Apr 10 2009

Pillay Is Almost A Skeptic

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Comments: 75

OK, not really. But in reading Srinivasan Pillay’s latest column in the Huffington Post it struck me that if you remove the headline and the first and last paragraph, the meat of the article is very skeptical. In fact many if not all of the specific points he makes are nearly identical to ones I have made in this blog. His only problem is that he comes to the exact wrong conclusion from the facts he presents. So his essay is almost skeptical if you go by word count.

Readers will recall that last week I blasted Pillay for defending distant healing with horrendously pseudoscientific arguments.  So it’s a bit surprising that he seems to understand many concepts critical to the skeptical perspective. In my opinion this make Pillay a crank – he has the facts at hand, but twists them in service to an agenda of scientifically bizarre conclusions.

Rather than extensively quoting (you can read the original article) I will summarize Pillay’s points:

1) People are emotional, and not purely rational, creatures. Emotions influence our beliefs even when we are not aware of it.

2) Our opinions and conclusions are strongly influenced by our biases and the context in which ideas and information are presented to us.

3) Our reasoning about the world is dependent upon our senses, which are themselves highly biased, selective, and flawed.

4) We are doomed to make conclusions based upon limited information.

5) Human brains tend to make associations, and base conclusions on apparent associations even when they are illusory.

So far so good. These are all points that I frequently make  – they are critical to understanding the limitations of human thought and perception, which is in turn at the heart of skeptical philosophy. So what are they doing in an article written by someone who just last week was defending distant healing by appealing to quantum woo? His last paragraph tells the tale:

Rational thinking may therefore not be as “rational” as it seems. Perhaps we need to learn to accept and be more open about how our emotions influence the ways in which we think, since that is the reality anyway?

Ugh. So close yet so far.  Pillay is essentially being a nihilist. He is saying that it is so difficult to arrive at a reliable and unbiased conclusion that we may as well give up and embrace our emotional conclusions. Hey – we’re going to do it anyway, he argues.

Further this amounts to just another version of what we commonly hear from defenders of woo – a justification for ignoring science whenever its conclusions are inconvenient to woo beliefs. This is ironic, since Pillay is pointing out that we often subjugate reason to a priori biases, but he is doing so as part of a larger rationalization for his a priori biases. You can taste the irony.

If Pillay could step back a bit from his beloved woo, and embrace a little “cold reasoning” he might rather conclude from his litany of human limitations that they are precisely why we need science and skepticism. The methods of science are designed specifically to compensate for all of the limitations that Pillay lists. Measurements are blinded to weed out the influence of bias, they are quantative and objective to account for human sensory limitations, and they are systematic to avoid selection bias. Peer review and the criticism of the community of scientists mitigate the influences of context or framing bias. Apparent associations are tested in such a way as to prove them wrong, and only those surviving such challenges are accepted as possibly true.

Of course the process of science is messy and imperfect. But it has proven reliable and effective because it is open and self-corrective. What Pillay’s points really lead to is the conclusion that beliefs based upon anything other than rigorous science are not to be trusted.

Perhaps what Pillay’s article represents is that the gap between skeptic and science nihilist is not very wide, but it runs deep.

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75 responses so far

75 Responses to “Pillay Is Almost A Skeptic”

  1. daedalus2uon 10 Apr 2009 at 12:51 pm

    I think he can be discribed as a cargo-cult skeptic.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult_science

    In analogy to Feynman’s term.

  2. HHCon 10 Apr 2009 at 1:58 pm

    The amygdala attached to the cerebellum has a profound impact on humans. Our instincts are often sexual or aggressive. Rationality needs to be presented in terms of these real biological structures influencing our behavior patterns.

  3. artfulDon 10 Apr 2009 at 2:01 pm

    “Pillay is essentially being a nihilist. He is saying that it is so difficult to arrive at a reliable and unbiased conclusion that we may as well give up and embrace our emotional conclusions. Hey – we’re going to do it anyway, he argues.”

    Since we are already aware that this guy believes in the efficacy of distant healing, we have to be suspicious of anything he writes, but nihilism seems the farthest from what his thinking represents.

    He’s a religionist, and “knows” our emotions reflect the subtle workings of the supernatural. We should therefor embrace any conclusions that reflect the eternal wisdom that so-called rational thought can never capture.

    He is an ass-kisser of his imaginary gods. A familiar human condition – as many here will now proceed to demonstrate.

  4. CrookedTimberon 10 Apr 2009 at 2:11 pm

    This seems to be a flavor of the month stance as evidenced (among other things) by the ridiculous David Brooks article on Monday.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/07/opinion/07Brooks.html?_r=1
    He covers much the same ground, citing interesting research about how emotions largely drive our morals and decisions, and then also arrives at the exact opposite conclusion than I do. He claims it is then futile and dogmatic to demand rationality.
    I also get this line of reasoning a lot in my armature debates over adult beverages.
    Does anyone else find this as nauseating as I do? It seems that we get to a certain point in the debate and then we are just spinning our wheels.

  5. tmac57on 10 Apr 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Must…..control…..knee…..jerk….!!!
    But seriously, talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water. When life gives you limitations, make limitationade!

  6. weingon 10 Apr 2009 at 2:30 pm

    It’s as if he makes those 5 points and then sets out to prove them by illustration.

  7. artfulDon 10 Apr 2009 at 3:18 pm

    If you read the present article, you would have noted he hasn’t yet come to the illustrations that we all can assume were his purpose.
    Although part of that purpose may have been to watch the illustrative process play out among the readership as an anticipatory defense mechanism. Thus perfecting his skills as a distance manipulator. So far so good.

  8. DevilsAdvocateon 10 Apr 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I saw that Brooks article when it came out. I quit reading when he claimed that human, pre-speech-age infants make instantaneous moral judgments.

  9. artfulDon 10 Apr 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Devil,
    Apparently you believe in the same heaven or hell influences on a moral force field that the Pillay folks do. Was that the emotional impetus for ceasing to read? Because Brooks (who I often disagree with) quite correctly sees our “morality” as an evolutionary development, not as an obedience to the dictates of the supernatural.

  10. artfulDon 10 Apr 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Devil and cohorts: Check out the chapter on The Moral Mind in Jonah Lehrer’s new book, How We Decide, and see at what point you are forced to stop reading or otherwise be in danger of learning something new.
    This is his related blog: http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/

  11. DevilsAdvocateon 10 Apr 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Ah, you must be Pec’s spring vacation replacement. Your mastery of the straw man argument suggests this.

    I do not doubt the evolutionary development of what we call ‘moral’ judgments. I realize it is necessary to justify your biases to believe I do.

    I do strongly doubt that human children of 0-10 months (pre-speech age) have the cognitive ability to make ‘moral’ judgments, especially on an instantaneous basis. And that is where I quit reading Brooks’ silly article, a decision borne out by the opinions of those to whom I am subserviently obeisant.

  12. pecon 10 Apr 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Science does not protect us from bias. For one thing, decisions about funding are made by biased human beings — as when, for example, pseudo-skeptical political organizations fight to block CAM funding. And then, once research is funded and completed, the peer review process helps maintain the consensus status quo but rejecting papers on unpopular topics. And once research has been published, the results are often ambiguous and subject to varying, and biased, interpretations.

    Science has great ideals, but since it is practiced by biased human beings it does not live up to those ideals.

    Pseudo-skeptics typically see themselves as free of bias, which ironically makes their bias even stronger, since it is unconscious.

  13. weingon 10 Apr 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Do you have proof of that? I think there has been too much funding of CAM and all the research doesn’t show any benefit except as marketing for more CAM. Believe me, I’d love the (not)laying on of hands to work, then I could make money doing it. Science concerns itself with what works. If your ‘life energy’ was measurable in any way other than as random noise, we would be falling over each other racing for the Nobels.

  14. HHCon 10 Apr 2009 at 8:25 pm

    pec, I am experiencing compassion fatigue for whining about the funding of science and its politics. If your research has merit, an experienced researcher can compile his studies and publish it in a book. This was demonstrated by Fishbein et. al. His studies and theories about attitude change are worth reviewing.

  15. tmac57on 10 Apr 2009 at 8:49 pm

    pec- “Science does not protect us from bias.” That is correct. The scientific method however, does offer the process of weeding out bias. It is up to scientists to follow that process, not to subvert it.
    pec-”Science has great ideals, but since it is practiced by biased human beings it does not live up to those ideals.” Correct again. hence the presentation of CAM as being ‘scientific’
    pec-”Pseudo-skeptics typically see themselves as free of bias, which ironically makes their bias even stronger, since it is unconscious.” Partial credit here. I think skeptics (dropped the pseudo here) have the ‘ideal’ of being free of bias, but I have to believe that all real skeptics are fully aware of the tendency of bias in humans. That is why we embrace the scientific method, and when it calls BS on something, then we tend to regard it as BS. Having said that, when enough evidence to the contrary is mounted, then science will follow the evidence. But you can’t shoehorn a size 10 into a size 7 shoe if you get my point.
    By the way, are you setting yourself above the “since it is practiced by biased human beings” standard or am I talking to an alien presence?

  16. artfulDon 10 Apr 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Devil, read the book chapter I cited, and then check other and recent research concerning the age when instinctive reactions represent a remarkably effective cognitive process already at work.

    Also you and your fellow warters are quick to cry straw man whenever your own efforts in that same vein have been exposed and you weren’t clever enough to see the valid argument coming.

    Wikipedia: “Presenting and refuting a weakened form of an opponent’s argument can be a part of a valid argument. For example, one can argue that the opposing position implies that at least one of two other statements – both being presumably easier to refute than the original position – must be true. If one refutes both of these weaker propositions, the refutation is valid and does not fit the above definition of a “straw man” argument.”

    But you and that not so little group of synchronized croakers seem to think giving an argument a particular label is the same thing as showing that the argument itself involves the fallacious use of anything that the erstwhile codifiers of logic have stuck under that label. (Codifiers like the blog owner who recently removed the word “inference” from the standard definition of deductive logic as having no real relevance to the process.)

  17. weingon 10 Apr 2009 at 11:22 pm

    “Presenting and refuting a weakened form of an opponent’s argument can be a part of a valid argument. For example, one can argue that the opposing position implies that at least one of two other statements – both being presumably easier to refute than the original position – must be true. If one refutes both of these weaker propositions, the refutation is valid and does not fit the above definition of a “straw man” argument.”

    Unless the implication is invalid.

    Using your ‘Wikipedia’ source, I could not find any reference to inference in the definition of deductive logic. Is your beef with Wikipedia or Dr. Novella?

  18. artfulDon 11 Apr 2009 at 1:02 am

    There are numerous references to the role that inference plays
    in these processes in Wikipedia and elsewhere if you really want to find them.

    Here is one of the better references that explain the role of inference in deductive and inductive forms of logic:

    http://web.squ.edu.om/med-Lib/MED_CD/E_CDs/SPSS/handouts/ind-ded.htm

    Most brief summaries of these processes are of the following nature:

    deductive – general by inference to specific
    inductive – specific by inference to general
    abductive – inference to either specific or general

    But what Dr. Novella has done to the above as best I recall was post something like this:
    deductive – general to specific. (I’ll try to find that post, but so far it eludes me.)

    But most recently in How To Argue, he posted this:
    Premise1: If A = B,
    Premise2: and B = C
    Logical connection: Then (apply principle of equivalence)
    Conclusion: A = C

    I commented at that time about the lack of reference to inference, and got nowhere. Nor do I expect to get anywhere this time but I felt it a good example of the limited form and type of “logic” many here seem to subscribe to.

  19. artfulDon 11 Apr 2009 at 1:23 am

    Wikipedia on deductive reasoning and inference:

    Deductive
    The process by which a conclusion is logically inferred from certain premises is called deductive reasoning. Mathematics makes use of deductive inference. Certain definitions and axioms are taken as a starting point, and from these certain theorems are deduced using pure reasoning. The idea for a theorem may have many sources: analogy, pattern recognition, and experiment are examples of where the inspiration for a theorem comes from. However, a conjecture is not granted the status of theorem until it has a deductive proof. This method of inference is even more accurate than the scientific method. Mistakes are usually quickly detected by other mathematicians and corrected. The proofs of Euclid, for example, have mistakes in them that have been caught and corrected, but the theorems of Euclid, all of them without exception, have stood the test of time for more than two thousand years.[1]

  20. artfulDon 11 Apr 2009 at 1:29 am

    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    Classical Logic
    First published Sat Sep 16, 2000
    Typically, a logic consists of a formal or informal language together with a deductive system and/or a model-theoretic semantics. The language is, or corresponds to, a part of a natural language like English or Greek. The deductive system is to capture, codify, or simply record which inferences are correct for the given language, and the semantics is to capture, codify, or record the meanings, or truth-conditions, or possible truth conditions, for at least part of the language.

  21. artfulDon 11 Apr 2009 at 3:36 am

    Finally weing,
    Here’s a plain English version of the Wikipedia quote about valid use of straw men: If the implications of a proposition are refuted, the argument that this can refute the original proposition is a valid argument.
    To which you replied: “Unless the implication is invalid.”

    I’m afraid I can’t find or summon up any inference that when discussing the valid use of straw men, the Wikipedia article was proposing that if ‘invalid’ implications are refuted we have a valid argument against the original proposition.

    Does Wikipedia accept articles with explanatory entries that are really that dumb? Or is your comprehension of the logical process really that poor?
    Is what appears to be your attempt to make a case for what someone earlier called the confederacy of dunces here actuality having the opposite effect?

  22. CKavaon 11 Apr 2009 at 6:12 am

    ArtfulD: “Since we are already aware that this guy believes in the efficacy of distant healing, we have to be suspicious of anything he writes, but nihilism seems the farthest from what his thinking represents.”

    > Way to miss the context. If you read the quote in context you might notice that Steve is specifically referring to Pillay’s conclusion that because we aren’t completely rational we need to abandon rational thinking and embrace emotional conclusions. On that point he is being nihilistic. He is suggesting because pure rationality is an unachievable goal it’s better to just drop rational thinking. Try and keep up man.

    ArtfulD: “He is an ass-kisser of his imaginary gods. A familiar human condition – as many here will now proceed to demonstrate…little group of synchronized croakers… Also you and your fellow warters… is your comprehension of the logical process really that poor? Is what appears to be your attempt to make a case for what someone earlier called the confederacy of dunces here actuality having the opposite effect?”

    > Are you 12? People are disagreeing with you because they find your ‘contrarian without a cause’ arguments to be lacking. That doesn’t make them ‘warters’, ‘toads’, ‘asskissers’ or any other primary school insult. It makes them people who disagree with YOU and your arguments. I would hope you don’t resort to primary school style insults in real life to people who disagree with you, because it sits uneasily beside your unnecessary use of fancy words.

    I’ll get to some of your more specific points later as I don’t want to post three or four long ass comments in a row because that seems to be the trademark of those who want to drown out discussion. I’m sure you can hardly wait!

  23. weingon 11 Apr 2009 at 8:17 am

    “Does Wikipedia accept articles with explanatory entries that are really that dumb? Or is your comprehension of the logical process really that poor?
    Is what appears to be your attempt to make a case for what someone earlier called the confederacy of dunces here actuality having the opposite effect?”

    What are you inferring?

    Inferences can get you into trouble. Who is to be the judge that the implied statements are indeed as implied? It becomes a second argument or a sub-argument if you will.

    The reference in Wikipedia that I found regarding deductive reasoning had no mention of inference. If I just concentrated on that reference, I could say the author was ignoring the role of inference also. Could it be that inference was simply implied?
    For some reason inference seems to be a touchy word with you.
    I wonder, why?

  24. pecon 11 Apr 2009 at 8:46 am

    The most biased people are those who believe they have answers to the important questions, such as how life began and evolved. It doesn’t matter if their perspective is scientific or religious — it’s their need for certainty that creates the bias.

    Richard Dawkins is an example of a scientist who firmly believes he knows the answer to how life began and evolved. He is as intolerant and biased as any religious fanatic.

    Most of the pseudo-skeptics at this blog probably agree with Dawkins. You claim to be open-minded scientific skeptics but you are not. You are fanatics who wage war against ideas that contradict the “truths” you “know” for certain.

    No one has answers to the kind of things you claim to understand. Anyone who thinks they do is an intolerant close-minded fanatic, like Dawkins and all his devoted followers.

    You see all alternatives to materialism as irrational, crazed and dangerous. You are driven by fear and hatred of uncertainty. You are zealots who believe you know the way and dissenters are your enemy.

    A genuine skeptic would NEVER feel they have the ultimate answers and are fighting a war against all opposing views.

  25. DevilsAdvocateon 11 Apr 2009 at 9:54 am

    “Also you and your fellow warters are quick to cry straw man whenever your own efforts in that same vein have been exposed and you weren’t clever enough to see the valid argument coming.”

    I am quick to cry straw man argument when I see a straw man argument. It is a very simple action.

  26. weingon 11 Apr 2009 at 10:40 am

    I am an agnostic and believe questions regarding God, etc are beyond the scope of science. I have not read anything by Dawkins, but would not regard anything said by anyone regarding the existence or nonexistence of God as scientific.

  27. HHCon 11 Apr 2009 at 11:43 am

    Does religion and science answer different quesitions?

  28. Doctor Evidenceon 11 Apr 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Hi Pec,
    Maybe you could provide a checklist of points ascribed
    to true skeptics vs a checklist of points ascribed to
    pseudo-skeptics, along with an example for each point.
    That may help us to refine our understanding of your
    real vs pseudo distinction.

    Your friend, DE

  29. pecon 11 Apr 2009 at 12:54 pm

    “I have not read anything by Dawkins, but would not regard anything said by anyone regarding the existence or nonexistence of God as scientific.”

    Then you are more open-minded than Dawkins. But I would not be at all surprised if this blog’s author is a Dawkins devotee. I would be surprised to find out he disagreed with anything Dawkins has written. I bet he has Dawkins’ books memorized.

  30. artfulDon 11 Apr 2009 at 1:24 pm

    CKava says,
    “Steve is specifically referring to Pillay’s conclusion that because we aren’t completely rational we need to abandon rational thinking and embrace emotional conclusions.”
    Except that Pillay didn’t say that, and that’s a strawman if I ever saw or read one.
    But note how you hop to the rescue as the dutiful courtier that you are. (That was a big word for lackey, which is a big word for toady.)

    Everything else you then said is equally chaff like.

    Oh, and people who make substantive comments may often disagree with me because that’s the nature of substantive dialog.

    You on the other hand gain substance from sucking it up.

  31. artfulDon 11 Apr 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Weing: You still don’t see that your objection to the Wikipedia explanation of how a straw-man argument can be valid was like saying, sure it can be valid except when it isn’t valid. That’s scarily close to the way one thinks after a Kava ceremonial.

    Inference isn’t a touchy word with me at all. It’s a fun concept and essential to the proper playing of the game. Take out the rule of inference and you take the fun out of the game.

    Devil, you may know a strawman when you see one, but you seem to have no idea of its proper function. You’re apparently one of those many who never saw a problem they couldn’t solve by simply putting a label on it.

    Somewhat like Dr. N uses the label “semantics” for that purpose.
    (Purpose being another “touchy” word with me of course.)

  32. weingon 11 Apr 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Hmmm. Isn’t that what the definition essentially says? If it’s not valid it’s a strawman and if it’s valid it’s not a strawman? Methinks you be splitting hairs. I still think you have some fetish about the magic of inference.

  33. artfulDon 11 Apr 2009 at 3:23 pm

    No it doesn’t say that at all. It says that a strawman can be used in either type of argument. It’s the way it’s used rather than the use itself that goes to the validity of the argument. It doesn’t determine the truth of the proposition in any case – just whether the argumentation itself is flawed.

    You’d perhaps like to think this is a distinction without a difference, but the difference is about as distinct as one can get.

    And perhaps inference is magic to you, but it’s simply a mechanism to those that recognize its function. Not a mechanism that shows up in an MRI perhaps, but then you have to know something about what to look for. It’s not one of those “I know one when I see one” concepts.

  34. Steven Novellaon 11 Apr 2009 at 5:09 pm

    arfulD -I think the point you are missing here is that your style of discussion is not very effective. You use language as a weapon, rather than a way of making yourself understood. And you do dwell on semantics as a way to confuse, rather than for precision. Your gratuitous insults have not given anyone here a reason to take you seriously. You might as well put the word “troll” in your username.

    You also would be better served to ask for clarification from me and others rather than assuming, by reading between the lines or inferring from what is not being said, a maximally negative view of others.

    For example – I never said I do not accept the legitimacy of logical inference. That would be an absurd position (something which you seem to look for, and manufacture when you can’t find it). In fact I have specifically defended the role of inference in science in the past.

    Regarding Pillay – I think it is clear, even from this article alone, that he is, in fact, saying that because of his litany of human weaknesses that the quest for rationality is hopeless. This is strongly reinforced by knowing his various positions on pseudoscientific claims.

    Regarding straw man, I think it makes the most sense to define a straw man argument as one that is not valid because it does not represent the position of an opponent, but is manufactured to be easier to refute. Arguing against the implications of a position is perfectly valid – I don’t see how this would be called a straw man.

    If you want to see excellent examples of straw man arguments, read pec’s comments. She is the queen of a kingdom of straw men that live only in her mind.

  35. artfulDon 11 Apr 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Dr. Novella, thanks again for the response.
    But if you were to go back over the posts, you would see that you have never responded to my particular objections until I have prodded you into doing so – as has just been done.
    As to the legitimacy of logical inference, rather than having said you don’t accept its legitimacy, my point was that you have omitted saying anything about it at all. You may not be aware that what you don’t say on a subject that you profess to be well versed in speaks volumes about what you either don’t know or at least consider of no importance.
    You say you have specifically defended the role of inference in science in the past. Perhaps so, as I haven’t been reading this blog all that long. But then why leave it out completely in a sermon about the use of logic in argumentation?
    Now you say that “Arguing against the implications of a position is perfectly valid – I don’t see how this would be called a straw man.”
    Yet that is exactly what several of your most persistent defenders have done here.
    And as I demonstrated by references, there are logicians that disagree that there is only one function for a straw man, but nevertheless those who have felt it necessary to come to your aid have misunderstood your take on its application as well.
    And actually I chose my username as an ironic reference to the way you respond to comments on a selective basis. Your skill at dodging any necessity to admit error is a wonder to behold.
    Case in point: Pillay has neither said or implied that the quest for rationality is hopeless. He has no more implied that by noting its limits than you have. He wants to deal with its limitations through his religious dogma while you wish to do so with a form of logic that is almost as dogmatic in its refusal to concede error.

    And yes, pec uses strawman arguments, and I expect she intends to do so using the implication process, except that her inferences
    have been rather easy to refute in turn. Your pal Egnor would be a better example of effective use, considering the size of his obeisant audience.
    Nice gratuitous insult of pec there, by the way.

    As to my own use of derisive reference, I admit an inability to suffer fools with any amount of grace. There are a lot of smart people here who are often noted by their tolerance of these fools. And when they confront me directly with such foolishness, I don’t consider my responses to be either gratuitous or inaccurate.

    I know or at least presume you like to have them gather around as a screening device, but as a favor to you I decided to demonstrate that they aren’t all that good at their assignments.

    Mission accomplished.

  36. DevilsAdvocateon 11 Apr 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Must protect our King….
    Must protect our King….
    Must protect our King….
    Must protect our King….
    Must protect our King….

  37. tmac57on 11 Apr 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Toadies !!! To the Stevemobile!!! Serve and Obey!!!

  38. weingon 11 Apr 2009 at 9:39 pm

    “As to my own use of derisive reference, I admit an inability to suffer fools with any amount of grace.”

    Good one. How do you live with yourself then?

  39. weingon 11 Apr 2009 at 9:57 pm

    I just thought about it some more and I think I know the answer. It helps you to realize dukkha.

  40. artfulDon 11 Apr 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Too little too late, as I’m afraid all of you lackeys failed to prevent access to your master, as he has conceded in spite of all your efforts to deny it on his behalf, that inference is an important factor in logical operations. “In fact I have specifically defended the role of inference in science in the past” were his exact words.
    He also accepted that “arguing against the implications of a position is perfectly valid.”

    So weing, you’re just as dumb as ever for misunderstanding both concepts, and devil is as dumb as ever about the nature and correct identification of straw men. Both by inference having dumbness as a heritable trait.

    The other one above has been fly swatted repeatedly and just can’t accept his lack of further consequence.

    The same will apply to any or all of the rest waiting to protest that nothing their master has conceded could have been due to their failure to block or forestall my victorious encounter.

    Beware the power of the consummate toad sticker.

  41. weingon 11 Apr 2009 at 11:59 pm

    You still haven’t answered my question. Stop dodging.

  42. Steven Novellaon 12 Apr 2009 at 12:46 am

    artfulD – You make many unsubstantiated and self-serving assumptions. One must wonder what your purpose here is. Whatever you may think it is, it is indistinguishable from a troll.

    I never promised to keep close track of threads. I contribute to four blogs and have a day job. I answer when I can. But you have made a habit of assuming whatever you wish in someone else’s omission.

    I also freely admit error. My logical argument article has gone through many revisions. I have corrected several errors that were pointed out to me by philosophers. It is a ongoing work in progress. If you had offered constructive criticism, rather than just bloviated to flex your linguistic muscles and call other people dumb, you may have actually contributed to a meaningful conversation. If that was your intention, you failed where others have not.

    And now you try to justify your ridiculous arguing style with the transparently thin argument that it was necessary to draw me out. Right.

    Your delusion that people who read my blog are somehow my servants is only enlightening about you, and not the people who read this blog.

  43. weingon 12 Apr 2009 at 1:14 am

    Artie,
    I may be too dumb to follow your explanations of these concepts, then again, you may be lousy at communicating your understanding, or both.

  44. artfulDon 12 Apr 2009 at 3:37 am

    Well weing, the inability to comprehend the Wikipedia reference was sort of a give-away.

    And Dr. N, it’s only the small group of usual suspects that have appointed themselves as courtiers. There are such groups on every blog as you surely know by now. But the one growing here will eventually do you in if you aren’t careful.

    It had been my purpose here to learn something, but watching the exchanges between yourself and the pecs and sonics here is hardly conducive to that purpose. They are such easy targets that one begins to suspect they represent the zone where you’re most comfortable.

    There are some very smart commentators here that also invite your input, but seldom seem to get it. Many have faded away as a result. As for me, I decided to experiment with a change of tactics and run a test of your mettle. If I had to go out, I preferred the bang to the whimper.

    Of course it was necessary to provoke you to draw you out, because voila, here you are, along with some concessions that you have never made or granted to anyone else.

    Was there some subterfuge involved? Damned right there was.
    Did I use some of your posse for pawns? Damned right I did.
    Did I achieve my initial purpose? No, but one of the open secrets about the evolutionary process is that nothing ever does – but its the purpose itself that forces the change. May you and your blog evolve accordingly.

  45. jcairoon 12 Apr 2009 at 5:37 am

    “I admit an inability to suffer fools with any amount of grace.” – ADodger

    Must make it difficult for you to look in the mirror

  46. davidsmithon 12 Apr 2009 at 5:43 am

    In reponse to Pillay’s last paragraph,

    “Rational thinking may therefore not be as “rational” as it seems. Perhaps we need to learn to accept and be more open about how our emotions influence the ways in which we think, since that is the reality anyway?”

    Steve said,

    “Pillay is essentially being a nihilist. He is saying that it is so difficult to arrive at a reliable and unbiased conclusion that we may as well give up and embrace our emotional conclusions. Hey – we’re going to do it anyway, he argues.”

    Steve, I don’t think that is what Pillay meant. He is saying that we need to accept and be more open to HOW our emotions influence so-called ‘rational’ thought. He doesn’t say that we must embrace the emotional influence. I think he means that we need to be aware of it a bit more when we make arguments from what we think is a rational perspective. A ‘rational’ argument may not be as rational as the person putting forward the argument thinks it is. I think the article made a great point in this respect and it is especially pertinent to the debate about ESP.

    One other point, when you said,

    “Peer review and the criticism of the community of scientists mitigate the influences of context or framing bias.”

    This is true only if the peers do not share the same context and framing bias.

  47. weingon 12 Apr 2009 at 5:47 am

    “There are some very smart commentators here that also invite your input, but seldom seem to get it. Many have faded away as a result. As for me, I decided to experiment with a change of tactics and run a test of your mettle. If I had to go out, I preferred the bang to the whimper.”

    I see. There you are that lovely plant that needs to bask in the sunshine (attention) of Novella in order to grow and be recognized. If you don’t get that attention, you will simply wither and die. Damn, if you’ll go out that way. You’ll just make noise like any child seeking attention, even if it hurts you, to get your 15 minutes in the spotlight.

  48. Steven Novellaon 12 Apr 2009 at 8:29 am

    david – I agree that there is a range of interpretations of what position Pillay is actually defending in this article, when taken by itself. I started by saying that his position is almost skeptical. And of course I agree that emotion and bias color scientific opinion.

    But he does not say in the article that scientific methods can mitigate these limitations. And we have the context that he believes in “the secret” and distant healing. I specifically referred to his previous article that I wrote about last week for that context.

    He has also been answering questions in the comments of his article. There too many of his comments, on the surface, are reasonable – but then he uses the very uncertainty that he describes in the article to argue for being “open minded” about distant healing. There he reveals his purpose. (He also takes a swipe at scientific consensus.)

    He uses human frailty not to argue for the need for greater scientific rigor, but to open a crack through which he can insert his woo.

    But he is almost there (or at least seems to be). If I had to zero in on where he goes wrong it is that he inadequately considers his own biases, and he is confusing contexts. Specifically, he is making a good argument for why we need to be cautious about scientific conclusions, but then he applies that to conclusions that are so fundamental and well-established that they are beyond the reach of the biases he describes.

  49. Steven Novellaon 12 Apr 2009 at 8:34 am

    david wrote:”This is true only if the peers do not share the same context and framing bias.”

    True. This is why science needs to be as open and transparent as possible. The more people involved, the more likely there is to be a variety of biases and contexts. This is also why minority and contrary opinions are very valuable to science, even ones that are wrong.

    That is why I reserve my harshest criticism not for ideas that happen to be wrong, but for claims that are not falsifiable and for defenders of those claims who seek to change the rules of science to suit their desired conclusions.

  50. artfulDon 12 Apr 2009 at 12:35 pm

    See, that was a pretty good exchange at a respectable level of abstraction.
    And weing, you’re still at the bottom level.

  51. weingon 12 Apr 2009 at 5:17 pm

    I’m sorry for stooping down to your level. I shan’t do it any longer.

  52. artfulDon 12 Apr 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Reltive stupidty is not choice determinant.

  53. weingon 12 Apr 2009 at 5:50 pm

    You are most likely correct.

  54. CKavaon 12 Apr 2009 at 6:03 pm

    “As for me, I decided to experiment with a change of tactics and run a test of your mettle. If I had to go out, I preferred the bang to the whimper…

    Of course it was necessary to provoke you to draw you out, because voila, here you are, along with some concessions that you have never made or granted to anyone else…

    Was there some subterfuge involved? Damned right there was.
    Did I use some of your posse for pawns? Damned right I did.
    Did I achieve my initial purpose? No, but one of the open secrets about the evolutionary process is that nothing ever does – but its the purpose itself that forces the change. May you and your blog evolve accordingly.”

    > There’s a name for someone who makes argumentative posts in order to get attention from people, a ‘troll’. Trolls also tend to believe they are smarter than everyone else and justify being irritating and posting rubbish by claiming it to be part of some genius plan to make others (and not them) look silly. So it seems your nefarious scheme, which you seem so very proud of, is remarkably similar to just being a bog-standard troll.

    I also strongly suspect most people here aren’t particularly amazed at the incredible revelation that you post in order to get attention or that you think that your critiques are insightful and wonderful and unduly ignored. Your arrogance is about as hard to see as the sun, on a particularly sunny day, with no clouds.

    Finally, I really think you need to reassess your priorities if you consider it a great victory to get Steve to respond to you in the comment section of his blog. Couldn’t you just send him an e-mail if you crave a response so much? His statements accord with what he has previously written and are thus already obvious to most of his readers. So getting him to ‘admit’ to them is also really not that much of an achievement.

  55. DevilsAdvocateon 12 Apr 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Trolls are like that single member of the marching band who is out of step with all the rest. Of course, the troll thinks it’s the other 299 members who are out of step.

  56. artfulDon 12 Apr 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Trolls are a lot like strawmen. They can have multiple purposes, all of which will be inscrutable to the toads of the world.

    Some of which, like CKava and clones, can be moved to tears by the power of their big words. Pawns in anyone’s game – rats in anyone’s maze – those are destined to be their fates.

    Self designated lock steppers, as the devil has just confirmed.
    The toad proletariat of the cyber world.

    Quorum sensors of the great unwashed. Doubling on blogs like bacteria in twenty minute intervals.

    “You’ve been had” will be their epitaph in common.

  57. tmac57on 12 Apr 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Yawn.zzzzzzz…..

  58. DevilsAdvocateon 12 Apr 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Iddin’t ‘e cute? Intellectual equivalent of that cute little neighborhood pest, you just wanna put ‘im in a headlock an’ give ‘im some knuckle noogies.

  59. artfulDon 12 Apr 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Speaking of cute, here’s a suggested limerick for an epitaph:

    A lackey by name of CKava
    While sporting his gay lava lava
    Was unable to drink without having to think
    And thus choked on the king’s bakalava..

  60. tmac57on 12 Apr 2009 at 9:48 pm

    OOOh I want to play too. For your pleasure.

    ArtfulD, who was quite lexiphanic

    Posted comments apace, almost manic

    His motive was vague, and his presence a plague

    But his ego ,now that was gigantic!

  61. artfulDon 12 Apr 2009 at 9:51 pm

    tmac57 epitaph:

    “It’s better to have tried and failed than not to have failed at all.”

  62. CKavaon 12 Apr 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Hey now limericks are something I can fully appreciate- I’m from Ireland afterall:

    There once was a troll named dodger,
    Who was certainly a grumpy ol’ codger.
    His posts were inane, but he never felt shame,
    … Because he finally got that reply from Steve.

    Oh and I thought you might like this verbose explanation too:

    The unfortunate concluding line evokes the recurring despondency experienced by the spectator of devious dodger’s own supposedly erudite correspondence.

    A limerick, verbose explanations and inane insults… a dream post, eh?

  63. CKavaon 12 Apr 2009 at 9:59 pm

    artfulD even you have to give props where it’s due. tmac’s limerick beats yours and mine hands down. That’s real talent!

  64. artfulDon 12 Apr 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Sorry, I’m afraid your perspective has been a bit skewed by spending too much time on your knees. Not to mention your frame of reference.

  65. cwfongon 12 Apr 2009 at 10:13 pm

    LMAO

  66. tmac57on 12 Apr 2009 at 10:16 pm

    A tip-o-me hat to ye Ckava.

  67. artfulDon 12 Apr 2009 at 10:24 pm

    You two need to get a shanty.

  68. titmouseon 13 Apr 2009 at 1:00 am

    pec:

    You see all alternatives to materialism as irrational, crazed and dangerous.

    Not all of them. Some of them.

    I say, “No one need take any claim seriously unless it’s

    - well corroborated
    - falsifiable
    - logical
    - the most parsimonious explanation available.”

    This weeds out stuff like, “Jesus wants to to give to this ministry until it hurts” or “clitorectomies please Allah.”

    So what’s your plan for limiting spirituality to just the nice things?

  69. tmac57on 13 Apr 2009 at 2:57 pm

    titmouse-
    “- well corroborated
    - falsifiable
    - logical
    - the most parsimonious explanation available.”

    Worst limerick ever! ;-)

  70. pecon 13 Apr 2009 at 6:51 pm

    “Trolls are like that single member of the marching band who is out of step with all the rest. Of course, the troll thinks it’s the other 299 members who are out of step.”

    Ah yes, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone agreed about everything? We could all march in step and think in harmony, and … gosh .. just love each other! You know, like that old Beatles song.

    If it weren’t for those darn trolls ruining everything!

  71. HHCon 13 Apr 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Trolls like to streak through the blogs.

  72. artfulDon 13 Apr 2009 at 8:47 pm

    That’s both the duty and the prerogative that comes with being a well-hung intellectual (or otherwise well endowed as the case may be).

  73. HHCon 13 Apr 2009 at 9:44 pm

    artfulD, :-*

  74. sonicon 14 Apr 2009 at 5:41 am

    Sorry to write something to do with the post- but

    In response to this-
    “..you seem to have convinced yourself that distance healing and the law of attraction are real phenomena..”

    Pillay says
    “no, i am far from convinced. i am deeply interested. i know situations when they seem to work and not work. that means that they don’t exist or that they require special circumstances that are not generalizable. we simply do not know. but i don’t want to exclude data either.”

    So, Pillay is not a believer in distance healing, but he is looking at evidence. How is it that so many think he is saying that something exists when he does not say that? Perhaps it is due to the fact that what one thinks of as ‘being rational’ is in fact often more motivated by emotion than one knows.

    Oh yeah- that’s what he was trying to say- right?

  75. SteveAon 14 Apr 2009 at 7:15 am

    Pec,

    With regards to the following:

    “Richard Dawkins is an example of a scientist who firmly believes he knows the answer to how life began and evolved.”

    Would you be able to tell me which of Richard Dawkin’s writings reveal the secret of life’s origin? I would be quite interested in finding out more.

    SteveA

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