Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spiritual Homelessness

Because I have chosen to study physics I frequently am asked by people, "How do you reconcile what you study with your religion?" I have to admit that I find this question difficult, but not because I do not have an answer but rather because to me the question does not make sense. Asking me how I reconcile science and religion is like asking me how I reconcile owning a car with owning a house. I was not aware that they were mutually exclusive.

Science is merely a vehicle that allows us to interact with the world. It allows us greater movement and ability. It is a way of thinking that gives us a different perspective and allows us to see things we would not have see or understood otherwise. Religion is like a home. It is an anchor to our spiritual lives, and protects us from the storms and troubles of life. It offers us a place of safety and security.

The reason the question is even asked is because in our society some people have the mistaken idea that a car is a home. For them because it has walls, a floor and a place to sit (and a place to put a cup) they assume that it is adequate for living. Thus it is with science. Some labor under the illusion that because science can give them food and basic shelter, and provide them with stunning scenery, that it is adequate and fundamental for life.

There are even some vehicles that carry with them all the basic aspects of a home. But just because it can function as a house does not make it equivalent to a house. Just as our society can tolerate a certain number of people with no fixed address and still be able to function, our society can also tolerate a certain number of spiritual nomads and still function. These few who decide to abandon their spiritual homes for the prospect of "seeing the world" leave themselves with neither anchor nor place of protection and security. They are able to maintain their life styles only because someone has a permanent home. By "freeing" themselves from the "shackles" of religion they become spiritual leeches free to drift with every wind of doctrine.

A problem arises when others see the apparent freedom of these spiritual nomads and get the idea that they to can abandon house and home with no ill effects. But rather than plan for the future and consider eventualities there are those who abandon their spiritual homes looking for "freedom" and the "open road" and rather than acquiring a "motor home", they simply become spiritually homeless, forced to wander the streets living off the spiritual generosity of others.

Unfortunately in our society we have an ever increasing number of people who have abandoned their spiritual havens of security for a little "freedom" but have failed to consider the consequences. It is true that some people can become spiritual nomads and live out their lives, but as always they can only do it because someone owns a spiritual home. Others have left their homes with nothing other than the clothes on their backs, expecting that society will provide for them. In our current spiritual economy we have too many who are homeless, and too many who insist on maintaining their nomadic lifestyle. There are too many who will not be able to weather the storms of life or will be unable to maintain their nomadic lifestyle when society fails them and they spiritually run out of gas.

In the end the thing to keep in mind is that the vehicle of our travels is not a bad thing. Much good can be done with it, but when we use it as justification for abandoning our spiritual houses, we have failed ourselves and all those who depend on us. A vehicle for travel will never be useful unless we have someplace to call home and to find protection from the storms of life. But it can be very useful when we take the time to maintain our homes and keep that which is necessary for life.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Just How Small You Are: Part 2

In my previous post I displayed a photo from NASA that showed a number of galaxies. I mentioned that there were hundreds, or even thousands of galaxies in the photo. To further illustrate my point I will point out a few of the galaxies that I noticed. I will include the full photo at the bottom of this post and I have marked it with three letters. The letters refer to galaxies that I wanted to point out. All the letters are immediately to the left of the region that I have blown up to show the galaxies. Here are three examples of galaxies that I could see in the photo:

Galaxy B (Located in the bottom right quadrant of the photo):There are two obvious galaxies in this region. They may or may not be interacting, but more likely they just happen to line up in our line of sight. How many more galaxies can you see in this small region? I count ~20, with two possible foreground stars, (plus one possible supernova, and at least one AGN).

If you looked at the full photo you probably saw Galaxy B since it is rather large compared to others. Galaxy C you may not have noticed at first, but it is easily seen when pointed out. It is in the center of the photo just above the middle (about where the purple fades out).
Now for the last galaxy I wanted to point out. Galaxy A:
Galaxy A is located in the top left corner of the photo. You will have to click on the full photo below (and maybe even download it, and zoom in) in order to see what I am talking about. Yes that little tiny smudge is a galaxy. Now that I have pointed out things in the photo that are galaxies, take a look at the full photo and realize that every smudge, every minor blemish in the background is a galaxy, in addition to all the larger objects that obviously are galaxies. When I say there are a lot of galaxies out there, that is what I am talking about, and that is just how small you are.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Just How Small You Are

On my Google homepage I have the NASA Image of the Day and today's image struck me as particularly interesting. First, the image:

Here is the description that goes along with it:

Cosmic Heavyweights in Free-for-All

The most crowded collision of galaxy clusters has been identified by combining information from three different telescopes. This result gives scientists a chance to learn what happens when some of the largest objects in the universe go at each other in a cosmic free-for-all.

Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope and the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, astronomers were able to determine the three-dimensional geometry and motion in the system MACSJ0717.5+3745 (or MACSJ0717 for short) located about 5.4 billion light years from Earth.

The researchers found that four separate galaxy clusters are involved in a triple merger, the first time such a phenomenon has been documented. Galaxy clusters are the largest objects bound by gravity in the universe.

In MACSJ0717, a 13-million-light-year-long stream of galaxies, gas and dark matter -- known as a filament -- is pouring into a region already full of galaxies. Like a freeway of cars emptying into a full parking lot, this flow of galaxies has caused one collision after another.

Image Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/IfA/C. Ma et al.); Optical (NASA/STScI/IfA/C. Ma et al.)

If you look at the image you will see several galaxies and a few foreground stars. I should point out that if you look closely enough you will notice that many, and as a matter of fact most of those spots and smudges are galaxies. Of the several hundred points of light in the image only a small fraction are foreground stars in our own galaxy. From my count there are only ~26 foreground stars in the image. The rest are galaxies. (I should say that it is hard to differentiate some galaxies from foreground stars by sight, but foreground stars in images like this typically have diffraction lines.)

So think about the number of galaxies in the picture and then think that the Milky Way has ~100-200 billion stars in it, and the Milky Way is only a medium or even a small galaxy. Now look at the picture and consider how many galaxies there are and that every smudge, every discoloration and point of light is a galaxy. And each galaxy has as many or more stars than the Milky Way. That is just how small you are.

Friday, April 10, 2009

From Animal Farm to Anthem: Warnings of Society's Demise

This week I finally got to sit down and read a classic book, so I chose to read Animal Farm by George Orwell. The book is an allegory of the introduction of communism into Russia. The book has become important in our society and is frequently alluded to. The same is true of Orwell's book 1984. In both books Orwell warns of the dangers of a totalitarian, oppressive society. In our society we see many allusions to things from these books, such as "Big Brother", "The Ministry of Truth" and "all people are equal, but some are more equal than others". These statements are trite statements used to express a distaste or fear of potentially malicious conspiracies.

Frequently these allusions are used by someone to say, "Beware of this government action, or the actions of these people because if you let them do it then we will end up like 1984 or Animal Farm and we will regret it." This is in effect a scare tactic, a kind of bogyman that we bring out to show that we do not like the actions or plans of a particular group of people. But what often happens when someone cries "Big Brother!" or "The Ministry of Truth!" the counter accusation is "Get over it, that will never happen. This isn't even close to the terrible acts in 1984." or "You don't know what you are talking about."

As an example, I recently heard a news story about a woman who applied for a personalized license plate for her car. Her request was turned down because apparently if you read it wrong it would contain offensive language. It was an honest mistake, but what struck me about the story was not that, but rather her reaction to it. In expressing her disappointment with her rejected request she made a comment about the DMV "beginning to censure what people thought" and that their actions were "a little too 1984ish." So here we have someone bringing out the bogyman and crying foul when their personal expression is stifled.

So my question here is, how likely are we to actually end up with a 1984 or Animal Farm situation in the US? In the case of Animal Farm, that actually happened as it tells the story of the Stalinist regime in Russia, but would that happen here in the US? As for 1984, the first time I read it I was also reading the book Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. At the time I was surprised to see the incredible similarities between the two books. Wild Swans is a biography/autobiography of a grandmother, mother and daughter who grew up and lived through China's communist revolution and the Cultural Revolution instigated by Chairman Mao. When I read the book I was amazed to learn about what happened during the Cultural Revolution because it was as if Mao had read 1984 and said, "That sounds like a good idea. Let's try to do that." So it is obvious that Orwell knew what he was talking about because in some measure the things he wrote about were factual and actually happened. But still there is the question, would that happen here in the US?

My personal opinion is that no we here in the US are not in danger of facing some bleak Orwellian future. We do not have to be over concerned about a "Big Brother" or "The Ministry of Truth" teaching us newspeak. I think that in the US we still have enough rugged individualism and good political tradition to inoculate us against that particular plague. The same may not be true of Europe or other countries, because they do not have the same social or political traditions that we do, but that is another matter. In the case of both Russia and China they were prone to the oppressive Orwellian nightmares because they were already afflicted by corrupt and degenerate governments, which made them fertile ground for what happened. So if we here in the US do not have to fear for an introduction of a totalitarian society of Orwellian proportions, does that mean we are safe from "evil or bad governments"?

I would say that even though we do not have to worry as much about facing oppression of Orwellian standards there are other forms of degenerate society that we should be vigilant to protect ourselves from. In that vein there are another set of books that were written, much like Animal Farm and 1984, to serve as a warning about the dangers of a particular type of society. They are the books by Ayn Rand, such as Anthem and Atlas Shrugged. These books, I think, give a more accurate depiction of the degenerate society we may be facing in the US, unless we heed the warning and work to preserve those things that make us free.

In these books by Ayn Rand the characters do not face a sinister or intrusive government like those found in Orwell's books, but rather a society that discourages personal productivity and talent, a society where people are hated for their good works and personal productivity. In this kind of Randian future (as opposed to an Orwellian one) we would face a society where people are rewarded for their laziness, charity would be enforced at "the point of a gun" (or a threat of fines and imprisonment) and no one would be recognized for their own abilities and talents. All things (money, housing, health care), would be reduced to the lowest common denominator until no one would have much of anything.

It is a society such as this that we are more likely to have in the US rather than the overtly harsh and oppressive Orwellian societies. Because of inherent protections in our society and constitution we do not have to worry about the reintroduction of an aristocracy to our country, but we do have to worry about an active discouragement of personal responsibility, thrift and industry. The signs of this degenerate society can already be seen in our country. Take for example the effect of Hurricane Katrina. After the hurricane hit the biggest disaster was not destruction from wind and rain, or even the flood water, but rather the response to it. Many people sat there waiting for "the government" to come "bail them out" (literally).

About a year after the Hurricane hit I had the opportunity to travel through that part of the country. I was surprised by the extent of the damage and devastation even a year later. I also noted that on the highway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans almost every company, business and building had a sign on it saying, "Help Wanted". This by itself would not have been remarkable if it had not been for what I saw just a few miles away in Mississippi. In Louisiana everywhere I looked I say piles of trash, rubbish and broken and demolished buildings. But as soon as we crossed the state line in to Mississippi everything changed. Even though Mississippi bore the brunt of the storm, all the rubbish had been removed, the land had been cleared, and everywhere I looked instead of seeing "Help Wanted" signs, I saw signs saying, "Willing to Work". It was such a difference that I was truly shocked by the bipolar response to the storm. On the one hand there were the people who waited for "the government" to do everything, while on the other hand, the government of the people had taken charge and had cleaned up the mess.

So I ask you, when was the last time you participated in a celebration of (your) personal accomplishment and achievement, instead of a generic celebration of "diversity", meaning anything that is not you or yours? How often are our children (maybe not your personal children, but the children in our society) congratulated for mediocre work and effort? And those that do preform exceptionally are not recognized? Have you ever had a school award ceremony canceled or omitted so as to not "offend anyone" or "hurt anyone's feelings"? When was the last time the administrators thought about the feelings of the people that actually preformed well? When was the last time someone who was productive was told that "Now they can contribute (ahem) more to charity (ahem, cough)."? When was the last time someone could read about the Horatio Alger Myth (i.e. rags to riches, The American Dream) without having to wade through a lot of criticism? (I would recommend looking at the Wikipedia article on the Horatio Alger Myth, it makes my point. Also try the page on The American Dream, and pay particular attention to the first section and think why it is there.) When was the last time someone spoke about what they had done (and not be criticized for it) instead of what they were entitled to? When was the last time someone had asked what they could do for their country and not what their country could do for them? Did these questions make you think? Was it because the questions are revealing of our culture or because they are irrelevant? Or irreverent?

Our political, social and cultural demise will not come from an overtly oppressive Orwellian future, but rather from one where personal freedom is denied. Freedom to be responsible. Freedom to be reasonable. Freedom to be productive. Freedom to be

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Aesthetic vs. The Profane: Our Judgements of Value

A while ago I had the opportunity to get to know a bus driver named Ron. For eight hours a day he drove a city bus and when ever I rode the bus home I got to talk to him, usually about how his day was going, but occasionally he would spot a large tour bus and he would begin to talk about his dream job of driving a tour bus from state to state. I never knew how beautiful a tour bus could be until I met Ron.

My experience with Ron demonstrates a principle of philosophy that governs the field of Aesthetics. In aesthetics we learn that a person's opinion of beauty reveals their judgments of value. In other words, what we consider to be beautiful we also consider to be of great value. Furthermore our value judgments are derived from our ethics, which simply put is a system of beliefs or rules that we use to determine whether or not something is good or bad, and to what degree. When we apply these personal and social rules to things that are not intended for sustaining life, but to improving the quality of it, we are creating or participating in Aesthetics, or art.

When we make these value judgments and determine something to be good we set it apart from the rest of the world to emphasize the fact that we value it more than other things. This action of setting apart can be done through language, such as Ron pointing out and talking about a tour bus, or by actions, such as framing and displaying a painting. While this setting apart can be done in many ways, it is always what we value most we set apart, and call art.

With this understanding we can look at what people call art in order to understand their system of values. This idea is not new and can be expressed in many ways, such as "You can learn a lot about a man based on art he buys." or "You can tell what someone is like by looking at what songs they have on their iPod." It is precisely for this reason the contents of President Bush's iPod became national news a few years ago. People were interested because they considered it a "window to his soul", or a way of finding out about what he values the most.

When this special separation takes place between art and the rest of the world, the rest of world, by definition becomes common and is purposefully excluded from "art". Also, to go to the other extreme, if something is considered "bad" and in our value judgment is deemed to have negative value (as opposed to merely neutral value) then that thing is considered to be vulgar or profane. Again this goes back to our ethics and what we consider to have positive value, no value or negative value. If something has positive value in our system of ethics, or morals, then it is singled out as having aesthetic value or is called art. If it has neutral value then it is called common and is largely ignored. If it has negative value then it is labeled as vulgar or profane.

This idea becomes particularly interesting when we observe works of "art" on display. This idea is not lost on artists and as a matter of fact they frequently use it to make their art more powerful. If an artist exhibits something that has high moral or ethical worth to a viewer then the viewer will respond positively and will express their appreciation or consent to the art. If the object of art has little or no value then the viewer will ignore the art, and finally if it has negative value then the viewer will exhibit a negative reaction and the "art" will be considered offensive.

Again this idea is frequently used by the media when they display pictures in news stories or show footage of events. If a media organization want to show the effects of war, they would rather show a picture of someone crying after having their home destroyed than show a picture of someone passively looking on as neighbors clean up a destroyed home. The reason why they choose to show certain pictures is because they want to maximize the moral or ethical response from their readers or viewers. The reason why this works is because in our common moral system someone crying has greater negative moral or ethical value than someone passively standing by. So while it may not produce the same effect from everyone, it will produce a strong effect in more people, thus they use it.

If we continue along this line of thought we can discover a lot about the moral and ethical system that people operate under by observing how they respond to artistic or aesthetic objects. One example that I came across recently was in a news paper article. The article dealt with a piece of performance art where the performer used "explicit language". One audience member who was interviewed by a reporter responded to the performance by saying, "because she didn't use [explicit language] throughout the entire presentation--only the performance--it really was art." Herein lies an interesting phenomena prevalent in our modern society. Something usually considered vulgar or profane, is inserted into a "work of art" and rather than be rejected because of the mixing of the profane with the aesthetic, the "art" is accepted and applauded for its "brilliance". This example demonstrates a facet of the moral or ethical rules that some people live by. This concept which I am about to explain is in no way new, and has been used many times throughout history, in many different ways, but it is important to point out so that we may understand what some people value which forms a basis of their "moral system".

As I mentioned above about the devices used by the media, there is a school of artistic and ethical thought that wants to maximize the emotional response of the participants. They have found that the easiest way to do this is to insert something with negative moral or ethical value in to something that should have positive, or even just neutral, value. The media uses this device to "shock" their readers or viewers so that they experience an emotional response. In modern art this is frequently used to justify the insertion or displaying of some rather vulgar, crude and offensive objects. The "artists" realize that some of their audience will be offended by these things and thus for them that offense has high moral and ethical value. In other words, the artists value the fact that they are offending someone. In segregating their works of art from the rest of the world and displaying them, the greatest value does not come from the object in and of itself, as it was with Ron considering a tour bus to be beautiful, but rather in the fact that they are shocking and offending someone.

Their object in all of this is to take something that is morally offensive and try to convince their audience that what they consider vulgar or profane should be classed as artistic or of great worth. When these artists get enough people to agree with them then they can change the common set of rules that we use to determine what is good and what is bad. They are in effect changing, or in some cases removing all together, the moral systems of our society. At this point I should say that changing one's moral system, in and of itself is not bad, any more than walking is inherently bad. But when this change leads us away from a stable, secure and peaceful life to one filled with confusion, doubt and despair, then these changes are destructive and in the truest sense of the word cannot be considered moral.

When these changes take place they are quite often taken haphazardly and without regard to a person's or society's complete moral system. These haphazard changes quite often result in inconsistencies in one's moral system or fallacies of logic in one's manner of thinking. These mistakes or errors can be corrected, but all too often when they are pointed out they only lead to resentment and bad feelings. Unfortunately these feelings of resentment, offense and hatred also have negative moral value and thus it is considered offensive, or even profane, to suggest that someone has an error in their moral system. Thus to compensate, those that allow for a flawed moral system must assign a negative moral value to any attempt to correct their moral system. This way of thinking is dangerous and difficult because then that person that structures their moral system to give value to contradictions, must preserve and protect their system from the criticism of others while actively trying to insert contradiction into other's moral systems.

But if we have a moral system that does not allow for contradiction, that does not allow the insertion of the vulgar or profane in the place of the aesthetic, then that system needs no defense, because the system itself is sufficient to prevent the destructive influence of contradictory or degrading material. With a self-consistent moral system our moral and ethical aptitude can only increase as we continuously learn how to apply our good morals to our experiences and existence. When we apply a self-consistent moral system to our daily lives, where we work to sustain life, we can then increase the quality of our lives, by introducing truly aesthetic art into our lives so that we can appreciate that which we value the most.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Explanation of My Last Post: The Free Will Debate

I feel I should explain my last post as not everyone will understand what I am pointing out. First of you have to understand what I mean by "The Knack". This can most easily be understood by watching the first few minutes of an episode of the TV show "Dilbert". In the episode Dilbert's mother takes a young Dilbert to see a doctor about his extreme interest in all things mechanical and electrical. In the end Dilbert is diagnosed with "The Knack" which is "a rare condition which is characterized by an extreme intuition for all things mechanical and electrical and utter social ineptitude."

While my intention in including a reference to Dilbert was purely for humor's sake, the rest of the rewritten article was done for a different purpose (To see and compare my rewritten article to the original follow the link at the end of the article to the source). My reason for rewriting the article comes from an exercise that is used in classes on logic to teach about and point out logical fallacies. Some times an argument for a particular position or conclusion is given and the validity of the argument is unclear. But if we take the same logical form of the argument and insert different words the fallacy immediately becomes apparent.

An example of this is the simple statement, "My physics professor said gravity is constant, therefore it is." To point out the fallacy I will change this statement but keep it in the same logical form. "Dizzy said the world would end tomorrow, so it will." This statement is obviously fallacious, and it makes the fallacy in the first statement easier to point out. While it may be true that gravity is a constant, it is not constant because someone said so. Thus the argument is invalid because it makes use of a logical fallacy, an appeal to authority. I should point out that just because the argument is fallacious does not make the conclusion false, that assumption is also a logical fallacy. The reason why this exercise is used in logic classes is to reveal the underlying argument when it may not be obvious.

So my purpose in rewriting the news article was to put the same argument into different words in order to more easily show the underlying assumptions behind the article, and the broader issue. In a very simple way it comes down to the debate over free will. Without beating around the bush I will outline the philosophical issues involved. The question involved is whether or not people are able to choose who they will be and how they will act. As seen in the photo, on one side of issue there are those who say that the way they are is not a choice and thus there is no free will. This means they did not and cannot choose their own identity. On the other side, are those therapists who try to change a person's homosexual tendencies. They do this because they believe it can be done.

So here is the main question, do we have free will? Can someone choose who they will be? Those on one side of the debate will say that we cannot choose, and demonstrate this by saying that we cannot choose our DNA, or our environment. Hence they argue that a person cannot change the fact that they are have homosexual tendencies. As seen from the original article this argument is used to form the basis to say that therapists should not try to change someone's sexual orientation.

But if you read my rewritten article the underlying logical fallacy is easier to see. There is a difference between aptitude, predisposition, DNA or environment and someone's actions. In reference to the rewritten article, just because someone has an aptitude for scientific things (i.e. the knack), does not mean they will do scientific things, nor does it make them a scientist or an engineer. They can become one, but only if they preform the actions associated with that. Returning to the original article we see that they confuse disposition with actions. They assume that because someone has an inclination to act in a certain way, then they must act in a certain way. In essence they deny that we have free will.

The danger of thinking like this lies in applying this same principle to other things, such as if someone has the inclination to murder, or the inclination to steal, or the inclination to hurt others. If those people can be held accountable for their own actions, then we must have free will. If we have free will then if someone has homosexual tendencies then they do not have to act accordingly, and they can change their actions. Thus being gay is a choice. The inclination may not be a choice, but acting on those inclinations is, and it is the actions, not the inclination that defines someone as homosexual or not.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Therapists offer anti-scientific 'treatment'

Therapists are still offering treatments for the knack despite there being no evidence that such methods work, research suggests.

A significant minority of mental health professionals had agreed to help at least one patient "reduce" their scientific thoughts when asked to do so.

The survey, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry and conducted by London researchers, involved 1,400 therapists.

Many were acting with the "best of intentions", said the lead author.

Only 4% said they would attempt to change a client's scientific aptitude, but when asked if they would help curb scientific thoughts some 17% - or one in six - said they had done so.

The incidence appeared to be as prevalent in recent years as decades earlier.

The conclusions of this research are a welcome reminder that what scientists need is equal treatment by society, not misguided treatment by a minority of health professionals
Dirk Dagger

"Of course it's incumbent on a professional to assist a client who wants help, but this should be done using evidence-based therapies - exploring their distress and helping them to adjust to their situation," said Professor Richard Poor of University College Stonewall.

"We know now that efforts to change people's scientific aptitude result in very little change and can cause immense harm.

"We found it very worrying that there was a significant minority who appeared to ignore this - even if they had all the right intentions."

'Right to treatment'

The Royal College of Pseudo-Psychiatrists says all scientists have "a right to protection from therapies that are potentially damaging, particularly those that purport to change scientific aptitude".

In the US, where there has been heated debate on the issue of "curing" the knack, The American Pseudo-Psychiatric Association (AP-PA) has urged all "ethical practitioners to refrain from attempts to change individuals' scientific aptitude".

However there are organisations which campaign both for an individual's right to seek treatment and a professional's right to offer it.

They point to work by William Space, a psychiatrist who lobbied for the removal of the knack from AP-PA's list of mental illnesses but went on to suggest in a controversial 2001 study that therapy could bring about change in scientific aptitude.

Researchers in the UK are launching a website to collect stories from around the world about such therapies.

They hope in this way to uncover stories from India, South America and China where little is known about the prevalence of such practices.[source]

Friday, April 3, 2009

Arguing Past Each Other

When I read comments that are left in response to certain articles, I frequently notice a particular logical fallacy that people fall victim to again and again. The fallacy tends to follow a simple form:

Person 1 makes general statement G about group A.

Person 2 argues that G is false because they are a member of group A (or they know a member of group A) and statement G does not apply to person 2 (or their acquaintance).

For example:

People from UNC are big basketball fans.

I attend UNC and I am not a big basketball fan, therefore people from UNC are not basketball fans.

Granted this is a rather extreme example and most people would quickly point out the fallacy and most people would not use this type of argument (I may be making some hasty generalizations here, but I think this is an accurate one). Still this form of logical fallacy is so prevalent that it forms the basis of a great many arguments. Because the forms of this fallacy are so varied and numerous, logicians have grouped them into an entire class of logical fallacies known as Inductive Fallacies.

As my above example shows these class of fallacies can be rather humorous and even form the basis of many jokes and satire. These fallacies are heavily used by comedians such as Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, and it is precisely these fallacies that make their material so funny. But unfortunately not everyone is in on the joke and some try to use these fallacies as the basis for some rather serious arguments. In other words, what should be funny is no longer funny because the people that use the fallacious argument are very serious, and get offended when no one takes them seriously, or when people ridicule their argument for being fallacious. This action and reaction is the basis for a lot of contention on subjects for which we should not contend about.

For example (I did not come up with this example, it comes from several letters to the editor in the UNC student newspaper):

Student 1: The college dropout rate for blacks in the UNC system is higher than the dropout rate for whites. Therefore blacks are not as prepared for college as whites are.

Student 2: I am black and I graduated top of my class. I work hard and I get straight A's in my classes, therefore you have no basis for saying that blacks are not as prepared for college as whites.

General responses: Ridicule and derision of Student 2's logical fallacy and general lack of understanding and misrepresentation of the issue at hand.

Result: Race relations are not improved, and are even hurt by the actions of Student 2 and all those who respond negatively to their remarks.

An interesting point in all of this is that logical fallacies in and of themselves are not bad. They can be funny and bring laughter into the world, but when we treat them as true, and insist on their veracity, and base our morals, ethics and lives on them, then they sow the seeds of contention and hatred that so often brings heartache and sorrow to our selves, others and our society in general. When we place logical fallacies, or any kind of untruth, as the standard of truth, it is no wonder that we find so much confusion in our arguments and cannot find any rational basis to solve the problems of our society. I should warn that merely recognizing the fallacies and pointing them out is not enough, and can even been detrimental, but rather the bast response to a logical fallacy is to ignore it, or to not participate in it. Then when the fallacy is past, it can be used as a tool from which to learn, so that we can avoid the same fallacies in the future.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


As this is my 42nd post I thought I should comment on my name (or the name of my blog). Years ago I was looking for a good email address that I could use, I came across the idea of a quantum leap. A quantum leap is where a particle changes from one energy level to another instantaneously. This is the process that produces most, if not all, of the light we see. When the particle changes energy levels it has to absorb or release energy usually (always) in the form of a photon. When the particle is moving between allowed states, it must pass over a region of forbidden states, or energy levels. This means it must pass from where it is to where it ends up without "traveling" through the intervening "space". Because this was such a new concept they gave it a name and called it a quantum leap.

When I first applied for an email address the name quantumleap was unavailable so I tried quantumleap42, because 42 is the answer to life the universe and everything. It was only afterward that I learned about the TV show Quantum Leap. Because I did not have a TV growing up I never saw the show (though when I look back I realize that I had heard people talking about the show, I just never knew what it was so it never registered that there was a TV series called Quantum Leap). But inevitably the first thing everyone says when I tell them my email address (or the name of my blog) is "Oh! Like the TV show." Because of this I became curious and have since researched the show to know its story and I have even seen 1/2 of one episode. But despite most initial reactions, that is not where I got the name.