On Flawed Perception

If one’s thinking is “off” (which, of course, it could be)
And our view of the world has gone odd
We add to the problem (it seems so to me)
When the thing we’re perceiving is God.

Throughout all our centuries, thousands of gods
Have been worshipped (and some worship none);
On the face of it, those are some pretty long odds—
Do you really think yours is the one?

The same human frailties that make you dismiss
Our perceptions of things on the ground
Are how we choose gods—and the problem is this:
There’s no evidence—none—to be found!

When we share observations with others as well,
And collectively form an alliance,
The empirical questions, at least, we can tell
(Thus the stunning successes of science)

The wishes of gods, or of angels on pins
Bring up questions, of course, by the score;
Two groups disagree, and that’s how it begins,
And it ends, all too often, in war.

No, give me a group that embraces its doubt,
And continues to work on their flaws
Instead of some followers, dear and devout
Of some Mesopotamian laws.

(again, damn that 200-word limit!)
Over at the NPR debate, some kind commenter noticed yesterday’s verse, and responded:

If one’s thinking is off or even sublime
how could we justify supporting such thought?
For from whose basis would we rely?
It seems that without some margin for thought
we all could be in for a lot.
Where would it lead mankind one might think
but to suggest an answer may be for naught even if on the mark.
We all can think and that we must do
but to suggest a response that would be off
would be like striking at thinking with the chance of being turned off.
Who then may one turn to to bring us all back to sanity?
If every thought would be left to ones opinion that would risk it leading to general demise.
We all know that would result in turmoil
unless we centered our thoughts with guidance.
But whose guidance would we rely?
Perhaps with the One who has chartered the Way!
What is wrong with a proven Way?
It wouldn’t limit thinking but would instill guidance and eliminate self doubt as to whether ones thinking is off!
Am I far off?

Basically, we can’t trust our frail human perceptual and cognitive equipment to make moral decisions, so why not use god’s guidance? A fantastic idea, really, except that the people who complain about our perceptual and cognitive capabilities never seem to remember that we use them (to some extent) when seeking the advice of this omniscient, omnipotent, but strangely invisible and unknowable entity. And if it is difficult seeing eye to eye about whether, say, genital mutilation is immoral, try coming to agreement about the characteristics and wishes of an invisible and unknowable entity! Why, I suspect that people might even come to blows about it. Nah, never happen. Relying on the advice of a deity could never lead to a bad end.

On Right And Wrong

My radio asked, as I drove along,
“Is it ever right to do what is wrong?”
It wasn’t odd; it wasn’t strange,
It was The Socrates Exchange.

One caller (I didn’t catch his name)
Began with that most ancient claim,
That biblical morality
Determines “right” for you and me;

The Ten Commandments, he avowed,
Delineate what God’s allowed,
And deep within our hearts we know
What’s right, because God made it so.

(Such certainty, it frightens me;
I only hope we never see
Some group, so sure of their god’s powers
They hijack jets and hit some towers—

Cos, after all, it’s not absurd
To think obeying Allah’s word
Is “right”, unless it’s also odd
To heed the word of a Christian God.)

There is no moral absolute
Existing that’s beyond dispute;
It’s up to woman and to man
To muddle through the best we can

And recognize, as oft we might
That one man’s wrong’s another’s right;
That, sometimes, choosing not to act
Cannot be done; we still impact

And influence our fellows here,
Humanity both far and near—
So… leave the Bible on the shelf
And do some thinking for yourself.

Dammit… there is a 200-word limit for comments at their website. I was just getting started. Oh, well. Yeah, I heard this on the radio this morning, and thought it would be *wrong* (heh) to pull out my cellphone and call in to call the previous caller a dangerous and unthinking man. What was worse, the hosts, wed to their Socratic method presentation, did not do a great job of challenging his assertions. I suppose that’s what comment sections are for.

The Wakefield Case

Dastardly, Bastardly,
Andrew–unethical,
Lied to his legions and
Basked in their praise

Practiced his dangerous
Megalomania;
Playing with matches, he
Started a blaze

Yearningly, burningly,
Well-meaning innocents
Read about Wakefield, and
Swallowed it whole

Choose not to vaccinate,
Uncomprehendingly,
Fearful and tearful and
Not in control.

Recently, decently,
GMC councilors
Looked at the evidence,
Started to scoff;

Tales of misconduct were
Incontrovertible;
Guilty of charges,
They’ve stricken him off!

Mournfully, scornfully,
Cognitive dissonance
Keeps his supporters from
Seeing the light

Changing their minds would be
Counterintuitive–
Thinking him guilty is
Reason to fight.

Context: I was reading the (quite predictable) reactions here. By the way… if you have not yet voted there, please do so. The case itself is not terribly interesting to me–the man acted monstrously, and has been officially slapped down. Sadly, it probably will boost his income. No, the interesting part is the familiar pattern of responses–like the hybrid offspring of Festinger’s “When Prophecy Fails” and an Oliver Stone movie. Conspiracy belief is sustained, not weakened, by disproof.

Martin Gardner (1914-2010)

Martin Gardner is, for me, always paired with Jerry Andrus; both men appeared to see the world from a slightly different perspective than the rest of us, but were ready, willing and able to share their vision, to our great joy.

Turns out Andrus had, a dozen years ago, paid his own homage to Gardner, in the form of a paper cutout illusion of the form both men were so fond of. This one also happens to be perhaps my own favorite; I have one sitting on the shelf in my office (well, did–things are in boxes right now). (At the link, you can print out your own to cut and fold!)

A dragon you can make yourself
To sit, perhaps, upon your shelf
A silent, somewhat creepy pardner
Reminding you of Martin Gardner

Answering The CuttleSignal

So I got an email last night, wondering what the cuttlefish signal was–akin to the bat signal, but alerting me to those rare occasions when someone needs something in verse. It’s happened before, surprisingly–”Lousisiana, 2010″ was a response to a specific request, for instance. Last night, the call came on behalf of (but not from) Orac. The anti-vax pinheads (seems to me I have written on them a few times in the past) fancy themselves musicians. Actually, go take a look at Orac’s post, cos otherwise you won’t believe what passes for lyrics in people who have lost all semblance of critical thinking.

Anyway, I churned out the following for the comment thread. I apologize to Lennon, McCartney, and music lovers everywhere.

Ah, look at all the stupid people
Ah, look at all the stupid people

Jenny McCarthy doesn’t think twice, no research, doesn’t know what it means
Fighting vaccines
Works on her website, wearing a face that she bought from a surgeon out West
Along with her breasts

All the stupid people
Where do they all come from?
All the stupid people
Where do they all belong?

Doctor Habakus, thinking that risking your children is everyone’s choice
Raises her voice
Look at her working, spreading her disinformation to anyone there
What does she care?

All the stupid people
Where do they all come from?
All the stupid people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the stupid people
Ah, look at all the stupid people

Jenny McCarthy botoxed her face, now her smile has been turned to a mask
Don’t even ask.
Doctor Habakus, off to get paid thirty pieces of silver for what she has done
At AutismOne

All the stupid people
Where do they all come from?
All the stupid people
Where do they all belong?

Jesus In The Garden

First, you plant a red tomato
Then you just sit back and wait, oh,
Just a month or two, while evolution does its nasty deed.
When it ripens, there’s no tellin’,
Cos it might be watermelon,
If it weren’t for Jesus Christ, defending each and every seed.
You could go for evolution’s
Oversimplified solutions
Or take solace, knowing Christ was in your garden all along
From the first one, back in Eden
(Where there was no need for weedin’)
To the modern agribusinesses that keep our nation strong
Every farmer with a tractor
Knows that Jesus is the factor
More than pesticides or herbicides, of this we can be sure:
Should the urge to garden seize us
We should put our faith in Jesus:
If there’s one thing that He taught us all, it’s how to spread manure.

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course.

A Batty Problem

Birds do it; bees do it; bats do it too—
And pretty much anything down at the zoo
From Galapagos Tortoise to Red Kangaroo
Seems plenty of creatures have fun when they screw

The sexual prowess of hamster or rat
Or the lust of a Tom, whether turkey or cat—
But whatever you do, be advised when you chat
Not to speak of the human along with the bat

The world all around us is vast and complex
And it’s filled up with species that like having sex—
And scholars who talk about some of the specs
Shouldn’t fear that the axe will descend on their necks

The facts are the facts, and there’s no need to quarrel;
Or hide what we’re meaning, in verbiage floral—
It cannot mean someone is more or less moral
For noting both humans and bats enjoy oral

But just cast your eyes upon U. College Cork,
Where discussions of bats and their sexual torque—
The gymnastic maneuvers they ply when they pork—
Might imply we have babies through sex, not through stork

If you’d like to express with me, strong opposition,
Upholding the freedom that’s long been tradition
(Cos no one expects the Bat Sex Inquisition!)
Please follow the link, then, and sign the petition.

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course.

Nothing Missing

They tell me that I’m missing something—
Never what that is,
But it’s something—something major—something big.
They tell me God could grant this thing—
Apparently it’s His—
And they chafe when I don’t give a flying fig.

I don’t miss the wings I’ve never had
Nor gills I’ve never tried
I don’t miss a pair of antlers for my head
And I can’t imagine missing stuff
I can’t have till I’ve died,
When the people who are telling me … aren’t dead.

Should I miss the influenza? Should I
Miss the measles, too?
I’d miss polio, except, of course, I don’t.
There are many things I do not have
Which I will not pursue—
If you’d like to add religion… well, I won’t.

Of course, I’d miss my son or daughter,
If I were left alone
And I’d miss them till the day my heart gives out
I would miss the many friends I have
And others I have known—
That’s what living, and what loving, is about.

But I will not waste a single moment—
Not a single breath—
Not a heartbeat, cos it’s more than what it’s worth
In missing things religion says
I’ll find out after death—
I don’t want to miss a moment here on earth!

For Sastra, for this comment.

Louisiana, 2010

They built a platform, and they start to drill
They didn’t worry ’bout an oil spill
And if disaster comes, where does the oil go?
Millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico

We see the slick on top, but we don’t see beneath
See what it’s done to the fish, 

     what it’s done to the coral reef
The damage done may take us years to know
Millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico

Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share
Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share

The more we look around, the more it’s looking harsh
We’ll prob’ly lose the reef; prob’ly lose the marsh
We’ll see the shrimp die out; we’ll see the turtles go
Millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico

Give it a day or two, and it’ll hit the Keys
We’ll watch a wonderland, 

     we’ll see it brought to its knees
Disaster up on top, disaster down below
Millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico

Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share
Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share

People everywhere, are asking who to blame
Think we ought to look in the mirror; that will give us one name
A boundless appetite, makes the oil flow
Millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico

Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share
Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share

Now all I need is someone who can sing…

By request, for Fmagyar, who is one of the many who will see the devastation firsthand–diving under the slick to check coral transplants.

Placebo Protests

I was just listening to Token Skeptic #18, and nearly gave myself whiplash with all my nodding in agreement. In my classes, I am known for my opposition to the goal of “raising awareness”; fuzzy, ill-defined concepts like that do more harm than good. Take a page from the success of science, and operationally define the things you wish to change, or it is too easy to either see change where there has been none, or miss real change that has happened while you were off looking at something relatively irrelevant.

Michael McRae (featured on the first half of the podcast) uses the term “placebo protest” to describe a protest which makes the protesters feel good, but which has no measurable effect on the actual problem. To my cynical mind, such protests, along with ribbon pins and magnets, and prayer, are much more about making us feel like we are doing something, than they are about actually doing something. The second half of the podcast features Desiree Schell of Skeptically Speaking, whose experience as an organizer leads her to a very similar view as McRae’s (in part; she has considerably more to say, as does McRae–I am focusing on just one part).
Mind you, not everything we do needs to be for a reason, nor should we hesitate to admit it when we do something frivolous for fun (like, say, this blog) without knowing if it has positive, negative, or no effects at all on the problems of society. But when we wish to make a difference, we have tools which we should use.
Should you set off to “raise awareness”,
Expect results to be a mess–
I see your good intent, in fairness,
But how will you infer success?
Such actions claim that education
Cures all sort of social ill;
That ignorance is motivation;
Problems come from lack of will:
“If only they could see what we see,
Then they’d surely make a change!”
Seems so simple, seems so easy…
Seems it doesn’t work. How strange.
Without a goal that one can measure
Meeting it is hard to do
And though the task may bring you pleasure
That’s not the end which we pursue!
Name a target; set your goal
In such a way that, when you’re done
You’ll know your actions played a role,
And bit by bit, the war is won.
So, go, listen to the podcast. There’s more there than what I reacted to, and worth listening to!