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The cons of being rational

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This picture, whilst hilarious, looks at a somewhat darker side of critical thinking and rationality. Reductionist thinking tells us that there are only two options to this problem, either the glass is either half empty or half full, the problem puts us into camps of either being an optimist or a pessimist, which is an unjust judgement, considering the depth of human experience, can we really expect to be a ‘half full person‘ or the opposite? The reality, if we apply critical thinking is that the glass always full that is that regardless of whether there is liquid in the glass, there will always be some percentage of air (or other combination of gases). Overanalysing the problem? Maybe. But this problem does help to see how reductionist thinking is damaging, in that it completely disregards other options.

Being a ‘realist’ or a critical thinker is confronting, it makes you realise that there are terrors in the world that we cannot avoid (the big one being suffering and death), but when you are a real critical thinker, this is OK. Humans, like all other animals, are subject to the laws of nature and we will all die someday, so do we fill ourselves with false hope and avoid difficult conversations, or do we stay mired in telling ourselves half truths that merely falsely ease the way?

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Rationality

I read this post by David Matta and it struck how it is often the simple things that help us to understand what true rationality is. When I talk about rational thinking, too often people feel that they are being judged and that they are being called irrational. But this is not the case at all. The lack of rationality does not imply that an individual is irrational. Take an example, of religion, a person can be a practicising Christian, or they can be an Atheist (taking only two of the diverse religious choices). Being an Atheist does not automatically mean that a person hates religion, that they are against Christianity, what it does mean, however is that an Atheist does not believe in the tenets of religion. The use of reductionist thinking hurts everyone involved (that is, categorising people based on a single choice, or individual quality) and means that true intellectual debate can’t be entered into due to placing people in the boxes that we feel that they should fit in.

Tractatus Vitae

bounded rationality

The opposite of rationality is not irrationality but non-rationality. For both rationality and irrationality describe degrees of bounded reasoning. Non-rationality on the other hand invites unbounded awareness, i.e. more dimensions of the personality such as feeling, emotions, perception, etc… to bear on the situation and rightly so.

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Sweatshop Workers – A necessary evil?

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I recently read an article on distressed denim (OK stay with me here…) and that Chinese workers are being subjected to unsafe work practices to make these materials. Every time that I see an article like this the tone is always the same: OMIGOSH MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS PILLAGE AND PLUNDER POORER NATIONS!! It is a scary thought that companies may use workers who are poor and underprivileged in order to produce what they need, but really, it is concerning that news outlets continue to sell these stories as though they are new, as though we are surprised by these things happening in the world around us.

The reality is that they are happening and they will continue to happen in the future, and not much is going to stop it. I look at protesters for workers rights saying that sweatshops should be outlawed, that all workers should have the right to make a living without being put in danger and that is fair enough. However, companies want to make a profit (that is what they are set up to do, believe it or not), so they cut corners in manufacturing.

Think about what you would want to be paid for an hours work on a sewing machine, then factor in your costs, the companies overheads (property rental, insurance, raw materials, transport) and then look at the bottom dollar that the item is sold for on the shelves. At a Westerners wage, $100 for a pair of jeans means that a company will lose out on profit, so everything else being the same, the only choice is to drop the price of labour.

Now look at the protesters, at the need to make money to keep a business afloat, and then look at consumer driven economies. News media loves to point and laugh at the people who line up for hours at Black Friday and Boxing Day sales, but they are part of the same (complex) problem. If consumers are more likely to but products at dirt cheap prices, then manufacturers need to attempt to meet that need.

There are arguments that companies needn’t make so much money, that they could cut their profit margins, but can we really pull moralistic rank on how someone should run their company? By no means am I saying that the use of cheap labour is right, I am merely saying that it is logical. 

Another sad reality is that we constantly look at how people in other countries are exploited and tut and wave our fingers, but many nations (looking at you Australia and USA) are based on the presumption that if a more powerful race/party/person wants something, they will take it (I am of course referring to the displacement of Indigenous populations). It is not only a hallmark of commercialism and capitalism that exploits people, it is  a hallmark of being human. If you have never negotiated for a better contract, if you have never shopped around for the best price for a product, or negotiated the price of a service, then you may not understand this. This shows that as humans we are predisposed to making sure that we we own stays ours, that our bottom line is great and if not great, then at least not worse than our current situation.

Being a part of this world, requires an understanding of a lot of things, one of those things is this – Life has suffering. We make ourselves suffer, we make others suffer on a daily basis, yet we rail against it with all our might. The outcome that we are seeking is comfort, not for others, but for ourselves. Rallying against another’s discomfort is no more than falling into a trap of externalising our own feelings of discomfort at seeing another suffer, not a true desire to make the other not suffer at all.

The Age of UnEnlightenment

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Facebook, that shining beacon in the world of good friends and vague acquaintances, is one of the reasons that this blog is written. You see, we have emerged victorious from the Dark Ages of the dial up modem and the expensive mobile data package and come into the this – The Age of UnEnlightenment. The great lord of Broadband shines down on us, technology has become more portable and to complete the Trinity, the mobile data package has been unlocked from it’s prohibitive expense.

The problem with Facebook and other social networking and sharing sites is the fact that a bonanza of information is there for the taking, and of course sharing. This leads to the problem that information which is incorrect is proliferated through a vast amount of people in a very small amount of time. A recent example of this was the ‘Gang member initiation’ urban legend, that goes along the line that on the coming weekend that Gang members will be driving around without headlights and blah blah blah (I won’t further proliferate the rubbish). The ‘letter’ from a security firm said that they had been warned and to take to Facebook (rather than the more direct route of say the police, or hey even the mainstream media, they love that shit). A friend had recycled this ‘Just in case..’What is lacking here, besides common sense, is the timeliness and ability to filter information. In this instance, the person involved saw the information, pressed a single button to share it to their friends and BAM, there it is, sitting on the News Feeds of 200 more people (and the cycle continues).

We think that we are time poor, that single presses of buttons help us, that people really care about the posts that we make, that people need to have their information fed to them in tiny little bite sized chunks – but there is another word for time poor – intellectually lazy. We would rather have a ‘cool’ tidbit of information to share, rather than have to make the effort for a real piece of knowledge. We rather cram our heads with shit than we do with meaning (Don’t get on your high-horse here positive Psychology, I’m looking at you too). And who doesn’t love the ‘This common fruit cures cancer’ posts. Yep, because I expect that the next scientific breakthrough in terms of cancer will be by a naturopath who ran extensive randomised controlled trials with double blinding, and who’s research just didn’t make it into the Lancet. Not because of the fact that he has a negligible sample size for a benign cancer, but because of BIG PHARMA (they make me write it in all caps, sorry). Here’s the deal, if BIG PHARMA wanted to make money out of, let’s choose a fruit at random, soursop, then they would! Willow, yes the common tree, not the movie, is the main ingredient of Aspirin. Let’s face it, after starting production and sales of Aspirin, Bayer realised that the idea of pain relief just wouldn’t hold, they gave up on the concept and faded away to relative obscurity to the baying of local townsfolk yelling “How dare you use a common plant available to us all” Bayer never built their company from this discovery nor did they make a cent off that common tree (except for their 2.47 billion dollar profit in 2011)

Please, before you hit the ‘Share’ or ‘Like’ button, maybe do a Google search, check Wikipedia, or Snopes.com (for Urban Legends). Because, given a choice, would you rather impress your friends with a bit of trivia, or be informed?

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Mediums, Psychics – Snakeoil Salesmen

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Recently Silvia Brown, a Medium/Psychic was ousted as a fraud and attacked through social media, mainly due to the fact that she had ‘read’ that one of the women found locked in a Cleveland basement several months ago was in fact dead. Claims when psychics get it wrong range widely, it is due to weather, uncommunicative or malevolent spirits, or a simple mistake and trick of the ‘between worlds.’ The strangest thing to me is that when something like this happens, the psychic in question will even have a right of reply, will be given a chance to explain why they got it wrong, and the reputation and the several thousand dollar phone consultations continue as though this isn’t a person benefiting from the deaths and suffering of others. Why is it that she has a right of reply when what she is peddling is unsubstantiated tripe?
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Recently Silvia Brown, a Medium/Psychic was ousted as a fraud and attacked through social media, mainly due to the fact that she had ‘read’ that one of the women found locked in a Cleveland basement several months ago was in fact dead. Claims when psychics get it wrong range widely, it is due to weather, uncommunicative or malevolent spirits, or a simple mistake and trick of the ‘between worlds.’ The strangest thing to me is that when something like this happens, the psychic in question will even have a right of reply, will be given a chance to explain why they got it wrong, and the reputation and the several thousand dollar phone consultations continue as though this isn’t a person benefiting from the deaths and suffering of others. Why is it that she has a right of reply when what she is peddling is unsubstantiated tripe?

Let’s start this off by saying that there has never been a tested and validated psychic to date (For tests and refusals check out the James Randi Educational Fund). Psychics say that they can’t be tested, that spirits might not respond if they know that testing equipment is around (but they will happily turn up when the video cameras roll and they are often their in televised events that charge many dollars to attend).

As previous posts have noted, humans have an innate ability (called the cognitive miser effect) to use any information that is provided to them to fill in the gaps in information around them. These gaps are most likely to be filled when there is a dissonance, that is a difference between how things actually are and how we want them to be. And where is the gulf of this dissonance at its widest? With death of course, whether it be an actual death or the fear of death, there is a yawning gap between how we want things to be and how they are. Death is an inevitability, something that we all must get to, but there is such mystery about what happens next that we are forced into finding ways to fill that gap.

The trick that is used by mediums and psychics is called ‘cold reading’ (or warm reading depending on the preparation of the audience) as anyone who has an interest in skepticism will know. Psychics and mediums are salespeople, they exploit gaps in the information that they see and they run with it. Cold reading is quite a simple concept though, the most important aspect is that of stage craft, the ability to make it look like something is occurring, the ability to distract, redirect and refocus when a prediction or a reading does not go as planned. Look at any group of people that you see around you and ask yourself what are the commonalities of that group. Public transport for example in a city with a poor public transport service, we could assume that some people on a bus may have some sort of money concerns due to the inability to afford private transport (Let’s start with a general name (watch a medium in action, they will never ask for a Phoebe, a Corrine or other non-common name) I’m looking for a: John (which can be perceived as John, Joe, Jonathan) Catherine (Cait, Kate, Catherine, Cathy)) And lo and behold, a hand is raised, (First question, as per the assumption of issues with money, ‘I am sensing stress about money‘) This could also be substituted (or further added to) as stress about a job or health (people with money concerns are overrepresented in having health issues and obvious problems with a job, whether that be getting a job, or not earning enough. This process can go on for a little while, but what you will note is that a medium will never stay with an individual for too long, why? For a very simple reason, statistics. That is, the more information that you have an informed guess about someone, the higher likelihood that a mistake will eventually be made. Mediums will also close interactions generally (or depending on stage presence and ability to work an audience more specifically), such as “He wants you to know that despite everything that you are your own person and he knows that you can get through this, like you have before”

There is nothing in what psychics do which is magical, that is, unless you count the amount of money that they charge.

Psychic Mediums may be seen as salespeople, as performers, but they definitely should not be treated as a legitimate way to answer away questions left unanswered. The reality is, that death is final and isn’t it logical that sometimes questions will be left unanswered? The need for closure is only for the living, not for the dead.

Just don’t die – on the similarities of religion

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Religion is a funny little thing really, belief systems (mostly) aimed at transcendence of daily struggles, but often doing a whole lot of segregating humans into little sects that see the world through different, albeit very similar lenses. This essay is not a religion-hate piece, nor an exercise in Atheistic apologetics, just my views on what religion is to me.

Recently I was riding home from work and off to the East there was a storm building, a big black and shiny thing that crackled and spat, and being on a bike, I have to say that I was somewhat intimidated and I had a quick ‘I hope that doesn’t hit any time soon’ and with this thought I came to briefly reflect on how ancient civilisations must have viewed storms such as these. I live in a world that understands storms for what they are, relatively benign events that pass by with, in most cases, little to no damage. But with zero understanding of what a storm was and where it came from, I can understand where stories, myths and higher beings may start to take shape. This phenomenon isn’t the only event which would be inexplicable: earthquakes, floods, but even more day to day concerns, illness, death would have to be attributed some sort of meaning (as is the nature of humans). In this era of understanding, tribes aren’t communicating about each others beliefs, but live in different geographical locations and are subject to different environmental phenomena to different strains of illness and different threats and as a result general belief systems start to creep away from one another and start to form the basis of different religions. But I digress from the point of where I was going.

I was brought up into a secular existence, a professional father, a stay at home and part time working mother, public schooling until my senior years. In my senior years I entered a Catholic school and learnt what was required of me. Part of this was a ‘Religions of the world’ unit, that looked at other religions with disdain, looked at the differences in beliefs, rather than in the similarities of not what the religion, but the people within that religion, were trying to achieve, that is, to understand the world. I find this particularly troubling that when we look at any belief system there is always the comparison of not only how they are different, but how they are worse.

The idea of a supernatural being that watches over me, that guides everything that has and ever will happen, simply makes no sense to me. The fact that there are many iterations of God and God-like figures internationally and countless others that have died out leaves me with even less faith that there is anything out there. If the Greek and Roman gods, are no longer worshipped and now known as myths, what credence does this give to the current set of gods? When is their number up?

One of my biggest issues with religion and religious belief is that people are willing to die and fight for what are essentially exactly the same beliefs, those of a desire to freedom, a desire to succeed and live on.

I have done a bit of travel, been exposed to Christianity, to Buddhism, to Islam and others and the reality is that the sole goal of all people no matter from what religion is a simple rule ‘Just don’t die’ and with that comes the idea of community, of family, of perpetuity of love, of happiness. A Christian values his family no more than a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or an Atheist. The thing that we miss in all these comparisons, in the religious one upsmanship, is that when it all boils down we are all human and besides that, nothing else matters.

About this Blog

So, what is it all about, that is the question. This blog aims to look at recent news media, at press releases, at oft held beliefs and stereotypes and hold them up to the light. There will be some confrontation along the way, there will be some arguments, but hopefully always in the spirit of free-thinking and forward progress, rather than getting mired down in vitriol, tired rhetoric and over used dogma. Come with me now while we expose dogma, shamanism and all other manner of wacky-doo that it made to trick and deceive you.