Archive for May, 2005

fuzzy logic ( term is used as a misnomer for amusement only )

So here I am, browsing the web, catching up on random readings.  One of my occasional ports of call is  Scientific American. I stopped subscribing several years ago to the paper product. For several reasons.  Financial concerns and accumulating dead trees were high on the list. 2nd was my growing displeasure with the dumbing down of the rag. It used to be moderately snooty, but aiming for larger audience has resulted in more gee-wizz & less information.  And they discontinued the monthly Amateur Scientist column, which is entirely unforgivable.


Anyway – occasionally I read the Skeptic column on line. They don’t charge for that – so you know what its worth.


Below I’ve excerpted – out of context from several of the essays.  Emphases are mine.  I’ve included the URLs so you can read the entire articles if you want.

 SKEPTIC , March 2005 issue  

   The Fossil Fallacy Creationists’ demand for fossils that represent “missing links” reveals a deep misunderstanding of science  By Michael Shermer 


This is a clever debate retort, but it reveals a profound error that I call the Fossil Fallacy: the belief that a “single fossil”–one bit of data–constitutes proof of a multifarious process or historical sequence.

In fact, proof is derived through a convergence of evidence from numerous lines of inquiry–multiple, independent inductions, all of which point to an unmistakable conclusion.   

            {Unmistakable is pretty strong stuff. Especially for a scientist.  }


SKEPTIC  February 2005 issue  

 Abducted!  Imaginary traumas are as terrifying as the real thing  By Michael Shermer 


 The human capacity for self-delusion is boundless, and the effects of belief are overpowering.


Thanks to science we have learned to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. {oh, really?}

SKEPTIC January 2005 issue  

  Quantum Quackery  A surprise-hit film has renewed interest in applying quantum mechanics to consciousness, spirituality and human potential  By Michael Shermer 


Physics envy. The lure of reducing complex problems to basic physical principles has dominated the philosophy of science since Descartes’s failed attempt some four centuries ago to explain cognition by the actions of swirling vortices of atoms dancing their way to consciousness.


Such Cartesian dreams provide a sense of certainty, but they quickly fade in the face of the complexities of biology.


            We should be exploring consciousness at the neural level and higher, where the arrow of causal analysis

points up  {“up”? Which way is “up”} toward such principles as emergence and self-organization.  {Principals?  Theories? What?}  Biology envy.


{This is getting further away from my intended ramble… but what he’s avoiding is the “free will paradox”.  Actually is more of a “tridox”.  Choices that we think we make are:  

really predetermined (computer program),

or random events (coin toss),

or there is something going on which is not accessible to science

(or some mix of the preceding).

            Since most of us like to think that we have some degree of control over our lives, free will seems to be a popular, if untestable notion. Which bring us to faith – apparently a very uncomfortable idea for Shermer. }

    SKEPTIC May 2005 issue  

 Turn Me On, Dead Man  What do the Beatles, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Patricia Arquette and Michael Keaton all have in common?  By Michael Shermer 


What we have here is a signal-to-noise problem. Humans evolved brains that are pattern-recognition machines, adept at detecting signals that enhance or threaten survival amid a very noisy world. This capability is association learning–associating the causal connections between A and B–as when our ancestors associated the seasons with the migration of game animals. We are skilled enough at it to have survived and passed on the genes for the capacity of association learning.


Unfortunately, the system has flaws. Superstitions are false associations–A appears to be connected to B, but it is not


if you scan enough noise, you will eventually find a signal, whether it is there or not. {an infinite number of monkeys typing in the forest?}


Anecdotes fuel pattern-seeking thought.


But there is only one surefire method of proper pattern recognition, and that is science.

{“Sure fire”?  I prefer works pretty darn good, most of the time. “Proper”? What’s a “proper pattern”?   A falling barometer may mean rain. Or it may mean it wasn’t properly nailed to the wall. }



We evolved as a social primate species whose language ability facilitated the exchange of such association anecdotes. The problem is that although true pattern recognition helps us survive, false pattern recognition does not necessarily get us killed, and so the overall phenomenon has endured the winnowing process of natural selection. The Darwin Awards (honoring those who remove themselves from the gene pool), like this column, will never want for examples.


 Anecdotal thinking comes naturally; science requires training.



SKEPTIC December 2004 issue  

Common Sense  Surprising new research shows that crowds are often smarter than individuals  By Michael Shermer 


For solving a surprisingly large and varied number of problems, crowds are smarter than individuals.


This is contrary to what the 19th-century Scottish journalist Charles Mackay concluded in his 1841 book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, a staple of skeptical literature: “Men, it has been well said, think in herds. It will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.” This has been the dogma ever since, supported by sociologists such as Gustave Le Bon, in his classic work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind: “In

crowds it is stupidity and not mother wit that is accumulated.”


Au contraire, Monsieur Le Bon. There is now overwhelming evidence { that’s a lot of evidence}, artfully accumulated and articulated by New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki in his enthralling 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds (Doubleday), that “the many are smarter than the few.”


For a group to be smart, it should be autonomous, decentralized and diverse.


Not all crowds are wise, of course–lynch mobs come to mind. And “herding” can be a problem when the members of a group think uniformly in the wrong direction.


 In comparison, Google is brilliant because it uses an algorithm that ranks Web pages by the number of links to them, with those links themselves valued by the number of links to their page of origin. This system works because the Internet is the largest autonomous, decentralized and diverse crowd in history, IMHO.



{Well – I stick by my overwhelming evidence  such as: television, shopping, driving, accidents, crime and voting patterns –

proving that the many are an ignorant, selfish, careless, gullible, bunch of lazy dolts. Of course he may be talking about another group of many – that I’m unaware of.  }






I think – in general – skeptics are good. They help keep things in perspective and perhaps move us closer to “the truth”.


I’m not so sure about Shermer. He seems to be a unidirectional skeptic.  Which may be more like a fanatic.



A different skeptic worth exploring is:


Robert Todd Carroll


“The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true.
It is the chief occupation of mankind.”  —H. L. Mencken



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