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That one weird thing that didn’t happen July 7, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
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8 comments

This morning, just before I woke up, I was having some long complicated dream about marble racing.  (That’s not completely out of the blue; I’ve been waching “Let’s Plays” of Myst III Exile, and it has a whole section of rolling ball puzzles.) As part of the dream, however, one of the things that came up was that Dan Barker had just died.  (Dan is a co-founder of FFRF, if you don’t recognize the name.)

After I got up, I checked the internet, and as far as I can tell, he’s fine.  Not dead.  This was a total non-event.

This kind of thing happens to people all the time.  Someone or something pops into our minds and for a moment it seems significant.  And then it turns out that it isn’t significant, and we FORGET.  All those old songs you thought about, but didn’t then hear on the radio.  All those old friends you were just thinking of that didn’t call you.  That famous person you were reminded of, and who didn’t have any big news that day.  This is normal, boring, and we just have no reason to remember these things, or how often they happen.

So the few times when, by coincidence, you DO happen to hear that old song, or get a call from that old friend, it seems completely amazing!  Hey everybody, I must be psychic!  I was just thinking about that person, and here’s a news story about them!  What are the odds?

The odds are, that since so many people are thinking about so many things, that once in awhile that coincidence should happen.   What would be weird would be if those coincidences never happened.

As an example, how many people do you think are listening to a Michael Jackson song right now?  Probably quite a lot.  How many people were listening to one, or had just listened to one, when the news broke that Michael Jackson had died?  Probably a similar number.  And a lot of of those people probably told everyone they knew about their amazing coincidence, and how it meant something.

But all it meant was that human brains are very susceptible to confirmation bias.  We remember the hits, and forget all the misses.  We forget all the boring stuff and remember only what was interesting and different.  The price of keeping our brains free of everyday clutter is that it messes with our understanding of coincidences.

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The King who Rained Confirmation Bias January 9, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
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4 comments

One website I love is called “You Are Not So Smart”, written by David McRaney, which looks into all the different ways that we delude ourselves. Great stuff. He’s migrated it into a podcast now, but the original articles are still on the website.

One of the most important topics he covers is confirmation bias.  After you read this, go read his article:

http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias/

Here’s how he opens that article:

Have you ever had a conversation in which some old movie was mentioned, something like “The Golden Child” or maybe even something more obscure?

You laughed about it, quoted lines from it, wondered what happened to the actors you never saw again, and then you forgot about it. Until…

You are flipping channels one night and all of the sudden you see “The Golden Child” is playing. Weird. The next day you are reading a news story, and out of nowhere it mentions forgotten movies from the 1980s, and holy shit, three paragraphs about “The Golden Child.” You see a trailer that night at the theater for a new Eddie Murphy movie, and then you see a billboard on the street promoting Charlie Murphy doing stand-up in town, and then one of your friends sends you a link to a post at TMZ showing recent photos of the actress  from “The Golden Child.”…

He goes on to talk about how that first reference primes us to notice and remember those other references, which otherwise we would have ignored.  How what appears to us to be a significant pattern is really nothing of the sort.

I just have one problem with this article.  I’ve never seen “The Golden Child”!  I don’t really care for Eddie Murphy movies, never noticed this movie on TV or Netflix, so this example just doesn’t resonate with me.  But I’ve been having a very similar experience over the last few days that I want to talk about.

A week ago I was remembering back to the TV shows from my childhood, and how some child actors just showed up everywhere.  I was specifically remembering how Johnny Whitaker was in everything, so I went looking on YouTube for clips from the old version of Tom Sawyer that he did.  (And found them, and I had forgotten that a very young Jodie Foster played Becky Thatcher.)  But that reminded me of a version of The Littlest Angel that he had done in the late 60’s:

Littlest angel

I found the full version on YouTube.  I remembered liking it as a kid, but going back to watch it now, it was really bad.  Really, really stupid and bad.  Fred Gwynne could actually sing, though, who knew?  But overall it was cheesy, poorly written and just painful to watch.  (Priming accomplished.)

A few days later, I was bored, and so asked Wikipedia for a random article.  What came up?  The entry for the really old TV show Car 54 Where Are You?  That was pretty cool, because some years back I had caught some reruns of this show, and so I was familiar with it, and even remember how the theme song went.  Here’s the stars:

Car 54

Are you seeing the pattern here?

Now we’re up to lunch Thursday.  My spouse and I were at a little restaurant near my office, and it had background music on, the usual fairly current pop stuff, but nothing too distracting.  Then they played something that I couldn’t help but listen to.  It turns out to be Fall Out Boy’s song Uma Thurman.  I had to look that song up, because I couldn’t catch any of the words at the time.  What caught my ear about it was the old song that they had sampled.  (That was the only thing that caught my ear about the song.)

What had they sampled?  The very distinctive theme song to The Munsters!  So what pops into my head – this guy of course!

Herman Munster

I only noticed this “pattern” because my brain was already primed to notice it from the awful video I watched a week ago.  Otherwise I would probably never have noticed it.  Confirmation bias in action.

(The title of this post comes from one of the children’s books written and illustrated by Fred Gwynne, which I also remember from my childhood.)

King who rained

Ham on Nye February 6, 2014

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Responses, UbiDubiKids.
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15 comments

There’s been so much discussion of the recent “debate” between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, so I’m not going to do a full review.  Bill did a good job, and Ken Ham was exactly the ideologue that I expected him to be. For a full commentary, see elsewhere.

But during the debate, there were a couple of things that Bill missed saying, and I was practically jumping up and down in my seat, saying “C’mon Bill, there’s a really good point I want you to make here, and you’re not making it!”

The first one is probably a small thing, and it’s where Bill missed Ham’s direct misrepresentation of the results of a radiometric dating test on a lump of lava containing carbonized wood. (I have not researched the particulars of this claim, I’m just discussing what was claimed at the debate.)  Ham claimed that the stone had been dated at 45 million years, and that the carbonized wood had been carbon dated at 45,000 years.  And Bill didn’t catch the glaring error here.  Carbon dating can’t go farther back than about 45,000 years or so, so if you use that test on something way older, the only result you will get back is 45,000+, and it can’t say how much older than that the sample is.  If you use the wrong tool to do your measuring, you get unhelpful results.  To me, this is like trying to weigh an elephant using a bathroom scale that goes up to 300 lbs.  No matter how accurately calibrated the scale is, if you try to weigh an elephant on it, the only answer you’ll get is “more than 300” or “off the scale”.  If you try to claim that the scale said that the elephant weighs 300 lbs, therefore the scale is useless, you’re just wrong.  And to claim the radiometric date of a rock sample can’t be correct at 45 million years old because a carbon date came back as 45,000+ is also just wrong.  And I’m pretty sure that someone would have pointed this out to Ham at some point, which makes him not only delusional, but a liar.

The second one, though, is a huge point that I really wanted Bill to hammer home.  Ham claims that creationism is science, but it cant be, because he is doing it backwards.  People doing real science start with the evidence, and draw their conclusions from the evidence, even if the results are not what they expected.  They then test their conclusions against the real world, and if they don’t hold up against all the evidence the conclusions are modified or thrown out.

Ham starts with his conclusion, then looks for specific evidence to back it up, and ignores everything else.  And he said flat-out that there is nothing that would get him to change his mind about his conclusion.  As a result, he’ll never discover anything new about the world.  That’s not how you do science, that’s how you do confirmation bias.  And that’s why his creationism is not a valid subject for science class.  I wanted Bill to really tackle him on this, and he didn’t.  Of course, Ham did a lot of Bill’s job on this, by stating that there’s nothing that could ever change his mind.   But I think Bill should have directly said “You’re doing it backwards” at some point during the evening.

p.s. I also have to point out that I love the way Bill kept referring to the venue as a “facility” and never once called it a “museum”.  Nice touch, that.

p.p.s. During the evening, Ken Ham actually said this: “Now, the Bible says, ‘If you come to God believing that He is, He will reveal Himself to you, and you will know.’ ”   He said it twice during his talk.  UbiDubiKid#1 was watching it with me, and she almost fell out of her seat laughing each time.  In between being overcome with fits of laughing, she said, “He’s just made the perfect circular argument!  Decide you believe in god, and then you’ll know there’s a god!”