, I had to purchase it. The book is by a Da Vinci scholar, Michael J. Gelb. Self Help books were unknown in Da Vinci’s time, so Gelb took the task upon himself, and he did a splendid job.

There is no way I can do justice to Da Vinci’s contribution in this post, so what I am offering is only a sample. In the realm of art his Mona Lisa and The Last Supper are recognized as two of the greatest paintings ever produced. Other famous painting include The Virgin of the Rocks, The Madonna and Child with St. Anne, The Adoration of the Magi, and St. John the Baptist. His portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

As an inventor he made plans for a flying machine, a helicopter, a parachute, an extendable ladder (still used today by fire departments), a machine for cutting threads on screws, the bicycle, an adjustable monkey wrench, a snorkel, the three-speed gear shift, . hydraulic jacks, the world’s first revolving stage, locks for a canal system, a horizontal waterwheel, folding furniture, an olive press, a number of automated musical instruments (Leonardo himself was a musician), a water-powered alarm clock, a therapeutic armchair, and a crane for clearing ditches.

Da Vinci pioneered the concept of automation. He designed many machines to save labor and increase productivity. His automated looms were portents for the Industrial Revolution.

Da Vinci was way ahead of his time as a military engineer. He made plans for the armored tank, machine guns, mortars, guided missiles, and submarines. As far as it is known, nothing he designed was ever used to injure anyone during his lifetime. He was a man of peace who found bloodshed “infinitely atrocious.” He wrote that he designed his instruments of war “to preserve the chief gift of nature, which is liberty.”

Next come his accomplishments as a scientist.

Anatomy

  • He pioneered the discipline of modern comparative anatomy.

  • He was the first to draw parts of the body in cross section.

  • He drew the most detailed and comprehensive representations of humans and horses.

  • He conducted unprecedented scientific studies of the child in the womb.

  • He was the first to make casts of the brain and the ventricles of the heart.

Botany

  • He pioneered modern botanical science.

  • He described geotropism (the gravitational attraction of the earth on some plants) ane heliotropism (the attraction of plants toward the sun).

  • He noted that the age of a tree corresponds to the number of rings in its cross section

  • He was the first to describe the system of leaf arrangements in plants.

Geology and Physics

  • He made significant discoveries about the nature of fossilization, and he was the first to document the phenomenon of soil erosion

  • His physics studies anticipated the modern disciplines of hydrostatics, optics, and mechanics.

The book is subtitled Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. However, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci is an enjoyable and highly readable biography of, in my view, the greatest genius to have walked on earth

Stupidity Pandemic

April 1, 2014

Picking up from the previous blog that left with the exhortation not to follow the Krell to extinction it would be well to ask, where do we stand now? We are at the peak of scientific knowledge, but too much of the world lives at a subsistence level, and there are numerous wars and conflicts. Millions of people are displaced and have neither homes nor prospects. Terrorists are preoccupied with jihad. Even in the so-called advanced countries stupidity reigns. Many people cling to discredited dogmas and reject scientific findings. I find it quite annoying that many people enjoy the benefits of medicine and technology that result from science, yet reject the scientific basis on which these benefits depend. Worse yet, these individuals’ beliefs risk further advancements in science, technology, and medicine. Moreover, they prevent or hinder responding to problems with a strong scientific basis that need to be addressed. There is a member of the U.S. Congress who believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and enforces his beliefs in his legislative actions. What is even more depressing is that citizens of a presumably advanced country elected such a man to office.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson proposed that Congress double funds for medical science, but to cut the entire social and behavioral sciences budget of the National Science Foundation. Although she is to be applauded for doubling funds for medical science, it is regrettable that she fails to see the relevance of the social sciences. One can well argue that most of our problems need to be addressed by the social and behavioral sciences, (To read more on this topic, enter “STEM’ into the search block of the healthymemory blog).
Debates in the United States center on whether someone is for or against Big Government. This is a meaningless question and a meaningless topic for debate. What is Big Government? Perhaps it could be defined in terms of the percentage of the GNP spent by the government, but that would still be a pointless basis for debate. The debate should be on what services should be provided by government and which by the private sector. Moreover, this debate should not be on the basis of what people believe, but on the basis of reasoning and evidence. Public policy should be evidence-based. Sometimes the evidence is there for the asking, but often experiments need to be done. When this happens, there is some evidence of intelligence. Unsupported beliefs indicate stupidity. To put this in Kahnman’s terms, we need System 2 processes, not System 1 processes (if this is not understood, enter “Kahneman” into the search block of the healthymemory blog.).
Too often a false dichotomy is made between science and religion; that you follow one or the other. Science and religion are not incompatible. First of all, it needs to be appreciated that science and religion are alternative, not competitive, means of knowing. The Dali Lama is a strong proponent of this point of view and also a strong believer in science. Next, a distinction needs to be made between religions and God. Religions are constituted of and by human beings, and religious promulgations and texts are from men. It is up to us individuals to decide whether they are the word of God. A belief in God should begin with an appreciation of our brains. If you believe in God, then the brain is a gift that came through evolution, and we need to make the most of this gift. This brain is the vehicle by which we work to understand the world. Science is a rigorous means of gaining this understanding. It is clear that this understanding comes gradually.
For a long time, the advancement of human knowledge proceeded at a glacial pace. I would argue that true scientific advancement began with Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and their use of the scientific method. Copernicus formulated the heliocentric theory of our solar system with the earth at its center. Galileo’s research putt him at odds with the Roman Catholic Church who saw his research as an assault on the Church’s monopoly on truth. They placed him on trial. Fortunately, others followed in their footsteps. As more engaged in these pursuits, knowledge advanced at an increasingly rapid rate. One of the ironic features of this advancement of scientific knowledge is that we have become more aware of what we don’t know. Dark matter is just one of these areas.
Unfortunately religious dogmas have had a depressing effect on the advancement of knowledge. This should never be allowed. What we learn through science, which is, or should be, the antithesis of dogma. Scientific knowledge is always subject to change subject to new information and new theories. Although we can never be certain, scientific knowledge provides us the best available information regarding what to believe and how to act. Science requires heavy use of System 2 processes, thinking. Dogmas allow us to rely on System 1 processes so we don’t have to think.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com 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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