Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

Contemplating Moving This Blog

I’m thinking about moving this blog to my sister blog at tumblr.  The reason is that wordpress, at least the free account, doesn’t let me post embedded images of videos.  Since I’ve been posting a lot more images, this is becoming an issue, at least an issue of ease of use for me.  

I use Mars Edit to compose and post my blog posts.  It works great for just plain text, but if you want to add an image, it gets dicey.  Currently, I have to download the image to my locate computer, import it into iPhoto, share it to flickr, and then use the built-in flicker component in Mars Edit to put it into my post.  Needless to say, this is time consuming and annoying to the point of discouraging me from posting images at all.

Most of the pictures I post are from and it allows you to copy a link to the image for embedding.  In Mars Edit, I can switch to HTML editing and paste the embedded link.  This works great in the preview, but once uploaded to wordpress, it just displays some formatting and the links to the images.

With tumblr, I can take the same post, send it to tumbler and get a post with the images display correctly.

The biggest issues with moving this blog from wordpress to tumblr are migrating all of the previous posts and changing to point to tumble instead of wordpress.  That beast changing the website registration.  I haven’t checked with tumblr yet to see how to set that up.  It’s something that I’m working on.

Now that all this is out of the way, please visit Free Thinking for Dummies at tumblr to see my latest post in which I share some cool images.

May 31, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

My Wedding And The Seductive Lure Of Magical Thinking

Lessons can be learned from almost any experience.  Lessons about reason and logical thinking are no different.   I got married yesterday (pictures here) and while the ceremony was beautiful and was deverything I wished it could be, the events of the day or so leading up to it was anything but.

Things did not go well starting from the day before the wedding.  Both my wife and I went shopping and bill paying separately.  Well, turns out that by the time we were done and got back together, a check of the bank accounts showed that we might no have enough to pay for the reception at the restaurant.  It took returning some stuff and cashing a check with my bank’s line of credit to make sure that we had enough.  

The next problem came the morning of the wedding.  We went to the florists to pickup the floral circlet for her hair so she could take it to the hair dressers.  We got to the florists and instead of the circlet with sweetheart roses, the clerk handed her some loose roses.  No circlet.  To top it off, her bouquet, which was supposed to include red roses, star tiger lilies, and lilly grass. looked like something that a child might have thrown together.  She had specifically picked out a design from a catalogue two days before, except replacing orchids with star tiger lilies.    To be blunt, it was a piece of crap.  We canceled our order and left with her in tears.  Fortunately, went to the local supermarket with a florist and found the perfect bouquet and other flowers we needed

The next almost disaster was about half an hour before we were to leave for the wedding.  Our rings and the marriage license were locked in a fire proof box.  The key for the box was on her keyring, which, despite us and our kids looking, we could not find.  Disaster was adverted after five minutes with a hammer and screwdriver busted open the box.

Finally, we arrive at the restaurant where the ceremony and reception was being held.  We had eight vases for the place settings in a bag, which I handed to my soon-to-be-wife.  Unfortunately, she didn’t have a good hold of the bad and it dropped onto the parking lot, breaking six of the vases.  The good thing?  We didn’t have as many people show up so that we were able to place one vase per table with the flowers.

You might be wondering what all this has to do with magical thinking or supernatural belief.  It was very tempting, even for me, to want to attribute the streak of bad things that happened to some kind of mystical force, be it fate, luck, the evil eye, God, satan, or leprechauns.  The reality is that these events were just a random series of adverse events the effects which were amplified by the significance of the day and the associated stress.  

We both fought the impulse to attribute the bad things that happened to some kind of cosmic fate or karma and that actually made it easier to deal with.  A superstitious person might have allowed their superstitious beliefs to convince them that because things had started off so badly, that meant that their marriage was somehow cursed.  Even if they didn’t take it to that extreme, the thought that they were the victims of bad luck could easily have made it harder for them to enjoy that special day, as they waited for, as it were, the other shoe to drop.

We knew that there really wasn’t any rhyme or reason to these upsetting events.  This knowledge made it much easier for us to put them out of our minds and enjoy our wedding.  

In hindsight it was obvious to us that just as many, actually more, good things happen than bad.  Way more, in fact.  If we had allowed ourselves to believe in the delusion of bad luck, or karma, or whatever you like to call it, we might still be lamenting these events, or at least allowing them to taint our memories of the day,

Things happen.  And as our parents always told us, the reason is, “Just because.”

May 27, 2012 Posted by | Skepticism | | 2 Comments

Share And Enjoy!

I was heating something up for breakfast in my microwave this morning.  My microwave is a pretty cool one.  I particularly love the sensor reheat and sensor defrost.  They both do an excellent job at what they are designed to do.   That’s not what I want to write about, though.

I took notice of a feature of my microwave that I’d seen plenty of times before, but never really noticed.  You know; you’ve seen something, like maybe that little chili shop you drive by every day, but never really paid any attention to, until one day, maybe your stuck in traffic right across from it and have time to take a real look at it.  Suddenly you realize that, hey, you’ve driven by this place hundreds of times but never really noticed that it was a chili place.  Of course, after that, you can’t help BUT notice it every time you drive by.

Ok, hopefully you have the idea.  Now back to my microwave.  When my microwave beeped at me, to let me know that my food was done, I was busy and didn’t hear it.  My stepson walked in and asked me if there was something in the microwave.  I said yes.  He said that it was done.  He said that he could tell by the message that was scrolling across the LED display.  I looked over at the microwave and read the message: “ENJOY YOUR MEAL”.  

It struck me as a bit odd that a company that makes microwave oven would bother to take the time to not only think of, but actually make, a microwave that actually wishes you, “BON APPETIT!”.  I couldn’t help think that this might be the first sign of the rise of the Robot Overlords.  At a minimum, it is the eerily reminiscent of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.  After all, their motto is, “Share and Enjoy!”

May 11, 2012 Posted by | Science | , | 2 Comments

The Luck Of Numbers

Numbers are part of everyone’s life.  We use numbers to count things, to label things, even to describe the universe in which we live.   They help us organize and make sense of the world around us.  Numbers are practical. How much food do we have?  How many weeks before the harvest begins?  Numbers allow us to divide the day into manageable chunks, those days into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years.  

Given this, it is easy to believe that numbers play an important role in our day-to-day lives, but due to how our brains work, we ascribe special significance to numbers that goes beyond their practical value.

Lucky numbers.  Unlucky numbers.  We are all familiar with these, even if we don’t believe in their reputed powers.  In the west, 13 is considered unlucky, while 2, 4, and 12 are considered lucky.  In contrast, the number 4 is considered particularly unlucky in Chinese and other asian cultures because the word for the number 4 sounds like the word for death.

If number were truly lucky or unlucky you would think that the numbers that are considered lucky or unlucky, like the number 4, would be consistent across cultures.  Of course, they are not, because there is no correlation between a particular number and any good or bad things that happen to us, except in the misguided significant we assign to them due to confirmation bias. 

Humans have a need to make sense out of everything around us.  This leads us to try to find purpose for events that actually have no purpose.  We find it hard, if not impossible, to accept that things that happen to us could have no reason or purpose behind them.  Our brains just aren’t evolved to think that way.  Because of this, our brains construct explanations for inexplicable events.  If something bad happens to us, then someone, either ourselves, someone else, or even a god or spirit must have done something to cause it to happen.  The same goes for good things that happen.  While the event was likely completely random, we need to make sense of it so we come up with a reason, no matter how strange or unlikely, to explain it.

This is where the ancient myths first came from.  Our ancestors needed to understand why things happened, be it rain, drought, famine, or disease.  These kinds of events brought great fear and much of this fear was due to the lack of control they had over these events.  To understand how something works is to have control over it.   To try to regain control and reduce the fear,  they came up with stories of gods or spirits that cause these things.  If they could somehow appease these gods or spirits, perhaps they could ward off these events in the future.   

Of course, despite their efforts, diseases, famines and such kept coming, but now they could explain them by their actions of either doing what the gods wanted (when things went well) or displeasing them (when bad things happened).   While the reality was that these events were mostly random,  the need for their explanations to be true caused them to remember the times when events seemed to support their beliefs and forget the times that they didn’t.  This confirmation bias continues to be the basis for our faith in gods, spirits, mysticism, and luck right up until today.  

May 6, 2012 Posted by | Skeptical, Skepticism | , , , | 1 Comment



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