In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and religion, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

Memetics

Meme: an information pattern, held in an individual’s memory, which is capable of being copied to another individual’s memory.

Memetics: the theoretical and empirical science that studies the replication, spread and evolution of memes

Psychology explains why people are so easily duped

The science of “Truthiness”

True or false: “The Eiffel Tower is in France.” Most of us can quickly and accurately answer this question by relying on our general knowledge. But what if you were asked to consider the claim: “The beehive is a building in New Zealand.” Unless you have visited New Zealand or watched a documentary on the country, this is probably a difficult question. So instead of recruiting your general knowledge to answer the claim, you’ll turn to your intuition. Put another way, you’ll rely on what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness” — truth that comes from the gut, and not books.

As a cognitive psychologist, I study the ways that memory and belief go awry: How do we come to believe that things are true when they are not? How can we remember things that never actually happened? I am especially intrigued by the concept of truthiness — how smart, sophisticated people use unrelated information to decide whether something is true or not.

For instance, in a classic study by Norbert Schwarz and Rolf Reber at the University of Michigan, people were more likely to think a statement was true when it was written in high color contrast (blue words on white) as opposed to low contrast (yellow words on white). Of course, the color contrast has nothing to do with whether the claim is true, but it nonetheless biased people’s responses. The high color contrast produced a feeling of truthiness in part because those statements felt easier to read than the low color contrast statements. And it turns out that this feeling of easy processing (or low cognitive effort) brings with it a feeling of familiarity. When things feel easy to process, they feel trustworthy — we like them and think they are true…..

How Astrology Is [kinda] Like Racism

Both astrology and racial stereotypes are based on a framework of belief that basically says: “Without even meeting you, I believe something about you. I can expect this particular sort of behavior or trait (stubbornness, laziness, arrogance, etc.) from members of this particular group of people (Jews, blacks, Aries, Pisces, etc.).”

When an astrologer finds out a person’s astrological sign, he or she will bring to that experience a pre-existing list of assumptions (prejudices) about that person’s behavior, personality and character. In both cases, the prejudices will cause people to seek out and confirm their expectations.

Racists will look for examples of characteristics and behaviors in the groups they dislike, and astrologers will look for the personality traits that they believe the person will exhibit. Since people have complex personalities (all of us are lazy some of the time, caring at other times, etc.), both racists and astrologers will find evidence confirming their beliefs.

Of course, astrologers are not racists. But the belief systems underlying both viewpoints are identical: prejudging individuals based on general beliefs about a group. If we do not assume that African-Americans are lazy, Arabs are terrorists, or Asians are scholastic geniuses, why would we assume that Cancers are emotional, Aries are born leaders, or Geminis are optimistic non-conformists?

Why Believing In Astrology Is Not As Harmless As You Think

From io9:
People who diligently follow their horoscopes may claim that it’s all just good fun. But on closer examination, this claim falls flat. Here’s why astrology is potentially damaging to our understanding of science, relationships — and even our place in the universe itself.

Astrology, though discredited for centuries, still remains wildly popular. Scarcely does a day go by when we’re not told of how our astrological sign is supposed to govern our behavior or predetermine the day’s events. Yet no explanation has ever been given — nor is one forthcoming — that can adequately explain the mechanism for which the alignment of the planets can influence our psychologies or the unfolding of the universe.

It didn’t help the astrological cause back in 2011 when an entirely new version of the zodiac was proposed, thus shifting everyone’s sign from its mythical original position. Indeed, the whole premise behind astrology is predicated on some rather flimsy parameters; what we call “months” are actually cultural — and not cosmological — constructs. Moreover, our expanding universe, and all that’s within it, is in a constant state of flux.

Anyways, I’m not going to waste your time by debunking astrology right now. For that I highly recommend Phil Plait’s comprehensive take-down, which you can read here. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to explain why astrology does you no good — and why putting any credence into your sign or horoscope is not just misguided, but potentially harmful.

Bad For Science, Bad For Women

A recent poll by the National Science Foundation showed that more than 40% of Americans think astrology is a science — a rather shocking result (and no, it wasn’t because respondents were conflating astrology with astronomy). Equally as frustrating is the news that it’s at its highest level since 1983. The NSF uses this survey as a kind of metric for “the public’s capacity to distinguish science from pseudoscience.”

Demographically speaking, and in the words of Chris Mooney, much of the blame belongs to “younger Americans, aged 18 to 24, where an actual majority considers astrology at least ‘sort of’ scientific, and those aged 35 to 44.”

Other surveys have shown that women are more drawn to astrology than men. A 2005 Gallup poll revealed that 28% of women believe in astrology, compared to 23% of men. In Canada it’s even worse, where 33% of women buy into it.

But as York University sociologist Julia Hemphill tells io9, there’s more to this statistic than meets the eye: women are specifically targeted by the popular media.

"Astrology is an unempirical epistemology that’s peddled to women as a way of understanding themselves and the world," she says. "All you have to do is open a ‘women’s magazine’, and you’ll inevitably see at least one or two pages devoted to astrology.

The same pattern, she says, is evident in television programming for women.

"While shows about ‘mediums’, and other supernatural phenomenon can be found on virtually any network whose mandate is to attract and keep the viewership of women, such shows are a rarity, if utterly nonexistent on the schedules of ‘men’s’ networks," she says. "These networks are more likely to air shows that tend to focus on actual science."

Hemphill says it’s reasonable to question the degree to which women are ultimately deterred from learning about and engaging in genuine science — particularly when they’re aggressively offered pseudoscience in its stead.

'A Dangerous Fatalism'

Astrology also gives rise to uncritical thinking. Astronomer Phil Plait puts it best when he says that

The more we teach people to simply accept anecdotal stories, hearsay, cherry-picked data (picking out what supports your claims but ignoring what doesn’t), and, frankly, out-and-out lies, the harder it gets for people to think clearly. If you cannot think clearly, you cannot function as a human being. I cannot stress this enough. Uncritical thinking is tearing this world to pieces, and while astrology may not be at the heart of that, it has its role.

Continued

Thirteen Common (But Silly) Superstitions

If you are spooked by Friday the 13th, you’re in for a whammy of a year. And it would come as no surprise if many among us hold at least some fear of freaky Friday, as we humans are a superstitious lot.

Many superstitions stem from the same human trait that causes us to believe in monsters and ghosts: When our brains can’t explain something, we make stuff up. In fact, a 2010 study found that superstitions can sometimes work, because believing in something can improve performance on a task.

Here, then, are 13 of the most common superstitions.

Despite how studies on the genetics of sexuality are represented in the popular press that either decry or redeem the genetic basis of sexual orientation, none of the research to date that espouses to have found the “gay-gene” (or, more recently the “male-loving gene”) are actually supported by a claim that one gene, and one gene alone, determines sexual orientation. Sexuality is complex, both as a biological component and a political identity. Our genes do not define who we are, and while certain genes may indeed be present, they may or may not be expressed depending on a whole spectrum of environmental and biological circumstances.

- Orphan Black Science Consultant Cosima Herter, “Variability and Perturbations of the Spiral Universe Inside Us” (x)

(Source: orphanblack)

10 Good Reasons Not to Trust Your Brain

Perhaps the most damaging flaw is the brain’s tendency to think it’s right. In fact, it often insists it is right even in the face of contradictory evidence. So the next time you’re absolutely, positively sure you’re right, consider these 10 reasons not to trust your brain.

Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do this instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens those misconceptions instead. Over time, the backfire effect makes you less skeptical of those things that allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper.

The psychology of the “backfire effect” and why it’s so hard for us to change our minds (via we-are-star-stuff)

(Source: explore-blog)

Super Weird

bluejewofzsouchmuhn:

teachthemhowtothink:

I had a super weird dream yesterday where I was being attacked by this glowing reddish/orange light thing. It blocked out all sound, so I couldn’t hear anything and couldn’t scream while it tried to strangle me over and over again.

Like I…

What Science Tells Us About Why We Lie

When are we most (and least) likely to lie?

“Could switching to Geico really save you 15 percent or more on car insurance? Was Abe Lincoln honest?” So intones the Geico commercial spokesperson, followed by faux vintage film footage of Mary Lincoln asking her husband, “Does this dress make my backside look big?” Honest Abe squirms and shifts, then hesitates and, while holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart, finally mutters, “Perhaps a bit,” causing his wife to spin on her heels and exit in a huff.

The humor works because we recognize the question as a disguised request for a compliment or as a test of our love and loyalty. According to neuroscientist Sam Harris in his 2013 book Lying (Four Elephants Press), however, even in such a scenario we should always tell the truth: “By lying, we deny our friends access to reality—and their resulting ignorance often harms them in ways we did not anticipate. Our friends may act on our falsehoods, or fail to solve problems that could have been solved only on the basis of good information.” Maybe Mary’s dressmaker is incompetent, or maybe Mary actually could stand to lose some weight, which would make her healthier and happier. Moreover, Harris says, little white lies often lead to big black lies: “Very soon, you may find yourself behaving as most people do quite effortlessly: shading the truth, or even lying outright, without thinking about it. The price is too high.” A practical solution is to think of a way to tell the truth with tact. As Harris notes, research shows that “all forms of lying—including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others—are associated with poorer-quality relationships.”

Most of us are not Hitlerian in our lies, but nearly all of us shade the truth just enough to make ourselves or others feel better. By how much do we lie? About 10 percent, says behavioral economist Dan Ariely in his 2012 book The Honest Truth about Dishonesty (Harper). In an experiment in which subjects solve as many number matrices as possible in a limited time and get paid for each correct answer, those who turned in their results to the experimenter in the room averaged four out of 20. In a second condition in which subjects count up their correct answers, shred their answer sheet and tell the experimenter in another room how many they got right, they averaged six out of 20—a 10 percent increase. And the effect held even when the amount paid per correct answer was increased from 25 to 50 cents to $1, $2 and even $5. Tellingly, at $10 per correct answer the amount of lying went slightly down. Lying, Ariely says, is not the result of a cost-benefit analysis. Instead it is a form of self-deception in which small lies allow us to dial up our self-image and still retain the perception of being an honest person. Big lies do not.

Psychologists Shaul Shalvi, Ori Eldar and Yoella Bereby-Meyer tested the hypothesis that people are more likely to lie when they can justify the deception to themselves in a 2013 paper entitled “Honesty Requires Time (and Lack of Justifications),” published in Psychological Science. Subjects rolled a die three times in a setup that blocked the experimenter’s view of the outcome and were instructed to report the number that came up in the first roll. (The higher the number, the more money they were paid.) Seeing the outcomes of the second and third rolls gave the participants an opportunity to justify reporting the highest number of the three; because that number had actually come up, it was a justified lie.

Some subjects had to report their answer within 20 seconds, whereas others had an unlimited amount of time. Although both groups lied, those who were given less time were more likely to do so. In a second experiment subjects rolled the die once and reported the outcome. Those who were pressed for time lied; those who had time to think told the truth. The two experiments suggest that people are more likely to lie when time is short, but when time is not a factor they lie only when they have justification to do so.

Perhaps Mary should not have given Abe so much time to ponder his response.

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