Friday, November 17, 2006

Musings about the Richard Dawkins Foundation video

` Oh, for something new to put up on my blog. Okay! Since I don't have anything else finished, here's something: The other day I was watching the video for the Richard Dawkins Foundation and the first part really grabbed my attention:
I have just visited my local branch of Britain’s biggest bookshop chain, and this is what I found: six books on astronomy and nineteen books on astrology. The real science is outnumbered three to one by the pseudoscience. There were twenty books on angels, which means that angels and astrology together (39) outnumber the totality of books on all the sciences (33). When you add in the books on fairies, crystal healing, fortune telling, faith healing, Nostradamus, psychics and dream interpretation [the fake kinds], it is no contest. Pseudoscience outnumbers science by at least three to one, and I didn’t even begin to count the far larger number of books on religion.
` Indeed! There were so many pseudoscience books in the science section at the old Medina County Sylvester Library that I would pick up ones about the consciousness of the universe and other things like that, and think to myself, "Wow! Look at the amazing things that science has discovered!" Well, I liked reading and I liked science, even though - like over 90% of Americans - I did not understand what it was, and I began tearing through such 'eye-opening' books, starting with Michael Talbot's Beyond the Quantum and The Holographic Universe.
` When other random people would scoff, I became offended and said; "This is science, so it's real! It doesn't matter what you think! Reality is real! You'll see! There is so much research that proves psychic powers, so it's only a matter of time before the rest of the scientists will have to agree with it! I don't know why they don't, but they will have to! It's a revolution!"

` Needless to say, I now understand what's going on: There's a disregarding, nonobjective collection of select 'evidence', coupled with experiments that (on the surface) may seem scientific (but aren't) which are pulled together in order to support an idea. This is called pseudoscience, and the completely unobjective 'evidence' selected by these books most certainly fits the bill.
` Of course, not knowing that
there is an important difference between science and pseudoscience, I couldn't understand why the authors of these books had to be portrayed as such brave martyrs!

` Granted, some of the scientific experiments really were valid. They were just taken out of context. For example, one experiment that I (at least) take to be valid involved one group of people who went to basketball practice, another group spent the same amount of time imagining that they were in basketball practice, and a third group did neither:
` When it came time to test their basketball-playing abilities, the ones that did imagining were improved almost as much as the ones that did real practice, compared to ones that did not! That shows that people can sharpen their mental skills with imagery so that they do not have to go through as much 'trial and error' - that's the whole reason why we have the ability to rehearse things in our minds! (Monkeys apparently have this ability as well!)
` But, did Talbot conclude that this was the reason for our handy mental trick? No! Instead, he said that it had something to do with quantum theory and considered it to be evidence of psychic abilities or holographic mind-whateverness. I mean, come on! There's no reason his ridiculous idea should be considered real, nor that a normal mental function needs to be explained by it!

` So, while many of the experiments in the book actually used the scientific method and were thus valid - including discoveries in the subatomic world and mental functioning - they were taken out of context and presented in such a way that they backed up the things that Talbot claimed. Of course, his ideas were also 'supported' by some highly flawed or actually failed tests of psychic abilities, auras, etc, that I don't even want to get into because then I would have to ramble even more!
` In short, for what I remember, he displayed a complete lack of understanding of much of what he was writing about, and happily accepted and ignored just about anything in order to hold his dogmatic 'theory' together.
` Unfortunately, 'average' people are all about a kind of mistaken 'open-mindedness' akin to saying; "Well, who's to say the sky is blue? It could be yellow for all we know! They're just ignoring the evidence!" So, such people are not really the appropriate audience for books such as Talbot's and numerous others.
` If they really want to believe it, then they should just have faith because there is no science to contribute to these crazy concepts, sad as it sometimes may be to say. Hence, those books need to be kept out of the science sections of libraries so as to not be confused for one another.

` Anyway, that's enough rambling - the video goes on:

This is not, of course, an academic bookshop. Oxford is well supplied with those, and they’d show a very different result. I made my counts in a popular bookshop, presumably typical of the nationwide chain of which it is a part – indeed, the chain’s buying policy is centralized in London, and we may be sure that strenuous and expensive efforts are made to reflect popular taste. As a statistical generalization, the general public, as opposed to an academic readership, prefers irrational books over books that reflect what we know about the real world.
` It's true. Hard to believe I thought that such irrationality did reflect what we knew about the real world!
A recent Gallup poll concluded that nearly 50% of the American public believes the universe is less than 10,000 years old. Nearly half the population, in other words, believes that the entire universe, the sun and solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy, and all the billions of other galaxies, all began after the domestication of the dog.
` Aha! So the universe really does revolve around dogs! You see, according to my 'theory', dogs were lonely, so God created the universe for them! Ha ha ha haaa!
They believe this because they rate a particular bronze age origin myth more highly than all the scientific evidence in the world. It is only one of literally thousands of such myths from around the world, but it happened, by a series of historical accidents, to become enshrined in a book – Genesis – which, by another series of historical accidents, has been translated and disseminated to almost every home in the land plus – infuriatingly – every hotel room.
` Yes, Dawkins is particularly anti-religious, though I think he takes it a bit far: You can't disprove something you can't detect, you can only say that specific representations of God are not consistent with anything we know.
` Well, that, and based on the field of psychology, human beings like to anthropomorphize the world around them, which would naturally lead to the creation of pantheism, which would lead to various gods with different motives, which then would lead to the depiction of one god that could help rule entire civilizations.
Even before science told us the true story of the origin of the world and the evolution of life, there was no reason to believe the Jewish origin myth any more than the origin myths of the Yoruba or the Kikuyu, the Yanomamo or the Maori, the Dogon or the Cherokee. Now, in the 21st century as we approach Darwin’s bicentenary, the fact that half of Americans take Genesis literally is nothing less than an educational scandal.
` And that is another thing! What evidence do we have of any deity that would sway one person into believing in it over another? None. Sorry! That means they're all equally supported. So, if you were to be somewhat rational about this all, you would have to believe in all the faiths, and they contradict one another so well that this would seem to be impossible.
` So, what could we do to combat this problem of misunderstanding? Well, Dawkins suggests many solutions, and this one is at the very end:
Feminists and homosexuals have taught us the value of consciousness-raising. A phrase like “One man one vote” either causes you to flinch, or is uttered with intent to make you flinch. It is nowadays almost impossible to hear the phrase with its original innocent meaning of “One adult person one vote.”
` Except for me. That doesn't actually bother me. I must be strange.
Some atheists and freethinkers try to raise consciousness about, for example, the phrase ‘under God’ in the US Pledge of Allegiance. I am more interested in raising consciousness about something else: the habit, practised not only by religious people, of labeling children by the religion of their parents. This is a Catholic child. That is a Muslim child. I want everybody to flinch when they hear such a phrase, just as they would if they heard, That is a Marxist child.
` Darn right! Throughout my life - and even as an adult! - I have been told by various people that I am a Christian just because my grandparents are. I don't believe that Jesus is Lord, so how does that make me a Christian? I never was, I never will be, just like most people on the face of the earth!
` And as for children, I mean, you may be able to label a baby an atheist because the baby doesn't believe in God. And then, when the religious parents teach their children to believe as they do (and possibly undergo ritualized mutilation or something like that) those children have no say in the matter - they are forced into it and given no alternative. Of course, some accept it so blindly that they have no free will in thinking their way out of it if they could so choose, and the cycle begins again.
It is immoral to brand young children with the religion of their parents. At present, hardly anybody’s consciousness is raised to this. I would welcome suggestions, perhaps from those with experience of the feminist and gay campaigns, for the most effective ways to raise consciousness. I would like such consciousness-raising to be a particular project of this foundation.
` I agree. I must also go and mail a couple of bills. However, in case you'd like to go further and watch the video that I was writing about, it's right here.


Gareth said...

I like the way that you think :)
Actually if I could even see the sky at the moment I would like it to be bright blue with lots of sun rays dancing through it NOT the dark grey cold sky that it is right now ;)

Galtron said...

This is so true......

` Unfortunately, 'average' people are all about a kind of mistaken 'open-mindedness' akin to saying; "Well, who's to say the sky is blue? It could be yellow for all we know! They're just ignoring the evidence!" So, such people are not really the appropriate audience for books such as Talbot's and numerous others.

And I think your theory is wrong - the world is made for cats, not dogs!

S E E Quine said...

` I'm glad you like my way of thinking, Gareth. I do too! ^^
` Unfortunately, there will probably be a lot of gray days for a lot of the civilized world....

` And Galtron, I think you're wrong; the universe was made for dogs, and cats were made to think the universe was made for them!

Joey M. said...

How could you write a post about internet videos and not mention Artie Barnes' "Dog Torture" series? Absolutely apalling!

S E E Quine said...

` Yeah, especially my current top post... I have dog videos but no 'dog torture'. However, I'm too intoxicated at the moment to hang my head in shame.