Sunday, April 10, 2016

Vulnerabilities of the Human Brain

Just yesterday, I watched the movie "Regression".  The reviews were just a little above 3 stars, but really, you should watch it.  It states at the beginning that it's based on a true story.  It definitely is.  (Spoilers ahead!)  I remember living through the period when it seemed every day or so you could easily read an article about yet another person who underwent hypnosis therapy, only to find that they were sexually molested by their parents, a friend, a relative, etc.  I remember thinking at the time, "This is ridiculous!  Maybe some of these are true, but really, don't we all know that you can get a person to say or do just about anything under hypnosis?"  Sure enough, it took about a year, but finally enough professionals in the field started investigating.  We now that a lot of innocent peoples' lives were destroyed by what we now, finally, recognize as "Junk Science".

Today, I saw that Texas and California now have laws which allow for an immediate hearing for anyone who was convicted solely on "Junk Science"; i.e., science which has since been shown to not be as reliable as we once thought.  This is a good thing and badly needed.  All jurors need to know about this possibility.

But, believe it or not, that's not what prompted this blog entry.  What prompted this blog entry was reading Dr. Carrier's article, "Did the Apostles Die for a Lie?".  Yes, the two are very much connected.  Just hear me out.  In this article, he discusses the question of whether the Apostles would have knowing died for what they knew at the time was a lie.  Read the article, as there are far too many ways this could, indeed, have happened (and has happened many times) for me to go into here.  The easiest, and simplest, explanation is simply that while they may have been totally convinced that what they "knew" as true, that doesn't mean it was true.  There are far more possibilities than simply, (1) they died for the truth, or (2) they died anyway, knowing it wasn't true.  If you don't know about The Law of the Excluded Middle, then you should learn about it.

But, that's just the beginning!  The brain is an amazing thing!  Always keep in your mind that what you know, what you see, what you hear, is totally within your brain.  If you brain says, "this is true", then it's true, for you, no matter what's happening outside!  I'll mention here that I had an experience once which really drove this home for me.  It was late morning.  (I love late morning.  I have the strangest dreams during late morning, and I usually remember them.  It's fascinating looking at how your brain is making sense of the random signals and random inputs (mostly from your ears)!  I dreamed a whole story line, which finally led up to an event which culminated in a loud noise.  That noise woke me up.  At that point, I realized the noise was a car horn.  Now, think about this.  My brain had no way to know that this car was going to blow its horn at that point, so it couldn't possibly create a story which led up to that, yet it did!  This means that in the instant when it heard the horn, it created the backstory to explain it, and I "knew" that story had happened, even though it couldn't possibly have done so!  Your brain totally controls your perception of time itself.  Amazing!

The brain is capable of many more things which of which many people are not aware.  I give you, the Selective Attention Test.  If you haven't taken the test, you should.  You will then become unfit for jury duty, because you will know too much about the lack of value of an eye witness.  (I was tossed off a jury for mentioning it last year!)

Now, do we even need to go into Confirmation Bias?  A good book on this is, "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why we Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts".  Read it, especially if you work in the Judicial System.

There are many ways to alter your view or understanding of the world, even without drugs.  One of the more interesting ways, not mentioned in the above article, is to simply toss your head back and forth.  Do this for quite a while, even in time with music if you like, and you will produce a euphoric state.  Supposedly this is due to the large amount of endorphins which are released.  We know this today because studies have revealed it, however obviously many religions didn't know this at the time, which is why so many religious ceremonies involve this type of action and claim that it, "brings one closer to God!"  I'll also mention here that other studies have clearly shown that a magnetic field across the brain in just the right place can produce a sense of being in the presence of God.  (I don't have to make this stuff up!  The world is plenty interesting all by itself!)

So, now that we know all of the many ways in which the brain can be tricked in seeing, or not seeing, things which are there, producing whole stories around events which other actual explanations, even producing whole backstories to explain an occurrence, and producing mental states which clearly show we're in the presence of a divine being, simply because we're wearing a helmet(!), can we really continue to allow our children to be caught off guard by these things?!  Shouldn't we be teaching, in elementary, or high school at the latest, all of these known phenomena, so that when our kids end up having some strange experience during a camping trip when they were exhausted and hadn't eaten lately, they'll realize what's happening?  Wouldn't it be good to hear, just once, from someone that, "I had a really strange, other worldly experience, and it felt as though I had died and gone to heaven", only to have the next sentence be, "but I know what caused it, I know that it's rather typical of the state I was in, none-the-less it was interesting and fun!"

We need to educate our kids about all of the ways in which their perceptions can not necessarily be trusted.  If they know about these things, then they will be better prepared when (not if) the situations occur.  It's normal physiology, just like knowing how to lift a heavy load without hurting your back, just like understanding the causes of deja-vu (which can also be artificially produced).  People need to learn about these things, so they can stop hurting, and even destroying the lives of, others (as well as their own selves) by misinterpreting these things, when they happen.  (They always happen eventually.)

Don't trust your perceptions and stay safe out there!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why is everything close to 50-50?

I'm wondering, why are all matters of opinion these days always close to a 50-50 split?  It seems as if everything in this country is almost always 50/50; democrat vs republican, pro-life vs abortion rights, etc.  It's all 50 one way and 50 the other.  Are we always so even divided on everything?  I don't think so.  I think it's not normal for the country to always be so even divided.  I don't think we've always been this way.  I think at least some issues were previously (a few decades ago) 60/40 and some were even 70/30.  So, what's with the new 50/50 split on everything?

First, let me state that it's been shown that roughly 20% of the population will literally believe anything!  Yes, anything!  Look it up!  Look for studies where people have tried to get signatures on a proposal to ban "H20" because it causes a large number of deaths.  Look up how many people believe UFOs are real.  I can guarantee you that you'll always find at least 20% believing just about anything.  It's the other people, above the base 20% who have actually considered the claims, pros and cons, etc.  The base 20% will believe anything, so that doesn't really count.  When you hear 30% of the population believe "X", you should really think, "well 10% of the educated population believe 'X', because 20% will believe anything!"

But does that matter?  Does it matter that 20% of our population is uneducated enough to believe any claim which is made?  Well, ...  YES!  It matters because it shows we have a huge education problem to deal with and a Democracy can NOT have an education problem.  A Democracy absolutely MUST have an educated public, because it's that public which votes!  And whose interest is in having an educated public?  It's certainly not the government's interest.  It's easier to govern uneducated people than it is to govern the educated.  Ever heard the phrase, "it's like herding cats!"?  Trying to get educated people to follow you is hard, because they want to know "why" and also want to know your reasoning.  If you don't have a good argument behind your proposal, it won't be accepted. No, governing uneducated people is much easier!  So, it's not in the government's interest to educate people.  It's in the public's interest to educate people!

But, getting back to the original topic...  Why are we always split 50/50 on just about everything?  Well, think about it...  What other things that we know are always split 50/50?  A coin toss!  If there are two basic possibilities, then the probability of each is 50%.  Am I saying, then, that peoples' opinions are simply a coin toss?  Well, sorta, yes!  If a person is relatively uneducated on a matter, then what would they use to sway their opinion one way or the other?  They can't back up any reasoning with logic or understanding of the issue.  They're pretty much going to be swayed by their gut instinct.  Many people think their gut instinct is the the most reliable thing they have!  ("I just know what's right!")  Since their gut instinct isn't really grounded in anything scientific or logical, then it's pretty much a coin toss as to what their gut instinct will say!  Thus...  we end up with a bunch of people who are just going with their gut instinct instead of thinking things through.  Thus, we end up with a 50/50 split on just about everything!  50% is what you get then there's nothing to sway an opinion one way or the other.  50% is the base.  It's the starting point from which you must find reasoning or logical arguments to push one way or the other.  Lacking any real thinking, 50/50 is what you will always have!

Since we have a lack of real education in this country (evident by the large 20% who will believe anything at all!), we will always be lose to a 50/50 split on all topics until people decide they would like to be better educated and start thinking for a change.  Most people actively avoid thinking about deep topics.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Is Unitarian Universalism the same as Secular Humanism?

I'm wondering...  Is Unitarian Universalism ("UU") the same as Secular Humanism ("SH"), or is it the same as what Secular Humanism wants to be?  UU is all about inclusiveness.  I've heard it said of UU members, that "if you believe the same as the person next to you, then one of you isn't thinking enough!"  You can be a UU member and still be Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, Buddhist, or even Atheist.  They're willing to accept anyone who is interested in being with them.  While some "believers" say you need to "believe in something bigger than yourself, but we don't care what or about the details," UU members don't even go that far!  You don't have to believe in anything at all and you can still be a member!

Secular Humanism is all about what's good for Humans, here and now.  They tend to be very inclusive, because there's just too much "us verses them" happening and building a wall of separation between groups isn't conducive to helping Humanity.  SH members are, of course, secular, so they still see at least a little separation of "us" (those who do not believe in a God) and "them" (those who do believe in a God).  Maybe this is the biggest difference between UU and SH; namely, if you believe in a "higher power" then you can't really be SH, but if you do not believe in a "higher power" you can still be UU.

So, if UU's are willing to take anyone, no matter of belief, then what defines UU?  If you're willing to accept any members, no matter of what they believe or do not believe, then do you really have a "group" at all?  Isn't your group, "the Human Race", if you're willing to accept all members of the Human Race?  Isn't the whole definition of a "group" based on something which makes "us" different from "them"?

I'm thinking that UU isn't really a "group" at all; it's simply a bunch of people who like to get together on Sundays, sing songs, and "feel good" about themselves and others.  While this is fine, it's not really a "group", since anyone is welcome.  Actually, maybe it is.  Maybe it's the group of people who like to get together on Sundays, sing songs, and "feel good" about themselves and others!  I admit that some people wouldn't be into this.

Actually, SH members can learn a lot from UU, however.  If the discussion can be kept open, if friendship can be maintained, then there's always the possibility that others may come to a realization that this "God" stuff is a bunch of bull.  When they do, they'll need a lot of friendship and support.  If Secular Humanism can be as inclusive as UU already is, then there's hope for a Humanist movement.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Just bring the cops to trial to save money and lives!

There have been a number of news stories lately about white cops who have shot black men, and even children, who were basically defenseless.

(there are quite a few more, but you get the point)

In all of these cases, at least most recently, the cop was not indicted and the case will never be brought to trial.  Some people think this was a good decision because cops should be given the latitude to make such judgements, as a part of doing their job.  It's true that it's hard for a non-cop to put themself into the mind set of the cop.  It's a very different situation when you're out there, being shot at, than when you're sitting in your living room casually reading the account.  Others think that it's very clear that the case should at least come to trial.  Otherwise, cops will be given free reign to shoot anyone at any time with little or no accountability.

My view is that neither of these arguments matter at all.  That's right, it simply doesn't make any difference whether you side with the police force or with individual citizens.  I maintain that both of these are missing the real issue.  The real issue is saving lives and, to a lesser extent, saving money, such that the remaining funds may be used more productively.

There are really only two possibilities; let the case come to trial or do not let it come to trial.  Let's simply look at the outcomes of these two possibilities.  If we do not let the case come to trial, what when happens?  People will feel more threatened by the police force (especially black people), people will protest the decision, more police will be brought to bear on the protestors which will lead to more protesting, more money will be spent to restore the peace.  Probably people will be injured or possibly killed due to the chaos of the protesting.  Businesses will be looted.  Isn't all of this obvious?  No, it's not "right".  Yes, we can bring more force to bear to restore peace.  Again, that's not the issue.

What happens if we let the case come to trial?  Either the cop is found guilty or not.  In either case, more facts are brought out about the case.  The public becomes more educated about exactly what really happened and why.  There will probably be less protesting over a trial.  People will feel as though justice is at least being addressed, even if the decision is not what they want.  People will feel safer in that it is being demonstrated that cops can not shoot anyone without accountability; we would actually see some real accountability, regardless of the outcome.  With less protesting, less money will be spent on keeping the peace.  That means more money put toward keeping people safe and letting the police do their jobs.

So, regardless of the outcome of a trial, it's actually a trial which would save lives, keep the peace, help with public relations, and save money.  What's the downside to a trial?  Some people in the police force will be side-tracked into the trial, instead of doing their job.  What's the upside to a trial?  Most police will not be side-tracked into handling protestors and will thus continue to do their job.

Overall, a trial saves money and saves lives, regardless of the outcome.  Did anyone think of this when they decided to not let these cases come to trial?  Sadly, probably not.

I'll leave you with a graphic depiction of the time, money, and stress, which could have been avoided by simply going trial:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Religions will always have crazies - deal with it!

Religions have many problems, but one of the biggest issues which religious people have constantly to deal with is that of dealing with "The Crazies".  One is constantly hearing people of various religious beliefs making statements such as, "Well, they're extreme.  I'm not like that."  How can a religious person deal with these extremists and still have a religious identity?  It's hard.  Muslims in many countries are very non-violent, however Islam is still viewed as a very violent religion by many people.  Christian Fundamentalism is considered an extreme by many Christians, yet when a person identifies as "Baptist", it still brings with it thoughts of dancing with snakes and miracle healings.

One of the problems with religions such as Islam is that there are extremists, such as terrorists, who also claim to be devout Muslim, and yet many Muslims do not want to be associated with them.  It's hard for a Muslim to separate their religious views from those of terrorists because, well, they originate from the same holy book.  As a matter of fact, the Koran even has statements which clearly say that a devout Muslim should kill "infidels".  (Yes, it also has statements about caring for everyone, but it's not clear if the "everyone" in those statements is really talking about non-Muslims.  In general, non-Muslims are thought to be the equivalent of non-human, so killing them is no big deal.  This is stated in the Koran as well.)

Christian Fundamentalists are well known for their extreme views, such as claiming to handle wild snakes without being bitten, claims of miracle cures, claims of "speaking in tongues", even "Young Earth Creationism", and literal interpretation of the Old Testament.  While most main stream Christians do not associate with these beliefs, they are an integral part of many aspects of the religion.  It can be embarrassing to have to admit to being "Christian" because of the close association of these ideas.

I would maintain that "The Crazies" will exist in pretty much all religions and I'll explain why.  Religious ideas are based on nothing but a single person's interpretation of what they have read, heard, or learned from others.  When "God speaks to you", it can clearly be demonstrated that this amounts to little more than your conscience talking to you.  (Isn't it interesting that "God" always likes the same people you like and hates the same people you hate?)  Even though most religions have a "Holy Book" of some type, this book was always written by someone quite a long time ago who thought differently from us today, due to societal changes.  Thus, the "Holy Book" must always be interpreted by the reader.  Some make this interpretation in as literal of a fashion as possible, but we all know that if you literally followed the Old Testament rules, you would end up in jail very quickly!  (Leviticus 20:9 and many others)  So, interpretation is always there, no matter how "literal" a person feels they are taking the text.

Since interpretation is always there, then ultimately the understanding of any religion is always inside the head of the individual.  If religion were more like Science, then a person could appeal to facts and evidence to back up and to "ground" their understanding.  Since religion really does not have any such grounding, then every idea which is part of every religion is ultimately a matter of opinion!  That explains why there are so many!  There are many people in the world with many different life experiences and backgrounds.  Thus, everyone's opinion will be slightly, if not completely, different.  This can not really be avoided and religion has no grounding in anything which can be demonstrated in the real world, religion will always be "all over the map" with interpretations.

So, sorry to say, "The Crazies" will always be part of any religious belief system, since there is no grounding in the real world.  I guess religious people will just have to continue to fight for their own beliefs and as we have more people in the world, we will also have more religions!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Nones" or "Don't Cares"?

We, in the Atheist community at least, keep hearing about the "Nones"; those people who profess no religious affiliation.  We hear that the percentage of "Nones" is rising.  This is a good thing, for us.  It sounds good to talk about our numbers increasing.  I'm sure, however, that we can really claim all of that.

Some "Nones" aren't really Atheists; but then this gets into the definition of "Atheist".  Many people think that "Atheists" are people who believe there is no God.  Since it's well-known in the scientific community, however, that we can't prove a negative, then a person who is basing their understanding of the world on science and what can be proven will never say that they "believe there is no God".  They will, instead, say, "I believe there isn't sufficient reason to believe in a God."  So, the term "Atheist" is, increasingly, becoming defined as, "Lacking a belief in God."  This is not the same as "Believing there is no God."  A "Theist" believes there is a God.  An "Atheist" simply doesn't have that belief.  An "Anti-theist" believes there is no God, but that's an extreme view which isn't, and can't be, supported by science.

So, if an "Atheist" lacks a belief in God, then anyone who doesn't have a belief in God is, by definition, an "Atheist".  The problem with this, however, is that there are a large number of people who simply don't care!  These people generally don't have a belief in God, but they also simply don't care enough about the question to even investigate it or think about it.  I know a number of such people personally.

So, can we really claim all "Nones" (people who profess no religious affiliation) as "Atheists"?  I don't think so.  We need to re-ask the question in a different way.  We need to recognize the difference between the "Nones" and the "Don't Cares".

Friday, December 28, 2012

Religion doesn't really help dealing with the real world

I just finished watching the movie, "The Tree of Life."  While the movie lasts a long time and some parts of it tend to get slow and tedious, I did gain one new observation from it; probably not the one which was intended, however.  While watching and listening to all of the pleas for God to help, to explain 'why', to give comfort, it occurred to me that religion really doesn't prepare a person to deal with the real world.  Many people say that religion gives comfort in times of need, but I'm not really sure that's the case.

The movie dealt with a mother losing her young son (about 15 years old).  It never says how the son died, probably because that doesn't really matter to the story.  The mother undergoes extreme grief, of course, and turns to her religion, and thus to God, for explanation of "why my son?", and "why now?" Of course God never answers, which leaves the mother to wonder, "do you even care about us?" and "do you even know what happens down here?"  Of course, God never answers those questions either.  Eventually, at the end of the film, the mother gives in and tries to find some solace in "giving my son to you, as you want."

When we're young, religion gives us the feeling that someone is looking over us, which can be very comforting to some while being very threatening to others.  We eventually come to find solace, and even companionship, in a God who "watches over us" and who also seems to "know what's best" for us.  I maintain, however, that this is an erroneous view of the world and thus leads to trouble later.

When we're young, and first learning about life and religion, we're told that we should care about our fellow mankind, we should always do what's right, we should not lie, we should not cheat, we should not fight, etc.  However, just a little later in life, we are told that we should learn to look out for ourself, we should do what's in our best interest, we should not tell the whole truth in all cases, we should do whatever we can to get ahead, and we should take up for ourself and fight back.  It seems as if the "real world" is diametrically opposed to what we're taught via religion!  This creates uncertainly, doubt, fear, and generally gives rise to the whole idea of "sin" in which we continuously view ourself as "not perfect."  Religions have, of course, learned to make a huge amount of money off of these problems!

I see no reason to teach children to "be good" based upon some unrealistic, religiously based, ideas, which will only lead them to struggle with the conflict between the world "as religion would have it", and the real world "as it really exists."  Why can't we teach our children to live in the real world, as it really exists, and still to be good citizens?  Why can't we teach our children that treating others in "good" and "helpful" and "kind" fashion will only serve to help create the type of world in which they, themselves, would like to live?  If you treat those around you in a kind and helpful way, then they will treat you in a kind and helpful way in return; at least most of the time.  As Buddhism would say, "you create your world, every minute of every day."

We should teach children that, yes, they should be kind to their fellow mankind when that person is not being mean to them, they should always do what's right in the larger scheme of things, they should not lie unless lying will help the situation, they should generally not cheat unless they are being cheated in return or if it's for a good cause, and they should not seek a fight however they should be willing to defend themselves.  We should teach children that there is no one out their looking out for them, so they should be careful and look out for themselves.  We should teach children that, no, their loves one will not go to a magical place in the sky and they will never see them again after death, so they should appreciate their loves ones today, let them know they are loved, and learn well the lessons they can teach, because once they're gone, those lessons will be forever lost unless someone remembers them.  (This is why I refuse to remove birthdays, anniversaries, and other information about deceased friends.  They were a part of my life and I don't want to forget them and the lessons they taught.  This is their only lasting legacy.)

By learning how to understand and deal with the real world, we will be better prepared to deal with exceptional circumstances in this world.  Doing so is much better than the empty, non-existent, and thus unresponsive, God of religion, who offers only empty promises and who only "delivers" answers via the questioner's reinterpretation of whatever random events happen.  Don't depend upon religion to give you any real answers at all.  Learn more about how the world really works, understand more about your own emotional reactions to it, and there will be all of the answers you could want.