June 28, 2010

Deceptively incorrect

Michael Shermer is the founder of a fun little magazine Skeptic. Skeptic magazine espouses skepticism towards ideas not supported by science and reason. The following snippet from the site says it best...

Some people believe that skepticism is the rejection of new ideas, or worse, they confuse “skeptic” with “cynic” and think that skeptics are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons unwilling to accept any claim that challenges the status quo. This is wrong. Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas — no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position. Ideally, skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are “skeptical,” we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe.

The video after the break presented at TED, talks about the brain's pre-disposition towards survival, that is the root of all superstition and nonscientific attitudes. In essence it boils down to two things:

  • A tendency to incorrectly find or ignore patterns in natural or random phenomena. Michael calls it “Patternicity”.
  • A tendency to infuse patterns with a causation agency, often invisible beings from top down. Michael calls it “Agenticity”.

With these two ideas, Michael attempts to explain the need for the unexplained - Conspiracy theories, souls, spirits, ghosts and God. While you may not agree with either the precept or his interpretation, you cannot ignore the idea of linking the brain's evolution to the need for our own belief system.

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