Friday, June 24, 2005

things I'm pondering

First... I've been reading a lot lately about things relating to the Left and Right... to Liberal and Conservative.... Democrat and Republican...

I'd been considering for awhile that my view of the differences between the Democratic party and Republican party was colored by my rather recent introduction into politics, and that I was weighing my view of each party and what it stood for by the beliefs and actions of the candidates put forth by each party.

lately I've been starting to realize that that was not quite correct. so I've been starting to try to get a better grasp on what each stands for and why. I've been reconsidering things.

I think this somewhat came to a head about 2 days ago when I stopped by Barnes & Noble and picked up the latest issues of 2600, SKEPTIC and The Philosophers Magazine. There was an article in The Philosophers Magazine (Issue 30) entitled "The Hobbesian state of America". It went into how the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke affected the American ideology and how this in turn affected foreign and domestic policies, perceptions, relations etc. This article really sort of pushed me over the edge to the point where I feel that I need to do some serious studying on the roots and historical foundations of these groups or ideologies, rather than basing too much of my understanding on contemporary empiricism. :(

Second... I was reading the latest SKEPTIC (Vol.11 #3) and came across an article entitled "Flashbulb Memories - How psychological research shows that our most powerful memories may be untrustworthy" which went back over a number of experiments going all the way back to 1899. this got me thinking that if there was such repeated scientific evidence from all these studies done about the fallability of human memory, from as short a time as 24 hours, up to 3 years later... and that with many of the subjects and essentially all of the subjects from 2 and 3 years later, the false memories had actually completely supplanted the original memories... and even when subjects were shown video and/or their own written descriptions of the events at the time they actually happened, they retained the new false memories! these false memories had essentially become reality to them and they were unwilling and/or unable to revert back to the real memories of the real events. these memories were simply gone. vanished, erased, replaced by fabrications of their minds.

can anyone see where I'm going with this? these are people who had directly witnessed events in their lives... things which had taken place directly to them... and they had fabricated false memories that had completely replaced their real memories, and in other cases the memories were completely fabricated... of events that never happened. and remember, this almost irreversible loss and replacement of memories happened within 2 to 3 years.

now imagine that you have memories of events which are written down, not by anyone who directly witnessed the events... and which are not written down for decades... events which follow similar patterns to those in the article... would or should this cast doubt on the authenticity of those accounts? especially given obvious inconsistencies and discrepancies between the different accounts? given our newfound understanding of the fallability of human memory etc?

'Flashbulb memory' theory fades in light of new findings

9/11/01 - Reactions of Psyhological Scientists - FLASHBULB MEMORY RESEARCH

Third... now this third one isn't such a serious thought... I was just thinking about how it was such an odd coincidence that the things written in the bible all just happened to be exactly what the people of the time saw around them. contemporary fiction as it were. the animals of creation were the animals around them because they didn't know of any other animals before those... it wasn't a divine vision from god of the actual creation... it was a story derived from what they knew. Gods only begotten son just happened to be sent to earth... and that just happened to be right in northern Israel... not in the Americas, or Asia etc... nope... out of the entire universe (see my earlier post on the Hubble Ultra Deep Field), the one and only son of God just happened to end up right there in their back yard (of course, this also goes for other religions too... but that just bolsters my point).

now, I'm sure you can turn this around and say "of course it's that way... the bible was written after the fact because he was born there... you're switching it around!", but then we have the issues of him conveniently fulfilling prophecy, the old testament etc... and I've heard arguments about how he must be the messiah and whatnot because how else could he have fulfilled so many prophecies? again, it couldn't possibly be an issue of the facts being bent to fit the prophecy could it? especially in light the factors I explained above in point #2?

(not to mention a lot of the modern scholarly work into the origins and authorship of the bible, and the historicity of the events depicted etc. political pressures, personal agendas etc.)


this is the kind of stuff I'm usually always thinking about. taking a holistic view of things and comparing, contrasting etc... finding connections and new ways to look at things using information from a different source, on a different topic. for instance, the Hobbesian state of America article grabbed my eye because of the discussions I was having with Markavillie... so I read a little further and decided I had to buy the issue.

I'm constantly trying to read information on many many different topics so that I can stay as well informed as possible, and have a larger, deeper pool of knowledge to draw my associations and holistic view from.

for instance, read this entry on Cold Reading and maybe even do a little further research... and notice how much of a difference it can make on how you perceive the world from then on (assuming you didn't already know this specifically).

hopefully this gives you a little idea about how my mind works... and maybe some interesting things for you to think about for yourselves.


remember, if you see something you can't explain, and it makes you think of a ghost, that is how you generally would explain it... the human mind fits things to what it knows... it by nature attempts to categorize, explain, figure out... it doesn't like unknowns, so it fills in the blanks. and what it fills those blanks in with can seem just as real, or as experiments have shown, even more real than other events.

but it doesn't make them true.

this is all about getting to that truth and trying to learn to avoid the cognitive pitfalls along the way.


JStressman said...

Jesus didn't write the bible. and it's now looking like his disciples didn't either. at least nobody that actually witnessed the events in the gospels.

this stuff was written down around 70 years later by people who heard it from someone else who heard it from someone else who heard it. and even in some cases where the text says that a disciple did see something, they couldn't have... as they had just said that they all fled etc...

the entire bible is a patchwork of stories written to achieve certain goals... political, personal etc... the contrast between the authors can be seen.. the discrepancies between accounts can be seen... the obvious dichotomy with the reality in which we live, with all the scientific advances that we've achieved and our vastly greater understanding of life and the universe around us... it can all be seen today.

it truly takes people desperate to believe to set aside all these things to try to maintain a belief in something with so much evidence pointing to the contraray.


it's like this... if you put a mouse, and 5 lit candles in an airtight opaque box and left it sealed for 1 hour, and you had 1 guy who was saying that when you opened the box, that the mouse would be transformed into a dove that would fly away when you opened the box... but had 9 other guys who each could explain to you exactly what would happen scientifically to the mouse, and could show you many other past experiments and evidence to back up their claims... definitely proved beyond any remotely reasonable doubt... would you still believe the 1 guy making these fantastic claims that were in direct contradiction to the known laws of science and nature? if we know that the candle flames consume oxygen, and that as soon as we sealed the box, the candles would quite rapidly burn off the remaining oxygen in the box and that the mouse would suffocate and die in a matter of minutes, so that when we opened the box, the candles would be extinguished, as would the life of the mouse and all we would get is probably a little bit of smoke... what exactly would it take to get us to believe the story about the dove? perhaps if there were 9 people who were trying to convince you of the dove story and only 1 citing all the scientific facts. or maybe there are other motivations to believe the dove story... such as that it takes your belief for it to happen, and if it does, then your prayers are carried to god by the dove and will be granted... or that belief in the dove is key to your eternal life, and without that belief you will die etc...

it's a matter of starting to address the psychological mechanisms that convince your mind to overlook the conflict with reality to achieve that belief. of starting to understand how and why people can believe things that would otherwise seem absurd in light of contrary evidence in almost every other facet of life.

I read a lot about science, history, archaeology, psychology, anthropology etc... many different fields... because they all grant insight into the way people work and how they think... and the more we understand, the more we can cross reference that knowledge and make deeper connections.

that's what this post was trying to convey. I'm just not the best at explaining things. :)

JStressman said...

tara: about the 8 years ago memory thing... this article touches on different ways in which such memories can be started: here is a paragraph that should shed a little light on what you're asking hopefully:

In some cases, people can even have entirely fictitious memories for full-fledged, specific events. In one study, Ira Hyman and Joel Pentland of Western Washington University tried to "implant" a false memory in the minds of their participants. They started by obtaining a list of childhood events from each participant's parents, and then interviewed each participant about the memories that his or her parents had provided. They also asked each participant about one fictitious memory - a memory of spilling a punchbowl on a bride during a wedding reception - but told participants that all memories, including the punchbowl memory, had been provided by the participant's parents. If they didn't "recall" the punchbowl memory during the original interview (and most participants didn't) they were asked to think about the event or to visualize it in their minds as best they could. When tested several days later, almost 25% of the participants in the experiment claimed to have some memory of spilling the punchbowl. These people didn't just remember that the experimenter had told them about it, nor did they just claim that they knew that it happened. Rather, they claimed to have a detailed memory of the event itslf - and some of them even elaborated on the memory, providing details that the experimenter had never mentioned. This straightforward experimental design - which simply involves asking people to imagine an event they'd never experienced - was enough to create a false memory. Overall, somewhere between 15 to 25% of adults can be induced to create false memories in this way. A similar phenomenon may explain False Memory Syndrome, in which fictitious memories of sexual abuse are inadvertently implanted in patients' minds by therapists who use guided-visualization and other suggestive techniques.

there's a lot more to the article, it's several pages long, and that's just 1 paragraph. hopefully that helps though?

I tried to find a copy of the article on-line, but as this is the current issue, none of the articles in it are available on-line publicly yet.

JStressman said...

<yath> "things i've been pondering" ?
<yath> Ok you use the fact of poorly-remembered events to discount the story of Jesus?
<largo> whatever works. :)
<largo> really, it's just one of a ton of other things.
<yath> It's all good and well to ponder these things but you need to hit the books more
<largo> howso?
<yath> Well the issue of Jesus and his prophecies doesn't apply very well here
<largo> you don't think that a traumatic event, witnessed by people with motivation to believe otherwise, and then having that story passed on for decades, through people with different beliefs, motivations etc...
<largo> that that wouldn't alter the details in the end?
<largo> and land you with questionable veracity?
<yath> The consensus on the prophecies is that most of them were added to the four apostles well after their original authorship, to bring them into line with the old testament
<largo> that's what I said.
<largo> :F !!!
<yath> not so much bad memory as just making shit up
<yath> no you didn't :P
<largo> was I not clear? :(
<largo> yeah I did... making the propchecies fit him after the fact.
<largo> which I guess I see your point... it doesn't really relate as directly to the memory alteration, as to actual purposeful factual distortion.
<largo> if that's what you're trying to get at.
<yath> yeah
<largo> well, I never claimed to be good at explaining things. :(
<largo> but that is what I meant. :-/
<yath> ok

JStressman said...

taramonster: I have a bad habit of taking things very literally. I wouldn't be too hasty in ascribing it to any lack of humor in your joke. ;)

I'm not sure about the memory. I think the best you could do would be to call a few respected psychologists and get some opinions. :) good luck.

JStressman said...

I started reading the Federalist Papers, but never got around to finishing. I'll have to make a point to see if I can track down the opposing ones and the Machiavellian discourses.

Thanks for the pointers Markavellie. :)

*adds to text file on desktop title "books to read.txt"*

odd.... the only other thing I have in that file is "Anthropologist on Mars"... and I don't remember at all what that's about or why I put it in there...

*looks it up*

ahh... here we go. "An Anthropologist On Mars : Seven Paradoxical Tales" (Vintage) by Oliver Sacks

from the Editorial Review:

The works of neurologist Oliver Sacks have a special place in the swarm of mind-brain studies. He has done as much as anyone to make nonspecialists aware of how much diversity gets lumped under the heading of "the human mind."

The stories in An Anthropologist on Mars are medical case reports not unlike the classic tales of Berton Roueché in The Medical Detectives. Sacks's stories are of "differently brained" people, and they have the intrinsic human interest that spurred his book Awakenings to be re-created as a Robin Williams movie.

The title story in Anthropologist is that of autistic Temple Grandin, whose own book Thinking in Pictures gives her version of how she feels--as unlike other humans as a cow or a Martian. The other minds Sacks describes are equally remarkable: a surgeon with Tourette's syndrome, a painter who loses color vision, a blind man given the ambiguous gift of sight, artists with memories that overwhelm "real life," the autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire, and a man with memory damage for whom it is always 1968.

Oliver Sacks is the Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould of his field; his books are true classics of medical writing, of the breadth of human mentality, and of the inner lives of the disabled. --Mary Ellen Curtin

anyway... thanks again for the pointers. I always forget to get back to reading those papers. *sigh*

as my ex said... "it's not that you have bad memory... you have a swiss cheese brain. sometimes things just fall in the holes."

(hell, I just pasted your whole comment into the file. context helps.)

JStressman said...

oddly enough, I'm watching an episode of "Penn & Tellers 'Bullshit!'" about Alien Abductions... and right now they're talking about the "hypnotic regression therapy" and how what the "hypnotherapist" is actually implanting all these visuals into the patients mind through suggestion... "do you see a light?" "is it blue?" "is it above the car?" and while the therapist is saying these things, the patient is visualizing them... which can lead to false memories through the methods mentioned earlier in my post etc.

this is the greatest show I've ever seen. (the entire series)