“Fuck You” Richard Carrier

The notable historian Richard Carrier is my Facebook friend.  He posts infrequently but his posts never fail to meet the astute qualification.  In this light, and with much due respect and admiration, I feel quite obliged to say to Mr. Carrier “Fuck You”, soundly and resoundingly.

I am not angry with him, far from it.  I am saying it to him as I would to a real life friend; one who had told me something that I perhaps did not heed and later proved to be true.  A kind of “That girl is not good for you Dave”, and in the aftermath the look I get from that  same friend is so deep the words “I told you so” never need be spoken and they get a “Fuck You” in response.

In other words he is absolutely qualitatively right and I am completely fucking wrong.  So Richard, if you actually see this, “Thanks for the epiphany and Fuck ye kindly”.  I do wonder if, in his own mind, the ripples of what he illustrated to me in his post are reverberating as they are in my own mind, as we are quite different humans.

Richard shared on Facebook a post about the brain and Cognitive Bias, a short bit about the backwards bike and deeply grooved neural pathways.  In it the engineer attempts to ride a backwards bike and fails spectacularly.  However, the engineer can’t ride the backwards bike because he knows how to ride a normal bike and has a cognitive bias for that, thus it take 8 months of practice for him to learn to do it.  Afterwards he cannot ride a regular bike.  The engineer goes on to discover how much faster his son learns, showing much greater neuroplasticity in the young.

None of the latter part of the film even registered to me the first time through, so deep was my personal epiphany.  The simple experiment had proven that the well-worn grooves in the brain from a strong algorithm forced the brain to cognate in a certain way, he could not make himself think differently.  He was quite stuck, his brain was locked into thinking in only this pattern from long use and it took concerted, consistent effort on the engineer’s part to attempt to overcome this, and in the end he did not overcome the cognitive bias, he replaced it with another.

And the light bulb turned on.

I have a strong philosophic bent to my mind and thinking, I have always had such.  I like to discuss religion and philosophy and quite often find myself face to face with people whose beliefs simply cannot hold water in the philosophic sense.  Often it is difficult or impossible to show such people this, something I have long assumed to be from indoctrination, or an unwillingness to attempt to grasp a differing idea, something I have worked most of my life to develop.  Richard’s big “Fuck you” was telling me how very wrong I might well be in such an assumption.

Richard’s post showed me that it might not be fear, it might not be indoctrination, it might not be the teachings of some church or pastor and peoples unwillingness to change from that world view.  According to the science I was looking at, it might just be their brains.  It might be as simple as a well grooved neural pathway which the brain is simply accustomed to using in order to interpret data.

If the latter is true, if the cognitive bias seen in some religious folks is as deep as the one seen in bike riding then it is very possible that they, like the engineer, may be quite unable to look at the world in any other way.  If the latter is true then people so ingrained in their belief may need to make a concerted effort to change their view over a long period of time to effect any change at all and then there may not be any easy way to ever go back to the old way of thinking.

It is therefore quite possible that the only reason I am able to cognate as I am is because I made a consistent effort over long years to learn religions and philosophies, to learn new ideas on such topics and refrain from outright believing any of them, leaving the doors open as possibilities not proved.   I heard the thunder of the dominoes falling in my mind.

Exactly how many things does such a premise explain?  Fundamentalists will deny facts in their very faces in favor of their beliefs, something I have always found baffling, causing me to postulate why they would do that.  What if they cannot, not won’t, not do not want to, not they find it threatening to their world view.  What if they CAN NOT DO IT, like riding the backwards bike?  Suddenly the ability of people to be so nasty, so violent, so demeaning of others and so quick and easy to mistreat others not of their paradigm made sense.  It did not make it moral or ethical, but it made sense.

‘Raise up a child in the ways of the lord and he will not part from it”, and I have chills at the thought.  Religious thinking, by its very nature, might well be disabling the very brains of my fellow humans.  Not their minds, not their thinking or their ethics, morals or ideas, their brains themselves.  Religion, in particular fundamentalist religion with the strict dogmatic thinking involved, might well be causing such a deep form of cognitive bias that it is virtually inescapable.  It might actually be causing a type of brain damage, not physical in and of itself, but physical in the nature of actual grooves and neural pathways worn by use to the point that the person cannot use other pathways.

As I sat back and dwelled upon this idea, the second wave hit me.  Was I also a victim of such a cognitive bias?  How could I ever know, inside such a thing you cannot see outside of it.  Since I do not subscribe to any belief my instinctive response is a visceral no, but then is that not also a form of cognitive bias in its own way?  Granted I was not force fed it by Dogma, granted it is more open minded, more compassionate of others than most religious thinking, however I find it impossible to simply set aside.  Is that not the definition of a bias?

Online I often debate with theists or post against extreme views on this or that.  I often say, “I am not posting for the other side, to a mind not interested in a differing opinion.  I am posting for the lurker, who has questions about such an issue but fears to ask it, who fears public outcry or ridicule.  If I, by commenting, can help such people to see there is more than one way to look at a problem, then they may see that and broaden their horizons.”

The science is telling me I must have a bias, of some sort.  Philosophy tells me to seek to rid myself of them.  The only happy medium I can see is to try not to have bias, realize we all have bias and to strive to make our bias as unbiased as possible as regards religion and philosophy.

Prior to this I had seen Cognitive Bias as a process of mind, now I see it as a function of the brain.  The one is not so hard to change,  difficult but possible.  The other is quite difficult, impossible, or perhaps only able to be replaced with another bias.  So fuck you Richard Carrier, now I have a fucking headache.

D.N.B.

12 thoughts on ““Fuck You” Richard Carrier

  1. I just now occurred to me that some might find the term fuck offensive, when to me war is far more offensive a word, much more ugly. In no sense was I trying to offend delicate sensibilities, it is simply what came to mind with the headache Richard gave me.

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  2. Those thought patterns which are learned and stored (such as how to ride a bike, ‘muscle memory’) can be over written or worked around but it takes intention to not use them automatically. If you think about it you’ll find times in life when you automatically use a learned thought pattern because it seemed appropriate only to have it backfire on you. It is not just regarding religion that such happens. Basically it requires approaching every conversation as if you know nothing of the other’s point of view or understanding to put you in the learning mode to avoid using already learned thought patterns. That’s not easy but it is possible.

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    1. I think philosophically minded people, most atheists by default are like this, do this a lot. However in rigid thinking, in long term fundamentalist thinking, perhaps there is more to it than just a formed opinion, perhaps it is a neural rut they are in.

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      1. The desire or habit of evaluating and re-evalutating the rules in your head based on any and all new evidence is not ‘normal’ thinking. Most people trust the rules in their head implicitly and require extra effort to doubt them. It takes a lot to say ‘wait, maybe I am wrong?’

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      2. Is that not the very essence of the Socratic method, the “examined life”?
        few people choose to lead such a life, but among people who self define as agnostic and/or atheist there are a great many of them I find.

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      3. I’m not sure it meets all the criteria of the socratic life but that is partly it. The idea that we can know something is a pitfall but that it the human way, to know things. The willingness to re-examine all the known facts all the time gets in the way of having a good time. I think that on examination we find what used to be evidence no longer is. That’s what makes agnostics and atheists.

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      4. The examined life is hard to live. It sounds easy to be ready to say ‘I was wrong’ at any given moment but trying not to put yourself in that position is _really_ difficult.

        “”Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say that the greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living — that you are still less likely to believe. “”

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      5. “gets in the way of having a good time.”—I would say tat people think this very true of me. I am always that guy, who does not see the humor in a post or an act because of something more subtle, and when I illustrate the more subtle often destroy the humor in that thing for others.
        I think they find me a bring down in this way, although I am very chipper normally. Nothing is certain, uncertainty is the only certainty. I live in a world of probabilities.

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  3. The phrase “Much Ado About Nothing” leaps to mind. I’m sorry, Dave, but this biking problem is not illustrative of “cognitive bias.” It’s an apples / oranges comparison. The author/host of the video introduces the bicycle and says, “You all know how to ride a bike, but what if we made THIS small change…..” STOP. Stop right there.

    Reverse gearing the handlebar isn’t a small change. Switching right for left and left for right is and always has been a MAJOR change in the way we do things. Do you play guitar? I do. This bicycle test is simply and obviously the exact same mechanical problem as suddenly flipping your guitar to a left-handed orientation and expecting to be able to play. You cannot. No one could. It is effectively a completely new instrument and a completely new KIND of bicycle by swapping left for right.

    Your left fretting hand may be nimble enough to play “Flight of the Bumblebee” with speed and precision, but turn the guitar around and you’ll suddenly sound like a 6 year old just learning to play. Horrendous.

    Now that he has learned both kinds of bicycles, you’ll notice he adapted after fifteen minutes or so to the regular bicycle’s orientation. Not an additional eight months.

    Imagine I suddenly plopped you into a car in England and demanded that you drive a complicated route through the heart of the city with no period of acclimation. Same thing would happen. You’d probably kill yourself or others.

    So, this is a motor SKILL, not cognition. Cognition and ideation are far more plastic. When a scientist’s results indicate a conclusion 180 degrees from that expected, they simply adapt to the new conclusion right away. It doesn’t take them eight months to “unlearn” their previous hypothesis.

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    1. I got that too Troy, that simply swtitching is not all that simple, it is really a big thing.
      My issue is more with the ramifications of cognitive bias itself and the way it got me thinking about it. If it is not simply a way we are used to thinking, but much more akin, as the example you used, to playing an instrument, then that IS rather profound when it comes to the religious mindset.
      Decades spent in the exact same neural rut, never thinking outside of that, perhaps never considering a way of thinking outside of it, If that, like riding a bike, or playing guitar right handed, becomes an actual BIOLOGICAL NEURAL PATHWAY, then thinking outside of it might be very very difficult or even impossible, especially as the person ages and loses plasticity.
      “Cognition and ideation are far more plastic.” I agree, but in a religion, a person LIVING a religious life that cognition is not simply thought, its is belief and lifestyle and actions of all sorts as well, ALL wrapped up in that cognition.
      If it is actual biological grooves, that would go a long way to explaining a lot of very irrational religious behavior. It fit the grove in their thinking, but not the reality or our world or social model.
      So it seems right to them as they do wrong, ect.
      it is the rigid long term thinking aspect, that got me thinking

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