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bycustin
2003-May-13, 08:24 PM
What is it in people that cause them to believe nutty things, like:

- Planet X
- Faked moon landings
- General Conspirisy Theories
- They are God, or speak only for God!!
- We all come from aliens

I have come across these nut cases so many times. I am in Winnipeg, Canada and when I visited my friends as the U of W (an arts school) - These freaks were everywhere. They honestly believe they are right.

I have nothing against religion - it is the nut bars I have to wonder about!!!

Any ideas, what makes these people so stupid, untrusting, and disbelieving in real science!!! I mean I convinced a guy that the hover boards from Back to the Future were real - they just were not safe so the Toy makers did not want to be liable!!

Why the insanity!!!!

Glom
2003-May-13, 08:33 PM
Ignorance for starters. When people start selling their part of the Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory the ignorance of the punters prevents them from being able to see snake oil for what it is.

A desire to believe. Let's not forget what Garak said in 'Improbable Cause' [DS9], "The truth is usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination." I love that line. Sometimes the Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory offers a more interesting version of life than people's lives at face value.

beskeptical
2003-May-13, 09:43 PM
There are volumes of research on this topic. Michael Shermer of Skeptical Inquirer has written a couple of books. And, there are many more. Check the library or Amazon or Barnes and Noble sites.

There is more than one way to approach the subject and break it down. One way would be to look at the history of people's beliefs, the cultural aspects, the educational aspects, etc.

Another approach might be to look at motivations. I find this particularly interesting as you have to wonder what secondary gain folks are getting when they stick to some very against the mainstream idea.

Sometimes it will be a scientist, for example, one who refuses to accept overwhelming evidence and, instead, supports some idea with little or faulty evidence. Other times it is a cult like leader that has gained a following with some bizzare idea like planet X.

And, once in a great while, it is a researcher who is correct and has found some new evidence that others are slow to embrace. In the end, the evidence will prevail.

DStahl
2003-May-13, 10:10 PM
I'd have to say that there is a desperate desire to validate their personal beliefs using whatever evidence they can lay their hands on, however illogical and ill-founded that evidence is.

It's a trap I also fall into more often than I wish: I believe something is true, I believe the universe operates in a certain way, and then I credit evidence which supports my view and ignore evidence which contradicts it. I try to turn the tables on this tendency when I can--to look at all the evidence first, and then see if I can figure out how the universe most likely operates given the evidence at hand. But it takes a certain level of self-awareness which I only intermittantly manage.

I think many people believe first, and then look for evidence which supports their belief, and what makes it much worse is that there are hordes of demogogues, ideologues, and low profiteers who sieze on viewpoints which are psychologically attractive--conspiracy theories, political jingoism, religious dogma, new-age bibble-babble, predestiny, hidden mental powers--the list is nearly endless and you know it as well as I--and sell product to those attracted to the viewpoint. People like Stephen Greer, who promotes UFO fruitcakery, make it their full-time job to attract and exploit believers, feeding the belief with whatever evidence they can find or, in Greer's case, make up from whole cloth. They make money from exploiting their niche in the loony ecosystem, and some make a good living at it.

Michael "Savage" Weiner does the same thing for political believers; Gary North and countless others for fundamentalist Christians; Graham Hancock and Zecharia Sitchin for ancient-civilization fanatics; and so forth ad nauseum. Of course many of these promoters are themselves True Believers, buying into their own nonsense even as they exploit their fellow believers. Blimey, it makes me puke.

And...of course the above diatribe is my own not-necessarily rational belief system! Irony abounds.

dgruss23
2003-May-13, 11:22 PM
Just a few possible reasons off the top of my head:

1. They just don't know the correct science so they are swayed by the false arguments.
2. They just want to believe it and any other conspiracy that comes along. Probably a multitude of reasons why they just "want" to.
3. They don't really believe it, but they have a lot to gain by pretending they do.
4. They really believe that they have some knowledge that very few can see, but they are so tied up in the idea they refuse to see the evidence against it.
5. Didn't eat their Wheaties growing up.
6. Did eat their Wheaties growing up but get way too much fiber in their diet.

Guess I'll hit submit on this one ... not sure it adds much to the discussion. :o

beskeptical
2003-May-14, 08:34 AM
Don't forget brain function has a lot to do with it as well. Our brains organize thought in interesting ways.

Everything going in gets categorized. For example you can recognize a dog even if you haven't seen that particular breed. But if you had never learned there were such things as bears, you'd be likely to think a bear was a dog at first. Anyway this is a very simplistic example but the way our brain interprets the info it receives has a big impact on what we think we received. I hope that make sense.

Pinemarten
2003-May-14, 10:52 AM
But then there is the main reason.
Life is not Hollywood, Disneyland, or what your parents and teachers told you.
It is life.
Many people realize the world is all too real; and therefore look for escape.

DJ
2003-May-14, 01:30 PM
this is one of the easiest-to-answer questions on the BABB lately.

namely, people want to believe in these theories because otherwise they would have to acknowledge the fact that the world, as it appears today, is a complete 100% byproduct of human intervention, and that anything that happens from this moment forward is also 100% byproduct of human intervention.

if we could blame aliens, god, or even democrats for everything, then we feel much better about the human condition.

or, if we could think that aliens, god, or even democrats might come to rule the world tomorrow, then maybe we could scare that 100% of the population into giving a damn about something other than themselves.

DJ

russ_watters
2003-May-14, 03:52 PM
Gullibility.

darkhunter
2003-May-14, 06:53 PM
The first answer they get is THE ANSWER wether right or wrong. It takes more time and effort to get the bad ideas out than it took to get them in in the first place--even if they are "obviously' way off track.

Couple of times it took quite a bit of explaining of the right answer to get a one-line joke answer out of someones head.....

OscartheGrouch
2003-May-15, 02:05 AM
About the idea that life on Earth is really of alien origin, there are some pretty rational personnel who think this, although it's more along the lines of microbes arriving on comets instead of almond-eyed skinny anthropomorphs in flying saucers. If it could be shown (and it hasn't yet), based on a thorough evaluation using accepted methods of geology, paleontology, biology, biochemistry, and astronomy, that conditions on Earth could not possibly have allowed life to have started and evolved by natural processes, we would then be left with either some other being (not necessarily a deity, but someone/thing pretty clever by human standards) or civilization as the source of life, or that life already existed somewhere else and migrated here. Of course, that only begs the question: what's the deal with THOSE critters? Science might could answer it, and might could not.

About the other ones, mostly it's because humans are just not always rational and never will be. I'm only rational when it suits my immediate purposes. Other people's foolishness, of course, is totally unacceptable, and something must be done. Instead of futilely (yes, that's a word) trying to stamp out deep-seated erroneous beliefs altogether, I suggest "baloney management" wherein you fiercely attack the most egregiously harmful nonsense, kind of pick at non-harmful egregious nonsense, and leave the rest alone as not worth the bother.

I also suggest that it is fitting to be a bit skeptical of one's own skepticism at times. Occam's Razor is not God; Karl Popper isn't either; and extraordinary claims require only ordinary evidence if it is relevant and of sufficient quantity and quality as to render contrary belief unreasonable.

Or so we say on the hog farm ...

dgruss23
2003-May-15, 02:27 AM
Oscarthegrouch wrote: Instead of futilely (yes, that's a word) trying to stamp out deep-seated erroneous beliefs altogether, I suggest "baloney management" wherein you fiercely attack the most egregiously harmful nonsense, kind of pick at non-harmful egregious nonsense, and leave the rest alone as not worth the bother.

"baloney management" - I like that. I think most of the time most people here are pretty good about that.


I also suggest that it is fitting to be a bit skeptical of one's own skepticism at times. Occam's Razor is not God; Karl Popper isn't either; and extraordinary claims require only ordinary evidence if it is relevant and of sufficient quantity and quality as to render contrary belief unreasonable.

I'd be interested in examples where Occam's Razor is actually useful. Generally when you have different views you have scientific evidence that supports one theory over the other. So your criteria for choosing one option over the other is not the "simplest" explanation but rather the most well supported explanation. Isn't Occam superfluous in that case? Can anybody think of an example where Occam's razor is a necessary tool? The closest I can think of is our discussion about geocentrism and reference frames.

With regard to extraordinary evidence, we talked about that on the Burden or Proof threads. In my opinion this cliche misses the point. Has the alternate view presented enough of a case to be worthy of further study? That is what matters. So the evidence doesn't have to be extraordinary - it just has to be scientifically plausible with the potential for further testing? In fact in most cases the thing that makes the alternate (true scientific alternates) an "extraordinary" claim is that it doesn't fit cleanly into standard views.

freddo
2003-May-15, 09:39 AM
Pure and simple:

Initiated by escapism
Perpetuated by ignorance and stubborness.

honestmonkey
2003-May-15, 06:34 PM
A good book for learning about critical thinking is:

How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age
by Theodore, Jr. Schick, Lewis Vaughn

I very much enjoyed reading this book. Takes you through very logical steps in how to think about things, especially weird stuff. Recommended.

beskeptical
2003-May-15, 06:43 PM
I also suggest that it is fitting to be a bit skeptical of one's own skepticism at times. Occam's Razor is not God; Karl Popper isn't either; and extraordinary claims require only ordinary evidence if it is relevant and of sufficient quantity and quality as to render contrary belief unreasonable.


I'd be interested in examples where Occam's Razor is actually useful. ...... Can anybody think of an example where Occam's razor is a necessary tool?

With regard to extraordinary evidence, we talked about that on the Burden or Proof threads. In my opinion this cliche misses the point. .....

I think the extraordinary evidence quote became a mantra. It is meaningless, really. I think 'be skeptical' is adequate. :wink: If 'ordinary' evidence is good enough for one, it should be good enough for all. If extraordinary evidence is needed for one, it should be needed for all.

As far as the simpleist solution is usually the best, it is helpful to think that way but by no means does it substitute for evidence.

dgruss23
2003-May-15, 06:58 PM
beskeptical wrote: I think the extraordinary evidence quote became a mantra. It is meaningless, really. I think 'be skeptical' is adequate. icon_wink.gif If 'ordinary' evidence is good enough for one, it should be good enough for all. If extraordinary evidence is needed for one, it should be needed for all.

I agree that it is meaningless, but a researcher I occasionally correspond with told me that he recently had a paper rejected and that was the a statement made by the referee.

This is exactly why I think the criteria for fair consideration of an idea is enough evidence to make the idea scientifically plausible. What is extraordinary anyway? What is ordinary?

darkhunter
2003-May-15, 08:52 PM
I'd be interested in examples where Occam's Razor is actually useful. Generally when you have different views you have scientific evidence that supports one theory over the other. So your criteria for choosing one option over the other is not the "simplest" explanation but rather the most well supported explanation. Isn't Occam superfluous in that case? Can anybody think of an example where Occam's razor is a necessary tool? The closest I can think of is our discussion about geocentrism and reference frames.

Not [i]exactly[/] science: I am a mechanit. When a piece of equipment rolls in, instead of going nuts checking the really complicated causes for a problem, I use Occam's razor and check the "simplest possible eplanation" (pardon the sentence structure)--the quick and easy stuff first. Most of the time (with the equipment I work on) the problem i there. Only when that doesn't solve the problem do I start with detailed troubleshooting (which, by the way, works a lot like scientific method).

One of the unspoken things of Occams razor is having the experience/knowledge to recognize the simplest possible explanation...

Gsquare
2003-May-16, 04:31 AM
What is it in people that cause them to believe nutty things, ...


War? What war? There are no American infidels in Baghdad. They have all committed suicide.... -- Baghdad Bob



I have come across these nut cases so many times. I am in Winnipeg, Canada ..... - These freaks were everywhere.

Some places are more susceptible than others.




I mean I convinced a guy that the hover boards from Back to the Future were real - they just were not safe so the Toy makers did not want to be liable!!


Ahhaa! So you are the one who started the rumor! :evil:


Why the insanity!!!!


Insanity? What insanity? :lol:

russ_watters
2003-May-16, 01:28 PM
I think the extraordinary evidence quote became a mantra. It is meaningless, really. I think 'be skeptical' is adequate. :wink: If 'ordinary' evidence is good enough for one, it should be good enough for all. If extraordinary evidence is needed for one, it should be needed for all. The evidence would be extrordinary because of its CONTEXT (implication), not its content. Evolution could be disproved if we found a fossilized modern human that was a billion years old. A fossilized animal is a pretty ordinary piece of evidence. Its implication is what is extrordinary.

I doubt anyone would argue that if an ordinary piece of evidence were found which disproved a major scientific theory (evolution, relativity, etc.) it would be an extrordinary thing. Put another way, the evidence is extrordinary because of what it DOES, not because of what it IS.

Also, precision is important to the "strength" of evidence. If you can pin down a measurement to only the nearest 10%, thats not very precise. Lets say we have measured the speed of light to a precision of 99.999%. If someone comes along with a new method and measures it to be double the accepted value, that would suggest a flaw in Relativity. But if the precision of the measurement was only plus or minus 10%, most people would consider it a pretty thin challenge. Weak evidence (which by the way is why people object to radiocarbon dating re: evolution).

calliarcale
2003-May-16, 05:29 PM
namely, people want to believe in these theories because otherwise they would have to acknowledge the fact that the world, as it appears today, is a complete 100% byproduct of human intervention, and that anything that happens from this moment forward is also 100% byproduct of human intervention.

if we could blame aliens, god, or even democrats for everything, then we feel much better about the human condition.

Ah, but it isn't a 100% byproduct of human intervention. We do not have that kind of power. In "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" radio series, Douglas Adams postulated a device called the Total Reality Vortex. This device featured a fiendishly complex computer capable of extrapolating the entire universe from a piece of fairy cake. If a person is connected to the Vortex, it will add an impossibly tiny sign saying "You are here". It became used as a form of ultimate punishment, because everyone went mad after seeing the vastness of the universe and the essential pointlessness of their own existence alongside of it.

On the cosmic scale, we are far less than ants. Just look at the Pale Blue Dot picture taken by Voyager 1 to get an idea of how inconsequential we really are to the Universe. It's staggeringly humbling.

This is one of the main problems I have with environmentalists who say that we are "destroying" the Earth. We're not. We aren't capable of that. We may be rendering it unsuitable for our own existence, and probably doing serious harm to a lot of other organisms, but on the grand scale of things it probably won't make a whole lot of difference. The Earth will still look much the same as it did before, and life will go on without us. (Note: I think environmentalism is a very worthy cause, but it seems like hubris to say we are "saving" the Earth. We're not. We're just trying to keep it the way we like it.)

I think some people believe in stuff that is false or unverifiable simply because they want to regain some sense of control or at least of order. We like to have someone to blame when things go wrong. So people blamed the Black Death on sinners, and Richard Hoagland seeks a conspiracy behind the loss of Columbia. It affirms our sense of order. Perhaps it is no coincidence that when science really started to take off was when celestial mechanics became so popular. Science made the world seem amazingly ordered. You could precisely predict the movements of the wandering stars, which previously had been believed to be entirely random. And so people who might otherwise have scoffed at science started really liking it because it made sense out of the multitude of things around us.

And making sense of the world around us isn't just something humans like to do. It's something we are hard-wired to strive for. It's what enables us to learn how to walk, talk, eat, avoid danger, and do all the other things that we take for granted as an adult but which we weren't born knowing.

DStahl
2003-May-17, 02:18 AM
Some very good thoughts here. Two of them jump out at me: the idea that fantastical beliefs starts with escapism, and calliarcale's assertion that "...some people believe in stuff that is false or unverifiable simply because they want to regain some sense of control or at least of order."

The universe seems to be ruled by physical laws. How nice it would be if we could alter the laws of physics with a spell and some herbs! That's what The Matrix is all about, really--the fantasy that an individual can personally rewrite the code of the universe to do whatever he wants. That's the escapist part of unrealistic beliefs, I think: a will to believe that we can evade or bend the laws of the universe.

calliarcale's idea is in some ways the opposite! He (she?) says that some people believe fantastical things--like astrology--so that they can impose rules on a situation (their lives) they see as ruled by chance. No matter that these rules are imaginary, they are still comforting if you click your heels together and say "I believe!"

I suppose that the ways Neo in The Matrix can rewrite the code of the universe is governed by certain global laws, just as traditional magic has recipes and spells necessary for achieving the supernatural. So really the two ideas--escape from physical law and imposition of an imaginary set of laws--are sibling ideas. They're both plausible. I like it.

OscartheGrouch
2003-May-18, 06:06 AM
I'd be interested in examples where Occam's Razor is actually useful. ... Can anybody think of an example where Occam's razor is a necessary tool?

Oc[kh]cam's Razor is what we used to call the "principle of modesty" in philosophy class. I first saw it explained really well at http://www.skepdic.com/occam.html There's a similar theological rule known as "economy of miracles." It hadn't occurred to me to question its usefulness, but you know, upon reading this frontal assault upon a sacred cow, I think you have a point.

It seems to me that when deciding among several possible natural explanations of a phenomenon, Occam's Razor may be helpful, but not always correct. In philosophy class, the example was that the seat of the chair is visible because in fact nothing is in it, not that there's an invisible cat in it. Both are conceivable, but the former is more likely, since cats are not generally invisible (although they tend to vanish on the morning they're supposed to go to the vet).

However, since I read a fair amount of skeptic vs. believer material, I encounter it mostly as a sort of magic incantation that instantly wins any argument. "... and since it is plain that the natural explanation is simpler, it is therefore preferable, and we should apply Occam's Razor. God does not exist, q.e.d." Or, "Plainly, this biological structure is too complex to have arisen by evolution and natural selection. It is much simpler and more likely that God did it in ways we just don't understand."

How about a cage match where a young-earth creationist takes the first eleven chapters of Genesis and repeatedly swats a skeptic with them, who slashes back with Occam's Razor. Then, The Rock beats them both senseless with a folding chair.

The "extraordinary evidence" bromide has been attributed to Carl the Great. It's interesting to set this against the WMAP results, which determined the age, flatness, and fate of the universe by looking at plain old microwaves. Sure, a lot of mental horsepower was necessary to figure out what the microwaves meant, but this form of energy is so unextraordinary that I can use it to reheat Hamburger Helper, or even do my own astrophysics experiments by creating a potatonova and analyzing X-ray emissions from the remnant. Maybe it's dependent on what you mean by extraordinary.

beskeptical
2003-May-18, 09:54 AM
Here's that ol' language problem again. The simplest of competing theories are preferred to more complex theories and known phenomonon are to be considered before unknown phenomonon.

That doesn't mean the simplest theory is automatically accepted if there are two competing theories. One still has to seek out the evidence.

Some folks hypothesize life began on Mars, (or wherever), and reached Earth as whole organisms. Others hypothesize that life may be transferable to other planetary bodies but it most likely evolved here de novo. The evidence now supports that it started here. It also supports that it is transferrable as whole organisms. It hasn't been ruled out that it started elsewhere and was transferred here.

Occam's razor doesn't contribute evidence to the above hypotheses. It contributes logic.

As to which is a simpler explanation in the above case, one could probably have a difference of opinion. So Occam's razor is even more questionable.

On the other hand, if you started adding scenarios like aliens came to Earth and planted seeds, it wouldn't be very logical. Evidence for evolution has become clear now through genetic research. So the alien seed hypothesis can be ruled out. But before we had that evidence, it remained possible that aliens planted seeds, but it wasn't likely. Occam's razor has prevailed. But it did not contribute weight to the evidence supporting one hypothesis, only weight to the likelihood of which hypothesis would prevail. And that is how it is useful.


God does not exist, q.e.d." Or, "Plainly, this biological structure is too complex to have arisen by evolution and natural selection. It is much simpler and more likely that God did it in ways we just don't understand."

I'm not sure whether you meant this or were saying another might say it, but either way, Occam's razor would not consider the hypothesis that 'god' explains anything to be preferable because that would be akin to the other principle involved, that known phenomonon are to be considered before unknown phenomonon.

Language is also confusing our communication in our discussion of the extraordinary vs. ordinary evidence. I think the standard of evidence needed to accept scientific conclusions doesn't change with extraordinary things. But the phrase of extraordinary needs extra evidence is useful when discussing ideas out of scientific circles.

Evidence for ET UFOs might be volumnous, but it really hasn't met the standard for ordinary evidence in most scientific circles. It is a lot easier to explain to someone who thinks the evidence for ET UFOs is convincing, that it is not convincing by using Sagan's phrase of extraordinary evidence, than it would be to explain why the evidence was really not convincing.


The evidence would be extrordinary because of its CONTEXT (implication), not its content. Evolution could be disproved if we found a fossilized modern human that was a billion years old. A fossilized animal is a pretty ordinary piece of evidence. Its implication is what is extrordinary.

I doubt anyone would argue that if an ordinary piece of evidence were found which disproved a major scientific theory (evolution, relativity, etc.) it would be an extrordinary thing. Put another way, the evidence is extrordinary because of what it DOES, not because of what it IS.

I understand what you mean here, but I don't think a single contradictory piece of evidence necessarily disproves a mountain of other evidence. In that contex it would definitely have to be a very extraordinary single piece of evidence.


Getting back to the original question of why people believe what they believe, I have to say you mostly are all doing the exact thing that leads to the kinds of erroneous beliefs we are talking about. You are speculating based on very little evidence, instead you are basing it on your construction in your own minds of the way things are.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not saying that none of you have any expertise in this area. You clearly have some, based on your various educational and other experiences. But how many of you are giving answers based on research into why people believe what they believe?

There is a considerable amount of research in this area. The research examines how we construct our thoughts based on the neurological input that our brains receive. We receive everything through the filter that is our brain's construction of how the world should be, not necessarily how the world is.

So are you speculating based on how you think the world is or are you basing your hypotheses on evidence obtained through research?

Moon
2003-May-18, 11:06 AM
The answer to these topic is : Hollywood.Propaganda.Money-driven sponsors...

"Dont fear the path of truth for the lack of people on it..." Robert Kennedy

What was the material of theire suit,to moon-land and be safe from radiation and extreme cold,back in 69?

How does dust work in 0-gravity while hit by a foot and lift from the ground?

Ho that was a TV show....ok then. :lol:
Who do you trust blindly?

Soupdragon
2003-May-18, 12:59 PM
There are other reasons for people believing in strange things, as is summed up nicely by the old expression, 'The Truth is Stranger than Fiction.'

For example. People who were described as conspiracy theorists and general lunatics at the time went on at considerable length about some serious weirdness - an alleged secret gov't project called MKULTRA. This had to do with people being kidnapped off the streets and subjected to sickening pyschiatric expirments, and more.

The likes of L Ron Hubbard speerheaded this bandwagon.

It was, of course, dismissed as total nonsense by all and sundry.

Unfortunately it all turned out to be true, and was later blamed on rogue elements within the CIA et al.

Clinton made an official apology some 30 years later, in 2001 I think it was. Not that he was part of it, but on behalf of the gov't of the land of the free, blah, blah.

Some people believe that this kind of stuff still goes on, and that elements within the 'security services' are out of control, and even pull strings at NASA... :wink: :lol:

Melanie
2003-May-18, 09:14 PM
Perhaps you feel comfortable enough with science that you are able to process the evidence for these claims. For people with no such familiarity, they are being asked to take a leap of faith. Whether they leap in the direction of science or the opposite would then be influenced by factors other than evidence (some of which have been presented above). I know it is difficult for you to imagine, but for many people, science just sounds like hocus pocus too.
Mel.

DStahl
2003-May-18, 09:34 PM
beskeptical: "Getting back to the original question of why people believe what they believe, I have to say you mostly are all doing the exact thing that leads to the kinds of erroneous beliefs we are talking about. You are speculating based on very little evidence, instead you are basing it on your construction in your own minds of the way things are."

Absolutely! I agree that my speculations on this are just that: speculations, maunderings, personal opinions. When talking about psychology, in this case the psychology of belief, it's hard NOT to be speculative if only because we all have minds and therefore we all have firsthand experience with one psychological structure. The trap is, we have NO firsthand experience of any psychological structure but our own!

We really should look at studies on belief and rationales for belief before we shoot off our keyboards, but, well, there it is--we speculate instead. :-?

beskeptical
2003-May-18, 10:20 PM
The likes of L Ron Hubbard speerheaded this bandwagon.

It was, of course, dismissed as total nonsense by all and sundry.

Unfortunately it all turned out to be true, and was later blamed on rogue elements within the CIA et al.

Clinton made an official apology some 30 years later, in 2001 I think it was. Not that he was part of it, but on behalf of the gov't of the land of the free, blah, blah.

Well it also turned out to be true that .....[put any nonsense in here you want].....

Can we declare anything we want to be true? Well, that story sounds logical so it must be true and the other story doesn't fit with what I think about sleazy government past doings so it is a lie?

Soupdragon, you need a little more than a claim Bill C apologized for something to support your interpretation of the above described events.

From the last two replies on page one, I can only conclude what I said above went over the crowd's heads without contact.

beskeptical
2003-May-18, 10:51 PM
Perhaps you feel comfortable enough with science that you are able to process the evidence for these claims. For people with no such familiarity, they are being asked to take a leap of faith. Whether they leap in the direction of science or the opposite would then be influenced by factors other than evidence (some of which have been presented above).

I'm trying to point out the irony here. Putting the question another way, why do folks believe so many different and contradictory things? They can't all be right. So some or all of them have to be wrong.

Researchers are beginning to investigate how that occurs. And, that research is currently supporting the hypothesis that our brains do not store incoming sensory input exactly as it came. Rather, in order for the brain to make sense of the data it is receiving, it modifies the input to fit it into the existing functioning model that the brain has constructed.

And, that is the key to why people believe wierd things. We are all wrong, because we all take what we see and hear and modify it. But some are more wrong than others. The more you get away from the basic information, the more wrong you are likely to be.

To explain further, if I keep reviewing the data, and add to the data, I stay closer to what is real. If I instead, review conclusions, and modified conclusions, I get farther away from the data and am much more likely to get farther from what is real. The game of telephone is a classic example. If a single person told everyone the word in the game, some would hear it correctly and others would be a little off. But if one person tells the next and that person tells the next.....well you know what happens.

The research into how our brains modify and organize data is in an early phase. I have read some of it and it is fascinating. In order to understand why people believe wierd things, we need to keep going back to the research data. If instead, you decide the answer is based on whatever you've come to believe without being able to describe exactly what the evidence is for your conclusions, then you are using that revised revised revised edition of the way the world is, and the last revision didn't review the original data before it was revised.


I know it is difficult for you to imagine, but for many people, science just sounds like hocus pocus too.
Mel

You don't have to know anything about science to look for reasons to believe what you believe. Then evaluate whether those reasons actually make sense.

If you can only say, "I've come to this conclusion after my particular life experiences", chances are your version of the world is full of modifications that your brain made but that weren't based on reality. If you can say, I've come to these conclusions because the evidence supports it and here is the evidence, you will also be interpreting the world through your mind's filter but it will more closely resemble the 'real' world.

Soupdragon
2003-May-18, 11:12 PM
Beskeptical. In the case of MKULTRA I'm not aware of anyone who now denies the sad events that took place. Sure, the fact that BIll C apologised is not watertight eveidence in itself, but I can't imagine that The President would apologise for something that didn't happen?

I can't bring myself to be that cynical about the Whitehouse.

My point is that because somebody describes something as a ludicrous conspiracy theory doesn't mean that it is. I can think of a number of examples that turned out be true, but most of them, of course, really do turn out to be, er, nonsense. Planet X and 15th May, for example.

I could go on forever on this subject, but seeing as this is a scientific forum...

dgruss23
2003-May-18, 11:17 PM
beskeptical wrote: Getting back to the original question of why people believe what they believe, I have to say you mostly are all doing the exact thing that leads to the kinds of erroneous beliefs we are talking about. You are speculating based on very little evidence, instead you are basing it on your construction in your own minds of the way things are.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not saying that none of you have any expertise in this area. You clearly have some, based on your various educational and other experiences. But how many of you are giving answers based on research into why people believe what they believe?

There is a considerable amount of research in this area. The research examines how we construct our thoughts based on the neurological input that our brains receive. We receive everything through the filter that is our brain's construction of how the world should be, not necessarily how the world is.

So are you speculating based on how you think the world is or are you basing your hypotheses on evidence obtained through research?

This is interesting beskeptical. I see two angles here. First is your point about the workings of the brain. That is interesting. So you've read research that indicates people filter information through their own brain construction. This makes sense - it is one of the reasons we try to teach students new concepts by relating to concepts things they are already familiar with. New knowledge is easier to pick up if it can be related to pre-existing knowledge.

But what you're saying goes deeper than that. The research then is suggesting that we actually modify the incoming knowledge into our brain constructs. So another words, if you have someone that believes every conspiracy that comes along, there is something about their brain wiring that gives them a predisposition to believe the conspiracy.

I can see that, but without reading the research myself I'm just filtering and modifying that through my brain constructs. Do you have any references I could look at to make sure I do not stray too far from the research (as per your post on page 2)? :D

dgruss23
2003-May-18, 11:26 PM
beskeptical wrote: So are you speculating based on how you think the world is or are you basing your hypotheses on evidence obtained through research?

There is another angle related to this thread. Many people not well versed in science may not understand the difference between speculation and research based statements. For example, I look back through the thread and IMO most of the comments are phrased as opinion or speculation rather than authoritative fact.

However, to a person not trained in scientific reasoning, those statements could seem authoritative. Thus it may sway them despite there being no research evidence to back it up.

A sidelight to this - how many introductory textbooks in any science subject actually cite references in the text? Most that are for high schools do not. Perhaps this is part of the problem (after filtering through my brain constructs :D ). If people aren't used to seeing statements referenced, that referencing is important is less apparent.

Soupdragon
2003-May-18, 11:33 PM
Isn't there a simple way of saying some of the above?

- People interpret things according to their own belief system

For example, Joe public sees a strange light in the sky.

A pyschiatrist might interpret this as wish fulfilment
A psychologist as a manifestation of the collective consciousness
A cynic as evidence of stupidity
A religious nut as an agent of the devil
A conspiracy theorist as a blackOp psych experiment
A UFO bod as an alien ship
A meteorologoist as a...

Hopefully a 'scientist' would hold no preconceptions before investigating the alleged phenomenon. Or would he? Might his training and faith in prevailing scientific theory also colour his judgement? Would he dismiss out-of-hand, rightly or wrongly, the idea of an alien spaceship? :wink:

This touches on my contention that 'Science is a Belief System' in another topic area. :-?

dgruss23
2003-May-19, 01:17 AM
soupdragon wrote: Hopefully a 'scientist' would hold no preconceptions before investigating the alleged phenomenon. Or would he? Might his training and faith in prevailing scientific theory also colour his judgement? Would he dismiss out-of-hand, rightly or wrongly, the idea of an alien spaceship?

First, the scientist must only be a scientist when doing science. So if the scientist saw the strange bright light, the scientist is free to act as a non-scientist and have any view he or she wishes of the bright light - just as every other person that observes the same light will do.

If the scientist, chooses to investigate the bright light for the purposes of drawing a scientific conclusion about it, then proper scientific procedure should be followed. Whatever experiment the scientist designs should make it possible to verify or rule out the alien spaceship option.

Lets say the prevailing theory is that there has never been an alien spaceship observed. Then the scientist will not expect to find that the result of the investigation is that the bright light is an alien spaceship? That is not dismissing out of hand. To dismiss out of hand is to deny credible evidence that a phenomenon is something other than what is expected.

So if the scientist found credible evidence that the bright light was in fact an alien spaceship, then the scientist would need to find a way to verify that result. If the scientist simply said, "It can't be because nobody has every seen an alien spaceship before." then the scientist would be dismissing out of hand.

But none of this makes a point one way or another as to whether or not science is a belief system. We still have not reached agreement on the definition of a belief system on the other thread.

beskeptical
2003-May-19, 09:07 AM
beskeptical wrote: .....how many of you are giving answers based on research into why people believe what they believe?

There is a considerable amount of research in this area. The research examines how we construct our thoughts based on the neurological input that our brains receive. We receive everything through the filter that is our brain's construction of how the world should be, not necessarily how the world is.

So are you speculating based on how you think the world is or are you basing your hypotheses on evidence obtained through research?

This is interesting beskeptical. I see two angles here. First is your point about the workings of the brain. That is interesting. So you've read research that indicates people filter information through their own brain construction. This makes sense - it is one of the reasons we try to teach students new concepts by relating to concepts things they are already familiar with. New knowledge is easier to pick up if it can be related to pre-existing knowledge.

But what you're saying goes deeper than that. The research then is suggesting that we actually modify the incoming knowledge into our brain constructs. .....

I can see that, but without reading the research myself I'm just filtering and modifying that through my brain constructs. Do you have any references I could look at to make sure I do not stray too far from the research (as per your post on page 2)? :D

I'll have to get some web sources for you. I tried to find the professor whose lecture I heard last and came up with another guy at the U doing similar research, (Dale, Philip S. Psychology A comparative study of early language and cognition), but I can only find the title and not the work. My memory of this particular lecture should be generally correct, but don't hold me to the details without the source in front of me.

This research looked at infants and language development across languages. Babies respond to sounds of all languages in the first month or so. But very soon they begin to categorize the sounds that are specific to their language. So that if they hear a spoken word and see two faces, they turn to the face that matches the sound. Once language starts to build in the brain, certain sounds are no longer distinguished, depending on the language. For example we hear the Spanish sound for b and v as the same sound. All infants respond to these two sounds in a similar way at a couple weeks of age. But by several months of age, an infant learning Spanish distinguishes a difference that infants learning English no longer do. Some Asian speakers hear g and r sounds as the same sound.

Other research has been done looking at how we recognize something in a category such as a dog despite never having seen that particular breed.

In the area of filtering input and making it fit into a preexisting construct, a lot of educational research is ongoing. One really interesting idea was having children see what it is like when you are in a room that is completely dark. They could answer ahead of time that you needed light to see. Yet in the dark room they continued to believe that if they waited longer, 'their eyes would adjust' and they'd be able to see a little. Even after many minutes, they still did not connect the exact concept that you needed light to see and that there was no light in the room.

These are only a few of many examples. By themselves they do not provide enough evidence to draw conclusions. But taken together, the evidence is beginning to give a better picture of how our brains store and organize information. We are organic computers, not mechanical ones and there is a fundamental difference.


So another words, if you have someone that believes every conspiracy that comes along, there is something about their brain wiring that gives them a predisposition to believe the conspiracy.

Sort of. I'd categorize it more in the software than the hardware though. Rather than the wiring predisposing directly, the wiring has an effect on how the learning progresses. But what is encountered initially, affects what is encountered later.

Think of those optical illusions that have light hitting a 3D geometric shape from the bottom. Since we are programed to think light comes from above, we see a hole instead of a cylinder or various other illusions. Hoagland sees a face on Mars, NASA scientists see a hill and rocks.

Moon
2003-May-19, 09:17 AM
Five sides pyramidal rocks and spiral mount too...weird.

beskeptical
2003-May-19, 09:23 AM
Isn't there a simple way of saying some of the above?

- People interpret things according to their own belief system

For example, Joe public sees a strange light in the sky.

A pyschiatrist might interpret this as wish fulfilment
A psychologist as a manifestation of the collective consciousness
A cynic as evidence of stupidity
A religious nut as an agent of the devil
A conspiracy theorist as a blackOp psych experiment
A UFO bod as an alien ship
A meteorologoist as a...

This is the right idea. The next question is understanding why &/or how this occurs.


Hopefully a 'scientist' would hold no preconceptions before investigating the alleged phenomenon. Or would he? Might his training and faith in prevailing scientific theory also colour his judgement? Would he dismiss out-of-hand, rightly or wrongly, the idea of an alien spaceship? :wink:

dgruss23 answered this from the ideal scientific approach to such a question. I just don't want the non-scientist readers on the BB to think scientists are somehow exempt from bias. Of course they are not. That is why research has to be repeatable to be considered complete.

We are all from the same genetic stock. There is only one race of humans. Our brains function in similar ways. But I think we'd be better off if people knew a little more about how to evaluate truth from myth.


This touches on my contention that 'Science is a Belief System' in another topic area. :-?

I have avoided that thread. Science is a process, not a belief system. However, one can construct their belief system based on the scientific process. Maybe I'll copy this statement over to that thread.

DStahl
2003-May-19, 05:48 PM
This last Friday there was some talk of pre-processing on NPRs Science Friday show. In that case, the researchers said that a particular brain structure, the amygdala if I remember correctly, catches and pre-processes sensory data before any other part of the brain gets a look at it. In post-traumatic stress disorder the amygdala triggers an emergency response when it perceives an input matching the original circumstances of the trauma, even if the higher parts of the brain know perfectly well that the particular input is emphatically not an emergency.

I think the data censoring beskeptical is talking about is considerably higher up along the chain of perception, though...and I also think her point is darned pertinent. I think some people have become very skilled at ignoring preconceptions and hunting about for new ways to find a data fit. One physics student on another BB wrote that he tries to think of a new theory every day--any theory, no holds barred. He wrote that so far everything he had thought of was preposterous, trivial, or had been thought of before...but he was hopeful that by doing the exercise he would be ready if and when data required a new explanation. Laudable, but not something that comes naturally.

kilopi
2003-May-19, 06:05 PM
One physics student on another BB wrote that he tries to think of a new theory every day--any theory, no holds barred. He wrote that so far everything he had thought of was preposterous, trivial, or had been thought of before...but he was hopeful that by doing the exercise he would be ready if and when data required a new explanation. Laudable, but not something that comes naturally.
In my case, it seems like every d*rn thing I think of turns out to be feasible. And when I dig into the literature to find where it's been addressed before and dismissed, I find huge errors. It's getting so bad, that I may not have time to write all these up before 2050.

Where to start?

dgruss23
2003-May-19, 07:04 PM
Dstahl wrote: I think the data censoring beskeptical is talking about is considerably higher up along the chain of perception, though...and I also think her point is darned pertinent. I think some people have become very skilled at ignoring preconceptions and hunting about for new ways to find a data fit.

Preconceptions and underlying assumptions are definitely something always to be mindful of.

What do you think about soupdragons argument that science is a belief system? Sorry for jumping threads, but this may be a good example to explore the question with. If a scientist ignores preconceptions, does that make the science being practiced a belief system?

kilopi
2003-May-19, 07:38 PM
If a scientist ignores preconceptions, does that make the science being practiced a belief system?
If a scientist makes an error, does that mean that science is flawed, or the scientist is flawed?

DStahl
2003-May-19, 09:28 PM
Geez, degruss23, I dunno. My philosophical take is that because science has to assume that what it is measuring is connected to Reality, then yes, it's a belief system. A scientist has to believe something fundamental that is unverifiable.

One believes, I suppose, that science is effective.

But I also think that science has some unique properties that set it apart from mysticism, superstition, and suchlike--we've discussed them a lot--and so perhaps it shouldn't be called a pure belief system? Or perhaps it could be called a belief system which is skeptical about belief?

informant
2003-May-19, 09:56 PM
What is it in people that cause them to believe nutty things, like:

- Planet X
- Faked moon landings
- General Conspirisy Theories
- They are God, or speak only for God!!
- We all come from aliens

What seems nutty to some may not seem so nutty to others.

Re: "Why do people believe false things?"

Because they're fallible?


I have come across these nut cases so many times. I am in Winnipeg, Canada and when I visited my friends as the U of W (an arts school) - These freaks were everywhere. They honestly believe they are right.
(...)
Any ideas, what makes these people so stupid, untrusting, and disbelieving in real science!!! I mean I convinced a guy that the hover boards from Back to the Future were real - they just were not safe so the Toy makers did not want to be liable!!

Why the insanity!!!!

They could be pulling your leg, here... :)

informant
2003-May-19, 09:59 PM
Geez, degruss23, I dunno. My philosophical take is that because science has to assume that what it is measuring is connected to Reality, then yes, it's a belief system.

I don't see that it does, myself. (http://www.badastronomy.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?p=86920#86920)

beskeptical
2003-May-19, 10:24 PM
If a scientist ignores preconceptions, does that make the science being practiced a belief system?
If a scientist makes an error, does that mean that science is flawed, or the scientist is flawed?

Or does that mean the scientist made an error? We are all naturally flawed. Yes, even you, grapes. :wink:

beskeptical
2003-May-19, 10:34 PM
I wanted to refine my above post by adding there is a difference between changing sensory input and interpreting sensory input.

When your brain fills in missing data, such as the blind spot where the optic nerve leaves the retina that you don't see unless you look for it, that would be modifying input. I guess seeing the face on Mars vs hills and rocks would be interpretation.

OTOH there is probably more of a continuum and intermingled brain activity that affects thought from the sensory input to the interpretation.

Another indicator that the brain is modifying input is the classic experiment with up side down glasses. After a few days wearing glasses that make the world look up side down, the brain corrects for the change and things will look right side up with the glasses on and up side down with them off.

beskeptical
2003-May-19, 10:50 PM
Whether science is or is not a belief system is a moot point. The problem with trying to define science with 'category' words, is the words mean different things to different people. As an example of exactly what we are discussing here about brain function, a person is attributing their brain's constructed category of 'belief system' to interpret what 'science' is.

If you prefer to construct your 'belief system' from various non-scientific sources, you are probably likely to categorize 'science' as an equivalent or less preferred 'belief system'.

What is being debated is the meaning of belief system, not science per se. If something is a belief system then that implies certain things depending on how you have constructed your definition of belief system.

What is the real underlying question? Can you categorize science as no better, no worse, than what another believes, thereby ignoring the results obtained from scientific research if it doesn't support what the other believes? Well, you can if you want to but I don't.

I categorize science as a 'process' not as a 'belief system'. The belief system is the end result, not the means to get there.

kilopi
2003-May-20, 12:13 AM
If a scientist ignores preconceptions, does that make the science being practiced a belief system?
If a scientist makes an error, does that mean that science is flawed, or the scientist is flawed?

Or does that mean the scientist made an error? We are all naturally flawed. Yes, even you, grapes.
Exactly.

To air is human.

Moon
2003-May-20, 01:29 AM
What is the real underlying question? Can you categorize science as no better, no worse, than what another believes, thereby ignoring the results obtained from scientific research if it doesn't support what the other believes? Well, you can if you want to but I don't.
.

You tend to trust more science...ans assume that with science,you will be safe... :roll:

beskeptical
2003-May-20, 08:34 AM
What is the real underlying question? Can you categorize science as no better, no worse, than what another believes, thereby ignoring the results obtained from scientific research if it doesn't support what the other believes? Well, you can if you want to but I don't.
.

You tend to trust more science...ans assume that with science,you will be safe... :roll:

No, with science I will be safer. There is no way I know of to be completely safe.

But here are some ways science can increase your safety:
Research into auto safety has led to huge improvements in car design in the last 50 years.
Medical care in the USA is changing to 'evidence based medicine' so that outcomes of specific treatments are verified rather than assumed.
Genetic research is uncovering ways to improve health and food resources.
The list is endless.

Now before you go off on all the negative outcomes of scientific research, let me remind you this is an astronomy BB. I have no intention of rehashing my responses to similar stuff you already posted.

Results of research that can improve our lives is rarely 100% positive. There are always risks and benefits, and, costs and benefits to be evaluated before choosing a car design or a medical treatment or whatever.

And, believe it or not, science has made your life safer as well.

beskeptical
2003-May-20, 08:41 AM
One more issue needs to be addressed as long as I am on the subject of defending science. For all your concerns, Moon, that science is resulting in bad things for the people of Earth, what alternative are you proposing? And, more importantly, what evidence do you have that shows such an alternative is better?

dgruss23
2003-May-20, 12:02 PM
If a scientist ignores preconceptions, does that make the science being practiced a belief system?
If a scientist makes an error, does that mean that science is flawed, or the scientist is flawed?

It means the scientist made a mistake and the results of the study contain an error which may or may not be statistically significant depending upon the nature of the error involved.

I like that way of answering my question! :D So the if the scientist ignores preconceptions, it is the scientist's error not a fundamental flaw with the process of science. I agree with that.


beskeptical wrote: I categorize science as a 'process' not as a 'belief system'.

Exactly.

Moon
2003-May-20, 04:43 PM
When i pin point that you'll feel safer with science...it was just to show you that you rely on trust about science...You are defending someting i'm not at war with.
I'm just aware that science,often will be used,to control the mass...as a new religion,the people will believe everything that is proposed by college...even if they(the college) are not in totally agreedness within themself.
And this without forget that those college are "sponsored" by "evil profiter" like you know... hehe!

Another and last thing,private researchers come to conclusions on some private research...will they spread the news,if they can profite of it before telling the people?

That's where i am...not knowing who to trust really,and i dont feel safer with dogmatik scientist telling me what is the reality....for now.

I'm asking for tools,and they dont want me to have them...its the same in politik.
Just a good "process" to make us believe...

You want a better avenue...dont trust blindly,one side of science...their must be a second theory...search for it,just to compare.

dgruss23
2003-May-20, 05:21 PM
When i pin point that you'll feel safer with science...it was just to show you that you rely on trust about science...You are defending someting i'm not at war with.
I'm just aware that science,often will be used,to control the mass...as a new religion,the people will believe everything that is proposed by college...even if they(the college) are not in totally agreedness within themself.

It depends upon the presentation. There are currently accepted paradigms and then there are unsolved problems. If the resolution to an unsolved problem requires a change in the paradigm, then what the "masses" are being told right now will turn out to be wrong. But how any particular science presented to the masses by the scientists is important. Is it presented as certifiable fact when its not? Or is it presented as the best model available at this time. If the former then the scientist has overstated the case. If the latter, then the scientist is doing nothing wrong and it is the responsibility of the masses to understand the concept of supporting evidence.



That's where i am...not knowing who to trust really,and i dont feel safer with dogmatik scientist telling me what is the reality....for now.

I'm asking for tools,and they dont want me to have them...its the same in politik.
Just a good "process" to make us believe...

You want a better avenue...dont trust blindly,one side of science...their must be a second theory...search for it,just to compare.

The process of science as a whole is about searching for better theories and finding ways to improve observations so that theories can be better tested. Are you suggesting that there is some specific alternative in astronomy that scientists are ignoring?

Moon
2003-May-20, 06:48 PM
No,i'm saying science VS science...

To answer question is leading to propose a theory,thus not a certainity.
The process to evaluate a theory "requier" knowledge of factor determining it.
While processing these facts,maybe you miss some or worst,hide some(i dont admit this one)...then we still will call it science...but not pure science,or hard-science...is there some approximate-science? You know,answer for right now,since we dont have the overall view,we miss some fact to conclude with efficiency...

In french there is a word we use...exact science,as we refer to math and to distinguish from soft science like philo,or astronomy...is there a way to say that science has its limits,is it to be carefull...

informant
2003-May-20, 06:53 PM
Are you sure that philosophy is regarded as a science, Moon?
And perhaps "natural sciences" is a better term than "soft sciences", at least in English.

Moon
2003-May-21, 12:12 AM
Guess you're right,no philo is not a science...sorry.

OscartheGrouch
2003-May-21, 01:02 AM
In french there is a word we use...exact science,as we refer to math and to distinguish from soft science like philo,or astronomy...is there a way to say that science has its limits,is it to be carefull...

It could be the language barrier, but I don't agree that any science deserves the label "exact". I have heard physics referred to as one of the exact sciences, and mentioned this to one of the astrophysics faculty here at North Carolina State University. He made a funny face and asked, "who said THAT!" Physics is, when possible, a heavily quantitative science in which many phenomena closely follow known mathematical models. This is a source of beauty and wonder (like, why does gravity follow an inverse square law) and enables theoretical physicists to predict things that ought to be found in the universe. Not always do they work out, but astonishingly often, observational astronomers then find what theory said they would. In fact, if I may indulge in delusions of grandeur, I hope to continue my part-time studies to a PhD in theoretical astrophysics. Do not tell my undergraduate calculus teachers or they will die laughing.

However, physics is in the end an empirical science, with many discoveries NOT predicted because there was just no way to think of them in advance. Even the fundamental "mathematical" laws of physics are no more than summaries of decades or centuries of experiments, and are subject to experimental error and uncertainty. Theory must fall to observation sometimes. But that is why we love it so. To wax biblical, we know in part and we prophesy in part, and finding out the rest is the fun part.

The most ridiculous thing is, us humans with vanishingly short lifetimes and tiny brains riding around on an ordinary-size planet can learn anything at all about the rest of the universe.

informant
2003-May-21, 08:42 AM
It could be the language barrier, but I don't agree that any science deserves the label "exact".

Mathematics does deserve the label of an "exact science" (well, most of it :)). Unless you don't count math as a science; sometimes people don't.

I could agree that the natural sciences, like physics and astronomy, are not "exact", in the sense that every measurement, no matter how accurate, carries with it some amount of error. This was discovered in the 19th century, I think (Gauss studying the errors in astronomical measurements), and has remained consistently true.

However, when people use the term "exact science", I think they are usually referring to the fact that in those sciences you can make exact predictions. The laws of physics, for instance, are usually given by formulas (E=mc^2, F=GMm/r^2, etc.) that pinpoint a specific quantitative value for the dependent variables, given the values of the independent variables. How could this not be? Well, in sciences like psychology, or many branches of biology, what you have are qualitative models, that you can't put into a formula. In that sense, they're not "exact".

beskeptical
2003-May-21, 07:37 PM
Moon, science is not the bad guy. Bad guys use science to do bad things. Bad guys use religion to do bad things. Bad guys use lots of things.

The key to having a free society is to have an educated well informed society. The more you know about science, the more easily you will be able to tell when you are being manipulated.

On the other subject, sciences that are not 'exact' so to speak are not as different from exact sciences as you may think. The difference is we are only now figuring out how to ask the questions and how to deal with multiple variables in equations.

I'd say there was a difference in chemisrty and physics in that it is easier to control for variables. But a lot of 'inexact' sciences would be more exact if the variables were easier to control for. So to me, the science is the same but the results are very different.

informant
2003-May-21, 08:01 PM
After reading beskeptical's post, I feel that I should add that the advances in multivariate statistics have blurred the frontier between "qualitative" and "quantitative". The major difficulty, as she says, is in identifying all of the relevant variables.

cyrek1
2003-May-23, 02:51 PM
bycusin asks:
What is it in people that cause them to believe nutty things, like:

- Planet X
- Faked moon landings
- General Conspirisy Theories
- They are God, or speak only for God!!
- We all come from aliens

cyreks reply:
Planet X is a very high probability beyond Neptune and Pluto.
A planet there could be impossible to detect since it could be composed of nothing but ice with a watery surface if it has sufficient mass.

General conspiracy theories:
Have you been following the news lately about the stock market manipulations?

Fake Moon landings:
No comment.

They are God or speak only for God:
You will have to ask that question of the pope or the Islamic radical leadership.

We all come from aliens:
No comment.

As far as I am concerned about the 'big bang', I am just trying to answer those unanswered questions concerning the big bang.
My TV hobby is 'forensic science'.

nessie
2003-May-23, 11:31 PM
Occam's razor was never meant to be a research tool, - it's a gambler's tool for choosing between theories withan equal degree of plausability, - if you fell able to judge that one theory is better than the other, game over, - but all other things being equal occam's razor will put you no the winning side more often than not.
not good enough to decide the fate of the universe, but which side of the road is better for getting a taxi...???
probability.

dgruss23
2003-May-24, 01:26 AM
Occam's razor was never meant to be a research tool, - it's a gambler's tool for choosing between theories withan equal degree of plausability, - if you fell able to judge that one theory is better than the other, game over, - but all other things being equal occam's razor will put you no the winning side more often than not.
not good enough to decide the fate of the universe, but which side of the road is better for getting a taxi...???
probability.

Its not very often that two competing scientific theories are so well matched in their ability to explain the scientific evidence, that Occam's razor is useful. Its seems that Occam's razor is more often used in dealing with conspiracy/against the mainstream views when in fact the evidence is so overwhelming that it is not really needed.

kilopi
2003-May-24, 11:08 AM
Its not very often that two competing scientific theories are so well matched in their ability to explain the scientific evidence, that Occam's razor is useful.
Better yet, I think Zathras's comment about this (http://www.badastronomy.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?p=79109#79109) captures the danger of using Occam's razor perfectly:


Occam's razor is in the eye of the beholder

dgruss23
2003-May-24, 01:40 PM
Its not very often that two competing scientific theories are so well matched in their ability to explain the scientific evidence, that Occam's razor is useful.
Better yet, I think Zathras's comment about this (http://www.badastronomy.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?p=79109#79109) captures the danger of using Occam's razor perfectly:


Occam's razor is in the eye of the beholder


That it is! On this board we have had disagreements over the definition of a planet, a moon, whether or not newtonian gravity is wrong, what a belief system is ect. Given all that it seems absurd to think that it will be so obvious which alternative is the "Simplest" that Occam's razor can be considered a useful scientific tool. As far as I'm concerned Occam's razor is a worthless platitude.

informant
2003-May-24, 02:03 PM
Occam's razor is in the eye of the beholder


That it is! On this board we have had disagreements over the definition of a planet, a moon, whether or not newtonian gravity is wrong, what a belief system is ect. Given all that it seems absurd to think that it will be so obvious which alternative is the "Simplest" that Occam's razor can be considered a useful scientific tool. As far as I'm concerned Occam's razor is a worthless platitude.

I fail to see how Occam's Razor would be applicable in any of those examples.

1) Definition of Moon, planet, etc.: technical conventions. They're supposed to be useful, scientifically meaningful, and preferably simple. But there's no such thing as a "true" definition of "planet" or "moon" or whatnot. No facts to explain here.

2) Whether or not Newtonian gravity is wrong. This is not about picking between two theories that explain the same facts equally well. Newtonian gravity does not explain the facts as well as GR.

3) What a belief system is. This is a matter of definition. A "belief system" is anything people agree it is. No facts to explain here.

These seem like straw men to me.

dgruss23
2003-May-24, 02:20 PM
I guess I wasn't clear on my point. If we can't agree on the definitions of all of those things or points, then how can we expect to agree on the definition of "simplest" explanation or which is the simpler of two theories. As Zathras points out - that is in the end going to be another point of debate and thus Occam's razor is getting us nowhere.

informant
2003-May-24, 02:25 PM
It may be difficult to define "simplest" in an abstract conversation, but in concrete situations it's often fairly clear. This is because in particular situations one usually has a small number of competing explanations for the facts.
Occam's Razor suggests that the one which requires less assumptions, or less unlikely scenarios, should be our first bet. It could be argued that we do this all the time in our lives.

dgruss23
2003-May-24, 02:34 PM
It may be difficult to define "simplest" in an abstract conversation, but in concrete situations it's often fairly clear. This is because in particular situations one usually has a small number of competing explanations for the facts.
Occam's Razor suggests that the one which requires less assumptions, or less likely scenarios, should be our first bet. It could be argued that we do this all the time in our lives.

I agree Occam's Razor may be useful as we make decisions in our lives, but can you think of a genuine example in science where it really boils down to which explanation is simpler? Most of the time when there are competing theories, one theory is more supported by the evidence than the other. I just can't think of an example where the only grounds we have for selecting one theory over the other is simplicity. In fact even that would probably become a point of debate: I could see where one group would suggest that the only difference is simplicity while the other group disagrees that in fact the two theories are equally supported by the evidence.

I agree with Zathras: "Occam's razor is in the eye of the beholder."

informant
2003-May-24, 02:52 PM
Here's an old example: when Laplace finished explaining to Napoleon his theory of celestial mechanics, Napoleon asked him why there was no mention of God in it. Laplace replied: "I have no need of this hypothesis".

http://www.physics.montana.edu/students/thiel/quotes.html

He was quite right, and I don't see :) how this is only in the eye of the beholder.

kilopi
2003-May-24, 03:09 PM
I don't see how this is only in the eye of the beholder.
Occam's Razor is generally conceded to be not a scientific principle. It is a way of making decisions--but not necessarily scientifically. As has been mentioned, scientific theories are discerned on the basis of how they fit the data. As Einstein said, make it as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Someone considereing newtonian mechanics and comparing it to einsteinian mechanics would perhaps come away with the impression that the newtonian was simpler. But the einsteinian matches the data better--that's the crux, as druss23 points out.

WolfKC
2003-May-24, 03:48 PM
This is quite a long topic :) Here's a summary of the major points I see. Feel free to beat me senseless if I've missed something.
* people interpret input differently based on previous experiences and preconceptions.
* some people are ignorant, lazy, gullible and/or susceptible; accepting the first answer presented.
* stubbornness, to continue with a belief no matter what new evidence is provided.
* some people drift towards the more exciting theory
* the desire to shift blame away, onto something else.

I'd like to add a comment, which is sort of a combination of the interpretation and susceptibility points. I think we are all susceptible to believing things easier, with less evidence, if the idea is presented from someone with charisma. This is a step beyond marketing using an attractive woman in a majority of commercials, which by the way works. Whether you're selling BMWs or baked beans, have an active woman present it and sells will go up. As for selling "False Ideas", I think there is a certain way of making presentation that comes naturally to certain people like Nancy Leader, David Koresh and Hitler. I think they have a certain way of presenting things, a certain charisma, that in a way letís them hypnotize large groups. Not in the sense that thousands of people will run around squaking like chickens, but relatively large groups of people accepting a belief on faith that they wouldn't normally accept. And in cases like this, the evidence makes little or no difference.
I think cultist, religious leaders, politicians and lawyers work hard to master this and in many cases its successful for/against the masses. Maybe the next charismatic leader to come along wont be able to convince many of us that the world is flat, but what could he convince us of if there is no solid evidence proving him wrong. To take this a little further, I think that when an idea is presented with certain phrasing, timing, vocal intonations, body language, etc.... the idea becomes much harder for the average person to dismiss. I think thereís something hardwired in our brains that makes certain presentation forms seem correct and we have to actively work at overcoming that.
That's my 2cents. :)

dgruss23
2003-May-24, 03:54 PM
Here's an old example: when Laplace finished explaining to Napoleon his theory of celestial mechanics, Napoleon asked him why there was no mention of God in it. Laplace replied: "I have no need of this hypothesis".

http://www.physics.montana.edu/students/thiel/quotes.html

He was quite right, and I don't see :) how this is only in the eye of the beholder.

That's a great website! Would I be incorrect if I inferred it is yours? The list of quotes is great!

The example you gave above is definitely an example of Occam's Razor. I don't want to apply today's standards to LaPlace's time period. I'm not aware of any scientists that would consider God a scientifically testable hypothesis, but perhaps Laplace did. If he did - at least from his point of view - Occam's Razor was being used to distinguish between two scientific hypotheses.

Can anyone think of an example today where the evidence is so well matched that the only way to distinguish two theories is via Occam's Razor?

kilopi
2003-May-24, 04:31 PM
Can anyone think of an example today where the evidence is so well matched that the only way to distinguish two theories is via Occam's Razor?
There are a lot of alternate theories of general relativity that can be made to match the observed data. Einstein's theory gets the nod, partly because it was the first historically, but also it usually has a lot simpler expression than the others.

informant
2003-May-24, 05:38 PM
That's a great website! Would I be incorrect if I inferred it is yours?

'Fraid so. :)


The example you gave above is definitely an example of Occam's Razor. I don't want to apply today's standards to LaPlace's time period.

You and kilopi have presented some persuavive arguments for empirical evidence as the decision rule in science, rather than OR. kilopi's post after mine, in particular, made me wonder about this example. Perhaps it can be argued both ways in this case, although I still feel that sooner or later one ends up by having to invoke OR.


I'm not aware of any scientists that would consider God a scientifically testable hypothesis, but perhaps Laplace did. If he did - at least from his point of view - Occam's Razor was being used to distinguish between two scientific hypotheses.

My interpretation of the sentence is perhaps a bit different here. I don't think Laplace regarded God as an empirically testable theory, rather as an assumption, an axiom, if you will.

cyrek1
2003-May-25, 01:21 PM
To all above:

cyreks reply:
To me, the simplist and most believable theory is the one that 'raises the least amount of questions.

That would be the way to apply Occam's Razor.

dgruss23
2003-May-25, 01:24 PM
To all above:

cyreks reply:
To me, the simplist and most believable theory is the one that 'raises the least amount of questions.

That would be the way to apply Occam's Razor.

I guess the young earth creationists have it right after all! Their model leaves no questions at all.

cyrek1
2003-May-25, 02:26 PM
dgruss wrote:
I guess the young earth creationists have it right after all! Their model leaves no questions at all.

cyreks reply:
I visited that site for the first time and consider it pure speculation. The people proposing that idea ignore all the evidence to the contrary.
I can introduce a simple idea to the contrary and that is: How about all the meteor impacts on the outside or backside of the Moon. Would they not push the Moon closer to the Earth?

informant
2003-May-25, 02:33 PM
You and kilopi have presented some persuavive arguments for empirical evidence as the decision rule in science, rather than OR.

I should make this clearer. In the natural sciences, empirical validation is the ultimate criterion. What I meant was that Occam's Razor may also be used, sometimes, as a "tie-breaker" for theories that explain the same evidence equally well.

kilopi
2003-May-25, 02:41 PM
I should make this clearer. In the natural sciences, empirical validation is the ultimate criterion. What I meant was that Occam's Razor may also be used, sometimes, as a "tie-breaker" for theories that explain the same evidence equally well.
It is often invoked as a tie-breaker, but usually both sides are trying to invoke it in support of their own side!

Ultimately, each side must find some implication of their own theory that sets it apart from other such theories, and can be tested empirically. Otherwise, it's just a philosophical difference. (I'm having a strong sense of deja-vu here...)

Moon
2003-May-25, 02:48 PM
Nobody knows whos to trust... http://www.newscientist.com/news/print.jsp?id=ns99993744

Are we the Aliens???

informant
2003-May-25, 03:01 PM
Nobody knows whos to trust... http://www.newscientist.com/news/print.jsp?id=ns99993744

Are we the Aliens???

I saw no indication of aliens or mistrust in that link, Moon.

Wolf KC has made an excellent point in the previous page (http://www.badastronomy.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?p=91692#91692). I agree that rational thought and the evaluation of evidence often have a small part in people's decisions and beliefs. Charisma and emotion can go a long way.

beskeptical
2003-May-28, 05:33 AM
Nobody knows whos to trust... http://www.newscientist.com/news/print.jsp?id=ns99993744

Are we the Aliens???

I know who to trust. Perhaps you can learn from me. :wink:

I really have no clue what you meant by your post. The article in the link is one researcher taking one hypothesis: that specific sections of human DNA are more relevant to species identification than the total DNA. And, if that hypothesis is true, chimpanzies and bonobos are more closely related to humans than they are to other great apes.

I suspect, but correct me if I am wrong, that you are giving too much weight to this article. I'm not saying you agree or disagree with it, just that you seem concerned that it represents some 'fact' or 'conclusion'. In reality, it is one small piece of information.

It contains the results of DNA analysis. That would be 'data'. It contains an explanation of why the researcher believes the data is significant. That would be opinion. It contains a conclusion the researcher believes the data supports.

From there, other researchers decide if they accept the conclusion as valid, or, if not, they state their reasons.

I for, one am reluctant to throw out large segments of DNA that do not code for proteins as irrelevant until we learn more about their function. It is my understanding that while we don't know what the long repeating DNA segments do, they appear to be conserved from generation to generation and that indicates that they may be important. In other words, if the long repeating segments didn't matter, then you would expect mutations to survive as often as non-mutations. But we don't see that. Either mutations are not occurring, or mutations are not surviving. Since we know mutations occur, and we don't see survivors with them, then the long repeating chains must be important.

You might also want to evaluate the biases the researcher might have.

There is some mention animal rights groups might want to find results in favor of their campaign to stop the use of animal research involving chimpanzies.

You might want to evaluate your own biases toward the research.

I have no problem with the hypothesis that DNA will give us a better understanding of where we and chimps and the other great apes fit on the family tree. I don't care if my cousin is a chimpanzie. Perhaps you do?

This tiny bit of research, tiny bit of data, and the researcher's ideas about how the data fits into the big picture is added to the collection of research and data and ideas. As more and more data and analyses are added the picture comes more into focus.

Isn't science wonderful? There is always more to discover. :D I wish it was faster. I want to learn some new incredible thing every day.

Moon
2003-May-28, 10:23 AM
I know who to trust. Perhaps you can learn from me. :wink:

Isn't science wonderful? There is always more to discover. :D I wish it was faster. I want to learn some new incredible thing every day.

Funny.What is true today,may be wrong tomorrow...partialy or completly.
Like you said,there's always more to discover,even if it is that you were wrong all this time...

Beskeptical,you are no more skeptikal than my mother is an astronaut...
look much more like the one that build his own jail.

Hopefully some knows what to be skeptikal is...keep an opened mind.

Can i say that science is more on "bringing" question than on "answering" them,since our knowledge is moving...on different point of view...

The reality is changing,are you?
Those who hold inside a book,wont bring anything new...you have to add imagination to go further... ;)

russ_watters
2003-May-28, 06:28 PM
Hopefully some knows what to be skeptikal is...keep an opened mind. I have found that most people who claim others are too closed minded have open mindedness backwards. Being open minded does not mean you believe anything is possible. Quite the contrary it means you objectively evaluate all evidence - evidence which clearly indicates that many things are NOT possible.

People who are open minded are LESS likely to buy into highly speculative claims, not more likely.

nmal524
2003-May-29, 02:12 AM
Who knows? Maybe it is because they are bored with their own lives. Maybe it's mental illness, God only knows why people believe things without any real evidence. But the world wouldn't be interesting without them now would it?

beskeptical
2003-May-29, 08:08 AM
Funny.What is true today,may be wrong tomorrow...partialy or completly.
Like you said,there's always more to discover,even if it is that you were wrong all this time...

Beskeptical,you are no more skeptikal than my mother is an astronaut...
look much more like the one that build his own jail.

Hopefully some knows what to be skeptikal is...keep an opened mind.

Can i say that science is more on "bringing" question than on "answering" them,since our knowledge is moving...on different point of view...

The reality is changing,are you?
Those who hold inside a book,wont bring anything new...you have to add imagination to go further... ;)

Your mother is an astronaut? :wink:

On what basis have you determined that I am not a skeptical person? Certainly not from reading my posts here. Unless you just don't get it when you read what I have posted.

Somewhere in your experiences you have drawn the conclusion that if new evidence reveals a past interpretation of some other evidence was not correct, it means you cannot trust any interpretation. But science just doesn't work that way.

Take your own advice and open your mind to the concept that knowledge is built upon knowledge. It doesn't replace knowledge. In other words, the idea that if you learn something new it cancels out what you knew before is not a good description of how scientific research builds our knowledge base.

And, you still haven't given an alternative to science and made a case for how it is better.

beskeptical
2003-May-29, 08:18 AM
Who knows? ..... God only knows why people believe things without any real evidence. But the world wouldn't be interesting without them now would it?

There is a lot of research in this field. To say 'god only knows' implies it cannot be determined. But it can be determined and it needs to be or we risk splitting society further into the have and have nots. Information is becoming a critical determinent in how successful people will become.

I think the world would be more interesting if all the energy spent on nonsense were redirected into energy spent on 'sense'.

pixelator
2003-Jun-10, 07:46 PM
My theory about why people believe strange things:

1. Firstly, I am the only real thing in the universe.

2. Everything and everyone else is my imagination.

3. I am insane.

4. Therefore, logically, my imagination is populated with insane people who believe strange things.

You see? Simple.

:D

Donnie B.
2003-Jun-10, 09:45 PM
My theory about why people believe strange things:

1. Firstly, I am the only real thing in the universe.

2. Everything and everyone else is my imagination.

3. I am insane.

4. Therefore, logically, my imagination is populated with insane people who believe strange things.

You see? Simple.

:D
Solipsism and self-doubt are not a good combination... :P

pixelator
2003-Jun-11, 02:57 AM
Solipsism and self-doubt are not a good combination... :P

Boy I hate it when figments of my imagination try to psycho-analyze me.
:evil:

I've changed my mind:

I am NOT crazy!

... and neither am I!