Tag Archives: scientific method

the paradox of confirmation

Epistemology: The Paradox of the Ravens

Published on Jul 24, 2015
In this video, Marc Lange (UNC-Chapel Hill) introduces the paradox of confirmation, one that arises from instance confirmation, the equivalence condition, and common inference rules of logic.

This was solved by Popper: You don’t look for confirming evidence. You look for DIS-confirming evidence, and hold your hypothesis tentatively.The use of the word “confirmation” is what’s not sound. Sure, you can apply the evidence; your chair without ballet shoes does indeed lend evidence that all ravens wear ballet shoes. See, that one piece of evidence is in support of all ravens being black, but it isn’t enough evidence to completely confirm it. now if you find every non-black thing and there isn’t a single raven among them: you’ll know that every raven is black.

Ego depletion

Ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draw upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up.[1] When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically impaired, which would be considered a state of ego depletion. In particular, experiencing a state of ego depletion impairs the ability to control oneself later on. A depleting task requiring self-control can have a hindering effect on a subsequent self-control task, even if the tasks are seemingly unrelated. Self-control plays a valuable role in the functioning of the self on both individualistic and interpersonal levels. Ego depletion is therefore a critical topic in experimental psychology, specifically social psychology, because it is a mechanism that contributes to the understanding of the processes of human self-control.

The word “ego” in “ego depletion” is used in the psychological sense rather than the colloquial sense.

American social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues proposed a model that relates self-control to a muscle, which can become both strengthened and fatigued. Initial use of the “muscle” of self-control will cause a decrease in strength, or ego depletion, for subsequent tasks. Multiple experimental findings show support for this muscle model of self-control and ego depletion.[2]

A key experiment by Roy Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Mark Muraven and Dianne Tice in 1998, demonstrated some of the first evidence that ego depletion has effects in many diverse contexts or situations.[1] They showed that people who initially resisted the temptation of chocolates were subsequently less able to persist on a difficult and frustrating puzzle task. They attributed this effect to ego depletion, which resulted from the prior resisting of a tempting treat. Additionally, it was demonstrated that when people voluntarily gave a speech that included beliefs contrary to their own, they were also less able to persist on the difficult puzzle, indicating a state of ego depletion. Interestingly, this effect was not nearly as strong when individuals were not given a choice and were “forced” to write a counter-attitudinal speech. Thus, it is believed that both the act of choice and counter-attitudinal behaviors draw upon the same pool of limited resources. While giving a counter-attitudinal speech is expected to produce ego depletion, introducing the element of choice further increases the level of experienced depletion. These findings demonstrated the effects of ego depletion in differential situations and emphasized that ego depletion is not context-specific. This experiment was critical in that the researchers synthesized ideas proposed by prior studies that had suggested evidence for a strength model of willpower. With this study, Baumeister and his colleagues therefore provided the first direct experimental evidence of ego depletion, and initiated research interest on the subject.

Physiological correlates

The role of glucose as a specific form of energy needed for self-control has been explored. Glucose, a sugar found in many foods, is a vital fuel for the body and the brain. Multiple experiments have connected self-control depletion to reduced blood glucose, and that self-control performance could be replenished by consuming glucose (e.g., lemonade).[3] However, some (but not all) of the findings were questioned.[4] Several recent experiments have found that resource depletion effects can be reversed by simply tasting (but not swallowing or consuming) sweet beverages,[5][6][7] which can have rewarding properties.[8] Others have suggested that the taste of sugar (but not artificial sweetener) has psycho-physiological signaling effects.

An experiment by Segertrom (2007) and Solberg Nes, has shown that HRV (heart rate variability) is a marker for both ego depletion, and an index for self-control power before the task. [1]

The underlying neural processes associated with self-control failure have been recently examined using neurophysiological techniques. According to cognitive and neuroscientific models of mental control, a “conflict-monitoring/error-detection system” identifies discrepancies between intended goals and actual behaviors.[9] Error-related negativity (ERN) signals are a waveform of event-related potentials, which appear to be generated in the anterior cingulate cortex when individuals commit errors in various psychological tasks.[10]Using electroencephalography (EEG) recordings, Inzlicht and Gutsell found that individuals who had undergone an emotion-suppression task displayed weaker ERN signals compared to individuals who had not undergone emotion-suppression tasks.[9] These findings demonstrate preliminary evidence that depletion experienced after exerting self-control, can weaken neural mechanisms responsible for conflict monitoring.
The majority of ego depletion studies have been carried out on university students, which raises concerns about how generalizable the results really are. The effects of age are unknown, but maybe younger people are more susceptible to the effects of ego depletion, given that the areas of the brain involved in self-control continue to develop until the mid 20s. For example, a recent study found that people over the age of 40 did not become ego depleted following a typical depletion manipulation, whereas younger university students did.[11]

Although self-control has traditionally been thought of as a limited resource that can be depleted, some researchers disagree with this model[2]. While multiple studies provide support for the ego depletion effect, there is currently no direct measure of ego depletion, and studies mainly observe it by measuring how long people persist at a second task after performing a self-control task (the depleting task).[1] The theory of ego depletion relies on the inner workings of an individual’s volition, which can only be indirectly tested; therefore, only inferences can be made. Another challenge facing research on ego depletion is the influence of the overall mental conditions of individuals being studied. There is speculation that results may be disrupted in individuals who report experiencing depression and already possess high levels of ego depletion prior to the study.

Many ego depletion studies, however, have shown that mood is not relevant to the results. In fact, many of the earlier experiments have tested for the effects of mood and saw no effect of mood whatsoever. Furthermore, the study and measurement of ego depletion may be affected by the confounding effect of cognitive dissonance. Researchers have questioned whether subjects are truly experiencing ego depletion, or whether the individuals are merely experiencing cognitive dissonance in the psychological tasks.[1]

Process model

In contrast to the original most known model of self-control, Michael Inzlicht and Brandon J. Schmeichel propose an alternative model of depletion, which they refer to as the process model.[26] This process model holds that initial exertions of willpower lead an individual’s motivation to shift away from control, and towards gratification. As a part of this process, one’s attention shifts away from cues that signal the need for control, and towards cues that signal indulgence. Inzlicht and Schmeichel argue that the process model provides a starting point for understanding self-control and that more research examining these cognitive, motivational, and affective influences on self-control is needed.

Reproducibility controversy and conflicting meta analyses

A 2010 meta analysis found the effect significant. Even after accounting for possible unpublished failed studies, the analysis concluded that it is extremely unlikely that the effect is untrue. [27] In 2015, another meta analysis argued that more strict meta analysis and different statistical models show no effect. [28][29] Others, however questioned the statistical analysis used in this analysis.[30]

In 2016, a major study carried out at two dozen labs across the world using a single protocol failed to find any evidence for ego depletion.[31][32]

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The hypothetico-deductive model

The hypothetico-deductive model or method is a proposed description of scientific method. According to it, scientific inquiry proceeds by formulating a hypothesis in a form that could conceivably be falsified by a test on observable data. A test that could and does run contrary to predictions of the hypothesis is taken as a falsification of the hypothesis. A test that could but does not run contrary to the hypothesis corroborates the theory. It is then proposed to compare the explanatory value of competing hypotheses by testing how stringently they are corroborated by their predictions.

One example of an algorithmic statement of the hypothetico-deductive method is as follows:[1]

1. Use your experience: Consider the problem and try to make sense of it. Gather data and look for previous explanations. If this is a new problem to you, then move to step 2.
2. Form a conjecture (hypothesis): When nothing else is yet known, try to state an explanation, to someone else, or to your notebook.
3. Deduce predictions from the hypothesis: if you assume 2 is true, what consequences follow?
4. Test (or Experiment): Look for evidence (observations) that conflict with these predictions in order to disprove 2. It is a logical error to seek 3 directly as proof of 2. Thisformal fallacy is called affirming the consequent.[2]

One possible sequence in this model would be 1, 2, 3, 4. If the outcome of 4 holds, and 3 is not yet disproven, you may continue with 3, 4, 1, and so forth; but if the outcome of 4shows 3 to be false, you will have to go back to 2 and try to invent a new 2, deduce a new 3, look for 4, and so forth.

Note that this method can never absolutely verify (prove the truth of) 2. It can only falsify 2.[3] (This is what Einstein meant when he said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”[4])

Despite the philosophical questions raised, the hypothetico-deductive model remains perhaps the best understood theory of scientific method.

The morality of evolution

The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex is a book on evolutionary theory by English naturalist Charles Darwin, first published in 1871. It was Darwin’s second book on evolutionary theory, following his 1859 work, On the Origin of Species, in which he explored the concept of natural selection. In The Descent of Man, Darwin applies evolutionary theory to human evolution, and details his theory of sexual selection, a form of biological adaptation distinct from, yet interconnected with, natural selection. The book discusses many related issues, including evolutionary psychologyevolutionary ethics, differences between human races, differences between sexes, the dominant role of women in choosing mating partners, and the relevance of the evolutionary theory to society.

As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions. There is more than one reason why the Church is advising our youth to attend colleges close to their homes where institutes of religion are available. It gives the parents the opportunity to stay close to their children, and if they become alerted and informed, these parents can help expose some of the deceptions of men like … Charles Darwin.

Ezra Taft Benson

More than other modern societies, United States relies, even depends, on myth to cement its confidence. Americans are profoundly ahistorical.

Our national myths are representations of identity and the actual instrument of acculturation. This process of acculturation through myth, moreover, is achieved through entertainment: television and movies. The culture of a society—its ethos—defines distinctive patterns of individual and group behavior. Culture shapes the way we look at the world. Whatever our immediate group membership, our final sense of identity is shaped by larger cultural patterns. If we define ourselves according to myth, what kind of worldview has it given us?

First, at the core,  the United States has an essentially religious value system. The primal myth of our origin is that of the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” with the Plymouth Colony completely overshadowing Virginia and its lineal transplanting of British class and caste. We believe that the source and inspiration of America is bound up in religion: religious freedom, but also the moral vantage of Calvin. The impact of Protestant thought is felt in the ways we talk about mission, service, sacrifice, restraint. It underlies the sense that Americans share of serving a higher calling. This underpinning remains dominant today even though it is highly secularized, and transmuted into legal, constitutional language.

Second, Americans still hew a set of specific myths about the United States. One of these is that America is the source of human progress and can achieve perfection as a society. Americans believe that there has never been a society quite like our own. This American “exceptionalism” suggests that we are a people graced with unusual natural endowments. We think of ourselves literally as a “people of plenty.” But our mythology also reminds us that this land was a great “untamed wilderness,” a “land of savagery.” It was the exceptional will, unity and vision of the American people and their beliefs that transformed the landscape. The twin icons of national bounty and national achievement have inspired two senses of an American national purpose: a conviction that the United States should serve as an example to the world, that America and its people are the model for all human development; and an impulse to change the world for good, to become the active agency of human progress. Tyranny and resistance to change are so entrenched in the world that only direct American intercession can shift the direction of history. America’s gifts demand that it assume a missionary role.

In the United States at the turn of the 20th century, Darwinism was greeted with glee because it seemed so compatible with the prevailing ideology of theday,  where robber-baron capitalists like the Carnegies, Mellons, Sumners, Stanfords and yes, even Jack London, could not stop rattling on about how the “survival of the fittest” justified crushing unions, exploiting immigrant labor or being left unregulated to amass huge fortunes while administering monopolies. In the popular ethos of the United States, there is a confusion of Capitalism with the American worship of the individual and the nuclear family. It can be argued that these ideas are related but they are different and independent. According to the American work ethic you only get what you work for, but this is not what Capitalism is. Capitalism is the idea that market forces, carried out by intelligent agents looking for profit (self interest), let by themselves will generate wealth and prosperity for society as a whole. The dichotomy Capitalism/Socialism is actually dated. If one understands socialism as government control of the economy, all, 100%, of the world’s governments are socialist to some degree. In any case, we now live in a competitive society and are often told that to get ahead we require drive, commitment and determination, that we must expend a great amount of energy and, if necessary, use force to get what we want. A ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality is deeply entrenched in our culture. Despite the fact that this Wild West mentality  is a historical byproduct, it is now attributed to Darwin’s Origin of the Species.

Religious fundamentalists are sincere on their view of the World as a battleground between Good and Evil. For them anything that undermines faith in God, specially with regards to children, is utterly evil. The teaching of Science to children, in particular Evolution, is seen as a threat to children indoctrination. Nonetheless,  the attack on Evolution is an attack on Science as a whole. Science is not about what to believe but rather a method to perceive Reality. It is the critical objective look at reality aspect of Science that is perceived as a treat by the religious establishment. However, teaching religious ideas as an alternative to factual descriptions of reality undermines science education by misinforming students about the scientific method — the basis for science literacy.

The scientific method teaches students the fundamentals of science — how to observe data, perform experiments and form scientific theory. Religious explanations for creation are not science – they cannot be confirmed or denied by the scientific method. Teaching them as science confuses and misleads students about the scientific method, thereby warping their ability to live in a technology-driven society

Most people don’t read scientific papers because they are extremely complex. Even college science students have a hard time digesting scientific papers. But what is easy to understand is that, since the bible says this, science says that, therefore science is the devil, and since we hate the devil and our job is to fight him, we must hate science and fight it. Christian leaders can be blind sighted to the outside world at times. All this commotion about a science that goes against the bible. The Bible today, still says that the Earth does not move around the sun as much as it did thousands of years ago. The Bible did not change. At the end of the Middle Ages, Christian leaders threatened heavy punishment to Galileo for suggesting that, based on his scientific evidences, the Earth revolved around the Sun.

Any effort to introduce a theological doctrine into public school science curricula would inevitably offend some teachers and students. After all, a Protestant fundamentalist’s “literal” reading of Genesis would likely differ markedly from that of a Catholic or an Orthodox Jew. Both public school educators and religious leaders should be concerned about the prospect of biology lessons degenerating into debates on Biblical or religious interpretation.

Evolution by natural selection, at its core, works like this: living organisms are characterized by heritable variation for traits that affect their survival and reproductive abilities. This heritable variation originates from the (truly random) process of mutation at the level of DNA. The process of evolution turns out to be largely the result of two components: mutations (which are random) and natural selection (which, again, is not random). It is the joint outcome of these two processes that—according to evolutionary theory—explains not only the diversity of all organisms on Earth, but most crucially the fact that they are so well adapted to their environment: those that weren’t did not survive the process. Because the environment changes overtime, and therefore, what characteristics of life forms are better changes, and it cannot be said in absolute terms that extinct forms are inferior to those present today.

You may find it intuitively difficult to believe that two relatively simple natural processes can produce the complex order we observe in living organisms. But the beauty of science is that it so often shows our intuitions to be wrong. Because nature does not always function according to our common sense or intuition, the scientific method a necessity on the quest of the human race for survival.

Evolution is both a theory and a fact, contrary to simplistic creationist views. How can this be? Evolution is a fact in the sense that it is beyond reasonable doubt that living organisms have changed over time throughout the history of the earth. It is a theory in the sense that biologists have proposed a variety of mechanisms (including, but not limited to, mutation and natural selection) to explain the fact of evolution.

The theory of evolution is a fundamental concept of biology and it is supported by the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence. Simply eliminating evolution from the public school curriculum in order to ease community tensions would do a great disservice to all students. It would deny public school students an adequate science education – which is more and more becoming a necessity for professional success in a high-tech world.

It must be said that there is a propagandistic perversion of language, and there are religious groups that use the language of science to mislead and actually undermine a scientific conceptualization of Reality. Religious opponents of evolution have cloaked religious beliefs in scientific sounding language and then mandating that schools teach the resulting “creation science” or “Intelligent Design” as an alternative to evolution. Intelligent Design organizations are fundamentalist religious entities that consider the introduction of creation science into the public schools part of their ministry. Creation science rested on a “contrived dualism” that recognized only two possible explanations for life, the scientific theory of evolution and biblical creationism, treated the two as mutually exclusive such that “one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution,” and accordingly viewed any critiques of evolution as evidence that necessarily supported biblical creationism. Creation science is simply not science because it depends upon supernatural intervention, which cannot be explained by natural causes, or be proven through empirical investigation, and is therefore neither testable nor falsifiable.

The argument for Intelligent Design (ID) is not a new scientific argument, but is rather an old religious argument for the existence of God, traced back to at least Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, who framed the argument as a syllogism: Wherever complex design exists, there must have been a designer; nature is complex; therefore nature must have had an intelligent designer. Although proponents of ID occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed. The writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity. Dramatic evidence of ID’s religious nature and aspirations is found in what is referred to as the “Wedge Document.” The Wedge Document, developed by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Renewal of Science and Culture. The Discovery Institute, the think tank promoting ID whose CRSC developed the Wedge Document, acknowledges as “Governing Goals” to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies” and “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”

ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

Because Science wins over Religion on factual description of Reality, the attack on Science is made nowadays on moral grounds.  From the point of view of religious fundamentalists, Science is a competing religion, although a silly one at that. Then the scientific community is under attack with this straw-man argument against evolution:

But if design, conversely, is rational, why do so many scientists reject it? Because this is not an issue of science, but of religion. Their religion is that of materialism and naturalism, and they are under no illusions as to the implications of design.

James M Tour, in the blog entry Layman’s Reflections on Evolution and Creation. An Insider’s View of the Academy, claims insufficient understanding of what he calls Macroevolution. Macroevolution is evolution on a scale of separated gene pools.[1] Macroevolutionary studies focus on change that occurs at or above the level of species, in contrast with microevolution,[2] which refers to smaller evolutionary changes (typically described as changes in allele frequencies) within a species or population. However, contrary to claims by creationists, macro and microevolution describe fundamentally identical processes on different time scales.

Russian entomologist Yuri Filipchenko first coined the terms “macroevolution” and “microevolution” in 1927 in his German language work, “Variabilität und Variation”. Since the inception of the two terms, their meanings have been revised several times and the term macroevolution fell into limited disfavour when it was taken over by such writers as the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt (1940) and the paleontologist Otto Schindewolf to describe their orthogenetic theories.[7]

A more practical definition of the term describes it as changes occurring on geological time scales, in contrast to microevolution, which occurs on the timescale of human lifetimes.[8] This definition reflects the spectrum between micro- and macro-evolution, whilst leaving a clear difference between the terms: because the geological record rarely has a resolution better than 10,000 years, and humans rarely live longer than 100 years, “meso-evolution” is never observed.[8]

As a result, apart from Dobzhansky, Bernhard Rensch and Ernst Mayr, very few neo-Darwinian writers used the term, preferring instead to talk of evolution as changes in allele frequencies without mention of the level of the changes (above species level or below). Those who did were generally working within the continental European traditions (as Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, Bernhard Rensch, Richard Goldschmidt, and Otto Schindewolf were) and those who didn’t were generally working within the Anglo-American tradition (such as John Maynard Smith and Richard Dawkins). Hence, use of the term “macroevolution” is sometimes wrongly used as a litmus test of whether the writer is “properly” neo-Darwinian or not.

At the end of his article, Tour makes a reference to the movie, “Expelled. No Intelligence Allowed.”, a pro-intelligent design movie, which among other claims, strongly implies that Charles Darwin‘s ideas led to Adolf Hitler‘s atrocities. Tour asserts that a subset of the scientific establishment is retarding the careers of Darwinian skeptics. He closes citing  Viktor Frankl , The Doctor and the Soul with the comment If Frankl is correct, God help us:

“If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.
“I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers [emphasis added].”

The movie Expelled main theme is that what it calls Darwinism inherently contain the seeds of Nazism, and even more Darwinism equals Nazism. This frighteningly immoral narrative is capped off a la Moore, with shots of the Berlin Wall, old stock footage of East German police kicking around those trying to escape through the wall to the West and some solemn blather by Ben, who calls upon each one of us to rise up in defense of freedom and knock down a few walls in order to get creationism back into the curriculum at American Schools.

From Darwin to Hitler: evolutionary ethics, eugenics, and racism in Germany is a 2004 book by Richard Weikart, a historian at California State University, Stanislaus,[1] and a senior fellow for the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute.[2] The work is controversial.[3] Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky wrote that “numerous reviews have accused Weikart of selectively viewing his rich primary material, ignoring political, social, psychological, and economic factors” that helped shape Nazi eugenics and racism.

The Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement, “provided crucial funding” for the book’s research.[5] The Institute operates DarwinToHitler.com, which promotes the book and intelligent design.[6] Prominent historian and critic of the intelligent design movement, Barbara Forest, states that the book is tied to the DI’s ‘wedge strategy‘ of attacking Darwinian science as morally corrupting.[7] This strategy aims to “defeat [the] materialist world view” represented by the theory of evolution in favor of “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”[8]

Weikart has appeared in creationist films promoting the book. In 2006, Weikart appeared in Coral Ridge Ministriescreationist film Darwin’s Deadly Legacy in which Weikart claims “Darwinian ideology is the core” of Nazism and D. James Kennedy concludes: “To put it simply, no Darwin, no Hitler.”[9][10] In 2008, Weikart, a supporter of intelligent design,[11] also appeared in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.  In fact, scientific theories, even those like Darwin’s that address organic life, are morally neutral.”   Creationist organizations, like Creation Ministries International cite Weikart’s work claiming it shows “extensive documentation of the Darwin–Hitler link.”

There were many nations, such as Britain which embraced Darwinism but saw a considerable number of their population killed trying to eliminate Nazism. There were other nations, such as the Soviet Union, where Darwinism was seen as so dangerous and subversive to State sponsored dreams of social engineering that those who espoused it were killed or exiled and a complete biological fairy tale, Lysenkoism, put into classrooms and agricultural policy ultimately leading to the deaths of millions from starvation.

Now, Christian groups are tying a neutral scientific theory to racism, antisemitism and xenophobia.That is extremely irresponsible and untrue. In fact, Christianity has a stronger link to anti-semiticism and xenophobia than Evolution which is a scientific theory that purports every man is from the same ancestor.

Throughout history, especially in the Crusades, European Christianity has consistently been a xenophobic culture – Jews were expelled out of England, were treated as second class citizens by Christians, and were not allowed to own lands. Black people were expelled by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth during the food shortage in England. Nazi Hitler, had Christianic themes in support of his treatment of the Jews.

The linking of Nazism to Evolution is a dishonest and cheap attempt at trying to personify a scientific theory as the root of all evil in the world. Evolution implies is that every human came from a single ancestor. Darwin himself was anti-slavery and he said that there was “no clear distinctive characteristics to categorize races as separate species, and that all shared very similar physical and mental characteristics indicating common ancestry”. However this went against Christian beliefs of that time. A German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who wrote “Life of Jesus”, “The Positivity of the Christian Religion” and thought to be Christian by many critics believed that scientific racism – or the use of science to propose that other races such as blacks are of different heritage and descended from apes “fitted well with the Christian belief of a divine Creation following which all of humanity descended from the same Adam and Eve.

The Bible sanctions slavery, and from the 1820s to the 1850s it was cited in the Southern States of the United States of America to support the idea that negroes had been created unequal, suited to slavery, by writers such as the Rev. Richard Furman, Joseph Smith Jr. and Thomas R. Cobb.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism).

Christians are very uncomfortable with the idea that Adam and Eve were Africans – who, by the now debunked scientific racism are deemed to be descendants of apes. This was a central Christian tenet for much more years than evolution was around, and it was the catalyst for the systematic degradation of a particular group of people – the fact that black people were descendants of apes, gave Christians the biblical right to rule over them. Now that evolution has equalized and showed that all men are equal, and given the current taboo of identifying oneself as racist as well as the demise of Scientific racism. Many xenophobic people turn to Intelligent Design as their last ditch attempt to salvage some element of supernatural support for dominion over a certain group of people. This does not mean all Intelligent Design supporters are racists, but it is certainly a comfortable place for xenophobic individuals to channel their energies to.

Cargo Cult Science

Richard Feynman

From a Caltech commencement address given in 1974
Also in “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character

During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such as that a piece of of rhinoceros horn would increase potency. Then a method was discovered for separating the ideas–which was to try one to see if it worked, and if it didn’t work, to eliminate it. This method became organized, of course, into science. And it developed very well, so that we are now in the scientific age. It is such a scientific age, in fact, that we have difficulty in understanding how witch doctors could ever have existed, when nothing that they proposed ever really worked–or very little of it did.

But even today I meet lots of people who sooner or later get me into a conversation about UFO’s, or astrology, or some form of mysticism, expanded consciousness, new types of awareness, ESP, and so forth. And I’ve concluded that it’s not a scientific world.

Most people believe so many wonderful things that I decided to investigate why they did. And what has been referred to as my curiosity for investigation has landed me in a difficulty where I found so much junk that I’m overwhelmed. First I started out by investigating various ideas of mysticism and mystic experiences. I went into isolation tanks and got many hours of hallucinations, so I know something about that. Then I went to Esalen, which is a hotbed of this kind of thought (it’s a wonderful place; you should go visit there). Then I became overwhelmed. I didn’t realize how MUCH there was.

At Esalen there are some large baths fed by hot springs situated on a ledge about thirty feet above the ocean. One of my most pleasurable experiences has been to sit in one of those baths and watch the waves crashing onto the rocky slope below, to gaze into the clear blue sky above, and to study a beautiful nude as she quietly appears and settles into the bath with me.

One time I sat down in a bath where there was a beatiful girl sitting with a guy who didn’t seem to know her. Right away I began thinking, “Gee! How am I gonna get started talking to this beautiful nude woman?”

I’m trying to figure out what to say, when the guy says to her, “I’m, uh, studying massage. Could I practice on you?” “Sure,” she says. They get out of the bath and she lies down on a massage table nearby. I think to myself, “What a nifty line! I can never think of anything like that!” He starts to rub her big toe. “I think I feel it,” he says. “I feel a kind of dent–is that the pituitary?” I blurt out, “You’re a helluva long way from the pituitary, man!” They looked at me, horrified–I had blown my cover–and said, “It’s reflexology!” I quickly closed my eyes and appeared to be meditating.

That’s just an example of the kind of things that overwhelm me. I also looked into extrasensory perception, and PSI phenomena, and the latest craze there was Uri Geller, a man who is supposed to be able to bend keys by rubbing them with his finger. So I went to his hotel room, on his invitation, to see a demonstration of both mindreading and bending keys. He didn’t do any mindreading that succeeded; nobody can read my mind, I guess. And my boy held a key and Geller rubbed it, and nothing happened. Then he told us it works better under water, and so you can picture all of us standing in the bathroom with the water turned on and the key under it, and him rubbing the key with his finger. Nothing happened. So I was unable to investigate that phenomenon.

But then I began to think, what else is there that we believe? (And I thought then about the witch doctors, and how easy it would have been to check on them by noticing that nothing really worked.) So I found things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you’ll see the reading scores keep going down–or hardly going up–in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There’s a witch doctor remedy that doesn’t work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no progress–lots of theory, but no progress–in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals.

Yet these things are said to be scientific. We study them. And I think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by this pseudoscience. A teacher who has some good idea of how to teach her children to read is forced by the school system to do it some other way–or is even fooled by the school system into thinking that her method is not necessarily a good one. Or a parent of bad boys, after disciplining them in one way or another, feels guilty for the rest of her life because she didn’t do “the right thing,” according to the experts.

So we really ought to look into theories that don’t work, and science that isn’t science.

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school–we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn’t soak through food. Well, that’s true. It’s not dishonest; but the thing I’m talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest; it’s a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will–including Wesson oil. So it’s the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.

We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.

A great deal of their difficulty is, of course, the difficulty of the subject and the inapplicability of the scientific method to the subject. Nevertheless, it should be remarked that this is not the only difficulty. That’s why the planes don’t land–but they don’t land.

We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It’s a little bit off because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air. It’s interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of an electron, after Millikan. If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bit bigger than Millikan’s, and the next one’s a little bit bigger than that, and the next one’s a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

Why didn’t they discover the new number was higher right away? It’s a thing that scientists are ashamed of–this history–because it’s apparent that people did things like this: When they got a number that was too high above Millikan’s, they thought something must be wrong–and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number close to Millikan’s value they didn’t look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that. We’ve learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don’t have that kind of a disease.

But this long history of learning how to not fool ourselves–of having utter scientific integrity–is, I’m sorry to say, something that we haven’t specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you’ve caught on by osmosis

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We’ll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of his work were. “Well,” I said, “there aren’t any.” He said, “Yes, but then we won’t get support for more research of this kind.” I think that’s kind of dishonest. If you’re representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you’re doing– and if they don’t support you under those circumstances, then that’s their decision.

One example of the principle is this: If you’ve made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish BOTH kinds of results.

I say that’s also important in giving certain types of government advice. Supposing a senator asked you for advice about whether drilling a hole should be done in his state; and you decide it would be better in some other state. If you don’t publish such a result, it seems to me you’re not giving scientific advice. You’re being used. If your answer happens to come out in the direction the government or the politicians like, they can use it as an argument in their favor; if it comes out the other way, they don’t publish at all. That’s not giving scientific advice.

Other kinds of errors are more characteristic of poor science. When I was at Cornell, I often talked to the people in the psychology department. One of the students told me she wanted to do an experiment that went something like this–it had been found by others that under certain circumstances, X, rats did something, A. She was curious as to whether, if she changed the circumstances to Y, they would still do A. So her proposal was to do the experiment under circumstances Y and see if they still did A.

I explained to her that it was necessary first to repeat in her laboratory the experiment of the other person–to do it under condition X to see if she could also get result A, and then change to Y and see if A changed. Then she would know the the real difference was the thing she thought she had under control.

She was very delighted with this new idea, and went to her professor. And his reply was, no, you cannot do that, because the experiment has already been done and you would be wasting time. This was in about 1947 or so, and it seems to have been the general policy then to not try to repeat psychological experiments, but only to change the conditions and see what happened.

Nowadays, there’s a certain danger of the same thing happening, even in the famous field of physics. I was shocked to hear of an experiment being done at the big accelerator at the National Accelerator Laboratory, where a person used deuterium. In order to compare his heavy hydrogen results to what might happen with light hydrogen, he had to use data from someone else’s experiment on light hydrogen, which was done on different apparatus. When asked why, he said it was because he couldn’t get time on the program (because there’s so little time and it’s such expensive apparatus) to do the experiment with light hydrogen on this apparatus because there wouldn’t be any new result. And so the men in charge of programs at NAL are so anxious for new results, in order to get more money to keep the thing going for public relations purposes, they are destroying–possibly–the value of the experiments themselves, which is the whole purpose of the thing. It is often hard for the experimenters there to complete their work as their scientific integrity demands.

All experiments in psychology are not of this type, however. For example, there have been many experiments running rats through all kinds of mazes, and so on–with little clear result. But in 1937 a man named Young did a very interesting one. He had a long corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and doors along the other side where the food was. He wanted to see if he could train the rats to go in at the third door down from wherever he started them off. No. The rats went immediately to the door where the food had been the time before.

The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door as before? Obviously there was something about the door that was different from the other doors. So he painted the doors very carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly the same. Still the rats could tell. Then he thought maybe the rats were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell after each run. Still the rats could tell. Then he realized the rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement in the laboratory like any commonsense person. So he covered the corridor, and still the rats could tell.

He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded when they ran over it. And he could only fix that by putting his corridor in sand. So he covered one after another of all possible clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to learn to go in the third door. If he relaxed any of his conditions, the rats could tell.

Now, from a scientific standpoint, that is an A-number-one experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat-running experiments sensible, because it uncovers that clues that the rat is really using– not what you think it’s using. And that is the experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat-running.

I looked up the subsequent history of this research. The next experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr. Young. They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on sand, or being very careful. They just went right on running the rats in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries of Mr. Young, and his papers are not referred to, because he didn’t discover anything about the rats. In fact, he discovered all the things you have to do to discover something about rats. But not paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic example of cargo cult science.

Another example is the ESP experiments of Mr. Rhine, and other people. As various people have made criticisms–and they themselves have made criticisms of their own experiements–they improve the techniques so that the effects are smaller, and smaller, and smaller until they gradually disappear. All the para-psychologists are looking for some experiment that can be repeated–that you can do again and get the same effect–statistically, even. They run a million rats–no, it’s people this time–they do a lot of things are get a certain statistical effect. Next time they try it they don’t get it any more. And now you find a man saying that is is an irrelevant demand to expect a repeatable experiment. This is science?

This man also speaks about a new institution, in a talk in which he was resigning as Director of the Institute of Parapsychology. And, in telling people what to do next, he says that one of things they have to do is be sure the only train students who have shown their ability to get PSI results to an acceptable extent–not to waste their time on those ambitious and interested students who get only chance results. It is very dangerous to have such a policy in teaching–to teach students only how to get certain results, rather than how to do an experiment with scientific integrity.

So I have just one wish for you–the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.

[photo] — Richard Feynman

The candle problem

Uploaded on Aug 25, 2009

http://www.ted.com Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.

The candle problem or candle task, also known as Duncker’s candle problem, is a cognitive performance test, measuring the influence of functional fixedness on a participant’s problem solving capabilities. The test was created [1] by Gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker and published posthumously in 1945. Duncker originally presented this test in his thesis on problem solving tasks at Clark University.

The test presents the participant with the following task: how to fix a lit candle on a wall (a cork board) in a way so the candle wax won’t drip onto the table below.[3] To do so, one may only use the following along with the candle:

  • a book of matches
  • a box of thumbtacks

The solution is to empty the box of thumbtacks, put the candle into the box, use the thumbtacks to nail the box (with the candle in it) to the wall, and light the candle with the match.[3] The concept of functional fixedness predicts that the participant will only see the box as a device to hold the thumbtacks and not immediately perceive it as a separate and functional component available to be used in solving the task.


Many of the people who attempted the test explored other creative, but less efficient, methods to achieve the goal. For example, some tried to tack the candle to the wall without using the thumbtack box,[4] and others attempted to melt some of the candle’s wax and use it as an adhesive to stick the candle to the wall.[1] Neither method works.[1] However, if the task is presented with the tacks piled next to the box (rather than inside it), virtually all of the participants were shown to achieve the optimal solution, which is self defined.[4]

The test has been given to numerous people, including M.B.A. students at the Kellogg School of Management in a study investigating whether living abroad and creativity are linked.[5]


Glucksberg (1962)[6] used a 2 × 2 design manipulating whether the tacks and matches were inside or outside of their boxes and whether subjects were offered cash prizes for completing the task quickly. Subjects who were offered no prize, termed low-drive, were told “We are doing pilot work on various problems in order to decide which will be the best ones to use in an experiment we plan to do later. We would like to obtain norms on the time needed to solve.” The remaining subjects, termed high-drive, were told “Depending on how quickly you solve the problem you can win $5.00 or $20.00. The top 25% of the Ss [subjects] in your group will win $5.00 each; the best will receive $20.00. Time to solve will be the criterion used.” (As a note, adjusting for inflation since 1962, the study’s publish year, the amounts in today’s dollars would be approximately $39 and $154, respectively.[7]) The empty-boxes condition was found to be easier than the filled-boxes condition: more subjects solved the problem, and those who did solve the problem solved it faster. Within the filled-boxes condition, high-drive subjects performed worse than low-drive subjects. Glucksberg interpreted this result in terms of “neobehavioristic drive theory”: “high drive prolongs extinction of the dominant habit and thus retards the correct habit from gaining ascendancy”. An explanation in terms of the overjustification effect is made difficult by the lack of a main effect for drive and by a nonsignificant trend in the opposite direction within the empty-boxes condition.

Another way to explain the higher levels of failure during the high-drive condition is that the process of turning the task into a competition for limited resources can create mild levels of stress in the subject, which can lead to the Sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the Fight-or-flight response, taking over the brain and body. This stress response effectively shuts down the creative thinking and problem solving areas of the brain in the prefrontal cortex.

Linguistic implications

E. Tory Higgins and W. M. Chaires found that having subjects repeat the names of common pairs of objects in this test, but in a different and unaccustomed linguistic structure, such as “box and tacks” instead of “box of tacks”, facilitated performance on the candle problem.[3] This phrasing helps one to distinguish the two entities as different and more accessible.[3]

In a written version of the task given to people at Stanford University, Michael C. Frank and language acquisition researcher Michael Ramscar reported that simply underlining certain relevant materials (“on the table there is a candle, a box of tacks, and a book of matches…”) increases the number of candle-problem solvers from 25% to 50%.[4]


  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c “Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation”. Retrieved 16 January 2010.
  2. Jump up ^ Daniel Biella and Wolfram Luther. “A Synthesis Model for the Replication of Historical Experiments in Virtual Environments”. 5th European Conference on e-Learning. Academic Conferences Limited. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-905305-30-8.
  3. ^ Jump up to: a b c d Richard E. Snow and Marshall J. Farr, ed. (1987). “Positive Affect and Organization”. Aptitude, Learning, and Instruction Volume 3: Conative and Affective Process Analysis. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-89859-721-9.
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b c Frank, Michael. “Against Informational Atomism”. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  5. Jump up ^ “Living Outside the Box: Living abroad boosts creativity”. April 2009. Retrieved 16 January 2010.
  6. Jump up ^ Glucksberg, S. (1962). “The influence of strength of drive on functional fixedness and perceptual recognition”. Journal of Experimental Psychology 63: 36–41. doi:10.1037/h0044683. PMID 13899303. edit
  7. Jump up ^ Inflated values automatically calculated.