What Is The Cause Of Bias?

Bias in the general sense is weighing the proverbial (or even literal) scales in a particular direction when the scale should be neutral.

Cognitive biases are the epistemic equivalent. And cognitive biases happen when people use their intuitions — especially their moral intuitions — when they shouldn’t be.

Our thought processes can be crudely divided into two general types of thinking: Intuitive thinking and analytic thinking[1] [2] . Intuitive thinking is virtually instantaneous, analytic thinking is slow and deliberate. Intuition is good at recognizing faces or voices, and is terrible at math. The slow one is good at math and terrible at recognizing faces.

If you want to engage the intuitive engine, just listen to a story. Especially an engaging story with a simple narrative that has clear good guys and clear bad guys. If you want to engage the slow one, start doing some statistical analysis.

A bat and a ball together costs \$1.10. The ball costs \$1.00 more than the bat. How much does the bat cost?

The bat costs \$0.10 right?

Imagine the following scenario:

A beautiful woman sits alone at a bar. An attractive man walks up to her. He leans in and whispers in her ear. She laughs.

What did the woman look like? Was she white? Black? Indian? What did the bar look like? Was it upscale? A dive bar? What did the man look like?

Did you have to slowly deliberate over each of these questions while reading the quote, or were they provided to you? That was your intuition that provided it.

The intuitive type is our default, is in control all the time, and is what chooses when to engage the analytic type. Hence bias: There are issues that were already decided by our intuitive engine and when challenged the intuitive engine calls on the slow engine to defend the intuitive engine’s conclusion.

Because our intuitive engine is on all the time, we are easily biased by things that appeal to and make sense to it. As a thought process, intuition sees almost everything as having a social cause or human agency. Indeed, if there is a choice between something having a mindless physical cause or being caused by an intentional agent or some social/moral role, we are biased to go with the intentional agent/social role.

The intuitive engine is especially succeptible to teams and coalitions[3] [4] . If you want the intuitive engine to turn into an absolute totalitarian dictator, just form a coalition (e.g., Republican, feminist, Christian, Muslim, Brexiter, Remainer, Yankees fan, etc.[5] ).

If you want to overcome bias? Since our intuition is in charge almost all the time, this is a Herculean effort. But here’s how you can start:

1. Don’t join or identify with any coalitions. If you do, try to do so with a highly exclusive one. Not one that just anyone can join.
2. Don’t trust stories. Especially ones with clear good guys and bad guys. Anytime you hear a well crafted narrative, you should be on the cognitive equivalent of FPCON DELTA; you are being biased in real time.
3. Be careful about snap judgements. Try not to moralize an issue. Morality is orthogonal to what’s true. Or in other words, moral truth is not the same as physical truth[6][7] .
4. Learn what makes something a good explanation[8][9] . This means: Learn statistics. Learn about things like Simpson’s paradox[10], the base rate fallacy[11] , the conjunction fallacy[12] , the prosecutor’s fallacy — assuming P(A | B) = P(B | A)[13] , the Univariate fallacy[14] , and so on.
5. Finally, and most importantly, don’t try to pick apart the biases in other people. Since our intuition is in charge, it will use knowledge of bias to defend its biases[15] . Concentrate on overcoming your own biases. If you hear a thought that says something like “this person I’m talking to is biased” then you’ve just biased yourself.

Footnotes

Comments Off on What Is The Cause Of Bias?

Posted by on February 12, 2020 in cognitive science, Quora answers

Do Modern Historians Agree Jesus Existed?

Yes, most modern historians agree Jesus the Nazarene existed. And this consensus should be good enough for a layman, if you don’t feel like diving deeper.

However, if you either have academic training or are an academic, you would know that not all facets of academia share the same standards of rigor. If you fall in this area (or are just curious), just having a consensus isn’t good enough; e.g., consensus in biology about the theory of evolution isn’t enough to show that the theory of evolution is correct.

So what are some good rules of thumb when encountering an academic field you’re not familiar with?

First of all, academia is driven by research. If a field is new and has a lot of promising research for neophyte academics to dive into, then this is a good sign. Bright minds will use their talents to push the edge of what’s known. This will obviously bias more hands-on, empirical (e.g., STEM) research than older or more humanities focused fields.

On the opposite side of things, if a field is old and/or has no low hanging fruit, then bright newly minted PhDs will be forced to show their intellect and value to the field in other ways. This will usually involve lots of convoluted theories that are attempts to prove things that have already been demonstrated in the field or are in reality impossible to prove.

Another thing to look at in a field is how readily weaponizable or ideologically blinkered a field can be. A good example is a lot of sociology or evolutionary psychology. These fields and the knowledge therein can be weaponized easily; they can be used to give scientific justification for what might be essentially racist or sexist ends. A field can also be blinkered if it deals with a sacred premise or sacred aspect of a (sub)culture that field belongs to.

With these two very general rules of thumb in mind, I find that research into Jesus the Nazarene is subpar. There’s not a lot of low-hanging fruit in “Jesus Research” and the field is definitely blinkered; most researchers are either believing Christians (so Jesus not existing literally refutes their religion and cannot even be countenanced) or grew up in the West where the character of Jesus is still a secular figure of morality. Essentially a sacred secular symbol, his birthday is a secular holiday after all.

All that being said, a consensus among Western historians that Jesus the Nazarene existed doesn’t fill me with the same level of confidence that a consensus in astrophysics does about whether the big bang happened. And the consensus among historians isn’t as complete as the consensus among astrophysicists or biologists in their respective fields.

For other rules of thumb, check out my post what makes something a good explanation.

Comments Off on Do Modern Historians Agree Jesus Existed?

Posted by on August 15, 2019 in Quora answers, religion

What Are The Strongest Arguments For Atheism?

The strongest arguments for atheism aren’t really related to atheism, but about how the human mind works and what makes something a good explanation.

We know why we have particular emotions. Anger protects us from harm, and thus dying. Feelings of friendship/bonding with others gives us access to resources and mates; it’s very hard to live alone without having had others to teach you how to do so or build the infrastructure that allows this. Many other animals have these same emotions, and for the same reasons: to not die and/or perpetuate their genes. The ones that don’t have these emotions usually die pretty quickly.

Why would a god have these emotions? There’s no underlying reason for a god to love or to get angry. A god that loves makes about as much sense as a god with a penis.

And then there are the reasons why we believe things in the first place. How are our beliefs formed? For many of the things we believe, we do so because of our feeling of certainty:

A newspaper is better than a magazine. A seashore is a better place than the street. At first it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it is easy to learn. Even young children can enjoy it. Once successful, complications are minimal. Birds seldom get too close. Rain, however, soaks in very fast. Too many people doing the same thing can also cause problems. One needs lots of room. If there are no complications, it can be very peaceful. A rock will serve as an anchor. If things break loose from it, however, you will not get a second chance.

Is this paragraph comprehensible or meaningless? Feel your mind sort through potential explanations. Now watch what happens with the presentation of a single word: kite. As you reread the paragraph, feel the prior discomfort of something amiss shifting to a pleasing sense of rightness. Everything fits; every sentence works and has meaning. Reread the paragraph again; it is impossible to regain the sense of not understanding. In an instant, without due conscious deliberation, the paragraph has been irreversibly infused with a feeling of knowing.

Try to imagine other interpretations for the paragraph. Suppose I tell you that this is a collaborative poem written by a third-grade class, or a collage of strung-together fortune cookie quotes. Your mind balks. The presence of this feeling of knowing makes contemplating alternatives physically difficult.

Did you get the same inability to explain the paragraph using some other concept? Take note of that: You really don’t have any control over how certain you feel about things. Just like other emotions, the feeling of certainty is generated unconsciously. The next obvious question would be “What sort of brain algorithm generates your feeling of certainty?” More on that below.

Experience teaches us what stimuli make us angry, or jealous, or happy, sad, etc. Sometimes, the feeling is unwarranted and using our self-reflection we can determine that feeling angry about a particular situation isn’t justified. What’s dangerous is this: Our feeling of certainty feels good. At least, it’s much more pleasant than the feeling of uncertainty. And in that sense, we generally never stop to reflect on why our feeling of certainty might not be correct. Unlike with, say, jealousy.

The rabbit hole of why we believe what we do goes a lot further than this. Books like Thinking, Fast and Slow about our cognitive biases go into a lot of this. The major premise of that book is that we have two types of thought engines. A “fast” engine (System 1) and a “slow” engine (System 2). These two engines are good at different tasks: the fast one is good at recognizing faces or voices, the slow one is good at math. The fast one is good at social interaction, the slow one is good for abstract/impersonal concepts.

Generally, the fast engine is the one that’s in charge, and is responsible for telling the slow engine to start up (the fast one is also the one responsible for the feeling of certainty). Problem is, the fast engine has to be trained on when a task should be handled by itself or when it should give a problem over to the slow engine. It’s not very good at doing this intuitively. But for many of us, a problem might have been answered already by the fast engine and when challenged that’s the only time the fast engine uses the slow engine: To defend the fast one’s conclusion. And a lot of the time, the fast one’s conclusion will be for some social goal: Status, friendship, not ending up dead, and so on.

Our brains are actually more complicated, or modular, than the System 1 and System 2 way of explaining it. There actually seem to be multiple modules in our brains, and the ones that use information don’t explain their “reasoning” to the ones that talk to the outside world. Our brains are more like Congress, with some congresspeople acting on behalf of the overall “fast” engine or “slow” engine. The you that you feel is “you”, speaking to the outside world, is more like the press secretary for Congress.

There are a few experiments that show that when communication is physically severed between the two halves of the brain, each side of the brain gets different information. Yet, the part of the brain that does the speaking might not be the part of the brain that has the information. So you end up with rationalizations like split brain patients grabbing a shovel with their left hand (since their left eye was shown snow) while their right eye sees a chicken. When asked to explain why they grabbed the shovel, they — well, the side of their brain that only sees the chicken — make up an explanation, like the shovel is used to scoop up chicken poop! That press secretary, pretty quick on his feet.

But this doesn’t just happen with split brain patients. It seems to happen a lot more than we think, in our normal, everyday brains.

So for example, there was one experiment where people were asked to pick their favorite pair of jeans out of four (unbeknownst to them) identical pairs of jeans. A good portion of the people picked the jeans on the right, since they looked at the jeans from left to right. But they were unaware that that was their decision algorithm, and they rationalized their decision by saying they liked the fabric or the length or some other non-discriminating fact about the jeans. Liking the fabric of one pair of jeans more than the others was demonstrably false since the jeans were identical, yet that was the reason they gave. There’s still no persistent across the isle partisanship in your fully functioning brain, so the press secretary has to still come up with a good, socially acceptable story about Congress’ decision for the general public’s consumption. The part of our brain that ‘reasons’ and explains our actions, neither makes decisions, nor is even privy to the real cause of our actions.

The tl;dr version is this. Our brains are good at social goals. And unless we’ve been trained on it, it’s not so good at forming true beliefs about the non-social world. If we had some machine was was designed to analyze electromagnetic radiation as seen in space and pointed that machine at its own circuitry, it would interpret everything about itself in the manner of cosmic rays. Similarly, if we had a machine (our brain) that interprets everything through the lens of social interaction, and pointed it at the universe, it would interpret everything in the universe as some manifestation of social rules.

And this is what happens. Our default is to treat a lot of non-social things as social. It’s why things like animism and magical thinking are prevalent. It’s why we call planets “planets” (Greek for wanderer), the Milky Way a galaxy (gala is Greek for milk. In our case, Hera’s milk). If someone “thinks really hard” about a problem, they’re more than likely using the tools meant for social problems, not the tools meant for solving non-social questions.

So if we don’t have control over our feeling of certainty, what’s a System 2 way of making sure that we have correct beliefs about non-social things? How can we be sure that we aren’t just defending a belief that we initially arrived at unconsciously? Or, more generally, what are some unbiased traits that good explanations share? What makes something a bad explanation? Since we’re operating under uncertainty (since we can’t trust our feeling of certainty), we have to use methods for explaining our uncertainty logically and consistently.

Let’s look at the Linda problem:

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Which is more probable?

1. Linda is a bank teller.
2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

What does this have to do with good explanations? Most people will say that it’s more likely that Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement. While that might seem true socially (i.e., being a feminist and a bank teller seems to tell a better story about Linda), it’s mathematically impossible; the population of people who are bank tellers is larger than the population of people who are bank tellers and in the feminist movement. That’s why this is called the conjunction fallacy. The conjunction of A and B is necessarily smaller than A individually (or B individually).

All else being equal, a good explanation has fewer unnecessary conjunctions than bad ones. Taken further, an explanation with two known facts as conjunctions is more likely than an explanation with one known fact and one unknown fact. The more unknown facts you use to support your explanation, the less likely it is. This is generally called Occam’s Razor.

So for example, a noise at night. A tree hitting your window at night has fewer assumptions that need to be true than an alien invasion in your house. Trees hitting windows only require things that we already know to be true. Alien invasions require a lot more things to be happening in the world that we don’t know to be true (e.g., the possibility of intelligent alien life, of interstellar/intergalactic travel) than just trees and wind. That goes into the next thing that good explanations have.

Good explanations are more commonplace (more mundane) than bad ones. If you’re walking down the street and hear hooves clicking on the street, it’s probably a deer or a horse. Not a zebra or a cow. Or a hooved alien from Jupiter. The corollary for commonplace is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Hearing hooves isn’t unlikely enough to suggest that what you hear is a hooved alien from Jupiter. You need evidence that’s a lot less likely to happen than that.

Another facet of good explanations is that they explain only what they intend to explain and very little else. It’s the difference between using bug spray to kill a spider over setting fire to your house to kill it; good explanations are precise in what they explain.

As an example, let’s say you’re a student at uni. You know one of your TAs, Anna, only uses red ink when grading papers. But the other TA, Jill, uses a variety of colored ink (red, blue, green, black, orange, purple, etc.) to grade the papers. You get your grade on a quiz back one day and it’s a grade you disagree with. The ink on it is red. Based on only this information (e.g., assume they’ve graded equal amounts of papers at this point and they have similar handwriting), which TA was more likely to have graded your paper? It’s certainly possible that Jill did, after all, she has been known to use red, but it’s more likely that Anna was the one who graded it since she only uses red. The lesson here is that, the more possible things your explanation can explain, the less likely it is to explain a particular instance.

Now notice the words I’m using: Likely, probably, possible. I’m not reinventing the wheel by saying that we need a logical framework for dealing with uncertainty, and one has already been created: Probability theory. For the conjunction fallacy, this works. The conjunction of 90% and 50%, or 90% * 50% is less than both 90% and 50% (it’s 45%). Commonplace is another way of saying prior probability. And when we talk about prior probability, we’re usually talking about Bayes theorem.

Now, Pr(Claim | Evidence) reads “the probability of claim given evidence”. The short formulation of Bayes Theorem (BT) is Pr(Claim | Evidence) = Pr(Evidence | Claim) * Pr(Claim) / Pr(Evidence). An extraordinary claim, that is, a low prior probability claim, needs a correspondingly low probability evidence. And if you have some equation that is 100 * 4 / 5, the result will be a lot closer to 100 than it is to 4 or 5.

BT also explains why Anna was more likely to have graded the paper than Jill. Let’s say Anna is represented as dice that is 1s on all sides, and Jill is normal 6 sided dice (it’s the reason I picked 6 colors for Jill above). Let’s further say you have a jar filled in equal amounts with the normal 6 sided dice and the 1 sided dice; the jar is 50 / 50 of each. You’re blindfolded, told to pull a die from the jar and roll it. You’re told that you rolled a 1. What’s the probability that you grabbed the Anna dice (the 1s on all sides) or you grabbed the Jill dice (normal 1 – 6 dice)? The probability of rolling a 1 given the 1 dice is 100%. The probability of rolling a 1 given the 1 – 6 dice is 1 / 6, or around 16%.

For this we use the long form of BT: Pr(Anna | One) = Pr(One | Anna) * Pr(Anna) / [ Pr(One | Anna) * Pr(Anna) ] + [ Pr(One | Jill) * Pr(Jill) ]. What we end up with is around an 86% chance that you grabbed the Anna dice. If you follow this, you can tell that the more possible numbers the Jill dice has, the less likely it is that it can account for rolling a 1. Another way of phrasing “precision” is that there’s a punishment for spreading yourself too thin, of trying to hedge all bets, when trying to explain something.

So, tl;dr the qualities of good explanations are that they are on the likelier side of Occam’s Razor, are mundane, and precise. There are others, but this is probably (heh) getting too long.

Notice that I hardly ever mentioned god or atheism in these sections. Especially the second part. That’s because I think the strongest arguments for atheism aren’t about atheism per se, but are in general strong arguments for good thinking. They take into account our imperfections as human beings, especially in regards to how people think and act, and attempts to account for those failings. It seems to me that god(s) are what happen when social brains are trying to explain a fundamentally impersonal universe. And when that happens, those personal explanations for impersonal events tend to fail the logic of dealing with uncertainty.

What’s the most insanely misguided belief you’ve heard from someone who claims it’s 100% fact?

All of the misguided beliefs I’ve heard share one thing in common: These people are trying to use moral, ethical, or political frameworks to try to model and predict the world. It just doesn’t work that way.

Flat earthers think the world governments are trying to pull a fast one over everybody for nefarious reasons. This means that believing in a flat earth is a moral position; taken in opposition to evil hegemonic powers.

Anti-vaxxers think that Big Pharma is evil. This means that being an anti-vaxxer is a moral position; taken in opposition to evil hegemonic powers.

Chemtrail believers… again, believing in chemtrails is a moral position; taken in opposition to evil hegemonic powers.

9/11 Truthers… again, believing in 9/11 truth is a moral position; taken in opposition to evil hegemonic powers.

Moon landing hoaxers… again, believing in the moon landing hoax is a moral position; taken in opposition to evil hegemonic powers.

That’s why I consider them “misguided”. Moral theories are prescriptions for how people should behave, not descriptions of the world. Chances are, if you’re using a moral theory to try to predict how the world works, you will not only be wrong, but you will refuse any evidence that doesn’t fit in your moral framework because allowing this evidence to change your mind is “immoral”.

Indeed, all of these are oppressor vs. the oppressed narratives. When used to model the world, they will lead to delusion, since any evidence or model that doesn’t fit into the oppressor/oppressed narrative necessarily undermines it… which gives power to the oppressor and therefore this evidence or model is immoral.

Evolutionary biology? Things like dinosaur bones were put in the Earth by Satan (i.e., an evil hegemon) to turn you into an atheist (i.e., being an atheist is immoral). Psychology and psychiatry? A ploy by body Thetans to keep you in bondage to Xenu’s hegemony. Barack Obama birthism? A ploy by evil democrats (i.e., an evil hegemony) to put a Muslim (an immoral religion) in the White House. Evolutionary psychology? A ruse created by white heteropatriarchy (an evil hegemony) to keep women, non-straight, trans, and people of color down.

Using your morals to inform empirical reality is the root of almost all human cognitive biases. Moral intuitions come first, strategic reasoning comes after[1][2][3]. The biggest clashes between morality and empirical reality result in the most tenaciously held yet misguided beliefs, and will almost always be the cases where the scientific method is used to study and uncover the nature of humanity.

I don’t have to tell you that quite a few people — secular or religious — who use their personal moral intuitions (quite literally just another way to say “their cognitive biases”) to model the world think that the scientific method is immoral.

Footnotes

Comments Off on What’s the most insanely misguided belief you’ve heard from someone who claims it’s 100% fact?

Posted by on February 13, 2019 in cognitive science, morality, Quora answers, religion

Considering the fact that Jesus was a benevolent man, why did he caste the demons into the pigs rather than sending them back to hell?

Mark, the writer who came up with this story, wasn’t writing history. He was writing something more like Shakespeare, and this passage is an allegory.

Mark’s first language was not Greek. Scholars can tell this because the Greek he uses is “difficult”. If you read Mark in Greek, almost every sentence literally starts with “Immediately” or “And”. Imagine reading a story that’s written like this:

And then I went to the store and bought some eggs, bacon, milk, salt, pepper, and potatoes for breakfast.

Immediately, I went to the counter to pay for my breakfast.

And the store clerk asks me if I have bills less than 20s since he’s running out of smaller bills

And I pull out two 5s from my wallet so that I can help the store clerk out

And I paid for my breakfast and headed towards the exist

And I ran into an old buddy of mine while at the door

And he said ‘hi’ to me and asked me what I was doing up so early on a Saturday

And I told him that I had a long day of studying ahead of me so I wanted to get a head start

And he said that this was uncharacteristic of me since I was known for partying and staying up late

And I told him that I wanted to try being more responsible since I’m currently on academic probation

This is what it’s like reading Mark in Greek. So tedious.

Anyway, Mark might have a Roman background of some sorts, since he uses a lot of Latinized Greek words. Like “centurion”: It literally means “leader of 100” in Latin (think of the word “century”). Matthew and Luke use hekatontarchos, which is the Greek word for “leader of 100” (e.g., a hecaton, a 100 sided shape).

Mark also provides Latin translations for some reason:

Mark 12:42: λεπτὰ δύο, ὅ ἐστιν κοδράντης — lepta duo, [which] is a kordrantes (Latin “quadrans” the smallest Roman coin)

Mark 15:16: τῆς αὐλῆς, ὅ ἐστιν πραιτώριον — the aules, [which] is the praitorion (Latin “praetorium”)

With that said, there’s a reason Mark chose “legion”, which is also a purely Latin word. Moreover, there’s a reason that Mark chose to associate pigs with this “legion”.

Legio X Fretensis – Wikipedia

X Fretensis symbols were the bull — the holy animal of the goddess Venus (mythical ancestor of the gens Julia) — a ship (probably a reference to the Battles of Naulochus and/or Actium), the god Neptune, and a boar.

Legio X Fretensis was responsible for occupying Jerusalem after the Jewish War (ended 70 CE), staying into the fourth century. After 70 it was stationed in Gerasa for a while (Winter 1974, p180-181). Allusions to the Jewish War with Rome in Mark are the reasons why many scholars date the composition of this gospel to around or after the Jewish War, which, again, ended in 70 CE.

Geographically, having the pigs run from Gerasa into “the sea” makes no sense. Gerasa is about 30 miles from any large bodies of water. How long do you think it would take you to run 30 miles? Were Jesus and the poor recently possessed man standing there for a few hours waiting for the pigs to get to the sea? Matthew recognized this mistake and changed the location from Gerasa to Gadara but Gadara was still six miles from the lake.

So to recap, we have the 10th Legion Fretensis who were stationed in Gerasa after 70 CE and one of their standards was a boar. We have this story, written sometime around or after 70 CE where a guy goes to Gerasa and encounters a demon called “Legion”. He casts the demon into a herd of pigs and the pigs leave the region.

This is an allegory about kicking the 10th Legion out of Gerasa if I had to put betting money on it.

Comments Off on Considering the fact that Jesus was a benevolent man, why did he caste the demons into the pigs rather than sending them back to hell?

Posted by on November 8, 2018 in Christianity, gospel of mark, Quora answers, religion

How do you explain the mysterious beauty of this planet without referring to a supreme being?

I’m from NYC. This question would be the equivalent of me saying “how do you explain that I was born in the most awesome city on the planet without a supreme being?”

Of course, almost everyone says their home town is the best ever. Why do you think that is? I think the answer to that is the same as the answer to your question.

But let’s get a bit deeper into the assumptions behind your question. What’s your logical link from “Earth is beautiful” to “therefore a supreme being”? In other words, what makes something a good explanation?

If I were to say that something is a chair, there are qualities that chairs have in common that define them as chairs instead of beanbags: Chairs have four legs, a back support part, a part to sit on, etc. There should be some similar consistent criteria for what constitutes a good explanation, and why you think this creates the necessary link between “Beautiful Earth” and “Supreme Creator”.

If you get home late and your boyfriend/girlfriend asks why you’re late, what would be a good explanation? Why is “I got stuck in traffic” better than “I was kidnapped by aliens”? We know the former is more believable, but why?

Well, you might say something like “traffic causes people to be late more than getting kidnapped by aliens does”. And that would be correct. But I argue that this isn’t enough to separate good explanations from bad explanations, and it isn’t enough to explain why your link from “Beautiful Earth” to “Supreme Being” is a strong or weak link.

Since this isn’t a dialog, I’ll have to just explain another quality of a good explanation: Good explanations are specialized. Meaning, they explain what they intend to explain and that’s it. An explanation that can be used to explain some situation, but then can also be used to explain its polar opposite, isn’t a good explanation.

So, if instead of getting home late, you got home early, and your boyfriend/girlfriend asks why you’re early, then saying “because I got stuck in traffic” doesn’t make sense. The stuck-in-traffic explanation is specialized for only making people late. But “I got kidnapped by aliens” works just as well for making someone late as it does for making someone early. Once you invoke aliens, then anything is possible.

Let me repeat that last sentence more generally: Once you invoke [bad explanation], anything is possible.

This is a real important concept to grasp. Bad explanations, because they’re not specialized, allow for any possible outcome. And the more possibilities your explanation allows, the less likely it is that your explanation is responsible for a specific problem. There’s only one explanation that can allow for any possible outcome: Pure randomness.

Both qualities of good explanations I’ve enumerated here — a good explanation is more commonplace (e.g., “traffic causes people to be late more than getting kidnapped by aliens does”) and more specialized — follow directly from probability theory. So they’re not things I’ve just made up.

So back to the question at hand: How do you explain the mysterious beauty of this planet without referring to a supreme being? Why do you think a supreme being is a good explanation? Are supreme beings commonplace? Are supreme beings only responsible for beauty, or is anything possible for a supreme being?

I think we know the answers to those questions.

Comments Off on How do you explain the mysterious beauty of this planet without referring to a supreme being?

Posted by on May 14, 2018 in Bayes, Quora answers, religion

Can Islam be modified to be more compatible with the modern world?

Let’s take a trip. Let’s say around 2,000 years ago.

The Roman Empire rules the known (Western) world. Its military superiority in the West is without equal. As the Borg would say, “Resistance is futile”.

Part of the Western world under the boot of Roman rule was Judea. The area promised to the Jews by their god, Yahweh. Many Jews were sickened and disgusted by the rule of sacred Jewish lands by the Romans. Many Jews felt betrayed by their priests and scribes that they would kowtow to Roman hegemony.

What happened to the glory days of the Maccabees or even Joshua, kicking the asses of foreign powers and ensuring the sacred land promised to the Jews was theirs?

Some Jews even used sacred scripture, like the book of Daniel, to predict that a new Joshua would arrive in the 1st century and kick ass and return Judea to its rightful heirs. As the Jewish historian Josephus wrote in the late 1st century:

But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how,” about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination.[1]

And so, this began a 100 year period of many Jews attempting to be the new Joshua[2], of kicking the Romans out of the area and restoring rightful rule to the Jews. The Jews went to war with the Romans three times in this 100 year span.

The first time, beginning under the reign of Nero[3] , led to the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 CE and changed Judaism forever by eliminating the temple cult portion of Jewish religious practice to this day. The destroyed temple was raided by the Romans and they used the funds they plundered from said Jewish temple to build the Roman Colosseum[4].

The second time, around a generation after the first war[5], Jews went to war with the Romans again. And again, were sent packing.

The third and final time, in the early 30s of the second century, Jews actually won, albeit for a short time. This was the short-lived reign of the last Jewish kingdom under the rule of Simon Bar-Kokhba[6]. But after about three years of Jewish rule in Judea, the Romans used the 2nd century version of the nuclear option and subsequently kicked the Jews out of the area forever, and renamed what was once called Judea as “Palestine”. What we call it to this day. Well, at least until after WWII when we chopped up Palestine and set apart a portion for what’s now Israel.

Interspersed between these wars were what one might call “terrorist attacks”.[7][8] Though nothing remotely like the suicide bombings we get today, they were still thorns in the side of the Romans. Though the Romans had no qualms about swift and brutal reprisals.

Where are all of these Jewish terrorist attacks today? Nowhere. Because the religion that could probably be seen as inherently violent at one point in history had a reformation. One branch became what’s now called Rabbinic Judaism. The other branch began worshiping a spiritual Joshua[9] who did his conquering in the spiritual realm, and returned the spiritual Jewish kingdom to the Jews and thus had no need for violence against material Romans.

Footnotes

Comments Off on Can Islam be modified to be more compatible with the modern world?

Posted by on November 27, 2017 in 2nd temple judaism, islam, Quora answers, religion

NeuroLogica Blog

Slate Star Codex

SELF-RECOMMENDING!

The Wandering Scientist

What a lovely world it is

NT Blog

PsyBlog

Understand your mind with the science of psychology -

Vridar

Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

Maximum Entropy

Skepticism, Properly Applied

Criticism is not uncivil

Research Digest

Disrupting Dinner Parties

Feminism is for everyone!