Dreaming Skeptically

I have been able to read in my dreams since I was a teenager. It’s nothing new. This morning was different. I found myself analyzing details of the dream WHILE I was dreaming. In other words, I was aware, in the dream, that I was examining specific aspects of it with a critical eye.

I dreamed that we lived in a beautiful old Victorian house. Our sons, instead of being 21 and almost 20, were 6 and 4. We had been out at night and when we came home there was a strange woman there in the parlor. She told us that her friend had called her because she had become very frightened and didn’t want to leave the kids alone.

It was at that point I noticed on the left hand wall there were seven large pieces of paper. While Hubby spoke to the stranger I looked at them more closely. At first it looked like jumbles of letters in a spidery hand. Then I realized that all the words and sentences had been written backwards. I thought, why would anyone write such complex sentences backwards?

Then I noticed the giant mirror on the right side as Hubby was telling the stranger “That chair you’re sitting in has been a real hot spot of activity along with most of the upstairs”.

In the mirror I could see that one of the pieces of paper on the left read “Give a portion of your gold each day to keep the ghosts at bay.”. And, in the dream, I realized that someone was trying to scam us because the “hot spots” Hubby was talking about was where the ghost hunters said there was lots of paranormal activity. So even in my dream I was analyzing the evidence that was presented to me and came to the conclusion that the ghosts or “hot spots” weren’t really real and that someone was trying to scam us.

I no longer ascribe meaning to dreams. They are simply the brain’s defrag process. It just amazes me that I have integrated skepticism so deeply into my life that now I’m even dreaming skeptically.

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Newer Is Better

Today’s Logical Fallacy, at the request of our friend Sara is, the Appeal to Novelty or, Newer is Better.

Where yesterday’s Appeal To Tradition tried to use the idea that older is better as factual evidence, the Appeal To Novelty tries to pose the idea that because something is new it is automatically better.  This is a fallacy because it assumes that because something is new it is automatically better.

This fallacy has the following form with X’s being played by a pony today

1) Pony is New.

2) Therefor Pony is correct or better

Western culture seems to be prone to this fallacy especially when it comes to technology. The media and advertising have continually bombarded the US with the notion that newer is better.  The idea of progress and modernization (that has somehow become entangled with evolution) creating a “great big beautiful tomorrow”, to quote Walt Disney and the Carousel of Progress, also contributes to this fallacy.

An example of this fallacy might look like this: There are many people who love their ebook readers (Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony PRS-700, etc). They’re a big technological craze and although it has slowed a bit, there are still those that claim that eventually ebooks will replace their analog cousins.

Another example might be: (Using an invented product)

1) Introducing the brand new Titanium Pony! It doesn’t require feeding, Titanium Pony is always ready to play and best of all it doesn’t leave road apples! Get YOUR Titanium Pony today!

2) The Titanium Pony is better because it’s new.

In some cases this is NOT a fallacy though. Fresh fruit is better than rotted fruit. This is not because it is new or novel. So there ARE times when new is better and it is not a fallacy.


Appeal To Tradition

Today’s Logical Fallacy: Appeal To Tradition

This is borrowed from http://www.nikzor.org

Appeal to Tradition is a fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that something is better or correct simply because it is older, traditional, or “always has been done.” This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

  1. X is old or traditional
  2. Therefore X is correct or better.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because the age of something does not automatically make it correct or better than something newer. This is made quite obvious by the following example: The theory that witches and demons cause disease is far older than the theory that microrganisms cause diseases. Therefore, the theory about witches and demons must be true.

This sort of “reasoning” is appealing for a variety of reasons. First, people often prefer to stick with what is older or traditional. This is a fairly common psychological characteristic of people which may stem from the fact that people feel more comfortable about what has been around longer. Second, sticking with things that are older or traditional is often easier than testing new things. Hence, people often prefer older and traditional things out of laziness. Hence, Appeal to Tradition is a somewhat common fallacy.

It should not be assumed that new things must be better than old things (see the fallacy Appeal to Novelty) any more than it should be assumed that old things are better than new things. The age of something does not, in general, have any bearing on its quality or correctness (in this context). In the case of tradition, assuming that something is correct just because it is considered a tradition is poor reasoning. For example, if the belief that 1+1 = 56 were a tradition of a group of people it would hardly follow that it is true.

Obviously, age does have a bearing in some contexts. For example, if a person concluded that aged wine would be better than brand new wine, he would not be committing an Appeal to Tradition. This is because, in such cases the age of the thing is relevant to its quality. Thus, the fallacy is committed only when the age is not, in and of itself, relevant to the claim.

One final issue that must be considered is the “test of time.” In some cases people might be assuming that because something has lasted as a tradition or has been around a long time that it is true because it has “passed the test of time.” If a person assumes that something must be correct or true simply because it has persisted a long time, then he has committed an Appeal to Tradition. After all, as history has shown people can persist in accepting false claims for centuries.

However, if a person argues that the claim or thing in question has successfully stood up to challenges and tests for a long period of time then they would not be committing a fallacy. In such cases the claim would be backed by evidence. As an example, the theory that matter is made of subatomic particles has survived numerous tests and challenges over the years so there is a weight of evidence in its favor. The claim is reasonable to accept because of the weight of this evidence and not because the claim is old. Thus, a claim’s surviving legitimate challenges and passing valid tests for a long period of time can justify the acceptance of a claim. But mere age or persistance does not warrant accepting a claim.

Examples of Appeal to Tradition

  1. Sure I believe in God. People have believed in God for thousands of years so it seems clear that God must exist. After all, why else would the belief last so long?
  2. Gunthar is the father of Connan. They live on a small island and in their culture women are treated as property to be exchanged at will by men.Connan: “You know father, when I was going to school in the United States I saw that American women are not treated as property. In fact, I read a book by this person named Mill in which he argued for women’s rights.”
    Gunthar: “So, what is your point son?”
    Connan: “Well, I think that it might be wrong to trade my sisters for cattle. They are human beings and should have a right to be masters of their own fate.”
    Gunthar: “What a strange and new-fangled notion you picked up in America. That country must be even more barbaric then I imagined. Now think about this son. We have been trading women for cattle for as long as ourpeople have lived on this island. It is a tradition that goes back into the mists of time. ”
    Connan: “But I still think there is something wrong with it.”
    Gunthar: “Nonsense my boy. A tradition this old must be endorsed by the gods and must be right.”
  3. Of course this mode of government is the best. We have had this government for over 200 years and no one has talked about changing it in all that time. So, it has got to be good.
  4. A reporter is interviewing the head of a family that has been involved with a feud with another family.Reporter: “Mr. Hatfield, why are you still fighting it out with the Mcoys?”
    Hatfield: “Well you see young man, my father feuded with the Mcoys and his father feuded with them and so did my great grandfather.”
    Reporter: “But why? What started all this?”
    Hatfield: “I don’t rightly know. I’m sure it was the Mcoys who started it all, though.”
    Reporter: “If you don’t know why you’re fighting, why don’t you just stop?”
    Hatfield: “Stop? What are you crazy? This feud has been going on for generations so I’m sure there is a darn good reason why it started. So I aim to keep it going. It has got to be the right thing to do. Hand me my shooting iron boy, I see one of those Mcoy skunks sneaking in the cornfield.”

Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed

This morning I saw the last 10 minutes of Ben Stein’s documentary ‘Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed”. I had heard nothing about this until now and I have plans to record a showing on the morning of the 20th so that I can review it in full.

In the few minutes I saw, Stein uses the imagery of the Berlin Wall as being the barrier between scientists and intelligent design. He proposes that more be done to investigate the notion that if not some kind of god, then some sort of greater intelligence is responsible for the beginnings of life on this planet and the Universe as a whole. Of course this has been done with an additional emotional appeal to the ideals of freedom.

He even interviews Richard Dawkins. You can see that Mr. Dawkins is trying very hard to be kind and patient with Mr. Stein in answering his questions. I do wish that Dawkins would have explained that his lack of belief in a god has to do with a lack of testable evidence.

At one point Stein brought up the quote about the god of the old testament. Dawkins read the complete quote about that god being a blood thirsty misogynistic ethnic cleanser, etc. Then Stein asked if he believed in a kind, loving, gentle god. That would be the god of the new testament if I’m not mistaken.

Isn’t Ben Stein Jewish? My understanding, and please kindly correct me if I’m wrong, is that the Jewish people follow the old testament and the Torah, a book I am not familiar with. My reading of the old testament shows precisely what Mr. Dawkins says.

I’m looking forward to watching the entire documentary and I’ll post a review soon.

Pat Robertson Persists

This morning Pat Robertson continued to insist that the reason for Haiti’s troubles is the supposed pact with the Devil that we discussed yesterday. He claims here http://bit.ly/5XeL7L that since the Dominican Republic is prosperous that this supposed “pact” MUST be the reason that Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the world.

Obviously Mr. Robertson’s research team failed to mention to him that, although there are resorts, the Dominican Republic is still a third world country. There is also a difference ing governmental styles. Haiti is a socialist nation run by a dictator. The Dominican Republic stopped being a dictatorship in 1961.

Because of the governmental style, Reagan levied heavy import tariffs against Haiti. That also contributed to the impoverished state of the country. Add to that the weather-related issues and the drug issues and it’s no wonder Haiti has problems.

And yet, Robertson continues to attribute these troubles to a being that no one has been able to prove even exists. Anecdotal evidence is not evidence because a story cannot be tested repeatedly to get the same results. An anecdote is the result of human observation. Personal biases color those observations. When someone like Pat Robertson observes the world, he sees demons and the Devil as the reason for worldly woes. A scientific, skeptical approach shows us that weather and politics are largely contributing factors.

Not the Boogeyman.

Pat Robertsons on Haiti

This morning on the Christian Broadcast Network Pat Robertson made a claim about the reason Haiti has had so many troubles. He states it is because they made a deal with the Devil in the 19th century for their freedom from France.

It’s times like this when it is very hard not to be a cynic. A cynic would have followed that claim up with something like “WTF Pat? Are you stupid?? What kind of crack are you smokin’??”

Haiti should be very proud of its history. In 1791, their ancestors started the only successful slave revolt in human history. It was the first black-run country. They have a rich heritage that deserves to be celebrated. Their revolution is considered a defining moment in African history in the New World.

Pat Robertson isn’t necessarily full of crap though. At least not from certain perspectives. According to the Wikipedia entry on the Haitian revolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Revolution), “Historians traditionally identify the catalyst to revolution as a particular Vodou ceremony in August 1791 performed at Bois Caïman by Dutty Boukman, a priest.”.”

At one point in my life I was a Fundamentalist Christian so I understand the “logic” behind Pat Robertson’s claim. From his perspective Vodou is devil worship. The priest, Dutty Boukman, called on demons and the Devil, by fundamentalist reasoning, to free his country. When an entire country is given over into the hands of the Devil, no good can ever come of it.

This is, of course, no longer my perspective. This is an observation and explanation on Robertson’s reasoning. It in no way is meant to support his argument by Appeal To Widespread Belief.

This logical fallacy states that because something is widely believed, that makes it factual evidence. This reasoning is fallacious. We used to believe the world was flat. We know better now because evidence has shown otherwise. A belief is not necessarily factual. In this case, there is no scientific, testable evidence of a Devil. There is no scientific, testable evidence that Vodou has been effective.

Haiti has simply had to deal with unfortunate circumstances.  The recent earthquake is one more instance in a string of natural occurrences. There is nothing paranormal about it. This country has simply been victim to a host of natural disasters ranging from flooding and hurricanes to disease and drug trafficking. These, along with a public that lacks education, are the things that keep Haiti impoverished.

I would urge you to go to redcross.com and contribute to the Haitian relief effort if you haven’t already.

Filler

I’ve noticed that there are days when places like the Skepchick site has what I would consider filler. Opinions are bandied about concerning a multitude of fluff topics. Often such issues as the Facebook bra color thing and how we fill our down time have been par for the course. Please understand that this is not a criticism of Skepchicks. They rock and I really wish I was one of them.

This is an observation.

As part of the observation, I wonder why this happens. Are there simply not enough news-worthy skeptical topics to cover? Is it that, after a while they simply run out of educational things to talk about all the time? Is it because it offers a break from those times when the stupidity of anti-vaxers, the Catholic Church, religious extremists and conspiracy theorists makes you want to ram your head through a wall??

I think I’ll take door number three.

This is just a guess mind you. After all, I don’t always talk about educational aspects of skepticism. Sometimes we all need a break from the serious.

And so, today we have…Filler!! TADA!

The Amazing Adventure 5

The JREF’s Amazing Adventure 5: Skeptics of the Caribbean is fast approaching. The cruise leaves Fort Lauderdale March 6 and returns on the 14th. So far there are 85 skeptics set to sail. Provided his health allows, the Amazing One himself, James Randi, will be joining us on the cruise!

Here is a link to the itinerary and information about the cruise http://bit.ly/EZb4I During the lovely sun-filled, rum-sodden days, talks will be offered on a myriad of topics. I’m scheduled to give one on skepticism in daily life. As if going to the Caribbean, hanging out with like minded people and spending time with The Amazing One wasn’t enough of a thrill…you get ME!

What I would like to know is this: What would you like to hear about in a talk/discussion about skepticism in daily life? Leave a comment here or email me at fledgelingskeptic@atheist.com

Pity Party

Today’s Logical Fallacy is called Appeal to Pity or Ad Misericordiam

There’s no Scary X in this formula so we don’t have puppies or duckies guest starring today. It’s a pretty straightforward fallacy whose structure looks like this:

1) P is presented with the intention of evoking pity

2) Therefore claim C is true

The use of pity as “evidence” is a fallacy because emotion cannot be substituted for real evidence. Evidence is testable while emotion is far to erratic to be used as evidence.

Please note that there are times when an claim that serves as evidence can also evoke pity. For instance:

Claimant P calls in to work: Boss I can’t come in today.

Boss: You know this is your second time this month calling in.

Claimant P: I know but I got hit on the way home last night. I’m in the hospital with a broken shoulder that needs to be repaired surgically and my car is wrecked

See? Instant pity. But there is also evidence to support the claim:A broken shoulder and a totalled car. So while this IS a logical fallacy, it is sometimes a fact.

An example of the actual logical fallacy would look something like this:

Claimant P:  I really need this job

Interviewer: You’re underqualified according to your resume

Claimant P: I’m a single Mom. I have three children and my ex won’t pay child support. Our electricity is going to get shut off if I don’t get this job and it’s the middle of winter.

Interviewer: I suppose we can make an exception in your case.

Again, instant pity. But the fallacy comes in at the point where she’ll get the job because the interviewer feels bad for her. She isn’t qualified and the evidence, her resume, shows that she isn’t. BUT because of her situation, the interviewer feels pity and capitulates on the company policy of not hiring the under qualified.

I’m Skeptical About That

Yesterday I talked about what skepticism is versus cynicism. Today I want to talk more in depth about why cynicism is damaging and why skepticism can be a difficult approach to maintain. Granted I am still new to skepticism. These are just my observations and I am always happy to have people kindly correct my mistaken presumptions.

Cynics tend to have a hardline approach to subjects that they are convinced qualify as Woo. (see woo def here: http://bit.ly/crSgm). Once a cynic is convinced, they seem to be just as hard core as True Believers. (see TB def here: http://bit.ly/39ygEg). Of course this is damaging to the use of scientific analysis and equates to bad science. A hardline approach to a topic doesn’t, quite obviously, allow flexibility in one’s viewpoint. It squelches the possibility of new observations because a hardline cynic will automatically, if not consciously at least unconsciously, filter out new observable data in favor of the perceived Woo.

I try to remain open-minded while still being analytical of what is presented to me. For instance, I was on a forum discussing quantum physics and  the topic of observable auras came up. Now a cynic would have the automatic knee jerk reaction that auras are Woo. I used to believe in auras and at one point had convinced myself that I could actually see them. I know that auras, as the New Age community presents them, are most likely not real. At some point science may find out otherwise but until then, I’m sticking with what science says.

HOWEVER, someone on the forum mentioned that there have actually been a few humans found that can actually see into the low IR (infrared) spectrum. This would explain at least a few people seeing “auras”. Here is what I found on a physics forum: http://bit.ly/6YiRfU

I would LOVE to get some knowledgeable opinions about this so PLEASE leave feedback.

My point here is that if I were a cynic I would simply dismiss this out of hand instead of investigating as much as I did. THAT, dear reader, is what a good skeptic does. Investigate. If you don’t know, keep looking until you find the answer. It may not be the answer YOU want but that’s the point here. Be open to results you don’t expect. Don’t dismiss it just because it doesn’t fit with your view of the topic. Investigate, seek, question. It’s how we differentiated from cynics and True Beleivers.

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