Monday, September 14, 2009

Blinded By The Light

I'm probably stating something most people already know but Fundamentalist Christianity suffers from a cognitive bias known as framing, it's a form of selective interpretation which allows someone's bias to determine what one believes.

A cognitive bias works much the same in which a literal bias causes a lawn bowl to swing to one side. It is a pre-existing weight that determines how the outcome will be reached before the lawn bowl is even played. When it comes to Fundamentalist Christianity, the bias comes in the form of concepts like"The Bible is our only source for truth," or "What does the Word say?" (meaning, lets ignore everything else, particularly science).

Perhaps the most pointed example of being blinded by the light comes in the form of the so-called seven days of creation.

Science has meticulously compiled evidence that refutes the notion of creation occuring in six literal days and particularly if those six days only occured around 4000 BC.

But, the Fundamentalist Christian will proclaim, "What does the Word say?" Well, what does it say? How does the Word define these days? Does the Bible really describe six literal periods of twenty four hours? (Oh, and don't get me started on the seventh day, which is not recorded as ending at all!)

Genesis 1:20-25
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
And God created great whales [sea creatures], and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
Yes, the Bible says God created life, but lets not dumb down the Scriptures, they also say considerably more than just "God created..." The challenge to Fundamentalists is, read what is written and not just what the fundamentalist bias allows...

This section in Genesis describes "the waters" and not God, bringing forth abundantly. It also contains the command given to Nature, itself, to "Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters." Even the most ardent fundamentalist would have to admit that their vision is one of mass, simultaneous act of creation and not the natural act of procreation described in these verses. Procreation, the act of conception and the gestation of young in order to "multiply," as described in these verses, simply cannot occur within twenty four hours.

Rather than creation occuring like some scene out of Bambi, with all the forest creatures magically appearing all at once, the Bible is describing something that clearly took a process of time. It took time for the waters to bring forth abundantly. Science gives us some idea of the time as it can be measured in hundreds of millions of years.

Oh, for all you Hebrew fans out there, the term "bring forth" is the Hebrew sharats which means to breed. Breeding is the means by which God populated the Earth. Now, that's not so hard to understand, is it? Not even the most ardent creationist would dare suggest the Bible is describing accelerated breeding and the subsequent births as all occuring within 24 hours! Yet this is the means by which the Bible itself describes the Earth being populated. Clearly, the "day" described in Genesis is a general rather than a specific term.

Please, let's read what's written, not simply those affirmations that support our pre-existing bias :)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Why so much friction?

Why is there so much friction between people, cultures, races, nations?

In the words of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, a homicidal maniac bent on killing everyone in Gotham City... Why can't we just all get along? Oh, the irony in that statement is a thing of beauty.

The answer lies in the way our minds work.

The book of Proverbs declares, Every man is right in his own eyes. We all, inherently, consider ourselves infallible. Consider this, every problem in human relations, from a marriage on the rocks to rockets pounding the Gaza Strip, all stem from this one flaw in our perception of reality - we assume we're right. As Milton observed, evil is never so foul in our own eyes.

Henry Robinson's The Mind in the Making
We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship... we not only resent the imputation that our watch is wrong, or our car shabby, but... that our pronunciation of Epictetus... is subject to revision... We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to it. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.

Damn, that last statement says it all... most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.

So what should you do when you find yourself in an argument at work? Remember, truth is the first casualty in any war. What actually happened or what was actually said (unless recorded on tape) is irrelevant. It's not what was said that's important but the reaction to what was said. Passion in the heat of the moment will have more to do with offended pride and the need to save face than any kind of logic or reason.

Dale Carengie said the little word "my" carries the greatest impact in life. If it's "mine" it must be right, it must be the best, it couldn't be wrong, it is beyond dispute, it is divine.

Don't forget, it's easy to see this in others. It takes courage to see it in yourself :)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Another Satisfied Microsoft Customer

Wow... and you thought XP had problems... A ex-cop in the US recently ran into problems installing Vista and struggled to get his old programs up and running. After three hours, his patience had run out but his ammunition hadn't... The unfortunate computer took five slugs to the monitor, a sixth missed, passing through into the next apartment.

I only wish I could get in contact with him and say, "It's OK, we know and understand the feelings and frustration you've been through... All is not lost... You missed the tower case altogether so you can still upgrade to Ubuntu and save yourself a lifetime of aggravation."


Monday, August 13, 2007

Greetings, Fellow Sagittarians

If you have a distorted brain like mine, you've probably wondered about the angle on which the Milky Way cuts across the sky. It's just all wrong.

The Moon orbits the Earth around the equator. Both north poles point roughly in the same direction. In like manner, the Earth orbits the Sun around its equator and, again, both north poles point in roughly the same direction. But neither the Sun nor the Earth are in-line with plane of the Milky Way.

And the question is, why?

The answer is quite astounding...

Over the past couple of billion years, the Milky Way has been devouring a near-by dwarf galaxy we have come to call Sagittarius. The process of colliding galaxies is quite complex and, if you have Ubuntu, quite spectacular (as Ubuntu includes a screen saver that shows you the interactions of colliding stars graphically).

We've always thought of our sun as forming on the spiral arm of the Milky Way. But the reality is, our sun formed from the fragmented ruins of the Sagittarian dwarf as it collided with Milky Way. Rather than being a part of a spiral arm, we're thundering through a spiral arm of the Milky Way. Our Solar System is punching a hole in the spiral arm, passing through it like a bullet (which is not a bad analogy given the phenomenal speed our Sun is moving at).

And the evidence, the proof, has been staring us in the face each night as we've gazed up at the Milky Way. Rather than being on the same plane as our host galaxy, we're passing through at roughly 60 degrees.

Surprised? Find this incredulous? Unbelievable? Remember, all truths start out as heresies...

Curious? You can read more about this from these links...

ABC Science
The Solar System's direction of travel
We Are Not From Here

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Loyalty or Honesty?

Which is the greater trait? Loyalty or honesty?

It doesn't take most people too long to realise you can be loyal without being honest. Yet history is rife with examples of people who were loyal when, honestly, they knew better. The most sensational example of this is, of course, the Nazi's, but the concept hits a little closer to home than that.

Loyalty will always be valued over honesty by those in a position of authority (be it political, religious, secular businesses or social groups) simply because no one wants to be told they're wrong. We instinctively and inherently resent honest notions that force us to justify ourselves. And so, our natural sense of values are topsy-turvy. Someone that's loyal is seen as more valuable, more of a team player, more of an asset. While someone that's honest is difficult, a trouble-maker.

Reality, of course, is just the opposite. The seemingly loyal devotee isn't at all loyal. They're dishonest. While the honest devotee is loyal to principle before position.

If you find yourself in a position where you are challenged to be either loyal or honest, choose the tougher road less travelled and be honest...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why Are We So Easily Fooled?

Yep... there's a bit of a common theme running through the last few posts, the ease with which the mind can be fooled. Here's another one for you. Take a good look at this image...

The squares marked A & B are the same shade of grey.

Absurd, ridiculous, I hear you say. I thought so too until I checked by opening the image with gpaint (The Linux equivalent of MS Paint, although it's a misnomer to call it an equivalent when its clearly superior).

Yes, this is simply an optical illusion but think about it. If we can be so easily fooled by something so simple, what does that say about other judgements we make in life? A bit too sobering or negative? Perhaps. But the most astounding thing about this is the mind's stubborn refusal to see things as they actually are. Even though I can logically convince myself that these too shades are identical, I can't see it. Try as I may, I can see the shades are the same when they're put next to each other, but as soon as I look up again, B is clearly lighter than A, even though I know it's not.

So why is the mind so easily fooled? I'd like to hear what you think? For my part, I think it comes down to the fact that perception is a mental action, not a function of the eyes. Think back to your high school biology class and how the lens in the eye inverts everything, making everything upside down. The mind then has to process that image, turn it right way up so it reflects reality. So everything we see has been processed to one degree or another. It's all be tampered with subconsciously.

In short, we see what we are supposed to see...

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Ambidextrous Mind

The mind is a remarkable thing, perhaps more remarkable than we dare imagine. Take, for example, this image. Which way is it turning? Clockwise or anti-clockwise? “Why, don't be silly,” I hear you saying, “Of course it's turning clockwise.” Ah... you must be right-handed.

You see it's actually not turning clockwise or anti-clockwise. It's an illusion. It will turn which ever way you want it to turn. Don't believe me, give it a try. As you're reading, slowly become aware of the shadow at the bottom of the image. Try to ignore the legs and just let your eye settle on the shadow and, presto, you'll see she begins to turn anti-clockwise.

Ah... the ambidextrous mind. Now, are you ready for a real challenge? Can you make her turn either way at will? That's a real test of mental strength. You can do it, the trick is in training your mind to recognise which leg she has extended. If her right leg is raised, she'd be turning clockwise. If her left leg is raised, she'll be turning anti-clockwise. It helps if you focus on the shadow again.

The funny thing is, it is harder to unlearn. Getting her to turn clockwise again is harder than getting her to turn anti-clockwise the first time. The mind loves a rut :)

Isn't it bizarre how you can literally talk your mind into seeing whatever you want to see? There's a lesson in there somewhere...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

Looking for some light reading? Then this book probably isn't for you. But, regardless, it is well worth adding to your collection.

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) is a rare look into the sordid world of self-justification. It examines how decisions that are clearly wrong can be made by people and justified or even strengthened when events go belly up.

Take, for example, a cult that believed the world would end on December 21st and that they would be spared by being abducted by aliens at midnight on the 20th. Surely, you would think, when 12:01am rolled around, the faithful would be faithless. In a rational world that would be the outcome, but not in the surreal world of emotional illusions. By 4:40am, when it was absolutely clear to the most ardent of the faithful that the prophecy had failed, the prophet had another vision (what a surprise). And the vision was that the steadfast belief of the faithful (a group of about 30) had spared the Earth (the billions of us outside the fold). The "salvation" of the entire Earth lay with those 30 kind souls. Quite thoughtful, really. After this, instead of loosing momentum, the "faithful" then became more passionate and devoted than ever before.

Ah... I hear you saying, but I'm no freak. That could never happen to me. Yet this same mental mechanism, cognitive dissidence, works on numerous levels. Consider smoking. The consequences of smoking are inescapable and horrendous and yet still millions persist.

Moral of the story. Whether its alien saviours or a fag after a pint, Proverbs 21:2 still holds true, every man is right in his own eyes.

I've painted myself into a few corners over the years and got my feet dirty trying to get out of them... Mistakes were made by me...

Here's a few others worthy of note in this category...

The Lucifer Effect With a title like that, how can you resist?
Dont Believe Everything You Think is another...
A Mind of its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives brings some humour and wit to the arguments if you're stuck in the middle of the UK floods and a little bored, go to and order some of these. The military may not be able to get help to you, but Amazon will :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Courage, Stupidity or a Remarkable Example of Discipline

It's silly I know, but it does make a point, life is how you see it... So how do you see it? Courage? Stupidity? Or a remarkable example of discipline?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Problem with Religion

The one, universal tenet of all religions, regardless of flavor, is they don't think. Could it be put any more eloquently than this...

Religion is based on unquestioning acceptance, and for that reason, it never progresses beyond where it is... Sad, but true.

The great reformers, from Moses through to Christ, Paul and Luther, all shared one thing in common, the courage to question the status quo. You would think we would have learned from that...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Contribute to Cutting Edge Astronomy

Want to be part of genuine astronomical research? Now's your chance. Computer operated machines have photographed more than a million galaxies (or galaxy candidates). But the human mind is still far superior to computers at pattern recognition. And even if you teach a computer to recognise a spiral or eliptical galaxy, the computer would still fail to recognise anything really unusual or new. The scientists themselves are going nuts trying to classify this many photographs, so they've asked for help.

You can be the first human to set eyes upon a distant galaxy - be the first to classify it!
Here's one I classified as a clockwise (from an observer in the Milky Way) spiral galaxy. I feel 80% sure. If you can do better, then you need to sign up quick! Right now I'm the best they've got!

On the web site, you set up a user-name. Then do a five minute tutorial in galaxy categorisation at the required level. Then do a quick test. If you get 8 out of 10, you can contribute. Perfect for a lunch break. Have a go!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Winning the Lottery

On the train into work this morning I caught sight of a fellow passenger sharing indignation with the Sun newspaper. Mugger won £4m on lottery! It turns out the winner had previously mugged an 88 year-old lady for £6 to fuel his gambling habit. Apparently, fury among readers of the Sun is stoked by such an undeserving winner.

Well gamblers and readers of the Sun... that's how gambling works. You see, winners are not chosen on merit. A person gambles in the hope of getting something without earning it. It seems just a little two-faced to get upset that someone else gained what he never deserved.

A gambler's winnings are wholly at another's loss. But don't let the exploitation gnaw at blunted conscience - the odds are overwhelmingly in favour of once again becoming one of the chumps funding another unworthy winner.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

What does it take to succeed?

What does it take to succeed?

If the trend of the last 20-30 years is to be believed, all you need is pretty little posters with nice positive, iconic sayings on them. We're becoming a generation of cheerleaders, always there with the pomp pomps ready to inspire. The sad thing is the many people have been fooled into thinking that the pomp pomps actually make a difference. They don't, they're window dressing. It's the players on the field that make a difference.

Gone are the days where hard work was its own reward. No one wants honesty posters, they want fairy tale posters. No one wants to be reminded of Edison's quote about genius being 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration. Why perspire? Why slog away at things when I can quote a few jingles and feel good about myself. And then sit back and wonder why things don't fall into my lap when I was oh-so-positive?

Perhaps I'm bursting my own bubble here, and not yours, but here's reality for you...

OK, I admit, they're humorous. But stop and think about it. What is it that makes them so funny? Apart from the few that are straight irony, the reason these are funny is because they're all too true. They're honest, not pretentious.

The next time you're tempted to look at one of those office-bound pieces of new-age motivational trash for inspiration, remind yourself they're fanciful, not grounded in reality. Don't be hoodwinked by the cheerleaders. Success takes work. That's it. That's all there is. There are no other hidden gems of wisdom that will enlighten your world and make everything as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Welcome to the real world.

Have a nice day :)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Failed Terrorist Attacks

At times the effectiveness of the security services has been called into question. Happily it's the terrorists incompetence causing their own embarrassment this week in Britain.

Following three car bomb attacks, they've accomplished one parking ticket, one car towed away, one jeep burned out with severe burns to a terrorist, and two arrests on the scene. The police having captured some of the crew, were able to quickly follow with two further arrests.

Thankfully, no one has been injured besides the scum who perpetrated these attacks. I can only hope that this is a sign of the maturing terrorist network becoming as ineffective as most large organisations operating in Britain.

The sad reality is we cannot be so smug. According to the Telegraph, "The security organisation is monitoring 30 suspected plots involving more than 1,700 possible terrorists." That a hell of a lot of arseholes coming out of Friday prayers at the local mosque with murder on their minds.

I have not yet found any reference to Islam in the BBC's coverage of these three attacks. What the BBC is trying to pretend, I just can't imagine.