Socially Learned Responses to Alchohol Consumption

Posted by Anti Citizen One on October 12th, 2011

In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, “Oi, what you lookin’ at?” and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, “Hey babe, fancy a shag?” and start groping each other.

The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol. Kate Fox

That is insightful, particularly we consider moralists who try to tackle social problems – they always confuse the effect (drinking alcohol) with the cause (being a violent person who has socially conditioned to only act that way after drinking).

Reality Through Values

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 25th, 2010

I have had a few recent experiences with people cherry picking evidence for arguments and I was interested in reading Dan Kahan view:

“Basically the reason that people react in a close-minded way to information is that the implications of it threaten their values,” says Dan Kahan, a law professor at Yale University and a member of The Cultural Cognition Project.

Kahan says people test new information against their preexisting view of how the world should work.

“If the implication, the outcome, can affirm your values, you think about it in a much more open-minded way,” he says.

And if the information doesn’t, you tend to reject it. NPR


“I Think You’ll Find God Agrees With Me”

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 2nd, 2009

This is hardly news worthy to people who know that “There are more idols than realities in the world”:

God may have created man in his image, but it seems we return the favour. Believers subconsciously endow God with their own beliefs on controversial issues.

“Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one’s own beliefs,” writes a team led by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. New Scientist

I have started reading some Emerson. It is actually quite a good read!

Anti Citizen One

Religiosity & Degree Choice

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 18th, 2009

Interesting piece on the choice of degree and the change in student’s religiosity. (Annoyingly, I have not found the original research paper.)

How important do students think religion is in their lives? For scale, Miles Kimball says, if the difference between the religiosity of people living in the Bible Belt and those in the rest of the country equals 100, then the effect of majoring in a particular subject would be:

-47 Social science
-28 Humanities
-24 Physical science/math
-14 Engineering
-13 Biology
0 No college
+2 Business
+10 Other
+16 Vocational
+23 Education NYTimes

Ah, those Godless social scientists! One conclusion is this effect seems to be smaller than regional variation of religiosity.

Anti Citizen One


Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 15th, 2009

I had a really odd dream last night. It was probably caused by thinking about philosophy 🙂

  • Dreamed about stuff (the usual – having psychokinesis, etc) then I experienced a false awakening
  • I then thought it would be useful to record my dream imagery in the previous dream. (I had a gizmo to do that, apparently.)
  • I then wondered if I went into this dream, when I awoke I might not be about to tell for sure if I was dreaming. (Of course, this thought occurred inside a dream.)
  • I then dreamed about thinking about Plato’s cave.
  • I started to prepare to enter this “dream” state from my “awake” state, then I woke up again.

The only question: am I dreaming now? Ask me if I have psychokinetic powers. If I say yes, I am definitely dreaming!

Anti Citizen One

Either one does not dream at all, or one dreams in an interesting manner. One must learn to be awake in the same fashion: — either not at all, or in an interesting manner. FN

Pigeon Theology

Posted by on March 17th, 2009

Just read this fantastic section that is both informative, provacative and tongue-in-cheek from the excellent book “God’s Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion” by Vatican Astronomer and Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno. I will eventually write a review of sorts. Suffice very briefly to explain that the book is not a missionary work, Consolmagno seeks not to gain any converts, rather it may be described as a sociological work outlining how and why (to quote the blurb) “scientists and those with technological leanings can hold profound, “unprovable” religious beliefs while working in highly empirical fields.

Philosophical Preamble

A little boy prays to God for a red bicycle, when it doesn’t magically appear the following day he decides that God is a fake. However, more worryingly if the little brat does get a red bicycle the following morning (i.e. by generous parents) then he may conclude that it is his prayer that caused the red bike to appear. “A faith based on a lie is worse than no faith at all.”

This type of faith is a fallacy – mistaking chance for cause. Although it is a fundamentally basic concept in our thinking that the cause always comes before the effect – it is really misleading.

Because event A occurs before event B we are sometimes deluded into thinking that A causes B.

Logicians refer to this fallacy as post hoc, ergo propter hoc – “after that, therefore because of that.”

What event B following on from event A can tell us at a basic logical level is that B cannot be the cause of A. It is useful information but it does not equate with A therefore B.

Pigeon Superstition

B. F. Skinner, the famous behavioural psychologist, performed a classic experiment describing “superstition in pigeons” in the late 1940’s. He had developed a method of training pigones by making them hungry (starving them to 75 percent of their normal weight) and then putting them in a box that would provide food whenever they did whatever he wanted them to do – stepping in a certain pattern, say, or pecking at a certain image. But as he describes in a paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 1948, he also put some hungry pigeons in boxes that would feed them at regular intervals with no reference at all to what they were doing. He reported that the pigeons would train themselves to do whatever it was they were doing the first few times they were fed, as if their behaviour – walking in circles, pecking at the left side of the food dish, or whatever – was the cause of their feeding. This, Skinner said, was an example of how superstitions arise among people. More aggressive skeptics have used this result as an explanation for why people are so foolish as to believe in religion itself.” p.84-85

The Moral

Consolmagno states here that the skeptics have a good point, a religion that is adopted solely for the percieved benefits of what it might grant (afterlife, winning the lotto etc.) is one that descends easily into superstition, even if the percieved benefits are forthcoming (by chance).

“Superstition is faith based on quicksand. And when it fails, as inevitably it will, it can at the very least destroy your capacity to believe in better things and at worst pull you down and destroy you, the way that trusting in a quack medicine can kill you if it prevents you from taking a real cure.” p.85

This type of faith is the fallacy of “after that, therefore because of that.”

The Paradox (and the fun)

Lets consider the Pigeons.

“Consider their theological system from their point of view. If a pigeon walks in a circle and then gets fed, causing it to think that there’s a connection between its walk and its food, what is it really believing in? It believes that there exists a Big Food Server (we’ll call him BFS for short) who lives outside of its cage – which is true. It believes that this BFS, who has the power to feed it, is actually watching it, to see what it is doing – which is also true. And it believes that the BFS is delighted every time that it does its meaningless little dance – which, I am sure, is true again, as I can imagineB. F. Skinner chortling and pointing out the behaviour of those silly pigeons to his friends and colleagues and planning how he would write up his paper expposing their superstitious behaviour. So in what way was this pigeon theology false?” p.85-86

Milgram Experiment

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 19th, 2008

I have been interested in the implications of the Milgram experiment – the test involves a volunteer being orders to give electric shocks to another “volunteer” (who is really a confederate of the experimenters). The majority (65%) of subjects, when ordered, were willing to give the victim apparently painful, then lethal electric shocks. Most volunteers were very uncomfortable doing so but still followed instructions to continue. This has implications on morality: an authority figure can usually override peoples ethical views – in some cases, even to go so far as to kill.

I noticed an amusing article on if programming languages were religions, if you are into that sort of thing.

Anti Citizen One

Unconsious Thought and Non Verbal Communication

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 2nd, 2008

I thought I’d better mention I have a professional interest in non-verbal communication. (and even more importantly, a non-professional interest!) Non verbal communication usually occurs outside of conscious control. Expect more on this subject.

This is in line with my philosophic thinking, fore shadowed by FN (again) when he said of Luther and his translation of the Bible:

He gave the sacred books into the hands of everyone, -they thereby got at last into the hands of the philologists, that is to say, the annihilators of every belief based upon books. The Gay Science, 358

So back to current affairs, I was reading news of an interesting study on voting patterns shifts depending on the building where the vote was cast.

[…] in the case of polling locations, seeing lockers, desks and other things associated with schools might activate norms (such as the urge to take care of children) or identities (that is, being a parent) that then shift people to vote to support school funding.
Policy makers should definitely pay more attention to where people vote and, if possible, be more careful in the types of places selected. Choosing polling places is already a tough task, though—they need to be centrally located, handicap accessible, et cetera, so we are not arguing to eliminate churches and schools altogether. Rather, if such places are used, there are ways to minimize their potential influence. Jonah Berger

Interesting stuff. “Free will” indeed. I expect banks to be used if the government is attempting to make the economy a deciding issue!

Anti Citizen One

Happiness Studies

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 31st, 2008

I was reading an interesting article in Prospect magazine by Adam Phillips on the issue of teaching happiness in schools (subscription only). When I talk to people, I am normally met with the assumption that the pursuit of happiness is beyond doubt. Epicurus appears to have been more pursuasive than his reputation. An amusing quote that was cited by the article:

A people who conceive life to be the pursuit of happiness must be chronically unhappy. Marshall Sahlins

One good point was made that to instruct happiness is difficult since it varies between people and may be counter to the other objectives of education.

“Be happy” might be a paradoxical injunction like “Be spontaneous”; if you do it you are not doing it, and if you are not doing it you are doing it.

Anti Citizen One


Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 20th, 2008

A quick, anecdotal case study of adverts seen in the last week:

Example advertising: A car is driven recklessly along a street as an obvious computer game reference to Grand Theft Auto. The driver comes to a halt, steps out of the car and walks into a shop. The man behind the counter feels threatened but the driver takes the product (Coca cola) and pays for it. He then walks around the neighbourhood doing various good deeds in the opposite manner to the computer game – catches a thief, gives money to a busker, etc. The song with lyrics “give a little love and it all comes back to you” is playing. The slogan “the Coke side of life” is shown.

Message of this advert: the brand coca cola is associated to generosity and optimism. The song states that generosity or love will be reciprocated. There is no direct claim is made for the product.

Example 2: A hand cream is applied to a celebrity’s body. The voice over claims the product can taughten skin, remove wrinkles and make you appear younger. (L’Oreal)

Message: Use this product and you will look beautiful (and perhaps more like a celebrity).

Example 3: A man enjoys driving a car through computer generated pretty scenery. Cool music is playing. (Masda/Kia/etc)

Message: Use this product and you will be happy.

Example 4: An envelope is opened and a laptop is pulled out. The laptop lid is opened to show the Mac desktop and logo. (Apple)

Message: The product has desirable properties (thinness in this case). Note that this is not a functional property.

Example 5: A man and a women are shown on split screen talking to each other by mobile phone. They discuss family issues. The driver collides with an unseen object and knocked unconcious. The person on the other end of the conversation is traumatized. (Public information advert – the product in this case is a behavior)

Message: Talking to people who are on their mobile while driving may be upsetting (if they have an accident).

My observations: Advertising typically shows a person (or a character you are likely to identify with) enjoying the product in question. In the more abstract adverts, the product is part of a lifestyle that would be enjoyable. Often the characteristics of the product are secondary to the enjoyment (cars, coca cola). When characteristics are discussed, they are typically aesthetic (thinness, sleek, young, beauty, etc).

Very occasionally the inverse argument is used: product X will cause you unhappiness and should be avoided.

The purpose of advertising is to persuade people to buy the product. Therefore their full message is: product X will make you happy (or beautiful) and you should therefore purchase the product. This unspoken message contains two fundamental flaws.

1) Product being linked with happiness does not imply we should take any particular action. It does not logically follow that we should buy the product.

2) Studies indicate that our level of happiness is mainly physiologically determined. Our conscious choices only have a limited effect on our happiness (including mediation, medication, etc). Happiness is largely outside our hands. We should ask ourselves do certain behaviors cause happiness, or do happy people more likely to perform certain behaviors? The answer seems to be the latter.

This expressed by the master of debunking hollow ideas as:

The most general formula on which every religion and morality is founded is: “Do this and that, refrain from this and that — and then you will be happy! And if you don’t…” Every morality, every religion, is based on this imperative; I call it the original sin of reason, the immortal unreason. [..] An admirable human being, a “happy one,” instinctively must perform certain actions and avoid other actions; […] In a formula: his virtue is the effect of his happiness. Nietzsche

This argument also applies to advertising. This quote is literally true if a brand has replaced religion in a persons mind. My concern is the proliferation of advertising in society is causing the spread of “immortal unreason” where thought and discussion are impaired.

As recently reported by the BBC:

Clinical psychologist Oliver James claims in his new book The Selfish Capitalist: Origins of Affluenza, that “selfish capitalism” (the kind of capitalism we have in Britain) is making us sick. Literally. BBC

For further reading, I recommend Adbusters. They seek to move people beyond the tired concept of everyone being a “happy consumer” and toward being a participant in the real world.

Update: Of course advertising was never meant to be a logical argument but an appeal to the emotions.

Anti Citizen One