Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Archive for the ‘Cognitive Science’ Category

Random quote from an article I read today

Posted by Ann on April 27, 2011

To determinists, our perception of personal freedom is a side effect of consciousness that, ironically, developed from a combination of natural laws and prior constraints in the pathway of human evolution. This consciousness gives each of us a sense of personal identity that allows us to perceive that we are somehow separate and independent from the rest of the world. We seem to be free agents, exempt from external constraints. But as Leo Tolstoy observed in War and Peace, we cannot easily consider ourselves free when we recall prior sequences of events that limited our choices and compelled us toward certain courses of action. The military generals in Tolstoy’s epic imagine they are controlling the fates of entire armies and even nations, but countless historical contingencies they are unable or unwilling to consider rigidly determine their every action. What it all comes down to, as philosophers from Friedrich Nietzsche to Galen Strawson have argued, is that we cannot be a causa sui, or the ultimate cause of ourselves. We had no say in the forces that produced us, and so we cannot be free in any ultimate sense of the word.

Free will is simply an illusion conjured by our ignorance of the causes affecting our behavior. This is what Baruch Spinoza meant when he quipped that if a rock possessed consciousness, it would believe that it fell of its own free will. The deeper we look at the various determinants bearing upon our actions, the more free will seems to be an abstraction without meaning in the real world. This seems to be true even if, as philosopher P. F. Strawson argued in a celebrated paper, belief in free will is a deeply ingrained component of human ethical reflection — we believe in free will because denying freedom undercuts the health of our social relationships. Someone who could know the myriad effects impacting our behavior would see that our every action is completely determined and predictable. As the mathematician Laplace famously argued,

“An intellect which at any given moment knew all the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that comprise it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit its data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom: for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain, and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.”

…How, then, does free will work? We do not completely understand, but we have clues. And just as we needed the mathematical development of calculus to clearly resolve Zeno’s paradox, we may find that the burgeoning mathematics of complexity theory will finally help us dispel our conceptual confusions about free will. Currently, it seems probable that complexity theory, together with our growing understanding of cognitive neuroscience, will throw much light on the process of making willed decisions. We will better understand how the complex arrangement of neurons in our brains leads to emergent states of conscious awareness, and the conscious mind feeds back on its neural networks to place itself in alternate conscious states. With time, we will also better comprehend how the brain converts sensory stimuli and knowledge of our environment into neural impulses and becomes part of the intricate network of causes and effects at work in our conscious minds. Finally, we will realize the conceptual confusions that cause us to see determinism and rational choice as incompatible, and will renounce our error. We will live in a deterministic world without fear, for we will no longer see determinism as a threat to the free will we cherish.

Phil Molé from his recent article: Zeno’s Paradox
and the Problem of Free Will


Posted in Cognitive Science | 2 Comments »

Reality Test 19-How has my thinking gone wrong?

Posted by Ann on April 3, 2011

19) People are generally immune to ideological change and often we don’t realize we are wrong

Resisting paradigm shifts is normal. We know it’s a human issue and have even given it a name– the Planck Problem. As physicist Max Planck observed, scientific innovation rarely occurs by converting opponents—more likely “opponents gradually die out and the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning”. Immunity to new ideas means even people who are educated and intelligent are unlikely to change deeply held background and core beliefs taken for granted (presuppositions). It’s just the way things are, so a person thinks. As a person gains knowledge and ideas about the world, and these ideas germinate, it becomes habitual to exclude any counterevidence. Confirmation bias occurs. As time passes humans begin to simply ignore information or ideas that don’t fit into their established perspectives. We develop immunities against new ideas. Time inoculates us.

Developments in psychology now indicate the higher the IQ, the greater the likelihood of developing ideological immunities. In other words, the smarter you are, your reasons for defending your points of view become stronger. In science, this human tendency works as a mitigator against the possibility novel ideas will overwhelm current systems and theories, and new theories are typically resisted. Part of this may lie in that, just as with religious believers, scientists may be very invested in their ideas for social, intellectual, or financial reasons. But good science does prevail and, although resisted and slow, change does happen. The geocentric model was displaced by the heliocentric model. The idea of stable continents by continental drift. Creationism by evolution. Sexism and racism by humanism. Change takes evidential support and time.

Humans love debunking the ridiculous ideas of others we know are wrong. We love to criticize the faulty reasoning of others. Yet the true skeptic must see past her emotional responses to have a clearer picture of the way things are, to see how the influence of society and culture frequently subjects science. It helps to look to our history to see how we have evolved in our thinking, to learn from the mistakes of our past to avoid making these mistakes again.

Spinoza’s Dictum: “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

(with credit to Michael Schermer’s, “How thinking goes wrong”)

Posted in Cognitive Science, Reality Test | 1 Comment »

Denying evolution is lying

Posted by Ann on March 12, 2011

My father is a charismatic preacher. He has an ability to convince people to trust him implicitly. Maybe my years of interacting with him contributed to my desire to research the operations of the brain, to study the science of psychology. Much of what he says doesn’t make practical sense. Yet his ideas were pushed on me as truth. I was ordered to follow his rules (and my mother’s) based in these ideas in order to live in his home as a child, as are most children living under the rule of parents. At the same time, something always seemed off, not only about my parent’s fundamentalism, but also their perception of the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Cognitive Science, Faith vs. Evidence, Reflections & Memories, Science, Testimonies | Leave a Comment »

Why Everyone (else) Is a Hypocrite

Posted by Ann on February 24, 2011

Evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban postulates in his new book “Why Everyone Else is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind” that our irrational behaviors and inconsistencies result from the way our human minds are structured. Through the process of natural selection, our minds have developed to work in specialized units, and while these units often work together smoothly, sometimes they don’t. I’m not sure if I’ll read the book but it does sound interesting…

Kurzban theorizes cognitive dissonance begins where the this functional working together of the brain ends. Here, he states, is where we get our beliefs that contradict themselves. How we can experience swift changes from patience to impulsiveness. How we can violate our own moral principles, how we can develop puffed up views of ourselves (drives to individuate and be superior). Looking at our brains as modular undermines our idea of a self as an “I”. Kurzban argues we are a composite of interacting systems, of many modules, affecting our perspectives and how we interact with the world around us–the “I” in our head being really a “we”.

Here’s a clip where he compares our brains to a smartphone with apps:

Definitely implications here for our understanding of how our minds develop, particularly the fundamentalist brain. But how to deprogram a brain, that is the question. Maybe the key is in the programming.

Posted in Books, Cognitive Science | 2 Comments »

Reality Test 18-How has my thinking gone wrong?

Posted by Ann on February 19, 2011

18) Seeking certainty and control, neat and simple explanations, can lead to an oversimplification of reality, not to mention inadequate problem solving.

The human mind often looks for explanations for the unusual or unexplained in life within the realm of the supernatural or paranormal. Scientific, critical thinking doesn’t come to us naturally…we have to train ourselves to be rational thinkers.

Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically–without learning how, or without practicing. People with untrained minds should no more expect to think clearly and logically than people who have never learned and never practiced can expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers, bridge players, or pianists. –Alfred Mander

Training ourselves to think rationally means letting go of our need to be absolutely certain, to be in total control, and to have simple, effortless solutions to life problems. Sometimes solutions are simple, but not usually…

Here are some ways we use faulty problem solving skills:

1–Form an immediate hypothesis, looking only at evidence confirming what you already believe. Like morals must come from somewhere outside of the natural world because most people believe this to be true. Or ugly (whatever people a society doesn’t find appealing, but another society or even other subculture within the same society might find appealing) people are more attractive to women than to men because women are biologically different in what they find attractive (women like an emotional and mental connection, but it seems like men do too when they get one). This may have some truth for some people biologically, but is there more to it?  Shallow people can find happiness too, if being shallow is what they are and want.

(Sure, women can’t possibly get turned on thinking about Christian Bale naked doing naughty stuff to himself and to them, ummm, or any man they find physically attractive, or even only by body parts just like men)

2–Whatever you do, don’t seek evidence to disprove your hastily formed hypothesis. Nah, nah, nah, nah, I can’t hear you (placing fingers firmly in your ears)

3–If the information coming at you from credible sources is too complex, make up your own less complex explanation or strategies to solve the problem, or use an unreliable source

4–And if there is no solution to the problem, assign an answer randomly or develop a hypothesis from a coincidence you observed

“Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.” -Thomas Jefferson

Posted in Cognitive Science, Reality Test | 1 Comment »

Reality Test 17–How has my thinking gone wrong?

Posted by Ann on February 13, 2011

Caution: It’s a Slippery Slope


17) The slippery slope, reductio ad absurdum, or camel’s nose fallacy is basically refuting an idea by taking it to an absurd conclusion without reason.

1)Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).

2)Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.

A favorite in most religious and political arguments, and frequently used by both sides to support their theories, this has got to be one of the most absurd forms of argumentation. Particularly so since it involves cognitive dissonance to fill in the middle of the argument, so a person can jump from a premise to a conclusion without any supportive evidence. Most people develop their ideas about the world during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Unquestioned, many of our basic premises become absurd “truths” about reality. I’ve decided to include a couple of my favorite slippery slope conclusions, and honestly, many of the things we accept as truth about people involve variations of this argumentative fallacy.

Gay marriage is a hot button issue in the US. It goes something like this: If gay marriage is legalized, then before you know it, people will be having sex with donkeys outside your local Wal-mart. Seriously though, the religious and political right holds extreme, completely illogical views around legalizing gay marriage.

James Dobson, in reference to the legalization of gay marriage:

…you could have polygamy. You could have incest. You could have marriage between a father and a daughter. You could have two widows, or two sisters or two brothers. Once you cross that Rubicon, then there’s no place to stop. Because if a judge can say two men and two women can marry, there is no reason on Earth why some judge some place is not going to say, this is not fair. Three women or three men, or five and two or five and five.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissent to a gay sodomy case, “Lawrence v. Texas”:

State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision.

What does gay marriage have to do with any of these other things? This reminds me of the argument frequently leveled by theists against atheists: “If you take God out of the equation, there will be no universal morality and the peoples of the world will run amok.” I’m confused. Can someone explain why morality only exists if God exists? Why the necessity? And since God doesn’t exist (at least as far as anyone who looks at the lack of evidence for such a being) then doesn’t that mean our human morality has no connection to a God?

Anyway, on to the next one…women. Since women are clearly different from men, and men are the gold standard of superior interacting, perspective, and proper morality, then women are by necessity inferior in some ways to men. Where we get the ideas for “good ol’ boys”, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”, and male solidarity through “brotherhood”. Oh no, you say, not again Ann. Are you still on the woman thing (yeah, kinda like many of us are still on the race thing).  As the skeptic and rationalist Carol Tavris eloquently states, “the goals of justice and egalitarianism are never achieved once and for all. It’s a constant battle against the forces of reaction, superstition, and vested interests.” Amen. Like Tavris, “I am in love with the process of science.” Not because it gives us final answers, but because it gives us solid answers.

From an interview of the skeptic Tavris by the skeptic Shermer. Good stuff, please read it if you have women in your life. My last word on feminism for a good while I think. On with my life…

Skeptic: So you see superiority feminism as being just as scientifically untenable as the old male-superiority beliefs were.

Tavris: Alas, it is. It is understandably appealing to many women, who have been the recipient of misogynistic attitudes and practices for millennia, but in the last analysis it has as many pernicious consequences as the myth of male superiority does. As Carole and I wrote in The Longest War, “whether you are looking down at women or looking up to them, you don’t have to look them in the eye.” I am an equality feminist. It is not as popular a view in some feminist circles, because if women are inherently no worse and no better than men, but just as diverse in their personalities, abilities, and other qualities, then what does that tell us? That women are human too—we can neither enslave them nor look to them for salvation.

Skeptic: This is your mother’s feminism.

Tavris: And my father’s. You let women into the law, say, because it’s fair. Superiority feminists believe you should let women into the law because they will humanize the profession and make it kinder, sweeter, and less adversarial. Hello? Have you noticed any humanizing of the legal profession lately? The reason is that lawyers must do what their law firms require them to do, or they’re toast. If you’re an activist lawyer who wants to work on behalf of the poor, or who simply wants to work regular hours so you can spend time with your family, you won’t do it at a top law firm, no matter what color, religion, or sex you are.

Skeptic: So the problem lies in the social institutions themselves, not in the gender of who is running them.

Tavris: Basically, yes. Economic, institutional, and organizational arrangements have far more to do with how men and women get along with each other than anything intrinsic to our gender.

Skeptic: Do the data support this claim?

Tavris: They do. For example, studies show that when you put one woman in a group of men, one man in a group of women, one black person in a group of white people, or whatever, everyone focuses on the distinctive characteristics of the token person. It is natural; that’s how the human brain works—we are designed to focus on differences. Unfortunately, the result is that anything that token individual does will be attributed to his or her distinctive feature. Nothing the token does will be right. “Trouble with her is that she’s too masculine—trying to be one of the boys.” “Trouble with her is that she’s too girlish and feminine—not enough like us.” That is why it is so hard to be the first woman anything— marine, rabbi, police officer. But as soon as you have four or five women in a group of men, or four or five blacks in a group of whites, others see the diversity among them. Suddenly they are not behaving according to their gender or ethnicity but according to their personality or the requirements of their job. Everyone got exercised over Shannon Faulkner, the first woman at the Virginia Military Institute. Have you heard anything about the 30 women who followed her?

Posted in Cognitive Science, Reality Test | 2 Comments »

Subliminal Advertising

Posted by Ann on February 9, 2011

Around 3 to 4 years ago, after suffering from pretty regular insomnia due to having two small children who didn’t sleep through the night (they do now, thankfully), I began having experiences of hyper-awareness of my surroundings. These periods of insomnia were a kind of “awakening” to the world around me, similar to the experience of culture or transition shock. It was especially strange for me, a person who, as a child, learned to block out my surroundings as a coping mechanism to deal with my fundamentalist upbringing, and frequent discipline. I was a bookworm who could read a book and not hear people saying my name directly behind me. This insomnia threw me for a loop. Suddenly I was noticing my surroundings more clearly, frequently all at once. Seeing signs on the roads, advertising in stores, hearing the music, smelling the scents, paying attention to the subtle cues in my surroundings. Got me thinking about how these experiences with my environment might be influencing me, and also influencing the people around me.

Although I’m sure many coincidences are purposeful, I suspect many of these coincidences (aka “God speaking to me” for believers) are simply a result of our mind and its exposure to our environment and the culture we are living within. Crazy how susceptible we are as humans to persuasion. Why I take my job as a counselor seriously (I’m not an advertiser, but I could be!). Sometimes I realize how much I can persuade people, and attempt to be as genuine, straightforward and intentional as possible with my clients (with humor).

And I’m sure this human susceptibility contributes to beliefs of all sorts. Watch this video. Personally, I for one am not surprised (at all):

Posted in Big Things, Cognitive Science | 5 Comments »


Posted by Ann on December 5, 2010

The psychologist in me wants to write a little something today, partly in response to all the spankers, or pro-spanker advocates replacing their profile pictures for cartoon faces on Facebook this weekend, giving lip service to ending child violence. Spanking is one of those pop psychology myths people simply can’t get away from, and the source of most child violence. From what I know of how the human brain operates, illogic is its normal functioning. Humans begin identity formation from the time of birth, developing their idea of self and the world around them, and by adulthood they are who they are.

As Jesus wrote in a previous post on this blog, https://fffmks.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/richard-norman-examines-the-belief-lite-version-of-religion/, when it comes to the mechanics of a car engine, for him, and many more of us, our brains fog and our thoughts wander when the mechanic attempts to explain the functioning of a car engine. Yawn, how boring… Our glasses become foggy. Psychologists already know this is a norm, this brain shut-off when not interested in hearing/learning. If it was otherwise, therapy would be a snap. All humans are irrational sometimes. The problem is that once a pattern of irrational thinking is ingrained for an adult, usually developing during childhood, there is virtually no changing it. Sadly, I will never be a car mechanic, but I can be and am a psychologist. One who recently moved into child psychology–seems a rational place to be in psychological practice.

Last week I was in a therapy session with a mother and child who were arguing. It dawned on me I have developed a skill for negotiation and resolving confrontation through the years I now apply without thinking. And also, a skill for identifying irrational thinking. As I listened to how they described each other it dawned on me why I often feel lonely. Most of irrational thought has nothing to do with religion. It’s ingrained in how people think about the world in general, how they interact with other people. It never stops to amaze me how people can completely deny they are doing or feeling something at the same time they are doing and feeling what they deny. Also known as incongruence. “I’M NOT YELLING AND I’M NOT ANGRY!” the mom screams at me. I’m not saying I’m never incongruent, but, honestly, being congruent just becomes a way to be. I’ve been told more than once I’m “too logical”. I’ve also been told I’m “irie”, so personally I think I’m a pretty balanced person. I’ll leave it at that. lol!

By the way, below is a good link to a mini-list I found of the primary ways people think incongruently and irrationally. Kept it short and sweet for those of you who fog quickly (not that you will change your thinking once confronted with your irrationality or anything).  As for me, I’ll be taking my weekly Sunday night escape drive while listening to slow beat music to deal with my solitariness after a week of solidarity.


Posted in Cognitive Science | 9 Comments »

Reality Test 16–How has my thinking gone wrong?

Posted by Ann on December 4, 2010

16) Restating your premise as proof of a belief, or using circular reasoning, is an exercise in nonsense (AKA: fallacy of redundancy, begging the question, tautology, or BS)

Question: How do you know God exists?

Answer: Because the Bible tells me God exists.

Question: How do you know the Bible is factual?

Answer: Because the Bible was written by God (or God inspired). 

So you are telling me God is because God is? That makes no sense whatsoever…or is it just me?

Maybe when a person reaches the God void through prayer, yoga, Buddhist meditation and or chanting, singing praise music in church, is intoxicated by a hallucinogen, or participates in a Native American sweat lodge ceremony this makes sense? Am I inferior to the believer because when I reach the God void all I hear is my own breathing?

My challenge to the believer: Talk straight.

Posted in Cognitive Science, Reality Test | Leave a Comment »

Reality Test 15–How has my thinking gone wrong?

Posted by Ann on November 21, 2010

15) If you discredit another position this doesn’t mean your position is automatically right

Couldn’t resist using this illustration. One of my Facebook friends, a relative, had this on her wall a few months back. Apparently, if I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, then I’m an enemy of veterans. Not only veterans in general, but specifically paralyzed veterans. And also the nation by default, and liberty to boot. Maybe I’m tired, my legs hurt, I’m too cool for that, or I just don’t like saying my nation is under God?

This either-or fallacy of logic is also known as the fallacy of negation or false dilemma. Most people live with dichotomized ideas, as in good versus evil. You are either good, or you are evil (but by whose definition?). Framed this way, I can’t be a person who is sometimes good and sometimes evil, or maybe have a will that’s not so free–my brain might blow up right now just trying to imagine that concept! According to a dichotomized pattern of thinking, when your position is discredited, you must then accept the position someone else supports. However, in reality, it’s not enough to point out problems with someone else’s theory, for instance with the theory of evolution (which happens to have mountains of evidence supporting it). Creationists attempt to discredit the evidence supporting the theory of evolution so they can point to the truth of creationism.

If you think you have the superior position, for instance that creationism is true, or that when a child doesn’t stand for the U.S. allegiance pledge this means they hate paralyzed vets and the US by extension, then you must not only explain away evidence supporting the other theories, but also provide evidence supporting your theory. Doesn’t work to just provide opposing evidence, like “Clearly that child hates the republic for which the flag stands because he is not standing up for it” but must also be able to answer the questions, “Is a child being traitorous to the U.S. and opposing freedom when he sits instead of stands for the Pledge of Allegiance?” and, “Why?”.  For the creationism argument, you must answer the question “What is the evidence to support creationism?”

Posted in Cognitive Science, Reality Test | 6 Comments »

Reality Test 14-How has my thinking gone wrong?

Posted by Ann on October 5, 2010

14) Being a smart person who writes well and is considered an expert in a particular field of study doesn’t make that person right

Before I get started here on why being an authority does not translate into correctness, I’d like to make the observation that C.S. Lewis looks like a moron (can’t resist an ad hominem attack). Okay, that out of the way, C. S. Lewis has actually made statements indicating he is a racist, sexist bigot who thinks “homos”, his word, are perverted (I don’t need to support this statement, just read Mere Christianity). Christians who idolize him must somehow excuse some of his statements as being “old-fashioned” and still love his other non-bigoted apologetics. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Cognitive Science, Reality Test | 9 Comments »

Reality Test 13–How has my thinking gone wrong?

Posted by Ann on October 4, 2010

13) Ad Hominem or Tu Quoque attacks focus your thoughts on the person with an idea rather than the truth of an idea itself

Drawing your attention to the man or woman with an idea rather than the idea itself doesn’t discredit the idea. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Cognitive Science, Reality Test | Leave a Comment »