Archive for June 14th, 2009
In the June 2009 edition of Scientific American, well-known skeptic Michael Shermer discusses human tendencies to find things and agency where they don’t actually exist:
Patternicity [is] the human tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Consider the face on Mars, the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, satanic messages in rock music. Of course, some patterns are real. Finding predictive patterns in changing weather, fruiting trees, migrating prey animals and hungry predators was central to the survival of Paleolithic hominids.
Thomas Gilovich conducted a now classic study regarding our tendencies toward patternicity. The subject was the “hot hand” that many people assume that basketball players get. You know . . . give him the ball. He’s got the hot hand going . . .
But we are also a bit too good at inferring agency:
We infer agency behind the patterns we observe in a practice I call “agenticity”: the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents. We believe that these intentional agents control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top down (as opposed to bottom-up causal randomness). Together patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms. Agenticity carries us far beyond the spirit world. The Intelligent Designer is said to be an invisible agent who created life from the top down.
Why do we claim to see things that don’t exist? Shermer concludes that we are “natural born supernaturalists.”
I highly recommend this 25-minute discussion led by Bill Moyers in order to learn Thomas Paine’s story. Why is Paine so under-appreciated? Moyers discusses Paine’s deeply democratic ideas with author Harvey J. Kaye and National Review senior editor Richard Brookhiser.
What did Thomas Paine advocate for? An exceedingly progressive agenda:
- Ending slavery
- Granting women total equality
- Complete separation of church and state.
- Establishment of public education
Paine was also a deist (not an atheist), who, in The Age of Reason, unrelentingly attacked organized religions, which he considered to be fraudulent. He claimed that all books are written by men, not God. On the other hand, he believed that the creation was God’s presence and that people who want to know God should study creation rather than reading supposedly sacred writings.
Ironic, then, that Thomas Paine was held in high esteem by Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich.
In this video at Bill Moyers’ Journal, Bill Moyers and and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich rolled up their sleeves to discuss Barack Obama’s objectives regarding national health care reform, including the (potentially feasible) “public option” and (not unlikely option of) “single payor.”
The bottom line: Barack Obama has an uphill struggle against some extremely powerful (monied) interests, including the private insurers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and other profit-driven corporations that have each hired fleets of lobbyists yelling “socialism.”
At the 14-minute mark, listen to Reich describe how the financial sector has “pulled the wool over the eyes” of the Obama Administration. He warns that the lobbyists are enormously powerful, and that we need Obama and average citizens to start standing up to the lobbyists. As things are, nothing has fundamentally changed regarding the financial system, other than the financial sector’s new ability to paper over its scandalous practices and its ever-increasing massive transfer of wealth from America’s middle class to the financial sector.
In 1980, the top 1% of the country took home 9% of the total national income. By 2007, the top 1% was taking home 21% of the national purchasing power. Reich explains that the middle class has been drained of financial and government power. What has happened is that “capitalism has swallowed democracy.” Reich explains that when the government fails to set boundaries, we have the law of the jungle, and we then have super-capitalism, which is capitalism without democracy. The culprits were the lobbyists who made sure that there was no effective regulation of the financial sector.