Posts Tagged ‘Wikipedia’

Anthropic Principle vs. Creationism vs. Intelligent Design

September 29, 2019

The anthropic principle is a philosophical consideration that observations of the universe must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes the universe. The physical conditions that enabled the creation of the universe are very precise. Absent these conditions there would be no universe for humans to observe much less live in.

The strong anthropic principle (SAP) states that this is the case because the universe is in some sense compelled to eventually have conscious and sapient life emerge within it.

The weak anthropic principle (WAP) states that the universe’s fine tuning is the result of selection bias (survivor bias) in that only in a universe capable of eventually supporting life will there be living beings capable of observing and reflecting on the matter. Most often these arguments draw upon some notion of the multiverse for there to be a statistical population of universes to select from and from which selection (our observation of only this universe, compatible with our life) could occur.

Understand that what is being presented in this post is an enormous simplification of this issue. If interested, go to the Wikipedia and proceed from there.

However, it is hoped that enough has been written to compare the strong anthropic principle (SAP) with creationism and intelligent design.

It seems that creationists could adopt the SAP arguing that God is necessary for these conditions to occur, hence God is the creator of the universe. Although it is unlikely that most physicists would agree with this argument, creationists might argue that the law of parsimony (the simplest explanation is the best) argues for the SAP.

However, proponents of intelligent design could not employ this argument. Previous healthy memory blog posts have pointed to the flaw in intelligent design. Although one can find specific examples of intelligent design within nature, there are many more examples of failed species who died out and did not survive. So to argue for intelligent design one needs to accept a flawed entity or one who needs to learn by doing.

It would be good to teach the two anthropic principles along with creationism and intelligent design. The goal would not be to force students regarding what to believe, but rather to provide information on how science proceeds.

Unfortunately, there are many times when religions make war upon science. This is unfortunate. A religious leader who has an enlightened view of science is the Dalai Lama. He uses science to inform his religion. He sends his priests to seminars and schools to become well versed in science.

The problem with wars between science and religion is that science ultimately wins. The reason for this is that science changes as data and logic indicate. Unfortunately, dogmatic religions ultimately lose and humanity and civilization suffer.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. 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.


May 16, 2019

This is another post using “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground” by John Markoff as a point of departure. Perhaps the logical result of combining Artificial Intelligence (AI) with Intelligent Augmentation (IA) is a singularity, the combining of the two. Kurzweil has written a book “How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.” HM would like to see a review of this book by a psychologist. As a psychologist he thinks we have much more to learn before we can even consider to attempt building a mind. Yet apparently Kurzweil, an engineer, is convinced that he can. Moreover, he thinks he can upload his brain/mind into this machine. The following is taken from the Wikipedia:

• The Singularity is an extremely disruptive, world-altering event that forever changes the course of human history. The extermination of humanity by violent machines is unlikely (though not impossible) because sharp distinctions between man and machine will no longer exist thanks to the existence of cybernetically enhanced humans and uploaded humans.

Kurzweil is taking means (diets, drugs, etc.) to assure that he shall be able to upload himself into the machine and achieve eternal life.

Presumably, his intention is to upload his brain into the machine. What he forgets is that he is a biological organism. His memory is biologically based on chemical changes that take time to implement. In other words, his mind uploaded to a computer would be nothing but buzzing noise. Consider how fast a computer printout occurs. Then consider how long it takes not just to read, but to assimilate the meaning of the information. Consider the paltry few seconds it takes to download a book to an iPad. Then consider not just how long it takes to read the book, but to assimilate the material in the book and related it to old knowledge and to update current knowledge.

Kurzweil presents the best case for a liberal education, one that includes courses in psychology, biology, and neurochemistry.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. 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.

Douglas Engelbart

May 14, 2019

This post was motivated by an excellent book by John Markoff titled “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground.” The Wikipedia credits Doug Engelbart with creating the field of human-computer interaction. Doug ran the Augmentation Research Lab at SRI International. He also created the computer mouse, the development of hypertext, networked computers, and precursors to graphical user interfaces. NLS, the oN-Line system developed by the Augmentation Research Center under Engelbart’s guidance with funding primarily from DARPA, demonstrated numerous technologies, most of which are now in widespread use; it included the computer mouse, bitmapped screens, and hypertext. Engelbart is credited with a law, appropriately named after him, that the intrinsic rate of human performance is exponential.

The following is taken from the Wikipedia article on Doug, “He reasoned that because the complexity of the world’s problems was increasing, and because any effort to improve the world would require the coordination of groups of people, the most effective way to solve problems was to augment human intelligence and develop ways of building collective intelligence.[6] He believed that the computer, which was at the time thought of only as a tool for automation, would be an essential tool for future knowledge workers to solve such problems. He was a committed, vocal proponent of the development and use of computers and computer networks to help cope with the world’s increasingly urgent and complex problems. Engelbart embedded a set of organizing principles in his lab, which he termed “bootstrapping”. His belief was that when human systems and tool systems were aligned, such that workers spent time “improving their tools for improving their tools” it would lead to an accelerating rate of progress.”

Returning to Markoff’s book, Doug stumbled across an article by Vannevar Bush, who proposed a microfiche-based information retrieval system called Memex to manage all the world’s knowledge. Later Doug deduced that such a system could be assembled based on the then newly available computers. He concluded that the time was right to build an interactive system to capture knowledge and organize information in a way that would now be possible for a small group of people to create and collaborate more effectively. So he was thinking of the world-wide web. It took time and resources and source code from Tim Berners-Lee to see the full scale implementation.

According to the Wikipedia article he retired in 1988 because of a lack of interest in his ideas and the funding to pursue them. One wonders what he could had achieved if others had understood his ideas and provided funding to support him.

Donald Trump and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

January 11, 2019

There have been fourteen prior healthy memory blog posts on the Dunning-Kruger effect. Angela Fritz in the 8 Jan 2019 issued of the Washington Post wrote a timely article titled “Psychological phenomenon helps explain the confidence of the incompetent.” The subtitle is “Dunning-Kruger effect drawing a surge of interest during the Trump years.” She writes, “In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing when you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Dunning and Kruger quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning, and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought the did. Specifically, participants were asked how many other quiz-takers they beat. Even though the results confirmed their hypothesis, the researchers were still shocked by the results. No matter, the subject, people who did poorly on the test ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts. These results have been replicated in at least a dozen different domains including: math skills, wine tasting, chess, medical knowledge among surgeons, and firearm safety among hunters.

The author notes that during the election and in the months after the presidential inauguration, interest in the Dunning-Kruger effect surged. Google searches for “dunning-kruger” peaked in May 2017, according to Google Trends, and has remained high. Time spent on the Dunning-Kruger Effect Wikipedia entry skyrocketed since late 2015.

The immediately preceding post, “A President Divorced from Reality” documents the enormous knowledge that Trump says he has to accompany his highest IQ. If anything, his delusional disorder only amplifies this effect.

Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan said, “Donald Trump has been overestimating his knowledge for decades. It’s not surprising that he would continue that pattern into the White House.”

Steven Sloman, a cognitive psychologist at Brown University said, Dunning-Kruger “offers an explanation for a kind of hubris. The fact is, that’s Trump in a nutshell. He’s a man with zero political skill who has no idea he has zero political skill. And it’s given him extreme confidence.”

Sloman thinks that Dunning-Kruger effect has become popular outside of the research world because it is a simple phenomenon that could apply to all of us, as people are desperate to understand what’s going on in the world. Many people “cannot wrap their minds around the rise of Trump,” Sloman said. “He’s exactly the opposite of everything we value in a politician, and he’s the exact opposite of what we thought Americans valued.” It’s clear that this view was not reflective of what too many Americans actually thought.

Additional research by Dunning shows the poorest performers are also the least likely to accept criticism or show interest in self improvement.

Some might argue, what then about Trump’s success as a businessman and celebrity. His celebrity was based on the false belief that Trump was a successful businessman. The truth is that Trump is a failed businessman, who has declared bankruptcy numerous times. According to Donald Trump Jr., his father’s financing comes from the Russians. The Russians have recruited him and are using him for their purposes.

According to Dunning, the effect is particularly dangerous when someone with influence or the means to do harm doesn’t have anyone who can speak honestly about their mistakes. He notes several plane crashes that could have been avoided if the crew had spoken up to an overconfident pilot.

Dunning explained, “You get into a situation where people can be to deferential to the people in charge. You have to have people around you that are willing to tell you you’re willing to make an error.”

HM is more upset about Trump supporters than by Trump himself. Eventually the country should be rid of Trump, but his supporters will remain. How to explain them? Perhaps the Dunning-Kruger effect can be extended to them. These people eschew expertise ascribing expertise to the deep state. And they are highly confident in their contempt for expertise.

HM’s fear is that there is a stupidity pandemic that can be understood by the Dunning-Kruger effect. Research needs to be done on how to overcome this pandemic.

The Powerful Influence of Information Friction

June 29, 2018

This is the fourth post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” Dr. Roberts related that in May 2011 she had been following news about a local protest in Inner Mongolia in which an ethnic Mongol herdsmen had been killed by a Han Chinese truck driver. In the following days increasingly large numbers of local Mongols began protesting outside of government buildings, culminating in sufficiently large-scale protests that the Chinese government imposed martial law. These were the largest protests that Inner Mongolia had experienced in twenty years. A few months later Dr. Roberts arrived in Beijing for summer. During discussions with a friend she brought up the Inner Mongolia protest. Her friend could not recollect the event, saying that she had not heard of it. A few minutes later, she remembered that a friend of hers had mentioned something about it. but when she looked for information online, she could not find any, so she assumed that the protest itself could not have been that important.

This is what happened. Bloggers who posted information about the protest online had their posts quickly removed from the Internet by censors. As local media were not reporting on the event, any news of the protest was reported mainly by foreign sources, many of which had been blocked by the Great Firewall. Even for the media, information was difficult to come by, as reporting on the protests on the ground had been banned, and the local Internet had been shut off by the government.

Dr. Roberts noted that information about the protest was not impossible to find on the Internet. She had been following news from Boston and even in China. The simple use of a Virtual Private Network and some knowledge of which keywords to search for had uncovered hundreds of news stories about the protests. But her friend, a well-to-do, politically interested, tech-savvy woman, was busy and Inner Mongolia is several hundred miles away. So after a cursory search that turned up nothing, she concluded that the news was either unimportant or non-existent.

Another of her friends was very interested in politics and followed political events closely. She was involved in multiple organizations that advocated for genuine equality and was an opinionated feminist. Because of her feminist activist, Dr. Roberts asked her whether she had heard of the five female activists who had been arrested earlier that year in China, including in Beijing, for their involvement in organizing a series of events meant to combat sexual harassment. The arrests of these five women had been covered extensively in the foreign press and had drawn an international outcry. Articles about the activists had appeared in the New York Times and on the BBC. Multiple foreign governments had called for their release. But posts about their detention were highly censored and the Chinese news media were prohibited from reporting on it. Her friend, who participated in multiple feminist social media groups, and had made an effort to read Western news, still had not heard about their imprisonment.

Dr. Roberts kept encountering examples like these, where people living in China exhibited surprising ignorance about Chinese domestic events that had made headlines in the international press. They had not heard that the imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiao had won the Nobel Peace Prize. They had not heard about major labor protests that had shut down factories or bombings of local government offices. Despite the possibility of of accessing this information without newspapers, television, and social media blaring these headlines, they were much less likely to come across these stories.

Content filtering is one of the Chinese censorship methods. This involves the selective removal of social media posts in China that are written on the platforms of Chinese owned internet service providers. The government does not target criticism of government policies, but instead removes all posts related to collective action events, activists, criticism of censorship, and pornography. Censorship focuses on social media posts that are geo-located in more restive areas, like Tibet. The primary goal of government censorship seems to be to stop information flow from protest areas to other areas of China. Since large-scale protest is known to be one of the main threats to the Chinese regime, the Chinese censorship program is preventing the spread of information about protests in order to reduce their scale.

Despite extensive content filtering, if users were motivated and willing to invest time in finding information about protests, they could overcome information friction to find such information. Information is often published online before it is removed by Internet Companies. There usually is a lag of several hours to a day before content is removed from the Internet.

Even with automated and manual methods of removing content, some content is missed. And if the event is reported in the foreign press, Internet users could access information by jumping the Great Firewall using a VPN.

The structural frictions of the Great Firewall are largely effective. Only the most dedicated “jump” the Great Firewall. Those who jump the Great Firewall are younger and have more education and resources. VPN users are more knowledgeable about politics and have less trust in government. Controlling for age, having a college degree means that a user is 10 percentage points more likely to jump the Great Firewall. Having money is another factor that increases the likelihood of jumping the Great Firewall. 25% of those who jump the Great Firewall say they can understand English, as compared with only 6% of all survey respondents. 12% of those who jump work for a for a foreign-based venture compared to only 2% of all survey respondents. 48% of the jumpers have been abroad compared with 17% of all respondents.

The government has cracked down on some notable websites. Google began having conflicts with the Chinese government in 2010. Finally, in June 2014, the Chinese government blocked Google outright.

The Wikipedia was first blocked in 2004. Particular protests have long been blocked . but the entire Wikipedia website has occasionally been made unaccessible to Chinese IP addresses.

Instagram was blocked on September 29, 2014 from mainland Chinese IP addresses due to increase popularity among Hong Kong protestors.

TOADS versus Scientists and Responsible Citizens

May 8, 2017

If you do not know who the TOADS are, please read the immediately preceding post (the one immediately below this one).  The motivation that these TOADS have for scientists providing data and analyses on global warming, is that the scientists are doing this so that they receive grants and contracts for further research.  This claim is absurd, as if there was big money to be made doing research in this area.  No the big money is made by the CEOs and their folks who are responsible for global warming.  That’s where the big money is.  True, there are scientists for hire who will argue against global warming for cash.  The first documented activity like this was the Tobacco’s industry’s efforts to deny the research that smoking increased the risk of getting lung cancer. This activity is discussed in the blog “Did Corporate PR initiate the Post Fact Era?”

HM has the deepest contempt for these TOADS.  They are complete hedonists, not eudaemonists.  They are consumed by material things and physical pleasures.  As they are biologically constrained as to the number of physical pleasures they can enjoy, they keep score with their cash and material things that are purchased and developed for prestige.  Numbers are important to them.  They are materialists and too hell with the quality of life.   Their attitude is too hell with people who need money for the quality of their lives and their ability to provide education for their children so that their children can live well.

HM also feels sorry for these individuals.  They are stunted.  They have no appreciation for science.  Pure hedonism stunts growth.  However, scientists and responsible citizens are eudaemonists who are interested in the quality of life, intellectual pursuits such as science and the arts, and are concerned about their fellow citizens who are not so well off.

So what should people do?  They need to educate themselves as a part of a growth mindset.  Watch television programs on science.  Consult the Wikipedia on scientific topics.  The Wikipedia is also a good source for learning about scientific controversies.  Healthy memory blog readers should be aware of the frequent references to the New Scientist.  The New Scientist is a superb source of science information for the general public.  The New Scientist is a British product.  The Scientific American is a fine publication along with Scientific American Mind.  Scientific American Mind is discontinuing its print publication, but if you have not be won over by electronic publications, try them  You’ll learn just as much with much less clutter. Actually there are too many publications to list.  And to online searches for questions of interest.

There is a previous post “Science Should Inform Democracy, which is on a topic that is extremely important.  TOADS abuse science and put democracy at risk.  They are putting the United States and the world at risk.  Use available means, email, conventional letters, and phone messages, to disabuse them of their comments.  This is especially important for TOADS who are your Senators or in your congressional district.  And do not neglect the leader of the TOADS in the United States, its current president.

This post has barely scratched the surface of Dave Levitan’s “NOT A SCIENTIST:  How Politicians, Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science.”  To provide you with a feeling for the variety and complexity of techniques used by TOADS here are the chapter titles.

The Oversimplification
The Cherry-Pick
The Butter-Up and Undercut
The Demonizer
The Blame the Blogger
The Ridicule and Dismiss
The Literal Nitpick
The Credit Snatch
The Certain Uncertainty
The Blind Eye to Follow-Up
The Lost in Translation
The Straight-Up Fabrication

HM has taken it as his responsibility to inform you about the TOADS, the danger they present not only to the country, but to the entire world, and means of combatting their disinformation.  He hopes he has succeeded in his mission.

© 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.

Engage with the World

October 16, 2013

Engage with the world is the seventh principle of contemplative computing.1 Engage with the World complements very nicely the fifth principle of contemplative computing, Extend Your Abilities. They both involve transactive memory. Whereas Extend You Abilities focused on using the memory resident in technology to enhance your cognitive growth, Engage with the World, focuses on engaging with you fellow humans to enhance your cognitive growth. Remember that transactive memory includes both memories resident in technology (both electronic and conventional such as books and journals), and in your fellow human beings. Engaging with the world implies both that we will receive knowledge from our fellow humans, but that we shall also contribute knowledge to the store of human knowledge. Do not underestimate yourself. You have knowledge to contribute. If not, acquire additional knowledge so that you can add your own unique contributions. These contributions might be additions/corrections you make to Wikipedia, or contributions you make through your own blog. It might even be information you pass on to individual humans. Remember that social interaction is a key component of a healthy memory.

When engaging, please keep the following in mind.” Engaging with the social world isn’t just interacting, it’s about putting people rather than technology at the center of your attention. For some, this involves applying Christian or Buddhist precepts to their virtual interactions and using media in ways that let them be spiritual presences, not just social ones, and see the spark of divinity in everyone”.2

The first six principles of contemplative computing have been discussed in the immediately preceding healthymemory blog posts. The next blog post will discuss the final principle of contemplative computing.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction.

2Ibid p. 225.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. 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.

An Early 4th of July Post

June 30, 2013

In the United States the 4th of July is a holiday celebrating its Declaration of Independence. This holiday is certainly warranted, and I am quite pleased with what this declaration started. Unfortunately, the holiday is spoiled for me by those who use it to declare that the United States is the greatest country in the world. First of all, there are facts that would put this claim in dispute. For example, although the United States has, by far, the most expensive medical costs in the world, its health statistics are mediocre or worse. The way the system works is that Americans either receive inadequate medical care, or too much in medical care in the way of over-medication and unnecessary surgery. For a free country, the United States has the highest incarceration rate according to the Wikipedia (716 per 100,000 population). It is possible that this claim is unwarranted as there are no statistics for North Korea.

However, even if the United States were the best country in the world, we Americans should not be overcome with hubris and think of ourselves as living in the best country in the world. Remember, or revisit, the healthymemory blog post “Self-Affirmation Rather than Self-Esteem.” In the 1980s there was a big push in psychology regarding the benefits of self-esteem. Unfortunately, programs boosting self-esteem were found wanting. It has been found that it is self-affirmation rather than self-esteem that is beneficial. Here is the distinction. Self-affirmation means that you have confidence that you can accomplish what needs to be done, that you can improve yourself. You are not afraid of failure, and should you fail you know you can succeed as long as you persist in your efforts. However, if you have high self-esteem, you will likely not perceive the need to improve yourself. Moreover, should you fail, that damages your self-esteem

What pertains to individuals also pertains to countries. Countries that think they are the best or great, are likely not to see the need to improve. Consequently, they will neither improve, nor address their problems. Rather, they are likely to embrace outdated ideologies. However, countries who see a need to improve, even should they already be the best, will pursue efforts to change and grow. In today’s dynamic world, the need to change and grow is more imperative than ever.

When people say they are proud to be an American, I wonder if they remember that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” Proverbs 16:18.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. 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.

Can Pigeons Learn Faster the Humans?

October 21, 2012

Would you believe that the answer is “yes.” And would you further believe that the learning involves conditional probabilities? The problem is the famed “Monty Hall Dilemma” from the old TV show Let’s Make a Deal. On one segment of the show the contestant was asked to make a choice regarding three doors. There was a valuable prize behind one door and trash prizes behind the other two doors. After the contestant chose one of the doors, Monty Hall would open one of the other two doors, which would have a trash prize behind it. Monty then asks the contestant whether she wants to switch her choice to the other remaining door. Most people, including some prominent statisticians, saw no point to switching the choice. However, the contestant would increase her chances of winning something valuable to 67% from 33% by switching. This result is non-intuitive. The simple explanation is that the sample space changed with the opening of one of the doors. Very detailed explanations can be fond on the Wikipedia or you can play the game itself at

and prove that the answer is correct. Be sure to play the game enough times to acquire a large enough sample. Concluding on the basis of your first few tries could lead to an erroneous conclusion.

But our question is whether pigeons could do better the humans. Probably not on Let’s Make a Deal, as the typical pigeon just as the typical human is unlikely to know the problem or to be especially knowledgeable about conditional probabilities. But how would humans and pigeons compare after playing a game like the simulation provided above?

An experiment1 addressed this question. Here’s how this experiment was run for the pigeons. Prior to each trial the prize, a grain pellet, was randomly assigned to each of three keys. The keys were illuminated and the pigeon pecked a key locking in the choice. Following a brief delay, the two remaining keys were again illuminated again and a second peck produced a prize, the grain, or a time-out. Pigeons completed up to 100 trials per day over 30 days. Human participants completed 200 trials using a computer display and were presented with visual feedback. Pigeons began with a tendency to stay, but eventually settled on a strategy to switch on virtually all trials. Human participants quickly developed a tendency to switch on about two-thirds of the trials. That is, they tried to probability match rather than moving to the optimal strategy of always switching. If you do not believe that this is the optimal strategy, then go back to the simulation and test your hypothesis, remembering to run a large number of trials.

So how could this be? Could pigeons be smarter than humans (see the Healthymemory Blog post, “Consciousness in Both Human and Non-Human Animals”)? Or could it be that humans are being too smart for their own good in this case? Remember the distinction between System 1 and System 2 Processes (See the healthymemory blog post, “The Two System View of Cognition”). System 1 consists of well learned processes that run virtually automatically. System 2 is close to our conscious processing and is what we commonly experienced as thinking. It is possible that we over think the problem to our disadvantage. It would have been interesting to continue humans in the experiment to see when, if ever, they learned the optimal strategy of not switching. The pigeons, in spite of their conscious capacity, might have learned the optimal strategy via very basic learning processes. Be assured this is all conjecture, done in fun. But the empirical results are real.

1Hebranson, W.T. (2012). Pigeons, Humans and the Monty Hall Dilemma. Current Directions in Psychological Science 2012 21:297 DOI: 10.1177/0963721412453585.

© 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.

Has the Internet Really Made the Assessment of the Reliability of Information More Difficult?

June 24, 2012

This is a common complaint. Its justification seems simple enough. Anyone can place anything on the web. Prior to the web, some sort of vetting was involved before something went into print. The following is a quote from Ernest Hemingway cited in 1965: “Every man should have a built-in crap detector operating inside him.” Now this statement was made before the internet and Ernest Hemingway never experienced the internet. Unreliable or blatantly wrong information is nothing new. We’ve always had it with us. Perhaps one of the good effects of the internet is that it has sensitized us to be wary of the accuracy or reliability of information. Although it is true that the internet allows the communication of bad information to spread much faster, we also have more tools at our disposal to check the accuracy of information. For outright hoaxes there is

Rumors can usually be quickly checked out at The people sponsoring or running a website can usually be found by going to

Usually the first step in looking for information about a topic is to go to

As this is a wiki, users can change information that they think is wrong. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that is vetted by its users. Moreover, it provides references to other sources, so people can bootstrap themselves regarding any topic. One should become aware of controversies and differing points of view. One source leads to another source and additional searches. The problem is that there is a cost in terms of time and attentional resources. How much time and attention one spends on a topic is a matter of individual choice. There is always more than can be learned and more that can be understood. Indeed, one can be easily exhausted just keeping up with new information.

One needs to estimate how well different topics are understood. One can be expert in very few, but have a glancing familiarity with many. This self-assessment can be difficult. My personal experience is that the longer I have lived, and hopefully learned, the more I am aware of my own ignorance. I felt much smarter when I graduated from high school than after I earned my Ph.D. Now after several more decades of learning and experience I am painfully aware of how little I knew when I first earned my Ph.D. compared to how much I know now. Yet, now I am even more painfully aware of how much I still don’t know. One of my favorite lines is from the play Da by Hugh Leonard. In a conversation between two academics, the elder responds to the statement by the younger that he is certain about his statement by saying something along the lines of, “after all my years of study and learning the only thing of which I am certain is that the incoming traffic in a public rest room always has the right of way.” So I am certain of nothing and try to weight my confidence in what I know in terms of my subjective probability of it being accurate. My personal interests and my assessment of the importance of the topic bear on how much more attention I will devote to the topic. Even if information is, as best as can be ascertained, correct at the moment, it could always change.

© 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.

Google vs. Facebook

January 19, 2011

I found the news that Facebook had surpassed Google in usage quite depressing, particularly with respect to considerations regarding cognitive growth and development. Of course, it seems that everyone, myself included, is on Facebook. Included here are professional organizations and businesses. So the news should not be surprising; so why then do I find it depressing?
Let us compare and contrast the reasons for using Google against the reasons for using facebook. Someone who uses Google is usually trying to learn something. This might simply be information on a restaurant, or a movie, or a stock investment. Or someone might be looking for the definition of a word or trying to understanding a topic. Someone who is really interested in a topic might be using Google Scholar. Or someone might be trying to remember what the name of something is by searching for other things that remind you of the thing. It seems to me that these activities lead to cognitive growth, of course, some to deeper levels than others. And you can use Google to find people and build social relationships.

Perhaps it is this last activity where Facebook excels over Google. It is true hat one can build and renew social relationships, but it seems that most “friending” is done at a superficial level. Some people “friend” just to boast of the number of friends they have. I continually receive “friend” requests from people I don’t know and can find no reason for wanting to know. With the exception of genuine social relationships, I see little on Facebook that would foster cognitive growth or a healthy memory. When I review most of the postings on Facebook, I do not think that it would be any great loss if they were lost forever. Now the loss of a truly great search engine like Google would be catastrophic.

Of course, Myspace was once a top website that has declined seriously in popularity. I just looked at the top websites as of January 5, 2011 and saw that Google was back on top. Now was in 7th place. Wikipedia should be one of the premier websites for cognitive growth.

I would like to hear your opinions on this topic. Please submit your comments.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. 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.