Self-delusion January 14, 2017Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Questions, Responses.
Tags: belief, Cognitive Biases, critical thinking, delusions, lies, religion, Steven Pinker
I’m reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. It’s an enormous and thorough work on the decline of violence. Each chapter could really be a book on it’s own, and it’s taking me a really long time to work through it.
A day or so ago, though, this sentence jumped out at me. It’s in a section where he’s discussing why humans tend to think they are more competent, smarter, and luckier than they actually are:
“… Positive illusions are a bargaining tactic, a credible bluff. In recruiting an ally to support you in a risky venture, in bargaining for the best deal, or in intimidating an adversary into backing down, you stand to gain if you credibly exaggerate your strengths. Believing your own exaggerations is better than cynically lying about it, because the arms race between lying and lie detection has equipped your audience with the means of seeing through barefaced lies.” (pg 512)
Hmm. I’ve been looking for reasons why humans tend to be so good at self-delusion, and this idea could factor into the explanation. But its validity would hinge on humans being reasonably good at detecting lies. I’m not convinced that they are, especially given recent politics.
What do you think?
Friday the 13th drug overdose January 13, 2017Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Humor.
Tags: catnip, cats, drugs, Friday the 13th, Humor, superstition
We had a perfect confluence of luck happen today, appropriate for Friday the 13th. Not for us, though. For our black cat.
My spouse called me at work: “The catnip wasn’t sealed! I just knocked it over!” About 1/4 cup had spilled onto the floor. He got most of it up, but not before our Regulus had discovered that a massive overdose of his favorite drug was right in a perfect spot to roll in it.
See how his eyes look like they are vibrating? He’s stoned out of his mind here. Some cats don’t care for nip, but our kitty is a nip fiend.
When he gets a noseful of the stuff, he forgets how gravity works. He’s fine now, as far as we can tell.
Thanksgiving…urm…tradition November 24, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Humor.
Tags: Cake Wrecks, fun, poo, Thanksgiving, turkey
I’m going to try to lighten up, and at least act like I’m feeling better. (Even if I’m not.)
So I’m going to give my personal hat tip to one of my favorite websites, that always makes Thanksgiving more memorable. That website, of course, is Cake Wrecks. Because somehow, one of the things that can lift my spirits is a really ineptly decorated cake.
And every year at this time, Cake Wrecks posts bakeries’ attempts to create turkey cakes. But, since they always use brown icing, the head and neck of the turkey usually come out looking like poo. But sometimes they make it extra special, and they give us –
The traditional thanksgiving poo-wang. Please visit Cake Wrecks today for a splendid selection of these.
Well, a couple of days ago, I was at a
Giant Food supermarket near my office, and I decided to check out the bakery, and was not disappointed.
While not as spectacular as the ones on Cake Wrecks, I certainly got a smile out of what I found, so I snapped a couple of photos of the good ones.
Like winky here.
Or this. I’m not sure what is happening here. I like the Cookie Monster eyes, but I’m having trouble figuring out what is going on with the beak. It seems to be dribbling down his chin.
Hope everybody ate pie today!
What she said November 21, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
Tags: crap, despair, election, stupidity
I haven’t really been able to post what I think about the election, because I’m still too full of rage and despair to put it together coherently. But I just found this video on Friendly Atheist, and I think Tess Rafferty puts it very well:
So for my own mental health at the moment, I’m going to keep avoiding newspapers, and newscasts, and pretty much anything political, because I need to cope with the rest of my life at the moment, and if I think about what happened I just shut down and can’t do anything. Eventually I may be able to dig in and fight. But, as Tess said “… I may scream when I do and if I start I may not stop.”
I can’t even November 9, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events.
Tags: crap, despair, election
I just don’t have anything else right now.
The Supernatural and “Supernatural” November 7, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
Tags: atheism, binge watch, demons, evidence, ghosts, netflix, religion, Sam & Dean, Skepticism, supernatural, television
Oftentimes, during a conversation between a theist making a conversion attempt and an atheist, the topic of lack of evidence for the supernatural comes up. And sometimes the atheist demands, not only evidence that the supernatural exists, but some kind of an explanation for the mechanism by how it operates. But I don’t need that second part, and don’t think we need to demand it. If I had strong enough evidence that the supernatural existed, I’d accept that it did.
The theist will then usually protest about how there’s tons of evidence. Faith healing that’s not statistically better than placebos! A plane crashed and somebody survived! Just look at the trees! And other such stuff that isn’t good evidence for the supernatural.
What would a world look like where there was good evidence for the existence of the supernatural? I’ve found a really good example. I’ve just finished a binge watch on Netflix of the first eleven seasons of the series Supernatural (go figure). The basic setup, for those of you unfamiliar with the show, is a pair of brothers who travel the country saving people from various supernatural bad guys and monsters. In their world, this stuff really exists, and behaves in predictable ways. The brothers are often testing solutions to see what works, and researching into records to see what has been successful for other monster hunters in the past. For example, what works on a werewolf always works on a werewolf, but is not necessarily effective on a skinwalker or a vampire. The trunk of their car is filled with dozens of different weapons, to be prepared for anything they run into.
I’d like to look at the show’s treatment of demons in particular, since often theists claim that demons are real.
In this show, if someone is possessed by a demon, there’s no vague “I think they’re possessed because they said crazy things” or “I have a bad feeling”. Nope, in the Supernatural world, if you think someone is demon possessed, throw holy water on them. If it burns them, and they smoke and scream, there’s a demon. If they say “what did you do that for?” then it’s not a demon. (Could be something else, though. Best to run a few other tests.)
Demons can possess people without their permission, but can be evicted by someone else performing the exorcism incantation, upon which they exit from the possessed person visibly. No uncertain “I feel better now, so it must be gone” stuff. You can see it leave.
But if you want to kill it, you need a special demon knife. And there are specific rules and constraints on their behavior. They are unable to possess someone who has a warding tattoo:
If you trick one of them into standing on a devil’s trap, even if it’s under a carpet, they can’t leave until the trap outline is broken.
If you put specific items in a box, bury it at a crossroads, and say the right incantation, a crossroads demon will appear, ready to make a deal with you.
And there’s a lot more specifics on demons, that I won’t go into here. Each different sort of baddie in the series also has specific characteristics and weaknesses. Not some vague woo-woo “I feel a spirit in the room whose name starts with either a C or a J”. Nope, if there’s a ghost around, the temperature drops, the EM meter goes whoop, the ghost is usually visible and often solid, and they are repelled by cold iron or salt. You want to be rid of them? Find out what is tethering them to earth (usually remains of some kind) salt and burn that, and the ghost disappears in a burst of flame. Usually just in the nick of time, of course.
Sam and Dean don’t need to know the actual mechanism that makes all this possible. They just see it in action, every day. If theists could pull out examples of stuff like this, that’s predictable and testable and doesn’t line up with the laws of our physical universe, and our most thorough testing was unable to reveal any use of trickery or special effects, then I’d be willing to consider that the supernatural exists. I wouldn’t need to know how it works, I’d be fine with seeing that it does work.
But Sam and Dean’s world isn’t our world. The show even made this point by having the characters break through into our world at one point, where they found themselves on a TV set in Vancouver, and to their dismay found out that magic doesn’t work here!
Of course, I would not need a theist to show me exactly this evidence to establish that the supernatural is something more than their imagination. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Claiming the existence of an invisible realm full of invisible super-beings that interact with us? That’s really, really extraordinary. Show me evidence as strong as the characters are provided with on this show, or don’t bother.
Share your world – questions November 2, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions.
Tags: fun, personal, Questions
What was your favorite subject in school?
Anything but P.E. I didn’t care for writing much, either. It’s not that I hated actually writing, it’s just that what we were writing about was usually so boring, and I could never figure out exactly what the teachers were looking for. So I was putting in the amount of work that should have gotten A’s, but still often getting B’s.
Anything to do with music was always a favorite. But a good teacher could make up for boring material in most other classes.
If you could have a servant come to your house every day for two hours, what would you have them do?
Clean. Vacuum, sweep, mop, clean toilets, scrub out the fridge, then vacuum again because the cat will have shed all over the carpet since the first vacuuming.
Where did you live when you were in the third grade of school? Is it the same place or town you live now?
Grew up in the DC suburbs, and now live in a different part of the DC suburbs, but in a place that’s a lot like the place I grew up. I’ve lived elsewhere, but this is where I wanted to raise my children, because the schools are so good here.
In your opinion, list some places that are great for shopping?
Ethnic stores! In my area they are the place for spices, seafood and produce. In my neighborhood I have a choice of two full-size Korean supermarkets, and the regular supermarkets can’t come close for those items. Plus they have samples on the weekends, and that’s such fun.
Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?
I’m grateful that we’re almost done with these friggin elections. And I’m grateful for the people like Samantha Bee and John Oliver that can help me laugh instead of screaming.
DIY Halloween – Spoopy update October 31, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Crafts, Events.
Tags: Crafts, DIY, eyeball pumpkin, eyeballs, Halloween, pumpkin
Remember back when I made realistic eyeballs as a project for Halloween? Tonight the end product came together, and I’m very pleased with how it came out. And I had promised to post pictures if it was OK, so here they are.
Here’s the pumpkin as I’m finishing it up. I put ten of the eyes in, and then I was tired of cutting eyeholes so I stopped. I used bent pieces of wire to anchor the eyeballs in place from behind. Instead of cutting a big hole in the top of the pumpkin, I opened it up from the bottom. This leaves the top looking very nice, and also lets me set the pumpkin down over the light source, instead of trying to get a light to sit nicely in the bottom of the pumpkin.
Here’s the final result on the stoop in daylight:
Since the top is closed, and all the openings are blocked up, a candle really wouldn’t work in this, because it couldn’t get any air. But a small LED flashlight worked just fine, stuck into a little modeling clay to stabilize it.
And here it is all lit up after dark.
This turned out pretty much just like I wanted it to. I’ll keep the eyeballs to use again, and next year figure out some further elaborations for this.
“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Missionaries Behaving Badly October 20, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
Tags: books, christianity, Holidays, missionaries, Mormons, religion, shenanigans
1 comment so far
Continuing with my chapter-by-chapter review of the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries:
Chapter 15. Skeletons in Missionary Closets
(Content advisory: animal cruelty)
A whole chapter on misbehavior! Let’s see where this goes.
“While fulfilling a mission is a great privilege, it is also a great responsibility. Everything you say or do is being recorded in somebody’s mind for good or ill.” (pg 136)
So we start right out with setting an impossible standard that 19-year-old boys really can’t be expected to live up to. And then?
“A tactful missionary will not step over his bounds; he will respect other people’s beliefs rather than argue with them; he will not laugh at quaint or unusual mannerisms or customs but will view them so sympathetically as to adopt them as his own, at least during his mission; he will not criticize the people, the bus system, the food, the toilet tissue which might bear a strong resemblance to either wax paper or sandpaper, nor the beds which he suspects were invented for medieval torture chambers. Rather, he will admire what these people do have, realizing that all persons are entitled to hold good opinions of themselves and their country, and that they are happy the way they live and are proud of their backgrounds and country just as we are of ours.” (pp 136-137)
Right. Respect their beliefs, then tell them that they are completely wrong about everything they think about religion and have to change to what you think. Good plan.
So, as this author usually does, she harps on manners. She gives us a couple of examples on the necessity of thanking people. The first story I think really shows how outdated this book has become: A missionary had to be hospitalized, and of course didn’t have the money to pay for it. A local Mormon paid for his treatment, and the missionary never bothered to thank him. The author says about the Mormon: “She told herself to forget it since it wasn’t a matter of great consequence…” Nowadays, there’s no way that a hospital bill could be considered a matter of no consequence, it would be a huge financial outlay and a really big deal.
The second story also includes somebody being extremely rude, but I don’t think I agree with the author as to who the rude people were.
“One mission president and his wife decided to surprise their missionaries with a big Christmas dinner. Turkey was scarce in this distant land…. His wife worked in the kitchen for days making all the trimmings to go with the turkey, but they both felt rewarded just anticipating the eyes that would sparkle and the mouths that would water as the door of the dining room was opened at the climactic moment to show the festive table. On Christmas morning the missionaries all arrived for a brief meeting following which the mission president happily announced that they were all to stay for dinner. Just as he was opening the door into the beautifully decorated dining room, two elders blurted out “Do we have to stay? We were going to hit a flick.” (Go to a show.) With spirits somewhat dampened the mission president said “I think maybe you’ll want to stay when you see what we have planned for you.” Without so much as a single word of thanks, these same two elders complained to their mission president the following day that they got cheated out of their day off…and they had to go over to his house and eat that Christmas dinner!” (pp 137-8)
Somebody was rude here, but it wasn’t the missionaries. This mission president didn’t think that any of the 180 missionaries in attendance would have already made plans for christmas Day. Perhaps they were already invited to eat with local friends, perhaps that was the one day in the whole year that they allowed themselves the luxury of a movie and already had tickets, perhaps they had spent the previous week being invited to christmas dinners at other houses, and stuffing themselves each night. This mission president just assumed that his idea of what a perfect christmas dinner should be would take precedence over the plans of all these other people, and that they should just drop everything they had on their schedule to stay for his dinner. It’s pretty clear that while these youngsters are expected to take on the responsibilities of an adult, in no other way is the hierarchy treating them like adults.
Now we come to a long section on “don’ts”, and bad examples.
“For instance, two elders in a playful manner placed a rubber band around a dog’s mouth, but they inadvertently forgot to take the elastic off when they went into the house for supper. For five days the poodle wouldn’t eat and the landlady couldn’t imagine what was wrong (the rubber band had worked down into the fur and couldn’t be seen). Finally she took the dog to a veterinarian who had to perform a minor operation in order to cut the elastic which had become embedded in the animal’s flesh.” (pg 138)
Playful manner? Really?
“In one of the foreign missions, a group of elders found some old American Remington and Winchester rifles. So great was their excitement at this unexpected discovery that it blurred their judgment and consideration for others: they climbed on top of the church and began shooting at stray cats. People throughout the neighborhood began saying “What’s the matter with those Mormons?” Then they began referring to the elders as ‘Latter-day Cat Haters.’ “(pg 138)
So remember, missionaries, don’t be cruel to animals because it makes Mormons look bad.
One lovely member lady actually said to a mission president’s wife “Please don’t send us any more missionaries – wait a few years until the town can forget the last two!’ ” (pg 138-9)
“An elder or sister who is living up to the ideals of missionary work will never do any of the following…”
15. Feel that just because a method works it is right. For instance, one elder resorted to many different tactics to gain entrance to people’s homes. When a lady opened her door, he would throw his hat in and then have to go in to get it. Or, he’d walk in without making any comment and then say, “I’ll get the table ready while you get your Bible.” …
18. Be impatient with those not ready to accept baptism. One elder actually pounded the table and said to an investigator, “You are ungrateful. You should be thankful that you have been called. You must join now when the call is upon you.” The woman was offended and has not joined to this day.” (pp 139-40)
So at least there are limits on sneakiness in getting your foot in the door to preach at people. Bait and switch is OK (as seen in a prior chapter), and cornering your seatmate on a plane, but not overt rudeness.
Next section is back to basics on manners, this time regarding relations with the landlord. Don’t be noisy, don’t leave a mess when you move out, pay your bills, etc. All really good advice.
And finally a long section on relations with Mormons who live in the area the missionary is working in. Mostly it boils down to “yes visit them, but remember to behave like a guest, and don’t take advantage of their hospitality.” I also think this section is more of a cautionary tale for Mormons living in areas where there are missionaries active.
“On her arrival, one mission president’s wife who sincerely wanted to be like a mother to all the missionaries living in the mission home made the statement ‘I want you to know that this is now your home,’ but it wasn’t long before she had to put little signs all over the house such as the one on the refrigerator which said “Keep out. For family use only.” (pp 142-3)
That was her mistake. If you tell a bunch of 19-year-olds to “make themselves at home”, then you should not be surprised if they put their feet on the furniture, eat all the food in in the fridge, leave dirty dishes in the sink, and borrow your stuff without asking.
I found this chapter somewhat refreshing. All through this book there’s been this impossibly high standard set for the missionaries, that they have to be perfect every moment, always smiling, always polite, and must never slack off or relax too much, or stop thinking about pushing their religion on everybody. Do the missionaries actually live up to this expectation? From reading all of the “don’t let this happen” examples in this chapter, it’s pretty clear that a lot of them don’t.
Funeral update October 20, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants, Responses.
Tags: atheism, bible, christianity, funerals, religion
Well, I went to the funeral for my friend. And it was pretty much like I expected.
First, I want to give all due credit for the good stuff, the thoughtful stuff, the stuff that helped us all remember:
- There was a display of some of his favorite things, and favorite T-shirts in the lobby.
- There was a slideshow of years worth of family pictures playing on several screens for about an hour prior to the service.
- There was a terrific reception with tons of food provided, so that all the people there could have a chance to talk afterwards.
- There was a crowd of more than 600 people. The seats were filled and there was overflow seating set up in the lobby.
- My chorus had almost 50 people show up, and we did a really good job singing the piece we were performing.
- There were several people who spoke about my friend, and his life, and his influence on them, and especially his sense of humor. Some of his family spoke, and some of them wrote their thoughts down and had somebody else read them, which I think is great for when someone is too emotional to speak, or just too terrified of public speaking to speak.
The service was maybe 1/4 about my friend’s life, and how much we will miss him. The other 3/4 was about how religious he was, how important religion is, god, grace, god, heaven, god, bible, Jesus, and more god. Yes, he was a religious man, yes he was active in religious groups, and yes his wife’s a pastor. I’m not saying that their church shouldn’t focus so much on that, it’s their church and they should do their thing, it’s what the congregation expects.
But wow was it awkward for me as a non-believer to sit through all that.
The thing that maybe bothered me the most was the sermon. It was actually a sermon, not a eulogy. Instead of talking about the deceased, the preacher talked mostly about the biblical story of Lazarus. OK, I guess this is appropriate for a funeral, given that it’s about Jesus bringing a dead man back to life. But the pastor really focused for a bit on this sentence:
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And what I’m thinking is, if their benevolent god actually existed, one that cared about people’s beliefs, and wanted people to be righteous and religiously observant, and to serve their fellow man, then there wasn’t a better example of a faithful follower of that ideal than my friend. My friend who died in a pointless accident. My friend who should have had at least another 20 good years. I’m thinking “If their Lord was real, and cared, this man should not have died.” But no, then he went on to talk at length about Jesus bringing Lazarus back, a thing that in our modern experience never actually happens. You know, if their god existed and actually wanted to me to believe that he existed, at that point all he needed to do was to have my friend walk into that room, in perfect health, and I’d probably change my mind.
But alas, all we get is talk about grace, and the “arms of god” and “we’ll see him again” and the happy fairy tales people tell themselves to make us feel better. On the outside I was not showing my annoyance, but on the inside here’s the version of the sermon that was going through my head:
I think my presence there was helpful for my chorus, and I think the chorus’s presence there was helpful for the family. So I’m glad that I was there for them, even if I hated most of the actual service.