Belief, Christianity, Cultural Traits, Culture, Education, Faith, Family, Fun, God, Honesty, Intellectual Honesty, Mysticism, Nontheism, Parent / Child, Play, Reason, Religion, Skeptical Thinking, Thinking, Truth, Values

How Mom Raised Me to Think For Myself About Religion

(About a 9 minute read)

We used gold star stickers in Sunday School. You licked them and stuck them to you. I always wanted my teacher to lick them — because I would over-lick them — and I always wanted her to stick them to my forehead.

It was almost the only good and decent thing I could fathom came of attending Sunday School.

When we three sons would ask Mom why we could not stay home to play on Sunday mornings, she would tell us that “Christianity is your cultural heritage and you should be exposed to it.”

That was mildly confusing because not only did I fail to fully understand what “culture” and “heritage” were, but it also seemed to contradict Mom’s almost scandalously old fashion notion that we were not to make up our minds about religion until we had “reached the age of understanding”.  That is, until we were at least 18 and “preferably 21”.

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Bad Ideas, Belief, Biases, Communication, Conversation, Creative Thinking, Delusion, Education, Fantasy Based Community, Honesty, Human Nature, Intellectual Honesty, Judgementalism, Learning, Liars Lies and Lying, Life, Living, Magical Thinking, Obligations to Society, Quality of Life, Reason, Self-Flourishing, Skeptical Thinking, Society, Thinking

Willful Stupidity and the Good Reader

(About a 4 minute read)

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  — George Bernard Shaw

I suspect future historians will now and then speak of us as an “Age of Wonders”.  The wonder of our electronics.  The wonder of our communication technologies.  The wonder of our medical advancements —  especially in the field of mental health.   And so forth.

But sadly, I suspect future historians will also speak of us as an “Age of Willful Stupidity”.

If so, they will doubtlessly say our age began over 100 years ago with the Stupid Bolshevik Revolution in Russia that was soon enough followed by the Rise of Stupid Fascism in Italy.   And the historians are bound to point out that the willful stupidity has continued largely unabated straight through to today’s many Stupid Denial Movements.

I suspect future historians will write whole libraries on that one theme alone — willful stupidity.  And I expect — I actually expect — that somewhere in those libraries there will be a book or article with an insightful footnote saying, “The first casualty of willful stupidity is the art of listening.”

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Belief, Cultural Change, Cultural Traits, Culture, Epistemology, Knowledge, Language, Reason, Truth

Why We Should Make Our Politicians Speak in Hopi to Us

(About a 2 minute read)

English is not the best language in the world for discussing what is truth.

Back in the old days, folks thought of truth as a beautiful woman.  Let’s suppose for a moment they were right.  Let’s suppose truth is a woman.  If truth is a woman, then English is an awkward, clumsy 14 year old boy trying to seduce a sophisticated and confident 36 year old woman.  There are better languages than English for discussing the nature of truth.

The Hopi are a nation of native Americans living in the Southwestern United States.  If I can now recall what I was taught about the Hopi language in my linguistic anthropology course 40 years ago, the language is significantly more sophisticated than English when it comes to dealing with the concept of truth.

In Hopi, you cannot get away with only saying something is true. The language won’t allow it.  Hopi forces you to state how you know something is true.

The Hopi language recognizes three different ways of knowing something is (or probably is) true.  It forces you to pick one of those ways.  There is, for instance, no equivalent of the English statement, “I know you are home tonight”.  But here — expressed in English — are what you could say in Hopi:

I see (or directly experience) you are home tonight.

I hear (or have learned from another person) you are home tonight.

I reason (on the basis of what I have myself seen, or what I have heard from another person, or on the basis of both) that you are home tonight.

Just imagine how much fun we would have if our politicians, pundits, and preachers were forced to speak to us in Hopi!

Here’s the English:  My friends, it is a simple fact that my opponent in this race for the Governorship is a know pedophile!”

Here’s Hopi #1: “My friends, I have personally seen that my opponent is a pedophile!  Oh, wait! It’s not as it sounds!  I really wasn’t there myself.  Not really. “

Here’s Hopi #2:  “My friends, you should be alarmed!  I have it on good second-hand hearsay that my….Oh wait!  It’s more than hearsay..  Well, I mean stronger than hearsay.  That is, it’s admittedly hearsay, but it’s also stronger than hearsay.  Um…”

Here’s Hopi #3:  “My friends, I’ve added it all up to the best of my thinking ability and…Why are you all laughing?  Friends!  Why is everyone laughing at me?”

English, for all it’s many strengths, does not even come close to encouraging the sort of just and fair skepticism that Hopi does.  Rather in comparison, English seems to be a language that encourages people to quickly swallow things as true, rather than to think about how and whether they are true.

Christianity, Cultural Traits, Culture, Human Nature, Ideas, Intersubjective Verification, Knowledge, Learning, Logic, Observation, Philosophy, Quality of Life, Reason, Science, Scientific Method(s), Scientist, Subjective Verification, Thinking, Truth

Paul’s Brief and Saucy Primer to the Scientific Revolution

SUMMARY:  Several things or factors had to come together for the Scientific Revolution to take place.  The factors include logical reasoning, empiricism, peer review, and at least two basic worldviews.

(About a 7 minute read)

If you’re like me, your first question about this blog post will almost certainly be, “How did Paul’s briefs ever come to prime the Scientific Revolution?” I myself would say that’s a pretty good question!

On the other hand, if you’re NOT like me, but you instead suffer from a dangerous infestation of sanity, you probably already know that the Scientific Revolution is arguably one of the most consequential events in the entire intellectual and material history of our noble and esteemed species of poo-flinging, fur-challenged super-apes — and that it is still unfolding. Moreover, that knowledge may have gotten you to wondering how such an extraordinary thing ever got started?

As it turns out, that’s a huge question. Huge!

Continue reading “Paul’s Brief and Saucy Primer to the Scientific Revolution”

Education, Honesty, Human Nature, Intellectual Honesty, Language, Learning, Life, Living, Logic, New Idea, Quality of Life, Reason, Skeptical Thinking, Thinking

Three Pillars of a Well-Educated Mind

SUMMARY: There may be several pillars of a well-educated mind, but to me, the three most important are intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and critical thinking.

(About a 12 minute read)

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”  ― Margaret Mead

Like most people who do not suffer from a crippling over-abundance of sanity, I am a staunch believer in the notion that we could do a much better job than we are doing in teaching people to think.

Saner people might point out the many ways in which American culture discourages teaching people to think.  For instance, there is a deeply rooted strain of anti-intellectualism in our society that has been present ever since the 1820s or 30s, and which most often manifests itself as contempt for anything exceeding a narrowly practical education.

I freely concede that making a living is of periodic importance in life, such as roughly during the period between the ages of twenty and sixty or so.  But to me, that doesn’t mean you should so focus your education on getting a good job that you fail to develop the skills necessary to lead a fulfilling life.

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Bad Ideas, Belief, Biases, Cognitive Biases, Human Nature, Ideas, Intellectual Honesty, Knowledge, Logic, Philosophy, Reason, Skeptical Thinking, Thinking, Truth

Finding Truth in All the Wrong Places

SUMMARY: The post examines the notion that we can reliably decide what is true or not according to whether or not an idea “feels true”.

(About a 3 minute read)

“Suppose truth really is a woman”,  Nietzsche asks at the beginning of one of his books.  “Has not the history of philosophy proven that philosophers are clumsy around women?”

Nietzsche was among the first Europeans to recognize how problematic is the notion that we humans seek truth.  About the same time, in America, the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce was developing Pragmatism — a school of philosophy resting on the observation that we do not seek truth, but rather seek the psychologically comfortable state of belief.

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“With Freedom Comes Responsibility”

(About a 6 minute read)

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  — Martin Luther King, jr.

 

In high school, I had a math teacher — who I blogged about here — who was something of a political outlaw back in his day.

He was a member of the John Birch society.  A political organization founded by a millionaire that espoused, among other things, the notion Eisenhower had been a communist agent of the Soviet Union, and that had even attacked the nation’s parent-teacher associations as somehow subversive of American values.

The Birchers had been cast out of mainstream American politics by William F. Buckley, the most influential right-wing political thinker and pundit of the time (They would not return to the mainstream until our own age, in 2010).  Buckley considered them dangerous fools and radicals.

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Late Night Thoughts: Belief, Love, Mysticism, Blaming, and More (September 4, 2018)

(About a 7 minute read)

Almost immediately following World War II, and American firm was hired to poll the Japanese public on several issues, mostly — as I recall now — regarding the occupation and new constitution.  It was the first time the Japanese public had ever been polled.

The firm soon discovered an unexpected problem.  The Japanese people didn’t know how to answer questions about what they personally believed.

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My Ideal Adult Human

(About a 9 minute read)

Now and then, I ask people on the internet what their ideal adult human is.  Almost inevitably, at least one or two people respond by asking me why there should be an ideal adult human.  It’s a good question.

There seem to be three major reasons — and possibly a fourth — for thinking about what one’s ideal adult human would be.  The first is to get a clearer and perhaps more insightful view of what one thinks would by the best possible society to live in — the good society, so to speak.

For instance, it would be inconsistent to hold optimizing personal freedoms as the hallmark of a good society if you also thought the ideal adult human was a mindless cog slaving away to support and grow the economy.  One of those would not lead to the other in any practical scheme of things.

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Belief, Biases, Cognitive Biases, Epistemology, Intersubjective Verification, Logic, Nature, Observation, Philosophy, Reality Based Community, Reason, Science, Scientific Method(s), Scientist, Skeptical Thinking, Thinking, Truth

“How unbiased is science and how unbiased are the scientists?”

A Special Guest Post by Boyd Stace Walters II

(An 11 minute read)

Boyd Stace-Walters here.  Worldly epistemologist, savvy logician, and adept philosopher of the sciences parachuting in from an undisclosed location and secret hideaway in academia to answer Mr. Bottomless Coffee’s excellent compound question, “How unbiased is science and how unbiased are the scientists?”

As it happens Mr. Bottomless Coffee, that question was the single most frequently asked question at the most recent party I was invited to back in ’96.

Admittedly, the reason it was the most asked question is because I got deliriously drunk on two two many glasses of the old bubbly and started asking it of all the guests.  I was hallucinating they were graduate students, you see.  But I’ve learned my lesson, and never again will I drink at my own wedding.

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Abuse, Bad Ideas, Competence, Cultural Change, Cultural Traits, Culture, Equality, Equality of Opportunity, Ethics, Fairness, Fantasy Based Community, Freedom and Liberty, Guilt, Honesty, Human Nature, Idealism, Ideas, Ideologies, Intellectual Honesty, Justice, Liars Lies and Lying, Morality, Morals, News and Current Events, Obligations to Society, Oppression, Political Ideologies, Political Issues, Politics, Privilege, Quality of Life, Racism, Reality Based Community, Reason, Shame, Skeptical Thinking, Society, Thinking, Truth, Values, Village Idiots, Work

Who is Privileged and Who Is Not?

(About  5 minute read)

Growing up, I had a keen sense that I could get away with a good amount of rule-breaking.  Not just little things, but some fairly sizeable offenses too.  I didn’t usually push things as far as I sensed I could, but I did have the perception I could get away with a whole lot of things — if only I wanted to.

The sense stayed with me when I got older, although it became a little vaguer.  When I was in my late teens, early twenties, majoring in philosophy I was aware that I wouldn’t have much trouble getting a good job upon graduation — despite some warnings that my major was impractical.

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Community, Human Nature, Intellectual Honesty, Intersubjective Verification, Knowledge, Logic, Philosophy, Reason, Science, Scientific Method(s), Skeptical Thinking, Teresums, Thinking, Truth

How Scientists Verify that Something is True

 

A Special Guest Post by Boyd Stace Walters II

(About a 7 minute read)

Dear Ms. Teresums,

Boyd Stace-Walters here.  Worldly logician, savvy epistemologist, and frighteningly good philosopher of the sciences.  Mr. Sunstone has asked me to address you on a subject he says is “as near and dear to her as wanking.”  Whatever “wanking” means.  The subject in question being “How Scientists Verify that Something is True”.

I must dutifully warn you, Ms. Teresums, that the subject we are about to embark upon is thrilling, entirely thrilling.  It is fraught with ecstatic moments of discovery, and there are dangers, Ms. Teresums — dangerous moments when the least slip in reasoning can plunge the unwary student into the racing, whitewater current of a logical fallacy!

I must recommend you have you smelling salts handy at all times.

Continue reading “How Scientists Verify that Something is True”